October 26, 2020

Interesting Things on the Internet: October 26th 2020 Edition

[I happened to notice that this Interesting Things on the Internet... series has been running since February 2014! And they were called Editions back then, which is much better than the plain date I've been using for who-knows-how-long. So I'm going back to that from this edition]

  • Why Didn’t Anyone Go to Prison for the Financial Crisis? Entertainingly depressing podcast about elite deviance and how the powerful abuse their position. "if what we want less of is, y'know, lead in children's toys and giant financial crises"
  • Comradery. A co-operative alternative to Patreon.
  • How to Build Your Own Living Structures by Ken Isaacs. WikiHouse but from 1974. The fact that there aren't loads of these sort of houses around shows how much impact our modern equivalents will have, unless we can do something differently to make them more mainstream. An idea and a nice website of instructions isn't enough.
  • Helsinki Design Lab Ten Years Later. Good to see histories being written of contemporary efforts too. This quote dovetails nicely with my last comment: "studying Fuller’s stream of inventions, most of which are compelling technically and intellectually but socially implausible. For example, Fuller’s concept for the Dymaxion house was brilliant as a shelter, but challenging as a home. It asked occupants to live outside of comfortable domestic norms and it never caught on.".
  • Bootprints in butter and failures of imagination- an update on the Food bank. A great blog post, as in, that blend of lifting the curtain and sharing both the day-to-day and the wider reasons, that made blogs such a great medium. Mutual aid, not charity. "no, you don’t have to open a food bank. But you do have to do something."
  • Tackling climate change seemed expensive. Then COVID happened. "If just 12 percent of currently pledged COVID-19 stimulus funding were spent every year through 2024 on low-carbon energy investments and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, the researchers said, that would be enough to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F), the Paris Agreement’s most ambitious climate target. At present, countries’ voluntary commitments put the world on track to warm 3.2 degrees C (5.8 degrees F) or more by the end of the century."

This week's RSS additions (see aboutfeeds.com if you don't know what RSS is, RSS is how I find most of these Interesting Things...):

  • Ella Fitzsimmons' blog. I've been a fan of Ella for ages, but for some reason didn't have her in my blogroll. She's just started #weeknoting her new job at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

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October 12, 2020

Interesting Things on the Internet: October 12th 2020

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September 28, 2020

Interesting Things on the Internet: September 28th 2020

  • When open source design is vital: critical making of DIY healthcare equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic. A good summary of the collaborative, slightly-messy, international, open source critical making approach that we, along with the rest of the UK #maker community, took in the early days of the COVID19 crisis.
  • The anthropologist in an economist world.A lovely tribute to David Graeber, which also manages to illuminate some of the water-we-swim-in with our existing economic systems. "We find ourselves stuck in these systems, and they pose constant contradictions. I, for example, have had a long and difficult relationship with the idea of… well… monetising my work on alternative money, asking people to transfer to me digital bank deposits in exchange for my thoughts on alternative economic systems. In my first encounters with David I sensed the same struggles. He, like me, believed in solidarity networks, and wasn’t there measuring his time and putting a monetary price on it. [...] He told me how tough it was trying to help out all the groups that needed support, but he nevertheless kept at it. This is why David was an anthropological hero to me, because he explicitly politicised and lived his anthropological knowledge." I feel seen (apart from the being an anthropologist bit...)
  • How to Climate Change in a (different kind of) crisis. Alex providing some good things-to-think-about for designers and technologists. I was going to add "who are thinking about the Climate Emergency", but all designers and technologists should be thinking about that.
  • Amina Atiq. Excellent interview of Amina Atiq by Laura Brown, covering art and business and identity and culture.
  • 👁🚁 Oh, this wont be hacked immediately!. In his latest newsletter, Bryan Boyer explores some of the wider effects of the Amazon video "security" drone. "Closed technologies are only a means to an end, but open technologies are a starting point for indeterminate future economic, social, and political happenings. Closed technologies are extensions of power. Open technologies are empowerment." True, but the past two decades have taught us that we also need to be careful who we're empowering.
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September 21, 2020

Interesting Things on the Internet: September 21st 2020

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September 14, 2020

Interesting Things on the Internet: September 14th 2020

  • Answers on a postcard: how would you do technology differently? "Historical experience reinforces Mike’s point that there is rarely “one best way” for technology. Spaces for critical making and participatory technology occupy different vantage points and see the lie of the land differently, compared to the unreflective views of dominant institutions. Whereas dominant institutions tend to produce what Mike calls ‘present tense technology’ – technologies that perpetuate the status quo – other, more critical viewpoints inform prototypes that radically anticipate different future institutions."
  • Online Privacy Should Be Modeled on Real-World Privacy "The tracking industry is correct that iOS 14 users are going to overwhelmingly deny permission to track them. That’s not because Apple’s permission dialog is unnecessarily scaring them — it’s because Apple’s permission dialog is accurately explaining what is going on in plain language, and it is repulsive."
  • The Apocalyptic Red Western Skies Caused by Climate Change-Fueled Wildfires. The future is here, it's just not evenly distributed.
  • My Climate Journey: Episode 93: Naomi Oreskes, Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University. The perfect antidote to the previous link. There's lots to do, we need to stop letting the few (admittedly loud and powerful) voices distract us.
  • Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit. Everyone has been linking to this, but for good reason. I'm particularly taken with the concept of poetic technologies. "Contemporary, bureaucratic corporate capitalism was a creation not of Britain, but of the United States and Germany, the two rival powers that spent the first half of the twentieth century fighting two bloody wars over who would replace Britain as a dominant world power—wars that culminated, appropriately enough, in government-sponsored scientific programs to see who would be the first to discover the atom bomb. It is significant, then, that our current technological stagnation seems to have begun after 1945, when the United States replaced Britain as organizer of the world economy."
  • Brandy Zadrozny and Ben Collins on QAnon and disinformation and A baseless US conspiracy theory found a foothold in Europe. New research shows how for more background. There was a second QAnon/Anti-Vaxx/Anti-mask march in Liverpool the other day. Luckily there seems to be a growing awareness of it and local proponent "Sine Missione".
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September 07, 2020

Interesting Things on the Internet: September 7th 2020

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September 05, 2020

Blog All Dog-eared Pages: Command and Control by Eric Schlosser

Command and Control by Eric Schlosser is an entertaining and terrifying history of the development of the control and safety (or lack thereof) of America's nuclear weapons throughout the Cold War.

My dog-eared sections, to give you a flavour...

Page 196

The usefulness of the Super [the first hydrogen bomb] wasn't the issue; the willingness to build it was. And that sort of logic would guide the nuclear arms race for the next forty years.

Page 223

On January 23, 1956, President Eisenhower recorded in his diary the results of a top secret study on what would really happen after a Soviet attack:

The United States experienced practically total economic collapse, which could not be restored to any kind of operative conditions under six months to a year. . . . Members of the Federal government were wiped out and a new government had to be improvised by the states. . . . It was calculated that something on the order of 65% of the population would require some sort of medical care, and in most instances, no opportunity whatsoever to get it.

Page 375

The BMEWS [Ballistic Missile Early Warning System] site at Thule had mistakenly identified the moon, slowly rising over Norway, as dozens of long-range missiles launched from Siberia.

Page 455

Half an hour later, a Missile Potential Hazard Team ordered them to reenter the silo. They found it full of thick, gray smoke. One of the retrorockets atop the Minuteman had fired. The reentry vehicle, containing a W-56 thermonuclear weapon, had lifted a few inches into the air, flipped over, fallen nose first from the misslie, bounced off the wall, hit the second-stage engine, and landed at the bottom of the silo.

Page 530

As the minutes passed without the arrival of Soviet warheads, it became clear that the United States wasn't under attack. The cause of the false alarm was soon discovered. A technician had put the wrong tape into one of NORAD's computers. The tape was part of a training exercise — a war game that simulated a Soviet attack on the United States. The computer had transmitted realistic details of the war game to SAC headquarters, the Pentagon, and Site R.

Page 533

NORAD had dedicated lines that connected the computers inside Cheyenne Mountain to their counterparts at SAC headquarters, the Pentagon and Site R. Day and night, NORAD sent test messages to ensure that those lines were working. The test message was a warning of a missile attack — with zeros always inserted in the space showing the number of missiles that had been launched. The faulty computer chip had randomly put the number 2 in that space, suggesting that 2 missiles, 220 missiles, or 2,200 missiles had been launched. The defective chip was replaced, at a cost of forty-six cents. And a new test message was written for NORAD's dedicated lines. It did not mention any missiles.

Page 537

And as a final act of defiance, SAC demonstrated the importance of code management to the usefulness of any coded [safety] switch. The combination necessary to launch the missiles was the same at every Minuteman site: 00000000.

Page 640

An investigation later found that the missile launches spotted by the Soviet satellite were actually rays of sunlight reflected off clouds.

Page 642

When Minuteman missiles first appear above Kansas, launched from rural silos there and rising in the sky, the film conveyed the mundane terror of nuclear war, the knowledge that annihilation could come at any time, in the midst of an otherwise ordinary day. People look up, see the missiles departing, realize what's about to happen, and yet are powerless to stop it. About 100 million Americans watched The Day After, roughly half of the adult population of the United States.

Page 656

After studying a wide range of "trivial events in nontrivial systems," Perrow concluded that human error wasn't responsible for these accidents. The real problem lay deeply embedded within the technological systems, and it was impossible to solve: "Our ability to organize does not match the inherent hazards of some of our organized activities." What appeared to be the rare exception, an anomaly, a one-in-a-million accident, was actually to be expected. It was normal.

Page 657

When a problem arose on an assembly line, you could stop the line until a solution was found. But in a tightly coupled system, many things occurred simultaneously — and they could prove difficult to stop. If those things also interacted with each other, it might be hard to know exactly what was happening when a problem arose, let alone know what to do about it. The complexity of such a system was bound to bring surprises. "No one dreamed that when X failed, Y would also be out of order," Perrow gave as an example, "and the two failures would interact so as to both start a fire and silence the fire alarm."

Page 661

The nuclear weapon systems that Bob Peurifoy, Bill Stevens, and Stan Spray struggled to make safer were also tightly coupled, interactive, and complex. They were prone to "common-mode failures" — one problem could swiftly lead to many others. The steady application of high temperatures to the surface of a Mark 28 bomb could disable its safety mechanisms, arm it, and then set it off. "Fixes, including safety devices, sometimes create new accidents," Charles Perrow warned, "and quite often merely allow those in charge to run the system faster, or in worse weather, or with bigger explosives."

Page 670

The only weapons in today's stockpile that trouble Peurifoy are the W-76 and W-88 warheads carried by submarine-launched Trident II missiles. The Drell panel expressed concern about these warheads more than twenty years ago.

Page 685

High-risk technologies are easily transferred across borders; but the organizational skills and safety culture necessary to manage them are more difficult to share. Nuclear weapons have gained allure as a symbol of power and a source of national pride. They also pose a grave threat to any country that possesses them.

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August 24, 2020

Interesting Things on the Internet: August 24th 2020

This week's RSS additions (see aboutfeeds.com if you don't know what RSS is, RSS is how I find most of these Interesting Things...):

  • Electric Flapjack build blog. I realised that I'd only been keeping up with my mate Michael's blog posts about his guitar building by spotting the links on his Mastodon feed, and so had missed some. Rectified that by adding it to my RSS reader.
  • … My heart’s in Accra. Ethan Zuckerman seems to be working in an interesting public interest tech areas.
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August 17, 2020

Interesting Things on the Internet: August 17th 2020

  • Paul Peter Piech in 2020. I hadn't come across Paul Peter Piech before, but I'm really liking his work. There are lots of examples in the "Eye on Design" article linked from Matt Jones'.
  • UN Sustainable Development Goals – Let’s Not Sleepwalk to Disaster. A critique of the UN's SDGs, which sadly rings true.
  • Why is This Idiot Running My Engineering Org?. I think, I hope, I'm the sort of leader who embraces death.
  • Impact Measurement: A Cautionary Tale. "too often impact measurement is middle class people demonstrating to rich people the worthiness of poor people to receive some small portion of the funds expropriated from them". Good to see this sort of self-reflection happening. All the measurement seems logical, but ends up excluding so much good work and often just privileges a different set of chancers. This quote rings true too: "No one in this field enters it or stays in it to perpetrate harm. Quite the opposite. Every single person I have met in impact measurement is passionately committed to making the world a better place. That is the reason they decided to do this work in the first place. But intentions are not enough." I don't have a better idea for how to set up the system, which is why I continue working outside it, in the hope of replacing it, or at least (and most realistically) showing that other ways are possible.
  • "when might production *be* the product?" Interesting framing of how Patreon, etc. could be people paying for the future process, rather than an expected product. I have similar conflicting thoughts around my work and the topic of getting paid for it; so far I partly dodge the issue by being able to do well-paid (and mostly interesting) work that subsidises the rest, but that doesn't scale as well to a collective/group (I think...)
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August 03, 2020

Interesting Things on the Internet: August 3rd 2020

  • The New Stability. "Before I become your doctor, you have been intubated for weeks. I am a point in time, unattached to the greater narrative." Life as a doctor in a pandemic. Sad. Powerful.
  • Lab Notebooks. Doesn't need to be a physical notebook, but this captures why my github/gitlab issues and README.md files have lists of the things I tried.
  • Ask a Sane Person: Jia Tolentino on Practicing the Discipline of Hope "I try to expect nothing and hope that everything is possible. I want the courage to need very little and demand a lot."
  • Not an Amazon Problem. "There’s lots more to complain about but little of it is specific to Amazon, it’s all about 21st-century-capitalism". Tim Bray refusing to sit neatly in the clickbait headline pigeonhole that people want to sit him in. More of this please, from more of us.
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