Everyone has something to teach

    As someone who is apparently in a microgeneration between Generation X and Millennials, I feel constantly the tension between the “old ways” of doing things and the “throwing things against the wall to see what sticks” approach.

    This article frames the issue nicely: everyone has something to teach, no matter whether you’re the person with lots of experience to share, or the person with the new approach.

    Light patterns

    Gaining experience takes time, effort, and often comes at the price of making painful mistakes. You don’t want to let those lessons go. You want them to mean something, to help you from making the same painful mistakes again. To help others from making the same mistakes you made. So it will always be the case that those with the most experience – and the good, smart, accurate wisdom that comes from it – will be the least willing to adapt their views as the world evolves.

    Neither should be the case, because every generation cycles through the same process. Today’s older generation once understood the world better than their parents, who scoffed at them. Today’s younger generation will one day be stuck in the antiquated norms of their past, and their kids will scoff at them. I can imagine my son in 80 years screaming, “Get off my metaverse lawn!”

    One takeaway from this is that no age has a monopoly on insight, and different levels of experience offer different kinds of lessons. Vishal Khandelwal recently wrote that old guys don’t understand tech, but young guys don’t understand risk. Another way to put it is: everyone has something to teach.

    Source: Experts From A World That No Longer Exists · Collaborative Fund

    Image: CC BY Tea, two sugars

    Ignore the sociotechnics at your peril

    This post is focusing on technical teams looking after software. But it can also apply to anything where systems are being developed and/or maintained.

    Each set of markers we added to our system provided new context to form assumptions and frame our thinking. Everything in the visualization existed whether we were looking or not. It becomes clear when looked at this way that each of these dimensions is inextricably linked. It’s impossible to think holistically about software without thinking about the operational environment, or the users of the system, or the people involved in building and maintaining it. These things come together to create another lens through which we can view the world.

    It’s important to point out that the final image here is still incomplete. We’ll never fit all of the contexts into a single model. We could keep going, adding more and more context. A fascinating one, for example, would be marking the beginning of the COVID pandemic, when a team that perhaps was colocated started working remotely, and when stress and risk of burnout increased considerably. Otherwise, we’ll eventually include the whole world, but it’s interesting to continually zoom out and see how a new lens helps frame our perspectives.

    […]

    Many organizations have adopted the practice of doing “post-mortems” or “retrospectives” after incidents. Retrospectives are great! Unfortunately, I think a lot of learning is left on the table by the adoption of template-driven processes that produce shallow understandings of what transpired. I’ve spoken about how I think we can improve this. There are also experts in the field who provide training and consulting in incident analysis. There are also communities and companies dedicated to helping you improve this practice.

    Source: Sociotechnical Lenses into Software Systems | Paul Osman

    Wealth is a product of luck

    This seems obvious to me: that luck plays a great part in success. Well, serendipity, perhaps which can always be given a helping hand by elite networks and pushy parents…

    Definition of luck

    The conventional answer is that we live in a meritocracy in which people are rewarded for their talent, intelligence, effort, and so on. Over time, many people think, this translates into the wealth distribution that we observe, although a healthy dose of luck can play a role.

    But there is a problem with this idea: while wealth distribution follows a power law, the distribution of human skills generally follows a normal distribution that is symmetric about an average value. For example, intelligence, as measured by IQ tests, follows this pattern. Average IQ is 100, but nobody has an IQ of 1,000 or 10,000.

    The same is true of effort, as measured by hours worked. Some people work more hours than average and some work less, but nobody works a billion times more hours than anybody else.

    And yet when it comes to the rewards for this work, some people do have billions of times more wealth than other people. What’s more, numerous studies have shown that the wealthiest people are generally not the most talented by other measures.

    What factors, then, determine how individuals become wealthy? Could it be that chance plays a bigger role than anybody expected? And how can these factors, whatever they are, be exploited to make the world a better and fairer place?

    Source: If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich? Turns out it’s just chance. | MIT Technology Review

    Image: CC BY-ND fearthekumquat

    Unsolicited advice might not be so bad after all?

    I’ve followed Tressie McMillan Cottom on Twitter ever since she did a keynote for ALT a few years ago. In this article for The New York Times, she talks about ‘advice culture’.

    Cottom is wonderfully forthright in her interactions on Twitter, so I was expecting her to rail against advice culture. Instead, she talks about it as a form of small talk, and (I suppose) a form of necessary social glue.

    In the social media era, advice culture feels bigger and more pervasive than ever. After all, what is social media if not the gamification of advice? Every time we post something on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, we are implicitly asking others to make a judgment of us. And we find ourselves unable to understand why someone would post or share an experience if not to solicit our evaluation. That is what “likes” and comments and “friending” has done to our brains...

    Advice culture is so pervasive that it must serve some other function, do something more than assuage insecurities or performing status. Sociologists generally agree that advice is up there with small talk for how it facilitates human connection between strangers. But I recently began thinking advice is no longer a mere subset of small talk but has become our culture’s default common language. Advice is small talk. The decline of social associations like the Rotary Club and the bowling leagues not only weakened our connections to community; it also atrophied our linguistic tool kit.

    Source: Why Everyone Is Always Giving Unsolicited Advice | The New York Times

    Peeking around corners with holographic cameras

    It's amazing to think that 10 years ago we thought we were only a few years away from fully autonomous vehicles. Even now, we're in the early stages of actually making them safe.

    Blind corners have long troubled drivers, but they might not pose such a hazard for much longer. Researchers at Northwestern University have developed a new holographic camera technology that can peer around corners by reconstructing scattered light waves, quickly enough to spot fast-moving objects like cars or pedestrians.

    When light strikes an object, it scatters, and some of that finds its way to our retinas, or the sensors of a camera, allowing the object to be seen. Of course, that means we can’t see objects behind other objects, or through scattering media like fog or skin. But there might be a way to use the scattering of light off multiple objects to see around corners.

    Position a mirror just right, and you can see objects around corners. Even without a mirror, that principle still holds true – it’s just that the secondary object scatters the light too much for us to reconstruct the target. But an emerging technology called non-line-of-sight (NLoS) imaging can do just that.

    NLoS systems work by beaming light out, which bounces off a surface, strikes an object and bounces back to the surface, then back to a sensor. Algorithms can then create an image of the object around a corner. As you might expect however, images reconstructed in this way can often be low resolution, or take too long to process.

    Source: Holographic camera reconstructs objects around corners in milliseconds | New Atlas

    The impact of a plant-based diet on migraines

    Aged 18, I was rejected at the last hurdle from the Royal Air Force for a scholarship which would have paid for my university tuition. The reason? I’d just started suffering from migraines.

    There are lots of different types of triggers, but common to all types is stress. That’s not so good if you’re looking to be employed in Fighter Command.

    In many ways, I dodged a bullet (literally and metaphorically!) by not joining the RAF, but migraines have been a constant struggle. In the past few years I’ve had a lot fewer of them, something I put down to reducing my stress levels and taking an L-Theanine supplement every day.

    However, this article focuses on the benefits of a plant-based diet for migraine sufferers. I stopped eating meat in 2017 and then eliminated fish too, turning vegetarian in January of this year. It looks like that might have been a great idea not only from an animal welfare point of view, but in terms of my own welfare too!

    Green leafy vegetables

    Health experts are calling for more research into diet and migraines after doctors revealed a patient who had suffered severe and debilitating headaches for more than a decade completely eliminated them after adopting a plant-based diet.

    He had tried prescribed medication, yoga and meditation, and cut out potential trigger foods in an effort to reduce the severity and frequency of his severe headaches – but nothing worked. The migraines made it almost impossible to perform his job, he said.

    But within a month of starting a plant-based diet that included lots of dark-green leafy vegetables, his migraines disappeared. The man has not had a migraine in more than seven years, and cannot remember the last time he had a headache. The case was reported in the journal BMJ Case Reports.

    Source: Man’s severe migraines ‘completely eliminated’ on plant-based diet | Nutrition | The Guardian

    Information is not knowledge (and knowledge is not wisdom)

    Some reflections by Nick Milton on why knowledge management within organisations is so poor. If I were him, I would have included the below illustration from gapingvoid as I think it illustrates his five points rather well.

    data, information, knowledge, insight, wisdom, impact

    Firstly much of the knowledge of the organisation is never codified as information.

    […]

    Secondly, a common problem (a corollary of the first) is that project knowledge may never have been recorded in project documents.

    […]

    Thirdly, and a corollary to the first two, the vast majority of project information is not knowledge anyway. If you are relying on project documents as a source of knowledge, you will be relying on a very diluted source - a lot of noise and not much signal.

    […]

    Fourthly, if there is codified knowledge in the project documents, it tends to be scattered across many documents and many projects.

    […]

    Finally, many of the knowledge problems are cultural. People are incentivised to rush on to the next job rather than to spend time reflecting on lessons, no matter how important.

    Source: Why you can’t solve knowledge problems with information tools alone | Knoco Stories

    Start Often Finish rArely

    I love this, and along with this post about the joy of watching films in black and white, led to me starting a new art project.

    (Un)familiar

    SOFA is the name of a hacker/art collective, and also the name of the principle upon which the club was founded.

    The point of SOFA club is to start as many things as possible as you have the ability, interest, and capacity to, with no regard or goal whatsoever for finishing those projects.

    […]

    You can be finished with your project whenever you decide to be done with it. And “done” can mean anything you want it to be. Whose standards of completion or perfection are you holding yourself to anyway? Forget about those! Something is done when you say it is. When it’s no longer interesting. When you’ve gotten a sufficient amount of entertainment and experience from it. When you’ve learned enough from it. Whatever, whenever. Done is what you say it is.

    Source: 🛋 SOFA

    Pain, suffering, and scuba diving

    In this post, Derek Sivers shares his experience of a panic attack during a scuba diving trip and being calmed down by his instructor. He then subsequently used the same technique to help someone else who wasn’t OK on a later trip.

    Pain and suffering are part of the human experience. For anyone ask “why me?” doesn’t make sense. There are those who dissimulate and those who don’t, but underneath it all there is hardship.

    There is less stigma around therapy than there used to be, but I haven’t met anyone (me included!) who hasn’t transformed their life for the better after going through some form of counselling.

    I learned a few lessons from this experience.

    There are things in life we think won’t apply to us: Panic. Addiction. Depression.

    I thought that was for other people. I thought I wasn’t that type. Why is this happening to me?

    But I learned so much empathy that day. These things that only seem to happen to other people can happen to me. We’re not so different. It helps me recognize it in others, and be most helpful by remembering that feeling.

    I imagine this is why people, who have been through really hard times, become counselors.

    That day also reinforced the power of imitation. My teacher calmed me down so well that it was best to just imitate him.

    Source: scuba, panic, empathy | Derek Sivers

    Introspections on timewasting

    What I’ve learned over the years from my own experience is that what one person calls a “waste of time” is the complete opposite for someone else. It also has a temporal/timing element to it, as well, I’d argue.

    For example, I spent an inordinate amount of time on Twitter between 2007 and 2012, but this paid off massively in terms of my career. I learned a lot and made really valuable connections in the process. My wife thought it was a waste of my time. These days, it absolutely would be.

    In this post, the author reflects on why they “waste time” and look at different reasons as well as various ways they’ve sought to combat it. As someone who’s been through therapy, I’d suggest that there’s always something below the surface that needs a skilled professional to draw out.

    That’s what seems missing here.

    "Scattered Thoughts, Like Scattered Leaves:-)" by mysza831 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    I spend way too much time on reddit, hacker news, twitter, feedly, coinbase, robinhood, email, etc. I’d like to spend time on things that are more meaningful - chess, digital painting, side projects, reading, video games, exercising, meditating, etc. This has been a problem for years.

    This post is only slightly adapted from my personal notes, so excuse the lack of structure; I didn’t want to try to twist this jumble of thoughts into a narrative.

    Source: Scattered Thoughts on Why I Waste My Own Time | Just a blog

    Image: CC BY mysza831

    Freedom for the few vs. freedom for the many

    My wife and I were talking about lockdowns yesterday given that we’re due to be travelling to the Netherlands next month and they’ve announced a partial lockdown. I can’t imagine something similar would be accepted in the UK — by which I mean it would probably be difficult to enforce.

    Austria are imposing a nationwide lockdown for unvaccinated people. This sounds like a good solution for those vaccinated, but (a) there’s non-conspiracy reasons why people aren’t vaccinated, and (b) whatever means are used to prove vaccinated will be instantly forged.

    It’s a problem, for sure, how to protect the freedoms of everyone.

    Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg at a coronavirus meeting (Credit: Dragan Tatic)
    Austria will impose a nationwide lockdown for people who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19, becoming the first country in the world to do so, Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg announced on Friday.

    […]

    “A lockdown for the unvaccinated means one cannot leave one’s home unless one is going to work, shopping (for essentials), stretching one’s legs – exactly what we all had to suffer through in 2020,” Schallenberg said earlier, according to Reuters.

    The lockdown for the unvaccinated has already been formally approved in Upper Austria, where restrictions have also been announced for the entire population. This includes a legal requirement to wear an FFP2 mask in all indoor public places and a ban on events for 3 weeks.

    […]

    However, questions have been raised about the feasibility of a lockdown which applies to only a part of the population. “We don’t live in a police state and we can’t and don’t want to check every street corner,” Schallenberg said.

    Source: Austria to declare nationwide lockdown for unvaccinated people | BNO News

    Games as a cultural, educational, and predictive force

    As a gamer, I grow frustrated with people who don’t consider games to be an art form and vehicle for stories comparable with other cultural pursuits.

    Take for example one of the biggest games of this year, the recently released Battlefield 2042. Not only is it a technical and cultural milestone, but it presents a plausible timeline for how things could go given our current trajectory: climate, migration, wars, you name it.

    2037

    Humanity adapts to the new normal. Revolutions in energy, desert irrigation, hydraulic levees, and sea walls save coastal cities, reclaim farmland, and rebuild supply chains. Hope of finding stability leads to some nations re-opening their borders.

    However, with no way to repatriate 1.2 billion people, No-Pats become a permanent fixture in all economic, military, and social policy making. Many No-Pats are still distrustful of the governments that exiled them and refuse calls to reassimilate. No-Pat leaders emerge, inspiring a new identity unbound to former nationality, drawing a line in the sand between the Old World and The New Normal. #WeAreNoPats becomes a rallying cry.

    I highly recommend watching this 9-minute short film:

    [embed]www.youtube.com/watch

    Source: The World of 2042 | Electronic Arts

    Big Tech companies may change their names but they will not voluntarily change their economics

    I based a good deal of Truth, Lies, and Digital Fluency, a talk I gave in NYC in December 2019, on the work of Shoshana Zuboff. Writing in The New York Times, she starts to get a bit more practical as to what we do about surveillance capitalism.

    As Zuboff points out, Big Tech didn’t set out to cause the harms it has any more than fossil fuel companies set out to destroy the earth. The problem is that they are following economic incentives. They’ve found a metaphorical goldmine in hoovering up and selling personal data to advertisers.

    Legislating for that core issue looks like it could be more fruitful in terms of long-term consequences. Other calls like “breaking up Big Tech” are the equivalent of rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

    Democratic societies riven by economic inequality, climate crisis, social exclusion, racism, public health emergency, and weakened institutions have a long climb toward healing. We can’t fix all our problems at once, but we won’t fix any of them, ever, unless we reclaim the sanctity of information integrity and trustworthy communications. The abdication of our information and communication spaces to surveillance capitalism has become the meta-crisis of every republic, because it obstructs solutions to all other crises.

    […]

    We can’t rid ourselves of later-stage social harms unless we outlaw their foundational economic causes. This means we move beyond the current focus on downstream issues such as content moderation and policing illegal content. Such “remedies” only treat the symptoms without challenging the illegitimacy of the human data extraction that funds private control over society’s information spaces. Similarly, structural solutions like “breaking up” the tech giants may be valuable in some cases, but they will not affect the underlying economic operations of surveillance capitalism.

    Instead, discussions about regulating big tech should focus on the bedrock of surveillance economics: the secret extraction of human data from realms of life once called “private.” Remedies that focus on regulating extraction are content neutral. They do not threaten freedom of expression. Instead, they liberate social discourse and information flows from the “artificial selection” of profit-maximizing commercial operations that favor information corruption over integrity. They restore the sanctity of social communications and individual expression.

    No secret extraction means no illegitimate concentrations of knowledge about people. No concentrations of knowledge means no targeting algorithms. No targeting means that corporations can no longer control and curate information flows and social speech or shape human behavior to favor their interests. Regulating extraction would eliminate the surveillance dividend and with it the financial incentives for surveillance.

    Source: You Are the Object of Facebook’s Secret Extraction Operation | The New York Times

    Momentum over details

    I subscribed to Laura Olin’s newsletter recently, and the first issue I received mentioned how the late Dave Graeber “liked to… write propped up in the bathtub or lying on the floor; that way, it didn’t feel like work”.

    She also links to another newsletter issue by Kate McKean, which I quote below, about just getting on with things, keeping the momentum going, and not getting stuck with details. It reminds me of my collaborations this week (in a good way!)

    Angular momentum

    Which leads me to my newest revelation: just write it down now! You can fix it later! Truly and honestly, you can fix it later. Do you know how many TKs are in my book right now? (TK is copyediting shorthand for I’ll fill it in later) Instead of trying figure out what day of the week it is in my book, it literally says “TK weekday.” I was in the middle of a scene when I realized one of the characters in it couldn’t physically be there at that time, so I deleted his name and wrote “TK some other guy” and kept going! I liked the scene! I’ll figure out that TK later! Or I will cut it! The words exist now, which means they can be edited, refined, deleted, kept. You’re going to edit your book five thousand times; you won’t notice one more. And for those of you who worry that’s going to add time to an already long and arduous process, well, I say that if it gets you to The End faster, even if you have to go back to all those TK’s, you’re that much better off.
    Source: How to Like What You Write | Kate McKean

    Image: CC BY-NC-ND Alan Bloom

    Aimless wandering in search of the unknown catalyst

    It might not be too much of a stretch to describe Edward Snowden as a hero of mine. I’m not sure what he’s still doing in Russia, but the moral conviction it took to do what he did is staggering.

    He writes in exile through a newsletter which is well worth subscribing to. In his most recent missive, he talks about lacking what he calls “origination energy”. On a much smaller level and more insignificant level, I lack this too — especially at this time of year.

    So as the young people say, I feel seen.

    Edward Snowden poster

    For a long time now, I’ve wanted to write to you, but found myself unable. Not from illness—although that came and went—but because I refuse to put something in your inbox that I feel isn’t worth your time.

    The endless stream of events that the world provides to remark upon has the tendency to take on an almost physical weight, and robs me of what I can only describe as origination energy: the creative spark that empowers us not simply to do something, but to do something new. Without it, even the best of what I can produce feels derivative and workmanlike—good enough for government, perhaps, but not good enough for you.

    I suspect you may know a similar struggle—you can tell me how you fight it below, if you like—but my only means for overcoming it is an aimless wandering in search of the unknown catalyst that might help me to refill my emptied well. Where once I might have had a good chance of walking away inspired by the empathy I felt while watching a sad, sad film, achieving such inspiration feels harder now, somehow. I have to search farther, and wander longer, across centuries of painting and music until at last, when passing by a dumpster, yesterday’s internet comment might suddenly pop into my head and blossom there, as if a poem. The thing—the artifact itself—doesn’t matter, so much as what it does for me—it enlivens me.

    This, to me, is art.

    Source: Cultural Revolutions | Edward Snowden

    Image CC BY-NC-ND: Antonio Marín Segovia

    Surveillance vs working openly

    Austin Kleon is famous for his book Show Your Work, something that our co-op references from time to time, as it backs up our belief in working openly.

    However, as Kleon points out in this post, it doesn’t mean you need to livestream your creative process! For me, this is another example of the tension between being able to be a privacy advocate at the same time as a believer in sharing your work freely and openly.

    It’s bad enough trying to create something when nobody’s watching — the worst trolls are the ones that live in your head!

    The danger of sharing online is this ambient buildup of a feeling of being surveilled.

    The feeling of being watched, or about to be watched.

    You have to disconnect from that long enough to connect with yourself and what you’re working on.

    Source: You can’t create under surveillance | Austin Kleon

    A Timeline of Earth's Average Temperature

    I can’t argue with every anti-vaxxer and climate denialist, but I can debate a few on my timeline. And this xkcd is another useful thing to point towards when they talk about how climate change is nothing new…

    Source: xkcd: Earth Temperature Timeline

    Platform power and infrastructure

    John Naughton writes notes that we need to describe a fourth kind of power alongside compelling us to do something, stopping us from doing something, or shaping the way we think.

    Image by fabio on Unsplash

    The great unsolved problem of our time is how to deal with – and where necessary curb – the unaccountable power of these giants. The first step on that road is to reach a collective understanding of what kind of power they actually wield. And for that we need a taxonomy. In an earlier era, the political theorist Steven Lukes proposed one. There were, he said, three kinds of power: the ability to compel people to do what they don’t want to do, the ability to stop them doing something they want to do and the ability to shape the way they think. This last one was useful in addressing the power of influential media owners (Rupert Murdoch, for example) in the old media ecosystem. But although it still applies in some ways to social media, it’s less useful for the networked ecosystem we now inhabit; we need another category.

    “Platform power” is one possibility. The tech giants all possess it to a greater or lesser degree. In Apple’s case, for example, it owns and controls two important platforms – ie, software systems on which other agents can build businesses: they are the operating systems on which its devices run and its app store, which decides what apps are allowed on Apple devices. Google owns several platforms – a search engine and its associated advertising marketplace, the Android mobile operating system, YouTube and Google cloud services. Facebook (whose holding company is now rebranded as Meta) also owns several – Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp; Twitter owns, er, Twitter; Amazon owns its marketplace and cloud services; and Microsoft owns the Windows/Office platform and a fast-growing cloud service, Azure.

    Source: How can we tame the tech giants now that they control society’s infrastructure? | The Guardian

    Proving endemic racism and sexism in the world of football

    Anyone who follows football will perhaps be disappointed yet unsurprised that racism and sexism continue to be part of the beautiful game.

    This study is clever in the way that it shows that those watching football matches use coded language and are biased against women. Hopefully, it will help all of us figure out better ways forward.

    (I actually really enjoy watching women’s football with my family!)

    The resulting paper, “Pace and Power: Removing unconscious bias from soccer broadcasts,” caused a stir when they presented it at last month’s New England Symposium on Statistics in Sports. Of the 47 sports fans who watched a two-minute clip of the World Cup TV broadcast, 70 percent said that Senegal, whose players were all Black, was “more athletic or quick.” But of 58 others who saw an animation of the same two minutes without knowing which teams they were watching, 62 percent picked Poland, whose players were all white, as the more athletic side.1 The physical advantages that supposedly defined the African team’s style of play disappeared as soon as their skin color did.

    […]

    The athleticism flip-flop offers a new kind of evidence of a prejudice that affects how Black players of every nationality are perceived. For decades, researchers have documented media stereotypes of African players as “‘powerful,’ ‘big-thighed,’ ‘lithe of body,’ ‘big,’ ‘explosive,’ and like ‘lightning,’ attributes that were to be contrasted with ‘the know-how that England possess.’” As Belgian forward Romelu Lukaku, who is Black, told The New York Times, “It is never about my skill when I am compared to other strikers.” Now, for the first time, researchers have a way to isolate how race influences direct perceptions of the game.

    Interestingly, they also looked at gender as well as race:

    The study also examined attitudes toward gender by showing viewers a pair of two-minute clips, one from the American top-flight National Women’s Soccer League and another from League Two, the English men’s fourth tier. Even though the NWSL draws more fans to games, its average player earns about a quarter as much as the average player in League Two. Gregory and Pleuler were curious whether this “clear gender pay gap” could be explained by a difference in the quality of the soccer shown on TV, as some have argued.

    People who watched the broadcasts said that the men’s game was “higher quality” by a 57 percent to 43 percent margin. Those who saw the renders with genderless stick figures preferred the women’s match, 59 percent to 41 percent. The results weren’t statistically significant across a small sample of 105 mostly male respondents, but Pleuler believes the line of research is promising. “I think these results are suggestive that your average soccer fan can’t tell the difference between something that does have a large investment level and the women’s game, which does not,” he said.

    Source: Soccer Looks Different When You Can’t See Who’s Playing | FiveThirtyEight

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