Browser Daily Newsletter 1246

Hic sunt camelopardus: this historical edition of The Browser is presented for archaeological purposes; links and formatting may be broken.

Twilight In A Box

Shruti Ravindran | Aeon | 27th February 2014

Conditions for American prisoners in solitary confinement "hover on the edge of what is humanly tolerable for those with normal resilience". Many inmates fall over the edge into mental illness. The stress of isolation can unbalance the mind and permanently damage the brain. Prisoners emerge with "their minds altered by an experience so fraught with risk that scientists require special dispensation to do it to animals"

Where Do Savant Skills Come From?

Scott Barry Kaufman | Scientific American | 25th February 2014

Savants remember lots but understand little. Kim Peek, a model for Dustin Hoffman's character in Rain Man, knew by heart some 12,000 books including the Bible. "Theoretically, all that is required to explain savant skills is an innate predisposition to find redundancies and sequential regularities fascinating and an intact implicit learning system that gradually extracts those regularities over many hours of experience"

The Failure Of Venezuela’s New President

Jens Glüsing | Spiegel | 26th February 2014

Good, clear account of how and why Venezuela has come to the boil in the year since Hugo Chávez died. His successor, Nicolas Maduro, a radical former bus driver promoted solely for his loyalty, has ruined the already-fragile economy with expropriations and price controls. Shops are empty. The currency has collapsed. Government-backed militias are conducting "a campaign of pure terror" against the opposition

Markov Models Of Social Change

Alastair Jamieson-Lane | Azimuth | 24th February 2014

How to make decisions in a complex world. You can listen only to the advice that you want to hear. Or you can try to balance conflicting advice and information, and then construct scenarios of where different decisions may lead. Here's a relatively simple template for doing the latter. True, it gets a bit more complicated towards the end when the algebra kicks in, but there's plenty of useful pointers before then

Chris Anderson’s Expanding Drone Empire

Philip Ross | IEEE Spectrum | 26th February 2014

Former editor of Wired builds new career as CEO of drone maker, 3D Robotics. The industry seems to be heading for a boom: Amazon is talking up drone deliveries. 3D's business model is a newish one for manufacturing. It "relies on both open-source hardware and software and thus laughs at secrecy. 3D Robotics patents nothing; it collaborates on everything, mainly through the DIY-drones community"

Cognitive Science Explained

Jason Shepherd | The Conversation | 27th February 2014

Brisk tour of current knowledge. There may be effective treatments for Alzheimer's within ten years, based on catching the disease early. No evidence that any common virus is a "major cause" of neurological disorders such as autism and schizophrenia, but "gut in the bacteria is a fascinating area of research right now". Chronic use of marijuana by adolescents "can lead to cognitive decline, especially in working memory"

Video of the day:  Time-Travellers

Thought for the day:

"Genes are a play within a play, not the interior monologue of the players" — Steven Pinker

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