Coldest, oldest, fastest: 10 extreme sea creatures

ideas.ted.com

Marine biologist Stephen Palumbi picks 10 of his favorite underwater creatures. From the oldest living animal to the fastest food in the sea, they’re all pretty extreme.

Marine biologist Stephen Palumbi (his new TEDxStanford Talk is The Extreme Life of the Sea) knows a lot about what goes on beneath the world’s waves. Palumbi is the director of Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station, where he is mapping the genome of sea corals. As a scientist, professor and researcher, he has also shown the value of DNA identification in whale conservation and in seafood markets (see his TED Talk: The Hidden Toxins in the Fish We Eat) and traced the variation in sea urchin sperm shape. (How about that for dinner conversation?) His recent book The Extreme Life of the Sea — written with his son, novelist Anthony Palumbi — shines a light on the wild world of sea life. Recently we asked Palumbi…

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UX Design Thinking for Transmedia

An article that gave insights to the way I can converge my vocation (UX) with my passion (transmedia storytelling)…

Design >> Forward

“You cannot create experience. You must undergo it.” -Albert Camus

Before launching into the topic of this article, it’s necessary to lay out very clear definitions of what exactly UX and Transmedia are, as these terms get misused far too frequently.

UX is short for User Experience. Broadly speaking UX design is a process for designing positive interactions between people (users) and products (often software or websites) and/or other people. Taking a user-centric approach and drawing upon the disciplines of visual design, psychology, and human-computer interaction (HCI) research, UX aims to design not just the visuals and interface, but the entire user experience. While UX is most often applied to software and website design, UX designers are also designing physical experiences like in-store shopping experiences, airport lounges, classrooms for schools, museum and art exhibitions, etc.

Defiance is a transmedia tv show and computer game by the Scify Channel. Defiance is a transmedia tv show and computer game by the Scify Channel.

Transmedia storytelling…

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Can an unbiased story be engaging?

…Or does telling a story from different points of views lower the emotional involvement of the audience for the characters?

 

It was bit of a shock.

Here was a friend of mine, who has known me for almost 3 years (and a lot about my past), claiming that that she didn’t feel very moved by my (4 years old) break-up story, when I told her. Don’t get me wrong – I am not trying to be dramatic here. It wasn’t that I thought that the story was very sensational and was expecting anyone who heard it to be in awe of it.

The shock for me was she claimed that it wasn’t very moving because I told her the story from two different perspectives.

“There was no villain or victim in your story. There was always some kind of rationalization behind all the actions and intentions. It was bit unbiased.”

“So wait. You mean to say, in all these years, what I have told you, you don’t feel sense of connection towards me or her? Not even towards any action? No sense of empathy or hatred?”

“Well not anything intensely. It’s almost like ‘yeah, so that happened’.”

“Wow. I guess I didn’t realize it that’s how I came across.”

 

After a pause, I said –

 “Seriously? Nothing interesting?”

“Oh yes! She was really an interesting character to know. I am just saying you didn’t make me hate her through your story”

“I wasn’t trying to make you hate her. It’s easy to victimize yourself by–“

“…making the other person sound like a monster. Yes I know. We have talked about it. I guess that’s how I saw it. Remember when I told you my break-up story, how I made him sound?”

“I questioned his humanity”

“Exactly”

“See! So that happened because I made him sound like a villain and myself like a victim. Of course now after a lot of time and thinking, I know there are no such things.”

 

Having prided myself as a storyteller, I saw this all as somewhat of a failure on my part. I always knew that I have a thing for perspectives. I like bringing out different ways of looking at the same thing.

I had a sudden urge to drag my friend and make her watch Rashomon, Vantage Point or 11:14basically ANY movie that featured a plot being told from different perspectives.

Heck! I felt so irritated about her ‘villain or victim’ comment, I felt I needed her to (finally) start watching Battlestar Galactica  or Game of Thrones to show her how hard it becomes to categorize morally ambiguous characters into the ‘good-bad’ slot.

But perhaps, this WAS my failing. Maybe I was quick into assuming my competency in communicating my story was at par with the way it was done in those movies or TV shows.

It may sound like I wanted more value to be given to the break-up story. But the truth of the matter is it got me thinking about stories itself –

It is a given that a good story needs to have characters that the audience roots for or are interested in. But can focusing on two (or more) conflicting opinions or motivations of characters equally spread the audience’s attachment for them? Does this affect their interest in the story?

In one of the interviews, the mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik was asked for his comments regarding the fact that sometimes mythological stories promote prejudice or bias.

 

He said:

Every story has a bias and a prejudice embedded into it. Without bias and prejudice you cannot have stories.

Animals are not supposed to talk yet we make them talk and humanize them in our fables. That is unnatural. We make non-vegetarian animals villains and we apply human values to animal kingdom. That is also unnatural.

At one time, Disney women were coquette damsels needing rescue; now they are boisterous and violent just like the ‘boys’. Is that gender equality?

If you try to be politically correct, you will never tell a story to your child. There is no nobility in humanity from the point of view of a plant or an animal.

 

Perhaps that settles it then. Trying to be unbiased is counter-productive to telling a story.

But irony here for me is that this statement came from a person who had revived my childhood interest in mythology and to a great extent into stories.

And interestingly, it was through his writings and videos that I had realized there are enough stories in mythologies that treat the characters fairly equally.

The independent journey of both Prince Hector of Troy and Achilles in Greek Mythology is portrayed right up to their final fight. As an audience (reader if referring to Homer’s epic Illiad, viewer if referring to the movie Troy), you feel equally invested in the characters and are keen to know what is going to happen, while dealing with the premonition that one of them is going to get the worst of the situation.

Both the great epics in the Indian Mythology focus on the backstories of most of the characters, regardless of how they are defined on the moral scale. While you root for the Pandavas (perhaps because of the fewer numbers, they seem like the underdogs), you cannot deny feeling bad for characters like Karna, Bhisma – who being on  the ‘other side’, meet their tragic ending due to their own predicament and principles.

What’s more is due to the (almost Newtonian) concept of Karma, all actions and events are rationalized and explained in terms of “consequences”.

So where does bias set in? Is it because in the end we have one (or some) character(s) who triumph over or outlive the other(s)? Does this help us know which ones to empathise with more – who we need to put on a pedestal and who we need to dehumanize?

These questions at the face of it can be considered almost age old in reference to narratives and literature. Scholars have discussed it and storytellers have expressed it through their work.

So while I cannot think of a definite answer, I do realize something –

It seemed an awful lot is to do with how one treats the characters. In my ‘break-up’ story (now I guess, even I am warming up to the fact that it wasn’t the best reference for how a story needs to be told), I was trying really hard bringing out all characters’ inner motivation without wanting to favour anyone particular. And in doing so, I did not pay attention as much as to how the story flow was coming across to my audience – my friend, in this particular case.

A story being told has to serve a purpose to the listener, who, regardless of storyteller’s intention, has the freedom to absorb some meaning out of it in their own way.

While penning down some of the above quotes of my friend in a notebook I use to compile lines I find memorable, I found one very apt by someone who has almost become a character in this article.

 

“The purpose of a story is not to be true to the characters, but to get the characters to provoke thoughts in the reader.”

– Devdutt Pattanaik

A model is a simplified representation of some aspect of the world. In what ways may models help or hinder the search for knowledge?

(Here is an essay, I wrote and edited, on a topic I was introduced by my brother followed by a discussion)

A model is a representation, in a physical, structural or conceptual form of an object or concept. Before, dwelling deeper in the topic, it is important to remember that a model, regardless of context and usage is just that – a representation. It is not the object or concept itself. There is bound to be some difference or deviation between the object (or concept) and the model representing it, which affect one’s understanding and knowledge regarding that object. Generally, a model is simplified (and distorted) to show a systemic process (E.g. The water cycle) or to be used for symbolic positioning (The planets in a Solar System model). Its simplified form facilitates better or faster understanding because the complexity of the aspect it is trying to represent may only confuse the knower. However the simplification of the aspects denoted by a model hinders one from getting a completely accurate knowledge due to the exclusion of details or misrepresentation.

To understand how a model may help or hinder the search for knowledge, one can look the example of Globe – a three dimensional model of the Earth.  As a knower, when I see a globe, I perceive it to be an accurate model of the earth in the first glance. It provides me sufficient knowledge of how the earth looks, how the continents are placed, the size of the oceans etc. So it is safe to say that models allow visualization. Sensory perception, here, thus becomes an effective way of knowing. Most of the Globes have the names of countries, continents and seas which help in identification. Thus language, another means of knowing, is helpful. But when I start reasoning, I realize in how many different ways this model has hindered my search for knowledge. Rather than leading me to the knowledge, more questions arise in my head – Is that how (and why) is the earth inclined? How is the earth held up? Where’s gravity and how does it affect? Suddenly, to me, the limitations of this model of Earth outweigh the actual knowledge it actually gives us. Granted that, most of the question that came in my head, can be answered when with further reading and research, but the Globe by itself does not tell me completely what the earth is like.

Now one may say that models – such as the globe – are meant only to represent a certain aspect and that scope of a model extends only the purpose and intention it was made to be used for. So the globe was only meant to show how Earth looked macroscopically and not how Earth ‘felt like’. This contextualistic viewpoint, may regard me as being overly critical and judgmental regarding the globe, but it fails to regard crucial error in models. Simplifying (or eliminating certain aspects) may help in understanding the working of a model, but it may also lead one to regard that simplistic representation as the reality. Incomplete knowledge or information leads to misconceptions, assumptions and at times even myths. One of the best examples for this is, the atomic model. Growing up, seeing and learning about Bohr’s model of atom, I always pictured and started believing that atoms are these ‘squiggly bunch of tiny balls clustered in the center having many tiny balls orbiting it in different elliptical paths’. I often thought if I look through a very powerful microscope, I shall be able to see electron taking roller coaster ride around the nucleus. But this view was sort of shattered, when I learnt, in my senior years, that modern model of atom – that is currently followed – states that electrons are not point particles but standing waves surrounding the nucleus whose position can be described in terms of probability. This invalidates Bohr’s model as it predicts many spectral phenomena which Bohr’s model fail to explain. However the irony is that, as despite failure of Bohr’s model, it has not been discarded out of current science books in school. Because of its simplified nature, many still learn and perceive atom that way. Although this new model of atom is mathematically convenient, it is very hard to visualize let alone understand, and thus is reserved for people who   satisfy their curiosity or pursue a career in this field. Here, simplistic and convenient representation takes preference over a more accurate representation, hindering many from the search of knowledge.

BOHR’S ATOMIC MODEL       MODERN ATOMIC MODEL

The value of a model is how well it corresponds to the object or aspect it is representing. The purpose is to get as close and accurate as possible. For instance, physicists over the ages like Rutherford, Thompson, Bohr, and Einstein kept disproving each others models, as each model, somehow failed to explain some or the other aspect of physics and kept coming up with new models with better explanations. The search for knowledge continued, and each model helped in the next step for this search.

An economic model, all help in the search for knowledge to an extent, but they hinder it too an extent as they provide limitations. An economic model which shows the circular flow of income, makes many assumptions which may not exist in real life, thus it is not an adequate model for our search towards absolute economic knowledge, though it gives us a brief idea of the process. For a layman, this may have increased his knowledge, but absence of all the complexities and unstated assumptions will not only hamper his knowledge, but mislead him.

Till now, only examples of physical and conceptual model have been discussed. A mental model is an explanation of someone’s thought process – a representation how he or she uses their intuitive perception to understand the world or an aspect of it. A philosophy or a concept itself is a model. Interesting thing is that, in mental model, all ways of knowing help and hinder the search of knowledge. Let’s take the example of Free will philosophy. I may believe in free will and this belief can only come through emotion. I need to feel it – feel that I am the master of my own destiny. Yet my emotions and feeling are not without biases. For all I know, I may want to feel it just because I do not like the deterministic model. Same can be said about perception. While my senses helps me in perceiving the world, leading for me to believe in this philosophy due to my past experiences and observation, they have their limitations. Growing up in a certain way, in a certain society and certain time, I am conditioned into believing and accepting certain things and thoughts. Reasoning is a powerful way understanding and analyzing the accuracy of to expresses this philosophical model, I needs to do so through language (whether by telling or writing). Yet, how well I explain this to someone, I am restricted with language i.e. how well I use it and how well that person interprets it.

Models play an important role in religion too. In religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, an idol of a deity is used for praying. The idol is a model too, as it is a simplified representation of some aspect of the world, which is in this case, is God. The concept of God is overtly complex, and to represent Him as an idol helps and hinders our search for knowledge. The knowledge here may be faith, or simply knowledge of what God looks like. It helps our search for knowledge as by representing God as an idol, our way of knowing God is supplemented through emotion, and one finds it easier to communicate or pray when there is an idol in front, which supplements this search for knowledge by evoking emotions better. The presence of an idol of God, ie a visual representation causes an emotional reaction in an individual which supplements the power of devotion needed to pray. However it hinders our search for knowledge because the model of an entity as Supreme as God, a concept so complex and diverse, may limit our understanding of God to that idol itself. Thus it hinders the search for the understanding of God to that idol only, and God is much more than the simple visual model representation of Him. Therefore, in a religious arena, it is better to think of the ‘model’ as just a ‘channel’ to reach to God, rather than using that model to understand God.

Therefore, models help and hinder our search for knowledge in various ways. While the simple representation of actual aspects helps us understand the actual aspects much better with models, the details it omits hinder the search for the absolute knowledge. But this exclusion of details in a model, and the limitations of a model which appear to hinder the search for knowledge, actually help us, because it instigates us to question the model, and thus improve the model till it brings us closer to the actual knowledge. The limitations of one model lead to the creation of an improved model, which brings us closer and closer to the understanding of what the model is trying to represent, and thus models and help and hinder our search for knowledge in various ways.

RIVER TRAIL – INTEL’S PARALLEL TO JAVASCRIPT

FUTURE: IMAGINE DOING PHOTOSHOP OR PLAYING CRYSIS ON WEB BROWSER

We live in a world where the need of Internet is felt on a daily basis.

NEARLY almost everything is done through it. Emphasis on ‘NEARLY’

That is because, while the use of web browsers have drastically changed over the years, doing heavy computing work e.g. photo-editing, gaming (not the FLASH kind) etc. is still requires one to leave the browsers and use a computer application.

This is not to say that web browsers are under-developed. From what I have read, a lot of investment has been done on improving the engine and speed. Yet, the ‘native applications’ have a upper hand in two aspects –

  1. They come with some form of vector extension that allows multiple operations simultaneously.
  2. Presence of multi-core processors.

Web browsers loose on both fronts as JavaScript, rightfully called the language behind the net, till now did not allow access to multi-core or vector instructions.

This is leading for top tech companies like Google to TRY replacing it with Dart. It’s time for Intel to upgrade JavaScript.

And it has – Enter River Trail, an open source parallel extension to JavaScript, which is currently being worked on in Intel labs. In simple words it does what exactly was lacking in web browsers – brings the processing power of Intel’s multi-core CPUs and their web extension to the web browsers.

This will make it possible to stay on the browser for heaving computing work from photo-editing to perhaps 3D gaming.

Now for understanding the ‘techie stuff’ behind the working of River Trail. This new open source code is made to feel as natural extension to JavaScript with just a simple ‘data-parallel modeling program’.

This is really the key – Parallel implementation is everything. It is WAY better than serial implementation. Think of it like electric circuit where parallel arrangement of batteries always gives more output.

The other cool top ups are –

  1. It works with upcoming HTML 5
  2. It uses OpenCL as an intermediate language (so can work on any hardware and not just Intel)
  3. It plays with WebGL (which brings 3D visualizations on web browsers)

And for the cautious or paranoid users – Don’t worry about the safety as River Trail was designed to inherit the security traits of JavaScript.

What does this mean in the future? Well, it definitely would not make ‘native applications’ obsolete but a complete new way of using browsers.

River Trail is already available on Firefox as an add-on. Let’s use it and see!

Read about it first on –

http://games.slashdot.org/story/11/09/16/1922243/River-Trail-mdash-Intels-Parallel-JavaScript

 

Further reads – 

https://github.com/RiverTrail/RiverTrail/wiki

http://blogs.intel.com/research/2011/09/pjs.php

http://www.i-programmer.info/news/167-javascript/3068-river-trail-intels-parallel-javascript.html

‘Context is all’ (Margaret Atwood). Does this mean that there is no such thing as truth?

“Never … ask for the meaning of a word in isolation, but only in the context of a proposition” -Frege

If I ask for the opposite of ‘light’, the first question that I will be asked is in which context do I want to know the opposite of light – whether it is in the context of weight I am talking about (in which case it would be heavy) or in context of shade (in which case it would be ‘dark’). The problem with trying to understand an issue is that one should know in what context it needs to be seen in. The question arises: Had I not mentioned the meaning of light in the context I was talking about, I would have perhaps been told that the opposite of light as what the listener may think of light at that time. So would that be the right answer? We cannot say because in a way both can be the ‘right’ answers. Context in a sense give a scope or a criteria, in which a particular knowledge can be assessed. If we did not know the context, we can not be sure to what extent the particular knowledge we have is right or true.

Now before I say the statement ‘the opposite of light is heavy’ or ‘the opposite of light is dark’ is true, let us explore what do we mean by truth. To me, something is true only if it exists – as in it is there in this world materially or abstractly. But, just to see the meaning in different context, let us see the meaning of truth in different dictionaries. Truth according to Webster Dictionary is ‘a judgement, proposition or an idea that is true or accepted as true’. Truth according to Dictionary.com is ‘conformity with fact or reality’. Truth, as per Oxford dictionary is ‘a verified or indisputable fact’. Isn’t it ironic that the word that is associated with reality or surety has an enigmatic meaning itself?

Now, let us pause for a moment and think about this paradox: why is ‘truth’ even in definition so varied? Are there different truths for different things? The problem with defining ‘truth’ is that there are various ways which it can be interpreted in. Through centuries, philosophers and scholars have come up with numerous theories on ‘what‐truth is’. Each of the theories offer logical explanations and can present perspectives which are widely accepted to be applied to a broad set of occurrences that is observed in world.

One of the most eminent theories is the Correspondence theory, which states that ‘something is only true if it corresponds to a fact or an axiom(1). So statement ‘grass is green’ is true because grass is green in real word. The Coherence theory, on the other hand, states that ‘a proposition is only true if it fits in with the overall set of evidences or beliefs(2). There is no reason to believe that the Americans did not land on the moon because there is enough evidence given by NASA to show why it cannot be just a ‘conspiracy buff’. Another theory of truth, the Pragmatic theory, measures ‘truth’ in terms of usefulness and relevance in practical life. So accordingly, floating of a ship on water mean that Archimedes’ principle, on which principle of flotation is based, is true.

Though each of the theories seems to capture a fragment of ‘truth’ itself, personally I feel, none seem to do complete justice in explaining the nature of truth. As a believer in Correspondence theory, I might justify this theory with a statement like ‘the capital of Bulgaria is Sofia is true because it is a fact’. But what would I say to a statement like ‘There is no life in outer space’ which is not yet been proven as fact? Can it not be true? Coherence theory also fails to give sufficient conditions to distinguish between a truth and a lie. We know in case of many judicial trials, the Jury or The Judge could not unearth the “Truth”, because of their sole reliance on the presented evidence only, which may have been supporting the side which was untrue. Furthermore, Pragmatic theory ignores a lot of knowledge that may not be important in some context. Will a Pragmatist be right in saying that “Madonna’s last name is Louise Ciccone” is not true just because it is trivial information to him in his daily life? Thus we see that each theory differs from the other theory on the basis of context.

Then is it enough to say that “Truth” depends on the context only? To an extent, it does make sense for us to be arriving at such a conclusion, but we cannot yet say truth is always contextual. My baby cousin may think at the moment that tooth fairies exist while I have grown out of it. However, it is absurd to say that they exist for my cousin but not for me. Regardless of what is said or believed, tooth fairies do not exist – a fact, which cannot be manipulated by any context. So, certain truth can exist without context. Furthermore, the statement ‘context is all’ is self-contradictory because if it is true then there is one statement (Context is all) that remains true regardless of the context.

Looking through context may at times lead to a disagreement or a dispute between people with different perspectives about the same subject. But that does not mean there is no truth in either perspective. A statement as ‘Got‐the‐keys’ seems harmless enough at the first glance, but let me assure you that statement got my dad and I locked out of our house for an entire night. Before leaving the house I heard my dad say ‘Got the keys’ to which I responded ‘yeah… OK’ and closed the door. It was after coming back I got a shock when my dad asked my for the keys and I told him he said he had it when I left. He looked at me dangerously saying ‘No… I asked a question ‘Got the keys?’ to which you said ‘yeah… OK’, remember?’ Though I could accept his argument, I could not say I was wrong in my view because I heard him say ‘Got the keys’ as in ‘I got the keys’ (to which I said ‘yeah… OK’ and shut the door). Both of us were speaking the truth within our own context.

Sometimes a statement can be true within a context though it may be dependent on context. It is like saying 2 + 2 = 4 is true in mathematical context or every action has an equal and an opposite reaction in Newtonian context. Both the statements are true, though in a context. The theory of relativity states that one cannot know whether one is at rest (stationary) or moving at a velocity – it depends on one’s frame of reference. Though this theory may appear to instill the relativistic(4) nature of the universe, it does insist on one absolute truth – the value of the speed of light. So to state, that ‘there is no such thing as Truth’ is not correct because truth exists, whether within a context or across the contexts.

The concept of context rises due to one thing we humans have: perception. History is the witness to how context makes us see a fact or event in different lights – or different truths. When I am giving an IB history test, there are always questions on sources(5). Sometimes questions are on the reliability or the authenticity of the sources in order to make me get a more accurate image of what may have really happened by looking at when and by whom the source was made or written and what it is referring to – i.e. by looking at the context.

To me, the problem of denying anything such as truth, like being satisfied by the concept of relativism, seems extremely dogmatist. I think if we accept that ‘context is all’ then rather than solving the problem we are creating a new one because we can let our prejudice and belief see anything the way we want to. At the same time, refusing to just accept or take in account different evidences and beliefs before making a judgement seem to me as being ignorant and naive.

We cannot that deny that context plays a major role in getting to the truth. However, just because we do not know what the truth – the absolute truth – is, does not mean that it does not exist. Context gives or tries to give us ways to view the truth or fragments of the truth. Like in History, when we cannot be sure about the truth, then going through different interpretations of a certain event can be the only way to obtain the real picture of what must have happened. Truth is not something that can be decided upon, as done so by a community or by oneself: it may exist, whether we know it or not at that moment. That is to say, had I been bought up in a 16th century European community, then one of my undeniable truths would be about the existence of a giant tortoise on which our ‘flat’ planet rests.

NOTES

(1) – Lagemaat 2005

(2) – White n.d.

(3) – Lagemaat 2005

(4) – Relativism is a philosophy which states that everything is relative and absolute knowledge or truth does not exist. Its beliefs are analogous to the philosophy ‘Context is all’

(5) – An extract of a famous speech or a historian’s book or even a picture.

Bibliography

Lagemaat, Richard van de. Theory of Knowledge for IB diploma. Cambridge
University Press, 2005.

White, Alan R. Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Volume 2, ‘Coherence Theory of Truth’.