Newsletter No.41 — Jul 22, 2018

Sentiers No.41

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?)

For this issue in the end I kept a “Cities” section but I’m toying with the idea of streamlining things, having the usual few “featured” articles to start (any topic), then a “Tech” section (absorbing “The Churn” and “AI”), followed with something perhaps titled “Shorts” regrouping everything else. Oft included sections like Cities” and “Milieu” would be folded in there. Thoughts? Yeas or nays?

Elizabeth Denham: ‘Data crimes are real crimes’
An interview with the UK information commissioner, her thoughts on what their job is, parallels and cooperation between the investigations over Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, Brexit, and the Mueller investigation of 45. Especially worth a read for the bits about “jurisdictional arbitrage to get around laws,” “data crimes are real crimes,” and the fact she’s an archivist by trade.

Data is power and it is power concentrated in huge companies and her view is that “regulators need to have individuals’ backs. We have to protect people because how else can individuals act against some of these large, large companies?” It’s why, she says, “this investigation is so important on so many levels. We still rely on journalists, on civil society, on whistleblowers bringing evidence forward, but as a regulator we need to act on it.” […]
What drew her to data protection in the first place? “I’m a professional archivist. I like order and I like records and information. I think I have a mind for that. ::Organising information and also understanding the value of information.:: So when I was an archivist, I was a bit of a handmaiden to history. Preserve the records and make them available. And on the other side protect them, appropriately.”

Letter from Shenzhen 🇨🇳
If you’ve been a bit of a China and Shenzhen follower, you’ve probably seen a lot of this but this one’s good for the look at technology in rural settings and how much more advanced and pervasive it is over there (vs rural US), as well as the “new shanzhai” hyper speed.

::Chinese tech isn’t an imitation of its American counterpart. It’s a completely different universe.:: […]
I use WeChat to message a friend while standing in the middle of a rice paddy, to pay for snacks and water in a remote village, to buy train tickets, to book hotel rooms, to order taxis, to get takeout, and to send my aunt photos. If I wanted to, I could also use it to pay electricity bills, top up my mobile phone account, make hospital appointments, and check the weather. […]
Huaqiangbei, the electronics city in Shenzhen that spans several blocks and is written about extensively in the Wall Street Journal and Wired. Inside, tiny booths that are six by six feet wide are packed to the brim with objects. These booths sell everything from mobile phone parts to SD cards to fidget spinners, headphones and wireless chargers. Behind each of these tiny booths is the power of a full factory, and a company that makes several million RMBs a year. […]
This is the new shanzhai. It’s open-source on hyperspeed — where creators build on each other’s work, co-opt, repurpose, and remix in a decentralized way, creating original products like a cell phone with a compass that points to Mecca (selling well in Islamic countries) and simple cell phones that have modular, replaceable parts which need little equipment to open or repair.
The way people use technology tends to be the same in cities, he says, but the real story is in the countryside. ::While using ApplePay in San Francisco is similar to paying with WeChat in Shanghai, the scale of technology’s pervasiveness is more apparent in rural China than the rural US.:: […]
When talking about technology in China, it’s easy to make parallels to the US. ::The more interesting parallels lie between reality and science fiction.::

What Elon Musk Should Learn From the Thailand Cave Rescue
A quick opinion piece by zeynep tufekci using the Elon Musk submarine thing as an occasion to compare the innovation culture of Silicon Valley with the calmer learning and innovation culture of fields like aviation.

The Silicon Valley model for doing things is a mix of can-do optimism, a faith that expertise in one domain can be transferred seamlessly to another and a preference for rapid, flashy, high-profile action. But what got the kids and their coach out of the cave was a different model: a slower, more methodical, more narrowly specialized approach to problems, one that has turned many risky enterprises into safe endeavors — commercial airline travel, for example, or rock climbing, both of which have extensive protocols and safety procedures that have taken years to develop. […]
::If Silicon Valley wants to help the world, there is a lot it can do, starting with making its own products safer and its own companies more just. Perhaps most important, it can develop respect for hard-earned expertise in areas other than its own.::
+tufekci later added to her thinking in this Twitter thread

Centaurs not Butlers
In issue No.26 I mentioned the idea of B.A.S.A.A.P.. Now from the same Jones / BERG Scenius; centaurs not butlers. (Re-discovered via Tom Critchlow’s newsletter.)

I’m personally much more interested in machine intelligence as human augmentation rather than the oft-hyped AI assistant as a separate embodiment. […]
Legible Machine Intelligence
How might we make the processes and outcomes of machine intelligences more obvious to a general populace through design?
How might we build and popularize a critical language for the design of machine intelligence systems?

++ RealNetworks Launches Free Facial Recognition Tool for Schools
I’m thinking guns. Fewer guns.

“We feel like we’re hitting something there can be a social consensus around: that using facial recognition technology to make schools safer is a good thing,”

++ Our phones and gadgets are now endangering the planet
The title is misleading, it’s actually about the huge data centres all our devices communicate with constantly, how much electricity they consume and how it’s generated. (And Amazon is wearing the dunce’s cap.)

the county is the home of data centres used by about 3,000 tech companies: huge agglomerations of circuitry, cables and cooling systems that sit in corners of the world most of us rarely see, but that are now at the core of how we live. About 70% of the world’s online traffic is reckoned to pass through Loudoun County.

How Helsinki Arrived at the Future of Urban Travel First
I really love this service unifying all modes of transport in one monthly subscription (with a 49 euros /month option!) but really wish the city transport authority was leading this or was a partner. Not a fan of a startup taking that space.

This lifestyle shift came about with the help of an app offering unlimited rides on public transit, access to city bikes, cheap short-distance taxis and rental cars—all for one monthly fee.

Who owns the space under cities? The attempt to map the earth beneath us
Looks at the private vs public ownership of the underground, mapping of everything that’s down there, and some of the projects in the field.

Underground urban planning of an extension of a tube line, for instance, requires knowledge of where sewer and water systems, electricity and utility tunnels, bunkers, foundations, basements, cellars, vaults, passageways, archaeological remains, data centres, basements, and other transport tunnels are located.

Welcome to the Meghalayan Age - a new phase in history
No, not a different name for the Anthropocene, a new separation of the Holocene intro three period, including this new Meghalayan Age, started by a 200-year drought.

These all record major climate events. The Meghalayan, the youngest stage, runs from 4,200 years ago to the present. It began with a destructive drought, whose effects lasted two centuries, and severely disrupted civilisations in Egypt, Greece, Syria, Palestine, Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, and the Yangtze River Valley.

🌽 WeWork Tells Employees Meat Is Permanently Off the Company Menu

The startup has told its 6,000 global staff that they will no longer be able to expense meals including meat, and that it won’t pay for any red meat, poultry or pork at WeWork events.

🌑 Astronomers Discovered 12 New Moons Around Jupiter. Here’s How
Another one for the “there’s so much we don’t know” file.

“The most exciting moment came in May of this year, when 12 of the objects showed up where we expected them to,” Sheppard says. Tuesday’s announcement makes it official: Sheppard and his colleagues have discovered 12 new objects orbiting Jupiter, bringing the grand total of known Jovian satellites to 79.

🇳🇿 Work less, get more: New Zealand firm’s four-day week an ‘unmitigated success’