March 13, 2020Comments are off for this post.

The famous and the forgotten

Ready for a quick random ride through different families and generations? Ending in an awkward attempt at tying it together at the end? Let’s go!

In 1883, Kahlil Gibran was born in Bsharri, Lebanon. He emigrated to Boston 12 years later, in 1895.

Later on, he wrote “The Prophet”, in print since 1923 and translated in more than 100 languages. It is a book of immense poetic and philosophic power. Its 26 fables touch on many aspects of the human condition with great sensibility.

Friendship, love, marriage, time, solitude, you name it, MC Gibran has a moving, wise idea about it.

A teacher at his school noticed his artistic talents. He recommended him to Fred Holland Day, who was mentoring poor immigrants in Boston.

Although Day’s work is contentious, as his subject matter often included young male nudes, he is a renowned American photographer. He was the first to argue for photography to be recognised as fine art.

Fred Holland Day was a descendant of Ralph Day, who was a British early settler and member of the local government of Dedham, Massachusetts.

Ralph Day came to America in around 1630. His day job was to beat the drum to call worshipers to the First Church and Parish in Dedham.

In 1647, Ralph Day married Susan Fairbanks.

Susan Fairbanks was the daughter of Jonathan Fairbanks (born in 1594) who is known to have built one of the oldest surviving wood houses in the United States.

Today Kahlil Gibran is the person we remember most out of all these people.

Yet this backstory makes me wonder: how can we know how much being taught by the artist descendant (Fred Holland Day) of a guy who beat the drum in 17th century America (Ralph Day) influence Kahlil Gibran in his road to poetry? Is this influence quantifiable? Are there some things that can become some kind of intergenerational echoes?

March 1, 2020Comments are off for this post.

Why you should read “The Black Swan” by Nassim Taleb

What do 9/11, the success of the Harry Potter series, or the sinking of the Titanic have in common? They are all Black Swan events, as defined by Lebanese-American trader-turned-essayist of uncertainty Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

In his eponymous book, he defines Black Swans as rare, unexpected events — they elude traditional risk management models — that have paradigm-shifting impact and are rationalised in hindsight, as if they could have been predicted.

As humans, we understandably desire fitting such events into simple narratives and being able to better predict the future. Instead, Taleb first advocates accepting the prevalent role of chance. He goes on explaining that we should instead build robustness — and later anti-fragility (benefit from the exceptional) — into systems.

Reading the book will transform your perception of risk and uncertainty, both in business scenarios and in your personal life.

A short book review I wrote for a friend.

March 21, 2018Comments are off for this post.

Who’s responsible when an AI kills someone?

With the recent news that an autonomous Uber vehicle killed a woman crossing the street in Tempe, Arizona, this ethical question is very timely. Here is an element of response published in the MIT Technology Review

Criminal liability usually requires an action and a mental intent (in legalese an actus rea and mens rea). Kingston says Hallevy explores three scenarios that could apply to AI systems.

The first, known as perpetrator via another, applies when an offense has been committed by a mentally deficient person or animal, who is therefore deemed to be innocent. But anybody who has instructed the mentally deficient person or animal can be held criminally liable. For example, a dog owner who instructed the animal to attack another individual.

The whole article is interesting as it delves deeper in all the possible scenarios. 

March 21, 2018Comments are off for this post.

Lux Noctis is a beautiful, zero-trace series of photographs

What's zero-trace land art?

Recently Wu has evolved his process of working with the drones to form light paths above topographical peaks in the mountainous terrain. “I see it as a kind of ‘zero trace’ version of land art where the environment remains untouched by the artist, and at the same time is presented in a sublime way which speaks to 19th century Romantic painting and science and fictional imagery,” said Wu to Colossal.

See more photos over at the source link.

[Source: LUX NOCTIS]

March 21, 2018Comments are off for this post.

One of the world’s most efficient human-only logistics network is Mumbai’s lunchbox supply chain

In an era where many cannot imagine an efficient supply chain operating without the benefit of technology, Mumbai India has an example of a lean, just-in-time, 99.99 percent accurate supply chain operating without any form of technology.

In India, “tiffin” is a packed lunch typically prepared for working Indian men by their wives after they have left for work. These tiffins are delivered by the dabbawalla, of whom almost 50 percent are illiterate. This supply chain delivers home cooked food to the office in time for lunch, and then returns the empty tiffin-boxes by the end of the working day. In a crowded city like Mumbai where merely boarding a local train is a huge challenge, toting a bulky tiffin carrier and delivering it on time is a daunting task.

Started in 1890, today 5,000 dabbawallas serve 200,000 customers in Mumbai. This involves 400,000 last mile transactions per day (including the return of empty tiffin carriers) with an error rate of 1 in 16 million transactions. This high rate of dependability earned this supply chain a six sigma designation and an ISO 9001 accreditation.

[Source: Logistics Viewpoints]

March 21, 2018Comments are off for this post.

Watch a real surgeon evaluate the accuracy of emergency and operating rooms scenes from TV

And please enjoy, like I did, her dry, dry sense of humour. (If the video doesn't display, click on the source link!)

[Source: WIRED on YouTube]

March 21, 2018Comments are off for this post.

Facebook will survive unscathed because it’s too important to many people

First, a primer, courtesy of the Daily Beast: 

Zuckerberg has been publicly silent since the Observer and the New York Times reported on Saturday that Facebook has for years been aware that a third-party app, billing itself as collecting user data for research purposes, exploited sufficiently weak privacy settings on unsuspecting user accounts to accumulate 50 million profiles. The app designer provided the data to Cambridge Analytica, the analytics and messaging firm controlled by Donald Trump allies.

Facebook reportedly asked Cambridge Analytica to delete the data in 2015, but did not verify that the deletion occurred. Cambridge Analytica subsequently received approximately $6 million from the Trump campaign to aid in its messaging and voter targeting. (The company had additional contracts worth millions of dollars with pro-Trump political action committees.)

We must keep in mind that this is playing out in the bigger context of the Russian interference scandal. This is why the scandal rocked the US as a whole. So because of shady practices (allowing a dev to exploit their data) Facebook is in a very delicate position. There will be exits, there will be “big plans to fight for privacy” but Facebook will survive. 


Even though WhatsApp cofounder Brian Acton (who sold his company to Facebook for around $19B in 2014) tweeted it's time to #deletefacebook, what he doesn't realise is that for many people around the world, Facebook is the Internet (Indonesia is the 4th biggest Facebook population (and the world's 4th too)). Brian Acton also now works at Signal, a Facebook competitor.

So while a few privacy-conscious people from SF and NY will leave the service, utility-hungry people around the world are joining by millions. 

If you don't pay for the product, you are the the product. As long as we don't have a viable alternative, most of us are sticking with Facebook. Independently from the scandals and crises. 

[Source: The Daily Beast]

March 16, 2018Comments are off for this post.

Bad news: Omega 3s don’t confer any significant health benefits; good news: They’re mostly harmless

But a wide-ranging, careful meta-analysis published in JAMA-Cardiology found no meaningful link between Omega-3s and reduced risk of heart disease. As Lifehacker points out, this joins reviews that show no benefit from taking Omega-3s for "dementia, depression, inflammatory bowel disease, or age-related macular degeneration."

There may be a small improvement in breast cancer, and a small increased risk for prostate cancer, and if you're seriously Omega-3 deprived, the supplements may be a good idea.

[Source: Boing Boing]

March 14, 2018Comments are off for this post.

Inside the Black Market for Spotify Playlists

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Fascinating reporting by Austin Powell: 

There’s just one catch: King essentially paid to be added to those Spotify playlists. He’s one of countless artists who have compensated curators to check out his tracks—or in the case for some of his contemporaries, to be added to specific playlists—to gain valuable streams and attention.

[Source: Daily Dot]

March 14, 2018Comments are off for this post.

The contributions of René Girard

Tyler Cowen from Marginal Revolution summarises some of René Girard's views in a very simple fashion. The first point, quoted below, reads a bit like the Nietzschean view but I may be mistaken: 

His understanding of Christianity as fundamentally and radically different from earlier religions, as it exalts the individual victim rather than the conqueror.  Here is one point from a summarizer: “Christianity is the revelation (the unveiling) of what the myths want to veil; it is the deconstruction of the mono-myth, not a reiteration of it—which is exactly why so many within academe want to domesticate and de-fang it.”

[Source: Marginal REVOLUTION]

March 14, 2018Comments are off for this post.

“Oh My God, This Is So F—ed Up”: Inside Silicon Valley’s Secretive, Orgiastic Dark Side

A long and thorough piece written by Emily Chang for Vanity Fair detailing the detachment of Silicon Valley's sex parties. The men are... special:

When I ask Founder X whether these men are taking advantage of women by feeding them inhibition-melting drugs at sex parties, he replies that, on the contrary, it’s women who are taking advantage of him and his tribe, preying on them for their money.

The whole article is as entertaining as it is horrific. 

[Source: Vanity Fair]

March 12, 2018Comments are off for this post.

Should we let tech companies run the world?

Yes, like, even more than they do today. This is Tyler Cowen's question and here are two views: 

Under one view, the major tech companies lucked into some pieces of rapidly scalable software.  They are phenomenal at producing and distributing such software, but otherwise they put on their pants one leg at a time, just like the rest of us.  They are not especially productive at marginal activities beyond their core competencies.

Under the second view, the major tech companies have developed new managerial technologies for hiring, handling, and motivating super-smart employees.  That is the reason why the tech companies have become phenomenal at producing and distributing rapidly scalable software.  But if tech companies turn their attention to other productive activities, they would do very very well.  Alex for instance thinks that Apple ought to buy a university. Or you might expect that Google’s “scallion fried fish” dish would be especially tasty.  After all, do not smarter people make for better cooks?

[Source: Marginal Revolution]

March 12, 2018Comments are off for this post.

Why listening to music is social — even when you’re alone

The article is interesting throughout but here are excerpts: 

Istvan Molnar-Szakacs, Ph.D., a research neuroscientist at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience at the University of California, Los Angeles, has explored how music “creates the sense of social belonging,” as he writes in a 2015 paper, “Please Don’t Stop the Music.”

“When you’re home alone in your house, it feels empty,” he says. “And then you put on music and all of a sudden you feel better because you’re not alone. It’s not that literally you’re not alone. But you feel like you have company.”


The moment you hear a sequence of hierarchically organized abstract sounds we call music, a multitude of associations are activated in your brain. These can include memories, emotions, and even motor programs for playing music. Together they can imply a sense of human agency. That sensation is what sets music apart from other types of sounds. “The brain interprets the structure of the music as intentionality that is coming from a human agent,” Molnar-Szakacs says. “This, combined with all the associations evoked by the music, is what makes the experience social.”

And finally:

Our sense of others as represented by the mirror-neuron system, charged with emotion from the limbic system, can give rise to empathy. To Molnar-Szakacs, it is emotional empathy that can explain “why music can be experienced as a social phenomenon even when someone is listening alone on their earphones.”

[Source: Nautilus]

March 10, 2018Comments are off for this post.

Loneliness is the brain telling you to be more social

In one study from 2009, researchers used fMRIs to test whether lonely brains were more sensitive to threats. Twenty-three participants were placed in an MRI and shown a series of pictures, some of them pleasant, such as money and a rocket lifting off, and others unpleasant, including human conflict. They found that lonely brains respond less positively to pleasant images than non-lonely brains, and more strongly to images of violence and unpleasant social situations. Loneliness spurs the brain into a hyper-vigilant state, unable to relax. The lonely brain doesn’t passively take the world in, but actively interprets it as an unfriendly place.

Hawkley found that lonely individuals take longer to fall asleep, wake up more during the night, and sleep less deeply. “The lonely person’s feeling of not being safe, socially safe, could contribute to disrupted sleep,” she says.

[Source: Nautilus]

March 7, 2018Comments are off for this post.

What if we turned prisons into universities?

Imagine if prisons looked like the grounds of universities. Instead of languishing in cells, incarcerated people sat in classrooms and learned about climate science or poetry — just like college students. Or even with them.

This would be a boon to prisoners across the country, a vast majority of whom do not have a high school diploma. And it could help shrink our prison population. While racial disparities in arrests and convictions are alarming, education level is a far stronger predictor of future incarceration than race.

Elizabeth Hinton for The New York Times has an interesting point to make.

[Source: The New York Times]

March 7, 2018Comments are off for this post.

Why You Can’t Eat With a Broken Heart

Not being able to eat after heartbreak is caused by the "fight" mode your body enters after the breakup, according to ter Horst. Your sympathetic nervous system kicks in, whaich is the system that allows your body to respond quickly in the event of an emergency. Your pupils dilate, the pulmonary alveoli widen, and your heart starts to beat faster. Long story short: You're going into survival mode. Having a bite to eat becomes a secondary concern. To help out, the body has found a way to suppress the inevitable hunger pangs: There's fewer constrictions and relaxations of the muscles in your stomach and bowels, which consequently slows down the digestion of food.

In case you were wondering. 

[Source: MUNCHIES]

March 7, 2018Comments are off for this post.

How do waveforms work?


Josh Comeau, a software developer at Khan Academy has created a beautiful, interactive tutorial that explains how waveforms work. Click on the source link to discover it!

[Source: Let's Learn About Waveforms]

March 3, 2018Comments are off for this post.

Vicky Krieps talks drinking tea in character with method actor Daniel Day-Lewis

So, she did the unthinkable. She broke through the screen. ‘One day, between takes, I left my green room, and said: “I want to see Reynolds.”’ She laughs as she remembers it. ‘The first [crew member] said, “Oh, no, no, you can’t.” But I kept walking. And then I walked past a few others who said, “No, really, you can’t do this.” But I’d had it up to here. Finally, I got to the door of his green room and knocked. I didn’t know what would happen. Would I be screamed at?’

Happily, no. ‘He opened the door and said, “Alma!” And we had tea together and a lovely conversation about music and Virginia Woolf. From then on, it became a regular thing; we would meet between takes, in character, and just… talk.’

It's a great movie. 

[Source: London Evening Standard]

March 2, 2018Comments are off for this post.

Japan firm seeks to spawn salmon farm revolution

The company's process is two-fold: first, simple tap water is converted to seawater by adding artificial sea salt, which allows the farming process to be set up anywhere tap water is available.

Second, a patented technology involving bacteria cleans the water, consuming the ammonia produced by the fish, and dissolving nitric acid, meaning energy-sucking cleaning systems are not necessary.

"We'll be the world's first successful case for this type of land-based salmon farming if we can turn a profit," Sogo said.

The process was born out of technology developed by Sogo's company for sewage disposal systems.

In 2008, they developed the breakthrough bacteria technology and the following year it was being used at an aquarium in Tokyo, at which point Sogo realised it could be used for salmon farming.

Rendezvous next year to see if Sogo made it. 

[Source: AFP]