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Biweekly links for 11/07/2008

by Michael Nielsen on November 7, 2008
  • Barack Obama: How He Did It | Newsweek Politics: Campaign 2008 | Newsweek.com
    • Gripping behind-the-scenes story describing the entire campaign.
  • The Beak of the Finch – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    • “The author Jonathan Weiner follows the career of two biologists, Peter and Rosemary Grant, who have spent twenty years proving that Charles Darwin did not know the full strength of his theory of evolution. On a desert island among the Galapagos… the Grants are showing that among the finches of the Galapagos, natural selection sometimes takes place so rapidly we can watch it at work.”
  • Technology, Politics and Democracy – O’Reilly Radar
    • This seems inevitable, especially as online tools get more sophisticated: “Online U.S. political communities will morph from a campaign fundraising role to a governing role. Regardless of whether Obama or McCain wins in November, every 2012 political campaign, even the laggards, will be as sophisticated as Obama is today- and any campaign with that much momentum won’t be able to stop community participation at the White House door or the Capitol steps (“thanks for all the money and support, I‘ll see you in four years”). Online communities will follow politicians into their governing roles. This summer when MyBarackObama experienced the FISA revolt within his own community this became clear. This has far more transformative potential than the fundraising juggernaut we are seeing now. Powerful communities may come to dominate the agenda of incumbent politicians providing feedback, direction and policy input. “
  • Joe Wikert’s Publishing 2020 Blog: Newspapers and the A.P.
    • “It seems like the A.P. was a solution to yesterday’s problem. Before the advent of the Internet and all the ways to move e-content from point A to point B it was a very useful model. But haven’t we gotten to the stage where all the newspapers could form their own new federation and accomplish the same objectives? The article talks about some local initiatives where several papers in Ohio formed a co-op to address this; why not take it up several notches and build a worldwide co-op?”
      MN: There are obvious problems here with the potential for free riders (c.f. Mancur Olson’s “The Logic of Collection Action”, and problems with groups action), but this seems worth exploring.
  • Savage Minds » The gap between taste and achievement
    • Thoughtful post about work, standards, and achievement. A small excerpt: “people who do mediocre work have some mixture of low standards, low energy, unambitious goals, and a high opinion of their abilities. People who do good work have high standards, work hard, stay hungry, and are all too aware of what the work demands and what they are capable of. Doing good work, doing it healthily, and over the course of an entire career, is not about closing the gap between taste and achievement, it is about keeping it open, and managing that gap in a healthy and productive way.”
  • The Happiness Project: Happiness: Six contradictions that will help you to be happier.
    • “I try to embrace these contradictions:

      1. Accept yourself, but expect more of yourself.
      2. Keep an empty shelf, and keep a junk drawer.
      3. Take yourself less seriously—and take yourself more seriously.
      4. Use your time efficiently, yet make time to play, to wander, to read at whim, to fail.
      5. Think about yourself so you can forget yourself.
      6. The days are long, but the years are short.”

  • Marginal Revolution: How to read popular non-fiction better
    • “There are (at least) three kinds of useful popular non-fiction works. The first open up a whole new world to you where previously none had existed. Many people felt this way when they read Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene for the first time. For obvious reasons, books like this are increasingly hard to find as you continue your reading career.

      The second kind are to be read in batches. No one of them is good enough to thrill you and maybe no one of them is accurate enough to trust. But if you read five to ten of them you get a sense of a field and its critical issues.

      The third kind are to be read as marginal additions to a body of knowledge you already have a good grasp of.

      The key is to have the kind of book that matches the kind you want. “

  • Savage Minds: Claude Levi-Strauss on data mining, in 1962
    • From his book “Savage Minds”, as quoted by the eponymous blog: “The greater our knowledge, the more obscure the overall scheme. The dimensions multiply, and the growth of axes of reference beyond a certain point paralyzes intuitive methods: it becomes impossible to visualize a system when its representation requires a continuum of more than three or four dimensions. But the day may come when all the available documentation on Australian tribes is transferred to punched cards and with the help of a computer their entire techno-economic, social and religious structures can be shown to be like a vast group of transformations. “
  • Geeking with Greg: Data is good, code is a liability
    • Based on a talk by Peter Norvig: “more data seems to help in many problems more than complicated algorithms. More data can hit diminishing returns at some point, but the point seems to be fairly far out for many problems, so keeping it simple while processing as much data as possible often seems to work best.”
  • Science in the open » Connecting the dots – the well posed question and code as a liability
    • Cameron Neylon on collective intelligence, data mining, and well-posed questions. Excerpt: “A well posed question is one which, given an appropriate dataset, can be answered by easily prepared and comprehensible code”
  • Chinese Government Gets In On Gold Farming Action With New 20% Tax
    • “Last year China banned the sale of virtual currency in an effort to shut down “gold farmers” — businesses that hire young Chinese to play video games all day and sell the proceeds (in the form of game currency or magic items) on eBay (EBAY) or online. The Chinese government did nothing to enforce its own ban, so it remains to be seen whether Beijing follows up with its latest edict: Gamers who sell virtual goods for a profit will be taxed at 20% of the proceeds, the same rate applied to profits on real estate or other transactions.

      In December 2005 the New York Times estimated 100,000 Chinese were employed full-time in the gold farming industry, and consulting group iResearch says the virtual currency trade is a $1.4 billion dollar industry growing at 15 to 20% a year.”

  • Jeff Atwood compares current computers and the Dynabook
    • Excellent article comparing Alan Kay’s original conception of the Dynabook with where we are today, and what else can be done.
  • stevenberlinjohnson.com: The System Worked
    • Rather than blog about the US presidential election, I’ll outsource to Steven Johnson, who I pretty much agree with 100 percent.
  • Open Access for inventors
    • About Johnny Chung Lee of Wii YouTube fame: “[…] the patent implication of Dr Lee’s practices. Patenting requires novelty, therefore by making his inventions public before filing for a patent application would invalidate any later request. However, by placing his inventions on YouTube, it also precludes anyone else from trying to patent the invention. This is, for lack of a better word, open source invention….

      Dr Lee’s success point the way towards a new model of invention. Share your ideas and findings on YouTube, and if they are good they will have an impact immediately. Imagine if Mr Lee had tried to patent instead of sharing, he may be sitting on a useless patent with no way to bring it to market. Sharing then becomes a good strategy for the struggling inventor….”

  • Asch conformity experiments
    • The famous experiments in which people under social pressure will agree with propositions that obviously contradict the evidence before their eyes. Has implications for collective intelligence, for if a large group comes to strongly held but wrong conclusion, lone group members with contradictory evidence may find it difficult to speak up.
  • Overcoming Bias: The Evil Pleasure
    • “We feel a deep pleasure from realizing that we believe something in common with our friends, and different from most people. We feel an even deeper pleasure letting everyone know of this fact. This feeling is EVIL. Learn to see it in yourself, and then learn to be horrified by how thoroughly it can poison your mind. Yes evidence may at times force you to disagree with a majority, and your friends may have correlated exposure to that evidence, but take no pleasure when you and your associates disagree with others; that is the road to rationality ruin. “
  • 100 Free Open Courseware Classes About Open Source Everything | BSchool.com Business Schools Directory
  • Daniel Lemire: Staying organized without planning
    • “I seriously doubt that anyone can manage his time better than with a greedy algorithm.”
  • Questions for James K. Galbraith – The Populist – Interview – NYTimes.com
    • Interview with Galbraith:

      “Q: But there are at least 15,000 professional economists in this country, and you’re saying only two or three of them foresaw the mortgage crisis?

      A: Ten or 12 would be closer than two or three.

      Q: What does that say about the field of economics, which claims to be a science?

      A: It’s an enormous blot on the reputation of the profession. There are thousands of economists. Most of them teach. And most of them teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless.”

  • Is a Political Endorsement Appropriate for a Technical Site? – Tim O’Reilly
    • A thoughtful discussion from Tim O’Reilly.
  • Marginal Revolution: How to read fast
    • “Another way to read quickly is to cut bait on the losers. I start ten or so books for every one I finish. I don’t mind disliking a book, and I never regret having picked it up and started it. I am ruthless in my discards.”
  • Official Google Blog: Putting crowd wisdom to work
    • The story of Google’s internal use of prediction markets.
  • The Napster pirates of transgenic biotech
    • A seed company in India pirated genetically modified cotton from Mayhco / Monsanto. The cotton is resistant to infestations by bollworms, which can apparently devastate harvests. The article tells the story of what happened, and the consequences, with many interesting lessons for regulation and IP law.
  • Doron Zeilberger’s 92nd Opinion: Twenty Pieces of Advice for a Young (and also not so young) Mathematician
  • YouTube – Stand By Me – Beautiful International Version
  • …My heart’s in Accra » Twittering the election… and wondering if this is the right tool
    • Ethan Zuckerman on voting transparency. Unsurprisingly, Ethan has much that is interesting to say about transparency around the world, not just in the US.
  • Enormously important news from the Free Software Foundation (Lessig Blog)
    • This has been coming for a while now, but is finally here: “the Wikipedia community now has the choice to relicense Wikipedia under a Creative Commons license.”
  • Thinking about RaaS: Research-as-a-Service « Freelancing science
    • A good metaphor to stimulate ideas.
  • Property, Intellectual Property, and Free Riding by Mark Lemley
    • “Courts and scholars have increasingly assumed that intellectual property is a form of property, and… condemn the use of intellectual property by others as “free riding.” … The economics of property is concerned with internalizing negative externalities – harms that one person’s use of land does to another’s interest to it, as in the familiar tragedy of the commons. But the externalities in intellectual property are positive, not negative, and property theory offers little or no justification for internalizing positive externalities… I proceed to explain why free riding is desirable in intellectual property cases except in limited circumstances… economic theory demonstrates that too much protection is just as bad as not enough protection, and therefore why intellectual property law must search for balance, not free riders. Finally, I consider whether we would be better served by another metaphor than the misused notion of intellectual property as a form of tangible property. “
  • Quantum Collaborations
    • An online platform for collaboration in quantum physics, which Matt Leifer is putting together.
  • “Innovation at Google” 2008 Event Notes
    • Many interesting tidbits on internal processes. E.g.: “Google Product Snippets are a weekly email sent out on Monday where Googlers are asked to submit their previous weeks projects and activities as well as their forecasted work for the week ahead. All Product Snippets are then compiled into a database and made searchable to other Googlers so everyone knows what is going on at Google. Data collected via Snippets is then published to the “PDB” or Google’s project database user interface all in real time making information collected easy for any Googler to access as well as comprehend no matter their area of expertise, language or location.”
  • Carlton M. Caves: What to do with the Republican rump?
  • Plant Twitter Kit
    • “Once the kit is assembled, connect it to the Internet through the built-in ethernet jack, jam the leads into the plant’s soil, and subscribe to the plant’s twitter feed. It will tell you when it needs watering, or scold you if you’ve overwatered it, and report its status in between.”

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