The Cognitive Sinks

A few days ago a crime mapping article I wrote for the People Design blog went live. It pulls together thoughts I have had about this whole mapping thing, and some input from some other people who are involved in this sort of thing.

On Monday I came across a link to a presentation Clay Shirky gave at the Web 2.0 conference last week (transcript of the speech) (video of the speech). In it he talks about the idea of a “cognitive surplus”, and what that could mean for the world in the upcoming years. The idea, brutally simplified, is that as we cease indulging in passive entertainment and begin involving ourselves more and more in interactive pursuits, the amount of available brain-power in the world will increase dramatically. Not that the brains haven’t always been there; they have been turned down to a flicker by being pure consumers of ideas rather than producers.

Shirky brought up the common comment about people who do things like create the Wikipedia: “Where do they find the time?” Simple. They are actively exercising their imaginations, rather than passively absorbing someone else’s output.

The comments and compliments my co-workers offered me about the crime map, combined with the Shirky talk, got me to thinking. The crime map was a simple project. Other than gathering the crime data, it really represented about five hours of work. An afternoon. The length of two of the Matrix movies. If everyone who sat through the Matrix movies more than once, decided instead to exercise their imaginations for that time instead, how many more wonderful things would there be in the world?

Like Vampires? Like Science Fiction?

If your answer to the above two questions is “Yes”, then there is a book you need to read. It is call Blindsight and the author is Peter Watts.

Blindsight is a first-contact novel set in the year 2082. I don’t really want to give any details, other than the fact that the ship is captained by a vampire, which Watts makes plausible by demonstrating that, in fact, it is not entirely out of the question that vampires could have existed once upon a time. He even throws in the hard science explaining how it could be possible, which is – in my experience – absolutely unprecedented in vampire novels. But don’t just take my word for it: You can read Watts’ research notes here (PDF), or watch a powerpoint-ish presentation (Flash – highly recommended) from a the Big Pharma company which successfully brought vampires out of extinction. And if that isn’t enough, you can read Blindsight online, for free.

Aaaaannnndddd, if Blindsight makes you hungry for more Peter Watts, you can read his other books – Starfish, Maelstrom, and Βehemoth for free as well.

One warning, though: The other novels are much darker than Blindsight.

But wait: There’s more! Watts is working on another novel, which takes place on Earth at the same time as Blindsight is happening in space. The title is State of Grace, and an excerpt can be read here.


O Avocado

I eat a lot of avocados.

Truth be told, I probably eat more avocados than any other single fruit or vegetable, except maybe bananas or pizza.

This means I end up with a lot of avocado pits.

This past summer, I did a little research, to see if there was anything I could do with an avocado pit after the rest of the avocado had been eaten. Someone – possibly my girlfriend – told me I should try to grow an avocado tree.

So I did. They are easy to grow, if you happen to have a pit which has within it the spark of life. Perhaps 9 times out of 10 the pit will sit there and shrivel and get slimy. But O, that tenth time!

I have managed, in the last eight months, to sprout three avocado trees. The first one was this past summer. After the roots looked good and long I transplanted it into a pot out on my front porch. When I got home from work, the plant was gone and there were SQUIRREL FOOTPRINTS in the soil in the pot.


Round about the end of summer another seed germinated. This one I kept inside, and at the moment the plant is about eighteen inches tall, green, leafy and – as far as I can tell – happy and healthy. This one is staying inside until it is too big to be eaten by any of the local wildlife.

This past weekend, I noticed that one of the seeds sitting in the kitchen window had begun to grow.

This is how I start the seeds. All it takes is a small jar, three toothpicks, a sunny window, and some patience.

The Avocado Nursery

The Avocado Tree, Week 1

That little nubbin coming out of the bottom of the pit is a root. In another couple of weeks a small stem will sprout from the top of the avocado, and then, once it begins to grow a couple of leaves, it will be time to put it in a pot.

If you want to try this yourself, I recommend using the seeds from organically-grown avocados, rather than the big supermarket chains, although this might not make any difference. Don’t expect to have fruit bearing trees any time in the next decade, and then only if you have several trees in the same space. This is definitely a labor of love.

The Meijer Gardens

Butterflies at the Gardens

The above is a photo taken at the Meijer Gardens last week, during the Foremost Butterflies exhibit. The place was a zoo, people packed shoulder-to-shoulder in the arboretum where the humidity is kept somewhere north of 100%.

Despite the overpopulation of Homo Sapiens, love was in the air, and the bunch of us were treated to a display of quail sex in the middle of one of the walkways.

Outside in the open air there were still a lot of people, but more room to move. Beside one of the paths a nest of garter snakes had just opened up, and we happened across a couple of them making the Beast with Two Backs, which, if you suffer from Ophidiophobia, I suggest you try to avoid seeing.

Click the photo to see the rest of the set.

Dave Eggers at TED

I have been a big fan of the various works and projects of Dave Eggers for several years. He brings a wise-yet-quirky view to things that quite often rings true with me.

Recently, Mr. Eggers won a TED Prize, and a couple of weeks ago his TED Prize Wish speech was uploaded to the TED website. Therein he tells of the history of the writing workshop 826 Valencia, and its various offspring and spin-offs. Very funny, very inspiring, and it gives me an unaccustomed level of hope for the future.

For more inspiration, watch every other video at the TED website.