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Compassionate Instinct; Raising Happiness; 亲历可可西里

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt has noticed a puzzling emotion, despite having no direct benefits, when people see a stranger helping another stranger, they often feel good and inspired themselves. In an essay in Compassionate Instinct, he explain this phenomenon that he named Elevation. The three books below examine the good side of human, cultivate happiness and to follow one's passion in defending the nature. To read them is to feel elevated.

Compassionate Instinct

The Compassionate Instinct: The Science of Human Goodness
Dacher Keltner et al.(2010)

Where once science see human as Darwinian and self-servicing, today's scientists are uncovering many deep roots of human goodness - such as empathy, altruism, compassion, justice and peacemaking. The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley has compiled a collection of essays from many leading researchers from different disciplines. This book is an inspiring work that gives you great hope in humanity.

Here are a few highlight from the book.

  • Biologist Robert Sapolsky has observed a troop of Baboons in Africa. Due an accidental circumstance, they have acquired a peaceful culture for this otherwise aggressive species. The groundbreaking observation is that the culture in this primate group persisted across generations and has adopted by new comers from outside of the group. His work is providing a biologic basis on peace making.
  • Scientist agrees that gratitude and empathy strength social ties, increase one's sense of personal worth and happiness. Apparent passive activities like watching a movie or reading novels actually invites us to join the character's emotion trajectory in the story world. Keith Oatley explains the empathic process of literature and drama and how it can help shape our relationship with people in the real world.
  • Forgiveness is a complex social play between the offender and forgiver. Michael McCullough find that most people have both the capacity to forgive and a desire to revenge. His research look for conditions that make the world a more forgiving and less vengeful place. Fred Luskin has a practice that train people in forgiveness, which has found to help forgiver to cope with the past problem, moving on, and even improve physical health. I myself find reading stories of forgiving are often a very cathartic experience.
  • Philip Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment has shocked the world in the capacity of cruelty in normal people. Now he has flipped the question around. If there is a "banality of evil", wouldn't its opposite, the "banality of heroism" also exists? Once he started looking, many stories of average people rising up at crucial moment to help other people even at their own expense, begin to surface. Evildoers often draw news headlines. The altruistic acts from these average people instead happens quietly. Dr Zimbardo's study aim to understand the social conditions that promote or inhibit these heroic acts.

There are many more essay strive to understand and discover deep rooted goodness in people and the society. It helps me to appreciate the full complexity of humanity.

 

Raising Happiness

Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents
by Christine Carter (2010)

Also from Dr Christine Carter of Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, this parenting book is lot more practical and personal. We all want children to grow up happy. Backed by scientific knowledge, this book shares practical steps to help your children and yourself to lead a positive and happy life.

Parent are so eager to do anything to help their children. Carter's first advice actually ask them to "put on your own oxygen mask first". Spare a moment to make yourself happy. Because a child won't be happy if the parents are stressed out or depressed.

There are other chapters to help establish healthy relationship, guide them for gratitude, forgiveness and optimism, strive toward a growth mindset, forming good habits and enjoy the moment. This short book is choke full of good advices and exercises to try in everyday life. If you were to have only one parenting book, this is the book to have.

 

Our 10 Years Of Kekexili

《亲历可可西里十年》
Our 10 Years Of Kekexili

志愿者讲述 (2005)

Kekexili is a vast high plateau in Western China with average altitude of 4500m. For the most part the severe weather has keep it a wilderness and a refuge for wildlife. But once poachers discover Tibetan antelopes and its highly valuable wool - Shahtoosh, they are rapidly hunted down to endangered level. With little government resources deployed to combat poaching, a grassroot Chinese NGO took it upon themselves to finance, build and staff a patrol station there.

This book is the personal stories from some 20 volunteers from all over the country who has participated in various stage of work at the patrol station. From pouring the foundation to building a watch tower or conducting wildlife surveys, from grass root fund-raising to construction work in high altitude with no heavy equipment, the volunteers contributed with all their passion to protect the wildlife and the environment from being threatened.

Their work is an inspiring story. Perhaps even more encouraging is to see the broad-based support they have garnered from the society. One example, the Tibetan antelopes's migration route is made difficult because it is cut off by the busy Qinghai-Tibet Highway. At the peak of migration season, the volunteers attempted to stop traffic to give the animals a chance to cross. Since they have no authority there, this is only done by persuasion. Unexpectedly most drivers actually complied. They even show great support and great care about the well being of the animals. This gives me a lot of hope on environmentalism in China.

2011.04.24 [] - comments

 

Tech Companies Tracked By CrunchBase

Last time I have done a small survey on the location of YC companies. This time I survey a much larger database CrunchBase. CrunchBase is a database of database of technology companies, people, and investors.

Silicon Valley companies are featured prominently in CrunchBase. Again San Francisco has a commanding lead in the number of companies among Bay Area cities. My bet is most of these are small startup companies. There aren't really huge company like Cisco (14,000 Bay Area employee in 2005).

San Francisco 905 39%
Palo Alto 285 12%
Mountain View 202 9%
San Jose 182 8%
Sunnyvale 180 8%
Menlo Park 172 7%
San Mateo 150 6%
Santa Clara 137 6%
Redwood City 103 4%
Total 2316  

These are the numbers outside of San Francisco Bay Area. New York is the clear lead in this case.

New York 868 37%
Seattle 246 10%
Los Angeles 240 10%
Austin 225 10%
Chicago 199 8%
San Diego 165 7%
Boston 156 7%
Cambridge? 145 6%
Atlanta 123 5%
Total 2367  

Although without a dominant city, these state has large number of tech companies. I aggregate the number until it exceed 100 companies.

Florida 389
Virginia 279
Colorado 257

And finally some international figures. CrunchBase probably does not have very good coverage here. China is totally off the radar screen. So is Israel.

London 515
Germany 416
India 239
Australia 232
Paris 222
Spain 207
Netherlands 179
Toronto 141
Sweden 134
Ireland 100

Below is everything in one chart. Bear in mind CrunchBase is likely to have some local bias and that the number does not indicate the size of the company. Still it is impressive to see San Francisco has twice as many tech companies has Germany.

Tech Companies Tracked By CrunchBase

2011.04.15 [] - comments

 

Review: Mind Hacks

Mind Hacks

Mind Hacks
Tom Stafford and Matt Webb (2004)

Mind Hacks is a tour about the field of cognitive neuroscience, the study of the brain biology behind our mental functions. It is a collection of short articles that probes into the moment-by-moment works of the brain. It introduce us the scientific understanding. Each piece is accompanied with "hacks", experiments or demonstrations we can see or do in everyday life. They are fun, clever and often surprising tricks that help reveals the inner working of our minds.

This book will help you appreciate how amazing our brains are. How it can make sense of the world, finding the pertinent information from multitude of sensual stimulus, and do so in near real time. Today's gadget and human machine interface are primitive in comparison. So understanding what works and what doesn't for us also help us to design better tools and user interface.

I started reading Mind Hacks when it come our in 2005. Some how it stalled and I only pick it up again and finish it this year. One thing is you should be near a computer when you read this book. The book is full of URL links pointing to demonstrations you should open to get full appreciation of the topic. Kindle doesn't help because many demonstration are animations. One issue is that in just 6 short year after the book is published, perhaps 50% of links are already broken. 25% of them can be recovered by persistent search, 25% perhaps lost permanently, with some uses obsolete web technology such as Java Applet that's difficult to open today.

Mind Hacks is just a snapshot of what the new field of cognitive neuroscience has learned today. It certain is a very exciting field and we can expected many new insight in the years to come.

2011.04.14 [] - comments

 

2010 Reading List (post Kindle)

Since I have purchased my Kindle last year. I have plowed through whole lot of books. While I find many shortcoming in the current generation of Kindle, its superb mobility trumps it all. I like to carry it everywhere and I filled much of my idle time reading.

While I greatly appreciate the convenience of e-book, having a Kindle actually prompted me to finally open the big pile of unread books I have purchased over the years. I am very encouraged to make progress on them at last. Still much work is need as some of them are mathematics or algorithm book that requires considerable effort to learn and read.

In all I have finished 17 books in the last 7 months. I intend to write a little about each of them. But first of all, this list are the ones I have written already:

And these are the rest:

2011.04.13 [] - comments

 

Welcome To My Neighborhood - 3 PG&E Gas Pipeline Converge Here

After 8 people died in San Bruno pipeline explosion last year, Chronicle reports on the dubious record of PG&E's pipeline safety. Sure enough, 3 gas main, line 109, 101, 132, all converge in my Potrero/Dogpatch neighborhood.

All I can say is things could have been worst. This previously industrial neighborhood was once the site of a humongous gas storage tank towering over the hill itself. When I moved in late 90s, the tower was already torn down. A food bank warehouse now occupies the cylinder shaped excavated site. The storage tank is now largely out of mind other than in some historical pictures. The underground infrastructure apparently remain operational.

2011.04.10 [] - comments

 

On Urban Architecture

New York is a city in which good things rarely happen easily and where good designs are often compromised, if they are built at all.

The quote set the context on urban architecture. From National Geographic Magazine's April 2011 article Miracle Above Manhattan - New York's High Line

2011.04.09 [, ] - comments

 

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