Newsletter No.37 — Jun 10, 2018

Sentiers No.37

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?)

This is a long one, I think it’s all good stuff (of course) but there are two main parts if you want to focus; ‘books and learning,’ followed by a ‘technology’ section. Then a short ‘cities’ and a very miscellaneous ‘miscellany.’

Don’t Eat Before Reading This
I can’t say Anthony Bourdain is much in my usual “beats” and I don’t know much about him, but in my Twitter list and on Facebook, he was almost as present as Bowie two years ago, which surprised me quite a bit. Also, that’s an excellent article from 1999.

Good food, good eating, is all about blood and organs, cruelty and decay. It’s about sodium-loaded pork fat, stinky triple-cream cheeses, the tender thymus glands and distended livers of young animals. It’s about danger—risking the dark, bacterial forces of beef, chicken, cheese, and shellfish.

The need for readers
Austin Kleon quoting some Habermas and then Erika Hall, who came up with a great thread on why big tech companies should have indy bookstores inside their walls and open to the public. There’s also an ongoing thread at #books2tech on Twitter

The public sphere is crucial to the intellectual, though its fragile structure is undergoing an accelerated process of decay. The nostalgic question, ‘Where have all the intellectuals gone?’ misses the point. You can’t have committed intellectuals if you don’t have the readers to address the ideas to. […]
Those who once might have been readers are all shouting at one another on Twitter…. ::So maybe one of the most important questions we who are concerned about our common culture can ask ourselves is this: How do we bring reading back?::

I’ve been inside a lot of these very nice buildings and campuses, and it is striking how similar the culture is from one to another for being supposed hubs of innovation.” […]

Why You Should Skip the Quinoa Bar and Offer Employees a Library Instead
Jessica Stillman picked up on the thread and wrote a short piece, including some of Hall’s Tweets.

There’s nothing wrong with onsite haircuts or a quinoa bar, but what companies should worry about first isn’t empty stomachs, but rather well-nourished minds. And that means giving employees easy access to books. […]
A bookstore would also provide a place to host non-boozy social events suitable for employees with kids. But there are other benefits to onsite books too. A bookstore could spark new and unexpected ideas, kick off conversations between colleagues, and offer a place to escape to where employees could truly reset their minds. […]
::The bottom line is that books are one of humanity’s oldest and most effective technologies for expanding minds, sparking creativity, and exercising empathy:: (that’s why basically all the business titans you admire spend a ridiculous amount of time reading). If you want your employees to enjoy those benefits, then worry less about lunch and more about getting more books into their hands.

++ Books, Walks, and the Edge of the World
Craig Mod’s always up for some thinking about books (and walking, lots of walking), this one on edges, artifacts, and amplification.

How do you give edges to something that fundamentally doesn’t have an edge, that doesn’t have a container around it? […]
Giving edges to an experience. Amplifying it. Allowing it to continue to grow in the world after you’ve completed it. You could call this the classic super power of books—you die, disappear, vanish, but the transmutation of whatever led to that book lives on in the world. […]
And so the version of Flipboard for iPhone we made back in 2011 can now only be seen / touched / remembered with any coherent wholeness in book form. I had not considered this when I made the book. But now I know that had I not made that book I’d have lost touch with much of that work.

Small Arcs of Larger Circles: a new approach to changing the world
I think I highlighted a third of this article. On rethinking the way we view ecological systems, their interactions, the boundaries between participants, and how everything is learning from the others in those systems. Also covers the ideas of vita and symmathesy (learning together) and closes with the idea of Warm Data Labs.

However, in a living ecosystem, in a forest or in the ocean, the “parts” are alive, interconnected, co-evolving, and mutually learning new ways to interact in changing contexts. In an ecosystem, interaction is not “hard wired” but is dynamic and contextual.” […]
A human society is also a living system, with living participants, learning from each other, struggling, cooperating, clashing, and influencing each other. “The notion of an identity that is truly independent is impossible,” Bateson writes. ::“None of us can be separated from language, culture, interaction with nature, food, air, social relationships, etc…”:: […]
We are fully integrated, constantly changing, forever learning, living entities with permeable boundaries. This does not mean that we are not responsible for our actions; rather, “it means our responsibility extends to larger contexts than our own skin,” beyond even our family, friends, nation, or our own species.

++ Learning for learning’s sake
Back with Kleon for this short article on learning for learning’s sake which is just beautifully but and an important reminder. I 😍this part; “learning is the verb of life.”

Creative people are curious people, and part of being a creative person is allowing yourself the freedom to let your curiosity lead you down strange, divergent paths. You just cannot predict how what you learn will end up “paying off” later.
The lives of great thinkers teach us that ::learning is the verb of life. The trick to lifelong learning is to exercise your curiosity as much as you can and to let it guide you where it wants to go.:: To pay attention to what you pay attention to. To not worry too much about where things are going to lead. To learn for learning’s sake, not because it’s going to get you something, necessarily, but because you have faith that the things that interest you will help you become who you need to be.”
::Your interest and your desire and your instincts are your compass. They show you the way.::

Letter: Why Electric Scooters Are Like Selfie Sticks
This is the take on electric scooters (and dockless bikes) you didn’t know you were waiting for. Insightful angle on the Chinese industrial background to the “craze” and the broader implications. Also useful if you want to catchup on those scooters since an xiao mina (who wrote the letter) also links to a number of good articles on the topic.

The global megatrend to pay attention to is that Chinese hardware production has been steadily and rapidly introducing new physical products to the world, influencing our physical environments in much the same way that internet memes have influenced our digital ones: hoverboards, drones, fidget spinners, and cute phone cases.

++ AI Needs New Clichés
A quick review of some of the historical cultural representations of AI, the problems their use brings, and why we should fin new ones.

“These cultural clichés/touchstones are popular for another reason: It’s really, really hard to talk about digital-reality tech otherwise,” Eric Johnson writes. “These fields are full of jargon, inconsistent in practice and difficult to grok if you haven’t seen all the latest demos; pop culture is a shortcut to a common ideal, a shared vision.” […]
Our pop culture visions of AI are not helping us. In fact, they’re hurting us. They’re decades out of date. And to make matters worse, we keep using the old clichés in order to talk about emerging technologies today. They make it harder for us to understand AI—what it is, what it isn’t, and what impact it will have on our lives.

++ Watch this drone use AI to spot violence in crowds from the sky
The link above goes to the article but the quote below is from Peter’s take on it, which I found insightful. (Scroll to item (3).)

This might be just a pet peeve of mine, but I don’t think this “could enable” mass surveillance; it is mass surveillance. I think it’s essential we don’t pretend this is just one step towards mass surveillance but pretty much the end state of it. By flying drones over crowds and having algorithms scan and analyze the video feed we’ve gone all the way. The concerns cannot be about “enabling” mass surveillance anymore but only about the types of abuse it might bring.

++ GitHub Is Microsoft’s $7.5 Billion Undo Button
On what is GitHub and why MS bought them. I’m also reminded of their purchase of LinkedIn a few years back and this quote by Nadella in 2014:

We will reinvent productivity to empower every person and every organization on the planet to do more and achieve more.
Someone (sorry, didn’t go looking to find again) said something along the lines of “Microsoft always focused on corporations, now with this new paradigm of quick changing jobs / freelancing and their focus on productivity, LinkedIn gives them access to workers directly, instead of just through the enterprise.” Their GitHub purchase can be seen as gaining access to developers in the same way.

++Climate Change Can Be Reversed by Turning Air Into Gasoline
Intriguing carbon scrubbers which promise some much lower prices than previously thought possible.

“If these costs are real, it is an important result,” said Ken Caldeira , a senior scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science. “This opens up the possibility that we could stabilize the climate for affordable amounts of money without changing the entire energy system or changing everyone’s behavior.”

++ What I think about voice
Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino quickly runs through some… less than ideal voice assistant scenarios for the near future.

How Barcelona Is Limiting Airbnb Rentals
Have a read to see how Barcelona is making progress in corralling rentals but this part drew my attention. That’s why we can’t have nice things.

Parts of the old city have become tourist ghettos, where residents that remain are kept awake by badly behaved visitors, and increasingly find their local shops and bars taken over by souvenir emporia and coffee chains.

++ Pedal power: the rise and rise of cargo bikes in Germany
They’re talking mostly about delivery bikes, on the rise because of potential diesel bans. Here in Montréal I’ve been seeing more and more of these for families, growing roughly at the same speed as ebikes.

🇨🇭 “Just learned that this summer Switzerland will be holding a referendum on monetary reform. It would effectively abolish fractional reserve banking and replace it with a public money system.” 🐦
Some interesting thinking going on in Switzerland, after the 2016 basic income proposal (which didn’t pass). And @mjays points out the Chicago Plan.

++ 🇨🇳 China’s plan to cut meat consumption by 50% cheered by climate campaigners
Meat consumption is skyrocketing in China, good to see some efforts to curb that. By the way: The best way to save the planet? Drop meat and dairy.

++ Learning about the Future from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Fifty Years Later—Stephen Wolfram

[W]hat was new and exciting for me in the movie was the whole atmosphere of a world full of technology—and the notion of what might be possible there, with all those bright screens doing things, and, yes, computers driving it all.

++ 🇲🇲 Aerial Photos Showcase the Dazzling Beauty of Myanmar Temples

Each photo features one of the thousands of centuries-old Buddhist temples, shrines, and pagodas built in the sprawling forests of Bagan, Yangon, and Mandalay.

++ 👁 Scientists have 3D printed the most advanced artificial cornea ever using human cells

But, using this technique, the donation goes a lot farther, Connon says. Instead of replacing one damaged cornea with one healthy one, you could grow enough cells from one donated cornea to print 50 artificial ones.

++ 🐟 Guppy Fish Have Eyes That Turn Black When They Get Mad

When Heathcote anesthetizes guppies, their irises always go dark. It seems that they’re constantly suppressing that darkness, and then releasing it when it’s time for a fight.