Saturday, January 31, 2009

Utilities Turn Their Customers Green, With Envy

Stickers for Green Behavior

A frowny face is not what most electric customers expect to see on their utility statements, but Greg Dyer got one.

He earned it, the utility said, by using a lot more energy than his neighbors.

“I have four daughters; none of my neighbors has that many children,” said Mr. Dyer, 49, a lawyer who lives in Sacramento. He wrote back to the utility and gave it his own rating: four frowny faces.

Two other Sacramento residents, however, Paul Geisert and his wife, Mynga Futrell, were feeling good. They got one smiley face on their statement for energy efficiency and saw the promise of getting another.

“Our report card will quickly get better,” Mr. Geisert wrote in an e-mail message to the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.

The district had been trying for years to prod customers into using less energy with tactics like rebates for energy-saving appliances. But the traditional approaches were not meeting the energy reduction goals set by the nonprofit utility’s board.

So, in a move that has proved surprisingly effective, the district decided to tap into a time-honored American passion: keeping up with the neighbors.

Last April, it began sending out statements to 35,000 randomly selected customers, rating them on their energy use compared with that of neighbors in 100 homes of similar size that used the same heating fuel. The customers were also compared with the 20 neighbors who were especially efficient in saving energy.

Customers who scored high earned two smiley faces on their statements. “Good” conservation got a single smiley face. Customers like Mr. Dyer, whose energy use put him in the “below average” category, got frowns, but the utility stopped using them after a few customers got upset.

Does it work?

When the Sacramento utility conducted its first assessment of the program after six months, it found that customers who received the personalized report reduced energy use by 2 percent more than those who got standard statements — an improvement that Alexandra Crawford, a spokeswoman for the utility, said was very encouraging.

The approach has now been picked up by utilities in 10 major metropolitan areas eager to reap rewards through increased efficiencies, including Chicago and Seattle, according to Positive Energy, the software company that conceived of the reports and contracts to produce them. Following Sacramento’s lead, they award smiley faces only.

The Motivation: Competition over Common Sense

Robert Cialdini, a social psychologist at Arizona State University, studies how to get Americans — even those who did not care about the environment — to lower energy consumption. And while there are many ways, Dr. Cialdini said, few are as effective as comparing people with their peers.

In a 2004 experiment, he and a colleague left different messages on doorknobs in a middle-class neighborhood north of San Diego. One type urged the residents to conserve energy to save the earth for future generations; another emphasized financial savings. But the only kind of message to have any significant effect, Dr. Cialdini said, was one that said neighbors had already taken steps to curb their energy use.

“It is fundamental and primitive,” said Dr. Cialdini, who owns a stake in Positive Energy. “The mere perception of the normal behavior of those around us is very powerful.”

Source: Utilities Turn Their Customers Green, With Envy

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Hunet S Thompson Interviews Keith Richards

"...there'd be no Stones without the Beatles..."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Have the Courage to Use your Own Understanding

When a man starts to learn, it happens very slowly—bit by bit at first, then in big chunks. And his thoughts soon clash. What he learns is never what he pictured, or imagined, and so he begins to be afraid. Learning is never what one expects. Every step of learning is a new task, and the fear the man is experiencing begins to mount mercilessly, unyieldingly. His purpose becomes a battlefield.
— And what can he do to overcome fear?

The answer is very simple. He must not run away. He must defy his fear, and in spite of it he must take the next step in learning, and the next, and the next. He must be fully afraid, and yet he must not stop. That is the rule! And a moment will come when his first enemy retreats. The man begins to feel sure of himself. His intent becomes stronger. Learning is no longer a terrifying task.

(Carlos Castaneda)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

CONVERGING while Expanding

Take our pills and drive our cars and
shut the fuck up.
But I'm getting ahead of myself,

clustering and
gravity, mass and
fusion, star birth and
supernovas, planet vs. planet,
restoring tabula rasa, cooling,
acid rain, ocean, php balance, single
cells, mitosis, photosynthesis, fish, feet,
dinosaurs, mammals, upright, opposable thumbs, big brain,
religion, agriculture, bartering, wheels, seamen, Mesopotamia, Money,
Greece, Jesus, Rome, Medieval Ages, printing press, DaVinci, 1492, Williams
Shakespeare, heliocentrism, Cartesian Doubt, Newton's apple, electricity, life,
liberty, pursuit of, honest Abe, Evolution, light blub, unconscious, E=MC2, crash, TV, Potato
Head blues, Hitler, Nagasaki, fall out zones, tv dinners, 1984, suburbs, ARPA, Howl, Beatles, the
moon, million man march, Berlin, video games, PC, mobile, iPod, 9/11, Deoxyribonucleic acid, CERN, Obama -


the whole of 13.7 billion years evolution
weighing on our 3 lbs brain at this very moment
simultaneously... unfathomable lapse of
time condensed into
one set
of neural firings that gives us
January 18th 2009 4:01AM...

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Extended Mind

Where does the mind stop and the rest of the world begin?

The mind appears to be adapted for reaching out from our heads and making the world, including our machines, an extension of itself.

This concept of the extended mind was first raised in 1998, right around the time Google was born, by two philosophers, Andy Clark, now at the University of Edinburgh, and David Chalmers, now at the Australian National University. In the journal Analysis, they published a short essay called “The Extended Mind” in which they asked a simple question: “Where does the mind stop and the rest of the world begin?”

Most people might answer, “At the skull.”

But Clark and Chalmers set out to convince their readers that the mind is not simply the product of the neurons in our brains, locked away behind a wall of bone. Rather, they argued that the mind is something more: a system made up of the brain plus parts of its environment.

Clark and Chalmers asked their readers to imagine a woman named Inga. Inga hears from a friend that there’s an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. She decides to go see it. She thinks for a moment, recalls that the museum is on 53rd Street, and starts walking that way. She accesses her belief that MOMA is on 53rd Street from its storage place in her brain’s memory network.

Now imagine a man named Otto, who has Alzheimer’s. His memory is faulty, and so he keeps with him a notebook in which he writes down important details. Like Inga, Otto hears about the museum exhibit. Since he can’t access the address in his brain, he looks it up in his notebook and then heads off in the same direction as Inga.

In the view of Clark and Chalmers, Inga’s brain-based memory and Otto’s notebook are fundamentally the same. Inga’s mind just happens to access information stored away in her brain, while Otto’s mind draws on information stored in his notebook.

The notebook, in other words, is part of his extended mind. It doesn’t make any difference that Otto keeps his notebook tucked away much of the time. After all, Inga tucks the memory of MOMA’s address out of her conscious awareness most of the time too.

Clark and Chalmers concluded that real people are actually more like Otto than like Inga: We all have minds that extend out into our environments.

Accepting Wall-less Minds as Natural

Eleven years later, this argument continues to trigger fierce debate among philosophers, psychologists, and neuroscientists. There is no doubt that the extended mind is a weird concept.

One reason it seems so strange is that our minds feel as if they are really totally self-contained. We innately believe, for example, that as we walk down a street, we are continuously filming a detailed movie of our surroundings and using that mental movie to decide what to do next. But like many beliefs we have about ourselves, this movie is an illusion. Our awareness is, in fact, remarkably narrow.

One of the most spectacular demonstrations of how oblivious we can be was carried out by psychologists Daniel Simons of the University of Illinois and Christopher Chabris at Harvard University.

They asked people to watch a video of students weaving around each other and passing a basketball. Half the students wore white shirts, the other half black. The subjects had to keep track of how many times the ball was passed by members of one of the teams. In the middle of the game, a gorilla (rather, a student in a gorilla costume) sauntered through the scene.

Many subjects later reported that they never saw the gorilla; their brains discarded it as extraneous.

Inside our heads, instead of making a perfect replica of the world, we focus our attention on tiny snippets, darting our eyes from point to point. We extract only the information we need for whatever task is at hand, whether we’re sorting the laundry or climbing a mountain.

What’s even more remarkable about our brains is that they actually search for new things to make part of this feedback system.

Imagine you are poking a stick into an animal’s burrow. As you poke away, you are aware of what the far end of the stick is touching, not the end you’re holding in your hand. This kind of extended sensation appears to be the result of a reorganization of the brain.

Scientists have found that when test monkeys spent five minutes learning how to use a rake, some of the neurons in their hands began behaving in a new way. They began to fire in response to stimuli at the end of the rake, not on the monkey’s hand. Other neurons, in the brain, respond to things that appear to lie within arm’s reach. Training the monkeys to use the rakes caused these neurons to change—reacting to objects lying within rake’s reach rather than arm’s reach.

Natural-Born Cyborgs

The eagerness with which the brain merges with tools has made it possible to create some stunning mind-machine interfaces.

For instance, Miguel Nicolelis of Duke University and his colleagues put electrodes in the brains of monkeys to link them to a robot arm. The monkeys quickly learned how to move the arm around with pure thought; their neurons reorganized, establishing a new feedback loop between brain and robot arm.

Humans are proving just as good at this merger of mind and machine.

The U.S. Navy has developed a flight suit for helicopter pilots that delivers little puffs of air on the side of the pilot’s body as his helicopter tilts in that direction. The pilot responds to the puffs by tilting away from them, and the suit passes those signals on to the helicopter’s steering controls. Pilots who train with this system can learn to fly blindfolded or to carry out complex maneuvers, such as holding the helicopter in a stationary hover.

The helicopter becomes, in effect, part of the pilot’s body, linked back to his or her mind.

Results like these, reveal a mind that is constantly seeking to extend itself, to grab on to new tools it has never experienced before and merge with them.

Some people may be horrified by how passionately people are taking to their laptops and GPS trackers. But if you think about it, it would be surprising if we didn’t.

We are “natural-born cyborgs.”


The extended mind theory doesn’t just change the way we think about the mind. It also changes how we judge what’s good and bad about today’s mind-altering technologies.

There’s nothing unnatural about relying on the Internet—Google and all—for information. After all, we are constantly consulting the world around us like a kind of visual Wikipedia. Nor is there anything bad about our brains’ being altered by these new technologies, any more than there is something bad about a monkey’s brain changing as it learns how to play with a rake.

Neuroscientists will soon be able to offer fresh ways to enhance our brains, whether with drugs or with implants. To say that these are immoral because they defile our true selves—our isolated, distinct minds—is to ignore biology.

Our minds already extend out into the environment, and the changes we make to the environment already alter our minds.

Source: I edited How Google is Making us Smarter

Questions left to Answer

As a result of advanced machine-brain connecting technologies, will more people embrace minds as completely unbounded entities encouraging the Hyper-Evolution of Self-Evolution?

When the mind and the internet fully unite as THE Extended Mind, do we become Ubermenschen?

Is the mind really only what the brain does, and in context of this article, employs? Or is it more?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Music as Morphine?

Recent research suggests there is some evidence that playing music for patients who've undergone painful medical procedures may help mitigate their sensation of pain.

The problem in the research comes in identifying the kind of music to play. Some researchers have focused on finding the ideal type of music for all patients -- "anxiolytic" music that is supposed to reduce anxiety and relax patients.

But different people have different music preferences. Music that Jim finds relaxing seems obnoxious and grating to me. Music that I find relaxing seems obnoxious and grating to Greta.

People nowadays are used to creating their own personal audio environment on their iPods. Wouldn't it make sense to let them choose their own music as a way of distracting them from medical pain?

A team led by Laura Mitchell recruited 80 people to bring their favorite song to the laboratory, where they would be paid to dip their hands in frigid water for as long as they could tolerate it. The musical selections they chose ranged from works by Johnny Cash, to The Verve, to Rancid.

The volunteers first dipped their hand in warm water to bring it to a consistent 32°C. Then they held it in a circulating cold water bath at 5°C -- close to freezing! This was repeated three times -- once while listing to their favorite song, once while staring at a blank wall, and once while looking at a work of art they selected from 15 chosen by the experimenters.

They were told to hold their hand in the water as long as they could stand it, or five minutes, whichever came first. Did listening to the music affect their ability to tolerate pain?

Here are the results:

As you can see, people held their hands in the water significantly longer while listening to the music and they also perceived significantly less pain. Viewing the artwork had no effect on these results -- the difference between pain ratings for art-viewing and no-distraction conditions was not significant.

But the artwork did have one interesting effect. The participants were also asked to rate how well they were able to distract themselves from the pain. Now the effect of viewing art was significant:

While listening to music was best, participants who viewed the artwork rated their ability to distract themselves from the pain as significantly higher compared to when there was no distraction (again, on a scale of 0-100).

The researchers also point out that there are some limitations to their study. If you undergo a surgery procedure or are experiencing chronic pain, there's no way to escape it. If you're a real patient, you can never just remove your hand from the frigid water to remove the pain, and in these circumstances music may have a different effect.

But in any case, it seems clear that allowing patients to choose their own music while experiencing pain does indeed go a long way toward mitigating that pain. For it certainly makes intuitive sense that putting patients in a pleasant environment where they have some degree of control would be a good start to helping reduce their experience of pain.

Source: Music, Art & the Perception of Pain