Of Open Tabs and Persistent Concerns

I’ve left this logbook under-attended for a while now, and since I want to get back into writing mode, it’s a good time, an appropriate moment also to get back into posting here. Once again, one of the prompts for doing so is a browser full of tabs. A lot of interesting pages to digest and some sense that their contents will be useful later.

In general, I would say that the pages that remain open, that persist, in my web browsing fall into two categories which I have not yet been able to resolve into one. The first category is making and manufacturing and the future of work in the world. It results in open tabs like:

  • An Ars Technica interview with Cory Doctorow on his new novel, Walkaway in which Doctorow imagines a post-scarcity world built upon his interest in open-source software, reputation management, and other ideas that have long fascinated him. (I confess that I tried reading his Makers but it just didn’t work for me.)

  • In the interview, Doctorow mentions Bruce Sterling’s Shaping Things, which seems worth a read, since it aspires to be both a history of how we have used energy and matter to create objects in our world but also how we might go about doing that in the future.

  • Also in this vein of the future of work or the future of ideas about work is a Guardian column on how the privatization of innovation in the U.S. is in fact starving the country of its innovation. What Ben Tarnoff argues is that private firms and private capital are not capable of taking the kind of risk that the public sector can.

Now, some of these things I read because part of me wants to write a follow-up book to The Amazing Crawfish Boat that focuses on how to address, or redress, issues that not necessarily the technology boom has brought about but the changes in our thinking: sometimes we get a little carried away. When I read things like the following in particular, I am struck by how much it might benefit from spending time with a farmer:

Accelerationists argue that technology, particularly computer technology, and capitalism, particularly the most aggressive, global variety, should be massively sped up and intensified – either because this is the best way forward for humanity, or because there is no alternative. Accelerationists favour automation. They favour the further merging of the digital and the human. They often favour the deregulation of business, and drastically scaled-back government. They believe that people should stop deluding themselves that economic and technological progress can be controlled. They often believe that social and political upheaval has a value in itself. (Andy Beckett, 11 May 2017, “Accelerationism: how a fringe philosophy predicted the future we live in”, The Guardian LINK)

Plants take time to grow. You can’t change that. (Not a lot, anyway.) People take time to mature, to digest not only their food but also the information they ingest. The problem with the current crop of people running the show is their incredibly short lives and attention spans. (I wonder if this will change when anti-agapic is discovered. When we have longer lives will we be so stuck in short cycles? Perhaps we delude ourselves into thinking that the ping of endorphins would somehow be offset by the knowledge that we have more time. Maybe we would just have longer lives but still pass through them as junkies.)

The second category is my interest in artificial intelligence and machine learning and big data. That’s up next.

Ready for Robots

This semester, Fall 2016, is a busy one, with two conference papers, one at the American Folklore Society and another at Social Informatics, and a book manuscript due, but being so busy also means I am looking forward to some down time, and spending that time with my daughter who has some interest in robots. So I’ve started collecting information — some tips here, some projects there — to keep us busy during the winter months.

Make magazine is always a good source, and I’ve come across a couple of pages worth holding onto for the time being:

Musical Forest

This. This is how I want to spend my time. I want to spend it working with people in small groups to do amazing things. Ideally, it would involve making physical things as well as things like essays, books, software, analyses. If I could imagine the kind of consultancy that would allow that to unfold, I would apply for a job at it or try to create it.

This idea, of how we want to spend our time, arises in the wake of having a number of conversations with my daughter about, sigh, her homework. What she wants to do, and, really, what her brain needs to do, is play. And the kind of play she needs, in particular, is the kind of deep, immersive play that consists of building a world and then turning a series of characters loose within it. She does it with amazing ferocity and abandon. At times, it is like watching a horse burst forth from a race gate, or a cliff diver plunge into the water below.

The conversations we have with her is both about how to make homework more interesting to her but also, I confess, about encouraging her to focus on getting her homework done, and quickly, so that she can play. I know this isn’t the best way to frame homework, but you work with what you have, and our daughter’s imagination is not piqued by most school assignments. (We have tried to talk with her school about this, not just for her sake but for all the kids like her, but we have had little luck.)

What we say to her, in effect, is that most people have things to do which they must do in order to do the things they want to do, love to do, and that one’s goal in life is to try to make those two things converge as much as possible so that, each and every day you get up, you have to do things that you love to do.

Unfortunately, for me, my current context is one of divergence, not convergence. I am looking for ways to adjust this path, to find convergence, but I’m not there yet.


As soon as _The Makers of Things_ is out, I am going to send a copy to the folks at [Matter.io][]. Maybe they’ll have something for me to do. I think it would be great fun to work with people who are thinking about making and who are oriented towards the future.

[Matter.io]: http://matter.io/

Windows IoT Developer

I just signed up for the [Windows Developer Program for IoT][]. It turns out I have more experience, now, than I realized. And it looks like Microsoft is really trying to lower the bar to get people involved in developing for the *internet of things*, for which I thank them. In my application I noted that

> I am interested in how we can take complex artifacts, like novels or spoken discourse, or complex behaviors, like the approach of a weather system to my home, and model them computationally — essentially, turn them into numbers/vectors — in order to understand them and/or to provide useful feedback to users.

[Windows Developer Program for IoT]: http://dev.windows.com/en-us/featured/Windows-Developer-Program-for-IoT