Thoughts and finds of the day

Month: December, 2011

Jonathan Haidt and the Moral Matrix: Breaking Out of Our Righteous Minds | Guest Blog, Scientific American Blog Network

This is the crux of the disagreement between liberals and conservatives. As the graph illustrates, liberals value Care and Fairness much more than the other three moral foundations whereas conservative endorse all five more or less equally. This shouldn’t sound too surprising, liberals tend to value universal rights and reject the idea of the United States being superior while conservatives tend to be less concerned about the latest United Nation declaration and more partial to the United States as a superior nation.


Why pretend we know everything? It’s time to embrace uncertainty | Suzanne Moore | Comment is free | The Guardian

This is not another anti-bank rant. It is now self-evident that banks did some bad stuff, but the diplomatic immunity they were granted was not merely political. Anyone who makes out that they know what they are doing and can turn a fast buck and believes, yes really believes, in something – anything, themselves even – is facilitated by society. And, yes, this is usually backed up by a narrative of questionable facts.

What is valued is certainty. What is devalued in such a world is uncertainty. Those who aren’t sure are weak. Poor. Faithless. Uncertainty is often worrying and feminised. Real men know real things. So they have been lining up to tell us that David Cameron‘s refusal to sign the EU treaty is the best thing ever to have happened, or the worst thing ever to have happened, when, actually, no one is quite sure. Reconciling a belief in the democratic process with the recognition that the euro is still in big trouble and Greece may well go anyway, means it is impossible to line up clearly in the Eurosceptic versus Europhile shadow boxing. It is up in the air.

Gear cube – Boing Boing

This cube made of gears is a great example of some of the really brilliant stuff coming out of the 3D printing scene; it’s a phenomenon on Thingiverse, where the method for turning any solid shape into a geared wonderment has been generalized into a formula that can be applied to your 3D model-file.

Russia: The long life of Homo sovieticus | The Economist

The ruling regime started to lose its legitimacy just as Vladimir Putin, Russia’s prime minister, declared a final victory for “stability”, promised to return to the Kremlin as president and pledged to rebuild a Eurasian Union with former Soviet republics. The Soviet flavour of all this had been underscored at United Russia’s party congress at the end of November, where Mr Putin was nominated for the presidency. “We need a strong, brave and able leader …And we have such a man: it is Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin,” enthused a film director. A steelworker told the congress how Mr Putin had “lifted our factory from its knees” and supported it “with his wise advice”. A single mother with 19 children thanked Mr Putin for a “bright future”.

And history repeats itself.

Rats Free Trapped Friends, Hint at Universal Empathy | Wired Science |

With a few liberating swipes of their paws, a group of research rats freed trapped labmates and raised anew the possibility that empathy isn’t unique to humans and a few extra-smart animals, but is widespread in the animal world.

Though more studies are needed on the rats’ motivations, it’s at least plausible they demonstrated “empathically motivated pro-social behavior.” People would generally call that helpfulness, or even kindness.

“Rats help other rats in distress. That means it’s a biological inheritance,” said neurobiologist Peggy Mason of the University of Chicago. “That’s the biological program we have.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Bees reach consensus by headbutting dissenters

The human brain is wonderfully complex. Within it, there are billions of neurons, each collecting information and determining whether to respond to it. In some cases, groups of neurons compete for an outcome; when a group reaches a certain level of activity, its output ends up being chosen. To help make their case, these neurons can send positive signals to each other, and they can inhibit others with different agendas. Ideally, this system improves the chances of reaching an optimal decision; it’s an elegant way to make sense of lots of competing input.

As if we didn’t think bees were cool enough already, Science reports this week that this approach to decision making is echoed in the behavior of honeybee swarms. Just as our neurons emit inhibitory signals, bees can hinder other hivemates that are advocating a different course of action. As with neurons, the swarm’s collective decision is made when a particular threshold is reached. But, unlike neurons, the bees have a very physical means of inhibiting those with a competing message: they headbutt them.

When a group of honeybees are ready to create a new colony, thousands of bees, along with one queen, set off from their old hive. Scout bees are faced with the task of finding a suitable nest and reporting back to their group with the location of the best nest site; the information is communicated via the famous waggle dance. Unfortunately, the scouts don’t always agree on which site is best. So how does a swarm decide where to relocate?

A group of researchers found that, upon returning to the swarm, scout bees will “headbutt” other scouts that are promoting a different nest site. This headbutt transfers a vibrational signal that, when repeated enough times, causes the other bee to stop dancing. Once a certain threshold is reached—that is, enough scouts that were advocating alternative sites have been headbutted into submission—the decision is made, and the swarm will move to the winning nest site.

Medvedev’s Twitter obscenity provokes shock | Reuters

(Reuters) – Russian President Dmitry Medvedev caused shock and jeers on Wednesday after an obscene insult directed at political opponents appeared on his official Twitter feed.

The Kremlin chief and his more powerful mentor Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have been facing growing opposition to their rule by protesters who say parliamentary elections on Sunday were not fair.

The offensive post appeared to have been retweeted on the MedvedevRussia feed at 33 minutes past midnight, according to cached copies of the feed and a notification of the post received by a Reuters reporter.

“It has become clear that if a person writes the expression ‘party of swindlers and thieves’ in their blog then they are a stupid sheep getting f****d in the mouth :)” the post read.

A Brief History of the Apocalypse

The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” – Chicken Little
The Last Judgement by Michelangelo

Insider: $56 Billion Later, Airport Security Is Junk | Danger Room |

The Department of Homeland Security has spent billions since 9/11 trying to keep dangerous people and dangerous explosives off airplanes, and treating us all air travelers like potential terrorists in the process. But according to a former security adviser to a leading airline, the terrorists have changed the game — and the government hasn’t yet caught on.

According to Ben Brandt, a former adviser to Delta, the airlines and the feds should be less concerned with what gels your aunt puts in her carry-on, and more concerned about lax screening for terrorist sympathizers among the airlines’ own work force. They should be worried about terrorists shipping their bombs in air cargo. And they should be worried about terrorists shooting or bombing airports without ever crossing the security gates.

Brandt says aviation security needs a fundamental overhaul. Not only is the aviation industry failing to keep up with the new terrorist tactics, TSA’s regimen of scanning and groping is causing a public backlash. “From the public’s perspective, this kind of refocusing would reduce the amount of screening they have to put up with in the United States,” Brandt tells Danger Room, “and refocus it where it’s needed.”

In the new issue of the CTC Sentinel, a wonky security newsletter published by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, Brandt all but indicts his former industry and its government protectors. “Government regulators suffer from a lack of imagination in anticipating and mitigating emergent and existing threats” to air travel, he writes.

4 Reasons Why The Future Of Capitalism Is Homegrown, Small Scale, And Independent | Co. Design