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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October 29, 2018

Interesting Things on the Internet: October 29th 2018

And a great talk from Anand Giridharadas (as featured in last week's Interesting Things...) challenging us to make actual progress on society, rather than looking for not-really-effective-but-inoffensive-to-propose "win-win" solutions...

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October 20, 2018

Interesting Things on the Internet: October 20th 2018

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October 08, 2018

Interesting Things on the Internet: October 8th 2018

  • Launching the Trust & Technology Initiative. A good primer on the dangers of not caring about how we trust technology
  • If the Point of Capitalism is to Escape Capitalism, Then What’s the Point of Capitalism? I'm not sure, but in our finer moments you can see glimpses of this post-capitalist world in the DoES Liverpool community, in the pursuit of ideas rather than money. And I suppose a lot of it comes down to a community managing the commons for the good of its members.
  • Second System Syndrome. Nice. A name for something I've long noticed (and perpetually resisted) in software teams: the desire to throw everything away and start from scratch. Actually, it occurs to me that's a similar urge to the pattern for grand masterplanning in the built environment. It's the wrong answer there too.
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October 01, 2018

Interesting Things on the Internet: October 1st 2018

  • The Myth of the Ethical Shopper. Turns out our ethics and principles might need us to do more than just buy things.
  • If Software Is Eating the World, What Will Come Out the Other End? "The world is still real. Software hasn’t eaten it as much as bound it in a spell, temporarily I hope, while we figure out what comes next."
  • Preparing a conference talk. Good explanation of how to prep a talk. I don't follow this completely, blurring the work out the narrative and the write the slides parts, but the general principles are all sound.
  • Corbyn Now. "Corbyn’s critics[...], not the electorate, are unwilling to tolerate any serious challenge to a political status quo which is extreme when judged by the same comparisons – to history, to other nations, to public opinion – that show how moderate Corbynism is. The neoliberal character of the status quo doesn’t reflect a public consensus, and it hasn’t for a long time: for example, no opinion poll since the mid-1980s has shown popular support for public sector privatisation."
  • Reading Adam's latest essay on smart cities, Shaping Cities contribution, “Of Systems and Purposes: Emergent technology for the skeptical urbanist”, I realised that my mantra of "judge us (and others) on what we do, not what we say" is a people equivalent of Stafford Beer's "the purpose of a system is what it does"
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September 17, 2018

Interesting Things on the Internet: September 17th 2018

And I've enthused about this to a bunch of people now, so I should definitely share it here...

Eyeo 2018 - Nathaniel Raymond from Eyeo Festival on Vimeo.

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September 16, 2018

Ignore the Innovators

How do we encourage engineers to get better at talking about their work, and to talk about it more often? How do we improve the public's ability to spot the difference between the blaggers and those who have a clue?

It's something that exercises me far more than it probably should. I think it comes from a general belief that all of us should take an active role in our society, that we should engage with the dark matter of policy and politics, and generally try to help others understand what we know so that we can all make progress.

Mostly I need to get better at ignoring it and focusing on my own work, and talking about my own work. Ignore the innovation theatre, the performative industry that exists to soak up all of the money we're investing as a country into things that purport to make life better but mostly just chase buzzwords and spend their time talking themselves up.

This article, Delusions of Grandeur, sums it up nicely.

At some point I'll make the time to write up the dataset analysis example that I developed as part of Ross Dalziel's course on data tools for artists. It analyzed some work that looks from a distance like the organisations involved are fulfilling their remit and moving the UK forward, but if you look any closer, soon dissolves into pointless busywork. Not that those organsiations are special, I'm sure you could build similar critiques of the Catapult centres or Innovate UK or...

I think the problem is that they're all tasked with the wrong thing: the pursuit of "innovation". It's ridiculously difficult to separate what might be truly innovative with what is just a crazy idea, even for the experts. And these organisations rarely attract the experts, because they're generally busy exploring the edges of their field, rather than casting around for quango jobs where they can't win.

Judging projects solely by whether or not they appear innovative favours things that are full of buzzwords and which promise easy wins. Scientists show how this one neat trick will save the world...

Where's the catapult centre for finding who's already solved the problem and doing the hard work to adopt it? We could make a good start by ignoring anyone and everyone who uses the word "innovation".

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