Steven Johnson (author of the fantastic Mind Wide Open
and other books) has written a fascinating essay about his new creative process, which involves a suite of tools that store his notes and works in unstructured databases, and tease out and suggest subtly connected ideas, so that as he writes, his computer jams
with him, suggesting neat tangents to his subjects. It's a great example of good computer-human interaction, where computers are used to programatically count and compare quantifiable elements (word and phrase frequencies) and human beings are used to pass judgement on the output of the computers. People are good at understanding and crap at counting; computers are just the reverse.
Johnson's piece is a thought-provoking look at how productivity software can really change the way that you work -- that you think! Writing in the era of these tools is truly a different undertaking than the writing of old.
Think of all the documents you have on your machine that are longer than a thousand words: business plans, articles, ebooks, pdfs of product manuals, research notes, etc. When you're making an exploratory search through that information, you're not looking for the files that include the keywords you've identified; you're looking for specific sections of text -- sometimes just a paragraph -- that relate to the general theme of the search query. If I do a Google Desktop search for "Richard Dawkins" I'll get dozens of documents back, but then I have to go through and find all the sections inside those documents that are relevant to Dawkins, which saves me almost no time.
So the proper unit for this kind of exploratory, semantic search is not the file, but rather something else, something I don't quite have a word for: a chunk or cluster of text, something close to those little quotes that I've assembled in DevonThink. If I have an eBook of Manual DeLanda's on my hard drive, and I search for "urban ecosystem" I don't want the software to tell me that an entire book is related to my query. I want the software to tell me that these five separate paragraphs from this book are relevant. Until the tools can break out those smaller units on their own, I'll still be assembling my research library by hand in DevonThink.
(There's also an accompanying NYT editorial that Steven wrote, but I can't get into it since the Times so aggressively blocks bugmenot passwords. If you think that newspapers should have the right to positively identify their casual readers, you can create a login and read this. Not me, though.
David Robinson used the data from the 28,657 people who self-selected to take the Stack Overflow survey to investigate the relationship between programmer pay and the conventions of using either tabs or spaces to mark indents, and found a persistent, significant correlation between using spaces and bringing home higher pay.
It’s the end of an era, sort of: Fraunhofer IIS, the developers of the MP3 audio compression format, announced that they are ceasing their licensing program. In a blog post, spokesman Matthias Rose says that it’s had a good 20-year run and is obsolete. But it’s also true that the decoding patents expired last year, […]
Freddy deBoer writes that he’s been telling the same joke for years about Silicon Valley’s only product, which might be universalized as “At last, a way to verb with nouns on the internet!” But the social-media techopoly is stable, now, and so the venture capitalists have moved on to the three terrible trends that will […]
Despite the upfront cost, electric toothbrushes are much better at removing plaque than those freebies from the dentist’s office. For those who struggle to fill the American Dental Association’s recommended two minutes of brushing time, or anyone with limited dexterity, a sonic toothbrush can give your oral care routine a boost.To keep your chops healthy […]
Learning a new language will give your resume an upgrade, sure, but it will also provide a huge cognitive boost for mental tasks outside of translation and conversation. Bilingual brains have been shown to be better at handling multiple concurrent tasks, and gaining fluency in a new tongue is an amazing way to improve memory, […]
If you struggle to get a good night’s rest, consider replacing your pillows before dropping hundreds on a new mattress. You can give your tired neck a break with a 2-pack of memory foam pillows, available now in the Boing Boing Store.Each of these pillows is stuffed with cooling polyurethane foam that molds to your […]