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.
Neglected public payphones in New York City are being turned into “GuyFi” stations: a place where one can rub one out for the sake of “stress relief.” Annalee Newitz reports on the wank booths from a company named “Hot Octopus”… The company reported that at least 100 men used the booth on its opening day […]
You’d be forgiven for thinking the videocassette format long-dead, but it turns out that Betamax is still around. Sony is finally going to withdraw tapes from sale, bringing a 40-year story to an end. The last recorders were sold in 2002. ベータビデオカセットおよびマイクロMVカセットテープ出荷終了のお知らせ [Sony; via The Verge]
A leaked Comcast memo discloses that the company’s consumer data caps have nothing to do with network congestion, contrary to its public claims. The internet service provider has often complained (such as when lobbying against net neutrality) that it must impose limits on service to prevent network congestion. The argument suggests that these measures are […]
Remember back to the time when people thought java was just a hip way to talk about coffee? Or you vaguely remembered from geography class that it’s an island in the South Pacific? We’ve come a long way since then and now that we’ve rocket blasted into the tech future, you’re going to need to […]
Plastic is so 2013. You don’t want to buy something only to throw it away or lose it and barely care. You like nice things and want to hang onto them. The Plazmatic lighter here is a high quality, high tech alternative to the typical cheap, plastic lighter you get at the old gas station. […]
Real engineers build things. Super cool engineers build things with their hands and fingers, like our engineering forefathers did. No idea where to even begin to do that? This step by step Arduino course is now 92% off and is going to get you up and running, from zero to hero, in no time. So […]