Archive for October, 2014

Ingenious: Vijay Iyer – Issue 18: Genius

October 30, 2014

The scientific debate over genius usually boils down to the question, “Does brilliance spring from lucky genes or 10,000 hours of gritty study?” To judge from a relatively recent batch of books like Outliers, The Genius In All of Us, and Talent Is Overrated, nurture has won the upper hand on nature and a new truth has been ordained: Practice hard, kids, and you will be the next Mozart.

But what does the artist say? Better yet, the artist with a scientific background? Vijay Iyer seemed ideal to ask. A 2013 recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant, the musician is versed in seeing the world through the lens of science. Iyer’s Yale undergraduate degree in math and physics paved the way to his Ph.D. in technology and the arts at the University of California, Berkeley. The jazz pianist has recorded over 15 albums and in 2012 was voted Jazz Artist of the Year in the DownBeat International Critics Poll.

This video interview is a companion to “Genius Is in the Groove,” our story last week, in which Iyer gave us a guided tour, at the piano, of the singular musical elements that define the brilliance…
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Our Cities Could Get a Whole Lot Smarter – Facts So Romantic

October 29, 2014

Pieces of SolaRoad, concrete blocks topped with solar cells, were recently installed in a bike path in Holland.SolaRoad

Remember having to stay at home and wait for phone calls? (If you’re below a certain age, you can consult old movies, books, or TV shows—or just trust me on this.) It wasn’t so long ago that we all got mobile phones, but landlines already seem all but obsolete.

So, soon, could a lot of our urban infrastructure. In fact, most of it, from sewers to electrical grids to roadways, is outdated technology that goes back a century or more. It wastes energy and money, is vulnerable to disasters, and doesn’t expand to meet the needs of growing populations.

A dramatic rethinking of our infrastructure is underway, especially as part of the “smart cities” movement. Smarter technologies—some older and established, some still in development—could make our cities more efficient and livable.

Activate urban surfaces

Our sidewalks, parking lots, bike paths, and possibly even roads can be much more than the inert blocks they are now. Last week a new product called SolaRoad—a concrete block with solar cells embedded near the top—started its first trial (pdf), as the surface of…
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A Mind That Unraveled DNA & Chased Consciousness – Facts So Romantic

October 27, 2014

In his most recent book, Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist, Christof Koch wrote that he has known only one genius: Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the structure of the DNA molecule. “In a lifetime of teaching, working and debating with some of the smartest people on the planet, I’ve encountered brilliance and high achievement, but rarely true genius,” writes Koch. “Francis was an intellectual giant, with the clearest and deepest mind of anyone I have ever met.”

During an interview with Koch at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, where he is chief scientific officer, we asked him to expand on his remarks about Crick. In his answers, seen in the video below, Koch described an idea that he and Crick advanced a decade ago: that a thin brain structure called the claustrum may act as “the conductor of the cortical symphony,” integrating information from disparate brain regions. A recent study of an epileptic patient seems to support their idea that the claustrum could be “one of the key places for consciousness to occur.”

Transcript

What made Francis Crick a genius? [0:02]

CK: Well, he had this ability to ask questions, and to look at questions that people…
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Genius Is in the Groove – Issue 18: Genius

October 23, 2014

Vijay Iyer doesn’t like the term “genius” and the jazz pianist is on a roll explaining why. “The ‘G word’ is often used to shut down conversation or inquiry into a particular artist, into his or her community and connection to others,” Iyer says. “No music happens in a vacuum.” What’s more, the label undercuts an artist’s ambition and drive. “Artists seek not just to be themselves but to transform themselves, to actually become something else,” Iyer says. That’s the force that revolutionizes their culture and ours.

“My Favorite Things” Iyer plays the unforgettable pop tune from The Sound of Music in the “radical” style of John Coltrane. “It transformed our understanding of music,” Iyer says.

Consider 1960 when saxophonist John Coltrane recorded “My Favorite Things,” the beloved pop tune from The Sound of Music. “When we listen to Coltrane’s ‘My Favorite Things’ now, we don’t think this is pop culture,” Iyer says. “We think of it as a cataclysmic event in the history of music that transformed our understanding of music. It brought something new to the table, structurally and emotionally. It wasn’t dealing with harmony and form in the usual way. It reached new extremes.”

Iyer is sitting…
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How We Can Finally Start Outsmarting Single-Cell Attackers – Facts So Romantic

October 22, 2014

Imagine you are a bacterium, roughly 1/1,700,000 of your current size, residing in your own human body’s gut. You live in a diverse community, the “microbiome,” teeming with other bacteria: friendly neighbors who live next door, some ne’erdowells who occasionally vandalize the town, and your neighborhood cops who try to keep everything in check. The overall health of this community directly affects the health of the person that you live in.

As a bacterium, you are affected by what your host eats, what chemicals are in their environment, even what your host’s mother ate when she was pregnant. As is typical of bacteria, you often swap genes with your neighbors. On occasion, your host gets sick. She takes an antibiotic and many individuals in the community are killed, including both vandals and cops, but you are lucky to have picked up some genes that allow you to survive. Over time, the vandals also pick up some antibiotic-resistant genes. If there aren’t enough cops or other bacteria around to compete with these hardened bad guys and keep their numbers down, they can dig in and cause a potentially fatal antibiotic-resistant disease.

In May 2014, the World Health Organization reported that antibiotic resistance…
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The Tom Ryan Award Goes to Gary Darychuk

October 22, 2014

Gary Darychuk of Directors’ Choice in St. John, NB received the 2014 Tom Ryan Award for Ethics, Integrity and Quality Above All. Gary accepted at the honor at the 50th Annual CAM-X Convention and Trade Show. The Tom Ryan Award … Continue reading

How Is a Genius Different From a Really Smart Person? – Facts So Romantic

October 22, 2014

The most intelligent two percent of people in the world. These are the people who qualify for membership in Mensa, an exclusive international society open only to people who score at or above the 98th percentile on an IQ or other standardized intelligence test. Mensa’s mission remains the same as when it was founded in Oxford, England, in 1946: To identify and nurture human intelligence for humanity’s benefit, to foster research in the nature of intelligence, and to provide social and other opportunities for its members. 

Nautilus spoke with five present and former members of the society: Richard Hunter, a retired finance director at a drinks distributor; journalist Jack Williams; Bikram Rana, a director at a business consulting firm; LaRae Bakerink, a business consultant; and clinical hypnotist John Sheehan.

Together, they reflect on the meaning of genius, whether it can be measured, and what IQ has to do with it.

(RH = Richard Hunter, JW= Jack Williams, LB = LaRae Bakerink, BR = Bikram Rana, JS = John Sheehan)

Let’s start with the basics: Are you a genius?

RH: Ha! If you pass that test, all it proves is that you have a certain IQ. That is not the same as…
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Read the October 2014 Issue of TAS Trader

October 14, 2014

The Next Generation: Successfully Passing Your TAS to Your Kids By Peter DeHaan The majority of family businesses aren’t successfully transferred to the second generation, and only about 15 percent make it to the third. There are many theories why. … Continue reading

Dragons, Memory & Navigating the Globe Using Only Your Wits – Facts So Romantic

October 13, 2014

“Vniversale descrittione di tvtta la terra conoscivta fin qvi,” a map of the world from 1565. Click through to see the entire amazing map, or download the super-hi-res version. Paolo Forlani

Terra incognita. Unknown land. You may be familiar with this Latin phrase, which most notably appears on old maps, sometimes next to images of dragons, fantastical sea creatures, or other monsters. Cartographers once vilified the unknown—to warn sailors and travelers of uncharted territories, and to signal that danger lay beyond the sanctuary of home. Science-fiction writer Margaret Atwood draws an analogy between maps and human knowledge (In Other Worlds, 2011):

“With every map there’s an edge—a border between the known and the unknown […] And that’s what’s scary about darkness for a lot of people: the unknown. The known is finite, the unknown is infinite: anything at all may lurk in it.”

But imagine for a moment that you didn’t have to rely on maps to navigate the unknown—that your memory, instincts, and knowledge of the environment sufficed. This is the art of Polynesian wayfinding.

Where a layperson might look at the ocean and see an indecipherable nothingness, a Polynesian…
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The September 2014 Issue of TAS Trader

October 13, 2014

Preparing the Next Generation of TAS Owners By Peter DeHaan I’m not sure how the telephone answering service industry compares with other industries, but there seems to be many second and third generations running the answering services their families started. … Continue reading