Triple-Decker Weekly, 23

Robot learns to recognise itself in mirror.

Chinese family car can be driven by remote control.

Researchers at the University of Copenhagen have shown that 30 minutes of daily training provide an equally effective loss of weight and body mass as 60 minutes.

You walk into your shower and find a spider. You are not an arachnologist. You do, however, know that any one of the four following options is possible:
a. The spider is real and harmless.
b. The spider is real and venomous.
c. Your next-door neighbor, who dislikes your noisy dog, has turned her personal surveillance spider (purchased from “Drones ‘R Us” for $49.95) loose and is monitoring it on her iPhone from her seat at a sports bar downtown. The pictures of you, undressed, are now being relayed on several screens during the break of an NFL game, to the mirth of the entire neighborhood.
d. Your business competitor has sent his drone assassin spider, which he purchased from a bankrupt military contractor, to take you out. Upon spotting you with its sensors, and before you have any time to weigh your options, the spider shoots an infinitesimal needle into a vein in your left leg and takes a blood sample. As you beat a retreat out of the shower, your blood sample is being run on your competitor’s smartphone for a DNA match. The match is made against a DNA sample of you that is already on file at EVER.com (Everything about Everybody), an international DNA database (with access available for $179.99). Once the match is confirmed (a matter of seconds), the assassin spider outruns you with incredible speed into your bedroom, pausing only long enough to dart another needle, this time containing a lethal dose of a synthetically produced, undetectable poison, into your bloodstream. Your assassin, who is on a summer vacation in Provence, then withdraws his spider under the crack of your bedroom door and out of the house and presses its self-destruct button. No trace of the spider or the poison it carried will ever be found by law enforcement authorities. This is the future. According to some uncertain estimates, insect-sized drones will become operational by 2030. [Gabriella Blum/Hoover Institution/Stanford University | PDF]

A group of leading neuroscientists has used a conference at Cambridge University to make an official declaration recognising consciousness in animals. […] “The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states.” [Mind Hacks]

Ancient Greek philosophers considered the ability to “know thyself” as the pinnacle of humanity. Now, thousands of years later, neuroscientists are trying to decipher precisely how the human brain constructs our sense of self. Self-awareness is defined as being aware of oneself, including one’s traits, feelings, and behaviors. Neuroscientists have believed that three brain regions are critical for self-awareness: the insular cortex, the anterior cingulate cortex, and the medial prefrontal cortex. However, a research team led by the University of Iowa has challenged this theory by showing that self-awareness is more a product of a diffuse patchwork of pathways in the brain – including other regions – rather than confined to specific areas. […] “What this research clearly shows is that self-awareness corresponds to a brain process that cannot be localized to a single region of the brain,” said David Rudrauf, co-corresponding author of the paper, published online Aug. 22 in the journal PLOS ONE. “In all likelihood, self-awareness emerges from much more distributed interactions among networks of brain regions.” [EurekAlert]

The tendency for experiences to create more happiness than material possessions is one scientific finding that’s recently received a lot of attention. While most media coverage about the joy of experiences has focused on the abstract question of how to be happy, evidence is building that beliefs about materialism and happiness can also have concrete implications for a person’s day-to-day to life. For example, two recent studies have found a connection between materialism and poor money management. This means that convincing people material possessions aren’t the key to happiness won’t simply help them spend their Christmas bonus more wisely, it may also lead to better overall financial management. [ peer-reviewed by my neurons ]

6 to 10 percent of Americans suffer from depression each year. In any given two-week period, about 5 percent of people are depressed.

New research examining relationships and the use of alcohol finds that while a long-term marriage appears to curb men’s drinking, it’s associated with a slightly higher level of alcohol use among women. [EurekAlert]
Researchers found that about 80 percent of all respondents who went through a marital separation ultimately divorced, most within three years. About 5 percent attempted to reconcile. But 15 percent of separations didn’t lead to divorce or reconciliation within 10 years. Couples in these long-term separations tended to be racial and ethnic minorities, have low family income and education, and have young children. “Long-term separation seems to be the low-cost, do-it-yourself alternative to divorce for many disadvantaged couples,” said Dmitry Tumin, co-author of the study and a doctoral student in sociology at Ohio State University. [Ohio State University ]

I have read several times that there is evidence of a U-curve in happiness over an individual’s life. People are happy in their youth, and happy again after retirement, but suffer from a serious malaise in between as they grapple with their finances, careers and family life. […] Today I was glad to find some evidence that the U-curve is just a statistical illusion. […] Happiness is nearly flat from 20 through 50. Frijter’s explanation for the disagreement with the existing literature is that, “happy people in middle age are busy and don’t have time to participate in lengthy questionnaires, leading previous studies to erroneously think there was a huge degree of unhappiness in middle-age.” [OvercomingBias]

A team of organizational behavior scientists recently examined nonharassing sexual behavior at work and its consequences for employees. They based their predictions on theories of power and gender and systematically examined men’s and women’s experiences of sexual behavior at work without imposing a positive or negative lens on the behavior. No prior studies had done this. The results show that workplace sexual behavior is enjoyed by some women and many men but it is generally associated with negative work-related and psychological outcomes, regardless of whether it is enjoyed or disliked. Some may think it is “fun” or “good” or argue that sexual behavior at work is “typically harmless.” Others may suggest that sexual banter and sexual jokes may provide a fun and jovial atmosphere at work, or that workplace sexual flirtation can be flattering and lead to love or romance. But, these and other sexual behaviors in the workplace correlate with serious and substantial mental and psychological harm, even to those workers who said they enjoyed the experience. The researchers also found no evidence to support any positive evaluation of the effect of sexual behavior in the workplace or that it provides any benefit to employees who enjoy it. [Psycholawlogy]

Sexual Consent as Voluntary Agreement: Tales of ‘Seduction’ or Questions of Law?

Iran bans women from more than 70 university degree courses.

In this series of posts, I want to consider the so-called paradox of blackmail and its possible resolutions.

Driver swerves to avoid moose, hits bear.

PayPal Founder Backs Synthetic Meat Printing Company. [Thanks Tim]

EBay Bans Magic Potions, Curses, Spells.

Sea-surfing ‘wave glider’ robot deployed to help track white sharks in the Pacific.

Four-Digit Robotic Hand Approaches Human Dexterity.

Birth control for men edges closer.

If you’re unusually insightful and perceptive, like me, you may have noticed that boastfulness is increasingly socially acceptable these days. […] With so many more channels through which to manipulate one’s public image, it’s not especially surprising that we are tempted to present ourselves as positively as possible. The filters of social media make things worse. A network such as Twitter is designed precisely to connect you with exactly the kinds of people who don’t mind your boasts, while those who might keep you in check won’t follow you in the first place: your audience thus serves as an army of enablers, applauding your self-applause. […] But, as the Wall Street Journal noted this week, in a worried piece headlined Are We All Braggarts Now?, the causes may be economic, too. In the most competitive job market in recent memory, the pressure to portray yourself as better than everyone else is intense. Predictably, there’s neuroscientific evidence to undergird all this: self-disclosure activates the same brain regions as eating or sex, according to research by Harvard neuroscientists. [Oliver Burkeman/Guardian]

A virus is a stretch of DNA or RNA, usually a few thousand bases long, enclosed in a protein shell. Once inside the cell, the RNA or DNA from the virus starts producing viral proteins, which are then used for replication. Now imagine a circular strand of RNA that instead of a few thousand bases comprises a few hundred bases. It doesn’t code for proteins, it doesn’t come in a shell. And yet it’s highly pathogenic and able to reproduce. In plants, that is. A viroid is essentially a circular strand of RNA, typically between ~250 and ~450 bases long, and it doesn’t encode for proteins. As a consequence, it depends entirely on cell proteins in order to replicate and propagate. Currently there are 30 known viroids. [Chimeras]

How to Build a Neuron: Step 1.

Brain imaging can predict how intelligent you are, study finds.

Sometime after 2 A.M. one Sunday morning in May 1987, Kenneth James Parks, then 23, left his house in a Toronto suburb and drove 23 kilometers to the apartment of his wife’s parents. He got out of the car, pulled a tire iron out of the trunk and let himself into the older couple’s home with a key they had given him. Once inside, he struggled with and choked his father-in-law, Dennis Woods, until the older man fell unconscious and then struggled with and beat his mother-in-law, Barbara Ann Woods, stabbing her to death with a knife from her kitchen. Parks then got back into his car, drove to a nearby police station and announced to the startled officers on duty, “I think I have killed some people.” For several hours before the Toronto man left his home, however, and throughout the course of the attack, Parks was asleep and therefore not criminally responsible for his actions, according to five doctors and the defense lawyer at his 1988 trial for the murder of Barbara Ann and the attempted murder of Dennis. After deliberating for nine hours, the jury agreed and Parks was set free. [Scientific American]

Charles Ponzi, a poor immigrant from Lugo, Italy, pulled off an amazing investment scam in 1920 that defrauded U.S. investors of $20 million ($240 million in today’s money).

Have you ever wondered why you can remember things from long ago as if they happened yesterday, yet sometimes can’t recall what you ate for dinner last night? […] How much something means to you actually influences how you see it – as well as how vividly you can recall it later – the study shows. “We’ve discovered that we see things that are emotionally arousing with greater clarity than those that are more mundane,” says Rebecca Todd. […] “Whether they’re positive – for example, a first kiss, the birth of a child, winning an award – or negative, such as traumatic events, breakups, or a painful and humiliating childhood moment that we all carry with us, the effect is the same.” [EurekAlert]

Scientists Confirm that Memories of Music Are Stored in Different Part of Brain than Other Memories

This paper considers the effects of music on intellectual, social and personal development of children and young people. It outlines how extensive active engagement with music can induce cortical reorganization. This may produce functional changes in how the brain processes information.

For the most part, it’s illegal to sell your body in Britain. […] In a research experiment, I tried to see how much of the human body can lawfully be put up for sale: by trying to sell as much of my own body as I could. […] I tried to sell my hair. I was quoted £50 by a hairdresser in London that specialises in harvesting human hair to make wigs for chemotherapy patients. […] The best offer I got was £30 for some blood. […] Human urine is about £30 a pot, breast milk £5, even fingernails and faeces do their own roaring trade. [Storm Theunissen/Guardian]

Study: Eggs Are Nearly as Bad for Your Arteries as Cigarettes.

We ate roasted rat and survived.

The Internal Security Act allows the government of Singapore to imprison citizens indefinitely and without trial.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

In West Virginia, however, the drug of choice was OxyContin, or “hillbilly heroin.” 

On a Sunday night in May 1935, Victor Lustig was strolling down Broadway on New York’s Upper West Side. At first, the Secret Service agents couldn’t be sure it was him. They’d been shadowing him for seven months, painstakingly trying to learn more about this mysterious and dapper man, but his newly grown mustache had thrown them off momentarily. As he turned up the velvet collar on his Chesterfield coat and quickened his pace, the agents swooped in. […] Secret Service agents finally had one of the world’s greatest imposters, wanted throughout Europe as well as in the United States.  He’d amassed a fortune in schemes that were so grand and outlandish, few thought any of his victims could ever be so gullible. He’d sold the Eiffel Tower to a French scrap-metal dealer. He’d sold a “money box” to countless greedy victims who believed that Lustig’s contraption was capable of printing perfectly replicated $100 bills. (Police noted that some “smart” New York gamblers had paid $46,000 for one.) [Smithsonian mag]

Rich girls are hot because their moms are hot. But they’re also insane because their dads are inbred sociopaths with Nazi fetishes. All of this makes dating one for a short period of time an excitingly weird mixture of prescription pills, naps, crazy arguments, depressing music, room service, therapists, tattoos that cost more than cars, jet lag, and guestlists. The Vice guide to dating rich girls.

Fatal Russian roulette refers to death following an act of extreme bravado in which the individual spins the cylinder of a revolver loaded with at least one cartridge, aims the muzzle at the head, and pulls the trigger. The majority of victims are men younger than 30 years who, in the presence of others, are under the influence of ethanol or other drugs. This is a 10-year (1993-2002) retrospective review of self-inflicted gunshot wounds of the head.

ReDigi calls the copy on its site “used” or “recycled” (it was originally sold on iTunes). Why Can’t You Resell Old Digital Songs?

Can a Computer Tell Us What Makes Paris Look Like Paris?

Why Is the Night Sky Turning Red?

The farthest point from dry land floats exactly where you would expect: smack dab in the middle of the South Pacific.

“Modulo” is on Wikipedia’s preposition list, and has an OED entry.

Names of Dogs in Ancient Greece. [Thanks Tim]

XO sauce was first created in Hong Kong sometime in the early eighties. It’s been called “the caviar of the East.”

Warhol’s apotheosis as the savior of abstract painting has been coming for years now, ever since sundry dealers, curators, critics, and historians decided that his Shadows, Oxidations, Camouflages, and Rorschachs were in the great tradition of Kazimir Malevich, Jackson Pollock, and Barnett Newman. […] Deitch begins by referring to abstraction as “a painting tradition that was once seen as essentially reductive” and “monolithic and doctrinaire”—but has “now become expansive.” In what sense were seminal abstract artists such as Kandinsky or de Kooning ever reductive? And what is more reductive than Warhol’s silly attempt at an all-over abstract painting included in this show, the bewilderingly boring 35-foot expanse of army surplus patterning entitled Camouflage? […] There is nothing in this show that doesn’t have its origins in abstract painting long before Warhol got to work with his silkscreens. [Jed Perl/TNR]

Physically securing a company doesn’t necessarily have to be about expensive alarm systems, high resolution cameras and other fancy gadgets. To keep burglars at bay, all you might need is a gadget that tricks them into thinking that you have high-tech security systems. [Softpedia | Thanks Tim]

“The Julian Assange show,” wherein Wikileaks founder Julian Assange takes his sabre to western governments, no doubt enjoying his fat pay check from Vladimir Putin.

Everyone Poops but Only Julian Assange Doesn’t Flush.

What are some things that money can’t buy? Natively high water pressure (debatable).

How is being a billionaire better than being a millionaire?

Fai come Maradona.

Bangladesh has a slightly off-center flag, supposedly so that it appears centered when it’s flying.