This is BrainLog, a blog by Dan Sanderson. Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained. See the front page and newer entries.

July 2010 Archives

July 29, 2010

Kickstartup: Successful fundraising with Kickstarter & the (re)making of Art Space Tokyo, Craig Mod. Exciting data-rich article on using Kickstarter for a niche book publishing project, with photo essay asides about the project going through Tokyo print shops.

Get Lamp, the documentary on text adventures, is done, and shipping in early August. I pre-ordered during a fundraiser back in December.

Janet Fitch's 10 Rules for Writers.

Elmore Leonard's 10 rules.

A robot learns how to flip pancakes:

A robot learning to flip pancakes from Sylvain Calinon on Vimeo.

July 27, 2010

The Acceleration of Addictiveness, Paul Graham:

...[A]s the world becomes more addictive, the two senses in which one can live a normal life will be driven ever further apart. One sense of "normal" is statistically normal: what everyone else does. The other is the sense we mean when we talk about the normal operating range of a piece of machinery: what works best.

These two senses are already quite far apart. Already someone trying to live well would seem eccentrically abstemious in most of the US. That phenomenon is only going to become more pronounced. You can probably take it as a rule of thumb from now on that if people don't think you're weird, you're living badly.

Clay Shirky speaking at Google about Cognitive Surplus:

(Of course, my earlier criticism of the TV-vs.-Wikipedia thing applies only to one slide of Clay's presentation, and it's early, unimportant, and well qualified.)

July 21, 2010

Web of Stories: Donald Knuth. 97 video clips (and transcripts) of an interview with the computer scientist. The link is to a story about how Knuth implemented a tic-tac-toe program while learning computers.

Web of Stories has many more with other interesting people. They're still in "beta," but the idea seems to be that they'll cross-index the interview clips by subject, so you can get multiple takes on, say, childhood, or war. The sum total of a single interview seems long and unedited, but it makes more sense with this feature.

July 20, 2010

What is going on with web2py? Web UI for building websites, is what:

Even runs on App Engine, if you like.

July 19, 2010

Cognitive Surplus visualized.

As much as I love the idea of cognitive surplus, this is apples and oranges in a disappointing way. For one, I find it hard to believe that people who are supposedly watching 8 hours of TV a day are devoting all of their attention to it for the entire duration, as opposed to keeping the TV on while doing other things. For the people who watch, say, 2 hours of TV a day, I similarly find it hard to believe that those hours could be spent on something creative, productive, or would otherwise require effort. That's why people watch TV after a long day of work, when their energy is depleted. Evidence to the contrary needs to be presented when suggesting that all TV viewing is replacing productive human resources.

The argument gets a tad more nuanced when discussing video games, since it seems like video games involve learning and effort. Games stage a learning and productivity experience in simulated or abstract environments, such that a modest amount of effort produces what seems like a significant outcome. Video games provide the illusion of productivity in exchange for must less effort than would be required for a similar amount of real productivity. It's not necessarily the case that hours spent playing video games are hours that could have been spent being productive in the real world, and again, that's why people play them to relax.

Yes, if someone spends all of their time watching TV or playing video games, it's likely that at least some of those hours could have been more productive. And yes, people are lazy and tend to prefer simulated work or passive stimulation to real productivity, and that can be a bad thing. But if we're going to be proportional, we need better numbers—including numbers that represent the positive value of watching some TV and playing some video games.

"200 billion hours of watching TV" and "100 million hours of cultivating an encyclopedia" seem like they'd require the same amount of effort. Those boxes should be the same size.

July 14, 2010


July 12, 2010

SuperMe. Play games, watch videos, and connect with friends to become a better person. And win points! But mostly become a better person.

The tone is a tad saccharine, but I generally love the idea, and the implementation is slick and trendy. I want this combined with Epic Win so I can get in-game points for doing actual things. Maybe task points can be verified and granted by a partner...

You need help.

It can be hard to rely on other people when you're good at figuring things out for yourself. But it's absolutely imperative if you want to make an impact. You are one person, with a sustainable max of twenty conscious hours in a day. Even if you have the capacity to master anything, it's dreadfully inefficient to be your own resident expert on everything. You'll end up spending more time finding information than applying it. That's acceptable if you're pursuing a hobby, but if you are trying to make something meaningful, you need to commit as much time as you can to creating value.
July 10, 2010

The Three Golden Rules for Successful Scientific Research, Edsger W. Dijkstra. [PDF]

July 7, 2010

Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning, important water safety information. (Thanks Daring Fireball.)

July 4, 2010

NYTimes: How Mariano Rivera Dominates Hitters [video]. (Via Daring Fireball.)

What happened to studying?

The first thing I did when I got to college was get a job. It took time away from studying, which I barely knew how to do anyway, and eventually it disqualified me from student loans—thereby requiring that I keep a job to stay in school. That wasn't my only problem, but my grades were terrible and I had to drop out to pay the rent. I fantasize about going back to my high school and writing on the blackboard my #1 piece of advice for students entering college: DO NOT GET A JOB.

Colleges need to offer "how to study" classes to college freshpeople, incorporate explicit "study skills" education components in 100-level classes ("we're only going to tell you this once, but here's what to do when your prof tells you to read 400 pages in a week..."), and offer additional coaching and counseling. I never took advantage of undergraduate advising so I didn't and still don't know what they do; maybe they cover some of this. But you sure as hell don't learn any of this in high school.

There should probably be a health component in there, too: kids don't know how to get enough sleep, or why.

Jason Robert Brown argues with a teenager about copyright. (Via waxy.)

July 1, 2010

Story is free, John August.

(And the first time I've heard the relatively new word mumblecore, though I'm familiar with the genre.)

Chase Jarvis on his company's data workflow:

Via Self-Reliant Film.