Tatyana Deryugina (Twitter: @TDeryugina)

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Posted 22 Aug 11 by Tatyana in General
From an interesting New Scientist article about a simulated rat that learns:

"The more fundamental issue is that brute-force computation cannot compare with the functioning of a real brain. Human intelligence arises not from logic, but from our ability to respond to ambiguity and adjust to rapidly changing situations. "The idea that human expertise can be formalised in logical rules turned out to be a fundamentally wrong assumption,” says Rolf Pfeifer, an AI researcher at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.”

Even more interesting:

"A brain consumes less power than a light bulb, and occupies less volume than a 2-litre bottle of soda,” says Dharmendra Modha, a computer scientist at IBM.

Posted 20 Jun 11 by Tatyana in General
I’ve been a subscriber of Scientific American (paper, not online) for several years. For various reasons, I decided to stop subscribing to it and look for another source of detailed science news (one that went into more technical detail than the Economist’s Science and Technology, SciAm or Discover). After finding various potential candidates, I decided to square them against each other in an RSS Feed War. The best one gets a print subscription from me. After subscribing to the feeds, I realized that a paid subscription may prove redundant. 

Posted 13 Jun 11 by Tatyana in General
 I have to admit that although I first heard the terms "Sunni Muslims” and "Shia Muslims” years ago, I never bothered to figure out what the differences between the two sects of Islam were. Recently I finally sat down and looked it up. Turns out, the differences aren’t major. But the origins of the sects are pretty interesting – they arose over a disagreement about who should succeed Muhammad, someone elected by the the people or a blood/undemocratically chosen heir. You can find the details here. Here’s a nice chart with the major differences in beliefs between the two.  

Posted 09 Jun 11 by Tatyana in General
 For those who have heard that scientists in the 1970′s believed a new Ice Age was imminent, I recommend reading this article, which investigates what the true consensus was back then. To give away the punchline, the title of the article is "The Myth of the 1970s Global Cooling Scientific Consensus”. It’s non-technical and very well-written.  

Posted 16 May 11 by Tatyana in General
I was grading papers today and found out that Mississippi has the most bizarre set of alcohol laws of any state. Namely, you’re allowed to drive while drinking, as long as you’re not drunk. At the same time, most counties prohibit sales of alcohol on Sundays and there are many dry counties, where the possession of any alcohol is illegal.

Posted 13 May 11 by Tatyana in General

A recent study has found that women born in the spring are more likely to be anorexic than women born in the fall. You can see the results graphically here.

The authors seem quick to attribute this to gestational factors. But there are two other more plausible explanations I can think of first. One is that women who are born in the spring face more looks-based pressure in school and are more likely to develop the disorder. Perhaps being the smallest/largest/medium kid in your class has something to do with it. Second, I would be surprised if the season of birth is completely random. Some parents undoubtedly plan when they want their kid to be born. How do we know that it isn’t parental characteristics that contribute to this? It’s plausible that gestational factors affect the development of this complex disorder, but the environmental/selection factors above are way more plausible.

Posted 05 May 11 by Tatyana in General

The author of this one is pretty certain:

"The earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity — in all this vastness — there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It’s been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

~ Carl Sagan

Posted 30 Apr 11 by Tatyana in General

My roommate went out of town on Thursday. To celebrate, my subconsciousness decided to lock me out of the apartment by leaving my keys at home. Now this has happened to me a few times last summer. Luckily, we live on the first floor and our kitchen windows were unlocked, so I would simply climb back in. At some point, I decided that leaving windows unlocked on the first floor was not such a great idea and locked them. So there I was with no keys, no cell phone, and no roommate to let me back in. I tried a few of the windows just for the hell of it, but no luck. My landlady didn’t pick up. Long story short, I managed to call a locksmith who took half an hour to arrive and then informed me that he couldn’t open any of the doors because of the lock type. While standing there and pondering which one of my friends I was going to inconvenience tonight, I decided to try a living room window. Lo and behold, it opened. The locksmith charged me $75 (yep, just for telling me there was nothing he could do) and left.

Posted 31 Mar 11 by Tatyana in Books

This blog works very well as a commitment device. Today, two people have mentioned my "I’m going to memorize the countries of the world” promise, forcing me to sit down and do some creative memorization following the techniques in the "Moonwalking with Einstein”. I had actually already memorized Central and South America and successfully recited the countries to a friend almost two days after the memorization took place. OK, I left out Argentina (ironically, that was one of the few countries I could identify before this exercise). But that’s still an over 90% retention rate.

I’ve moved on to Africa now. It’s much tougher than South America. The memorization techniques calls for coming up with images that evoke the country names (e.g., "guacamole” for Guatemala). The crazier the image, the better. It also has to be concrete (e.g., you won’t be able to remember Mauritania by thinking of "moratorium”). So what am I supposed to picture for Ghana? And why are there three countries with the word "Guinea” in their name?

I’m about halfway done with Africa (Mauritania is Maury Povich). It’ll be interesting to see how much more I can memorize without forgetting Latin America.

Posted 23 Feb 11 by Tatyana in General
It seems like everyone is giving their opinion on what’s happening in the Middle East. Instead of offering my opinion on the unrest in Tunisia, Egypt, Lybia, and Bahrain, I will offer my opinion on everyone else’s opinion: the variance in what could happen is pretty large and most people making specific predictions will be wrong. Imagine you’re drawing a ball from an urn with 55 red balls and 45 white ones. If you had to guess the color of the ball that will come up, you will guess red. But there’s a 45 percent chance you will be wrong.

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