smart phones are not human we just react to them like they are, america is probably not going to hell in a hand basket, all that

A long read which has some entertaining or distracting personal insights. I’m still fascinated with how technology affects people’s lives even when that includes keeping secrets from your smart phone, Are Smartphones Changing What It Means to be Human?

I LOVE MY SMARTPHONE. It’s become a second brain in my pocket that’s changed how I process information. It’s with me every waking moment — and the sleeping moments, too — tracking my daily habits. And through my constant e-mail and Facebook activity, and the personal documentation of my life via Twitter and Instagram photos, it’s become the lens through which I see the world. All day long, I find myself instinctively reaching for my phone, using it as a tool to validate my existence.

For those that catch the TV series The Big Bang Theory (The Beta Test Initiation) you know they did a show about Raj falling in love with Siri. Humans tend to anthropomorphise cars, cats and furniture. How could we not have personal feelings towards something that talks back to us with a pleasant non-judgmental voice. I’ve been talking to and verbally abusing my PCs for years.

  Need a way to monitor your weight? Download the Lose It! app, created in Copley Square. Feeling groggy in the mornings? Pick up the new mobile headband from Zeo, the Newton-based maker of sensors that help you analyze your sleeping patterns. Focused on wellness? The Daily Challenge from South End–based MeYou Health sends you e-mails and texts that help you set tiny goals each day. Looking for motivation to get to the gym? Dozens of developers in Boston are building apps that will get creative in finding ways to nudge you toward the treadmill: Are you motivated by challenges, games, or rewards? Do you respond to positive or negative feedback?

[  ]…This gets even more complicated when it’s not just our physical health that these devices are monitoring, but our emotional health, as well. Ginger.io, a team spawned from MIT’s Media Lab, has developed an app that notices when you’re not texting as much with friends or haven’t left home for days at a time, and can tip you or your doctors off to the onset of depression.

It is estimated there will be 13,000 health-related apps in the iTunes store by this summer. if you do not want to monitor your calorie intake, your blood pressure, your impulse buying or your mood you don’t have to. Though knowing that you have and could become a psychological nag for some people. I had my doubts that these apps were very effective.

A study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, published in January and coauthored by Kvedar and Timothy Bickmore, a computer science professor at Northeastern University, found that having a virtual coach can steer people toward better health. In the study, they provided 70 adult Bostonians with pedometers and access to a website where they could track their steps. Half of them were also able to work with an animated coach on the site that offered personalized feedback on how they were doing. At the end of the experiment, those who were coached walked an average of a half mile more per day than those who weren’t.

That would be in keeping with other studies that show that if people know they are being watched, they engage in less anti-social behavior or if they have to report their daily diet they tend to cheat less on things like fat consumption.

paintings and photo collage

The Economist is supposed to be one of those right-of-center publications that goes out of its way not to be biased. The world waits for its apology for having zero insights in the Great Recession among a few hundred other things they missed. Yet even they get something mostly right once in a while - Our great moral decline

But what are these problems? When considering America’s moral decline, my first instinct was to look at the crime rate. If Satan is at work in America, he’s probably nicking wallets and assaulting old ladies. But over the past several decades the crime rate has fallen dramatically, despite what you may think. The homicide rate has been cut in half since 1991; violent crime and property crime are also way down. Even those pesky kids are committing less crime. There are some caveats to these statistics, as my colleague points out, but I think we can conclude that crime is not the cause of America’s moral decline.

So let’s look elsewhere. Abortion has returned as a hot-button issue, perhaps it is eating away at our moral fiber. Hmm, the abortion rate declined by 8% between 2000 and 2008. Increases in divorce and infidelity could be considered indicators of our moral decay. There’s just one problem: according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the divorce rate is the lowest it has been since the early 1970s. This is in part due to the recession, but infidelity is down too.

Other areas that might indicate declining virtue are also going against the perceived trend. For example, charitable giving is up after a decline during the recession. The teenage pregnancy rate is at its lowest level in 40 years. And according to Education Week, “the nation’s graduation rate stands at 72 percent, the highest level of high school completion in more than two decades.” So where is the evidence of this moral decline?

While having an abortion is a difficult decision for some people it is not immoral. Even if judged solely by Biblical texts – as there is no Bible provision against abortion. One of the odd things about the decline in the number of abortions, the decline in crime, the decline in divorce rates and the decline in teen pregnancies is that all these teens coincide with a decline in church attendance. This same the sky is falling Chicken-Littleness was prevalent during the Clinton years. Just before Bill Clinton was elected president, radio savant Rush Limbaugh proclaimed it was the end of America. We want on to have almost a decade of peace and prosperity. When Obama leaves the presidency in 2012 or 2016 our great national moral crisis will also once again, not disappear, but magically become far less shrill and urgent. For supposed authorities on history it is amazing to read conservatives ramble on about what they see as America’s moral decline – we might be on the decline in terms of ethics and other virtues, but not for the reasons or in the way conservatives feel. Do they really think the average American was better off or more moral in say 1867 ( about the days of TV’s Hell on Wheels series). That women were treated better. That children were better of working in mines ( Utah’s conservative Senator Lee does yearn for those days). Most Americans lived in poverty up until just after WW II. If hard arduous labor was in itself a builder of fortune and virtue we should have been the richest happiest nation on earth – yet we had slavery, gulfs in class divisions, women could not vote and had only slightly more rights than slaves. Native Americans were murdered, cheated and harassed until they were herded onto tiny parcels of land instead of the vast lands they used to migrate across according to the seasons. Back in post Revolutionary War era America, parents would sell their children to service in the army because they could not afford to keep them, but you can bet they had a Bible in the house. Very Protestant England and Scotland sold poor people and children into slavery, “servitude” to merchants who sold them in America. Funny how cultural conservatives believe a lot of the same simplistic and frequently false rhetoric about “national” religious orthodoxy that Iran’s fundamentalist Mullahs also believe, yet those conservatives are itching for a war with Iran, a theocratic state with very old world, unreformed religious beliefs.

sea foam beach wallpaper

Lizzy Parks – All That

ego and greed blur the math, sunrise spring wheat wall, the pill is 50

The Black-Scholes and the financial collapse

In the Black-Scholes equation, the symbols represent these variables: s = volatility of returns of the underlying asset/commodity; S = its spot (current) price; d = rate of change; V = price of financial derivative; r = risk-free interest rate; t = time.

It was the holy grail of investors. The Black-Scholes equation, brainchild of economists Fischer Black and Myron Scholes, provided a rational way to price a financial contract when it still had time to run. It was like buying or selling a bet on a horse, halfway through the race. It opened up a new world of ever more complex investments, blossoming into a gigantic global industry.

[   ]….Black-Scholes underpinned massive economic growth. By 2007, the international financial system was trading derivatives valued at one quadrillion dollars per year. This is 10 times the total worth, adjusted for inflation, of all products made by the world’s manufacturing industries over the last century. The downside was the invention of ever-more complex financial instruments whose value and risk were increasingly opaque. So companies hired mathematically talented analysts to develop similar formulas, telling them how much those new instruments were worth and how risky they were. Then, disastrously, they forgot to ask how reliable the answers would be if market conditions changed.

Math and science – and the underlying foundation of rationalism – are only useful if the people using them develop a sense of wisdom that is not easily overwhelmed by impulses to greed or ego. When students take quantitative chemical analysis in college their lab instructor will give them an unknown concentration of a substance. The students have to perform tests and use mathematical equations to find the amount of say copper in the sample. If you come up with a hundred and ten percent it doesn’t matter whether you carefully followed every step, made sure your glassware was clean, double checked your math – you’re wrong. You can’t have ten percent more the total amount  you started with. Bankers and financial analysts never took that step back to wonder how could it be that their financial products were worth more than a century’s worth of total industrial production. You know what probably happened – according to the conservative and libertarian echo chamber that is never ever wrong, a gang of the working poor, ACORN and some hired thugs from Fannie May forced themselves into all these investment banks and at gun point forced Wall Street to ignore reality.

sunrise spring wheat wallpaper

February 17th was the 50th anniversary of the Pill ( There is some disagreement about the exact date – year with first clinical trials, year with first prescriptions to the public, versus year fist mass marketed)

Only a few weeks into my internship I’ve already learned that the fastest way to create awkward silence, where even the cricket chokes, is by stating with the most serious face that I can muster, “Yes, I’m cataloging birth control pills at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.” The most common response I get is, “Wait, you’re on birth control?” After correcting him/her, I then perk up and say enthusiastically, “You know, it’s the 50th anniversary of the Pill. Big stuff!” But enthusiasm can also lead to misunderstanding. On one occasion, while I was meticulously documenting the oral contraceptives exhibited in the museum onto a clipboard, a visitor laughed and took a photo of me—probably supposing that I was eagerly jotting down some pointers.

There is a brief photo history of changing package design at that link. This one at PBS is a little better. There is an article here that goes into some of the social good and other ramifications. One of the most profound consequences of the new biological freedom for women was the economic consequences. Not just for women, but for western free market economies. Their productivity and spending power were responsible for a great deal of the economic expansion of the last fifty years. While there is nothing wrong with choosing be a stay at home wife (or husband), but if women were somehow forced to return to those roles, that would mean a significant economic retraction.

Sounds like it was released yesterday. From 1973 – Madeline Bell & Alan Parker – Soul Slap