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September 01 2011

Four short links: 1 September 2011

  1. A Chart Engine -- Android charting engine.
  2. The Illusion of Asymmetric Insight -- we are driven to create and form groups and then believe others are wrong just because they are others.
  3. Urban Mapping API -- add rich geographic data to web and non-web applications.
  4. Tell Us A Story, Victoria -- a university science story-telling contest.

August 20 2011


Why Net Censorship in Times of Political Unrest Results in More Violent Uprisings: A Social Simulation Experiment on the UK Riots by Antonio Casilli, Paola Tubaro :: SSRN | annot. by oAnth-miscellaneous 2011-08-20 at

Following the 2011 wave of political unrest, going from the Arab Spring to UK riots, the formation of a large consensus around Internet censorship is underway.



// oAnth - 2011-08-20


The link to the study is in my case blocked by a firewall.

In the German article at (see here via Twitter) you may find further links. The basic study is available as pdf (given here below).




RT @netzpolitik - () Warum Internetzensur zu gewaltsameren Aufständen führt. // #study Civil Violence Model #pdf #humsci




Civil Violence Model - Study by Joshua M. Epstein



Sponsored post

August 15 2011

Four short links: 15 August 2011

  1. Illusion Contest -- every year they run an open contest for optical illusions. Every year new perceptual illusions are discovered, exploiting hitherto unresearched areas of our brain's functioning.
  2. Citizen Science Alliance -- the team behind GalaxyZoo, who help other researchers in need of crowdsourcing support.
  3. Ancient Lives -- crowdsourced translation and reconstruction of ancient papyri from Oxyrhyncus, already found new gospels (in which the number of the beast is 616, not 666).
  4. Favourite Number -- tell a story about your favourite number. Alex Bellos is behind it, and talked about the great stories he's collected so far. Contribute now, watch this space to learn more about the stories.

August 01 2011

Four short links: 1 August 2011

  1. The Flashed Face Effect Video -- your brain is not perfect, and it reduces faces to key details. When they flash by in the periphery of your vision, you perceive them as gross and freakish. I like to start the week by reminding myself how fallible I am. Good preparation for the rest of the week... (via BERG London)
  2. The Newsonomics of Netflix and the Digital Shift -- Netflix changed prices, tilting people toward digital and away from physical. This post argues that the same will happen in newspapers. Imagine 2020, and the always-out-there-question: Will we still have print newspapers? Well, maybe, but imagine how much they’ll cost — $3 for a local daily? — and consumers will compare that to the “cheap” tablet pricing, and decide, just as they doing now are with Netflix, which product to take and which to let go. The print world ends not with a bang, but with price increase after price increase. (via Tim O'Reilly)
  3. Phonegap -- just shipped 1.0 of an HTML5 app platform that allows you to author native applications with web technologies and get access to APIs and app stores.
  4. UnQL -- query language for document store databases, from the creators of CouchDB and SQLite. (via Francisco Reyes)

July 15 2011

Why don't they get it?

Predicting the development and adoption of new technology is difficult, with problems ranging from focusing too deeply on detailed technical features, to being swept along by an emotional gut feeling that may be unique to you.

When our forecasts don't pan out, we can feel great frustration with the people in the market who we see as either extremely cynical, irrational or stupid. Sometimes we just plain don't understand them.

In the mid 1990s I worked for a research company. At one point I produced forecasts of UK broadband penetration that turned out to be about 10 years too aggressive. We had totally underestimated the reluctance of BT to let go of potential ISDN revenues and invest in ADSL. The long-term technical call was correct, but the timing was naïve. I had understood the technology, but not the people.

Fast-forward 15 years and a tweet from Tim O'Reilly touched a nerve:

Sometimes copyright-protected industries are so far out of line, and I wonder why government doesn't see it #overreachless than a minute ago via Seesmic Desktop Favorite Retweet Reply

The piece he linked was highlighting television broadcasters' efforts to get the government involved in what are currently purely commercial negotiations between program producers and broadcasters. Rather than negotiate payments for rights, some broadcasters are asking the government to require program makers to grant these rights through new legislation.

You can see why broadcasters would want this, but how could a government begin to think this would be a good idea all-in-all for the economy?

To quote the distinguished Princeton psychologist and economist Daniel Kahneman, I believe it's because human beings are "endlessly complicated and interesting." Rather than take the knee-jerk response that politicians must just be in the pocket of big media, I'm going to look at how some aspects of human behavior make this kind of highly damaging legislation more likely.

We need only assume that politicians are people who are "against unemployment" and "against crime."

Fear of loss is much stronger than desire for gain

Kahneman's groundbreaking research with Amos Tversky on loss aversion showed that the fear of losing something generally (and strongly) outweighs the desire to acquire it.

So when an established industry like broadcasting cries out that there will be massive job losses if they don't get legislative support, then politicians' fear of loss will often greatly outweigh any desire to loosen or enact legislation to encourage innovation and new job creation.

If the broadcasters are able to convince the government that what was once considered fair use of material should really be seen as criminal copyright infringement, then they might also be able to push the "against crime" button.

Web 2.0 Summit, being held October 17-19 in San Francisco, will examine "The Data Frame" — focusing on the impact of data in today's networked economy.

Save $300 on registration with the code RADAR

A bird in the hand

Enacting heavy-handed legislation to support old, lumbering businesses can positively damage the prospects of new businesses and future job creation.

As investors, we learn through discounted cashflow analysis how to compare a dollar now with a dollar next year. We can apply this to compare a job now with a job in the future. Unfortunately, humans are often poor at this and undervalue future events compared to immediate circumstances (so-called hyperbolic discounting). In our broadcast media case, a perceived crime now (e.g. file sharing) can seem to totally outweigh the value of possible future job creation.

Political bandwidth is very narrow

To discuss or influence government policy we face a massive bandwidth problem, as politicians need to be able to state their position as crisp soundbites.

Allied to this is the fact that politically-engaged people tend to feel the urge to pick a side or risk being portrayed as spineless ditherers. Having picked a side, another psychological bias (confirmation bias) can kick in, leading to a tendency to fit evidence to their current viewpoint. Broadcast legislation is a walk in the park compared to climate change legislation, however. And I'll leave evolution denial to The Onion ...

In our media example, there are two sides to copyright (and also patent) law:

  1. Encouragement of innovation and creativity
  2. Punishment of criminal infringers

Our broadcasters are pushing hard to make the first point disappear off the radar, and ensure that copyright is perceived solely as an open-and-shut "protection of property" issue, similar to housebreaking or auto theft.

Unless the proponents of innovation can reclaim this ground, we will see that there is only room for the simplest of soundbites. They will eventually lead to works of art like the Protect IP Act.

So how do you combine an understanding of people and technologies?

The world is complex. Even the most sophisticated attempt to model "things" has led to a realization that this can only take us so far, and that we must put people's behavior at the center of our models.

If you doubt this, ask Google what they are up to with Google+.

I'm not a psychologist — I have an iPhone app development business and a background in media and business strategy. However, I would strongly recommend that anyone discussing or commenting on new technology get to know as many of the quirks and biases of human behavior as they can, as you're modeling people first and technology second.

I'm sure you've come across Freakonomics, but if you really want to swallow up the rest of the day I can recommend the Wikipedia list of cognitive biases, which has more than 100 listed reasons why people don't behave like technology.

So, next time you find yourself wondering why elegant and simple logical assumptions have once again been poleaxed by "some bunch of [insert your favorite insult here]," you'll probably find that some, if not all, of these cognitive effects are at play somewhere in the model.


July 08 2011

June 24 2011

Four short links: 24 June 2011

  1. Eliza pt 3 -- delightful recapitulation of the reaction to Eliza and Weizenbaum's reaction to that reaction, including his despair over the students he taught at MIT. Weizenbaum wrote therein of his students at MIT, which was of course all about science and technology. He said that they "have already rejected all ways but the scientific to come to know the world, and [they] seek only a deeper, more dogmatic indoctrination in that faith (although that word is no longer in their vocabulary)."
  2. Computer Vision Models -- textbook written in the open for public review. (via Hacker News)
  3. Echoprint -- open source and open data music fingerprinting service from MusicBrainz and others. I find it interesting that doing something new with music data requires crowdsourcing because nobody has the full set.
  4. Three Arguments Against The Singularity (Charlie Stross) -- We clearly want machines that perform human-like tasks. We want computers that recognize our language and motivations and can take hints, rather than requiring instructions enumerated in mind-numbingly tedious detail. But whether we want them to be conscious and volitional is another question entirely. I don't want my self-driving car to argue with me about where we want to go today. I don't want my robot housekeeper to spend all its time in front of the TV watching contact sports or music videos. And I certainly don't want to be sued for maintenance by an abandoned software development project.

May 07 2011

Computer Scientists Induce Schizophrenia in a Neural Network, Causing it to Make Ridiculous Claims

Researchers testing mental illness figured out how to induce schizophrenic symptoms in a computer, causing it to place itself at the center of crazy delusions, such as claiming responsibility for a terrorist bombing. The results bolster a hypothesis that claims faulty information processing can lead to schizophrenic symptoms.

Computer scientists at the University of Texas-Austin built a neural network called DISCERN, which is able to learn natural language. The humans taught it a series of simple stories, teaching it to store information as relationships between words and sentences — much the same way a person would learn a story.

Then they started again, but cranked up DISCERN’s rate of learning — so it was assimilating words at a faster rate, and it was not ignoring as much noise in the data.

Some mental health experts believe schizophrenics cannot forget or ignore as much stimuli as they should, which makes it difficult to synthesize and process the correct information. This “hyperlearning” phenomenon causes schizophrenics to lose connections among individual stories, losing the distinction between reality and illusion. Dopamine is a key factor in the process of understanding and differentiating experiences.

Telling the computer to “forget less” was akin to flooding the system with dopamine, confounding its ability to discern relationships between words, sentences and events, according to a news release from UT.

“DISCERN began putting itself at the center of fantastical, delusional stories that incorporated elements from other stories it had been told to recall,” according to the news release. In one answer, it claimed responsibility for a terrorist bombing.

The experiment doesn’t prove the hyperlearning hypothesis, but it does lend it additional credence, according to the researchers, who published their crazed computer findings in the journal Biological Psychiatry. It also shows that neural networks can be a useful analogue for the information-processing centers of the brain, according to graduate student Uli Grasemann, who participated in the research.

“We have so much more control over neural networks than we could ever have over human subjects,” he said. “The hope is that this kind of modeling will help clinical research.”

[via ScienceBlog]

Reposted fromSigalontech Sigalontech

April 29 2011

An interview with Jerrold Post in Budapest | Hungarian Spectrum - 2011-04-28


Péter Zentai of HVG had a fascinating interview with Jerrold Post a couple of days ago. The Hungarian journalist wanted to know whether there is a general portrait of dictators that is independent of time and space.

Post answered in the affirmative. "The psyche of all dictators, terrorist leaders, mafia chiefs has four essential components. The first is a messianic belief in their own destiny. The second is a type of paranoia. The dictator-types blame others for their smallest failures and are constantly trying to find or create enemies. The third is a limited conscience and hence a lack of inhibition that often originates in problems that weren't handled in childhood. And fourth is an uncanny ability to influence and possess the mind and soul of people in their closest circle."

When Zentai inquired about the intelligence level of these dictator-types, Post's answer was that there are some who are clever or intelligent and some who are not, but "almost all of them are half-educated." All dictators believe that their pronouncements are terribly important, while listening to them from the outside one can see the inner contradictions and outright stupidities. Their penchant for creating enemies can also be found in their public speeches where at the center of their ire is their or their country's enemies. Their attitude toward "these enemies" becomes obvious not only in words but also in gestures. For example, they often make their visitors wait or they arrive late for an important meeting only to show who is boss.



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Reposted bypolitik politik

March 31 2011

Four short links: 31 March 2011

  1. Debt: The First 5,000 Years -- Throughout its 5000 year history, debt has always involved institutions - whether Mesopotamian sacred kingship, Mosaic jubilees, Sharia or Canon Law - that place controls on debt's potentially catastrophic social consequences. It is only in the current era, writes anthropologist David Graeber, that we have begun to see the creation of the first effective planetary administrative system largely in order to protect the interests of creditors. (via Tim O'Reilly)
  2. Know Your History -- where Google's +1 came from (answer: Apache project).
  3. MIT Autonomous Quadcopter -- MIT drone makes a map of a room in real time using an X Box Kinect and is able to navigate through it. All calculations performed on board the multicopter. Wow. (via Slashdot and Sara Winge)
  4. How Great Entrepreneurs Think -- leaving aside the sloppy open-mouth kisses to startups that "great entrepreneurs" implies, an interesting article comparing the mindsets of corporate execs with entrepreneurs. I'd love to read the full interviews and research paper. Sarasvathy explains that entrepreneurs' aversion to market research is symptomatic of a larger lesson they have learned: They do not believe in prediction of any kind. "If you give them data that has to do with the future, they just dismiss it," she says. "They don't believe the future is predictable...or they don't want to be in a space that is very predictable." [...] the careful forecast is the enemy of the fortuitous surprise. (via Sacha Judd)

March 02 2011

Information overload? Time to relax then | Technology |

"There are fascinating implications for a world of probabilistic resource use: for one thing, it points up the importance of "signal amplification" through retweets, reposts, and other recycling of interesting tit-bits – these are critical to the successful use of a medium that can't be consumed by any one person from tip to tail."
Reposted frommilkmiruku milkmiruku

November 03 2010

Four short links: 3 November 2010

  1. Five Google Engineering Management Mistakes -- interesting to see informed criticism, because Google's style is often presented as a winning model. TLs [Tech Leads] were still evaluated as individual contributors. Leads to poor management practices: Grabbing all the sexy work for themselves; Providing negative evaluations for team members so they look good in comparison; Not paying attention to team member needs or requests; Confrontational relationships between team members and TLs (in some dysfunctional cases).
  2. Community Escrow (Simon Phipps in Computerworld) -- interesting take on open source as a way of protecting against the interests of a vendor changing to no longer be aligned with those of the customer. The kicker: If the product was "open core" - with the key commercial features kept proprietary - it will be very hard for anyone to provide continuity. This is especially true if you are using the software as a service, because the critical know-how to make the software reliably run in the cloud is unlikely to be included in the open source project. Hear, hear. Cloud and open core are new enough that we still blow kisses every time we meet, but that honeymoon will pass and before long it'll be hostile cold stares and long contemplative silences spent gazing out the window, musing on their shortcomings.
  3. Data Story Telling (Pete Warden) -- Pete nails something I've been chewing on: in this model, a new form of media is like an infection hitting a previously unexposed population. Some people figure out how it can be used to breach the weak spots in the audience's mental 'immune system', how to persuade people to believe lies that serve the propagator's purpose. Eventually the deviation from reality becomes too obvious, people wise up to the manipulation and a certain level of immunity is propagated throughout the culture. The same is true for advertising: we're in an arms race, novelty against neuroplasticity.
  4. Whimsy (and Clothes) For Sale (NY Times) -- “We could never afford to make product in volume, so we adopted kind of like a Beanie Baby approach: we’d create small collections that supremely rabid buyers would end up buying,” Mr. Lindland said, noting that some customers own more than 20 pairs of his signature pants. “They’re a collectors’ item, oddly enough.” Small-run manufacturing embraced as a differentiating advantage, rather than as a competitive disadvantage.

October 19 2010

Four short links: 19 October 2010

  1. YIMBY -- Swedish site for "Yes, In My Back Yard". Provides an opportunity for the net to aggregate positive desires ("please put a bus stop on my street", "we want wind power") rather than simply aggregating complaints. (via cityofsound on Twitter)
  2. Getting People in the Door -- a summary of some findings about people's approaches to the physical layout of shopping space. People like to walk in a loop. They avoid "cul de sacs" that they can see are dead-ends, because they don't want to get bored walking through the same merchandise twice. Apply these to your next office space.
  3. OpenBricks -- embedded Linux framework that provides easy creation of custom distributions for industrial embedded devices. It features a complete embedded development kit for rapid deployment on x86, ARM, PowerPC and MIPS systems.
  4. Dilbert on Data -- pay attention, data miners. (via Kevin Marks)

October 07 2010

Four short links: 7 October 2010

  1. How to Manage Employees When They Make Mistakes -- sound advice on how to deal with employees who failed to meet expectations. Yet again, good parenting can make you a good adult. It’s strange to me that in the technology sector we have such a reputation for yellers. Maybe it’s business in general and not just tech. [...] People stay at companies with leaders who rule like Mussolini because they want to be part of something super successful. But it does tend to breed organizations of people who walk around like beaten dogs with their heads down waiting to be kicked. It produces sycophants and group think. And if your company ever “slips” people head STRAIGHT for the door as they did at Siebel. I’d love to see a new generation of tech companies that don’t rule through fear. (via Hacker News)
  2. Information Wants to be Paid (Pete Warden) -- I want to know where I stand relative to the business model of any company I depend on. If API access and the third-party ecosystem makes them money, then I feel a lot more comfortable that I'll retain access over the long term. So true. It's not that platform companies are evil, it's just that they're a business too. They're interested in their survival first and yours second. To expect anything else is to be naive and to set yourself up for failure. As Pete says, it makes sense to have them financially invested in continuing to provide for you. It's not a cure-all, but it's a damn sight better than "build on this so we can gain traction and some idea of a business model". Yet again, Warden reads my mind and saves me the trouble of finding the right words to write.
  3. 0Boxer -- Chrome and Safari extensions to turn gmail into a game. (via waxy)
  4. Twitter's New Search Architecture (Twitter Engineering Blog) -- notable for two things: they're contributing patches back to the open source text search library Lucene, and they name the individual engineers who worked on the project. Very classy, human, and canny. (via straup on Delicious)

September 22 2010

Four short links: 22 September 2010

  1. The Rise of Amazon Web Services -- Stephen O'Grady points out that Amazon has become an enterprise sales company but we don't treat it as such because we think of it as a retail company that's dabbling in technology. I think of Amazon as an automation company: they automate and optimize everything, and a data center is just a warehouse for MIPS. (via Matt Asay)
  2. Celery Project -- a distributed task queue. (via joshua on Delicious)
  3. Memory Upgrade (The Economist) -- a photofit system that uses evolutionary algorithms to generate the suspects' faces, and does clever things like animated distortions to call out features the witness might recall. Technology going beyond automated sketch artists.
  4. The Particle Adventure: The Fundamental of Matter and Force -- basic physics in easy-to-understand language with illustrations, all in bite-size pieces (and 1998-era web design). I'm pondering what one of these would be like for computers, and whether "how do these actually work?" has the same romance as "how does the world really work?".

August 11 2010

Four short links: 11 August 2010

  1. 10 Essential iPad Apps for Publication Designers -- a couple of interesting new suggestions here, including the New Zealand Herald (hated at home for including a bloated intro movie, but with interesting article presentation), and Paris Match (adding interactive features to almost every story). (via Simon St Laurent)
  2. Cooking in Silico: Heat Transfer in the Modern Kitchen (YouTube) -- In this talk at the University of Washington, Nathan Myhrvold and Chris Young of Intellectual Ventures show how computationally intense heat-transfer calculations can reveal the subtle factors that influence the success or failure of a cook's efforts in the kitchen. Explore the virtues of computational cooking, and watch novel techniques and creations made possible when science informs the culinary arts. Mhyrvold has a new cookbook (six volumes!) coming out. (via TechFlash)
  3. Ten Psychological Insights re: Twitter -- summary of ten psychological studies about Twitter users. Many but not all of the most-followed Twitter users are, unsurprisingly, celebrities. This top-heavy usage reflects the fact that being interesting is a talent that not everyone can acquire (without relying on the halo effect of being famous that is). Occasionally, though, some manage the trick of being famous and quite interesting, e.g. Stephen Fry. (via vaughanbell on Twitter)
  4. MIT OpenCourseWare: Unlocking Knowledge, Empowering Minds -- Ten years later, MIT Open-CourseWare (OCW) [...] contains the core academic content used in 2000 classes, presenting substantially all the undergraduate and graduate curriculum from MIT's 33 academic departments. A selection of courses, including introductory physics, math, and engineering, contain full video lectures. Partner organizations have created more than 800 translations of OCW courses in five languages. The OCW team has distributed over 200 copies of the entire Web site on hard drives primarily to sub-Saharan Africa, where Internet access is limited. OCW has grown into a global educational resource. (via Sara Winge)

August 05 2010

Four short links: 5 August 2010

  1. Delicious Links Clustered and Stacked (Matt Biddulph) -- six years of his delicious links, k-means clustered by tag and graphed. The clusters are interesting, but I wonder whether Matt can identify significant life/work events by the spikes in the graph.
  2. Open Data and the Voluntary Sector (OKFN) -- Open data will give charities new ways to find and share information on the need of their beneficiaries - who needs their services most and where they are located. The sharing of information will be key to this - it’s not just about using data that the government has opened up, but also opening your own data.
  3. Cognitive and Behavioral Challenges in Responding to Climate Change -- At the deepest level, large scale environmental problems such as global warming threaten people's sense of the continuity of life - what sociologist Anthony Giddens calls ontological security. Ignoring the obvious can, however, be a lot of work. Both the reasons for and process of denial are socially organized; that is to say, both cognition and denial are socially structured. Denial is socially organized because societies develop and reinforce a whole repertoire of techniques or "tools" for ignoring disturbing problems. Fascinating paper. (via Jez)
  4. Blueprints -- provides a collection of interfaces and implementations to common, complex data structures. Blueprints contains a property graph model its implementations for TinkerGraph, Neo4j, and SAIL. Also, it contains an object document model and implementations for TinkerDoc, CouchDB, and MongoDB. In short, Blueprints provides a one stop shop for implemented interfaces to help developers create software without being tied to particular underlying data management systems.

July 30 2010

Four short links: 30 July 2010

  1. The No-Twinkie Database -- These are all the Twinkie Denial Conditions described in my “Bad Game Designer, No Twinkie!” Designer’s Notebook columns. Each one is an egregious design error, although many of them have appeared in otherwise great games. A collection of "don't do this" for app designers. (via waxy)
  2. Cloud Privacy Heat Map (Forrester) -- a map showing the degree of legal support for privacy and data protection across various jurisdictions. (via azaaza on Twitter)
  3. Wesabe on GitHub -- Wesabe has closed, but is open sourcing its code.
  4. Laurie Santos TED Talk -- monkeys make similar irrational decisions as we do. "The errors we make are predictable and immune to evidence." Sound like you? Watch this excellent talk.

July 21 2010

Four short links: 21 July 2010

  1. The Men Who Stare at Screens (NY Times) -- What was unexpected was that many of the men who sat long hours and developed heart problems also exercised. Quite a few of them said they did so regularly and led active lifestyles. The men worked out, then sat in cars and in front of televisions for hours, and their risk of heart disease soared, despite the exercise. Their workouts did not counteract the ill effects of sitting. (via Andy Baio)
  2. Caring with Cash -- describes a study where "pay however much you want" had high response rate but low average price, "half goes to charity" barely changed from the control (fixed price) response rate, but "half goes to charity and you can pay what you like" earned more money than either strategy.
  3. Behavioural Economics a Political Placebo? (NY Times) -- As policymakers use it to devise programs, it’s becoming clear that behavioral economics is being asked to solve problems it wasn’t meant to address. Indeed, it seems in some cases that behavioral economics is being used as a political expedient, allowing policymakers to avoid painful but more effective solutions rooted in traditional economics. (via Mind Hacks)
  4. Protege -- open source ontology editor and knowledge-base framework.

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