July 26th, 2014
Excellent piece from Evgeny Morozov on the downside to governments' infatuation with the notion that they can 'nudge' citizens into doing the right thing (whatever that is) without any of that messy politics getting in the way:
[…] consider a May 2014 report from 2020health, another thinktank, proposing to extend tax rebates to Britons who give up smoking, stay slim or drink less. "We propose 'payment by results', a financial reward for people who become active partners in their health, whereby if you, for example, keep your blood sugar levels down, quit smoking, keep weight off, [or] take on more self-care, there will be a tax rebate or an end-of-year bonus," they state. Smart gadgets are the natural allies of such schemes: they document the results and can even help achieve them – by constantly nagging us to do what's expected.
The unstated assumption of most such reports is that the unhealthy are not only a burden to society but that they deserve to be punished (fiscally for now) for failing to be responsible. For what else could possibly explain their health problems but their personal failings? It's certainly not the power of food companies or class-based differences or various political and economic injustices. One can wear a dozen powerful sensors, own a smart mattress and even do a close daily reading of one's poop – as some self-tracking aficionados are wont to do – but those injustices would still be nowhere to be seen, for they are not the kind of stuff that can be measured with a sensor. The devil doesn't wear data. Social injustices are much harder to track than the everyday lives of the individuals whose lives they affect.
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June 11th, 2014
MeFi user zabuni neatly sums up why some of us have read enough Cory Doctorow novels to last us a lifetime, even if we broadly agree with the political points his books make about the uses and abuses of technology:
I once mocked Doctorow, and said that he wrote EFF fan fiction, he then had his main character (in the sequel to LB) meet the founders of EFF:
At Burning Man.
While playing a game of DnD with them.
DM'ed by Wil Wheaton.
I had to literally say, out loud, "For Fuck's Sake!" to that. […]
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June 9th, 2014
If you think the only thing wrong with Instapaper is that you have to read the articles you've saved on a phone / tablet / computer screen, Newspaper Club have just the product for you: InstapaperOnPaper PaperLater. From their blog:
PaperLater lets you save the good stuff from around the web and enjoy it in a newspaper made just for you. When you find yourself on something you'd prefer to read in print, just press the 'Save for PaperLater' button in your browser, and we'll do the rest.
When you've got enough articles, hit print and we'll automatically layout, print and ship you a newspaper. It'll be on your doorstep in a few days.
What gets me isn't the 'read it on paper' angle; I get that a lot of people prefer to read long form pieces on paper, and I'm sure Newspaper Club do a nice job of formatting a piece from the web so that it works well in print. But I just can't get past the 'on your doorstep in a few days' thing. A few days! Are we living in the Dark Ages?
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May 27th, 2014
The future that everyone forgot:
I came across a website whose purpose was to provide a super detailed list of every handheld computing environment going back to the early 1970's. It did a great job except for one glaring omission: the first mobile platform that I helped develop. The company was called Danger, the platform was called hiptop, and what follows is an account of our early days, and a list of some of the "modern" technologies we shipped years before you could buy an iOS or Android device. […]
[Via The Tao of Mac]
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May 18th, 2014
Highlights of a four month-long Winter on Georgian Bay, captured by way of cheap hardware and some clever software that tried to ensure that the time-lapse images were taken in similar lighting conditions:
Pleasingly, it turned out to be a particularly turbulent winter, so the lake got to freeze and partially thaw quite a few times.
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March 31st, 2014
I'm going to have to steal John Naughton's Quote of the Day:
"Technology is everything that doesn't work yet".
— Danny Hillis
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March 21st, 2014
Power lines look like terrifying bursts of light to animals:
What does a power line look like? To humans, they don't look like much – just strands of metal draping from towering poles. But for many animals, they're terrifying.
They see power lines as lines of bursting, popping lights. That's because they can see ultraviolet light that's outside the spectrum of human vision. […]
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March 16th, 2014
A Preliminary Phenomenology of the Self-Checkout is long, but totally worth it:
III. The Ghost in the Machine
You have bought a greeting card, you indicate. Why, then, can't I feel its heft in my bagging area? Is it because of the appalling taste you have? I will not abet this item. I will never detect it, for you are unscrupulous and depraved. This disingenuous gesture will not cause your niece on the occasion of her birthday ("Time to celebrate!") to feel any particular tenderness. Welcome to the new phase in human history that my presence has inaugurated: soon, greeting cards will no longer be available for purchase. So, too: yarn, cotton balls, postcards, feathers, stickers, and some seasoning packets. In their stead, you might dare enjoy communing with your fellow man.
Also features a man who pays a terrible price for trying to game the Machine for the sake of saving money on half a dozen lemons, and Karl Marx chatting with John Locke about the price of lemons (among other things.)
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February 28th, 2014
Maciej Ceglowski's Webstock presentation on Our Comrade The Electron draws lessons for modern technologists from the life of Lev Sergeyevich Termen, the inventor of – among other things – the theremin:
Termen was just what Lenin needed: a Soviet inventor with an electrical gizmo that would dazzle and amaze the masses, and help sell the suspicious countryside on electrification. He gave Termen a permanent rail pass, encouraging him to take his show on the road all over the Soviet Union.
When Lenin died a few years later, Termen sent urgent word that Lenin's body be immediately frozen. He had an idea for how to bring him back to life, but it required putting the body on ice. He was devastated to learn that Lenin's brain had already been taken out and pickled in alcohol, and his body embalmed for public viewing.
Given Termen's track record of technical achievement, it's probably a good thing he didn't get a chance at making zombie Lenin.
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February 24th, 2014
Roentgen Objects are genuinely remarkable pieces of furniture:
The furniture is a process – an event – a seemingly endless sequence of new spatial conditions and states expanding outward into the room around it.
Each piece is a controlled explosion of carpentry with no real purpose other than to test the limits of volumetric self-demonstration, offering little in the way of useful storage space and simply showing off, performing, a spatial Olympics of shelves within shelves and spaces hiding spaces.
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