Get a coffee, give a coffee#

Hi! I'm Jonathan Stark. You can download this picture of my Starbucks card to your phone and buy coffee at Starbucks with it. Seriously. My card gets charged, you don't.

If you're feeling generous, you can also add money to my Starbucks card by doing this and enjoy some serious good karma.

Jonathan's Card is an experiment in social sharing of physical goods using digital currency on mobile phones.

What a neat idea, and I love that you can check the card's balance via Twitter.

Do bees have feelings?#

[T]hese behavioral and neurochemical tests reveal an unexpected dimension of bee cognition. Scientifically, we can say that bees have a persistent state of negative affect that is triggered by agitation, associated with system-wide changes in neurotransmitters and causes clear, measurable cognitive biases.

Can we draw a deeper conclusion than this? For now, no. Short of asking the bees how they're feeling, or probing their minds with a yet un-built emotion-meter, we simply can't know what being a bee feels like. However, Wright and her co-authors leave us with an intriguing plea for consistency, one that nudges us to think clearly on how we regard the minds and emotions of all creatures.

Modern magic and the meaning of life#

A wonderfully long and just barely behind-the-scenes dissection of the history of illusion and its masters, and of what magic, at its core, really is and how it succeeds.

[M]agicians know that learning the method is only the beginning of doing the trick. What they call "the real work" isn't the method, which anyone can learn from a book... but the whole of the handling and timing and theatrics of the effect, which are passed along from magician to magician and from generation to generation. The real work is the complete activity, the accumulated practice, the total summing up of tradition and ideas. The real work is what makes a magic effect magical. [...]

[Jamy Ian Swiss, one of the best sleight-of-hand artists ever,] arrived at the idea that magic was, in his words, "an experiment in empathy"--a contest of minds, in which the magician dominates by a superior grasp of the way minds work. The spectator is not a dupe who gets fooled but a rational actor who gets outreasoned.

Relatedly, just last weekend I saw Penn & Teller (who are discussed some in the article) at the Rio in Vegas. The show was, predictably, incredible. Every five minutes I was turning to Sarah with my hands thrown into the air, mouthing "How the hell?!"

The show ended with me feeling better, and dumber, than when it began.

Rampant incestual molestation and rape in the Amish community#

When Mary's brothers began raping her, she turned to her mother[, Sally,] again. [She turned to her the first time when was five, to tell her that her dad, Sally's husband, was molesting her.] Sally scolded the boys and gave them what Eli described as a light "mother's tap." She also gave them an herb that she hoped would reduce their sex drives. When the abuse resumed and Mary went back to her mother, she said Sally responded, "You don't fight hard enough and you don't pray hard enough." [...]

Mary warned the ministers that she would press charges unless something was done. Nothing happened. So Mary went to the police. After the detectives came knocking, the community voted unanimously to excommunicate Mary.

Beginning at age 11, Anna was molested and raped for years by her older brothers. Her mother wouldn't hear any of it:

When [her mother] Fannie found out about [Anna's discussion with Children and Youth Services], she and Anna went with 13 other kids to the home of John Yoder, an Amish dentist who lived an hour and a half away in the town of Punxsutawney... Anna watched as the other kids each had one or two bad teeth pulled. When it was her turn, Yoder shot some novocaine into her upper gum. She shook her head and told him that two of her lower teeth had cavities. He shot the lower gum, and asked Fannie which teeth should go. Anna's mother answered, "Take them all," and Yoder pulled--along the upper gum, along the lower gum, until every tooth was gone. "After he had pulled the last tooth," Anna remembered, "my mom looked at me and said, ‘I guess you won't be talking anymore.'"

Anna bled for three days. Her family ignored her, except to periodically hand her a drink.

John Kerry rightfully admonishes the American media#

The media in America has a bigger responsibility than it's exercising today. The media has got to begin to not give equal time or equal balance to an absolutely absurd notion just because somebody asserts it or simply because somebody says something which everybody knows is not factual.

It doesn't deserve the same credit as a legitimate idea about what you do. And the problem is everything is put into this tit-for-tat equal battle and America is losing any sense of what's real, of who's accountable, of who is not accountable, of who's real, who isn't, who's serious, who isn't?

Why brains get creeped out by androids#

The brain doesn't seem tuned to care about either biological appearance or biological motion per se. What it seems to be doing is looking for its expectations to be met--for appearance and motion to be congruent.

Andrew Zak Williams asks a slew of prominent atheists why they don't believe#

Listed below are excerpts from the five responses that resonated most with me.

Andrew Copson (Chief executive of the British Humanist Association):

I don't believe in any gods or goddesses, because they are so obviously human inventions. Desert-dwellers have severe, austere and dry gods; suffering and oppressed people have loving and merciful gods; farmers have gods of rain and fruitfulness; and I have never met a liberal who believed in a conservative God or a conservative who believed in a liberal one. Every God I have ever heard of bears the indelible marks of human manufacture, and through history we can explain how and why we invented them.

Kenan Malik (neurobiologist):

Invoking God at best highlights what we cannot yet explain about the physical universe, and at worst exploits that ignorance to mystify. Moral values do not come prepackaged from God, but have to be worked out by human beings through a combination of empathy, reasoning and dialogue.

This is true of believers, too: they, after all, have to decide for themselves which values in their holy books they accept and which ones they reject.

And it is not God that gives meaning to our lives, but our relationships with fellow human beings and the goals and obligations that derive from them. God is at best redundant, at worst an obstruction. Why do I need him?

Steven Weinberg (physics Nobel Laureate):

I do not believe in God - an intelligent, all-powerful being who cares about human beings - because the idea seems to me to be silly. The positive arguments that have been given for belief in God all appear to me as silly as the proposition they are intended to prove. Fortunately, in some parts of the world, religious belief has weakened enough so that people no longer kill each other over differences in this silliness.

It is past time that the human race should grow up, enjoying what is good in life, including the pleasure of learning how the world works, and freeing ourselves altogether from supernatural silliness in facing the real problems and tragedies of our lives.

Sam Harris (neuroscientist):

[T]he notion that any ancient book could be an infallible guide to living in the present gets my vote for being the most dangerously stupid idea on earth.

What remains for us to discover, now and always, are those truths about our world that will allow us to survive and fully flourish. For this, we need only well-intentioned and honest inquiry - love and reason. Faith, if it is ever right about anything, is right by accident.

Jennifer Bardi (Editor of The Humanist):

The short and easy answer is lack of evidence. I also see no value in believing in God, because if you're thinking clearly and honestly you necessarily must face the issue of suffering, and the ensuing existential crisis wastes precious time and energy. Alleviating suffering is what we should pour our minds and hearts into.

Moreover, I simply don't want to believe, because the notion of an all-knowing, all-seeing God who lets bad stuff happen really gives me the creeps.

Sheer numbers gave early humans edge over neanderthals#

[T]he population size and densities of modern humans may have been more than 9 times those of the Neanderthals around the time of the population's transition. It's very likely that a numerical advantage that large played a significant role in modern humans' dominance over their earlier counterparts.

Placenta feeds itself to fetus in times of starvation#

[T]he placenta responded by breaking down its own tissues, recycling proteins inside its cells to provide a steady supply of nutrients to the [fetus'] developing hypothalamus despite the mother's interrupted food intake.


Instadrop connects your Instagram account to your Dropbox. Once connected Instadrop will automatically push the photos you take on Instagram into your Dropbox--in real-time!

I've mostly given up on posting pics via Instagram (though I do jump into the app occasionally to browse friends' posts), but I know a lot of you still use it a ton and this looks like a great solution for automagically grabbing your photos from the service.

Twelve South understands customer service

July 28, 2011

Andrew, the designer of Twelve South's BookArc, recently emailed me regarding the product, which I reviewed in 2009 (and still use to this day). Nothing too out of the ordinary yet, right? Right. But, what was out of the ordinary was that his email was part of an email thread between us that was started (and ended) two years ago! (Before I reviewed the BookArc, I invited others to share with me their experiences with the product; this conversation started with Andrew emailing me in response to that post.)

Long story short, his most recent email was to let me know that their newest BookArc inserts likely fit my MacBook Pro a bit more snugly, and that he wanted to send me some.

When's the last time a company wrote to you--completely unprovoked--to tell you that a niggle you mentioned in a conversation years ago had been resolved, and that they'd like for you to give it a shot?

The whole exchange blew me away. Incredible.

(For what it's worth, the new insert is a perfect fit, and the cable management system is nice too (and complements well the solution I illustrate at the bottom of this post).)

Evolutionary Program Repair#

Evolutionary Program Repair (EPR) can be used to automatically fix bugs in C software. This approach requires no formal specifications, program annotations, or special coding practices. Genetic programming is used to evolve program variants until one is found that both retains required functionality and repairs the bug in question. The technique takes as input a program, a set of successful positive test cases, and a failing negative test case that demonstrates the defect.

Ars Technica sold more copies of the Kindle edition of its Lion review than you think#

Co-founder and editor, Ken Fisher:

It's the same review that you get for free on Ars. You don't have to pay for it, but people have: The ebook sold 3,000 copies in the first 24 hours.

You read that right--in just 24 hours, a review of a new operating system made $15,000.

Color me impressed, especially considering that relatively few people own Kindles (their loss), and that the Kindle version of the review is $5, which is the monthly cost of a ("premier") subscription to the site.