Wednesday, June 24, 2009Echolocation
I had heard of dolphins using echolocation but I was truly blown away when I first heard of echolocation being used by blind people to negotiate their way through life. This fascinating article explains the process. Truly a miracle--one of life's wonders.
I am 6 years old and it's my first day at school. The bell rings for recess and all my classmates run gleefully away. But unlike them I cannot see. At least, not with my eyes. Instead, I click my tongue, listening for echoes from the wall to my left. I walk with my hands slightly outstretched to keep me from running into chairs that may have been left askew. I hear kids laughing and shouting through the open door, and by clicking I also hear the presence of the sides of the doorway in front of me. I go through it to the playground for the first time.
Echoes can be used to perceive three characteristics of objects: where they are, their general size and shape and, to some extent, what they are like - solid versus sparse, sound-reflective versus sound-absorbent. This allows the brain to create an image of the environment.
For example, I perceive a parked car as a large object that starts out low at one end, rises in the middle and drops off again. The difference in the height and slope pitch at either end helps me identify the front from the back end; typically, the front will be lower, with a more gradual slope up to the roof.
Distinguishing between types of vehicles is also possible. A pickup truck, for instance, is usually taller, with a hollow sound reflecting from its bed. An SUV is usually taller and sounds blockier.
A tree has narrow and solid characteristics at the bottom - the trunk - broadening and becoming more sparse towards the top. More specific characteristics, such as the size, leafiness or height of the branches, can also be determined.
Passive sonar that relies on incidental noises such as footsteps produces relatively vague images. Active sonar, in which a noise such as a tongue click is produced specifically to generate echoes, is much more precise. My colleagues and I use the term FlashSonar for active sonar, because for us each click is similar to the brief glimpse of the surroundings sighted people get when a camera flash goes off in the dark.
Monday, June 22, 2009Inspiration
Absolutely stunning shots of ice in Greenland. It will transport you to another world.
A must read short article on the thoughts of a 90 year-old vibrant Rabbi, 6 Reasons to Grow Old. Excerpt:
Tranquility tops his list. “You have achieved in old age what you have wanted to, if you are fortunate,” he said. The important battles have been waged, the decisions made. “You no longer have to do the pushing, the striving, the struggle.”
“You don’t rush to quick action,” Rabbi Haberman explained. “You’re more likely to stop and think.” These days he’s hardly indifferent to the world’s problems, he added, but he’s less inclined to think he can solve them, or that they’re soluble at all.
Americans are activists by nature, but “more happens to us than we cause to happen,” he has found. “You have to accept the unalterable.”
Moreover, the rabbi confessed, he’s increasingly apt to consider the possibility he’s wrong, a gift of old age (fourth on the list) he labeled “liberation from the compulsion to set everyone else straight.” He has loosened up, he told me, since his more dogmatic youth.
Each night before bed, he recites in Hebrew a passage from Psalm 31: “In God’s hand I entrust my spirit, when asleep and when awake/My body and spirit, God is with me, I shall not fear.”
“And I leave it at that,” the rabbi said.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009Focus
While doing spiritual exercises, a lot of people struggle with the idea that they can't steady or focus the mind. Very few people can hold the mind steady, however. So while you are chanting, you may start thinking of other things. But you can think of other things and still be chanting. You can do that. It's a mechanical thing. Don't stop the chanting, and don't try to control the mind. Just let the mind do what it wants, and you continue chanting. The mind is slowly trapping itself.
(From: Walking With the Lord by John-Roger, DSS)
Fascinating article on attention in today's New York Times. Excerpt:
Researchers have already observed higher levels of synchrony in the brains of people who regularly meditate.
Ms. Gallagher advocates meditation to increase your focus, but she says there are also simpler ways to put the lessons of attention researchers to use. Once she learned how hard it was for the brain to avoid paying attention to sounds, particularly other people’s voices, she began carrying ear plugs with her. When you’re trapped in a noisy subway car or a taxi with a TV that won’t turn off, she says you have to build your own “stimulus shelter.”
She recommends starting your work day concentrating on your most important task for 90 minutes. At that point your prefrontal cortex probably needs a rest, and you can answer e-mail, return phone calls and sip caffeine (which does help attention) before focusing again. But until that first break, don’t get distracted by anything else, because it can take the brain 20 minutes to do the equivalent of rebooting after an interruption.
“Multitasking is a myth,” Ms. Gallagher said. “You cannot do two things at once. The mechanism of attention is selection: it’s either this or it’s that.” She points to calculations that the typical person’s brain can process 173 billion bits of information over the course of a lifetime.
“People don’t understand that attention is a finite resource, like money,” she said. “Do you want to invest your cognitive cash on endless Twittering or Net surfing or couch potatoing? You’re constantly making choices, and your choices determine your experience, just as William James said.”
Financial Quote of the Day from Paul Kedrosky:
An interesting comment from Nassim Taleb at today's New Yorker Summit. He argues that even 1980s level of economy-wide debt are intolerable today, in part because of the Internet:
“We have to be a lot more careful going forward, because we have globalization, the internet, and operational efficiency — which cannot accommodate debt.”
We live in a world with less slack than ever, whether you're thinking in epidemiological or financial terms (and they are analogous), and that has immense consequences for runs, of whatever variety.
Saturday, January 24, 2009Weekend Reading
I think there is something very profound to the application of "deliberate practice." The Simple Dollar explains it here and Freakonomics explains it here.
"I think the most general claim here," Ericsson says of his work, "is that a lot of people believe there are some inherent limits they were born with. But there is surprisingly little hard evidence that anyone could attain any kind of exceptional performance without spending a lot of time perfecting it." This is not to say that all people have equal potential. Michael Jordan, even if he hadn't spent countless hours in the gym, would still have been a better basketball player than most of us. But without those hours in the gym, he would never have become the player he was.
There is really something to this. It's worth reading. I will be applying it this year to a couple of pursuits in which I would like to eventually acquire mastery.
This quarterly review by esteemed financial advisor Jeremy Grantham is truly excellent. It comes highly recommend by two of my favorite financial blogs. It is accessible and well-written and above all very informative. Having said that it will be too much for most of you. However, I didn't want to hold it back from those of you who will really appreciate it.