What’s all this UX then?

My first internship at RISE is coming to an end, and with that I’m going back to school for two more courses this year – before heading out for a 16 week intership somewhere (Suggestions? Hit me up!). In additon to doing full time at ITHS, I’ve been doing a bunch of courses at IxDF, and studying AI and applied design at Borås Univeristy. While at the same time trying to have a life, which has proven to be a bit stressfull.

I’m thinking a lot about what my place is in the whole “design ecology” – what do I enjoy doing, and what can I reasonably get paid for? I know that I’d like to end up in a creative team where we help each other be awesome and solve difficult problems for real people and dazzle others with out brilliance, but I have a way to go before I’m there. So I end up reading stuff written by people more clever and experienced than I, and I try to figure out what it’s all about. And since I have Some Thoughts™️ I figured I might as well post it here for others (and myself, later) to read.

It’s tempting to think that audiences are coming to our content with the basic skills needed to comprehend and interpret it. That may simply not be the case. Part of “consider[ing] your content from your user’s perspective” is understanding what reading skills the user brings to the equation and writing to accommodate them.

Contents Magazine, Angela Colter: The audience you didn’t know you had

According to Colters article above, around half of the population of the USA has low or very low literacy skills. I spent a couple minutes searching for Swedish statistics, but could only find trend-pieces on reading habits among kids.

Design takeaway: Make sure that text in your text is easy to scan and understand. If you have reasons to be more obscure, have a clear goal and be aware of that you’re potentially excluding users. Useful tool: LIX calculator (then again, readability calculators might not be all that reliable)

And them we have colour blindness as a visual design problem which in turn causes cognitive load.

In design, both in the digital and physical worlds, color should never be the sole indicator of meaning. A simple test: if your work was converted to grayscale, would it still be usable? 

Andy Baio: Chasing rainbows

Try to imagine a vast field of one color in your mind. No other colors. No other words. No other thoughts. No connotations. No connections. No anything except for that one color. You can’t do it. You seriously CAN’T do it. The human brain does not allow you to do it. It does not work. It simply does not.

Hoot design company: Color Psychology is Bullsh*t

We’ve covered colour psychology very briefly at the UX Design course at ITHS, and the idea that certain colours have certain meaning irks me no end. It’s a reductionist view of how colours and perception works, and it’s just plain dumb. “Red means action” and “blue inspires confidence.” It’s like crystal therapy for the aesthetically challenged – “ooh, this mauve will inspire romance.”

The same goes for the ITHS classes we’ve had on typography, where we suddenly abandon concepts such as “testing legibility” in favour of “the golden ratio should decide line height.” I understand that you have to convince those paying you that the two days you spent fiddling with the typography weren’t wasted, but refering to some obscure magic incantation passed down from Gutenberg will bite on the ass once you’re asked “but why can’t we just get the AI to do it?”

John Denver learned the biggest lesson of all, even if he only had a few seconds to appreciate it: Let the User Beware! And, indeed, the NTSB, as per its long history of setting aside findings, human factors or otherwise, that might conflict with a verdict of pilot error, ruled that the responsibility for this crash lay with the pilot. The interface was relegated to a mere “factor.” Had John Denver fueled his aircraft in spite of evidence indicating he had sufficient fuel, had he somehow managed to thoroughly familiarize himself with the idiosyncrasies of this uniquely-assembled experimental aircraft sans manual, he would be alive and well today.

Bruce Tognazzini: When Interfaces Kill: What Really Happened to John Denver

And these are the kind of stories that get retold by old-timers in the Human Computer Interface / User Centered Design / UX field. The stories that tell us that people are too often blamed for what should be blamed on poor design and the business practices that allow it.

Retold in a more modern way, the deaths caused by poor design are today more likely to be the result of dark patterns, uncaring machine learning or just general “death by a thousand cuts.”

Related book recommendation: Kate Swindler: Life and Death Design. Swindler describes some considerations of designing for people under stress. The book is a good starting place with many references to original research, but it’s a bit thin on the design aspect. Knowing the physical and psychological consequences of a flight-fight-freeze respons is good, but I’d like to have seen more process specific examples.

Despite that it’s a good primer and I’d recomend it to others who (like I) have limited experience in thinking and working with this. If we could consider stress responses as temporary handicaps which we need to take into account when designing, it would be a benefit to all.

Years in, “innovation theater”— checking a series of boxes without implementing meaningful shifts — had become endemic in corporate settings, while a number of social-impact initiatives highlighted in case studies struggled to get beyond pilot projects.

Rebecca Ackermann: Design thinking was supposed to fix the world. Where did it go wrong?

Ackermanns article is interesting as it’s taking to task the too-naive approach to all problems that IDEO et.al occasionally present. It struck me as I was listening to a conversation with Tim Brown the other day (one of the head honchos at IDEO), when he was somewhat contrite about having spent so many years of his professional life “designing and bringing about landfills” – and now he wants to make a better impact on the world (viz. environmental issues).

Much like Don Norman is now focusing on “design for a sustainable world,” to my ears they ignore that any ambition to take on these huge global issues will run afoul of realpolitik – it’s not because of poor design decitions that we have global warming; it’s because there are exceptionelly rich and vested interests in whose interest it is not to prioritize the public good. And I don’t know how to have a discussion about “making the world better” without at least acknowledging the power dynamics.

When the thing that propels a career, animates hobbies, and becomes a mode of communication are the all same, there are drawbacks. For one, my sense of worth and accomplishment is less diverse. When the market, the end users, my friends, or my family don’t appreciate or acknowledge when I show them I love them, it can hurt. I’ll admit it. It is easy to feel like I don’t matter. But then, I have always been sensitive. I am working on that. I am also getting a lot of opportunities to practice.

T. Robert Roeth: When you start to doubt yourself, design from the inside out

A well written essay on self-doubt and a creative career. It resonated quite a lot with how I think of myself as a human and artists, and I imagine that it’ll stay relevant now that I’m moving into UX Design. Robert writes about how he overcompensated in his work in order to increase both his financial worth and self-worth, but felt like he was faking it and failing at adulting.

Trying to identify what it is that makes you tick, and what parts of you that you should cultivate rather than prune, is a struggle for us neurotic types. I don’t expect that it’ll get easier once I start working in the design field, but I’m trying to prepare – and reading essays on similar issues is a comfort.

Reading some, thinking less

I’m going through some old drafts and whatever seems worth posting I’ll just edit for clarity and post – I’m deleting the too rambly stuff. The post below if from 2017 as far as I can tell…

David Greabers essay On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs is a good read, and now he has a book out on the same topic. Going back to the anti-globalisation movement of twenty years hence, one strand of the movement was the anti-commercialisation of public space in the form of advertising, and coming from that I still find advertising to be one of the most wasteful activities a professional creative could engage in. It’s a zero-sum game (you’re competing for consumer resources) and the amount of brain-time it takes from those creating it and us being exposed to it is staggering. Much of Internet today is ad-driven, as are traditional media, but if you view the cost of advertising as a regressive tax on consumers, we’re still the ones paying for it. (of course, on a global scale that tax is shifted onto western markets, so might be construed as being strategically progressive – it would be intersting to see those numbers)

I’m going through all the open tabs on my phone and dumping some relevant articles here for myself and posterity. Let’s see if the Article 13 passes within the EU and if I’ll get a bill for linking them. The Cracked Labs article in particular is extensive and worth a read if you want to get a sense the scale of pervasive surveillance online. If GDPR did nothing else, it gave a sense of how much of traffic is one form of tracking or other.

As Internet has become ubiquituous in my life, I’m becoming more and more resentful of it. I’m not sure it it’s just cause I missed the gravy train and am not one of the people pushing cyber-blockchain-mccuffins for millions of moneys, or if I’m just bitter that the net isn’t the online playground I remember from aeons yore – nostalgia is a powerful drug, and I miss having my own shacks and corners online, and I miss the feeling that if I wanted to I could probbaly read up on how all of it works in a couple of days.

The Gibsonian view of cyberspace as an all-encompassing anarchic network of free agents has become reality, except that most of those agents are acting on behalf of old/new money and what room there is for actualisation of human potential has cameras and microphones mounted on the wall.

Canadian researchers have even successfully calculated emotional states such as confidence, nervousness, sadness, and tiredness by analyzing typing patterns on a computer keyboard.

Cracked Labs: Wolfie Cristl: Corporate Surveillance in Everyday Life

What Ganon does is pick suppliers he’ll never know to ship products he’ll never touch. All his effort goes into creating ads to capture prospective customers, and then optimizing a digital environment that encourages them to buy whatever piece of crap he’s put in front of them.

The Atlantic: Alexis Madrigal: The Strange Brands in Your Instagram Feed

Gluten and writing

This is the one hour of the day when you can buy alcohol on the ship, and for the less sociable, it’s a Sophie’s choice. Do you come out and spend an extra hour with the people who are driving you to drink in the first place? Or do you abstain so you can hide in your bunk until the last minute?

→ Idle Words: Gluten Free Antarctica

On the day of the attack, he wrote, someone had purchased 60,000 BVB put options — a wager that the shares would fall below a certain price by a certain date. “A purchase like this is only rationally explainable,” he wrote, “if the buyer was expecting the stock value to go down very rapidly.” This kind of drop, he pointed out, wouldn’t happen if Dortmund lost a game. It would require something more serious, like losing players, or the entire team, in a terror attack.

→ Bloomberg: The Get-Rich-Quick Scheme That Almost Killed a German Soccer Team

“Gravity was never proven,” Patrice said. “It’s just a faulty concept to try and brainwash you into believing that tons of water can stick to a spinning ball. When you think of what they taught us in school, that the Earth is spinning so, so, so fast and you can’t feel it? And then all this water’s sticking to it?

→  Mic.com: Meet the people who believe the earth is flat

“She quickly disrobed, laid on her back, put a bunch of powder in her vagina and hit play on the tape recorder. Well, when the guns went off in the song, she emitted little puffs of smoke from down below. It made me proud to be an American.”

The Daily Beast: ‘Deep Sleep’: How an Amateur Porno Set Off A Massive Federal Witch Hunt

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.

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

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

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?

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 synthesize genes, 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 kills all crops…


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


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

I spy, a multitude of eyes

It’s so tempting to see the proliferation of drones as a linear progression of sci-fi predictions, and on the surface of it it’s not difficult to imagine that drones will be as omnipresent as CCTV cameras, but what is lacking in that image is how it feels to live under such conditions. We can get a certain notion of the feeling by reading reports from war zones. There, drones are a constant presence with utterly opaque behaviour and motivations which causes enormous stress on everyone, since you never know if you’re being observed or potentially targeted for a killing, Or if you’re neighbour is.

In a non-military settings, I imagine that one might develop a habit of not looking into the sky as often, lest you be reminded of something looking back.

So this weeks project is an idea concocted in mirth but earnest in intent. “Ha ha only serious” as it were. Over beers I and Gabriel started laughing over my suggestion of a paraphrase of the “SOS Racisme” badge, which in Swedish had the text “Rör inte min kompis!” – “Don’t touch my friend!” I proposed a version for our modern times, adapted to the surveillance state as it’s embodied through drones. The text invents a new Swedish verb, and translates loosely to “don’t drone my friend!” Behold:

What the verb “dröna” in this sentence means could refer to raising awareness of the ubiquitous drone killings, as well as the panopticon-like surveillance they’re a part of, or perhaps it’s an appeal: —Friend, don’t drone! The enamel pin will be slightly wider than 5 centimeters, and depending on the colours I can get I’m leaning towards the red-cross red in the image above. Once they’re manufactured I’ll probably setup a subdomain and sell those, or something. What does one do with 200 pins anyway? I’m open for suggestions.

I’ve sent off requests to three manufacturers to get a quote on production, and this is my first venture into ordering to spec through alibaba.com, which is an OEM broker dealing mostly with Chinese manufacturers. Seeing as artists are supposed to be free agents in a free market, this way my Factory is an actual factory. It’s an odd world.

Strictly speaking, this project doesn’t fulfil the “finish by Sunday evening” criteria I set up last week since I don’t have the pins yet. But in my mind it’s finished enough that I can let it go; there’s nothing in the project awaiting my input until I get the quotes and technical specifications on how to deliver the original model. It’s happening, so I’ll count this as a partial success as far as my work ethic goes, awaiting the results once the pins are done and delivered. Their distribution will most likely bloat into a project of it’s own.

Regardless, next week there’ll be another project, perhaps more modest in scale…

Our ancestors could spot natural predators from far by their silhouettes. Are we equally aware of the predators in the present-day? […] This document contains the silhouettes of the most common drone species used today and in the near future. Each indicating nationality and whether they are used for surveillance only or for deadly force. All drones are drawn in scale for size indication. From the smallest consumer drones measuring less than 1 meter, up to the Global Hawk measuring 39,9 meter in length.

→ Drone Survival Watch: Twenty-first century birdwatching

Welcome to Global Drones Watch. The purpose of this site is to provide useful information about drones, and to encourage people to become active in efforts to stop killer drones overseas and stop domestic drones from violating our privacy and safety.

→ Global Drones Watch: Welcome to Global Drones Watch!

In the United States, the dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling “targeted killing” of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts. This narrative is false.[…] Based on extensive interviews with Pakistanis living in the regions directly affected, as well as humanitarian and medical workers, this report provides new and firsthand testimony about the negative impacts US policies are having on the civilians living under drones.

→ Stanfort/NYU Report: Living under drones

Schmitt saw with prescient clarity that air war would not only create an “intensification of the technical means of destruction” and the “disorientation of space,” but also intensify the problem of unequal sides, and allow the dominant side to re-label enemies as criminals. Schmitt understood that air power would create a world in which those who command the sky could police and punish those who do not.

→ Boston Review, Nasser Hussain: The sound of terror: Phenomenology of a drone strike

The drones were terrifying. From the ground, it is impossible to determine who or what they are tracking as they circle overhead. The buzz of a distant propeller is a constant reminder of imminent death. Drones fire missiles that travel faster than the speed of sound. A drone’s victim never hears the missile that kills him.

→ Reuters Magazine, David Rohde: The drone wars

“I arrived to the site and there were bodies scattered all over the place. The people told me that my son Aref had died.” When he returned to the village, Al Shafe-ee was quoted as saying, “I saw the women of the village gathered crying and screaming.”

→ NBC News, Michael Isikoff: US investigates Yemenis charge that drone strike “turned wedding into a funeral”

“After an engagement, we have to conduct surveillance for quite a long time. Yes, we may only be seeing it, but sometimes, we’re seeing it for hours on end, and that is part of the traumatic impact of the mission. It’s a definite form of stress on the operator in and of itself.”

→ Live science, Denise Chow: Drone Wars: Pilots reveal debilitating stress beyond virtual battlefield

“Gorgon Stare will be looking at a whole city, so there will be no way for the adversary to know what we’re looking at, and we can see everything.”

→ Washington post, Ellen Nakashima: With air forces Gorgon Drone ‘we can se everything’

“[Depicted on the shield of Agamemnon:] And he took up the man-enclosing elaborate stark shield, a thing of splendour. There were ten circles of bronze upon it, and set about it were twenty knobs of tin, pale-shining, and in the very centre another knob of dark cobalt. And circled in the midst of all was the blank-eyed face of the Gorgo with her stare of horror, and Deimos (Fear) was inscribed upon it, and Phobos (Terror).”

→ The Iliad, Homer: The gorgeneion, image of terror

Another part of the arsenal are drones that will be, for the first time, monitoring the Games from above, as well as robotic bomb detectors that will prowl the Olympic grounds below.[…]”You can’t use drones to prevent suicide bombers … But they’re very good things to prevent [protests] because it might spot people trying to gather.”

→ CBC, Nahlah Ayed: Russia’s olympic security to set new surveillance standard at Sochi

If you’re going to develop secret airplanes, you’re going to need to figure out how to fund them. Now, how do you fund an airplane in secret when the constitution states that all federal funding needs to be accounted for? The point being that there are enormous economic, social and political infrastructures that need to be in place to create and sustain something like classified flight testing. Over time, when you build these types of infrastructures, you end up developing a state within the state that has very different rules and different ways of operating than what we would think of as a kind of democratic state.

→ Center for the study of the drone, Lenny Simon: Interview: Trevor Paglen

I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.

→ Richard Brautigan: All watched over by machines of loving grace

Business as usual or not: Rape, social media.

Here we have incontrovertible evidence of happy young people not only hurting and humiliating others, but taking pleasure in it, posing with their victims. The Abu Ghraib torture pictures were trophies. The Steubenville rape photos are trophies […] The Steubenville rapists had fun, and they broadcast that fun to the world. They were confident that nothing could touch them, so baffled by the idea of punishment that they wept like children in court.

→ New Statesman, Laurie Penny: Steubenville: this is rape culture’s Abu Ghraib moment

This may be the end of the cycle that began with Friendster and Livejournal. Not the end of social media, by any means, obviously. But it feels like this is the point at where the current systems seize up for a bit. Perhaps not even in ways that most people will notice. But social media seems now to be clearly calcifying into Big Media

→ Warren Ellis: The Social Web: End Of The First Cycle

Oh, it’ll get better. Diversity – that so often mocked of modern societal goals – will make such dust-ups far less common. More and more games being made by people other than heterosexual men for a gaming audience that grows similarly diverse will mean less feelings of marginalization. The problem isn’t, and has never been, that The Sorceress (or Ivy, or Cammy, or Lara, or Daphne, or whomever else) look like they do… it’s that everything looks like they do.

→ Escapist Magazine, Bob “MovieBob” Chipman: It never ends

So, I no longer want a seat at your restaurant, where you serve me begrudgingly, where I am belittled for asking for food without pork, where I endure your dirty looks at my hijabi friend. I want my pride intact, I want this struggle of mine to be recognized, for you to look me in the eye and acknowledge that yes, this tumor called bigotry is indeed rivering through your veins, polluting your mind, and is so malignant that it compels you to squash my dignity.

→ Huffington Post, Seema Jilani: My Racist Encounter at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner