Weekly Newsletter (11-02-2014)

November 2, 2014

This is a weekly newsletter I publish each week that contains content I enjoyed and hope that you will enjoy. If you have questions or comments, you can find me at stephenmalina@gmail.com or on Twitter.

Technology and Human Augmentation

A Spreadsheet Way of Knowledge
A long, in-depth piece on the history of spreadsheet modeling. The two points that stick with me from this piece are the dismissive attitude people initially had towards the spreadsheet and the obsession with modeling people displayed (and continue to display). I am fascinated by the latter point because I often find myself falling into a similar way of thinking in regards to various metrics I track. The way I typically snap myself out of model or metrics obsession is by reminding myself that “the map is not the territory”.

The Personal Cloud
Discusses the implications of ubiquitous embedded computing, in particular, the idea that our devices will become so ethereal that they will resemble a cloud of information processing. I liked this article because it reminded me of an idea around which I often frame my thinking about technology, called the exocortex. The exocortex is a theoretical set of external information processing tools which are so tightly integrated with our organic thinking processes that they mesh seamlessly. I think anyone interested in the future of human-augmenting technology will enjoy this article as a starting point for thinking and learning more about the exocortex / personal cloud.

Portal 2 Improves Cognitive Skill more than Lumosity
Summarizes a recent study whose results indicate that playing Portal 2, a puzzle video game, has more beneficial effects on fundamental cognitive skills than Lumosity, a popular brain-training website. This is intriguing to me, because I have always envisioned someone one day inventing a game that was so challenging and thought-provoking that it could educate individuals and turn them into vastly better problem solvers.

Technology and Society

Julian Assange: Google is not what it seems
Narrates a meeting with Eric Schmidt and comments on Google as a data-capturing giant. As this is by Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, it is sure to be controversial. I fall somewhere between Assange and Eric Schmidt in terms of my views on data collection, but I definitely find Assange’s case against Google compelling. And, although he is a controversial figure, in light of the Edward Snowden reveals, I am inclined to listen more closely to what he says than I would have previously. I have more to say about this topic, so please contact me if you are interested in discussing it further.

J.R.R. Tolkien - enemy of progress
Analyzes the Romantic and aristocratic impulses present in Lord of the Rings and relates them to modern sentiment. Althought this was written over 10 years ago, I think it rings very true in today’s political and pop-culture climate. Also, I’m currently reading David Brin’s new book, Existence and enjoying it. Thus, I thought this piece could act as an introduction to David Brin’s corpus of work, as I think he’s one of the more thoughtful sci-fi authors of our time, alongside Neal Stephenson and Charles Stross.


A New Breed of University
I suspect this will be one of the more controversial pieces in the newsletter, so I am intentionally keeping my thoughts short in the hope you will contact me individually to discuss this further. My main takeaway from this piece is that competition in educational methods is important and currently severely lacking. Although we see high levels of competition between elite schools in terms of attracting applicants (up and down the age spectrum). Teaching methodology, particularly at the collegiate level, is slow to improve, despite certain colleges’ attempts (I am thinking of Dartmouth’s experiential learning initiative in particular). I think the Minerva project and other projects like it are good because they will force elite institutions to reevaluate their teaching methodologies.


Magic Mushrooms’ Effect on the Brain
This was actually sent to me by Will, I just wanted to include it here because it falls perfectly in the infographic category. In regards to the piece, the title says all that needs to be said for this one. Take a look if you are at all interested in brain-related science.

Obamacare: Heatmap of who was helped the most
Same thing as the prior infographic, except with a more political bent.

Other Contributions

Living Simply in a Dumpster (Submitted by Andrew, Described by Me)
Fun, fascinating portrait of a professor experimenting with a new, innovative way of living. As those who know me can attest, I possess some serious minimalist tendencies so I was delighted to hear about this experiment. Beyond that, however, I was impressed with the way in which this project blends a focus on sustainability with an insistence on not sacrificing necessary (in my opinion) modern technologies and a modern level of connectedness.

Going against the Grain(Submitted by Jen, Described by Me)
Analyzes the merits, demerits, and mythology surrounding gluten. As a current follower of a “gluten-free diet”, I will say that the benefits of the restrictions I place on my self do seem to be more associated with avoiding more obvious unhealthy foods. Unfortunately, the broader point I’ve come to understand is that food is by no means a solved problem. The author of this piece states that the real solution is to eat a “whole foods” diet but what that really means is unclear. Perhaps one day technology will lead to a more informed discussion around diet through ubiquitous measurement and tracking, but, until then, I feel as in the dark as any one in this debate.

Discussion, links, and tweets

I'm a software developer currently working at UberEats. I keep a low social media presence, but, if you enjoy what I have to say or want to rant at me, you should email me at stephenmalina@gmail.com. If you're interested in what I'm currently programming, check out my Github. I occasionally rant on Twitter as well.