Friday, November 30, 2012

O2amp Glasses: The New X-Ray Specs?

Here's an updated version of the infamous X-Ray Specs:

O2amp glasses interpret mood and health by changes in skin color


The 'O2amp' glasses by 2AI labs amplify the user's ability to interpret the emotions and health of other people, by emphasizing the differences in color and brightness of their skin.

The tinted glasses offer vast applications most formatively in medicine. Three different 2AI technologies each reduce the visibility of certain parts of the light spectrum, to highlight respectively skin oxygenation, hemoglobin concentration, and a mix of the two. The first could help medical professionals locate veins, the second assists in the detection of trauma
or cyanosis
, and the third functions as a general clinical enhancer, eliminating neither the hemoglobin oxygenation nor the concentration signals.

However the shaded lenses are usable day-to-day as normal sunglasses. 'Typical sunglasses shade the world but also end up shading one’s connections to other people,' points out 2AI co-director Mark Changizi. 'This is exemplified by the way people tip up their sunglasses to get a better look at someone. Our technology shades the world but not the social: For the 'O2amps',one sees other people better by keeping them on, rather than tipping them up.'

2AI reflects that the glasses could also find applications in security, sports, and poker. artists have also expressed interest, not leastly for the ways that the glasses effectively 'expose' an inner layer of human physiology.

front view of a prototype pair of the glasses
image © alex livingston

The project incorporates significant research in evolutionary anatomy and neurobiology that suggests that our own vision is specialized to understand changes in skin color and their meaning. 'Once one understands the connection between our color vision and blood physiology,' explains 2AI co-director Mark Changizi, 'it’s possible to build filters that further amplify our perception of the blood and the signals it provides.'

'Color is not actually about wavelengths of light,' Changizi, himself a regarded evolutionary neurobiologist, elaborates; 'Instead, color is about the perception of the complex distributions of light of all wavelengths (in the visible part of the spectrum) that emanate from each object. we have evolved to perceive the colors not of photons, but of certain objects and surfaces--
especially surfaces of skin.

It is the reason why our vision is in fact different from the sampling that happens in cameras, for example, which register wavelengths in a more uniformly distributed fashion.

Instead, the cones in our eyes receptive to red and green light are sensitive in almost exactly the same range of wavelengths. The reason for this, Changizi suggests, is that otherwise it would be more difficult for us to interpret whether skin color changes are the result of blood concentration or differences in oxygenation, each of which signify different emotions and health states about the person.

Changizi elaborates on this research in the book 'The Vision Revolution', which investigates the reasons for the uniqueness of human vision in the animal kingdom.

The glasses make use of the fact that the spectrum of skin seen by the human retina varies depending on the underlying blood: in this graph, the blue and yellow curves show skin when hemoglobin concentration is high and low respectively; red and green curves show skin when blood oxygenation level is high and low respectively.

Part of his research into the evolutionary development of human vision, Mark Changizi maps the color spectrum with the physical and emotional significances humans attribute to various skin tones.

George Harrison and Bob Dylan "If Not For You" Rehearsal

In the News: Artificial Brain: 'Spaun' Software Model Mimics Abilities, Flaws Of Human Brain

Artificial Brain
A new software model of the human brain captures subtle details of human behavior.

by: Francie Diep

Published: 11/29/2012 on TechNewsDaily

Spaun, a new software model of a human brain, is able to play simple pattern games, draw what it sees and do a little mental arithmetic. It powers everything it does with 2.5 million virtual neurons, compared with a human brain's 100 billion.  But its mistakes, not its abilities, are what surprised its makers the most, said Chris Eliasmith, an engineer and neuroscientist at the University of Waterloo in Canada.

Ask Spaun a question, and it hesitates a moment before answering, pausing for about as long as humans do. Give Spaun a list of numbers to memorize, and it falters when the list gets too long. And Spaun is better at remembering the numbers at the beginning and end of a list than at recalling numbers in the middle, just like people are.

"There are some fairly subtle details of human behavior that the model does capture," said Eliasmith, who led the development of Spaun, or the Semantic Pointer Architecture Unified Network. "It's definitely not on the same scale [as a human brain]," he told TechNewsdaily. "It gives a flavor of a lot of different things brains can do."

Eliasmith and his team of Waterloo neuroscientists say Spaun is the first model of a biological brain that performs tasks and has behaviors. Because it is able to do such a variety of things, Spaun could help scientists understand how humans do the same, Eliasmith said. In addition, other scientists could run simplified simulations of certain brain disorders or psychiatric drugs using Spaun, he said. [SEE ALSO: Military-Funded Brain Science Sparks Controversy]

A brain with thought and action
Researchers have made several brain models that are more powerful than Spaun. The Blue
Brain model at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in France has 1 million neurons. IBM's SyNAPSE project has 1 billion neurons. Those models aren't built to perform a variety of tasks, however, Eliasmith said.

Spaun is programmed to respond to eight types of requests, including copying what it sees, recognizing numbers written with different handwriting, answering questions about a series of numbers and finishing a pattern after seeing examples.

Spaun's myriad skills could shed light on the flexible, variable human brain, which is able to use the same equipment to control typing, biking, driving, flying airplanes and countless other tasks, Eliasmith said. That knowledge, in turn, could help scientists add flexibility to robots or artificial intelligence, he said. Artificial intelligence now usually specializes in doing only one thing, such as tagging photos or playing chess. "It can't figure out to switch between those things," he said.

In addition, artificial intelligence isn't built to mimic the cellular structure of human brains as closely as Spaun and other brain models do. Because Spaun runs more like a human brain, other researchers could use it to run health experiments that would be unethical in human study volunteers, Eliasmith said. He recently ran a test in which he killed off the neurons in a brain model at the same rate that neurons die in people as they age, to see how the dying off affected the model's performance on an intelligence test.

Such tests would have to be just first steps in a longer experiment, Eliasmith said. The human brain is so much more complex than models that there's a limit to how much models are able to tell researchers. As scientists continue to improve brain models, the models will become better proxies for health studies, he said.

Next up: a brain in real time

There's one major way Spaun differs from a human brain. It takes a lot of computing power to perform its little tasks. Spaun runs on a supercomputer at the University of Waterloo, and it So Eliasmith's next major step for improving Spaun is developing hardware that lets the model work in real time. He'll cooperate with researchers at the University of Manchester in the U.K. and hopes to have something ready in six months, he said.

In the far future, people may find Spaun's humanlike flaws deliberately built into robot assistants, Eliasmith said. "Those kinds of features are important in a way because if we're interacting with an agent and it has a kind of memory that we're familiar with, it'll more natural to interact with," he added.

Eliasmith and his colleagues published their latest paper about Spaun in the journal Science.

Big Little Phantom

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Albert Einstein: Smirkativity

From Scientific American: The Case of the Sleeping Slayer

The Case of the Sleeping Slayer 

by James Vlahos
  • Whether or not the brain is asleep or awake is not an either-or proposition, according to some scientists.
  • Their research suggests that what we recognize as sleep—closed eyes, physical stillness and lack of consciousness—occurs only after a number of different parts of the brain cycle into a sleep state.
  • If this partial-sleep hypothesis is correct, some parts of the brain may be asleep while we actually appear to be awake, and vice versa.
  • This new view could explain why, in extremely rare cases, individuals may commit serious crimes, including murder, during sleep.

Deja View: Brainy Cover Swipe

Covers look familiar?

Do these covers, both by the photographer Stephen Wilkes, look similar?

The July cover of Scientific American, titled “The Evolution of Cooperation,” touts an outline of a human head with a brain represented by tangled blue bodies. The art is nearly a mirror image of the April 19, 2009, cover of the New York Times Magazine, which featured the same illustrated head.

The only difference? A cluster of green, rather than blue, bodies represents the brain on the Times’ cover, titled “The Green Mind.”

Jonah Lehrer’s career hit a speed bump when he was discovered to be recycling his own material from earlier stories on his New Yorker blog. But Wilkes says he isn’t engaged in self-plagiarism. He says Scientific American asked him to replicate his own work for their cover.

“They knew it came from the New York Times,” Wilkes said. “It’s not like I tried to sell it to them as something new. It’s within my artistic license.”

In an email statement, Scientific American editor in chief Mariette DiChristina claimed magazines often run “preexisting work” from photographers on covers and internal pages. She said Wilkes was paid by Scientific American to change the existing image, rather than to reshoot it.

“In this case, we had a similar idea ourselves, but saw it had been executed in a lovely fashion by a non-newsstand weekly publication read by a general audience,” she said.

Autism Wiki: Of Narrow Interests

"Obsession? What obsession?"
A high school senior displays part of the comic book collection that inspired his study into superheroes and doomsday. Watchmen, seen up front and later released as a major motion picture, is one of the books he analyzed.

Children with Asperger syndrome often have an intense and obsessive level of focus on things of interest. Some have suggested that these "obsessions" are essentially arbitrary and lacking in any real meaning or context; however, researchers note that these "obsessions" typically focus on the mechanical (how things work) as opposed to the psychological (how people work).

Sometimes these interests are lifelong; in other cases, they change at unpredictable intervals. In either case, there are normally only one or two interests at any given time. The interests are often linked in some way that is logical only to the AS individual.

In pursuit of these interests, people with AS often manifest extremely sophisticated reasoning, an almost obsessive focus, and a remarkably good memory for trivial facts. Hans Asperger called his young patients "little professors" because he thought his patients had as comprehensive and nuanced an understanding of their field of interest as university professors.

People with AS may have little patience for things outside these narrow interests. In school, they may be perceived as highly intelligent underachievers or overachievers, clearly capable of outperforming their peers in their field of interest, yet persistently unmotivated to do regular homework assignments (sometimes even in their areas of interest). Others may be hypermotivated to outperform peers in school.

The combination of social problems and intense interests can lead to unusual behavior, such as greeting a stranger by launching into a lengthy monologue about a special interest rather than introducing oneself in the socially accepted way. However, in many cases adults can outgrow this impatience and lack of motivation and develop more tolerance to new activities and meeting new people.

Real Life Examples of Narrow Interests

Pets can become obsessions for the aspie child -- they are always around the house and do not talk or present a socially complex partner.

Certain dolls may become extremely close to the aspie child -- eg, one that looks like him/her or a Furby because it appears to interact with them, thus providing social interaction unachievable with other human children.

Computer games can become very addictive to the aspie child -- they provide visual stimulation minus the need for social interaction. In many cases, multiplayer games like Club
Penguin or or Stardoll, also provide a non-intimidating way to socialize "in world" while playing the game. See the Internet.

Magical things -- fairies, unicorns, etc. -- are also often an obsession.

Cards/Sports-Facts -- baseball or football cards and scoreboard information -- become a way to interact with people and their competitive instincts but not in an intimidating social way (no discussion required).

Strange things -- turtles, mushrooms, African dictators, the Holocaust, grafitti, ect. -- things like these may have been discovered early in an AS child's early childhood, and have since been an obsession to the AS child.

Time Blog: David Healy: Beware of Big Pharma and Conflicts of Interest

“It’s a miracle that I was asked along to give a talk [here], and I’m extremely grateful,” Healy said.

His disquisition was perhaps less humble. Arguing that his profession is “committing professional suicide” by failing to address its dangerously close relationship with the pharmaceutical industry, he likened psychiatry’s attitude toward its faltering legitimacy to the Vatican’s widely derided response to its child-sex-abuse scandal by priests — essentially that psychiatry is brushing off justifiable concerns as hype instead of dealing with the source of the problem.

Few experts believe that psychiatry’s relationship with the drug industry is healthy. While several speakers at the session pointed out that other specialties are similarly entangled with industry, “everyone does it” is generally not a valid defense where conflicts of interest are concerned.

(MORE: Antipsychotic Prescriptions in Children Have Skyrocketed: Study)

The conflicts throughout medicine — not just in psychiatry — are clear. In 2004 alone, pharmaceutical companies spent about $58 billion on marketing, 87% of which was aimed squarely at the roughly 800,000 Americans with the power to prescribe drugs. The money was spent mainly on free drug samples and sales visits to doctors’ offices; studies find that both free samples and sales calls increase prescribing of brand-name drugs and raise medical costs without improving care.

Moreover, nearly half of all continuing medical-education classes are sponsored by industry. By their third year of medical school, 94% of psychiatrists in training have already accepted a “small noneducational gift or lunch” from a drug company, according to Dr. Paul Appelbaum, a past president of the APA and director of Columbia University’s Division of Law, Ethics and Psychiatry, who spoke on the panel with Healy.

And while only 34% psychiatrists believe that receiving food or gifts affects their own prescribing patterns, 53% believe that it influences that of their colleagues, according to a study cited by Appelbaum. Research shows that this type of thinking — “Everyone else is prone to biases and social factors, but not me!” — is common and confounds attempts to address conflicts. “At least some of our colleagues are wrong,” Appelbaum said drily of the study.
Healy’s jeremiad was more severe and sharply worded, but it seemed to be well received by the psychiatrists assembled in the audience. Many even asked questions that suggested they too were troubled by the status quo.

“I’m going to argue that we need you to be biased. We want you to be biased by treatments that work,” Healy told his colleagues. “I don’t mind if you’re my doctor and you’ve given talks for industry. My concern is not that you’ve been paid by industry, but that you’ve been fooled by industry. The key conflict is whether people are hiding data from you.”

(MORE: Top 10 Drug Company Settlements)

Healy went on to discuss how drug companies have repeatedly concealed important information about the risks of their medications, whether by hiring ghostwriters to spin the results of scientific studies and then getting renowned experts to put their names on the published papers; by employing tricks in clinical trials like using inadequate doses of comparison medications to make the company’s own drug look better; or by simply keeping unfavorable data out of the public domain.

Healy himself has also been targeted directly by drug companies that haven’t been happy with his critiques. In fact, he’s widely believed to have lost an academic job offer at the University of Toronto as a result of one such critical lecture. At the session on Thursday, one slide in his presentation contained information he sought via a Freedom of Information Act request detailing drugmaker Eli Lilly’s strategy for shutting Healy down. To counter his public insistence that drug companies reveal hidden drug data, Eli Lilly proposed doing things like planting confederates in the audience of his presentations to ask questions that support industry’s view.

Healy also described how in his own attempts to publish formerly hidden data — which all now reside in the public domain — he encountered legal issues with journals, which ultimately resulted in rejection of publication. The clinical-trial data in question in this case showed a greater risk of suicidal acts associated with antidepressants than had previously been revealed.

Healy also referenced hidden data from trials of the antipsychotic drug Zyprexa. “None of them mentioned [that the drug could cause] diabetes or [had] the highest suicide rate in clinical-trial history,” he said. Although drug companies are now required by medical journals to register all of their clinical trials with the National Institutes of Health if they wish to publish them — including those that never end up being published — this is not a legal requirement.

They can still hide relevant data from the Food and Drug Administration by not disclosing trials that they never attempt to submit to a journal.

Healy noted further that when data surfaced showing a link between antidepressant use and risk of suicide in children, the APA issued a statement proclaiming that “we believe that antidepressants save lives.”

What I believe they should have said is that the APA believes that psychiatrists can save lives because it takes expertise to manage the risks of risky pills,” he said; if psychiatrists’ only role were to dole out drugs, then less trained physician’s assistants could easily replace them, he noted.

(MORE: A Doctor’s Dilemma: When Crucial New-Drug Data Is Hidden)

But when a questioner, claiming himself “speechless” in the face of Healy’s arguments, asked whether he should just stop prescribing antidepressants, Healy said no. Healy prescribes them himself, but believes that the role of the doctor is to manage risks, not view drugs as harmless. “Medical treatment is poison, and the art of medicine is trying to find the right dose,” he said.

As for what could be done to disentangle medicine from industry, Healy wasn’t entirely pessimistic. “The key issue in the short term is access to data. We have to insist on that,” he said. “We let industry come to our meetings and let them talk in our programs. I don’t think it’s huge problem that they get paid. The big problem is that if you ask for data, they can’t give it to you. That’s not science, that’s marketing masquerading as science.

But what of the issue of doctors being visited by paid-industry types — or being paid by industry themselves? The panel’s organizer, Dr. Daniel Carlat, director of the Pew Prescription Project, noted a new disclosure law, passed as part of President Obama’s health-reform bill in 2010. Under the legislation, drug companies must reveal which doctors have taken any payment or gift from them worth more than $10, and describe the exact amounts taken and the purpose for them on a publicly available website. (Unfortunately that website will not be up and running until 2014 at the earliest.) All of the panelists agreed, however, that while public disclosure is good, it is not enough.

Dr. Roy Perlis, who heads the Center for Experimental Drugs and Diagnostics at Massachusetts General Hospital, cited research showing that disclosure can actually backfire in unexpected ways. In one study, for example, people were asked to estimate the number of coins in a jar and provided an “adviser” to help them guess. Unbeknownst to them, the adviser had been paid to try to push people to make higher estimates than they otherwise might.

In one condition of the trial, participants were told in advance that the adviser had this bias, but that made matters worse. Under this circumstance, the adviser encouraged participants to make even higher estimates than in the situation without disclosure.

(MORE: How a Study of a Failed Antidepressant Shows That the Drugs Really Work)

“There are two different mechanisms” to explain the phenomenon, says Perlis. “One is strategic exaggeration: ‘I know you’re going to discount what I say, so I deliberately will be more effusive and tell you a higher number.’ The other is so-called moral licensing: ‘I’ve disclosed my conflict, therefore I’m allowed to be biased.’ This very thing may well also play out when disclosing conflicts of interest in medicine.”

Maran Woolston, a woman with multiple sclerosis, also spoke on the panel about how betrayed she felt when she learned her doctor had referred much of her care to a drug-company subsidiary, but had not revealed it to her — and had also taken $300,000 in funding from various drugmakers.

“In my opinion, transparency isn’t a silver bullet,” she said. “My ideal solution — and this may be naive — is that [doctors should] accept no payments whatsoever because then there can be no conflict of interest.”

Read more:

Captain Atom vs. Doctor Spectro, Master of Moods

Captain Atom #79, March 1966. Art by Steve Ditko and Rocco Mastroserio. Atomic energy vs. mood lighting -- who will win?

Kluge: The Haphazard Evolution of the Human Mind

I polished off Connected (excellent), and now on the reading stand is Gary Marcus' Kluge. Seems like another bargain book winner.

Kluge: The Haphazard Evolution of the Human Mind by Gary Marcus

How is it that we can recognize photos from our high school yearbook decades later, but cannot remember what we ate for breakfast yesterday? And why are we inclined to buy more cans of soup if the sign says "LIMIT 12 PER CUSTOMER" rather than "LIMIT 4 PER CUSTOMER?" In Kluge, Gary Marcus argues convincingly that our minds are not as elegantly designed as we may believe. The imperfections result from a haphazard evolutionary process that often proceeds by piling new systems on top of old ones—and those systems don’t always work well together. The end product is a "kluge," a clumsy, cobbled-together contraption. Taking us on a tour of the essential areas of human experience—memory, belief, decision making, language, and happiness—Marcus unveils a fundamentally new way of looking at the evolution of the human mind and simultaneously sheds light on some of the most mysterious aspects of human nature.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly
Evolution seems a rushed process in which traits and attributes of humanity have been pieced together to make a functioning but far from perfect or rational being. Marcus explores the ways in which the human mind, while magnificent in its overall ability, still stumbles on several points. Focusing on areas such as memory, decision making and language, Marcus keenly identifies the makeshift devices humans have created in order to contend with what he describes as "evolutionary inertia."

From Booklist

A university psychology professor who periodically writes for mass media, Marcus here punctures the high regard humanity has for its species-distinctive qualities. Whether it’s memory, rationality, language, or free will, our noble human traits are hopelessly entangled with our baser drives, which have survived the dynamics of evolution. Blending discussion of experiments from cognitive psychology with speculation about why people are far less logical than they believe, Marcus latches onto the term kluge, which comes from the engineering world and is jargon for a fix that ain’t perfect but good enough. It’s a productive figure of speech for Marcus’ argument that deliberative thinking probably had an evolutionary advantage (save seeds to plant next season), but seems in permanent conflict with reflexive impulses having more ancient evolutionary advantage (eat seeds now). Carrying the point across a gamut of behaviors, from money to mental illnesses to talking, Marcus develops his idea of the klugelike mind, in which emotion perpetually besieges the intellect, with appealing clarity. -- Gilbert Taylor

"Marcus's emphasis on the peculiar quirks of our minds -- or odd decisions and weird interpretations -- makes for a fascinating, self-referential read -- Marcus's book makes "kluge" an indispensable term for explaining the human mind." (Seed )

"Invigorating fun...inspired, one of those unexpected analogies that help us look at everything afresh." (New York Times Book Review )

"A shot across the bow of intelligent design." (Kirkus Reviews )
About the Author
Gary Marcus is a professor of psychology at New York University and director of the NYU Infant Language Learning Center. Marcus received his Ph.D. at age twenty-three from MIT, where he was mentored by Steven Pinker. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Newsday, the Los Angeles Times, and other major publications. He lives in New York.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

RIP Spain Rodriguez, Underground Comix Legend
Underground cartoonist the legendary Spain Rodriguez, the creator of Trashman, died this morning at his home In San Francisco.

Zippy the Pinhead auteur Bill Griffith announced the sad news on Facebook, “Legendary cartoonist Spain Rodriguez died this morning at home in San Francisco. He was a great friend and raconteur--and one of the best cartoonists of his or any other generation. I'll always remember our talks on comics and drawing. He had so much more wonderful work inside him--I'll miss him forever.”

Hailing from Buffalo, New York Spain studied at the Silvermine Guild Art School in New Caanan, Connecticut.

Heading for the happening New York City, during the late 1960s, he became a contributor to the  East Village Other and soon published his own underground indie tabloid, Zodiac Mindwarp (1968).

A founder of the United Cartoon Workers of America, he contributed to numerous undergrounds including Zap Comix.

He also drew uber-liberal Salon's continuing graphic storyThe Dark Hotel.

Strongly influenced by 1950s EC comic book artist Wally Wood, Spain pushed Wood's sharp, crisp black shadows and hard-edged black outlines into a more simplified, stylized direction, Wikipedia noted.

Sweet Dreams

Moebius Crystal Watcher

In memory of Moebius 1938-2012

Have Yourself a Brainy Christmas

Would it be too creepy to ask for a plastic brain model this Christmas?

Why, yes, it would!

Yow! Tactless cartoonists give a new meaning to "brain drain" at Dexter's Laboratory!

Terry Beatty Phantom Sunday #2

I can now share the printed image of the second Phantom episode I bought from artist Terry Beatty at Oafcon, now that it's been published. "The Ghost Who Scuba Dives."

Humans' Complex Social Skills Due to Larger Brains

Kate Ravilious for National Geographic News, September 6, 2007

The uniquely human abilities to build relationships with others, talk, and even gossip are all boons of a large brain, a new study says.

Researchers who put human toddlers and great apes through a series of physical and cognitive tests found that human social skills are superior to those of our closest genetic relatives, whose brains are smaller.

But whether we are better at putting our social skills to good use is still a matter of opinion.
"Compared [with] baboons we waste an awful lot of time gossiping about one another," said Joan Silk, an anthropologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not involved in the study.

Superior Social Skills

Esther Herrmann of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and colleagues put 106 chimpanzees, 32 orangutans, and 105 young German children through a series of complex tests.

The children were all about two-and-a-half years old and had been speaking for at least a year.
The apes had all been made accustomed to humans.

The researchers designed 16 different puzzles to tease out the differences in ability between humans and apes.

Some of the puzzles, such as tracking the position of a reward under a cup, involved only physical skills. Others, such as selecting the cup that the researcher pointed to, involved social skills such as communication.

The results found that chimpanzees, orangutans, and human children were all equally successful in the physical skills tests.

But the human children were significantly better at the social skills tests—scoring around 74 percent correct on the tests compared to scores of 33 percent from both groups of apes. (Related news: "Monkeys Deaf to Complex Communication, Study Says" [January 22, 2004].)

For instance, the toddlers outperformed the apes on "theory of mind" experiments—the ability to understand that other individuals have their own beliefs and intentions.

Bigger Brain Theories

There are two main theories as to why humans have evolved larger brains than their primate relatives. A huge brain is a serious investment— neural tissue guzzles a lot of energy.

The general intelligence hypothesis suggests that humans' bigger brains make us better and faster at all kinds of skills, such as memorizing, learning, and planning ahead.

The cultural intelligence hypothesis, bolstered by this recent study, says that bigger brains have specifically enabled us to develop more complex social skills.

"This [study] contradicts the general intelligence hypothesis," Herrmann said. "We would have expected to see a difference in physical skills as well if [that] hypothesis was right."

Aside from gossiping, these increased social skills appear to carry strong advantages, enabling humans to sustain relationships with others and help each other out in times of need.

"Our bigger brains enable us to cope with the complexities of social life," said Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom who was not involved in the study.

Migration Factor

No one really knows when or why humans started to develop these enhanced social skills, but there are one or two clues.

"It must have occurred later than one million years ago, as we don't see any increase in brain size before then," lead study author Herrmann said.

One theory is that social skills evolved in response to a more nomadic lifestyle, possibly dating back to when human ancestors began to migrate out of Africa.

"As people began to migrate more they needed to create good relationships with a wider range of people, so that they could beg favors over things like water, food, and access," the University of Liverpool's Dunbar said.

In particular language appears to have been a key development, enabling humans to communicate with others outside of their tribal groups.

Mind-Reading Monkeys

However, humans don't have a complete monopoly on social skills.
A related study published in Science today shows that primates are capable of reading emotions and understanding the intentions of others.

Harvard University's Justin Wood and colleagues tested the ability of cotton-top tamarins, rhesus macaques, and chimpanzees to understand the difference between a deliberate gesture and an accidental gesture.

All the primates showed much more interest when Wood deliberately selected a particular container than when his hand fell accidentally onto a container.

"Humans are not the only ones who can guess what others are thinking," Wood said.

For humans these enhanced social skills have enabled us to spread far and wide, settling in every corner of the world.

But this may have come with some hidden costs, said University of California's Silk.

"The human brain is a really complicated machine that goes wrong with some frequency," Silk said.
Mental illness may be the evolutionary cost of this complexity."

Game Theory: Cooperators, Loners, Free Riders, and Punishers

James Fowler is a new kind of political scientist. Specializing in genopolitics, the genetic basis of political behavior, and the evolution of cooperation, he melds the social with the biological, pushing the boundaries of his field to discover, for example, that smoking, obesity, and happiness spread within social networks, and that genes affect voting behavior. A professor at the University of California, San Diego, Fowler is famous among students for publishing the first scientific evidence to support the "Colbert bump." His new book, co-written with sociologist Nicholas Christakis, is Connected: The Surprising Power of Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives,

Review by Luc Reid

In their book Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, sociologist Nicholas Christakis and political scientist James Fowler look at what it means to be a human being in terms of our interpersonal networks. One of the topics they take up is an examination of how selfishness, cooperation, and altruism interact, which helps answer the question in the title: can we expect others to help us?

Christakis and Fowler take results from experiments around the world with three games. In the “Ultimatum Game,” two people are given an amount of money (for instance, ten dollars).

Person 1 makes an offer to split it with the other, offering anything from a penny to a 50/50 split to handing over the whole amount. Person 2 decides to reject or accept the offer. If Person 2 rejects the offer, neither person gets anything.

The “Dictator Game” is similar, except that any offer is automatically accepted. All the power lies with Person 1.

In the “Trust Game,” Person 1 can give any amount to Person 2, and that amount triples, at which point Person 2 can give any amount back. If both cooperate completely, they each get more than the original amount. If they don’t, someone gets screwed.

I won’t go into the experimental findings in detail, but instead will head straight for the conclusions Christakis, Fowler, and others draw from the results.

Based on the mixture of selfishness, cooperation, trust, mistrust, and other attitudes demonstrated by subjects in these experiments, they identify three types of people: cooperators, loners, and free riders.

Cooperators tend to trust more, are more helpful to others, and are dependent on other people trusting and helping in return. Loners tend not to trust and try not to depend on anyone else. Free riders take advantage of cooperators to get whatever they can for themselves without offering anything in return.

A cooperator in the midst of other cooperators thrives. A cooperator who runs into too many free riders gets screwed. A loner is less successful than others if everyone else is successfully cooperating, but isn’t in danger of being taken advantage of by free riders. A free rider thrives when cooperators let things go, but runs into trouble with a sort of cooperator sub-type that Christakis and Fowler dub “Punishers.” Punishers are willing to exert some effort to penalize people for not cooperating or for taking advantage of the system.

In the ultimatum or dictator game, a cooperator might offer half or close to half of the money to the other person. A loner in the trust game will assume the other person is going to take advantage and act defensively. A free rider will take the most money available regardless of consequences to the other player. A punisher in the ultimatum game will refuse an offer that seems too low even though this would mean both players lose out.

What’s fascinating to me is that according to Christakis and Fowler, a society is made up of all of these types, but the proportions of each are constantly shifting. There appear to be times and places where cooperators spread, which might eventually attract free riders, which in turn will attract punishers and perhaps turn some of the cooperators into loners. If loners are everywhere, then some might band together and be more successful by cooperation, starting the cycle over. During each separate phase of this cycle, which might last for some time, there are different opportunities and dangers, and the question of whether help is likely to be available is answered differently.

So when looking for help in our lives, there are questions we can ask ourselves. Are we given to cooperation, or do we tend to do things on our own? What about the people around us? And whether or not a person tends to help in one area suggests a lot about whether that person is likely to help in another.

For instance, a person who gives money to public radio is also more likely to volunteer to help you move or to give you directions if you’re lost. A person who works in a kind of job that emphasizes getting as much as you can, like a stockbroker or auto salesperson, is less likely to trust and offer help to others – though of course it’s inaccurate to make blanket statements about people on this matter; these are just general observations that are often true.

Regardless, making these kinds of observations about yourself and the people you’re connected with can help provide insight both about what you’re contributing and what you can expect from others.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Cynthia Sass Blog: Trend Alert: Veggie-Inspired Desserts

Shape Magazine
Goodbye, chocolate-covered bacon; hello, chocolate-dipped cauliflower! While you may normally think of veggies as something to choke down before moving onto dessert, a new trend of veggie-inspired desserts may change that, according to a report in the latest issue of Food Technology magazine.

Classic sweet treats such as carrot cake and sweet potato pie have long been fan favorites, but now pastry chefs are going above and beyond to include flavorful picks such as cucumbers, eggplants, beets, squash, carrots, mushrooms, and tomatoes in baked goods.

I was excited to read about this trend, because I’ve been experimenting with veggie-based treats for some time. I recently shared my recipe for secret spinach brownies with FitSugar viewers, and lately, I’ve been baking up a storm, folding pureed lentils or bean flours into cookies and cupcakes. In addition to being downright fun, adding veggies to the dessert mix can considerably kick up the nutritional value of goodies that traditionally lack vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, protein, and fiber.

From indie vegan bakeries to fine dining establishments, bakers and chefs are using a wide range of chopped, puréed, and shredded veggies in exciting new culinary creations. In some cases, veggies with similar textures can be used in place of fruits, such as replacing apples or pears with eggplant.

Other ideas come from cultural influences (check out my previous post about why we should be serving up desserts like Vietnamese bean pudding and Japanese adzuki bean ice cream), and others from long-held traditions. For example, food historians say that for decades home cooks have relied on naturally sweet readily available veggies, like beets, when sugar was scarce.

With the explosion of interest in nutrition, local and in-season food, and plant-based diets, I predict that this red-hot veg trend will keep on growing (no pun intended).

What's your take? Do you enjoy veggie mainstays like zucchini bread and pumpkin pie? Are you excited about trying new options like mushroom meringue? Or do you believe that veggies only belong in savory dishes like pastas, stir-frys, and salads? Please tweet your thoughts to @cynthiasass and @Shape_Magazine!

Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.

Joe Cool's Not Worried

Records are for squares.


Cartoonist-seller Brian Basset ‘blown away’ by jaw-dropping price for Bill Watterson original at auction

A QUARTER-CENTURY ago, Brian Basset and Bill Watterson did what many cartooning peers do as an act of camaraderie: They swapped originals.

As with interview access to the “Calvin and Hobbes” creator himself, though, access to Watterson’s dazzling original artwork soon became an increasingly rare thing — both before and after he ended his legendary strip in 1995. So it made headlines recently when Basset — creator of the strips “Red and Rover” and “Adam@Home” — decided to put his prized 1986 Watterson original up for auction, citing that he was in a financial pinch.

Now, the record windfall from the Watterson gift should certainly help.

Over the weekend, the hand-colored Sunday original — a 13-by-9-inch marker-pen-and-watercolor on Bristol board — sold for a record-shattering $203,150, the Dallas-based Heritage Auctions told Comic Riffs on Saturday. (The hammer price before tacked-on premiums was $170,000, a Heritage official told us.)

“A world record price like this is a testament to just how beloved ‘Calvin & Hobbes’ was and is,” Todd Hignite, Heritage Auctions vice president, says in a news release, referring to the creators of “Peanuts,” “Little Nemo in Slumberland” and “Popeye.” “The final price realized tops any offering from any cartoonist ever, including the giants like Charles [Schulz], Winsor McCay and Elzie Segar.”

The previous reported record for the sale of a comic-strip original at auction was $113,500, in 2007, for a “Peanuts” original.

“I am absolutely thrilled and blown away with the final tally,” Basset tells Comic Riffs on Monday.

As is customary with many Heritage auctions, the house declined to identify the buyer out of respect to the buyer’s wishes. But Basset was able to convey the recipient’s reaction.

I did find out, though, from the auction house that the proud new owner — a cartoon collector — of the Watterson original is equally thrilled with their purchase.

“This makes me feel great,” continues Basset, who has noted he had economic needs with a divorce in the rear-view mirror and matrimony on his road ahead. “I was hoping it would go to someone who would enjoy it as much [as] I had for all the years I owned it.”

Monday, November 26, 2012

Spotlight on Dr. Light

Playing With Light

I've decided to experiment with colored lenses to see if they affect my mood or ability to sleep.  So off I went to Amazon and eBay. and ordered up some cheap sunglasses.

Since I stare at the computer monitor all day, the first thing I ordered from Amazon was:

Sheer Vision Computer Glasses with Peach/Light Beige Polycarbonate Sheer Glare Anti Reflective Lenses, Clip on Flip up, Rectangle, A (54-56mm) B 47mm) -- cost $18.00

Product Description

Are you tired of letting the glare of your computer bother you all the time and then wondering why your vision is getting worse and worse? The consistent glare from a computer monitor isn't exactly the healthiest thing for your eyes. Visionary Supplies would like to introduce Sheer Vision.

Sheer Vision is a line of superior quality, anti-glare filter glasses for the computer eyewear market. Our company devoted the necessary time and resources to developing an Anti-Glare Computer Eyewear product that not only does the job, but is the most comfortable and stylish to wear. Here's how we did it...Sheer Vision is an enhanced polycarbonate plastic lens material with a unique coating applied to both the front and back surfaces. The coating creates a unique physical characteristic on the lens that resembles an oily residue or a drop of water in a puddle. This unique coating eliminates the glare from any computer monitor while the enhanced polycarbonate material blocks the harmful UV light rays coming from the screen.

These UV lights are normally very dangerous to the retina. The combination of these two materials on a single lens allows the user to view the computer monitor with a softness and a contrast between colors unlike ever before. Not only do Sheer Vision products reduce glare and UV light intake, but our state of the art lenses also reduce headaches that usually are caused by prolonged, unprotected exposure to the persistent onslaught of harmful rays from all computer monitors. All of our glasses come standard in a polycarbonate double-sided anti-reflective coating, scratch coating and UV protection.

..... And they didn't even mention those nasty office fluorescent lights.

Next, I read that blue light is a key to setting the circadian rhythm for sleep and also enhances a positive mood, so I bought these cool cat blue lenses to wear in the morning hours (not while using the computer) on eBay.

New Attitude Blue Lenses Sunglasses Motorcycle Black Spring Assisted Temples - cost $10.00

Then for night, in order to enhance the low-light "sunset" experience as the prelude to sleep, I plan to slip on orange lenses, which filter out the invigorating blue light from artificial nighttime lights such as electric lightbulbs and TV (a somewhat contradictory notion to absorbing that same blue light earlier in the day -- so we'll see what's what).

KD Original Orange Lenses Sunglasses Motorcycle With Storage Pouch 2128 -- cost: another $10.00

Net cost for everything -- $38.00. If anything seems to actually work, after a trial period, I may invest in high-dollar prescription ground versions of the colored lenses.

ZZ Top "Cheap Sunglasses"

Now On the Reading Stand:Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks

I have about 100 pages left to read, and even so, this network science book is already declared another winner.

Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives by Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler

Your colleague's husband's sister can make you fat, even if you don't know her. A happy neighbor has more impact on your happiness than a happy spouse. These startling revelations of how much we truly influence one another are revealed in the studies of Drs. Christakis and
Fowler, which have repeatedly made front-page news nationwide.

In Connected, the authors explain why emotions are contagious, how health behaviors spread, why the rich get richer, even how we find and choose our partners. Intriguing and entertaining, Connected overturns the notion of the individual and provides a revolutionary paradigm-that social networks influence our ideas, emotions, health, relationships, behavior, politics, and much more. It will change the way we think about every aspect of our lives.

From Publishers Weekly
Harvard professor and health care policy specialist Christakis (Death Foretold: Prophecy and Prognosis in Medical Care) became interested in social connectivity when observing that the mortality rate of spouses spike after a partner passes away. Christakis sought out a collaboration with Fowler, a health systems and political scientist, and together they compare topology (the hows of a given structure) across different social networks to better explain how participation and positioning enhances the effectiveness of an individual, and why the "whole" of a network is "greater than the sum of its parts." Five basic rules describe the relationship between individuals and their networks-including mutual adaptation, the influence of friends and friends' friends, the network's "life of its own"-but the results do more than promote the good of the group: they also spread contagions; create "epidemics" of obesity, smoking and substance abuse; disseminate fads and markets; alter voting patterns; and more. A thorough but popular take on a complex phenomenon, this volume offers an entertaining guide to the mechanics and importance of human networking. 13 b/w illustrations, 8-page color insert.

"Christakis and Fowler have written the book on the exciting new science of social networks. With passion and precision, these two internationally renowned scientists expose the invisible webs that connect each of us to the other, and in so doing cast our lives here together in an astonishing new light. We think we are individuals who control our own fates, but as Christakis and Fowler demonstrate, we are merely cells in the nervous system of a much greater beast. If someone you barely know reads Connected, it could change your life forever. How? Read it yourself and find out."-- "The book has all sorts of interesting information about how our friends influence our lives, for better and for worse." -- (Daniel Gilbert, bestselling author of Stumbling on Happiness )

"[In a category of] works of brilliant originality that can stimulate and enlighten and can sometimes even change the way we understand the world." (The New York Times )

"Groundbreaking...." (Kirkus )

"An entertaining guide to the mechanics and importance of human networking." (Publishers Weekly )

"Engaging and insightful...sure-to-be a blockbuster...Connected succeeds in connecting with its audience." ( )

"Illuminating...The authors excel at drawing out the devil in the detail. [Connected] has profound implications." (New Scientist )

"Intriguing." ( )

"Connected explores the startling intricacies of social networks." (O, The Oprah Magazine )

"The book has all sorts of interesting information about how our friends influence our lives, for better and for worse." ( )

"Connected argues convincingly that it's not enough to understand how individuals behave. The book details examples of how individual behaviors affect other members of a social network."

"This wonderful book by Christakis and Fowler could well be one of the most important works of the decade. In a clear and engaging way, the authors apply their creative and provocative findings on social networks to understanding not only our social relationships but also the forces that shape our world. Full of fascinating stories and examples, this book is essential in understanding our very nature. A must read." (Ed Diener, Joseph Smiley Distinguished Professor of Psychology University of Illinois and author of Happiness )

"Fascinating... the dozens of interconnected stories of research findings by Chriastkis and Fowler and others leave me eager to learn about the next wave of research in this area." (Andrew Gelman, author of Red State, Blue State )

"What makes us human -- for good and bad -- is our social nature. Nowhere is this complex, wonderful, and sometimes dark part of us more clearly revealed than in Connected. In a social world exploding with new ways to interact, Connected is a user's guide for ourselves in the 21st century." (Dan Ariely, James B. Duke Professor of Behavioral Economics and author of Predictably Irrational )

"A God's-eye view of social relationships that may make you dizzy. Every business leader, teacher, and parent should see their life from this vantage." (Chip Heath, author Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die )

"An old adage tells us, 'You can't chose your family.' After reading Connected, you will find that you can't choose many things in your life. Others choose them for you! Christakis and Fowler take a fresh look at an old idea: that who we know matters. Connected is a lively, well-written account of social networks and their power to shape our lives. Complicated ideas become easy to understand and the mysteries of science unfold in front of your eyes. The world becomes smaller and more meaningful after reading this engaging book." (Sudhir Venkatesh, author of Gang Leader for a Day )

"From health and happiness to fads and financial markets, Christakis and Fowler take us on a dazzling tour of the world of social networks. And in showing how these networks matter in our individual lives, the authors also make the deeper point that "network thinking" is the key to understanding how all our lives fit together."- Duncan Watts, author of Six Degrees

In the News: Elderly Sleep Habits Are Not Too Different From Younger Adults, Study Suggests

First we study waffles --- then we sleep...zzzzzzzz.......

The sleep studies below cite a percentage of "just 25%"  or "less than half" of seniors getting less than 7.5 hours of sleep a night -- that still seems like a problematically large percentage to this sometimes-sleep-disordered person. These "good news" reports and their interpretations of medical studies really have to be read carefully as far as their headline/conclusions are concerned....waffle...waffle....

LiveScience posted on Huffington Post: 11/26/20

A new study is debunking the perception that elderly people have wildly different sleep habits than their younger counterparts.

University of Pittsburgh researchers conducted a survey of 1,116 people ages 65 and older who are retired, and found that more than half of them get around 7.5 hours of sleep per night, at least, and sleep generally between 11 p.m. and 7:30 a.m. Adults are generally recommended to get between seven and nine hours of sleep a night.

"Our findings suggest that in matters regarding sleep and sleepiness, as in many other aspects of life, most seniors today are doing better than is generally thought," study researcher Timothy H. Monk, Ph.D., D.Sc., a professor of psychiatry at UPMC's Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, said in a statement. "The stereotype of most seniors going to bed at 8 p.m., sleeping very lightly and being unduly sleepy during the day may be quite inaccurate, suggesting that 60 really is the new 40."

The study, published in the journal Healthy Aging and Clinical Care in the Elderly, showed that just 25 percent of seniors surveyed reported sleeping fewer than 6.7 hours each night.

The researchers also found that a bigger predictor of sleep quality was a person's health, versus a person's age. And daytime sleepiness in the elderly may be more a result of things like medication side effects, not getting a good night's rest, or having some sort of illness, versus age.

In 2008, a study in the journal Current Biology showed that elderly people may simply need less sleep than younger people -- about an hour-and-a-half less, to be exact, LiveScience reported. The findings have implications for perceptions of insomnia among the elderly, study researcher Elizabeth Klerman, of Brigham and Women's Hospital, told LiveScience:

"There are definitely older people with insomnia," Klerman told LiveScience. "However there may also be some older people who 'create' insomnia if they believe that they 'need' eight to nine hours of sleep and therefore spend more time in bed (lying awake) than needed to achieve the amount of sleep 'needed.'"

While the new study showed that elderly people generally get the same amounts of sleep and sleep around the same times as younger people, a previous study from Mayo Clinic researchers showed that many may also experience sleep disorders.

That study, presented in 2009 at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology, showed that 59 percent of 70-to-89-year-olds included in the study experienced a sleep disorder (not including insomnia).

eBidiot: Let's Go Trippin': Brion Gysin Dreamachine on eBay

While everyone else was buying HD TVs and iPads on Black Friday, I had a flashback to the sixties, and won this Dreammachine in an eBay auction.


Damn, I'm almost scared to try it now!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

What's Going On?

Sleep Disturbance Linked to Aging Eye Lens

Philips goLITE BLU Light Therapy Device
Sleep disturbance correlated significantly with reduced blue light transmission to the retina resulting from aging and yellowing of the lens, Danish investigators reported.

Every one% increase in blue light lens transmission reduced the odds of sleep disturbance by five%. The association was similar across age groups and remained significant after controlling for a variety of potential confounders, as reported in the September issue of Sleep.

"To translate the odds ratios into a clinical example, a 50-year-old, nonsmoking, nondiabetic female with a low risk of ischemic heart disease who was in the 97.5% upper normal range of blue light lens transmission ... had a risk of sleep disturbances of 16.4%," Line Kessel, MD, PhD, of Glostrup Hospital and the University of Copenhagen, and co-authors wrote.

"[In contrast] a similar ... 50-year-old female who was in the 2.5% lower normal range of blue light lens transmission ... had a risk of having sleep disturbances of 37.9%."

The odds of sleep disturbance also increased significantly with the extent of autofluorescence, a measure of lens transmission and yellowing.

Regulation of sleep patterns and circadian rhythms occurs through the retinohypothalamic tract in response to stimulation of retinal ganglions, primarily by blue light.

With aging, the lens acquires a yellowish discoloration from accumulation of chromophores that preferentially absorb in the short wavelength region of the light spectrum. The authors hypothesized that lens yellowing might act as a filter for blue light in older people, who are more prone to sleep disturbance.

"Theoretically, the aging process of the lens of the eye may be an important causative factor in sleep disorders," the authors wrote.

To examine the relationship between lens aging and sleep disturbance, investigators recruited participants from an ongoing epidemiologic study (Inter99 Eye Study) of associations between ophthalmic parameters and health.

The study of lens aging and sleep disturbance involved 970 people, ages 30 to 60. The study population consisted of 142 participants with a high risk of ischemic heart disease, 107 with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes, 11 participants with a history of diabetes, 147 participants with impaired glucose tolerance, and a miscellaneous group of 61 participants. The control group had 502 participants.

Investigators assessed sleep disturbance by means of questionnaires and prescriptions for sleeping medications. Lens aging was determined by autofluorometry. Sleep disturbance was defined as answering "yes" to "having trouble sleeping and/or purchasing a sleep medication in the past year."

Overall, the prevalence of sleep disturbance was 24.4%. and more than 80% of participants with sleep disturbances said the problem occurred frequently and required treatment with sleep medication. The prevalence ranged from a high of 32.5% of participants, ages 55 to 60, to a low of 15.7% in participants ages 30 to 35 (P=0.0002).

Sleep disturbance affected women more often than men (32.2% versus 18.4%, P<0.0001). It also was more common in participants with diabetes (30.7% versus 22.5% for normoglycemic individuals, P=0.016) and smokers (28.6% versus 21.0% of nonsmokers, P=0.007).

The inverse association between sleep disturbance and blue light lens transmission was represented by an odds ratio (OR) of 0.95 per 1% increase in lens transmission (95% CI 0.93 to 0.97, P<0.0001).

Adjustment for age, sex, diabetes, smoking, and risk of ischemic heart disease resulted in an OR of 0.97 (95% CI 0.95 to 0.99, P=0.016).

The findings are consistent with the hypothesis that decreased blue light transmission reduces stimulation of retinal ganglions containing melanopsin, which has a key role in photoentrainment of circadian rhythms.

"Melanopsin is stimulated by predominantly blue light with a maximum absorption around 480 nm in humans, the very part of the visible spectrum that is mostly affected by the aging process of the human lens," the authors wrote.

"The results of the present study indicate that the spectral characteristics of the light reaching the retina, and specifically the total amount of blue light that penetrates the refractive media of the eye, may have a profound impact on sleep quality, most likely mediated via reduced ocular photic regulation of melatonin secretion," they added.

"Our results support that choosing the right indoor lighting conditions may have a beneficial effect on sleep and that blue light therapy might be used to modulate circadian sleep disorders," they concluded.

The study had some limitations including the risk that some patients were misclassified because sleeping medication may be used for other conditions, such as benzodiazepines for anxiety.

The study received no industry support, and the authors had no relevant disclosures.