Rupees in your pocket

LMD, basic wage, unconditional income, India, UNICEF, poverty, SEWA

A new pilot study at Panthbadodiya could significantly change living conditions for the poor, and India’s approach to fighting poverty. The village is taking part in the Madhya Pradesh Unconditional Cash Transfer Initiative, a project run by the Self Employed Women’s Association (Sewa; a trade union that has defended the rights of women with low incomes in India for 40 years), with subsidies from Unicef (United Nations Children’s Fund) India. The research director, Sarath Dewala, explained: “The experiment involves giving individuals a small sum of money, at regular intervals, as a supplement to all other forms of income, and observing what happens to their families if this sum is given unconditionally.”

Toiling in the data-mines: what data exploration feels like

data, code, material exploration, tom armitage, BERG

There are several aspects to this post. Partly, it’s about what material explorations look like when performed with data. Partly, it’s about the role of code as a tool to explore data. We don’t write about code much on the site, because we’re mainly interested in the products we produce and the invention involved in them, but it’s sometimes important to talk about processes and tools, and this, I feel, is one of those times. At the same time, as well as talking about technical matters, I wanted to talk a little about what the act of doing this work feels like.

How the US Turned Three Pacifists into Violent Terrorists

In just ten months, the United States managed to transform an 82 year-old Catholic nun and two pacifists from non-violent anti-nuclear peace protestors accused of misdemeanor trespassing into federal felons convicted of violent crimes of terrorism. Now in jail awaiting sentencing for their acts at an Oak Ridge, TN nuclear weapons production facility, their story should chill every person concerned about dissent in the US.–7


internet, media, RSS, web 2.0, walled garden 2.0, open

RSS represents the antithesis of this new world: it’s completely open, decentralized, and owned by nobody, just like the web itself. It allows anyone, large or small, to build something new and disrupt anyone else they’d like because nobody has to fly six salespeople out first to work out a partnership with anyone else’s salespeople. That world formed the web’s foundations — without that world to build on, Google, Facebook, and Twitter couldn’t exist. But they’ve now grown so large that everything from that web-native world is now a threat to them, and they want to shut it down. “Sunset” it. “Clean it up.” “Retire” it. Get it out of the way so they can get even bigger and build even bigger proprietary barriers to anyone trying to claim their territory.

Proxy voting platforms for liquid democracy

democracy, voting, delegation, representation, delegative democracy, liquid democracy

Citizen deliberative councils, participatory budgeting, the Occupy movement’s consensus decision making: These are all experiments in more participatory forms of democracy. Technologies can support these types of experiments, from the keypad and CoVision technologies used by AmericaSpeaks in deliberative dialog and polling to the geographic information systems used by the Madrona platform for participatory spatial planning. With the rise of the German Pirate Party (see NYT and NPR reports), so-called liquid democracy platforms for proxy voting (or delegated voting) are finally getting some real-world testing and development.

The Tyranny of Stuctureless

struture, Stucturelessness, group dynamics, groups, people, collaoration, hierarchy

Contrary to what we would like to believe, there is no such thing as a structureless group. Any group of people of whatever nature that comes together for any length of time for any purpose will inevitably structure itself in some fashion. The structure may be flexible; it may vary over time; it may evenly or unevenly distribute tasks, power and resources over the members of the group. But it will be formed regardless of the abilities, personalities, or intentions of the people involved. The very fact that we are individuals, with different talents, predispositions, and backgrounds makes this inevitable. Only if we refused to relate or interact on any basis whatsoever could we approximate structurelessness – and that is not the nature of a human group.

Particle Decelerator: And everything is possible again

2013, scifoo, review, HH, science, unconference

SciFoo is the brainchild of O'Reilly, Nature publishing group and Google. It takes place every year at Google’s Mountain View headquarters in Silicon Valley, California, where around 200 of the world’s preeminent scientists gather together. Nobel Laureates rub shoulders with rocket engineers, roboticists, angel investors, science writers and the odd science celebrity.

The programming languages behind “the mother of all demos” | Lambda the Ultimate

engelbart, programming, 1968, tree-meta, SNOBOL, LSD, SPL, augment, NLS

To commemorate this famous event, commonly known as the mother of all demos, SRI held a 40th anniversary celebration at Stanford today. As a small tribute to the innovative ideas that made up the demo, it is befitting to mention some of the programming languages that were used by Engelbart’s team. A few were mentioned in passing in the event today, making me realize that they are not that widely known.

Algorithmic border control. I used the e-passport gate at Gatwick airport for the first time last week. I wish I had taken a…


Algorithmic border control. I used the e-passport gate at Gatwick airport for the first time last week. I wish I had taken a selfie as I watched my face being automatically detected and checked against my biometric data and photo found on my passport. As a substitute I’ve found this product shot of a portable vision-boxan automated mobile unit for “Citizen enrolment in large territories with dispersed populations, enhanced security checks at any location (fiscalisation operations, field clearance, road blocks, prison inspections, work and residence permit follow ups) or even contingent border controls.”

Richard Nicholson - Roy Snell, Last One Out series; London, 2006–2009 Last One Out is photographer Richard Nicholson’s…


Richard Nicholson - Roy Snell, Last One Out series; London, 2006-2009

Last One Out is photographer Richard Nicholson’s documentation of the fleeting London darkrooms.  

Analog is a kind of elegy for the pre-digital era of sound and photographic production and Nicholson’s prints are the most elegiac components in the mix. He has photographed each darkroom on large format film, working in total darkness with a flashgun. The result might have been what Nicholson calls “a detached typology of modernist industrial design" in which the enlarger stands at the centre, strangely human in its form. Except that these darkrooms are also human dens, full of the clutter of human endeavour – Post-it notes, piles of prints, boxes of paper, toys, rulers, marker pens and batches of photographs pinned to boards.

- Sean O’Hagan, The Observer

A few words on Doug Engelbart

engelbart, NLS, history, computing, augment

If you attempt to make sense of Engelbart’s design by drawing correspondences to our present-day systems, you will miss the point, because our present-day systems do not embody Engelbart’s intent. Engelbart hated our present-day systems. If you truly want to understand NLS, you have to forget today. Forget everything you think you know about computers. Forget that you think you know what a computer is. Go back to 1962. And then read his intent. The least important question you can ask about Engelbart is, “What did he build?” By asking that question, you put yourself in a position to admire him, to stand in awe of his achievements, to worship him as a hero. But worship isn’t useful to anyone. Not you, not him. The most important question you can ask about Engelbart is, “What world was he trying to create?” By asking that question, you put yourself in a position to create that world yourself.

Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework

augment, NLS, engelbart, computing, history, 1962

By “augmenting human intellect” we mean increasing the capability of a man to approach a complex problem situation, to gain comprehension to suit his particular needs, and to derive solutions to problems. Increased capability in this respect is taken to mean a mixture of the following: more-rapid comprehension, better comprehension, the possibility of gaining a useful degree of comprehension in a situation that previously was too complex, speedier solutions, better solutions, and the possibility of finding solutions to problems that before seemed insoluble. And by “complex situations” we include the professional problems of diplomats, executives, social scientists, life scientists, physical scientists, attorneys, designers–whether the problem situation exists for twenty minutes or twenty years. We do not speak of isolated clever tricks that help in particular situations. We refer to a way of life in an integrated domain where hunches, cut-and-try, intangibles, and the human “feel for a situation” usefully co-exist with powerful concepts, streamlined terminology and notation, sophisticated methods, and high-powered electronic aids.–3906.html

Turbulence, and Fluid Mechanics in General

Turbulence, fluid mechanics, physics, Navier-Stokes, references, cosmo shalizi

So what, you may ask, is the fabled “problem of turbulence”? In essence, this: what on Earth do our statistics and our equation have to do with each other? A solution to the problem of turbulence would be, more or less, a valid derivation from the Navier-Stokes equation (and statements about the appropriate conditions) of our measured statistics. Physicists are very far from this at present. Our current closest approach stems from the work of Kolmogorov, who, by means of some statistical hypotheses about small-scale motion, was able to account for the empirical laws I mentioned. Unfortunately, no one has managed to coax the hypotheses from the Navier-Stokes equation (sound familiar?) and the hypotheses hold exactly only in the limit of infinite Reynolds number, i.e. they are not true of any actual fluid.

The weirdest languages

language, NLP, weirdness, linguistics

For each value that a language has, we calculate the relative frequency of that value for all the other languages that are coded for it. So if we had included subject-object-verb order then English would’ve gotten a value of 0.355 (we actually normalized these values according to the overal entropy for each feature, so it wasn’t exactly 0.355, but you get the idea). The Weirdness Index is then an average across the 21 unique structural features. But because different features have different numbers of values and we want to reduce skewing, we actually take the harmonic mean (and because we want bigger numbers = more weird, we actually subtract the mean from one). In this blog post, I’ll only report languages that have a value filled in for at least two-thirds of features (239 languages).


research, collapse, east germany, cryptic refugia

Südthüringer-Wald-Institut is an independent, distributed research organization founded in a cave 200m deep below the Southern Thuringian Forest in the former East Germany. Physically positioned as a default site of refuge from the possibly inevitable collapse of the pervasive technological and social infrastructures that scaffold contemporary existence, the conceptual agenda of the Institute is framed by the present luxury of a world where discourse around mitigating unpleasant contingencies is still unhindered by the profound stress of needing to survive them.

Creative People Say No

creativity, time, focus

Time is the raw material of creation. Wipe away the magic and myth of creating and all that remains is work: the work of becoming expert through study and practice, the work of finding solutions to problems and problems with those solutions, the work of trial and error, the work of thinking and perfecting, the work of creating. Creating consumes. It is all day, every day. It knows neither weekends nor vacations. It is not when we feel like it. It is habit, compulsion, obsession, vocation. The common thread that links creators is how they spend their time. No matter what you read, no matter what they claim, nearly all creators spend nearly all their time on the work of creation. There are few overnight successes and many up-all-night successes.–1/bad7c34842a2

I’ve Seen Gardens, Compared with Which this Would be a Wilderness

Mute, review, Stanislaw Lem, Summa Technologiae, Martin Howse, books

Stanislaw Lem’s 1964 opus, Summa Technolgiae, has only just been translated into English. Over half a century later, Lem’s work stands as an astonishing feat of future-casting and a profound meditation on how technology, reason and language protect and enclose humanity from empty cosmic indifference.