Tainter’s Collapse of Complex Societies

The Collapse of Complex Societies (Cambridge University Press 1988; paperback 1990, 250 pages, ISBN 978-0-521-38673-9) is Joseph A. Tainter’s magnum opus and deservedly considered a classic. Tainter packs an overview of explanations of collapse, analyses of historical cases, and his own overarching theory into one slim book, soberly argued from quantifiable data yet quite readable. … Continue reading “Tainter’s Collapse of Complex Societies”

Stack Overflow: Quality by Quantity

Programmer Q&A site Stack Overflow has attracted legions of volunteer moderators (including privileged users possessing various editing capacities) with a “gamified” reputation system, but the quality of this moderation is increasingly coming under attack. A thread on Stack Overflow itself asked in April 2014, Why is Stack Overflow so negative of late? I’ve been using … Continue reading “Stack Overflow: Quality by Quantity”

Published Opinion Fractures

Le journalisme est un enfer, un abîme d’iniquités, de mensonges, de trahisons, que l’on ne peut traverser et d’où l’on ne peut sortir pur, que protégé comme Dante par le divin laurier de Virgile.– Honoré de Balzac, Illusions perdues (1843) Not only is journalism hell, it hardly pays anymore either. NiemanLab’s Ken Doctor recently published … Continue reading “Published Opinion Fractures”

Return of Patronage

Who will pay for intellectual works that are easily copied over the Internet, and why? I think the strongest component will be voluntary payment, a.k.a. patronage, and it’s already much more common than generally admitted. The core distinction is the following: People will pay after “consuming” (listening, reading, watching, playing) a work if they decide … Continue reading “Return of Patronage”

Robot Writer News

Computers still struggle to master the Turing test, but that doesn’t matter for low demands on writing quality. In today’s sampling of publishing news we learn that this includes social networks, professional journalism, and scientific conference proceedings. The Scientific Bot In February, science publishers Springer and IEEE were forced to retract over 120 papers from … Continue reading “Robot Writer News”

Sociological Eye on Revolutions

Successful revolutions provide the founding myths for the newly established order, and are accordingly glorified as the spontaneous uprising of the righteous and downtrodden against their oppressors and exploiters. Randall Collins, professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, has turned his Sociological Eye on the realities behind the myths. The articles quoted below are … Continue reading “Sociological Eye on Revolutions”

Deception and Metaphors

Benevolent Deception in Human Computer Interaction by Eytan Adar, Desney Tan & Jaime Teevan presents the design principle of “benevolent deception” – that is, deliberately misrepresenting a computer system’s functionality to the user, but for the benefit of the user and/or developer. The paper cites many surprising (and amusing) examples of benevolent deceptions in technology, … Continue reading “Deception and Metaphors”

Blogging healthy, RSS not so much

People claim that dedicated personal weblogs and anonymous XML syndication are the past. The future belongs to the walled gardens of social networks where every user interaction is tracked for advertising profits. But are blogs and RSS feeds really dying, or are they just momentarily less prominent than Facebook’s Like circus? I dug up some … Continue reading “Blogging healthy, RSS not so much”

Helian and H.L. Mencken

Helian Unbound is one anonymous writer’s eloquent crusade for radical skepticism. His sober scientific realism is directed against every ideology – including the fashionable ersatz religions espoused by many self-declared “skeptics” nowadays. Added to my recommended Subscriptions. In his latest post, Helian discovered a digitized archive of The American Mercury, a cultural and political magazine … Continue reading “Helian and H.L. Mencken”

Users Ignore Technical Quality

In Dangling by a Trivial Feature, James Hague (quite understandably) dismisses a vector drawing application when he discovers it lacks a simple but crucial feature: Showing the current size of the selection rectangle as it is being dragged with the mouse. The fix involves two subtractions, a change to a format string, and a bit … Continue reading “Users Ignore Technical Quality”