“it is possible to imagine [a critical sensibility] in which social paranoia is not foundational”

The sore winner is a product of the hyper-surveilled and personalized world in which we all now live, one in which people feel both nebulously responsible for everything wrong while also feeling responsible for nothing at all.

From the Outline article “A decade of sore winners” by B.D. McClay. A lot of stuff in this article is spot-on. It also relates directly to the response I received from my Republican representative regarding the impeachment of President Trump.

One of my rep’s many dubious points was that Ukranian leaders publicly attacked candidate Trump in the press, and that this was evidence of Ukranian meddling in 2016 elections. Specifically, he linked to an article in The Hill by Ambassador Valeriy Chaly, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States from 2015 to 2019. I read the article by Amb. Chaly, and all I can see is an opinion piece that fairly criticises statements made by a candidate for one of the most powerful positions in the world.

How do you make the mental leap necessary to conflate principled criticism with personal attack? Furthermore, how could anything in that article be considered meddling in an election? The vast majority of Chaly’s article is a recent history of events in Ukraine.

This is sore winner territory. Here’s how McClay illustrates it in their article:

Worse still than the idea that things are for you is the extension into identification: that these things literally are you. If someone writes books for teen girls, to criticize her books is to criticize teen girls. Expressing something other than support for Taylor Swift guarantees you a place in that special hell for women who don’t support other women. If you like superhero movies and video games, and somebody outlines the reasons they think superhero movies and video games are a waste of time, that’s an attack on you, personally, not a disagreement over aesthetics.

How do we get past this? More critical thinking taught in schools and beyond? More restrictions on social media? Surely it has to be a personal exercise but it seems like such a fundamental and widespread problem, almost a public mental health emergency (one of many).

It is impossible to imagine a critical sensibility that does not exist socially. But it is possible to imagine one in which social paranoia is not foundational, and in which social reception — of work, of ourselves — does not have to determine our reaction to each other.

It’s possible to imagine it, but it’s pretty difficult to picture without some sort of major overhaul in day-to-day life.

Notes from MozFest 2019

This is super delayed! I typed up my rough notes right after MozFest finished in October but never pressed publish. Voila.

MozFest is 10 years old! This was their last year at Ravensbourne in London. Sad, but I’m excited to see where it heads next.

This is a haphazard brain-dump of everything I want to remember and follow up on, a lot of questions for future consideration and resources that I need to explore. See also Common Knowledge’s notes from MozFest written by Gemma Copeland.

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Reading via Victor Papanek

Two more books for the reading list: Future Shock by Alvin and Heidi Toffler and Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered by E.F. Schumacher.

These suggestions come via Victor Papanek’s preface to the first edition of his book Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change. I finally started reading it at long last after many recommendations from SB.

“A leaf a gourd a shell a net a bag a sling a sack a bottle a pot a box a container”

That’s right, they said. What you are is a woman. Possibly not human at all, certainly defective. Now be quiet while we go on telling the Story of the Ascent of Man the Hero.

Go on, say I, wandering off towards the wild oats, with Oo Oo in the sling and little Oom carrying the basket. You just go on telling how the mammoth fell on Boob and how Cain fell on Abel and how the bomb fell on Nagasaki and how the burning jelly fell on the villagers and how the missiles will fall on the Evil Empire, and all the other steps in the Ascent of Man.

If it is a human thing to do to put something you want, because it’s useful, edible or beautiful, into a bag, or a basket, or a bit of rolled bark or leaf, or a net woven of your own hair, or what have you, and then take it home with you, home being another, larger kind of pouch or bag a container for people, and then later on you take it out and eat it or share it or store it up for winter in a solider container or put it in the medicine bundle or the shrine or the museum, the holy place, the area that contains what is sacred, and the next day you probably do much the same again — if to do that is human, if that’s what it takes, then I am a human being after all. Fully, freely, gladly, for the first time.

From Ursula K. Le Guin’s essay The Carrier Bag of Fiction published by Ignota

GC gave me this book the other day, perfectly timed.

It can feel like the path to success, whatever on earth success actually is, takes some sort of aggro-ambition. What if it is gentler, more of a methodical and deliberate accumulation than a conquest?

SB has been playing Death Stranding and I’ve really enjoyed following along. The arc is definitely hero-centric, and of course the story is way out there in sci-fi land, but the main mechanic of accepting and delivering cargo is much more human than so many other supposedly more realistic video games.

I’d like to get and read Elizabeth Fisher’s Women’s Creation from 1975, but it might be tough to find in print. Thankfully the Internet Archive seems to offer it for borrowing. Pretty cool, I didn’t know that they had a lending library for scanned books.

Notes from Redecentralize 2019

Been a busy few days with Redecentralize on Friday followed by MozFest over the weekend. Redecentralize was a one-day unconference at 4th Floor Studios in Whitechapel. The event was expertly organised by Ira Bolychevsky and her crack team.

It was a day of thought-provoking conversations and notebook scribbling. This is an attempt to decode the scribbles, make some follow-up plans, and to generally summarise the day from my perspective. There was a lot going on so I can’t cover it all, but I’m going to keep an eye out for other people’s notes via the Redecentralize newsletter.

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Where do you draw the line?

There’s a fine line between changing from within and being complicit.

Dr Kate Darling, MIT Media Lab researcher and expert in robot ethics, said this in her 27 August Guardian opinion piece on Jeffrey Epstein’s influence on the science world. This comment referred to her relationship with the MIT Media Lab and with literary agency Brockman. There was an all-hands Media Lab meeting on 4 September to internally address their part in all this, read more in the MIT Tech Review. Sounds like the meeting was something… hard to tell. Ended on a thoroughly rotten note.

That line from her article has stuck with me, it’s a succinct way of articulating an ever-present worry. If you’re doing good work at an organisation that is being questionably governed or is doing iffy things, you either A) stick with the org and live with that worry every day or B) step away from it entirely and be free from the worry. In scenario A, in order to feel ok with yourself you do everything you can to make a difference. This is exhausting, and you resent colleagues that aren’t working as hard to fix things. In scenario B, you’re free from this worry but you live in a fresh hell of new worries (missed opportunity, financial stability, unfulfilled potential, etc).

Don’t know where the line is, it shifts constantly and is probably different for every person. Just have to keep it on your mind and keep having the hard conversations. Don’t let it build up, talk little and often, with everyone.

Edit 10.09.19: Deleted a sentence mentioning Darling’s plans to drop Brockman and stay with the Media Lab, from her Guardian article. That may still be the case, but more has come to light so I wouldn’t assume anything. It must be incredibly tough thing to navigate.

“A chemistry is performed so that a chemical reaction occurs…”

A chemistry is performed so that a chemical reaction occurs and generates a signal from the chemical interaction with the sample, which is translated into a result, which is then reviewed by certified laboratory personnel.

Elizabeth Holmes’s “comically vague” and high-school-esque description of Theranos’s blood testing “technology”.

Just finished Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by Wall Street Journal investigative reporter John Carryrou. Carryrou traces the rise and fall of Theranos and its founder Elizabeth Holmes from the company’s beginnings at Stanford, to Holmes becoming the young female darling of Silicon Valley, to his own exposé and followup articles in the Journal.

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Some excellent, specific podcast episodes

I often don’t end up listening to podcasts that are recommended to me. It’s a real shame. I think it’s sometimes hard to know where to start, to find a way in. The next time I get a recommendation, I’ll ask if there’s a specific episode I should try.

Along those lines, here’s a list of a few particular episodes I like. These are in date order, most recent first. Might add more at some point.


Risky Business #535, 20.03.19 — Stop giving Cloudflare money

Edit 28 August 2019 – Cloudflare finally dropped 8chan earlier this month following the El Paso Walmart shooting. From the Wired article: “‘When you have platforms that are effectively lawless like this, then maybe that shifts the responsibility further down the stack,’ [Cloudflare CEO Matthew] Prince says. Looking at [white supremacist site] Daily Stormer and now 8chan, Prince says that Cloudflare is attempting to find the line where ‘a site has shown repeatedly that it is causing active, real harm.’”

I’m very interested in information security but definitely an amateur, so most Risky Business episodes go a bit (or entirely) over my head. This episode with host Patrick Gray (AU) and guest Alex Stamos (US) is accessible for less infosec-aware people though. It’s heavy, but very worthy of a listen for anyone influenced by the internet (i.e. everyone).

The major topic is the Christchurch, NZ shootings on the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre where 50 people were killed and 50 more injured by a white supremacist. They focus on the web’s role in the rise of white supremacist communities and propaganda, and what could be done about it. Cloudflare is highlighted as a particularly irresponsible and unsupportable service provider due to the company’s response following the attack. They have refused to pull their services from 8chan, a website that facilitates the spread of white supremacist ideology and the site where the attacker announced his intentions.

Stamos tries to present the difficulties that companies and law enforcement face. Gray understandably gets pretty heated during the discussion, I think initially interpreting Stamos’s comments as an excuse for the inaction of companies like Cloudflare (though I don’t think they were). Ultimately though they seemed to be in agreement. Towards the end of their discussion, around 40:51, Stamos summarises: “We’re going to have to start to treat white nationalists like the Islamic State was treated. To the point that if you’re on 8chan and you’re talking about an attack, you’re actually feeling that there’s some kind of risk, that somebody’s gonna bust your door down. That’s where we got to with the Islamic State. […] We’ve got to get to that same place, but [Cloudflare and other organisations] can make that hard for non-US law enforcement.” He is saying that white nationalist groups need to be classified as potential terrorist organisations so that there is a legal framework forcing companies to adopt stronger policies instead of just hoping they’ll do the right thing. It’s a very good point.

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BBC Earth Podcast 27.12.18 — Hide and Seek

I’ve never finished an episode of BBC Earth… but that’s why I like it. It’s the perfect podcast to fall asleep to if you’re having trouble drifting off. Interesting – but not *too* riveting – facts and stories about nature told by presenter/producer Emily Knight and guests. And great jungle sounds. I’ve put this particular episode on here because I really liked the wildlife calls while they were explaining how to track tigers. Can’t really say much about what happened after that though, I was asleep.

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Darknet Diaries #27, 01.12.18 — Chartbreakers

The tagline for Darknet Diaries is “True stories from the dark side of the Internet”. This episode is a little different, investigating something ongoing rather than covering something that has already occurred. Host Jack Rhysider tries to figure out why shady podcasts with zero reviews or subscribers regularly climb the Top Charts on Apple Podcasts. In doing so, he finds out that it involves dubious promotional activity, and it isn’t just the little guys doing it. He also finds out this isn’t a web-only problem, that a similar thing has happened multiple times with the New York Times Bestsellers list and could still be happening. It’s yet another wakeup call that we should be suspicious of algorithms, particularly those that are meant to be infallibly meritocratic. Rhysider ends the episode by saying that he hopes his listeners recommend the podcast to their friends since he puts no faith in likes or reviews. It made me think about how much I like receiving recommendations from people I care about, and kind of became the catalyst for this list.

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Roderick on the Line #300, 13.08.18 — The Airplane Doesn’t Care

One of Merlin Mann and John Roderick’s weekly Skype calls. Their conversations go all over the place, this one is no different. They always touch a bit on philosophy and mental health, but it’s more prominent in this episode due to a then-recent event. On Saturday 11.08.18, 29-year-old Richard Russell stole an empty turboprop from SeaTac airport, performed difficult stunts with basically no training, and then committed suicide by deliberately crashing in to a small island in Puget Sound (more here). One of those things that made me laugh and cry.

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Syntax #29, 24.01.18 — Hosting & Servers

Wes Bos and Scott Tolinski dive in to hosting. It’s a great primer on a lot of the options out there at the moment, even if you consider yourself relatively familiar with these things. It’s all about the way they walk through it, from Squarespace to Docker, including personal experiences, pitfalls, and use cases.

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Ear Hustle #2, 28.06.17 — Misguided Loyalty

Ear Hustle, stories of life inside prison, is presented by visual artist Nigel Poor and former San Quentin inmate Earlonne Woods. I had no idea which Ear Hustle episode to choose, every one is a jewel. This early episode is about gangs; the pressure, the violence, and the repercussions.

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Adam Buxton Podcast #37 and #38, 06.04.17 — Brian Eno

Adam Buxton having a chat in two parts with Brian Eno. Not much more to say.

“These things I believe”

Might be at a turning point in my career. A lot of my friends are expressing similar feelings. I think it has something to do with working for nearly 10 years.

This frame of mind has made me really interested in manifestos. Not anything strident really, more purpose-driven lists that can help guide everyday decision-making. Here are a few manifesto-y links I’ve identified with recently.

  • These things I believe from “Not the user’s fault”. I think this is Jono Xia’s blog from when he was part of the Mozilla Labs team. I’ve tried to find him elsewhere on the web but haven’t found him anywhere so far. He raises some really good points about software design and development.
  • The Recurse Center’s Social Rules. Such a good, concise set of guidelines for public discourse. “No well-actually’s, no feigned surprise, no backseat driving, no subtle -isms”.
  • Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules. Also available as a free tear-away poster at the Corita Kent: Power Up exhibition (8 Feb – 12 May 2019) at the House of Illustration.
  • GitLab’s Remote Manifesto. SB and I try to implement a lot of this, though we’re definitely not strict enough about it! We also strive to work this way with clients and collaborators, even those that live in London. Face-to-face IRL meetings are great, but it can be tough to squeeze them in when it takes an hour to get anywhere in this city.
  • Daniel Eatock’s manifesto, particularly “propose honesty as a solution”. See also the Scratching the Surface episode with Daniel Eatock from last September. Off the back of the Corita Kent exhibition, SB and I were talking about the lack of irony and cynicism in her work, about how refreshing that feels even though a lot of it is from over 50 years ago. He mentioned this podcast episode, that Eatock touches on this topic in relation to his kids, how kids just don’t perceive irony. I need to have a listen.

I’ll try to add more here as I come across them. Who knows, maybe I’ll add my own some day.