Book Review: The Hungry Brain, Guyanet

Rating: As good as it gets – lotta unknowns.

This book explores research into causes of the obesity epidemic including the regulatory systems involved. Regulatory systems are 1. a satiety system that tells us if we’ve eaten enough this meal  and in a different part of the brain 2. A system that tries to keep body weight stable.

It list causes as:
1. Really tasty food, super-stimulus: salty, crunchy, fatty, sugary, MSG w/o much satiety signals like fiber, volume, or protein per calorie. This food breaks reg system No. 1.
2. Food Advertising – Or just smelling/seeing food out in the open.
3. Ease of getting food – seems to bypass regulatory system if it is effortless to consume it.
4. Damage to regulatory system, cause of damage unknown, may be a result of chronic overeating or of some toxin. In any case obese people seem to have lesions in the no.2 brain region.
5. Decreased exercise
6. Poor stress management
7. Circadian arrhythmia – poor sleep, eating at the wrong part of the cycle. Much more weight gain when eating same calories at night than during day.
All but 5 and  7 basically add up to we binge on foods, getting an a huge amount of calories, and then we do it again and our body can’t cope. We binge when we have tasty easy food, and are stressed and sleep deprived which basically leads to 4 which may start the cycle anew.

As for exercise, it says this isn’t a panacea but is an important part. I know from other research that exercise has different effects on different people some it suppresses appetite, in others it stimulates. So for an unlucky seventh  of the population exercise may not be helpful with re to weight loss.

So avoid binge foods and binge triggers. Shelled nuts better than unshelled fe.

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The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle

Rating: Recommended with reservations

I was hoping this book would have some insight as to how to increase myelination, as the blurb talked about how research into that was revolutionizing our understanding of how talent is developed. I was hoping for something practical to help my strength training. No luck! This book was written by someone not too familiar with brain science who trots out myelin every so often for the Wow! Science! factor. Invoking it does not add anything to his book, and furthermore, one would get the impression that myelin is The Factor in developing skill but I know there are also other essential mechanisms.

If you ignore the myelin junk it is a fairly interesting book. The author investigates towns and nations that have produced an extraordinary amount of talent in some particular field for common causes to offer suggestions for someone trying to create their own hotspot. If you want the brain stuff, get a book on neuroscience for your level.

An incomplete, unordered list:
A spark: something that gets kids interested in the activity. This could be a coach/teacher who is enthusiastic about it and their pupils or a hometown hero who inspired all the kids back home with their success.
A facility that is shabby yet functional and has a lot of reminders of glory that can be achieved-such as pictures/trophies of that hometown  hero.
Lots of chances to practice the critical part of the skill. For a pianist going over difficult passages as much as possible and not wasting time on other passages. For soccer players in Brazil a compact faster paced version of soccer commonly played by children means they have much more time handling the ball, than kids who grow up playing the regular version who haft to spend a lot of time moving the ball up the field or waiting for the ball to come to them to get to the ball control-improvisation part. So, lots of repetition, and quality of that repetition to improve a skill.
And more stuff, but these are the ones that came to mind. If interested buy the book, or visit the website.

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The Tablet

I’ve been wanting a e-ink tablet for a while now. I don’t have a smart phone but want to use some apps. E-ink is because I can use outdoors, it has long battery life, and I think the non glowing screen is less hypnotic. I’ve noticed a problem with glowing screens. Activities on them seem strangely addictive. Now I know designers try to make their content as compelling as possible but the attraction seems way out of proportion to the reward. I think that hypnosis is at heart capturing attention, and that we are hardwires to pay attention to glowing, flickering things (consider people staring at a campfire). So e-ink screen for casual computer stuff. I also like to imagine hanging out on the porch while I catch up on things.

Second implementation: I got a Boyue e-reader. It’s a fully functional android tablet (except flash and other animation). A little slow though.  I’ve got the following apps: LDS tools, library, evernote, nook, Gofree. Not happy with the browser and I will root to install the kindle reader and remove bloatware. Also feedly, twitter, facebook,

Results: The outdoor stuff hasn’t happened as I have no porch furniture yet and lots of things to do outside. It is definitely easier to resist one more click syndrome but that may be due to it being slow. Teaching a class out of gospel library is sub-optimal, printout or book is better. I like playing Go on it.

Future: I got a hand chorder and am learning it. This post was typed (slowly on it). Once I’ve mastered it I’ll be able to type on it at full speed with one hand; everything pocket portable. I’ll like a tablet with bluetooth so I can do so sans cable. There are similar models with that feature. faster processor? Maybe mounts so I can use it in certain locations without having to hold it or hunch over? Also, no built in GPS so unit I can plug into and use when needed?

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Book Review: The Righteous Mind

Rating: Recommended


First Haidt proposes a model for the relationship of morality / reason modifying Humes; reason is the slave of passion. The modification would be stipulating this is a roman master and an educated greek slave who is a trusted advisor, and whose fortunes are tied to the gens. That is virtually all reason could also be described as rationalization and is post hoc.
I have no problem with this. In high school, I was challenged by my religion teachers, as Mormons are, to find out for myself about the truthfulness of God, Christ, and the LDS Churches claims to authority/revelation. So I spent a lot of time marshaling arguments for and against. I found that I could establish a pretty strong case either way, depending on what I wanted to do. I concluded that reason itself would be useless in making this determination. So I put all my efforts in praying, reaching out to God. Words were given to me, “You already know its true.” and those specific memories came to mind. So his statement that we evolved to be lawyers and not scientists is more or less in line with my pre-existing thoughts. It also jives well with the conclusions that seem to follow from Turchins work on large scale cooperation – basically the genius of humankind is social, all other intelligence evolved either to support that or is a legacy of primates. When I was studying intelligence I recall a test of chimpanzees for working memory (thought to be one of the building blocks of high IQ v. low IQ in people). The test is n-back, a good score for humans is 5-8, for a chimp 30-50 is reasonable. Perhaps a good society has already allowed us to offload a lot of cognitive function, to the cloud of other people? And we use the surplus to maintain bigger more integrated societies?
Moving on, I think that the political focus was a mistake as it took away from the main points. On the other hand without tying it to politics, it is likely I would never have heard of the book. Implications of it is that to form strong sacrificing groups and outgroup is needed. One world government has some problems built in. That’s not to say a nation state status quo is without issues. It appears the democratic norms (real rights, privileges and responsibility to little people) came about as a side effect of mass wars. Well, it seems mass war is dead, and if it weren’t we’d probably want to kill it. Well like the greeks we might be done with mass war, but as with the romans it may not be done with us.


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Book Review: Beyond Earth

Rating: Ok

I thought this book would be a catalog of places to colinzed in the solar system and the pros and cons of each. It is not that. This book is a loose collection of parts flying in formation. I will address each in turn.

1. A snapshot of the current state of the boundaries and issues of space exploration. Including concerns of cosmic rays, extended periods of weightlessness on health. Far out drives like kasmir drive (or Q drive?) and the alcubirre drive. Both interesting. I recall reading something about the kasmir drive that was different than this one where the particles are used as reaction mass. It was a bell shaped chamber where pressure was exerted on the sides differently because of its shape?

2. A discussion of Titan, which is the only place we would have reason to colonize in the authors opinion. methane seas, rich in hydrocarbons, atmospheric pressure. They hypothesize that radiation could interact with Titans atmosphere to cause food to fall from the sky for animals to gather. One of the more interesting parts of the book.

3. A lot of preaching re Climate change. Nothing new or not even a new take to make this umpteenth repetition interesting. Skip. They think global catastrophe is the only reason we would colonize space, and only the wealthy at that.

4. Include any female engineer/scientist that you can get your hands on that is remotely connected to space tech. Grudgingly include males because you have no other options.

5. A mockumentary sci fi story building on some of the ideas culminating in humans being penned into eco reservations by the galactic AI connected by FTL comms. At least they can explore other pet sapients worlds virtually online!

I was disappointed in this book in that they didn’t discuss what I think are other good candidates. The asteroid habitats, Venus cloud cities, and other gas giant moons.
Also I think considering the only thing to do in space is colonize is a bit myopic. As they themselves pointed out Alaska was colonized at great expense (and still doesn’t break even) for reasons other than people wanted a place to live. This would be interesting too. Space whats it good for – comms and sensors, science, metals (plutonium for fuel cells?), vacations, adventure, maybe dirty industry and materials that can only be manufacture in free fall or micro-g. I’m assuming that only the most isolationist peoples would want to live off earth. Even in the event of a global catastrophe I’m thinking that underground warrens in remote locations would be a cheaper better bet. But I’m sure we would find a lot of use out of our solar system if we had cheaper access to it.

Finally one more note. They mentioned that astronauts have only 13 hours of free time on the ISS because of housekeeping and exercise and so forth. That seems to me that the level of complexity of artificial habitat is still too high for practical human use of space. We would need to simplify a lot.

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Review: Algorithms to live by.

Rating: Re-read

I loved this book. It takes computer algorithms and applies them to everyday life. Sometimes the result is amusing as applying the secretary problem to matchmaking. And sometimes it is helpful, for example the storage method of last recently used on top – I’ve been using this system for a while, but now I have validation of that. Lots of other interesting algorithms. And one thing I like about this book, is that its advice is clear and not contradictory with disclosure of its limitations. Of course this is not really a self-help book, more of a book about algorithms ‘computer science’. Perhaps people who don’t find math interesting won’t like this – but he keeps the math general, on a verbal level with a few exceptions.
Very interesting is the humble aspect of it – there are massive limits on what exactly can be reasonably computed especially with connection n! problems. Often times the most you can do is approach a problem in a way that gives you the best chance, (but still small) of getting the best solution. This made me think of God. As LDS, of course, we think God has limits. All powerful for actually possible powers. He cannot lie and be holy or give men free will and also ensure that they be good. Or create matter ex nihilo. Some very basic problems seem to defy finding a best solution. Does God have these limits? If so, some of my assumptions – and prayers are ridiculously laughably off. I won’t change these more fundamental life outlook and experience for some math stuff that I don’t fully understand – but it is food for thought..
Finally, I’d like to close with quantum computing. It seems that quantum computing may offer a way to evaluate numberless solutions simultaneously. This may be relevant to the question above. I kind of wish the author had addressed this, as it would have serious implications for the book – and I don’t know enough about QC to draw those implications myself. QC is mentioned as a successor to current type but I wonder if it won’t have specific applications it is suited for.

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Review: Strong Towns Blog

I’ve been following this site recently, and have found it more practical and current than city journal. Without ado, here is my review, good and bad.

The good.
THis site focuses a lot on infrastructure cost, the posts with numbers are eye opening. Infrastructure has increased enormously without a lot of benefit Part of the problem is centralized infrastructure leads to public cost, private gain.
It discusses what to do with old buildings. Part of me is bothered by seeing old unused building.
Another eye-opener is the problem with retail taxes. Two cities next to each other are in competition to attract retailers (to tax) and tax their combined pool of consumers. End result is retailers dictate terms to the two cities for their own benefit. THis is similar to the internet sales tax problem. A redistributed VAT tax would probably solve it.
I also enjoy their discussion of how public policy has tried to outlaw the poor, which makes life that much more difficult for them. The unmentioned elephant here is that people want to create/live in like-minded and self-policing communities but have no mechanism to do so and so resort to inefficient and costly means that harm the poor. They need to read The Big Sort and Steve Sailer.
They are in favor of land value tax, which I’ve long supported.
They like density. That’s not my preference but I agree on them that there are too many wasteful parking spaces in most places-that stretch out road and other infrastructure requirements.
They highlight conference centers and other redevelopment bondoogles which warm the money loving cockles of my heart.
I enjoy their discussion of mixed use small streets with low speed limits. Their idea is to put cars, pedestrians, bikes all together, like a parking lot. I’m not entirely sold but it is an interesting idea.

The Bad.
They have a vendetta against what they call stroads – which are roads with speed limits of 30-50 MPH, stop lights, a buffer and marked lanes. They want to do away with them but there needs to be some intermediary between streets and highways – branches between the leaves and trunks. These will naturally be a prime place for businesses. There is a reason there are so many stroads after all, they are filling a natural function.
People do want to go places that are not withing walking distances, to have more choices than what their local neighborhood can support – something niche or something with large crowds for example. I think they present enough evidence of problems that stroads clearly do need to be rethought which I will address in a future post.
The other is their blithe self assurance that the self driving cars will lead to a future parking lotless walkable paradise. It seems to me that the opposite will occur. People will travel in cars more since the costs of doing so is less. Since car use is highest during rush hour, many workers will still find it convenient to own at least one car. And parking lots will still be needed, preferably close to customers and arterial roads to save miles. One can hope they will be more efficient, but I don’t think you need self driving cars to accomplish that.

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