[…] what would happen if we put the resources and talent of a major video game or movie studio toward creating great explanations, rather than pure entertainment products? What could Rockstar Games achieve if they spent even a tiny fraction of that quarter billion dollars creating, say, a digital reimagining of the physicist Richard Feynman’s famous Feynman Lectures on Physics? Or what happens if a movie director such as James Cameron, the creator of movies such as Avatar and Titanic, turns his resources toward reinventing a classic such as Molecular Biology of the Cell?

Reading used to be reserved for the clergy, to hand down unquestionable Revealed Truths to the masses. Today, it’s just what everyone does. Think about a society in which science is not reserved for the clergy, to hand down unquestionable Revealed Truths to the masses, but is just what everyone does.

Quotes from “Coders at Work”

Jamie Zawinski:

When I’m just writing the first version of the program, I tend to put everything in one file. And then I start seeing structure in that file. Like there’s this block of things that are pretty similar. That’s a thousand lines now, so why don’t I move that into another file. And the API sort of builds up organically that way. The design process is definitely an ongoing thing; you never know what the design is until the program is done. So I prefer to get my feet wet as early as possible; get something on the screen so I can look at it sideways.
I think a lot of introductory-level stuff focuses on syntax and I definitely saw that in the classes I had in high school and in the intro classes at Carnegie-Mellon during my brief time there.

This is not teaching people to program; this is teaching people where the semicolon goes. That seems like the kind of thing that’s going to scare people away from it more than anything, because that’s not the interesting part. Not even to someone who knows what they’re doing.

Douglas Crockford:

At each meeting, someone’s responsible for reading their code, and they’ll walk us through everything, and the rest of us will observe. It’s a really good chance for the rest of the team to understand how their stuff is going to have to fit with that stuff.

We get everybody around the table; everybody gets a stack of paper. We also blow it up on the screen. And we all read through it together. And we’re all commenting on the code as we go along. People say, “I don’t understand this comment,” or, “This comment doesn’t seem to describe the code.” That kind of stuff can be so valuable because as a programmer you stop reading your own comments and you’re not aware that you’re misdirecting the reader. Having the people you work with helping to keep your code clean is a huge service—you find defects that you never would’ve found on your own.

I think an hour of code reading is worth two weeks of QA. It’s just a really effective way of removing errors. If you have someone who is strong reading, then the novices around them are going to learn a lot that they wouldn’t be learning otherwise, and if you have a novice reading, he’s going to get a lot of really good advice.

Simon Peyton Jones:

Steven Clarke and his colleagues at Redmond have made systematic attempts to watch programmers, given a new API, talk through what they’re trying to do. And they get the people who designed the API to sit behind a glass screen and watch them.

And the guys sitting there behind the glass screen say, “No, no, don’t do that! That’s not the right way!” But it’s soundproof. That turns out often to be very instructive. They go and change their API.
I’m really keen on trying to extract principles of enduring value. I have a paper about how to write a good paper or give a good research talk and one of the high-order bits is, don’t describe an artifact. An artifact is an implementation of an idea. What is the idea, the reusable brain-thing that you’re trying to transfer into the minds of your listeners?

Dan Ingalls

When I want to teach somebody Smalltalk, I usually start with a little dialog: “What interests you most? Are you interested in how to play with text or things you can do with numbers or things you can do with music, or things you can do with graphics?” And start with any one of those… Any one of those is a rich space to explore. I really think different people think differently that way… Similarly, if you’re going to teach somebody to program a computer, maybe you work with expression evaluation, maybe you work with logic programming. Maybe you do some stuff in user interface. People will light up in one area and that’s where they should go deep.

Peter Deutsch:

My PhD thesis was a 600-page Lisp program. I’m a very heavy-duty Lisp hacker from PDP-1 Lisp, Alto Lisp, Byte Lisp, and Interlisp. The reason I don’t program in Lisp anymore: I can’t stand the syntax. It’s just a fact of life that syntax matters.

Ken Thompson:

… You ask them what’s the most interesting program they worked on. And then you get them to describe it and its algorithms and what’s going on. If they can’t withstand my questioning on their program, then they’re not good. If I can attack them or find problems with their algorithms and their solutions and they can’t defend it, being much more personally involved than I am, then no…

I’ve never met anybody who really did spend blood on something who wasn’t eager to describe what they’ve done and how they did it and why. I let them pick the subject. I don’t pick the subject, so I’m the amateur and they’re the professional in this subject. If they can’t stand an amateur asking them questions about their profession, then they don’t belong.

Bernie Cosell:

I got this reputation—I fixed these mysterious bugs that nobody else could fix. Fortunately, they never asked me what the bug was. Because the truth of the matter is if they’d have asked, “How did you fix the bug?” my answer would have been, “I couldn’t understand the code well enough to figure out what it was doing, so I rewrote it.”

Donald Khuth:

Take a scientist in any field. The scientist gets older and says, “Oh, yes, some of the things that I’ve been doing have a really great payoff and other things, I’m not using anymore. I’m not going to have my students waste time on the stuff that doesn’t make giant steps. I’m not going to talk about low-level stuff at all. These theoretical concepts are really so powerful—that’s the whole story. Forget about how I got to this point.”

I think that’s a fundamental error made by scientists in every field. They don’t realize that when you’re learning something you’ve got to see something at all levels. You’ve got to see the floor before you build the ceiling. That all goes into the brain and gets shoved down to the point where the older people forget that they needed it.

Excerpts from “The Emotional Brain” by Joseph LeDoux

Different emotions are mediated by different brain networks, different modules, and evolutionary changes in a particular network don’t necessarily affect the others directly.

* * *

The mixing of basic emotions into higher order emotions is typically thought of as a cognitive operation. According to basic emotions theorists, some if not all of the biologically basic emotions are shared with lower animals, but the derived or nonbasic emotions tend to be more uniquely human.

[Попытки составить список базовых эмоций на основе мимики, жестов, слов, реакций на электрическую стимуляцию мозга, приводили каждого исследователя к новому списку.]

* * *

James Averill, a major proponent of social constructivism, describes a behavior pattern, called “being a wild pig”, that is quite unusual by Western standards, but is common and even “normal” among the Gururumba, a horticultural people living in the highlands of New Zealand. The behavior gets its name by analogy. There are no undomesticated pigs in this culture, but occasionally, and for unknown reasons, a domesticated one will go through a temporary condition in which it runs wild. But the pig can, with appropriate measures, be redomesticated and returned to the normal pig life among the villagers. And, in a similar vein, Gururumba people can act this way, becoming violent and aggressive and looting and stealing, but seldom causing harm or taking anything of importance, and eventually returning to routine life. In some instances, after several days of living in the forest, during which time the stolen objects are destroyed, the person returns to the village spontaneously with no memory of the experience and is never reminded of the event by the villagers. Others, though, have to be captured and treated like a wild pig - held over a smoking fire until the old self returns …

Averill uses “being a wild pig” to support his claim that “most standard emotional reactions are socially constructed or institutionalized patterns of response” rather than biologically determined events …

* * *

[Ekman] studied the facial expressions of Japanese and American subjects while they watched an emotion-arousing film. The subjects were tested in their native countries, and they watched the film while either sitting alone in a room or sitting in a room with an authoritative-looking experimenter in a white coat. Their faces were secretly recorded on videotape throughout … In the private viewing condition, there was a tremendous similarity in the emotions expressed at various points in the film by the Japanese and American subjects. But when the white-coated experimenter was present, the facial movements were no longer the same. The Japanese looked more polite and showed more smiling and less emotional diversity than the Americans. Interestingly, slow-motion analysis of the film revealed that the smiles and other polite facial expressions of the Japanese subjects were superimposed over brief, prior-occurring facial movements that were, according to Ekman, the basic emotions leaking through.

* * *

French physician Edouard Claparede examined a female patient who, as a result of brain damage, had seemingly lost all ability to create new memories. Each time Claparede walked into the room the had to reintroduce himself to her, as she had no recollection of having seen him before …

One day … he entered the room, and, as on every other day, he held out his hand to greet her. In typical fashion she shook his hand. But when their hands met, she quickly pulled hers back, for Claparede had concealed a tack in his palm, and had pricked her with it. The next time he returned to the room to greet her, she still had no recognition of him, but she refused to shake his hand. She could not tell him why she would not shake hands with him, but she wouldn’t do it …

It now seems that Claparede was seeing the operation of two different memory systems in his patient - one involved in forming memories of experiences and making those memories available for conscious recollection at some later time, and another operating outside of consciousness and controlling behavior without explicit awareness of the past learning.

… in the undamaged brain, explicit memory and implicit emotional memory systems are working at the same time, each forming their own special brand of memories.

* * *

Suppose you are driving down the road and have a terrible accident. The horn gets stuck on. You are in pain and generally traumatized by the experience. Later, when you hear the sound of a horn … it opens the floodgate of emotional arousal, turning on all the bodily responses associated with fear and defense. The fact that you are aroused becomes part of your current experience. This fact comes to rest side by side in consciousness with your explicit memory of the accident. Without the emotional arousal elicited through the implicit system, the conscious memory would be flat. But the corepresentation in awareness of the conscious memory and the current emotional arousal give an emotional flavoring to the conscious memory.

… conscious memories can make us tense and anxious, and we need to account for this as well. All that is needed for this to occur is a set of connections from the explicit memory system to the amygdala. There are in fact abundant connections from the hippocampus and the transition regions, as well as many other areas of the cortex, to the amygdala.

… suppose, the accident described above happened long ago and your explicit memory system has since forgotten about many of the details, such as the fact that the horn had been stuck on. The sound of the horn now, many years later, is ignored by the explicit memory system. But if the emotional memory has not forgotten, the sound of the horn, when it hits amygdala, will trigger an emotional reaction. In a situation like this, you may find yourself in the throes of an emotional state that exists for reasons you do not quite understand … in order for emotion to be aroused in this way, the implicit emotional memory system would have to be less forgetful than the explicit memory system. Two facts suggest that this may be the case. One is that the explicit memory is notoriously forgetful and inaccurate. The other is that conditioned fear responses exhibit little diminution with the passage of time. In fact, they often increase in their potency as time wears on, a phenomenon called “the incubation of fear”. It is possible to decrease the potency of a conditioned response by presenting the learned trigger, the conditioned stimulus, over and over again without the unconditioned stimulus. However, so-called extinguished responses often recur on their own and even when they don’t they can be brought back to life by stressful events.

* * *

… if rats are given a shot of adrenaline right after learning something, they show an enhanced memory of the learning situation. This suggests that if adrenaline is released naturally in some situation, that experience will be remembered especially well. Since emotional arousal usually results in the release of adrenaline, it might be expected that the explicit conscious memory of emotional situations would be stronger than the explicit memory of nonemotional situations. It would also be expected that blockade of the effects of adrenaline would neutralize the memory-enhancing effects of emotional arousal.

McGaugh and Larry Cahill tested these hypotheses. They asked human subjects to read a story about a boy riding a bike. For some of the subjects, the boy takes a ride on his bike, goes home, and he and his mom drive to the hospital to pick up his dad, a doctor. For other subjects, the boy takes a ride on a bike, is hit by a car, and rushed to the hospital where his dad, a doctor, works. The words in the two stories are matched as closely as possible, with only the emotional implications manipulated. After reading the stories, and before being tested for recall, half the subjects in each group were given either a shot of placebo or a drug that blocks the effects of adrenaline. For the placebo-treated subjects, those that read the emotional story remembered many more details than those that read the mundane story. However, for the subjects receiving adrenaline blockade, there was no difference in the memory of the emotional and the nonemotional stories - both of these groups performed like the placebo group that read the nonemotional story. Adrenaline blockade, indeed, prevented the memory-enhancing effects of emotional arousal.

* * *

Bruce McEwen, a leader in the study of the biology of stress, has shown that severe but temporary stress can result in a shriveling up of dendrites in the hippocampus. Dendrites are the parts of neurons that receive incoming inputs and that are responsible, in large part, for the initial phases of long-term potentiation and memory formation. McEwen has also shown that if the stress is discontinued these changes are reversible. However, with prolonged stress, irreversible changes take place. Cells in the hippocampus actually begin to degenerate. When this happens, the memory loss is permanent.

The effects of stress on hippocampus were first discovered by Robert Sapolsky, who had been studying the effects of social stress on the behavior of monkeys. The monkeys have lived in a colony as social subordinates to a dominant male. Over several years, some died. Upon autopsy, they were found to have stomach ulcers, consistent with their having lived under stress. Most dramatically, though, it was discovered that marked degeneration of the hippocampus had occurred. There was little sign of damage to any other part of the brain …

Recent studies have shown that the human hippocampus too is vulnerable to stress. In survivors of trauma, like victims of repeated childhood abuse or Vietnam veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, the hippocampus is shrunken. These same persons exhibit significant deficits in memory ability, without any loss in IQ or other cognitive functions …

Memory is likely to be enhanced by mild stress, due to the facilitatory effects of adrenaline, but may be interfered with if the stress is sufficiently intense and prolonged to raise the level of adrenal steroids to the point where the hippocampus is adversely affected. Most of the evidence for adverse effects of stress on memory has come from rather severe conditions in which the stress continued for days. A key issue is whether a single, unrepeated traumatic experience, such as being mugged or raped, can raise steroid levels sufficiently to adversely affect the hippocampus and produce a loss of memory for the incident. Although there are no definitive answers yet, recent studies have shown that a brief period of stress can disrupt spatial memory in rats and interfere with the induction of long-term potentiation in the hippocampus.

* * *

The same amount of stress that can lead to an amnesia for a trauma may amplify implicit or unconditional memories that are formed during the traumatic event.

* * *

… extinction prevents the expression of conditioned fear responses but does not erase the implicit memories that underlie these responses. Extinction, in other words, involves the cortical control over amygdala’s output rather than a wiping clean of the amygdala’s memory slate …

Pavlov, for example, found that extinguished responses would, with simply the passage of time, spontaneously recover. … Stress can bring back extinguished, or perhaps weakly established but unextinguished, conditioned responses.

* * *

The conscious and unconscious aspects of thought are sometimes described in terms of serial and parallel functions. Consciousness seems to do things serially, more or less one at a time, whereas the unconscious mind, being composed of many different systems, seems to work more or less in parallel.

… we are conscious of the outcome of mental computations but not of the computations themselves …

* * *

Emotional reactions are typically accompanied by intense cortical arousal …

Arousal occurs to any novel stimulus that we encounter and not just to emotional stimuli. The difference is that a novel but insignificant stimulus will elicit a temporary state of arousal that dissipates almost immediately but arousal is prolonged in the presence of emotional stimuli …

The information content provided by arousal systems is weak. The cortex is unable to discern that danger (as opposed to some other emotional condition) exists from the pattern of neural messages it receives from the arousal systems. Arousal systems simply say that something important is going on. The combination of nonspecific cortical arousal and specific information provided by direct projections from the amygdala to the cortex allows the establishment of a working memory that says that something important is going on and that it involves the fear system of the brain. These representations converge in working memory with the representations from specialized short-term memory buffers and with representations from long-term memory triggered by current stimuli and by amygdala processing. The continued driving of the amygdala by the dangerous stimulus keeps the arousal system active, which keeps the amygdala and cortical networks actively engaged in the situation as well. Cognitive inference and decision-making processes controlled by the working memory executive become actively focused on the emotionally arousing situation, trying to figure out what is going on and what should be done about it. All other inputs that are vying for the attention of working memory are blocked out.

* * *

Emotions evolved not as conscious feelings, linguistically differentiated or otherwise, but as brain states and bodily responses. The brain states and bodily responses are the fundamental facts of an emotion, and the conscious feelings are the frills that have added icing to the emotional cake.

* * *

The amygdala has a greater influence on the cortex than the cortex has on the amygdala, allowing emotional arousal to dominate and control thinking. Throughout the mammals, pathways from the amygdala to the cortex overshadow the pathways from the cortex to the amygdala. Although thoughts can easily trigger emotions (by activating the amygdala), we are not very effective at willfully turning off emotions (by deactivating the amygdala) …

At the same time, it is apparent that the cortical connections with the amygdala are far greater in primates than in other mammals. This suggests the possibility that as these connections continue to expand, the cortex might gain more and more control over the amygdala, possibly allowing future humans to be better able to control their emotions.

Yet, there is another possibility. … With increased connectivity between the cortex and amygdala, cognition and emotion might begin to work together rather than separately.

Quotes from “How Buildings Learn”

"You get work through getting awards, and the award system is based on photography. Not use. Not context. Just purely visual photographs taken before people start using the building." Tales were told of ambitious architects specifically designing their buildings to photograph well at the expense of performing well.

[…] “Awards never reflect functionality. I remember serving on a jury one time and suggesting, ‘Okay, we’ve winnowed this down to ten projects that we really like. Let’s call the clients and see how they feel about the buildings, because I don’t want to give an award to a building that doesn’t work.’ I was hooted down by my fellow architects.”

* * *

Frank Lloyd Wright was chosen by a poll of the American Institute of Architects as “the greatest American architect of all time.” They all knew his damp secret:

Leaks are a given in any Wright house. Indeed, the architect has been notorious not only for this leaks but for his flippant dismissals of client complaints. He reportedly asserted that, “If the roof doesn’t leak, the architect hasn’t been creative enough.” His stock response to clients who complained of leaking roofs was, “That’s how you can tell it’s a roof.”

[…] To live in one of his houses is to be the curator of a Frank Lloyd Wright museum; don’t even think of altering anything the master touched. They are not living homes but petrified art, organic only in idea, stillborn.

* * *

[…] “catalog architecture” buildings are guided by a standard homogenized pool of building lore which is no longer regional and often not even national, but world-encompassing, inescapable and unchallengeable.

How else can we explain the survival from decade to decade of the aluminum-frame sliding glass door? It seems to serve simultaneously as a door, window, and wall, but it’s terrible at all three. As a door it’s fiddly and awkward to open, and dangerous, since it has the vicious property of looking the same when open or closed, and people walk smack into the glass. As a window it reveals too much in both directions and makes any view quickly boring. And it’s worthless as a wall, being nonstructural and noninsulated, bleeding heat in whatever is the wrong direction. The sliding glass door is a measure of how remote the builders’ decisions have become from the users’ experience and of how powerless users are in the face of standardized building doctrine.

* * *

A modernist tract of 1940 stated: […] The outward form of the modern house becomes the outgrowth of a plan built around the interests, routine activities, and aspirations of the client and his family expressed in terms of materials employed. Thus human need comes first. In skillful hands new appropriate and beautiful forms may emerge from an architecture which, discarding style, lets the house grow from the inside outwardly to express the life within.

This “inside-out” design approach was thrilling, but it made the profound mistake of taking a snapshot of the high-rate-of-change “organic life” within a building and immobilizing it in a confining carapace - the expensive, low-rate-of-change Structure and Skin of the building. Too eager to please the moment, over-specificity crippled all future moments. It was the image of organic, not the reality. The credo “form follows function” was a beautiful lie. Form froze function.

Философия и изучение действительного мира относятся друг к другу, как онанизм и половая любовь.

Карл Маркс

In 1954, psychologist James Olds and his team were working in a laboratory at McGill University, studying how rats learned. They would stick an electrode in a rat’s brain and, whenever the rat went to a particular corner of its cage, would give it a small shock and note the reaction. One day they unknowingly inserted the probe in the wrong place, and when Olds tested the rat, it kept returning over and over to the corner where it received the shock. He eventually discovered that if the probe was put in the brain’s lateral hypothalamus and the rats were allowed to press a lever and stimulate their own electrodes, they would press until they collapsed.

Olds, and everyone else, assumed he’d found the brain’s pleasure center (some scientists still think so). Later experiments done on humans confirmed that people will neglect almost everything—their personal hygiene, their family commitments—in order to keep getting that buzz.

But to Washington State University neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp, this supposed pleasure center didn’t look very much like it was producing pleasure. Those self-stimulating rats, and later those humans, did not exhibit the euphoric satisfaction of creatures eating Double Stuf Oreos or repeatedly having orgasms. The animals, he writes in Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions, were “excessively excited, even crazed.” The rats were in a constant state of sniffing and foraging. Some of the human subjects described feeling sexually aroused but didn’t experience climax. Mammals stimulating the lateral hypothalamus seem to be caught in a loop, Panksepp writes, “where each stimulation evoked a reinvigorated search strategy”

* * *

University of Michigan professor of psychology Kent Berridge has spent more than two decades figuring out how the brain experiences pleasure. Like Panksepp, he, too, has come to the conclusion that what James Olds’ rats were stimulating was not their reward center. In a series of experiments, he and other researchers have been able to tease apart that the mammalian brain has separate systems for what Berridge calls wanting and liking.

The very first company I started failed with a great bang. The second one failed a little bit less, but still failed. The third one, you know, proper failed, but it was kind of okay. I recovered quickly. Number four almost didn’t fail. It still didn’t really feel great, but it did okay. Number five was PayPal.

Max Levchin

The ambitious projects I had undertaken in the past “failed” because I made the mistake of not proving out the core ideas in prototypes. You can’t send a rocket to the moon if you haven’t first experimented with launching simple toy rockets.

[…] All of my small “failures” were actually a series of small successes that had improved my design skills, and were in fact studies I could incorporate into larger projects. I had it backwards the whole time. My “successful,” but incomplete, large projects were the real failures.

[…] If you prototype all systems simultaneously you will fail — you can’t work fast, or reach any kind of conclusion. To build it all at once is to build the actual game, which is hard. The prototype designer’s job, like a good Go player, is to cut and separate the enemy stones (your design problem) into small, weak groups that can be killed or manipulated at will.

What scares me is that both the poker bot and Dropbox started out as distractions. That little voice in my head was telling me where to go, and the whole time I was telling it to shut up so I could get back to work. Sometimes that little voice knows best.

Хронометр жизни

В Дании в большом исследовании (около 7 000 обследуемых в каждой группе) показано, что вечерняя работа достоверно увеличивает риск развития рака молочной железы у женщин в возрасте от 30 до 54 лет.

I remember thinking, ‘I wonder if I could go schizophrenic?’ But I thought to myself, ‘no, my mind is too strong’. God, how many times have I heard people say that of themselves?! Ha!

What you have to do is take your deepest, darkest fear, that’s, as service users say, your ‘button’. Then imagine life pressing on it over and over and over again with a ten tonne weight. How ‘strong’ is your mind now? Are you that sure you ‘couldn’t go mad’? Think about it. Maybe, so far, you’ve just been lucky.

Schizophrenia: The Positive Perspective

When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink?

A June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” Other sources said blue was flattering for blonds, pink for brunettes; or blue was for blue-eyed babies, pink for brown-eyed babies.

In the 1960’s there was a popular campaign in Europe to donate used clothing to “poor, naked Africans.” It had such appeal many kind-hearted souls donated new clothing. The organizers failed to understand, however, that Africans had been beautifully dressing themselves, as necessary, for thousands of years.

Consequently, as Western clothing poured into Africa and came to market (which is the natural outcome of such a program), prices were driven far below normal. Africans eagerly snatched up the bargain Western styles they had seen or heard about. Many local clothing makers—pillars of the African economy—were driven from business as their hand-made products were now perceived as inferior. Africans became more reliant on imports, further weakening the economy, further increasing unemployment.

Все трудности воспитания вытекают из того, что родители, не только не исправляя своих недостатков, но и оправдывая их в себе, хотят не видеть эти недостатки в детях.

Лев Толстой