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Biweekly links for 07/31/2009

by Michael Nielsen on July 31, 2009
  • Organizational scar tissue — The Endeavour
    • “When you see a stupid policy, don’t assume a stupid person created it. It may have been the decision of a very intelligent person. It probably sounded like a good idea at the time given the motivating circumstances. Maybe it was a good idea at the time. But the letter lives on after the spirit dies. You can make a game out of this. When you run into a stupid policy, try to imagine circumstances that would have motivated an intelligent person to make such a policy. The more stupid the policy, the more challenging the game.”
  • Liveblogging Science 2.0 | Serendipity
    • Steve Easterbrook’s notes on the recent Science 2.0 event in Toronto.
  • Open source cognitive science
    • Mark Tovey’s experiment in a blog about open source cognitive science.
  • Talking to Tim O’Reilly about the Architecture of Participation – O’Reilly FYI Blog
    • Excellent interview with Tim O’Reilly, discussing leadership, entrepreneurship, collaboration, and many other topics. Anders Noorgard pointed the interview out to me a few months back, and I skimmed it, but now I wish I’d read it in depth earlier.
  • Backreaction: Röser’s equation
    • Intriguing, given how poorly understood high temperature superconductivity still seems to be: “Hans-Peter Röser […] found a simple equation relating the geometric structure of a crystal to its jump temperature [i.e., the temperature at which it becomes superconducting].”
  • Netflix Competitors Learn the Power of Teamwork – NYTimes.com
    • “The biggest lesson learned, according to members of the two top teams, was the power of collaboration. It was not a single insight, algorithm or concept that allowed both teams to surpass the goal Netflix, the movie rental company, set nearly three years ago: to improve the movie recommendations made by its internal software by at least 10 percent, as measured by predicted versus actual one-through-five-star ratings by customers.

      Instead, they say, the formula for success was to bring together people with complementary skills and combine different methods of problem-solving.”

  • 11 Famous People Who Were in the Completely Wrong Career at Age 30 – 11Points.com
    • “At age 30, [Julia] Child wasn’t cooking… she was working for the U.S. government as a spy. She went on clandestine missions to China and Sri Lanka (which, at the time, was called Ceylon) to get intelligence documents to agents in the field. She didn’t enter cooking school until age 36.”
  • Pandemic (H1N1) 2009, Influenza Virus Resource
    • The GenBank page for H1N1 (swine flu)
  • Microcosm Week: Dreaming of a Complete Solution to Life | The Loom | Discover Magazine
    • Carl Zimmer on Francis Crick’s 1973 call for a “complete solution” to E. Coli, and the difficulty of obtaining such a solution, for any form of life.
  • Velocity and the Bottom Line – O’Reilly Radar
    • Matt Mullenweg has an interesting theory of user interfaces that can be applied to many technologies, not just computers: “My theory here is when an interface is faster, you feel good. And ultimately what that comes down to is you feel in control. The web app isn’t controlling me, I’m controlling it. Ultimately that feeling of control translates to happiness in everyone.”
  • …My heart’s in Accra » The Polyglot Internet
    • Excellent essay about language and the internet: “Weblog search engine Technorati sees at least as many blogposts in Japanese as in English, and some scholars speculate that there may be as much Chinese content created on sites like Sina and QQ as on all English-language blogs combined… There’s a danger of linguistic isolation in today’s internet… In today’s internet, there’s more opportunity for Portuguese, Chinese, or Arabic speakers to interact with one another, and perhaps less incentive to interact with speakers of other languages. This in turn may fulfill some of the predictions put forth by those who see the Internet acting as an echo-chamber for like-minded voices, not as a powerful tool to encourage interaction and understanding across barriers of nation, language and culture.”
  • WorldChanging Canada: The Roots of Resistance 2: Moral Filters
    • “[…] certain kinds of moral reasoning are inappropriate when it comes to reducing physical harm to the environment. In particular, we should be deeply suspicious of arguments from purity. The notion of purity has been extremely useful for creating the in-group ethos of the environmental movement. It’s an attractive tool in the toolkit of climate-change argument. But… If the robber barons turn out to be the ones to solve the climate change problem, we need to get on board with them and applaud their results–not reject them as the “impure” authors of the problem. More generally, if somebody we hate has a solution, we should be willing to deal with them; if a real solution involves something we consider impure (like nuclear power) we need to set aside our prurient distaste and be willing to embrace it. The notion of purity has some use in the climate debate, but it also stands to get in the way if we’re not careful.”
  • John Baez: Earth
    • Wonderful essay by John Baez, a big picture history of our planet, focusing an mass catastrophes like the formation of the moon. Lots of very interesting things that were new to me.
  • A Bank Run Teaches the ‘Plain People’ About the Risks of Modernity – WSJ.com
    • A tiny part of a thoroughly fascinating article: “In Amish country, a bank run is about as familiar as a Hummer or a flat-screen TV. For decades, the more than 200,000 Amish in the U.S. have largely lived apart from the mainstream, emphasizing humility, simplicity and thrift. Known as “the plain people,” they travel by horse-drawn buggy, wear homemade clothing and live with very little electricity.

      But the Amish in northern Indiana edged into the conventional economy, lured by the high wages of the recreational-vehicle and modular-homes industries. And they wound up experiencing the same economic whiplash millions of other Americans did.”

  • The Happiness Project: Fourteen Tips for Running a Good Meeting.
    • For the most part simple, obvious rules, not widely observed, but in some cases actionable.
  • Universities should act while they have the chance « petermr’s blog
    • “Where are the universities changing the face of the world? Where communication is infinitely cheap. Where students are wired up with more power than the whole of the world 30 years ago. Where the Internet is changing democracy – where are the changes in academia? Why, at least, are there few substantial discussions about what education means in a distributed world? It’s too easy to see the reverse where education is simply a branded deliverable contract between a customer (student) and a supplier (university).

      Well, the internet changes that business very quickly. So unless there are some radically new ideas, Universities may find that others are eating their lunch.”

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