0.0 Station Ident
I did not totally ruin the caesar salad with salmon by having a slice of cheesecake afterwards.
1.0 Things that caught my attention, continued:
OK so this is not a thing that caught my attention but Medium seem to think that my writing is interesting enough for them to do stuff with it, so if you know what a philosophical razor is and you are somewhat aligned with my at times frankly absurd sense of humor, then if you read this List of Philosophical Razors, or my story about living in a smart, connected city Everything was connected, and I was fucked, Medium will give me some money and my kid would totally love a new bike and I'd love to be able to stand up and do a talk with me standing in front of a giant photoshop of the intersection of "Medium giving me some money" and "My kid getting a new bike”. If you like them, tell your friends, even on the Nazi Birdsite! (Some of my best friends work at the Nazi Birdsite, etc. etc.)
1.2 Twitter and Google
So, that stinking cesspit which is Twitter, or: I am Jack’s horible, no-good, spineless, lack-of-leadership leadership. In Casey Newton’s installment of The Interface “The real reason Twitter keeps tripping over itself” (where The Interface has turned inexorably and inevitably into Jesus Christ What Have AFGAM Done In The Last Day No Wait Last Twelve Hours) is a great view into why it is that Twitter appears to do nothing, absolutely goddamn nothing, about its Troubles (much like the way the BBC was reticent to describe what was actually happening between the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland and Ireland and the US press seems chronically unable to actually describe the genuinely terrifying acts of un-government being perpetrated by a bunch of corrupt kakistocrats and their enablers who aren’t smart enough to realize what’s happening around them). Casey’s view - one that he says tracks with what he’s heard elsewhere is that Jack Dorsey is chronically unable to make a decision and defers to what can commonly happen in a generic tech environment where everyone thinks everyone else is really smart and thus consensus is the right way to go, throwing away, I don’t know, a shit-tonne of research and understanding about potential other ways of decision-making that can also be deployed. Casey’s joke is that Twitter’s riff on Facebook’s “move fast and break things” (which motto becomes unappetizingly sweeter every goddamn day) is “move slowly and apologize” but all of this was a set-up to my contribution which is that Twitter is, clearly, the mirror to Facebook and their annointed motto shall now be “Move Slow And Break Things”.
Then, in “The tweets that stopped Google in its tracks”, Newton covers what happened when Brin and Pichai addressed Googlers’ concerns about Google operating in China and observing Chinese law (ie: censoring search engine results). John Gruber has a take on this: what’s so different from operating, say, an App Store and following local law and operating a search engine operating under local law? The answer, to what appears to be the increasing consternation of a generic technological priesthood, is “because values and ethics”. Newton says this himself:
“On one hand, look at how naive we are — acting all surprised when we find out a giant corporation is in it for the money. But what happens when this new brute-capitalist version of Google finds out it’s not the company some of its most talented people signed up to work for?”
I’ve been banging this drum for quite a while and my contribution is along these lines: we don’t like hard problems, and it’s easy to believe that technology (more specifically, the stuff that “Silicon Valley” builds, like (free) networks that help connect the world on one end and, I don’t know, juice machines, on the other, is just “good” and you needn’t think about it too much. But it turns out that technology doesn’t exist in isolation! It exists in a human world with human constructs and stuff like “economics” and “markets” and, shock horror, “capitalism”. Someone, somewhere is going to have to make a decision about whether the good (implicit, potentially (ha) under-examined) that such technology delivers is something that’s incentivized by the wider environment and if it isn’t, then, well, Jack, Brin and Pichai have to put their big boy boots on and decide what’s more important for this particular decision: money, or underlying values?
I overheard something today that was interesting on several levels and if I may, I’d also like to signpost that I’m using interesting as a euphemism here and not writing what I really think out of a long-seated habit for politeness. The thing that I heard was along the lines of “I’d like to come to that meeting, but I have my WebEx training to go to”. Now, I want you to imagine a world in which WebEx is regularly used (these places exist, and I expect that some of you even work in such places), and now I want you to take that image and walk further into it, to visualize as fully as you can with your mind’s eye what a WebEx training session might look like and - this is, I must admit, the potentially mean part - what the participants might be like and what the trainer (or, let’s really throw open the door here, trainers) might be like. This sentence is so complicated! On the one hand, as a computing-curious member of the lost-generation between X and Millennials (ie: the Oregon Trail generation if you’re American, or the, I dunno, BBC Micro and Amiga generation if you’re British), I look at something like WebEx and say to myself, much as Lex Murphy, from Jurassic Park, does: “this is a GUI application! I know this!” and proceed to expertly pick up the mouse and click on things to see what they do, relying on years of learning about what certain icons might signify and the conventions of badly made/designed software (sorry, people who work on Cisco WebEx).
So, I am sympathetic! WebEx is not that great to use! So yes, I may imagine some people who are in need of training to use it, in which case my mind ascends to something like a higher state of being and questions: what environment causes decisions to be made where the selection of collaboration software results in something like WebEx, the complexity and design of which has spawned the necessity of regular training sessions for staff?
And then I think to myself: that’s right, I was going back to the office I’m camping out in to finish off a document, and I’ll never get those two seconds back and you, I’m sorry, will never get however long it took to read the previous three paragraphs.
1.4 General Magic Fan
I will never get enough General Magic stories, so here is a General Magic story from Chris MacAskill on Cake, MacAskill’s own platform which looks like a pretty neat platform even if it has the absolutely unfair advantage of seeding itself with stories from its founder about working with Steve Jobs and a bunch of the most amazing Silicon Valley consumer tech projects ever. And oh what is this how did this ever get here, here’s four whitepapers on Telescript, the pre-cloud network agent-based infrastructure that General Magic needed to build to have its vision of internet-style services work because, frankly, the internet didn’t exist yet and really, you should go read them, I don’t care if you work in advertising and you’re an art director, read them anyway and be intellectually enriched about what could’ve been but wasn’t because it was stupendously early and also wrong.
1.5 Genuine People Personalities
Erika Hall tweeted the other day that (in my reading) it felt icky calling something as nicely designed as Slack “Enterprise Software” and instead proposed calling it “Software as a Colleague” because presumably (and I agree with her!) Slack’s design, voice and so on are positioned as a helpful colleague who helps you get things done and oh no if we go too far then we end up with Your Plastic Pal Who’s Fun To Be With. Going too far along the personality and voice axis in a way that feels weird or inappropriate is how you end up with overly familiar software that wants to do things like “surprise” you or “delight” you when really, you’ve just got a job to get done.
My quip (hot cakes, get them here) is that Slack is an example of Colleagues as a Service (CaaS) which isn’t a great acronym and I think we should work to find something punnier.
In a somewhat related vein, Sarah Emerson relayed that someone somewhere is casually testing the potential of the phrase “minimum lovable product”, to which the only reasonable response is some sort of pre-emptive face palm because if (when?) a bunch of people orient around making sure their products are “lovable” (what was so wrong, as Emerson says, with “viable” in the first place that you have to insert an emotion?) what’ll probably end up happening is shortcuts and hacks to induce love in users and that’s exactly the kind of thing the tech industry at large should totally prioritize uh-huh.
1.6 An assortment of things that were attention-catching
* People won’t stop making experimental social robots, this time it’s Honda and they’ve got one that looks a bit like a Sunflower iMac and all I can think of is those robots might be all very well and nice right now but just you wait until the Nazis get hold of them, etc. etc.
* Someone took a look at how commerical face detection (not identification!) services (Amazon, IBM, Google, Microsoft) perform (with an admittedly small sample size of 33 images) and it turns out they’re not that great! IBM also has a very interesting and what feels to be Old Blue IBM pricing model.
* Via Paul Ford, a 15 minute video from 1993 of what AT&T thought the future would be like before we had the benefit of Tom Selleck telling us (it has now been  days since I’ve made an AT&T You Will reference)
* Via Tom Carden (before it appeared on Hacker News! Ha!) I wish I’d been able to see the Usenix presentation “Q: Why Do Keynote Speakers Keep Suggesting That Improving Security Is Possible? A: Because Keynote Speakers Make Bad Life Decisions and Are Poor Role Models | USENIX” because the abstract is amazing and you need to read it.
* I’ve written before (I’m on a plane and it’s difficult for me to look up my previous references) about observing my young children interact with voice UI assistants (Siri, Alexa) and now enough time has passed that there’s actual academic research! Here’s the University of Washington press release, Alexa, be my friend: Children talk to technology, but how does it respond? and because I’m the kind of person who tracks down the underlying research, here’s a link to the paper in ACM which you cannot read without paying for it: Why doesn't it work?: voice-driven interfaces and young children's communication repair strategies in IDC '18 Proceedings of the 17th ACM Conference on Interaction Design and Children which OH MY GOD that sounds like such an interesting conference to go to, do you know anyone who went? God I wish I were a member of the pre-Victorian landed aristocracy and could jet around attending such conferences on a whim and interest.
* Even though we don’t appear to be able to mass-produce graphene in useful quantities (I think? Maybe this has changed?) we keep coming up with interesting things we could use graphene for, like creating a cloaking device that works in the infrared range.
* Here’s a paper on comparative sentences like “More people have been to Russia than I have” that *appear* to parse as well-formed but on closer examination actually make no sense whatsoever. I described them as one that I’ll keep in my back pocket to trick any super-intelligent AI that can’t find their way out of a paper bag/halting problem. It’s a super interesting paper!
* Younger people in Japan who have grown up/are growing up in the post-PC world are increasingly unable to use the regular QWERTY keyboard because they can do all of their schoolwork on mobile devices like smartphones. Provided voice recognition and intent inference doesn’t get significantly better, maybe just being able to type fast might provide enough job security.
* I liked this Tyler Cowen set of notes, Why does tech have so many political problems?, mainly because it references C.P. Snow’s The Two Cultures which I still haven’t finished reading but in a stunning example of what is wrong with things these days, I have read the Wikipedia article about it and material *about* C.P. Snow’s Two Cultures and I know I agree with Snow’s position very much indeed.
* Just over 25 years ago Apple introduced the Newton and a bit after that would’ve been when I would skulk into a Dixon’s in the UK to play with something I couldn’t afford because oh right I was a teenager.
* … and here’s a super-interesting high-level article at Scientific American on cultural epidemiology which seems relevant to *waves hands* whatever’s happening these days/this week/this hour/what just happened again?
If the formatting for this episode was weird it's because I drafted it in Notes and just pasted it into Tinyletter, I am sorry if it suddenly became impossible to read on your phone or whatever.
And thank you to the people who replied to the previous episode, it was very nice to hear from you and I am pleased to say that I am submitting a pull request to have "and may your Significant Locations continue to Not Be On Fire" to the Loving Kindness Meditation.
Anyway, that's Friday on the West Coast and I hope everyone has a nice weekend. Let's see if I see you again on the other side.