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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.

 → TED and YouTube launch global climate initiative Dec 5, 2019 highlights & change & systems & crowdsourcing

Anyone, anywhere can propose an idea. YouTube creators will help spread the word, and the best proposals could be put into motion with the help of businesses, policymakers, and and celebrities supporting the initiative.

The initiative will culminate in a summit in Bergen, Norway next October to share the solutions that came out of the effort. Countdown will work with a panel of experts and scientists to vet proposals, and the strongest will be turned into TED talks. The talks will be filmed at the summit in Norway, in front of a hand-picked audience capable of turning those ideas into action,” according to a press release.

An interesting partnership, and yet another example of crowdsolving”: trying to find solutions to wicked problems via the mobilizing power of the Internet.

I certainly expect to see some concepts from Drawdown on stage.

 → Embracing multilingualism to enhance complexity sensitive research Dec 2, 2019 highlights & research & complexity

In this research article, the authors point out that the cycles of translation from English to the language of the context and back again can be costly and inconvenient. But, they point out three benefits to investing in translation and multi-lingual research spaces.

First, the authors argue that disseminating the results of research in local languages not only makes your research accessible to stakeholders, but it also helps stakeholders value all research more. They write:

Translations are expensive and time-consuming, so a large part of our work stays in English unavailable to the local stakeholders, who may have participated in the research process. This is an issue not only because it reduces their possibilities to learn from the systematized outcomes of the processes in which they participate, but because it reduces their perception of the value of research. When stakeholders feel that researchers write exclusively for other foreign researchers, their readiness to support and fund research may decrease.

The second benefit:

Second, academics who don’t read English may find it difficult to continue building on knowledge published only in that language.

This takeaway is obvious. So many publications are translated to English, but the reverse is rare.

Third, and by no means least, naming complex issues or ideas only in English impoverishes other languages. When we forsake finding a word for a particular concept or idea in a given language, we impoverish that language.

This is quite insightful. Language is intrinsic to organizational learning. If the concepts advanced in our research are never introduced to the local language, then it may be impossible for that learning to take root.

The authors recognize a fascinating tension in this work. They demonstrated the possibility of multi-language research spaces via a virtual research commons for their project.

What we have learned from working with different languages and acknowledging them during the full research cycle, including the dissemination stage, is that they are time- consuming, costly and even a bit messy and uncomfortable. For example, in the case of the virtual space above, some participants complained that having to find their own language among texts written in other languages begs an extra effort from them and slows them down. However, the alternative is renouncing inclusion and plurality, which is at odds with the challenge faced by academia to address complex societal problems.

There is a cost to complexity, but solution spaces need to be more complex than the problems they’re resolving.1


  1. See Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety; http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/ASHBBOOK.html, p. 207

 → The ‘Amazon effect’ is flooding a struggling recycling system with cardboard Dec 2, 2019 highlights & change & systems

Chinaʼs 2017 decision to turn away Americaʼs trash has left the recycling industry reeling as it figures out what to do with all the packaging online shoppers leave behind.

Recycling is a funny thing. For me, it’s almost a guilt-free act. Sure, I’m using all of these boxes, but they’re recycled, so who cares?” But increasingly recycling and the trash bin seem like equivalent destinations. It’s even imaginable that recycling is worse, because recycled objects might travel farther before being dumped into a landfill anyway.

Itʼs very difficult for American material recovery facilities to satisfy that standard because Americans put plastic bags and chewing gum and bowling balls and dirty diapers and everything else you can imagine into the recycling containers,” Biderman says. The strict rules also apply to plastic and other recyclables, but cardboard and mixed paper have seen the sharpest drops in prices.

I’m tempted to blame people: It’s too bad we can’t be more considerate. Have you ever looked in the recycling bins in public receptacles?” Et cetera. But really, we should be designing systems that make this easy—or incentivize good behaviours somehow. Either way, the current situation is insufficient:

There has also been a noticeable shift in the source of the cardboard, says Coupland: itʼs coming from peoplesʼ homes instead of brick-and-mortar businesses. Thatʼs bad news, since retailers are less likely to generate cardboard thatʼs too filthy to be recycled. Consumersʼ cardboard boxes are often mixed with other, dirty recyclables like ketchup bottles or soda cans that spill their contents over the cardboard. On average, about 25 to 30 percent of the materials picked up by a recycling truck are too contaminated to go anywhere but a landfill or incinerator, Coupland says.

 → John Kerry, Arnold Schwarzenegger wage ‘World War Zero’ on climate change Dec 2, 2019 change & systems & activism & highlights

Today former Secretary of State John Kerry and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared war on climate change. The two led an all-star cast of lawmakers and celebrities to launch an initiative called World War Zero, which aims to get individuals, businesses, and governments to drastically slash greenhouse gas emissions. The initiative, for now, boasts a lot of glitzy names without many details on how it will achieve its goal. Its bipartisan founding members — which include Bill and Hillary Clinton, Richard Branson, Jimmy Fallon, Cindy McCain, and Al Sharpton, and more than 70 other notable names — plan to hold 10 million climate conversations” in 2020, The New York Times reported over the weekend.

Seems like an incredible effort. And it’s an excellent angle. War”—when declared by major public figures—certainly catches the public attention.

Kerry compared the urgency of climate change to the challenges facing America during World War II. When America was attacked in World War II we set aside our differences, united and mobilized to face down our common enemy,” Kerry said in a statement. We are launching World War Zero to bring that spirit of unity, common purpose, and urgency back to the world today to fight the great threat of our time.”

Of course, actually waging war doesn’t always garner the unity or have the results we aim for, especially when it’s a war against a social issue.

 → Combining semantic and term frequency similarities for text clustering Nov 30, 2019 highlights & automation

Existing options for algorithmic evaluation of the similarity of documents depend on shallow measures: does this word seem important? What words is it used with? How frequent are they? Which is why this is cool—in this paper, the authors compare the language in a given document with broader knowledge of words and their synonyms:

In this paper, the Frequency Google Tri-gram Measure is proposed to assess similarity between documents based on the frequencies of terms in the compared documents as well as the Google n-gram corpus as an additional semantic similarity source.

And it works!

The experimental results demonstrate that the proposed measure improves significantly the quality of document clustering, based on statistical tests. We further demonstrate that clustering results combining bag-of-words and semantic similarity are superior to those obtained with either approach independently

 → Bad RCS implementations are creating big vulnerabilities, security researchers claim Nov 30, 2019 highlights & tech & systems

Scary:

One issue identified on an unnamed carrierʼs implementation could allow any app on your phone to download your RCS configuration file, for example, giving the app your username and password and allowing it to access all your voice calls and text messages. In another case, the six-digit code a carrier uses to verify a userʼs identity was vulnerable to being guessed through brute force by a third-party. These problems were found after researchers analyzed a sample of SIM cards from several different carriers.

RCS is supposed to be a big deal. It’s fascinating how these system-wide policies can be messed up in microsystem implementations.

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