Taking back the net, one grouch at a time

Let’s start with a bad metaphor and see how far we can stretch it:

I’m in Bali with the family right now, and a couple of days ago we all got food poisoning at a restaurant and spent the next couple of days like so many broken McFlurry dispensers. We haven’t been back there since, and limit our dinners to places we’ve come to trust by trial and error. Now imagine if we’d banked all our money with that one restaurant at the beginning of our stay, and only had vouchers to eat there. We could use the vouchers somewhere else, but they’d be worth half the amount if they were worth anything, and if we ate at any one restaurant more than once, that first restaurant would buy them up and either close shop or have them serve their food.

I’m going to try to convince you that Google/Alphabet is that restaurant, and that occasional catastrophic diarrhea is what you put up with in order to eat at their table.

Tim O’Reilly of computer book publishing fame recently published his book WTF? and interspersed between the name-dropping and a light-Randian critique of ineffectual systems, there’s a genuine interest in understanding how things work, what problems those things are trying to solve, and how better to solve them.

A paragraph in the closing chapter might serve as an example:

Even when a dark future seems to be staring us in the face, though, we lack the courage to do what must be done. Despite our best efforts, most of the time we fail to respond to potentially catastrophic consequences of changes that are already well under way. And despite the lessons of history, we haven’t yet made the hard choices to fundamentally restructure our economy.
Instead, we argue over which of the failed recipes of the past we will try again. Political leaders and policy makers could learn a lot from Jeff Bezos.
[owner of Amazon]

My recurring question while reading was “who are these ‘we’ that you’re referring to?” It might be that Tim has a genuine belief that all humans are aware of the same problems and frame them similarly, but are too distracted by old ideas to see clearly, even though I don’t get that feeling from reading the book. But many of the conclusions in the book refer to a nebulous ‘we’ and misses the point that there really isn’t a ‘we’ more than as a species. Snakes in suits seems relevant here; some people have a really odd sense of what constitutes “success” or “progress.”

Uber is mentioned copiously and much is done of the gig-economy (Airbnb, Mechanical Turk, et al) as the next big thing. Not necessarily a good thing, but a thing which is rising on its own merits. By all means, let’s not throw the clone out with the amniotic fluid and let’s learn why some of these services (or ‘platforms’ which is the word of the day) offer which ‘we’ can harness for our own means. But let’s not forget that you have to decide who ‘we’ are that are doing this. We’re a multitude, and progress is a struggle of competing ideas, not merely a linear progression of inventions only hampered by incumbent powers.

Fred Turner put my thoughts together better than I can in an interview over at Logic:

About ten years back, I spent a lot of time inside Google. What I saw there was an interesting loop. It started with, “Don’t be evil.” So then the question became, “Okay, what’s good?” Well, information is good. Information empowers people. So providing information is good. Okay, great. Who provides information? Oh, right: Google provides information. So you end up in this loop where what’s good for people is what’s good for Google, and vice versa. And that is a challenging space to live in.

He continues:

So I think that engineers, at Facebook and other firms, have been a bit baffled when they’ve been told that the systems they’ve built—systems that are clearly working very well and whose effectiveness is measured by the profits they generate, so everything looks ethical and “good” in the Google sense—are corrupting the public sphere.

And this is where we come back to the original shitty metaphor: As long as financial profitability – or the anticipation thereof – is the metric by which a service platform can continue to operate, by virtue of the market that platform will dominate that sphere and gobble up other services which might serve the purpose better but might not be as profitable. It’s not that other services are not profitable, it’s them not being the most profitable – which should tell you that the point of the service isn’t the service, but the bottom line. And in the case of Google (and Facebook, and Twitter, and Apple, and…) the more services they offer the bigger their market share and value, and the more difficult it is to offer an alternative: In addition to market dominance stemming from huge stacks of money, their ever increasing user base fuels an ever larget market share, and on it goes. It’s a natural monopoly, and it’s not a good thing when there’s no public oversight or accountable governance.

This doesn’t even touch on the resulting negative consequences of one company hoarding all our data; corporate data mining, private censorship, arbitrary non-democratic rules, commercialization of our attention, fake news and propaganda, echo chamber discourse, stifling innovation and price dumping against competing services. All the entreprebro assholes disrupting stuff because it’s their God given (and VC driven) right, those are just the garnish on the shit sandwich we’re eating so that we can sync our calendars across devices and not have to input the destination into our GPS. Not that those things aren’t convenient, but in my view they’re not worth the the indigestion.

Tim uses some astrophysical metaphors as well:

When making sense of the future, think in terms of gravitational cores, not hard boundaries. Just as the sun’s gravity well reaches out beyond the orbit of Pluto and encompasses not just the planets in the ecliptic but comets and planetoids with eccentric orbits, so too the forces shaping the future all have a gravitational core and a gradually attenuating influence. And just as the solar system has multiple gravitational subsystems, where the draw of the local giant keeps its own satellites in tow while all still partake in the larger dance, these interpenetrating trends influence each other and converge.

So I’ll add my own:

How about viewing Google as a black hole. You’re in a stable orbit around it, and through clever engineering you manage to siphon off enough energy to keep your orbit and have some extra energy to spare. You’ll never end up like those suckers who fall in. But all those suckers who fell in increased the mass of the black hole gradually, and you didn’t even notice the moment when you passed the event horizon yourself. You still feel like you’re in a stable orbit, but for the outside world you’ve disappeared beyond the event horizon – and should they ever want to get in touch with you again, they have to go there to.

So there you have Google in a nutshell: You’re accelerating down a gravity well, shitting brown water, asking Echo for movie recommendations.

Here’s how this might get sorted: In fifty years time, many of those alive today will be dead. New young people, seeing the stupid shit we’re doing today, will come up with other solutions. Hopefully they will realize that you can’t be unfucked, and refuse to give up their data in the first place.

Another solution might be to require interoperability between all systems with more than n number of users and subsidize migration tools for services. But it’s easier just to wait for people to die and the relevancy of their data with them.

MateuszTaking back the net, one grouch at a time

All these letters, one after another

As a kid I read a lot, and kept up the habit until ten years ago. Or maybe I just felt as if I wasn’t reading as much – I’m not sure. The standards we hold ourselves to might be forgotten over time, but the feeling of success or failure recedes slower, so perhaps I’m just remembering that I didn’t read as much as I thought I ought. For the sake of the peace of my forgetful mind, here are the books I’ve read/listened to during 2017.

Olivier Bourdeaut: Waiting for Bojangles
Tom Godwin: The Survivors / Space prison
Charlie Jane Anders: All the birds in the Sky
Dorothy H. Crawford: Viruses – a Very Short Introduction
Alessandro Delfanti: Biohackers
Robert Charles Wilson: Spin
China Mieville: Embassytown
Andrew Groen: Empires of Eve
Tobias barkman: Jakten på en mördare
Jack London: Lost face
Peter Watts: Blindsight
Åke Holmberg: Ture Sventon i Venedig
N. K. Jemisin: The Fifth Season
N. K. Jemisin: The Obelisk Gate
N. K. Jemisin: The Stone Sky
Tim O’Reilly: WTF?
Jeanette Winterson: Boating for Beginners
Ursula Le Guin: A Non-Euclidean View of California as a Cold Place to Be
Margaret Atwood: The Edible Woman
Rudy Rucker: The Ware Tetralogy
Karen Joy Fowler: Vi är alla helt utom oss

Terry Pratchett: The Colour of Magic
Terry Pratchett: The Light Fantastic
Terry Pratchett: Equal Rites
Terry Pratchett: Mort
Terry Pratchett: Sourcery
Terry Pratchett: Wyrd Sisters
Terry Pratchett: Pyramids
Terry Pratchett: Guards! Guards!
Terry Pratchett: Faust Eric
Terry Pratchett: Moving Pictures
Terry Pratchett: Reaper Man
Terry Pratchett: Witches Abroad
Terry Pratchett: Small Gods
Terry Pratchett: Lords and Ladies
Terry Pratchett: Men at Arms
Terry Pratchett: Soul Music

I’m not sure what the whole Pratchett bender is about, but it’s pleasant to revisit Ankh-Morpork. The later books in the Discworld series felt a bit too on-the-nose (Going Postal, for example) but the dialogue and characters are such a comfort that I’m eager to forgive it.

Of course, there are always more books I would like to read than what I get around to. Or, you know, “get around to” – it’s always a question of priorities. There’s a reason why I have seen all episodes of Game of Thrones but haven’t made a dent in the impressive collection of documentaries I’ve amassed over the years. “Conspicuous intellectual hoarding” is a thing. I have opened up an Austin book from one of those “must read 100 classics” lists, but not much more than that.

During 2017 I’ve subscribed to some magazines:
Guardian weekly
Make Magazine
ETC magazine
Fria tidningen
Göteborgs Fria tidning

The amount of paper I’ve browsed and tossed is bad for my conscience, but at least I’ve fulfilled some sort of “learning obligation.”

Books I’ve started and given up on for one reason or another:
Becky Chambers: A long way to a small, angry planet
Cixin Liu: The Three-body problem

Something I’ve noticed lately is that there’s a new category of poorly written books which I don’t recall stumbling upon just ten years ago; books which seem to have been written as if they’re movies. The characters are written with stage directions, their interactions might as well have emoticons in the margin for all the subtlety with which they’re written, and the story moves between scenes rather than settings. It’s dull reading; I’d rather wait until the movie gets made than spend reading a storyboard without pictures.

Some books fitting the description are “Ready Player One” (Ernest Cline) and “Seveneves” (Neal Stephenson) – Ernests book is his first, so I don’t have much to compare with, but I’ve read and reread a few Stephenson books and was extremely disappointed by this one. It read like a poorly strung together RSS-feed of tech blogs. If it hadn’t been a a Stephenson book I would have dropped it after fifty pages. I just couldn’t believe that he would publish a book so poorly written. I kept at it – groaning loudly every once in a while – with an expectation that the book was meta somehow. Like, in the last chapter there would be a reveal that the whole preceding text was “written as a school assignment by a teenager on the topic of ‘what happened before the moon blew up'”. It’s not surprising that both books have been optioned for movies, but I just don’t get why they’re books in the first place.

Perhaps a new years resolution worth pursuing next year would be to force myself to either read some of the books piling up on our shelves, or give them away for someone else to read. I’ve tried variations on this theme a couple of times: read a classic for every sci-fi pulp; write a summery of every book I read; only read female writers. But then I open up a website or a newspaper and come away with five new recommendations which I end up buying/borrowing/pirating and there goes the plan.

Oh well, never let failure stand in the way of making the same mistake twice: My new years resolution is to read five books I’ve owned longer than three years and publish a short summery/review on this here blog.

MateuszAll these letters, one after another

Body in as-in condition. Eye lenses 40 y/o, other parts exchanged

The photos in this post are from a new dinner-guest set I did recently. You can see them on the main homepage.

Next year I’m turning 40, and I’ve been gingerly anticipating the much talked about crisis which should precipitate right about this (arbitrary) time of life. Or maybe it’s not that arbitrary: we’re creatures of pattern-finding after all, and once we see a pattern we imbue it with meaning. So ten fingers, ten years, something meaningful has to happen every decade so why not a crisis.

The most obvious manifestation of male age-related chrisis would be an “oh no, what am I doing with my life, I ought to get a motorcycle or some other external manifestation of movement and direction”. A couple of years ago, while I was permanently unemployed freelancing and had little daily routine, I didn’t feel this as much – today, when I’ve had the same job on going on four years, been in a stable relationship for eight, and have set a new low in personal productivity, a motorcycle seems a fit.

Or at least a metaphorical motorcycle. In my case the motorcycle has manifested as a light body dysmorphia and a feeling that I ought to better myself and do something with my life. Be a positive force in society, engage politically, write a book. Create an app?

The body dysmorphia is an odd thing. It started out as a general “let’s get fitter” feeling, moved towards “ok, lets focus on powerlifting and get strong”, took a detour past “I look like flabby going on fat in the vacation pictures”, and I’m now entertaining ideas of labelling all food in the house with a calory count and amino-composition. Beginning as an offhand joke about looking better in holiday snaps, I’ve now internalised an unhealthly self-image and it’s a habit as difficult to give up as smoking.

As I recall, I wasn’t as preoccupied by my looks when I kept my mind occupied, so perhaps it’s just a symptom of not getting enough creative work done. If the sum of our quirks is constant, it’s only because we understand some quirks to be endearing or part of our personality and drive, that we distinguish between feeling fine and “not ourselves”.

(I shouldn’t exaggerate the body dysmorphia part – I’m not starving myself or call myself names in the mirror or somesuch. It’s a difference in degree though, not essense, so perhaps body dysmorphlight?)

In the spirit of seeing all problems as rationally solvable (even if the means might be irrational) I’m trying to come up with ways to occupy my obviously wandering mind. (I have computer games and Netflix, but that tends to exacerbate the malaise – especially in combination with my periodic depression.) There’s plenty of creative work to be done at work, but I don’t have the time to do it since administration takes up my days. The art projects I have going on have all become long to-do lists, and as much as I enjoy creating those it’s demoralising when you can’t cross stuff out every once in a while. The biohacking lab I’ve been trying to start hasn’t gathered traction and we’ve yet to do anything productive.

Maybe it’s not another project I need (“I ought to play the piano”, “I ought to read all the books”) but a a sounder approach to life in general? Oh dear, that sounds like another kind of midlife crisis symptom, doesn’t it? I have been looking at meditation retreats, so maybe it’s not a hobby I need to find but “myself”? Oh dear.

Or maybe reasserting control over my everyday life and tidying up is exactly what I need to get priorities straight? Perhaps I could just fix all this with a long weekend cleaning up, tossing books I’ll never read, arranging our bills in a spreadsheet and finally settling on how to sync my calendars between computers and phone? Too much in my life is just running along, so grabbing my LAN by the balls, fixing a proper NAS backup and deleting old files might be just the spring cleaning my mind needs?

Come to think of it, the time I feel most relaxed is when the apartment has just been vacuumed and tidied and I can make tea without having to navigate dirty dishes. So if I start there, and do some pullups in between, perhaps this spring can start out a bit more harmonious? Ok? Ok! Let’s start by creating a todo-list…

MateuszBody in as-in condition. Eye lenses 40 y/o, other parts exchanged

On starting and/or finishing

Try to minimize time to your first “failure” (rejecting a hypothesis), and don’t be afraid to push the eject button. A classic error is to spend months working on an engine, architecture, or something else that has nothing to do with proving out your core design idea. Prototypes don’t need “engines.” Prototypes are slipshod machines held together by bubble gum and leftover bits of wire that test and prove simple ideas as quickly as possible.

→ Levity Lab, Chaim Gingold: Catastrophic Prototyping and Other Stories

Mercurio said she suspected producers were using levamisole because it can cause a small high that adds to coke’s kick. The drug devastates blood vessels under the skin, causing patches to turn black and rot off, she said. “In one of the more interesting ones, the patient used cocaine again and developed the same skin reaction again,” Dr. Noah Craft, another co-author, told KTLA television. “He then switched drug dealers, and the problem cleared up.”

→ NY Daily News, Philip Caulfield: Cocaine cut with levamisole

Stephen talks about the traditional role of a photograph as recording something real that happend. Analog photography is about fixing something and creating an artifact but digital is the opposite of this. The photograph becomes more fluid and online it is never static, there are an infinite amount of changes that can be made to it. He goes on to say that while the photography business is in decline this is a moment for invention not dismay.

→ A Photo Editor, Rob Haggart: The Future Of Photography Is In The Photographer Not The Photograph

MateuszOn starting and/or finishing

Me write pretty one day

Thanks to Anna Ganslandt I was next in line for a “artists writing relay” which Kultur i Väst organized. The theme of the project was “honestly speaking” [ärligt talat] and I wrote about my latest project counting sand grains, and the impossibility of not creating meaning. If you’d care to read it (in Swedish) you can do so here: www.kulturivast.se/konst/arligt-talat. Apparently my text was so good that I killed the project, since my essay will be the last in the relay. More likely the project didn’t get the traction they were hoping for and they scrapped it, but still.

MateuszMe write pretty one day

Racist, Fascist, Nationalist, whatever

När jag i veckan skrev en krönika om de tafsande invandrarkillarna och klargjorde hur det stod till med invandrares brottslighet, så kröp rasister och smygrasister fram ur sina hålor. Uppenbarligen fick det inte vara så som jag skrev, att 99,9 procent av landets första- och andra generations invandrare inte sitter inlåsta i fängelser, häkten eller på ungdomshem på grund av brottslighet. Så låt mig redogöra för mina siffror, och några till.

→ Para§raf, Dick Sundevall: Rasisterna kröp fram ur sina hålor

– Är det något jag tänker på är det just det – att vi sverigedemokrater fortfarande betraktas som paria, som en sämre sorts människor man kan bete sig hursomhelst mot. Jag kommer aldrig glömma när min sons förskollärare kallade mig ”nazist”. Det och det faktum att min allra bästa vän sa upp kontakten med mig förra året, det är två händelser som har satt såriga spår.

→ Dagens Nyheter, Ulrika By: SD:s toppnamn: ”Bussa Stockholmselever för att motverka segregationen”

Sverigedemokraternas första partiledare ­Anders Klarström hade sin bakgrund i Nordiska rikspartiet. Klarström dömdes för att ha ringt upp tv-stjärnan Hagge Geigert och skrikit: ”Vi ska bränna dig ditt jävla judesvin. Fy fan, ditt äckliga lilla judesvin. Passa dig! Vi ska komma och döda dig!” Patrik Ehn gjorde samma resa som Klarström. Ehn gick med i SD 1988. När han pluggade till SO-lärare vid Uppsala universitet under 90-­talet bytte han parti till Centern men uteslöts och återkom till SD.

→ Fokus.dn.se, Björn af Kleen: Den nya högern – ett eko från 1930-talet

For all their bleating about freedom of speech, these people don’t seem to know what it actually means. It is not the glorious, consequence-free paradise they imagine in which they get to say whatever they like to whomever they like while enjoying the luxury of that person silently taking it with no pushback. For too long, speech on the internet has been consequence free. It has mainly served to support abusive trolls who, despite the frequency with which they appear to be pictured with families, seem to have nothing better to do than stalk women online to try and scare them into shutting up.

→ Daily Life – Clementine Ford – Why I reported hotel supervisor Michael Nolan’s abusive comment to his employer

MateuszRacist, Fascist, Nationalist, whatever

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.


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.


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.


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