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June 23, 2013

If you liked NSA's Prism you'll LOVE Gizmoquip's SMS Tracker

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Wrote Stephanie Rosenbloom in the New York Times, "This app for Android phones... ensures that parents have eyes on their children without them knowing it. It allows for remote tracking of GPS locations on a map but also enables parents to monitor their children's phone logs, read their text messages, and see their Web browsing history and the photos they send and receive."

Makes helicopter parents seems positively old-fashioned.

Boy, am I glad I'm not a kid today.

From the app's website: "Ann Marie Fleming-Glick, LMFT LPC, marriage and family counselor in the field for 30 years said, 'Parenting in the digital age requires communication, close supervision, and vigilance. SMS Tracker helps parents monitor their children's online movements and interactions to keep kids safe.... Raising and monitoring our children with all the new innovative technology tools can only be positive for concerned parents.'"

Through a (refracted) glass, darkly.

Free, the way we (but not your kids) like it.

June 23, 2013 at 08:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Shark Bite Staple Remover

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From outblush: "Attack stubborn staples with the Shark Bite Staple Remover. Mr. Great White will help keep your newly manicured nails lookin' good while also lookin' badass himself by eating your unwanted metal. Now if only he could take a bite out of the copy machine that always prints and staples your TPS reports backwards."

$70.

[via Shirley Thistlethwaite]

June 23, 2013 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Becoming a Rinzai Zen monk makes Navy SEAL training seem rather easy

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Below, excerpts from a remarkable New Yorker article by Larissa MacFarquhar.

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When a candidate presents himself for training, he must prostrate himself and declare that he is willing to do anything that needs to be done to solve the great matter of life and death. By tradition, he is scowled at by the head monk, who orders him to leave. He persists, he continues to prostrate himself, and after two or three days he is taken in.

Apprentice monks are treated like slaves on a brutal plantation. They must follow orders and never say no. They sleep very little. They rise at four. Most of the time they eat only a small amount of rice and, occasionally, pickles (fresh vegetables and meat are forbidden). There is no heat, even though it can be very cold on the mountain and the monks wear sandals and cotton robes. Junior monks are not permitted to read.

There are many menial tasks a monk must complete in a day (cooking, cleaning, cutting down trees, chopping wood, making brooms), and he is given very little time to do them. If he does not move fast enough, senior monks scream at him. There is very little talking — only bell ringing (to indicate a change in activity) and screaming. There is a correct way to do everything, which is vigorously enforced. When a monk wakes in the morning, he must not move until a bell is rung. When the bell rings, he must move very fast. He has about four minutes (until the next bell rings) to put up his futon, open a window, run to the toilet, gargle with salt water, wash his face, put on his robes, and run to the meditation hall. At first, it is very hard to do all those things in four minutes, but gradually he develops techniques for increasing his speed. Because he is forced to develop these techniques, and because even with the techniques it is still difficult to move fast enough, he is intensely aware of everything he is doing.

He is always too slow, he is always afraid, and he is always being scrutinized. In the winter, he is cold, but if he looks cold he is screamed at. There is no solitude. The constant screaming and the running, along with chronic exhaustion, produce in him a state of low-level panic, which is also a state of acute focus. It is as if his thinking mind, his doubting and critical and interpreting mind, had shut down and been replaced by a simpler mechanism that serves the body. The idea is to throw away his self and in so doing find out who he is. A well-trained monk, it is said, lives as though he were already dead: free from attachment, from indecision, from confusion, he moves with no barrier between his will and his act.

Every day, each monk has an audience with his teacher about a koan that he is pondering. These audiences are a few minutes at the most, sometimes a few seconds. Occasionally, the teacher will make a comment; usually he says nothing at all. The koan is a mental version of the bodily brutalities of training: resistant, frustrating, impossible to assimilate, it is meant to shock the monk into sudden insight.

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In January, the monks hold a week-long retreat, during which they are not allowed to lie down or sleep. One January, [apprentice Ittetsu] Nemoto was cook; he had to prepare special pickles for the retreat, and he was driven so hard by the head monk that he did not sleep at all for a week before the retreat began. By the third day of the retreat, he was so exhausted that he could barely stand, but he had to carry a heavy pot full of rice. He stood holding the rice and thought, I cannot carry this pot any longer, I am going to die now. Just as he was on the point of collapse, he felt a great rush of energy: he felt as though everything around him were singing, and that he could do anything he had to do. He felt, too, that the person who had been on the point of collapse a moment before, and, indeed, the person who had been living his life until then, was not really him. That evening, he met with his teacher about his koan, and for the first time the teacher accepted his answer. This experience led him to believe that suffering produces insight, and that it is only at the point when suffering becomes nearly unbearable that transformation takes place.

There are very few monks in Japan now. Nemoto's monastary, whose training is particularly harsh, has only seven. Each year, new monks present themselves for training, and each year many of them run away. This year, five came and four ran away.

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Pictured up top, Nemoto near his temple in Gifu prefecture.

June 23, 2013 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Do-it-yourself Rowboat

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Excerpts from Steve Garbarino's Wall Street Journal story follow.

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Hammer: check. Drill: check. Caulking gun: check. Now go build — and float — your own full-size, seaworthy boat. Any smooth-palmed greenhorn can do it, according to the founders of the Balmain Boat Company. All it takes is one of the Sydney-based outfit's do-it-yourself kits and a few free weekends.

The kit includes 38 precut plywood pieces and ships in four boxes.

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The company's BBCo Classic Rowboat Kit includes a 17-step, 22-page manual, 38 cut-to-fit plywood parts, stainless steel screws, square copper nails, two-part epoxy glue, cups and stirrers (for preparing the glue), three tubes of Sikaflex marine adhesive-sealant, and disposable gloves. You'll have to supply your own sandpaper, primer, undercoat, paint, varnish, rope, six-foot-long oars with rowlocks (available from Balmain)— and a pen to sign the safety disclaimer.

At 8 feet long and 120 pounds, the rowboat is, as mariners say, "yar" — particularly when finished with a Nantucket-red and snowy egret-white hull and natural-wood deck. The company has been making the kits in Australia since 2010 using sustainable hoop pine. For the U.S., where the flat-pack kits began being manufactured this year, the boats are made of imported Russian pine.

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The… company estimates that the entire process should take about four weekends, including allowances for drying time between steps. When Nicole Still, the company's co-founder, built her first boat using the kit, it took her about 10 hours total, though she had neither building nor boating experience (she grew up in landlocked Loveland, Ohio). That broke down to four hours to nail and glue the pieces together, two hours to seal and sand it and about four hours to paint.

According to co-founder Andrew Simpson, an accomplished sailor and industrial designer, the company has developed a niche market among parents and grandparents looking for a bonding project and rite-of-passage birthday gift for 18- and 21-year-olds. Later this summer, Balmain will launch a 16-foot DIY model called the BBCo Pilot, modeled after the original pilot boats that took colonists to shore in Australia. With three times the number of parts as the rowboat kit, it's intended for "a much more serious wooden-boat builder," said Ms. Still.

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$1,610.

June 23, 2013 at 08:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BigBrain — 3-D brain with nearly cellular resolution now online

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Excerpts from Meeri Kim's June 20 Washington Post story below.

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A 65-year-old woman's brain was cut into 7,400 slices to create the most detailed three-dimensional atlas of the human brain ever made, bringing researchers one step closer to reverse-engineering the brain’s convoluted circuitry.

Brain atlases are essential reference tools for researchers and physicians, to determine which areas are "lighting up" during a task or thought process, or during image-guided surgery. The better the atlas resolution, the better doctors can target ever-smaller parts of the brain and their individual function.

The atlas creators, who are from Canada and Germany, have made the ultrahigh-resolution model — 50 times more detailed than a typical scan — publicly available in a free online format. The authors also published their work in the journal Science on Thursday.

The atlas, called BigBrain, offers a common basis for open, worldwide scientific discussion on the brain, said author Karl Zilles of the Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf.

Zilles pointed to a novel treatment for Parkinson’s disease called deep brain stimulation, where electrical impulses are sent through electrodes implanted into specific points in the brain. He said BigBrain may open the doors for more accurate localization of electrode placement and thus render treatment more effective.

After staining and digitizing the thousands of plastic-wrap-like slices, the nearly cellular resolution map revealed the network of layers, fibers and microcircuits of the woman’s brain.

While variation exists among brains, across ages and individuals, they have largely the same distribution of brain structures and anatomy, said author Alan Evans of McGill University's Montreal Neurological Institute. There are "subtle shape changes among individuals," but all atlases start from one representative brain and go from there.

The team was chiefly limited by computing power and capacity. To map the human brain with 1 micron spatial resolution, which has been done for mouse brains, the atlas would take up 21,000 terabytes of data — essentially rendering it impossible to navigate. By comparison, BigBrain, with its 20 micron resolution, comprises about a terabyte of data. Prior MRI-based atlases had resolution of 1 millimeter.

Richard Leigh, a Johns Hopkins neurologist, said he's looking forward to test-driving BigBrain for his research on stroke recovery. With the microscopic detail available, Leigh can see which particular groups of neurons are growing through stroke treatment rather than just a general fuzzy area.

BigBrain is part of the European Union's Human Brain Project that brings together specialists in neuroscience, medicine and computing to decipher the mysteries of the brain.

June 23, 2013 at 12:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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