Sunday Selection 2012-09-02

Hello all. I’ve been on extended vacation for the last month or so. I’ve spent a few weeks on actual vacation and the rest in “vacation mode”. I’m glad to report I made it back to civilization alive and I’m looking forward to the fall. It’s getting cooler outside, I moved into a new office, I upgraded my phone and I’m looking forward to a semester full of low-level systems programming, working on a programming language (or two) and hopefully a good number of fun, random hacks.

I’ve done a good amount of reading while I’ve been gone so I have a long list of things to recommend which I’ll be working through over the next few weeks.

Around the Web

I want to become stronger

There is something about being human that drives us to improve ourselves and become better. The rise of the self-help industry in recent years has brought this aspect of our nature into the mainstream media but I’m unsure of how much positive impact it has had. Of course, self improvement is not new and definitely not uniquely Western. It’s worth looking afield for a philosophical understanding of what is means to want to be better.

Not for the sake of selfishness alone

While philosophical discussions make for interesting conversation and are worth pondering on a personal level, if we really want answers to the questions let’s call on science and technology to give us a hand. This article gives a good overview of scientific research into human altruism and its biological roots.

Depression, digging out and pursuing happiness

As much as we’d like to think that being happy is our default state, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it feels so much easier to just crawl under the blankets, stay there and let the world pass you by. For times like that it worth’s remembering: you are not alone and there are things you can do to make things just a little bit better.

From the Bookshelf

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes and the Greatest Race the World has Ever Seen

Humans are probably the only animals that take strenuous, energy-consuming physical activity and turn it into something recreational. If you’re a runner or athlete or have been thinking of taking up some kind of physical activity this is definitely a book worth reading. It combines personal anecdotes, inspiring stories, short biographies and hard science into a very readable explanation of why humans are natural born runners and how far running can take us (literally and metaphorically).

Software

Android Ice Cream Sandwich

Ok so I’m about six months behind the upgrade curve but I just upgraded my Nexus S to ICS and I really like it. The interface looks sharp and refreshing, it’s fairly different from iOS and the apps seem to faster and snappier. If you’re still running Gingerbread I would definitely recommend upgrading (though the path may not be easy). A longer post on the matter will be coming shortly to a screen near you.

Sunday Selection 2012-07-08

Around the Web

Talent is Nothing Without Focus and Endurance

I am rather embarassed to admit that I’ve never read Haruki Murakami. I do plan on changing that soon. However I’ve heard that only are his books great, his memoir: What I talk about when I talk about running, is an equally wonderful and enlightening read. I think I’ll put it on my Kindle for the flight home.

The Neglected Virtue of Scholarship

As a graduate student I’d say about a third to a half of my time is spent either reading up on the current state of the field or looking for techniques and approaches that I can use in my own work. If your job involves pushing the state of the art it’s worth spending some time figuring out where the line is currently drawn. Even if that’s not your job description, I think a little scholarship in a relevant field can go a long way.

Scholarship: How to Do it Efficiently

Unfortunately, scholarship or “book learning” often gets a bad rap. But I’d like to think that it’s mostly because books tend to be badly written. Also it’s hard to enjoy reading something unless you know why. As a precursor to this article I’d just like to say: Scholarship is most effective when it’s focused and self-motivated.

Software

Ifttt

I’m a strong believer in the idea that our technology should actively help us lead better lives. That’s why I find things like the current slew of “minimalist” text editors for iOS and OS X deeply misguided – our software should do more, not less. Ifttt is a step in the right direction – it lets you connect web services with “if something happens then do something” clauses. Ideally I would like to see a general API that connects web services and lets me script them uniformly but this is a start.

Sunday Selection 2012-04-08

Today’s selection is something of a health special. For better or for worse our minds are intimately tied to our bodies. Until the day we have seamless uploading technology we’ll have to take care of bodies if we want our minds to work well. And in order to do that we need to know about how our bodies actually work and what’s good for us.

Around the Web

Is Sugar Toxic? The title is perhaps deliberately inflammatory, but the notion behind is perhaps just as troubling. Is is possible that sugar (not just high fructose corn syrup) is not just harmful in large quantities but something that’s dangerous by nature?

Humans: hot, sweaty, natural-born runners I’ll be the first to admit that I’d be happy if I could get away with doing no exercise at all. Unfortunately that’s not the case. The good news is that evolution has equipped us with the systems we need to be powerfully capable runners. Being a regular runner doesn’t require superhuman feats of dedication – it’s in our genes, we just have to tap into our latent biological potential.

From the shelves

The Four Hour Body I don’t really agree with Tim Ferriss’ Four-Hour Work Week ethic, but I do like the compendium of practical health and fitness information that he’s assembled in this book. While some of his advice is probably best taken with a physician’s advice this book will give you some great ideas and actionable guidelines for becoming healthier and stronger.

Moving Pictures

What Would You Do With Your Own Google? That, is a very good question. Cure cancer? Cure aging? End poverty and world hunger? We’re living in a world of unprecedented computational power and incredible amounts of data to crunch. What could we learn from all that data and how can we use it to change the world?