More links

I recently found the site AlterNet, a website devoted to alternative media. In particular, I’ve been regularly reading their election section. Some recent articles that I found interesting include Arianna Huffington’s advice to the Kerry campaign, and an article describing the effect that Howard Stern, of all people, could have on the race. Interesting stuff. Another site that alternet often links to is, which has its own interesting set of articles.

As long as I’m doing random links, I just read an interesting speculation on the different sizes that a group can grow through, and in particular where the danger spots are. Things like the Dunbar number, which I first read about in The Tipping Point – the idea that humans can only maintain stable social connections with 150 others at a time. I find that his observations match up pretty well with my experiences in different organizations as they’ve grown and shrunk. Worth a read. Even if it doesn’t display properly in Mozilla.

I also liked this article by Malcolm Gladwell, on the social life of paper. It speculates how we use paper and other aspects of our environment to externalize the contents of our brain, using it as a spark to memory. How many of us leave a pile of papers on our desk each evening to help remind us the next morning what we were working on? However, each of us organizes our stacks differently, and that’s a reflection of how our brains are organized differently. I could spend all day looking at your stack of papers and not be able to extract the cognitive connections that you had developed. The documentation alone isn’t enough, which is a point well-developed in The Social Life of Information. Gladwell makes the point as well:

The correspondence, notes, and other documents such discussions would produce formed a significant part of the documents buyers kept. These materials therefore supported rather than constituted the expertise of the buyers. In other words, the knowledge existed not so much in the documents as in the heads of the people who owned them — in their memories of what the documents were, in their knowledge of the history of that supplier relationship, and in the recollections that were prompted whenever they went through the files.

And, yet another link that I’d meant to link to for a while, is an interview with Tom Crouch, Senior Curator of the Division of Aeronautics at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, and historian of the Wright brothers. Interesting discussion of the importance of experimentation to the process.