Parents can sometimes be appalled at the hypnotic effect that television has on toddlers; they see their otherwise active and vibrant children gazing silently, mouth agape at the screen, and they assume the worst: that television is turning their child into a zombie. The same feeling arises a few years later when they see their grade-schoolers navigating a video game world, oblivious to the reality that surrounds them. But these expressions are not signs of mental atrophy. They’re signs of focus.
2005’s Everything Good is Bad for You by Steve Johnson is a challenge to the idea that pop culture is ruining our brains. Mainstream television shows are quantifiably more complex and mentally demanding than the shows of previous decades, and video games test and develop our problem solving skills better than ever before. Definitely worth reading.
In the last year I started hearing a lot of hype about html5. So far I’ve been impressed. They’ve clearly expanded it to become more of a platform for rich graphics. Here are some cool projects I’ve worked (or am working) on.
Some bacteria learned to survive and thrive in an environment rich in Arsenic, a normally poisonous element to life. It’s poisonous because chemically it’s almost interchangeable with Phosphorus (note their same column position in the Periodic Table). It’s usually not interchangeable enough and ends up causing problems and interrupting all sorts of necessary biochemical reactions in your body, but these new forms of bacteria were able to work out the kinks and make Arsenic work.
Very interesting, but profoundly disappointing from speculation earlier in the week. Even more disappointing is that the researchers didn’t even discover this bacteria using Arsenic in the wild. They “removed the phosphorus and replaced it with arsenic the microbes continued to grow. Subsequent analyses indicated that the arsenic was being used to produce the building blocks of new GFAJ-1 cells. ” (NASA)
At minimum I thought they had discovered life provably independent in origin from other life forms on Earth. This bacteria descended from the same path we did.
One of life’s great questions is, were we a fluke?
It’s likely that there is life out there in the Universe, but it’s unclear how rare it is. If we ever find bacterial life elsewhere in the solar system or discover that life “sparked” more than once on Earth we can assume the universe is full of aliens. That’s a discovery that would have “changed everything.”
This month’s Wired has a great article (not online yet, so no link) by Jason Fagone about the International Olympiad in Informatics where high school students from all over the world compete to solve problems through software. It’s fiercely competitive and has its own sub culture of super stars, namely Gennady Korotkevich of Belarus, who at 14 became the youngest world champion.
What should have been an inspiring and interesting look into this academic sport with open ended problems such as how to best determine the language of a given text string, went sour for me when Fagone brought up US coach, Rob Kolstad, who admits he doesn’t “know how to do most of the algorithms.” After Korotkevich won his second straight Olympiad at 15, Kolstad remarked, “the question is, will he die a virgin?”
I expect smartasses with no respect for the brilliance of these kids to say something like that, but not someone who works with them every day and helps them train. He’s not someone I want to represent the US either.
When Will Ferrel describes his George W Bush impression, he says he just imagines having a lot of “unearned confidence.” How would you know if you were one of these people? I first heard about the Dunning-Kruger effect in a comment on Hacker News and it immediately made me question a lot of things.
The Dunning?Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which an unskilled person makes poor decisions and reaches erroneous conclusions, but their incompetence denies them the metacognitive ability to realize their mistakes
Throughout my life I’ve forced myself to be confident in my abilities (ie. gotten out of my comfort zone) in an effort to improve my skills and do more things. I’ve always considered being optimistic and determined to succeed was a positive thing.
Luckily, according to Dunning and Kruger if I suffered from this effect I wouldn’t be able to recognize and change anyway. WIN.
Ouch. I just looked up my goals for 2010 and I am NOT doing well. Here’s my progress so far.
1. Read 12 Books – Easily completed this already. A few I listened to using Audible.com and I read the Purple Cow on my iPhone with the Kindle app.
So far I’ve read
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Ed Tufte
Priceless by William Poundstone
Anathem by Neal Stephenson
Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
Daemon by Daniel Suarez
The Purple Cow by Seth Godin
Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
Start with No by Jim Camp
Born to Run by Chris McDougall
The Road by Corman McCarthy
The Long Tail by Chris Anderson
The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki
I’m still working on Under the Dome by Stephen King and Envisioning Information by Ed Tufte. Under the Dome is so big I can’t bring it with me when traveling. I’m about halfway through Ghost War, but I don’t know if I’ll finish it. It’s great, but it will take me forever.
2. Run a sub 23 minute 5K – There is no way this is happening this year. I ran one last month and my time was 25:14. I think I can get down to 24:30 in a month and I’m ok with that.
3. Write 5 Songs – Total failure. I really thought I’d be able to do this, but song writing has escaped me this year. I haven’t written a single new song. In fact, I’ve probably only written 2 in the last three years. Sad. I’ve been getting the bug to start playing more, though.
5. Finish my House – Well, I sold it so does that count? It sold in two days, which was awesome.
6. 6 batches of beer – Fail. I have a batch brewing now, but it’s my only 2010 batch.
So I’ve completed 2/6, but really failed at 4. Better luck next year!,
I changed the layout on this site in response to what I took away from my session with Ed Tufte. Here’s an applicable quote from Tufte:
Whatever reasonably serves the content, avoids non-content pixels (including navigation and designer pixels) as much as possible, favors user scanning over substantial amounts of material rather than premature linking, reduces impediments to learning, and never requires the phrase “skip intro” on its frontpage. All this usually implies that there should be between 100 and 400 content links on the frontpage, just like a good news site.
Nearly all users come to a website for a content experience, not a designer experience.
So my new layout tries to increase the data density. I shrunk my header (the eyes will probably change) and added links to my previous 200 posts. The titles of these posts say more about me than any “About me” text and provide an easy way for people to peruse my content.