MonthFebruary 2014

Trailer for “Barefoot Bandit” Colton Harris-Moore Documentary

Gentrification protesters crash Google talk on corporate mindfulness

Security at Wisdom 2.0 conference wrestle a banner away from protesters

Protesters stormed the stage during a Google-led panel on mindfulness at the Wisdom 2.0 conference last Saturday to display a banner reading “Eviction Free San Francisco.”

Tricycle’s Alex Caring-Lobel reports on the incident and concludes:

Bringing Buddhist meditation techniques into industry accomplishes two things for industry. It does actually give companies like Google something useful for an employee’s well-being, but it also neutralizes a potentially disruptive adversary. Buddhism has its own orienting perspectives, attitudes, and values, as does American corporate culture. And not only are they very different from each other, they are also often fundamentally opposed to each other.

A benign way to think about this is that once people experience the benefits of mindfulness they will become interested in the dharma and develop a truer appreciation for Buddhism—and that would be fine. But the problem is that neither Buddhists nor employees are in control of how this will play out. Industry is in control. This is how ideology works. It takes something that has the capacity to be oppositional, like Buddhism, and it redefines it. And somewhere down the line, we forget that it ever had its own meaning.

It’s not that any one active ideology accomplishes all that needs to be done; rather, it is the constant repetition of certain themes and ideas that tend to construct a kind of “nature.” Ideology functions by saying “this is nature”—this is the way things are; this is the way the world is. So, Obama talks about STEM, scientists talk about the human computer, universities talk about “workforce preparation,” and industry talks about the benefits of the neuroscience of meditation, but it all becomes something that feels like a consistent world, and after a while we lose the ability to look at it skeptically. At that point we no longer bother to ask to be treated humanly. At that point we accept our fate as mere functions. Ideology’s job is to make people believe that their prison is a pleasure dome.

Full Story: Tricycle: Protesters crash Google talk on corporate mindfulness at Wisdom 2.0 conference

(via Al Billings)

Mindful Cyborgs: Distributed Autonomous Corporations Find Love in All the Wrong Places

In the latest episode of Mindful Cyborgs, Chris Dancy, Alex Williams and I talked about distributed autonomous corporations (DACs), Her and more. Here I am trying to explain the idea of DACs:

Working on a couple of stories that should be up by the time this podcast goes up on an idea that’s spreading through the Bitcoin community called distributed autonomous corporations and the idea is that Bitcoin is actually already one of these things. It’s like a bank that isn’t really owned by anyone and exists on its own. So, as long as at least a few people running the Bitcoin software somewhere in the world is going to keep going. So, pretty much as long as people are using it will exist without anybody really going and shutting it down.

The only people with an ownership stake are the people who own Bitcoin who are the people which is awarded to miners. So, they’re sort of like shareholders in a corporation. So, it kind of rethinks Bitcoin as less as like a currency and more as a corporation that awards stock and there’s a few other of these things.

Alex and I talked about Twister I think last time which is a Twitter clone that uses Bitcoin protocol. Doesn’t actually use Bitcoins at all, the actual Bitcoin network for authentication and uses BitTorrent for distribution. So, it’s a similar thing only it’s a social network that just exists out there running in the world. The miners are just awarded with promoted messages on the network. The only way you get paid is through advertisements, which is a very attention economy sort of idea I guess.

Download and Full Transcript: Mindful Cyborgs: Distributed Autonomous Corporations Find Love in All the Wrong Places

So far only one of the stories I mentioned, my article on Ethereum is up. But here’s another article on the idea of DACs.

Graffiti: 40 Years of Hacking New York City

Futura 2000

Sci-fi writer Tim Maughan on graffiti:

My own interest in graffiti dates back to my first teenage introduction to hip-hop culture in the mid-1980s, when the first images of New York subway art started to make their way over the pond in magazines and, much rarer, snippets of TV alongside those first rare glimpses of block parties, scratch DJs, rappers, and breakdancers. Apart from their raw visceral energy, both hip hop music and graffiti struck me as intensely science-fictional. Both are about the appropriation of technology to create something new?—?hip-hop taking samplers and turntables to generate new sounds they weren’t designed to make, and graf taking car repair paint and the very architecture of cities to create new visual spaces and canvases. They are, perhaps, the most literal expression of William Gibson’s famous cyberpunk-defining phrase ‘the street finds its own use for things’.

Gibson’s early works, and those of his many lesser imitators, would herald the hacker as the rebellious hero of the future; a trope that would immeasurably shape everything from political activism to venture capitalism in the decades to follow. Perhaps the stereotypical image of the hacker as lone digital warrior, skulking over keyboards in screen-glare lit rooms seems very far removed from the image of the spray can welding, shadow dwelling, trespassing graffiti writer, but the two subcultures share a startlingly similar set of goals, values, and approaches: both look to subvert existing infrastructures and systems, both value one-upmanship and bragging rights, and neither can resist the illegal thrill of breaking-and-entering?—?whether physical or virtual?—?even when the risk of being caught may well lead to ruthless, draconian punishment. Both also share, perhaps most importantly, an aesthetic obsession with the future?—?something apparent in the work of artist Leonard McGurr, better known as FUTURA 2000.

Full Story: Futures Exchange: Graffiti: 40 Years of Hacking New York City

Maughan’s short story on graf “Paint Work”

More by Maughan

What It’s Like to be a Woman at a Comic Book Shop

woman-in-comic-shop

Read the whole comic by Noelle Stevenson.

(via Metafilter)

Previously: If Male Superheroes Were Drawn Like Female Superheroes

My Interview with Daemon And Influx Author Daniel Suarez

influx_web_sm

I interviewed Daniel Suarez, author of Daemon and the forthcoming Influx for TechCrunch:

TechCrunch: You wrote this book before the Edward Snowden NSA revelations, but you’ve said that the Snowden revelations weren’t that surprising given the leaks that had come before. Did you have the NSA in mind when you wrote the book?

Suarez: Well, it’s funny that I showed them in the book as sort of hapless victims in a way of the BTC. There was something appealing of course about seeing the NSA being tapped and helpless, trying to figure out how to resist a technologically superior foe. I thought that that was an interesting way to look at things. It’s not just the NSA, but any unseen and unaccountable concentration of power that I’m trying to portray in this story. And right now that might be the NSA, but over time it might change. And I wouldn’t really put a specific nationality on it. It’s a story about progress and an effort to try to retain advantage.

So, yes, it was partly about the NSA but then it’s also partly about the broader issues — the broader issues of control and transparency.

TechCrunch: It feels like the power imbalance isn’t just a political power imbalance but it’s also the lack of understanding and awareness on the part of the public as to how these things work.

Suarez: And possibly interest. It’s been mildly infuriating to me to speak with even friends and people I know who shrug and say “Well, you’re not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about surveillance?” And of course you and I would probably say well, actually, it’s not just people doing things wrong. For example somebody running for Congress 20 years from now I think is going to have a very detailed record to have to defend. “Why were you standing next to this person every day for five years and this person later turned out to be a criminal?”

I think that is why these revelations were powerful. I don’t think that many technology or IT people were surprised by this, but I think it became much more personal with Snowden. Now, it’s dying down again but I think there will be more revelations that hopefully wake people up. We can’t just be passive. Being a citizen in a democracy really does require some interest.

Full Story: TechCrunch: Daemon And Influx Author Daniel Suarez On Why Innovation Has Stalled

Private companies are building their own spy agencies

Here’s the description of a talk that happened at Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs:

In today’s world, businesses are facing increasingly complex threats to infrastructure, finances, and information. The government is sometimes unable to share classified information about these threats. As a result, business leaders are creating their own intelligence capabilities within their companies.

This is not about time honored spying by businesses on each other, or niche security firms, but about a completely new use of intelligence by major companies to support their global operations.

The panelists examine the reasons for private sector intelligence: how companies organize to obtain it, and how the government supports them. “Is this a growing trend?” “How do companies collaborate in intelligence?” “How does the government view private intelligence efforts?” “How do private and government intelligence entities relate to one another?” “What does this all mean for the future of intelligence work?”

Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs: Intelligence in the Private Sector

I’d love to find out more, or find a transcript or video of the talk.

(Thanks Tim Maly)

NASA is trying to figure out how to 3D print biomaterials like wood and enamel

Emelie Rutherford writes for TechCrunch:

Lynn Rothschild has short brown hair and smiley eyes. She cracks jokes about biology and microscopes with ease. Diana Gentry, her decades-younger Ph.D. student, loves classic video games and vegetarian cooking. She lives near Silicon Valley. The two colleagues have a funny banter, and have spent holidays together. But they share one unique goal.

They’re trying to 3D-print wood in space.

The Stanford University researchers have been working long hours honing a three-dimensional printing process to make biomaterials like wood and enamel out of mere clumps of cells. Pundits say such 3D bioprinting has vast potential, and could one day be widely used to transform specially engineered cells into structural beams, food, and human tissue. Rothschild and Gentry don’t only see these laboratory-created materials helping only doctors and Mars voyagers. They also envision their specific research – into so-called “synthetic biomaterials” – changing the way products like good-old-fashioned wooden two-by-fours are made and used by consumers.

Full Story: TechCrunch: How NASA Prints Trees

See also:

3D printers that print human tissue

Researchers building a pharmaceutical printer

My short story about pharamceutical printing

U.S. Drone Assassination Program Uses the NSA’s Cell Phone Data to Locate Targets

Here’s Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Schahill’s first article for The Interceptor, the first publication from eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s new media company:

The National Security Agency is using complex analysis of electronic surveillance, rather than human intelligence, as the primary method to locate targets for lethal drone strikes – an unreliable tactic that results in the deaths of innocent or unidentified people.

According to a former drone operator for the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) who also worked with the NSA, the agency often identifies targets based on controversial metadata analysis and cell-phone tracking technologies. Rather than confirming a target’s identity with operatives or informants on the ground, the CIA or the U.S. military then orders a strike based on the activity and location of the mobile phone a person is believed to be using.

The drone operator, who agreed to discuss the top-secret programs on the condition of anonymity, was a member of JSOC’s High Value Targeting task force, which is charged with identifying, capturing or killing terrorist suspects in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

His account is bolstered by top-secret NSA documents previously provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden. It is also supported by a former drone sensor operator with the U.S. Air Force, Brandon Bryant, who has become an outspoken critic of the lethal operations in which he was directly involved in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.

Full Story: The Interceptor: The NSA’s Secret Role in the U.S. Assassination Program

If you’re feeling like doing something about it, don’t forget that today is The Day We Fight Back (see my coverage here).

See also:

Democracy Now interview with Greenwald and Schahill about the article and about First Look.

After 30 Years of Silence, the Original NSA Whistleblower Looks Back

A Hard Look At the Non-Profit Behind Glenn Greenwald’s New Publication

How to Become a User Experience Designer

Susan Farrell wrote a report based on a survey of nearly 1,000 user experience designers, including what they actually do, and their backgrounds and educations. It’s worth a look if you’ve ever thought about a career in usability.

From the summary:

When asked what characterizes good user experience professionals, one of our respondents said, “If you are a ‘lifelong learner’, in other words, if you are paying attention, you will be able to take previous experiences and apply lessons learned from them to your new situation. That is more important to me than specific skills you might learn in school.”

While most knowledge workers probably benefit from being lifelong learners, the point that this is more importantthan a specific education is rare and one of the defining characteristics of the user experience field.

Even though continual on-the-job learning is the most important, 90% of respondents had obtained a university degree. There’s no single degree to define the field: design, psychology, and communication were the most common major areas, sharply pursued by English and computer science. All of these fields make some sense as a partial educational background for UX professionals, but together those five disciplines accounted for only 45% of bachelor’s degrees. The majority of UX professionals hold degrees from an immense range of other disciplines, from history to chemistry, most of which don’t have a direct bearing on UX work.

The most common educational level was a master’s degree: 52% had at least one master’s degree (some had two, which seems like overkill). Only 6% of respondents were PhDs. Most of the remaining respondents with university diplomas held bachelor’s degrees and 1% had associate’s degrees.

Summary: Nielsen Norman Group: User Experience Career Advice.

Or: Download the full report.

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