LS/MFT…

Introduced as the slogan for Lucky Strike cigarettes just after the end of World War 2, “Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco” stuck in the minds of generations of American smokers [and non-smokers].

The persistence of stupid, of ignorance and the complete failure of a whole society to act upon reason and science, to respond to unhealthy behavior – says only one thing to me – today. Don’t be surprised if the shithead in the White House gets re-elected.

I consider myself only slightly more educated than the average American. Though I acquired many hours at night school, I always studied what I was interested in. Which was “everything” – instead of suggested course work. Still going – as a retired old geek.

But, I knew enough by 1958 to quit smoking. At the age of 20, I had been smoking for 8 years. By then, more than 2 packs/day. And I quit cold turkey. A struggle – yes. But, it made sense and I had to live up to that. Americans in general smoke a lot less, nowadays. I imagine that’s because many just don’t take up the habit. Accumulated decades of hearing a bit of truth about dying from heart disease or cancer.

Look at how many years it’s required to break that habit. Do you think Americans have learned to do more than respond to the snazziest ad campaign when it comes to election day? Or will their collective consciousness stay stuck on whoever came up with the neatest slogan?

Our quasi-fascist Fearless Leader may only need to rely on the persistence of “Four More Years” – competing with white bread and not a lot of courage.

AI System learned to master Rubik’s Cube in 44 hours

Meet DeepCube, an artificially intelligent system that’s as good at playing the Rubik’s Cube as the best human master solvers. Incredibly, the system learned to dominate the classic 3D puzzle in just 44 hours and without any human intervention.

“A generally intelligent agent must be able to teach itself how to solve problems in complex domains with minimal human supervision,” write the authors of the new paper, published online at the arXiv preprint server. Indeed, if we’re ever going to achieve a general, human-like machine intelligence, we’ll have to develop systems that can learn and then apply those learnings to real-world applications…

On the surface, the Rubik’s Cube may seem simple, but it offers a staggering number of possibilities. A 3x3x3 cube features a total “state space” of 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 combinations (that’s 43 quintillion), but only one state space matters — that magic moment when all six sides of the cube are the same color. Many different strategies, or algorithms, exist for solving the cube. It took its inventor, Erno Rubik, an entire month to devise the first of these algorithms…

RTFA. Interesting stuff – and you may as well get used to the topic whether you’re ready or not. Your next job interview might be with an entity built on systems like this. 🙂

How and why children notice what adults miss

❝ Although adults can beat children at most cognitive tasks, new research shows that children’s limitations can sometimes be their strength.

❝ In two studies, researchers found that adults were very good at remembering information they were told to focus on, and ignoring the rest. In contrast, 4- to 5-year-olds tended to pay attention to all the information that was presented to them – even when they were told to focus on one particular item. That helped children to notice things that adults didn’t catch because of the grownups’ selective attention…

The results have important implications for understanding how education environments affect children’s learning

❝ Vladimir Sloutsky, co-author of the study, said that adults would do well at noticing and remembering the ignored information in the studies, if they were told to pay attention to everything. But their ability to focus attention has a cost – they miss what they are not focused on.

The ability of adults to focus their attention – and children’s tendency to distribute their attention more widely – both have positives and negatives.

❝ “The ability to focus attention is what allows adults to sit in two-hour meetings and maintain long conversations, while ignoring distractions,” Sloutsky said.

“But young children’s use of distributed attention allows them to learn more in new and unfamiliar settings by taking in a lot of information.”

RTFA for a couple of unanswered questions as interesting as the studies themselves. Like, taking the results and examining whether or not it might be useful to make classrooms boring?

Playing musical instruments accelerates brain development

❝ Learning to play an instrument boosts a child’s creativity, but new research shows it may also help grow the brain itself.

At a time when many elementary schools have cut or reduced their music programs, neuroscientists at USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute found that music instruction may be important for brain development in young children, particularly in the areas of the brain that process sound, language and speech.

❝ For five years, USC neuroscientists followed nearly three dozen children from low-income neighborhoods in Los Angeles to see how children’s behavior and brains changed over time. One group of children learned to play the violin or other instruments starting at age 6 or 7, while a second group played soccer. A third didn’t participate in any specific afterschool programs.

When the scientists compared the groups two years into the study, they found that the budding musicians had more developed auditory pathways, which connect the ear to the brain…

A more-developed auditory system can accelerate a child’s brain development beyond musical ability. “This system is also engaged in general sound processing that is fundamental to language development, reading skills and successful communication,” Habibi says.

He and his team plan to explore whether music instruction could accelerate development of language, reading and other abilities in young children.

Praiseworthy.

In addition, a study in Mexico determined that “Experiencing music at an early age can contribute to better brain development, optimizing the creation and establishment of neural networks, and stimulating the existing brain tracts,”

I’ll second that emotion. I’ve long felt that direct involvement in music as a performer made significant difference to my childhood and overall learning. Just saying.

Pic of the day – Finding my lens, Om Malik


Click to enlargeOm Malik

My recent visit to Faroe Islands turned out to be life changing in more ways than I had thought. The first break through came on the second night of the trip and it has allowed me to focus on what matters, and why some tools work for some people and some don’t. It has had a remarkable impact on how I make photos. Here is how it happened.

After a long day two, I came back to the hotel and downloaded my photos to the laptop, only to find many of them were unsatisfactory. I had been using the (24mm – equivalent on full frame) 16mm f/1.4 Fuji wide angle lens. Many of the vistas that looked great when standing at the top of the hill, felt so much less inspiring when viewed on the desktop screen. They looked flat and lacked the three dimensional feeling I aspire to in my photos and other creative efforts. I felt discouraged, because of what seemed like white noise. The puffin photos weren’t good either and despite walking to the very edge of the cliff and lying in cold and wet grass for a while to capture the moment. (A handful made the final cut, but frankly I could and should have done better.)

Later in the evening, Dan Rubin, who is one of the instructors at the f8workshops, and I ended up talking about the day’s work and my frustration with the pictures. Dan suggested that perhaps what I like is to shoot is tighter and highly isolated views. He pointed out that I feel so happy with photos I make with my 50mm focal length lens. His suggestion: switch to the f2/50mm full time and use it not only as my general purpose lens but also for travel and landscape photography.

Forget about the wider views and instead focus on composition and strive to find ways to make photos that give the feeling of wide sweeping vistas and vastness, but leave that to a viewer’s imagination. You don’t have to put it all there in order to engage the viewer. And just like that, it all clicked in place.

RTFA to continue this voyage of discovery – or even better, wander over to Om’s site and wander back in time through photos and feelings about his trip to the Faroes.

Is humanity getting better?

London, 1665. The capital smelled of death in its last large outbreak of the Plague, the worst since the Black Death of the 14th century. The diarist Samuel Pepys mourned, “Every day sadder and sadder news of its increase. In the City died this week 7,496; and of all of them, 6,102 of the Plague. But it is feared that the true number of the dead this week is near 10,000 — partly from the poor that cannot be taken notice of through the greatness of the number.”

As the deaths mounted and the streets filled with waste, Londoners noticed that dogs and cats were everywhere in the city. And so the order went out from the Lord Mayor.

Kill the dogs and cats.

The Chamberlain of the City paid the huntsmen, who slaughtered more than 4,000 animals. But the dogs and cats were chasing the rats that were feeding on the waste — and the rats were carrying the fleas that transmitted the Plague. Now spared from their predators, the rats spread the affliction even more fiercely. The medical advice from London’s College of Physicians — to press a hen hard on the swellings until the hen died — did not slow the disease. In the end, the Plague of 1665 is thought to have killed almost 20 percent of London’s population…A great fire then consumed a third of the city.

Many humans and animals died in this crisis of ignorance. Now that we understand the Plague bacterium, we know what procedures and medicines will keep the disease from becoming epidemic. Ignorance, we might say, no longer plagues us.

Today, pestilence threatens us not because of our ignorance but because of the success of our systems. Our transportation networks are now so fast and far-flung that they transmit diseases worldwide before cures can catch up. The next epidemics will play on our strengths, not our weaknesses — fighting them will mean canceling flights, not killing fleas. This Horseman of the Apocalypse has dismounted and now travels coach.

The introduction to an intelligent essay.

RTFA. Click the link.

Leif Wenar holds the chair of philosophy and law at King’s College London. He is the author of “Blood Oil: Tyrants, Violence, and the Rules that Run the World,” from which this essay was adapted.

Graduation rates rise, knowledge skills decline – what’s wrong with this picture?


Click to enlarge

A sign in a classroom here at Berea High School, northwest of downtown in the largest urban district in the state, sends this powerful message: “Failure Is Not an Option. You Will Pass. You Will Learn. You Will Succeed.”

By one measure, Berea, with more than 1,000 pupils, is helping more students succeed than ever: The graduation rate, below 65 percent just four years ago, has jumped to more than 80 percent.

But that does not necessarily mean that all of Berea’s graduates, many of whom come from poor families, are ready for college — or even for the working world. According to college entrance exams administered to every 11th grader in the state last spring, only one in 10 Berea students were ready for college-level work in reading, and about one in 14 were ready for entry-level college math. And on a separate test of skills needed to succeed in most jobs, little more than half of the students demonstrated that they could handle the math they would need.

It is a pattern repeated in other school districts across the state and country — urban, suburban and rural — where the number of students earning high school diplomas has risen to historic peaks, yet measures of academic readiness for college or jobs are much lower. This has led educators to question the real value of a high school diploma and whether graduation requirements are too easy…

The most recent evaluation of 12th graders on a national test of reading and math found that fewer than 40 percent were ready for college level work. College remediation and dropout rates remain stubbornly high, particularly at two-year institutions, where fewer than a third who enroll complete a degree even within three years…

RTFA for all the usual excuses, all the rationales consistent with a society run by beancounters. The value of what you get in return is rarely considered. Not only by the politicians. Parents and teachers get – and deserve – their share of stick.

“Social pass” is a beloved pair of words here in New Mexico. Purportedly liberal politicians say students should be moved along even if they can’t pass tests demonstrating basic skills. You shouldn’t harm their tender little souls – with standards. Nothing new about that. I first ran into students graduating from good schools in wealthy communities who were functional illiterates – over 50 years ago. Now, it’s everywhere.

Beancounters are even more in control. That includes some local teachers unions run strictly for job protection instead of contributing to standards that aid children in learning how to learn. Get past all of that and you have to deal with the current crop of fools calling themselves conservatives who believe education was best before we had public schools.

Learning your way around — changes your brain

Fifteen years ago, a study showed that the brains of London cab drivers had an enlargement in the hippocampus, a brain area associated with navigation. But questions remained: Did the experience of navigating London’s complex system of streets change their brains, or did only the people with larger hippocampi succeed in becoming cab drivers?

Now, Carnegie Mellon University scientists have determined that learning detailed navigation information causes the hippocampal brain changes. Published in NeuroImage, Tim Keller and Marcel Just show that brief navigation training changes a person’s brain tissue and improves how that changed tissue communicates with other brain areas involved with navigation. The findings establish a critical link between structural and functional brain alterations that happen during spatial learning. They also illustrate that the changes are related to how neural activity synchronizes – or communicates – between the hippocampus and other regions that are important for navigation understanding and learning…

…Said Keller…”Our findings provide a better understanding of what causes the hippocampal changes and how they are related to communication across a network of areas involved in learning and representing cognitive maps of the world around us.”

To examine how the hippocampus changes, Keller and Just recruited 28 young adults with little experience playing action video games. For 45 minutes, the participants played a driving simulation game. One group practiced maneuvering along the same route 20 times. The control group drove for the same amount of time, but along 20 different routes. Before and after each training session, each participant’s brain was scanned using diffusion-weighted imaging which measures water molecule movement in the brain, and functional magnetic resonance imaging which analyzes brain activity.

The researchers found that the group that practiced the same route over and over — the spatial learning group — increased their speed at completing the driving task more than the group practicing on different routes, indicating that they learned something specific about the spatial layout of the virtual environment. The spatial learning group also improved their ability to order a sequence of random pictures taken along the route and to draw a 2-D map representing the route…

“The new discovery is that microscopic changes in the hippocampus are accompanied by rapid changes in the way the structure communicates with the rest of the brain,” said Just…”We’re excited that these results show what re-wiring as a result of learning might refer to. We now know, at least for this type of spatial learning, which area changes its structure and how it changes its communication with the rest of the brain.”

I had an acquaintance who spend decades as a cabby in Boston – another cluster of cowpaths and village-linking-footpaths that became an urban network. Though not on the scale of London. Upon retiring, he embarked on a methodical round-the-world tour that took two years.

I wonder if there’s an additional connection between the persistence of use extending beyond economic need?

Kids with ADHD actually have to squirm to learn

image

New research shows that if you want ADHD kids to learn, you have to let them squirm. The foot-tapping, leg-swinging and chair-scooting movements of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder are actually vital to how they remember information and work out complex cognitive tasks…

…New research conducted at UCF shows that if you want ADHD kids to learn, you have to let them squirm. The foot-tapping, leg-swinging and chair-scooting movements of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder are actually vital to how they remember information and work out complex cognitive tasks…

The findings show the longtime prevailing methods for helping children with ADHD may be misguided…

The research has major implications for how parents and teachers should deal with ADHD kids, particularly with the increasing weight given to students’ performance on standardized testing. The study suggests that a majority of students with ADHD could perform better on classroom work, tests and homework if they’re sitting on activity balls or exercise bikes, for instance.

The study at the UCF clinic included 52 boys ages 8 to 12. Twenty-nine of the children had been diagnosed with ADHD and the other 23 had no clinical disorders and showed normal development…

“What we’ve found is that when they’re moving the most, the majority of them perform better,” Rapport said. “They have to move to maintain alertness.”

By contrast, the children in the study without ADHD also moved more during the cognitive tests, but it had the opposite effect: They performed worse.

Now, broader, larger studies will be needed to verify and reproduce these results. Lots of emotional baggage stuck into existing conclusions.