MonthJune 2011

5 Reasons Why Having a High IQ Ain’t All It’s Cracked-Up to Be

Odd John

Yes, it’s from Cracked, but it’s interesting:

#5.You’re Probably a Night Owl — And That’s a Bad Thing
#4.You’re Less Likely to Pass On Your Genes
#3. You’re More Likely to Lie
#2. You’re More Likely to Believe Bullshit
#1. You’re More Likely to Be Self-Destructive

Cracked: 5 Unexpected Downsides of High Intelligence

See also:

Why Smart People Do More Drugs

Smart kids more likely to be heavy drinkers

(via Dr. Benway)

Does Religion Make People Happier – Or Conformity?

A couple months ago I linked to a story about the happiest guy in the world. One of the ways this was calculated was based on religion – religious people are typically assumed to be the happier than non-religious people. And apparently religious Jews are expected to be happiest of all.

But are religious people actually happier? According to Nigel Barber, an evolutionary psychologist, that might not be the case. Barber writes:

Much of the research linking religiosity and happiness was conducted in the U.S. where more religious people are slightly happier. Researchers saw this as evidence for the universal benefits of religion (a perspective that interests evolutionary psychologists like myself because it helps explain why religion is so common around the globe). Yet, there is no association between religiousness and happiness in either Denmark or the Netherlands (3).

Why the difference? Religious people are in the majority in the U.S., but in a minority in Denmark and the Netherlands. Feeling part of the mainstream may be comforting whereas being in the minority is potentially stressful. Ethnic minorities around the world tend to have higher blood pressure, for example – this being a reliable index of stress.

If religion contributes to happiness, then the most religious countries should be happiest. Yet, the opposite is true.

Psychology Today: Does religion make people happier?

Could it be then that the level of happiness enjoyed by religious people in the U.S. is a result of conformity, rather than religion itself? If that were the case, we should expect religious people in more secular countries, controlled for income, to be less happy than non-religious people in those countries. Is this the case?

Here’s a recent ranking of the top 10 happiest countries in the world.

Who Speaks for Geek Culture?

Yesterday an essay by Wikipedia and Citizendium co-founder Larry Sanger made rounds: Is there a new geek anti-intellectualism?

There’s a lot to discuss there, including whether this is actually a particularly new phenomena, how prominent it actually is, whether being anti-college actually constitutes anti-intellectualism (and does thinking that the educational system is badly broken constitute being anti-college?), whether Nicholas Carr is being unreasonable, and whether advocating letting anyone edit a Wikipedia page actually constitutes a hatred of knowledge.

I’ll let others have that conversation for now.

One thing that I noticed reading Sanger’s essay was how few geeks he cites as evidence. Where are the quotes from Hacker News threads from real-life actual geeks? I’m sure you could find some gems in this thread or this one.

Instead, Sanger cites Peter Thiel, Sir Ken Robinson, Don Tapscott and Clay Shirkey. Do these people represent geek culture?

Thiel is a lawyer and venture capitalist. He’s best known as the co-founder of PayPal, but it was Max Levchin and the other co-founders who had the technical background. Robinson is an education researcher. Tapscott is a business consultant with a background in education research. Shirkey has perhaps the most geek cred among them. According to Wikipedia, he wrote technology guides for Ziff Davis before become a professor of new media. But do any of them truly represent geek culture?

Also, who doesn’t speak for geek culture? Apparently, in Sanger’s view Carr does not. Neither does Sanger himself. Apparently Jaron Lanier doesn’t consider himself a geek anymore, despite his background in computer science, and therefore speaks against geek culture instead of as part of it.

I’m not being glib here, and I’m not bringing this up as a counter point to Sanger. Articles and lectures by and interviews with Shirkey, Thiel, etc. tend to be discussed frequently in geek circles (though not always approvingly). Carr and Lanier are discussed as well – my perception, and Sanger’s, is that they have received more negative attention in the geekosphere than positive attention. But is that a correct assessment?

Who counts as a geek and who doesn’t?

Of course, Sanger only asks whether there is a strain of geek culture that is anti-intellectual, not whether the whole culture is anti-intellectual. Geek culture is not coherent. There are many right-wing libertarian geeks, and there are many socialist geeks as well. Some geeks are ruthless entrepreneurs (especially these days with the bubble in full swing). Some are more interested in free culture than making money. What, then, is the politics of geek culture? What do geeks have in common?

Does it even matter who speaks for geek culture?

10 Best Hard Sci-Fi Novels of All Time

The Shockwave Rider

MIT’s Technology Review published its list of all time greatest hard sci-fi novels:

  1. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea
  2. The Time Machine
  3. I, Robot
  4. The Shockwave Rider
  5. The Fountains of Paradise
  6. Cyteen
  7. The Mars Trilogy
  8. The Diamond Age
  9. Rainbows End
  10. Incandescence

Technology Review: The Best Hard Science Fiction Books of all Time

(via The Daily Grail)

Commuting is Making Us Fat and Miserable

traffic jam

People who commute more than 45 minutes a day are more likely to get divorced, according to a Swedish study. And that’s just one of many studies indicating that commuting ruins lives that Slate’s Annie Lowrey shares in a recent story on the subject. “The joy of living in a big, exurban house, or that extra income leftover from your cheap rent? It is almost certainly not worth it,” she writes.

Long commutes are associated with neck and back pain, high levels of stress, obesity and a high level of dissatisfaction with one’s life and work.

Despite everything, commuting time has only increased over the past 50 years. The number of “extreme commuters,” who commute 90 minutes each way, has doubled since 1990 to 3.5 million. Why? The number one reason seems to be housing costs. People tend to want to buy larger houses, even if that adds significant time to their commute. According to Lowrey, economists have been warning us since at least the 60s that we tend not to take the value of our time into account when we buy houses far from work.

It’s not always that easy, though. I don’t own a home, so I have more flexibility in where I live. But back when I was doing IT contracting I would work in one place for a couple-few months, then move on to the next gig. I worked in one northwestern suburb of Portland (Hillsboro) for six months, then in a southwestern suburb for 3 or 4 months (Tualitin) and then in a northeastern suburb (Gresham) for a month or so. Eventually I found a full-time job in the city. I could have tried moving closer to that workplace, but my wife worked on the other side of town. And really, I could have been laid off at any time and had to start commuting to another corner of the metro area. Living centrally (close-in southeast) helped – my commute was never more than about 45 minutes (by car) each way. But not everyone can live in the middle of a city.

Slate: Your Commute Is Killing You.

(photo by epSos.de)

The Rise of Predictive Policing: Police Using Statistics to Predict Crime

The Minority Report

The Department of Homeland security is field testing a system that will attempt to predict which passengers on an airline are planning terrorist activity, according to Nature. The system, called Future Attribute Screening Technology (FAST) looks at a number of factors, including your pulse, the steadiness of your gaze and the way you walk and calculates the probability that you’re planning to commit a crime. It’s a bit like a polygraph, but it doesn’t require subjects to be connecting to a polygraph.

DHS claims that the system is 70% effective in lab tests.

Nature: Terrorist ‘pre-crime’ detector field tested in United States

But DHS isn’t the only law enforcement agency looking to statistic modeling to predict crime. Earlier this year Slate ran a story on how police departments, including the LAPD and Chicago PD, are researching predictive policing. This projects aren’t about predicting the actions of one individual, Minority Report style, but instead are designed to help decide how best to allocate police resources.

Slate: Can police really predict crime before it happens?.

Top 5 Most Common Regrets of the Dying

Bonnie Ware spent many years working in palliative care, nursing patients in the final weeks of their lives. She shares what she says were the five most common regrets of the dying.

Dying by Alex Grey

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard. (“This came from every male patient that I nursed,” Ware wrote).

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Bonnie Ware: Regrets of the Dying

Police Robot Accidentally Burns Down House

A mobile home in Tennessee was left a smoking ruin last month after it was attacked by a heavily armed police robot firing advanced triple-warhead gas grenades.

Despite the uncompromising tactics employed by the no-nonsense tin cop, and the fact that satellite and heat-sensing technology had apparently confirmed that the residence housed a dangerous fugitive tooled up with a deadly arsenal of weaponry, feds and local lawmen who combined to launch the assault were left egg-faced following the inferno. The ashy wreckage left behind following the robocop’s orgy of mechanical destruction contained no trace of their quarry, who had plainly escaped during the mayhem.

The Register: Police ROBOT attacks and BURNS DOWN HOUSE

I wonder what unit this mechanical police offer was. ED209s are known for this sort of fuck-up.

(Thanks Alex!)

A Bitcoin-based E-Bay for Illegal Drugs

Drugs

Gawker is running an unbelievable story on website called Silk Road – an open market for mail ordering illegal drugs. And it’s only accessible through TOR:

Mark, a software developer, had ordered the 100 micrograms of acid through a listing on the online marketplace Silk Road. He found a seller with lots of good feedback who seemed to know what they were talking about, added the acid to his digital shopping cart and hit “check out.” He entered his address and paid the seller 50 Bitcoins—untraceable digital currency—worth around $150. Four days later the drugs, sent from Canada, arrived at his house.

“It kind of felt like I was in the future,” Mark said.

Gawker: The Underground Website Where You Can Buy Any Drug Imaginable

Buyer beware: TOR is not untraceable. And an update from Bitcoin’s development team indicates that Bitcoin isn’t 100% anonymous either.

For more information on how Bitcoin works, see my interview with developer Gavin Andresen.

From a comment on Facebook:

The only thing that Jeff Garzik, the Bitcoin developer, forgot to mention are the extremely useful Bitcoin Laundries. They allow you to obscure and obfuscate the origin of a Bitcoin, allowing you to effectively ‘launder’ the Bitcoin so that network analysis would be futile. And they are free, simple, and widely available. They probably “forgot” that because it would make it seem even EASIER than it already is to buy drugs online.

I would still urge caution in using this service.

N-Back Training Exercise Still Holding Up in Tests

soakyourhead screenshot
Above: the Soak Your Head Dual N-Back Application

I’ve covered research on how most brain training exercises don’t actually hold-up in tests. The good news is that dual n-back training, also covered here previously, is continuing to hold up in tests:

Jonides, who is the Daniel J. Weintraub Collegiate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, collaborated with colleagues at U-M, the University of Bern and the University of Tapei on a series of studies with more than 200 young adults and children, demonstrating the effects of various kinds of n-back mental training exercises. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation and by the Office of Naval Research.

According to Jonides, the n-back task taps into a crucial brain function known as working memory—the ability to maintain information in an active, easily retrieved state, especially under conditions of distraction or interference. Working memory goes beyond mere storage to include processing information.

Medical Express: A Brain Training Exercise That Really Does Work

(Thanks Bill!)

Soak Your Head offers a free Web-based n-back training program, but it requires Microsoft Silverlight. You can find a list of other applications here.

Another way to boost your mental capabilities? Play first person shooters. This NPR story provides an overview of the research. You can also find a research paper that looks at multiple studies here (PDF).

The best way to stave off cognitive decline, however, may be to spend time socializing with friends.

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