Nudge Policies Are Another Name for Coercion (New Scientist) — This points to the key problem with “nudge” style paternalism: presuming that technocrats understand what ordinary people want better than the people themselves. There is no reason to think technocrats know better, especially since Thaler and Sunstein offer no means for ordinary people to comment on, let alone correct, the technocrats’ prescriptions. This leaves the technocrats with no systematic way of detecting their own errors, correcting them, or learning from them. And technocracy is bound to blunder, especially when it is not democratically accountable. Take heed, all you Gov 2.0 wouldbe-hackers. (via BoingBoing)
Ebook Users Wanted — Pew Internet & American Life project looking at ebooks, looking for people who use ebooks and tablet readers in libraries.
The Public Library, Complete Reimagined (KQED) — the Fayetteville public library is putting in a fab lab. [L]ibraries aren’t just about books. They are about free access to information and to technology — and not just to reading books or using computers, but actually building and making things. (via BoingBoing)
Sleep Patterns — my friend Tom has been tracking his baby’s sleeping patterns. We learnt that over the last month or so, our 5 month old baby has never gone to sleep before 10pm. We were trying to get him to go to sleep at 7 or 8pm and this was not working at all. Now it is playtime until 10 and then he just goes to sleep with no trouble, stress or crying at around 10 or 10:30. Data captured with Baby Care android app (over 500k installs) and graphed it in Python. As a father of two, this is the best ad for the quantified self I’ve seen.
Playspent — a web app that challenges you to balance dollars like someone on the poverty line. This makes the constraints of poverty real in the same way that Sims brings city planning to life.
Context vs Core — transcription (albeit an imperfect one) of Geoffrey Moore’s excellent talk about separating context from core, innovation, and business. Most of what you do is context, not core, and the most frustrating thing in your life is that the context gets in the way of the core that your context. [...] If you don’t get up in the morning and say, core before context, you’ll come to the end of the day and find out that your e-mail trail beat you to death.
Digging into Technology’s Past — stories of the amazing work behind the visual 6502 project and how they reconstructed and simulated the legendary 6502 chip. To analyze and then preserve the 6502, James treated it like the site of an excavation. First, he needed to expose the actual chip by removing its packaging of essentially “billiard-ball plastic.” He eroded the casing by squirting it with very hot, concentrated sulfuric acid. After cleaning the chip with an ultrasonic cleaner—much like what’s used for dentures or contact lenses—he could see its top layer.
Too Many Public Works Built on Rosy Scenarios (Bloomberg) — a feedback loop with real data being built to improve accuracy estimating infrastructure project costs. He would like to see better incentives — punishment for errors, rewards for accuracy — combined with a requirement that forecasts not only consider the expected characteristics of the specific project but, once that calculation is made, adjust the estimate based on an “outside view,” reflecting the cost overruns of similar projects. That way, the “unexpected” problems that happen over and over again would be taken into consideration.
Such scrutiny would, of course, make some projects look much less appealing — which is exactly what has happened in the U.K., where “reference-class forecasting” is now required. “The government stopped a number of projects dead in their tracks when they saw the forecasts,” Flyvbjerg says. “This had never happened before.”
Neurovigil Gets Cash Injection To Read Your Mind (FastCompany) — “an anonymous American industrialist and technology visionary” put tens of millions into this company, which has hardware to gather mineable data. iBrain promises to open a huge pipeline of data with its powerful but simple brain-reading tech, which is gaining traction thanks to technological advances. But the other half of the potentailly lucrative equation is the ability to analyze the trove of data coming from iBrain. And that’s where NeuroVigil’s SPEARS algorithm enters the picture. Not only is the company simplifying collection of brain data with a device that can be relatively comfortably worn during all sorts of tasks–sleeping, driving, watching advertising–but the combination of iBrain and SPEARS multiplies the efficiency of data analysis. (via Vaughan Bell)
Delivereads — genius idea, a mailing list for Kindles. Yes, if you can send email then you can be a Kindle publisher. (via Sacha Judd)
Abnormal Returns From the Common Stock Investments of Members of the U.S. House of Representatives — We measure abnormal returns for more than 16,000 common stock transactions made by approximately 300 House delegates from 1985 to 2001. Consistent with the study of Senatorial trading activity, we find stocks purchased by Representatives also earn significant positive abnormal returns (albeit considerably smaller returns). A portfolio that mimics the purchases of House Members beats the market by 55 basis points per month (approximately 6% annually). (via Ellen Miller)
Google News Archive Ends — hypothesizes that old material was “too hard” to make sense of, but that seems unlikely to me. More likely is that it wasn’t useful enough to their machine learning efforts. Newspapers can have their scanned/OCRed content for free now the program is being closed.
Week Report 310 — BERG’s first (that I’ve seen) video report of the week, and it’s a cracker. No newsreel, just some really clever evocation of the mood of the place and the nature of the projects. I continue to be impressed by the BERG crew’s conscious creation of culture.
Telsta Scores Patent Win over Amazon (ZDNet) — The delegate of the Commissioner of Patents, Ed Knock, found this week that Amazon’s 1-click buy facility “lacks novelty [and] an inventive step”, making Amazon’s claim unpatentable.
alpha.gov.uk — an experimental prototype of a single interface to all government services. Governments have been trying these for years. This one’s different–it’s not built by the highest bidder, it’s the result of a lean team headed by the stellar Tom Loosemore (ex-BBC). It’s prototyping the idea of using lightweight reusable syndication-friendly components (decision trees, calculators, guides, etc.) to build such a site. My suspicion, though, is that government websites are a people problem not a technology problem.
Brief Descriptions of Potential Home Information Services (image) — lovely 1971 piece of futurology, which you can read going “Google News, Amazon, Google Calendar, PayPal, ….” The ancients vastly over-estimated our appetite for educational material, though. There’s no education site on the scale of a Google, Amazon, eBay, etc. (via BoingBoing)
Google’s Recipes for Recipes — I’m as astonished as anyone to find myself agreeing with Nick Carr. The whinge is basically that by promoting recipes marked up in a particular format, Google have created an environment that favours corporate recipes over small less-technical people who can post plain text recipes but wouldn’t know microformats from microfilm. The really interesting part is how the choice of drill-down categories can backfire: Take, for instance, a recent search for “cassoulet.” The top search result is a recipe from Epicurious, one of the larger and better sites. But if you refine by time, your choices are “less than 15 min,” “less than 30 min,” or “less than 60 min.” There is no option for more than 60 minutes. In truth, a classic cassoulet takes at least 4 hours to make, if not several days (the Epicurious recipe takes 4 hours and 30 minutes; yet there in the results are recipes under each of these three time classes. One from Tablespoon goes so far as to claim to take just 1 minute. (It’s made with kidney beans, canned mushrooms, and beef, so it’s not long on authenticity.) … Refining recipe search by time doesn’t result in better recipes rising to the top; rather, the new winners are recipes packaged for the American eating and cooking disorder. (via Daniel Spector)
DSPL: DataSet Publishing Language (Google Code) — a representation language for the data and metadata of datasets. Datasets described in this format can be processed by Google and visualized in the Google Public Data Explorer. XML metadata on CSV, geo-enabled, with linkable data. (via Michal Migurski on Delicious)
Why is Evidence So Hard for Politicians — Ben Goldacre nails how politicians go about “evidence-based policy making”: So the Minister has cherry picked only the good findings, from only one report, while ignoring the peer-reviewed literature. Most crucially, he cherry-picks findings he likes whilst explicitly claiming that he is fairly citing the totality of the evidence from a thorough analysis. I can produce good evidence that I have a magical two-headed coin, if I simply disregard all the throws where it comes out tails.
pixelfari — Safari hacked to look like it’s running on an 8-bit computer. This sense of playfulness with the medium is something I love about the best coders. They think “ha, wouldn’t it be funny if …” and then can make it happen.
Hackers, Transparency, and the Zen of Failure — If hackers can’t create something with the data, they won’t do anything with it. The idea of an “army of armchair auditors” becomes a functional paradox, as the people the Government has in mind for the data apparently sit in armchairs, while the hackers sit in cafes, meet in pubs, and generally find comfy chairs far too comfy to code in. (via Public Strategist)
MALLET — open source (CPL-licensed) Java-based package for statistical natural language processing, document classification, clustering, topic modeling, information extraction, and other machine learning applications to text.
The Troubled History of Google.org (NY Times) — it’s hard to measure “good”, which is one reason it’s difficult to know who’s doing good in philanthropy. Couple that with a product-first measurement mindset, rather than customer-first, and it’s no wonder Google.org struggled. The reported management flapping is gravy. (via Tim O’Reilly on Twitter)
Andrew Mason at Startup School — So the Internet came along, and the Internet should solve all the problems of organizing people and changing collective action. But the problem is, all we’ve done is we’ve taken the old world tactics that we used offline and ported online. We haven’t really changed the way we think about things. So, for example, here is a protest against the Iraq war that people held in Second Life. [laughter] I call these tactics the tactics of inconveniencing yourself, because all these things, signing a petition or going to a protest, they’re all like mini versions of lighting yourself on fire. [laughter] They’re saying, I will sacrifice a small part of my life to show you how much I care, and that just feels so futile and not very exciting to get to be part of. And the weird thing is if the tactic you’re using is inconveniencing yourself, all the Internet does is make it easier to sign petitions, so by making it easier to inconvenience yourself, you’re making your effort more and more meaningless, right. So, if it only takes one click to write a letter to your congressman, then it takes an order of magnitude more letters for them to actually care. Pay attention, would-be government influencers.
Why is Medicine Often Not Evidence-Based (Ben Goldacre) — If we assume, fairly generously, that you’ll be 80% successful at each step in this chain – which really is pretty generous – then with 7 steps, you’ll only manage to follow the evidence in practice 21% of the time (0.8^7=0.21). Healthcare needs interaction designers, not just programmers.