Review: Cognitive Surplus

Clay Shirky is one of those authors that I just can’t get enough of. After seeing a talk of his on TED a few years ago I got his first book, Here Comes Everybody, and loved it. When I found out he had another book out, I immediately ordered it on Amazon.

Here Comes Everybody was largely a How book, exploring how people were using new forms of communication to accomplish things we never thought possible before. Cognitive Surplus is a Why book. Why, exactly, do we have Wikipedia? Why do we have Kiva? Why do we have Linux?

His proposition is because of we’ve got a cognitive surplus, which we’ve finally come to realize due to the new connectedness of the internet. The 20th century brought about a substantial amount of leisure time in the western world, but we were still very isolated. If you had a hobby, like model trains, odds were that very few people around you shared in that hobby, so you while you enjoyed it your basement or garage, it was something you often didn’t have kindred spirits to share with. Lacking this kind of reinforcement for hobbies, we filled that time with things that did give us a shared experience: Television.

The internet let us find kindred spirits and help us unlock our desire to create by finding new communities that don’t need to be within driving distance.

The book is a great romp through a set of stories about why certain communities have formed, and with bits of advice in energizing your own community. I highly recommend it to just about anyone, though I’d suggest reading Here Comes Everybody first if you haven’t yet.

Revenge of the Play Station

Today I learned:

The Play Station (as it was originally called) started out as a CD add-on for the Super Nintendo, until the deal was broken in a very public way and Philips entered into a similar partnership with Nintendo. The Philips and Nintendo combination ended with some terrible licensed games on the CD-i platform and nothing else. Sadly for Nintendo, Sony was infuriated by the double-cross and vowed to enter the gaming market. Rarely has revenge tasted so sweet.

Apparently spite is the step-mother of invention.

The Accuracy of Myers-Briggs

From Brian Dunning’s The Myers-Briggs Personality Test:

From the perspective of statistical analysis, the MBTI’s fundamental premise is flawed. According to Myers & Briggs, each person is either an introvert or an extravert. Within each group we would expect to see a bell curve showing the distribution of extraversion within the extraverts group, and introversion within the introverts. If the MBTI approach is valid, we should expect to see two separate bell curves along the introversion/extraversion spectrum, making it valid for Myers & Briggs to decide there are two groups into which people fit. But data have shown that people do not clump into two separately identifiable curves; they clump into a single bell curve, with extreme introverts and extreme extraverts forming the long tails of the curve, and most people gathered somewhere in the middle. Jung himself said “There is no such thing as a pure extravert or a pure introvert. Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum.” This does not support the MBTI assumption that people naturally separate into two groups. MBTI takes a knife and cuts the bell curve right down the center, through the meatiest part, and right through most people’s horizontal error bars. Moreover, this forced error is compounded four times, with each of the four dichotomies. This statistical fumble helps to explain why so many people score differently when retaking the test: There is no truly correct score for most people, and no perfect fit for anyone.

Observe the Moon at Vassar Farm

It turns out that while I was coming up with the idea of figuring out if we could do an astronomy outreach event at the Vassar Farm, Keri VanCamp (the Vassar Farm & Ecological Preserve manager) was developing a program of outings at the preserve to get more people out experiencing it.  It worked out perfectly, so now we’ll be celebrating International Observe the Moon Night as an event on Vassar’s “Exploring a Sense of Space” at the farm.

Our event will take place on Saturday, September 18th at 7:30pm.  I’m hoping for a clear night, because if it’s fully cloudy there won’t be much to see, so we’ll have to cancel.  Here is the flyer I managed to come up with (based on the template from the observe the moon team):

It’s also available as a PDF for printing.

The overall list of topics going on at the Farm in their series is pretty interesting stuff.  As I’ve not seen it online yet, I’ll duplicate it here for anyone interested:

Exploring a Sense of Place

A series of guided walks and events on the Vassar Farm & Ecological Preserve

Wednesday September 8th at 3:30 PM: Walk led by Dr. Mark Schlessman and Keri VanCamp

Topic: Wildflower Walk *

Saturday September 18th at 7:30 PM: Program led by Mid-Hudson Astronomy Club

Topic: Astronomy:  International Observe the Moon Night

Wednesday September 22nd at 3:30 PM
: Walk led by Dr. Lucy Johnson

Topic: Native American Usage of the Preserve and Valley*

Saturday September 25th at 9 AM
:  Walk led by the RT Waterman Bird Club

Topic:  Bird Watching

Wednesday September 29th at 3:30 PM:  Walk led by Dr. Kirsten Menking

Topic: Glacial History of the Preserve*

Wednesday October 6th at 3:30 PM
: Walk led by Hannah Clark and Jason Carter

Topic:  Forest Ecology and Invasive Insects*

Wednesday October 13th at 3:30 PM: Walk led by Dr. Meg Ronsheim, Abby Falk-Rood, & Keri VanCamp

Event:  Mushroom Foray and Basic ID*

Wednesday October 20th at 1:30 PM: Program led by Keri VanCamp & Emily Vail

Event:  Wetland Buffer Planting*

Wednesday October 27th at 6:30 and 8 PM (Rain date October 29th):  Program led by Hannah Clark, Jason Carter, & Dr. Glenn Proudfoot

Topic:  Northern Saw Whet Owl**

All events could be canceled due to adverse weather.  Please contact us if the weather forecast is questionable.  Participants should meet in the parking area near the large red barn across from the community gardens at the Vassar Farm.

*A van will also bring people from campus to the farm.  It will depart from the main circle 15 minutes before the program begins.

** Space for this event is limited. People must RSVP to Hannah or Keri. This event will be held at the Collin’s Field Station.

To RSVP or for additional information contact:  Hannah Clark at or Keri VanCamp at (845) 437-7414.

Twitter vs. Open Source Clients

Apparently you can no longer legitimately use Twitter with open source clients, Ars has a lot of details around the implications of the way Twitter just rolled out OAuth.

Twitter’s OAuth implementation and open source clients

Requiring third-party developers to embed a consumer secret key in the source code of their Twitter client applications potentially puts free and open source (FOSS) client software at greater risk of key exposure than closed-source client software. The key would be visible as plain text in the source code, where anybody could find it and use it for their own purposes. Indeed, one can already easily find dozens of OAuth consumer secret keys by using Google’s code search engine.

Twitter felt that allowing FOSS Twitter clients to use OAuth posed an unacceptable risk. The company warned that it would invalidate any OAuth keys that it found published in the source code of FOSS client applications. This was deeply troubling to the developers who maintain such software, including me. I am the developer behind Gwibber, a GPL-licensed microblogging client that is used in Ubuntu and other Linux distributions.

This is a damn shame.  I just fixed up my little script that talks to twitter, and I’ll be publishing keys out to github later this week because it’s asinine that they would build an interface which makes it overly burdensome to use open source clients.  OAuth has some neat ideas in it, but making it fundamentally Free and Open Source hostile seems like a bad direction to go.



Last night, the atmosphere over Australia settled into a state of rare, crystal-clear transparency — and it did so directly above the observatory of world-famous astrophotographer Anthony Wesley. The result was a picture of Jupiter that some onlookers are calling the finest-ever by an amateur astronomer. “On a scale of 1 to 10, the seeing was a 12,” says Wesley. “Now I know what it must be like to see the giant planet from space.”

Just remember, this was taken, from the ground, by an Amateur, with a 16″ telescope.  Really freaking cool.