Craig Tracy Body Painting : How the leopard got its body?

Craig Tracy Watercolour body painting

If you like the Rudyard Kipling story about how the leopard got its spots, you might like to take a closer look at this painting, and try to spot the human body.

I came across this picture and story in London’s METRO newspaper (Nov 2, 2009). The artist in question, Craig Tracy, from New Orleans, specialises in painting and merging the human body into a background. Tracy opened a studio in 2005 in his hometown and accepts volunteers who travel from all over world to be incorporated per se into one of his painting.

Have you spotted the body yet?

Why do we sleep? Should we nap?

I have written in the past about sleep, in particular how interesting and revealing the study of sleep was for me at University (see here). What has always baffled me is that Sleep Researchers still have never scientifically proven why adult human beings need to sleep. We do know that if we don’t sleep enough, typically we suffer from irritability, forgetfulness and fatigue, and our motor skills in low-grade repetitive tasks diminish. One thing I also know is that, in ‘modern’ society, we sure spend a bunch of time THINKING about getting more sleep.

That said, sleep researchers have been making significant progress recently. LiveScience published this article, entitled ‘New Theory Questions Why We Sleep‘, by Charles Choi, which describes the latest research by Jerome Siegel at the University of California at Los Angeles. Sleep “is often thought to have evolved to play an unknown but vital role inside the body…”; but, Siegel suggests that the reason why we sleep is related to an adaptation to the outside environment. Specifically, Siegel “proposes the main function of sleep is to increase an animal’s efficiency and minimize its risk by controlling how a species behaves with regards to its surroundings.”
There are several other theories as to what is the purpose of sleep. These theories include promoting longevity, a role in learning, reversing damage from daily stress… The Choi article continues to say that “in humans, the brain constitutes, on average, just 2 percent of total body weight but consumes 20 percent of the energy used during quiet waking, so these savings have considerable significance…” Intuitively, the idea that the rest we get is most beneficial for the brain makes sense, knowing that the brain’s activity is never fully shut off during sleep and is hyperactive in the REM phases.
“I think this idea of ‘adaptive inactivity’ is an extremely useful way of thinking about the broader picture of sleep without getting lost in individual theories,” said sleep researcher David Dinges at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Dinges noted that regular cycles of light and darkness “put enormous environmental pressures on animals that all play into forced ‘time-outs.'”
Meanwhile, there are all sorts of myths about sleep, in part perpetuated by a lack of evidence, but also our lack of study/research and, more ominously, mis-information. It is worth noting that sleep (or at least getting to sleep) is also, unfortunately, big business: it is estimated that worldwide sales for sleeping pills (hypnotics) will surpass $5 billion in the next several years.
My own interest in sleep stems from a fundamental belief that sleep management is integral to time management. Actively managing one’s sleep should be part of one’s daily hygiene, just as much as eating and doing sports. One of the biggest misconceptions out there is that sleeping more is ipso facto healthier, to the point where taking sleeping pills is better than not sleeping enough. This is unlikely to be the case. From this LiveScience article, I quote, “[a] six-year study [Daniel F.] Kripke headed up of more than a million adults ages 30 to 102 showed that people who get only 6 to 7 hours a night have a lower death rate than those who get 8 hours of sleep. The risk from taking sleeping pills 30 times or more a month was not much less than the risk of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, [Kripke] says.”
I am personally a light sleeper and early riser, always living on the edge of what is necessary to live my conscious day in a comfortable way. While many people express a certain jealousy, it could yet be classified as chronic sleep deprivation. Do I naturally need less sleep or is it a self-imposed internal regime? Research by Ying-Hui Fu, a professor of neurology at the University of California at San Francisco, Mission Bay, suggests that a gene (DEC2) may be responsible for the amount of sleep we need (at least for the short sleepers). So, perhaps I am genetically predisposed?
If one is to sleep or rest effectively, there is also the solution of the nap. On weekends, a longer nap helps to accommodate the sporting endeavours and longer social engagement on the Saturday night… But during the working week, at least for those working in a company, the nap — even the power nap — is basically out of the question. Quite astonishingly, per a Pew Research Center study, reported in this article in LiveScience, napping is an activity done daily by 1/3 of all adult Ameri
cans. But for the other 2/3 [i.e. hard at work], it is a daily dream. Imagine a company where you could, without fear of reprisal, just crawl up for a power snooze of 10-20 minutes when the deep urge fell upon you. Would that not feel like a true daily gift? How much do you think that would be worth? Instead, snoozing is, almost uniformly, voraciously frowned upon and left to do on the commute home, stuffed in between two bodies on the tube/metro/subway or, worse yet, swinging upright, hanging on to a handle bar while standing on a moving bus. Of course, for power naps to be permissible, there would have to be some level of controls. The key is to set clear time-delimited objectives without focusing on exactly “when” the work is being done. This would also be a vital condition to creating more flexible hours for employees. On a side note, the much maligned pigeons (at least on this blog), apparently integrate the power nap into their daily crumb-finding, building-desecrating life – read here for more on those napping pigeons.
In a somewhat counter intuitive result of the Pew study, the most frequent nappers according to revenues were actually those in the middle, i.e. the middle managers : “Among people making more than $100,000, 33 percent said they nap regularly, while 42 percent of those making less than $30,000 clock out during the day. The income group that naps least? Those who make $75,000 to $99,000 (21 percent).” If such is the need for the human body, for the bolder CEO’s or leaders among you, is it not the smart thing to do to invest in organising a nap room, like they did for NASA’s Phoenix mission team members?
What’s your opinion? Is napping a luxury or truly necessary? Which do you prefer, the power nap or 90-minute snooze? Would a nap room make work conditions remarkably better? How might you go about instituting a ‘nap policy’ in an organisation?

Chimpanzee AI – Memory Experiment to Blow Your Mind

Here is a 10-minute video that had me giggling, at first, then laughing blissfully out loud. This video is from the Primate Research Institute at Kyoto University in Japan, where scientists have managed to train a chimpanzee named AI (Artificial Intelligence?) to count and, well, show off his memory skills. [In fact there are 6 chimpanzees that have all been trained to the same levels]. What particularly amused me was the nonchalant, almost ADD-like, attitude, complete with non-stop snacking that accompanied these experiments. The chimp’s behaviour would seem to indicate that the exercise was “child’s play.” The same could not be said for the stalwart human beings attempting to ape the chimpanzee.

I have a few questions/comments to make about this video:
1/ Can the chimpanzee be made to understand the value of the numbers?
2/ What does the baby chimp pick up in the exercise?
3/ Clearly, our own minds have not reached their maximum capacity.

Take a view and drop me your thoughts!


Chimpanzee AI from Javed on Vimeo.

You can also play the game yourself here, to see how good your own memory is. Since the site is in Japanese, here are the instructions before you go to the site: 1. Touch ‘start’ 2. The numbers 3-2-1 will pop up on the screen. Immediately following the number 1, several numbers will flash on the screen for barely one second. 3. Memorize the numbers’ position on the screen then click the circles from the smallest to the biggest number. 4. At the end of game, the computer will cheekily tell you in years, how old your brain is. http://flashfabrica.com/f_learning/brain/brain.html

You have to admire the researchers who have patiently enabled this experiment. For further reading: a Dec 2007 article in The Guardian and the Kyoto Research Institute website. Also, a quick “news” report on ABC.

Credits to Brain, Mind, Consciousness & Learning blog from Professor Javed Alam for allowing me to discover AI.

Cats in a Cradle – Kittens sleeping any which way.

If you like cats, you ought to love this post. It is, as the title of the blog suggests, cute overload. The title of this particular post is “Powered by Ambien” which I find a little tragic (=prescribed happiness?). Otherwise, the shots are priceless. The photographs apparently all come from the internet (see about us), so I have blithely borrowed a couple of them for you as a taster. The following three shots are of cats in the various important parts of life.

Family Time. The Postprandial Slumber
Family Time: Cats sleeping train in Postprandial Slumber

Cuddling up with Friends.
Cuddling up with friends: Cat sleeping on Dog

The power [cat] nap at Work
Cat sleeping on Computer

Here’s to the cats with nine lives and seven sleeps. Enjoy.

Starlings Swarm – Fabulous aerobatics displays

At around dusk, from November through March, in various parts of the UK (and in other parts of the world too where they exist, such as west USA…), starlings will congregate in mass and provide natural entertainment in the form of a seemingly choreographed dance of the flight.  I have selected a couple of videos below.  The first comes with valuable commentary and the whirring sound of the birds.  The birds fly in numbers that are estimated at up to half a million.  The aerobatics are startling and apparently there is no outright leader, nor ever an accident.  The first is entitled Starlings at Otmoor, the RSPB reserve near Oxford.

If you can’t get enough of these swarming starlings, this second video is set entirely to music and is quite pleasurable, if the quality of the film is a tad less good.  The music and the viewing make for a calming moment.

Finally, you can click here to view a third video on YouTube.  Provided by the Westmorland Gazette in the Lake District of England, they have chosen not allow the film to be embedded.

Mosquitoes – At last, a possible eradication plan?

For those of you following this blog, you may know that among my interests is Astrophysics, with a focus on the String Theory, smoothly vulgarized in Brian Greene’s “The Elegant Universe.”  (Here is Greene’s Faculty page at Columbia; and PBS NOVA provides excerpts of the eponymous documentary).  On an ongoing basis, my interest in astrophysics does not play a large part in my daily life.  Other than in lively dinner conversations, as an explanation for the random things that happen in life or as the founding principle for creating a whole new philosophy of life (based on the unifying String Theory), astrophysics has been, at best, an elegant support system in my life.

Mosquito PerilNot until recently, however, have I heard of a truly useful and practical application for astrophysics.  And, in a two-for-the-price-of-one mentality, so in vogue in today’s economic climate, astrophysics and star wars technology bring a truly unique (if not unifying) value with a singular objective: the demise the mosquito. You can read here about this extraordinary invention in this CNN Report.

My exceptional and visionary wife, founder of the ERACE ‘EM Campaign, the Eternal Radical and Complete Extermination of Every Mosquito, is in full support, “this [potential eradication] would truly be a stellar reward after years of struggle against the mighty mosquito.”  Mosquitoes serve no grand purpose in the eco-system.  As Dr Jordin Kare indicates, no animal feeds exclusively on the mosquito and no one would miss them if they disappeared.  They are responsible for having killed many millions of people over the years and I would hate to think about the aggregate lost sleep caused by that very dear little shrill buzzzzzzzzzzzzz sound they make.  In place of donations to the ERACE ‘EM campaign, we are gladly accepting comments on this blog.

Keep Paris Clean says the Mayor’s Office…

The Paris mayor’s office has seen fit to launch an outdoor ad campaign to keep Paris clean.  The image of trash in one or other natural environment is headlined with “unacceptable” or “scandalous” in Paris, too!  To the extent that photos of trash in Paris would have not had much impact, this is quite a good execution.  Of course, when you know how little recycling goes on in Paris, you wonder on the consistency of the effort.  Dog litter is also rather unacceptable in my mind.  Meanwhile, how about those pigeons?  Are they not right up there as the foulest, polluting element…aside from us human beings, of course?

Hammy the Hamster Goes Organic…

Which tastes better: organic or conventional food?

This Hammy the Hamster Goes Organic video (and especially the out-takes further below) is bound to produce a smile. And, if you are sensitive to the quality of the food you eat, then you could find the experiment of interest. Created by the authors of the The Cooks Den blog and posted just March 2nd, this clip has already had nearly 1/2 million views, a very quick offlift (thanks to an MSN posting).

“At The Cooks Den, we decided to apply the scientific method to that important question. We brought in an unbiased test subject — one who has superior taste buds, is unaffected by marketing hype, and is unafraid to express her opinions publicly.”

What if a food company latched on to this? Shouldn’t some organisation like Whole Foods sponsor Hammy? I can imagine a deal that allows Hammy to do some purchasing decisions? “This aisle for Hammy products…”

Here are the outtakes of Hammy. A quick 1 minute spin, worth the watch … at the very least to authenticate the techniques!

A few more pieces of information that you can discover on the Cooksden site: Hammy prefered conventional walnuts over the organic variety. The odd thing was I didn’t even know that organic walnuts existed. The broccoli left Hammy indifferent the most. The item for which organic was most important was cheese. Gives a whole new meaning to who moved my cheese.

Next up: organic milk and apples, I hope.

You Started It! — Fawlty Towers and Wars Declared by US Presidents

You started it!

Series 1 Episode 6 – The Germans, Fawlty Towers
—————————————-
When Sybil is out of action in hospital, Basil is left to cope with his shabby hotel (in Torquay) in her absence. What could go wrong when there’s a fire drill scheduled, a moose’s head to hang and a party of German tourists due? Quite a lot really, but it will all be fine as long as… you don’t mention the war.

Many people quote “The Germans” as their favourite episode of Fawlty Towers and, while I would pick another (The Rat), those sequences between Mr Basil Fawlty (John Cleese) and the German tourists are certainly among the most memorable of the series.

Direct quotes from this episode:

Basil [who keeps making Freudian slips about the war]: Is something wrong?
German Guest: Will you stop talking about the war?
Basil: Me? You started it! [referring to WWII]
German Guest: We did not start it. [referring to the conversation about the war]
Basil: Yes you did, you invaded Poland.

Speaking of starting it, I was challenged in a conversation a little while back as to which political party in the US was more responsible for starting wars. The supposition was that the Republican hawks were more prone to engage in war than the Democrats. When I mentioned a few top of mind wars (WWI, WWII, Korea…) as having a Democratic president at the outset of the war, it led me to investigate further. In the last 38 years, each significant engagement/war has indeed been started by Republican presidents (you also have to bear in mind that a Republican president has been in office 28 of those 38 years).

There should be at least four qualifiers before attempting to come to a conclusion. (1) What would be more interesting perhaps is to look at which party was dominating Congress at the times when the meaty decisions/approvals were made… (2) A second consideration is whether the war can be judged to have been a “good” or “necessary” war. (3) What was the outcome? And (4), who was responsible for carrying out and/or ending the war?

Anyway, I have put together a list of most the more significant wars since the 19th century (and I have chosen to include all the recent wars). A more rigourous and comprehensive study would have to go into all the wars (definition of “war” needing to be clarified). I have not touched the wars with the Indians for example. The list of all military wars/engagements involving the USA has been made over on Wikipedia here. In any event, if you look at the associated presidents below, it is not exactly conclusive as to which party is more likely to declare war.

War of 1812
Begun and ended 1814 by James Madison (Democratic Republican, precursor of Democratic Party ironically)

Mexican-American War 1846-1848
Started and ended by James Polk (D)

Spanish-American 1898

Started and ended by McKinley (R)

Philippine-American War 1899
Started and ended by McKinley (R)

WWI 1914-1918
Started and ended by Woodrow Wilson (D) who declared war on Germany in April 1917

WWII 1939-1945
Started under Roosevelt (D) 1941
Ended under Truman (D) 1945

Korea 1950-53
Started and ended by Truman (D)

Vietnam
Started officially in 1959 under Eisenhower (R)
Escalation under JF Kennedy (D)
War ended by Nixon (R)

Invasion of Grenada 1993 under Reagan (R)

Persian Gulf War 1990-1991
Started and ended by Bush Sr (R)
(note bombing of Iraq in 1993 by Clinton)

Afghanistan Invasion 2001-
By Bush Jr (R)

Iraq or Second Gulf War 2003…
Started by Bush Jr (R)

The only conclusion I feel like making is that, despite all the civilizing that we human beings have been doing, the net net is that military conflicts, whether borne of need for power, zeal or fear, are an ugly and consistent part of our existence. And, for sure, there are necessary wars. If the world were run by women, would it be entirely different? Female Presidents, Prime Ministers, Queens and Empresses throughout the ages have been known or associated with wars (see here for a list frm womenhistory.com). Solutions to avoid an escalation in wars would include heightened education, international integration and, most importantly, increased prosperity. However, given the current and foreseeable economic crises and the hardships and pressures that will inevitably arise, it would seem more likely that we are in store for more conflicts than less in the near future. And, that’s when I take refuge in Fawlty Towers, and return to viewing Manuel being clobbered on the head about his Siberian Hamster [aka rat].

Your thoughts and comments are welcome!