Friday, January 04, 2008

Self-reporting caucus results through Twitter

Patrick Ruffini persuaded some Iowan Twitterers to text in caucus results, and he says the result allowed him to predict the Democratic contest before the mainstream media.

techPresident – Iowa Twitter Success

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Browsing with your phone

Lifehacker asks: Do you browse the web with your mobile phone? The results are not too surprising given that the survey is of a self-selected sample, but the comments portray an interesting range of mobile browsing habits and platforms. Apparently the iPhone users just love browsing and think that other platforms are inadequate. (Full disclosure: I browse almost constantly with a Samsung A900M, Opera Mobile, and a Sprint unlimited data plan.)

Comments indicate that mobile browsing substitutes for casual news reading, information seeking on the fly (e.g., looking up an actress during a movie), handling maps, and carrying catalog files. In a small segment, mobile is now a threat to paper.

Ask The Readers: Do You Browse with Your Phone?

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Reading :: The Dangerous Book for Boys

The Dangerous Book for Boys
By Conn Iggulden, Hal Iggulden

I've heard a lot about this book from various corners, including Glenn Reynolds and BoingBoing, but I didn't expect to get it for Christmas. It's described as "the perfect book for every boy from eight to eighty," and we are told that by reading it we can "recapture Sunday afternoons and long summer days." If that sounds like idyllic nostalgia to you, you are quite correct -- this book is modeled on various texts boys used to read, particularly the ones that came out after Sputnik scared everyone into paying more attention to math and science education.

And reading it did remind me of how I spent Sunday afternoons and long summer days: It's one part How and Why Wonder Books, one part Boy Scout Handbook. So, yes, it was a real nostalgic trip. The book is a grab bag of different skills, experiments, trivia, and inspiring stories. If you want to learn how to tie different knots, make a battery out of quarters and foil, distinguish different pirate flags, find the Big Dipper, make a fort, play poker, and speak a few phrases in Latin, this is your book. Many of the sections begin with stern declarations about how, say, these five knots are knots that "every boy should know." As you master each skill or body of knowledge, you are encouraged to see it as essential -- and since very few people these days have mastered five knots or made batteries, you are also encouraged to see yourself as possessing elite knowledge as well. I recognize this pattern well from the books linked above, which I read voraciously as a boy. Of course, I mastered few of these skills, which I suspect is because these skills were not especially relevant to or needed in my life. That didn't make them any less fun to try out, though, and perhaps the utility of this book is more in scaffolding independence and fostering discovery than anything else. At any rate, the book is not especially dangerous, and it is certainly an interesting read.

Interestingly, in the back, the book provides pictures of six "Dangerous Book for Boys Badges" and invites the reader to print them out if the reader believes he (sic) has mastered the relevant skill, like some sort of Montessori Boy Scout. I'm still getting my head around what that indicates about the current state of boyhood.

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Monday, December 31, 2007

Reading :: A Whole New Mind

A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age
By Daniel Pink

In this book on the rising importance of conceptual work, Daniel Pink passionately argues that we have overemphasized left-brain thinking (sequence and details; text; science, mathematics, logic) over right-brain thinking (simultaneity; context; synthesis; the arts). And Pink models this sort of thinking as well, perhaps to his detriment. Pink strikes me as one of those exceptionally bright people who nevertheless emphasize breadth over depth, skimming over details and hastily synthesizing a big picture with an easy-to-grasp dichotomy (right vs. left, text vs. context, logic vs. creativity). It's this rush to develop a big picture that really damages the book: Pink uses headlines from a number of fields and personal anecdotes from his own drawing classes as evidence for this rapidly developing big picture, but fails to notice or try to reconcile opposing views or the subtle differences among the experts he cites.

Scott Berkun recently read this book as well -- the later paperback version, not the hardback that I read -- and posted his devastating review. I won't repeat that work here, but I will add that very bright people tend to be susceptible to grand unifying explanations such as this one. It takes some patience to be skeptical and to sound out the disagreements and incoherences among your sources when you think you see a big picture emerging, and often the impulse is to sweep those disagreements under the rug. Unfortunately, Pink was not able to summon this patience. Fortunately, someone -- probably the editor -- blunted the book's obvious conclusion by inserting hedges: rather than baldly stating that right-brain activities will be ascendant in the new economy, the book usually states that both halves of the brain will be equally important and that sequence, logic, and details will continue to have a place.