Science

Why are you naked at the airport?

Right after the horrific events of 9/11/01, I was stunned to watch my fellow citizens simply bend over and acquiesce to security measures that I thought were uncalled for and overreaching and so did security expert Bruce Schneier. I submit that making millions of people remove their shoes after one so-called “shoe bomber” hid explosives in his shoes is ludicrous, but few of us push back or protest.

Why aren’t more of us saying “no” to accelerated invasiveness of our persons and privacy? Are people simply lambs stumbling along blindly as they head off for slaughter?  Is it OK for you to be full body scanned and essentially viewed naked at the airport? Read More

Sir, Yes Sir! Thank You for Thinking *For* Me Sir!

drillsergeant

One of the dangers in being a “thought leader” or “influencer” in blogs or social media is this: others might actually believe you’re an expert and take what you say on faith, as gospel, or as their duty. On the flip side, those of us who follow so-called thought leaders make some assumptions that they’re experts or at least more plugged in than we are so they must know something we don’t (and too many people are influenced by them automatically). I’ve been seeing this happen too often in the group-think that occurs in the blogosphere and this sort of mass persuasion (or “mass meme’ing” as my friend Bill calls it) is now moving even faster with the real-time internet (e.g., Twitter).

In my several decades on this earth I’ve learned the power of propaganda, seen the unfortunate downsides to “spin” and group-think, and have been made well aware of the persuasion, motivation and psychological manipulation techniques most people with an agenda employ.

Having an agenda and trying to persuade or motivate is not inherently evil or good, it just is-what-it-is. Humans are driven by all sorts of intrinsic motivations that go well beyond Maslow’s baseline on his hierarchy of needs. In my view, Maslow was stating a pyramid of needs that was far too happy-assed and missed many human motivators like a hunger for celebrity, power or control by an individual or organization, the continual nation-based struggle for resources, or a need to be dominant.

Think about all of this the next time you read something (especially a blog post or tweet), listen to a political speech, are asked to do something by your boss, or watch a TV show or movie about a big topic. What are the writer/tweeter/producers motivations? Who is funding it and/or what is their agenda? What are the creators of it trying to get you to do, to think and what action do they want you to take?

TV = Brain Off / Computer = Brain On

In 2004 Steve Jobs famously said about TV vs. computers, “We think basically you watch television to turn your brain off, and you work on your computer when you want to turn your brain on.” It was one of those statements that seemed like a throwaway (and one most of us did the old head bobbing up-n-down about), but it’s become more and more true since then.

My wife and I often take our laptops upstairs and lie in bed finishing up the days emails, exploring, and increasingly watching “TV”. In fact, my brain gets SO turned on that I find it hard to go to sleep…so I’ve actually stopped doing that in order to relax, quiet down and nod off (and older relatives have cautioned on how “you’re going to ruin your marriage” by playing with our laptops at night vs. with each other).

When I first saw the delightful Alec Baldwin Hulu ad on the Super Bowl — with its clear and humorous reference on how TV watching turned your brain into a gelatinous mush they could scoop out and eat (since they’re aliens, after all) — the brilliance of the campaign took my breath away.

It did so because of the NBC team’s recognition that most of us in the always-on, always-connected participation culture — increasingly turning our attention away from all traditional mediums like TV, radio, newspapers and magazines — view television watching as the mind numbing, brain mushing pursuit it is, but still one we turn to when we choose to be entertained passively.

The team obviously recognized that doing a fun advertisement to get our attention, directly addressing this obvious fact within it and, of course, delivering a service that meets our needs whether we’re watching an actual television set or have our brains turned on with our computing devices, they nailed it.

Jobs nailed it too over four years ago with that statement. He didn’t say anything about turning your brain on to perform tasks, but rather computers as an extension, a stimulator of our brains.

As we all move away from purely linear, serial tasks and processes toward a world where we drink in information, news, entertainment while connecting with others in a parallel and associative way, I’m eager to live in this time of awakening where more and more of us are living in a perpetual state of having our brains turned on.

Something is tugging at our universe!

Five years ago, I was reading an article in Scientific American (which I can no longer find), that was fascinating to me since I often contemplate the heavens and wonder what’s out there.

The article described a theory that black holes — which suck in all light and matter around them and collapse into a massively heavy pinpoint — actually got to a density that then caused an explosion “out the back”. The theory was that this explosion was a “big bang” that created a new universe, and the continued sucking in of light and matter from our universe continued to make that universe expand (similar to our own accelerating universe).

For many years I’ve been intrigued with Hugh Everett III‘s ridiculed concept of the many-worlds interpretation from which this theory of new universe creation sprang. His many-worlds theory claimed to resolve all the “paradoxes” of quantum theory since every possible outcome to every event defines or exists in its own “history” or “world.” In layman’s terms, this means that there is a very large, perhaps infinite, number of universes and that everything that could possibly happen in our universe (but doesn’t) does happen in some other universe(s).

A bunch of crap? Everett’s peers thought so and he was so ridiculed that he got his PhD, left physics, and became a defense analyst and consultant (and a multimillionaire so there’s money in being bullied!).

Now comes word he may have been on to something since a study has determined that there are Unknown “Structures” Tugging at Our Universe.

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Brain Hacks: A Final Update on Learning Breakthrough

A final update on our experience with Learning Breakthrough (LB) since many people are following along and interested.

No question we received benefit from LB…it just wasn’t effective enough. Unfortunately, it became a burden and my son was pulling back from it and goofing around, so we ended up not moving forward after the first five months. We’d read that there was a plateau period and we moved past that, but the benefits we were receiving from LB just wasn’t enough of a payoff for the effort we put into it.

Learning Breakthrough (or Dore, in my opinion) is probably as good as having an ADD/ADHD person performing daily aerobic exercise and eating a good diet…and we all know how few of us do the things we know we should, and trying to get a kid to stick to something like LB is quite a challenge.

Then a Doc (Dr. Chuck Parker) who writes CorePsychBlog sent me an email since I’d written about brain SPECT imaging on this blog. Having the SPECT analysis helped us identify the subtype of ADHD my son was experiencing. Parker and I went back and forth, I helped him with his blog, and he ended up offering to work with my son (though a local Doc has to prescribe). Parker’s belief is looking at the whole person, the “core” of the psychology, vs. just treating or focusing on one area like the cerebellum (which is the area of the brain positively affected by Learning Breakthrough or Dore).    Read More

See into the Future

I knew it. I can see into the future and so can you. Here’s how and why this phenomena explains why optical illusions trick us.

Researcher Mark Changizi of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York says it starts with a neural lag that most everyone experiences while awake. When light hits your retina, about one-tenth of a second goes by before the brain translates the signal into a visual perception of the world.

In this so-called Hering illusion, the straight lines near the central point (vanishing point) appear to curve outward. This illusion occurs because our brains are predicting the way the underlying scene should look in the next moment.
CREDIT: Mark Changizi, RPI.

Changizi now says it’s our visual system that has evolved to compensate for neural delays, generating images of what will occur one-tenth of a second into the future. That foresight keeps our view of the world in the present. It gives you enough heads up to catch a fly ball (instead of getting socked in the face) and maneuver smoothly through a crowd.

When you really dig into why optical illusions work, it’s your brain compensating for that lag and anticipating, assuming and predicting what happens (or should happen) next.

This has more meaning for me than most though.

As someone gifted with an Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD which I do view as a gift) and the father of an ADD daughter and a 13 year old son with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD and more gifted than I), I’ve come to learn that one reason for this ‘syndrome’ is a lag in the cerebellum caused by reduced blood flow in the prefrontal cortex.

One thing the three of us share is the ability to see things that other people don’t see and other advantageous attributes: associations between seemingly non-associated things (i.e., connecting the dots); an inability to block input thus causing us to take everything in to our brains; and a frustration with linear and serial anything, compelling us to find ways around obstacles and barriers and cut-to-the-chase.

The trick for non-ADD/ADHD people is to place yourself in positions to take it all in and not turn it off. Let yourself be inundated with information, frustrated with process and procedure, and you’ll find yourself seeking those spaces and solutions that connect dots. It’s worked for many people I know and they’ve then felt the benefits of the gift I feel ADD and ADHD is for my kids and I.

Just for grins, take a look at probably the best compilation of optical illusions on the ‘net and you’ll find your brain hurting after just a few!

Minnov8: Showcasing Minnesota Innovation in Internet & Web Technology

If you’re out in the Bay area or on the other coast in New York or Boston, it’s pretty easy to be smug about your culture of risk-taking, pool of top talent, and strings of successful, world-changing innovations. But as the world continues its acceleration to one that’s increasingly connected and ways of collaborating make distance irrelevant, smart people will pop up everywhere and I’m convinced we’ll see a flattening of the geographic advantages these pockets of innovation represent.

Six of us were bugged that there was so much going on in Internet and Web technology innovation right here in Minnesota, that when I suggested we start our own blog to showcase that innovation, there were nods of agreement and a willingness to dive in and make it real.

The biggest reason we were all interested in this blog is that these showcases and interviews are what we wanted to read and there wasn’t anything like it out there.

The result is Minnov8: Minnesota Innovation in Internet & Web Technology. This past weekend was the biggest Barcamp yet, Minnebar, and over 400 people showed up to present, learn and participate. Rather than recreate everything on this blog, why not take a peek at Minnov8? This and this post are ones that will recap what took place.

Wherever you live and whatever space you care about (e.g., technology, education, greentech, etc.) and where there are a critical mass of people willing to leap in and work together as multiple authors, I’d encourage you to start one of these…it’s pretty simple to do and fun to boot.

Rewiring your brain by paying attention

Facing a six hour adventure to get home from New York yesterday, I stopped in an airport bookstore to see if something caught my fancy that would be an immersive read. In the days when I traveled over 80% of the time, I remember buying magazines (then much less than the $5-$10 they are now) but even then most were like needing a good meal and instead sitting down to a plate of cotton candy. Not very satisfying and pretty ephemeral.

The book I chose was Norman Doidge’s The Brain That Changes Itself. Doidge takes us on a journey into the developments of brain science which has led to the current state of brain scientists understanding that the brain is “plastic” which can be molded, shaped, and rewired, “For years the doctrine of neuroscientists has been that the brain is a machine: break a part and you lose that function permanently. But more and more evidence is turning up to show that the brain can rewire itself, even in the face of catastrophic trauma: essentially, the functions of the brain can be strengthened just like a weak muscle.

There were many aspects of this book that leapt out at me but one key point I’ll bring up as I recommend this book: permanently imprinting and creating brain maps (i.e., permanent behavior changes, knowledge permanence, automatic responses and deep, intuitive understandings) only happens when a human or animal is focused and paying close attention.

That’s right. Multitasking (Linda Stone positions it as, continuous partial attention) WILL NOT hardwire our brains and anything we’re learning, hoping to absorb permanently or habits we’re intending to change….won’t.

Doidge brings up numerous examples of brain rewiring and plasticity which I’m thinking about now and have lots of questions swirling about: What happens to our brain maps and wiring when our conceptual and spatial awareness extends in to the virtual? (I’ll bet you can visualize in what folder on your computer sits that important document or photo…or what’s on your friends wall in Facebook from last night). Will automating processes begin to replace the need to hardwire them into our brains? When we all have mobile computers in our pockets and can instantly look up anything, will we need to permanently imprint knowledge?

What it takes to “get it.” Kathy Sierra at O’Reilly’s Tools for Change Conference

We all have a left-brain analytical side and a right-brain (the reality is a bit different…but the premise is sound), and if you can figure out how to fully engage the brain, someone’s emotions, and look at what you offer to people from their point of view and incentives, you’ll be wildly successful or, as author and blogger Kathy Sierra discusses in her blog, you’ll at least be “Creating Passionate Users“.

It’s ironic that I’ve read Kathy’s blog, one of her books, and seen her speak at conferences and it wasn’t until I just watched the video interview below with her explaining the subtleties and nuances of her thinking and approach, did I finally “get it” and understand the essence of her value proposition.

This proves part of her point on how to engage a person and it’s NOT just text on a blog page or a few images or graphics supporting it. For visual learners like many of us, if our visual, auditory and kinesthetic styles are engaged, we’re fully learning and are 100% absorbed (and I could go off on a tangent about the power of gaming, in-game feedback and game theory, but not now).

Here’s a personal example: when watching a video on my computer, I’ll collapse the browser window with the video running in it, open another and search or view sites which are sparked by the content of the video. This multi-modality use of the Internet is PERFECT for the way my associative, connecting-the-dots brain works, but most people are wired this way to some degree which is why I said in this post, “My friends, this is the future of television…“.

In a day of limited attention spans and massive amounts of content choices, figuring out how to entice, engage, empower, delight and add significant value — as well as deliver a path for people to stay with you for the long term and continue to learn and grow with you or your company — is a powerful method for creating passionate users who are willing to enter a high value, high attentive and sustained relationship with you instead of one or a handful of lower value transactions.

If you just look at that last paragraph on the surface, doesn’t a relationship sound a lot better (and more lucrative) than a transaction?

Tim O’Reilly just posted audio for his Tools of Change for Publishing conference since Kathy couldn’t attend. Find 30 minutes to watch it and then go hang out at Kathy’s blog. Embracing these concepts will shift your thinking and perspective on how you’re either creating passionate users or creating single, or a series of single, lower value transactions.

What if all human knowledge was free and accessible?

Imagine that for lunch today you had to go into your storehouse and find the peaches you canned last summer, the meat from the cow you slaughtered and smoked, and the grain you packed away after harvesting it while heading up to the kitchen to prepare it all. Pretty ridiculous to consider for we urban dwellers, heh?  We instead go to the grocery store and get what we need all nice and shrink-wrapped or just head over to our favorite local restaurant for lunch to be served to us all piping hot.

The farming, ranching, slaughterhouse, bakeries, food service and distribution system (e.g., refrigerated trains, trucking, grocery stores) ensures that most of us don’t need to think too hard about where we’ll get today’s lunch or tomorrow’s remarkably inexpensive calories. We also expend laughingly few calories to obtain what we need compared to even a generation ago (thus why we’re so fat…but I digress) and this whole food ecosystem has allowed all of us to move to a higher level and specialize in our work in ways our great-grandparents could never have foreseen since we’re not expending so many calories (not to mention time) to grow, gather up, store and prepare them.

One thing is clear if you’re investing any time staying abreast of the acceleration in Internet-centric knowledge repositories (e.g., Wikipedia, Google Knol, Instructables, Connexions), as well as higher learning institution initatives (e.g., MIT Open Courseware), then you’ll begin to understand the vision and promise embodied in a new initiative by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and Rich Baraniuk, respective founders of Wikipedia and Connexions, called The Cape Town Open Education Declaration (via Smart Mobs).

We are on the cusp of a global revolution in teaching and learning. Educators worldwide are developing a vast pool of educational resources on the Internet, open and free for all to use. These educators are creating a world where each and every person on earth can access and contribute to the sum of all human knowledge. They are also planting the seeds of a new pedagogy where educators and learners create, shape and evolve knowledge together, deepening their skills and understanding as they go.

This emerging open education movement combines the established tradition of sharing good ideas with fellow educators and the collaborative, interactive culture of the Internet. It is built on the belief that everyone should have the freedom to use, customize, improve and redistribute educational resources without constraint. Educators, learners and others who share this belief are gathering together as part of a worldwide effort to make education both more accessible and more effective.

Does this mean that your training, learning, knowledge work or content is going to be free or cause you to give it away?

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