Boris Smus

interaction engineering

AI note garden: link suggestions

My latest AI gardener apprentice finds pairs of notes that aren't explicitly linked, but maybe ought to be. This project was inspired by the human subconscious, which creates, cements, and removes neural connections during sleep.

Like a sleeping brain, my python script runs nightly, scouring my note garden for related notes. The end result is a list of the most similar notes pairs in the garden, based on semantic similarity. I found the results to be illuminating, and a real-time version with solid UX would be a central feature of my system for thought.

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Book: A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

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Article highlights of 2021

Following my yearly tradition (2020, 2019, and 2018), here were my favorite articles from 2021. It's hard to come up with coherent groupings, but overall I definitely read more about emergence, evolution, equilibrium and complexity-related stuff. I tried to make sense of Russia, China and where the US sits in the new world order. Notably, I read a lot of Construction Physics, as if preparing for an ambitious but unspecified building project.

I may have overindexed on articles and non-fiction books this year, at the expense of reading novels. This is at odds with my stated belief in the Power of Fiction. Looking back at my book list, I only read two fiction books the whole year — possibly an all-time low. My aim for 2022 is to double down on reading for pleasure, relieving pressure to capture every insight.

Happy New Year!

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AI note garden: summarizer

One benefit of keeping a long term note garden is that you can have conversations with your past self. You wake up a slightly different person every morning. Aggregated over years and decades, you slowly become a very different person. But if you've been taking notes, a crystallized past self is still around!

Unfortunately, your past self kinda sucked at note taking. He wrote too verbosely. He was not familiar with note hygiene like putting the Bottom Line Up Front. Worst of all, he picked the least descriptive note names, like "3D Automaton", "Geo Games", and "Run". If he was still around, you would tell him to read How to Take Smart Notes by Sonke Ahrens, but your old self is long gone.

What if we could summarize overlong, unstructured, poorly named notes automatically, into terse but precisely descriptive golden nuggets?

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Book: Collapse of Complex Societies by Joseph Tainter

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Book: Understanding How We Learn: A Visual Guide

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Book: The Scout Mindset by Julia Galef

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Book: The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber

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File Systems for Thought

Tools for Thought are all the rage these days. Unfortunately, most of these tools assume one corpus per tool, and the interoperability story is very poor. At the same time, it's pretty clear to me that no single app can serve as my second brain. What I need instead is a System for Thought that supports many different tools working seamlessly together.

The solution I have arrived at is a cloud-synchronized directory of plaintext files and images. Here's a visual summary of what's going on in my system for thought today:

File Systems for Thought 2021

This system has two key advantages:

  1. Tool choice: I can choose my favorite among multiple existing tools
  2. Hackability: I can build my own tools to support specific needs
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Book: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

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Book: Gardener & Carpenter by Alison Gopnik

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Book: Late Middle Ages

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Book: Medieval Technology and Social Change

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Book: Understanding Complexity by Scott Page

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Diffusion of Literacy in 19th Century Canada

The ancient Sumerians invented writing sometime around 3500 BCE. But how did writing get refined? How did it spread outside of Sumer? In general, tracking diffusion of ancient technology is hard. For tracking the spread of literacy, however, here's an interesting idea. Innumerate people may fudge their self-reported age to round or auspicious numbers. Individually, this leads to terrible earworms. In aggregate, this error is called age heaping and may be a decent proxy for literacy. In this post, I dig into the Province of Canada's 1852 census, scraped from automatedgenealogy.com. To whet your appetite, just look at these beautiful age heaps:

Age Heaps in Canada's 1852 census

Splitting the census data by demographics and calculating the ABCC Index on each, what can we infer about literacy in 19th Century Canada?

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Book: Emotional Life of the Toddler

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