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Robinson Meyer en Instagram: “The Greenlandic flag is all over the place, used (to my foreigner’s eye) with some combination of the pride of 🇺🇸 and the affection of 🇨🇦.…”
"The Greenlandic flag is all over the place, used (to my foreigner’s eye) with some combination of the pride of 🇺🇸 and the affection of 🇨🇦. One of its meanings is “come in, we’re having a party,” so you see it on dinner candles at the hostels and on balloons for a seven year old girl’s birthday party. When flying it, you’re supposed to lower it by 8pm—standard sunrise/sunset rules don’t apply, I guess, in a place where a solar day can last for more than 2,000 hours. I really admired the flag before visiting, so to see it used so widely and so warmly is a delight."
greenland  flag  flags  welcome  2017  robinsonmeyer  symbols  meaning 
july 2017 by robertogreco
Are We as Doomed as That New York Magazine Article Says? - The Atlantic
"Over the past decade, most researchers have trended away from climate doomsdayism. They cite research suggesting that people respond better to hopeful messages, not fatalistic ones; and they meticulously fact-check public descriptions of global warming, as watchful for unsupported exaggeration as they are for climate-change denial.

They do this not because they think that climate change will be peachy. They do it because they want to be exceptionally careful with facts for such a vital issue. And many of them, too, think that a climate-changed world will look less like a starved wasteland and more like our current home—just more unequal and more impoverished.

What does that world look like? We got a fairly good look late last month, actually, when a new consortium of economists and scientists called the Climate Impact Lab published their first study in the journal Science. Their research looks at how global warming will afflict Americans economically, on a county-by-county level. It tells a frightening but much more mundane story.

Climate change, they say, will not turn us into idiots before broiling us in our sleep. Instead, it will act as a kind of ecological reverse Robin Hood, stealing from the poor and giving to the rich. It will impoverish many of the poorest communities in the country—arrayed across the South and Southwest, and especially along the Gulf Coast—while increasing the fortunes of cities and suburbs on both of the coasts.

“This study—the climate equivalent of being informed that smoking carries serious risk of lung cancer—should be enough to motivate us,” says Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist and professor of political science at Texas Tech University. “The NYMag article is the climate equivalent of being told that everyone in the world’s life will end in the most grisly, worst-case possible scenario if we keep on smoking.”

The Climate Impact Labs’ accounting is a much likelier view of what is “much more likely to occur than the doomsday scenario,” she added.

Other communicators reject Wallace-Wells’s approach for a third reason: He glosses over the many reasons that climate advocates now have hope. Many of these criticisms came not from researchers but from other climate communicators. “Through combo of exaggeration and hopelessness, [the NYMag piece] turns away those in the middle we need to persuade. It makes action harder,” tweeted Ramez Naam, a technologist and novelist. “We’ve made huge climate strides. Business-as-usual used to mean six or seven degrees Celsius or warming. Now it looks like three to four, and [it’s] trending down.”

Chuck Wendig, another novelist, called the story irresponsible. “It leans very hard on the EXTINCTION PORN angle, and almost not at all on the BUT HERE'S WHAT WE DO angle,” he said on Twitter.

I’m not so sure about this last angle. I have been writing about climate change nearly full-time for several years now. I don’t think journalists should frame the truth to better inspire people—that’s not our job.

But I vacillate considerably on the doom versus no-doom question. Consider what Wallace-Wells writes about climate change and war:
Researchers like Marshall Burke and Solomon Hsiang have managed to quantify some of the non-obvious relationships between temperature and violence: For every half-degree of warming, they say, societies will see between a 10 and 20 percent increase in the likelihood of armed conflict. In climate science, nothing is simple, but the arithmetic is harrowing: A planet five degrees warmer would have at least half again as many wars as we do today. Overall, social conflict could more than double this century.

That final sentence is simplistic; we cannot wield careful social science conclusions like an abacus. It is also too certain: While Burke and Hsiang have found links between conflict and climate change, another group of researchers from Oslo have found far weaker connections. They observe a link between natural disaster and war only when a country is divided by ethnicity.

Yet this is worrisome by itself. Consider the world that climate scientists say is more realistic: a place where sea levels cause mass migration within and without the developed world; where the economy is never great but isn’t in shambles either; where voters fear for their livelihoods and superpowers poke at each others’ weaknesses.

Does that world sound like a safe and secure place to live? Does it sound like a workable status quo? And how many small wars need to start in that world before they all fuse together? Who needs planet-killing methane burps when nine different countries have 15,000 nuclear weapons between them? In short, there are plenty of doomsday scenarios to worry about. They don’t need to be catastrophic on their face to induce catastrophe."
2017  accuracy  reporting  climate  environment  future  climatechange  sustainability  inequality  robinsonmeyer  davidwallace-wells  science  communication  journlism  dystopia  doom  doomsdayism  exaggeration 
july 2017 by robertogreco
Why We Loved Vine So Much - The Atlantic
"Few of the core features we think of as “Twitter” were invented by people employed by Twitter. None of the founders invented the 140-character message, the constraint that gives the service its verve; instead, they adopted it as a technical aspect of SMS texting. Nor did anyone at Twitter invent the @-reply. Not the hashtag or the retweet, either—all were first created by users, then borrowed by the company as an official feature.

The company didn’t quite invent the six-second looping video. It bought the startup that did—Vine—in October 2012, right before it was to launch. But it can get credit for introducing the world to a form unlike any other online: Vines were too weird a thing for users to generate themselves.

When Vine debuted early in 2013, Twitter boasted that its brief videos were the visual equivalent of a tweet. How the student excelled the master. Twitter is where you joke about sports and whine about politics. It is always wordy—and thus inescapably political.

Vine? Vine is art.

Joyful, astonishing, frenetically blissful art. Like the 14-line sonnet or the 12-bar blues, the six-second loop accepted its defining constraint and therefore transcended it. Those six seconds could show you anything—a tiny Japanese owl, two teenagers joking in Tulsa, a water bubble on the International Space Station—but they were always six seconds. The curtain always slammed down, and you were always sent back to the beginning again.

This made every Vine an experiment in form. Some had a beginning, a middle, and an end. Some rebelled against any clear point: They started by showing you something crazy and the craziness persisted right through to the end. And the best ran along next to you as you tried to figure out what was happening: You began watching, you thought you saw the joke, then the premise of the whole Vine would shift to reveal a new joke, and then—wham—you were back where you began.

This weird formalism is one reason why Vine—the social network—could have only happened when it did. Only the flood of venture capital that followed from Facebook’s mass popularity, only the lack of good investment options after the global financial crisis, only the hundreds of investors looking to spot the next Google, could have produced a little app as strange as Vine. (Think about it: For a time, a whole planetary class of bankers and hedge-fund managers invested their money not in better ways to mine a rock or ship a box across the ocean, but in inventing new tools of expression. How world-historically weird.) And only a generation of teens and young adults newly empowered with smartphones—a wacko device with a web connection, a video camera, and a link to the whole staggering breadth of global pop culture—could have produced Vine, a medium that requires a willingness to show off to friends and strangers, a freedom to look a little silly or stupid, and hours and hours of waiting-around time to workshop ideas."
robinsonmeyer  vine  2016  twitter  video  socialmedia  community 
october 2016 by robertogreco
How Instagram Opened a Ruthless New Chapter in the Teen Photo Wars - The Atlantic
"Rob’s Brother: Instagram is, hey, here’s a big thing I just did. While Snapchat is more, hey, here’s what I’m doing, plus check out this silly product that let you poop better.

Rob: Do you find people use Instagram messaging at all?

Rob’s Brother: It’s only ever if you want to share a dank meme with somebody. It’s just a dank meme messenger. Have you ever heard of a Finsta?

Rob: No. Or, I heard you use that term when I was at home, and I looked it up.

Rob’s Brother: It’s like a personal Instagram that’s private, and it’s only got like 25 followers. It’s not for the likes, and it’s not for anyone else to see. And you post, like, very personal things on it.

Rob: So it’s like people using a private Twitter? So Finsta is like you and your 19 best friends?

Rob’s Brother: You and your 40 best friends. I think generally if someone’s in your grade, and they want to follow your Finsta, you accept them, but there isn’t that much on a Finsta, honestly. If you’re not their friend, it’s not that interesting.

Rob: I mean, what do they complain about? Their parents..?

Rob’s Brother: Yes. Correct. It’s mostly complaining and bad selfies. Roasting teachers. They’re generally not that interesting. I feel like they’re almost the equivalent of a diary.

Rob: I mean, I know adults who have private locked Twitter accounts and they use it mostly for complaining about work or family stuff.

Rob’s Brother: Yeah, it’s mostly for complaining. And people with Finstas don’t want people to see them complaining because A, if you don’t know them, it translates as whininess, and B, if you do know them, you have a chance of being mean to somebody. The other appeal of a Finsta is that your parents can’t find you on a Finsta. I don’t have a Finsta.

Rob: Of course you don’t have a Finsta.

Rob’s Brother: I honestly don’t. I think one of the illuminating posts I saw on a Finsta was “Sorry for not spamming…” Literally, he thinks people have the expectation that he will post every hour on his Finsta about little minor things in his life. He’s like, sorry I haven’t been posting six posts a day. Isn’t that interesting?"
socialmedia  teen  youth  instagram  snapchat  robinsonmeyer  photography  2016  finsta 
september 2016 by robertogreco
How to Write a History of Writing Software - The Atlantic
"Isaac Asimov, John Updike, and John Hersey changed their writing habits to adapt to word processors, according to the first literary historian of the technology."



"There are three things I really like about that story and why I feel like it’s the best candidate for quote-unquote “first.”

One, it defamiliarizes our sense of what word processing is. It’s not a typewriter connected to a TV set. The key thing turns out to be the magnetic storage layer. The other thing thing I like about it is—there’s a term I use in the book, “suspended encryption.” That captures that dynamic of word processing: You’re writing, but there’s a kind of suspended animation to it. The text remains in its fluid, malleable state, until such time as you commit it to hard copy.

The other thing I like about the story is that it captures that gendered dynamic, that social dimension of writing. It’s not just the author alone at his typewriter. It’s really a collaborative process, there is a gender dimension to it, and there’s something very human about it, I think."



"Meyer: There is a material history you can read from a typewriter. I think you mention the example of Lawrence Rainey, a scholar of T.S. Eliot, being able to decode The Waste Land’s compositional history by looking at his typewriter. And I remember there being anxiety around writing software, and the future of that kind of scholarship. Did writing this history make you buy into the anxiety that we won’t be able to preserve contemporary literary work?

Kirschenbaum: So much of writing now, and that includes literary writing, that includes novels and poetry that will become culturally resonant and important—all of this happens now digitally. And that was something that I was interesting in writing about, writing the book. What I found is that there were often very surprising examples of evidence remaining, even from these early days of word processing history.

There’s a kind of paradox at the heart of this. As you know, we’ve all lost files, or had important stuff disappear into the [digital] ether, so there’s all that volatility and fragility we associate with the computer. But it’s also a remarkably resilient medium. And there are some writers who are using the actual track-changes feature or some other kind of versioning system to preserve their own literary manuscripts literally keystroke by keystroke."



"Meyer: You talk a little bit about looking at different paths for word processing after Word. You go into “austerityware,” which is your phrase for software like WriteRoom, which tries to cut down on distractions. Is there any prognosticating you feel like you could do about what’s catching on next?

Kirschenbaum: I do think we’re seeing this interesting return to what instructors of writing for a long time have called free writing, which is just about the uninhibited process of getting stuff out there, doing that sort of initial quick and dirty draft. What’s interesting to me is that there are now particular tools and platforms that are emerging with that precise model of writing in mind.

The one that’s gotten the most attention is the one I write about at the end of the book. At the time I was writing, it was called the Hemingwrite, but now it’s called Freewrite. It’s essentially a very lightweight, very portable keyboard, with a small screen and portable memory. It reminds me of the way a lot of writers talk about their fountain pens—these exquisitely crafted and engineers fine instruments for writing. The Freewrite aspires to bring that same level of craft and deliberation to the fabrication of a purpose-built writing instrument.

So, you know, in a sense, I think we’re going to see more and more of those special-purpose writing platforms. I think writing might move away from the general-purpose computer—we’ll still do lots of writing of all sorts at our regular laptop, but it might be your email, your social media. For dedicated long-form writing, I think there may be more and more alternatives."



"Meyer: One thing I love about the book are all the office pictures—the pictures from ’80s offices, especially. There is a sense looking at the images that the desks are retrofitted writers’s desks, rather than the kind of generic surface-with-a-laptop setup that I think a lot of people work at now.

Kirschenbaum: The visual history of all of this is really interesting. One of the hard thing was trying to figure out is, what is a literary history of word processing, how do you go about researching it? Maybe by going to the archives, but you also do it by looking at the way in which computers really were represented in the kind of imagery I was looking at earlier. You look at the old office photographs. You see a picture of Amy Tan sitting with a laptop and you try to figure out what kind of laptop it is, and lastly you do it by talking to people. It was the oral histories I did that were the best research for the book."
robinsonmeyer  wordprocessing  software  history  isaacasimov  johnupdike  writing  howewrite  computing  matthewkirschenbaum  lendeighton  ellenorhandley  johnhersey  jerrypournelle  sciencefiction  scifi  thomaspynchon  gorevidal  charlesbukowski  rcrumb  tseliot  lawrencerainey  trackchanges  typing  typewriters  freewrite  writeroom  hamingwrite  evekosofskysedgwick  howwework  howwewrite  amytan 
june 2016 by robertogreco
What's in the UN Paris Climate Deal? - The Atlantic
"In some ways, the most hopeful news out of Paris—the new 1.5 degree goal—is also the least realistic. Recent science has indicated that warming to two degrees, still the stated international red line, might be catastrophic, creating mega-hurricanes and possibly halting the temperate jet stream which waters American and European farmland.

From that perspective, 1.5 degrees is an encouraging, ambitious goal. But it’s also a promise that costs negotiators nothing while indicating great moral seriousness.

Because here’s the thing: The math still doesn’t work. 2015 is the hottest year on measure. Because of the delay between when carbon enters the atmosphere and when it traps heat, we are nearly locked into nearly 1.5 degrees of warming already. Many thought the world would abandon the two degree target at Paris due to its impracticality.

In order to slide under the 1.5-degree target, global emissions have to peak in the next five or six years. (Emissions slowed this year, mostly due to China’s economic downturn, but they are expected to rise again soon as India adds industrial capacity.) The world has to completely stop emitting carbon around 2060. Can it be done?

Now we find out. If climate change worries you, think about not only how you vote, but also how you spend your civic attention and how you communicate your concern to policy-makers. Think too about how you’re supporting those already affected by it.

To my mind, climate is our great story. No other narrative envelopes all of humanity in quite the same way, forcing answers about the ethics of food, of oil, of technology, of economic security, of democratic republics and command capitalism, of colonialism and indigenous peoples, of who in the world is rich and who in the world is poor.

We live in the middle of history. Nations still bicker over borders, flaunt weapons of mass death, and abhor refugees in their midst. Today they tried, miraculously and inadequately, to care for their common good."
robinsonmeyer  climatechange  climate  policy  2015  capitalism  economics  oli  energy  borders  weapons  refugees  humanity  anthropocene  colonialism  decolonization  hope 
december 2015 by robertogreco
The Decay of Twitter - The Atlantic
"Do other things get smooshed on Twitter? Definitely. The public and the private smoosh, as do the personal and professional. I’d even argue that subjectivity and objectivity get smooshed—consider the Especially Serious Journalists who note that “RTs are not endorsements.” But understanding Twitter as an online space that, for a long time, drew its energy from the tension between orality and literacy, and that—in its mid-life—has moved more decisively toward one over the other, works for me as a model of its collapse.

This tension also explains, to me, why the more visual social networks have stayed fun and vibrant even as the text-based ones have not. Vine, Pinterest, and Instagram don’t traffic in words, which can be reduced to identity-based magnum opi, but in images, which are a little harder to smoosh. Visual conversations have stayed chatty, in other words."



"In the final paragraphs of this article, let me assert something I have very little data to support: At some point early last year, the standard knock against Twitter—which had long ceased to be “I don’t want to know what someone’s eating for lunch”—became “I don’t want everyone to see what I have to say.” The public knows about conversation smoosh, and that constitutes, I think, a major problem for Twitter the Company. New products like Moments—which collects tweets, images, and video into little summaries—are not going to fix that.

I’m not sure anything can fix it, honestly. But I wonder if Twitter can’t arrange a de-smooshing, at least a little bit, by creating more forms of private-ness on the site. Separating the private and the public could, in turn, delineate “speech-like” and “print-like” tweets. Twitter’s offered locked accounts for a long time, but it has always been default public. (For a few early years, a pane on Twitter.com displayed every tweet.) Making it so an individual tweet’s publicness can be toggled on or off might help users feel more comfortable spending time there. And pushing new users toward secret accounts that can toggle individual tweets public might even allay some of their fears.

Or maybe nothing can be done. No one promises growth forever. Communities and companies of all sizes fall apart. And some institutions that thrive on their tensions for many years can one day find them exhausted, worn out, limp, their continued use driven more by convenience and habit than by vibrancy and vigor."
robinsonmeyer  2015  twitter  socialmedia  bonniestewart  walterong  secondaryorality  orality  literacy  internet  web  communication  online  communities  community  visibility  surveillance  contextcollapse  context  instagram  text  conversation  chattiness  vine  pinterest 
november 2015 by robertogreco
Not Doomed Yet: A New Newsletter About Climate Change - The Atlantic
"I remember the first time I learned about climate change. I was sitting at a fancy restaurant with my parents, reading a science magazine under the table. (I think it was Kids Discover, which—with its full-page photos, friendly writing, and cartoonish illustrations—ranked up there with the Klutz books as ’90s edutainment par excellence.) In the bottom half of a page, there was an info box: Scientists had identified something called the greenhouse effect, which could make disastrously extreme weather more common and the planet too hot to inhabit. I remember looking around the table, anxiously, before stammering out a question to my parents: Did they know about this? Humanity breaking the planet, and adults were doing nothing about it?

I have lost count of the number of people who have identified climate as “the political issue of the 21st century.” It ranks up there for me. Food, water, protection from the elements: It feels insufficient to say that climate touches everything, because it in fact permeates us. Physically, materially, existentially, the climate determines what it feels like to have a human body in this biosphere. And that means that every consideration of the future—of security personal, economic, and international—winds back to climate.

When I consider whether to have children, I think about climate change. When I consider where I want to live, I think about climate change. When I stand on the beach and play catch with my younger brothers and wonder what their young adulthood will be like, I think of refugees and resource wars—and, thus, climate change.

Even my current career, as a technology reporter, was inflected by the climate: When I first got into technology in the mid-2000s, I was partly drawn to it because I thought all that new wealth—and all that new expertise in handling data—might flow toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change, a phenomenon without a mind, is engrained in every texture of my every ordinary day.

And I want to follow it better. So I’m starting this."

[See also: https://tinyletter.com/not-doomed-yet ]
robinsonmeyer  climatechange  news  2015  newsletters  science  future  policy  environment 
september 2015 by robertogreco
The Best Technology for Fighting Climate Change? Trees - The Atlantic
"Between now and 2050, forests are one of our "most promising" geo-engineering tools."



"When people talk about technologies that might offset climate change, they often evoke not-yet-invented marvels, like planes spraying chemicals into the atmosphere or enormous skyscrapers gulping carbon dioxide from the clouds.

But in a new report, Oxford University researchers say that our best hopes might not be so complex.

In fact, they are two things we already know how to do: plant trees and improve the soil.

Both techniques, said the report, are “no regrets.” They’ll help the atmosphere no matter what, they’re comparatively low-cost, and they carry little additional risk. Specifically, the two techniques it recommends are afforestation—planting trees where there were none before—and biochar—improving the soil by burying a layer of dense charcoal.

Between now and 2050, trees and charcoal are the “most promising” technologies out there, it said.

It also cautioned, however, that these so-called “Negative Emissions Technologies” or NETs should only be seen as a way to stave off the worst of climate change.

“NETs should not be seen as a deus ex machina that will ‘save the day,’” its authors wrote. NETs should instead be seen as one of several tools to meet the international goal of avoiding climate change greater than 2 degrees Celsius. Another crucial tool is reducing emissions.

It’s a solution that makes sense, as forest management is one of the oldest ways that humans have shaped their environment. Before the arrival of Europeans, Native communities in the Americas had been burning forest fires for millennia to support the growth of desirable plants like blueberries and to manage ecosystems. British communities have long practiced coppicing, a tree-cutting technique that keeps forests full of younger trees.

In other words, humanity has been “geoengineering” with trees for a very long time. The authors of the Oxford report add that afforestation will need global support in order to be successful.

“It is clear that attaining negative emissions is in no sense an easier option than reducing current emissions,” it says (emphasis mine). “To remove CO2 on a comparable scale to the rate it is being emitted inevitably requires effort and infrastructure on a comparable scale to global energy or agricultural systems.”"
trees  climatechange  2015  robinsonmeyer  geoengineering  plants  history  soil  forests 
april 2015 by robertogreco
With Its $10,000 Watch, Apple Has Lost Its Soul — The Atlantic
"But now that they’re here and confirmed: The prices grate. And they grate not because they’re so expensive, but because they’re gratuitously expensive. The Apple Watch Sport (which starts at $350) and the high-end Apple Watch Edition have the same innards. Their internal computer is the same; they will have the same effect on a user’s life. The only difference is that Apple is manufacturing a status symbol with the Edition. Instead of telling users to pay up because they’ll get a better quality experience, it’s telling them to pay up because they can, and because a more expensive watch is inherently preferable.

To many commentators, this is unsurprising. It’s good business sense, really. Apple has made its world-devouring profits by ratcheting up profit margins on iPhones. There is no better target for these massive margins than the super-rich.

But high margins do not a luxury brand make. It’s a mockable commonplace in tech criticism that “Apple wouldn’t do this if Jobs were still CEO.”

I don’t know if that’s true and I’m not interested in the question. But I do know Apple has been chameleonic over its lifetime, and it stopped being dwarfed by Evil Empire Microsoft long ago. I know it’s now a big, mainstream American company. I know that it has always had a profit-motive, and that making high-quality, mass-market products was just a strategy.

But I know too which kind of consumer pays $10,000 just to have a nice watch which will be obsolete in a year. They are not a misfit or a rebel."
apple  class  economics  robinsonmeyer  2015  inequality 
march 2015 by robertogreco
The Smithsonian's Cooper Hewitt: Finally, the Museum of the Future Is Here - The Atlantic
"When I visited, I talked to the Labs team in their office and then toured the then not-quite-finished mansion. We talked about the museum first—the physical one we were in. Unlike leaders of other New York museums, who are investing in events, Chan (and the Cooper Hewitt generally) believe the heart of the museum is in its collection and its visitors. In other words: its stuff and its people.

“They don’t want to have the burden of this preservation forever,” he said of the increasingly event-focused Museum of Modern Art, 40 blocks south. “The beauty here is: We’re the Smithsonian. We don’t have a choice. No matter what other staff in this building might say, we don’t have a choice but to keep all this stuff forever.”

The museum will forever be committed to its stuff. But it has to have a more enlivening presence, he believes, than placards and shelves. Cope held up his smartphone at one point and pointed at it."



"Notice the trick the Labs team has completed. The API seems to be first for users and developers. It lets them play around with the collection, see what’s there. As Cope told me, “the API is there to develop multiple interfaces. That’s the whole point of an API—you let go of control around how people interpret data and give them what they ask for, and then have the confidence they’ll find a way to organize it that makes sense for them.” But who is doing the most work around the collection—the most organizing, the most-sensemaking? It’s the museum itself.

“When we re-open, the building will be the single largest consumer of the API,” said Chan.

In other words, the museum made a piece of infrastructure for the public. But the museum will benefit in the long term, because the infrastructure will permit them to plan for the near future.

And the museum will also be, of course, the single largest beneficiary of outsider improvements to the API. It already talks to other APIs on the web. Ray Eames’s page, for instance, encourages users to tag their Instagrams and Flickr photos with a certain code. When they do, Cooper Hewitt’s API will automatically sniff it out and link that image back to its own person file for Eames. Thus, the Cooper Hewitt’s online presence grows even richer.

The Cooper Hewitt isn’t the only museum in the world with an API. The Powerhouse has one, and many art museums have uploaded high-quality images of their collections. But the power of the Cooper Hewitt’s digital interface is unprecedented. There’s a command that asks for colors as defined by the Crayola crayon palette. Another asks if the snack bar is open. A third mimics the speech of one of the Labs members. It’s a fun piece of software, and it makes a point about the scope of the museum’s vision. If design is in everything, the API says, then the museum’s collection includes every facet of the museum itself. "



"Even if things do work, the model turns museum websites into museums themselves, catalogs of once-snazzy apps built for special occasions before being discarded forever. Exhibits go away, but those apps never do. A museum’s website—the primary face of the museum to the world—winds up looking like a closet of old prom dresses.

When Bill Moggridge became the Cooper Hewitt’s director in 2010, he wanted the museum to make its digital infrastructure more thoughtfully. Moggridge, it should be noted, is a legend. He helped design the first laptop computer. He founded the world-famous firm IDEO. And he invented the term “interaction design.” Moggridge died in 2012, not living to see the renovation project he began.

Moggridge created Chan’s position and hired him for it. And while Chan could have kept outsourcing projects to big outside firms, he instead lobbied for funding and hire a staff. The museum’s digital work was too important. It had to have in-house experts. “There's a lovely phrase we use a lot,” Cope said. “The guy who invented the Perl programming language talked about Perl as being there to make easy things simple and hard things possible.”

“That’s how we try to think about this. Not everyone’s gonna understand what we’ve built or the potential of what we’ve built right away. It’s gonna take some of the curators longer than others to figure it out. But the minute they get it, they should be able to turn around and be like, 'What if…? Can we do…?'—and if it’s easy, it should be live in 15 minutes.”"



"The team has accomplished so much largely by accepting imperfection. When the Labs launched the API, it was missing a lot of information. Cope called the quality of its metadata at launch “incredibly spotty,” before Chan clarified, “it’s terrible.”

But that was on purpose. Better to put the museum’s grand imperfection and incompleteness out in the world and let people make of it what they will, the team decided, then wait for it to be perfect. “It was a tactical play to say, don’t obsess about that stuff, because its what people do with it that matters,” said Chan.

“We could spend the next 50 years trying to make that data perfect and it still would not ever be perfect. There was 70 years of collecting that had different documenting standards. Museums only started collecting policies in the eighties and nineties. How can you retrospectively fix everything? It just can’t be done. So let’s move on and figure out what we want to do with it,” he said.

This attitude—popularized by Steve Jobs with the phrase, “Real artists ship”—extends to how the team thinks through media production, too. “I can’t sit on a video for six months, making these minute edits. I have to pitch it out door, so we can say: This interview got this many views, this thing got this many views, let’s keep going with this,” said Shelly.

The Labs’s work, as a whole, is an investment in a particular idea of cultural democracy. It’s a view where imperfect speech can always—and will always, and should always—be augmented by further speech. It trusts in the discourse over the perfection of the original work."



"And perhaps already, the Labs team believes, that digital information will be inextricable from the physical object. The Cooper Hewitt has long collected napkin sketches of famous logos and inventions. If it wants to collect the rough thoughts of today, it will have to work fast, because napkins last longer in files than sketch files do on iPads.

“To collect a Nest absent of any data, what does that tell you?,” asked Cope.“It tells you it’s a beautiful piece of industrial design. Well, maybe the museum should start thinking about some way of keeping that data alongside the object, and maybe it doesn’t need to be privileged in the way the object is.”"
robinsonmeyer  2015  cooper-hewitt  museums  collections  archives  internet  web  sebchan  aaronstraupcope  billmoggridge  design  interaction  api  data  digital  online  objects  things  applications  software  unfinished  imperfection  democracy  culture  culturaldemocracy  infrastructure  visitors  events 
january 2015 by robertogreco
Clocks Are Too Precise (and People Don't Know What to Do About It) - The Atlantic
"No big deal, but abolishing leap seconds could unmoor us from the sun forever."



"But wouldn’t abandoning the sometimes-second eventually divorce the Earth from the sun? This is one of the reasons why Canada, China, and Britain all cling to the leap second, or, at least, did at the last global meeting.

Matsakis thinks such a link has already been lost.

“​We don’t have a connection,” he told me. “We lose the connection twice a year when we go on daylight saving time.”

By the end of this century, the accumulated gap between UTC and what-should-be-the-solar-time would only be about one minute.

“What will happen is that in about 1,000 years, instead of the sun being overhead at noon, it will be overhead at 1 p.m. But by then society will have shifted.”

Hence the Chaucer. “Almost no one can read Chaucer,” Matsakis says, but we don’t freak out about it. Instead, we understand language to be one of those systems that has shifted imperceptibly over the centuries. In 600 years, when scholars translate texts from before the 21st century, they will just know that—in addition to translating or annotating monetary values so they make sense for contemporaneous readers—“noon” needs to become “1 p.m.”

Such a slow shift over time would be worth it, Matsakis said, for all the network failures it would prevent.

“You would [think it was worth it] too if you were one of the people stranded in Australia when Qantas Airlines went down,” he told me.

He recalled how American railroad companies only invented timezones after crashes forced them to. (Between 1831 and 1853, there were 97 railroad crashes—often because two trains, scheduled at close intervals on the same length of crowded track, disagreed about the time.) And perhaps it would be the same for the leap second."
time  clocks  robinsonmeyer  leapseconds  2015  precision  demetriosmatsakis  science  astronomy  physics  history 
january 2015 by robertogreco
The Artist Endures - The Atlantic
"What’s more, the idea that 10,000 hours of practice makes someone an expert may not even be psychologically valid. A recent meta-analysis found that while practice correlated with skill, it did not at all explain it. “Deliberate practice left more of the variation in skill unexplained than it explained,” wrote one of that study’s authors in Slate. We know so little about this idea because it’s so relatively recent: The first research suggesting a “10,000 Hour Rule” existed was published in 1993, and the rule itself only became popularized with the 2008 release of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers.

And look what happened: In six years, the idea became such a part of the cultural atmosphere that Deresiewicz can treat it like it’s timeless. But it’s not—it’s new, as much a part of the changing artistic firmament as the compulsion to have a website.

But that doesn’t mean its meaningless. The “10,000 Hour Rule” caught on because it invited readers to a cultural meritocracy. It discredited the un-American idea that in-born talent drives careers, instead suggesting that any discipline, any craft or art, could be accessible to anyone through hours upon hours of practice. Maybe that’s true: We just don’t know. Likewise, I don’t know whether true cultural democracy is coming.

But I do know one thing. The value of any discipline, whether craft or art, is not extracted solely by experts. In his essay, Deresiewicz approves of how Gertrude Stein once scolded Picasso for writing poetry. I have also heard Picasso was a terrible poet, but I really don’t know, and I can’t hazard whether some iambic innovation would have spurred him to paint differently.

I am not Picasso, though, and neither are you. And in the world I’d like to live in, everyone—whether they’re a famous painter or a CPA—would feel as though they can explore the breadth of human expression, whether through writing poetry or learning about Chinese pottery or even researching historical pickling methods. If cultural democracy comes, my guess is it will not look like 100 million specialists. It will appear as a society of curious minds, captivated by human traditions and inspired to improve upon them, interested in the many places in the world where humans have spent their attention—and hungry to invest more."
robinsonmeyer  2014  art  williamderesiewicz  craft  practice  internet  malcolmgladwell  advice  democracy  culture  creativity  attention  specialists  specialization  generalists  meritocracy  joirodreamsofsushi  gertrudestein  pablopicasso  dilettantes  innovation  imagination 
january 2015 by robertogreco
Pics or It Didn't Happen: The New Crisis of Connected Cameras - The Atlantic
"Networked lenses have, in short, marvelous potential. But cameras that are everywhere and connected to everything else have graver consequences, too—consequences we’re just beginning to suss out.

And I think it’s this, the import and ethics of networked lenses, that we’re wrestling with in story after story. Networked images are simply different than the products of film cameras. They’re easier to edit and slipperier to steal. Networked pictures get away from you, via black hat Torrenting, social media drag-and-dropping, or illicit iCloud downloading.

And even if not every lens in every story is truly networked, we’re still talking about the same technological advances. The smartphone camera is part of a global proliferation of photography, generally. The cheap sensor in your flip phone and the cheap sensor in your surveillance camera are, if not twins, then cousins.

Networked lenses require further serious thinking, but here are some questions that to me seem particularly unresolved. We only have the beginning of provisional propositions here, and analogies that we’re struggling to extend and apply, but here are some key questions.

What should you watch? This summer alone, it hasn’t been hard to find digital images or video of Ray Rice punching Janay Palmer unconscious; of masked ISIS militants executing not only James Foley but also Steven Sotloff; of St. Louis Police shooting and killing mentally ill Kajieme Powell; of Michael Brown’s lifeless body; and of the bodies of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 victims.

In each of those cases, I have seen exhortations not to watch the video, not to look at the images.

Sometimes these appeals are argued from a place of respect. “The intent of the ISIS video is to strip James Foley of his humanity, to turn him into a symbol,” writes Margaret Eby. “We can pay tribute to him best by refusing to participate in the twisted one-act play, this allegory that his killers have scripted for us.”

Sometimes this respect becomes a call for consent: Did Jamay Palmer permit the video of her abuse to become public? If not (and it sure seems not), then the average viewer shouldn’t see it.

And sometimes these entreaties are paired with an appeal to the viewer’s mental health. Not only should you abstain from watching a video because it’s disrespectful to the victim, but you should also avoid it because it’s bad for you. Watch too many of these—watch even just one—and you will be worn down, made a little less hopeful. Yes, it’s your duty to know about the monstrosities committed by humans, but you risk losing something vibrant in yourself if you watch a document of every new one.

I’ve seen all of these arguments sketched by different readers—but I’ve seen all of them contested, too.

How should the media treat the products of networked lenses? In 2002, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and executed. Film of the murder was uploaded online, but, as Eby writes, that was “before the reign of social media, when images and videos did not automatically embed in your timelines, unbidden.” (The Internet as a whole was just much slower then too, and video content more time-consuming to obtain and download.)

Still, some journalists made the video available. “This is the the single most gruesome, horrible, despicable, and horrifying thing I've ever seen,” wrote Stephen Mindich, the publisher of alt-weekly the Boston Phoenix, before he linked to the video.

This year, New York tabloids placed images from the beginning of the Foley video on their front-cover. Even The New York Times embedded a still. Should they have? Just yesterday, The Intercept’s Peter Maass argued that he thought more Americans should watch the execution videos in their entirety.

And this goes beyond snuff films, too: Should the media show images of Michael Brown’s body? Should it screen-cap Ray Rice punching Janay Palmer? Should it embed Instagrams of Flight 17 victims?

If not, should it give readers a way to access these videos? Or are we unwise to ask these questions: Perhaps films like these should always be handled case-by-case. Yesterday, a roommate of mine said he thought images from the Foley video should be shown, but not any that depicted the murder weapon.

What do the product of networked lenses do, once you add them to a situation? We know something about the violence the American press should and shouldn't depict—there have long been rules, however loose, about those sorts of things. But we know less about how to handle and assess the consequences of showing, or not showing, those images when they’re available elsewhere. Are we preparing to bomb ISIS because of the horror of the images of the Foley and Sotloff murders? Should the press account for that somehow?

Or return again to the NFL’s suspension of Ray Rice. Though it was public knowledge that Rice knocked his girlfriend unconscious, he was only suspended two games for it. But he received an indefinite suspension once TMZ released video of the incident. Why is that—because everyone could see his violence now? Because the assault was shown to be as bad as it was?

What may different kinds of people do with a networked lens? What should they do? I’m thinking of two different events here, both since July.

The first: Black protesters in Ferguson were barred by cops of taking pictures of arrests. The First Amendment protects citizens’ right to film cops.

The second: Recent security breaches have allowed users to steal photos from various female celebrities, a tranche which included nude pictures they had taken of themselves. On Twitter, New York Times columnist Nick Bilton tossed off:

"Put together a list of tips for celebs after latest leaks: 1. Don't take nude selfies 2. Don't take nude selfies 3. Don't take nude selfies"

— Nick Bilton (@nickbilton) September 1, 2014

This struck me (and many others) as almost victim-blaming: Shouldn’t the real injunction be, don’t steal other people’s property and don’t sexually harass anyone? Who are we to tell women what they can or cannot do with their phones and networked cameras?

Yet with the state of online security as dismal as it is, maybe Bilton’s tweet constitutes good advice. We shouldn’t bar anyone from doing anything with their camera, but until we improve cultural consideration of and respect for women, maybe we can say, affirmatively but respectfully, that taking nude selfies constitutes a certain kind of potentially worthwhile risk.

What underlies both of these incidents might be obvious: Existing oppressions, whether misogyny, racism, or otherwise, practically limits how networked lens can be used. Yet this must inform how we consider the products and circumstances of any Internet-connected camera.

And above all these questions, there’s an ultimate one: What happens when you change a camera into a networked lens?

And: What happens when you add a networked lens to a situation?

Who gains power: the people holding the camera or the people being filmed? (Some argue that cop bodycams would in fact empower the police. After all, who has time to review all that footage?) Whose behavior changes, and how much? What can we expect will happen to the images that result? (Will they disappear into a database forever? If so, what can be done to them there? How will that affect us?)

We don’t know the answer to these twinned questions—but we’re learning a little more every day.

This is not all to say every issue today is a networked lens issue. NSA surveillance as a whole isn’t, I think. But the agency’s mass-facial recognition is. Labor on the whole isn’t, but workplace surveillance is. Urban planning isn’t, but public security cameras deployed en masse are. Scope this all the way up and you have Google Earth.

At the close of his piece, Mod quotes Sontag: “While there appears to be nothing that photography can’t devour, whatever can’t be photographed becomes less important.” Mod spins that, riffing, “Whatever can’t be networked becomes less important.” And whatever is networked can send us to war."
2014  robinsonmeyer  cameras  mobile  phones  photography  web  internet  culture  networkedculture  craigmod  behavior  ethics 
september 2014 by robertogreco
The end of Big Twitter - Text Patterns - The New Atlantis
"This is exactly right. I have found that my greatest frustrations with Twitter come not from people who are being nasty — though there are far too many of them — but from people who just misunderstand. They reply questioningly or challengingly to a tweet without reading any of the preceding or succeeding tweets that would give it context, or without reading the post that it links to. They take jokes seriously — Oh Lord do they take jokes seriously. And far too often they don’t take the time to formulate their responses with care and so write tweets that I can’t make sense of at all. And I don’t want to have to deal with all this. I just want to sit here on the porch and have a nice chat with my friends and neighbors.

But wait. I’m not on the porch anymore. I’m in the middle of Broadway.

So I’m doing what, it seems to me, many people are doing: I’m getting out of the street. I’ll keep my public account for public uses: it’ll be a place where I can link to posts like this one, or announce any event that’s of general interest. But what I’ve come to call Big Twitter is simply not a place for conversation any more.

I don’t like this change. I made friends — real friends — on Twitter when it was a place for conversation. I reconnected with people I had lost touch with. Whole new realms of knowledge were opened to me. I don’t want to foreclose on the possibility of further discovery, but the signal-to-noise ration is so bad now that I don’t think I could pick out the constructive and interesting voices from all the mean-spiritedness and incomprehension; and so few smart people now dare to use Twitter in the old open way.

Big Twitter was great — for a while. But now it’s over, and it’s time to move on. I’m just hoping that some smart people out there are learning from what went wrong and developing social networks that can strengthen the signal and silence the noise."

[More here: http://text-patterns.thenewatlantis.com/2014/09/more-on-twitter.html

"1) I had forgotten, but this piece by Robinson Meyer and Adrienne LaFrance got at many of the issues I talk about, and did it some months ago.

2) I keep hearing from people that they like Big Twitter just fine. Awesome! Then they should keep using it. (This is a genre of response that has always puzzled me. You see it when people say that they’re having trouble with a piece of software or a web service, and others reply “It’s working great for me!” How is that relevant, exactly? If I tell you I broke my arm are you going to tell me that your arm is just fine?) As I said, I want to spend more time in my living room and less time on the street. If you prefer being in the street, that’s definitely what you should do.

3) Some folks are worried that they won’t know what’s going on in the world — or in some particular corner of it — if they leave Twitter. But consider this: if it’s knowledge you want, then one of the best services Twitter provides to you is linkage: links that take you to places on the open web where ideas are developed at some length. So instead of relying on Twitter to mediate that, why not use an RSS reader and subscribe to a bunch of worthwhile sites? Cut out the middleman, I say. Plus, by using RSS you liberate yourself to some degree from dependence on proprietary services and get back to the open web. As Brent Simmons recently commented,
My blog’s older than Twitter and Facebook, and it will outlive them. It has seen Flickr explode and then fade. It’s seen Google Wave and Google Reader come and go, and it’ll still be here as Google Plus fades. When Medium and Tumblr are gone, my blog will be here.

The things that will last on the internet are not owned. Plain old websites, blogs, RSS, irc, email.


And when I say “use RSS” I mean “use it in its original, open form”: technically speaking, Twitter is little more than proprietary RSS.

4) The past few months have been for me a season of cutting back and cutting down. In addition to my general-if-not-absolute absence from Big Twitter, I stopped reading the New York Times, and have reworked my RSS feeds to feature less news-of-the-moment and more stuff that could have longer-term value. I’ve been reading more books and longer articles. This has all been good.

5) Finally, one interesting (to me) bit of self-reporting: I have missed Big Twitter at certain moments, and most of them have occurred when I’ve thought of something to say that I think is funny. I want to tweet my witticism and then sit back and wait for retweets and faves. That’s pathetic, of course; but good for me to know."]
alanjacobs  twitter  2014  convresation  frankchimero  marcoarment  news  rss  understanding  misunderstanding  bigtwitter  provatetwitter  robinsonmeyer 
september 2014 by robertogreco
It's Totally Normal to Watch Other People Play Video Games - The Atlantic
"I turned to a friend of the family, Aaron Briggs, to help grok Twitch. Briggs is 18, and described himself “mostly as a viewer but also a streamer” of the website. When he was most active as a streamer, he said his feeds had between 500 and 600 live viewers. 

“It’s a really weird happening,” he said of the service. “It’s very strange but also enticing.”

“I grew up with a much older brother. I’ve been watching games since I was really, really young,” Briggs said. And with games, he agreed: “Watching is as important as playing.”

And watching on Twitch can be better than playing. The service exposed him to the more competitive, professional sides of video gaming, “things you’d normally never see,” said Briggs. Some players practice speed runs of certain games, like the original Mario Bros., and then live-stream their attempts at certain records.

But he quickly compared the service to an experience more familiar to Boomers, and, indeed, many Americans. “It’s a lot like going to a Super Bowl party.” It’s a community event gathered around spectating.

Key to that community is Twitch chat, the open chat window next to the viewing screen. Each stream has its own chat window, and streamers respond to questions and jokes in the chat as they’re playing the game.

​“It makes something like watching a video, which would normally seem anti-social” actually social, said Briggs. “You see other people doing it too, and you feel like you’re part of something.”

That phenomenon should be familiar to any media watcher in 2014, even the Boomer-iest: It’s a second screen. Just as Twitter or Facebook can become a running line of gags, comments, and complaints during an awards show or Presidential debate, so does the Twitch chat window. Which is just another reason Amazon can bank on it—it’s a video service (with more primetime viewers than CNN or E!) with its own built-in social network.

And that may be just the kind of new twist this old custom needed."
twitch  robinsonmeyer  amazon  2014  spectators  videogames  games  gaming  backchannel  conversation  social  media  video  livestreaming  web  online  internet 
september 2014 by robertogreco
Why Tech Still Hasn't Solved Education's Problems - The Atlantic
"Why is that? Why has the promised boom in educational technology failed to appear—and why was the technology that did appear not very good?

Paul Franz has a guess as to why. Franz taught in Hawaii before, in 2011, researching ed tech as a doctoral candidate at Stanford. He’s now a language arts teacher in California. On his Twitter feed Sunday, he gave some reasons why the ed tech buzz seems to have simply disappeared. They mirror my own sentiment, that education is a uniquely difficult challenge, both technically and socially, and that its difficulty confounds attempts to “disrupt” it.

Here are his thoughts:

"It's so liberating to spend my mental energy thinking about how to be a good teacher.

What I'm doing now is more fulfilling and more meaningful. I was around ed tech long enough to see that it's mostly hot air.

The problem with ed tech, add a sector, is not that it is capitalistic. It's that education is so much more complicated than anything else.

Seriously. MOOC hype, for example, was a classic case of techies and entrepreneurs not even remotely understanding how learning works.

Don't get me wrong. There are some good people at Coursera and all. But that they're not going to revolutionize anything is clear by now.

And they never were because education poses social, economic, cultural, and psychological problems they aren't equipped to address.

So it's all well and good that some people learn some skills through MOOCs, but that does not a revolution make.

In short, designing for learning is hard. Pretending that all it takes is faster computers and more money is foolish.

That's a core tenet of technological determinism though... Faster computers and more money solve everything.

Thing is, again, education poses the hardest problems. Harder than software can solve.

There was no app in the world that would have made a whit of difference with the kids I worked with in Hawaii with NALU Studies.

People made a difference.

The best educational technology we have is always our attention."

“I don't think that technology / software are irrelevant to the challenges in education, but I think by their very nature there are issues they can't address,” he added in an email response:

Thinking about software as the primary way of solving problems (in any field) forces us to frame problems in terms that software is capable of addressing. That's especially dangerous in education because solving educational problems involves leveraging knowledge and expertise from pretty much every other social science (anthropology, economics, psychology, political science, etc), not to mention knowledge from content areas. Software might be good at categorizing and organizing knowledge, but it's not so good at synthesizing and applying knowledge in the creative, and often highly contextualized and personalized, ways that educators and educational leaders have to employ every day."
paulfranz  robinsonmeyer  mooc  moocs  edtech  education  teaching  learning  technology  attention  software  howweteach  cv  schools  automation  hardproblems  2014  via:caseygollan 
september 2014 by robertogreco
The Best Way to Type ¯_(ツ)_/¯ - Robinson Meyer - The Atlantic
[Title is actually: "The Best Way to Type ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ - The Awl",
but something goes wrong in Pinboard. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ]
emoticons  shrug  shruggie  typography  2014  robinsonmeyer  smugshrug  kaomoji  facemarks  japan  emoji  tableflipping 
june 2014 by robertogreco
To Remember a Lecture Better, Take Notes by Hand - Robinson Meyer - The Atlantic
"Students watched the video, completed difficult mental tasks for 30 minutes, then took a quiz on the content. In this group, longhand-notetakers outperformed laptop-notetakers on the quiz. Analysis of student notes showed that laptop-notetakers tended to transcribe a lot of the speaker’s words verbatim. Mueller and Oppenheimer suspected that this was because those who typed notes were inclined to transcribe lectures, rather than process them. This makes sense: If you can type quickly enough, word-for-word transcription is possible, whereas writing by hand usually rules out capturing every word.

So students in the second group were given a warning. Before the laptop-users watched the lecture or took any notes on it, the study administrator told some of them:
People who take class notes on laptops when they expect to be tested on the material later tend to transcribe what they’re hearing without thinking about it much. Please try not to do this as you take notes today. Take notes in your own words and don’t just write down word-for-word what the speaker is saying.

The warning seemed to have no effect. The quiz showed that longhand-notetakers still remembered lecture content better than laptop-notetakers. And analyzing the notes that laptop-using students took, the two authors admit: “The instruction to not take verbatim notes was completely ineffective at reducing verbatim content.”

The final group of students took the quiz a full week after watching a recorded lecture. Some of these students were allowed to study their notes for 10 minutes before taking the quiz. In this last group, longhand-notetakers who had time to study outperformed everyone else. Longhand-notetakers of any sort, in fact, did better on the quiz than laptop-notetakers.

What’s more, if someone took verbatim notes on their laptop, then studying seemed more likely to hinder their performance on the quiz.

In other words, taking notes on a laptop seems to lead to verbatim notes, which make it tough to study well. And you can’t successfully warn someone to keep them from taking verbatim notes if they’re using a laptop.

“We don’t write longhand as fast as we type these days, but people who were typing just tended to transcribe large parts of lecture content verbatim,” Mueller told me. “The people who were taking notes on the laptops don’t have to be judicious in what they write down.”

She thinks this might be the key to their findings: Take notes by hand, and you have to process information as well as write it down. That initial selectivity leads to long-term comprehension. “I don’t think we’re gonna get more people to go back to notebooks necessarily,” Mueller said. “Tablets might be the best of both worlds—you have to choose what to write down, but then you have the electronic copy.”"
memory  transcription  notetaking  typing  handwriting  2014  recall  robinsonmeyer 
may 2014 by robertogreco
6, 5: Hills
"The systemic problems – climate change, mass violence, police state, you name ’em – will not be solved from any single angle. One necessary one, I think, is sushi knife cuts across the idea that we are restoring the world. Sometimes, narrowly, this makes some sense: we can say, for example, that there was a past in which there were better women’s health options in Texas than there are today, and use it as an example. But most of the past sucked real bad, or was not a stable object. The good king to whom Robin Hood was loyal was, in the historical record, what we would now call a bad king. And the implication that we can turn the Anthropocene back into the Holocene is simply false, and a dishonest goal; we have to talk about how we’re never going home, but if we work hard we might make a new home that’s better than what we’ve begun to trek into.

A DM conversation with ace reporter Robinson Meyer (gently edited for clarity):

Rob: Have you played 2048, Dan W edition yet?

Me: No.

Rob: It is a hoot.

Rob: http://games.usvsth3m.com/2048/dan-w-edition/

Me: Astonishing.

Me: Died at 2656.

Me: What can we say about the people who think this is fun and clever?

Me: Can we make a more interesting description than “people who have heard of the New Aesthetic”?

Rob: Confusion: Do you think it was not fun and clever, or are you trying to name the very real category?

Me: I think it’s extremely fun and clever.

Me: And I’m trying to get at what this kind of enjoyment is beyond “people out there share my obsessions with certain ‘boring’/‘weird’ things”.

Rob: Haha, okay. Right. Yeah.

Rob: My shorthand is, indeed, usually “weird.” But that in itself is a shorthand for estrangement.

Rob: Estrangeurs.

Me: I sometimes think if it as: bulk people.

Me: People interested in mass transportation, mass communication, massive slabs of data.

Rob: The Blurry Commons.

Rob: (I think it is common-in-bulk—it being not enough to revive the old, say, Judt-esque progressive adoration for trains.)

Rob: The Fans of Connected Signifiers of Disconnection and Vice Versa.

Rob: Shirepunk.

Rob: Domesdayists.

Me: Census-botherers.

Rob: Because it’s partly about working on problems at 45 degree angles to climate.

Rob: Whigpunk.

Rob: But actually this time.

Me: Ack, perfect.

Rob: That’s what it feels like to be thought-led.

It might also be this thing or not. It might be about scale – the feeling of something on the edge between subitizable and not. (It also has the grace of something made by a friend for a friend – which animates some of my favorite light art, even where it lacks other merits.)"
scale  charlieloyd  2014  whigpunk  newaesthetic  climatechange  mailart  tuitui  micronations  robinsonmeyer  wendellberry  systemsthinking  systems  decline  disaster  lauraseay  jasonstearns  gérardprunier  catharinenewbury  davidnewbury  séverineautesserre  africa  genocide  southsudan  sudan  rwanda  centralafricanrepublic  injustice  libertarianism  normanborlaug  anthropocene 
may 2014 by robertogreco
A New iPhone App Catalogues and Maps U.S. Drone Killings - Robinson Meyer - The Atlantic
“I love my phone…it puts me at the center of the map. But I'm not the center of the map.”



"On Monday, the new publication First Look reported that electronically obtained metadata controls who, how, and when U.S. drones kill abroad. Journalists Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill write that that kind of information doesn’t only determine who is killed: Metadata on phone SIM cards determines how victims of the strikes are found.

“The drone program amounts to little more than death by unreliable metadata,” they write, paraphrasing an ex-drone operator.

Now, a new iPhone app lets you explore the consequences of that phenomenon. Named—fittingly—Metadata+, it catalogues and maps drone killings by the United States and is now free and available for download.

The app was made by data artist and web developer Josh Begley. Its two views variously mirror iOS’s Messages interface, displaying the date, location, and victims of each killing; it also shows a map of U.S. drone strikes across the Middle East and Somalia.

Most strikingly, Metadata+ will send users an in-app notification whenever there’s a new strike.

The app, in other words, places an experience foreign to many Americans in a context they’re familiar with: their smartphone. It isn’t the first project do so. Begley’s own @dronestream Twitter account, followed by more than 27,000 people, tweets about every new strike, interrupting their friends’ chatter with more violent news. And London-based artist James Bridle has led two similar efforts, operating an Instagram feed that posts satellite imagery of every strike’s location and painting the shadow of drones on the ground in major Western cities.

Each project tries to transplant the anxiety of those who live below drones to the everyday experience of those very distant from them."



"Begley says he’s next thinking about developing an ephemeral app. “When Steve Jobs announced the iPhone, one of the things he said is that the problem with phones [of that period was,] ‘They all have these control buttons that are fixed in plastic. They’re the same for every application,’” he said.

“So,” Begley asked, “what if you made an app that was designed to change? Like Snapchat, its content fades away and it becomes something else in 6 months. The act of opening a Snap is exciting to me because I'm not sure what it will be. Might you open an app more frequently if the only thing you know is that you're not sure what it will contain?”"
ios  iphone  applications  drones  droneproject  robinsonmeyer  2014  joshbegley  ephemeral  ephemerality 
april 2014 by robertogreco
Amazing Structure: A Conversation With Ursula Franklin - Robinson Meyer - The Atlantic
"The gender issue is really a postwar issue. Women, wherever they were, what side or what in the war situation, stepped into the places that men had left. And they were competent, and they could do it. It was only after the war, when the men came back, that they needed the mystique—that she’s a girl, and so oughtn’t [to be] there, this is a man’s job. The gender issue, in practical terms—either who [could be] in school or who thought they could do which job, which science, which math—is a postwar issue anywhere in the world.

And it’s the issue of a large number of well-organized men, who often got their training in the army during the war, returning and needing both work and justification for their organized maleness in a very hierarchical structure. These guys came out of the military, and brought skills, but mostly brought demands.

There were women who had coped—often very well in very technical [positions]—but what was needed now was a distinction between those who came out of a culture of order, discipline, and minimal consideration of an individual’s contribution. So you had to get the women out of the workplace. And that’s when that question—they can’t do math, or they are frightened of machines—that’s where all that crap comes from. But it’s there, and it took until the late ’50s when women said: “Ah ah! What’s going on here?”

It’s the collectivity—with some consciousness-raising, you see—that actually, the personal is political. It’s not that our skirts are too short or too long; it’s just that we are being pushed around and maybe we have to put a stop to it collectively. But that gender-based look at knowledge and competency is postwar.

So my school experience: It was ‘so what?’ "



"There’s no question that somebody who was in the position I was when my son was born, and said to somebody, ‘I’m pregnant.’ There’s legislation now; they have to keep your job; they have to give you that much maternity leave; you have a medical insurance system that picks up some of those expenses; and no employer can say no. That’s an enormous change.

The salary thing is still a question where one may have to struggle, but it is not that a priori a woman gets paid less for work of equal value. And there are laws that one can change. Not that people who need to challenge have the power to do so, but that exists. I mean if you see the number of women—school principals and university presidents—that is the change.

I constantly emphasize that the issue is not essentially gender. The issue is patriarchy. I must say that I myself have been surprised at the rapid rise of lady patriarchs. And of course there are lady patriarchs. I was surprised how easily young women who have all options open for patriarchy become as much the patriarch in a hierarchical structure as any man does; and conversely, how many men—how many men, not that many—have found a collaborative structure convenient and don’t pull rank. 

The developments flow from there. The main development is legislation—and that hand-waving isn’t good enough."



"[Q] And when you say “lady patriarchs,” what do you mean?

I mean women who behave as if they are generals or bishops. It makes no difference in many ways if it’s a woman or a man. In particular positions, a woman can be as inconsiderate a lady patriarch as a male patriarch would have been. So the issue is the hierarchical structuring; the issue is patriarchy.

[Q] You were also involved in strontium testing. Did that float out of your social work in the ’60s, your work as a citizen?

What you are referring to is the sense that one is a citizen first and happen to be a professional in one area or another, but you don’t stop being a citizen because you are a highway engineer or a professor of metallurgy, but you also don’t leave all your scientific knowledge when you are a resident in the district that is suddenly heavily influence by pollution from another plant; or, globally, from fallout or chemical pollution.

When you object to things like that, you bring the skills that you have to have professionally to it, as do all the others who may provide citizen input or position. The whole fabric of the democratic process comes from citizens who are competent in various ways, and my competency happens to be science. I have a certain skill in teaching to make it clear to people without using jargon what certain inevitable things, such as nuclear fallout or river pollution, mean, and that the half-life of uranium doesn’t change when you change governments. Somebody has to say that at the right place in the right language, and I’ve always taken these opportunities and, like others, contributed with the best I had.

So I’ve very much been a part of women’s peace organizations and very much meet in the most active form of pacifism—the prevention of situations that lead to war. So the pacifism, elective pacifism, are all the political and social measures against injustices that in the end drive hatred and violence.

[Q] Once you were at the University of Toronto, and got into archeometry and teaching, I suppose that followed the reforms in Canada. Did you see the university change over your time there, and just generally what was it like to be a female professor of engineering during the ’70s and ’80s?

Well… pretty lonely. You know the real difficulty is to protect and advance your women students, and to see that they are in a hassle-free learning environment. When I came to the university, I’d been around long enough to know that I wasn’t one of the gang, and I never would be. I didn’t have a desire to be one of the boys.

But the great wish—to give my women students a hassle-free, happy learning environment—that’s what’s difficult. The culture of engineering is not a culture of acceptance and understanding of anything that is female and—at the same time—equal. So that’s… that’s a real job. It was a long and hard [work] in this, and it’s by no means yet all done."

[See also Annes post about Ursula Franklin: http://designculturelab.org/2012/07/17/from-the-plsj-archives-an-extraordinary-mind/ ]
ursulafranklin  robinsonmeyer  2014  interviews  feminism  partiarchy  gender  hierarchy  hierarchies  law  legal  women  science  structures  management  organizations  history  canada  highered  highereducation  labor  regulation  standards  quakers  pacifism  peace  equality  quaker 
march 2014 by robertogreco
No Old Maps Actually Say 'Here Be Dragons' - Robinson Meyer - The Atlantic
"Here be dragons. The words supposedly contain every difference between ancient maps and our own. Where old maps were illustrated and incomplete, ours are accurate and photographed from the sky. Old maps were pricey and precious; ours are nearly free and ubiquitous.

Most importantly: Old maps—early modern European maps—contain uncharted territory, across which beasts rumble and serpents writhe. They have dragons.

Our technology might be indistinguishable from magic, but it does not contain magical creatures. Google Maps does not have dragons.

Or that’s the story, anyway. But I’d always wondered: Do any old, original maps actually say those words, “Here be dragons?” 

The answer, it seems, is … No.

Not a single old paper map presents those exact words—“Here be dragons”— in the margins or otherwise. Nor does any paper map include “Hic sunt dracones,” the words’ Latin equivalent. 

But a globe does."



"But if Here be dragons is only on one map, why do we think of it as “typical?” Erin C. Blake, now a curator of special collections at the Folger Shakespeare Library, muses:
It must at least pre-date the publication of Dorothy L. Sayers' short story "The Learned Adventure of the Dragon's Head" in Lord Peter Views the Body (London: Gollancz, 1928), in which a character refers to having seen "hic dracones" on an old map [spotted by both Andrew S. Cook and Benjamin Darius Weiss]. Does it pre-date the publication of the text of the LenoxGlobe in 1879? Why dragons, and not one of the other terrifying creatures depicted on old maps?


The final answer, Blake writes, may be just this: “We don’t know.”

Maybe it’s this: Those famous words served as a warning to the map’s original users and a kind of flourish from the map’s artisan makers. To us, they seem to comment both on the travails of the terrain (“We don’t know what’s here!”) and about the dangers of ignorance (“There might as well be dragons in this unknown spot!”).

Now, we use here be dragons to name our novels full of knights and kings, our treatises on fantastic maps, and even our investigations into extraterrestrial life. The words remind us how different our modern-day map-making is: Shot from cameras in the sky, and available on every smart phone, maps are ubiquitous and photographic, and, the creatures they catalog are too small to see."
robinsonmeyer  maps  mapping  history  2013  cartography  monsters  herebedragons  globes  erinblake  fantasy 
december 2013 by robertogreco
JSTOR's Hidden Power - Alan Jacobs - The Atlantic
"Most academic journals get started at particular institutions, arising from the interests of a professor or two or three, but, while small numbers of people can edit such journals, the actual publication and distribution of them are more complicated. Eventually some academic presses came to specialize in such work—in America, Oxford University Press and Johns Hopkins University Press are probably the most prominent—and they provide multiple services to journal editors: They not only print and distribute, they also provide a kind of imprimatur, a seal of academic approval from well-regarded presses. To get your journal taken up by Oxford or Johns Hopkins is something of a coup.

It’s easy to see how these powers have been amplified in the digital age—and they’re powers that have had an enormous influence on how academic work gets done, from high-school students to the more elevated reaches of the professoriate. JSTOR (where the Oxford University Press journals, among many others, went) and Project Muse (which was created by Johns Hopkins University Press specifically for its journals) can make a very strong case for the value of their services to everyone in the academic ecosystem.

To the editors of journals, they say: We can get your articles—including long-forgotten ones, decades old—read and used by countless thousands of people who otherwise never would have heard of them.

To libraries, they say: You don't need to devote your staff’s limited time and energy to sifting through thousands of academic journals, trying to figure out which ones to buy access to. Just pay one fee to us—and perhaps to a couple of other equally prestigious services—and we’ll give your community instant access to thousands and thousands of peer-reviewed academic articles the quality of which we solemnly vouch for.

To students, they say: Figuring out what sources to use for your research paper is hard, isn’t it? You never know whether your professor is going to acknowledge a given source as reliable and appropriate, do you? Well, just search our database and use what you find there, and you’ll be good as gold.

And to faculty, they say: Students really have no idea how to evaluate sources, do they? And who has time to teach them? It’s not like you don't have enough to do already. So just point them to us, and they’ll be good as gold—and you’ll have one less thing to think about."
publishing  teaching  archives  digitalrights  copyright  research  openaccess  academia  robinsonmeyer  alanjacobs  2013  power  education  highered  highereducation  via:shannon_mattern 
december 2013 by robertogreco
The President's Hand-Written Response to the Gettysburg Address - Robinson Meyer - The Atlantic
"President Obama didn’t go to Gettysburg today, which some critics, well, criticized him for. But, this evening, he did release a little, hand-written essay about the address. The speech’s solemn nature, its multiplicity of forms, seemed to demand something more than an electronic press release from him. It demanded hand-writing, which, in a digital age, underlines the sincerity of a message.

In an age of pretty fonts and easy publishing, the image of hand-writing gets about as close to speech as a text can get.

The President’s manuscript is below, followed by my transcription of it.

Whether or not he wrote it (I think it’s written by him), it is a little ode on the nature of language: the famous language of the speech, the commanding language of the law, and the language which makes action possible."
handwriting  robinsonmeyer  barackobama  2013  gettysburgaddress  abrahamlincoln 
november 2013 by robertogreco
Finally, an Art Form That Gets the Internet: Opera - Robinson Meyer - The Atlantic
"The same surveillance video clip plays three times in Two Boys, at the beginning, the middle, and the end. In it, we see Brian meet Jake in an alley. The older boy puts his arm around the younger; they walk outside of the frame. The video clip has a timestamp in the corner; it precisely frames the opera in history. Like Anne’s office, stuffed with papers and filing cabinets, that timestamp bears the brand of the archive.

Muhly has dwelled in an archive before. For his first job in New York, he tended the personal archives of Maira Kalman. His second album, Mothertongue, moved in and out of the stacks. As mentioned, one of its pieces, called “Archive,” asked a singer to remember phone numbers off the top of her head (knowing it to be a meaningful exercise, as cell phones now remember most trivia for us); another recounted a folk song—the recursive “Oh, the wind and the rain”—in the first movement, mangled it with electronic chimes in the second, then put it back together in the third.

The World Wide Web is a big archive, the biggest one we’ve ever created, humanity’s greatest “work of literature,” in the words of London artist James Bridle. What is chatting, even? All an instant message user does is read and supplement a document devised, archived, and accessed in the very, very recent past. Although the actual downloading happens offstage, little wonder that the plot cannot be resolved in Two Boys until the chat logs are downloaded from the server—or that the chat logs stick around long enough to be analyzed and parsed at all. Quinn Norton asks, “How do we make concrete, or at least reconstructable in the minds of our readers, the terrible, true passions that cross telephony lines?” The trouble of Two Boys is making the archive live onstage, making the operagoer see and hear the library.

In the second act, Brian struggles to describe the chatrooms to Strawson. “There is a world,” he tells her, “a real place—better than, because it’s real. You can’t see it, but it’s real.”

In its choruses, in its gliding towers, the opera gives the Internet dimension. Dancers, moving forward and backward on the stage, give it depth; their jagged stops and starts hint that the web has its own time. They are mimicking computers, which are, themselves, mimicking tools."
robinsonmeyer  nicomuhly  2013  opera  internet  art  depiction  aim  instantmessaging  music  chatrooms  quinnnorton  jamesbridle  surveillance  archives  mairakalman 
october 2013 by robertogreco
The Radical New Institution to Liberate U.S. Data - Robinson Meyer - The Atlantic
"Creating an ecosystem like that—getting municipalities to publish their hunting season times and requirements, recruiting an organization to host those agglomerated data, and alerting app developers that the data are coming—requires a central advocacy organization capable of talking to developers and public servants. It’s the kind of community Jaquith hopes to set up—and then walk away from.

“Ideally, the U.S. ODI’s role is forgotten,“ he said.

Jaquith hopes the institute itself, in fact, will be forgotten. If this brief, experimental phase seems successful, he said, and the Knight Foundation establishes the institute, it will be designed to last only a few years.

“We’re gonna term limit it, and we’re thinking that limit will be four years,” he said. In other words, if the institute is widly successful, it will close in 2017.

Advocacy organizations, said Jaquith, either succeed in their advocacy or fail. If they fail, they should stop and let other organizations step in.

Jaquith said he hoped the defined end date would give the U.S. ODI a sprint-like atmosphere. An institute extant for four years would span a year into the term of the next U.S. president, bridging the gap between administrations. It would not, however, erect a zombie institution.

“If there’s never an end date,” he said, “then what’s the urgency?“

Right now, though, Jaquith is looking forward to a shorter, six-month sprint. The ODI, striving to be as lean as possible, won’t even have an office now. And, at this point, the ODI remains a plan rather than a place."
robinsonmeyer  2013  waldojaquaith  intentionallyephemeral  problemsolving  data  odi  usodi  advocacy  organizations  plannedobsolescence  adhoc 
october 2013 by robertogreco
How So Many People Got Seamus Heaney's Last Words Wrong - Robinson Meyer - The Atlantic
"I was struck by that error, nolle and noli. Our organism of language mutates. It gets things wrong, by transcription or misunderstanding. Notice even this little clump of sentences that I’ve written: I’ve tried to respect Heaney, the ambiguity of his experience, the mourning ache of his family. (Is it an ache? Is such a word accurate? I don’t know.) But I’ve written about it all the same, and in doing so I have translated it. It is the same kind of translating, on a lesser, more vulgar scale, that Heaney did when he translated the Old English Beowulf into our present-day tongue.

It is a translation that his poetry will eventually require. We die and the language gets away from us, in little ways, like a dropped vowel sound, a change in prepositions, a mistaken transcription. Errors in transfer make a literature.

Like how an infant’s cells are replaced, throughout life, by other, identical versions of themselves, digital messages do not have an “original.” Did Heaney send noli timere? We can trust that his Latin was exemplary, but we have no original because there is no original. A copy of Heaney’s last words exists on his own phone. It exists on his wife’s phone. It likely exists on a server somewhere, an archive maintained by the cell provider, a stash no one will ever read. But the wires that carried it; the air through which it shimmered; the switches that transfigured it between kinds of invisible light: They have already forgotten it, for now they glow with the words of other children and children, parents and parents, and lovers and lovers."
robinsonmeyer  language  culture  mutation  time  evolution  2013  seamusheaney  poetry  literature  translation  confusion  theology  latin  subtlety  change  memory  forgetting  transcription 
september 2013 by robertogreco
The Charitable-Industrial Complex - NYTimes.com
"Philanthropy has become the “it” vehicle to level the playing field and has generated a growing number of gatherings, workshops and affinity groups.

As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to “give back.” It’s what I would call “conscience laundering” — feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity.

But this just keeps the existing structure of inequality in place. The rich sleep better at night, while others get just enough to keep the pot from boiling over. Nearly every time someone feels better by doing good, on the other side of the world (or street), someone else is further locked into a system that will not allow the true flourishing of his or her nature or the opportunity to live a joyful and fulfilled life.

And with more business-minded folks getting into the act, business principles are trumpeted as an important element to add to the philanthropic sector. I now hear people ask, “what’s the R.O.I.?” when it comes to alleviating human suffering, as if return on investment were the only measure of success. Microlending and financial literacy (now I’m going to upset people who are wonderful folks and a few dear friends) — what is this really about? People will certainly learn how to integrate into our system of debt and repayment with interest. People will rise above making $2 a day to enter our world of goods and services so they can buy more. But doesn’t all this just feed the beast?

I’m really not calling for an end to capitalism; I’m calling for humanism.

Often I hear people say, “if only they had what we have” (clean water, access to health products and free markets, better education, safer living conditions). Yes, these are all important. But no “charitable” (I hate that word) intervention can solve any of these issues. It can only kick the can down the road.

My wife and I know we don’t have the answers, but we do know how to listen. As we learn, we will continue to support conditions for systemic change.

It’s time for a new operating system. Not a 2.0 or a 3.0, but something built from the ground up. New code.

What we have is a crisis of imagination. Albert Einstein said that you cannot solve a problem with the same mind-set that created it. Foundation dollars should be the best “risk capital” out there.

There are people working hard at showing examples of other ways to live in a functioning society that truly creates greater prosperity for all (and I don’t mean more people getting to have more stuff).

Money should be spent trying out concepts that shatter current structures and systems that have turned much of the world into one vast market. Is progress really Wi-Fi on every street corner? No. It’s when no 13-year-old girl on the planet gets sold for sex. But as long as most folks are patting themselves on the back for charitable acts, we’ve got a perpetual poverty machine.

It’s an old story; we really need a new one."

[via: http://ayjay.tumblr.com/post/56603683692/philanthropy-has-become-the-it-vehicle-to-level ]
[A response from Robinson Meyer: http://yayitsrob.tumblr.com/post/56618708680/peter-buffett-the-son-of-warren-buffett-writes and another http://mayhap.tumblr.com/post/56607917480/a-few-years-ago-zizek-wrote-charity-is-the ]
charitableindustrialcomplex  charity  philanthropy  us  society  capitalism  power  control  wealthdistribution  inequality  via:ayjay  2013  peterbuffett  humanism  change  robinsonmeyer  philanthropicindustrialcomplex 
july 2013 by robertogreco
The Studentry
"Every weekday morning, The Studentry publishes a summary of the most interesting or most covered stories in the college press.

SPECIAL NOTE FOR FELLOW STUDENTS I read lots and lots of student papers every day, but I miss a good number in that process. If you’re really excited about something your paper’s about to publish, please let me know! And if you read the Studentry, and you think I’m missing quality work you or someone else is doing, please also let me know.

You can get in touch through Twitter, at @TheStudentry or @yayitsrob."
collegepress  studentry  universities  colleges  summary  news  robinsonmeyer 
september 2012 by robertogreco
Harry Potter and the Comment of Wonders « Snarkmarket
"This comment from Robinson Meyer…kinda blows my mind…chatting about fandoms and Harry Potter, and Robinson says:

"But the best part of Harry Potter, for me, came in the reading of the first few chapters of each new book. It was like meeting old friends. I’d discover every time that Harry and I had both grown up a little, had emotionally become more sophisticated, and that we also had that same old warm rapport and that same old love for each other…"

“[R]eading the first few chapters of Books 5, 6, and 7 are among my happiest memories.” That kinda blows my mind.

It also makes me realize that I had no comparable experience as a young reader. There was no fantasy epic being released/revealed as I grew up…

Seriously, I can’t even fully articulate why—but I am sorta obsessed with the last few lines of Robinson’s comment. It’s almost a recipe. Engineer that, somehow, and you win."

[Some great comments here too. Also, check out the Google+ plus that served as the source for the conversation: https://plus.google.com/u/0/108770025895417156764/posts/HZEV4owg9qz ]
harrypotter  snarkmarket  robinsloan  sahelidatta  timcarmody  franchises  books  children  formulas  literature  serials  expectation  anticipation  childrenliterature  2011  robinsonmeyer  fandom  compulsoryfandom  sharedexperience  culture  classideas 
july 2011 by robertogreco

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