“Science is wonderful at destroying metaphysical answers, but incapable of providing substitute ones. Science takes away foundations without providing a replacement. Whether we want to be there or not, science has put us in the position of having to live without foundations. It was shocking when Nietzsche said this, but today it is commonplace; our historical position-and no end to it is in sight-is that of having to philosophise without ‘foundations’.”
According to an Australian survey, the shit brown color seen above (Pantone 448C, or “Opaque Couché”) is the ugliest hue around, reminding respondents of dirt and death. To deter smoking, Australian officials required Opaque Couché to be the main color and cigarette packages and now the UK is following suit. Apparently, Australian officials first referred to the color as “olive green” but the Australian Olive Association was none-too-pleased. Now, Pantone is grumpy about the choice of Opaque Couché. “At the Pantone Color Institute, we consider all colours equally,” Pantone’s exec director Leatrice Eiseman told The Guardian. ”(There’s no such thing as the ugliest color.“
The new UK regulations also ban the use of logos, requiring a plain font on the packs.
Operator at the Atlas Supercomputer Control Panel, 1963(image via BBC Four)
The first Atlas, installed at Manchester University [UK] and officially commissioned in 1962, was one of the world’s first supercomputers, considered to be the most powerful computer in the world at that time. It was said that whenever Atlas went offline half of the United Kingdom’s computer capacity was lost.- wikipedia
There’s a weird thing about intelligence services and political reporting that I notice the other day. When Nate Silver’s data journalism dominated the election coverage by being right, it was contrasted against the other political coverage by journalists. The split that was revealed was in the theory of how one learns truth, the ground reality.
The 538 approach was to look at numbers, fiddle with them for accuracy, and then derive ground truth from what the number revealed. In contrast, the other approach was to cultivate sources inside a political campaign and ask them about ground truth. That is, the difference was basically “measure values and trust those” vs. “ask knowledge sources and trust those.”
In some ways these two approaches are the differences between the Soviet and the Western approach to intelligence collection and analysis. (The soviets did almost no analysis, they relied almost exclusively on assembling reports directly from collected documents and assessments.) This difference is kinda interesting in that measuring values and assessing them can give very reliable insight into ground truth, when human sources are blinded or self deluded into false beliefs.
On the other hand, the values can be just as erroneously interpreted as the human sources closer to the action. Some examples include 538 getting the trump nomination wrong, and the US IC completely missing the Indian nuclear tests despite having extensive satellite coverage of the test sites.
Neither approach is correct or wrong. It’s just interesting to me how the mainstream press is very Soviet style intelligence apparatus in their approach. “Find a well informed source and get documents or statements on the issue then assemble a report using this data.” Maybe there’s a good argument to be made for better analysis on news stories?
As much as my Wired archive is a document of its era’s aspirations, it’s also a record of what people once hoped technology would be—and, in hindsight, a record of what it might have become. In early Wired, a piece about a five-hundred-thousand-dollar luxury “Superboat” would be followed by a full-page editorial urging readers to contact their legislators to condemn wiretapping (in this case, 1994’s Digital Telephony Bill). Stories of tech-enabled social change and New Economy capitalism weren’t in competition; they coexisted and played off one another. In 2016, some of my colleagues and I have E.F.F. stickers on our company-supplied MacBooks—“I do not consent to the search of this device,” we broadcast to our co-workers—but dissent is no longer an integral part of the industry’s ethos.
This claim that we are depressed because we are “tired of becoming ourselves” seems like a rebuke to the “never being, always becoming” school of liberation. But it’s more a rejection of the “self as brand equity” position. It suggests how the capitalist demand to always be productive, or, if you prefer, the neoliberal expectation that we will convert our lives into capital that must always be systematically grown, seizes upon the ideal of self-expression and strips it of its dignity.
The point, perhaps, is that self-expression is not inherently ennobling, it is not automatically a morally approvable end in itself. Self-expression requires contextualizing; under certain conditions it is able to become a rewarding aim. Under other conditions, it’s a crappy, endless job.
The idea that conformity is more rewarding and more subversive than entrepreneurial self-fashioning continues to gain steam. It seems to promise the end of the self as capital, of identity as a perpetual spur to the expression of it in various legible, capturable ways. It seems to promise that you will be able to produce something other than yourself in the world.
Amongst a certain number of Philosophers - starting with Empedocles, continuing through Heraclitus, and finally reaching out through the work of Marcus Aurelius (who I won’t quote today) - are a string of ideas.
Technically speaking the fragments of Empedocles’
On Nature and
Purifications indicate that he first spoke of the Four Roots (the elements). These are (if you’ve missed me ramble about them before) Fire (Zeus), Earth (Hera), Water (Nestis or Persephone), and Aidoneus (Air). These elements are constantly intermixed and parted:
“There is a double becoming of perishable things and a double passing away. The coming together of all things brings one generation into being and destroys it; the other grows up and is scattered as things become divided. And these things never cease continually changing places, at one time all uniting in one through Love, at another each borne in different directions by the repulsion of Strife. Thus, as far as it is their nature to grow into one out of many, and to become many once more, when the one is parted asunder, so far they come into being and their life abides not. But, inasmuch as they never cease changing their places continually, so far they are ever immovable as they go round the circle of existence.”
(Empedocles Fragment 17.)
Empedocles characterizes the divine forces which repulse and divide, and enjoin and intermix, as Eris (Strife) and Aphrodite (Love):
“[…] dread Strife, too, apart from these, of equal weight to each, and Love in their midst, equal in length and breadth. Her do thou contemplate with thy mind, nor sit with dazed eyes. It is she that is known as being implanted in the frame of mortals. It is she that makes them have thoughts of love and work the works of peace. They call her by the names of joy and Aphrodite.”
One would expect, perhaps, that Strife would be seen as a taboo force; to be avoided. But Heraclitus characterizes it in another, saying:
“It should be understood that war is the common condition, that strife is justice, and that all things come to pass through the compulsion of strife.”
Here his words are very specific, if a bit obscure: “Dike Eris.”
In next fragment he comments that:
“Homer was wrong in saying, ‘
Would that strife might perish from amongst gods and men.’ For if that were to occur,then all things would cease to exist.”
All of this, mind you, is in keeping with Empedocles’ teachings on the roots. The view Heraclitus is that without the constant mixing and parting the elements (through strife and love), nature (as we know it) would cease to exist:
“This (the contest of Love and Strife) is manifest in the mass of mortal limbs. At one time all the limbs that are the body’s portion are brought together by Love in blooming life’s high season; at another, severed by cruel Strife, they wander each alone by the breakers of life’s sea. It is the same with plants and the fish that make their homes in the waters, with the beasts that have their lairs on the hills and the seabirds that sail on wings.”
(Empedocles fragment 20.)
Or put another way:
“Fire lives in the death of earth, air lives in the death of fire, water lives in the death of air, and earth in the death of water.”
(Heraclitus Fragment 25.)
These opposites do not simply counteract the other; they invigorate the other!
“The whole problem that an economic system has to solve is how to achieve some approximation of the general good within the severe constraints imposed by human nature. If you can redefine human nature however you want, then you trivialize the problem.”
Shown above are a trio of microscale rockets, each about 10 microns in length. These tiny rockets are roughly cylindrical in shape, with a narrower diameter at the front than the back. Like their space-faring brethren, these microrockets are chemically propelled. They draw in fuel from their surroundings, which reacts with the catalysts coating the interior of the microrocket to produce gases. Those gases bubble out the back end of the microrocket, creating thrust capable of propelling the rockets more than 1000 body lengths/second. Researchers have already demonstrated that these tiny rockets can haul cargo along with them. Scientists hope one day to use these self-propelled microrockets to help deliver drugs or isolate cancer cells. (Image credit: J. Li et al., source)
We ended part one with the following question:
‘How can designers reclaim the means on behalf of their products and the people who use them?’ In other words, how can we see past the allure of the ‘device’ to re-engage with both the systems that bring it to fruition and the systems in which it operates? We will now discuss the promise of maker movements as one possible answer to these questions, as well as some problems or limitations of ‘making’.
New Yorker article provides an insightful history of the current mania for making, tracing its roots back to the Arts and Crafts movement a century ago. The author lists a couple of key points that explain why and how the earlier effort failed to have a wider impact. He brings in the American women’s rights advocate Mary Dennett’s contention, for example, that Arts and Crafts spent ‘too much time on “rag-rugs, baskets, and … exhibitions of work chiefly by amateurs”, rather than asking the most basic questions about inequality.’ He also argues that the movement failed to present ‘a radical alternative to the alienated labor of the factories. Instead, it provided yet another therapeutic escape from it’, devolving into a hobby for the bourgeoisie. Sound familiar?
While it is true that elements of makerism have settled in the craft beer, custom bike, and sourdough cultivating gentrifications of East London and Brooklyn (not that there’s anything wrong with beer, bikes or bread per se), a less hipster, more revolutionary, tech-orientated approach has also been bubbling away.
Maker spaces, with their invaluable dual access to machines and people with knowledge, have been touted as invigorating local economies and making it possible for small entrepreneurs to compete with MegaCorp. On a recent trip to Hong Kong we visited Cesar Harada’s MakerBay, and it struck us as a great example of what these spaces can be. MakerBay houses several independent start-ups, offers classes training local people how to make, and provides a nice mix of making practices and tools (see point below).
Our opinion is that there is great potential in making, but
design needs to play a more expansive and engaged role. Here’s why:
In a previous post we discussed Enzo Mari’s Autoprogettazione. The skills and tools required to make his furniture are relatively simple, but what about the construction of more complex technological products that require electrical or electronic components, or things that demand skills beyond basic wood cutting and nails?
We mentioned the example of Dyson in part one. Tom Lynch’s open-source vacuum cleaner provides an (almost) ideal example of how more complicated products could be made differently. The project explored the idea of building one’s own vacuum cleaner, based on Dyson’s cyclone, using only locally sourced materials and basic making skills. All experiments and knowledge were loaded on the project’s wiki, with the idea that other contributors around the world would add their own local information.
After a few prototypes Lynch produced a fully functioning vacuum for less than £50. The example highlights two key strengths of open source: free sharing of knowledge and access to expert communities. If more designers were to embrace such an approach the proliferation of knowledge would inevitably lead to increasingly complex and diverse objects becoming available. Devices become things.
‘Royal detested this orthodoxy of the intelligent. Visiting his neighbours’ apartments, he would find himself physically repelled by the contours of an award-winning coffee pot, by the well-modulated color schemes, by the good taste and intelligence that, Midas-like, had transformed everything in these apartments into an ideal marriage of function and design. In a sense, these people were the vanguard of a well-to-do and well-educated proletariat of the future, boxed up in these expensive apartments with their elegant furniture, and intelligent sensibilities, and no possibility of escape.’
- J.G. Ballard,
Consumers have been programmed for sleek, seamless products far too long to accept the standard (non-designed) DIY aesthetic overnight. The desire for award-winning coffee pots (and phones, juicers, hair dryers, etc.) is strong, and for the time being Ballard is most likely right - there is no possibility of escape. This leaves two options: one easy, one very difficult.
The easy route: Adapt the maker aesthetic to what people want. Introduce a better sense of design that allows maker products to compete with mainstream exemplars of good design such as Apple and Dyson. Lynch’s vacuum cleaner is an example of what maker products often look like - material choices are based on what is available (and what can be manipulated) rather than what is optimal. What would the device look like if it had the touch of Charles and Ray Eames? Or Dieter Rams? Or Enzo Mari?
There aren’t many designed maker objects to be found (please contact us if you know of some). The OpenStructures WaterBoiler is one example of how such things could look. Originally designed by Jesse Howard and Thomas Lommée, it was adapted by Unfold, who replaced the PET bottles with a cut-through bottle (see Tord Boontje’s Transglass project for the potential of cut recycled glass) and used a combination of 3D-printed ceramic, off-the-shelf plumbing material and simple folded steel. If more objects like these were produced by the maker movement, there might be a chance of shifting consumer habits.
The hard route: Adapt consumer desires to a maker aesthetic. Reprogramme people to be less obsessed with brands, or to see value in what is rough, cheap, or practical.
Adam Curtis in
Century of the Selfdescribes the rise of public relations in the 20th century and how the United States (and thereafter the world) was transformed as a result. The Wall Street banker Paul Mazur of Lehman Brothers is quoted as saying:
‘We must shift America from a needs to a desires culture, people must be trained to desire. To want new things even before the old have been entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality in America.
Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.’
The PR people, including Sigmund Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays, were of course incredibly successful - leading to the situation we described in the previous post. But (and it is a big but) if need can be transformed into desire, should it not be possible to reverse the process, to return to a more sustainable, less consumer-driven situation? Even perhaps by exploiting human susceptibility to such manipulation to secure better ends?
Bernays convinced women to smoke in the 1920s through public relations. Now government campaigns are attempting to do the exact opposite, through similar methods (although so far they lack the cunning of Bernays’ tactics). However it is unlikely that any government will wholeheartedly embrace the notion of reversing the desire for consumer products any time soon: it is too closely related to economic growth.
Makerism could begin to make inroads with consumers through
signification. Freitag’s tarpaulin bags succeeded in stoking consumer desire because they embodied a clever mix of good design and bold environmentalism. We’re complicated creatures, and becoming more so at a seemingly exponential rate. How something signifies is important to us. Maybe playing with signification is the way to convince people to consume differently.
As a company, Freitag combines good design with environmentalism in a way that offers one possible solution to both sides of the aesthetics issue. Design what people want, but also make people want more responsible design. Could a similar approach work for makerism?
Atlantic article John Tierney lists the dilemmas of maker culture, with a specific section on education. His conclusions are based on panel discussions from last year’s Conference on World Affairs in Boulder, Colorado. Some of the advice is sound:
‘the emphasis should be on collaboration (learning with others, working with others - both keys to much of the advancement of the maker culture)’;
and some is limiting:
‘The consensus on what’s important for older kids and adults is concise: coding. All the panelists agreed on that, and clearly that viewpoint is already widespread.’
Coding is essential, but in our view so is knowing how to use a chisel or a lathe. There is at present an over reliance on the digital. 3D printing and laser cutting not only broaden but - if used exclusively - can also drastically reduce the range of possibilities.
Design education teaches students how to choose the appropriate material for a particular purpose. Choices are based on many related factors such as functional behaviour, quantity required, formal qualities, and so on. As we pointed out in this post, the 3D printer shouldn’t be the only tool in the workshop.
4. Design politics
In the last post we asked: ‘What is the point of good design when the systems in which it operates are profoundly bad?’
Many designers and design engineers work on products that solve genuine and serious human problems. Robotic surgery is a good example - in this realm, precision robots have clear advantages over their human counterparts. At the same time, surgery robots are prohibitively expensive.
Frank Kolkman’s project OpenSurgery attempted to address this issue by building and sharing the design of a DIY robot. But almost immediately he ran into another crucial problem: ‘as it turns out’, he writes, ‘it is almost impossible to design anything related to robotic surgery without infringing upon someone else’s intellectual property.’ All possible robotic arm configurations were patented by the Da Vinci Surgical System several years ago, even though many are not currently in use. Kolkman writes: ‘where intellectual property law begins to fail … is where large companies are monopolizing over extensive patent portfolios with very broadly defined patents on concepts and mechanisms’. This is a classic example of constraint of infrastructure - in this case the protection of knowledge to the detriment of society.
OpenSurgery works as a critical project in two ways. First, it is an investigation into the rules of patents and potential (legalish) ways to circumvent ‘protection’ - such as sharing files on private peer-to-peer networks or basing the website in a country where the patents are not valid. In this sense it is a practical project that could be implemented. Second, it exposes the existence of ‘patent profiles’ and the behaviour of their owners, thereby becoming a project on the politics of making. It is a powerful exposé of how control can be misused - and what might be done about it.
‘Too often design education funnels bright, imaginative minds towards places where they are the least useful – into the corporate design teams of commercial companies, or the rarefied world of galleries and one-off production. The people best trained in solving problems are rarely connected to the people who have problems to solve.’
Crap Futures friend Daniel Charny, designer and curator of the excellent ‘Power of Making’, and Sugru’s James Carrigan were the subject of the piece. Their Fixperts scheme exploits the skills of designers - not to sell more glossy products, but to solve problems through bespoke means. They are also very interested in design education ensuring that new generations of designers are privy to the kind of skills necessary to be a ‘fixpert’ and not just a ‘digipert.’
Fixperts isn’t unique - it is part of a trend born out of frustration with the current state of design. Another example is The Restart Project targeted at reducing electronic waste, with its encouraging motto: ‘let’s fix our relationship with electronics’. This project takes an appropriately holistic view, tracing and attempting to improve the journey ‘from design and manufacture, through use and end of life’. Both Fixperts and The Restart Project exemplify this notion of designers (and engineers) reclaiming the means - of wresting back control of our products and the systems in which they operate.
So far the maker movement has consisted of small, fairly insular communities of like-minded, idealistic individuals. What would it look like scaled up to a much larger level? And more importantly how can we help make this happen?
MakerBay Hong Kong; Tom Lynch’s open source vacuum cleaner; Open Structures WaterBoiler by Jesse Howard and Unfold; OpenSurgery by Frank Kolkman.
Acknowledging that work is medically, socially and emotionally harmful requires you to reject the belief in the legitimacy of working hard. This can be especially difficult as this belief is one of the foundational beliefs of modern culture. We are taught to believe in working hard as soon as we enter formal schooling, if not before. We are soon too taught to reject idleness and useless contemplation to pursue rote mastery of facts and rules in order to pass arbitrary standardized tests. This continues into work life. Philosophy therefore is often derided as useless. Especially in our contemporary busyness, work, efficiency, productivity, practicality and optimization-obsessed world, philosophy is seen as an outdated waste of time. It’s considered useless because people think it is impractical and cannot see how philosophy can make money. The practice of philosophy – i.e., thinking – is intimately tied to idleness. In fact idleness is the key physical and mental condition upon which the exercise of philosophy has always been predicated. This is true of all the world’s philosophies. “Meditation” is nothing more than sitting and thinking. Sitting and thinking is sometimes even called meditation in white European philosophy, e.g., Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy or the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. This is why idleness is so feared in contemporary culture – it causes philosophy. And philosophy causes the practitioner to fundamentally question everything.
“The Science Delusion” is common among Capital-S Skeptics. You don’t apply your skepticism equally. You are extremely critical of belief in God, ghosts, heaven, ESP, astrology, homeopathy and Bigfoot. You also attack disbelief in global warming, vaccines and genetically modified food. These beliefs and disbeliefs deserve criticism, but they are what I call “soft targets.” That’s because, for the most part, you’re bashing people outside your tribe, who ignore you. You end up preaching to the converted. Meanwhile, you neglect what I call hard targets. These are dubious and even harmful claims promoted by major scientists and institutions.
“In other words, if our world is a well-defined mathematical structure in this sense, then it’s indeed inexorably linked to computations, albeit computations of a different sort than those usually associated with the simulation hypothesis: these computations don’t evolve our Universe, but describe it by evaluating its relations.”
–Tegmark, Max.Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality. London: Penguin Books, 2014. (viacarvalhais)
In Global proliferation of cephalopods a paper in Current Biology, an esteemed group of marine biologists reports that the population of octopuses (and other cephalopods) is booming thanks to its ability to adapt quickly to ocean acidification and temperature change, which is killing off other typ
Austerity policies not only generate substantial welfare costs due to supply-side channels, they also hurt demand—and thus worsen employment and unemployment. The notion that fiscal consolidations can be expansionary (that is, raise output and employment), in part by raising private sector confidence and investment, has been championed by, among others, Harvard economist Alberto Alesina in the academic world and by former European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet in the policy arena. However, in practice, episodes of fiscal consolidation have been followed, on average, by drops rather than by expansions in output. On average, a consolidation of 1 percent of GDP increases the long-term unemployment rate by 0.6 percentage point and raises by 1.5 percent within five years the Gini measure of income inequality
There was an idea floating around that continuously following the first link of any Wikipedia article will eventually lead to “Philosophy.” This sounded like a reasonable assertion, one that makes a certain amount of sense in retrospect: any description of something will typically use more general terms. Following that idea will eventually lead… somewhere.
The world’s longest pizza was made in Naples and is 1.8km long. It took 250 pizza makers six hours and 11 minutes. They used 2,000kg of flour, 1,600kg of tomato sauce, 2,000kg of mozzarella cheese, 200 litres of oil and 30kg of basil.
Hoth. The interior ice sheet of #greenland. With @hautepop, in a tiny prop plane piloted by a dreamy blonde Dane named Ricky. #glacier #climatechange #entropy by wayne_chambliss (via https://www.instagram.com/p/BFxBLY7Azv9/)
“A frame by frame reconstruction of the film Blade Runner using a type of artificial neural network called an autoencoder.The model is a variational autoencoder trained with a learned similarity metric [Larsen et al. 2015 - arxiv.org/abs/1512.09300] that I implemented in TensorFlow at a resolution of 256x144. It has been trained on every individual frame of Blade Runner for 6 epochs before reconstructing the film.
This video is the outcome from a research project as carried out for my dissertation of the Msci in Creative Computing at Goldsmiths, University of London.
Over the course of the Apollo program, our astronauts deployed six American flags on the Moon. For forty-odd years, the flags have been exposed to the full fury of the Moon’s environment – alternating 14 days of searing sunlight and 100° C heat with 14 days of numbing-cold -150° C darkness. But even more damaging is the intense ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the pure unfiltered sunlight on the cloth (modal) from which the Apollo flags were made. Even on Earth, the colors of a cloth flag flown in bright sunlight for many years will eventually fade and need to be replaced. So it is likely that these symbols of American achievement have been rendered blank, bleached white by the UV radiation of unfiltered sunlight on the lunar surface. Some of them may even have begun to physically disintegrate under the intense flux.
Exxon Mobil has been under pressure for over a year to explain its handling of climate change issues in the past. Now the company faces new pressure to explain its future, particularly how it will change in response to a warming world.
At the company’s planned annual meeting on Wednesday in Dallas,
shareholders will vote on a resolution to prod Exxon Mobil to disclose the risks of climate change to its business.
Such resolutions have been floated before, and they typically do not pass. But there is a growing chorus of investors, many of them large institutional shareholders, who say they are worried that Exxon Mobil, the largest publicly traded energy company in the world, is not adequately preparing for tighter times if countries start acting on the pledges they made last December as part of the Paris climate change accord.
Exxon Mobil, for example, projects that global demand for oil will keep growing — by just over 13 percent from today, to 109 million barrels of oil a day by 2040.
But the International Energy Agency’s projections include one situation where demand could drop by 22 percent, to 74 million barrels a day by 2040, if measures are put in place to keep global warming at levels that, while still dangerous, could avoid the most devastating consequences.
The shareholder resolution calls for Exxon Mobil to publish an annual assessment of impacts of various climate change policies, including ones that would lead to the steep drops foreseen in the most severe energy agency’s forecast. Another resolution calls for the company to give shareholders a bigger say over governance.
“Today’s men’s nerves surround us. Each technological extension gone outside is electrical involves an act of collective environment. The human nervous environment system itself can be reprogrammed with all its private and social values because it is content. He programs logically as readily as any radio net is swallowed by the new environment. The sensory order.”