Cognitive Labs Breaks Previous Record

It's official. September 2008 is our all-time high in monthly visitors, beating last month's record. Details later. Don't forget to spread the word. Make brain.com your start page.

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Sands of Mars, It's Psychohistory!

Psychohistory is a fictional blended science introduced in Isaac Asimov's Foundation universe, combining history, sociology, psychology, and statistics to predict with great accuracy the behavior of masses of people. While spelled out in the 1950's when the series was first published, it is reminiscent of political polling and also informational trend analysis - what is echoed today in Internet search frequency and analytics. Since the 50's, the concept has been played out in numerous fictional derivatives.

In Asimov's Foundation, analysis of the psycho dataset revealed the coming onset of a Seldon crisis, a vortex of chaos descending on society that would lead to a 30,000 year Dark age. However, by archiving all the world's knowledge in a library location at the edge of the galaxy, the 'Encyclopedists' would trim the period of decay to just 1,000 years, rejuvenating civilization.

If Asimov were alive today, he might have added genetic analysis as an additional behavioral variable in psychohistory, with genes impacting collective action just like they do physical characteristics and portend future health proclivities. By training, he was a biologist.

In fact in one of his books aimed at a youth audience, he addresses the issue of genetic determinism by putting dialog in the mouth of a Sirian human, representing totalitarianism, and the protagonist, representing liberalism:

"We have kept our descent pure; we have not allowed the weaklings in, or those with poor genes. We have weeded out the unfit from among ourselves so that we are now a pure race of the strong, the fit, and the healthy, while Earth remains a conglomerate of the diseased and deformed . . . .

"To the Outer Worlds, Councilman Starr, Earth is a terrible menace, a bomb of sub-humanity, ready to explode and contaminate the clean Galaxy. We don't want that to happen; we can't allow it to happen. It's what we're fighting for: a clean human race, composed of the fit."

Starr, speaking for Asimov, retorts:

"Composed of those you consider fit. But fitness comes in all shapes and forms. The great men of Earth have come from the tall and the short, from all manner of head shapes, skin colors, and languages. Variety is our salvation and the salvation of all mankind."

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Breaking...Space X launch Succeeds

A private company achieves a successful payload launch into earth-orbit for the first time... Video

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Cognitive Hacking: Does Black Tea Cool You Down?

Besides being a beneficial beverage for your brain and overall health due to the effects of powerful antioxidants known as flavenols, does drinking hot tea on a warm day cool you down? According to About.com, it does not.

According to thermodynamics, more heat is gained through drinking hot liquid than is lost through perspiration. However, by actually increasing your net temperature, drinking hot tea may increase the rate of cooling - providing a sensation of chill through increased sweat profusion. So, scientifically it is not true but experientially it may be perceived as so. Another example of the conundrum of experiencing in the brain the impulses provided by our nerve endings as 'reality.' Taking it to an extreme - cognitive hackers may impact our perception of reality by hijacking this CNS datastream and reorganizing the packets of information...enter the matrix.

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Alzheimer's: a "Duty" to Die

A British philosopher recently claimed that Alzheimer's patients should "do their duty" and stand side


New Bust of Ramses Discovered

Excavations at Tel Basta, about 80 km north of Cairo in the Nile Delta(above), have revealed a new 76 cm head of the king Ramses II - suggesting the existence of a full statue of approximately 5 or 6 meters tall, which has likely been fragmented. Statues of this size (or larger) usually are associated with temples, which were often placed in border zones or easily visible shoreside riverine locations to impress onlookers. Ramses II sometimes is viewed as the pharaoh mentioned in Exodus, with his son, Amun-hr-khopesh-ef.

Large statue of Ramses II at Memphis

2nd red granite statue of Ramses

Tel Basta was known as Bubastis (Greek) or Per Bastet (Home of Bastet, the cat-goddess) northeast of Cairo in the eastern Nile Delta.

Bastet was a solar deity, war goddess, and protector of pharaoh, whose name translates as "the consumer" with a feminine determinative ending. The ancient mound (or tel) sets just to the southeastern side of modern Zagazig.

It was an important city from about the 4th Dynasty until the end of the Roman Period (2613 BC through 395 AD), and was the capital of the 18th Lower Egyptian nome during the Late Period. However, it's also known that even as early as the 2nd Dynasty, a number of kings built up close ties with the city and Bastet's temple. The city occupied strategic ground along the route from Memphis to the Sinai (Wadi Tumilat) and to Asia.

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Early Onset Alzheimer's: Things You can do if you are at Risk (U.K.)

Fiona Phillips (center, seated) and GMTV crew

U.K. Television personality Fiona Phillips, based on family history, at age 47 has been identified as at risk for early Alzheimer's.

Her mother died of the disease two years ago and her father was just diagnosed with the disease. Her genetic profile is alluded to, but not discussed in the article, which refers to a study following 115 cases of family Alzheimer's and finds a 20% chance of developing the disease for subjects in the study.(Whether or not APOEe4 is the genetic variant referred to in the piece is undisclosed. Keep in mind that APOE 2, APOE 3, APOE 4 individuals all can be susceptible to Alzheimer's, with APOEe4/4 equating to the greatest risk.

According to Dr. Mark Porter in Edinburgh, here are some suggestions:

"While none of us can change the genetic hand we have been dealt, there is a lot we can do to influence factors that might reinforce a genetic predisposition to increase the risk even further.

Exercise/Lose Weight, Exercise your mind/be social, Eat omega-3 rich foods (fatty fish), Reduce blood pressure" (among other suggestions)

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Pakistani-U.S. Border Incident

Did Pakistan Fire on U.S. Copters?

That's the headline in world news.

In question is the sovereignty of the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) a flashpoint in previous centuries between independent tribesmen, the British raj's Indian government, Imperial Britain, and Imperial Russia (among others).

In the 21st century this is is the frontline between the still-independent tribesmen, the Pakistani government (as successor to the raj's administration following the Pak-India civil war) and U.S. hegemony, which has replaced Imperial Britain. Soviet Russia had a foothold in the region from the 1950's to the 1980's, following the czar's longtime involvement but presently is not directly involved, letting the U.S. play the role of client-state sponsor in Afghanistan via Hamid Karzai. Since Pakistan is a nuclear power, just like India, positive interaction with this state is a priority.



Morgan and Goldman Molt

Like cicadas emerging from the ground after a long developmental slumber and leaving their chitinous shell on the soil or in a downed, rotting tree trunk - rather than 17 years, however, this cycle was 79 years - i-bankers Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are going to be reclassified as integrated banks, allowing them to take deposits and make commercial loans. In 1929, just as Gatsby was muttering his last 'old sport' the bank holding company act of 1929 forbade investment banks from the bread-and-butter banking business, in an attempt to put a drogue chute on some of the sleight of hand financial practices that had created and amplified the roaring 20's.

Reversing this decision puts us back into the landscape of the Herbert Hoover administration. (Hoover test) All of these gyrations may create opportunities for smaller banks to bulk up and fill the gap left by the recently departed.

Morgan Stanley was the lead underwriter for UPS - in what (at the time) was the largest initial public offering yet. Stock held by founders and heirs and pre-IPO mgmt was set aside as Class A - a new class "B" was created for retail purchasers. Only around 10% of the equity was sold, with different voting rights than Class A. The previous largest offering was Dow Chemical co, and the subsequent largest was AT&T Wireless.

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F ratio notes

The world's largest scope (on Mt Graham, AZ) has an effective optical area of approx. 4,417 sq. feet and and collective aperture of 75 ft and consists of several components.

Just 12,654 8 inch mirrors would surpass this optical area. An 8 inch mirror has an area of approx. 0.349 sq feet. There is no need to have a concave, low f ratio mirror, since the focal length is based on a multiple of the total aperture - so mirrors used could be spherical and have almost no curvature.

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APOE literature from GeneXplorer 2.0

Snapshot of Pubmed APOE articles framed in GeneXplorer 2.0...

Here's the link

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APOEe4 May Be Associated with Unsuccessful Aging

A study of APOE3 and 4 gene carriers compared with APOE2 and 3 found a greater incidence of mortality in the former amongst a population in Sicily.

The researchers suggest that APOEe4 therefore, can be linked with "early, unsuccessful aging" and present Down Syndrome as a model for this declination of longevity. By studying Down Syndrome carefully, more insight can be gathered into how APOEe4 cuts short longevity. It's suggested that vascular problems play a role along with higher incidence of Alzheimer's Disease.

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New Radio Scope Peers Back in Time

High in the Chilean Andes, the Alma radio telescope 10x more powerful than the suddenly amateur-astronomer sized Hubble space telescope is in the works and is scheduled for "first beep" in the year 2012, according to Popular Mechanics.

This scope will enable scientists to get more clarity on the beginning of time and the start of the universe.

Astoundingly, the multi-array concept now used for radio telescopes (where a series of smaller dishes can be focused on the same target, amplifying the signal) also can be used for optical telescopes.

New flexible/computer controlled morphing mirrors enable this. The problem is obtaining focus at one point (prime focus)from all of these diverse sources or alternatively, layering each individual image into an intensified view.

What's at stake?

Getting the light-gathering and resolving power to distinguish individual planetary spheres orbiting distant stars - so that these far away planets look to us on earth as neptune and pluto do through our largest telescopes.

The holy grail would be creating a space telescope that used myriad individual mirrors - perhaps a host of microsatellites, controlled by computer, that would have unparalleled resolving capability - seeing planetary disks around stars in the Magellanic clouds or the Andromeda Galaxy - and zooming in closer and closer - to see from afar which planets might be most hospitable or host valuable resources.

Imagine a backyard telescope built on the same concept - a field of relatively cheap 8-inch mirrors remote controlled and pointed at one object could literally be the world's largest telescope - with unsurpassed light gathering power

One can imagine a neighbor walking by:

"What are you doing with all those mirrors? - it's some kind of eco-geek solar project, right?"

"Not exactly. I'm building the world's largest telescope."

"Really? (doubtful tone)

"Yeah. It'll take me one weekend, maybe two to install all the mirrors - I'm using a modified sprinkler system to control them. The catch is getting them all to focus on one point."

In theory, you could explore the universe from your pc, creating an on-the-fly JPG image or mpeg file, then share it with others.

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Quietest Place

What's your favorite outdoor quiet place?

Here's a list of 10.

The quietest place I've ever been to was Lava Beds - in Northeastern California. Absolute silence.

Another one would be the Badlands (South Dakota).

Death Valley is quiet in the backcountry but there are occasional flybys from aircraft from China Lake NAS and/or Nellis AFB.

In the SF Bay Area, there are surprisingly quiet and untouched spots in the forest just on the other side of Santa Cruz Mountains, between the crest and the beach. You would never think there is a major metropolitan area just a few miles away. A high-flying plane might be the only sign of civilization



The clapper

By the way, the same co. that makes and sells chia pets also makes the clapper. You know, clap on, clap off..." from TV...425 california street...still there.



Shatner to Launch SpaceBook

The editors of entertainment rag Varietal caught up with William Shatner the other day.

"This social networking thing is huge AND...I need to broaden the boundary of my thespian talents with a soft brush, from perspective to aspective, so I've decided to diversify my Priceline idiom into something completely new and brash, to boldly go where no man has gone before..."

SpaceBook....all the features of your favorite social networking sites, plus the ability to beam up new friends whenever you want, and zap those you don't want.

You can upload a photo and create your own widget to share, and build your own mods and jingles...including my version of Mr. Tambourine Man - it's much better than the Byrds'

Civilization and Its Discontents: Burning Man

At Burning Man, Civilization is Torched, Paving the Way for some kind of Future Polity.

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Army Opts for Telepathy in the Future

Concept of Firefox, the brain-controlled Russian fighter, from a 1977 novel

Beyond controlling a computer with your thoughts alone, and creating a helmet for diversional game-play, the U.S. army is funding a neuroscience project designed to let a commander "think" orders to subordinates.

Rather than pure telepathy, commands will have to be audibly rendered via a speaker or headset, call it 1/2 the way to completely integrated telepathy.

The idea is to speed up the command process and improve accuracy, sounding like the selling pitch for going to EDI back in the 1990's.

web site

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Space Communicae from Virgin Galactic

Here is the latest blast on space for people (and poets) from the ineffable Richard Branson.

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Chrome on Cognitive Labs, Real Time

How is the new chrome doing on Cognitive Labs? This little chart shows you Sept. traffic through 11 pm today. A little less than 1% share, which projects to several million users already worldwide.

This is from the surf-punks at netapplications, which is the co. being quoted for chrome usage stats in a number of articles. We happen to be a fairly long-time user of their service.

Click to get netapps real-time chrome performance, internet-wide.

You can download and read the chrome comic book here - don't forget to order your seamonkeys, x-ray glasses, or ship-in-a-bottle kit.

More people use Sony playstation than WebTV...which is probably at the end of the lifecycle.

simon says to try chrome.

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Stand Aside South Beach and Atkins Diets: it's the Amish Diet

Amish barn raising from taratara 69

The Amish of Pennsylvania, according to an extensive study of 704 subjects, are 30% more likely to carry a gene known as FTO linked to obesity, along with others of similar European ancestry. This gene, which regulates a kind of protein production, is linked to food intake, and predisposes individuals to gain weight. But obesity is less of a problem with the Amish than with typical suburbanites. Why is that?

Think about getting together and framing a barn or working in the field.

It turns out brisk exercise of 3 to four hours a day shuts off the propensity to accumulate weight. It may be that this is a genetic adaptation that helped people to survive in conditions of scarcity, not unlike mutations of the APOE gene, which in its APOEe4 variant, appears to have helped children survive by metabolizing scare food supplies - with the side effect of being linked to cognitive decline in later years.

Can people go back to a nineteenth century lifestyle, when individuals were much thinner?

Not really. But they can walk or cycle on routine daily trips instead of drive, take a walk instead of watching tv, play sports such as tennis, garden, and do chores. With this level of physical activity, you could indeed consume a hearty, but not unhealthy diet and still lose weight.

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Total Recall: Pushing the Limits of Memory

A new MIT study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, had an interesting objective: find out how much people can actually remember.

Using matched pairs of images, subjects reviewed up to 3,000 pictures over a matter of hours and were asked to identify the images they had seen earlier, with a variable sequence of mediating images they had not seen, activated by the spacebar.

While there were only 14 subjects, recall was up to 92% in some cases - suggesting that the human brain is capable of scanning, storing, and retrieving gigabytes of relational information - at least in the short term, as a form of in-resident or cached memory.

It would be fascinating to see if the relationships became distorted over time, allowing us to plot both the decay rate and obfuscation of data transfered from the cache to long term storage, answering the question of 'How reliable is memory?'

Also, finding out if the intensive exercise improved retention, which we suspect would be the case, turning back the clock on memory degradation.

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The Source of the Nile

Source of the Nile: falls draining Lake Victoria

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, like the mythical Northwest passage across the North American continent, explorers wondered and dreamed about the source of the Nile - which was unknown to western Europeans and therefore ready for discovery.

As early as the geographer Strabo, natural scientists speculated about its origin. In Strabo's case, he believed it to be the mountainous highlands of Ethiopia. He was correct in pointing out a major component of its water volume during the flood season (summer monsoons), but technically not the point of origin itself.

This remained unknown until the journeys of Sir Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke, two army officers of the East India company who wrote copiously of their experiences in the mid 19th century. Granted a subvention from the Royal Geographical Society, the men conducted numerous expeditions in East Africa, witnessing a vast lake in the Great Rift Valley which Speke named "Victoria."

While Burton was recuperating from illness and his wounds (he once had a javelin thrust through one cheek and out the other in a skirmish), Speke raced back to England by packet steamer and gave a talk at the Royal Society announcing that he had found the source of the Nile - Lake Victoria. His subsequent book and celebrity annoyed Burton, who actually was far more experienced as a linguist, soldier, and trailblazer than Speke. In fact, Burton was praised as the first Englishman to experience the pilgrimage to Mecca (haj), in the guise of a pious Indian merchant, enabling him to explain away his strange Arabic accent. He also was the first white man to see Harrar, a coffee and qa'at trading city in Ethiopia. The wholesale price of 27 lbs of fine Ethiopian coffee beans was 25 cents in the 1850's.

The latter 19th century saw different parts of East Africa claimed by England, France, the Netherlands, and two latecomers in the colonial landgrab - Italy and Germany, especially as Turkish influence in the region waned.

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Thinking your Way to Weight Gain

A new study suggests that intensive intellectual activity prompts snacking, even though the calories consumed by 'thinking' compared to a rest state are infinitesimal.

Thinking does demand brain energy, in the form of glucose - since brain cells consume 2x the energy of any other cells in the body. However, since the cells can't manufacture glucose it must be consumed and passed to the brain via the bloodstream.

To avoid undesirable weight gain connected with this additional eating, mental activity should be counterbalanced by physical activity, which consumes more calories overall and may have an appetite suppressant effect (known to runners and other repetitive cardio trainers). It may be that our body seeks this mental and physical balance.

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Daydreaming: a Window for Breakthrough Thinking

Scientists are re-assessing the utility of daydreaming. Once derided, it's becoming clearer that its a mental process that allows the mind to create links between bits of data that appear disassociated otherwise. It appears to be an important component of creativity.

In fact, this inattentive state when the mind speculates is the brain's default.

The key to functional creativity rather than random cognitive jaywalking is the ability to recognize when your brain is thinking holistically and then managing your thought processes.


Coglabs tops 614000 visitors in August Dog Days

Thanks to you, Cognitive Labs had a great August 2008, with over 614,000 visitors, up from 549,000 in July - our previous high.

That's a lot of brains getting faster + energized = fenergy (a new word)

Seriously, the term 'dog days' comes from the dog star, Sirius...

excerpt from Answers.com...
The term "Dog Days" was coined by the ancient Romans, who called these days caniculares dies (days of the dogs) after Sirius (the "Dog Star"), the brightest star in the heavens besides the Sun.

Popularly believed to be an evil time "when the seas boiled, wine turned sour, dogs grew mad, and all creatures became languid, causing to man burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies" - Brady’s Clavis Calendarium, 1813.

(Perhaps the origin of the name 'Burning Man' for the late August quest for meaning on the Nevada playa?)

The Dog Days originally were the days when Sirius, the Dog Star, rose just before or at the same time as sunrise, which is no longer true owing to precession of the equinoxes. The ancients sacrificed a brown dog at the beginning of the Dog Days to appease the rage of Sirius, believing that that star was the cause of the hot, sultry weather.

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It's in Your Genes

credit: Gene Expression, University of Leeds

The late summer has been a dazzling period for useful, genetic-based observations that offer insight onto disease, aging, and sociology.

1. Like a sprawling suburb, cancerous conditions result from uncontrolled cellular growth. The four genes E2f1, E2f2, and E2f3a and E2f3b work as a quartet to regulate cellular growth. Understanding the interdependency between these genes may shed light on cancer's preconditions.

2. Children of older fathers are much more likely to be bipolar, according to the statistics, possibly a result of slight flaws introduced into the sperm of men as they age. The older the father, the greater the incidence of bipolarity compared to a control population.

3. The vasopressin receptor 1a gene governs relative 'commitment' in male voles (and probably humans)...

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