One star’s ash is another sun’s treasure

we are all made of star dust, stardust, we are stardust, great quote, milky way, galaxy quote, milky way quote, star dust quote, star stuff,

A friend just shared a quote from Victor Tenbaum:

The molecules of your body are the same molecules that make up the nebulae, that burn inside the stars themselves. We are star stuff.

We can all use a little more reason to come together these days, so let’s add to this.

Beyond rote burning, stars fuse atoms, creating the heavier elements – without them, we would live in a universe of hydrogen with a dash of helium. Atoms in your body like calcium and carbon and oxygen (all those larger that the smallest atoms, H and He) are only created in stars.

And even farther: elements heavier than iron are too large to be made by nuclear fusion as occurs in the core of a large star. They’re only made when a star reaches the end of its life and explodes into a supernova, a galactic blast of so much concentrated energy and heat that it creates the rest of the heavier elements in the periodic table.

 

They then float around in nebular clouds for billions of years, eventually condensing to form new stars, with little planets orbiting them. Some of those planets are rich in water and are juuuust the right distance away from the sun. Some also have metal cores that make magnetic fields that conveniently deflect incoming solar wind, which would otherwise sweep away an atmosphere. An atmosphere like the one we have on Earth, that over time formed a bubble within which turbulent volcanic eruptions finally subsided, giving rise to a stable climate where complicated configurations of stardust atoms formed into molecules like amino acids and RNA and lipid bilayers and eventually…

 

You!  You evolved from the largest explosions in the universe.

 

From a cacophony, the elegant complexity of life, and eventually humanity, emerges. Damn wonderful.

 

PS: “On average, a supernova will occur about once every 50 years in our galaxy, the Milky Way.” – NASA says. Our sun is one of ~100 billion stars in it.
Cassieopea, supernova, remnant
Cassiopeia, a supernova remnant. NASA

 

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A bit of what I’ve been up to at MIT

I recently moved to Cambridge, MA to take the best job of all time helping Sebastian Seung’s Computational Neuroscience Lab at MIT build a game to map the human brain. Yea. It’s called EyeWire and you should check it out.

Best job in the world for several reasons. For someone obsessed with thinking about thinking, this life is positively dreamy.  I think I live one solid series of awesome moments. I love the people in my lab. I got to move to Cambridge and live one mile from Harvard and one mile from MIT. I love walking to work. I love work! It doesn’t feel like a job. I love going to hackathons. I love hanging out with geniuses. I love MIT Media Lab. I love working with neuroscientists. I love learning new things. I love being around curious people ready to share their passion for creating game-changing technologies. I love going to intellectual events at MIT and Harvard. I love connecting with so many TEDxers on the east coast! I love snow (though we haven’t had much yet). I love great food and even greater company. I love talking about molecules and python and infographics and chilling with scientists every day. Bascially, I love life. I love life very much.

I’m aslo helping a group at the Media Lab (which I’m not really supposed to talk about), developing a new app for TEDx music (also not supposed to talk about..but no one reads this blog 😉 and building an anonymized open-source database of health and lifestyle data with WIkiLife. Other things too..but it’s late and I want to read Nietzsche.

Below is a post I just wrote for the EyeWire blog. I blog at MIT now. Rad. Life is amazing. I hope you, dear reader, are following you passion and pursuing diligently the ideas that strike you most curious.  Reality will exceed your wildest expectations if you let it.

Cheers, much love.

Amy

It may come as a surprise that although we know much about how the eye works, neuroscience researchers do not fully understand how visual signals translate into perception.

We’ve landed on Mars, can grow organs, and even skydive from space, yet when it comes to a thorough understanding of the territory so close to home that it is home, much is missing. Neuroscientists don’t even know precisely how many different types of cells are in the brain. Here at Sebastian Seung‘s Computational Neuroscience Lab at MIT, we’re taking a different approach: crowd-sourcing. In order to solve the mind’s great mysteries, we need you.

Why don’t we know how the mind works? One reason is that your mind is massive. Researchers estimate that there are 100 billion neurons in your brain with about one million miles of connectivity. A million miles is equivalent to driving around Earth 40 times. You can infer that in order for such great length of neurons to fit into your three micron scale image by FSUpound brain these structures must be very tiny. A large neuron is about 100 microns in diameter while the contact area of a synapse is about 400 nm in length.

In order to see neurons and the tiny structures called dendrites through which they function, researchers utilize a new imaging technique. “Fix whole brain tissue, slice off layers just a few microns thick, image each slice with an electron microscope, and trace the path of each neuron,” explains David Zhou, Masters Student at Carnegie Mellon, on Quora. These gamechanging techniques generate terabytes of data for even a cubic milimeter of brain tissue. Now that we can see the brain at the synaptic scale, we have to analyze the images. How?

neuron cell reconstruction Seung Lab

The image above shows the process of layering image slices to render 3D reconstructions. Like most neuroscience labs, the Seung Lab uses a combination of AI algorithms and tracing (3D reconstruction) performed by humans. Why not just use algorithms? Images can be challenging to identify, particularly for a computer. Pure algorithms make many mistakes, such as slicing a single cell into thousands of pieces and merging multiple cells into one monstrously massive neuron. See below image for an example of AI missing a chunk of a neuron.

correcting a computer's mistake, Seung Lab

We hope to one day train computers to map neurons on their own; however, that day will be far in the future and we need to accelerate neuroscience discovery now. To achieve this, we need something more intelligent than even the most powerful supercomputer— you.

It takes an MIT-trained neuroscientist anywhere from 15 to 80 hours to reconstruct a single neuron. At that rate, it would take about 570,000,000 years to map the connectivity of an enture human brain, known as aconnectome. This is why we need your help.

Rather than mapping and entire brain, we’re starting with a retina. Our goal is to map the connections of a specific type of cell: J-Cells. These neurons are responsible for perception of upward motion. We plan to publish the outcome in a scientific journal and list EyeWire users as co-authors.

By playing the 3D game Eyewire, you become part of the Seung Lab at MIT by helping to map the connections of a neural network.

Scientific American writes that “no specialized knowledge of neuroscience is required [to play EyeWire]; citizen scientists need only be curious, intelligent and observant. Your input will help scientists understand how the retina functions. It will also be used by engineers to improve the underlying computational technology, eventually making it powerful enough to detect “miswirings” of the brain that are hypothesized to underlie disorders like autism and schizophrenia.”

We hope that you will help us trace the wires of perception through EyeWire. Play EyeWire and let us know what you think on Facebook.

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Career Advice

A question popped up in my Quora feed today that prompted a short sidetrack into a topic I think many of us struggle with on a regular basis: work.  The Question:

I hate my job, but it pays a lot of money. What should I do?

On a whim I decided to contribute a unique perspective, seeing as I am in the exact opposite situation. Here’s my response:

Interesting question.

To give you a different perspective, my job/life is spectacular but my bank account is empty. I work 80 hours a week but only a small fraction are paid.   It isn’t such a big deal because a. I live an extraordinary life and b. doing what you love eventually pays off.  Last month I spent my birthday in Doha, Qatar.  Last weekend I was sailing SF Bay during a break from building a game to map the brain with MIT.  Two examples of hundreds.. Extraordinarily wonderful and surprising things will happen when you stop focusing on money and start focusing on living with passion.  Reevaluate why you value the ideas and things that matter to you.

There is no substitute for living a life you love.  Start now..it will only get harder to change

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Whoa! #lifebonus

About a month ago I shared #lifebonus, the first installment of an ongoing series designed to incite surprise and discovery in life.  Or at least my inbox.  Today, here is another round.

On Friday, the following Facebook status went live while a more personal email went out to a few friends:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Subject: Life Challenge

Are you having an awesome day?  Yes?!  Yes.

This week’s Life Challenge:

Share something that made you say “woah!!! ..but is it too geeky to share?”
Due Sunday at noon, or earlier if you’re an intellectual baller.
Response could be a great article from 3 years ago or a photo you saw yesterday or a crazy fresh resource, such as

AskNature.org

Browse nature’s solutions to challenges such as network cooperation (think interwoven trees and UV protection from bacteria), physical integrity (think bones and trees) or mechanical energy (think spider legs using hydraulic lift and how honeybees fly).  Browse around. You’ll be surprised how exciting it is.  Covert learning.

via Nicholas Sykes at TEDxSummit

Cheers, have a wonderful weekend and take three deep breaths right now (seriously it’s good for your biochemistry). I’ll blog some replies and send out a post on Monday so that your week will start out with a little bit of epic.  And if you are curious for more Wow!Geek discoveries, let me know and I will be happy to share a few more.

Amy

Try this with your friends.

Who knows what you might discover?  I do.

The scale of the universe.

History meets Quora and Reddit:

Ask about any era of history and get answers from professional historians!

Keep in mind that this forum is for asking questions about what did happen, not what could have happened had something gone differently. For those types of questions, check out /r/historicalwhatif

Images from the Boston Globe Big Picture‘s Earth Day Gallery.

Science and Tech

Rockets that breathe.  SABRE engines “use atmospheric oxygen in the combustion process.  The engine achieves this with its two modes of operation: its air-breathing and conventional rocket capabilities.”

 

Magnetic Fields light up ‘GPS’ neurons. Findings allow scientists to infer that birds, like compasses, can determine both direction and relative position.  Importantly, this research adds to evidence “showing how single brain cells can record multiple properties or complex qualities in a simple way.”

Get your own Galaxy Cube (image right). 80,000 stars from the Milky Way laser etched into glass. As seen in Design for a Living World.

Philosophy

12 Things you should be able to say about yourself:

1. I am following my heart and intuition.
2. I am proud of myself.
3. I am making a difference
4. I am happy and grateful.
5.I am growing into the best version of me.
6. I am making my time count.
7. I am honest with myself.
8. I am good to those I care about.
9. I know what unconditional love feels like.
10. I have forgiven those who once hurt me.
11. I take full accountability for my life.
12. I have no regrets.

Awesome tapes from Africa:  “music you won’t easily find anywhere else—except, perhaps in its region of origin.”

Popularity data:

Curious world!

At Wikipedia, it always interesting to see traffic on various articles, Some are constant while others are “One-Day-Hero” articles, receiving 1million views in one day, and that’s it – nothing after that.  The world acts in curious ways.

Here is an example: Google Launched Zipper Doodle few days back on Gideon_Sundbäck‘s B’Day. (Click here to see the doodle) You can see his article received 1m+ views on that day, and almost negligible traffic today.

For me, its something interesting, how the mind works and how someone [or something] gets popular overnight, and then is again forgotten over the next few days.

I hope this post contains something cool for you to think about.  The way I see it, your mind is a world. You are a wold abundant with resources like intelligence, stories, experiences, perspectives, curiosity..  Your self resources can be – and I think are best when – shared.

Be creative in your pursuit of extraordinary interactions.  Send out a Life Challenge or other playful yet serious opportunity with which friends can spice their minds.  Think of it as a game.

What should I send out next week?  I love discovering innovations and ideas you are passionate about.

Finally, this last image came as a Life Challenge response, too.  What does it mean to be happy, anyway?

In the words of my friend Carlos,

“Love this!  Nothing is too geeky, Amy.”

I concur.  Bring on the geek.

 

 

Thanks to Marconi Pereria, Rio de Janeiro; Antonella Broglia, Madrid; Will Sterling, Nashville TN; Mosab Abulkhair, Amman Jordan; Cody Marx Bailey, Austin Texas; Ramy Nassar, Waterloo Canada; Terry Pollard, Oxford UK; Kevin McClure, Birmingham Alabama; Shreenath Regunathan, San Francisco California; Philip Kovacs, Huntsville Alabama; Chris Palmer, Huntsville Alabama;  Kat Haber, Vail Colorado; Hugo Schotman, Zurich Switzerland; Abhishek Suryawanshi, Pune India; Nicholas Sykes, Doha Qatar.

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#lifebonus

What makes you excited to be alive?

Open-ended questions like the one above light me up.   I personally love it when people lay out the ideas they are passionate about and then explore how and why those ideas matter.  Would you like to be asked “What’s the most curious thing you have discovered recently?” more often?  I would. Hopefully this post will inspire you to surprise someone with a delightful chance to share who they are and enlighten you in the process. It’s relatively easy: ask a good question.

About 48 hours ago I sent the following email to a few friends:

Hey!  I hope you’re well!  This is for fun/how I’ve decided to keep Friday Fresh.

Reply inline and I will subsequently send fresh shit from my end.  It’s important to note that when you successfully answer these challenges you, friend, get a life bonus!!  Seriously, it will make your day rock.

– Most interesting thing you’ve discovered in the past 10 days (if it’s too hard to choose, share up to 3)
– Most beautiful image/video from past month
– Best meal or food from the past month
– Did you learn a new word in the past month?  Share.  If not, go find one.
– Funniest/most entertaining.  “Find out what is to be taken seriously and laugh at the rest” -Herman Hesse
That’s all.  You have 48 hours to reply.  Good luck!
For fun/inbox entertainment
Amy
This is more than inbox entertainment.  I think it actually helps me get to know a person along the lines of what’s important and how he or she spends free time.   What matters to you?
“Such as are your constant thoughts, such will be the character of your mind” Marcus Aurelius
From here on out, this post is crowd-sourced.  Every video, image, link, quote and fact was “recruited” by the above email.    I hope you enjoy this fresh broad collective perspective that materialized over the weekend.
  • Most Beautiful Image/Video

Creative tech

a story for tomorrow

Rediscovered classic

que bella

there and back: space

NASA releases epic panorama of night sky made from 18,000 images.

  • Most interesting thing you’ve learned/discovered

Nat Geo’s Friday Fact: A hurricane weighs as much as 160 million rhinos!

exp.lore.com

How to divide a square equally into 5 parts.

“Triggered by Brené Brown’s talk about shame I discovered some things about myself.
I discovered that fears and insecurities can be layered and that if you’ve successfully stripped away one layer you may discover another one underneath.
Unfortunately, I am not always aware which fears and insecurities I really have.”

“That the technology for taking a blood sugar reading on an iPhone is being developed.”

ChronoZoom beta is out!

Sexually rejected mice turn to booze.

“Offer a male fruit fly a choice between food soaked in alcohol and its nonalcoholic equivalent, and his decision will depend on whether he’s mated recently or been rejected by a female. Flies that have been given the cold shoulder are more likely to go for the booze, researchers have found. It’s the first discovery, in fruit flies, of a social interaction that influences future behavior.”

Wild lions up close with the Beetle Cam.

Shark teeth are essentially modified scales and evolved from skin, not bones (right, sharks are cartilaginous; they don’t have bones).

“No matter how much you plan, you’ll always face something totally unexpected.”

True.  Perspective on embracing the unanticipated with delight from a different person:

“I have no idea where I’m going, I’m totally conflicted and I’ve never been happier or more flipped out.”

  • New words

awesomeness 

bitumen – the pronunciation is awesome. It’s a synonym for asphalt.

buckram – 1. A coarse cotton fabric heavily sized with glue, used for stiffening garments and in bookbinding. 2. Archaic Rigid formality

coqui – teeny nocturnal frog 

dongleflump – “not sure about a new word but I make lots up, like this one.” Define for yourself, world!

entelechy -In the philosophy of Aristotle, the condition of a thing whose essence is fully realized

LTE – (4G phone network) means Long Term Evolution

pedantic – overly concerned with minute details or formalisms

plumbeo- (Spanish word)  sad, slow, opaque.  “It is like the colour of the sky in winter.”

sycophant – A person who acts obsequiously toward someone in order to gain advantage; a servile flatterer.

wish – “I had forgotten what it meant.  I know now.”

What is the last new word you learned?

  • Best recent nomnoms

I ate fruit roll-ups with a girl I had just net a few days before, she looked at me and smiled and I felt like a teenager.

mom’s chicken pot pie; a private restaurant in Bogota, Columbia; Portuguese food: Rice with octopus and red wine; dinner with Hans Rosling on Wednesday; sukiyaki; Silk City Diner pork tacos; pork chop at vinotinis; fish tacos at Tacombi NYC; some beef mince thing at a party (I have no idea what it was); oven roasted Red Drum fish fillet with kai lan; butternut squash, pasta and a preserved lemon saffron sauce; dinner at an Australian restaurant near Amsterdam; Brenda’s soul food; dinner in Philly two weekends ago on a pitstop before I came home to Switzerland.

Catching up with friends and sharing stories and challenging each other to think critically on a wide range of topics.

  • funny+entertaining

“Went to my grandmothers 80th birthday party, which for most 80 year olds means a nice little party with family and friends. Now for my grandmother, who happens to be the owner of 4 Gentleman’s clubs in NYC..her friends are well interesting.”

Demoreel for visual effects studio The Mill

“If camping outside is so great, then why are all of the bugs trying to get into my house. “- Jim Gaffigan

When was the last time you got this excited when you heard a new song? 🙂

“My kids listening to Toy Dolls”

Where’s _why?

Portraits imagining a baby’s future profession.

Books on Amazon:

That is all.  John Hodgman

The Fan“, Eric Bogosian (comedy)

  • anything else?

“48 days until I graduate from Penn State. No sure exactly what’s going to happen in the next 48, but I know it’s going to be crazy.”

What are you doing with the next 48 days of your life?

Try something different.  Do new.  Ask open-ended questions.  Instigate surprise.  Play.  Explore the world and minds around you. And feel free to answer the questions below or post your own question in the comments section.  Or tweet interestingnesses with the hash tag #lifebonus to @amyleerobinson.

– Most interesting thing you’ve discovered in the past 10 days (if it’s too hard to choose, share up to 3)
– Most beautiful image/video from past month
– Best meal or food from the past month
– Did you learn a new word in the past month?  Share.  If not, go find one.
– Funniest/most entertaining.  “Find out what is to be taken seriously and laugh at the rest” -Herman Hesse

Kudos to Antonella Broglia (Madrid), Jon Yeo (Melbourne), John Eberhart (Huntsville, USA), Dave Lim (Singapore), Marconi Pereria (Rio de Janeiro), Lisa Nicole Bell (Los Angeles), Steve Garaguilo (Zurich), Hugo Schotman (Zurich), Evan Grant (London),  Brad Garland (Huntsville), Philip Kovacs (Huntsville), Dylan Finelli (Boston), Zach Zimbler (Penn State), Lionel Felix (Austin TX), Dan Jacob (Toronto), Shreenath Regunathan (San Francisco), and Sean Gourley (San Francisco).  This post is friend-sourced.

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inverse dictionary

I have a lot of ideas.  So many, in fact, that I need more words than I know, more time than I have, and more tools than I understand how to use in order to bring them to fruition.  Until Matrix-esque plug-in knowledge (a la “I know kung fu“) rolls around,  I would love a tool that helps me find a word I wonder about by inputting the definition.  Does something like this exist?  I think it would inspire me just by being cool.

I read a great quote yesterday: “you can’t do much about the length of your life, but you can do something about its width and depth,”  True.  I hope all of you are living well and exploring the unknown and doodling and sharing ideas and writing to people who inspire you.  That last one is the trick to loving your inbox.  When people I respect send thoughtful correspondence it makes me smile at least 1/4″ wider.

I’ve been looking for a word that means “interesting, stimulating, challenging, exciting” for about 6 years now.  I will give it one more year until I pull a Shakespeare and make up my own.  Creativity, procrastination or patience hmm.

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What are you passionate about?

Yesterday I was asked “what are you passionate about?”  Refreshing.  And told to answer in 100 words or less.  Interesting challenge.

This question in the TEDGlobal application catechism caught my attention.  At first I scoffed.  How can I capture my zest in 100 words..I need a thousand, ten thousand.. and then I began to write. 

Scoff turns to intrigue as I realize this is a conversation with a quiet comrade, not a monologue.  Who am I, what fuels me is the question.  Introduce, don’t preach.  Outline my horizon.

I think high and wide and a hurricane of vocabulary in strange grammatical structure erupts from my brain.   Thoughts of thousands of words melt into hundreds, then dozens.  This challenge poises an opportunity for precise creative thinking.  As I progress in my answer I am captured by the notion that my initial reaction has morphed into a beautiful realization. 

I used the 100 words to create a chromosome of passion.  This is an outline of me, not the complete expression.  In this attempt to densely pack  myself into 100 words I found, surprisingly, that my passion required just four.  And I am delighted to share them with you.

Question:  What are you passionate about?

“Curiosity.  Endless exploration and perpetual discovery. History, etymology, literature (Seneca, Voltaire, Nietzsche+), scientific theory, travel, the human mind…My greatest curiosity is consciousness and how “I” exists.  I am obsessed with systems and complexity. Interdisciplinarity fuels my revelry in reality’s infinite variety.  Bilateral symmetry, philharmonic sound, fractals, posture, creativity, the wild..adamantly I focus and refocus my perception of the world and myself.  A dynamic innovative mind am I who lives for both the unexpected surprise and long developed accomplishment. In 100 words I need but four to tell you:  My passion is life.”

We should all be asked this more frequently.  Have a go, what are you passionate about?

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Ladies and Gentlemen

About a year ago I moved into the lovely house I still call home. Three days after I unpack, in comes another new mate. Suddenly, I live with two guys.

I cordially invite you to my musings about life with these men.

First, let me introduce you to the other two thirds of Chadwell House: Ben and Daniel. Benny owns the house and Izzy, our crazy Weimaraner. He brokers corporate insurance and co-hosts our pool parties with me. Daniel plays pro baseball for Germany. He’s been in Huntsville for the off season and heads back in a month.

1. There is no such thing as “your” beer, or vodka, or cognac. Think community supply.

2. Three foods Always in stock: peanut butter, spagetti, milk.

3. “clean up” = put in sink.

4. Four different girls in one week is no longer an anomaly. And if you’re still up at 4am after a night out, better turn up the music to drown out a different kind of singing.

5. “Handyman” is shenanigans. Ad asking for help? Doubt it. Case in point: last winter we didn’t turn on the fireplace once. Ben thought it was broken. Turns out he just didn’t know how to light the pilot.

6. ESPN and HBO might as well be the only channels.

7. Sarcasm, lightheartedness, and laughs are a dime a dozen. Drama is virtually non-existant. My perception of “lewd” has been drastically modified; in stead of responding with “dear God..animals!” when I hear guy to guy exposés I can usually laugh along. Bypassing shock lets me see the entertainment value.

Ben and Daniel are both great frends, they’re like the big brothers I never had. Crude, hilarious, wild and strange, the world of men will always be somewhat of a mystery to me. Living with you two has really opened my eyes to what I can see when I’m beyond passing judgement. Love y’all!

Kid Sis A

Our backyard during summer

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