Figuring out new ways to train an astronaut

[Crossposted at the Space Trade Association]

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How to train your astronauts [Via EurekAlert! – Space and Planetary Science]

NASA/Johnson Space Center) As NASA develops deep space exploration missions on its journey to Mars, the agency is investigating current training methods in order to adapt to the longer and longer missions.

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As we move further into the 21st century we will have to spend a lot of time on training those going into space. As this article states, “During the Shuttle Program, astronauts trained about 5 to 8 years for a 10 to 14 day mission, with a work-timeline scripted down to the minute.”

That cannot be done for a mission potentially lasting years. Nor does it scale well if thousands of people eventually work in space.

Figuring out how to train people to live and work in space will take some time, I fear. But we need to get to the point where it  can be done in a much more scalable fashion.

Maybe a business opportunity.

Image: NASA

Adam Smith knew the difference between untilitarianism and psychopathy

 07.01.2012 - His Hand

Utilitarianism versus psychopathy
[Via Boing Boing]

A classic thought experiment asks you to choose between doing nothing and letting an out-of-control trolley crash into a schoolbus, or pushing a fat man into the trolley’s path, saving the kids but killing the bystander.

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I’ve discussed this before. Adam Smith wrote a book on a theory of ethics and morality before Wealth of Nations. He believed that what we know as capitalism would be done by moral and ethical people. 

So he proposed a much better query than pushing a fat man in front of a train. He asked would you save a hundred million living in China if you only had to lose your little finger?

And he answered it by suggesting that “the world, in its greatest depravity and corruption, never produced such a villain as could be capable of entertaining” the idea of not doing it.

Any moral person woud easily give up their little finger to save 100 million. At least in his world.

He wrote (my bold):

When the happiness or misery of others depends in any respect upon our conduct, we dare not, as self-love might suggest to us, prefer the interest of one to that of many. The man within immediately calls to us, that we value ourselves too much and other people too little, and that, by doing so, we render ourselves the proper object of the contempt and indignation of our brethren.

There we have the difference between real utilitarianism of Adam Smith’s capitalism and the psychopathy of today’s free market capitalism.

What a different worl he lived in.

 


Three color sensors for iPhone would make an incredible camera

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Apple invents 3-sensor iPhone camera with light splitting cube for accurate colors, low-light performance
[Via AppleInsider]

An Apple patent published on Tuesday details a miniaturized iPhone camera system that employs a light-splitting cube to parse incoming rays into three color components, each of which are captured by separate sensors.

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High end digital cameras have always had three detectors, one for each color after splitting the light beam into red, green and blue. This essentially tripples the information content and makes for much crisper  pictures with less noise.

This is actually an old approach. Color separation photography was used a lot when color films were very expensive but black and white were not. And BW film had much higher resolution than color. 

So, they would make 3 separate pictures on black and white negatives using 3 different colored filters. Getting very high resolution negatives quickly.

Then back in the lab, they would recreate the original by shining colored light through each negative in succession. The final result would be a full color picture.

At a much higher resolution than any color negative was capable of.

This is also used for archival purposes because color dyes will fade but not black and white. So you can take a set of color separation negatives that are decades old and recreate a photo that looks like new.

Something similar is done in Apple’s patent, although it happens digitally. By using 3 detectors, they can greatly enhance resolution. There are also all sorts of photo enhancements that can then be done.

This could be very cool.

Open Carry T-shirts are not a good idea

Open Carry T-shirts are an invitation to be shot by cops
[Via Boing Boing]

The only difference between Open Carry T-Shirts and the Please Kill Me T-shirt that Richard Hell wore is that the Open Carry T-Shirts will really get you killed. Junior sizes available!

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Only if someone has a deathwish. This is crazy. Cops kill unarmed people all the time because they think a bottle is a gun.

Arctic warming makes the eastern US colder

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Why So Cold? It’s the Jet Stream
[Via Booman Tribune]

Yes, we are having record cold snaps here in the East and Southeast. Global warming must be bunk then, right? Not so fast. Out West, its nice and toasty with unusually warm temperatures. Take a look at this map from the National Weather Service.

So why the big divide between East and West? Isn’t the temperature gradient between colder and warmer supposed to be more a North and South thing? Well, maybe once upon a time. Unfortunately, we are experiencing dramatic changes to the pattern of one of the biggest drivers of our climate on the North American Continent – the Jet Stream -and the rapid rate of the warming in the Arctic is the cause.

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The map up top shows the areas of the US where the highs (red) and lows (blue) were different from the average January weather. The lows allowed cold air from Canada to spill into the US. 

And here is a map showing the departure from the average temperature for January (red is warmer):

hot

All due to where the jet stream falls.

This is pretty much what the models have been saying for much of the last decade. The Arctic warms at a faster rate than the temperate latitude. As the Arctic warms, it alters the shape of the jet streams, making them wavier, like hitting a key on a piano makes the sound louder.

Here is a larger version of picture at top where you can see the other strong ridge from the Atlantic that squeezed the cold air further down.

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This means that cold air from the Arctic now dips down further into the US (for those who want more in depth information).

And the same models show more high ridges off the coast of the western US, keeping our skies clear.

So we get a very cold East while the West is warmer than normal. Plants are already starting to bloom. The skies have generally been clear and when it does rain, it pours, because of atmospheric rivers from Hawaii.

atmospheric river

These rivers bring intense but pretty localized rain. The rest of the West still sees drought conditions. Several of them saw some of the warmest, driest months on record.

This low jet stream also kept a lot of Gulf Coast moisture from coming end, keeping Texas drier than normal.

This also fits the models which have suggested that the Seattle area will get about the same amount of rain as before, just all at once rather than in a long drizzle.

Every once in a while, these strong jet streams are disrupted and we return to the normal pattern of west to east cold fronts. Seattle gets cloudy and rainy, the rest of the country sees a mostly mild drop in temps.

But for now, the new normal may well be like this, with Seattle clear and dry and much of the rest seeing a large drop in temperatures.

How being WEIRD is a good thing

Waves-Clogher Beach 

We Aren’t the World 
[Via – Pacific Standard]

IN THE SUMMER of 1995, a young graduate student in anthropology at UCLA named Joe Henrich traveled to Peru to carry out some fieldwork among the Machiguenga, an indigenous people who live north of Machu Picchu in the Amazon basin. The Machiguenga had traditionally been horticulturalists who lived in single-family, thatch-roofed houses in small hamlets composed of clusters of extended families. For sustenance, they relied on local game and produce from small-scale farming. They shared with their kin but rarely traded with outside groups.

While the setting was fairly typical for an anthropologist, Henrich’s research was not. Rather than practice traditional ethnography, he decided to run a behavioral experiment that had been developed by economists. Henrich used a “game”—along the lines of the famous prisoner’s dilemma—to see whether isolated cultures shared with the West the same basic instinct for fairness. In doing so, Henrich expected to confirm one of the foundational assumptions underlying such experiments, and indeed underpinning the entire fields of economics and psychology: that humans all share the same cognitive machinery—the same evolved rational and psychological hardwiring.

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Nice article about how the West has actual cognitive differences from tthe East and just about everyone else. We have created and inhabit a different cultural environment and, like Darwin’s Finches, have evolved different social structures to deal with it. These social structures change the way we think.

This is a good thing, as long as we realize that our adaptations to this environment do not necessarily extend to all of humanity. It also fits in well with a recent paper that has gotten some press.

The acronym, WEIRD – Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic – was coined to describe the social groups that have adapted the dominant cultural environment on the planet. Dominant by its outsized effects not only on natural resources but on other cultures as well.

A major hallmark of this:

In their paper the trio pointed out cross-cultural studies that suggest that the “weird” Western mind is the most self-aggrandizing and egotistical on the planet: we are more likely to promote ourselves as individuals versus advancing as a group. WEIRD minds are also more analytic, possessing the tendency to telescope in on an object of interest rather than understanding that object in the context of what is around it.

This fits in quite well with my model on hierarchical authorities and distributed democracies. Humans have two ways to think about the world – Daniel Kahneman calls them System 1 and System 2. System 1 is fast, giving us rapid responses to the world around us. System 2 is slow, taking a more analytical approach to gain greater understanding.

System 1 is instinctual, rules-based and heuristic. It lives in a world  of metaphor and narrative. It is what allows us to respond properly the first time we see a wolf.

System 2 is slower, analytical and energy intensive. It is fact-based, not narrative-based. It is what allows us to see a wolf and produce a thousand breeds of dogs.

System 2 often is used to produce the narratives needed for System 1 to act to fast. A large part of the necessary adaptations to a new cultural environment is for System 2 to synthesize complexity into the simple narratives that System 1 uses.

This why different cultures are so plastic that they seem to think differently. They have differaent metaphors for System 1 based on the results of previous System 2 processes to assess the environment.

Cultures that failed to do this, to understand the cultural environment they inhabited, by transferring System 2 understanding into System 1 rapid responses, collapsed.

Just as the dodo failed to adapt to humans on the island. 

System 2 is useful when something new enters the environment, requiring deeper examination to understand how to deal with it. System 1 is for things we already know how to deal with, because they are a constant in our cultural environment. 

When someone says “You aren’t listening to me” it is often because  people are reacting with System 1 thoughts about something new that requires System 2 approaches. The listener  really is not ‘thinking’ but reacting. Fast, not slow.

Now on top of these ways of thinking,  we have two modes for organizing our social groups – hierarchical authorities and distributed democracies. The former puts the place of the individual into a specific social structure, atomizing while creating specific roles.

The latter subsumes the individual into a network designed for rapid information flow. Both approaches can use either System. For example, authority coupled with System 1 produces people who instinctually know how is above them and below them in the hierarchy, responding without thinking to commands.

But hierarchy coupled with System 2 produces analysis of a problem, breaking it down into pieces that those in a hierarchy can address more easily.

System 2 coupled with democracy can produce the Scientific Revolution. System 1 approaches here can rapidly disseminate the information from that revolution, by synthesis, not analysis.

So,we can see that WEIRD cognitive approaches have produced extremely large and complex hierarchies and democracies, which both use important System 1 and System 2 processes.

That is what has produced Western civilization. I would suggest that a key adaptation of this culture – something that has allowed it to dominate  has been to make System 2 approaches  external. Tacit System 2 creates shamans and alchemists. Explicit System 2 produces scientists.

WEIRD cultures are more analytical and use System 2 to a much larger extent than any other culture. That is because our rapidly changing cultural environment keeps throwing up novel problems we have to analyze deeply to solve.

We do not have time to relax with our System 1 responses to the world we live in. 

This could explain why there is such a difference in cognition today in America between conservatives in general and liberals. The data suggest that, as a group, conservatives are mostly using System 1 approaches (ie gut reactions and simple narratives) and are less WEIRD than average. Liberals  on the other had, are the mostly WEIRD, using analytical, System 2 thinking much more.

Thus why they have such a hard time coming up with the sort of short pithy metaphors to deal with the world, a world that is rapidly shifting from one stage to another, with the metaphors needed for System 1 thinking ins tremendous flux.

I think this is due to the Information Age, Moore’s law and the exponential economy.

We are living in a rapidly changing cultural environment, one where social norms and System 1 rules are changing. We need to develop new rules, new adaptations to this cultural environment. This requires analysis – System 2 – which is currently found more concentrated in the liberal side than the conservative.

It is a fluke of timing that these different approaches mostly align with political parties. In the 1850s, the thinking was the same – one group responding to changes by deeper analysis while the other retreated to old principles – but the parties were reversed  with the Republicans being the radical party adapting to the new cultural environment.

It doe snot matter which group is doing the analytical thinking. What is important is that we use this analysis to come up with better narratives and metaphors for sustain adaptive System 1 thinking.

The data suggest that less than 20% of even WEIRD cultures spend a lot of time in analysis and deep thinking. So a lot of liberals are also acting with System 1 responses, mostly to old rules for the old environment.

If we fail to adapt to the new cultural environment we are creating, then we will fail as a society. 

This model does not show what the adaptations we need to make will be. But it does suggest where those adaptations, those new stories will come from.

It does explain why the professions most aligned with slow, deliberative, analytical thinking – such as scientists – tend to align with liberals.

And why those most charged with creating new narratives – Hollywood – are also seen as liberal.

I expect this will change as we continue to adapt better to the new cultural environment. The current fluke – where analytical thinking falls more under one political group – may only be seen when our culture is undergoing rapid change. Once we gain better adaptations, creating the necessary narratives to support fast responses, we will all fall under mostly System 1.

Because we will understand the new rules of the culture. In fact, a large part of why System 2 evolved in humanity may simply be to gain understanding that can more easily be implemented by System 1. To create better narratives to explain the world.

And one interesting aspect that unfolds from this data deals with whether urban areas are generally more liberal because they attract liberal people or do they make people more liberal.

I’m falling on the cities make people more liberal. The paper showed that people can easily be trained to use either approach. It is a response to the environment they find themselves and what is required more often – rapid response to something you already know or slower responses to novel events.

I would suggest that having to adapt to the much more complex environment of a large city would require everyone to use more System 2 thinking than living in a rural one.

And right now, more System 2 correlates with being liberal.

I am not surprised that the most liberal cities, such as San Francisco, Washington DC and Seattle, are also home to some of the greatest technology/information/poetical changes driving our new cultural environment. 

The adaptations our culture is acquiring will be driven from those places where greater System 2 thinking is happening. Because they are creating the stories needed to sustain System 1 reactions to the new environment.


What does the community do when someone vital to its success needs help?

Somebody, Help Me Please 

Internet Comes Through For Developer Of Key Email Encryption Tool
[Via Techdirt]

Yesterday, we reposted Julia Angwin’s article from ProPublica about how the guy behind GPG, a key tool for email encryption, Werner Koch, was basically broke, and that attempts to crowdfund money to keep going hadn’t been all that successful. The story seemed to resonate with lots of people, and the donations started flowing. After getting a grand total of just about €34,000 in 2014, he’s already well over €100,000 this year, with most of that coming yesterday after Angwin’s story went up. On top of that, Stripe and Facebook each agreed to fund him to the tune of $50,000 per year (from each of them, so $100k total), and the Linux Foundation had agreed to give him $60k (though, Koch admits that the deal there was actually signed last week).

Either way, this is great to see, though it’s unfortunate that it had to wait until an article detailing his plight came out. We’ve seen this sort of thing a few times now, such as when the Heartbleed bug made everyone realize that OpenSSL was basically supported by volunteers with almost no budget at all. Thankfully, the attention there got the project necessary funds to continue to keep us safe.

It really is quite incredible when you realize how much of the internet that you rely on is built by people out of a true labor of love. Often, people have no idea that there even is an opportunity to support those projects, and it’s great that Angwin was able to highlight this one and get it the necessary funding to keep moving forward.

[More]

Humans are some of the most altruistic animals ever seen, helping strangers with no concerns for their own help in return.

But what happens when that help creates and sustains the vital work of others? New communities come into existence that would not otherwise exist, communities that do recognize the help given to them by others.

So, what then happens when the altruist, whose help sustained the community, needs help themselves? 

Well, we show altruism in return. we are social animals that evolved a sense that helping others would result in better results for everyone. Here we see such an example.


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