the analog tax

spending time with my parents affords me an opportunity to see what they use their computer for, and some of it is not pretty: take this whole world of “mail merge”, no matter whether in microsoft office or it’s retarded cousin openoffice, is a world of pain. the user interface is unspeakably bad, quite in tune with a process that is about as fun as a visit to the dentist in the first place. bringing this bloated world onto the web with the recent craze of ajax word processors is fundamentally misguided: why deal with label printing when there is email? similarly, when you are faced with the task to protect 2.5B in revenues per quarter, why screw around with new toolbars when your products don’t help squat to solve the real problem: outdated assumptions about a paper-based world.

back to amateur science?

ben goertzel has some thoughts on how academic papers are stuffed with irrelevant filling, and how this impedes real progress:

what strikes me is how much pomp, circumstance and apparatus academia requires in order to frame even a very small and simple point. References to everything in the literature ever said on any vaguely related topic, detailed comparisons of your work to whatever it is the average journal referee is likely to find important — blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…. A point that I would more naturally get across in five pages of clear and simple text winds up being a thirty page paper!

I’m writing some books describing the Novamente AI system — one of them, 600 pages of text, was just submitted to a publisher. The other two, about 300 and 200 pages respectively, should be submitted later this year. Writing these books took a really long time but they are only semi-technical books, and they don’t follow all the rules of academic writing — for instance, the whole 600 page book has a reference list no longer than I’ve seen on many 50-page academic papers, which is because I only referenced the works I actually used in writing the book, rather than every relevant book or paper ever written. I estimate that to turn these books into academic papers would require me to write about 60 papers. To sculpt a paper out of text from the book would probably take me 2-7 days of writing work, depending on the particular case. So it would be at least a full year of work, probably two full years of work, to write publishable academic papers on the material in these books!

the lack of risk-taking is particularly evident in computer science:

Furthermore, if as a computer scientist you develop a new algorithm intended to solve real problems that you have identified as important for some purpose (say, AI), you will probably have trouble publishing this algorithm unless you spend time comparing it to other algorithms in terms of its performance on very easy “toy problems” that other researchers have used in their papers. Never mind if the performance of an algorithm on toy problems bears no resemblance to its performance on real problems. Solving a unique problem that no one has thought of before is much less impressive to academic referees than getting a 2% better solution to some standard “toy problem.” As a result, the whole computer science literature (and the academic AI literature in particular) is full of algorithms that are entirely useless except for their good performance on the simple “toy” test problems that are popular with journal referees….

his first scenario makes me wonder if amateur scientists could again make meaningful contributions to research, combined with a wiki-like process that (hopefully) would identify promising directions better than today’s peer reviews:

And so, those of us who want to advance knowledge rapidly are stuck in a bind. Either generate new knowledge quickly and don’t bother to ram it through the publication mill … or, generate new knowledge at the rate that’s acceptable in academia, and spend half your time wording things politically and looking up references and doing comparative analyzes rather than doing truly productive creative research.

mapping thoughts in xml

since the new mindmanager release sports an xml file format, i decided to buy it. i hope to link in external xml sources, and use mindmanager as a visual RDF editor eventually. the necessary developer information is not yet available, but apparently xslt will go a long way. some of the immediately usable features are:

Google search tool: Click on this map part, and a search form appears. Type in your search term, and MindManager X5 Pro grabs the top 10 search results from Google for your search term and displays them in a new topic. These 10 sub-topics contain URL link and notes icons. If you click on the URL icon, you can navigate directly to that web page. If you click on the notes icon, the program opens the notes pane and displays the text that Google displayed for that site in its search results. You can also annotate these results, making this map part a useful research tool.

you can also link in rss feeds.

the xml format does not look as nice as it could have, and one wonders why mindjet did not go with XTM (extending it with their own namespace to capture formatting information). here is a sample:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8" standalone="no"?>
<ap:Map Dirty="0000000000000001" OId="F2io9NtNRUepjliURM596Q==" Gen="0000000000000000" xmlns:ap="" xmlns:cor="" xmlns:pri="" xmlns:xsi="" xsi:schemaLocation="">
<ap:OneTopic Dirty="0000000000000000">
<ap:Topic Dirty="0000000000000000" OId="F0V9qynjdkiLsQieUwCCww==" Gen="0000000000000000">
<ap:TopicViewGroup Dirty="0000000000000000" ViewIndex="0"/>
<ap:StyleGroup Dirty="0000000000000000">
<ap:RootTopicDefaultsGroup Dirty="0000000000000000">
<ap:DefaultColor Dirty="0000000000000000" FillColor="fffee49e" LineColor="ff000000"/>
<ap:DefaultText TextAlignment="urn:mindjet:Center" TextCapitalization="urn:mindjet:None" VerticalTextAlignment="urn:mindjet:Top" Dirty="0000000000000000" PlainText="Central Topic">
<ap:Font Color="ff373737" Size="14." Name="Trebuchet MS" Bold="true" Italic="false" Underline="false" Strikethrough="false"/>

pretty nasty if you ask me. make no mistake though, i think mindjet have leaped forward a lot, and i can’t wait to see interesting xsl transformations being applied. i will play around with it in the next couple days.

mailers suck

its totally unacceptable that mail programs allow to send mails without a subject, breaking all email archives in the process. who protects me from newbies?

the value of getting out of the way

micromanagement kills productivity.. as experienced at my former employer

people criticize microsoft for many things, but there is a reason why they have become such a successful company. they get it. they don’t have layers upon layers of stupid decision-making committees, instead management stays out of the way so that the line can do its work.

if this is not the case at kpmg once i return, then bye bye..