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Why are desserts too sweet?  Why don't they put yellow masala curry mix, paprika, uncandied ginger, copious amounts of nutmeg, or pepper into cupcakes?  What happens if we alter the flour/egg balance?  We are here to answer these questions.  Like good scientists, we will create lots of different samples, and then taste them all.  

Last time we discovered some interesting things trying to make the darkest dark chocolate cupcakes we could.  This time, we're going to mess with spices.

This will be at a house in Pacifica, not my house.  The event will run roughly 7pm-11pm.  I can take carless people with me if thet take BART to my house.  

LMK if you're interested.
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There are already implantable glucose monitors.  Why not create one that causes harmless pain if blood glucose rises beyond a certain level, with the amount of pain increasing commensurate with the level?  People modify their behaviors quickly to avoid pain if there's a clear and rapid connection between the pain and a pain-causing stimulus.

Devices that intentionally cause pain might be difficult to get FDA-approved, but it seems like techniques like gastric bypass essentially accomplish the same thing, with far more side effects an irreversible changes. 

I feel like I have a natural version of this glucose-pain connection; when I eat many kinds of junk food, I start to feel sick within minutes.  It's trained me to not eat junk food, even if it once tasted good at the time of eating.
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A friend of mine saw my Kinect videos and contacted me about filming him doing Iaido.  

Iaido is a highly stylized Japanese martial art in which practitioners fight imaginary opponents in a scripted battle, playing each of the positions in the battle one at a time.  A lot of importance is paid to the position and timing of the movements, ensuring that they align with one another.  Basically, the Kinect software I wrote was perfect for assessing how well he did.  The filming conditions were not so good and I didn't have much time, so this is more like a proof of concept. Hopefully I'll get something better when he's next in town.

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If there was a *book* about a blue hedgehog that spins himself into a featureless orb as he dashes through an island filled with strange and highly distinct biomes, each meticulously constructed to both let him both revel in the pleasure of moving as fast as possible yet threaten him with constant (but temporary and thus perhaps meaningless) death from inexplicably placed spikes, giant springs, and pitfalls, with giant floating golden rings representing the abstraction of wealth that can somehow buy happiness if enough of them are attained, and with all other living beings on the island encapsulated by robots designed to mimic the appearance of those living things while simultaneously entrapping them and forcing their minds to commit evil deeds as mindless drones for a distant and aloof lone overlord, you would probably think it was an ironic commentary on animal rights and the nature of selfhood and self-determination in a transhuman future world as written by a creative writing major who enjoys hallucinogens on a regular basis.

What happens with these genres is that they evolved over time from something simpler, gradually becoming worlds unto themselves with their own tropes, in-jokes, and semantic structures.  For people who follow along its evolution or are surrounded by the end products from an early age, it doesn't seem strange at all.  It's happend with rap, Noh Theater, hentai porn, action movies, and lolcats, among other things.  However, it seems that this development is especially intense in certain video games.  I think it takes someone translating the genre to a different medium (eg Scott Pilgrim vs The World) to show how strange it's become.  
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I've given my friend plenty of advice about the specifics of how to get around, what to bring etc, but for her going-away ceremony I wanted to give her the gift of high level experiential and spiritual advice.  Here's what I said:


1. Be a scientist investigating your soul. Peel off your exoself -- all that stuff that's wrapped around you.   Possessions, routines, people etc. Then drop your core into lots of radically different environments and see what happens.  Mix with different cultures. Mix with different paces of life and structures for each day.  Mix with different outlooks.  Mix with different companions.   Sit back.  Observe the results.  Share with your fellow scientists. (that's a fancy metaphor for blogging).   Experiment anew.  The word "experiment" is actually just a fancy word for playing so that scientists can feel like adults.  But playing is how we learn.   Be a kid again and play.

2. Feed your creative brain.  Some random ancient monument will not necessarily be directly relevant to your life goals, but it will lay down a web of neural pathways linked to art, beauty, design, inspiration, experience, and psychology, among other things.  As these pathways become denser, you'll be creating a new mind for yourself, a new way of seeing the world, that will emerge in totally unexpected ways when you come back and face the familiar.

3. Get yourself some transport.  Take a long walk or get your hands on a bike, scooter, ATV, or car.   Get outside of the self-reinforcing ego-serving tourist bubble from time to time and find some strangers.

4. Play sociocultural bingo.   You have to cover all the combinations of rich, middle class, poor, ancient, traditional, modern, urban, rural, serious, and playful, to win.

5. Inspire other women in areas where women fill culturally restricted roles.  If this is done carefully and respectfully, your independence and adventurous spirit will open their minds to a new way of living.

6. Don't log onto Facebook.  Share your experiences in longer posts.  Your experiences deserve it.

7. Keep your pack light. It's no fun to be a pack animal.  Aside from weird esoteric things, they do sell stuff just about everywhere else in the world.  You can live off the local supply chain, and then you'll weigh less.

8. Don't buy souvenirs unless they are incredibly special... otherwise you're just weighing yourself down.  (Well... unless you have a friend visiting for a week, in which case you should do things like give them a chunk of the Dead Sea to take home for you.)

9. Take photos.   Photos are little hooks that will, years later, let you pull out piles of associated memories you thought you'd lost.  Don't get obsessed with taking the perfect photo of some person or event; chances are there's something even better you'll see in half an hour.   Also, if there's a "no photography" sign, bribe the guards to take a photo of you next to it.

10. Watch your stuff and back up your data.   Given all that time you spent assembling your travel kit, it wouldn't be fair for some thief to have it instead of you.

11. Eat weird food.   Look for the place that's popular with the locals, and try it.

12. Be a sponge and soak in the adventures.   This time of your life will always be special, and its memories will always be with you.
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 I want to make a lot more 3D sculptures with Kinect. Anyone want to help? I want to film:
- Acrobatics,
- Martial arts
- Basketball
- Silk dancing
- Dancing, specifically couples dancing
- Cats and dogs (short hair needed)
- People wandering through forests of large houseplants (you only need one)
- Fun tricks with pose matching and intersecting bodies (small groups needed).
- Re-enacting that birth scene from Alien...
- A large flag waving in the wind (must be close, not 20 feet up)
- Paper airplanes flying.
- (not)-Nude Descending a Staircase
- a 1-woman Busby Berkeley movie
- More stuff we'll probably think up as we start to play...
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 Lest I be getting lazy on a Friday night, I made a 3rd Kinect video.   Here is another fun thing you can do with your own software on a 3D camera:

By taking a 3D snapshot of the room with furniture in it, I can remove the furniture and then wander in the 3d "ghost" space left behind.
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I made some improvements to my program from yesterday.  Now I can control how multiple RGB/Depth images are merged together to create a virtual 3D sculpture I can walk through.  This stuff is seriously fun.

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I believe that consumer-level 3D cameras will have a huge impact on a variety of industries and will lead to the creation of many types of new products.  I've started to play around with the Kinect using the OpenKinect hack & open source codebase.  

For my first project I created a 3D sculpture tool.  In the video, parts of the sculpted image become updated when an object in that area moves closer to the camera than any other object has been in the past.  This lets you carve images in space by moving them closer to the camera.  This took a day of intense work -- I'm planning on making some upgrades to it over the next few days to make it even more interesting.

I also would love to shoot some more videos.  In particular, I want to do the following, though I'm totally up for experimenting and playing with different things:
- People doing acrobatics
- Dancing (especially couples dancing, like waltz)
- Recreating the painting Nude Descending a Staircase (nude or not-nude).  I need a better staircase than the one in my house
- A playful cat chasing things (preferably light or multicolored cat with short hair.  I don't think the camera would do as well with cats with long black hair)
- Moving the camera through lots of houseplants, or just one that is blowing in the wind.

Also, if anyone has a recommendation for a better Mac screencapture program, I'd love to hear it.  The one I downloaded last night hiccups and causes other issues.
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If you had access to every email, every voice conversation, every document, every photo, every work of art, every blog post, a person ever created, public and private, how accurately do you think a dedicated scholar and highly talented character actor could emulate them?  

Researchers are playing with pervasive life recording devices that will gather the data that could make this sort of thing possible.  I believe that in the future, an advanced artificial intelligence would be able to use this data to essentially bring this person back from the dead.  Even though you would not have access to their internal monologue, it's likely a lot of it could be guessed by observing the "boundary conditions" -- their actions in the world.  The task would be made even easier if, in the future, fully detailed (down to the synapse level) models of different human brains become available.  This would turn reverse-engineering a particular person's brain from a black box problem into more of a white box problem.
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I should preface this by saying that I am not well schooled in international relations.  I could be missing some key facts or concerns.  I could be totally off.  However, I'd like to think out loud in this post.  

After reading about recent North Korean shelling of South Korea, I was surprised at my intuitive reaction that South Korea should invade North Korea.  Generally I'm not very hawk-ish.  I was very opposed to the war in Iraq when it was being contemplated.  What's different?

One of the US's great failures in Iraq is that we did not follow up our invasion force with an administrative force who could take over the day-to-day operation of the society.  Furthermore, we banned anyone who had held significant administrative positions (the Ba'ath party) from holding positions in the new regime.  We also didn't have enough Arabic speakers to adeptly handle translation issues.  As a result, we essentially let the administrative functions of the government collapse, and the Iraqis were not impressed.  It's taken several long years, thousands of lives, and over two trillion dollars to crawl out of the deep hole we got ourselves into over there.

Korea could be different.  South and North Korea share the same language.  They are, geographically speaking, right next to each other.  South Koreans have relatives in North Korea.  People will care.   If South Korea had a halfway decent plan for absorbing North Korean administrative functions, it would be much easier for them to take over than it was for us to take over Iraq.  The situation is probably more similar to what happened when Germany reunified.  West Germany had to put in an enormous amount of money to reintegrate East Germany from an infrastructure perspective and a social perspective.  However, twenty years later the results are amazing.  Berlin is beautiful.  It feels strange to even write the words "West Germany" now.  

North Korea is probably one of the most dangerous regimes around.  Unlike Iraq, they actually have weapons of mass destruction, and they seem more fickle and irrational than just about any other regime on the planet.  They're not integrated into the global economy or social web; the closest thing they have to a friend is China.  This makes them more likely to take rash actions without regard for the consequences.

North Korea is also a humanitarian disaster; starvation is a common occurrence, and the government appears to not give a damn.  If there was a Child Protective Services for countries, North Korean citizens would long ago have been placed in a foster home.  In a sense this is what I'm proposing.

Sure, there are numerous countries in Africa that are just as messed up, but North Korea appears to be a low hanging fruit.  It would be easier to turn around North Korea than, say, Sudan.  I'm not saying that we should not have given humanitarian aid to Sudan -- what I'm saying is that it would be easier to bring North Korea up to first-world status than Sudan.  it would be a good use of South Korea's money.

Generally democracies are not in the habit of starting unprovoked wars, but in this case North Korea has already attacked the South, so the international community would probably find it relatively understandable if South Korea attacked back in an escalated manner.   Sure, many people would die, but in the long run these deaths will more than be outweighed by the end to lost generation after lost generation of North Korean citizens.  

If any of you have interesting articles you can point me towards about South Korea's long term strategy for dealing with the North, I'd love to see them.  
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I'd like to talk about a serious shortcoming of the medical system in treating a category of illnesses, and a simple, self-experimental approach that allows you to potentially treat these illnesses cheaply and easily.



"Diffuse Conditions" is a term I made up to describe health conditions that have numerous potential causes and numerous potential treatments.  These conditions include insomnia, allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, and anxiety. 

Diffuse conditions are hard to treat via the medical system.  Due to the economic, research, and procedural constraints of the medical system, patients are often steered toward a narrow set of potential treatments.  Moreover, these treatments are generally expensive drugs or procedures rather than simple practical advice.  In addition, because of the prescription system, patients are only able to try one potential treatment per doctor visit, and since diffuse conditions have many potential cures, that potentially means a lot of doctor visits to find one that works.  In addition, the diffuse conditions are sometimes bad enough to affect a patient's quality of life, but not bad enough to merit "medical attention".  Doctors are generally focused on fixing people when they are broken as opposed to tuning them for optimal function.  Basically, all this means that someone with a diffuse condition is likely to have a lot of difficulty finding a solution, and will end up spending a lot of money (either directly or via the tragedy of the commons system known as health insurance) trying to find a solution.  At this point, healthcare is already up to 17% of our GDP in America, so we need to figure out a cheaper approach.  I believe medical experts can be useful in treating diffuse conditions, but they need to empower patients to engage in a highly iterative cure discovery process. 

The solution, I believe, is to data-mine your own life.  This is a five-step process.
1. Get quantitative tools for measuring your performance.
2. Try various interventions. 
3. Track performance and interventions over time
4. Look for correlations to suggest ways you can improve your condition
5. Share your findings online so that others can see if your successful interventions work for them. 


I'm going to provide a personal example of this to show how it can be done: 

Sleep videos:

I've always had trouble with insomnia.  For a long time, I just ignored it as a fact of life.  In my early twenties, I decided to finally do something about it and get a sleep study.  I went to one of the best sleep clinics in the country (Stanford).  They found some minor issues (sleep apnea so mild that it could not be designated "mild sleep apnea") but nothing medically actionable.  Unfortunately, that gave me little to act on.  A sleep study requires you to sleep in a hospital with an unbelievably large amount of equipment attached to your head.  Sleep studies are so expensive that any given person is only likely to do one or two of them.  So unfortunately a sleep study is not a good way of determining anything useful.

I got the idea to use a cheap near-infrared video camera (Sony sells analog "nightshot" video cameras that can see in the dark) to do my own sleep study at home by doing time-lapse recordings of myself sleeping.  I ended up with fascinating videos like these, which show the range of strange things that happen during the third of our lives when we aren't conscious.

Here's what I learned and did about it:

- I move around a lot while I sleep.  Limb movements were documented on the sleep study.  They appeared to correlate either with my posture (specifically, lying on my back) or with dreaming.  The limb movements appeared to be impacting my quality of sleep as they appeared to often line up with or precede awakenings as seen on the sleep study.  By looking at several night, I was able to see that the limb movements most often appeared when I was dreaming, regardless of posture.  Also, as any good scientist knows, it's good to have a control group for comparison.  As a result, I taped myself sleeping next to three different people, and found that I moved around substantially more than any of them did.
- If I'm sharing a bed, it needs to be king-sized if I am to sleep well.  The video shows many instances of sleep-disturbance ping-pong, in which one person shifting causes the other person to shift, and that's in a king bed.  In a smaller bed, it's even worse. 
- If I'm sharing a bed, everyone needs their own quilt.  Quilt-sharing dramatically worsens sleep disturbance ping-pong. 
- Morning light dramatically lowers sleep quality.  The morning light stimulates production of hormones to help me wake up, but this is not useful if I'm going to bed many hours after sunset.  As a result, I started using heavy curtains to help myself get a full night's sleep. 
- I don't have Restless Leg Syndrome.  Based on the movements, I thought I might have it, so I got a doctor to prescribe the two most commonly used RLS medications.  Both of them made my sleep worse. 
- Posture interventions didn't change my quality of sleep.  It appears that I need to spend some time sleeping on my left side, my right side, and my back.  If I choose one particular posture to fall asleep in, I will spend most of the tail end of that night in the other two postures.  If I force myself into a particular posture (eg by wearing a shirt and stuffing a pillow into the back), I fight it intensely.  I think this may have to do with circulation; no part of my body likes to be compressed for long periods of time.  I dislike extended sitting when I'm awake.
- Anti-apnea technologies don't help reduce the movements.  CPAP is loud, messy, and obnoxious, and actually made the movements worse.


Sleeping pills:

I also did an evaluation of just about every type of sleeping pill I could get my hands on, and rated how effective they were at getting me to sleep and how much of a "hangover" effect they have the next day.  I evaluated them via self reports, and sometimes with the videos, for how much they affected my sleep quality.  Your results may vary.  Here's what I found:

- Most over-the-counter sleeping pills (Tylenol PM, Nytol, Sominex, Benadryl) are bad.  They tend to be based on the antihistamine Diphenhydramine HCl.  While they are great at getting me to sleep, they worsen apnea (probably by relaxing the throat muscles too much) and they seem to make me stupider the next day.  I was excited when earlier this year, a study came out showing that my "it makes you stupider" observation isn't just anecdotal. 
- Alcohol (even a single drink) is a bad sleeping pill. 

- Valerian was okay (decent effectiveness but some hangover), as was Lunesta. 
- Melatonin was best for everyday use, and it's available over the counter.  Your body produces it naturally, and you're probably already deficient in it if you are around bright lights before you go to sleep.  I found 1mg was sufficient to do the trick.  At >= 3 mg, I started to have some hangover effect the next day and some habituation issues (making it harder to go to bed the next night without it).  However, at 1mg, I had very little hangover.  I now tend to take it if I haven't been able to fall asleep after 45min.
- Ambien is useful as a "nuclear option" when I'm taking a transatlantic flight or on a packed overnight bus.  It has some hangover, but it's shockingly effective.  It has the bonus effect of helping reset your circadian rhythm to a new time zone if you take it at the bedtime you desire for the new time zone.  Ambien has been known to have some substantial side effects, like sleepwalking, in certain people.   In addition, before putting you to sleep it provides you with a feeling not unlike drinking an entire six-pack of beer in one sitting.  I wouldn't be surprised if it eventually ended up as an illegal drug. 


Quantitative interventions

While the above research yielded a lot of gains, I was able to learn even more when I started using automatic sleep-tracking technologies like the Zeo.  Zeo uses an EEG headband to monitor your brainwaves.  It can determine if you're awake, dreaming, in light sleep, or in deep sleep, by looking at them.  From there, it comes up with derivative measures like sleep latency (how long it takes to fall asleep) and sleep efficiency.  It also has an adaptive alarm so that you can be woken up at the end of a sleep cycle instead of mid-dream.  It's accuracy isn't perfect, but it's fairly good.  (When I'm awake, it registers me as awake at least 90% of the time).  Because Zeo only takes data in 2-minute increments, it cannot notice short awakenings.  Hopefully, the next version will have an accelerometer or a bone conduction microphone to detect apnea, limb movements, and snoring.

In addition to the Zeo's data, I manually wrote down how happy, focused, and stressed I was each day, as well as a detailed 2-sentence description of what I did.  From there, I derived several more quantitative measurements, like whether I exercised, if I slept alone, if I had sex etc.  Then I dumped it all in a big spreadsheet and looked for correlations between measures of sleep quality and my activities.  Several useful correlations popped out.

Here's a subset of what I found after gathering four months of data:

One issue that has always bugged me is sleep latency -- the amount of time it takes me to get to sleep.  Here's what was correlated with lower sleep latency:

- Get exercise
(though don't do it too late in the day).  I had heavy exercise on 66% of the low latency nights vs 42% of the high latency nights.
- Going to bed earlier.  This is counterintuitive, as I'd expect myself to be more tired later in the night.   (Average 1:16am bedtime for low latency nights vs, 2:04am for high latency)  From personal experience, I know sleep latency gets much longer again if I go to bed before midnight.  There's basically an ideal window.
- Don’t have intense new social connections in the evening   I'm not about to make my life more boring to sleep better, but I can be more proactive about exercising or taking melatonin to help myself sleep.   (10% of low latency nights had intense new social connections, whereas 38% of high latency nights did.  The same applies to arguing at night.
- Don’t sleep alone  Having someone sleep next to me helped me get to sleep faster. 
(52% of low latency nights were with a partner, while 28% of high latency nights with partner)  Just make sure the bed is big enough!
- Have evening sex 
The effect was astonishing.  (22% of low latency nights had evening sex, vs 0% of high latency nights)  Even morning/afternoon sex has an impact (31% of low latency nights had morning/afternoon sex vs 22% of high latency nights)


Digging through the data more, I discovered other interesting things. 
Exercise turns out to be good for a lot of things:

- Earlier to sleep (1:37 vs 1:52)
- Increased total sleep (436 vs 400 min  (+36min))
- Reduced sleep latency (22 min vs 25 min (-3min))
- Increased REM sleep (153 vs 137 min (+16min))
- Happier, more engaged, less stress that day (6.9 vs 6.1, 6.5 vs 5.9, 3.3 vs 4.0 on 1-10 scale)
- Happiness/engagement/stress benefits even carry over to next day (6.6 vs 6.3, 6.4 vs 6.1, 3.5 vs 3.8)

This is one of the things that encouraged me to start getting daily exercise.


Correlation vs causation:

As any good scientist knows, correlation does not imply causation.  In regular terms, if two things tend to happen together, it doesn't mean one directly causes the other.  There could be a third thing that causes both of them.  Thus, doing one may not cause the other.

For example, the correlation between having a sleeping partner and shorter sleep latency could be explained for many reasons.  When I have a sleeping partner, I'm more likely to have sex before bed, spend evenings out, cuddle before bed, and not work or browse the internet late at night.  Any of those could be the actual cause.  However, doing that kind of multivariate analysis requires a lot more data, as, for example, there are only a handful of nights where I had sex before bed but no sleeping partner.  I could run a controlled experiment, but at some point I have to stop being a scientist and live my life.  "No sex tonight honey, I need more data for the control group" is a great way to ruin a relationship. :-)  In the end it's good enough to know that being in a healthy relationship helps me sleep better, regardless of the mechanism.


Application to other areas:

As I mentioned in the beginning. this technique of personal data mining does not just apply to sleep; it can be used against things like irritable bowel syndrome.  I tracked what I ate every day for a month, and noted if I had gas or diarrhea.  From there I could correlate the consumption of various foods with digestive issues.  By avoiding those foods, I've substantially reduced instances of IBS. 



Overall, by paying personal attention to numerous factors and making use of some self-tracking technologies, I was able to make lots of improvement to my quality of sleep.  While medical advice and technology was useful, the ultimate evaluation of the effectiveness of everything was up to me.  I had to be willing to self-track a variety of things, including things that had no known connection to sleep, and vary my life to include different behaviors.  Most of the interventions I tried didn't work, and what worked for me may not work for you.  

I think if these approaches are going to be adopted broadly, a few things need to happen:

- Patients' relationships with medical professionals need to change.  Patients need to become active partners in solving health conditions.  This means that interactions with medical professionals need to be longer and more frequent, perhaps with automatic sharing of health data between visits.  Given the cost of medical degrees and the way doctor visits are billed, it likely won't be doctors that would be doing this.  Insurance probably won't pay for it anyway. 
- Data collection needs to be super easy.  Techniques for automating data collection are great, and any manual data collection should be available via a wide variety of methods so that everyone has a method they find easy -- eg a phone app, text messaging, paper forms that can be scanned or photographed to extract the data, websites etc. 
- Wikis and social networks need to make the sharing of potential remedies easy.  Sites like CureTogether do a good job of giving people a space to share potential remedies.  Voting systems help ensure that suggested remedies aren't totally off base, and these potential remedies are really just meant as raw material for experimentation so it doesn't matter if many of them don't work.  With experimentation, you'll find the ones that work for you. 
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I already self-track numerous metrics, such as weight, body fat %, cholesterol, sleep, stress, and happiness.  However, the Life Extension Conference helped me realize that there are far more things that I should track.  Here's why:

- You might discover that you are abnormally low or high in a particular metric, and this knowledge will allow you to quickly and cheaply take corrective action that will improve your quality of life or prevent you from developing a disease.
- Although it is useful to know how well you stand relative to the rest of the people your age and gender, knowing how you are doing relative to a past version of yourself is also very helpful as it can indicate some physiological change that has taken place.  For example, the PSA test, which tests for evidence of prostate cancer, is notoriously inaccurate, but it has been found that a significant increase in PSA over time is much more predictive.
- Frequently collecting data on a particular metric allows you to do self-experimentation to see what affects that particular metric.  The more frequent the testing, the more we are able to learn about ourselves.  The self-experimentation approach is especially good when trying to deal with diffuse conditions that have a range of possible causes, such as insomnia, allergies, anxiety, and depression.

So what is worth tracking?   Here's my first cut at things I might want to check periodically:

Physical performance:

Cardiovascular fitness:

- One of the biggest indicators of cardiovascular health is something called VO2Max, which is the maximum rate of uptake of oxygen by your lungs.  Actual VO2Max testing requires a doctor and lots of specialized equipment.  However, there is a way of indirectly testing VO2Max that's very simple, very accurate, and just about free.  It's called a beep test or shuttle run, depending on which side of the Atlantic you grew up on.  You basically run between two cones 20m apart at a particular rate, and the rate gradually increases until you can't make it in time.  


- I'm tempted to measure my performance on a particularly hard song on Dance Dance Revolution, but perhaps something simple, boring, and technology-free like the Hexagon Drill would be better, especially if I want to be able to do the same test in 20 years.

Strength & Power:

- Max # of pull ups.   (In high school I could do 1-3, now I can do 12-14. :-) )
- Max bench press for some # of repetitions.  
- Standing long jump
- Standing vertical jump


- I could do the sit & reach...  (ah, memories of high school)
- This site also recommends a trunk rotation test and groin flexibility test

Physical health:

- Body composition (body fat %, water %, total weight).  My current scale has decent but probably somewhat inaccurate measurement of this.  
- Glucose levels fasting and after eating a high-carb meal.  This is easy to measure.
- Sleep quality (sleep latency, time in each sleep stage etc.  Technologies like Zeo and FitBit allow for some measure of this.  

I can also order specific tests for levels of various minerals, fats, and other components.  While these tests are somewhat expensive, I really can get by doing them every 1-5 years, with possibly more frequent tests around things I'm trying to change.  The way my health insurance works (high deductible, low monthly premiums) I would order these tests myself from sites like and (their testing and supplements business is way more respected than their monthly magazine).  


The above table, and the decisions of what to take, took a couple of hours of research.  Doing all the tests I want to do will take about $500, and I estimate that I'll spend a fraction of that each subsequent year.  I'm still not sure about the food antibody IgG vs IgE tests -- I have heard that some of them are highly inaccurate.  

Mental performance:

This is a tricky one.  There are so many possible things to measure, some of which are extremely difficult to quantify repeatably.  In addition, while I like the automatic data gathering of computer software, anything I use has to still be available in 20 years so that I have consistent methods of measurement.

I could use a brain training suite not to train my brain (only a subset of the tests appear to generalize to other situations) but to periodically test it.  The best brain software appears to be the web-hosted, but I'm worried that the tests may change over time (the site brags that they're making changes and improvements *all the time*).  In addition, the service costs around $80 a year, which is a lot if I only use it a couple of times a year to assess mental performance.  I started looking for desktop software and quickly realized that the low/mid end desktop software market died several years ago.  There's very little, and most of it is crap.  One alternative would be to get iphone/ipad software.  (I'm imagining myself 20 years from now, turning on some ancient hardware to run some games.)  However, getting access to the performance data will be an issue.  

In terms of specific things to test, it would be interesting to cover:
- Working memory
- VIsual attention and tracking
- Ability to focus with distractions
- Multitasking
- Visual/Spatial processing
- Audio processing
- Logic
- Mental flexibility (Boggle?)
- Face recognition (lots of these exist)
* Idea generation / creativity (Ability to plan and prioritize short and long term goals simultaneously)
* Organization
* Self-awareness of emotional states
* Emotional processing
* Recognition of social cues
* Reading comprehension
* Performance under stress
* Willpower 

The eight starred items do not appear to be easily testable in an automated way with the software I've found.  There are a couple of ways of measuring willpower, such as resisting a particular temptation or enduring a painful but harmless sensation.  

Any suggestions on brain testing technique (or any of the things I'm considering, for that matter) are highly appreciated.

Also, if you're interested in doing a testing/discussion group with me (these things are more fun with friends anyway), let me know.
mattbell: (Default)
Facebook has a feature called Friend Finder that allows you to import your email contacts into facebook so that you can add all your contacts to your facebook friends list.  However, this requires that you provide Facebook your email address and password.  A lot of people don't trust Facebook, so people are understandably leery about providing the keys to their personal correspondence.

However, recently Facebook has started using peer pressure to convince you to use Friend Finder.  What they do is show a couple of your friends who have used it, and suggest that you use it too.  However, these friends are not chosen at random.  It always seems to suggest people who are either
(1) Very influential members of social circles I'm in
(2) Women I've dated that I'm still on good terms with
(3) Close friends

In other words, it's the people who are most likely to influence me.

It's not that hard to take guesses at who these people are.  (1) can be easily quantified by creating a formula that combines a person's # of friends, how many comments they get per day on their wall posts, how many events they organize, how many photos they've been tagged in, and how often people message them.  (2) and (3) can be determined by looking at how you spend your time on facebook -- the wall posts you comment on and the photos you look at.  I'm surprised Facebook hasn't turned it into a public metric, with people being given an influence and closeness level rating they can share.  It would make it more crass, but probably more addictive as well for a lot of users.

It's interesting to extrapolate forward what all this will look like in a few years.  Targeted advertising doesn't bother me.  I'd rather have the ads I see be interesting and relevant than uninteresting and irrelevant.  However, socially targeted advertising might be a different game.  Imagine an ad system that figures out your particular weaknesses and exploits them ceaselessly -- it can figure out exactly what you're insecure about and use the activities of your social network to embarrass, intimidate, frustrate, or otherwise pressure you into action.  For example a gym company could pay a social network to run ads of the form "[Name of girl who is more physically fit than you and who just started dating that guy who you had a huge crush on after he turned you down last week] loves going to [Name of gym].  Join now at a discount!" at the appropriately weak audience.  It's going to be an interesting future, and we'll have to learn to anticipate these sorts of tricks so as to be more immune to them.   (On a related note, see Paul Graham's Acceleration of Addictiveness)

On a side note, I think the password sharing issue is kind of silly because there's a fairly easy alternative.  Web services should allow you to have alternative passwords with limited access rights.  For example, gmail could have one password for full access and another password for read-only access to contacts only.  I'd give the second password to Facebook.  This would also fix my issue with  For Mint to work, you have to give them all your passwords to all your different financial accounts.  I like the fact that I have money in different places protected by different passwords, and putting them all in one place seems like a bad idea (eg Mint could be hacked).  If I could get a read-only password from each financial institution, I'd happily give those to Mint. 
mattbell: (Default)
Monopolies tend to stifle innovation.  It's true whether the monopoly is making software or radical-self-reliance festivals. 

Burning Man is currently the best place for large-scale artists to exhibit their creative energies in a way that tens of thousands of people will see it.  It may have increased the total creative and artistic output of California, but it's also captured most of that creative energy.  I can't think of a single friend who's worked on a large art project in recent memory and *not* taken it to Burning Man.  Their market share (in terms of their share of people's free-time creative energy and their devotees' use of limited vacation days) is high and constant. 

Burning Man as an event is showing some signs of stagnation.  It still churns out a quality product, but it's not taking radical steps to innovate and push the boundaries.  I'm sure there are plenty of political realities I don't see because I'm not inside the upper echelons of the organization, but I'm surprised at how little has changed in the last five years. 

In a way it's a bit hard to separate the governmental contribution of burningman from the huge volume of participant-generated content.  Most of the large projects are funded by the curated art choices of the burningman organization, so even though they are not creating the projects, they are determining what shows up and where it's placed.  There was a year when a group wanted to self-govern their own section of Burning Man, funding art projects in the area using donations and a voting system.  Something interesting happened that year -- the art in both this renegade section AND in the main festival was substantially better. 

This is why I think a full-scale competitor would do Burning Man some good. 

There are some practical difficulties to launching a burningman competitor.  It takes a long time to grow an event from ~100 people to ~50000 without enduring potentially catastrophic growing pains.  So it's likely that the only event that could challenge Burning Man in the next decade is an existing, moderately-sized one. 
mattbell: (Default)

I’ve often thought about how the leading vocal atheists have the wrong approach to religion.  They spend plenty of time making fun of the contradictions in leading religions and warning of the dangers of fundamentalism, but they don’t think about why people are attracted to religion to begin with.  Simply poking a stick at religion won’t win many converts, but providing something that meets the needs of religious people might do so.  One of the things that people find attractive about religion is that it provides them with an overarching worldview that helps answer the big questions in life, provides a value system, and helps create a central life purpose. 

What would the doctrine of such a religion look like?  Here’s an outline of how I would structure it:


The origins of the universe are unclear, but what is clear is that we as a species are something incredibly special.  As far as we know, Earth holds the only intelligent life in existence.  That may change in the future, but for now we are a lone bright candle of intelligence in the void.  The fact that an organized society of sentient beings emerged from a disorganized soup of chemicals is more than a miracle – it’s a long string of miracles.   It’s a wonderful triumph in light of physical laws that are neutral to hostile to complex, organized systems. 

These miracles were billions of years in the making. However, as self-awareness has increased, the pace of the “miracles” has greatly quickened.   Cultural and technological evolution and development have supplanted biological evolution as the primary driving forces in increased self-awareness.  For the first time, the emergent intelligence can consciously self-direct its own future development, for better or for worse. 

I'm going to take it on faith (or as a logician would say, as axiomatic) that self-awareness is good. A bacterium is more self-aware than a rock, a cat is more self-aware than a bacterium, a person is more self-aware than a cat, and a society is more self-aware than a person.  Self-awareness lets the universe understand and transform itself, allowing it to behold its own beauty. 

The ultimate purpose of the human race is to raise the matter of the universe to self-awareness, lifting ourselves up to the level of gods in the process. The universe may be beautiful, but it's a tragedy if it's never appreciated by an intelligent being. Science, art, literature, engineering, and other fields of human endeavor are tools to enhance self-awareness.

With our purpose in mind, we must tackle several huge issues.  We have to make sure that the lone candle of intelligence is not snuffed out through negligence or malice.  This means tremendous social progress – developing a society-wide immune system that prevents large-scale wars, catastrophic climate change, and other dangers to our existence.  We need to understand the human psyche and how it can be directed toward good and productive endeavors, both at an individual level and at a societal level.  We need to promote cross-cultural understanding and togetherness.  It also means that we need to start aggressively spreading our intelligence beyond the narrow confines of Earth and the fragile containers of our physical bodies.  Our civilization could be wiped out by causes outside our current control such as the sort of asteroid that led to the end of the age of the dinosaurs.  Developments in space travel, artificial intelligence, robotics, and nanotechnology will make our intelligence much harder to wipe out. 

Thus, our mission is clear.  We all have different gifts and different ways to contribute, but we’re working toward a common goal – the spreading of intelligence and self-awareness across the universe. 


Of course, a religion is a lot more than just a central doctrine.   A religion needs powerful narratives, rituals, social gatherings, community outreach programs, and more.  If enough people are interested in discussing this, I might organize a local gathering to talk about it. 

mattbell: (Default)
I'm not thrilled that this is happening for a sugary beverage, but the concept is fantastic:

Coke has made a custom drink machine that will mix drinks on command

Here are some areas I'd rather see it in:
- Granolas.  Most granolas are way too sugary.  I want to be able to pick the mix of ingredients for my granola, and have the machine mix them in real time.  I suppose I could do this by hand (and I sort of do it already by adding an extra ingredient or two) but this would be waaay more convenient
- Trail mixes.  Ditto to granolas
- Nut butters and syrups.  Yes, I want independent sliders for hazelnut, chocolate, and sugar for my Nutella.
- Vitamins, whey protein etc.  This might be too much work to do locally, but I'd love to be able to pick the optimal nutrient mix for my body and have it delivered custom-mixed to me.

This is one reason I like good bartenders.  They're like the machine, but with a cheery disposition, lots of knowledge, and a voice interface.  :-)  So this one time... I was in a bar in NYC, and there was a yummy-looking drink on the menu called the Angry Lesbian.  I believe it involved tarragon-infused vodka, orange rind, ginger, framboise, and a bit of sugar.  I asked for it with no added sugar since I like my drinks less sweet.  I paused, and then said, "yes, I'd like my Angry Lesbian extra angry." 

mattbell: (Default)
Here's a mockup for the floating game table. 

This 8'x8' platform is designed to hold up to 2 people and allow them to tilt the platform and thus roll a ball by moving around.  There are lots of interesting interfaces you could get out of having one or more people control a ball in this manner.  It would be a chance for people to hone their sea legs in a game of balance. The platform could be reconfigurable, with different surfaces added or removed to switch games.

Here are a couple of possible configurations:

- Competitive balance game. (shown above)  There are two players, one red and one blue.  The players compete to tilt the board in a direction to get a ball to roll into a hole of their color.  Players may touch each other, but not the ball.  Players score a point every time they get the ball into a hole of their color, and lose a point if they touch the ball.  The first player to 10 points wins.

- Minigolf labyrinth.  The platform has some walls and some holes, along with ramps, hills, and whatnot. The player has to tilt the platform to get a ball from the starting point to the finishing point in as little time as possible.  If the player touches the ball or drops the ball in a hole, they have to start over.


Here's how I did a quick proof-of-concept.  If it's *even possible at all* to do what I tried with an iphone, the Labyrinth app, some tape, and a balance board, then controlling the ball should be relatively easy in the full scale version.

Quick playable mock-up of tilting game board  Quick playable mock-up of tilting game board
mattbell: (Default)

For some, the Dandelions will be a metaphor for the spread of civilization and new ideas onto the ocean, a further diaspora of the human race.  For others, the Dandelions will be giant climbable floating koosh balls made from pool noodles, and the most important thing about them will be whether they can climb to the top of one without falling over.   Either way, having one or more of these Dandelions floating around in the middle of the swim area will add aesthetic and fun value to the Ephemerisle experience.

Here’s a quick mock-up showing the concepts for the 9 foot diameter and 13 foot diameter versions:

Climbable floating 9 ft dandelion made of pool noodles  Climbable floating 13 ft dandelion made of pool noodles

It turns out Dollar Tree sells 48" pool noodles for $1 each, which enables this project to be done for a relatively low price.
mattbell: (Default)
1.  Make a giant koosh out of foam water noodles.  (like these)   Quick calculations show that for 100 bucks you could build a 9 foot diameter koosh that could support one or two adults.  Plus, it would be hilarious to watch people try to get stable on it.  :-)

2.  Floating game table.  So there are lots of interesting interfaces you could get out of having one or more people tilt a big floating platform by running around on it.  It would be a chance for people to hone their sea legs in a game of balance.  The platform could be reconfigurable, with different parts added or removed.  I'm thinking a 4x8 platform is the minimum size needed, though an 8x8 would be ideal.  Here are some options:

Marble Madness / Miniature Golf / Labyrinth

The platform has some walls and some holes, along with ramps, hills, and whatnot.  You have to tilt the platform to get a croquet ball from the starting point to the finishing point in as little time as possible.  If you touch the ball you have to start over.

Tilt Pool

This 2-player game would have several holes in a flat platform.  The holes would be marked in two different colors to signify which player they belong to.  One ball would be in play at any given time, and the players would be in competition to tilt the platform to get the ball to go into their holes instead of their opponents' holes. 

3.  Floating 3D tessellation of a rhombic dodecahedron.  It's the only semiregular polyhedron that tessellates 3-space in an interesting way.  Using lots of PVC pipe surrounded by foam noodles, we could construct this fascinating-looking floating lattice.   Thicker (and undoubtedly more expensive) versions would be climbable.


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