петак, 04. октобар 2013.

Enter, Sandman: how lucid dreaming ‘can help you change yourself’

Maybe the vast majority of your recollected dreams involve public speaking in the nude, or repeatedly failing your college chemistry final. Or maybe you don’t recall having any dreams at all. According to Thomas Peisel, both scenarios are a profound missed opportunity: while you were helplessly flunking exams or snoring into a subconscious abyss, he’s been flying through the sky like Magneto and receiving sage advice from flame-covered monsters. And doing it all with complete cognizance. Peisel, a long-time lucid dreamer, is the co-author of A Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming: Mastering the Art of Oneironautics (Workman, 2013). The book is a collaboration between Piesel, Dylan Tuccillo, and Jared Zeizel, all three of them filmmakers and avid lucid dreamers (who also happen to be roommates). Designed as a step-by-step manual for lucid dreaming novices, the book offers tips on how to achieve lucid dreams — essentially sleep states you can consciously control — and sage advice on how to navigate and master them. It also digs into the centuries-old history of dreaming, and the current social and scientific lenses through which dreams (lucid or otherwise) are perceived. For particularly fervent readers, the trio are now working on a website, Dream Labs, that will offer "an interactive dream university" with video lectures and experiments users can partake in. On a set break in Wisconsin, where his day job has him filming a bacon commercial, Peisel shared a few more thoughts on adventures in slumberland. Most adults, myself included, have never experienced a lucid dream — but you’ve been doing it for more than a decade. When did you start lucid dreaming, and what was the experience like? "I was actually a closet dreamer, you could say, until a few years ago." I actually first had lucid dreams as a kid, but I didn’t really know what they were or that they were anything special. I’d tell my mom about them and she’d just tell me I had a really vivid imagination, so I didn’t think much of them and they went away for awhile. But when I was a teenager, they actually came back, and they came back as nightmares, which was quite scary. By then, of course, I was lucky enough to have the internet — I started looking this stuff up online, and found the support I needed to actually train for lucid dreaming and learn to control the dreams. But I was actually a closet dreamer, you could say, until a few years ago. When I mentioned it to people, they seemed to think it was really weird, like "whoa, what is with this guy?" And my former girlfriend was definitely weirded out by it, so I mostly considered lucid dreaming something to keep for myself, instead of sharing it with other people. There’s obviously a lot of scientific research in the realm of sleep, and a lot of questions that remain unanswered. How has scientific inquiry yielded insight into lucid dreaming, and how do you respond to those who don’t take it seriously? To be honest, I don’t think that scientists still know a lot about lucid dreaming, how it works, why it happens, what it means. I mean, we still have no firm consensus on what dreams really are, or why we even need to sleep. One really interesting experiment at the University of Hull, which dates back to 1975, used EEG to chart the brain activity of a patient who was familiar with lucid dreaming. They were able to show using EEG that he was sleeping, and he was able to move his eyes in a certain pattern to show researchers that he was dreaming in a conscious way. [Ed: A subsequent study at Stanford independently corroborated this finding.] Research like this is neat, but I also think that science tends to look purely at the physical: well, what happens in the brain? How can we show this? That’s not the bigger picture for me, and I encourage people to just know what lucid dreaming is through experience. If you’re skeptical, give it a try. There will be a moment of lucidity, whether it’s tonight or nine years from now, where you’ll realize that this phenomenon is valid. Lucid dreaming actually freaks me out a fair bit, and I don’t think I’m the only one. What do you and your co-authors tell people who aren’t sure they want to give it a shot? "We already breathe, but we can choose to breathe mindfully. The same goes for dreaming." People can have a lot of trauma around dreaming — maybe they have a history of nightmares, or they associate dreams with feeling uncomfortable or uneasy. But look: we all have dreams, for around two hours every night. That’s just the way it is. So the way I like to see it is that we each have two hours every night to access a rich area of experiences. We already breathe, but we can choose to breathe mindfully. The same goes for dreaming. We can decide to do it in a different way, and we can all train ourselves to do exactly that. And the best part is, when we dream mindfully we can actual control what’s going on. Even if the situation is terrifying, we’re the ones who can alter it, we’re the ones in complete control. We’re always safe. I give this suggestion to kids, when I train them to lucid dream, but it can work for anyone: I tell them to put on their "dreaming parachute" before they fall asleep. And if the dream gets too scary or overwhelming, they just pull the cord on that parachute, and it’ll wake them right up. In the book, you describe society’s relationship with dreams as "a bit ass-backwards." I’m wondering if you could elaborate on that perspective? I don’t think we value dreams for the unique experiences that they are. Instead, I think there’s a tendency to brush them off, or ignore them, or think of them as a distraction. We’re not taught to be curious about dreams, or to consider what their meaning, or their value, might actually be. We’re missing out on something important and universally true for all of us, I think. Which is that each one of us has access to these unique events, and that these events can be as meaningful and transformative as anything that goes on in our waking life. They can teach us things, they can help us grow, and we can all access them. This should be empowering: whatever is going on with you, if it’s conscious or even if it’s subconscious, you can take ownership over and responsibility for. For people who aren’t lucid dreaming, maybe they dream about their day, or something from their past, or they dream about the future. Maybe they dream about visiting old friends or lovers, or someone who has passed on. And that’s all great. But lucid dreaming gives dreams the capacity to be so much more powerful — I think that lucid dreaming changes the way you move through the waking world. It does for me.

How so?

For one thing, I find that lucid dreams often come when you need them, and they can help you with your perspective on events in the waking world and how you interact with them. One nightmare came to me during transitions in my personal life and at work, when I felt like I couldn’t make the life I wanted, and it gave me exactly the message I needed. I don’t react to life by just reacting to what’s coming at me. I live from the inside out — the dreams will help you change yourself. That’s hard to explain if you haven’t been lucid dreaming, but if you have it might make more sense. And to be honest, I now sometimes feel like it’s all a dream. For example, I just got back from the West Coast where we were doing book readings and TV appearances. It was surreal, in a lot of ways, and it was like the dreaming world and the waking world were interchangeable. On second thought, I don’t know if that’s the most reassuring thing for people to hear if they’re considering lucid dreaming [laughs]. But it is what it is.

Walmart gets aggressive on LED light bulb pricing with new line starting under $9

It was only a matter of time before Walmart would try to take command of the LED light bulb market by drastically undercutting the competition. That's now happened; the massive retailer has unveiled a new line of LED bulbs under its in-house Great Value brand. The light bulbs, immediately available from all US stores and soon at Walmart.com, start at under $9 — priced even lower than Cree's $13 breakthrough bulb. Walmart isn't new to selling LED light bulbs, but this is its most aggressive push yet to make them affordable for shoppers. In all, the Great Value line includes 26 different bulb types, the cheapest of which costs only $8.88. Traditional incandescent bulbs can still be had for less than $1, but falling LED prices paired with Walmart's cutthroat pricing tactics means choosing the environmental path is more affordable than ever. Walmart wants to make the benefits of adopting LED bulbs incredibly obvious, so it's putting potential cost savings and energy improvements right on the Great Value box. The retailer says customers could save $134 over the lifetime of an 800 lumens light bulb (equivalent to a 60-watt incandescent). The quality of light output from LED bulbs can vary dramatically, however. We liked the results from Cree's bulbs, but can't yet speak to how well Walmart's Great Value line will light up your surroundings. Seeing as they're less than $10, you can probably afford to take the risk.

Airbnb says New York renters should pay occupancy tax, pushes for looser hotel laws

After successfully overturning a fine against one of its New York City users, Airbnb is trying to preempt any future legal attacks. In a blog post today, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky says that he supports formal rental taxes, like those charged for hotels, as long as local regulators are willing to work on a law that makes Airbnb's business legal. Currently, New Yorkers can only host guests when someone is at home — Airbnb only got the fine overturned, for example, because the host's roommate was still there. But this rule undercuts the service's business model, and it's frequently ignored. "We want to work for sensible laws that allow New Yorkers to share their space," says Chesky, laying out a three-point plan. Firstly, he wants an unassailable right for people to rent homes without worrying about the "illegal hotel" laws that currently limit Airbnb. If they're allowed to do so, "we believe that it makes sense for our community to pay occupancy tax, with limited exemptions for those who earn under certain thresholds." Currently, Airbnb asks users to submit tax information, but it largely leaves reporting up to them. To address concerns that guests couldn't be held accountable for causing problems, he also promises to set up a hotline that will let neighbors report disturbances. Uber, another startup that's been similarly controversial in New York, has successfully negotiated for the right to operate, and Airbnb could do the same. Taxes, however, aren't the only issue people have raised. Most of the people hosting guests won't own the apartments or houses they're renting out, and State senator Liz Krueger has warned that using Airbnb puts them at risk of eviction. New York's hotel lobby, meanwhile, has consistently opposed the service's operation.

'Breaking Bad' spinoff 'Better Call Saul' is likely to be more dark than funny

Expect plenty of laughs from Better Call Saul, the planned spinoff from the wildly popular AMC show Breaking Bad. But Bob Odenkirk, the actor who played Saul Goodman, a witty lawyer with highly flexible morals, suggested that his new show's comedy will be black. "Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad's creator) and the writers will make the ultimate decision," Odenkirk said in a recent interview with Salon.com. "But Vince has told me, the last time he talked to me, he said that it will be slightly more dark than it is funny. That’s an interesting balance to strike." "That’s an interesting balance to strike." Odenkirk certainly has the comedy down. He's a stand-up comedian who wrote in the past for Saturday Night Live and The Dennis Miller Show. Still, what helped make Goodman so compelling was how he could joke while advising White on how to maintain his drug empire, often through murder. Better Call Saul will appear on AMC and be a prequel — so we may get to see how Saul became so slimy — but there isn't an air date yet.

What's faster than light-speed trading? Inside Wall Street's sketchy early access schemes

In February of this year, a group of UC Santa Cruz physicists made a surprising discovery. Apparently someone had shortened the distance from New York to Chicago. In August of 2012, information made it from Wall Street to Chicago's commodities exchange three milliseconds faster than it had just two years before. Someone was making the trip in just over 4 milliseconds, edging up to the hard limit set by the speed of light. They had ditched sluggish fiber optics for line-of-sight microwave transmitters, a network of towers sending electromagnetic signals through the air, reaching Chicago just fast enough to always have the first trade. It still isn’t clear who got there first, but high-speed services like McKay Brothers, Tradeworx, and Epsilon Networks are prime suspects. The research team estimated the five-year cost of the system at half a billion dollars. They had ditched sluggish fiber optics for line-of-sight microwaves In markets where the fastest trade often wins, the race for speed isn't surprising — but it's had some unpleasant consequences. When information travels too fast for human monitoring, it opens markets up to more predatory deals, operating while regulators are blinded by the speed of the trades. While some traders trust that they'll arrive first because of high-tech systems, another class are paying for early access or outright leaks, gaming the market in secret. One example occurred earlier this month, when the Federal Reserve announced its plans to continue a long-running bond-buying program. The news was announced in a lockdown room at Fed headquarters in Washington, DC, and allowed to leave the room at exactly 2:00PM EST, timed to the millisecond. Somehow, markets in Chicago began trading on the information instantaneously, without waiting the few milliseconds that it would have taken for information to travel via microwave. Clearly someone leaked the information — but so far, they're getting off scott free. Just like poker, a good hand isn't worth much without a sucker betting into it It’s a potentially lucrative cheat. The Fed news was bound to make the market shoot up, so anyone who thought they had it first would buy big, wait for the bounce, and then sell at the higher price. It’s a good trick, but it only works if you’re the first one in, before any other big buys have driven up the market price. And for the scheme to really shine, you’d like someone else buying big a few seconds after you, so you can unload your shares quickly at the higher price. Just like poker, a good hand isn't worth much without a sucker betting into it. "I have a feeling we're not going to ever know." In the case of the Fed scheme, that’s exactly what happened. A huge volume of trades were placed in the milliseconds after the announcement, presumably from firms who’d shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars for light-speed info transit to Chicago. They had every reason to think they were the first ones on the commodity market with the information — but they weren’t. Someone else had gotten there first, bidding up the market in advance and then selling off to the light-speed traders, making hundreds of thousands of dollars in a matter of milliseconds. For days, no one even knew it had happened. Eric Hunsader, founder of the market analysis firm Nanex, noticed the discrepancy and sent it to CNBC as evidence of fraud, but so far the response from regulators has been minimal. "It does not take this long to figure out who did what, and we still don't know. My guess is they just want this to die," Hunsader says. "I have a feeling we're not going to ever know." Since the 2:00PM embargo had lifted, it's hard to make an insider trading case, and when the entire case hinges on a few milliseconds, the SEC is often wary of getting too involved. In a light-speed market, some investors simply don't know they're being beaten to the punch Economist Ciamac Moallemi, who studies latency in financial markets at Columbia, finds the idea of early access scandals puzzling, saying the limited time frame should limit the available profit. "One might initially be able to make money with such information," Moallemi says, "but over time other investors would become aware and liquidity would dry up." Moallemi attributes the established instances of firms paying for early access as yet another irrationality of the market, saying, "it's an open question as to why this is valuable." The most likely explanation is that, in a light-speed market, some investors simply don't know they're being beaten to the punch. The crucial thing is not just getting there first, but doing it without other traders realizing they’ve been beaten to the punch. Secrecy is a necessary part of the scheme, and that protective layer of secrecy has proven hard to break through, especially since the rare whistleblowers on early access schemes have found little protection from the industry. In January, the FBI announced an investigation into financial newswires, on evidence that someone was giving paying clients early access to the University of Michigan's consumer confidence index. The tip came from a Reuters employee named Henry Rosenblum, who had tipped off the FBI after he became concerned the company was engaged in insider trading. "People who were getting that number thought they were getting it first." The Reuters scheme was more complex than usual, offering three full tiers. The man on the street would hear the consumer confidence numbers at 10:00, but documents revealed that Reuters was actually selling the information twice, both to paying subscribers at 9:55 and two seconds earlier to "ultra low-latency" subscribers who shelled out for the head start. Crucially, most of the clients paying to get the number at 9:55 had no idea there was an ultra low-latency service running, which made them easy pickings for anyone who got the number early enough. Financial reporters scoffed at the idea that Reuters’ data service could be illegal, chalking it up as business as usual for a financial news service. But the numbers tell a different story. Hunsader's Nanex reporting shows that trading on the University of Michigan numbers dropped nearly 100-to-one after the scandal. Once the ultra low-latency secret was out, Michigan’s consumer confidence numbers seemed too risky to bet on. By then, Rosenblum was a distant memory. He was fired by Reuters some time after the allegations came out, and is currently suing for whistleblower protections in Manhattan Federal Court. For many working his case, it's a sign that the regulations covering information transit are hopelessly outdated. "People who were getting that number thought they were getting it first," says Jesse Rose, one of the lawyers working on Rosenblum's case. "If the people who are running these things are going to claim that this is the free market, then I think they need to provide an explanation to their investors." Unlike the Fed announcement, the University of Michigan numbers are private data, so there are few restrictions on how it's released. At the same time, it's hard to imagine how similar schemes could be uncovered without work like Rosenblum's and Hunsader's. Two seconds is a lot of machine time, but it's just a blip in human time, easily explained away as the work of overeager traders, or a clever algorithm trying to anticipate the market. Some, like Rose, think the answer is better disclosure, but for others, it may not even be a problem worth fixing. Moallemi doesn’t think financial regulators should bother with early access violations, since they don’t have much effect on individual investors: "it's basically a game between high-frequency traders." But for those playing the game, having the fastest tech might not mean getting there first.

Google is imagining a way to control your car using gestures, according to patent application

Google has long led the push for autonomous vehicles, but it seems the search company is also interested in how drivers and passengers control their in-car entertainment systems. A new patent application published today reveals a hypothetical system that could track your movements while driving, allowing you to make adjustments to a wide range of controls using gestures. The primary idea behind the patent application is that it can be difficult to find and manipulate physical nobs and dials while driving. Rather than universal gestures — like a swipe from left to right to change the radio station — the patent application focuses on a system that is contextually aware. For example, you might lower your hand next to the window to open it, and one iteration of the system would be able to determine how far or fast you made the gesture in order to open the window just the right amount. It's not just air gestures, however; one of the claims suggests that you could tap on various parts of the dashboard to change settings. For instance, tapping on the air vents could lower or raise the air conditioning, and covering up the vent with your palm could turn it off. Lastly, gestures could be in relation to the driver's or passenger's body, like bringing your hand up to your ear to raise the volume.
Since this is merely a patent application, the claims themselves could change significantly if it gets approved. And it's important to note that patent applications are very far from a guarantee that any such product will hit the market. But for now, the hypothetical system would use one or more cameras similar to Microsoft's Kinect sensor that can monitor and record three-dimensional space. Alternatively, the application mentions a 3D laser scanner. The computer system would first record the interior of the car with no passengers in it, and it would then be able to sense when the driver performed gestures in certain areas. It's possible that drivers could set up custom gestures as well. As for practical applications of this technology, the most obvious choice would be a Google-licensed entertainment and control system that car manufacturers could use. However, Google covers its bases by requesting the patent include both traditional and driverless vehicles. Considering rumors that Google is designing its own self-driving car after failing to get other carmakers on board with its autonomous systems — and its recent purchase of a company specializing in gesture controls — it wouldn't be too crazy to imagine the search company's vehicle equipped with such a system.