Compound Interest

I gather that Al Bartlett is something of an internet legend when it comes to getting people to think about the power of rates of change, be it doubling, exponential, or compound interest. I wish the video was a little shorter. I’d like to share it with Lily.

New Journal: History of the Humanities

The [University of Chicago Press][] is starting a new journal:

The University of Chicago Press is pleased to announce the launch of History of Humanities, a new journal devoted to the historical and comparative study of the humanities. The first issue will be published in the spring of 2016. History of Humanities, along with the newly formed Society for the History of the Humanities, takes as its subject the evolution of a wide variety of disciplines including archaeology, art history, historiography, linguistics, literary studies, musicology, philology, and media studies, tracing these fields from their earliest developments, through their formalization into university disciplines, and to the modern day. By exploring these subjects across time and civilizations and along with their socio-political and epistemic implications, the journal takes a critical look at the concept of humanities itself.

It might be something for Jonathan Goodwin and me to think about, or at least Goodwin himself as he continues his graphing of various intellectual histories. I wonder how dominated the journal is going to be by historians.

Think Big

You may very well, and with good reason, mistrust how much and what Google wants to know about you in order, from its point of view, to customize your user experience and/or, from your point of view, sell you to advertisers, but you cannot doubt that members of its organization have the capability to think big: after delivering fiber to cities that otherwise left wanting, Google wants to build better airports, better cities, and defeat death, and they’ve started a new part of the company to make that happen, Google Y. There’s not much information on this new facet of Google, but I found the following description of Google X Labs by Ricardo Prada really insightful, and inspiring:

Google X is a wonderland, not a utopia. We’re dealing with real-world, messy, awesome and occasionally mundane problems. We need creative people whose hands are stained with whiteboard ink, but who don’t take themselves too seriously. This stuff is fun. Don’t feel limited by the tools you used last. Be open to looking at new problems, and trying or learning new tools.

That’s the kind of place I want to work in/at/for. But, more importantly (and, sigh, perhaps more realistically), we should aim to make this happen more places. Really, the humanities need to get themselves out of a funk and begin thinking about themselves more as a lab, a skunk works, where you can both do pie-in-the-sky work but also how what you do can make a difference in the world, solve a problem, open up opportunities. My own work in the realm of small text processing of real world texts seems to be gaining traction in various corners of the internet, and, I think folklore studies itself could become part of a more interesting conversation extending/revising things like natural language processing. I think Jason Jackson has been thinking big for a while when it comes to building a new infrastructure and a new way of looking at the world. Jason and I will be talking at the annual meeting of the American Folklore Society: look for the session on Thursday morning on Open Folklore.

Plain Text Commenting

One of the reasons to continue to use Word is that it makes it easy to add comments and/or mark up a document, in the editorial sense and not in the HTML/XML/TEI sense. Critic Markup is not likely to solve the issue such that those of use who prefer plain text over Word are going to have a breakthrough moment with our colleagues and collaborators, but if you are lucky enough to work with like-minded folks, then Critic Markup may just do what you need.

USDA Economic Research Service

One of the readers for The Makers of Things asked for a chapter on rice: I had written a draft of one, but pitched it before submitting the manuscript. As it turns out, the 5500 words I wrote over 5 days and wrapped up this past Friday is a much better chapter. I could write that quickly because I had ridden in enough tractors, boats, and combines and spent enough time walking fields, but I also needed the occasional bit of statistical information, and the USDA’s Economic Research Service was a real boon. While I wish, for my purposes, they had a greater historical coverage, the fact that so many of their reports were downloadable as Excel spreadsheets made the work of grabbing facts, compiling numbers, or, occasionally, creating graphs a really joy. (None of the graphs are likely to make their way into the book at this point, but it was nice to be able to use them for analysis.)

A Laudable Failed Replication

Two scientists who previously had published about the possible cuing of memory by the presence of a partner have failed to replicate their own original results, which they had previously shared (data and all), and published their own failure to do so. This is science at its best.:

In an earlier study, coauthor Horton reported that the presence an individual who was associated with a previously learned object increased the speed at which the object was named. In other words, the partner’s presence served as an associative memory cue to enhance lexical processing. In a follow-up paper published this month in PLOS ONE, the researchers aimed to replicate these findings as a foundation upon which to further explore the mechanisms by which associative cuing facilitates naming. But to their surprise, a series of experiments modeled after the originals failed to replicate their prior results – the presence of the partner from the learning phase did not influence the speed of object naming.

Thank you, PLoS.