Thought Shrapnel

Feb 11, 2024 ↓

Eye-opening heat map study

Four images showing 'heatmaps' of areas of interest comparing men and women

Perhaps sadly unsurprising to anyone who has ever talked about this with women, or who has lived as a child in an area that is less-than-safe.

As an adult male, being able to walk through the world without worrying about safety is a privilege. And there are definitely things we can do to help women feel more safe.

An eye-catching new BYU study shows just how different the experience of walking home at night is for women versus men.

The study, led by BYU public health professor Robbie Chaney, provides clear visual evidence of the constant environmental scanning women conduct as they walk in the dark, a safety consideration the study shows is unique to their experience.

Chaney and co-authors Alyssa Baer and Ida Tovar showed pictures of campus areas at Utah Valley University, Westminster, BYU and the University of Utah to participants and asked them to click on areas in the photo that caught their attention. Women focused significantly more on potential safety hazards — the periphery of the images — while men looked directly at focal points or their intended destination.

Source: BYU News

Feb 11, 2024 ↓

Generative AI means we need to use art school approaches to assessment

Drawing of a horse at different levels of fidelity, with lines indicating 1.1, 2.1, and 2.2 (which relate to classes of degree). The author is indicating that this approach is misguided.

Great post by Dave White, who works at University of the Arts, London. His point, which is well-made, is that in the world of Generative AI, we have to take an art school approach to... everything.

It's interesting, because I can see elements of metacognition and systems thinking in all this. This kind of thing, along with the ways I've been using Generative AI in my own studies, make me cautiously optimistic.

Let’s say I set you the task of creating a picture of a horse, you can achieve this any way you want. The catch is that you have to explain why you have taken a certain approach, what you think the value of this approach is and the extent to which you have been successful relative to that value. (Importantly, you can also reflect on how you might have failed to do this).

You can use all kinds of tools to construct this story: theory, method, process, your identity, your cultural influences and experiences, a chosen canon of relevant work etc. This forms the narrative of your work and this can be assessed. 


[T]here are many similarities in the questions raised by Gen AI and Wikipedia because they are both technologies of cultural production which rapidly emerged in the public domain. This is a category of technology we consistently struggle with because it recategorises forms of labour and professional identities.


In the same way that copying and pasting from Wikipedia has very little value but can be very useful, so too with Gen AI. In practice this means much of what we characterised as creative work is being merged into broader notions of ‘production’, something Tobias Revell has discussed in terms of Design potentially ceasing to be a specialist field. 


Under these circumstances there is an imperative to teach beyond ‘good’, thereby equipping our graduates to swim to the surface of imitation and operate above the ever rising tide of skills-that-can-now-be-done-by-generalists.

Source: Dave White

Feb 11, 2024 ↓

Writing, personal branding, and capitalism

Tiny supermarket trolley amongst stacks of books

Suw Charman-Anderson reflects on something that has definitely shifted over my lifetime: writing for money. These days, we live in the 'creator economy' which bears as much relation to reality as the 'sharing economy' does to the world of Airbnb, etc.

It's related to the idea discussed in another article that's been doing the rounds from Vox in which Rebecca Jones bemoans the need for 'personal branding' in every walk of life these days.

I’ve been running my own business since 1998, and I don’t want to have to bring that sensibility to my writing. I don’t like doing ‘promo’ and trying to ‘build a platform’ – I just want to share my writing with people whom I hope will enjoy it. I don’t want to get to a point where I’m spending more time doing marketing than writing. And yet, this is what is in store. 

It used to be that success brought fame. Now you need to be famous in order to even get a shot at success. Substack was supposed to be a way out of that double bind, but it isn’t. In her blog post, The creator economy can't rely on Patreon, Joan Westenberg points out that Patreon and Substack are just flogging Kevin Kelly’s 1,000 True Fans theory from 2008.


The creative industries, like so many others, have individualised risk and privatised profits. So even though the creative industries sector contributed £109 billion to the UK economy in 2021 – that’s 5.6 percent of the entire economy – actual creatives go largely underpaid. We have become commodities. Until we are famous, we are entirely fungible. No one likes to think that about themselves, but this is what the industry has done to us. 

[...] I enjoy writing my newsletters, and I will continue to write them in the hope that others enjoy reading them. However, they will not figure in my financial plans, whether short-term or long-term. Any income they generate is gravy, it’s not the roast. 


Much of my focus is now on conserving energy so that I have enough to spend on writing and actual paying work. This is about developing a sustainable way to live which pays the bills and leaves me enough space to be creative. I don’t want to have to sacrifice my precious writing time at the altar of building a platform, even if that makes me less attractive to publishers. 

Source: Why Aren't I Writing?

Feb 14, 2024 ↓

Brexit means Brexit in football, too

Leeds United v Rotherham United on 10 Feb: Leeds defender Connor Roberts makes a tackle Photograph: Simon Davies/ProSports/REX/Shutterstock

It's taken The Guardian about five years, I reckons, to pick up on this phenomenon. My son and his mates were doing 'Brexit tackles' well before the start of the pandemic!

In one TikTok post, football content creator Kalan Lisbie, with tongue firmly in cheek, walks viewers through “how to do the Brexit tackle”. He informs us that “the first thing you need to do is pretend like you’re going to boot the ball away and not tackle. Second thing is that you want to rotate those hips and as soon as you rotate, you want to take absolutely everything … and then just clean him”. A commenter on another video notes that school football is now more like WWE.


There’s a healthy dose of irreverence in there too – you have to admit, there’s something very funny about one child barking “Brexit means Brexit!” to another in a muddy park. You get the sense they’re having fun at older generations’ expense. Ask any parent of a tweenager or older: no one is better able to comprehensively make fun of, or call attention to, adult flaws and hypocrisy.

By adopting “Brexit means Brexit” and transforming it into a symbol of almost dangerously rough play, you get the sense that children are holding up a mirror to the adult world. They’re using it as a joke, to be sure, but it’s a timely reminder that politicians’ words and political stances extend far beyond the immediate context, seeping into the fabric of our children’s lives.

Source: The Guardian

Feb 17, 2024 ↓

AI-generated video is coming for your reality

It's been almost impossible to miss the announcement from OpenAI, the creators of ChatGPT and DALL-E) about Sora "an AI model that can create realistic and imaginative scenes from text instructions". While this isn't available to the general public yet (thankfully, given upcoming elections!) this is what's on the horizon.

There's a great overview and explainer from YouTuber MKBHD which I recommend. It's important to remember that, while tech companies will point to things like C2PA as safeguards, the only real ways to protect your information landscape are: a) get your news from reputable sources, b) be skeptical about things that sound unlikely and go looking for other sources, and c) immerse yourself in new things like this so you start being able to recognise giveaway signs.

MKBHD does a good job of starting to point out some of the latter in the video above. Again, I suggest you watch it.

Feb 17, 2024 ↓

Building a Bonfire

Bonfire artwork

I'm delighted to see this article about Bonfire, a project I've contributed to on various occasions since it was forked from the codebase which underpinned MoodleNet.

I think Ivan and Mayel, the team behind Bonfire, have identified a really important niche in Open Science, although the technology they are building can be applied to pretty much anything.

Bonfire is inching ever closer towards a 1.0 release of its social offering, which is a landmark development for the project. But beneath the surface, there’s a bigger story going on: rather than simply being a social platform, it’s also a development framework.

As a project, Bonfire has been in development for a long time, taking on different shapes and forms throughout the years. It first emerged as CommonsPub, in an effort to bring ActivityPub federation to MoodleNet. After a long refactor and refocus, Bonfire seems to be hitting its stride.

[...] I want to take a moment to peel back the layers of Bonfire, because I think they really set it apart from other platforms. The vision for the project is incredibly unique: “we have all the pieces you need, all you have to do is assemble it.”

Source: We Distribute

Feb 17, 2024 ↓

Every default macOS wallpaper in 6k

macOS Mojave background wallpaper (sand dune in desert)

Whichever operating system you're using, having a beautiful image as your background image or screensaver is always a nice thing to have. This is a collection of every default macOS wallpaper – in 6K resolution!

Source: 512 Pixels