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My brain has a limited capacity to store knowledge. In the past, I frequently needed to think about a particular topic and remembered finding valuable resources for it, but didn’t remember enough to find them again. The internet alleviate this problem. It is easy to write stuff down on the internet, and then find it again later.

Right now I use Google Notebook. When I find information on a topic I am or might be interested in, I write it down or link to it and describe it. If I have a preexisting note I add the information there; if I don’t, I start a new one. That way, when I decide to revisit the topic, I can search and find sources that I have already come across. When I find a paper that I might want to read later, I write a note to myself, so that I can find it later if I decide to read it.

Here’s a typical note, from my “Investment” notebook:

Online banking, higher rates than capital one
offering 4.1% when capital one was at 2.96%
offshore bank maybe a little sketchy

also high CD rates for large sums 100k – 7.5%
not FDIC insured key
http://www.mlnbank.com/EN/services/saccounts.htm

some skepticism about it
http://bankdeals.blogspot.com/2005/10/research-into-millennium-bank-and-775.htm

I found some interesting information online on banking, that I thought might be useful in the future, so I wrote it down for the next time I have to make a related decision. I wish I could do this with my school-real life note taking and store it on a computer where it is searchable.

I also occasionally look though my notebooks without a specific goal in mind. I do this for a couple reasons; 1) I can correct misspellings and errors, 2) sometimes it inspires me to look to go and read something or spend time thinking about an idea I had, and 3) leafing through it helps me remember what resources I actually have in there, which is important if I don’t want to start from scratch next time

I suspect that I will stop using Google Notebook soon because Google has seemingly stopped updating the application. Google has removed the application from their menu bar in Gmail. The search feature is also somewhat limited; for example, if I search for ‘auction’ it doesn’t do the regular Google things like also searching searching for ‘auctions’.

I don’t know what software I should use. I do know that Zoho has a Notebook (though it doesn’t seem to have a search feature!), and Second Brain seems interesting (though it doesn’t seem focused around note taking), but I haven’t played around with any software for an extended period.

Do other people do this sort of thing too?


Calibrated probability assessment training sounds quite useful

Calibration training improves subjective probabilities because most people are either “overconfident” or “under-confident” (usually the former). By practicing with a series of trivia questions, it is possible for subjects to fine-tune their ability to assess probabilities.

From what I gather, you are given many trivia questions and asked to answer the question and to estimate your confidence in your answer. After answering many such questions, you get feedback on how well you estimated your confidences so that you can self correct.

I have tried to find an online applet that conducts such training, but I have found nothing.


A Caltech grad student has created a service that cross references Wikipedia edits with whois information to reveal the owners of the domains where edits came from (article link).

I foresee this becoming directly integrated into Wikipedia. I also think it might become like an alarm; for example, when someone from a McDonald’s owned domain edits a page related to McDonald’s the edit might be flagged for review.

I expect this service to reduce the amount of self-serving editing that goes on. This service will make it more costly to modify pages to your self interest, because 1) self interested edits done from obvious domains will immediately stand out, and o they will probably be undone, and 2) getting caught may generate bad publicity. Cost increase should decrease the number of self-interested edits, and therefore reduce some of Wikipedia’s biases and increase Wikipedia’s trustworthiness. 


Google News gets the small pictures it uses next to story items from different sources than the linked article, so it’s no surprise that the story and picture are sometimes only distantly related, but this is ridiculous:

bizarre google news picture


The Daily Score points to Walk Score, a super neat web utility that grades any location on its walking distance from a number of common businesses like grocery stores, coffee shops, bars etc.

My Seattle home got 69; the place where I am staying in Pasco got an 8; what’s your score?


Lynne Kiesling points to an interview with the creator of Digg.com, Kevin Rose. I found this part especially interesting:

Already you can get recommendations from friends, but soon the system will start recommending stories that you might have missed or that you might find interesting, based on what you’ve dug in the past.

That would add a pretty substantial private good onto the existing public goods provided by Digging, because Digging interesting articles will improve the quality of articles Digg suggests to you. Adding a private good should internalize the benefits and increase the supply of Diggs. I don’t use Digg right now, but I’ll be sure to start when this comes out.


Shelfari lets you keep and share a virtual list of books you’ve read, including the ability to comment on and rate books.

I forsee Shelfari getting a Facebook interface.


I’ve been pondering how internet content gets produced. By ‘content’ I mean stuff like wikipedia entries, economics blogs and news articles. The amount of free, useful content on the internet seems to be rapidly expanding. A lot of the content that is generated is funded by advertising. Websites that have useful content get a lot more traffic than those who don’t, and advertisers are willing to pay for people to see their ads, so websites that have ads have strong incentives to generate useful content. Advertising revenue explains a lot of internet content, especially content from commercial online news outlets like Yahoo News and professional bloggers like the numerous blogs that The Wall Street Journal runs.

Some useful internet content, like Amazon.com book reviews can’t be explained by advertising revenue. Most reviews are created by users, not by Amazon. I find the user reviews at Amazon extremely useful; whenever I am interested in a book or in learning about some new topic I go look up the book’s reviews or the reviews of several books on the topic I am interested in. Those reviews are often the deciding factor in if and what I buy. If we think about people as purely self interested, these user created reviews are hard to explain, because the authors don’t profit from better informed purchasing decisions, only Amazon and its customers do. The huge size of Wikipedia (the english language Wikipedia has almost 2 million articles) also cannot be explained by advertising revenue; wikipedia contributors don’t profit from writing entries despite the immense use that many entries get; even Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia is not a particularly wealthy man.

My explanation is that people are, of course, not exclusively crudely self interested. People do get a certain level of satisfaction out of helping other people. When the external benefits to ratio of personal costs is high (I’ll call this the charity ratio), this potential satisfaction makes some charity work make sense to individuals, meaning that if the benefits to other people from small act of charity greatly outweigh the personal costs, people are inclined to act charitably. Additionaly, since the decision of an individual to help others is based on the information they have about this ratio, better access to information about the benefits to others from helping them is likely to make them more likely to do so. When large benefits to others from small acts of charity are clear, people are more likely to act charitably. In the case of amazon book reviews, I would expect the ability of amazon customers to vote on reviews as helpful or not increases the quality and quantity of reviews, because it gives authors and potential authors more information about how useful reviews are to other people.

I think this explanation is applicable to the real world as well as the online world. Donations of second hand goods like used clothing to second hand stores and thirft shops, which are often operated by charities, are fairly well explained by a high charity ratio because the costs to the donor are low (they were probably going to throw away their old clothes if they didn’t donate them) and the benefits to others are high (the charity makes money and also provids low cost clothes and other second hand goods to the poor). In the online world, high charity ratios are probably much more common because creating content is often easy so the personal costs are small and because potential audiences can easily be very large so the benefits to others can be quite large.

Chris sums up my point better than I could: there is tons of free stuff on the internet because it’s cheap to make. After I wrote this, Chris also points out that I’ve come up with nothing new (hardly surprising), and he helpfully points me to an article which discusses the internet economy (link).

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