Habituate yourself

I am really looking forward to reading “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. Its on my kindle, slowly making its way up the list. Here is an extract from an interview with Neurotribes:

In his provocative and brilliantly written new book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg — a reporter for the New York Times — pries open the box with the help of recent research and finds surprising good news: Even the most thoughtless and self-destructive cycles of behavior can be changed, if you understand how habits are formed and stored in memory.

Duhigg breaks down the sequence of ritualized behavior (which he calls the habit loop ) into three component parts: the cue, the routine , and the reward . The cue is the trigger that sets the sequence in motion. Perhaps it’s a certain time of day when you tell yourself it’s time for your daily chocolate-chip cookie (that was Duhigg’s particular jones). Perhaps it’s email from your boss that makes you want to dash out for another smoke. Perhaps it’s the chiming bells and flashing lights of a crowded casino, designed to make a room full of incremental losers look like winners who are hitting jackpots all the time. The routine is the behavior itself, which can be positive (like a daily running habit) or harmful (like gambling away the family savings). And the third part is the reward — the goal of the behavioral loop, which your brain’s pleasure centers gauge to determine if a sequence of behavior is worth repeating and storing in a lockbox of habit.

A pint of butterfat and sugar with a Ben and Jerry’s label, a spurt of oxytocin when you see that @jayrosen_nyu or @ebertchicago has retweeted you, that tingling in your legs after a strenuous workout, the numbing rush of a fix, the first puffs of an American Spirit… it’s all the same to the basal ganglia, four lumps of gray matter in the forebrain that encode highly rewarding behavior for easy repetition.

Though routinized behavior is often framed in terms of the problems it can cause, Duhigg points out that habit formation is an evolutionarily keen strategy for managing the limited throughput of our conscious awareness. If we couldn’t even brush our teeth or drive without having to ponder the nuances of every action, our brains would require more real estate in decision-making areas like the prefrontal cortex. One advantage of “chunking” behavior into automatic sequences stored in memory — Duhigg tells us in a typically enlightening aside — is that our skulls can be smaller, ensuring that more mothers survive giving birth. Darwin FTW.

But when you become a slave of your most destructive habit loops — blowing through the last of the family credit at Harrah’s, or watching yourself down another half-dozen martinis like a hipster robot, though you know it’s wrecking your marriage — it’s time to make a change. Duhigg explains why our usual way of tackling the problem — telling ourselves “I’ve got to quit doing this, now! ” and berating ourselves when we don’t — is often doomed to failure. Then he maps out a more effective path toward enduring habit change that focuses not on trying to scrap the routine all at once, but on becoming aware of the cues and manipulating the rewards. The encouraging news is that success in making modest alterations in behavior (which Duhigg calls “small wins”) creates a ripple effect into other areas of your life. Sometimes the most effective way to quit smoking might be to start walking the ten blocks to the office every other day instead of taking the subway. Small wins beget larger ones.

Read more at http://blogs.plos.org/neurotribes/2012/03/20/breaking-the-habits-that-enslave-us-qa-with-charles-duhigg/

The brute is dead

I am seldom happy to hear about someone being dead, but I am happy to hear that Mohamed Merah, terrorist , traitor and child murderer, is dead.

Just look at that ugly face. The grinning thug, now dead, attacked children. To purposefully murder children in cold blood is the worst of all crimes, although I would wish him dead for the killing of the soldiers too.

He shot a wounded little boy as he crawled away wounded from his dead father and brother.

This is one of the dead victims, 8 year old Miriam Monsonego:

The  held her by her hair to shoot her in the head:

Eight-year-old Myriam Monsonego clutched her satchel as the killer chased her through the school gates and into the courtyard. He pulled her towards him by her hair and raised a gun to shoot her.

The video footage appears to show that, at that moment, his gun jammed.

But determined to carry out his killing spree, he kept hold of the girl, changed weapons from what police identified as a 9-mm pistol to a .45 calibre weapon, and delivered a shot to her temple at point blank range. (Daily Telegraph)

I am glad he is dead, desperately sorry for the families and friends of the murdered, the latest victims of the despicable Islamist way of war.

I cannot image the pain of that mother. her husband and sons murdered, alone with her 10 month old baby.

Now round up  Merah’s accomplices and let them face justice now that the brute is dead.

Civilization building kit

Sci-Fi author David Brin links to a great project – Open Source Ecology  :

Following the DIY “maker” trend, one ad-hoc group is producing open source modular plans to the 50 different industrial machines necessary to build a civilization — or at least provide a self-sustaining village with basic comforts. The basic fifty include: backhoe, bulldozer, baler, wind turbine, cement mixer, electric motor, steam engine, dairy milker, baker oven, aluminum extractor from clay, and bioplastic extruder, among others. The more complicated ones build upon the simpler ones. In northern Missouri, they have used their compressed brick press and tractor to build a manufacturing facility to construct more models.

The founder, Marchin Jabukowski (TED Senior Fellow) is a Physics Ph.D., who dropped out to work on this project. His orientation is post-scarcity society rather than disaster, but if one were wanting to create a generalized resiliency rather than prepare for specific movie scenario plots, it would be a good place to start. See his TED talk: Open Sourced Blueprints for Civilization .

And now, Open Source Ecology is teaming with WikiSpeed to build an open source, modular, configurable car with high fuel efficiency that meets U.S. safety standards.

The 2012 hippies are making everyone jumpy about societal collapse and the collapsitarian movement is still growing. Just yesterday I got a memo from Neil “The Game” Strauss with 13 hacks to survive a disaster.

I am not immune. I track this stuff….

More:

Imagining Life Without Oil, and Being Ready – NY Times

Apocalypse Ciao: Let the End Times Roll – Mother Jones

Debt and the story of civilisation

Last Autumn, whilst rumbling across Belgrade on one of the city’s ancient trams, I listened to an interview on Tech Nation  with Anthropologist David Graeber , about his book “Debt: The First 5,000 Years“.

It is undoubtedly of of the best podcasts I heard last year.

The type of debt and financial structures that a civilisation adopts will dictate its fate.

Listen to the podcast for a quick but thorough introduction to the ideas in the book.

Here is an interview with the author on Naked Capitalism.

Bookforum also has fine review.

Neuroanthropology blog has a very details and brilliant overview.An excerpt, addressing one of the most interesting parts of Graeber’s thesis:

Graeber suggests that the ‘language of debt’ is a ‘moral’ one, not just an economic one. I would also add that we are told that debt default is an apocalyptic scenario, more dangerous than gutting social programs, disinvesting in infrastructure, making health care inaccessible, and bringing about all the slow moving catastrophes that often accompany austerity programs designed to increase states’ ability to pay their debts.

What makes Graeber’s analysis so interesting is that, because of his extensive historical research, he can actually trace how the current economic cosmology of debt arose, and point to periods when debt threatened to cause similar crises.  Specifically, he argues that the fluctuation historically back and forth between debt-backed or credit money (as we’ve essentially had since 1971) and bullion or commodity-backed money, is accompanied by larger shifts in patterns of warfare, slavery and debt bondage. Specifically, Graeber suggests that the expansion of debt is part and parcel of a virtual money system, one that has been dealt with before in human history. – Neuroanthropology blog

For another round up of links and videos, see  Book of the year: Debt (2011) by David Graeber

Coincidentally, David Brin recently blogged about Robert Wright’s new book “Nonzero” . In it he completely agrees with Graeber that the super rich are at war with the rest of us (also a view shared by Essential Intelligence ).

Go read one of the most important books in the past twenty years, Robert Wright’s Nonzero . Our entire Enlightenment Experiment has been about positive sum games. Open-competitive Economic Markets, Science, Democracy… these are all examples of systems set up to harness competition and produce positive sum results for all.
Alas, there are forces in human nature that always trend toward ruination of such systems. Winners tend not to want to compete as hard, next time, so they use their wealth and power to cheat! It is called oligarchy; the very thing that wrecked markets and democracy and science in all past cultures. Every single last one of them.

Except ours… but not without a struggle in every generation. Today, capitalism isn’t the enemy; it is the #1 victim of an ongoing attempted coup by oligarchs – who are only doing what humans are programmed to do, when tempted by feudal privilege.  If liberals would only read the “First Liberal” — Adam Smith — and realize this, they might drop both the left and right and stand up for the balanced market that emphasizes small business, startups and brash-competitive creativity, instead of monopoly, corporatism, state-paternalism and aristocracy.

Heck, if our ancestors could stand up and save the Enlightenment during their crises… so can we.

From http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2012/03/contemplating-civilization-rise-fall.html

 

“Whether the “bad guy” was the United States or one of its allies, the attack was causing…”

“Whether the “bad guy” was the United States or one of its allies, the attack was causing collateral damage to thousands of systems, and Symantec felt no patriotic duty to preserve its activity. “We’re not beholden to a nation,” Chien said. “We’re a multinational, private company protecting customers.””

Eric Chien, Technical director of Symantec Security Response

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