June 30, 2010

We were pleased to note...

We got our car registration renewal in the mail, including that sticker with the two digits of the year that you gotta stick in the upper right-hand corner of your license plate.

In our state, that registration sticker has always had a seven-digit number printed on it. To find out if a registration sticker belonged on a particular plate, the police would have to enter that seven-digit number into a database search. This was not convenient, especially since it appeared that there were some individuals who pilfered stickers, instead of paying their renewal fees.

So, we were pleased to note that our new sticker bears, as its sticker number, not some "random" seven-digit number, but rather the license plate number! It matches!

Much more sensible.

However, as we have argued before, it would be even more sensible to abolish not just the registration sticker number, but also the license plate number. They could both be replaced with the driver's cellphone number – and this would make our roads much safer and more courteous.

June 29, 2010

Values as Visuals

My new article explores the use of new tools for articulating values, vision, and mission.

Imagine using the Dialoogle and Picture Your Legacy cards with colleagues, helping to commence group discussions, and to move into collaborative problem solving. Imagine using the iPhone app to spark your own creative ideas, or conversation with a friend.

June 28, 2010

Magnetic fields: Threat, or menace?

I have worked with magnets for over thirty years, yet I admit that I'm not sure if magnetic fields are real.

Now, they tell you that the magnetic field is real, real like the river's undertow that pulls you past the eddies beneath the sharp rocks and beats you down, but it's not. Not really. You feel magnetic forces, to be sure, but the magnetic field is not the fundamental truth. The truth is the magnetic vector potential. And this is not just my opinion; this has been known for over sixty years.

The magnetic field (what you hear about) is written as B; the magnetic vector potential (what you perhaps never heard about before today) is written as A. They are related by:

B = x A

("The magnetic field is the curl of the magnetic vector potential.")

The truth is revealed by the Aharonov–Bohm effect, in which particle traveling past a long thin solenoid experiences a phase shift, even though the magnetic field is confined to the interior of the solenoid, which the particle never enters! Why does this happen? It happens because the particle sees the magnetic vector potential outside the solenoid. (A cool animation is available.)

So, A (the magnetic vector potential) is what's true and real and actually felt by the particle, while B (the magnetic field) is sort of an emanation, or a mathematical device, that almost always gives you the right answer (except in clever made-up configurations designed to demonstrate the Aharonov–Bohm effect, that is), and is handy. I suppose an attorney might say that while the magnetic field is (usually) a truth, it is not the whole truth.

Perhaps it's like your car's engine, where horsepower is what you read about, but torque is what you feel. The magnetic field is what you read about, but the magnetic vector potential is what you feel.

[Please note: Persons seeking legal advice should consult a member of their state Bar Association; we may in the future discuss an alternative approach to interpreting the Aharonov-Bohm effect, which does not appear to to rob the magnetic field of so much of her charm; post title refers to this.]

June 27, 2010


We planted fig trees in order to grow figs, not robins:

[Please note (for the robin-obsessed): If you bookmark & reload this page, the small slideshow above should update to include the latest photograph(s); clicking on the slideshow itself takes you to the Picasaweb album; clicking here takes you to a full-window Picasaweb slideshow.]

[Late edit: A story about these birds (or one person's view of them) is told...]

The Eötvös effect.

To lose weight, you need only head east.

June 26, 2010

I have had it with these #@$&! snakes in this #@$&! scanner!

How does the brain encode courage in a real-life fearful situation that demands an immediate response? In Fear Thou Not: Activity of Frontal and Temporal Circuits in Moments of Real-Life Courage, volunteers who fear snakes had to bring a live snake into close proximity with their heads while their brains were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Oh, do watch the video.

the G20 & the NC20

The G20 meets this weekend. That's the "group of twenty finance ministers and central bank governors", representing 19 countries plus the European Union. In alphabetical order:
  • Argentinia
  • Australia
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • China
  • European Union
  • France
  • Germany
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Mexico
  • Russia
  • Saudi Arabia
  • South Africa
  • South Korea
  • Turkey
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
As it happens, per google analytics, in the past couple of weeks, NeuroCooking has been read in 20 countries. In alphabetical order:
  • Argentina
  • Australia
  • Belgium
  • Bulgaria
  • Canada
  • Chile
  • France
  • Germany
  • Hong Kong
  • Hungary
  • Israel
  • Italy
  • Mexico
  • Philippines
  • Romania
  • South Africa
  • South Korea
  • Spain
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
Inspired by the ongoing World Cup, we are tempted to ask: Can our 20 beat their 20? Can the NeuroCooking20 beat the G20? I'd think so – after all, we've got Belgium and Bulgaria!

[Please note: Use of trademarks does not imply endorsement or sponsorship.]

June 24, 2010

"The Secret Powers of Time" & "A Geography of Time"

If you've not yet seen this illustrated lecture by Prof. Philip Zimbardo on "The Secret Powers of Time", you should:

In the talk, Prof. Zimbardo refers to experimental data reported in the book _A Geography of Time_ by Prof. Robert V. Levine. A preview of the book is available:

[Please note: The book preview does not contain the data cited in the talk; the appearance of corporate logos does not imply endorsement or sponsorship of or by designated entities; persons needing legal advice should consult a member of their state Bar Association; NeuroCooking cannot be a source of financial or investment advice; read at your own speed.]

June 22, 2010

What color is your mind?

"There cannot be one color of the mind, another of the wit."

June 20, 2010

"...I thank those that have taught me... but..."

"If in some things I dissent from others, whose wit, industry, diligence, and judgment, I look up to and admire, let me not therefore hear presently of ingratitude and rashness. For I thank those that have taught me, and will ever; but yet dare not think the scope of their labor and inquiry was to envy their posterity what they could add and find out."

June 18, 2010

Who loves that?

From Mark Levy's, new blog post, Telling an Appreciative Story:
Consider, then, trying this exercise for the next 24 hours: Look at things that you’d normally pass by, or that scare or confuse you, and ask yourself, “Who loves that?” Once you’ve come up with an answer, ask yourself why they love it.

By looking at things through appreciative eyes, you'll likely come up with unanticipated ideas and untold stories that deserve a spot in your work.

"... tell her just how much we needed ..."

Another sentence from Don Quijote, this one from a story-within-a-story that appears in Volume 1, Chapter 40, page 277, of Burton Raffel's translation:
"I promised once again that I would marry her; thereafter, at various times ... she employed the stick and handkerchief to give us two thousand gold doubloons, plus a letter in which she explained that ... Friday she'd be leaving for her father's summer estate, and if she were able, before then, she'd give us more money, and if we we didn't have enough we should let her know, and tell her just how much we needed, for her father was so exceedingly rich that he wouldn't miss it, and, what's more, the keys to everything were in her hands."

June 16, 2010

"What a deal of cold business..."

"What a deal of cold business doth a man misspend the better part of life in! In scattering compliments, tendering visits, gathering and venting news, following feasts and plays, making a little winter-love in a dark corner."

June 15, 2010

"quantum suicide"

The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics states that a particle is described by a wave function, and privileges measurements by assuming that they collapse the wave function.

Hugh Everett III proposed what has come to be known as the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, in which measurements are not privileged, and the wave-function never collapses. Instead, the measuring device is part of the wave function, and, at each possible measurement moment, the universe cleaves into multiples, one for each possible outcome of the measurement. Thus, the many-worlds view of Schrödinger's cat is that at every possible decay moment, there is a branching of the universe, into a branch where the cat lives, and a branch where the cat, um, does not live.

This has led to the suggestion that the many-worlds theory could be "proved" via an experiment called quantum suicide, which is a cross between Russian Roulette and Schrödinger's cat. The idea is to sit in a room which is connected to a chamber in which a random radioactive decay either occurs or not, say every ten seconds, with odds of say 50%; if the decay occurs, then a rifle is fired, killing the person sitting in the room. Every ten seconds.

The idea behind quantum suicide is to sit in that room, and not die. Because, after a few minutes have gone by, one's survival would be astronomically unlikely, so one would be forced to conclude that the many-worlds interpretation must be correct. (Which would be comforting, as it implies that consciousness is immortal.)

Our understanding is that there is no evidence that anyone has actually tried this.

June 14, 2010

"Again, I don't know."

The case involves Dr. Lorne Semrau, a psychologist and owner of two corporations that provided mental health services to nursing-home patients. Accused of fraudulently billing the government, Dr. Semrau's attorneys sought to introduce "fMRI lie detector results" as evidence that he did not have intent to defraud.

We excerpt below two passages from the decision of Judge Tu M. Pham, both of which quote testimony of Dr. Stephen Laken, CEO of CEPHOS, the company that offers the "fMRI lie detection" services used by Dr. Semrau.

Our first excerpt concerns the question: What does it mean to pass a lie-detector test? If you think you know the answer, you may be surprised:
Q. All right. So in looking at the specific incident questions that Dr. Semrau was asked on scan number one, and I’m just reading from page 8 of your report, did you ever instruct SLCS FLCS billing employees to bill psychiatry services which had historically been billed by the corporation under CPT code 90862 under CPT code 99312, was he telling the truth when he answered that question?

A. I don’t know.

Q. Let me go to the second question. Did you ever tell the billing personnel of SLCS and FLCS that you had received instructions or guidance from Cigna Medicare provider services representatives to bill CPT code 99312? Was he telling the truth on that question?

A. Again, I don’t know.

Q. Okay. Just to save time, if I ask you the same question for all of those specific incident questions that were performed in scan one, could you tell me whether or not he was telling the truth as to any of those particular questions?

A. No.

Q. But your opinion was as to scan one he passed?

A. Correct.
So, Dr. Laken testified that Dr. Semrau passed the fMRI lie-detector test, but cannot state that he was telling the truth when answering any of the questions.

Our second except concerns the question: How is this lie-detector test supported by the published scientific literature? After noting that the the literature in this area reports on studies in individuals age 18 through 50 years, Judge Pham observes (in a footnote):
Dr. Semrau was 63 years old at the time he underwent testing by Dr. Laken. When asked by the government, “So the application of your technology to somebody who is 63 years old is unknown? Dr. Laken responded “Is unknown. That’s correct.”
So, Dr. Laken testified that Dr. Semrau, who is 63 years old, passed an fMRI lie-detector test, the application of which to a 63 year old person, he testified, "is unknown."

Dear NeuroCooking Friends, we would like to remind you: We are not attorneys; persons seeking legal advice should consult an appropriately credentialed member of their local state Bar; NeuroCooking cannot be a source of advice for any legal or financial matter. But if you're considering spending money on "fMRI lie detection" services, we say: Fuhgeddaboutit.

June 12, 2010

light matters

The Sun is around 93 million miles away, so it takes sunlight more than eight minutes to reach us.

To a pessimist, this means that it is possible that the sun has already died, or exploded, but we just don't know it yet.
"Starting with the affirmation of man
I work myself backwards using cynicism
(the time monitor, the space measurer)
I live sweat, but I dream light-years..."

June 10, 2010

How do you define wealth?

I spent this evening at a Knowledge Cafe, essentially a guided and open-ended conversation. The topic was "Assessing, Increasing and Managing 21st Century Wealth for Individuals, Organizations and the World". Three questions were presented for discussion:
  1. What is 21st Century Wealth?
  2. How should wealth be measured today?
  3. What’s the role of knowledge in 21st century wealth?
The discussion in my small group was interesting, and we talked about knowledge as currency, mass production as a means of increasing wealth for the masses, and, mostly, about defining wealth holistically. That is, wealth as a measure of health, safety, connectedness, freedom and self-determination.

The evening was best summed-up by this story offered by a gentlemen at the closing group discussion:
I work at a nursing home. At nursing homes, it is not uncommon for the male residents to get dressed in the morning, and attempt to leave the premises, as if they are going to work. They insist that they must get to their jobs. Now, these men were retired, some for decades, before entering the nursing home, so they are not doing this as a force of habit. Nor is it about the need for a paycheck. Rather, these men want to go to work because of their need for self worth, identity, and dignity.

I've previously explored the need to clearly define values through story, in the essay, The Trouble with Values, accessible here.

June 9, 2010

Photo-blogging Spring, part 4, with heptagons.

This photo of the back fence rose bush yesterday features heptagons! Yes, heptagons in the background. Why? Well, those seven-sided background-blobs tell you that the diaphragm (which is built into the lens, as in most modular SLR systems) had seven blades.

The power of "today".

One afternoon maybe sixteen years ago I was buying espresso coffee & olive oil at the family-run Italian deli long since displaced by a well-known national chain café as part of the process that was then called the "improvement" of downtown Rockville, Maryland. I put down my coffee & oil on the counter in front of a clerk, and looked at the display of loaves of fresh bread heaped on the counter behind him. Following my gaze, he asked:
"How many you want today?"
The local Audubon Naturalist Society has cardboard-on-wood signs staked beside their driveway, facing passing drivers, about half the year 'round, that say:
"Bird Food Sale Today".
Today I was sitting working at the dining room table and happened to look up to see, passing by, a piano truck. It was a white panel truck, with the business name painted on the side, and, really big across the back, the words:
"Piano Sale".
They forget the "Today".

June 8, 2010

And now, a brief announcement...

Please note that persons subscribing to NeuroCooking via email are missing out on the labels.

We use the blogger functionality to tag posts with labels (example; another example), and, for reasons beyond our control, these labels are not included in the email distribution.

For instance, NeuroCooking Friends, if you read the recent post "99>?100" only via email, then you would be unaware that it was tagged with the label "Worried I sound like an old person whining about how things used to be." Really.

Program Evaluation & Narrative

My new post at PhilanTopic, the Philanthropy News Digest blog, explores ways in which narrative can work alongside evaluation to determine organizational strategy.

An excerpt:

• Theories of Change should be accompanied by Stories of Change! Not simply an expository description of your Theory of Change, but an actual story with a beginning, middle, and end, conflict, and resolution. What is the future aspirational end toward which your organization is working? Where, and in what ways, have you already told that story?

• Narrative evaluation can support more seemingly rigorous methods of quantitative evaluation. In fact, narrative evaluation can uncover truths that may be difficult to surface in other ways.

Continue reading here, for suggestions on how to incorporate narrative into your work with program officers, grantees, and evaluators.

“It’s just common sense”

A terrific blog post from my colleague John Caddell on the under-appreciated, yet terribly important, attributions of common sense.

June 7, 2010

When you're holding a hammer, everything looks like a...

Saturday afternoon it was hot and humid, and I was getting frustrated.

I was in the back garden, trying to photograph the trumpet vine & spirea. I was not happy with any of the pix. What was the problem? Well, um, for some reason, the portrait lens was on the camera.

So, I took prompt and appropriate action! What did I do? Did I change to the macro lens, which is far better for photographing small blossoms? No, what I did was: I went inside (air conditioning!), and, without removing the portrait lens, sat down on the living room rug, and shot the dog (who was quite amenable):

June 6, 2010

curricular matters

"I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine."
- from a letter by John Adams to his wife Abigail Adams, 12 May 1780.

June 5, 2010


The commonplace book of Ben Jonson (1572-1637) was published posthumously in 1640, entitled "Timber, or discoveries made upon men and matter". It is fascinating and fun.

Seven years ago, in a puppy-related incident, our copy of that book was destroyed. Recently, in thinking about why we blog, and what a blog is, I was reminded of commonplace books, and of my late, lamented copy of Timber. So, online, I found and ordered a copy of the same edition we'd lost – the 1892 edition, edited by one Prof. Felix E. Schelling of the University of Pennsylvania.

It arrived yesterday, and I was pleased to see that this replacement volume was in much better shape than our old one (even before it was chewed up). I showed the book to my wife, mentioning that it was more than 100 years old, but had cost less than 20 dollars (including shipping).

"Oh," she asked, "would that be on Project Gutenberg or something?"

Well, no*. But it turns out that, yes, it is available on Google Books. In the very same 1892 Shelling edition. And yes, it's free to download.

So yesterday, I also got a free pdf of Timber. And today, NeuroCooking friend, you too can get a free copy, if you wish. My, how the book business has changed.

*Whoops, um, yes, you can find Timber on Project Gutenberg. [late edit, with apologies; but forgive me for missing it the first time, because Project Gutenberg lists this work simply as "Discoveries" with no "Timber" in sight!]

It is considered to be a therapeutic approach, not a school of philosophy.

Tim Sanders flies a lot. Sometimes, he enounters anxious seatmates. Two years ago, he explained in the New York Times that, consistent with Viktor Frankl's theory of logotherapy, which is based on the idea that the most powerful force in our lives is the search for meaning, he can always put such folks at ease by asking them about their trip's purpose. He reports that they are happy to tell him about the purpose for their travel, and that once they've done so, they are no longer anxious.

June 4, 2010

God's brainstem.


Your camera doesn't matter, but sometimes people express interesting ideas about the relationship between equipment and creativity. An acquaintance of my wife was well-known for telling people that she would have been a professional writer, except that her parents refused to buy her a typewriter.

June 3, 2010

Word of the day!

"Biofouling" used to refer to barnacles forming on ships' hulls; now it refers also to challenges facing developers of indwelling biosensors caused by the immune system's rapid coating of foreign objects.

June 1, 2010

What does it mean when a stranger calls you "Friend"?

Sometimes, we get emails:
Dear Friend.

I am a Financial consultant, my client have One Billion euros for RENTING depending on any amount your capacity can carry or Did you need a soft-loan to finance your business or project? kindly mail me through my email account(xxxxxxx@xxxxx.xxx) for more information, if you are interested.

Best regards,

And sometimes, we write back:
Dear XXX,

You wrote just in time! Best that you immediately halt exploring any other prospects for your client's capital, because nothing can match the opportunity we offer you to come in on the ground floor by investing all one billion Euros with our global re-launch of the NeuroCooking brand.

Capitalizing upon the recent explosive growth in page-views achieved from Kensington & Hoboken, NeuroCooking, with its proven business model, is now prepared to go global.

Your seed capital will bear great fruit! Send a check, quick. We promise to take good care with it.

Best regards,


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