Monday, July 24, 2017

A Primer on Contentment

Contentment is a mental or emotional state of satisfaction maybe drawn from being at ease in one's situation, body and mind. Colloquially speaking, contentment could be a state of having accepted one's situation and is a milder and more tentative form of happiness.

Peace and Contentment
By Eduard von Grutzner, 1897

Contentment and the pursuit of contentment are possibly a central thread through many philosophical or religious schools across diverse cultures, times and geographies. Siddharta might have said "Health is the most precious gain and contentment the greatest wealth". John Stuart Mill, centuries later, would write "I have learned to seek my happiness by limiting my desires, rather than in attempting to satisfy them." Marcus Aurelius wrote "Live with the gods. And he who does so constantly shows them that his soul is satisfied with what is assigned to them." Hebrews 13:5 reads "Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'" Chinese philosopher Zhuang Zhou once wrote in the 3rd century BCE (hypothetically) "A gentleman who profoundly penetrates all things and is in harmony with their transformations will be contented with whatever time may bring. He follows the course of nature in whatever situation he may be."

The literature seems to generally agree that contentment is maybe a state ideally reached through being happy with what a person has, as opposed to achieving one's larger ambitions, as Socrates described by probably saying "He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have." That said, there may be a number of elements of achievement that may make finding a state of personal contentment easier: a strong family unit, a strong local community, and satisfaction of life's basic needs as perhaps expressed in Maslow's hierarchy of needs. In general, the more needs in Maslow's hierarchy are achieved, the more easily one might achieve contentment.


Through factor analysis, personality can be narrowed down according to the five factor model, which holds that there are five aspects of heritable personality traits: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Research has shown that personality is 50% heritable, but not always. There are two aspects of personality which are related to happiness. There is a strong relationship between extraversion and happiness, in that the more extraverted a person is (or behaves) the more happy he/she will be. The other aspect of personality which has a strong relationship to happiness is the genetic predisposition to neuroticism. The more neurotic (emotionally unstable) a person is, the more likely he/she is to be unhappy.


Laughter is synonymous with happiness. A proposal is made here that when a line of thought (e.g. joke) or sensation (e.g. tickling) is not expected by one's psychological or physiological order respectively, it triggers a certain chaos and temporary breakdown of that order. The innate Contentment intrinsic to the person then breaks through this temporal breach to express itself in happy laughter.

Laughter has been used as a health therapy for many years such as in some hospitals through the showing of TV comedies for patients. Laughter clubs have also been formed in India and some Asian countries to promote laughter as a form of health-enhancement through regular meet-ups.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

World's Most Dangerous Snakes


The most dangerous snakes in the world tend to be sea snakes around Australia, the Coral Sea, Indonesia and adjacent land areas.  These are even worse than mambas, cobras and rattlesnakes.

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Sea snake
Inland Taipan
Coral Sea, Arafura Sea, Timor Sea and Indian Ocean
Eastern brown snake
Australia, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia
Tropical oceanic waters
Gulf of Siam, Strait of Taiwan, Coral sea islands, and other places
Mainland China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Laos, Burma
eastern coast of the Malay Peninsula and Brunei, and in Halmahera, Indonesia
Western Australian Tiger snake
Tropical Indo-Pacific

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Hubble Space Telescope

The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) is a space telescope that was launched into low Earth orbit in 1990 and remains in operation. Although not the first space telescope, Hubble is one of the largest and most versatile, and is well known as both a vital research tool and a public relations boon for astronomy. The HST is named after the astronomer Edwin Hubble, and is one of NASA's Great Observatories, along with the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Spitzer Space Telescope.

With a 2.4-meter (7.9 ft) mirror, Hubble's four main instruments observe in the near ultraviolet, visible, and near infrared spectra. Hubble's orbit outside the distortion of Earth's atmosphere allows it to take extremely high-resolution images, with substantially lower background light than ground-based telescopes. Hubble has recorded some of the most detailed visible light images ever, allowing a deep view into space and time. Many Hubble observations have led to breakthroughs in astrophysics, such as accurately determining the rate of expansion of the universe.

The HST was built by the United States space agency NASA, with contributions from the European Space Agency. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) selects Hubble's targets and processes the resulting data, while the Goddard Space Flight Center controls the spacecraft.

Space telescopes were proposed as early as 1923. Hubble was funded in the 1970s, with a proposed launch in 1983, but the project was beset by technical delays, budget problems, and the Challenger disaster (1986). When finally launched in 1990, Hubble's main mirror was found to have been ground incorrectly, compromising the telescope's capabilities. The optics were corrected to their intended quality by a servicing mission in 1993.

Hubble is the only telescope designed to be serviced in space by astronauts. After launch by Space Shuttle Discovery in 1990, five subsequent Space Shuttle missions repaired, upgraded, and replaced systems on the telescope, including all five of the main instruments. The fifth mission was initially canceled on safety grounds following the Columbia disaster (2003). However, after spirited public discussion, NASA administrator Mike Griffin approved the fifth servicing mission, completed in 2009. The telescope is operating as of 2017, and could last until 2030–2040. Its scientific successor, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), is scheduled for launch in 2018.

List of Hubble Instruments

Hubble accommodates five science instruments at a given time, plus the Fine Guidance Sensors, which are mainly used for aiming the telescope but are occasionally used for science (astrometry). Early instruments were replaced with more advanced ones during the Shuttle servicing missions. COSTAR was strictly a corrective optics device rather than a true science instrument, but occupied one of the five instrument bays.

Since the final servicing mission in 2009, the four active instruments have been ACS, COS, STIS and WFC3. NICMOS is kept in hibernation, but may be revived if WFC3 were to fail in the future.

  • Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS; 2002-present)
  • Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS; 2009-present)
  • Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement (COSTAR; 1993-2009)
  • Faint Object Camera (FOC; 1990-2002)
  • Faint Object Spectrograph (FOS; 1990-1997)
  • Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS; 1990-present)
  • Goddard High Resolution Spectrograph (GHRS/HRS; 1990-1997)
  • High Speed Photometer (HSP; 1990-1993)
  • Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS; 1997-present, hibernating since 2008)
  • Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS; 1997-present (non-operative 2004-2009)
  • Wide Field and Planetary Camera (WFPC; 1990-1993)
  • Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2; 1993-2009)
  • Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3; 2009-present)

Friday, July 21, 2017

Girard Defines "Mimetic Desire"

Mimetic Desire

After almost a decade of teaching French literature in the United States, Rene Girard began to develop a new way of speaking about literary texts. Beyond the "uniqueness" of individual works, he looked for their common structural properties, having observed that characters in great fiction evolved in a system of relationships otherwise common to the wider generality of novels. But there was a distinction to be made:

Only the great writers succeed in painting these mechanisms faithfully, without falsifying them: we have here a system of relationships that paradoxically, or rather not paradoxically at all, has less variability the greater a writer is.

So there did indeed exist "psychological laws" as Proust calls them. These laws and this system are the consequences of a fundamental reality grasped by the novelists, which Girard called "the mimetic character of desire." This is the content of his first book, Deceit, Desire and the Novel (1961). We borrow our desires from others. Far from being autonomous, our desire for a certain object is always provoked by the desire of another person—the model—for this same object. This means that the relationship between the subject and the object is not direct: there is always a triangular relationship of subject, model, and object. Through the object, one is drawn to the model, whom Girard calls the mediator: it is in fact the model who is sought. Girard calls desire "metaphysical" in the measure that, as soon as a desire is something more than a simple need or appetite, "all desire is a desire to be", it is an aspiration, the dream of a fullness attributed to the mediator.

Mediation is external when the mediator of the desire is socially beyond the reach of the subject or, for example, a fictional character, as in the case of Amadis de Gaula and Don Quixote. The hero lives a kind of folly that nonetheless remains optimistic. Mediation is internal when the mediator is at the same level as the subject. The mediator then transforms into a rival and an obstacle to the acquisition of the object, whose value increases as the rivalry grows. This is the universe of the novels of Stendhal, Flaubert, Proust and Dostoevsky, which are particularly studied in this book.

Through their characters, our own behaviour is displayed. Everyone holds firmly to the illusion of the authenticity of one's own desires; the novelists implacably expose all the diversity of lies, dissimulations, maneuvers, and the snobbery of the Proustian heroes; these are all but "tricks of desire", which prevent one from facing the truth: envy and jealousy. These characters, desiring the being of the mediator, project upon him superhuman virtues while at the same time depreciating themselves, making him a god while making themselves slaves, in the measure that the mediator is an obstacle to them. Some, pursuing this logic, come to seek the failures that are the signs of the proximity of the ideal to which they aspire. This can manifest as a heightened experience of the universal pseudo-masochism inherent in seeking the unattainable, which can, of course, turn into sadism should the actor play this part in reverse.

This fundamental focus on mimetic desire would be pursued by Girard throughout the rest of his career. The stress on imitation in humans was not a popular subject when Girard developed his theories, but today there is independent support for his claims coming from empirical research in psychology and neuroscience (see the link below). Farneti (2013) also discusses the role of mimetic desire in intractable conflicts, using the case study of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and referencing Girard's theory. He posits that intensified conflict is a product of the imitative behaviors of Israelis and Palestinians, entitling them ‘Siamese twins'.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Dogs' Social Behavior

Researchers Identify a Common underlying Genetic Basis for Social Behavior in Dogs and Humans

Pooja Makhijani, Princeton University Office of Communications

July 19, 2017 -- Dogs’ ability to communicate and interact with humans is one the most astonishing differences between them and their wild cousins, wolves. A new study published today in the journal Science Advances identifies genetic changes that are linked to dogs’ human-directed social behaviors and suggests there is a common underlying genetic basis for hyper-social behavior in both dogs and humans.

An interdisciplinary team of researchers, including those from Princeton University, sequenced a region of chromosome 6 in dogs and found multiple sections of canine DNA that were associated with differences in social behavior. In many cases, unique genetic insertions called transposons on the Williams-Beuren syndrome critical region (WBSCR) were strongly associated with the tendency to seek out humans for physical contact, assistance and information.

In contrast, in humans, it is the deletion of genes from the counterpart of this region on the human genome, rather than insertions, that causes Williams-Beuren syndrome, a congenital disorder characterized by hyper-social traits such as exceptional gregariousness.

“It was the remarkable similarity between the behavioral presentation of Williams-Beuren syndrome and the friendliness of domesticated dogs that suggested to us that there may be similarities in the genetic architecture of the two phenotypes,” said Bridgett vonHoldt, an assistant professor in ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton and the study’s lead co-author.

VonHoldt had identified the canine analog of the WBSCR in her publication in Nature in 2010. But it was Emily Shuldiner, a 2016 Princeton alumna and the study’s other lead co-author, who, as part of her senior thesis, pinpointed the commonalities in the genetic architecture of Williams-Beuren syndrome and canine tameness.

By analyzing behavioral and genetic data from dogs and gray wolves, vonHoldt, Shuldiner and their colleagues reported a strong genetic aspect to human-directed social behavior by dogs. Monique Udell, an assistant professor of animal and rangeland sciences at Oregon State University and the paper’s senior author, collected and analyzed the behavioral data for 18 domesticated dogs and 10 captive human-socialized wolves, as well as the biological samples used to sequence their genomes.

First, Udell quantified human-directed sociability traits in canines, such as to what extent they turned to a human in the room to seek assistance in trying to lift a puzzle box lid in order to get a sausage treat below or the degree to which they sought out social interactions with familiar and unfamiliar humans. Then, vonHoldt and Shuldiner sequenced the genome in vonHoldt’s lab and correlated their findings.

Consistent with their hypothesis, the researchers confirmed that the domesticated dogs displayed more human-directed behavior and spent more time in proximity to humans than the wolves. The also discovered that some of these transposons on the WBSCR were only found in domestic dogs, and not in wolves at all.

VonHoldt’s findings suggest that only a few transposons on this region likely govern a complex set of social behaviors. “We haven’t found a ‘social gene,’ but rather an important [genetic] component that shapes animal personality and assisted the process of domesticating a wild wolf into a tame dog,” she said.

Anna Kukekova, an assistant professor in the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who is familiar with the research but had no role in it, said that the paper points to these genes as being evolutionarily conserved, or essentially unchanged throughout evolution. “The research provides evidence that there exist certain evolutionary conservative mechanisms that contribute to sociability across species,” she said. “That they have found that this region contributes to sociability in dogs is exciting.”

Survival of the friendliest

The researchers’ evidence also calls into question the role of domestication in the evolution of canine behavior. Most experts agree that the first domesticated dogs were wolves that ventured into early human settlements. These proto-dogs evolved not only in their looks, but also their behavior, a process likely influenced by the species’ cohabitation, according to vonHoldt.

However, unlike previous research which suggests that, during the process of domestication, dogs were selected for a set of cognitive abilities, particularly an ability to discern gesture and voice, vonHoldt and Shuldiner’s research posits that dogs were instead selected for their tendency to seek human companionship.

“If early humans came into contact with a wolf that had a personality of being interested in them, and only lived with and bred those ‘primitive dogs,’ they would have exaggerated the trait of being social,” vonHoldt said.

Other authors on the paper were Ilana Janowitz Koch and Rebecca Kartzinel of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton; Andrew Hogan and Elaine Ostrander of the Cancer Genetics Branch, National Human Genome Research Institute the National Institutes of Health; Lauren Brubaker and Shelby Wanser of the Department of Animal and Rangeland Sciences at Oregon State University; Daniel Stahler of Yellowstone Center for Resources, National Park Service at Yellowstone National Park; Clive Wynne of the Department of Psychology at Arizona State University and the Cancer Genetics Branch, National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health; and Janet Sinsheimer of the Departments of Human Genetics and Biomathematics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California-Los Angeles.

The study, “Structural variants in genes associated with human Williams-Beuren Syndrome underlie stereotypical hyper-sociability in domestic dogs,” was published July 19 by Science Advances.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Pareto Principle

The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few, or the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Management consultant Joseph M. Juran suggested the principle and named it after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who noted the 80/20 connection while at the University of Lausanne in 1896, as published in his first paper, "Cours d'économie politique". Essentially, Pareto showed that approximately 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population; Pareto developed the principle by observing that about 20% of the peapods in his garden contained 80% of the peas.

It is a common rule of thumb in business; e.g., "80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients." Mathematically, the 80/20 rule is roughly followed by a power law distribution (also known as a Pareto distribution) for a particular set of parameters, and many natural phenomena have been shown empirically to exhibit such a distribution.

The Pareto principle is only tangentially related to Pareto efficiency. Pareto developed both concepts in the context of the distribution of income and wealth among the population.

In Economics

The original observation was in connection with population and wealth. Pareto noticed that 80% of Italy's land was owned by 20% of the population. He then carried out surveys on a variety of other countries and found to his surprise that a similar distribution applied.

A chart that gave the inequality a very visible and comprehensible form, the so-called 'champagne glass' effect, was contained in the 1992 United Nations Development Program Report, which showed that distribution of global income is very uneven, with the richest 20% of the world's population controlling 82.7% of the world's income.

In Science

The more predictions a theory makes, the greater the chance is of some of them being cheaply testable. Modifications of existing theories make many fewer new unique predictions, increasing the risk that the few predictions remaining will be very expensive to test.

In Software

The more predictions a theory makes, the greater the chance is of some of them being cheaply testable. Modifications of existing theories make many fewer new unique predictions, increasing the risk that the few predictions remaining will be very expensive to test.

In Sports

It is said that about 20% of sportsmen participate in 80% of big competitions and out of them, 20% win 80% of the awards. This could also be applied to teams in many popular games.

The Pareto principle has also been applied to training, where roughly 20% of the exercises and habits have 80% of the impact and the trainee should not focus so much on a varied training. This does not necessarily mean eating heartily or going to the gym are not important, just that they are not as significant as the key activities.

The law of the few can be also seen in betting, where it is said that with 20% effort you can match the accuracy of 80% of the bettors.

Occupational Health and Safety

Occupational health and safety professionals use the Pareto principle to underline the importance of hazard prioritization. Assuming 20% of the hazards account for 80% of the injuries, and by categorizing hazards, safety professionals can target those 20% of the hazards that cause 80% of the injuries or accidents. Alternatively, if hazards are addressed in random order, a safety professional is more likely to fix one of the 80% of hazards that account only for some fraction of the remaining 20% of injuries.

Aside from ensuring efficient accident prevention practices, the Pareto principle also ensures hazards are addressed in an economical order as the technique ensures the resources used are best used to prevent the most accidents.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

World Record for Coup Attempts

The nation with the most coup attempts in history is Spain (even more than the attempts in Greece).  Here they are:

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  1. 603 by General Witerico against king Liuva II
  2. 631 by Duke Sisenando against king Suintila
  3. 642 : Tulga was overthrown by Chindasvinto
  4. 692 : Égica was briefly overthrown by Suniefredo
  5. 1814 : Absolutist pronunciamiento of Fernando VII and Francisco Javier de Elío
  6. 1815 : failed liberal pronunciamiento of Juan Díaz Porlier at A Coruña
  7. 1820 : successful liberal pronunciamiento of Rafael del Riego, start of the Trienio Liberal
  8. 1822 : failed absolutist coup by the Royal Guard of Fernando VII
  9. 1831 : failed liberal pronunciamiento of Manuel de Torrijos
  10. 1835 : liberal pronunciamiento of Cordero y de Quesada
  11. 1836 : successful liberal mutiny of La Granja de San Ildefonso
  12. 1841 : failed Moderate pronunciamiento
  13. 1843 : successful Moderate pronunciamiento of Narváez and Francisco Serrano y Domínguez, end of the Baldomero Espartero regency
  14. 1844 : failed liberal and Esparterist coup, led by Martín Zurbano
  15. 1846 : failed progressive liberal military and civic revolt in Galicia, led by Miguel Solís Cuetos
  16. 1848 : failed progressive liberal military and civic revolt in Madrid, led by colonel Manuel Buceta
  17. 1854 : successful revolutionary coup in Madrid, led by general Leopoldo O'Donnell
  18. 1860 : failed carlist military uprising at Sant Carles de la Ràpita, led by general Jaime Ortega y Olleta
  19. 1866 : failed Progressive and Democrat coup in Madrid
  20. 1866 : failed pronunciamiento of Villarejo de Salvanés, led by general Juan Prim
  21. 1868 : successful Glorious Revolution, started by the pronunciamiento of Juan Bautista Topete in Cádiz
  22. 1874 : successful coup of Manuel Pavía y Rodríguez de Alburquerque
  23. 1874 : successful "Pronunciamiento de Sagunto", that ends the Spanish First Republic and restores monarchy and the Borbón family at the throne
  24. 1883 : failed 5 August republican pronunciamiento in Badajoz
  25. 1886 : failed republican coup in Madrid, led by Manuel Villacampa del Castillo and Manuel Ruiz Zorrilla
  26. 1923 by Miguel Primo de Rivera against Manuel García Prieto
  27. 1926 : failed "Sanjuanada", a coup against the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera
  28. 1929 : failed coup against the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera, led by José Sánchez-Guerra y Martínez
  29. 1930 : failed republican pronunciamiento in Jaca
  30. 1932 by José Sanjurjo failed to overthrow Manuel Azaña
  31. 1936 by Francisco Franco against Manuel Azaña and the Second Spanish Republic, starting the Spanish Civil War
  32. 1939 by Segismundo Casado against the republican government of Juan Negrín
  33. November 17, 1978: An aborted coup led by Antonio Tejero to stop the Spanish transition to democracy.
  34. February 23, 1981: A group led by Tejero broke into the Congress of Deputies while they were preparing to elect Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo as the new prime minister. King Juan Carlos denounced the coup in a nationally televised address, and the coup collapsed the next day with no casualties.
  35. October 27, 1982: A group of far-right colonels failed to overthrow Calvo Sotelo.
  36. June 2, 1985: a group of far-right soldiers and officers (along with some civilians) planned to take power thanks to a false flag attack, but the conspiracy was later aborted