Newsletter No.23 — Feb 18, 2018

Sentiers No.23

Heads up: For a couple of reasons related to early writing methods, the first forty-five issues archived here are “pre last review” and haven’t been fully re-reviewed yet. Please forgive typos and miscellaneous mistakes if you see them! They are also less structured than more recent issues and thus haven’t been split into multiple notes. (Yet?)

Sorry for the late arrival of this issue, a weekend away and meeting friends on Friday have pushed back the assembling and writing.
I’ll also note that I’m quite hopeful we can use technology to help us have more livable cities, the articles below happen to be quite questioning of much of the current offerings.

Sidewalk Labs: Google’s Guinea-Pig City in Toronto
Molly Sauter investigating the smoke and mirrors of Alphabet’s big project in Toronto. You’ll notice the article includes a good few instances of “is unclear” and “wouldn’t tell me” as well as clear hints of many Uberish intentions of disrupting laws on the part of Sidewalk.
Sauter ends with a question which should be used in all developments and smart city projects: “Who are cities for, and who gets to decide how they grow?”

But in this case, the sale of resident data might be of less concern than its use. Residents and visitors to the Sidewalk site would provide valuable benefit to Sidewalk, allowing their daily lives to help optimize technology for Sidewalk’s broader commercial venture. Harvesting data from citizens, including children and those in need of affordable housing, is an aspect of the Sidewalk Toronto project that deserves careful thought. …
Sidewalk’s “city of the future” might best be compared to a special economic zone, an area of regulatory exemption that allows it to innovate to its heart’s content, beyond the normal laws of its host municipality.

There Is No Such Thing as a Smart City
Bruce Sterling explaining that smart cities won’t really be that smart or different, they are just the new battleground of bit tech corporations, applying their “data extractivity” business models. ‘Smart’ is just the latest coat of lacker to attract money. We are not getting ubiquitous high speed connectivity worldwide, we are getting gated GAFAM enabled surveillance silos.

However, the cities of the future won’t be “smart,” or well-engineered, cleverly designed, just, clean, fair, green, sustainable, safe, healthy, affordable, or resilient. They won’t have any particularly higher ethical values of liberty, equality, or fraternity, either. The future smart city will be the internet, the mobile cloud, and a lot of weird paste-on gadgetry, deployed by City Hall, mostly for the sake of making towns more attractive to capital. …
If you look at where the money goes (always a good idea), it’s not clear that the “smart city” is really about digitizing cities. ::Smart cities are a generational civil war within an urban world that’s already digitized.::

Both articles above are part of The Atlantic’s Metropolis Now project.

++ How do you build a healthy city? Copenhagen reveals its secrets | Environment
On the Danish and city level policies to promote healthier living.

Black Panther
How Marvel’s Black Panther Marks a Major Milestone
TheTIME cover story about Black Panther with a look at the what the film does for black representation in the media. (I loved the part about Royal attire at the premiere.)

Black Panther is emblematic of the most productive responses to bigotry: rather than going for hearts and minds of racists, it celebrates what those who choose to prohibit equal representation and rights are ignoring, willfully or not. ::They are missing out on the full possibility of the world:: and the very America they seek to make “great.” They cannot stop this representation of it.

The Churn
Surprise, we’ve been accidentally geoengineering for decades … and we can’t stop now.
TL;DR: The pollution we are producing is generating particulates in the atmosphere and that’s cooling down the planet. So the current warming we are going through is mitigated by … the deadly shit we put up in the air and if we stop doing that we might have a worse warming problem. Catch 22.

On our current path, disaster is inevitable. The only choice might be to engage in a delicate and risky gamble. It would involve gradually eliminating pollution from factories and tailpipes; replacing them with artificial aerosols in the upper atmosphere where they’re much less likely to damage human health; and then hope nothing (else) goes seriously awry.

I havent read these yet and probably won’t write about them here but still worth pointing out now:

Disorientation and cognitive dissonance around blockchain and Bitcoin
Good thread on blockchain and bitcoin, although I think he relies too much on whether he could find any interesting current applications of the blockchain, really depends where you think we are in the development cycle. Is this the web of 1994 or 2003?

Why the 30-hour work week is almost here
Disregard the millennial intro, some good examples of shortened work weeks in this FT piece, like 30 hour weeks and flexible periods of work for parenting young children.

Shorter hours won’t help the poorest-paid workers, who can’t afford to work less, or elite workers, who generally love their work and can hire help for household tasks. But for the broad middle in rich countries, a new working life is emerging. The basic workweek will shorten, and individual workers will scale down when they have kids or aged parents to look after.

The Incomplete Vision of John Perry Barlow
Interesting take that by focusing on government, Barlow and many activists following after him, developed a blind spot towards corporations and the huge impact they have had on the very things JPB was vying to protect.

I can’t help but ask what might have happened had the pioneers of the open web given us a different vision—one that paired the insistence that we must defend cyberspace with a concern for justice, human rights, and open creativity, and not primarily personal liberty. What kind of internet would we have today?

E-bikes could be the next big thing.
Riding around LA and discovering the joys and a ‘new’ way of seeing e-bikes.

Burdened by the thought of its cost and preoccupied with its care, I thought of my e-bike more like a car than a bicycle. And maybe that is the way to think of them: not as high-class bicycles for riders who want to sweat less, but as low-cost, low-maintenance vehicles for people who drive 3 miles to work alone. Think of an e-bike as a replacement for a car, not a manually powered bike, and suddenly it seems cheap. It seems easy. It seems green. Parking is a piece of cake. And unlike a car, it never gets stuck in traffic.

++ Can Eurostar Compete With Airlines on Speed and Price?
London to Amsterdam sub four hour trips for £35.

++ Tesla still hasn’t completed its coast-to-coast autonomous drive
Weird that they’re not promoting this as much now, isn’t it?

++ Self-driving cars face a huge challenge in detecting bicycles
Where there’s mention of a “solution” consisting in cyclists having a transmitter warning cars of their presence.

We need to an internet of unmonetisable enthusiasms

That’s the web I want; a place with spare corners where un-monetisable enthusiasms can be preserved, even if they’ve not been updated for seven years.
By Russell Davies who uses a couple of super-niche podcasts. Also on Wired, you can find 32 of the best podcasts for curious minds

++ The Disconnect an online magazine you can only read offline.

++ Meet the pirate queen making academic papers free online