Most don’t talk or act according to who they are, but as they are obliged to

NASA image of stars

The World’s Oldest Story? Astronomers Say Global Myths About ‘Seven Sisters’ Stars May Reach Back 100,000 Years — “Why are the Australian Aboriginal stories so similar to the Greek ones? Anthropologists used to think Europeans might have brought the Greek story to Australia, where it was adapted by Aboriginal people for their own purposes. But the Aboriginal stories seem to be much, much older than European contact. And there was little contact between most Australian Aboriginal cultures and the rest of the world for at least 50,000 years. So why do they share the same stories?”

🚶‍♂️ The joy of steps: 20 ways to give purpose to your daily walk — “We need to gallivant around outside in daylight so that our circadian rhythms can regulate sleep and alertness. (Yes, even when the sky is resolutely leaden, it is still technically daylight.) Walking warms you up, too; when you get back indoors, it will feel positively tropical.”

🔐 How Law Enforcement Gets Around Your Smartphone’s Encryption — “Cryptographers at Johns Hopkins University used publicly available documentation from Apple and Google as well as their own analysis to assess the robustness of Android and iOS encryption. They also studied more than a decade’s worth of reports about which of these mobile security features law enforcement and criminals have previously bypassed, or can currently, using special hacking tools.”

🚫 Misinformation dropped dramatically the week after Twitter banned Trump and some allies — “The findings, from Jan. 9 through Friday, highlight how falsehoods flow across social media sites — reinforcing and amplifying each other — and offer an early indication of how concerted actions against misinformation can make a difference.”

😲 The Ethics of Emotion in AI Systems (Research Summary) — “There will always be a gap between the emotions modelled and the experience of EAI systems. Addressing this gap also implies recognizing the implicit norms and values integrated into these systems in ways that cannot always be foreseen by the original designers. With EAI, it is not just a matter of deciding between the right emotional models and proxy variables, but what the responses collected signify in terms of human beings’ inner feelings, judgments, and future actions.”


Quotation-as-title by Baltasar Gracián. Image from top-linked post.

The problem is that the person who should be the most restrained is the least

Turtle poking its head out of water covered with duckweed

🦆 Bionic Duckweed: making the future the enemy of the present — “In its broader sense, bionic duckweed can be thought of a sort of unobtainium that renders investment in present-day technologies pointless, unimaginative, and worst of all On The Wrong Side Of History. “Don’t invest in what can be done today, because once bionic duckweed is invented it’ll all be obsolete.” It is a sort of promissory note in reverse, forcing us into inaction today in the hope of wonders tomorrow.”

🤔 The best tech of CES 2020: Where are they now? — “What looked like it was just a one-off at the largest tech tradeshow in the world, but actually turned out to be a real product? What got a lot of buzz and then dropped off our radars, only to resurface months later? And, of course, what was simply too good to be true?”

💬 If it will matter after today, stop talking about it in a chat room — “Rule of thumb: If a discussion will matter after today, don’t have it in a chat room. Check out Discourse, Twist, Carrot, Threads, Basecamp, Flarum, or heck even GitHub issues. These tools exist for a reason. They solve a real problem.”

🔥 Sauron Has the Power of the One Ring for Another Week, What’s the Worst that Could Happen? — “Upon further reflection, we are not entirely sure the orcs and trolls who participated in this demonstration were indeed sent by Sauron. Yes, the Mouth of Sauron encouraged the pro-Evil horde into a “trial by combat.” Yes, the crowd was painted with Sauron’s Red Eye and chanted his name. But anyone can mix paint and yell. We have it on good rumor that there were hobbits mixed into the gathering and inciting violence. Granted, we started these rumors, but oftentimes rumors are true.”

Working Off-Grid Efficiently — “For the first 3 years we tested the limits of our space, and at first, it was difficult to create new things, as we had to make time to learn how to solve the underlying problems. Our boat was not just an office, it was also our house and transport. As for us, we were artists, but also had to be plumbers, deckhands, electricians, captains, janitors and accountants.”


Quotation-as-title by Baltasar Gracián. Image from top-linked post.

There are many things we despise in order that we may not have to despise ourselves

Chart showing Internet 1.0 ("Technology"), Internet 2.0 ("Economics") and Internet 3.0 (Politics). A u-shaped line indicates 1.0 and 3.0 as 'decentralised' and 2.0 as 'centralised'. Via Stratechery.

🇺🇸 Well, that was expected — “I’ve recorded this here since it feels like the chronology of events and the smaller details are already evaporating, and this helps me wrap my head around a tiny fraction of it. If you happen to read this, don’t take this at face value (nor anything else on the web for that matter). Do your own research and correct me if you think any of the timestamps are wrong.”

📺 Fox News and the real insurrection — “After Democrats said they planned to impeach Trump again, Fox opinionators echoed the risible Republican talking point that such a move would be provocative; after Twitter banned Trump, they pivoted to bash Big Tech. Yesterday morning, Jeanine Pirro compared Amazon’s decision to boot Parler, an app popular among right-wing extremists, from its web-hosting services to Kristallnacht—the night, in 1938, when Nazis in Germany killed around one hundred Jewish people and arrested tens of thousands more”

Lost Passwords Lock Millionaires Out of Their Bitcoin Fortunes — “Of the existing 18.5 million Bitcoin, around 20 percent — currently worth around $140 billion — appear to be in lost or otherwise stranded wallets, according to the cryptocurrency data firm Chainalysis. Wallet Recovery Services, a business that helps find lost digital keys, said it had gotten 70 requests a day from people who wanted help recovering their riches, three times the number of a month ago.”

🕸️ Pirated Academic Database Sci-Hub Is Now on the ‘Uncensorable Web’ — “As evidenced by Sci-Hub’s own problems, the decentralized web is being built out of fears of deplatforming. As the internet’s access points are increasingly centralized in the hands of a few actors, certain applications – most recently, Twitter-alternative Parler – have faced censorship at the hands of web server providers, app stores and DNS certificate authorities.”

🏛️ Internet 3.0 and the Beginning of (Tech) History — Here technology itself will return to the forefront: if the priority for an increasing number of citizens, companies, and countries is to escape centralization, then the answer will not be competing centralized entities, but rather a return to open protocols.  This is the only way to match and perhaps surpass the R&D advantages enjoyed by centralized tech companies; open technologies can be worked on collectively, and forked individually, gaining both the benefits of scale and inevitability of sovereignty and self-determination.


Quotation-as-title by Vauvenargues. Image from bottom-linked post.

Nothing is repeated, and everything is unparalleled

🤔 We need more than deplatforming — “But as reprehensible as the actions of Donald Trump are, the rampant use of the internet to foment violence and hate, and reinforce white supremacy is about more than any one personality. Donald Trump is certainly not the first politician to exploit the architecture of the internet in this way, and he won’t be the last. We need solutions that don’t start after untold damage has been done.”

💪 Demands and Responsibilities — “If you demand rights for yourself, you have to demand those same rights for others. You have to take on the responsibility of collective action, and you yourself act in a way that benefits the collective. If you want credit, you have to give credit. If you want community, you have to be communal. If you want to be satiated, you have to allow others to be sated. If you want your vote to be respected, you have to respect the votes of others.”

🗯️ Parler Pitched Itself as Twitter Without Rules. Not Anymore, Apple and Google Said. — “Google said in a statement that it had pulled the app because Parler was not enforcing its own moderation policies, despite a recent reminder from Google, and because of continued posts on the app that sought to incite violence.”

🙅 Hello! You’ve Been Referred Here Because You’re Wrong About Section 230 Of The Communications Decency Act — “While this may all feel kind of mean, it’s not meant to be. Unless you’re one of the people who is purposefully saying wrong things about Section 230, like Senator Ted Cruz or Rep. Nancy Pelosi (being wrong about 230 is bipartisan). For them, it’s meant to be mean. For you, let’s just assume you made an honest mistake — perhaps because deliberately wrong people like Ted Cruz and Nancy Pelosi steered you wrong. So let’s correct that.”

🧐 What Wikipedia saw during election week in the U.S., and what we’re doing next — “To help meet this goal, we hope to invest in resources that we can share with international Wikipedia communities that will help mitigate future disinformation risks on the sites. We’re also looking to bring together administrators from different language Wikipedias for a global forum on disinformation. Together, we aim to build more tools to support our volunteer editors, and to combat disinformation.”


Quotation-as-title by the Goncourt Brothers. Image from top-linked post.

There are persons who, when they cease to shock us, cease to interest us

Donald Trump's head on Gladiator's body with text "How Trump sees himself - 'Are you not entertained?'"

It’s difficult not to say “I told you so” when things play out exactly as predicted. Four years ago, when Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the USA, many had ominous forebodings.

Donald Trump’s inaugural address was a declaration of war on everything represented by these choreographed civilities. President Trump – it’s time to begin to get used to those jarringly ill-fitting words – did not conjure a deathless phrase for the day. His words will not lodge in the brain in any of the various uplifting ways that the likes of Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy or Reagan once achieved. But the new president’s message could not have been clearer. He came to shatter the veneer of unity and continuity represented by the peaceful handover. And he may have succeeded. In 1933, Roosevelt challenged the world to overcome fear. In 2017, Mr Trump told the world to be very afraid.

The Guardian view on Donald Trump’s inauguration: a declaration of political war (January 2017)

He was all bluster, we were told. That it was rhetoric and would never be followed up with action.

Leaders are judged by their first 100 days in office. Wikipedia has a page outlining what Trump did during his, including things that, looking back from the vantage point of 2021, seem like warning shots: rolling back gun control legislation, stoking fears around voter fraud, cracking down on illegal immigration, freezing federal job hiring (except military), and engaging in tax reform to the benefit of the rich.


As a History teacher, it always struck me as odd that Adolf Hitler, a man born in Austria with brown hair, managed to lead a fascist party that extolled the virtues of being German and having blond hair. These days, I’m equally baffled that some of the richest people in our society — Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Jacob Rees-Mogg — can pass themselves off as ‘anti-elite’.

Much of their ability to do so is by creating an alternative reality with the aid of social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. These replace traditional gatekeepers to information with algorithms tweaked for engagement, attention, and profit.

As we know, whipping up hatred and peddling conspiracy theories puts these algorithms into overdrive, and ensure those who agree with the content see what’s shared. But this approach also reaches those who don’t agree with it, by virtue of people seeking to reject and push back on it. Meanwhile, of course, the platforms rake in $$$ from advertisers.


I get the feeling that there are a great number of people who do not understand the way the world works in 2021. I am probably one of them. In fact, given how much control we’ve given to algorithms in recent years, perhaps no-one truly understands.

One thing for sure, though, is that banning Donald Trump from Facebook and Instagram indefinitely is too little, too late. These platforms, among with others, downplayed his and other ‘alt-right’ hate speech for fear of being penalised.

Pandora’s Box is open. Those who realise that everything is a construct and theory-laden will control those who don’t. The latter will be reduced to merely wandering around an alternative reality, like protesters in Statuary Hall, waiting to be told what to do next.


Quotation-as-title by F.H. Bradley

One can acquire anything in solitude except character

How to Be at Home (2020)

🌐 The Metaverse is coming — “Over the course of 2021, the Metaverse will experience widespread use, and start to become a human co-experience utility. People will meet in virtual worlds not just to play a game, but also to check out a new movie trailer or laugh at user-generated videos. Education will move from learning to code online to learning core sciences with physics or biology simulations and ultimately becoming an immersive environment where classrooms are organised within it.”

🐠 Hallucinogenic fish — “A few reporters have eaten the dream fish and described their strange effects. The most famous user is Joe Roberts, a photographer for the National Geographic magazine. He broiled the dream fish in 1960. After eating the delicacy, he experienced intense hallucinations with a science-fiction theme that included futuristic vehicles, images of space exploration, and monuments marking humanity’s first trips into space.”

Hundreds of Google Employees Unionize, Culminating Years of Activism — “The union’s creation is highly unusual for the tech industry, which has long resisted efforts to organize its largely white-collar work force. It follows increasing demands by employees at Google for policy overhauls on pay, harassment and ethics, and is likely to escalate tensions with top leadership.”

🍌 The Banana Trick and Other Acts of Self-Checkout Thievery — “Perhaps it’s not surprising that some people steal from machines more readily than from human cashiers. “Anyone who pays for more than half of their stuff in self checkout is a total moron,” reads one of the more militant comments in a Reddit discussion on the subject.”


Quotation-as-title by Stendhal.

Seeing through is rarely seeing into

On New Year’s Eve, Farmville shut down. Unlike everyone else who seemed to play the game a decade ago, I never experienced it. Why? Mercifully, I wasn’t on Facebook.

An article in The New York Times argues that Farmville, and other, similar, games made by Zynga, paved the way for the kind of ‘social’ experiences we have seen in the last decade. That is to say, mass behaviour modification disguised as a game.

Mia Consalvo, a professor in game studies and design at Concordia University in Canada, was among those who saw FarmVille constantly in front of her.

“When you log into Facebook, it’s like, ‘Oh, 12 of my friends need help,’” she said.

She questioned how social the game actually was, arguing that it didn’t create deep or sustained interactions.

“The game itself isn’t promoting a conversation between you and your friends, or encouraging you to spend time together within the game space,” she said. “It’s really just a mechanic of clicking a button.”

FarmVille Once Took Over Facebook. Now Everything Is FarmVille. (The New York Times)

It’s hardly surprising, then, that conspiracy theories have now become Alternative Reality Games (ARGs) or Live Action Role Playing Games (LARPs) where claims can never be falsified.

You may have heard of QAnon, the batshit-crazy conspiracy theory. As one game designer points out, it’s so effective, despite it being anti-rational, because of the incredible amounts of apophenia (“tendency to perceive meaningful connections between unrelated things”) it entails.

QAnon has often been compared to ARGs and LARPs and rightly so. It uses many of the same gaming mechanisms and rewards. It has a game-like feel to it that is evident to anyone who has ever played an ARG, online role-play (RP) or LARP before. The similarities are so striking that it has often been referred to as a LARP or ARG. However this beast is very very different from a game.

[…]

QAnon grows on the wild misinterpretation of random data, presented in a suggestive fashion in a milieu designed to help the users come to the intended misunderstanding. Maybe “guided apophenia” is a better phrase. Guided because the puppet masters are directly involved in hinting about the desired conclusions. They have pre-seeded the conclusions. They are constantly getting the player lost by pointing out unrelated random events and creating a meaning for them that fits the propaganda message Q is delivering.

A Game Designer’s Analysis Of QAnon (Curioser Institute)

Ironically enough, the arc of my career, and many other knowledge workers like me, is to spot connections between similarly unrelated things.

As Dorian Taylor points out in his newsletter, there is a lot of money to be made as the ‘trusted intermediary’ between people and the information they desire.

The role of the intermediary is, nominally, to act as a trusted source, conduit, or steward of shared informational state. Being the trusted steward of shared informational state is functionally the same as owning it. Platform operators understand this in their bones, which is why they make their fiefdoms easy to join and hard to quit. And they do that by making the information you put into them hard to pry back out.

Setting the Tone for an Anti-Platform
(the making of Making Sense)

Taylor is talking mainly about platforms and standards, but the point remains that intermediaries only remain trusted so long as what they say is either objectively true (i.e. is ‘falsifiable’) or they can keep spinning the lies long enough.

In early 2021, we live in a world of what has become known as ‘fake news’ or ‘alternative facts’. As Caleb James DeLisle recently pointed out in an epic New Year’s Eve thread, however, is that there’s another way of understanding this as being a move away from what he calls ‘consensus reality’.

There are obviously facts which are beyond question: no matter how much you believe, jumping from a tall building will not make you fly. But social constructions accepted as truth are far more pervasive than most people think.

2020 is finally coming to a close, and like many people you probably cannot wait for this cursed year to be over. But did you stop to think that January 1st is only the boundary between years because Julius Caesar decreed it so? Social constructs are pervasive.

Caleb James DeLisle (Mastodon)

People having different ways of understanding the world is the default way that tribes of humans work. The scientific method, an agreement on objective facts, is a relatively new invention.

Since 2005, the hugely lucrative game that Big Tech has got us to play is adtech: behavioural modification through invasive advertising that tracks your every move. Now, though, we’re all at it, trying to modify one another’s behaviour to get the external world to adhere to the internal one we’ve created.


Quotation-as-title from Elizabeth Bransco. Image by Mari Helin.

Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self

📚 Bookshelf designs as unique as you are: Part 2 — “Stuffing all your favorite novels into a single space without damaging any of them, and making sure the whole affair looks presentable as well? Now, that’s a tough task. So, we’ve rounded up some super cool, functional and not to mention aesthetically pleasing bookshelf designs for you to store your paperback companions in!”

📱 How to overcome Phone Addiction [Solutions + Research] — “Phone addiction goes hand in hand with anxiety and that anxiety often lowers the motivation to engage with people in real life. This is a huge problem because re-connecting with people in the offline world is a solution that improves the quality of life. The unnecessary drop in motivation because of addiction makes it that much harder to maintain social health.”

⚙️ From Tech Critique to Ways of Living — “This technological enframing of human life, says Heidegger, first “endanger[s] man in his relationship to himself and to everything that is” and then, beyond that, “banishes” us from our home. And that is a great, great peril.”

🎨 Finding time for creativity will give you respite from worries — “According to one study examining the links between art and health, a cost-benefit analysis showed a 37% drop in GP consultation rates and a 27% reduction in hospital admissions when patients were involved in creative pursuits. Other studies have found similar results. For example, when people were asked to write about a trauma for 15 minutes a day, it resulted in fewer subsequent visits to the doctor, compared to a control group.”

🧑‍🤝‍🧑 For psychologists, the pandemic has shown people’s capacity for cooperation — “In short, what we have seen is a psychology of collective resilience supplanting a psychology of individual frailty. Such a shift has profound implications for the relationship between the citizen and the state. For the role of the state becomes less a matter of substituting for the deficiencies of the individual and more to do with scaffolding and supporting communal self-organisation.”


Quotation-as-title by Cyril Connolly. Image from top-linked post.

You can never get rid of what is part of you, even when you throw it away

🤖 Why the Dancing Robots Are a Really, Really Big Problem — “No, robots don’t dance: they carry out the very precise movements that their — exceedingly clever — programmers design to move in a way that humans will perceive as dancing. It is a simulacrum, a trompe l’oeil, a conjurer’s trick. And it works not because of something inherent in the machinery, but because of something inherent in ours: our ever-present capacity for finding the familiar. It looks like human dancing, except it’s an utterly meaningless act, stripped of any social, cultural, historical, or religious context, and carried out as a humblebrag show of technological might.”

💭 Why Do We Dream? A New Theory on How It Protects Our Brains — “We suggest that the brain preserves the territory of the visual cortex by keeping it active at night. In our “defensive activation theory,” dream sleep exists to keep neurons in the visual cortex active, thereby combating a takeover by the neighboring senses.”

A simple 2 x 2 for choices — “It might be simple, but it’s not always easy. Success doesn’t always mean money, it just means that you got what you were hoping for. And while every project fits into one of the four quadrants, there’s no right answer for any given person or any given moment..”

📅 Four-day week means ‘I don’t waste holidays on chores’ — “The four-day working week with no reduction in pay is good for the economy, good for workers and good for the environment. It’s an idea whose time has come.”

💡 100 Tips For A Better Life — “It is cheap for people to talk about their values, goals, rules, and lifestyle. When people’s actions contradict their talk, pay attention!”


Quotation-as-title from Goethe. Image from top-linked post.

You should aim to be independent of any one vote, of any one fashion, of any one century

Happy New Year!

Vintage photograph of an old man building a model ship with a young boy

⚒️ That which is unique, breaks — “The more finished goods become commodities, the fewer opportunities an individual has to generate new creation. The ability to mass-produce removes the opportunity for the great many to learn to produce at all. From such a thought, a future full of consumption-only hobbies might come as no surprise.”

🚔 New Orleans City Council bans facial recognition, predictive policing and other surveillance tech — “The ordinance as passed puts outright bans on four pieces of technology — facial recognition, characteristic recognition and tracking software, predictive policing and cell-site simulators. A ban on license plate readers in the original ordinance was ultimately scrapped.”

🎭 The ‘Batman Effect’: How having an alter ego empowers you — “Self-distancing seems to enable people to reap these positive effects by leading them to focus on the bigger picture – it’s possible to see events as part of a broader plan rather than getting bogged down in immediate feelings. And this has led some researchers to wonder whether it could also improve elements of self-control like determination, by making sure that we keep focused on our goals even in the face of distraction.”

🦇 New lessons for stealth technology — “Optical metamaterials that refract and scatter light in adaptive ways are already familiar in the living world, for example in the photonic crystals found on strongly coloured, microstructured insect cuticles or butterfly wings. Now it appears that acoustic stealth technology too was discovered first by natural selection. Neil et al. report evidence that the intricate array of scales on some moth wings acts as an acoustic metamaterial to reduce echoes from ultrasound6. This, they say, is probably an adaptive property that reduces the visibility of moths to the sonar searches of their predators, bats.

🥱 Misinformation fatigue sets in — “It turns out maybe people don’t actually care about being lied to. And little is likely to change in 2021 unless and until platforms take actual responsibility for the way people gather and organize on them — admitting that their algorithms already guide what we see, who we speak to, what we buy, and what we believe, and working with outside experts to instead curate an experience that undoes a bit of the pollution that they’ve made.”


Quotation-as-title from Baltasar Gracián. Image from top-linked post.

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