Want to Remember Everything You’ll Ever Learn? Surrender to This Algorithm

there is an ideal moment to practice what you've learned. Practice too soon and you waste your time. Practice too late and you've forgotten the material and have to relearn it. The right time to practice is just at the moment you're about to forget. Unfortunately, this moment is different for every person and each bit of information.

Fortunately, human forgetting follows a pattern. We forget exponentially. A graph of our likelihood of getting the correct answer on a quiz sweeps quickly downward over time and then levels off. This pattern has long been known to cognitive psychology, but it has been difficult to put to practical use. It's too complex for us to employ with our naked brains.

Twenty years ago, Wozniak realized that computers could easily calculate the moment of forgetting if he could discover the right algorithm. SuperMemo … predicts the future state of a person's memory and schedules information reviews at the optimal time. The effect is striking.

Source: here

Open Source Government

How should one run open source or open content projects? Some sort of governance is needed. And, partly swayed by a recent trip to St. Gallen, the Swiss approach to democracy seems pretty close to being tailor-made.

As Wikipedia says,

“Switzerland is a federal republic, and perhaps the closest state in the world to a direct democracy. For any change in the constitution, a referendum is mandatory; for any change in a law, a referendum can be requested. In practice, the people have the last word in every change of law some interest group disagrees with.”

So in the canton of St Gallen, any citizen receives a pamphlet every three months or so. This pamphlet includes one or two country-wide laws, and three or four canton-wide laws that are being proposed. Again, should you wish to propose a law yourself, as long as you have a requisite amount of names on a petition, the government needs to propose this law to the nation.

So far so good. And there seem to be some wonderful “emergent behaviours” out of all of this, certainly if the conversations I had are anything to go by.

  1. Politicians do not parade their egos.
    Because control is basically in the hand of the people, politicians are increasingly involved in the little decisions, but less so in the larger ones. Perhaps this is just a biased view given the current UK elections, but less ego sounds very healthy
  2. Citizens are politically engaged.
    Because they are given some measure of control, they apparently talk through many of the issues amongst themselves in a much more practical way. Giving them responsibility seems to have worked.
– thanks Sonoe for the pic

There are some “but’s”, though.

  1. Isolation.
    Newcomers and residents pay taxes for a long time before they are allowed the vote (or citizenship). While this is in some measure to protect the constitution, if wages weren’t so good, then it would seem to be a strong disincentive to join.
  2. Innovation.
    It’s easy and slightly trite to say that innovation is stifled (a la Orson Welles, cuckoo clocks and peace). That said, lack of citizen ‘churn’ might well concern me if I was wanting to apply the system to an open source initiative

Anyway, certainly at first glance it seemed like a great possible model from which to learn how to run an open source initiative. And interestingly, in a recent interview at OpenEnterpriseTrends.com, Jack O’Brien (Sun’s Group Manager: x86 and Operating Systems) was asked about plans for the Open Source Solaris project. He said that

“All these Open Source communities have a governance process. So [when we announce Open Source Solaris], we�ll begin with an initial governance process, just to get started. But, we want the community, not Sun the company, to take ownership for what that governance process looks like.”

Very Swiss.


This came up in conversation yesterday. Maybe time to pop down to the video store so I can rewatch Tron, and reminisce about ZX81s, BBC Micro’s … erm…

Kevin Flynn: It’s time I level with you. I’m what you guys call a “user.”

Yori: You’re a user?

Kevin Flynn: I took a wrong turn somewhere.

Tron: If you ARE a user, then everything you’ve done has been according to a plan, right?

Kevin Flynn: Ha, ha, ha, you WISH! Well, you guys know what it’s like. You just keep doing what it looks like you’re supposed to be doing no matter how crazy it seems.

Tron: That’s the way it is for programs, yes.

Kevin Flynn: I hate to disappoint you, pal, but that’s the way it is for users, too.

Tron: Stranger and stranger…

Flame Wars vs Fluff Wars

Just over a month ago, Clay Shirky wrote a piece called “Group as User: Flaming and the Design of Social Software“. And it’s been given plaudits galore. But – ahem, polite cough – I think it’s a) wrong, and b) steering into very dangerous territory. The focus on group and the eradication of flame wars is a surefire way to kitsch thinking and fluff wars.

Clay’s Argument
Hopefully, this doesn’t oversimplify things, but Clay’s argument seems to run as follows:

  • “Much of the current literature and practice of software design … targets the individual user, functioning in isolation.”
  • This assumes the user treats computer is a box “while our actual behavior is closer to computer-as-door, treating the device as an entrance to a social space.”.
  • Users’ behaviours in these social spaces, though, are complex, more so than “human/computer interaction, and that unpredictability defeats classic user-centric design”. Social roles (such as process Nazi or peacemaker) and social actions (such as social climbing or arguing) highlight the design gap.
  • A way to bridge this design gap is to accept that “the user of a piece of social software is not just a collection of individuals, but a group”

Then we have a phase-shift, and the focus turns to flaming.
Continue reading Flame Wars vs Fluff Wars