January 18, 2021

Interesting Things on the Internet: January 18th 2021 Edition

  • Dancing With Systems. A lovely set of thoughts on ways to approach, and dance with, and influence, systems.
  • Arthur Dooley, One Pair of Eyes. Wonderful video (with the end missing, sadly) of a 1972 film by working class Liverpool sculptor Arthur Dooley. Lots of this that i agree with, but not all. Would've loved to hang out and chat to him about the city now.
  • If it isn’t autonomous, and it isn’t a metro system, then what exactly is the Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro? Really interesting analysis of a Cambridge mass transit proposal, showing its workings. Filing away for the next step in the Knowledge Quarter's process of walking us back from "new station on Merseyrail" through "trackless trams" to "maybe there'll be a bus"... "Have you heard the word “gadgetbahn” before? It is a portmanteau coined to describe transport proposals that, to all intents and purposes, ought to be delivered using proven railway technology and yet go out of their way to be anything but a railway. Typically, such systems are intended to distract from or be at the expense of investment in proper, functional public transport."
  • Weeknotes: Security/safety/economics, accountability, empathy. There were more than half-a-dozen new tabs open in my browser at the end of reading Laura's weeknotes this week.
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December 28, 2020

Interesting Things on the Internet: December 28th 2020 Edition

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December 21, 2020


It's been a couple of years since I last had some music that I wanted to share on this date. I've had a few years of not collecting much new stuff—still perpetually listening to lots, but not buying any.

This year, however, I seem to have gotten back into the swing of it. Partly I've had a bit more disposable income and so have filling holes in my back catalogue, but also finding some new releases that I love.

There are two that particularly stand out, both with really strong lyrics but with very different themes.

First up, a Scouse modern-day Billy Bragg. The rest of his album is great, but this is the track that really hooked me:

The other is a much more individual topic, full of beautiful couplets summing up the bittersweet experience of a breakup—"This is how we die, become just you and I". Lovely.

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December 14, 2020

Interesting Things on the Internet: December 14th 2020 Edition

  • A Student-Debt Researcher Fucks Me Up With America’s Broken Promises "We’ve made it, like, “Oh, we don’t have to increase your wages, ever; we don’t have to let you unionize; we don’t have to make more jobs, or any of that. We can just tell you to go to college. Oh, and if it didn’t work out for you, you did it wrong. And, you should’ve also managed to not pay for it. You should’ve taken a different major, you need a different degree, you need an additional degree.” And then you do that, and then you’re a sucker." "I think that’s where debt cancellation becomes real dangerous, because it shows that this is pretend! Like, how much else is pretend, if the debt isn’t real? That’s where they freak out about moral hazard, but it’s not really about the debt, it’s like, what if people realize what we’re telling them isn’t true, about their lives? And that they could actually do what they want and deserve to be happy and be paid a decent wage no matter what work they do?"
  • Windows to the Soul. "Smiling so politely into our collective faces. Finding new places to stick the knife." So sadly true. We need better and deserve better.
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December 07, 2020

Interesting Things on the Internet: December 7th 2020 Edition

  • JRF, weeknotes 6. SO. MUCH. THIS: "The problem is that, to a non-specialist who needs help, people who are good at getting things done are indistinguishable from everyone else." Not just in digital transformation, it's across all sorts of "digital", and "innovation" and "makerspaces" (and those are just the areas where I trip over it all the time). So much mediocrity masquerading (profitably, and successfully for the mediocre if not for those in need of the expertise) as expertise. It feels like part of the wider societal trend of ever more bluster and PR and a lack of consequences for that being exposed. It's too tiring for those of us with the actual expertise to wade through all the bullshit that we give up and find more interesting games to play.
  • David Graeber - Culture is not your friend. The working class makes all culture.
  • The Mind of an Engineer, an excellent essay by Tim Hunkin.
  • I thought about that a lot. I'm enjoying each day's new essay from this site.
  • Detailed Forensic Reconstruction of the Beirut Port Explosions. Amazing work in analysing a catastrophe.
  • The further you are from power, the more you see: Gary Younge "I remember making a lot of people angry writing about Brexit and saying you can’t just say that people are being tricked because they don’t vote for their material interests, they have other interests. I may not like those interests. I am relatively well off and whenever I vote for a Left-wing party, I vote against my material interest because it’s something else that I want. We shouldn’t think that working-class people are any different. And then, we have to unpick what those interests are." There's lots more than that quote implies. It's a great read.
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November 30, 2020

Interesting Things on the Internet: November 30th 2020 Edition

  • David Graeber on the Extreme 'Centre'.
  • Prosthetic Village. "The Great War left “more than 750,000 ex-servicemen permanently disabled” in Britain alone, and specialized institutions arose to accommodate them. If, as historian Annette Becker concludes, the Great War was “a laboratory for the twentieth century: a field experiment or test site where violence could be carried out,” this war laboratory also produced architectural experiments when the battle was supposedly over. Architecture was enlisted in Britain’s post-war reconstruction effort. Mawson’s plans became part of this collective endeavor. One year after the publication of Imperial Obligation, the residents of Lancashire county acknowledged their “obligation” (as the architect termed it) and undertook the creation of two memorials: one conceived to be a commemorative stone monument, and the other an entire village." Really interesting. Although it didn't really build a village, the area is a few minutes' walk from Lancaster station. Maybe that was on the edge of the city in 1918, but it's not what village brings to mind and is more integrated into the city. It doesn't seem very visible these days, sadly—I spent three years in Lancaster at Uni, and had friends who lived in that area and had no idea about it until today.
  • Rebecca Solnit: On Not Meeting Nazis Halfway "We all know that you do better bringing people out of delusion by being kind and inviting than by mocking them, but that’s inviting them to come over, which is not the same thing as heading in their direction." A good companion piece to the David Graeber link.
  • Nina Simon: OFBYFOR ALL. A great talk about improving and encouraging diversity in your organisation.
  • Ecological Politics for the Working Class "For the environmental movement to expand beyond the professional class and establish a working-class base for itself, it cannot rely on austerity, shaming, and individualistic solutions as its pillars. It also cannot place so much emphasis on knowledge of the science (belief or denial). It has to mobilize around environmentally beneficial policies that appeal to the material interests of the vast majority of the working class mired in stagnant wages, debt, and job insecurity." Skip over the "Part 1" and "Part 2" section, nobody needs 7000+ words of preamble, but "Part 3" is good. On a related note, are there any good proposals for alternatives to a State monopoly for the option when taking things into public ownership? State monopolies are lots better than capitalist monopolies, but there's still a risk of them stagnating. How do we let alternative and more progressive solutions emerge in those situations?
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November 16, 2020

Interesting Things on the Internet: November 16th 2020 Edition

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...):

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November 09, 2020

Interesting Things on the Internet: November 9th 2020 Edition

  • A Total Fiasco. George Monbiot lays out how little interest there is from anyone in charge in making the Test and Trace programme work. "£12bn is more than the entire general practice budget. The total NHS capital spending budget for buildings and equipment is just £7bn. To provide all the children in need with free meals during school holidays between now and next summer term, which the government has dismissed as too expensive, is likely to cost about £120m: in other words, just 1% of the test and trace budget.". We should be working out how to migrate to a system that works, senior people—at least Dido Harding, probably also Matt Hancock—should resign, we should be enacting whatever clauses there are in the contract to retrieve the £12bn from Serco and preferably fine them more. We need to move away from the culture of plausible deniability and blame avoidance and giving people the benefit of the doubt because they've designed a system to make it unclear who is really at fault. We need to start holding people responsible for their failings. Maybe Hancock and Harding and Serco are just unlucky to be the ones left standing when the music stops, but even the worst making-an-example of them won't be as bad as the multitude of deaths that their inability to do their job properly has cost.
  • 30 things I’ve learned in 30 years.
  • LRB: Dark Emotions. An interesting history of the Women's Liberation Movement. Reminds me of some of the experienced and energising activists I met at Activism By the Numbers, and made me think about the work and factions and solidarity in the Maker Movement. So much experience and knowledge in previous forward steps? How do we find and pick up the batons and lessons? How do we help the next generation expand the beachhead in the directions that interest them?
  • I revisited Brian Eno's John Peel Lecture. Fantastic thoughts on art, culture, UBI and open source.
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November 07, 2020

Blog All Dog-eared Pages: Lo-TEK Design by Radical Indigenism by Julia Watson

Lo-TEK Design by Radical Indigenism by Julia Watson. I had mixed feelings reading this, but I think that's because I'm not really the target audience. I grew up in the countryside, with plenty of exposure to farms. It was really interesting to read about these alternate systems from round the world, and plenty seem under threat from Western ideas about how to "do farming/conservation right" or just the endless appetite of capitalism. If it helps protect any of it, then that's more than enough good for the book. I'm less convinced that there's lots for the UK, for example, to take from it specifically, as our environment is very different—it felt a bit like it was fetishizing the indigenous technologies a bit, and I think we should also be looking to similar traditional, in-touch-with-the-land, long-term tacit knowledge from our own cultures too.

Page 70

The living root bridges are built along the natural routes connecting two villages. In the absence of any means to lift and carry heavy stone slabs to suspend them across river and streams, they are left with no option but to turn to mother nature in their endeavour to cross to the other side. The rubber tree (Ficus Elastica) growing in the region beyond Cherrapunjee (Sohra) provided the natural solution. Timber would not have been able to withstand the ravages of the harse monsoons and the scourge of termites and pests.

Page 93

The Balinese term subak refers to both the rice terrace systems unique to this region and the self-governing associations of farmers who share water and planting schedules that are coordinated by calendrical rites in water temples. There are approximately twelve-hundred of these associations across Bali, each made up of fifty to four hundred farmers who continue the tradition of the subak. Traditional subak rice paddies are the most biodiverse and productive agrarian systems known to man. Using local cycles of nutrient dispersal and seasonal rainfall, the same subak terraces have produced rice for thousands of years at the scale of watersheds.

Page 102

In the 1970s the Bali government led a Green Revolution, forcing the introduction of massive quantities of fertilizers and pesticides to the subak, wreaking havoc on the ecology of the rice paddies. Within several seasons, growing cycles failed, soil structure degraded, insect biodiversity diminished, and the subak water temples were forgotten. The Green Revolution replaced native rice varieties with hybrid seeds that were genetically engineered for fast growth, high grain production, and commercial fertilizer application. This led to an ecological catastrophe which, when multiplied by the expansion of the tourist industry, triggered uncontrolled commercial development, aquifer privatization, water shortages, and pollution increase from illegal dumping of sewerage and solid waste. In response, World Heritage status was granted in June 2012 in an effort to save the subaks and water temples.

Page 181

Damming today is environmentally destructive, with impacts that range from altering river hydrology to stopping sediment transportation downstream and species migration upstream. In contrast, the dams of the Enawenê-nawê are porous, multi-functional, productive, responsive, seasonal, and temporary, supporting a unique forest fishing life.


The emerging trend of microgrids for localized energy generation and the design of microdamming infrastructures may lead to designs that respond to more adaptable, sustainable, and temporal conditions. This would allow the world's largest watersheds, river systems, and the human and non-human species which these mighty hydrological systems support, to thrive.

Page 277

An island is simultaneously a floating village, an aquaculture farm, and an artificial wetland synthesized into a single living infrastructure. Designed for mobility, islands are secured to the lakebed with anchors of rock and rope, but are able to migrate to deeper water locations. Today, two thousand six hundred and twenty-nine people live in a group of ninety-one reed islands. Each island hosts several thatched houses that belong to an extended family. Smaller islands measuring ten meters hold one to three families in twelve to fifteen huts. The huts are positioned to face a central clearing, occupied by a watchtower, while one side of the island is left open to dock boats. Interspersed between huts are fishponds, vegetable gardens, and living totora reed beds planted for privacy.

Page 311

For the past fifty years, architects have been imagining futuristic, floating cities that offset environmental problems like rising seas and increasing floods. In the remotest places on earth, a handful of isolated island communities, like the Ma'dan of Iraq exist having evolved technology that enabled aquatic living. The Ma'dan have survived for thousands of years in the cradle of civilization on simple, habitable, adaptable, and biodegradable buoyant infrastructures that rival contemporary, non-biodegradable floating island technology. Commonly used in water treatment or wetland construction, floating islands improve water quality, while also offering a diversity of habitat. Local building technologies are so versatile that a single reed species is used to construct islands, houses, boats, furniture, and meals, literally using biodiversity as a building block upon which these cultures float.

Page 323

The bheri wastewater aquaculture system in the East Kolkata Wetlands is a living and incredibly resilient urban circulatory system. The system is synonymously a fishery, waste management system, agricultural field, rice paddy network, community hub, grazing land, and heritage site. For the community who live around the wetlands, the filtration of water is an act of giving back to the gods. Spiritual connection to the Mother Ganga, whose river water flows through the wetlands, plays its own role in this ecosystem, with Ganges water believed to cleanse the body and mind. At twelve thousand, five hundred hectares of land, the East Kolkata Wetlands is the largest wastewater-fed aquaculture system in the world.

Page 336

Not only are the wetlands environmentally and socially beneficial, they offer enormous financial incentives to the city. With wetland fish being fed by the city's sewage, the city saves approximately twenty-two million USD on the running expenses of a waste treatment plant annually, while water from the bheris being used for irrigation additionally saves approximately five hundred thousand USD in water and fertilizer costs. Wetland activities lead to the production of thirteen thousand tons of fish per year, sixteen thousand tons of rice per year, and about one hundred and fifty-six tons of vegetables per day, all of which are sourced locally and save the city millions in transportation costs.

Passed down verbally through generations, the traditions of the wetland system have been kept alive through careful stewardship of the land. Not only are these processes a way of life and means for survival, they also maintain historical richness, ingenuity, cultural pride, and a spiritual connection to this place. Many fishermen are members of fishing cooperatives, an equitable model of management and profit distribution.

Page 354

Ganvie, meaning 'we survived', is a lake city made of bamboo and teak stilted houses of Tofinu fishing families. The city is a collection of eleven villages organized around a canal system and navigated by dugout canoes. Surrounding the village is an artificial reef of twelve thousand enclosed fish paddocks that sustain waters teeming with fish and wildlife. A healthy relationship between a growing city and a lake is rare, making this an extraordinary civilization that has evolved an aquaculture that embodies advanced ecological design thinking. They use symbiotic species relationships to feed an entire city, while making a healthier ecosystem for its native flora and fauna. Made from mangroves, the 'acadja brush park' is an indigenous reef aquaculture system and technology that has spread from the waters of Lake Nokoue to many other aquatic Beninese communities.

Page 398

Climate change has shown us that our survival is not dependent upon superiority, but upon symbiosis. In the shift towards designing resilient cities, Lo-TEK and indigenous technologies are critical in the conversation for designers addressing climate change, as they are living examples that embody resilience thinking. We need to expand our definition of sustainable technology to encompass the Lo-TEK movement, and in this effort alter the course of collapse. Acknowledging the mistakes of modernity and the failure of conservation, we can shift our position of authority to one of collaboration with Nature.

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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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