Newsletter No.44 — Aug 12, 2018

Sentiers No.44

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?)

As broad as Sentiers is, it doesn’t cover every topic hitting my radar and is written from a specific perspective, for myself and for readers whom I see as “curious, engaged citizens.” This September, I’ll be launching a new project focused more tightly on a few topics, something that might be described as “relevant and strategic knowledge for people running organizations.”

Although I have a strong hypothesis, the format, frequency, and pricing are still being worked out. I’ve been running some interviews to find where my readings intersect with their needs. I’m looking for a few more people to interview, and some to give feedback on the upcoming first prototype. If either or both of these interest you, do get in touch.

Magic Leap, Hype & Shite

Two takes on the newly released developer version of the first Magic Leap glasses. Read them for more on the tech but the things that drew my attention: both journalists, in different ways, keep balancing on, walking away from, or being mislead by their initial impressions which were entirely based on the marketing hype the company created. They know there was hype, that hype never delivers, and yet their whole articles are seeped in the disappointment it created. The device “paints” a 3D object in your eyes and creates graphics on the fly, adapted to your surroundings. That’s incredible. And yet… they are bored.

Second, why do companies like this keep trying to go straight to consumers instead of industrial applications which are bound to be easier to start with? Google Glass made that turn but later. (A pretty good read on the option: Why I Love B2B over B2C for Startups and Entrepreneurs.) Third, the field of view metrics and comparisons were new to me. Interesting. Fourth, I keep thinking “What will Apple do?” And then “Oh but Steve isn’t there anymore.” And I just don’t know.

Magic Leap’s headset is real, but that may not be enough

The way the company does this creates a digital simulacrum of the light field—all the light traveling in every direction in a certain volume—that you would see if the objects were actually in the space around you. […]
I drag and drop sea turtles in midair, who swim away lazily. When I swat them, they move in response to my hand, and if I poke one with the controller I feel a little haptic zap. I let little bits of a tiny forest world sprout up on the furniture and the floor.” […]
The ML One’s field of view measures 50 degrees at the diagonal, which is bigger than HoloLens’s 35 degrees but still only large enough to see, say, that virtual flat-screen TV from several feet away. Human binocular vision spans about 120 degrees, and more for each individual eye. VR headsets have a wider field of view than Magic Leap, but field of view is an easier technical challenge in VR than AR.

There Is No Magic in Magic Leap

I don’t think we can trust Magic Leap or any technology company to stop overhyping its products any time soon, but if there’s anything to learn from its disappointing launch it’s that we should stop believing in magic and start to understand how the technology we’re promised actually works.

The Informational Dystopia

Last week I mentioned people deleting their accounts, this week voices have continued rising agains Twitter, including these takes. (By the way, if you are uninterested in Twitter, you should still consider how much news people use it, to get a better grasp of its importance.)

Twitter is not your friend. The Sarah Jeong saga shows us why
Always read Ezra Klein. He’s talking about the Jeong saga but really, he’s writing possibly the best description you’ll find of how Twitter works and how it breaks.

Twitter is weird. A huge amount of what’s written there is metatextual commentary on other tweets intended for a knowing audience reading in a specific moment. It’s an ephemeral, self-referential mode of discourse that is unfortunately not ephemeral or tied to reference points at all — in fact, it’s designed to be broadcast, archived, searched, and embedded by anyone, in any context, at any point in the future. […]
We write for an audience we think we know, in a vernacular they’ll understand, using reference points they’re familiar with. Six years later, our tweets are weaponized to an audience we don’t know, thick with terms they understand differently, with the reference points completely absent. […]
::Twitter is a medium that rewards us for snark, for sick burns, for edgy jokes and cruel comments that deepen the grooves of our group. And then it’s designed to make the sickest of those burns and the worst of those jokes go viral, reaching far beyond their intended audience, with untold consequences. That’s good for engagement on the platform, but it’s often bad for the people it happens to.::
And it’s not just what we write. It’s what we see. Our feeds are filled with reasonable, funny, thoughtful comments from our groups and the most unreasonable, offensive tweets sent by our out-groups.

Online Hate Is Rampant. Here’s How to Keep It From Spreading
On memes, the media, and the weaponizing of the former.

Today’s white nationalists know their radioactive misogyny, racism, and anti-Semitism are likely to turn off “normies.” If you want to bring that stuff mainstream, they intuited, you need to be highly ironic. Leave it unclear whether you’re earnest.

I’m done with Twitter
Matt Haughey, of Metafilter fame, decided to quit Twitter, something I’m considering almost every day. I liked his approach below. (Minus Instagram, I’m slowly drifting away from it.)

I’ll continue to read twitter occasionally, and I might keep on liking tweets, but I’m not going to send another tweet until the service changes or the management changes in very drastic ways. I’ll be posting here on my blog more often, and probably on Medium for the longer stuff, and maybe more Instagram than usual. But no more tweets.

Twitter admitted Alex Jones breaks their rules but they still keep him on. So people are organizing a D-DAY on August 17th to deactivate their accounts:
Friday’s the day I’m out. Twitter doesn’t care about us. Let’s stop caring about them.

++Wikipedia, the Last Bastion of Shared Reality
I’m quite taken with this “shard” phrase by Alexis C. Madrigal, it’s nicely put but also too close for comfort.

Wikipedia finds itself in a strange place these days. Founded amid the throbbing excitement of the first dot-com boom, it’s ::a shard of the utopian internet now embedded in the informational dystopia of present-day America::. […]
And right as Wikipedia’s position as arbiter of truth has become most important, the dystopian forces that have laid waste to the rest of the informational landscape threaten the last, best utopian project of the first internet boom.

✕ Tech

Short section this week since the featured stories above are all tech.

Venezuela President Maduro survives ‘drone assassination attempt’
I googled a bit and it doesn’t seem to be completely confirmed yet but there’s little doubt that such attacks will happen.
As John Robb said, “Some history being made…”. I’ve mentioned it in the past but do have a look at Jon Evans’ Swarm on the same topic… 6 years ago.

++Hack the planet: vulnerabilities unearthed in satellite systems used around the globe
😱 That’s huhhh, not good.

And in both cases, this opens up the prospect of “cyber-physical attacks,” a brilliantly dystopic phrase if ever there was one; basically, if you crank enough power through a satellite antenna, it can radiate energy powerful enough that it affects biological tissue and electrical systems. Same general principle as a microwave oven.

✕ Milieu

Inside a Barcelona ‘Superblock,’ Pedestrians Rule - CityLab
This is just fantastic. A look (article and embedded short film) at the Barcelona “superilla” putting people first, transforming streets into playgrounds, parks, sitting areas, and integrating art. 😍

Now It’s very hard to get out of the superblock, because you meet everyone.

++ Domino-effect of climate events could move Earth into a ‘hothouse’ state
Basically; we might very well be in trouble even if we hit our Paris accord promises… which we aren’t on the way to hitting.

A domino-like cascade of melting ice, warming seas, shifting currents and dying forests could tilt the Earth into a “hothouse” state beyond which human efforts to reduce emissions will be increasingly futile. […]
The authors argue that we need to be much more proactive in that regard, not just ending greenhouse gas emissions as rapidly as possible, but also building resilience in the context of complex Earth system processes that we might not fully understand until it is too late.

Scorching Summer in Europe Signals Long-Term Climate Changes
A 7 minute read, pretty much just listing the heat records and miscellaneous dire climate change effects across Europe this summer. 🚨

++ Darwin Comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution
“Coyotes in Chicago. Leopards in Mumbai. Why do certain plant and animal species feel at home in the urban landscape?” (2000 coyotes living in Chicago!)

++ 🐟 Pacific Bluefin Tuna Stock Remains Highly Depleted, New Science Shows
“[A] new stock assessment that shows the population at just 3.3 percent of its unfished level.” (!!! )

++ 🏜 The Sounds of the Namib Desert
“[W]ildlife sound recordist Chris Watson presents a journey in sound from dawn to dusk in the Namib Desert in southern Africa.”

++ 🍌 This is what wild bananas look like.They have seeds… Followed by many other surprising fruit pictures (I had no idea about the cashew).

✕ Miscellany

Good Things Happen in Book Stores
Book and magazine stores, I’ll make a detour to stop at them in any city I’m passing through.

In these divided, distracted times, we need the unmitigated joys that bookstores offer more than ever, to say nothing of the knowledge contained within them.
Great things begin in bookstores, and have for centuries. They serve, along with libraries, the function promised in an ancient inscription above the books belonging to King Ozymandias: Ψυχῆς ἰατρεῖον, or, ::“A House of Healing for the Soul.”::

++ Again on interpretations of scifi and its effects on technology. One on the influence on cities and the other on aesthetics: How our future visions influence the cities we build and The Aesthetics of Science Fiction. What does SciFi Look Like After Cyberpunk?

Without artifacts, decor, or materials that offer an indication of time (as opposed to films like Blade Runner where the intent is the opposite, to confuse time through a postmodern collage of mixed imagery), the blank surfaces, in my opinion, are a strategy to remove time and place from the equation, which has the capacity to estrange the viewer.
And this: All the Imagination, None of the Burden: The Rise of the Sci-Fi Novella.