An engaging look at the history of word processing, word processed by Josephine Livingstone.
Absolutely brilliant stuff from Mandy (again). A long hard at today’s tech industry’s narrow approach to bots and artificial intelligence compared to some far more interesting and imaginative approaches in fiction:
- Ann Leckie’s superb Imperial Radch series,
- Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora, and
- Alex Garland’s Ex Machina.
So in addition to frightening ramifications for privacy and information discovery, they also reinforce gendered stereotypes about women as servants. The neutral politeness that infects them all furthers that convention: women should be utilitarian, performing their duties on command without fuss or flourish. This is a vile, harmful, and dreadfully boring fantasy; not the least because there is so much extraordinary art around AI that both deconstructs and subverts these stereotypes. It takes a massive failure of imagination to commit yourself to building an artificial intelligence and then name it “Amy.”
Chris’s homage to I, Pencil.
I, Website, am a complex combination of miracles.
A transatlantic cable, hurrah!
There’s that Acheulean hand ax again.
The first ever object to be designed by man 1.7 million years ago was a flint hand axe. Flint has the same molecular structure as a crystal and they both consist of silica. The project juxtaposes the flint hand axe with the latest crystal technology; Xero chaton the world’s smallest precision cut crystal measuring 0.6mm in diameter, smaller than a grain of sand.
Even more intriguing than their vast distribution across three continents is their time depth. Acheulean hand axes have been found at sites spanning 1.5 million years of human existence, dating from roughly 1.6 million years ago to about 100,000 years ago. That makes the Acheulean ax the most sustainable technology that members of our genus (Homo) ever developed. Consider, in contrast, the amount of technological change that has occurred in just the last 150 years (since the first telephone call), one ten-thousandth the amount of time the Acheulean hand ax was made and used. Or consider the amount of technological change in just the last 10 years (since the first iPhone was introduced), one one-hundred-fifty-thousandth the amount of time that Acheulean hand axes were made and used. In the memorable words of my former professor Arthur J. Jelinek, hand axes represent “mind-numbing technological stability.”
360 terabytes of data stored for over 13 billion years:
Coined as the ‘Superman memory crystal’, as the glass memory has been compared to the “memory crystals” used in the Superman films, the data is recorded via self-assembled nanostructures created in fused quartz. The information encoding is realised in five dimensions: the size and orientation in addition to the three dimensional position of these nanostructures.
Monika’s end-of-year piece is rather excellent:
The map exposes the network of fibre optic internet cables that lie deep below the sea giving an unfettered glimpse of the government’s counterterrorism tactics and the murky justifications behind them.
A note of optimism for digital preservation:
Where a lack of action may have been more of the case in the 01990s, it is certainly less so today. In the early days, there were just a handful of pioneers talking about and working on digital preservation, but today there are hundreds of tremendously intelligent and skilled people focused on preserving access to the yottabytes of digital cultural heritage and science data we have and will create.
An examination of how sites like The Session are meshing with older ideas of traditional Irish music:
There is a very interesting tension at play here – one that speaks directly to the design of new technologies. On the one hand, Irish musicians appear to be enthusiastically adopting digital media to establish a common repertoire of tunes, while on the other the actual performance of these tunes in a live session is governed by a strong etiquette that emphasizes the importance of playing by ear.
There’s an accompanying paper called Supporting Traditional Music-Making: Designing for Situated Discretion (PDF).
A fascinating slice of ethnographic research in Myanmar by Craig. There’s no mention of the web, which is certainly alarming, but then again, that’s not the focus of the research.
Interestingly, while Facebook is all omnipresent and dominant, nobody is using it the way that Facebook wants: all the accounts are basically “fake”.
What I found fascinating are the ways that people have found to bypass app stores. They’re basically being treated as damage and routed ‘round. So while native apps are universal, app stores would appear to be a first world problem.
Now if there were only some kind of universally accessible distribution channel that didn’t require any kind of installation step …hmmm.
This a magnificent piece of writing from James …all about pieces of metal fabric.
A single technology – the vacuum-deposition of metal vapour onto a thin film substrate – makes its consecutive and multiple appearances at times of stress and trial: at the dawn of the space age, in orbit and on other planets, at the scene of athletic feats of endurance, in defence and offence in the mountains of the Hindu Kush, on the beaches of the European archipelago. These are moments of hope as well as failure; moments when, properly utilised, technological progress enables us to achieve something which was beyond our capabilities before. And yet: we are still pulling bodies from the water wrapped in material which was meant to send us into space.
A really nice piece by Paul Ford on the history of databases and the dream of the Semantic Web.
Sometimes I get a little wistful. The vision of a world of connected facts, one big, living library, remains beautiful, and unfulfilled.
Sounds from our collective technological past.
(I’ll look past the fact that the sound labelled “ZX Spectrum” is using an image of an Amstrad PCP 464)
Web technology is no longer limiting us or scaring us into “staying safe” moreover it’s enabling us to get inspired by our surroundings and go and create some truly amazing, Web-Specific design.
Any sufficiently advanced hacking is indistinguishable from a haunting. In the same way that many Internet of Things objects are referred to as ‘enchanting’ or ‘magical,’ with an intervention, they can very quickly become haunted.
It is a sad and beautiful world.
Thanks to their work, there was a moment in history when neuroscience, psychiatry, computer science, mathematical logic, and artificial intelligence were all one thing, following an idea first glimpsed by Leibniz—that man, machine, number, and mind all use information as a universal currency. What appeared on the surface to be very different ingredients of the world—hunks of metal, lumps of gray matter, scratches of ink on a page—were profoundly interchangeable.
A magnificent presentation from Maciej that begins by drawing parallels between the aviation industry in the 20th century and the technology industry in the 21st:
So despite appearances, despite the feeling that things are accelerating and changing faster than ever, I want to make the shocking prediction that the Internet of 2060 is going to look recognizably the same as the Internet today.
Unless we screw it up.
And I want to convince you that this is the best possible news for you as designers, and for us as people.
But if that sounds too upbeat for you…
Too much of what was created in the last fifty years is gone because no one took care to preserve it.
We have heroic efforts like the Internet Archive to preserve stuff, but that’s like burning down houses and then cheering on the fire department when it comes to save what’s left inside. It’s no way to run a culture. We take better care of scrap paper than we do of the early Internet, because at least we look at scrap paper before we throw it away.
And then there’s this gem:
It finishes with three differing visions of the web, one of them desirable, the other two …not so much. This presentation is a rallying cry for the web we want.
Let’s reclaim the web from technologists who tell us that the future they’ve imagined is inevitable, and that our role in it is as consumers.
A fantastic piece by David Weinberger on the changing uses of the internet—apparently in contradiction of the internet’s original architecture.
Some folks invented the Internet for some set of purposes. They gave it a name, pointed to some prototypical examples—sharing scientific papers and engaging in email about them—shaping the way the early adopters domesticated it.
But over time, the Internet escaped from its creators’ intentions. It became a way to communicate person-to-person via email and many-to-many via Usenet. The web came along and the prototypical example became home pages. Social networking came along and the prototype became Facebook.
It seems grossly unfair to refer to this as an article. It’s a short book. It’s a very good short book; lucid and entertaining in equal measure. A very enjoyable read.
It is, unfortunately, surrounded by some distracting “enhancements” but perhaps you can use your cleaner-upper software of choice to route around their damage: Instapaper, Pocket, Readability, whatever works for you.
A PDF of Clarke’s classic essay on the follies of prediction. From the 1972 collection The Futurists, edited by Alvin Toffler.
Before there was radar, there were acoustic mirrors along the coast of England—parabolic structures designed to funnel the distant sound of approaching aircraft.
I love this talk.
Alex takes a long-zoom look at the web and our technology stacks, from ’60s counterculture to start-up culture, touching on open source and the indie web along the way.
Jo writes about hosting Codebar Brighton. I share her enthusiasm—it feels like a great honour to be able to host such a great community event.
Mike runs through the history of Flash. Those who forget the history of the web are doomed to repeat it:
The struggle now seems to be turning to native apps versus non-native apps on the mobile platform. It is similar to Flash’s original battle ground: the argument that the Web technology stack is not suitable for building applications with a polished user-experience.
Still a few days left to back this great project for Brighton:
Build, tinker, make and play! For anyone with imagination, The Brighton Makerlab lets ages 8 to 80 create cool stuff with technology.
Alternative histories of communication.
Superb. Absolutely superb.
A magnificent tour-de-force by Frank on the web’s edgelessness.
Read. Absorb. Read again. This is the essence of responsive web design, distilled.
There’s a whole bunch of great events happening in Brighton this March: Codebar, Curiosity Hub, She Codes Brighton, 300 Seconds, She Says Brighton, and Ladies that UX. Lots of these will be downstairs from Clearleft in Middle Street—very handy!
Tim Maughan reports on the same container ship trip that Dan W. is sending his postcards from.
I like the idea of there being an Apollo-sized project all around us, if you just know where to look.
First, towering above and over the ship, are the loading cranes. Vast structures mounted on huge, four-legged frames, they resemble the naked scaffolding of unbuilt skyscrapers, and trigger nostalgic reminders of Saturn V rocket launch towers from the 1960s.
Once in port at night I saw one suddenly fire into life next to the ship in a stroboscopic explosion of lights, before it tracked slowly above my high vantage point, bathing me in the orange glow of a dozen small halogen suns.
Designing primarily in a laptop web browser and testing with a mouse rather than fingers may come to look very out of date soon.
Tim Carmody on James Cameron’s meisterwerk (and technology in sci-fi films in general).
Focus on what you want to learn; not what you think you should learn.
There is a lot of pressure out there: to learn new things, to spend all your time coding, to be the super developer. I now believe that to be impossible and unhealthy. It means you aren’t living a balanced life and it also means that you’re living under constant stress and pressure.
My name is Jeremy and I am a boring front-end developer.
I really like Phil’s braindump of conference ideas. Frankly, many of these ideas work just as well as watchwords for building on the web:
- Different models for start-ups. Co-operatives. Employee ownership. Normal, slowly-growing, profit-making businesses.
- Technology for people who don’t live in the first world. (There’s a lot of them and they have a lot of technology, but most of us know nothing about it.)
- Websites that make the whole Web better.
- New services that work fine on technology that’s been around for years.
- Services designed for people who have little money.
- Services designed for people who aren’t fully able.
- Models for keeping services running over the long-term. (What happens when your company closes, or to your personal projects when you die?)
Slides and transcript from Anab’s terrific dConstruct talk.
Cole Peters calls upon designers and developers to realise the power they have to shape the modern world and act accordingly.
It is in those of us who work in tech and on the web that digital privacy may find its greatest chance for survival. As labourers in one of the most pivotal industries of our times, we possess the knowledge and skills required to create tools and ecosystems that defend our privacy and liberties.
I don’t disagree, but I think it’s also important to recognise how much power is in the hands of non-designers and non-developers: journalists, politicians, voters …everyone has a choice to make.
This year’s collection of twelve sci-fi stories from Technology Review features three dConstruct speakers: Lauren Beukes, Cory Doctorow, and Warren Ellis.
Lighthouse are putting on their Improving Reality conference again this year. It’s the day before dConstruct. Come to both!
A profile of Norbert Wiener, and how his star was eclipsed by Claude Shannon.
The transcript of Anab Jain’s talk from the FutureEverything Festival.
We better get used to them…
Steven Johnson’s new television series will be shown on BBC in a few months time. Looks like it’s going to be good Burkian fun.
Today, a basic HTML/CSS site seems almost passé. But why? Is it because our new tools are so significantly better, or because we’ve gone overboard complicating simple things?
He’s right, y’know.
A profile of Demetrios Matsakis, keeper of time at U.S. Naval Observatory, America’s equivalent to Greenwich in its importance for timekeeping in the modern world.
Eileen Gunn writes in the Smithsonian magazine on the influence of science fiction.
Science fiction, at its best, engenders the sort of flexible thinking that not only inspires us, but compels us to consider the myriad potential consequences of our actions.
The GPS system is a monumental network that provides a permanent “YouAreHere” sign hanging in the sky, its signal a constant, synchronised timecode.
Some interesting thoughts that follow on nicely from Scott Jenson’s ideas around just-in-time interactions:
What if the technology was actually already in the room when we got there? Maybe that’s the kind of Internet-of-things that will be more sustainable and will win long-term.
I finally got around to reading Red Men by Matthew De Abaitua recently. It’s like Nick Harkaway crossed with Jeff Noon.
Here’s hoping that this short film will be developed into a full-length feature.
What a wonderful way to go online!
So Doug Engelbart, Alan Kay, Ted Nelson, and Tim Berners-Lee walk into a panel…
This is a wonderful piece by Maciej—a magnificent historical narrative that leads to a thunderous rant. Superb!
The annual round-up.
A superb bit of sleuthing by James:
From London to the Mediterranean, to Malta and back again, over multiple countries and jurisdictions, through airspace and legal space. The contortions of G-WIRG’s flight path mirror the ethical labyrinth the British Government finds itself in when, against all better judgements, it insists on punishing individuals as an example to others, using every weasel justification in its well-funded legal war chest. Using a combination of dirty laws and private technologies to transform and transmit people from one jurisidiction, one legal condition and category, to another: this is the meaning of the verb “to render”.
From the lovely people behind Editorially comes STET:
A Writers’ Journal on Culture & Technology
Rachel talks about some of the old-fashioned technologies and business practices driving Perch.
This reminds of a talk by Marco Arment at Webstock a few years back when he described the advantages of not using cutting-edge technologies: most of the time, “boring” well-established technologies are simply more stable.
From CERN to singularity - the digital pioneer and cofounder of the WWW on 20 years of webscapades.
Iain M.Banks and dConstruct, together at last.
A timeline of technology.
Honor’s piece for The Guardian on this year’s dConstruct.
A smart and thoughtful write-up of dConstruct from Lee, pulling together three emergent themes:
- how we interact with machines and each other,
- how we co-evolve with machines, and
- making the invisible visible.
A great, thought-provoking day that proved, once again, that there are many brilliant, generous minds working in or around the future of technology and human experience today.
This is a terrific write up of this year’s dConstruct, tying together all the emergent themes.
A little sojourn around the Victorian internet.
Some of the more idiotic, harmful, stupid and nasty things said by the thought leaders of Silicon Valley.
The apparent difficulty of living in my head, freelancing, working for large organisations and then descending in to paranoia.
I have a lot of admiration for Reverend Dan Catt.
I don’t want to be in a position where I say “Hey, I’m working at Google, no no, don’t worry, the good bit of Google”, because goodness knows I did enough of that at Yahoo.
Oh, dear. An otherwise perfectly well-reasoned article makes this claim:
But the internet is peculiarly adapted to deftly pricking pomposity. This is partly because nothing dies online, meaning your past indiscretions are never yesterday’s news, wrapped round the proverbial fish and chips.
Bollocks. Show me the data to back up this claim.
The insidious truism that “the internet never forgets” is extremely harmful. The true problem is the opposite: the internet forgets all the time.
Geocities, Pownce, Posterous, Vox, and thousands more sites are very much yesterday’s news, wrapped round the proverbial fish and chips.
How to think about drones—an in-depth and fairly balanced article by Mark Bowden on drone strikes and the politics behind them.
In the long run, careful adherence to the law matters more than eliminating another bad actor. Greater prudence and transparency are not just morally and legally essential, they are in our long-term interest, because the strikes themselves feed the anti-drone narrative, and inspire the kind of random, small-scale terror attacks that are bin Laden’s despicable legacy.
This is a really well-written and worrying piece that pokes at that oft-cited truism about kids today being “digital natives”:
The causes of this lack of digital literacy can be traced back to school:
We’ve mirrored corporate networks, preventing kids and teachers access to system settings, the command line and requiring admin rights to do almost anything. They’re sitting at a general purpose computer without the ability to do any general purpose computing.
Also, this article has the best “TL;DR” description ever.
A good ol’ fashioned rant.
This sounds like it’s a going to be a good: a new TV series by Steven Johnson on the history of technology and innovation. Sounds very Burkian, which is a very good thing.
A terrific lighting talk by Scott on the need to think bigger. The solution to long-term issues is rarely “start a company”—we need to think more about creating a shared infrastructure …just like the internet.
The Victorian Internet indeed.
A wonderful article looking at the influence that Vannevar Bush’s seminal article As We May Think had on the young Douglas Engelbart.
The line-up for this year’s Improving Reality conference looks great (as always).
It’s the day before dConstruct so why not come on down to Brighton a day early and double your fun?
Google’s track record is not looking good. There seems to be a modus operandi of bait-and-switch: start with open technologies (XMPP, CalDav, RSS) and then once they’ve amassed a big enough user base, ditch the standards.
I’ve linked to this before, but with the death of Iain M Banks it’s worth re-reading this fascinating insight into The Culture, one of science fictions’s few realistic utopias.
The brief mention here of The Culture’s attitude to death is apt:
Philosophy, again; death is regarded as part of life, and nothing, including the universe, lasts forever. It is seen as bad manners to try and pretend that death is somehow not natural; instead death is seen as giving shape to life.
Ben is rightly worried by the blasé attitude in the tech world to the PRISM revelations. Perhaps that attitude stems from a culture of “log everything by default”?
I think there’s a deep rooted trait within this industry that sedates the outrage. That is the normality, complicity, and dependency on ‘surveillance’ in the software we make.
James gets profiled in Vanity Fair …which is, frankly, kind of weird.
It’s also so bizarre to read about his SXSW New Aesthetic panel as being such a pivotal moment: there weren’t that many of us in the room.
A well-written piece on the nature of work and value on the web, particularly in the start-up economy.
In a piece for Medium commissioned by Matter, Jon Norris describes a little-known aspect of the UK’s information technology history:
Gender equality is still a major issue in the technology industry, but 50 years ago one British company was blazing trails.
Scott points out a really big problem with the current state of the “internet of things”: everyone is inventing their own proprietary walled-garden infrastructure instead of getting together to collaborate on standards.
The single biggest fallacy I want to blow up is this utopian idea that there is this SINGLE thing called ‘The Cloud’. Each company today reinvents their own cloud. The Cloud as a concept is dead and has been for years: we are living within a stormy sky of cranky clouds, all trying to pretend the others don’t exist.
A history lesson from Vint Cerf. I can’t help but picture him as The Architect in The Matrix Reloaded.
When Tim Berners-Lee invented and released the World Wide Web (WWW) design in late 1991, he found an open and receptive internet in operation onto which the WWW could be placed. The WWW design, like the design of the internet, was very open and encouraged a growing cadre of self-taught webmasters to develop content and applications.
A design fiction video depicting technology that helps and hinders in equal measure.
A beautiful piece by James on the history of light as a material for communication …and its political overtones in today’s world.
What is light when it is information rather than illumination? What is it when it is not perceived by the human eye? Deep beneath the streets and oceans, what is illuminated by the machines, and how are we changed by this illumination?
A lovely description by Paul Ford of the Hypertext Transfer Protocol.
That simple handshake is the firmament upon which we have built trillion-dollar cathedrals and bazaars, the base upon which we construct other protocols and networks.
A lovely piece of writing from Richard on the nature of the web.
Sorta sci-fi from Adam.
Consider this a shooting script for one of those concept videos so beloved of the big technology vendors.
Charles Arthur analyses the data from Google’s woeful history of shutting down its services.
So if you want to know when Google Keep, opened for business on 21 March 2013, will probably shut - again, assuming Google decides it’s just not working - then, the mean suggests the answer is: 18 March 2017. That’s about long enough for you to cram lots of information that you might rely on into it; and also long enough for Google to discover that, well, people aren’t using it to the extent that it hoped.
I remember a talk and discussion at SxSW a few years back about trying to improve the efficiency of trade networks by making them more web-like: there are ships full of empty cargo containers, simply because companies insist on using the container with their logo on it. I really, really like the idea of applying the principles of packet-switching to physical networks.
But here’s the hard part:
The technology is not a problem. We could do it all in 10 years. It’s the business models and the mental models in people’s minds.
Now this looks like my kind of event:
A new micro-conference on science, technology, communication and fiction, organised by the Arthur C. Clarke Award.
What Dan said.
A great new site from Jenn and Yesenia: celebrating and supporting female speakers in technology.
Lauren talks about The Shining Girls and the tools she uses to write with.
Now this is what I call tech reporting.
The women leave the stage, wet computer in hand, and a new man takes the stage. He plays a schmaltzy video where Portuguese children teach adults to use Windows 8 accompanied by a hyperloud xylophone soundtrack that slices through my hangover like cheesewire though lukewarm gouda.
The fascinating story of how a dream team of geeks helped Obama to victory. Personally, I think it’s all about the facial hair. I mean, how could they lose with Trammell’s beard to guide them?
Man, I just love Scott Jenson.
Our brains have collectively gone startup-crazy, seeing the world through stock option colored glasses, assuming that if there is no money, there is clearly no value. This is madness. I’m so desperately worried that the internet will turn out to be a happy accident.
Turning his focus on “the internet of things” he makes the very good point that what we need isn’t one company or one proprietary service; we need an ecosystem of open standards that will enable companies to build services.
We all have to appreciate how we need a deep, open solution to solve this problem. If we don’t understand, demand even, that hardware devices need to be just as discoverable an open as web servers are today, we’ll never see the internet of things come to pass.
Some great thoughts from Mike Davies about the strengths of the web, prompted by some of the more extreme comments made by James Pearce at Full Frontal last week.
I should point out that James was being deliberately provocative in order to foment thought and discussion and, judging from this blog post, he succeeded.
The Web’s independence from the hardware and software platform people use is a feature. It’s better than cross-platform frameworks which are constantly criticised for not producing exact native-feeling apps on the multitude of platforms they run on. The Web is above that pettiness.
I know how Brad feels. I find it hard to muster any enthusiasm for any specific new device these days. But that’s okay. It’s more important to step back and see the trends and directions instead of getting caught up in the specifics of this particular phone or that particular tablet.
My remedy for device fatigue has been to take a step back and let my eyes go unfocused. Much like a Magic Eye, I can then see the hidden pictures behind the stippled noise that is the device landscape. This remedy helps me cope, gets me to stop caring about things that don’t really matter, and gets me to care about the broader trends the Magic Eye unveils.
There is an elephant in the Microsoft store.