Monday, March 30, 2009

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Freeman Dyson profile

Among Dyson’s gifts is interpretive clarity, a penetrating ability to grasp the method and significance of what many kinds of scientists do. His thoughts about how science works appear in a series of lucid, elegant books for nonspecialists that have made him a trusted arbiter of ideas ranging far beyond physics. Dyson has written more than a dozen books, including “Origins of Life” (1999), which synthesizes recent discoveries by biologists and geologists into an evaluation of the double-origin hypothesis, the possibility that life began twice; “Disturbing the Universe” (1979) tries among other things to reconcile science and humanity. “Weapons and Hope” (1984) is his meditation on the meaning and danger of nuclear weapons that won a National Book Critics Circle Award. Dyson’s books display such masterly control of complex matters that smart young people read him and want to be scientists; older citizens finish his books and feel smart.

Yet even while probing and sifting, Dyson is always whimsically gazing into the beyond. As a boy he sketched plans for English rocket ships that could explore the stars, and then, in midlife, he helped design an American spacecraft to be powered by exploding atomic bombs — a secret Air Force project known as Orion. Dyson remains an armchair astronaut who speculates with glee about the coming of cheap space travel, when families can leave an overcrowded earth to homestead on asteroids and comets, swooping around the universe via solar sail craft. Dyson is convinced that our current “age of computers” will soon give way to “the age of domesticated biotechnology.” Bio-tech, he writes in his book, “Infinite in All Directions” (1988), “offers us the chance to imitate nature’s speed and flexibility,” and he imagines the furniture and art that people will “grow” for themselves, the pet dinosaurs they will “grow” for their children, along with an idiosyncratic menagerie of genetically engineered cousins of the carbon-eating tree: termites to consume derelict automobiles, a potato capable of flourishing on the dry red surfaces of Mars, a collision-avoiding car.

These ideas attract derision similar to Dyson’s essays on climate change, but he is an undeterred octogenarian futurist. “I don’t think of myself predicting things,” he says. “I’m expressing possibilities. Things that could happen. To a large extent it’s a question of how badly people want them to. The purpose of thinking about the future is not to predict it but to raise people’s hopes.” Formed in a heretical and broad-thinking tradition of British public intellectuals, Dyson left behind a brooding England still stricken by two bloody world wars to become an optimistic American immigrant with tremendous faith in the creative imagination’s ability to invent technologies that would overcome any predicament. And according to the physicist and former Caltech president Marvin Goldberger, Dyson is himself the living embodiment of that kind of ingenuity. “You point Freeman at a problem and he’ll solve it,” Goldberger says. “He’s extraordinarily powerful.” Dyson seems to see the world as an interdisciplinary set of problems out there for him to evaluate. Climate change is the big scientific issue of our time, so naturally he finds it irresistible. But to Dyson this is really only one more charged conundrum attracting his interest just as nuclear weapons and rural poverty have. That is to say, he is a great problem-solver who is not convinced that climate change is a great problem.

Dyson is well aware that “most consider me wrong about global warming.” That educated Americans tend to agree with the conclusion about global warming reached earlier this month at the International Scientific Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen (“inaction is inexcusable”) only increases Dyson’s resistance. Dyson may be an Obama-loving, Bush-loathing liberal who has spent his life opposing American wars and fighting for the protection of natural resources, but he brooks no ideology and has a withering aversion to scientific consensus. The Nobel physics laureate Steven Weinberg admires Dyson’s physics — he says he thinks the Nobel committee fleeced him by not awarding his work on quantum electrodynamics with the prize — but Weinberg parts ways with his sensibility: “I have the sense that when consensus is forming like ice hardening on a lake, Dyson will do his best to chip at the ice.”

Dyson says he doesn’t want his legacy to be defined by climate change, but his dissension from the orthodoxy of global warming is significant because of his stature and his devotion to the integrity of science. Dyson has said he believes that the truths of science are so profoundly concealed that the only thing we can really be sure of is that much of what we expect to happen won’t come to pass. In “Infinite in All Directions,” he writes that nature’s laws “make the universe as interesting as possible.” This also happens to be a fine description of Dyson’s own relationship to science. In the words of Avishai Margalit, a philosopher at the Institute for Advanced Study, “He’s a consistent reminder of another possibility.” When Dyson joins the public conversation about climate change by expressing concern about the “enormous gaps in our knowledge, the sparseness of our observations and the superficiality of our theories,” these reservations come from a place of experience. Whatever else he is, Dyson is the good scientist; he asks the hard questions. He could also be a lonely prophet. Or, as he acknowledges, he could be dead wrong.

-The Civil Heretic

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Weird Art

In Join Or Die, I paint myself having sex with the Presidents of the United States in chronological order. I am interested in humanizing and demythologizing the Presidents by addressing their public legacies and private lives. The presidency itself is a seemingly immortal and impenetrable institution; by inserting myself in its timeline, I attempt to locate something intimate and mortal. I use this intimacy to subvert authority, but it demands that I make myself vulnerable along with the Presidents. A power lies in rendering these patriarchal figures the possible object of shame, ridicule and desire, but it is a power that is constantly negotiated.

via Boing Boing

Photo of the Day

Photo by Sigit Pamungkas

via cool photography blog from Reuters

Income of an escort in Singapore

If you have youth, glamourous looks and finesse, we want you. Join us in entertaining our world wide clientele. Do not hesitate to contact us immediately. Selected applicants can expect to earn between US$10K to US$15K per month

Our Requirements: Age: 18-23 Height: 5’5" & above.

Not bad, given that 'the average monthly earnings in Singapore in the first quarter of 2008 is $4,316'

An impressive critique of UK Prime Minister

via Stumbling and Mumbling

Friday, March 27, 2009

Juan Cole's advise to Obama

The School of Athens - History podcast of the Day

The School of Athens ;
Despite commissioning the Sistine Chapel, Pope Julius II is better known as a warrior than a scholar. But when he did put down the sword and pick up a book, he would have done so under a magnificent if slightly unexpected fresco. It is called The School of Athens, it was painted by Raphael in 1509 and it sits in a room in the Vatican that housed Julius’ private library.

The School of Athens depicts an imaginary scene in which all the philosophers of antiquity are gathered together. At their centre stand Plato and Aristotle, deep in discussion. Plato is pointing at the sky and Aristotle at the ground.

In that pairing of gestures, Raphael captured something essential about the philosophies of these two men, but he also revealed much about his own time. That such a pagan pair could be found beside a Pope in private tells of the complexity of intellectual life at the time when classical learning was reborn in what we now call the Renaissance.

Nassim Taleb on the History of Medicine

What's Taleb upto now;

History of medicine, anti-academic, anti-knowledge. Medicine: whenever we use knowledge as a driver instead of tinkering, we get in trouble. Examples: Our understanding of biological processes led to a decrease in cures. When just tinkering we did better than with directed research. Directed research gives us a strong bias and blinds us to things we don't know are there. In medicine, most medicines are used to cure something completely different from what the intention was. Side-effects dominate. Try to collect positive black swans. Hubris problem, overestimating our knowledge. Difficult to think rationally about uncertainty and risk. Trust the science part, ask the doctor, but the doctor has no idea about the probabilities. Each person, disease is different. Minimize the harm coming from theories. Empirical doctors were successful until eliminated after the rise of Arabic medicine. Western medicine was rationalistic after the Arabic tradition. Improvements after that came from the barbers, not from the doctors. Thinking has not helped us a lot. Evidence in option trading. People think that quants make option formulas, therefore the market uses them. Bogus. Supply and demand. Did a lot better before the Black and Scholes formula...

Religion and probability. Most people think that religion is about belief, but it is about practice. Greek Orthodox but Arabic-speaking. The way Arabs say is not "I don't know" is "God knows." Allows you to say you don't know, transfers from yourself to another entity. Allows you to be humble. History of medicine: accounts of giving a fortune to the Temple of Apollo: You saved me when my doctors failed me. Doctors gave negative contributions, particularly by bleeding; or more recently, delivered a baby after going to the morgue. Brought in religion. Error we have in believing religion is about belief, but it's about commitment, the system, living with something. We're not yet good with ideas. Can see from this crisis. Great Moderation turned out to be not so great. What does probability have to do with religion? Idea of true/false; degree of belief. May do something against the odds because the consequences or large or even without analyzing it. Probability is not opaque; and even if it were, we wouldn't use it because of the consequences. Pascal's wager: Since God might exist, I might as well be a religious person. Payoffs from being religious are much higher than negative payoffs if God doesn't exist. Had to also assume that God doesn't exist and also not know about gaming the system. Maybe actions are more important than beliefs--in some religious systems the actions count. Greek Orthodox, Easter; Judaism, Maimonides, not every Jewish sage lists belief in God as one of the commandments because there is a debate about whether you can mandate belief. In Arabic, the name for religion, din, is the same as the word for law in Hebrew. To be a law-abiding citizen, keep the rules. Hard to keep the rules if you do not keep the faith. Motivating people without faith. Losing patience about people who are skeptics about religion, and at the same time are not skeptical about economics or VAR. Solving our own problems. Hayek, lot of instinct, contributions part of philosophical thinking.

Nandan Nilekani and Tom Friedman

Book recommendation; Imagining India: The Idea of a Renewed Nation

Parenting Advice from Gladwell's Outliers

Parents and Society matter!

Find a Toilet anywhere in the World

SitorSquat; is a site that is dedicated to telling you where the closest place to relieve yourself is and whether or not that place is worth even sitting or squatting (or standing) at. We all find ourselves needing a public restroom every once in a while, whether it's walking down a city block or driving on a highway with a few whining kids in the backseat. This application is designed to be viewed either on your computer or your mobile device.* It functions worldwide as it is based on Google Maps. The toilets on Sit or Squat are submitted by anyone The site can be personalized for each member based on their needs and preferences. A member is also able to create a list of their favorite toilets as well as share them with their friends. As time goes by and more data is recorded, the site will continue to get more accurate in ratings as well as more options in places to go. We all need to relieve ourselves everyday, so the chances of it being somewhere other than your home are pretty high. So for that reason alone, we bring you

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mindmapping for Teaching

Top 100 sites by Country

Pakistan (includes pornhub and bollywoodhungama)

India (includes Pornhub, Indian Railways, Shaadi,)

Saudi Arabia


China (includes Craiglist,


United States (includes pornhub, Fox News Channel, and NYT)

Nigeria (includes EBay,, )

Mind is not a blind slate

Babies 'can do' maths

HOT from Singapore

THE controversial legislation which allows reimbursement of living kidney donors was passed in Parliament yesterday after a heated debate.

Even after Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan assured the House that the new law did not seek to legalise organ trading, not all were convinced.

When the final vote on the amendments to the Human Organ Transplant Act (Hota) was taken, four MPs abstained and one said 'no'.

The four were Madam Halimah Yacob (Jurong GRC), Ms Denise Phua (Jalan Besar GRC), opposition Hougang MP Low Thia Khiang and Non-Constituency MP Sylvia Lim.

The dissenter was Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), who objected on the grounds that the Bill lacked details to ensure donations would be 'not-for-profit, transparent and devoid of abuse'.

'While I agree with the principle of reimbursement...the framework in the Bill could be the subject of abuse,' he said.

All in, a dozen MPs spoke passionately on the Bill over the past two days.

They were all for three of the four changes - lifting the age limit on cadaveric donors, allowing recipients to swop donors for a better match, and increasing penalties for organ trading. But most were uncomfortable about allowing reimbursement of living kidney donors. Their main fear was that people would exploit it to induce donors to sell their kidneys, opening the back door to organ trading.

They were also worried about an uneven playing field, with the rich finding it easier than the poor to obtain kidneys.

Questions they posed: Should there be caps on payments? Should foreign donors be excluded from receiving reimbursements? What role does the Government play to safeguard against abuses?

-Kidney payment gets nod

Legal Kidney Selling in Singapore and the International Economy

Organ Selling in Singapore: The Sad Real Story

Human Organs for Sale, Legally, in … Which Country?

Kidney Exchange

Brother, can you spare a kidney?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Political Islam 101

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Juan Cole
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorMark Sanford

Engaging the Muslim World by Juan Cole Palgrave MacMillan, 282 pages, $26.95

Sowing Crisis: The Cold War and American Dominance in the Middle East by Rashid Khalidi, Beacon Press, 308 pages, $25.95

Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East by Robin Wright, Penguin Press, 464 pages, $26.95


Sunday, March 8, 2009

Parenting skills of Mankiw

Mankiw's favorite children's books;

Miss Rumphius
By Barbara Cooney

Cactus Hotel
By Brenda Z. Guiberson

By Andrew Clements

Kensuke's Kingdom
By Michael Morpurgo

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key
By Jack Gantos

Cool Blogs and other links



Tasks Every Day

Wants for Sale


Bore Me

One more reason why you should blog

From Seth Godin;

The best measure of a blog is not how many people it reaches, it’s how much it changes what you do. Changes your posture, your writing, your transparency, your humility. What blogging has done for me is made me think. I get to think about how the outside world will understand something I’m trying to do, for example.

Not the time to be thinking of doing a PhD

Andrew Delbanco, the chairman of the American studies program at Columbia University, said that the system producing graduate students was increasingly out of sync with the system hiring them.

“It’s been obvious for some time — witness the unionization movement — that graduate students are caught between the old model of apprentice scholars and the new reality of insecure laborers with uncertain employment prospects,” Mr. Delbanco said. “Among the effects of the financial crisis will clearly be shrinkage both in graduate fellowships and in entry-level academic positions, so the prospects for aspiring Ph.D.’s are getting even bleaker.”

-Doctoral Candidates Anticipate Hard Times

The Brothers Karzai

The older brother of Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, Mahmoud Karzai has major interests in the country’s only cement factory, its dominant bank, its most ambitious real estate development, its only Toyota distributorship and four coal mines.

He and a business partner run Afghanistan’s national Chamber of Commerce — which has far more clout than its American counterpart — allowing him to broker deals and lure foreign investors. For executives with problems with the Afghan government, he is the man to see. One prominent Afghan critic describes him as a “minister maker” with sway in hiring and firing top officials.

An unabashed advocate for money-making in the country his brother runs, Mr. Karzai attributes his success to having big ambitions and taking on ventures that others saw as too risky. “I’m investing in projects that require real work,” he said in an interview. “I’m in love with the idea that Afghanistan can become a Singapore, a Hong Kong.”

Mr. Karzai, though, clearly has exploited his connections, both in Washington and Kabul, to build his business empire. He has collected millions in American government loans for real estate developments in Kandahar and Kabul, capitalized on a friendship with Jack Kemp, the former Republican congressman, for introductions to American officials and international business executives, and benefited from what his rivals charge were sweetheart deals with the Afghan government.

-Another Karzai Forges Afghan Business Empire

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Science Podcast of the Day


The most famous fruit in physics is an apple, but the most famous animal in physics is a cat. It belongs to Edwin Schrödinger, a theoretical physicist who in the early 20th century helped to develop the radical theories of Quantum Mechanics. Schrödinger’s cat does not actually exist – it is the subject of a thought experiment – in which the rules of quantum mechanics make it appear both dead and alive at the same time.

The problem of a cat that is both dead and alive illustrates the challenges of quantum physics and at the heart of this apparent absurdity is a thing called the measurement problem.

The measurement problem arises because we don’t really understand how the atoms that constitute our world behave. They are fundamentally mysterious to us, even shocking, and they defy our attempts to measure and make sense of them. Possible solutions range from the existence of multiple realities to the rather more mundane possibility of an error in our mathematics - but a solution, if found, could transform our understanding of reality.

Young Americans and Britons take the lead

in cocaine-use!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Pornography Fact of the Day

subscriptions to online pornography sites are “more prevalent in states where surveys indicate conservative positions on religion, gender roles, and sexuality.”

via Numbers Guy

Here's the Paper;
Red Light States: Who Buys Online Adult Entertainment?
Benjamin Edelman

The fifth column shows that subscriptions are more prevalent in regions with higher measures of social capital. Following the Social Capital Index developed in Putnam (2000), I obtain DDB Life Style Survey data from 1991 to 1998 on
consumers in 340 metropolitan areas, and I form a social capital index based on
prevalence of people donating blood, engaging in volunteer activities, or participating in community projects. In a region where 1 percent more people participate in these activities, subscriptions to the adult entertainment service are 0.09 percent more widespread.

A fisherman turned banker, now back to Fishing

Lean and hungry-looking, wearing genuine rather than designer stubble, Alfsson still looks more like a trawler captain than a financier. He went to sea at 16, and, in the off-season, to school to study fishing. He was made captain of an Icelandic fishing trawler at the shockingly young age of 23 and was regarded, I learned from other men, as something of a fishing prodigy—which is to say he had a gift for catching his quota of cod and haddock in the least amount of time. And yet, in January 2005, at 30, he up and quit fishing to join the currency-trading department of Landsbanki. He speculated in the financial markets for nearly two years, until the great bloodbath of October 2008, when he was sacked, along with every other Icelander who called himself a “trader.” His job, he says, was to sell people, mainly his fellow fishermen, on what he took to be a can’t-miss speculation: borrow yen at 3 percent, use them to buy Icelandic kronur, and then invest those kronur at 16 percent. “I think it is easier to take someone in the fishing industry and teach him about currency trading,” he says, “than to take someone from the banking industry and teach them how to fish.”

He then explained why fishing wasn’t as simple as I thought. It’s risky, for a start, especially as practiced by the Icelandic male. “You don’t want to have some sissy boys on your crew,” he says, especially as Icelandic captains are famously manic in their fishing styles. “I had a crew of Russians once,” he says, “and it wasn’t that they were lazy, but the Russians are always at the same pace.” When a storm struck, the Russians would stop fishing, because it was too dangerous. “The Icelanders would fish in all conditions,” says Stefan, “fish until it is impossible to fish. They like to take the risks. If you go overboard, the probabilities are not in your favor. I’m 33, and I already have two friends who have died at sea.”

It took years of training for him to become a captain, and even then it happened only by a stroke of luck. When he was 23 and a first mate, the captain of his fishing boat up and quit. The boat owner went looking for a replacement and found an older fellow, retired, who was something of an Icelandic fishing legend, the wonderfully named Snorri Snorrasson. “I took two trips with this guy,” Stefan says. “I have never in my life slept so little, because I was so eager to learn. I slept two or three hours a night because I was sitting beside him, talking to him. I gave him all the respect in the world—it’s difficult to describe all he taught me. The reach of the trawler. The most efficient angle of the net. How do you act on the sea. If you have a bad day, what do you do? If you’re fishing at this depth, what do you do? If it’s not working, do you move in depth or space? In the end it’s just so much feel. In this time I learned infinitely more than I learned in school. Because how do you learn to fish in school?”

This marvelous training was as fresh in his mind as if he’d received it yesterday, and the thought of it makes his eyes mist.

You spent seven years learning every little nuance of the fishing trade before you were granted the gift of learning from this great captain?” I ask.


“And even then you had to sit at the feet of this great master for many months before you felt as if you knew what you were doing?”


Then why did you think you could become a banker and speculate in financial markets, without a day of training?

“That’s a very good question,” he says. He thinks for a minute. “For the first time this evening I lack a word.” As I often think I know exactly what I am doing even when I don’t, I find myself oddly sympathetic.

“What, exactly, was your job?” I ask, to let him off the hook, catch and release being the current humane policy in Iceland.

“I started as a … “—now he begins to laugh—“an adviser to companies on currency risk hedging. But given my aggressive nature I went more and more into plain speculative trading.” Many of his clients were other fishermen, and fishing companies, and they, like him, had learned that if you don’t take risks you don’t catch the fish. “The clients were only interested in ‘hedging’ if it meant making money,” he says.

-Wall Street on the Tundra

A unique way to catch Tuna

Catching tuna Maldivian style

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Tech Headline for the Day

iFart And Pull My Finger Battle To Stink Up The App Store. Please Keep These Under Control, Apple.

The rapture of the geeks?

Truly said, 'Death makes strange even the most rational of minds';

Using technology, he plans to bring his dead father back to life. Kurzweil reveals this to me near the end of our conversation ... In a soft voice, he explains how the resurrection would work. "We can find some of his DNA around his grave site - that's a lot of information right there," he says. "The AI will send down some nanobots and get some bone or teeth and extract some DNA and put it all together. Then they'll get some information from my brain and anyone else who still remembers him."

When I ask how exactly they'll extract the knowledge from his brain, Kurzweil bristles, as if the answer should be obvious: "Just send nanobots into my brain and reconstruct my recollections and memories." The machines will capture everything: the piggyback ride to the grocery store, the bedtime reading of Tom Swift, the moment he and his father rejoiced when the letter of acceptance from MIT arrived. To provide the nanobots with even more information, Kurzweil is safeguarding the boxes of his dad's mementos, so the artificial intelligence has as much data as possible from which to reconstruct him. Father 2.0 could take many forms, he says, from a virtual-reality avatar to a fully functioning robot ... "If you can bring back life that was valuable in the past, it should be valuable in the future."

New Rules for the Sub-prime Age- Bill Maher