Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Query process update

Query letters to agents: 26
Query letters to agents who no longer exist: 2
Form-letter rejections received: 3
The Sound of Silence: 21

Friday, March 26, 2010

Life out there...

Usually, I stick to thinking about all the amazing possibilities that exist in our near future, and on our own planet. But today, I just have to ask: Do you think there's life out there? And if you knew for certain that there was, do you think that would change anything about how we live our lives now?

What refreshed this debate in my head was an article not about space, but about Antarctica. This article talks about how a saltwater lake that has been trapped under glaciers for 1.5 million years still manages to support 17 different types of micro-organic life in an oxygen-less environment. It continues to amaze me how life manages to survive literally EVERYWHERE on earth. Here's a nice top 10 of the most inhospitable places life exists.

Now it just stands to reason that in the estimated 10^22 stars in the universe, life has managed to claw its way into existence quite often. Now add to that the recent news that the universe is now 90% bigger than we thought it was. Aint that crazy? Sure, we may never run into the little green men that share our universe, but they're likely out there. Doesn't that make you wonder?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Measuring of Happiness

I was feeling down the other day. I don't really know why. Maybe it was chemical. I just had trouble smiling. That made me start thinking of the nature of happiness. Of course there have been a lot of studies on happiness as a metric. We've all heard how beyond a bare minimum, wealth doesn't translate into happiness. And there are also studies that say hey, maybe it does a little.

But all these are based on surveys that ask "how happy you are in life?" That's very different than asking "how do you feel right now?" If we can get data on the latter, I think it would bring about some very interesting insights.

I bought a fitbit pedometer the other day. It posts your daily activities on a website so that you can track your daily calorie burn. Even more interesting, it allows you to wear it at night so that you can track how well you sleep at night. I've included a screenshot below. All this data is made possible by a simple accelerometer strapped to my wrist.

Now imagine we had some kind of sensor you could attach to people that would record how happy they are every minute of every day. Instead of surveying 100 people once a week, we could get instantaneous data across a huge sample of people. Let's ignore the privacy issues right now and assume people opted in for this. Of course this would give great feedback to industry (Starbucks makes you happier than Coca Cola), but also imagine what it would do for our understanding of ourselves. Does average current happiness correlate with how happy people say they are with life? How wide is the spread of how happy people are in their day-to-day lives? Is everything really relative? Is there a steady "bucket" of happiness that people have every day or week or month?

Now what if this information WAS made public, so that you could see the "moods" of all your friends all the time. It's a mix between being able to read people's emotions and having constantly updated facebook and twitter statuses available full time. It might be useful to have a big "Do not disturb" sign floating over your head sometimes.

Anyhow, I look forward to reading about this study whenever someone gets around to doing it in the next decade or so. The power of technology WILL make something like this possible, and I eagerly await the results.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Understanding Trends

Google just released a great visualization tool for publicly available data, and it is AWESOME. You can play around with it here:


or read about it here:

I'm going to quote one line from the article. It says,
"While most of us won’t need this sophisticated of a tool on frequent occasions, it’s easy to see how this data could be extremely useful to researchers and those looking to understand the important trends that happen over time."

I'd actually argue that as tools like this make the visualization of large trends easier, it becomes something that SHOULD be mainstream. Right now the views of the general public are largely controlled by the mass media. We believe "rules of thumbs" and conventional wisdom, not because we don't have access to first source information, but because it's too difficult to wade through it. So we must trust secondary sources to tell us that "orange is the new pink" and that "universal health care blah blah blah blah blah." How do we find the truth amongst the spin? Hopefully tools that give us direct access to data will set us free.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Test Readers wanted

I've decided that I need a relatively large number of people to read my book (quick blurb here) to give me some high level feedback. If you are interested in being a test reader, please let me know. You do not need to "edit" or markup anything, just read the book and then take a quick survey which I'll send out later. If I ever get published, you'll show up in the "acknowledgements" section.