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How to Work and Sleep at the Same Time

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An amazing result:

Many people have claimed that sleep has helped them solve a difficult problem, but empirical support for this assertion remains tentative. The current experiment tested whether manipulating information processing during sleep impacts problem incubation and solving. In memory studies, delivering learning-associated sound cues during sleep can reactivate memories. We therefore predicted that reactivating previously unsolved problems could help people solve them. In the evening, we presented 57 participants with puzzles, each arbitrarily associated with a different sound. While participants slept overnight, half of the sounds associated with the puzzles they had not solved were surreptitiously presented. The next morning, participants solved 31.7% of cued puzzles, compared with 20.5% of uncued puzzles (a 55% improvement). Moreover, cued-puzzle solving correlated with cued-puzzle memory. Overall, these results demonstrate that cuing puzzle information during sleep can facilitate solving, thus supporting sleep’s role in problem incubation and establishing a new technique to advance understanding of problem solving and sleep cognition.

Hat tip: Kevin Lewis.

The post How to Work and Sleep at the Same Time appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

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dmierkin
3 days ago
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How to solve problems in your sleep
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Sod Pepsi's navy

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"Let's talk about the point after WW2 where the Knights Hospitaller, of medieval crusading fame, 'accidentally' became a major European air power." A twitter thread by John Bull.
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dmierkin
77 days ago
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Incredible story about an army state in Europe playing major role for last 1000 years and I never it existed
skorgu
77 days ago
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Money Talks, and It Says Climate Change Is Real

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Here’s an interesting chart from a research paper flagged by a reader. It turns out there’s a Chicago futures market for weather, mostly used by utilities and growers to hedge against the possibility of unusually high or low temperatures. However, since weather forecasts are nearly useless more than ten days out, futures contracts purchased earlier than that are based almost entirely on broad climate forecasts.

Climate scientists, of course, have been predicting global warming trends for quite a while. So how do their models compare to the predictions made by people who have to put their money where their mouths are? Pretty closely, it turns out. Here, for example, is the predicted number of “cooling days” (i.e., hot days that will require cooling) during the summer for the past couple of decades:

The light and dark blue lines are the two most widely used NASA climate models. The green line shows the equivalent projection based on the futures market. Guess what? When money folks have to hedge the weather, it turns out they listen to climate scientists. Their projections closely match the predictions made by climate models.

When Republican senators make fools of themselves pretending that climate change is fake, they know there are no consequences for being wrong.¹ Traders don’t have that luxury. What they care about is accurately hedging risk, and the only way to do that is to listen to climate scientists and make their bets based on the real world. So regardless of whether they’re personally liberal or conservative, that’s what they do.

¹No short-term personal consequences, anyway. The possibility of broiling the earth 50 years from now is a whole different thing, but it doesn’t affect their reelection chances so they don’t care.

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dmierkin
200 days ago
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money bets on global warning
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200 days ago
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skorgu
200 days ago
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Letterlocking

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"Before Envelopes, People Protected Messages With Letterlocking"
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dmierkin
210 days ago
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Wow ! Written communication security was a standard feature forever in paper letters correspondence but in a way I never knew.
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What Could Kill Testing?

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(I wrote this several years ago with Michael Bolton, but never got around to publishing it… UPDATE: Oh! I did publish this as an editorial in Tea Time for Testers. Well, anyway this is an update of it…)

Although Rome wasn’t built in a day, it took six days to accidentally burn down in 64AD. It was rebuilt to be a bit more fireproof. And when the burning of the Iroquois Theater in Chicago killed 602 people in 1903, the fire code for theaters improved in 1904. The Triangle Waistcoat Factory fire in New York City (146 dead) led to the founding of the New York City Bureau of Fire Protection, and the National Fire Protection Association now maintains several hundred separate codes– many of them inspired directly by specific tragic fires. People learn from disasters.

This is also why we have testers. Software disasters happened and people learned. Those specific people became more careful, dedicated more energy to quality assurance (including testing), and there were fewer disasters. But, unlike fire codes, devotion to QA is generally not a matter of law. If an organization hasn’t had a disaster in a while, their practices get steadily riskier (partly because younger and more innocent people replace the experienced ones). This is a normal Darwinian cycle.

So it’s not entirely surprising that at the STARWest conference, in 2011, James Whittaker (then at Google) announced that testing is “dead.” What? Testing is dead?! He seemed to be saying that testers are no longer needed in a world with automated checks and automatic updates. But Whittaker was not a professional tester. So, imagine a cabinet factory industrialist, never himself having built a cabinet, announcing the death of skilled carpentry. That’s what it sounded like to me.

As if the Fates had overheard him and been offended, a few weeks later a bunch of Google bugs made news: an article appeared on CNN.com with the lamentable title “The week Google really messed up.” A couple months after that, Google Wallet was discovered to have a serious security problem affecting all users. More bad publicity.

What does that mean for the testing field? After all, no testing process is guaranteed to save us from all bugs. Meanwhile, other processes can find bugs, too, or prevent them. Amateurs and part-timers can find bugs. Programmers can test their own code. Just because Google gets embarrassed now and then by bad software doesn’t automatically mean they should hire more testers. Maybe instead they should hire better programmers, or train them better.

Well, one thing seems obvious: bragging about how you don’t value testing is strange when you also expect forgiveness from your customers and (increasingly) world governments when you hurt society with your products.

What Would Kill Testing?

Testing is not dead. Testing won’t be dead. And anywhere testing seems to die it will be reborn, phoenix-like, not exactly from it’s own ashes, but rather from the consequences of its death. Still, it can be a good exercise to think about what might cause the death of testing, even in a temporary way. Michael Bolton and I sat down recently to brainstorm on that. Here’s what we came up with:

1. Testing may die if you start using the word “testing” to mean checking. One of Michael’s contributions to the craft was to suggest a sharp distinction between testing and mere output checking. To test is to question the product so as to evaluate it. Testing is an open-ended investigation that cannot be automated. To check, however, is to gather specific information and analyze it in a manner that could, in principle, be automated. In the parlance of philosophers, checking is a mimeomorphic activity; testing is polimorphic. Some people, mainly programmers who don’t study testing much, are strongly attached to automation. In pursuing their vision of applying tools to testing, they inadvertently dumb testing down. They do with tools what tools can do. They run many checks. Testing for them becomes little more than a command-line switch on the compiler (“-t for test”, or -q for “put the quality in”). And such checks are capable of finding bugs, just not nearly the breadth and depth and variety of bugs that a skilled human can, especially if that human also uses tools in a supporting role.

Mistaking testing for checking can kill testing, in a sense, by co-opting testing practice. Testing, as Michael and I see it, would still exist, of course. But it would be relegated to rhetorical shadows.

What I mean by that is that few people would systematically learn how to test, anymore, until we came up with new words that referred to what the term “testing” once meant. To systematically learn a technical subject, you must be able to talk about it. If all your words about testing refer to shallow and mechanical processes, the deep and skilled stuff is not a part of your world.

2. Testing may die if the value of products becomes irrelevant. It dies when we don’t care about the quality of software or the people who need it. By the same token, if we always trusted the water we drank, or the meat we bought at the store, then water testing and food hygiene standards would be irrelevant. If we didn’t mind the occasional deadly fire, we’d happily see a show down at the ol’ Iroquois theater.

There really is a problem in our industry with the erosion of the expectation that anything will work reliably, ever. I was trapped outside my house, in the cold, recently, and found that my Android phone would not make any calls on the cell network. I rebooted the phone (that takes a few minutes). Still no joy. I connected to WiFi and tried to call that way but got a strange error about not being registered. I had made calls through
WiFi before from my house, so I knew it could work. Finally I started Skype and IM’d my son (this was through WiFi , so why didn’t the phone calls work?). This thing is supposed to be a phone. I’m annoyed, but not surprised.

Google probably thinks I’m not going to give up my phone just because of a few glitches. This creates an opportunity for competitors to come in with a better product that kicks them out of the market— but hey— I worked for Apple, years ago, and when you’re inside a big company like that, you don’t really care. You think success is your birthright.

(Since I first wrote this I switched to an iPhone, which has been somewhat better.)

3. Testing may die if the quality of testing work is chronically poor.  Unfortunately, the death of testing can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. People most likely to believe that testing is dead are — like the folks at Google —unlikely to devote themselves to the study of it. They simply don’t know how to test, or perhaps don’t care. It’s only a matter of time before management wonders why they have testers at all.

The antidote for that is a high standard of personal excellence. This is what the Context-Driven testing community stands for. We are doing our best to win over the rest of the testing world by being good role models.

4. Testing may die if all the users in the world were early adopter technocrats.  Let’s pretend that all the people in the world who use computers or rely on them in some way are highly technical and tolerant of problems in the products they use. Then the need for testing would dramatically fall. Sure, they want great quality, but if they don’t get it, they understand. For minor glitches, they will have the patience to find a work around.

That may be more true for the perpetual beta products that Google famously offers, but everyone on Earth depends on computers in some way, even if they’ve never seen one. And a tiny minority of those people will experimentally download a tool like Google Earth, as I have, and then spend an hour re-configuring it so that it will actually run.

5. Testing may die by suffocation. If testers are forced to channel all their ideas through a limiting set of artifacts or tools, their productivity may collapse. I’m talking about elaborate test plan templates, test script templates and test management tools, Cucumber “executable specifications” or other automation tools that require the tester to express himself only in stilted and limited ways.

That will kill testing because it turns testers into tool jockeys, whose standard of success is the weight of paper or volume of data or lines of code — none of which has much to do with testing.  Tools can be marvelously helpful in moderation, but the excellent tester will resist obsessions with tools, documents, or anything that systematically impedes the variety and profundity of his work.

6. Testing may die if technology stops changing. Testing is questioning the product. There isn’t much call to question a product that stays the same, especially if it operates in an environment and for a user base that also doesn’t change. The ambition to innovate is what invigorates the need for testers. Take away that ambition and we all will have to get jobs in comic book stores.

7. Testing may die by starvation.  When companies reward people who take unknown risks, but not people who discover what those risks actually are, testing is not being nourished. If the craft becomes uninviting to smart, talented, motivated people because you’ve turned it into a boring, uninteresting activity: that also will starve testing. The only people left would be the ones who are too frightened or lazy to leave. The reputation of testing would become steadily worse.

Michael and I teach Rapid Software Testing, which is like a martial art of testing. It’s exciting. We are trying to show people that their jobs don’t have to suck. We feed the testers.

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dmierkin
227 days ago
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Injectable NanoParticles Let Mice See Near InfraRed!

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Wow! This paper, Mammalian Near-Infrared Image Vision through Injectable and Self-Powered Retinal Nanoantenna, newly published in Cell seems like something from the future. Basically they injected nano-particles that convert near infra-red to visible light into the retinal layer of the eye in mice enabling the mice to see in the near infra-red.

…we developed ocular injectable photoreceptor-binding upconversion nanoparticles (pbUCNPs). These nanoparticles anchored on retinal photoreceptors as miniature NIR light transducers to create NIR light image vision with negligible side effects. Based on single-photoreceptor recordings, electroretinograms, cortical recordings, and visual behavioral tests, we demonstrated that mice with these nanoantennae could not only perceive NIR light, but also see NIR light patterns. Excitingly, the injected mice were also able to differentiate sophisticated NIR shape patterns. Moreover, the NIR light pattern vision was ambient-daylight compatible and existed in parallel with native daylight vision. This new method will provide unmatched opportunities for a wide variety of emerging bio-integrated nanodevice designs and applications.

…In summary, these nanoparticles not only provide the potential for close integration within the human body to extend the visual spectrum, but also open new opportunities to explore a wide variety of animal vision-related behaviors. Furthermore, they exhibit considerable potential with respect to the development of bio-integrated nanodevices in civilian encryption, security, military operations, and human-machine interfaces, which require NIR light image detection that goes beyond the normal functions of mammals, including human beings. Moreover, in addition to visual ability enhancement, this nanodevice can serve as an integrated and light-controlled system in medicine, which could be useful in the repair of visual function as well as in drug delivery for ocular diseases.

The researchers are mostly from China. It sometimes seems that Chinese researchers are naturally extropian, bolder and more optimistic about technology, human extension and the future then anyone else in the world.

Hat tip: Paul Kedrosky.

The post Injectable NanoParticles Let Mice See Near InfraRed! appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

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dmierkin
228 days ago
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Wow
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