Print Story Not "What am I reading?", but "What am I reading for?"
By TheophileEscargot (Sat Jan 29, 2011 at 09:14:59 AM EST) Reading, Watching, MLP, Consumerism (all tags)
Reading: "Where Good Ideas Come From". Watching: "American: The Bill Hicks Story". Consumerism. Links.

What I'm Reading
Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson. Book on the origins of creativity, which consciously plays down the idea of the Lone Genius experiencing a Flash of Revelation in favour of models where creativity emerges from networks.

Makes some very good points. Important inventions usually emerge from several different sources almost simultaneously. This is explained with the concept of the "Adjacent Possible": the inventions come about when certain pre-requisites are met. For instance, oxygen could only really be discovered after accurate scales were invented that could measure the weight loss after a gas is evolved from a solid.

Johnson also adds other concepts. Networks are important as ideas are usually synthesized from other ideas, sometimes in unrelated fields. He also uses the concept of "bricolage" where different ideas are reused. This can be physical, as when the first printing press was based on a grape-press for making wine, or more metaphorical.

I found the large scale implications of this most interesting. Our laws, economy and society seem to be largely built around the Lone Genius theory. For instance, the patent system is set up so that for a long period after an invention the Lone Genius can profit hugely from it: this is presumed to be necessary to give the Geniuses an incentive to benefit us with their inventions. This seems quite likely to be mistaken: even without the patent protection, someone else would be likely to stumble across the same idea shortly after it enters the adjacent possible.

Also, there are ideas coming out of some quarters that things like universities and libraries are obsolete, since people can just suck down the facts they need sitting at home on the internet. But it seems likely that they serve a role as bringing together networks of otherwise unlikely connections of ideas and people.

I wasn't so interested in the smaller scale content, which takes a Wired/Life Hacks kind of approach to how individuals and organizations can boost their creativity. This is the kind of stuff you'd expect to see: allow information sharing, let people meet informally, expose yourself to new ideas from different areas, get a proper balance between a chaotic environment of constant interruptions and a silo environment where people don't communicate.

Overall though, fairly interesting, especially for the details of how some ideas came about. YouTube RSA.

What I'm Watching
Saw the documentary biopic American - The Bill Hicks Story. Uses lots of old photographs collaged into backgrounds and semi-animated with perspective zooms to add interest to the voiceovers. Also contains video of course: some interesting extracts of his older performances.

Fairly interesting if you liked Hicks comedy. But family and friends seem to have made the movie, and it verges on the hagiographic sometimes. Doesn't feel like you're getting the whole story: would have expected some contribution from his girlfriends for instance.

Predictably startled at how young he looks in the footage: I saw him perform live at a student union gig and he seemed like a grizzled veteran who knew it all. Now it seems like he was just a kid when he died aged 32.

Overall, not bad, but too respectful to be a great biography.

What I'm Watching 2
Saw Horizon: Science Under Attack on TV. Nobel-winning biologist and new Royal Society president Sir Paul Nurse examines the war on science. Very good programme: thoughtful and intelligent, well worth watching. Still available on Iplayer in the UK for a bit.

Acquired a Sandisk Sansa music player recently. For the last few years I've been listening to music on my phone when on the move, since that means only one charger and only carrying one gadget. However, the current crop of miniature players aren't really much bigger that the headphones alone. This has 8GB built-in plus another 16GB on the SDHC card, so you can hold a reasonable amount of music.

Quite impressed by it so far. Battery lasts a while. You can drag and drop music onto it. Plays Oggs and WMA as well as MP3. You can navigate and play by folder and winamp playlist. Not too fiddly to use. Only downside is that it doesn't seem that loud even on full volume for some tracks, but that's probably mostly my failing ears.

Consumerism 2
The CD player on my late-Nineties Panasonic Mini Hi-Fi system seems to have failed. Tape players went a while back. Don't listen to much non-headphone music these days, but could probably do with a replacement. Any recommendations?

Could really do with something that plays MP3s as well, ideally something I could just plug into my computer, grab the collection, then take away again. The speakers are fine and seems a shame to get rid of them.

Not sure whether to get a mini player like this or this; or whether to get a separate and plug it into the Aux socket.

Consumerism 3
After the much-publicized problems Google has with spam and content farms, I've been trying out another search engine:

Works pretty well for most queries as more of the crap is filtered out. However it doesn't seem to be quite as good at finding obscure stuff. Currently I'm using it as my default in the search box, but going back to Google if it doesn't seem to be finding stuff.

What search engines other than Google do you use?

Socioeconomics. Why are public sector efficiency savings so hard? "Failure Demand" seems like a useful concept. Irish given ape-like caricatures. Low interest rates subsidize banks.

Sports and Fitness. The Good Gym: go for a run, get a housebound neighbour a newspaper or something. Free weights versus machines: each has pros and cons but randomized trials suggest overall benefits about even (Inspired by an article too dumb to link to). Early 20th century Muller system (via).

Politics. How to win at kettling. Egyptian activists action plan. Model of political unrest (via). ACS:Law ceases claims against filesharers.

Pics. Solar sail. What is Goth?

Video. Up! (1968). Lego guns. Factzone viewer has sad, pathetic life. Auf Wiedersehen Pet explains AV.

Random. Exploring the sunken Fleet river. Chinese suicide catcher. Normal Breasts Photos Gallery (via, NSFW duh).

Bizarre: Mefite sets part of a comment of mine about price signalling to music.

< My milkshake brings all | We are home. >
Not "What am I reading?", but "What am I reading for?" | 14 comments (14 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
should play flacs as well by dev trash (4.00 / 1) #1 Sat Jan 29, 2011 at 01:46:38 PM EST
And if you load the Rockbox firmware, you can double the size of the SD cards you can use.  Also the Rockbox seems to play music louder for me, wonder if there is some sort of limiting function in the stock firmware a la iPods causing hearing loss a few years back.

Public sector efficiencies by Herring (4.00 / 1) #2 Sat Jan 29, 2011 at 06:29:10 PM EST
I read that article and I can't help thinking that these problems are not unique to public sector services. IT departments (or at least some development departments) suffer from exactly the same thing - by rushing to deliver the project on time/budget (ish) the organisation ends up spending more time/money putting it right.

Internal service departments are in a similar position to public sector service departments - we have to deal with whoever comes through the door. Actually, that's not completely true - if someone is a real shit we can go to their line manager. That works unless the biggest shit is the CEO ...

Actually this is a bit of a trivial comparison. Generally when we fuck up nobody dies.

christ, we're all old now - StackyMcRacky

So I don't end up being a fuckin' waffle waitress. by ammoniacal (4.00 / 1) #3 Sat Jan 29, 2011 at 08:16:45 PM EST

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

To please ammo by Herring (4.00 / 2) #7 Mon Jan 31, 2011 at 10:32:32 AM EST
takes a special woman ... or a whole bunch of average ones.

christ, we're all old now - StackyMcRacky
[ Parent ]
The record bears that out. by ammoniacal (4.00 / 1) #8 Mon Jan 31, 2011 at 10:39:31 AM EST

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

[ Parent ]
Failure demand by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #4 Sun Jan 30, 2011 at 05:01:22 AM EST
... also appeals to me. This six sigma business is actually one of the corporate activities which is both efficient and very reminiscent of a command economy. Basically you find a workflow, make measurements, and then tune the fuck out of it. I can see how it works great in manufacturing, and in certain sort of production line activities elsewhere. Usually six sigmas is too much though, outside manufacturing. And as Herring was saying, sometimes there isn't a repeatible process because every project really is different. You can only find the microactivities to tune.

Also reminds me of a Bertrand Meyer quote: "It is crucial to find, as a criterion for decomposition, properties less volatile than the system's main function."

Great remix, you should bring him in as a guest artist on your yearly bookdump and see what happens :)

Iambic Web Certified

do you feel by tierrasimbolica (4.00 / 1) #5 Mon Jan 31, 2011 at 12:59:25 AM EST
 there are more effective ways to boost creativity?  just curious.

Well by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 1) #12 Mon Jan 31, 2011 at 03:05:17 PM EST
On a personal level, I don't think there's that much you can do to boost your creativity that you wouldn't want to do already (have side projects, read widely, talk to people).

On an organizational level, the problem is fighting the organization. This stuff would be useful if you were setting up a new office with a fair amount of control over it, but I'm not in that position.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
'Acquired a Sandisk Sansa music player recently.' by chuckles (4.00 / 1) #6 Mon Jan 31, 2011 at 04:39:59 AM EST
It is unfortunate that you cannot afford a proper music player, but you probably deserve your station in life.

"The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin [...] would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities"
Flame war. by Tonatiuh (4.00 / 1) #9 Mon Jan 31, 2011 at 11:20:12 AM EST
People liberated from the fruity named company don't need a computer or special software to listen to music.

That is invaluable (what else do you get from the market leader except abuse anyway?

[ Parent ]
Sorry, I'm straight [nt] by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 2) #11 Mon Jan 31, 2011 at 03:02:10 PM EST

It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
Music by nebbish (4.00 / 2) #10 Mon Jan 31, 2011 at 11:24:22 AM EST
I'm a firm believer in getting a decent amp and speakers from Richer Sounds, and connecting your PC/MP3 player up to it with a cable. You're getting much better quality from individual, replaceable parts, and can either spend loads or very little.

It's not very portable though - I'm speaking as someone who has a laptop I can sit on top of the amp.

It's political correctness gone mad!

The problem for me is by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 1) #13 Mon Jan 31, 2011 at 03:08:56 PM EST
If I've got a computer switched on I'll use it. I want to try switching my computer off and just doing other stuff.

Bit shocked by the change though. A decade or two ago you could walk into Dixons and they'd have row after row of hi-fis with big or biggish speakers and plenty of watts of output. Now they've just got about one shelf of itsy-bitsy micro systems with Ipod docks. I suppose everyone needs the space for their huge TVs now.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
I know what you mean about PCs by nebbish (4.00 / 1) #14 Wed Feb 02, 2011 at 06:44:20 AM EST
They are temptation itself.

It's political correctness gone mad!

[ Parent ]
Not "What am I reading?", but "What am I reading for?" | 14 comments (14 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback