Changing our ways of thinking and doing isn’t easy. Sometimes it’s necessary though, and the first step on this journey is to let go. Let go of our imaginary feel of control. Forget the boundaries presented by our tools and ways of thinking. Break out of the silos we’ve created.
Churchill, as it turns out, had some pretty solid ideas on SETI.
Churchill was a science enthusiast and advocate, but he also contemplated important scientific questions in the context of human values. Particularly given today’s political landscape, elected leaders should heed Churchill’s example: appoint permanent science advisers and make good use of them.
Matt takes a look at the history of scheduled broadcast media—which all began in Hungary in 1887 via telephone—and compares it to the emerging media context of the 21st century; the stream.
If the organizing principle of the broadcast schedule was synchronization — millions seeing the same thing at the same time — then the organizing principle of the stream is de-contextualization — stories stripped of their original context, and organized into millions of individual, highly personalized streams.
An excellent potted history from Cassie on women in computing.
NASA’s “Keypunch girls” would work in cramped rows translating programming instructions onto paper pads, whilst the machine operators would sit in comfort, feeding the code decks through card readers and enjoying the esteem of the end result (I imagine it a bit like Mad Men, but with more sexism and astronauts).
A marvellous story of early twentieth century espionage over the airwaves.
In one proposal, hidden instructions were interspersed within regular, ordinary-looking messages by slightly lengthening the spaces between dots and dashes.
A fascinating bit of technological archeology tracing some of the oldest still-running software, from a COBOL program at the Pentagon to the firmware on the Voyager probes.
Like cuneiform crossed with the Long Now Foundation’s Rosetta Project.
He will laser-print a microscopic font onto 1-mm-thick ceramic sheets, encased in wafer-thin layers of glass. One 20 cm piece of this microfilm can store 5 million characters; whole libraries of information—readable with a 10x-magnifying lens—could be slotted next to each other and hardly take up any space.
A wonderfully thoughtful piece from Robin, ranging from the printing technologies of the 15th century right up to the latest web technologies. It’s got all my favourite things in there: typography, digital preservation, and service workers. Marvellous!
I love this recasting of the internet into a fantastical medieval setting. Standards become spells, standards bodies become guilds and orders of a coven, and technologies become instruments of divination. Here, for example, is the retelling of IPv4:
The Unique Rune of the Fourth Order is the original and formative Unique Rune, still commonly in use. All existing Unique Runes of the Fourth Order were created simultaneously in the late 1970’s by the Numberkeepers, at a time when Rough Telepathy was a small and speculative effort tightly affiliated with the Warring Kingdom of the United States. There were then and are now 4.3 billion Unique Runes of the Fourth Order, a number which cannot be increased. The early Numberkeepers believed 4.3 billion would be more than enough. However, this number is no longer sufficient to provision the masses hungry to never disengage from participation in Rough Telepathy, and the Merchants eager to harness Rough Telepathy as a “feature” in new and often unnecessary consumer products. This shortage has caused considerable headache among the Fiefdoms, the Regional Telepathy Registers, and the Coven.
I really like Liz’s long-zoom perspective in this look ahead to journalism in 2017.
Maeve Higgins must’ve been back in Cobh (our hometown) at the same time this Christmas. Here she tells the story of Annie Moore, the first person to enter the doors at Ellis Island.
I stood on the darkening quay side in Cobh on Christmas Eve, and looked at a statue of Annie there. She seems small and capable, her hands lightly resting on her little brothers’ shoulders, gazing back at a country she would never see again. An Irish naval ship had returned to the harbor earlier that week from its mission off the Mediterranean coast, a mission that has rescued 15,000 people from the sea since May 2015, though 2016 was still the deadliest one for migrants crossing the Mediterranean since World War II.
An Enigma machine of one’s own.
Matt Griffin’s thoughtful documentary is now available for free on Vimeo. It’s a lovely look at the past, present, and future of the web, marred only by the brief appearance of yours truly.
A profile of Stanisław Lem and his work, much of which is still untranslated.
Well, look at these fresh-faced lads presenting their little hypertext system in 1992. A fascinating time capsule.
A superb 2012 essay by Olia Lialin. J.C.R. Licklider, Vannevar Bush, Ted Nelson, Douglas Engelbart, Don Norman, Lawrence Lessig, Jonathan Zittrain, Douglas Rushkoff and Cory Doctorow all make an appearance.
There’s a lot to think about here. I’m particular struck by the idea that calling people “users” isn’t necessarily the dehumanising Lakoffian language we think it is; users have power and control. If we stop treating people like users, we may end up infantilising and disempowering them.
But when you read it in a broader context, the denial of the word “user” in favor of “people” becomes dangerous. Being a User is the last reminder that there is, whether visible or not, a computer, a programmed system you use.
An illustrated history of digital iconography.
This is so wonderful! A 3D fly-through of the Apollo 11 command module, right in your browser. It might get your fan whirring, but it’s worth it.
Click through for lots of great details on the interface controls, like which kinds of buttons and switches were chosen for which tasks.
And there’s this lovely note scrawled near the sextant by Michael Collins (the coolest of all the astronauts):
Spacecraft 107, alias Apollo 11, alias ‘Columbia.’ The Best Ship to Come Down the Line. God Bless Her.