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Thinking with Obsidian, publishing with Quartz + Hugo, and hosting on Linode.

  • ∎ Data Science and Prediction - Dhar - 2013 - Reading Session 202301271312

    Last updated Jan 27, 2023 | Originally published Jan 27, 2023

    In situations where we are able to design randomized trials, big data makes it feasible to uncover the causal models generating the data.

    The author doesn’t make this point very big but it is actually quite important. There are many cases in which it is unethical to undertake a conventional scientific study of certain phenomena… Even though we know that those phenomena are happening anyway. If the data is collected “naturally,” however, we may be able to trace and track patterns in these data without putting ourselves in precarious ethical situations

  • ∎ Mexico bans solar geoengineering experiments after startup’s field tests - Reading Session 202301191446

    Last updated Jan 19, 2023 | Originally published Jan 19, 2023

    The company, called Make Sunsets, conducted the field tests without prior notice or consent from the Mexican government.

    This is one of the scary consequences of democratizing technology: volatility. It is getting easier for small teams to take big actions without oversight.

    And this is a well-intended initiative. The opposite of this would be ecological or environmental terrorism against businesses or governments perceived to be direct contributors to climate change, which surely will happen as climate change advances and people get desperate.

    At least this test was small:

    Iseman says he launched two balloons in Baja California last year, each carrying less than 10 grams of sulfur dioxide. That’s a tiny amount of the compound that’s typically released into the air by fossil fuel power plants and volcanoes in much larger quantities — so the release isn’t likely to have had much impact.

    The business model is interesting:

    Founded in October 2022, Make Sunsets started with the grandiose vision of releasing enough sulfur dioxide to offset global warming from all the world’s CO2 emissions annually. It’s already selling “cooling credits” for the service at $10 per gram of sulfur dioxide — even though it has yet to achieve any measurable impact and can’t guarantee that releasing sulfur dioxide at a bigger scale wouldn’t trigger any unintended problems.

    This has obvious parallels with Climeworks, who was recently paid by a few big tech companies to pull carbon from the atmosphere. It is hard to imagine this business model working at scale, though… surely there is a kind of prisoner’s dilemma at play that will keep every company from chipping in. Perhaps we need regulators to require businesses to purchase credits like these to properly recognize the environmental costs of business.

  • A Templater script for updating file titles and dates in YAML

    Last updated Dec 15, 2022 | Originally published Dec 15, 2022

    This Templater script gives the current Obsidian note a proper YAML title, date, and lastmod field. This facilitates integration with Quartz/Hugo.

    It requires MetaEdit (as well as Templater, obviously).

    Update file titles and dates with this Templater script

    let file = tp.file.find_tfile(tp.file.title)
    const {update} = app.plugins.plugins["metaedit"].api
    const {getPropertyValue} = app.plugins.plugins["metaedit"].api
    const {position,} = tp.frontmatter;
    let content = tp.file.content;
    let newFileContent = content.split("\n");
    let isYamlEmpty = Object.keys(tp.frontmatter).length === 0 && !content.match(/^-{3}\s*\n*\r*-{3}/);
    /* reset selection to the top of the document to make sure the action doesn't clear any text */
    let editor =;
    if (editor.getSelection === "") {  // no text is selected
    } else {
    async function updateCurrentFile(someContent, someFile) {
    	someContent = someContent.join("\n");
    	await app.vault.modify(someFile, someContent);
    let propNameForLastModified = "lastmod";
    let fileLastModifiedDate = "\"" + tp.file.last_modified_date("YYYY-MM-DD\THH:mm:ss") +"\"";
    if (isYamlEmpty) { // No YAML yet
    	newFileContent.unshift(`${propNameForLastModified}: ${fileLastModifiedDate}`);
    	await updateCurrentFile(newFileContent, file);
    } else if (rest.lastmod === undefined) { // YAML exists but no date field
    	newFileContent.splice(1,0, `${propNameForLastModified}: ${fileLastModifiedDate}`);
    	await updateCurrentFile(newFileContent, file);
    } else { // YAML exists and a date property exists
    	await update(propNameForLastModified, fileLastModifiedDate, file);
    /* Now we can assume YAML exists, so let's add the rest of the metadata */
    let propNameForDate = "date";
    let fileCreatedDate = "\"" + tp.file.creation_date("YYYY-MM-DD\THH:mm:ss") + "\"";
    if ( === undefined) { // YAML exists but no date field
    	newFileContent.splice(1,0, `${propNameForDate}: ${fileCreatedDate}`);
    	await updateCurrentFile(newFileContent, file);
    } else { // YAML exists and a date property exists
    	await update(propNameForDate, fileCreatedDate, file);
    let propNameForTitle = "title";
    let fileTitle = "\"" + tp.file.title + "\"";
    if (rest.title === undefined) { // YAML exists but no title property exists
    	newFileContent.splice(1,0, `${propNameForTitle}: ${fileTitle}`);
    	await updateCurrentFile(newFileContent, file);
    } else { // YAML exists and a title property exists
    	await update(propNameForTitle, fileTitle, file);
    new Notice (tp.file.title + "'s title is now " + fileTitle + ". Last modified date metadata updated to " + fileLastModifiedDate + ".", 2000);
  • △ Create Shortcuts for interacting with markdown tables via spreadsheets

    Last updated Nov 24, 2022 | Originally published Jul 29, 2022

    # Overview

    I had originally designed these shortcuts to make it easier to get Markdown tables into and then out of classic spreadsheet apps (e.g., Excel/Numbers).

    However, I recently learned (that link’ll only work if you’re in the Obsidian Discord server) that this song and dance is unnecessary.

    Convert the Markdown table to HTML (e.g., view it in Reading or Preview mode in the app of your choice), select it and copy it, then paste it into your spreadsheet. Presto! When you’re done editing, copy the rows and columns in the spreadsheet and paste it back into your markdown editor (at least, this works in Obsidian and it’ll paste as a markdown table.

    I’m leaving the Shortcuts here in case they’re still helpful for some reason. Maybe someday I’ll adapt them to be able to copy certain formatting (e.g., highlighting) back and forth.

    # The Shortcuts

    Note: these don’t work on iOS. ☹️

    # Tasks

    • Adapt Viticci’s 2014 shortcut to automatically generate header rows
    • Create a shortcut to generate actual tables paste-able into Numbers/Sheets/Excel from markdown tables
    • Test the shortcuts more on iOS
  • Finding Leverage for Systems Change—Toward a modern theory of leverage in systemic design - A talk at ST-ON

    Last updated Nov 14, 2022 | Originally published Nov 2, 2022

    I presented a follow-up to Leverage is Fractal, Relative, and what else? We need a theory of leverage in systemic design at Systems Thinking Ontario in mid-November:

    To design for leverage is to identify the most powerful opportunities for innovation in systems change. In this talk, I presented a brief history on the origins of leverage theory — especially Donella Meadows’s “Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System” — and covered recent developments in designing for leverage. Then, I outlined some challenges to our current understanding of leverage, calling for a modern theory of leverage in systemic design. I concluded with some ideas on what might be addressed by such a theory.

    Here’s the slides!

    The discussion following the talk was exhiliarating and so productive. You can watch the talk and the discussion on Youtube.

  • Why the grass is greener: Making sure that shiny new alternative tool is actually going to help you

    Last updated Nov 3, 2022 | Originally published Nov 3, 2022

    “The grass is always greener on the other side.” The popular idiom discourages whoever’s listening from seeking out alternatives, suggesting that other options always look better from wherever we’re currently standing. But it has a funny problem: nobody ever explains why the grass is greener on the other side.

    That’s because it isn’t. The truth is that your side is just yellower/trampled on/eaten… and that’s because you’re on it.

    Moving to a different place will be fine at first. Then you’ll use it, too, and eventually it’ll look the same as where you started.

    (In this metaphor, you’re a goat. 🐐)

    In workflow design, in addition to the novelty of “shiny new object,” new and alternative tools are great simply because they don’t have the cruft you’ve built up in the old tool. That cruft might be noisy notes, a lifetime of guilt-inducing task management, or even just bad habits and behaviours. The problem isn’t the tool. It isn’t you, either. It’s you and the tool.

    So, after switching, the problems seem to go away… only to re-emerge (possibly in a new form) later because the issues are generated by your usage, not by the tool.

    The solution is to fall in love with the problem, not the (shiny, potential) solutions.

    1. Determine what your issues actually are, and try to figure out why they’re happening.
    2. Then, abstractly identify how you might be able to mitigate the problems.
      • Don’t say “I’ll use Bunch,” say “If I standardize certain work spaces on my computer, I can develop muscle memory for using those workspaces, reducing distraction and allowing me to spend less cognitive energy on finding everything I need to get engaged.”
    3. Last, identify some tests or success conditions that will tell you whether the solution is actually working. This’ll help minimize irrational perspectives on how well the honeymoon stage is going.

    Only after taking those three steps should you choose a tool. Find something that can implement the abstract principles you’ve articulated, and be sure to follow-through on the tests.

    In doing this, you’re actually creating and implementing a rough design theory. You’re using design science to make your work as easy and engaging as it can be! High-five for that.

  • Automatically download Reminders into your Obsidian notes with Shortcuts

    Published Nov 1, 2022

    Want a quick, hands-free, one-step method to capture reminders and tasks into Obsidian? Take advantage of Reminders, Shortcuts, and Shortcuts’s automations feature.

    This Shortcut will extract all reminders currently incomplete in a given list and append them to your daily note.

    Here’s a screenshot of the full Shortcut

    Download it and set it up (i.e., answer all of the configuration questions). Then, create Shortcuts automations (via the Automations tab in Shortcuts) that run on whatever triggers you want (e.g., “Whenever the Obsidian app is opened” and “9am”). Add a “Run Shortcut” action to that automation, then select the shortcut you’ve just configured.

    🎉! Whenever the shortcut is triggered, the reminders in the designated list will be added to your daily note.

    You can now say e.g., “Hey Siri, add ‘Pick up milk’ to my Obsidian list,” and that item will (eventually) be added to your daily note.

  • A Keyboard Maestro macro for quickly and easily opening published notes in Obsidian

    Published Oct 27, 2022

    Similar to Notes/A Shortcut for quickly and easily opening published notes in Obsidian, this macro makes it easy to jump from viewing a published note on the web to editing it in Obsidian.

    Don’t forget to switch Mainframe to your vault’s name!

    Download the macro here.

    I have it tied to a Stream Deck button, but you can configure it to trigger however you’d like.

    See a screenshot of the macro

  • A Shortcut for quickly and easily opening published notes in Obsidian

    Published Oct 27, 2022

    If you publish your notes to the web in any way and you are on iOS/macOS, here’s a simple shortcut that lets you quickly and easily open a note from your website in Obsidian:

    See the shortcut in action

  • RSDx and RSD11

    Last updated Oct 27, 2022 | Originally published Oct 21, 2022

    # Talks and workshops at RSDx and RSD11

    Recently I helped host a set of workshops and sessions as a part of RSDx, an online series developed as a part of the Systemic Design Association’s conference programming and as an addendum (or perhaps pre-dendum? I don’t understand Latin, I’m afraid) to RSD11 (more on that below).

    I designed one of the sessions, a workshop addressing the question “How should systemic design’s scholarship system work?” The session featured provocations from my friends and colleagues Lewis Muirhead, Stephen Davies, Marie Davidová, and Birger Sevaldson before groups split up to develop some design principles for supporting scholarship in systemic design. It was based on one of the discussion papers I authored for the conference:

    Then, the 11th Relating Systems Thinking and Design Symposium was the following week, held at Brighton University in the UK and everywhere you can connect to the Internet. I had a couple of contributions:

  • ∎ Design Science Dysfunctions - Listening Notes 20220525

    Published Oct 26, 2022

    # Notes from listening to “Design Science Dysfunctions,” an episode of This IS Research

    • Recker, Berente, and Gregor identify three problems with design principles:
      1. Design principles rarely build on existing work (They should be developed over extensive amounts of research (eg review articles), not one-off papers)
      2. Design principles are rarely very surprising or useful (“the UI has to be easy to use”)
      3. They often depend too much on context → indeterminacy
    • Interesting: even though (to her chagrin) she is the “[Design] Theory” person, Gregor doesn’t always include or look for a design theory in design science research. She said “A theory is just a body of work” in defense of why she doesn’t sometimes include a full Design Theory.
  • About

    Last updated Oct 26, 2022 | Originally published Jul 5, 2017

    # Hi.

    A profile photo of Ryan.

    I’m Ryan. I work at the intersection of technology, psychology, design, and the application of those disciplines to the advancement of education. I use design and systems thinking to search for strategic opportunities for change.

    I’m currently pursuing a PhD in Management (Information Systems). I hold a Master of Design in Strategic Foresight & Innovation from OCAD University and a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Psychology and Computer Science (Software Engineering) from Memorial University.

    My wife works in Geriatric medicine, and our greyhound has switched from a bad career in racing to a comfortable one in treat quality control.

    This site is a place to share my work and to help me connect to people like you.

    # Need Something?

    I’m a professional systemic designer available to support systems change projects, especially through helping develop systems-informed strategy. Reach out!

    # Site info

    This site is built on Quartz via Obsidian.

  • A simple method of appending or prepending to a section in a markdown file

    Published Sep 28, 2022

    This Keyboard Maestro macro demonstrates how to insert text into a specific section in Markdown.

    The core idea is simply to replace a heading with the heading plus the new content and some new lines in between.

    A Keyboard Maestro macro for inserting text into a section of a markdown document.

    Download the macro here.

  • Popclip Extension for highlighting in DEVONthink and PDF Expert

    Last updated Sep 19, 2022 | Originally published Sep 19, 2022

    The Popclip Extension below makes highlighting selected text quick and easy in both PDF Expert and DEVONthink. (If you use something else to review PDFs, it should be trivial to edit the script to use that application and its menu items instead.)

    # PopClip Highlight
    name: Highlight
    required apps: [com.devon-technologies.think3, com.readdle.PDFExpert-Mac]
    icon: symbol:highlighter
    applescript: | # pipe character begins a multi-line string
      tell application "System Events"
        set frontApp to first application process whose frontmost is true
        set frontAppName to name of frontApp as string
        if frontAppName contains "PDF Expert" then
          tell application "System Events"
            tell application process "PDF Expert"
              click menu item "Highlight" of menu of menu bar item "Annotate" of menu bar 1
            end tell
          end tell
        else if frontAppName contains "DEVONthink 3" then
          tell application "System Events"
            tell application process "DEVONthink 3"
              click menu item "Highlight" of menu of menu bar item "Format" of menu bar 1
            end tell
          end tell
        end if
      end tell Popclip Extension for highlighting in DEVONthink and PDF Expert
  • △ Decide on a tech stack for Quartz

    Published Sep 16, 2022

    • Develop a list of needs and options
      • This ended up being quite an involved process. The options are recursive… everything is about $5/month and seems to work basically the same until I actually start using it. Trouble is, using these things without knowing the gaps might mean painful and troublesome switching around later on.
    • Try hosting on Render
      • Didn’t work. Render can’t easily install “apps” like Quartz. Same will go for Netlify/etc — any host that uses GitHub Pages will not be a full server, and so I won’t necessarily have full control over what I can install.
    • Try hosting on Linode
  • Design Management for Wicked Problems - talk at ADMC 2020

    Last updated Mar 30, 2022 | Originally published Mar 30, 2022

    # Design management for wicked problems - ADMC 2020

    Our toughest problems resist conventional strategies for change. In this talk from Peter Jones and I, we show how designerly approaches—namely methods from systemic design—can help create and implement systemic theories of change. Those theories may then be used to develop effective strategies for wicked problems.

    We presented this talk at the Academic Design Management Conference in 2020, and it led to a follow-up paper.

  • Intuition is confident abduction

    Last updated Nov 7, 2020 | Originally published Nov 7, 2020

    # Intuition is confident abductive-inferential thinking

    In a recent episode of Hello Monday, Jessi Hempel interviews Dr. Natalie Nixon on creativity and her new book, The Creativity Leap. Natalie’s PhD in Design Management—plus her work in fashion, design, and business—led her to a catchy and compelling description of creative work. We accomplish creative work, she says, “by toggling between wonder and rigour.”

    In the podcast conversation, Jessi and Natalie talk about intuition—and I was struck by something. “We don’t talk about intuition,” Natalie notes at about 6 minutes in. “We don’t talk about intuition in business school, in law school, or in medical school.” And yet, she says, “I observed that really successful leaders—especially really successful startup leaders—in their origin stories, there’s always this moment where ‘Something told me not to do the deal. Something told me to work with her over him.’ […] Every successful leader really reckons with incorporating acting on their intuition to make decisions.” Jessi agrees, noting that intuition comes up often in her interviews with leaders on Hello Monday as leaders cite it as the reason for their success.

    The thing is, just because we don’t name intuition doesn’t mean we aren’t talking about it. That’s because intuition is really just confident, logical thinking.

    Charles Sanders Peirce was a philosopher. He investigated how we inquire into and discover new knowledge.1 Before Peirce, we generally recognized the logical processes of deduction and induction. Deductive thinking helps us identify what must be true about a situation in order to explain it. When we deduce something, we look at the general rules and principles we know of and draw specific conclusions from that evidence. Inductive thinking involves drawing general conclusions from specific, limited evidence.

    Peirce argued that effective reasoning follows a pattern: we determine the specific consequences of an idea (deduction), and then we judge whether the available evidence fits that idea and its consequences (induction). But how do we develop ideas?2

    Abduction is the name of the logical process Peirce described for developing ideas. To think abductively means to generate and choose ideas that fit the situation at hand. A good idea should be verifiable—we should be able to use evidence to judge its fit—and should help us resolve the situation at hand. Peirce also had criteria to help choose the best ideas to test. He suggested that we should strive to conserve resources (e.g., those that most are most efficiently verifiable and usable in the situation), identify the most valuable ideas (specifically the “uberty” of an idea, or how likely it is that a possible idea might bring about an innovation), and the most relevant ideas (e.g., those that may apply beyond our current focus, too).3

    Abduction is clearly an important step in any innovative process—but it is no more important than testing and using the ideas you generate. What, then, if you don’t have enough evidence to truly test and prove your ideas?

    The process Peirce described—abduction, deduction, induction—is the ideal. However, we do not always have time and energy to follow the process diligently. Instead, we quickly make creative judgements based on a few observed qualities. This requires two related processes.4 The first Peirce called “abductory induction,” and it combines the first and last step of the inquiry process. We observe the qualities of the situation, and we generate possible ideas to resolve it based on those observations. The second process is known as “inference to the best explanation” (IBE).5 IBE is exactly what it sounds like. Given a number of possible ways of resolving a problem, choose the best one. (Peirce’s criteria, noted above, apply here.)

    So what does all this have to do with intuition?

    Intuition is the confident application of these shorthand logical approaches to creative problem solving. As Jessi and Natalie noted, we aren’t often explicitly taught about strengthening our intuition. Yet, everything we learn supports its development. The more we have to draw on in order to pull into the processes described above, the better our intuitive decisions will be.

    I say that intuition is the confident application of these processes because they only work when we follow through. In reality, we use abductory induction and IBE all the time. When we engage in creative problem solving, we’re not only using information from the evidence in front of us. We’re drawing on our lived experience and our knowledge base. Even if we don’t directly recall or reference that background information, it is drawn into the creativity of abduction and it defines the general rules and principles we use in deduction. It provides us with the heuristics we use when engaging in IBE. But if we don’t have a bias towards action and instead operate with e.g., perfectionism, we fail to actually execute on these ideas. Thus, we need to have confidence in our abductory induction and IBE processes.

    All this is simply a gentle challenge of the idea that we don’t talk about intuition. I think that all knowledge management practices and forms of education are actually fundamentally about strengthening our intuition.

    That said, Natalie’s work is fascinating. I recommend the episode of Hello Monday and plan on picking up her book!

    1. In this article, my reading of Peirce comes from the writing of William Mcauliffe↩︎

    2. Peirce was actually specifically concerned with science and hypotheses generation, selection, and testing. Here I refer to generating, selecting, testing, and using ideas to apply these concepts to problem-solving more broadly. ↩︎

    3. He also cautioned not to produce ideas that stop the inquiry process—e.g., magical thinking, or by suggesting that whatever happened must be a complete mystery. ↩︎

    4. Actually, the difference between these two processes is the subject of substantive, controversial debate. This is in part because the scholars who study inference to the best explanation have also used Peirce’s term “abduction” to describe it. This understandably caused extensive confusion, but also probably a lot of philosophical debates and scholarship, so maybe it was for the best. ↩︎

    5. Philosopher Gilbert Harman originally described and named this process… and mistakenly suggested it was the same thing as abduction. ↩︎

  • Sharing linked thinking on the web

    Published Oct 16, 2020

    # Discourse conversation

    The below is the inspiration for a conversation on Obsidian’s forum, found here:

    Publishing your thoughts on services like Obsidian Publish affords new kinds of opportunities for sharing linked thinking on the web. It seems to be easier (or at least more intuitive to do) than publishing conventional articles. This kind of writing also facilitates the accretion of knowledge in a way that breaking thoughts down into standalone articles seems to discourage.

    Yet, there are some challenges. These ideas all work really well in terms of input, but I don’t think it’s so straightforward when it comes to output. Readers typically expect some method of easily keeping up with your contributions. Perhaps we need a paradigm shift from conventional publishing models to linked-thinking publishing, but until that happens, I think most readerships will be confused when they try to follow a writer along on a knowledge base.

    That is, unless the writer provides some kind of help.

    Far as I can tell, authors of linked thinking sites can do a couple of things to help readers follow progress. Here’s what I’ve come up with. (These options aren’t necessarily exclusive of one another—you can probably use multiple.)

    Updating an Index page. One way to emulate “blogging” via linked thinking sites might be to keep an Index page. Every time you post a new item, link it there, perhaps with a date or some other kind of ordered identifier. That index becomes your homepage. Readers can check in to see when things are new. Hybrid Blog–linked thinking site hybrid. Publish a linked-thinking site. Maintain a blog within the site, perhaps by using a Blot-like service to watch a specific folder for new blog posts. Posting a changelog. Perhaps using a blog–linked thinking site hybrid or simply with “Changelog” pages in the knowledge base, track and annotate the changes you’re making in a specific report and share those reports as often as is appropriate. Externalize the update mechanism. Don’t provide readers with help tracking changes in-site. Push updates via other forms of social media—tweet out “Just added a new section to my page on abductive reasoning!” (or trumpet it on Mastodon or whatever) instead. Embed RSS functionality. I don’t think this is easy, but technically savvy folks may be able to set up an RSS service such that new (or modified) pages get pushed out via RSS. (Perhaps this is a good feature request for Obsidian Publish..?)

    What are folks doing to help readers follow changes in this newish format? What have you seen? What do you think is the best model?

  • Researchers detail huge hack-for-hire campaigns against environmentalists

    Published Jun 10, 2020

    The report concludes that the campaigns represent “a clear danger to democracy” and could allow powerful organizations to target their opponents. “The extensive targeting of American nonprofits exercising their first amendment rights is exceptionally troubling,” Citizen Lab’s report says.

    We didn’t want this part of cyberpunk sci-fi…

  • A quick sketch of an interdisciplinary systems model

    Published Apr 24, 2020

    # Why are we exceeding the Earth’s carrying capacity?

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

    Download the model

  • Roger Martin, Bianca Andreescu, and systemic strategy

    Published Apr 11, 2020

    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?”

  • Systemic lessons from South Korea's Patient 31

    Published Mar 30, 2020

    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.

  • Divide and conquer

    Published Mar 29, 2020

    # Divide & conquer

    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!

  • Can Snow Clearing Be Sexist?

    Published Mar 25, 2020

    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).

  • As Lambda students speak out the schools debt-swapping partnership disappears from the internet

    Published Feb 19, 2020

    “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.

  • Bring It On Haters With Special Guest Ben Thompson

    Published Feb 9, 2020

    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.

  • Starting the Decade by Giving You More Control Over Your Privacy

    Published Jan 28, 2020

    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.

  • Leaked Documents Expose the Secretive Market for Your Web

    Published Jan 27, 2020

    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.

  • Google’s ads just look like search results now

    Published Jan 23, 2020

    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.