Presidential Popularity Contest

The Wall Street Journal offers this data on how Presidents since WWII stack up in their job approval ratings across their terms. It’s interesting to note that Clinton is the only President to trend up over time. There’s also a disturbing similarity between the curves of Bush I and Bush II, although George may take heart that if the trend holds, his approval rating will rise before the end of his reign. Of other noteworthy-ness, Eisenhower is far away the most popular overall, while Truman exhibits the widest swing between his high and low.


Noisy Brains

This is a fascinating bit of neural research out of MIT. It proposes a whole new teacher/tinker model for learning and creativity at the level of how the brain is wired. It would seem to account for that “ah-ha!” moment when you’ve been mulling something about and finally all the pieces drop into place – a physiological Gestalt of sorts. Looked at another way, it makes thinking a lot like herding cats. The “teacher” keeps trying to organize thoughts while the “tinker” keeps having them wander off. In this way, the teacher is your rational self while the tinker is your creative self. It’s like Scrabble with neurons.

I’m wondering about tinker stimulation though. What amplifies noise? Just thinking out loud, but it strikes me that noise at the neuronal level is probably similar to electronic noise in a circuit. After all, they are both primarily electrical devices. If you want to increase noise in a circuit, you increase the current and the component density. In the brain, I imagine this amounts to increasing the frequency and density of neuronal firings. In other words, you think about more stuff. This may explain why it’s almost impossible to be creative by concentrating on it. Creativity most often happens while you’re busy doing something else.

It also occurs to me that this is a very natural model to develop. In a sense, the yin/yang approach here is similar to how evolution works at the genetic level. Genetic mutations are the tinker or the noise. Survival then becomes the teacher, correcting/selecting for the most useful recombinations.

Unfortunately, this makes thought control devices and sci-fi telepathy a bit more complicated, but nobody thought that was easy anyway.

Very cool…


No More Bullets Laughing Boy?

I spent a great deal of my youth having various parts of my anatomy x-rayed. There were a few years in the late 80’s where I pretty much glowed in the dark. However, I’m now deeply into that chronological land where conversations with medical professionals all begin with the phrase, “Well, as we get older…”

I’m not sure if it’s because all my hard tissues have now turned to soft tissue, or because the doctors are simply aware that I can now afford more expensive tests, but in my pre-AARP years I’m finding I’m being stuffed into tubes for MRI scans at regular intervals. And each test involves the same goofy set of safety questions that you have to answer. These span from obvious ones about body piercings, implants, and pacemakers, to the less obvious questions about working with metal or grinding tools. But today I got caught with a question I don’t recall answering before.

Do you have any bullets or shrapnel in your body?

To which I responded,

No ma’am, I’ve never even been hunting with the Vice President.

The girl on the phone gamely headed directly into the next question without skipping a beat. She was about half way through when the time-delay kicked in. She began to laugh, but you could tell she was trying to suppress it. She got the last question out, and then paused to compose herself before taking me through the test-day instructions. She didn’t make it.

My work here is done…