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Monday, November 24, 2003

David Brin. "It is said that power corrupts, but actually it's more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power." [Quotes of the Day]
What do you think? []  links to this post    4:06:29 PM  
From users to programmers

A few months ago Steven Garrity's blog was host to an interesting conversation on the gap between user and programmer. I hope the computer environments of the future will enable ordinary people to just "get things done" without encountering steep learning curves, even when that involves choregraphing the work of several applications. The growing adoption of scripting languages and availability of open interfaces to services suggests things might indeed be evolving in that direction.

Reading through the discussion reminded me of Python inventor Guido van Rossum's currently-limboed

Computer Programming for Everybody initiative, and of Tomasso Toffoli's vision of the knowledge home. Alan Kay comes to mind, too.

The information objects we are manipulating, while they are meaningful in and of themselves, ought to become things that have a more powerful and easily learnable interface than "view/save". We're stuck with trinkets that are nice to look at, but hard to combine in new ways. We need tinkertoys and Mindstorms. In the information routing arena, this is the kind of direction I was getting at with that feed algebra idea.

What do you think? []  links to this post    3:51:47 PM  
Technorati français

Le Top 100 des weblogs de la blogosphère francophone. Missing a lot for now - e.g. the popular MediaTIC (Jean-Luc comments here; David explains), but give it time. Merci encore David!

(via Alf)

What do you think? []  links to this post    2:16:20 PM  
Welcome, Erik!

I am thrilled to report that learning objects metadatadude Erik Duval has entered the blogosphere. I remember Erik delivering a great talk at WWW2003 describing a learning objects research agenda he cooked up with Wayne Hodgins [paper, slides]. Someone to watch.


What do you think? []  links to this post    1:29:34 PM  
DIY cortical hacking

Wired: The Key to Genius. A few interesting ideas in there, though I'd put a quotation mark after that title... part of the secret to genius seems to be about overriding or bypassing the usual specialization that occurs in areas of the brain.

Miller formulated a provocative hypothesis to explain the fact that as some [frontotemporal dementia] patients get worse, they also get better. He posited that the dementia does not create artistic powers in these patients, it uncovers them. The disorder switches off inhibitory signals from the left temporal lobes, enabling suppressed talents in the right hemisphere to flourish.

This ability of the brain to heal itself and compensate for loss of function is called neuroplasticity. But the brain's ability to redraw its own cortical maps on the fly is not limited to routing around damage.

In Germany, a young man named Rüdiger Gamm, who is not autistic and did poorly at math in school, has trained himself to divide prime numbers to the 60th decimal point, calculate fifth roots, and raise numbers to the ninth power in his head - skills previously thought to be the lofty province of math geniuses and savants like the calculating twins.

People typically use short-term memory to solve math problems, but PET scans show that Gamm has recruited areas of his long-term episodic memory - the neurological archive of his life story - to perform his lightning calculations. Brian Butterworth of the Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience in London compares what Gamm is doing to the way "computers extend the capacity of RAM by using swap space on the hard drive to create a larger 'virtual memory.'"

A decade ago, this kind of DIY cortical hacking would have been strictly Philip K. Dick territory, but neuroscientists are discovering that the processing centers in our heads swap resources all the time.

When most people listen to a piece of music, they track melody with the right hemisphere and rhythm with the left. But among professional musicians, both are tracked with the left, which handles behaviors that have become routine. MRI scans show that skilled violinists have enlarged areas of tissue in the left planum temporale, an auditory crossroads that serves both music and language.


Sacks maintains a personal shrine to creative intelligence over his desk in Greenwich Village. There, his friends smile from a collection of photographs: the chemists Roald Hoffman and Linus Pauling, the virologist D. Carleton Gajdusek, the playwright Jonathan Miller, the neuroscientist Vernon Mountcastle, and a 19-year-old wunderkind, Nick Younes, whom Sacks calls Big Nick.

"These people are very unlike savants," he explains. "They're people of great all-around g. One feels it strongly in the size of someone's universe, its depth and spaciousness, in their intellectual agility, and in the power of generalizing, which seems to cross all the particular modalities."

Related earlier post of mine: "Latent inhibition and creativity".

What do you think? []  links to this post    11:01:12 AM  

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