Category: General (page 1 of 57)

Friday facilitations

This week, je presente

  1. We Have No Reason to Believe 5G Is Safe (Scientific American) — “The latest cellular technology, 5G, will employ millimeter waves for the first time in addition to microwaves that have been in use for older cellular technologies, 2G through 4G. Given limited reach, 5G will require cell antennas every 100 to 200 meters, exposing many people to millimeter wave radiation… [which are] absorbed within a few millimeters of human skin and in the surface layers of the cornea. Short-term exposure can have adverse physiological effects in the peripheral nervous system, the immune system and the cardiovascular system.”
  2. Situated degree pathways (The Ed Techie) — “[T]he Trukese navigator “begins with an objective rather than a plan. He sets off toward the objective and responds to conditions as they arise in an ad hoc fashion. He utilizes information provided by the wind, the waves, the tide and current, the fauna, the stars, the clouds, the sound of the water on the side of the boat, and he steers accordingly.” This is in contrast to the European navigator who plots a course “and he carries out his voyage by relating his every move to that plan. His effort throughout his voyage is directed to remaining ‘on course’.”
  3. on rms / necessary but not sufficient (p1k3) — “To the extent that free software was about wanting the freedom to hack and freely exchange the fruits of your hacking, this hasn’t gone so badly. It could be better, but I remember the 1990s pretty well and I can tell you that much of the stuff trivially at my disposal now would have blown my tiny mind back then. Sometimes I kind of snap to awareness in the middle of installing some package or including some library in a software project and this rush of gratitude comes over me.”
  4. Screen time is good for you—maybe (MIT Technology Review) — “Przybylski admitted there are some drawbacks to his team’s study: demographic effects, like socioeconomics, are tied to psychological well-being, and he said his team is working to differentiate those effects—along with the self-selection bias introduced when kids and their caregivers report their own screen use. He also said he was working to figure out whether a certain type of screen use was more beneficial than others.”
  5. This Map Lets You Plug in Your Address to See How It’s Changed Over the Past 750 Million Years (Smithsonian Magazine) — “Users can input a specific address or more generalized region, such as a state or country, and then choose a date ranging from zero to 750 million years ago. Currently, the map offers 26 timeline options, traveling back from the present to the Cryogenian Period at intervals of 15 to 150 million years.”
  6. Understanding extinction — humanity has destroyed half the life on Earth (CBC) — “One of the most significant ways we’ve reduced the biomass on the planet is by altering the kind of life our planet supports. One huge decrease and shift was due to the deforestation that’s occurred with our increasing reliance on agriculture. Forests represent more living material than fields of wheat or soybeans.”
  7. Honks vs. Quacks: A Long Chat With the Developers of ‘Untitled Goose Game’ (Vice) — “[L]ike all creative work, this game was made through a series of political decisions. Even if this doesn’t explicitly manifest in the text of the game, there are a bunch of ambient traces of our politics evident throughout it: this is why there are no cops in the game, and why there’s no crown on the postbox.”
  8. What is the Zeroth World, and how can we use it? (Bryan Alexander) — “[T]he idea of a zeroth world is also a critique. The first world idea is inherently self-congratulatory. In response, zeroth sets the first in some shade, causing us to see its flaws and limitations. Like postmodern to modern, or Internet2 to the rest of the internet, it’s a way of helping us move past the status quo.”
  9. It’s not the claim, it’s the frame (Hapgood) — “[A] news-reading strategy where one has to check every fact of a source because the source itself cannot be trusted is neither efficient nor effective. Disinformation is not usually distributed as an entire page of lies…. Even where people fabricate issues, they usually place the lies in a bed of truth.”

Image of hugelkultur bed via Sid

Giving up Thought Shrapnel for Lent

Recently, the Slack-based book club I started has been reading Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism. His writing made me consider giving up my smartphone for Lent as a form of ‘digital detox’. However, when I sat with the idea a while, another one replaced it: give up Thought Shrapnel for Lent instead!

Why?

Putting together Thought Shrapnel is something that I certainly enjoy doing, but something that takes me away from other things, once you’ve factored in all of the reading, writing, and curating involved in putting out several weekly posts and a newsletter.

I’ve also got a lot of other things right now, with MoodleNet getting closer to a beta launch, and recently becoming a Scout Leader.

So I’m pressing pause for Lent, and have already notified the awesome people who support Thought Shrapnel via Patreon. It will be back after Easter!

Human societies, hierarchy, and networks

Human societies and cultures are complex and messy. That means if we want to even begin to start understanding them, we need to simplify. This approach from Harold Jarche, based on David Ronfeldt’s work, is interesting:

Our current triform society is based on families/communities, a public sector, and a private market sector. But this form, dominated by Markets is unable to deal with the complexities we face globally — climate change, pollution, populism/fanaticism, nuclear war, etc. A quadriform society would be primarily guided by the Network form of organizing. We are making some advances in that area but we still have challenges getting beyond nation states and financial markets.

This diagram sums up why I find it so difficult to work within hierarchies: while they’re our default form of organising, they’re just not very good at dealing with complexity.

Source: Harold Jarche

The introvert’s dilemma

I’m more of an ambivert (“like ambidextrous but with personality”) but I definitely feel where Jessica Hagy is coming from with this one.

Source: Indexed

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm."

(Winston Churchill)

Foldable displays are going to make the future pretty amazing

I was in Barcelona on Thursday and Friday last week, right before the start of Mobile World Congress. There were pop-up stores and booths everywhere, including a good-looking Samsung one on Plaça de Catalunya.

While the new five-camera Nokia 9 PureView looks pretty awesome, it’s the foldable displays that have been garnering the most attention. Check out the Huawei Mate X which has just launched at $2,600:

Huawei Mate X

Although we’ve each got one in our family, tablet sales are plummeting, as smartphones get bigger. What’s on offer here seems like exactly the kind of thing I’d use — once they’ve ironed out some of the concerns around reliability/robustness, figured out where the fingerprint sensor and cameras should go, and brought down the price. A 5-inch phone which folds out into an 8-inch tablet? Yes please!

Of course, foldable displays won’t be limited to devices we carry in our pockets. We’re going to see them pretty much everywhere — round our wrists, as part of our clothes, and eventually as ‘wallpaper’ in our houses. Eventually there won’t be a surface on the planet that won’t also potentially be a screen.

So you think you’re organised?

This lengthy blog post from Stephen Wolfram, founder and CEO of Wolfram Research is not only incredible in its detail, but reveals the author’s sheer tenacity.

I’m a person who’s only satisfied if I feel I’m being productive. I like figuring things out. I like making things. And I want to do as much of that as I can. And part of being able to do that is to have the best personal infrastructure I can. Over the years I’ve been steadily accumulating and implementing “personal infrastructure hacks” for myself. Some of them are, yes, quite nerdy. But they certainly help me be productive. And maybe in time more and more of them will become mainstream, as a few already have.

Wolfram talks about how, as a “hands-on remote CEO” of an 800-person company, he prides himself on automating and streamlining as much as possible.

At an intellectual level, the key to building this infrastructure is to structure, streamline and automate everything as much as possible—while recognizing both what’s realistic with current technology, and what fits with me personally. In many ways, it’s a good, practical exercise in computational thinking, and, yes, it’s a good application of some of the tools and ideas that I’ve spent so long building. Much of it can probably be helpful to lots of other people too; some of it is pretty specific to my personality, my situation and my patterns of activity.

Wolfram has stuck with various versions of his productivity system for over 30 years. He can search across all of his emails and 100,000(!) notebooks in a single place. It’s all quite impressive, really.

What’s even more impressive, though, is that he experiments with new technologies and sees if they provide an upgrade based on his organisational principles. It reminds me a bit of Clay Shirky’s response to the question of a ‘dream setup’ being that “current optimization is long-term anachronism”.

I’ve described—in arguably quite nerdy detail—how some of my personal technology infrastructure is set up. It’s always changing, and I’m always trying to update it—and for example I seem to end up with lots of bins of things I’m not using any more (yes, I get almost every “interesting” new device or gadget that I find out about).

But although things like devices change, I’ve found that the organizational principles for my infrastructure have remained surprisingly constant, just gradually getting more and more polished. And—at least when they’re based on our very stable Wolfram Language system—I’ve found that the same is true for the software systems I’ve had built to implement them.

Well worth a read. I dare you not to be impressed.

Source: Stephen Wolfram

Blockchains: not so ‘unhackable’ after all?

As I wrote earlier this month, blockchain technology is not about trust, it’s about distrust. So we shouldn’t be surprised in such an environment that bad actors thrive.

Reporting on a blockchain-based currency (‘cryptocurrency’) hack, MIT Technology Review comment:

We shouldn’t be surprised. Blockchains are particularly attractive to thieves because fraudulent transactions can’t be reversed as they often can be in the traditional financial system. Besides that, we’ve long known that just as blockchains have unique security features, they have unique vulnerabilities. Marketing slogans and headlines that called the technology “unhackable” were dead wrong.

The more complicated something is, the more you have to trust technological wizards to verify something is true, then the more problems you’re storing up:

But the more complex a blockchain system is, the more ways there are to make mistakes while setting it up. Earlier this month, the company in charge of Zcash—a cryptocurrency that uses extremely complicated math to let users transact in private—revealed that it had secretly fixed a “subtle cryptographic flaw” accidentally baked into the protocol. An attacker could have exploited it to make unlimited counterfeit Zcash. Fortunately, no one seems to have actually done that.

It’s bad enough when people lose money through these kinds of hacks, but when we start talking about programmable blockchains (so-called ‘smart contracts’) then we’re in a whole different territory.

smart contract is a computer program that runs on a blockchain network. It can be used to automate the movement of cryptocurrency according to prescribed rules and conditions. This has many potential uses, such as facilitating real legal contracts or complicated financial transactions. Another use—the case of interest here—is to create a voting mechanism by which all the investors in a venture capital fund can collectively decide how to allocate the money.

Human culture is dynamic and ever-changing, it’s not something we should be hard-coding. And it’s certainly not something we should be hard-coding based on the very narrow worldview of those who understand the intricacies of blockchain technology.

It’s particularly delicious that it’s the MIT Technology Review commenting on all of this, given that they’ve been the motive force behind Blockcerts, “the open standard for blockchain credentials” (that nobody actually needs).

Source: MIT Technology Review

Open Badges and ADCs

As someone who’s been involved with Open Badges since 2012, I’m always interested in the ebbs and flows of the language around their promotion and use.

This article in an article on EdScoop cites a Dean at UC Irvine, who talks about ‘Alternative Digital Credentials’:

Alternative digital credentials — virtual certificates for skill verification — are an institutional imperative, said Gary Matkin, dean of continuing education at the University of California, Irvine, who predicts they will become widely available in higher education within five years.

“Like in the 90s when it was obvious that education was going to begin moving to an online format,” Matkin told EdScoop, “it is now the current progression that institutions will have to begin to issue ADCs.”

Out of all of the people I’ve spoken to about Open Badges in the past seven years, universities are the ones who least like the term ‘badges’.

The article links to a report by the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE) on ADCs which cites seven reasons that they’re an ‘institutional imperative’:

  1. ADCs (and their non-university equivalents) are already widely offered
  2. Traditional transcripts are not serving the workforce. The primary failure of traditional transcripts is that they do not connect verified competencies to jobs
  3. Accrediting agencies are beginning to focus on learning outcomes
  4. Young adults are demanding shorter and more workplace-relevant learning
  5. Open education demands ADCs
  6. Hiring practices increasingly depend on digital searches
  7. An ADC ecosystem is developing

All of which seems reasonable. However, I don’t necessarily agree with the report’s sweeping prediction that:

“Efforts to set universal technical and quality standards for badges and to establish comprehensive repositories for credentials conforming to a single standard will not succeed.”

You can’t lump in quality standards with technical standards. The former is obviously doomed to fail, whereas the latter is somewhat inevitable.

Source: EdScoop

"Any person capable of angering you becomes your master. They can anger you only when you permit yourself to be disturbed by them."

(Epictetus)