Sunday, July 29, 2012

This Book Will Make You Smarter

Takeaways from the book  This Book Will Make You Smarter; New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking edited by John Brockman. There were a number of scientists and learned people contributing articles. However I understood about 20% of the book. I guess I need to be smarter.
The mediocrity principle simply states that you are special. The universe does not revolve around you; this planet is not privileged in any unique way; your country is not the perfect product of divine destiny; your existence isn't the product of directed, intentional fate; and that tuna sandwich you have for lunch was not plotting to give you indigestion.
Why do you half of all Americans believe in ghosts, three quarters believe in angels, 1/3 believe in astrology, three quarters believe in hell? Why do a quarter of all Americans believe that the president of United States was born outside the country and is therefore ineligible to be president?
In the United States, recent polls show that 39% consider astrology scientific and 40% believe that our human species is less than 10,000 years old. If everyone understood the concept of scientific concepts, these percentages would be zero. Moreover, the world would be a better place, since people with a scientific lifestyle, basing their decisions on correct information, maximize their chances of success.
For youngsters, learning a foreign language and typing should trump long division and writing cursive.
Economists, forecasters, and professional portfolio managers typically do no better than chance, yet command immense salaries for their services.
Although we are pretty good at storing information in our brains, we are pretty poor  at retrieving it. We can recognize photos from our high school yearbooks decades later, yet find it impossible to remember what we had for breakfast yesterday. When we need to remember something in a situation other than the one in which it was stored, the memory is often hard to retrieve. 
Information has importance in proportion to its relevance and meaning. Its ultimate value is how we use it to make decisions and put it in a framework of knowledge.
We live, after all, in the age of information, which makes the ability to focus on the important information incredibly important. Herbert Simon said it best: "a wealth of information creates a property of attention." 
Making good decisions requires concentrated mental effort, and if we overdo it, we run the risk of being counterproductive through increased stress and wasted time. So it's best to balance, and play, and take healthy risk, as the greatest risk is that we'll get to the end of our lives having never risked  them on anything.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Alan Watts Words of Wisdom

Words of wisdom from The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts...

If happiness always depends on something expected in the future, we are chasing a will of the wisp that ever eludes our grasp, until the future, and ourselves, vanish into the abyss of death.
Where belief in the eternal because impossible, and there is only the poor substitute of belief in believing, men seek their happiness in the joys of time.
As far as we can judge, every animal is so busy with what he is doing at the moment that it never answers his head to ask whether life has a meeting or a future.
We fall in love with people and possessions only to be tortured by anxiety for them.
So long as the mind is split, life is perpetual conflict, tension, frustration, and disillusion. 
But the best pleasures are those for which we do not plan, and the worst part of pain is expecting it and trying to get away from it when it has come. You cannot plan to be happy. You can plan to exist, but in themselves existence and nonexistence are neither pleasurable nor painful.
The Christian mind has always been haunted by the feeling that the sins of the Saints are worse than the sins of the sinners, in some mysterious way the one who is struggling for salvation is nearer to hell and to the heart is evil than the unashamed harlot or thief.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Good Self, Bad Self by Judy Smith

Takeaways from a crisis management expert...

  • "Everything you worked for can disappear in the blink of an eye." (e.g. Congressman Weiner)
  • "People with massive ego tend to protect and defend it all costs."
  • If you are prone to overreaction it may be from the desire to be important.
  • The earlier you recognize and own a mistake the smaller your crisis will be.
  • It's important to have people around you who offer honest opinions even if they tell you something you don't want to hear.
  • Being perceived as selfish, inflexible and non-accommodating can leave you dangerously isolated and without allies.
  • People who overly accommodate at work rarely get the opportunity to stand out. Being too accommodating doesn't guarantee a promotion or raise for being a team player; more than likely it just ensures future crappy assignments.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Republicans' Really Really Big Lie

Excellent Philadelphia Inquirer article by Dick Polman today. I know I will reference this article when I argue with my conservative and Republican friends.

"Ever since Chief Justice John Roberts upheld the law, writing that the noncompliance penalty was akin to a tax and that such taxes are constitutional, the GOP and its allies have been scaling new heights of hyperbole. The conservative Koch brothers bankrolled an ad calling it "one of the largest tax increases in American history." A Florida congressman upped the ante, calling it "the largest tax on the American people in history." Rush Limbaugh went further, calling it "the largest tax increase in the history of the world."

But the GOP's new tax claim is in another league. So let's bridge the chasm between the lie and the truth:
Obama's supposedly sweeping tax — his penalty for noncompliance — will be levied on a grand total of 1.2 percent of the American people.

So says the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, in its projections for 2016. This means that 98.8 percent will not pay a cent, because virtually all Americans (a) will already have health coverage, (b) will have obtained coverage for the first time, thanks to federal subsidies and tax credits, or (c) will be exempt from the penalty, because of economic hardship or religious beliefs. The penalized 1.2 percent will be those Americans who can well afford coverage but simply refuse to buy it.

In an ideal world, the GOP would pay a political price for peddling its phony charge, but that's not how the game works. A huge share of the American public is still in the dark about the details of health reform, and is hence open to all manner of disinformation. The old Mark Twain line, about how a lie can circle the Earth before truth can lace its shoes, is apt in this circumstance.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The First 20 Minutes by Gretchen Reynolds

Takeaways from The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter and Live Longer by Gretchen Reynolds.

  • "In the past decade, a growing number of studies gave shown that static stretching not only does not prepare muscles for activity; it almost certainly does the reverse. ... For runners and other endurance athletes, the utility of being limber at all is in question. "
  • "To a large degree, flexibility is genetic, ... you've been born stretchy or not."
  • A "warm-up should be a prelude to exertion, not the exertion itself."
  • "Plenty of people still believe that eight glasses (of water) a day nonsense...The lesson is to drink what you need but no more and no less....If you're thirsty, drink. If you're not, you probably are hydrated."
  • For the most bang from your workout, in terms of weight loss, intensity is the way to go."
  • To better approximate running over ground, set your treadmill to a !% grade.
  • Weight training may be more effective against diabetes than endurance exercise. Weight trainers had better sugar control.
  • Weight training appears to be the best remedy against loss of joint flexibility; more effective than stretching.
  • Pickle juice is effective against cramping.
  • Exercise speeds the brain's production of serotonin. Abnormally low levels of serotonin have been associated with anxiety and depression.
  • Exercise at the molecular level has a strong anti-aging effect.