Let’s enjoy being lettered!

Some friends and relatives visited the city over the weekend and we got together for discussions and beers. We came to discuss the definition of the word “trustworthiness” as it applies to journalistic practice – especially since today people who are journalists one day might freelance as PR flacks or marketers the next. Ten years ago this was, if not unthinkable, discouraged and might brand you a hack. There were always exceptions, but it required a major talent or brand recognition for you to be able to switch roles without losing face.

I’m a bit torn here – maybe because I’m not a professional journalist who has to face the realities of that profession – but in our discussion I came down on the side of “let the work speak for itself and be judged on its merits”. Thus, I didn’t think that a journalist being an agitator, activist or marketer was a question of trustworthiness, but rather a branding issue for the publication. In practice, I’m not sure if I’m holding myself to such a high standard as a reader – if I read an article by a known right-wing sympathiser, I will cast more doubt over his/her reporting than I would otherwise, and I’m my knowledge of their alliegence taints my interpretation of what they’re presenting. I acknowledge that even a nazi can write a level-headed article on gardening, but don’t give as much benefit of a doubt when they’re writing on immigration.

If a publication wants to be respected for doing good journalism, there have to be objective standards to which it holds it’s writers and editors, and these standards and practices have to be applied uniformly and be transparent for all. Shouldn’t this be promoted as the “journalistic value” rather than a journalists background?

The general problem with journalists is still that they’re often a self-selected and self-reaffirming group of people, representing in their makeup a small part of Swedish society, and anyone too extreme is usually weeded out (Chomsky has written plenty on journalism which is worth reading). It’s similar to a bureaucracy in that regard, and as long as there are ways to publish outside of the mainstream it’s a manageable problem. But this still means that we ought to know what rules they are playing by. And here’s the crux of the whole “trustworthiness” thing for me: Considering how the Internet in general and social media in particular is used, and the fact that the net never forgets anything, anything you’ve ever done can be used to cast doubt on your credibility. If you’ve posted a photo of yourself eating strawberry cream cake, your credibility to write “balanced journalism” regarding the dairy industry or animal rights can be tarnished. I’m not saying that it should be, but allow fifty people to band together online, disparaging your eating habits, and suddenly the ombudsman at your paper might feel the need to defend your trustworthiness as a journalist covering these things.

Basically, although a desk editor might question your journalistic practices if you come from a tainted background, framing the scrutiny as a principled stand based on how your readership might perceive the conflict of interest is a race to the bottom – because there’s no end to what your readership will be offended by. There’s a quote from Cardinal Richelieu which goes “Give me six lines written by the most honorable of men, and I will find an excuse in them to hang him.” [the quote is contested according to Wikipedia] and social media allow us to not only find those six lines, but also conscript a mob delighted to fashion a noose. If those six lines were a bit embellished, well, at least someone got to hang as a warning example even though not for an actual crime.

I’m reading Jon Ronsons book “So you’ve been publicly shamed” at the moment, and even though it’s tangential to the issues of credibility we discussed over the weekend, the functions of online justice is well outlined. With the onslaught described in the book I understand why editors and publisher are concerned with credibility – even though an editor might not agree with my understanding of the issue at all – but on principle I don’t see that there’s a long term viability in stopping their journalists from jumping between roles. In practice this will further narrow the pool of people you are offering jobs since only those who can afford to be “untainted” will be considered, and those who have not been public members of a political party, union, association or NGO will be more palatable than their counterparts – which will narrow your recruiting pool even further. This doesn’t necessarily increase your trustworthiness as a publication, but it makes your job to manage your brand as “trustworthy” easier. I’m not sure that’s a good thing, and I don’t see an end to it.

In an attempt to counteract the effects of our echo chambers, The Guardian has a weekly feature called Burst your bubble which highlights five US conservative articles or publications. It’s on my reading list these days and I highly recommend it.

However inadvertently, the U.S. military lit the fire that burned down the old order. As it turned out, no matter the efforts of the globe’s greatest military, no easy foreign solution existed when it came to Iraq. It rarely does.
Unfortunately, few in Washington were willing to accept such realities. Think of that as the 21st century American Achilles’ heel, unwarranted optimism about the efficacy of U.S. power.

→ War is boring, Danny Sjursen: America Has Misused Its Military Power in the Middle East

Over at Metafilter, a post showed up about the virtual photography of Second Life. I have a personal interest in the subject since my BA essay from when I studied photography was concerned with virtual photography – link to work on homepage. There are some interesting links there, and this is one:

Photography is the art of seeing, selecting, framing, and timing an image occurring in things that (usually) the photographer has not helped make or design. Of course there can be exceptions, just as in Second Life a person can build things and then photograph them, but the thing that’s unique about photography as an art is that it is all about receiving.

→ The winged girl blog, Kate Amdahl: Is Second Life Photography Real Photography?

MateuszLet’s enjoy being lettered!

Agnotology and narrativium

The Wikipedia article on agnotology – learned ignorance – seems relevant. For posterities sake, let it be known that Donald Trump just got sworn in as president in US, and that there seems to be a general cloud of ignorance spreading (of which he’s merely the symptom).

[Agnotologies] use as a critical description of the political economy has been expanded upon by Michael Betancourt in a 2010 article titled “Immaterial Value and Scarcity in Digital Capitalism” […] the systemic production and maintenance of ignorance is a major feature that enables the economy to function as it allows the creation of a “bubble economy”.

I’ve been trying to make sense of my world and worldview the past year, and I think I’ve been much too lazy in my assumption that everything is on some sort of track. Yes there’s climate change and a whole host of other crisis which loom on the horizon, but there was this sense that at least “we knew” what needed to be done. My fault was that the group with which I identify as “we” isn’t that homogeneous nor large enough to stand uncontested. There’s plenty of folks who don’t agree with my views, and at the moment they’re gaining momentum on the Nascar roundabout of public discourse. I’ve whined about this previously, but I really thought that the next question on the agenda was going to be womens rights and mitigation of the anthropocene, not a rerun of the “clash of civilizations” and all which that entails. In that sense I fit into the “arrogant intellectual” narrative we’ve heard so much about lately – there’s an assumption that it’s enough to “be right” and somehow the story will follow it as a red thread and reach a conclusion of the arc.

My reliance on story metaphors come from reading The Science of Discworld by Terry Pratchett, a pop-sci book about the rules of our universe, evolution and science in general, and it contrasts our own world with that of Discworld, where narrativium is a driving force for change and action. Narrativium is such a compelling element that it’s easy to envision it in our everyday world. Things are the way they are because that’s how they’re most likely to be because the world is more or less reasonable – it’s a combination of the Aristotelian idea of potentiality and Leibniz suggestion that we live in the best of worlds, and it’s rather alluring. At least as long as the world conforms to our ideas of what “just makes sense”.

To me, racism doesn’t make sense so should be on it’s way out. Human rights make sense so ought to be in the ascendant, just as nationalism seems such an outdated modality that it’s difficult to take seriously. But then again, that’s me using my own supply of narrativium – and we each have our own supply. Narrativium isn’t measured in kilograms or inches, but perhaps rather in memes and personal energy. Every time we are exposed to a sexist comment our narrativium is depleted and replaced by someone elses, and after a while the resulting narrative changes. Even if we don’t agree with the sexist comments, they becomes so commonplace that it’s just as things are. We don’t have to change our mind or values for the story to change, we just need to become complacent and forget how we create our own narratives – and suddenly we’re extras in a completely different story.

Being a Pollyanna won’t change the world. It requires work and protest and organisation and speaking with others, but above all it requires that we don’t forget that humans shape the human world, and shaping things is a craft which takes practice and reinvention. And as the sands shift, perhaps we want to start practicing so we don’t happen spill our leaky backpacks.

Edit 29/1: I found an article by way of Metafilter which seems to have a similar take on matters: Holocaust rememberance and the Neverending Story

MateuszAgnotology and narrativium

A drop of this, a drop of that

I went to Stockholm over a weekend to participate in two workshops which Stockholm Makerspace gave in their biolab. Saturday we covered the basics of pipetting — which really benefitted from a hands-on workshop — and Sunday we poured agar plates and smeared germs all over the place. Fun was had by all!

A repeated mantra for the tutors was “biology is messy and not a precise science” which was encouraging. Comparing to the nitpicky measuring I faced last summer when trying to learn some chemistry, what with moles and so on, it was liberating that what seemed most important was to be consistent rather than precise. Oh, and sterile. You want to be sterile.

eppendorf_farg

The difference between looking at videos and reading books, and actually getting to measure 20µg of a stock solution, is the same as when I was interviewing people about picking locks and getting to try it out myself. Perhaps not the same level of empowerment as being able to pick locks, but still a new skill and a better understanding of the amount of work required to do this kind of stuff. The workshops in combination with the Biohack crash course for artists video feels like a first step towards actually doing something, which is always a nice feeling.

As a side note, I did a month of Piracetam and saw an increase in recall and attention, as well as very vivid dreaming. 8/10 would recommend. As there’s tolerance involved I’ve abstained for a couple of weeks but will get back on those soon. Once you take performance enhancing drugs, the incentive to keep at it is quite high — barring side effects. There are a bunch of other *racetams with related effects, and once I’ve gone through the Piracetam I might give those a try. I got mine from Nootropicsdepot which has a good reputation and delivered promptly.

MateuszA drop of this, a drop of that

Behold, for I am node

Internet of Things (IoT) has been all the rage the last couple of years, and I really don’t understand it. Let’s summarize some objections:

    Any 1 added feature to a [n]etwork increases the risks to it exponentially: n+(n+1).
    The connectivity is the feature and any security measures decrease connectivity so is at odds with it’s main purpose, which becomes an inherent security problem when there’s a plethora of new products and services which compete to be first to market.
    IoT turns our behaviours into data which can be mined without our own interests at heart.
    IoT further pushes the idea of a “citizen” as a “consumer” into a “consumer as product.”

Any 1 added feature to a network [n] increases the risks to it exponentially: n+(n+1)

If you add one IoT lightbulb to your home, giving it access through your own network, any mistake on the part of the manufacturer or nefarious activity targeting your lightbulbs services, exposes the rest of your network for potential attacks. Your lightbulb becomes the vector, and suddenly the rest of your IoT household and network can be attacked in ways which circumvents whatever gateway security you’ve setup at ISP or router level. And should your lightbulb get patched, that new firmware you download for your microwave oven is corrupted because someone got to their repository and now your oven is compromising your own network. The complexity of policing all these IoT services also increases exponentially.

One current example is the massive DDOS attack which squashed Twitter which used an IoT botnet.

The above example uses corrupted IoT devices to orchestrate an attack outward, but that usage is arbitrary from a security point – your hoover is no longer your friend.

ratta

The connectivity is the feature and any security measures decrease connectivity so is at odds with it’s main purpose, which becomes inherent security problem when there’s a plethora of new products and services which compete to be first to market.

The same market forces which govern regular product development, marketing, distribution and the inevitable ambition for hegemony, act on the development of IoT, but since the turnover and innovation cycle is getting ever shorter, and the main feature of IoT devices is their connectivity and user friendliness, security is not a priority and will always be lacking. Especially in the knockoff devices which try to compete with the bigger actors by lowering prices. Look no further than cheap USB chargers that keep catching on fire as an analogy — it’s not that the factories and engineers who crank out these crap chargers are incompetent, it’s just that their priorities don’t include “safety.”

IoT turns our behaviours into data which can be mined without our own interests at heart.

IoT allows for those who would like to leverage a deeper knowledge of us to further their own ends. The data that private and state actors mine to better track our habits and wants becomes more granular and nigh impossible to escape. Even if you live in a faraday cage, most of your friends probably don’t, nor will you be able to escape your own buspass or the facetracking software your store is using.

The brouhaha over surveillance fifteen years ago, when we had demonstrations against Echelon and city-wide video surveillance, seems like ancient history, but the same arguments still apply. Personal sovereignty is an important principle, and abuses which we historically have fought tooth and nail to curb are being implemented as features.

staycalmandserve

IoT further pushes the idea of a “citizen” as a “consumer” into a “consumer as product”

Today when you’re taking the train you are not a passenger but a customer. You are not a patient at a hospital but a consumer of health services. With the increased focus on identity politics in the social sphere we are not political actors but cheerleaders for our brand of conspicuous political consumption.

Going forward, you are the facilitator of a commercial transaction. You have become the programmed agent, being acted upon by machines with little loving grace but plenty of data points on how best to serve you –using their own definition of “serve” of course. You are become a node through which resources flow.

Of course you are still human, and you can choose to act outside the boundries of IoT and the network, but it takes increasing amount of work to do and as soon as these models are being used for our everyday infrastructure you’re being affected with or without your approval.

A free service is never free. The most apparent cost of “free services” is your attention for advertisements. But the way to think of these ads is not that this is what you put up with in order to use a free app — you as a user are the product that the software company is providing their real customers. (This isn’t new, this is how the newspaper industry has operated for more than a century). The difference with IoT is that the service that you are providing to the IoT company is an inherent feature of their products, and you are not even required to actively participate in providing work for them; you are a node, you are the “thing” in the term “Internet of Things”.

And I can’t for the life of me understand how this is a good thing.

MateuszBehold, for I am node

Biohack conference 4th april, 2016

Bionyfiken put together Swedens first biomaker conference in Stockholm this spring, and of course I went. There was a mix of speakers and topics, and most of them were overviews of organisations rather than actual projects or knowledge-sharing. Overall the mood was more of a meet-n-greet for folks involved in related areas. The title of the conference was “biomaker” rather than “biohacker” which might be more inclusive; even though “hacking” has a better reputation today than ten years ago there’s still a stigma associated with it.

One can’t have everything one would like, but I missed more speculative ideas of what the movement is about – we speak of a “maker movement” and this has over time crystalized into an understaning of what fablabs are and what hacklabs are, and I guess it will get easier with time to see what people are actually doing and use that as a basis for defining the movement. But apart from a brief introduction by one of the hosts, there was very little overlap between the different presenters, outside of the fact that they’re all working with “biological systems” in one way or another.

For me, who’s not coming from a technical background I would have appreciated a “state of biohacking” presentation. Legislation, economics, ambitions, open source or not, culture, etc – are all issues which could have been covered – and I hope they show up more on the next conference.

dragonfish

a few of the participants deal with quantified self – something which overlaps with the selling of pills or books about regiments – and although I don’t have the self discipline to participate in that part of the movement I appreciate that people are doing it, and it will likely provide a trove of data for later scientific analysis provided that there are control studies, that people are rigorous in their logging and that there are protocols which allow for accurate tracking.

Nevertheless, and intersting overlap with quantified self is the grinder community, and it’s overlapping mostly because it’s about modifying ones own body. In the presentation by Jowan Österlund from BioHax International he talked mostly about the technology of today and specifically NFC implants for managing access – but he envisioned that implantables will become more sofisticated and possibly have computing power and be able to internface with our bodies, and not only work as sensors. This would then overlap with the QS group in that they would have to come up with what they’d like these implants to do – at this point we will be more of the cyborgs as we’ve envisioned them in popular fiction, and we’ll have a more direct way of manipulating our bodies; not only through nootropics and other supplements working through the digestive or blood system, but perhaps stimulate a particular set of neurons directly.

Today though, I don’t really see the point of NFC implants beyond the apparent convenience of having your buss pass with you at all times. It ties into the Internet of Things movement, and considering how positive most people – even hacktivists who ought to know better – are to IoT, it’s not an empowering technology but rather one which turns you into a node, a Thing on Internet. Which I can’t for the life of me see as something positive as a whole, considering how the internet works and the obvious risks of exploits and nefarious uses, but also because of the unavoidable feature of being data mined by commercial and state enteties – or even just your neighbour. But that’s a different diatribe.

iGEM was represented by Gustav Edman from Gothenburg who gave the most technical presentation of the conference – unfortunately an overly technical presentation in parts – but that’s what you get from a mixed crowd and different expectations.

dj_heaven

I’ve been thinking about possible future scenarios a bit, and since no-one covered those topics in the first session I asked to put up a sign at the unconference after lunch, soliciting peoples’ ideas for “the unintended concequences of biohacking”. I had some interesting conversations, but I didn’t get a single submission. Not very surprising seeing as I was competing with people who had actual information and knowledge to share, and not just a questioneer solicitng speculation. Regardless, I’ll try to follow up if for no other reason than that such a collection of speculations would be an interesting document ten or twenty years down the line, when we could match our predictions with what actually happen. Part of the whole “unintended consequences” thing is that what is unintended is also exceedingly difficult to predict. Also, because I hadn’t prepared any material I was just assuming that poeple understood the question in the same way as I did: The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Another thing: Because the DIY movement is relatively new within biology, there’s little talk of drawbacks or negative consequences (not that “unintended” has to be “bad” mind you) and there’s also of course a defensive posture of people who are working hard on their projects. I guess asking “so, how will your project fuck shit up?” isn’t the best conversation starter. People are more likely to start talking about the obstacles to their success, or what the prerequisites are, rather than what might go wrong – which they haven’t even predicted yet.

The Swedish memory champion – apparently memory sport is a thing? – did a presentation, but I can’t really recall what it was about. I thought it was cute that the company that he was working with (if I recall correctly) were selling over-the-counter nootropics, and proudly diplayed “No GMO’s” on the label. I don’t know if that raised any discussions at the conference, but I guess it ought to. A Pakistani researcher I spoke with was upset that the whole GMO/anti-GMO debate was so polarised in the EU, and that we have Monsanto on one side and enviromentalists on the other, with not enough in common to actually carry on a discussion.

fodelsedagsfest_tarta

Probably the most rewarding discussion was with Danielle Wilde who is running a university sponsored course in DIY bio in Kolding, Denmark. She teaches students how to set up a wetlab, about protocols, educating citizen scientists and engaging the city of Kolding. Her’s was an interesting presentation and I’d love to be able to participate in something like that. Most of the course material is based on the Waag society curriculum for creating a biolab, and either of those places would be awesome to visit and study at.

There were people presenting trans cranial direct current stimulation – but no hands on presentation that I could find – and others doing simulated electronic body control; letting one person with electrodes on her arm control the arm of a test subject. That one had a live demo but the queue was more than I thought worth it. You can see a demo of it at TED, and it seems to be a straight-forward experiment.

One thing I was hoping to achieve with the conference was to get inspiration enough to continue exploring biohacking in Gothenburg, perchance even to meet someone to cooperate with. The latter didn’t pan out, but the conference was inspiring enought that I’m going to keep at it. At the moment, I’m starting up Laborator: Gothenburgs first biohacklab. Right now it’s just a Mailchimp list and a homepage, but we’ve had a few meetings and I’m setting aside a couple of hours each week to getting it up and running. Bionyfiken took three years from inception to first lab, and I’m hoping that by learning from their experience we can get going faster.

MateuszBiohack conference 4th april, 2016

Fever dreams for pun and profit!

Since Sunday evening I’ve been knocked out by a flu. Temperatures well above 39°C and a resting pulse of 110 bpm when lying down. My collegues at work had taken ill previously, and this flu season seems to be extra ambitious. Haven’t been this sick for this long in a while.

Today is the first day I can string a coherent thought together for more than half a minute so I thought I’d write this up. Apart from sweating like crazy in the night, the most disturbing feature of fevers are the dreams. As long as I’m in them I can’t reason myself out. Usually when we speak of dreams we have a common vocabulary—it was you, but it wasn’t you, y’know?—but I can’t for the life of me tell you what the past few days fever dreams were about.

I did come up with an analogy of how I experience fever dreams though, and it’s the similarity to compulsive behaviour. On a lark I started platespotting when we got a car. The idea is that you need to see the plates in consequitive order, with 001 first, then 002, etc. It’s oddly addictive, and whenever I’m out driving I keep one eye on the road and one on the plates of oncoming traffic. I’ve also become proficient in reading numbers in the rear view mirror.

guldhav
My analogy to the fever dream is this:

When there’s a lot of oncoming traffic, your eyes are zipping back and forth very rapidly, scanning the plates. What number am I looking for? 26! Is that 26? No! What number? 26! Back up, was the last car 26? No. What number? 26! Is that 26? Part of you dissociate into a stream of compulsion, and at least for me this can leave me with mild nausea and a buzzing head.

Fever dreams remind me of this because of the relentless focus and looping. There is something you need to do. Did you do it? Yes. Ok, did you do it? Yes! There is something you need to do! Didn’t I just do it? You need to do it! I’m doing it again. Did you do it? Yes! Ok, do it! I did! There is something you need to do! I did! Do it!

There’s an overwhelming sense of that this is really important and that you have no choice—sometimes it’s more like events are looping rather than your behaviour, but the repetition and the urgency is the same every time. Even if you drift in and out of sleep you’ll still have this sense of urgency, and a suggestion that understanding is just beyond your grasp. Only way to get rid of these dreams is to medicate and lower your temperature.

I found a few explanations of what might be happening in the brain when we have fever dreams, but I didn’t find many descriptions of the dreams themselves. Higher temperature give higher levels of activity, but why not just increase the dopamine and bliss us out in a calm ocean of fluff instead of these repetetive loops? Is this a pure malfunction or is there an evolutionary benefit to these dreams? I didn’t get any hits for “fever” in the journal Dreaming but I’m sure someone must have looked into it somewhere.

In addition to the fever I’ve been coughing my poor lungs out. Someone has taken a parmesan grater to my throat and occasionally I break whatever lining it is which keeps my blood on the inside. If our bodies are made up of 10 times as many foreign cells as our own, they must consider me a very unfair landlord as I’ve been evicting them profusely and colourfully.

eyes_swish
I noticed an amusing thing for a couple of hours when the fever was nearing 40°C the other day: I could hear my eyeballs move! It sounded like fabric rubbing together, or perhaps as when you drag your fingernail quickly across fine cotton. Did my brain twig to the electric activity in the muscles or had the muscles swelled and rubbed against something? There’s a condition called SCDS which causes one to hear ones body, but it’s chronic and carries with it other symptoms. Perhaps it wasn’t anything more than the fever and mucous increasing the density somewhere and allowing for some sounds to conduct which normally wouldn’t. This might be the only silver lining to the lung lining I’ve lost.

To the surprise of absolutely no-one there’s a forum for spotters, albeit not very active: http://www.platespotting.com

And in Swedish, there’s a mockumentary as well: Albin the platespotter

MateuszFever dreams for pun and profit!

My Saturday, by Mateusz

So for the Mateusz of posterity, lets sum up how I spent my weekend.

Sara was working in Borås Saturday, so I got up early and we had coffee. I played Hearthstone for 30 minutes—only scoring a 3–3 in arena—and then had breakfast. Then I started reading Thinking with type, Ellen Luptons book which is required reading for the 50% typography course I’m taking at the moment, and got one third through. After this I had some more coffee and played Killzone 2 on the PS3. I was at the final boss fight on the hardest setting and didn’t progress any further, which was frustrating but still rewarding for whatever part of my brain which likes to twitch.

PCB_miss_etch
After this I cleaned the dark-field condenser for the microscope, and tried fitting a T-adapter to the camera-ocular as well—only after a while realising that I couldn’t test it since my DSLR is at work. I printed the trace mask for the PCB of the gel electrophoresis PSU using GerbView onto different kinds of paper, and using the acetone/alcohol transfer method I tried to get the toner to stick to the copper plate, but no dice. After four attempts I still didn’t have complete transfer. I think the pressure on the board might have been uneven, so I’m going to try to use a vice and planks next time. Also, I used regular 80gsm copier paper as well as preprinted pages from a glossy magazine, which isn’t ideal.

In between the PCB soaks I played more Killzone 2, progressing one or two save-instances, barely. The L3 running control doesn’t work very well since every once in a while it also changes to melee or grenades, and there’s no way to remap individual keys. FPS is such a sham on console, but the couch is so much more comfy than sitting in front of the computer.

kakao_kvinna
In between the toner transfer and Playstation, I was reading about nazis having a demo in Stockholm under the banner or “protecting our women” and looking for immigrant to beat up. The pace at which racism in Sweden is escalating is stunning, and also really depressing. It really starts to remind me of the ambiance of late 80’s, when AFA [Antifascistisk Aktion] started going after neo-nazis. Not until there was a violent anti-fascistic movement did we get any national respons to the racist organisations, and perhaps that’s the case this time as well?

I read a bit more, made scrambled tofu for Sara who came home late, drank some vodka and watched three episodes of Ripper Street. All in all an uneventful day, and while I wouldn’t categorise it as totally wasted, certainly not a day I’d remember had I not decided to write it up here.

MateuszMy Saturday, by Mateusz

Biohacking and the things humans do

The past two years I’ve been trying to read up on synthetic biology. Back when podcasts was a niche and geeky thing I was listening to Changesurfer Radio, which is a transhumanist radioshow which focuses on issues surrounding bioethics and human improvement, and the host Dr J often brought in interesting people to interview and generally gave a broad view of the state of art biotech and its implications. Recently though, and especially since the advent of CRISPR cas9, biohacking has received a lot more attention and seems on the verge of blooming into the next 3D-printer type geeky endeavour.

Since I’m studying alongside work I get access to all kinds of fun databases, but even without university access there is a ton of material available for lay folk who’d like to keep up. O’Reilly has the BioCoder quarterly and recently published the book BioBuilder which I’m going through at the moment – and even though I’m nowhere near being able to synthetic DNA, I’m on my way to building my own PCR machine and at least potentially dabble in genetic manipulation.

Right now, I’m mostly trying to learn to analyse biological things. Which means playing around with the microscope, staining things and doing sections – basically following the outlines in Illustrated Guide to Home Biology Experiments in my own meandering way. What I’m lacking is a clear goal beyond just learning things and following instructions – I guess an idea will pop into my tiny head sooner or later, but without a clear goal everything becomes a gimmick or toy. There aren’t that many biohackers in Gothenburg that I know of, but having a group of people all learning and experimenting together would be swell.

Apart from the practicalities, with synthetic biology looming as a real DIY possibility sooner rather than later, questions of ethics become important. As opposed to autonomous killer robots – where it’s mostly governments which have access to the technology and make decisions on the ethics – biological systems are self-replicating and potentially have reprecussions which scale exponentially, so whatever discussions we’re to have about ethics ought to start now before someone inadvertently or misguidedly creates an invasive species or kill all crops…

lightning_03

Genetic information is some powerful stuff: It can countermand information that’s been passed down through a family, provide a clue to lost relatives, and even offer unexpected insights into one’s origins. But did you ever think that genetic information could be used as an access control? Stumbling around GitHub, I came across this bit of code: Genetic Access Control. Now, budding young racist coders can check out your 23andMe page before they allow you into their website!

→ SD Times Blog, Alex Handy: Using DNA for access control

Across the country, no two community biolabs are alike, and neither are their members. “It’s a real eclectic mix of people,” says Tom Burkett, founder of a brand-new community lab in downtown Baltimore that has already attracted molecular biology graduate students, artists, computer scientists, retirees, and more. “There are a lot of people who are really interested in biotechnology for lots of different reasons, but it wasn’t previously accessible to them.”

→ The Scientist, Megan Scudellari: Biology Hacklabs

Obviously, as Richard Dawkins stressed, there is a difference between suggesting that a fetus ought to be aborted and saying of a child that it ought never to have been born. The latter would be downright vile. Dawkins’ point was this. Systematically deselecting new people with Down’s syndrome shouldn’t concern those already among us. We should be allowed to discuss this possibility without offending anyone. My concern, though, is that this distinction might not be as sharp as Dawkins imagines. Is it possible for someone to contemplate a screening program where the consequence (if not objective) is that these children are no longer born without showing a degrading attitude towards such children?

→ Orienteringsforsøk, Vidar Halgunset: Slow corruption

lightning_02

At age sixteen he fell in with a gang of pickpockets with a particular hustle called “dummy chucking”—street slang for feigning a fit. Clegg had found his calling. Soon, he was traveling the English countryside, chucking dummies while an accomplice picked the pockets of curious onlookers. He chucked dummies in churches and at funerals; arrested, he “chucked a beautiful dummy” in court and was released. Later, convicted of a stabbing and destined for solitary confinement at Milbank, he chucked a dummy and was transferred to the more pleasant airs of Chatham. He chucked again and was sent to Woking, then Dartmoor, Parkhurst, all along the way chucking himself into lighter labor and more benign treatments, until he landed a daily prescription of a pint of porter “to keep up his strength.”

→ Laphams quarterly, Daniel Mason: Rogue Wounds

In my view, the main reason for the uneven management sex ratio is our inability to discern between confidence and competence. That is, because we (people in general) commonly misinterpret displays of confidence as a sign of competence, we are fooled into believing that men are better leaders than women. In other words, when it comes to leadership, the only advantage that men have over women (e.g., from Argentina to Norway and the USA to Japan) is the fact that manifestations of hubris — often masked as charisma or charm — are commonly mistaken for leadership potential, and that these occur much more frequently in men than in women.

→ A.V. Club, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic: Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?

“If someone was uploading animal abuse, a lot of the time it was the person who did it. He was proud of that,” Rob says. “And seeing it from the eyes of someone who was proud to do the fucked-up thing, rather than news reporting on the fucked-up thing—it just hurts you so much harder, for some reason. It just gives you a much darker view of humanity.”

→ Wired, Adrian Chen: The Laborers Who Keep Dick Pics and Beheadings Out of Your Facebook Feed

Today, despite his hospital treatment, Jean Paul still bleeds when he walks. Like many victims, the wounds are such that he’s supposed to restrict his diet to soft foods such as bananas, which are expensive, and Jean Paul can only afford maize and millet. His brother keeps asking what’s wrong with him. “I don’t want to tell him,” says Jean Paul. “I fear he will say: ‘Now, my brother is not a man.'”

The Observer, Will Store: The rape of men: the darkest secret of war

MateuszBiohacking and the things humans do

And returning to the course

So, the “Drawing with a chainsaw” course went well. Together with the course participants we worked through the weekend and produced some big prints. It’s fun to work on such a large scale, but quite exhausting to ink full sized plywood sheets.

Apart from DWACS the rest of spring, summer and fall has passed by like so many blurry trees seen from a tram window. I don’t know what happened, but it feels as though I spaced out for a while. I’ve been trying to learn some chemistry, I have my first steady job ever, and this winter is supposed to be dedicated to biology and some electronics projects.

I took a course called biology for philosophers at the uni – I love how higher education is free in this country – and have been dillentanting my way through biology books, trying to learn how to use the microscope and do stains and PCR and such. I’m learning a lot but not producing much – I lack a context in which to work, and since I don’t have an inner auteur which needs expressing there isn’t an impulse to create stuff.

Maybe part of my apathy is the political climate of Sweden. The third largest political party in Sweden is a racist one, and they’ve gotten free reigns to set the framework of public discourse for the past years. A while back I complained that instead of dealing with issues of global solidarity, women rights and global warming, we’ve now set the clock back far enough that we’re facing the reemergence of fascism. It’s utterly depressing and I don’t know what to do about it. I guess what I ought not to do is just whine…

MateuszAnd returning to the course

Staying the course

Together with Eric Saline I’m holding a course at KKV GBG in less than a months time. It’s called Drawing with a chainsaw and we’re going to do huge relief prints using non-traditional tools. Like for example, chainsaws. We’re cutting the boards here in Gothenburg, and then we’re trucking them up to KKV Bohuslän where we’ll use their giant press to make the prints – ought to be exciting! I made a video for this, and since it’s done on company time I can’t very well use it in lieu of my own projects here on the blog, but whatevs.

MateuszStaying the course