This Is Your Brain on Podcasts – The New York Times

Different people’s brains absorb a compelling story in the roughly the same complicated pattern, using many parts of the brain, researchers found.

Listening to music may make the daily commute tolerable, but streaming a story through the headphones can make it disappear. You were home; now you’re at your desk: What happened?

Storytelling happened, and now scientists have mapped the experience of listening to podcasts, specifically “The Moth Radio Hour,” using a scanner to track brain activity. In a paper published Wednesday by the journal Nature, a research team from the University of California, Berkeley, laid out a detailed map of the brain as it absorbed and responded to a story. Widely dispersed sensory, emotional and memory networks were humming, across both hemispheres of the brain; no story was “contained” in any one part of the brain, as some textbooks have suggested.

The team, led by Alexander Huth, a postdoctoral researcher in neuroscience, and Jack Gallant, a professor of psychology, had seven volunteers listen to episodes of “The Moth” — first-person stories of love, loss, betrayal, flight from an abusive husband, and more — while recording brain activity with an M.R.I. machine.

Source: This Is Your Brain on Podcasts – The New York Times

Linux greybeards release beta of systemd-free Debian fork • The Register

Devuan ‘Jessie’ betas debut in the name of ‘Init freedom’

The effort to create a systemd-free Debian fork has borne fruit, with a beta of “Devuan Jessie” appearing in the wild.

Devuan came into being after a rebellion by a self-described “Veteran Unix Admin collective” argued that Debian had betrayed its roots and was becoming too desktop-oriented. The item to which they objected most vigorously was the inclusion of the systemd bootloader. The rebels therefore decided to fork Debian and “preserve Init freedom”. The group renamed itself and its distribution “Devuan” and got work, promising a fork that looked, felt, and quacked like Debian in all regards other than imposing systemdas the default Init option.

The group initially promised to deliver in Spring 2015. Alphas circulated during 2015 and in recent days betas have appeared here.

Versions for the Raspberry Pi, Banana Pi and AMD64 are on offer, making it something of a niche offering.

Kudos, though, to the group for getting it out there! Now to see if there’s really a groundswell of support for the cause of “Init freedom”, as the greybeards name their cause.

The inclusion of systemd appears not to be holding rival Linux distros back: our review of Ubuntu 16.04suggests it will be a speed bump for most users. Our Debian Jessie review said it slices a few seconds off boot times but is removable with little fuss for those who would prefer to go their own way at startup time.

Source: Linux greybeards release beta of systemd-free Debian fork • The Register

Neural Networks Are Impressively Good At Compression | Probably Dance

I’m trying to get into neural networks. There have been a couple big breakthroughs in the field in recent years and suddenly my side project of messing around with programming languages seemed short sighted. It almost seems like we’ll have real AI soon and I want to be working on that. While making my first couple steps into the field it’s hard to keep that enthusiasm. A lot of the field is still kinda handwavy where when you want to find out why something is used the way it’s used, the only answer you can get is “because it works like this and it doesn’t work if we change it.”

At least that’s my first impression. Still just dipping my toes in. But there is one thing I am very impressed with: How much data neural networks can express in how few connections.

To illustrate let me draw a very simple neural network. It’s not a very interesting neural network, I’m just connecting inputs to outputs.

Source: Neural Networks Are Impressively Good At Compression | Probably Dance

The real reasons you procrastinate — and how to stop – The Washington Post

The secret mind tricks that keep you from getting stuff done.

Have you ever sat down to complete an important task — and then suddenly discovered you were up loading the dishwasher or engrossed in the Wikipedia entry about Chernobyl? Or perhaps you suddenly realize that the dog needs to be fed, emails need to be answered, your ceiling fan needs dusting — or maybe you should go ahead and have lunch, even though it’s only 11 a.m.?

Next thing you know, it’s the end of the day and your important task remains unfinished.

For many people, procrastination is a strong and mysterious force that keeps them from completing the most urgent and important tasks in their lives with the same strength as when you try to bring like poles of a magnet together. It’s also a potentially dangerous force, causing victims to fail out of school, perform poorly at work, put off medical treatment or delay saving for retirement. A Case Western Reserve University study from 1997 found that college-age procrastinators ended up with higher stress, more illness and lower grades by the end of the semester.

But the reasons people procrastinate are not understood that well. Some researchers have viewed procrastination largely as a failure of self-regulation — like other bad behaviors that have to do with a lack of self-control, such as overeating, a gambling problem or overspending. Others say it’s not a matter of being lazy or poor time management, as many smart overachievers who procrastinate often can attest. They say it may actually be linked to how our brain works and to deeper perceptions of time and the self.

Source: The real reasons you procrastinate — and how to stop – The Washington Post

Why you shouldn’t exercise to lose weight, explained with 60+ studies – Vox

“I’m going to make you work hard,” a blonde and perfectly muscled fitness instructor screamed at me in a recent spinning class, “so you can have that second drink at happy hour!”

At the end of the 45-minute workout, my body was dripping with sweat. I felt like I had worked really, really hard. And according to my bike, I had burned more than 700 calories. Surely I had earned an extra margarita.

The spinning instructor was echoing a message we’ve been getting for years: As long as you get on that bike or treadmill, you can keep indulging — and still lose weight. It’s been reinforced by fitness gurus, celebrities, food and beverage companies like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, and even public-health officials, doctors, and the first lady of the United States. Countless gym memberships, fitness tracking devices, sports drinks, and workout videos have been sold on this promise.

There’s just one problem: This message is not only wrong, it’s leading us astray in our fight against obesity.

To find out why, I read through more than 60 studies on exercise and weight loss. I also spoke to nine leading exercise, nutrition, and obesity researchers. Here’s what I learned.

Source: Why you shouldn’t exercise to lose weight, explained with 60+ studies – Vox

Who’s downloading pirated papers? Everyone | Science | AAAS

An exclusive look at data from the controversial web site Sci-Hub reveals that the whole world, both poor and rich, is reading pirated research papers.

Just as spring arrived last month in Iran, Meysam Rahimi sat down at his university computer and immediately ran into a problem: how to get the scientific papers he needed. He had to write up a research proposal for his engineering Ph.D. at Amirkabir University of Technology in Tehran. His project straddles both operations management and behavioral economics, so Rahimi had a lot of ground to cover.

But every time he found the abstract of a relevant paper, he hit a paywall. Although Amirkabir is one of the top research universities in Iran, international sanctions and economic woes have left it with poor access to journals. To read a 2011 paper in Applied Mathematics and Computation, Rahimi would have to pay the publisher, Elsevier, $28. A 2015 paper in Operations Research, published by the U.S.-based company INFORMS, would cost $30.

Source: Who’s downloading pirated papers? Everyone | Science | AAAS

15 Fundamental Laws of Software Development

From Occam’s Razor to Parkinson’s Law of Triviality, let’s discuss some of the most useful adages and quotes in the world of software development.

(AKA How To Sound Smart At Your Next Team Meeting)

Occam’s Razor

This widely-known adage dates to a philosopher and friar from the fourteenth century named William of Ockham. Occam’s Razor is often stated as:

“Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.”

It’s no surprise that the whole reason we can recall an adage from 600+ years ago is that it works so well. Occam’s Razor is so basic, so fundamental, that it should be the first thing we think of when deciding between two competing theories. I’d even go so far as to argue that in the vast majority of cases, simpler is better.

Source: 15 Fundamental Laws of Software Development

One Gene, Many Proteins

A new study reveals that individual genes can create many different versions of the molecular machinery that powers the cell.

The millimeter-long roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans has about 20,000 genes — and so do you. Of course, only the human in this comparison is capable of creating either a circulatory system or a sonnet, a state of affairs that made this genetic equivalence one of the most confusing insights to come out of the Human Genome Project. But there are ways of accounting for some of our complexity beyond the level of genes, and as one new study shows, they may matter far more than people have assumed.

For a long time, one thing seemed fairly solid in biologists’ minds: Each gene in the genome made one protein. The gene’s code was the recipe for one molecule that would go forth into the cell and do the work that needed doing, whether that was generating energy, disposing of waste, or any other necessary task. The idea, which dates to a 1941 paper by two geneticists who later won the Nobel Prize in medicinefor their work, even has a pithy name: “one gene, one protein.”

Over the years, biologists realized that the rules weren’t quite that simple. Some genes, it turned out, were being used to make multiple products. In the process of going from gene to protein, the recipe was not always interpreted the same way. Some of the resulting proteins looked a little different from others. And sometimes those changes mattered a great deal. There is one gene, famous in certain biologists’ circles, whose two proteins do completely opposite things. One will force a cell to commit suicide, while the other will stop the process. And in one of the most extreme examples known to science, a single fruit fly gene provides the recipe for more than 38,000 different proteins.

But these are dramatic cases. It was never clear just how common it is for genes to make multiple proteins and how much those differences matter to the daily functioning of the cell. Many researchers have assumed that the proteins made by a given gene probably do not differ greatly in their duties. It’s a reasonable assumption — many small-scale tests of sibling proteins haven’t suggested that they should be wildly different.

It is still an assumption, however, and testing it is quite an endeavor. Researchers would have to take a technically tricky inventory of the proteins in a cell and run numerous tests to see what each one does. In a recent paper in Cell, however, researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and their collaborators reveal the results of just such an effort. They found that in many cases, proteins made by a single gene are no more alike in their behavior than proteins made by completely different genes. Sibling proteins often act like strangers. It’s an insight that opens up an interesting new set of possibilities for thinking about how the cell — and the human body — functions.

Source: One Gene, Many Proteins | Quanta Magazine