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Fulcra
Conversations, cybernetics, and Theory of Mind A note on cybernetics and theory of mind. May 11, 2020 cybernetics & systems & conversations & cognition
Conversations, cybernetics, and Theory of Mind May 11, 2020 cybernetics, systems, conversations & cognition A note on cybernetics and theory of mind. ▵
 → Why are we exceeding the Earth’s carrying capacity? Apr 24, 2020 highlights & systems & systems sketching

This is a quickly-sketched model created from a breakout group conversation during the MUN School of Graduate Studies’ Earth’s Carrying Capacity” dialogue.

A systems model of the problems causing us to exceed Earth’s carrying capacity

Download the model

IDEO U's Creative Confidence Podcast → Roger Martin, Bianca Andreescu, and systemic strategy Apr 12, 2020 highlights & strategy & systemics & podcasts

According to designer/strategist Roger Martin, a strategy is an imagined possibility with which we ask the question What has to be true for this possibility to become real?”

In this episode IDEO U’s Creative Confidence podcast, Roger talks about how that approach helped unlock Bianca Andreescu’s success at the Grand Slam singles championship in 2019.

One of the fascinating things about this approach is that it acknowledges the need for system-wide changes. By asking What has to be true?”, a strategist must consider all of the conditions of a system that should shift to make the imagined possibility a reality. Of course, most approaches to strategy do require some appreciation of the state of the strategic environment (e.g., the five forces model). None, however, emphasize the need to guarantee these systemic conditions quite as explicitly as asking What must be true?”

Reuters → Systemic lessons from South Korea’s Patient 31 Mar 31, 2020 health & systems & volatility & highlights

This changed with the emergence of Patient 31.”

Reuters’ coverage of the Korean clusters” provided the world with a vivid glimpse of the volatility of COVID-19. One person showed poor judgement, and in turn caused cascading catastrophe in her communities.

Events like the COVID-19 pandemic are thankfully rare. Moments like these—when a lot happens all at once, and the experience is shared by a collective—shape future history like nothing else. We are learning a lot from this. Not only are epidemiologists now a famous profession, but we’re all learning exactly what it takes to provide good healthcare, what good governance looks like, how public health is community health, and more.

Patient 31 holds a simple lesson for systemics: the fragility of apparently solid social systems. South Korea seemed to do everything right. Yet, due to the volatile nature of this particular socio-health system, a single free radical” caused immense damage.

Similar volatility is evident—but more subtle—in other social systems. Consider how memes spread. Our massive communities may seem immovable at times, but it’s clear that the wrong (or right) phenomena can spread rapidly and deeply.

Stay safe.

Axle → Divide & conquer Mar 30, 2020 meta & highlights

I have often hesitated to draft up an idea because I’m not sure the folks reading this site want to hear it. I (aim to) publish about a few disparate subjects, really:

  • Systemics, design, and social change
  • Data modelling and data for social change
  • Productivity and personal knowledge management
  • Scripting and (personal) automation
  • Leadership, innovation, and changemaking

Obviously, this is too many topics for any one blog. If you’re reading this, you probably came here for just one of the topics above, and you might be interested in another one or two. And listen, I like you, and I want any visit of yours to be a valuable one. That’s why I’ve launched a sibling blog.

I could cluster the topics above a number of ways. Here’s what I think makes the most sense: This blog, Fulcra, will focus on finding leverage for complex change, including:

  • Systemics, design, and social change
  • Data modelling and data for social change
  • Leadership, innovation, and changemaking

The newest one, Axle, will focus on how we change ourselves, including:

  • Personal development
  • Design and technology for augmented cognition
  • Productivity and personal knowledge management
  • Scripting and (personal) automation

Moving forward, this site (Fulcra) will be a platform for writing on complex systems change. I aim to study, share, and write about how the world changes—and how we can get better at changing it.

Axle is a new site I will use to share my thoughts on how we change ourselves. After all, the better we get, the better we better get. The easy thing to write about (and what you’ll probably see the most often there) are the apps and tools I use and the designs I apply in my life and work. I also plan to share functional resources (such as scripts) as well as ask questions and debate about making progress in life and work.

This was a weird decision. After all, I barely publish here, so running two different sites seems like a terrible idea. I hope, however, that having more focused platforms for these different topics will help me publish more impulsively. Feel free to follow both, or none!

FSG → Can Snow Clearing Be Sexist? Mar 7, 2020 systemics & highlights

And so the Swedish gender equality initiative team began to explore whet her snow clearing was sexist. Sure enough, they found the routine of clearing snow typically benefited men over women. In the winter, snow was cleared first on main roads leading into the city, benefiting commuters—who were mostly men. Foot- and cycle-paths were cleared last—not so good for pedestrians and cyclists, who were very often women traveling with children in pushchairs.

There was a cost to all this: 79% of pedestrian injuries occurred in winter, of which 69% were women. The estimated cost of these falls was SKr36m per winter, about USD$3.7m / £3m / €3.4m / Indian ₹279m. By clearing paths first, accidents decreased by half and saved the local government money.

Great action-based response to a stupid remark (“At least snow-clearing was something those gender people’ can keep their noses out of,” someone had said, prompting this investigation).

The Verge → As Lambda students speak out, the school’s debt-swapping partnership disappears from the internet Feb 14, 2020 highlights & tech & education

The ISA is the business model, not education,” says Kim Crayton, a business strategist and founder of CauseAScene , an organization that’s seeking to disrupt the status quo in tech. You cannot tell me that education is your business model when you have not registered as an institution.” For months, Crayton has been speaking about the problems with coding bootcamps on her podcast, where she’s argued that they target vulnerable communities. You’re put in these spaces and putting in 110 percent and it’s still not working and you’re told to trust the process,’” she says.

Great reporting on this at The Verge.

Kim Crayton makes an excellent point. The promise of many of these neo-credentials is for students to leapfrog the things everyone fears about the conventional education system. No one is more vulnerable to taking on loads of student debt than those who need it most. Those students are also going to suffer the most if their university or college fails to equip them for a career. Lambda solves both of these problems, making it extremely attractive to poor students.

Sadly, there’s always a catch.

The Talk Show → “Bring It On, Haters”, With Special Guest Ben Thompson Feb 2, 2020 tech & podcasts & Apple & iPad & highlights

Ben Thompson, in discussion with John Gruber:

It was mindblowing. It was absolutely incredible. The way that you could just do stuff that wasn’t really possible [on a computer]. Again, it was technically possible on a computer, but the user interface and experience was just transformative on the iPad. It was absolutely incredible.

And Jobs knew it. It’s one of my all-time favourites Jobs moments. It’s like fifteen seconds after the demo, and it’s just like… he’s used this. He was involved in the creation of it. They had run through the demo. He knew it. And even then, he was just astonished. He’s just like I can’t believe [this]…’

[…]

It was, to my mind, the culmination of his life’s work. He comes on there, and he’s like, Isn’t it incredible? Now anyone can make music.’

I almost want to transcribe this whole episode. John Gruber and Ben Thompson discuss the potential of the iPad—and its failure to reach it.

Ben uses the term transformative” deliberately above. They discuss how, before the iPad, no computing experience could adapt to become wholly new tools and environments for whatever the user wanted to do. But the iPad can become a piano or a canvas or a television. In this sense, they argue that the iPad has (or had) the potential for disruptive innovation (RIP Clay Christensen)—but it’s not supposed to be a Mac.

These two think the iPad’s lost the chance to fulfill that potential, mostly because Apple has missed the opportunity to build a vibrant developer ecosystem due to App Store policies. I hope that isn’t the case, though I think we have to look beyond the iPad to fully appreciate what might happen next. The introduction of tablets and transformative computing experiences continues to echo throughout a variety of industries. Graphic designers and illustrators have a new suite of tools to directly interact with their creations in the iPad Pro and the Surface. Similarly, tablet or hybrid devices have transformed schools—schoolchildren now have a homework” device for all kinds of assignments. It’s true that we still need developers to imagine ever-more revolutionary applications for these devices, but there’s no denying that disruption is taking root.

Either way, the episode is well worth a listen. Enjoy from 15:50 to ~31:22 and 1:26:59 to the end of the show if you want to focus on the iPad discussion.

Facebook → Starting the Decade by Giving You More Control Over Your Privacy Jan 28, 2020 social media & tech & privacy & highlights

My bank, fitness and workout apps, and food delivery services I haven’t used in months—those were some of the 30+ apps interacting with Facebook data. Ostensibly this data is used to personalize ads.

As of today, our Off-Facebook Activity tool is available to people on Facebook around the world. Other businesses send us information about your activity on their sites and we use that information to show you ads that are relevant to you. Now you can see a summary of that information and clear it from your account if you want to.

Off-Facebook Activity marks a new level of transparency and control. We’ve been working on this for a while because we had to rebuild some of our systems to make this possible.

Now, thankfully, you can review these connections yourself and clear any history manually. Check out Facebook’s Off-Facebook Activity controls, and happy Data Privacy Day.

Motherboard → Leaked Documents Expose the Secretive Market for Your Web Browsing Data Jan 27, 2020 tech & privacy & highlights

If the product is free, you are the product:

An antivirus program used by hundreds of millions of people around the world is selling highly sensitive web browsing data to many of the world’s biggest companies.

The Verge → Google’s ads just look like search results now Jan 24, 2020 highlights & tech & design

In what appears to be something of a purposeful dark pattern, the only thing differentiating ads and search results is a small black-and-white Ad” icon next to the former.

Hrm. The resulting change seems to work:

Early data collected by Digiday suggests that the changes may already be causing people to click on more ads. […] According to one digital marketing agency, click- through rates have already increased for some search ads on desktop, and mobile click- through rates for some of its clients increased last year from 17 to 18 percent after similar changes to Googleʼs mobile search layout.

Damn. I may start looking for a new search engine.

MacMillan → Interference by Sue Burke Jan 24, 2020 book & sci-fi & highlights

[People] tend to ignore outside forces and focus on each other. This comes naturally. They believe they are responsible for everything because they believe they have no limits to the mastery of their fates, a false belief but their central motivation, perhaps good for their mental health, since powerlessness is hopelessness.

If you haven’t heard of Sue Burke’s Pax” duology, and you like sci-fi, I’m happy to recommend a new favourite book series for you.

The Pax books are about a rebellious attempt to save humanity in which several families build their own ship and escape to a new planet to begin a new colony. Doing that is about as straightforward as it sounds. Sue Burke brings this premise to life masterfully.

Systemics and design principles in support of Tiago Forte’s PARA framework Jan 21, 2020 articles, personal knowledge management, productivity, systemics & design Tiago Forte's PARA system is a popular new approach to organizing your digital materials. I explain its usefulness with reference to some principles from systemic design. ▵
 → Microsoft wants to capture all of the carbon dioxide it’s ever emitted Jan 19, 2020 highlights & tech & science & climate change

The most audacious commitment from Microsoft is its push to take carbon out of the atmosphere. The company is putting its faith in nascent technology, and it’s injecting a significant investment into a still controversial climate solution. Proponents of carbon capture, like Friedmann, say that the technology is mature enough to accomplish Microsoft’s aims. It’s just way too expensive right now. Microsoft’s backing — and its $1 billion infusion of cash — could ultimately make the tech cheaper and more appealing to other companies looking for new ways to go green.

Fantastic news. Carbon capture is a key opportunity for decelerating climate change. Hopefully more companies follow suit.

 → US announces AI software export restrictions for China Jan 6, 2020 highlights & tech

A surprising headline, but the restriction is very specific:

the new export ban is extremely narrow. It applies only to software that uses neural networks (a key component in machine learning) to discover points of interest” in geospatial imagery; things like houses or vehicles. The ruling, posted by the Bureau of Industry and Security, notes that the restriction only applies to software with a graphical user interface — a feature that makes programs easier for non- technical users to operate.

Still, this is probably a marker of change to come. It’s a little odd to think of software as something that can be exported”, however. Surely this isn’t a ban on shipping discs across a border. Software is downloaded. So, is this a kind of firewall?

 → Science Conferences Are Stuck in the Dark Ages Jan 4, 2020 highlights & science & facilitation & collaboration

Dr. Ngumbi and Dr. Lovett outline the issues with modern research conferences that are stuck in the 20th (or even 19th) century.

By the end of each conference, you’ve heard dozens of people dispense all their knowledge in 10-minute bursts, and you sometimes leave feeling less informed than before you arrived. Where’s the dialog? Where’s the questioning? Where’s the innovation? It’s beyond time that scientific conferences themselves undergo the scientific process, and move forward.

I shouldn’t ever be surprised by these events, but every time I go to one, I am shocked by how boring the facilitation is. Some might defend the format. After all, sage-on-a-stage has worked for hundreds of years.

The question isn’t whether it works, though. It’s whether it could be better. Surely, in an age of cloud technologies and the Internet and social media—not to mention better recognition of soft power and inclusivity and the processes of scientific revolution—there are modes of conference programming that can leapfrog the conventional format.

Having led a number of events over the years that have shirked tradition for more interesting facilitation formats, I know firsthand how disruptive facilitation mistakes can be. But I’ve also seen some incredible results from shaking up the structure. Radhoc’s Unpanel, for instance, turns the structure of a panel upside-down. Instead of having a group of experts” on a stage speaking to an anonymous crowd, the format puts those invited guests in subgroups that get to introduce one another. The audience becomes the panel, and the expert an anchor in the conversation. It gives everyone a chance to connect with the quasi-celebrities anointed by these events. As a bonus, it’s easier for the guests, too—they don’t need to prepare keynotes, only business cards.

 → This wireless power startup says it can charge your phone using only radio waves Jan 4, 2020 highlights & tech

Bohn and his co-founders are confident that, if done right, a proper system for wireless power transmission could shift not just how we think about keeping devices charged and powered on at all times, but also the types of devices we end up putting in our homes and what those devices get used for.

I’d say. If this works, it’ll remove a technical limitation that is pretty built-in to our mental models of how our gadgets work.

Guru is envisioning a world where you can keep all manner of battery-powered gadgets, big and small, all over your home or in every corner of an office, store, or warehouse without having to worry about where they draw power from or how long it lasts on a charge.

Eliminating the where will I plug it in?” assumption might unlock opportunities across all ways of living and working.

 → Segway’s newest self-balancing vehicle is an egg-shaped wheelchair Jan 3, 2020 highlights & tech

Segwayʼs newest self-balancing vehicle wonʼt require you to stand up. Dubbed the S- Pod, the new egg- shaped two-wheeler from Segway-Ninebot is meant to let people sit while they effortlessly cruise around campuses, theme parks, airports, and maybe even cities.

Hmm. At least with self-balancing, this won’t happen.

 → Twitter announces Bluesky: a team seeking and developing an open standard for social media Dec 13, 2019 highlights & social media & twitter & open

From @jack himself:

Twitter is funding a small independent team of up to five open source architects, engineers, and designers to develop an open and decentralized standard for social media. The goal is for Twitter to ultimately be a client of this standard. 🧵

The thread is worth the read, as are some of the comments. There’s a few interesting resources shared within, including a couple of articles from Jack and a few existing open standards.

 → Elon Musk attempts to explain Twitter to normal people in court Dec 5, 2019 highlights & tech & twitter

Every part of this trial sounds made up. They should just air it in lieu of a Good Fight episode. Elizabeth Lopatto’s writeup is worth worshipping.

Spiro then coined the worst acronym I’ve heard in years, and I edit stories about aerospace so I know from bad acronyms. It is: JDART, for joking, deleted, apologized-for, responsive tweets.

Incredible.

But there’s at least one abstract takeaway that’s interesting to me:

At this point, Wood tried to enter an email exchange into evidence, resulting in a great deal of confusion on Judge Wilson’s part about how email reply chains work. (You read from the bottom.)

[…]

At this point, the pedo guy” Twitter thread was entered into evidence, and the befuddled court had to be told that the reply chains work the other way on Twitter — the first tweet is at the top, and the last tweet is at the bottom.

Yet another example of the ways in which the world’s accelerating faster than many institutions can keep up.

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