Music can cause your brain to grow

May 16th, 2008

Italian neuroscientists have that bombarding mice with easy listening music increases levels of brain-derived neurotropic factor ( ), in their hypothalmus specifically. However, levels of another neurotropic factor, NGF (nerve growth factor), declined. The findings suggest, according to the authors, that physiological effects of music, such as lowered blood pressure and heart rate or mood improvements, “might in part be mediated by modulation of neurotrophins.”

“First Dogen Book” now available in print

May 11th, 2008

I am pleased to announce the print availability of “First Dogen Book”, a brand new book containing extensively annotated translations of selected fascicles from Dogen’s Shobogenzo.

First Dogen Book is available for $19.95 from:

  • , the publisher

The fascicles included are:

  • Bendowa (Dialog on the Way of Commitment)
  • Genjo Koan (Truth Unfolding)
  • Uji (A Particular Hour)
  • Soshi Seirai I (Why the First Patriarch Came from the West)

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You know the sea nourishes life

May 9th, 2008

In the middle of Genjo Koan, Dogen introduces an analogy involving fish, birds, sea, and sky. This was actually the first bit of Dogen that I ever translated.

Swim as they may, fish find no end to the sea; fly as they may, birds find no end to the sky. Yet fish and bird still remain in the sea and sky as they have for ages…birds would perish instantly if they left the sky, fish would perish instantly if they left the sea.

This all seems rather understandable by Dogen’s standards. But just when we’re ready for some kind of insight or conclusion, Dogen launches into an opaque series of Chinese anagrams:

以水為命しりぬべし、以空為命しりぬべし。以鳥為命あり、以魚為命あり。以命為鳥なるべし、以命為魚なるべし。

What do they mean?

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Numenware–the book

May 9th, 2008

2006 postings to Numenware are now available in book form for the low, low price of $19.95. What better belated Christmas present for your loved one or even yourself to read in the tub.

From the intro:

2006 was the year with the greatest density of neurotheological content on the blog, and these articles, taken as a whole, would I hope represent a meaningfully significant, if somewhat quirky, overview of the field.

Loyal readers of Numenware who read posts as they went up may have missed the discussion in the comments section, many of which are extremely informative. These comments have been included in the book, typos and all.

Buy Numenware 2006 from Lulu.com now . 140 pp., with an extensive (10 page) index. Digital version available for three bucks and change.

Why I Believe "Why We Believe" is Mush

May 6th, 2008

The word must be out about what Daddy’s interested in because under the tree for me at Christmas-time were two, count ’em, two books by Andrew Newberg, MD , namely “Why We Believe What We Believe” and “Why God Won’t Go Away”. Picked up the first one and started in on Chapter 1, “The Power of Belief”. The first story was about a guy for whom a cancer drug worked when he believed it would and didn’t when he didn’t. That seems a little off-topic–the book’s supposed to be about “Why We Believe”, not “What Belief Does”, but hey, let’s give Andy the benefit of the doubt. But then he undercuts his own case by quoting estimates that such spontaneous remissions occur only one in 3,000 or perhaps as few as 100,000 medical cases. And that’s even before you’ve eliminated spontaneous remissions not associated with “belief”. Why exactly are we supposed to be so concerned with something that might, or might not, be responsible for healing some infinitesimally tiny fraction of sick people?

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The Tale of Nathaniel the Toad

May 6th, 2008

Douglas Crockford is the oracle of Javascript and holds the right position on Javascript 2.0. He also writes the quirky Department of Style blog. Here’s today’s post:

Once upon a time there was a small toad named Nathaniel. Nathaniel was despised by everyone who knew him. Not because he was a toad, or because he pulled the wings and legs off of flies before he ate them, but because he could not be trusted.

One day at the forest tavern, where all the small forest creatures went nightly to get drunk, Nathaniel announced that he was never going to pay back the money he had borrowed from his little woodland friends. And he borrowed large sums of money from just about everyone.

So they killed him. And then they pulled his legs and arms off and ate him.

Representing branching sequences in XML

May 4th, 2008

Branching sequences are common in real life. For instance, a recipe can be represented as a sequence of steps, with branches corresponding to variations. Games of go or chess , of course, are the classic example of branching sequences, where branches handle the “could have/should have played there” comments. Branching sequences can even be used to handle linear text , with branches used for optional or alternate material.

If we have complete control over the programming environment we can implement branching sequences in any way we want, most of them quite obvious. But in today’s web-based world, there are good reasons to represent such structures using XML (for transformations, interoperability, or even storage in XML databases) and HTML (for display). What is the best way to do so?

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IEEE Special on the Singularity

May 4th, 2008

The magazine IEEE Spectrum is running a Special Report on the Singularity . Well worth glancing at.

Go program reaches shodan?

May 1st, 2008

According to a post to the computer-go mailing list, Tei Meikou 9-dan (pictured; GoBase bio), known for his expertise in computer go, characterized the Monte Carlo-style go program Crazy Stone (earlier post ) as “at least 1-dan”, based on its winning performance at the First UEC Cup Computer Go Tournament. This is a huge milestone. Tei characterized moves 86 and 88 as “almost professional level” (see SGF game record).

Does Exxon Mobil need a hug?

March 10th, 2008

Ben Stein is a smart guy and in his March 2, 2008 column in the New York Times attacks Barack Obama’s idea that Exxon Mobil’s huge profits ($12B last quarter) are going into the hands of–his words–“some cabal of reactionary businessmen”. The company, he say, is owned by “ordinary Americans” such as poor elderly folks who depend on its dividends to buy their “oxygen tanks”.

This argument is surprisingly easy to refute. First, ExxonMobil pays only a small fraction of its profits out in dividends–the most recent figure is 19.54%. Second, the “ordinary Americans” Ben refers to are predominantly rich investors who are using the dividends to buy yachts, not oxygen tanks. Third, Stein claims that “when ExxonMobil earns almost $12 billion in a quarter, or $41 billion in a year, as it did in 2007, that money does not go into the coffers of a few billionaire executives quaffing Champagne”, but nearly $500M did exectly that in the obscene payout to the recently retired CEO Lee Raymond. .” This applies to Big Oil. Its profits are our income. Its employees are overwhelmingly not millionaires — and, by the way, it’s not illegal or evil to be a millionaire. They are our neighbors and the people who get us the gasoline to run our cars and trucks and the oil to heat our homes.

And, after expenses, the money hauled in by Exxon Mobil and other companies like it goes vastly more toward exploration and finding new ways of delivering oil and gas to us slobs in our cars than it does to well-heeled oil executives. It may be a scary fact, but we need the oil companies.

Meanwhile, all over the world, from Russia to Venezuela to Africa to the sands of the Mideast, nations with large oil reserves are making it harder for American energy companies to get their hands on oil and gas. If they succeed and re-cartelize the price, current prices may look cheap.

We should not be beating up Exxon Mobil and its brethren and making them cry uncle to Uncle Sam. A better policy might be to keep making sure they have no role in price-fixing, and then to encourage them to go after and lock up as much oil and gas as they can for us to burn up. We would be better off with stronger oil companies that can serve our energy needs for the long haul than with weak and overtaxed oil companies that cannot deliver the needed juice.

Finally, envy is simply not good economics. It has never led anywhere except to trouble, and we have enough divisions in this country already. As I said, Mr. Obama is a smart man. And Senator Clinton is a smart woman. I have worked in politics and with politicians. I know they have to say crowd-pleasing things (just as Republican leaders have to say that cutting taxes raises revenue).

But I respectfully suggest that they might want to reconsider their attack on Big Oil. After all, Big Oil is big us. And we need us.