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Biweekly links for 09/04/2009

by Michael Nielsen on September 4, 2009
  • Wine, Physics, and Song
    • Howard Barnum’s blog. True to the promise of the name, he does indeed cover wine, physics and song, with wine currently having a slight edge over physics, and song well behind. Economics occasionally sneaks in.
  • ongoing: interview with Ravelry’s Casey Jones
    • Interview with Casey Jones, the main developer on Ravelry, the amazingly successful site for knitters and crocheters.
  • EtherPad Blog: Saving is Obsolete
    • Very cool: move to any point in the history of a document: “Have you ever forgot to hit “save” and lost work? Ever wished you could go back to an earlier version of a document to see how the document evolved?

      Now you can. EtherPad keeps track of all your typing in realtime. With our new Time-Slider, you can browse the complete history of a document using a familiar user interface.”

  • Story Time : Common Knowledge
    • Excellent thoughtful piece from John Wilbanks. Takeaway for me: scientific results need a narrative explanation, so humans can understand them, and a structured machine readable explanation, so computers can understand them. Who will provide the latter? John points to publishers. I’m doubtful. I wonder whether it can’t be baked into the paper preparation process, the same way blogging platforms like wordpress bake machine readable metadata automatically into RSS feeds. Tough problem, still.
  • Finding and Fixing Errors in Google’s Book Catalog | Freedom to Tinker
    • “There was a fascinating exchange about errors in Google’s book catalog over at the Language Log recently. We rarely see such an open and constructive discussion of errors in large data sets, so this is an unusual opportunity to learn about how errors arise and what can be done about them… What’s most interesting to me is a seeming difference in mindset between critics like Nunberg on the one hand, and Google on the other. Nunberg thinks of Google’s metadata catalog as a fixed product that has some (unfortunately large) number of errors, whereas Google sees the catalog as a work in progress, subject to continual improvement. Even calling Google’s metadata a “catalog” seems to connote a level of completion and immutability that Google might not assert. An electronic “card catalog” can change every day — a good thing if the changes are strict improvements such as error fixes — in a way that a traditional card catalog wouldn’t.”
  • “Open Access” Journals are Advertising « Algorithmic Game Theory
    • Noam Nisan with some thoughtful concerns about author pays open access. Caveats are necessary (see my comment at the post), but the concerns are worth thinking about.
  • Howard Rheingold : Mindful Infotention: Dashboards, Radars, Filters
    • “Knowing what to pay attention to is a cognitive skill that steers and focuses the technical knowledge of how to find information worth your attention. More and more, knowing where to direct your attention involves a third element, together with your own attentional discipline and use of online power tools – other people. Increasingly, most of the recommendations that make it possible to find fresh and useful signals amid the overwhelming noise of the Internet are social media – online networks that make possible social exchange and relationship. Tuning and feeding our personal learning networks is where the internal and the technological meet the social. “
  • Copenhagen’s Living Library
    • Borrow a human from Copenhagen’s Living Library.
  • Second Skin | Savage Minds
    • “So I just watched Second Skin, a documentary—as far as I know, the only documentary—which focuses squarely on the lives of on-line game players.”
  • Stephen Fry: In search of the planet’s most endangered species | Environment | The Guardian
    • “Are the animals worth saving because they hold an important place in the great interconnected web of existence? Are they worth saving because they might one day yield important clues and compounds to help us with medicine or some other useful technology? Or are they worth saving because they are the beautiful achievement of millions of years of natural selection? Extinction is a natural part of creation, this is unquestionably true: yet no matter what one’s views on climate change or global warming, it is impossible, impossible, to deny that man-made alterations to habitat are threatening thousands of plant and animal species across the planet at an unprecedented rate and scale. So the question is perhaps not “Why should we save them?” but “What right do we have to destroy them?””
  • Exploring dangerous neighborhoods: Latent Semantic Analysis and computing beyond the bounds of the familiar
    • Using data mining to evaluate whether a psychiatric patient poses a danger to themselves or others.
  • Do Bugreporters Become Better Over Time? « NetworkLabs
    • Fascinating study of bug reporting patterns for Mozilla. Takeaways: (1) people rapidly improve the quality of their bug reports; (2) there appears to be a sizeable difference in quality between the bug reports of newbies and experienced developers; and (3) there are a small minority of people who have submitted lots of bugs, but who don’t seem to be any better than the newbies.
  • Intervening in the life cycles of scientific knowledge – Don Swanson
    • “the fragmentation that inevitably accompanies the growth of science has created an altogether different set of problems–as well as opportunities. Interrelationships among the fragments, unnoticed because of the insularity of specialties, have been shown to harbor previously unknown solutions to authentic scientific problems, and so to hold a potential for rejuvenating knowledge that might otherwise be considered obsolete. The invisible growth of relatedness probably follows a combinatorial law and so may far exceed even the explosive growth rates that have characterized both the scientific community and the mountains of print it produces. “
  • A Protocol for Packet Network Intercommunication (Cerf and Kahn, pdf)
    • You’re reading these words over the protocol described in this paper.
  • Galaxy Zoo Blog » A Galaxy Zoo – WorldWide Telescope Mashup
    • “Have you ever found yourself staring proudly at the collection of beautiful and exotic galaxies that fill your favourites list? Have you ever wanted to share these objects with a friend or loved one and realized there was just no easy way to do it? Sure, you can click on the image, delve into SkyServer, and copy and paste one image at a time into an email, but… That gets kind of tedious pretty quickly, and if your favourites list is like mine, it’s not a 5-minute copy and paste kind of task.

      Well, now there is an easier way to inflict your favourites on others.”

  • What Kate Saw in Silicon Valley
    • Summary: startups fail, even ones from famous founders (customers don’t care how famous the founder is); startups completely change what they’re doing, on short timescales; it costs almost nothing to start a startup; the founders are scrappy (an asset not appreciated by most of society); founders are not obviously trying to stand out (see above: customers don’t care how impressive the founder seems); founders need mentors; starting a startup is a very solitary activity. “By inverting this list, we can get a portrait of the “normal” world. It’s populated by people who talk a lot with one another as they work slowly but harmoniously on conservative, expensive projects whose destinations are decided in advance, and who carefully adjust their manner to reflect their position in the hierarchy.”
  • A Computational View of Market Efficiency
    • “We propose to study market efficiency from a computational viewpoint. Borrowing from theoretical computer science, we define a market to be efficient with respect to resources S (e.g., time, memory) if no strategy using resources S can make a profit. As a first step, we consider memory-m strategies whose action at time t depends only on the m previous observations at times t-m,…,t-1. We introduce and study a simple model of market evolution, where strategies impact the market by their decision to buy or sell. We show that the effect of optimal strategies using memory m can lead to “market conditions” that were not present initially, such as (1) market bubbles and (2) the possibility for a strategy using memory m’ > m to make a bigger profit than was initially possible. We suggest ours as a framework to rationalize the technological arms race of quantitative trading firms. “
  • Explicit semantic analysis (pdf)
    • Very interesting paper on extracting concepts from a very large corpus of data (e.g., Wikipedia), using ideas based on latent semantic analysis. The rough idea seems to be to do a singular value decomposition (SVD) of the word-frequency matrix, and then to truncate the SVD to a much smaller “concept space”. The isometries appearing in the SVD can then be used to define a rotation into concept space. These rotations can then be used to compare general phrases, e.g., “the author wrote a blog post” versus “the essayist penned an essay”, seeing how closely they overlap in concept space. For more details, see the paper. I wonder how much the results would be improved by starting with a larger corpus (e.g., Google’s cache of the web).
  • The Semantic Web – my personal (unofficial) FAQ: James Hendler
  • Facebook’s Religion Question Prompts Soul-Searching
    • Facebook gives people a free-form text box to describe their religion. Asking such a personal question gives some surprising answers. My favourite was probably the woman who summed up both her Catholicism and her difficulties with Catholicism by describing her religion as “Matthew 25”. “Jedi” comes in at number 10.

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One Comment
  1. Regarding the knitting site Ravelry, another fabulous link is mathematician Daina Taimina’s knitted hyperbolic spaces … these are the state-spaces upon which large-scale quantum simulations are computed \& so these geometries have a special place in hearts of quantum systems engineers.

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