Web dev at the end of the world, from Hveragerði, Iceland

You are here #2:
an artisanal curation of reading material

For your pleasure:

  • The real world of technology
  • Stress and flatness in UI design
  • Life on other planets
  • Proportional representation
  • The web as a continuum
  • And attention sp—oooh, shiny!

I’m thinking here of rumors of Apple employees standing up en masse because their watch told them to do so. Ordinarily, a program instructs machines to perform tasks in certain ways; here, a program instructs a person to do so. And there are all kinds of reasons to support that: using machines to help us be better humans is entirely reasonable. (I’m using a machine to write this, of course, and you’re using a machine to read it.) But something about the spectacle of watch-wearing Apple staff spontaneously standing up in response to a buzz on the wrist is, well, unsettling. We shouldn’t be so quick to shake that off. We should be unsettled.

Prescriptive technologies by Mandy Brown (1243 words).

Some more from the book by Ursula M. Franklin that Mandy Brown mentions (which I also happen to be reading at the moment):

Tools often redefine a problem. Think, for instance, of speeding and radar traps. Let’s go back to the purpose of speed limits. They were instituted to enhance safety, not to produce criminality. One way of enforcing speed limits used to be the judicious presence of clearly marked police cruisers on our highways. The police drove at the speed limit and by this tactic brought the traffic pattern into compliance with the regulations. The tool of radar traps brought another dimension into the situation. The emphasis shifted from common safety to individual “deterrence.” It was felt that the fear of being caught and fined would be a better way of enforcing the regulations. Next came a technological option of avoiding the radar trap, using what’s commonly called a “fuzz-buster” Now the motorist, concerned less with safety than with criminality, buys an avoidance device, whether it is outlawed or not. The next player in the speeding game is a device for law-enforcement officers to detect the presence of a fuzz-buster. And now there seems to be a new generation of widget on the horizon which those with a fuzz-buster can use to detect the counter-technology of law enforcement. And so it goes.

The common problem of road safety has been transformed into the private problem of fines and demerit and into a technological cat-and-mouse game. One might say that the technological tools designed to establish random criminality have prevented the development of techniques to establish collectively safe driving patterns. Thus it may be wise, when conununities are faced with new technological solutions to existing problems, to ask what these techniques may prevent and not only to check what the techniques promise to do.

The real world of technology is a very complex system. And nothing in my survey or its highlights should be interpreted as technological determinism or as a belief in the autonomy of technology per se. What needs to be emphasized is that technologies are developed and used within a particular social, economic, and political context. They arise out of a social structure, they are grafted on to it, and they may reinforce it or destroy it, often in ways that are neither foreseen nor foreseeable. In this complex world neither the option that “everything is possible” nor the option that “everything is preordained” exists.

From The Real World of Technology by Ursula M. Franklin.

Was anyone remotely delighted the first time they saw flat design? (@danebaker)

If we group them all together, we keep the real goal in mind: limiting user stress, thereby increasing the chance the user will take whatever action is intended by our products.

Don’t Count Taps, Count Stresses by Mark Mezrich (1074 words).

If we encounter life elsewhere, it’s a foregone conclusion that its details will differ significantly from ours – and that its differences will dwarf what SF has come up with. Non-terrestrial life may not use DNA or RNA as its basis of genetic transmission; it may use a different kit of starting blocks for energy, scaffolding and catalysis. It will have a totally different repertoire of body plans, sensoria, mental processes, reproductive modes, ecosystems. But it will be based on carbon and will almost certainly use water as its solvent. And just from current percentages, it’s possible that most planetary life may have developed in “roofed ocean” worlds like Europa, instead of the open atmosphere of Earth.

Up the Walls of the Worlds by (1062 words).

“Amazon wonders: Are you an introvert or an extrovert?” I wonder: Does 400+ books on my Kindle not give your machine learning a SLIGHT clue? (@patio11)

Still, with the Conservatives in power now and Labour still presumably reckoning it can again win a majority in 2020, I doubt we’ll see any electoral reform happen. Far better to bang on about fairness while ensuring most votes fundamentally don’t matter, and gamble on winning those few that do. Politics: British style. Partying like it’s 1899 in 2015.

PR in the UK, or: Do you want 80 UKIP MPs? by (701 words).

And @adactio now preaches the gospel: the Web is not a platform. He says it’s a continuum; I prefer platformS, plural, but we mean the same. (@ppk)

One needs to write to keep readers interested, yes, but that is not the same thing as writing for a short attention span. If an author can keep a reader interested then the reader will come back to a book each time they put it down. What’s more, if the reader is interested they’ll pick up the next book in the series and continue reading.

No, Attention Spans Are NOT Getting Shorter by Nate Hoffelder (730 words).

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