April 15, 2019

Interesting Things on the Internet: April 15th 2019

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March 17, 2019

Blog All Dog-eared Pages: The Devil's Device by Edwyn Gray

Hardly any dog-eared pages for this book, The Devil's Device, but that belies how interesting a read it was. It's the story of Robert Whitehead and his invention, the torpedo.

Page 18

In addition [Robert Whitehead] had no social background and, even worse, he was a common engineer—and everyone knew that engineers were not exactly persona grata in polite circles. In fact, very sensibly, the Navy's own commissioned engineers had to mess separately and were not admitted to the wardrooms lest, so it was whispered, their oil- and coal-grimed hands should besmirch the spotless table linen. It was an attitude exemplified in its extreme by the remark of a young midshipman to an Engineer Lieutenant who had reminded him of the seniorities of rank: 'You may be senior to me, Brown—but my mother wouldn't invite your mother to tea!'

Page 67

Robert had been in business long enough to realize that sheer skill was not enough if one lacked access to the right ears and, even though his torpedo was not yet completely satisfactory, he snatched the opportunity to ensure that news of his weapon reached the most influential people.

Page 228

The German G-7e required only 1,255 man-hours for completion using semi-skilled labour. The equivalent thermal-engined weapon needed 1.707 man-hours with highly skilled operators. In terms of modern warfare the mathematics of production schedules can be as important as the tactical skill of the admirals.

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February 25, 2019

Interesting Things on the Internet: February 25th 2019

  • Leeway. An excellent exploration of why we need systems which don't blindly apply a rigid set of rules. (That's the same argument for why most home automation will just annoy us with unexpected edge cases).
  • How Austerity, and a Cowardly Ruling Class, Brought About Brexit. "I want my country back too, as it happens. But I'm not kidding myself about who stole it. The Tories sold out the British people and then made the mistake of giving them one real chance to make their feelings known—and, well, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like David Cameron's face."
  • Known Assailants. A well-written account of failed social mobility in the US. Social mobility seems almost dead these days. Given the mess the upper class is currently making of the UK, it's in everyone else's (the upper class will be insulated regardless, and some are likely to profit from it...) interest to be finding ways to bring it back.
  • Building the Barbican. Fascinating report into the workers who built the Barbican. Includes such scandalous behaviour as one of the contractor companies engineering strikes to try to get out of (or renegotiate) a contract they'd under-priced in their bids, and stories of the establishment siding with management over the workers despite their valid (and relatively minor) demands.
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February 11, 2019

Interesting Things on the Internet: February 11th 2019

  • Death Sentence: The Words That Bulldoze Our Cities. How bullshit aspirational marketing copy blights our city, and what it says about society.
  • An oral history of “Silicon” Roundabout. An excellent look at the development of London's tech scene and how the community came first, then the flashy offices and money showed up. Should be required reading for all the "regeneration" types, but they wouldn't want to hear what it told them.
  • A letter to Steven Pinker (and Bill Gates, for that matter) about global poverty. A robust debunking (with plenty of citations) of the "things might look bad but actually we're doing a good job of improving the lives of the global poor" claims/narrative. We're not doing well, and we could do much better, but the rich wouldn't like that (even though there's lots we could do before they'd notice any difference in their lifestyles)
  • Cambridge University deserves to sink below the rising seas. Julian on scathing form about how Oxbridge are failing and how we are failing to hold them to account. It reminds me of an excellent comment on a Metafilter thread on a similar top - "I am surprised that Oxford and Cambridge, but Oxford in particular, haven't attempted to disown so many of their alumni who went into politics and are directly related - both Labour *and* Tory, to the current useless state of British politics.

    There is no greater illustration of how empty the meaning of an Oxbridge education is than of Dominic Rabb, a man according to wikipedia who has a degree from Cambridge and a masters from Oxford, yet is so fucking stupid that he can't work out - for himself - the importance of the Dover-Calais crossing to the UK economy."

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January 28, 2019

Interesting Things on the Internet: January 28th 2019

  • How To Pay Attention. Lots of good techniques to steal here. My #inthesaddle bike photos practice is pretty much the "spot something new every day" strategy.
  • The Secrets of Lyndon Johnson’s Archives. A wonderfully-written article by Robert A. Caro about his research in writing the biography of Lyndon B. Johnson. I really enjoyed his biography of Robert Moses—The Power Broker. At some point there'll be a blog all dog-eared pages post for that, once I've written up the many notes from the 1100+ pages...
  • Co-ops Need Leaders, Too. Useful reminder that co-operatives aren't completely different from other organisations.
  • Brexit and Singapore-on-Thames. A reminder that Britain is being run for the benefit of finance, and the rest of us are just seen as unfortunate baggage.
  • Refusal after Refusal. An essay rejecting the current social view of work. Ostensibly about architecture, I think it applies just as well to the rest of life (definitely tech, at least).
  • When Automation Bites Back.
  • Money laundering 101. A good look through money laundering and how it winds up distorting the property market.
  • Building Acid Communism. Some food for thought, particularly the workshop questions in the latter half.
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January 26, 2019

Blog All Dog-eared Pages: Smarter Homes by Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino

Good friend of mine Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino has taken her experience at the leading edge of the Internet of Things and with projects such as The Good Home and used it to inform a book that both looks back over the history of technology in the home and examines the recent developments and future trends in what our homes might look like and more importantly should look like.

Smarter Homes is a very readable take on how technology infuses our home lives. Hopefully my notes will give you a flavour of it.

Page 48
The phone directory became the first physical companion to a completely intangible interaction and the first home database. It was able to create a map for the community that was no longer defined by personal interactions but by how bold their name was or whether they'd bought advertising space.

Page 53
Apartment hotels were common in the late 1800s in cities across America, offering bedsits to young, unmarried, white collar professionals. In Paris they would be called "la chambre de bonne" and were often in the attic. Apartment hotels often focused on offering some level of bespoke services, with meals delivered by dumb waiters and laundry services delivered to the room.

Page 61, on the corporate visions of homes of the future
You could have progress but not social progress. The Summer of Love was around the corner, but in 1967, it was still important for a woman to play the role of the main consumer and curator of home experiences.

Page 67
Interior decor and food preparation are almost the only ways an owner can claim "ownership" and therefore identity-building inside a home. The [modern digital] technologies that are purchased have tended toward uniformity across all homes, especially the devices we have described so far: appliances, televisions, radios, and telephones. They denote access to enough capital to afford them but are not in themselves reflective of their owner's personality and impact.

Page 76
The 1988 book Smart House ends with a chapteron the potential applications in a Smart House,
and it's almost shocking to see how little has changed since those ideas were put down on paper.

Page 99
The idea that sharing something on the internet is enough illustrates a reality constructed by a culture of CAD and not a culture of manufacturing realities.

Page 139
Much of the new trends in home living are also a reflection of affluent, often white, middle class, childless people with more capital than their peers and mobile employment, which enables them to build completely different relationships with their homes than parents with young children or a retired person. These new bohemians emulate the 1970s hippy movement without needing to sacrifice on quality of life.

Page 143
Or perhaps the notifications now created by the multiplicity of mobile apps connected to the physical home space create a new landscape of attention and decision-making with which we can distract ourselves, or as Neil Postman would have it, amuse ourselves to death.

Page 146
The problem with this approach is that emergency situations happen in such a variety of ways that it is virtually impossible to get the right technology to help unless the home becomes a military zone. At worst, the family of an elderly person becomes a low-level ethnographer, trying to identify "unusual behaviour" in their elderly family member and dealing with the stress of plenty of false-positives. This can become more taxing than actually caring for them in person.

Reading the book, I was reminded of this song from the 60s, by Ninette...

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January 07, 2019

Interesting Things on the Internet: January 7th 2019

  • Librariness. Lovely exploration of what an investment/reimagining of New York's libraries could look like. A more architectural companion to my Making Digital Libraries talk from a few years back.
  • Open Source Company Gives Us A Peek At Financial Innards. As this article points out, open hardware isn't just about allowing people to build and remix your product, it also allows better traceability of supply chains and sharing knowledge of the normally hidden parts of manufacturing.
  • Made in Britain. I've often lamented how we don't celebrate, or even know about!, the middle-scale manufacturers in this country. So it's great to see ITV making a series that does just that, showing behind-the-scenes at a bunch of manufacturers.
  • The Philosopher Redefining Equality. "we shouldn’t commit ourselves to an ideal system of any sort, whether socialist or libertarian, because a model set in motion like a Swiss watch will become a trap as soon as circumstances change. Instead, we must be flexible. We must remain alert. We must solve problems collaboratively, in the moment, using society’s ears and eyes and the best tools that we can find."
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December 17, 2018

Interesting Things on the Internet: December 17th 2018

  • Weeknotes — diffusion, corporate culture, email. A good set of links and thinking from Laura. The idea about how email smooshes together different speeds or types of communication - things we'd have been able to differentiate before by the medium: scraps of paper for notes; postcards; letters...I think there's huge scope for finding ways to improve email, but I don't think we'll unlock it until the geeks start building it for themselves - it won't come out of startups. And that nods towards Laura's comments on IoT devices. The "industrial foundations run by trustees" would be a nice idea to try too.
  • Innovation’s fairylands. I often feel that the word "innovation" is only useful as a warning that whatever it's applied to is not worth further investigation. the mere declaration of “innovativeness,” which Godin identifies as a “magic word,” is often enough to satisfy observers, be they policy makers, granters, clients, or media, regardless of outcome.
  • Data From Millions Of Smartphone Journeys Proves Cyclists Faster In Cities Than Cars And Motorbikes. The headline has most of the useful information in it, but it's good to see someone reasonably impartial running the data. Presumably the area where bikes win will tend to increase as electric-assist bikes become even more common (quite a few Deliveroo riders I see already have them). It'd be nice to see routing algorithms start to include multi-modal for cyclists too, to combine train and riding.
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December 10, 2018

Interesting Things on the Internet: December 10th 2018

  • How to Be an Artist 33 rules to take you from clueless amateur to generational talent (or at least help you live life a little more creatively). Words of wisdom.
  • The Digital Maginot Line. Interesting long read about the risks for a "cyber war". It's not just about securing the PLCs in power stations, it's much more about propaganda and the people.
  • NUMMI. Really interesting interviews about NUMMI, a joint-venture factory between GM and Toyota, and its trials and tribulations with trying to infect GM with the Toyota Production System. Insightful looks at trying to overcome the 70s management-vs-workers-and-unions battle, with mixed results.
  • Being bolder – reflections 18 months into my work at NHS Digital. It's a joy to watch from afar as Matt gets to grips with helping the NHS get better. His comment about the need for some slack in the system for people to work out how to improve things reminds me of the similar approach in the NUMMI story about Toyota's culture of production line workers working alongside the designers and engineers to improve the production process, make new tools, etc. It's easily overlooked, but this quote at the end of Matt's post is one of the most exciting points for me: "I always said this was a multi-year commitment". Change in organisations as large as the NHS is always going to be difficult, so this recognition of that and commitment to the cause is vital (and sadly often lacking elsewhere).
  • The Future of Capitalism, by Paul Collier. Good to see people arguing that we need a more ethical approach in other places than just technology.
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November 26, 2018

Interesting Things on the Internet: November 26th 2018

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