s3e14: OK TO GO

by danhon

0.0 Station Ident

1:12pm on Tuesday, April 19th 2016 at the XOXO Outpost in Portland on yet another unseasonably warm April day. Today I had the pleasure of starting a teardown/dogfood exercise on what it’s like for vendors to work with state (California) and federal government in the United States, in looking in sort-of-mock horror at this particular phrase that jumped out at me in a PDF just now: “Faxed or emailed applications are not accepted”.

Anyone who’s been following along for a while will know exactly how much of a fan I am of having to spurt tiny dots of ink in an intricate pattern on bits of dead, pulped, flattened, whitened tree and then send a said collection of ink-spurted dead tree through an (admittedly pretty efficient) packet-switching network that, in some cases, literally uses tubes when the information *about* the application process is available on a super spiffy worldwide information network. Clue: I am not a fan. I am now going to have to find some paper.

Corrections: in yesterday’s episode I referred to Stewart Brand as a co-founder of Slack. Stewart Brand is not a co-founder of Slack, he instead has been involved in the Whole Earth Catalog, The WELL and the Long Now Foundation, amongst a whole bunch of other things. Stewart Butterfield is the co-founder of Slack.

Additions: also in yesterday’s episode I thought out loud about how just because the outside context problem of networked computing devices inexplicably appeared throughout most of the world to most but not all of the peoples didn’t mean that things were actually better for anyone. Sure, *some* things are better, but if you want *actual hard evidence* that just because you’ve got a networked smart device some aspects of living have gotten worse then you probably want to read this report from Caribou Digital (via friend-of-newsletter Chris “lunch” Locke) about the winners and losers in the digital app economy[0] and the accompanying World Bank (seriously, if even the *world bank* are saying that smartphones aren’t all their ginned up to be then who else are you going to trust) report[1].

[0] Winners and Losers in the Global App Economy
[1] World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends

1.0 OK To Go

In my head at the moment: while you can say many things about the movie CONTACT[0] (guilty secret: I don’t think I’ve ever gotten round to reading the book, instead), upon a serendipitous re-viewing that wasn’t entirely due to yesterday’s episode title, the thing that most struck me apart from how badass Jodie Foster’s Ellie Arroway is is how much of a complete mansplaining sexist, slimy cock Tom Skerrit’s Science Advisor to the President David Drumlin is. I mean, just randomly seeking (related: remember when VHS recorders had jog shuttles on their remotes?) through the movie on Netflix[1] I happened upon a whole bunch of scenes where Ellie starts explaining something and then Drumlin snakes in, taking credit and generally being a White Dude In A Position Of Power, smoothly asserting ownership of the situation and claiming all the credit. What a complete dick. So: perhaps one of the saddest things about Contact isn’t that Ellie is at a loss to share her experience because her faith in Science leaves her unable to communicate it, but that a movie from 1997 feels pretty much on point and as relevant nearly 20 years later as to how it depicts women being treated in science because Geoff Marcy[2, 3], and that’s “just” sexual harassment, never mind stealing credit.

[0] Contact (1997 American film) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
[1] Contact – Netflix
[2] Famous Astronomer Accused Of Sexual Harassment At His Previous Job, Too – BuzzFeed News
[3] The Long History of How Gender Dynamics Have Shaped Astronomy – The Atlantic

1.0 FLIR

So here’s another military-industrial complex technology that’s kind of falling into the pro/consumer area, and I did a bit of random reading this morning to try to figure out why. Deadspin covered (reblogged?)[0] a joint Italian/French piece of investigative journalism that used infrared cameras hidden in TV camera housings and apparently found proof of seven cyclists moto-doping (using hidden electric motors) in two races in Italy last month.

WIRED already covered this earlier this year with their explainer of how you can catch a pro cyclist who’s using a hidden motor[2] but the big thing that I wanted to know was: a) why are thermal cameras so expensive[3], b) how do they work[5] and c) are they getting cheaper, and if they are, why? Well, cursory reading of the Wikipedia article says that you’ve got two kinds of infrared (actually: thermographic) camera: ones that are cooled down, and ones that aren’t. I’m assuming it’s the ones that aren’t cooled down that are getting cheaper because what consumer is going to want to use a camera where it takes like 5 minutes for it to get ready to even work. Also! The resolution of most thermographic cameras is super low! Like, 640×480 is pretty good! It was only about 3 years ago that DARPA said that they’d been able to make one that could do like 720p. Also also! They’re export restricted items! Because, uh, export restrictions make sense when you’re using thermal scopes I suppose? One of the points that *is* interesting with regard to the cost curve is that sometimes thermographic cameras use sapphire as the optical material and we all know what happened the last time someone tried to make a lot of sapphire and use it for something that would be in millions of pockets[5]. They gave up (for now?), but instead there’s a whole bunch more sapphire out there in tiny camera lenses. So…?

Anyway. The Reddit thread in itself is pretty interesting because there’s the whole “what would consumers do with an infrared camera anyway” which is pretty much already answered by: “point it at things and be surprised about what’s inside them”, or also “what the hell would people do with a networked computing device in their pockets” the answer to which is also obviously: wow, where have you been.

[0] Secret Thermal Camera Footage Allegedly Shows Seven Pro Cyclists Using Illegal Motors In Bikes
[1] Lo scandalo della bici col motorino Tutte le prove di chi usa il trucco – Corriere.it
[2] Clever Ways to Catch a Pro Cyclist Cheating With a Hidden Motor | WIRED
[3] Why is FLIR so expensive? : AskEngineers (sorry, Reddit link)
[4] Thermographic camera – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
[5] Inside Apple’s Broken Sapphire Factory – WSJ

2.0 Oh, I Don’t Know, Other Stuff

* via lots of the internet, one person who wants to do a good thing but doesn’t really get the internet tries to do a good thing, ends up, well, the whole thing is a mess[0] At this point I feel like my throwaway joke about majoring in international emoji studies is totally a real thing that my toddler might end up graduating in.

* look, when you ask the internet for suggestions for a thing, a lot of people are just going to take that as the opportunity to perform for an audience because let’s be clear, a form with a text field on it is just begging for jokes or, I dunno, not-funny-at-all cock jokes. Free-text entry on the internet or any sort of user submission is subject to the Time To Penis rule which I was introduced to about 15 years ago by friends who worked at the BBC when they did super interesting and Reithian internet stuff (sorry people who currently work at the BBC, but you know what I mean), which is that you will just get lots of penis stuff. Anyway. Now that the Research Ship (probably) won’t be called RSS Boaty McBoatface[1] because they actually want a name that “fits the gravity and importance of the subjects” (those subjects being “important issues” like “global warming, climate changing, rising sea-levels”) I thoroughly expect the boat to be named something along the lines of RSS Stood Far Back When The Gravity Was Being Handed Out; RSS Doing Science; RSS Investigating Important Issues; RSS I Said Take This Seriously and RSS Look Everyone Climate Change Is A Serious Issue.

* The Warren Ellis-identified datification of apps continues apace with a swipe-interface for college students looking for the best shareholder-value enhancing career[2]

[0] How Social Autopsy Fell for GamerGate Trutherism — Following: How We Live Online
[1] Minister Pours Cold Water on ‘Boaty McBoatface’ Plan
[2] LinkedIn Releases Its New Job Search App For College Students – Fortune

3.0 The Destructives

I will only tell you to go and read Matthew de Abaitua’s The Destructives (Amazon Kindle) so many more times, but if I haven’t already persuaded you, then here’s a context-free collection of things that I highlighted from the book because they made my brain go a bit weird in a good way:

* “I expressly asked you not to quantify me”
* meta-meetings (if you liked the bits in Cryptonomicon or Venkatesh Rao’s corp-lit about business meetings and consulting, then there’s a whole tonne in here for you to get about the requisite amount of silence you should employ to respond to your opposite’s downright inconsiderate contribution to a very important meeting where it’s clear your time is literally being wasted
* “Anger coursed through him before he was even aware of it” if only because thanks to the not-inconsiderable amount of therapy that I’ve been going through I’m now doing a whole bunch more meta-cognition on how my emotions actually work and how I experience them that really comes through (sorry) a whole bunch of meditation and introspection and *ALSO* this whole strand appeals to thoughts about integrated information consciousness theory and brain-as-thing-for-making-thoughts-and-patterns
* holy shit there are references to UpWorthy/Buzzfeed style dissertation titles
* “Analytics cannot capture the first hand experience of the asylum mall” to which I leave to you as a teaser because a) I know a bunch of you are analytics nerds as am I, b) the tantalising thought of capitalism and shopping being a bona fide mental treatment worthy of residency, and c) seriously just read that sentence again.

So: The Destructives. I recommend reading it because if nobody else does then it’s just me talking into the ether and I really really want to talk about it without spoiling a significant percentage of you.

(de Abaitua has also written The Red Men and IF THEN, so you should get those two, and while THE DESTRUCTIVES is set in the same universe, you really don’t need to have read the other books)

Oh and also also while Gibson’s The Peripheral talks vaguely (and convincingly) about the “jackpot” that collection of things that happens at some point during the early 21st century that precipitates a mass die-off and restructing of the human race, de Abaitua’s novel goes into more detail as to *what those things might be* and also runs with the concept that it’s not just one thing that will change everything, it’s probably *everything, all at once, getting faster*

OK, 3:16pm, and time to go and do some reading and reviewing.