I wasn’t supposed to speak at this year’s Beyond Tellerrand conference, but alas, Ellen wasn’t able to make it so I stepped in and gave my talk on evaluating technology.
Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017
Monday, May 1st, 2017
The Long Now Foundation has been posting some great stuff on their blog lately. The latest is a look at orreries, clocks, and computers throughout history …and into the future.
Tuesday, April 25th, 2017
Is the emergence of a technologically advanced civilisation necessarily contingent on the easy availability of ancient energy? Is it possible to build an industrialised civilisation without fossil fuels?
This thought experiment leads to some fascinating conclusions.
So, would a society starting over on a planet stripped of its fossil fuel deposits have the chance to progress through its own Industrial Revolution? Or to phrase it another way, what might have happened if, for whatever reason, the Earth had never acquired its extensive underground deposits of coal and oil in the first place? Would our progress necessarily have halted in the 18th century, in a pre-industrial state?
Tuesday, April 18th, 2017
Håkon wrote his doctoral thesis on CSS …which is kinda like Einstein writing a thesis on relativity. There’s some fascinating historical insight into the creation of the standards we use today.
Sunday, April 16th, 2017
The Internet Archive is now hosting early Macintosh software emulated right in your browser. That means you can play Adventure: the source of subsequent text adventures, natural language parsing, and chatbots.
Colossal Cave Adventure (also known as ADVENT, Colossal Cave, or Adventure) is a text adventure game, developed originally in 1976, by Will Crowther for the PDP-10 mainframe. The game was expanded upon in 1977, with help from Don Woods, and other programmers created variations on the game and ports to other systems in the following years.
In the game, the player controls a character through simple text commands to explore a cave rumored to be filled with wealth.
This wide-ranging essay by Nick Nielsen on Centauri Dreams has a proposition that resonates with my current talk about evaluating technology:
Science produces knowledge, but technology only selects that knowledge from the scientific enterprise that can be developed for practical uses.
Then there’s this:
The most remarkable feature of how we got from the origins of our species to the complex and sophisticated civilization we have today is that, with few exceptions, none of it was planned. Technology was not planned; civilization was not planned; industrialization was not planned; the internet was not planned.
Wednesday, April 12th, 2017
Here’s the opening keynote I gave at the Render Conference in Oxford. The talk is called Evaluating Technology:
Monday, April 3rd, 2017
It’s fascinating to look back at this early proposal for CSS from 1994 and see what the syntax might have been:
A one-statement style sheet that sets the font size of the h1 element:
h1.font.size = 24pt 100%
The percentage at the end of the line indicates what degree of influence that is requested (here 100%).
Thursday, March 30th, 2017
This is wonderful meditation on the history of older technologies that degrade in varied conditions versus newer formats that fall of a “digital cliff”, all tied in to working on the web.
When digital TV fails, it fails completely. Analog TV, to use parlance of the web, degrades gracefully. The web could be similar, if we choose to make it so. It could be “the analog” web in contrast to “the digital” platforms. Perhaps in our hurry to replicate and mirror native platforms, we’re forgetting the killer strength of the web: universal accessibility.
Thursday, March 23rd, 2017
Chapter 3 of Resilient Web Design, republished in Smashing Magazine:
In the world of web design, we tend to become preoccupied with the here and now. In “Resilient Web Design“, Jeremy Keith emphasizes the importance of learning from the past in order to better prepare ourselves for the future. So, perhaps we should stop and think more beyond our present moment? The following is an excerpt from Jeremy’s web book.
Tuesday, March 21st, 2017
Monday, March 20th, 2017
Time-shifted reports from the Russian revolution, 100 years on.
All the texts used are taken from genuine documents written by historical figures: letters, memoirs, diaries and other documents of the period.
Every day, when you go onto the site, you will find out what happened exactly one hundred years ago: what various people were thinking about and what happened to each of them in this eventful year. You may not fast-forward into the future, but must follow events as they happen in real time.
We’ve gone through the invention step. The infrastructure came out of DARPA and the World Wide Web itself came out of CERN.
We’ve gone through the hobbyist step. Everyone now knows what the internet is, and some of the amazing things it’s capable of.
We’ve gone through the commercialization step. Monopolies have emerged, refined, and scaled the internet.
But the question remains: can we break with the tragic history that has befallen all prior information empires? Can this time be different?
The first part of this article is a great history lesson in the style of Tim Wu’s The Master Switch. The second part is a great explanation of net neutrality, why it matters, and how we can fight for it.
If you do nothing, we will lose the war for the open internet. The greatest tool for communication and creativity in human history will fall into the hands of a few powerful corporations and governments.
There’s something very endearing about this docudrama retelling of the story of the web.
Monday, March 6th, 2017
The conference starts tomorrow so I’ve had a day or two to acclimatise and explore. Seeing as Google are footing the bill for travel and accommodation, I’m staying at a rather nice hotel close to the conference venue in Tribeca. There’s live jazz in the lounge most evenings, a cinema downstairs, and should I request it, I can even have a goldfish in my room.
Today I realised that my hotel sits in the apex of a triangle of interesting buildings: carrier hotels.
Looming above my hotel is 32 Avenue of the Americas. On the outside the building looks like your classic Gozer the Gozerian style of New York building. Inside, the lobby features a mosaic on the ceiling, and another on the wall extolling the connective power of radio and telephone.
The same architects also designed 60 Hudson Street, which has a similar Art Deco feel to it. Inside, there’s a cavernous hallway running through the ground floor but I can’t show you a picture of it. A security guard told me I couldn’t take any photos inside …which is a little strange seeing as it’s splashed across the website of the building.
I walked around the outside of 60 Hudson, taking more pictures. Another security guard asked me what I was doing. I told her I was interested in the history of the building, which is true; it was the headquarters of Western Union. For much of the twentieth century, it was a world hub of telegraphic communication, in much the same way that a beach hut in Porthcurno was the nexus of the nineteenth century.
For a 21st century hub, there’s the third and final corner of the triangle at 33 Thomas Street. It’s a breathtaking building. It looks like a spaceship from a Chris Foss painting. It was probably designed more like a spacecraft than a traditional building—it’s primary purpose was to withstand an atomic blast. Gone are niceties like windows. Instead there’s an impenetrable monolith that looks like something straight out of a dystopian sci-fi film.
Brutalist on the outside, its interior is host to even more brutal acts of invasive surveillance. The Snowden papers revealed this AT&T building to be a centrepiece of the Titanpointe programme:
They called it Project X. It was an unusually audacious, highly sensitive assignment: to build a massive skyscraper, capable of withstanding an atomic blast, in the middle of New York City. It would have no windows, 29 floors with three basement levels, and enough food to last 1,500 people two weeks in the event of a catastrophe.
But the building’s primary purpose would not be to protect humans from toxic radiation amid nuclear war. Rather, the fortified skyscraper would safeguard powerful computers, cables, and switchboards. It would house one of the most important telecommunications hubs in the United States…
Looking at the building, it requires very little imagination to picture it as the lair of villainous activity. Laura Poitras’s short film Project X basically consists of a voiceover of someone reading an NSA manual, some ominous background music, and shots of 33 Thomas Street looming in its oh-so-loomy way.
A top-secret handbook takes viewers on an undercover journey to Titanpointe, the site of a hidden partnership. Narrated by Rami Malek and Michelle Williams, and based on classified NSA documents, Project X reveals the inner workings of a windowless skyscraper in downtown Manhattan.
Saturday, March 4th, 2017
An alternative history of technology, emphasising curation over innovation:
We start to see the intangibles – the standards and ideologies that help to create and order technology systems, making them work at least most of the time. We start to see that technological change does not demand that we move fast and break things. Understanding the role that standards, ideologies, institutions – the non-thing aspects of technology – play, makes it possible to see how technological change actually happens, and who makes it happen.
Wednesday, March 1st, 2017
A lovely piece of early web history—Olia Lialina describes the early Net Art scene in 2000.
The address bar is the author’s signature. It’s where action takes place, and it’s the action itself. The real action on the web doesn’t happen on the page with its animated GIFs or funny scripts, it’s concentrated in the address bar.
And how wonderful that this piece is now published on Rhizome, an online institution so committed to its mission that it’s mentioned in this seventeen year old article.
Monday, February 20th, 2017
Sunday, February 19th, 2017
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.
Thursday, February 16th, 2017
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.