Wednesday, September 30, 2009

When one's brain doesn't hear one's stomach.

According to a recent study, obesity might be caused by disruption of dopaminergic and serotonergic signaling. A person with high Body Mass Index (BMI) consumes more food before his/her brain receives and reacts to "I am full" messages from the stomach.

Gastric distention (GD), as it occurs during meal ingestion, signals a full stomach and it is one of the key mechanisms controlling food intake. Previous studies on GD showed lower activation of the amygdala for subjects with higher body mass index (BMI). Since obese subjects have dopaminergic deficits that correlate negatively with BMI and the amygdala is innervated by dopamine neurons, we hypothesized that BMI would correlate negatively with activation not just in the amygdala but also in other dopaminergic brain regions (midbrain and hypothalamus).

CONCLUSIONS: The negative correlation between BMI and BOLD responses to gastric distention in dopaminergic (midbrain, hypothalamus, amygdala, thalamus) and serotonergic (pons) brain regions is consistent with disruption of dopaminergic and serotonergic signaling in obesity. In contrast the positive correlation between BMI and BOLD responses in posterior insula and cerebellum suggests an opposing mechanism that promotes food intake in obese subjects that may underlie their ability to consume at once large food volumes despite increasing gastric distention.

tags: health control system problem solution

Sunday, September 27, 2009

An important problem: maintenance of digital archives

While digital technology provides new tools in the effort to document the world’s endangered languages, it also presents a challenge for archivists trying to preserve data that is “born digital” and only exists in a digital format.

I remember several years ago somebody posed a similar problem: what should we write on a sign that marks a radioactive waste site so that in 1000 years people would still be able to read it and understand the meaning?

A living sign with living language!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A graphical score animation of Beethoven's 5th symphony. A marvel of beauty, complexity, and control.

High-frequency trading is a good example of a 10X change. That is, software developed by major brokerage houses buys and sells stocks 10 times faster than other investors. The result: "High-frequency traders generated about $21 billion in profits last year, the Tabb Group, a research firm, estimates."

Here's a graphic from the NYT to explain the technique:

Friday, September 25, 2009

The infrastructure for cloud computing and content on demand keeps growing:

The number of households with fixed broadband connections is expected to reach 422 million across the globe this year, a jump of 10.5 percent over 382 million in 2008, the analyst firm said Friday. This number will further swell to an estimated 580 million by 2013.

According to Gartner, fiber-based services will grow steadily over the next few years, with FTTH (fiber-to-the-home), FTTP (fiber-to-the-premises) and Ethernet connections accounting for about 20 percent of the global consumer broadband market by 2013.

Wireless broadband (3G,4G) will probably catch up too. Which is a great news for application and content developers.

tags: distribution, evolution, greatest, mobile

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Another report on the slow and painful death of privacy:

Some 13 per cent of US medical schools have reported that their students have leaked confidential information about patients via blogs or social networking websites.

The students didn't name names, but did provide enough personal information, such as the medical condition involved and hospital, for patients or their families to recognise who is being described.

Is it possible to steal one's health identity? How can it be used?
The digital TV industry is beginning to overcome the cost vs quality trade-off - a good indication of a breakthrough innovation:

the difference now is that technology is increasingly creating an environment where less money doesn't necessarily mean lower quality.

via The Hollywood Reporter.

tags::tradeoff, dilemma, evolution, detection, digital

Monday, September 21, 2009

Changes in job distribution in the US over the last 150 years.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

From BPS Research Digest:

The findings also showed that giving the children the opportunity to draw, significantly increased the amount of accurate information they recalled. This is consistent with previous, forensically motivated research showing that drawing facilitates children's verbal reports of their experiences.

Modern personal computers, are very unfriendly to people, including children, who like to draw. The keyboard-and-mouse interface prevents users from developing their natural ability to describe the world as they see it. When children transition from a piece of paper to a PC/Mac screen they immediately lose a large chunk of their creative power. Fortunately, mobile phones with touch interface provide a much better platform for helping them to recover this magic of natural drawing.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Routing the signal: Nature, Nurture, and the Fed.

A remarkable similarity between the way neurons in the brain work (a nature's invention) and the way devices (a human invention) control transfer of energy, e.g. signal, in electronic devices. In the first case, signal propagation is mediated by releasing chemicals into neural environment. In the second, energy propagation is mediated by releasing electromagnetic radiation into electronic environment.

From Second Nature, by G.M.Edelman (1972 Nobel Prize in Medicine):

Each of these value systems releases a type of neurotransmitter or neuromodulator under particular circumstances. ... On receipt of salient startle signal, say a loud noise, these neurons release a neurotransmitter called noradrenaline into the surrounding space, as if from a leaky garden hose. The result can lower the threshold of synaptic responses of multiple neurons, leading to more firing as well as to changes in the synaptic strength among these neurons. p 31.

US Patent 7,587,107. Claim 1 (obfuscating terms removed):

A method of controlling energy propagation, comprising: guiding energy...; blocking the ... energy ... by electromagnetically saturating ... the guiding structure along the ... path... with electromagnetic radiation.

To control the economy, the Federal Reserve acts in a very similar way. It lowers or raises background interest rates, which either facilitates or inhibits transfer of money between economic agents.

In system terms, the Control affects certain properties of the Route(s) to change delivery of a particular Payload.

:: payload, control, distribution, problem, pattern, transfer, example

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Brainier than humans?

From Crow Planet, by Linda Lynn Haupt, a description of crows' "cognitive toolbox":

They [animal behaviorists Nathan Emery and Nicola Clayton of Cambridge University] described four cognitive pahtways employed by both [crows and apes, including humans] groups that sugest complex mentation:
- causal reasoning (as in development and use of tools);
- flexibility (one of the cornerstones of intelligent behavior, which refers to the ability to generate rules from past experiences that offer a varied repertoire of potential responses to novel stimuli, rather than simple rote learning, which seems to be the cognitive limit in some other avian groups, such as pigeons);
- imagination (where situations and scenarios not presently available can still be formed in the minds' eye);
- prospection (the ability to imagine future events). p. 69.

It's remarkable that only the first item on this list is taught more or less systematically in our schools. I wonder if there's a way to measure crow's IQ and compare it to that of the humans, pound for pound of brain mass.

:: education, niche construction, creativity, system, quote, book, brain

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The software is the driver

Computers will play a huge role in the future of driving. Maybe GM should get out manufacturing and focus on software development. Its competitors surely move in that direction:

Audi achieves that torque number by using four electric motors, one at each wheel.

The four electric motors meant that Audi could design a virtual Quattro all-wheel-drive system, integrating the power distribution program with vehicle dynamics sensors. By default, the rear motors deliver 70 percent of the torque, the high number compensating for the 58 percent weight distribution to the rear wheels. But as conditions dictate, the power software can give any wheel greater or less power, which should make for incredible road-holding, beyond even Audi's current Quattro system.

The car's navigation and communication electronics are designed to communicate with external roads infrastructure, receiving information about traffic and green lights, for example, and adjusting routes accordingly to maximize driving efficiency.

As the amount and types of moving "informational parts" in the car increase, the value of the control function within the device will increase accordingly.

:: control, scale, information, payload, software

Monday, September 14, 2009

A post in Charter Cities about a particular type of risk in infrastructure investment:

The risk that a future government will breach the terms of an agreement is called political risk. An investment in a piece of infrastructure such as a power plant or an airport requires a large initial outlay and pays returns for decades. An investor who contemplates an infrastructure investment in a country with political risk has to take account of the chance that after the initial outlay, the local government will deprive it of a chance to earn the return.

From this perspective, wind and solar power generators with localized storage can be a good solution for the developing countries because they don't require massive one-time investments (cf to nuclear, coal, and hydro power).

:: infrastructure, niche construction, greatest, problem, solution

Trade-off of the Day: quality vs costs

A good article by Jeffrey S. Flier, Harvard Medical School, in which he discusses several key problems that plague the US health care system. For example, the lack of innovation is #2 on his list:

Second, in health care as in other markets, real progress depends on innovation. Yet health care markets rarely conduct successful experiments with new ways of paying for and organizing health care delivery.

He also notices the tendency of proposed solutions to fall back into the familiar quality vs costs trade-off.

Some have offered novel approaches to “payment reform,” but none of these can realistically claim to both increase quality and reduce costs, while being acceptable to Congress.

:: tradeoff, health, greatest, problem, reverse brainstorm

Sunday, September 13, 2009

From an old article about the late Nobel laureate Norman Bourlaug:

Practical problems, however, make Bongaarts think that rapid African [crop] yield increases are "extremely unlikely in the near future." The obvious obstacles are desperate poverty and lack of social cohesion. When Borlaug transformed the agriculture of Pakistan and India, those nations had many problems but also reasonably well organized economies, good road and rail systems, irrigation projects under way, and an established entrepreneurial ethos. Much of Africa lacks these.

The paragraph highlights the role of infrastructure in system development. In this particular case, adding new fields with high yield crops is useless if there's no distribution and control system to support the improved production sources. Similarly, adding new sources of "green" electricity is going to have very limited effect, unless the grid is re-made to support such sources.

tags: control, distribution, greatest, infrastructure, artefact, niche construction
Mind augmentation is becoming a reality:

Last week, a team from Medtronic of Minneapolis, Minnesota, reported on their design for a neurostimulator at the Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society meeting in Minneapolis. The devices use electrodes to deliver deep stimulation to specific parts of the brain.

Neurostimulators are already approved to treat conditions such as Parkinson's disease, essential tremor, and dystonia, as well as obsessive compulsive disorder. But existing devices deliver stimulation on a set schedule, not in response to abnormal brain activity. The Medtronic researchers think a device that reacts to brain signals could be more effective, plus the battery would last longer, an important consideration for implantable devices.

By adding a detection mechanism, designers dramatically improve the control function, and as a consequence the overall efficiency of the system.

tags: brain, control, detection, problem, evolution

Friday, September 11, 2009

An important principle to keep in mind when using The Three Magicians and The Five Elements analysis:

Любой сложный объект может члениться либо на элементы, либо на единицы. Особенность членения объекта на единицы состоит в том, что продукты членения сохраняют свойства целого. Членение на элементы, наоборот, приводит к таким продуктам, которые свойств целого не имеют.

Any complex object can be divided into either elements or units. Units maintain properties of the whole, while elements do not.

G.P. Schedrovitsky. The processes and structures of thinking. Chapter 3.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The best way to create a problem is to tie seemingly unrelated issues together:

Much more than the future of US health care hangs on the fate of health care reform. That was the message delivered by Connecticut senator Joseph Lieberman, a long-term environmental campaigner, to Capitol Hill on the Senate's first day back in office after the August recess.

"If the health care bill fails, the climate change bill will fail too," Lieberman told the Climate Change, Energy and National Security conference hosted by the political think tank Partnership for a Secure America yesterday.

The system of quid pro quo favors between politicians succeeds at creating connections where naturally none exists. Logically, solutions to global warming and health care problems should be evaluated on their own merits. But in practice, by acting opposite to the recommendations of the separation principle, politicians tie them together to create problems for their opponents.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

I am reading "The End of Overeating", by David A. Kessler. The book is about what (and how) has made Americans a nation of the obese. In short, the what is food designed according to the formula Fat+Sugar+Salt+Flavors; the how is making the food as accessible and appealing to people as possible. Some time ago, based on David's talk at Google, I put together a 10X diagram that described the shift in food-related business models.
Among other useful information about the science of eating and the food industry, the book is filled with interviews and accounts of meetings with "real life" industry executives. One of such stories is a good illustration of how a recipe for success has become a recipe for disaster:

They understood that I[David] was going to the heart of their business model. I described the stimulating qualities of sugar, fat, and salt, especially in combination, and told them that the brain is wired to focus on the most salient stimuli. "The more potent and multisensory your make your products, the greater the reward and the greater the consumption." of the executives spoke up, "Everything that has made us successful as a company is the problem."

TV and net-media seem to follow the same pattern.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Brainstorming recovery program

The ability to change entrenched habits rests with you. Four major components of habit reversal grow out of the literature of behavioral and cognitive psychology and have proven effective in dealing with repetitive behaviors: awareness, competing behavior, competing thoughts, and support. A fifth, emotional learning, ...
p 185

Monday, September 07, 2009

A new powerful manufacturing and distribution infrastructure has emerged in Asia.

Sept. 7 (Bloomberg) -- India, whose auto market is 19 percent of China’s, has the edge in exports.

Suzuki Motor Corp., Hyundai Motor Co., and Nissan Motor Co. are making India a hub for overseas sales of minicars as incentives lift demand for smaller, fuel-efficient autos. Helped by cheaper labor and a surging local market, India this year overtook China in auto exports and is challenging Thailand and South Korea as an alternative production center in Asia.

The current economic crisis will help China and India to become dominant trading powers. The American century had began after the WWI when mass manufacturing shifted to the US. The 21st century will be the Asian century, starting with the market crash of 2008.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Dilemma of the Day: picking a crushed nut on a busy road

From the NS review of Crow Planet:

A Japanese study of urban crows found that the birds dropped hard-shelled nuts in the road at traffic intersections for cars to roll over and crack. When the traffic was heavy, the crows waited for the walk signal before grabbing their snacks from the street. How can you not admire that?

Friday, September 04, 2009

How many scientists does it take to know all this stuff?

Two Newscientist articles that caught my attention this week were about our new "supernatural" abilities. The first one is on the global scale:

...geoengineering - the large-scale manipulation of the environment to counteract climate change - is now receiving serious attention from scientists, policy-makers and the media.

while the other is applied at the level of an individual gene:

...progress in neuroscience and genetics in recent years makes it [growing pain-free animals] a very real possibility.

The ratio between these two contrasting scales is about 100,000,000,000,000 - one hundred trillion. Just to think about the range of technologies people can deploy today is mind-boggling. In a few decades (or maybe a century) we'll be able to change the environment and change ourselves, for example genetically, to live in such an environment. Or vice versa. We'll change our genes to have even greater abilities to influence the space we live in. Most likely, Mars exploration will become possible not because of invention of new fuels or materials, but because of new genetic algorithms for building a different breed of humans, who can survive long stretches of hybernation, lack of food, water, or shelter.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

All roads lead to Facebook


a full 65 million members reach Facebook via mobile devices every month. That comes to 26 percent of the 250 million total active members that Facebook puts out as its official number

Add to it a payment system and you get a ubiquitous infrastructure for commercial transactions and digital services. June 2 2009 17:36.
Facebook has begun tapping a new revenue stream with the introduction of an internal payments system, a move that might help the fast-growing social networking website achieve profitability while being less reliant on advertising.

Money, along with messages, pictures, and videos, is just another type of digital content that flows through Facebook pipes. Now, we need to find a way to create high-value digital goods.

Specialization of the species

A news report links problem-solving abilities and brain region specialization:

Being strongly right- or left-handed might be a sign of intelligence – for bird brains, at least.
Ambidextrous parrots are a lot less smart than their left- or right-biased counterparts, say Maria Magat and Culum Brown at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, who set the birds problem-solving tasks.

All animals have cerebral lateralisation, meaning that their brains are divided into two hemispheres responsible for processing different tasks. Strongly lateralised individuals are strongly "handed" – or strongly "footed" in the case of birds.

"Our study shows that strong lateralisation improves problem-solving ability and foraging in birds, which is an evolutionary advantage," says Brown.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

ET phone home

A month and a half ago I wrote a blog post about the growing number of Internet users in China. Now, every evening somebody comments on it in Chinese. Since I don't read Chinese, I can't figure out whether it is spam, or an attempt to start a conversation, or a real conversation between Chinese readers. Most likely, it's spam. But, who knows. Maybe it's a lonely AI computer stuck somewhere in the universe keeps searching human blogs for the code word "Beijing", hoping one day to find a perfect conversation partner. No such luck. And I think it's fair. We, humans should stay away from these conversations. Let spam computers talk to other computers. In private.

The ultimate learning machine

An article on brain implants in animals:

The idea is to implant electronic chips in the relevant regions of the brain to record neural activity. Then a decoder deciphers the neural chatter, often from thousands of neurons, to figure out what the brain wants the body to do. These messages must then be relayed - ideally wirelessly - to electrodes that deliver a pulse of electricity to stimulate the muscles into action. Such "brain chips" are already restoring hearing to the deaf and vision to the blind, and helping to stave off epileptic fits, so the idea isn't as far-fetched as it might sound (see "Bionic medicine").

It appears that brain treats embedded chips as just another set of neurons that need to be controlled.