Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Monday, May 24, 2010

Dopamine as the Gateway to Working Memory

Zachary Burt, in a blog post on the Neuroscience of Buddhism:

it explained how dopamine is a gateway to the regulation of working memory. When dopamine levels are steady, the “doorway” of working memory is closed; when they are low, the “doorway” opens, when there is a spike, the “doorway” opens. Why is this?

When you are feeling bad, (low dopamine), your attention is scattered so you can find things in the environment that will spike your mood: you are going to be more likely to be able to find food, sight potential mates, etc. When there is a spike in dopamine, you need to open your attention to be alert to the new threat/opportunity. Otherwise you can let the contents of your working memory remain constant so you can work on whatever problems are currently on your mind.

via @ycombinator

Internet Famous

In which Mr. Schneier receives recognition from an unexpected quarter.

Friday, May 21, 2010

On the Limits of Economic Justice

This week in economic justice:

Rand Paul falls into the error of unconstrained libertarianism.

Marginal Revolution on the limits of Benthamite utilitarianism.

In conversation: "We are wiser perhaps for worshipping at the altars of many small gods."

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Future Is Now, Vol. LXXXI: Synthetic Life

Craig Venter and friends just announced the continuous replication of a lifeform with a completely synthetic genome. In short, new life. This is a big one.

Caveat: existing cells are still required to house the novel genome.

For now, Igor, for now...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Quote(s) of the Day

Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself in order to crush him; a vapor, a drop of water, suffices to kill him. But when the universe crushes him, man is still more noble than that which kills him, because he knows that he is dying and the advantage that the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of of this.
-Blaise Pascal

Some people say, In this big universe, you're just a speck of dust.
You may be a speck of dust.
But oh, what a speck of dust.
In this speck of dust, the infinite and the finite are fused.
And you are the threshold of the two.
Here, the mortal being comes as close
as it possibly can to the immortal.
The same power that drives the universe breathes us.
We have been chosen to be the platform for life.

-Prem Rawat

(via Andrew & his readers)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Monday, May 17, 2010


BLDG BLOG's meditation on the "ghosts of the future", or how Roadside Picnic, later made into the film Stalker, prefigured the deadlylandscape around Chernobyl.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Ghost Messages

On the heels of the strangest sentence of the week, someone has been leaving mid-paragraph rants on my answering machine. One of these is replicated for you here by way of example:

"...San Francisco, or some of them other places. Yes, it's transferable. He's
been talking about that for a while. Yes, I'm sure that's true. Manageable. Only the finest cuts..."

Is this someone's cellphone dialing me by accident? A message from beyond the grave? What?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Strangest Sentence I've Uttered All Week

"I cannot recommend that you slap your customer's vagina after giving her a Brazilian."

The Joys of Teaching

Hoisted from facebook.

Structured Finance Explained

Alex Tabarrok writes a pretty good explanation of how CDOs restructure risk.

As he mentions in his post, models which underestimate the expected default rate will blow up the structure. I should also mention that underrepresenting the correlation among assets will likewise result in a structure that's prone to blow up, and that beyond a certain point, all correlations will move toward 1, meaning that the failure of enough mortgages in a pool will make it almost certain that the other mortgages will fail and that your model will have underestimated this fact.

In the recent meltdown, both of these things happened: the chances that the underlying mortgages would independently fail increased and the correlation among all of the mortgages increased. Moreover, there were a number of CDOs out there that appear to have been filled with lemons, where the odds of the underlying failing were known to be higher by the seller, but not the buyer.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Bret Easton Ellis Interview

Bret Easton Ellis talks to Vice about the ominous atmosphere in LA, why he's not Patrick Bateman or any of his other characters (despite the frequent confusion by his readers), his forthcoming novel Imperial Bedrooms and his screenplay The Golden Suicides, "about the lives and deaths of the artists Jeremy Blake and Theresa Duncan."
Having not known them, I could only guess. Maybe there was a mutual feeding of each other’s paranoia?
There was the paranoia. And I mean, I think she needed a narrative. She needed an explanation as to why she wasn’t making it in Hollywood. She’d made it before, in the video-game world, but I think she came out here and everyone expected her to be a star, this big moviemaker, and she didn’t realize that movies just aren’t getting made. It drove her crazy, and she couldn’t accept that defeat and so she had to build this narrative.

That’s where her theories about a Scientologist plot against her come into it.
The Scientologists. And then she began to build this huge narrative as to why she wasn’t successful in the film industry. I’m haunted by it. I don’t know why it resonated with me so much.

You explained it pretty well. It was the relationship that you’d been having, and your experience with The Informers. That could really put you in a place where the Blake-Duncan story would hit you hard.
And they were hot.

They were hot. Yeah.
Literally, this is how it sold with one of the producers, to get financing for it. “Who wants to see a movie about two people who kill themselves?” And then the other producer said, “Well, they were hot.”

Oh, fuck.
And he said, “Really? Well, where’s the pictures of them? Ah. Yeah.”

This was two producers talking to each other?

Friday, May 07, 2010

Birth of a Spartan

Bungie's new trailer for Halo Reach deals with the ambivalence of becoming a cyborg in the game's increasingly grim meathook future.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

The Obscene Supreme Court on Obscenity

De Onion kix az:

"I'm beginning to wonder if you really understand what 'abridging the freedom of speech' means at all," said Stevens, a 34-year veteran of the court known for his often-nuanced interpretations of the First Amendment. "I'm also wondering whether you and your fat-faced plaintiffs over there need to have some respect for constitutionally protected expression fucked into your empty hick skulls."
(via jwz)

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Baige and Other xkcd Viewer-Identified Colors

Xkcd did a reader survey of display colors, with some interesting results from some interesting people. New color names included "baige"[sic] (popular among guys), "what I'm sure was once nice wallpaper before you stained it with your nicotine" and "gosh, thats blue".

Sunday, May 02, 2010

10 Years of Blogging

This blog is 10. Good heavens, what a long time that is in Internet years.