I’m writing this on Monday, March 8 2021 after a fairly productive morning: a bunch of admin; the kids got started on their day with relatively (ha) little fuss; an appointment and rather excitingly a chat with a reporter about one of those favorite topics of mine, government and technology. But! I’m actually going to send this tomorrow and resist the urge to just send everything all at once!
This episode is a collection of shorter things that caught my attention. Let’s go.
More customer service
Louise Cato’s Weeknotes for March 2nd-6th covered the human cost of being on-call and the nature of customer service/customer support, plus good examples of measuring-the-thing-ends-up-counter-productive, which is a rule/law that I can’t remember the name of. If you’re in an organization that does on-call support, this is worth a read at the very least as a reminder of what providing on-call looks like.
Cato’s post writes about an SLA (a service level agreement) in the customer support context made me think about SLAs as a sort of minimum viable customer service (sorry), which then brings up associations of what is continuous integration, deployment and automated testing in the context of how they might improve the aim of customer service and support? What could be learned and borrowed from those processes, approaches and philosophies?
(This is what happens when you reply to a newsletter. MORE THOUGHTS!)
Government technology and barriers to public records
Massachusetts got billed “almost $500,000” for vaccination scheduling software [WBUR], which on the face of it isn’t necessarily a bad deal, but for the fact that the system fell over “due to extremely high volume” when the number of eligible vaccinat-ees? increased by one millino [WBUR]. WBUR’s reporting is notable because they did a FOIA for the contract but, in what I’d have to say is somewhat outrageous behavior, the documents aren’t available on open access, without charge? [State House News Service]
Fiction, form and stretching
am a big fan of playing with genre and form, so this recent Nature Futures story, So your grandmother is a starship now: a quick guide for the bewildered, by Marissa Lingen [Nature, author’s site] lights up a whole bunch of my pattern recognizers and makes them happy. Playing with the form of conversational Q&A/pseudo-FAQ is super fun and something I like doing, and I think it’s a great prompt when thinking around a problem. I’ve found that my own fiction writing gets easier — for me, at least — when I set up a scene with characters and have them just talk through to each other what’s happening/what they’re doing.
Nature Futures and All Journals Should Publish Short Stories
Anyway, the other thing about Nature Futures [Wikipedia] is that a) it started in 1999, 22 years ago; and b) has published science fiction every week now since July 2007. I’ve been reading it on and off, and have been a big fan ever since it started, when my A Level Chemistry class was encouraged to read Nature every now and then because the papers are generally accessible. But, the big thing for me that I hope is valuable or provocative is this idea: what would it be like if more journals published short fiction in their fields? And I don’t just mean science fiction, though I am a fan in the Ursula K LeGuin sense of science fiction is awesome, but journals of both the two cultures of the arts and the sciences making space for each other for discovery. Maybe that’s something interesting to think about for you? It is for me.
More government, taxes, APIs
In the U.S. you pretty much use commercial software or pay an account to file and pay your taxes, which for people outside the U.S. is a very stereotypically American “huh, of course the private sector owns this and people pay money for it, in civilized countries this is just something we do directly with government”, so a… someone? Who built Cash and other things at Square wrote about What it will take to defeat Turbotax, which on the face of it is entirely reasonable in that it’s a product/distribution/market driven approach, and also doesn’t do quite enough to highlight what the government’s role should be in this, and I suppose my preferences are clear. Bonus credit: should government offer just an API for tax filing, etc. and let the private/non-profit/etc sector battle it out to provide services for that API, or should government also provide a service implemented on top of that API for people to use? This is, I suspect a Political And Policy Question, which is entirely reasonable in the field of product and government because Everything Is A Political And Policy Question.
Mental health, benefits and employment in technology
It is probably a good idea to read this piece on Becoming disabled while working a tech job for two reasons: a) I’ve had to take time off work because of severe mental health issues and hey, It Could Happen To You, so here’s how you can be more prepared (and also: jesus christ, this is something we have to be prepared for and spend time on?) and b) if you’re in Human Resources or have influence over how an organization manages its human resources then perhaps take a look at this in terms of how your human resources are able to use the so-called benefits that are available? The gap between what you say you offer and what is actually on offer and how easy it is to access what is supposedly on offer can be a very big one whether internal or external/public, so it’s worth looking at. At least on one level, it has Brand And Goodwill Implications.
Sports companies, digital and “innovation”
It is really interesting to me that Gatorade, a… sports drink company? … is now selling its Gx Sweat Patch [The Verge, How To Use The Gatorade GX Sweat Patch — I think it’s much more interesting to link to the support document than it is to link to a press release or the product marketing page, no?], which is a little patch that you put on that probably uses, I don’t know, microfluidics to test for sweat loss, sweat rate and sodium loss, helpfully letting you know how much Gatorade you should drink to remain, I guess, at optimum and peak performance. This is interesting again because this is a Not Digital Company getting into Digital Stuff and the question is going to be: is this going to be self-sustaining? The bets are on for how long this will be discontinued. I’ve written before about the cost and difficulty of sustaining this kind of innovation [I AM SORRY I USED THIS WORD] and product development/support in a non-digital organization and while it is not impossible, it is Hard. OTHER things that are interesting are: who did Gatorade work with to bring the sweat patch to life? Long-time readers might remember All The Stuff I Wrote About Nike Digital and, say, how R/GA helped create Nike+ Running, and then Nike starting to bring all this stuff in-house, launching its own Wearable and then getting Sherlocked.
Real-time collaborative text editing and Google, Again
I did not know, or did not remember, that SubEthaEdit [website], a real-time collaborative text editor I first encountered at an O’Reilly conference is out again, which was nice to see. Google’s Docs is still the least-worst real-time collaborative text editor that appears to have “won” and as I’ve written before, it would be good to see competitors get more use. One particular observation I have is network effect lock-in: you use Google Docs not just because it’s least-worst but because other people use it and have accounts (more or less), and your documents end up being trapped in there. There’s a connection here to Microsoft being forced to open up the Office file formats, but the difference here is that you’d want Google to open up the collaboration API and separate the back-end document storage from a front-end client. Sure, you can open an exported Google Doc with other things, but what you really want (well, what I want) is a better client. I would expect legislation is required for this, and my default suspicion is that the EU is likely to act on it first, bringing with it on the one hand a bonus (interoperability) and a user experience negative (yay, pop-ups every time you open a document editor).
Pandemonium and the architecture of the mind, plus Twitter
I was thinking about Selfridge’s idea of pandemonium [Wikipedia, Dr. Boeree] and the idea of a public global timeline like Twitter’s being the undercurrents of a mind yapping to itself, and the likelihood of a dominant narrative emerging from it in the way that you might think consciousness would emerge, which… is not entirely untrue, in a late-night college conversation sense? I mean, people describe Twitter as a thing, like “yesterday, Twitter was all about x and Twitter was doing y” and, I guess that’s an emergent collective phenomenon based on the behavior of millions of interacting nodes with systems for pruning and strengthening connections? Anyway, best not to think too much about that and instead read Cat Pictures Please by Naomi Kritze [blog] (and the follow-up novel, Catfishing on CatNet), both of which are wonderful.
Mutualism, co-opting existing structures, and No, Not Centrist Actually
Why was I thinking about Selfridge and pandemonium? Because I was reading How to Design Better Systems in a World Overwhelmed by Complexity an excellent interview with Keller Easterling [website], by the brilliant Ingrid Burrington [website]. Easterling doesn’t “do social media, so I don’t see a lot of other undercurrents” — an answer in response to Burrington’s question about the GameStop Stock Crisis Of Early 2021, and my brain went dingdingding on undercurrents.
Anyway, I was nodding all the way through so I will pick out some Interesting Phrases and Conceptsthat may encourage you to read it, like escaping the “But isn’t that centrist?” trap; “a way of working and thinking that’s guided by creative reconfigurations and collaborations rather than delivering an imaginary TED Talk”; “it is also too urgent to wait for perfection or purity”; the part where Easterling wrote a blog post for Verso “about all the things you think about after you finish the book — when you clap your hand to your forehead and realize what you could have said” (oh my gosh, how wonderful). Anyway, I highly recommend the interview, which I suppose means I also indirectly highly recommend Easterling’s book, Medium Design: Knowing How to Work on the World.
Here’s a RAND report on how to de-escalate aggression and escalation in a crisis, Influencing Adversary States: Quelling Perfect Storms of which I have no more to say other than just all of those words in combination going ding ding ding in both the interesting and funny ha ha see because it’s RAND, right? sense.
OK, that’s it!