LinkLog: Cognitive Surplus?

This post triggers a whole bunch of thoughts and ideas. Clay Shirky talks about Social Surplus and Cognitive Surplus. Some nuggets:

So how big is that surplus? So if you take Wikipedia as a kind of unit, all of Wikipedia, the whole project–every page, every edit, every talk page, every line of code, in every language that Wikipedia exists in–that represents something like the cumulation of 100 million hours of human thought.

The way you explore complex ecosystems is you just try lots and lots and lots of things, and you hope that everybody who fails fails informatively…

The normal case of social software is still failure; most of these experiments don’t pan out. But the ones that do are quite incredible…

People like to consume, but they also like to produce, and they like to share.

It’s [cognitive surplus] so large that even a small change could have huge ramifications. Let’s say that everything stays 99 percent the same, that people watch 99 percent as much television as they used to, but 1 percent of that is carved out for producing and for sharing. The Internet-connected population watches roughly a trillion hours of TV a year. That’s about five times the size of the annual U.S. consumption. One per cent of that is 10,000 Wikipedia projects per year worth of participation.

I think that’s going to be a big deal. Don’t you?

There are all kinds of interesting and useful projects cropping up all over the web. They promote the architecture of participation. Some of them are physical meets, some of them are shared col laboratories mostly powered by wikis and many of them promote sharing. I have my own experiments in this space – one on teaching and learning and another in setting up an incremental innovation lab. I will report my progress in a few months.

Steven Pinker: Human Intelligence

In this TED Talk,  Steven Pinker talks about the way we use words, how we learn, and how we relate to others.

Human Intelligence consists of:

  • A repertoire of concepts (objects, space, time, causation, intention) useful in social, knowledge intensive species
  • A process of metaphorical abstraction: conceptual structure bleached of its content, applied to new abstract domains

LinkLog: The Most Important Skill

What is the most important skill to get a lot of passionate users? From  You can Outspend or Out-teach

The most important skill today is… teaching.

Because what you believe in, you can teach. And teaching is the “killer app” for a newer, more ethical approach to marketing. While in the past, those who out-spent (on ads, and big promotions) would often win, that’s becoming less and less true today for a lot of things–especially the things designed for a younger, more-likely-to-be-online user community.

Kind of a markets-are-classrooms notion. Those who teach stand the best chance of getting people to become passionate. And those with the most passionate users don’t need an ad campaign when they’ve got user evangelists doing what evangelists do… talking about their passion.

LinkLog: Do What You Love

From a Non-Programmer’s Apology, Aaron produces one of the best articles I have read – “To be or not to be” a programmer.

Learning is like compound interest. A little bit of knowledge makes it easier to pick up more. Knowing what addition is and how to do it, you can then read a wide variety of things that use addition, thus knowing even more and being able to use that knowledge in a similar manner.5 And so, the growth in knowledge accelerates.6 This is why children who get started on something at a young age, as Mozart did, grow up to have such an advantage.

But there is another, more important motivator – interest.

And even if (highly implausibly) we were able to control the circumstances in which all children grew up so as to maximize their ability to perform the most important tasks, that still would not be enough, since in addition to aptitude there is also interest.

A quote in his notes, provides some clue on how to tackle such dilemmas – where you are good at one thing but would really like to do something else.

“when it comes to choosing a life path, you should do what you love — because if you don’t love it, you are unlikely to work hard enough to get very good. Most people naturally don’t like to do things they aren’t ‘good’ at. So they often give up, telling themselves they simply don’t possess the talent for math or skiing or the violin. But what they really lack is the desire to be good and to undertake the deliberate practice that would make them better.”

Related The Definition of Work (originally titled “It is hard to find work you love”)

Worlds that Connect to our Words

I don’t find as much time to sit down and read a physical book. It is easy to read tweets and blogs and reddit posts. I am always there in front of the computer. It is not just a tool for working. It is also place to listen to podcasts, watch msnbc video clips of democratic primaries, catch some music and generally dream.

But I sat with the book again, and I feel compelled to get back to the machine and share a para.

A feature of the mind that we will repeatedly encounter in these pages is that even our most abstract concepts are understood in terms of concrete scenarios. That applies in full force to the subject matter of the book itself. In this introductory chapter, I will preview some of the books topics with vignettes from newspapers and the Internet that can be understood only through the lens of semantics. The come from each of the worlds that connect to our words – the worlds of thought, reality, community, emotions and social relations.

I would highly recommend starting with this video from TED

Presentation: How to Write Pythonic Code

The topic was interesting enough for me to investigate. But what I found in addition to a nice presentation was the way it was made.

In case anybody wonders how the slides were produced: I creatd them using, a tool included in the docutils distribution that takes a reST source document and turns it into HTML suitable for the browser-based S5 slide show system. I also integrated Pygments to colorize the Python source code of the examples.

Link to the whole tool chain along with templates here.

Many Ways I Use Twitter

I am on and off on Twitter. But of late I am more on. Here is why. I found a bunch of uses of Twitter.

  1. As a bookmarking tool (I started using it in addition to
  2. As a source for instant tech info – I follow some cool dudes like Dave Winer, Robert Scoble, Jon Udell, Dion Hinchcliffe, eHub and zdnet. I get a lot more than what I can handle in any given day
  3. As a source of instant social news – I follow a bunch of friends and as the twit, I get hit
  4. As an idealog – I just started this. Throw out ideas and someone will respond. A quick validation. Previously I used to blog about it (takes too much time), write it down (forget where it is), put it in a wiki (again takes too much time). I know that I can take these idea stream and work on some of them at some point in time.
  5. I think some really cool stuff is happening with twitter as a collaboration tool. I followed Dion and team building a social graph app on Google engine (heard it through Dave’s posts)
  6. Talk to myself. Read-pause-reflect an eternal spiral.
  7. As a LearnLog (what did I do, why did I do it and when did I do it). Always amusing to see why work seems so much fun and after some time realize that you are kind of working but mostly having fun.

I think I will set some self imposed limits so that I do not become an addict. I haven’t figured out what they are yet. Here is my Twitter Account.

Update: The original title was Seven Ways I use Twitter. Then I though, why limit it? Why not keep adding new ones?

8. Purely for fun – it is kind of intoxicating

9. Just getting out “Ideas Worth Spreading” – a tag line of TED Talks, I love

10. As an advertisement for my blog? Mixed feelings about that.

Programmer’s Notebook

In mid 90s I read an article about keeping a programmer’s journal. I don’t know where the article went, but recall sharing it with a couple of my friends. I knew it had something to do with the original wiki. I finally found it. It was an entry in one of my 2001 posts in a yahoo group. I don’t think it is the original, but this one is good enough to share.

I am trying to get a young project team to keep a learning log and project log. But I need to tell them how and why.  This page does a good job. But I don’t want to lose it again. So I put it everywhere I can think of (lots of redundancy). Here is a copy.

  • Start slowly; some log is better than no log. (AnyXisBetterThanNone)
  • Don’t postpone writing something down. Somebody else will come along, and you’ll forget your bright idea.
  • Put a date on every entry.
  • Number the pages so that you can easily reference them.
  • Use a consistent format so that you can easily go back and find something.
  • Use a horizontal separator line and a project name to separate individual subjects (e.g., music, theorem proving, or language research).
  • Use secondary headings that include the date and the subject (for example: “980425, Ideas on extending Java with laziness”).
  • Different kinds of entries, each with a special symbol in the margin: remarks, questions, definitions, to do items, MetaRemarks.
  • After every entry, leave at least a single empty line. This can be used for last-minute additions, the answer to a question, or a forward reference to more thoughts on the same subject.
  • Make it readable for yourself and others.
  • Log meetings with dates, attendees, topics and results.
  • Keep a separate ToDoList, or put it in a special place. Do not scatter ToDoItems? throughout your notebook.
  • LetYourLogsBecomeYourPlans

What are the current tools to keep a journal.

  1. Google Notebook
  2. Twitter – a couple of sentences on the thoughts as they occur with a special marker
  3. A wiki (which is what we are using now, with private spaces for each member of the project team)
  4. Your blog (if you want to write a lot more)

1 and 4 may work even for private info that you may not want to share publicly. What kind of items can you log? At the risk of repeating some from the list above, here is mine:

  1. Questions
  2. Resources
  3. How-tos
  4. Problems and How I solved them
  5. Idioms I learned (or used)
  6. Things to Research (like Questions)
  7. Why did I/we make a certain decision? What were the options?
  8. what did we learn – LearnLog
  9. List of things to do – TodoList
  10. Open Issues – Things to think about (no immediate action known)
  11. Ideas – IdeaLog

If there is one thing to remember, it is  “Start slowly; some log is better than no log”.

More resources:


Self Improvement Patterns – Slightly related but fun to read

Engineers Don’t Start Like Business Folk

I am reading a series of blogs about HP Pheonomenon by Chuck House , thanks to a note sent by a friend, Bill (Mr. Human Glue) Daul of NextNow.

I paused when I came this line:

Engineers don’t start out thinking like, or looking like, business folk.

How true. There is a lot of difference between the companies started and run by Engineers vs Business People. Both seem to be successful in their own way. You need a combination of both to build a successful company. Marketing/Sales/Technology is a key combination. Having said that, look at companies built by engineers and business folk. There is a distinct difference in the culture.

This is an illuminating blog. It takes you back more than 50 years and tells the story of a great company. Chuck says that it is just a few front-end loaded with about 12 small items.

Here is a little snippet of the story on the first laser printer HP produced and the marketing.

We had a poll in marketing on how many we’d sell the first month. The forecast was 75. Actual sales were zero. We also sold zero in January and February. Finally in March, Dan Schwartz sold our first trade unit to AAMC in Washington D.C.

But read this. It will blow your mind.

After the failures, the Boise, Idaho management team had lost enthusiasm for this sector, reducing the development team to five engineers for the third try – which yielded a product called the HP 2686A, later retitled as the HP LaserJet. It was a stunning, and unexpected, success, turning into a product bigger by a factor of five than anything else in HP’s 90 division line-up.

Each post has a telling story. They fill you with wonder and some times make you think, “I know how that feels”. I just can’t wait for the book to appear. Meanwhile, I am going to keep track of this blog.