This is a pretty good summary of what’s happening with DRM at the W3C


 From my Github post:

I confess to being mystified by the argument – promulgated by DRM advocates – that standardization at W3C doesn’t matter to the viability of DRM on the web. 

On the one hand, we have lots of urgent talk about the user harms arising from the difficulty of implementing DRM in the HTML5 world where NDAPI and its like have been abolished, leaving browser vendors and publishers to strike expensive, difficult-to-sustain deals as a series of one-offs to synchronize proprietary components at both ends that would create technical problems for users that cause them to reject the publishers’ products. 

On the other hand, we have the argument that DRM on the web is inevitable and actually a fait accompli, entirely separate from the outcome of the W3C process, such that the decision not to publish EME as a W3C standard would make no “difference” (“difference” being the thing that we must seemingly enumerate in order to advance this debate). 

But if DRM will happen regardless of W3C standardization, with no “difference,” then there will be no “difference” if the W3C doesn’t publish it, or requires members to agree to a nonaggression covenant as a condition of ng so. 

DRM’s “difference” and inevitability is thus posed as simultaneously maximum and minimum, totally irrelevant and utterly salient. I believe the technical term for this in SDOs is “having one’s cake and eating it too.“ 

Thrown into this mix is the asserted inevitability of the web itself being sidelined in favor of apps and walled gardens if DRM doesn’t become part of HTML5, but this is usually uttered in the same breath as a blank assertion that DRM is coming to HTML5 no matter what the W3C does. Only one of these things can be true. 

A note on accessibility: DRM laws make any accessibility features built into the spec the ceiling, not the floor, on accessibility. Notably, the current spec excludes any kind of third-party automated bulk or realtime processing, such as feeding cleartexts into a machine-learning system to spot and interdict seizure-causing strobes; to shift color-gamuts for color-blind people, or to add subtitles/descriptive tracks. 

The oft-repeated assertion that humans could manually add these features to EME-locked videos is obviously deficient. UC Berkeley just killed 20,000 hours of instructional videos because they couldn’t adequately subtitle them – the fact that an army of humans who produced a set of subtitles could then add them to the video is nice, but in the absence of such an army, and in the presence of ever-better machine subtitling tools, it’s utterly, blatantly obvious that EME will stand in the way of the future of legitimate, powerful accessibility adaptation. 

Is there anyone who believes that in the future the majority of accessibility adaptation for any media will be done by humans, working by hand? Here’s what I think: 

DRM-protecting laws mean that making DRM easier to implement on the web makes the web intrinsically less open, less safe, and less accessible 

  • Standardization matters and makes technology more viable 
  • EME is unfinished and will require future versions (this was the argument for pursuing a W3C policy interest group that couldn’t affect EME – it would affect the inevitable future versions), so the W3C walking away from EME would have material effect on its viability 
  • This means that DRM standardization advocates need the W3C process to continue, and must work with people who want to safeguard open web equities in the Consortium if they are to make progress 
  • The EME process – and the W3C’s credibility – are now at a crossroads because DRM advocates literally refused any further discussion of this, 13 months ago, at an AC meeting in Cambridge 
  • As a result, we are now in a situation where a large plurality of W3C members do not want to see EME published until a covenant is arrived at, but having done nothing on that front for more than a year, we have a lopsided world where the technology is asserted to be ready for launch and the policy component is still on the drawing board

Whether a refusal to discuss this issue was a deliberate calculation or a tragic misjudgment, it was a terrible mistake. Because of a leadership decision to steamroller the opposition rather than compromise with it (or even continue talks with it), the W3C has, for the very first time in its history, arrived at the moment of publication with no consensus in sight, and no path to consensus in sight either.  

Publication at this point would mark not one, but THREE sea-changes in the W3C’s nature: 

  1. The W3C is now the kind of body that makes standards to allow browser vendors to restrict how users can use the data they receive 
  2. The W3C is now the kind of body that allows members’ IPRs to control who may interoperate with its standards 
  3. The W3C is now the kind of body where deeply divisive issues are settled by allowing one group to simply declare the other group to be out-of-bounds, out-of-touch, out-of-scope or out-of-order and to thus publish things that large numbers of its members have deep moral, technical and legal objections to, rather than deliberating and compromising to resolve these divisions.

DRM opponents at the W3C extended a significant compromise to DRM advocates: a covenant that would allow DRM users to enforce copyright, torts and trade secrecy (and every other right they have in law), while making DRM. 

The members who want DRM insisted they would only proceed if DRM could also be a tool for asserting rights that no legislature ever granted them. That is what brought us to this juncture: an unwillingness on one side to make any compromise whatsoever. 

That is not in the spirit of multistakeholder processes or the history of the W3C. Any future progress on EME at the W3C will require compromise on both sides, not blithe assertions that no "difference” is to be found in going down one path or the other. 


How can you search for time travellers?

time-travel, party, paradox, Time

In 2009, the British physicist Stephen Hawking performed a variation of this experiment, holding a party for time travellers, but sending out the invitations after the event had taken place, so that only visitors from the future could possibly attend. But nobody came. Dr Hawking said this constituted “experimental evidence that time travel is not possible”.


How Yugoslavia was Syrianized 25 years ago

Yugoslavia, NAM, NATO, USA, USSR, EU, proxy-wars, Syria, Atlantic-Brigade, KLA, crisis-capitalism

united nation of Yugoslavia was not easy prey for imperialist intentions like we see taking place today. It is a fact, that after World War II, socialist Yugoslavia became something of a European success story. Between 1960 and 1980 the country had one of the most vigorous growth rates in the world: a decent standard of living, free medical care and education, a guaranteed right to a job, one-month vacation with pay, a literacy rate of over 90 percent, and a life expectancy of 72 years. To my knowledge, not one of the Balkans states that were created can claim half this prosperity.


New materials allow 2.8l/day of solar-powered desert water-vapor extraction



UC Berkeley’s Omar Yaghi invented MOFs (“porous crystals that form continuous 3D networks”) in the 1990s, and more than 20,000 MOFs have been synthesized since; each one binds to a different type of gas.

The zirconium-based MOF-801, introduced in the paper, binds to water vapor even in extreme low-humidity environments. Run continuously, it “pulls” 2.8l of water out of desert air per 24-hour cycle.

At $150/kg, zirconium is too expensive to use for a mass-produced product intended to be distributed to people living in arid environments, but Yaghi proposes further work that would swap in aluminum, which costs 1% of the cost of zirconium.

Can’t wait till i can be a real moisture farmer like Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen.

Eija-Liisa Ahtila Makes Art With the Attention Span of a Bird THE DAILY PIC (#1773): This image shows two of the four screens,…


Eija-Liisa Ahtila Makes Art With the Attention Span of a Bird

THE DAILY PIC (#1773): This image shows two of the four screens, on the four walls of a room, that make up Eija-Liisa Ahtila’s fascinating “Studies on the Ecology of Drama,” now on view at Marian Goodman Gallery in New York.

It is impossible to see all four screens at once, so by changing what she projects on each one Ahtila can keep total control over our attention. She pulls us now one way, now another as we try to build a total picture of her piece. And that is precisely the unsteady state Ahtila needs to keep us in, since her piece is all about the unsteady nature of attention, and perception, and how different creatures build different pictures of the world. She dwells for a while on the common swift, a bird that flies at absurd speeds and doesn’t alight for years at a time. Footage of a flying gymnast has him standing as a kind of human surrogate for such a creature—and maybe we viewers do too, as our attention flits bird-like about the room.

Ahtila also considers the lives of butterflies and their caterpillar “parents.” Humans perched on branches in green sleeping bags stand in for those larvae. You feel jealous of their peace as your attention shifts endlessly from screen to screen—like a butterfly? (Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery)

For a full survey of past Daily Pics visit

The superpower of interactive datavis? A micro-macro view!

Medium, statsitics, data, infoviz, micro-macro

What I mean by micro-macro is trying to get a better understanding of the world by accessing it on two levels: for one, there’s the micro-level of anecdotes where we get the good feeling of looking at actual, concrete aspects of the world instead of abstract mathematical descriptions. But we combine this with the macro-level to understand how these relatable anecdotes fit into the whole. This dual approach enables us to estimate if a given example represents normalcy (a stand-in for how things “usually” are) or is an outlier and does not allow conclusions for all cases.


Data, Fairness, Algorithms, Consequences

Medium, danah boyd, data, privacy, algorithms, bias, discrimination, transparency, responsibility

When we open up data, are we empowering people to come together? Or to come apart? Who defines the values that we should be working towards? Who checks to make sure that our data projects are moving us towards those values? If we aren’t clear about what we want and the trade-offs that are involved, simply opening up data can — and often does — reify existing inequities and structural problems in society. Is that really what we’re aiming to do?


A growing number of people think their job is useless. Time to rethink the meaning of work

Medium, work, post-work, bullshit jobs, capitalism, WEF, automation

So, will there still be enough jobs for everyone a few decades from now? Anybody who fears mass unemployment underestimates capitalism’s extraordinary ability to generate new bullshit jobs. If we want to really reap the rewards of the huge technological advances made in recent decades (and of the advancing robots), then we need to radically rethink our definition of “work.”


California Reaches Solar Milestone, Electricity Prices Turn Negative



Solar power met roughly half of California’s electricity demand for the first time on March 11, according to new estimates from the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA).

EIA estimated that almost 40 percent of electricity on the grid between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. came from California’s large-scale solar plants, with smaller solar installations on homes and businesses supplying the rest. When factored with other sources of clean energy in the state, renewable energy accounted for more than 55 percent of power on the grid on March 11.

The abundant supply of solar in California this winter and spring has driven wholesale prices near zero or into the negative during certain hours.

“In March, during the hours of 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., system average hourly prices were frequently at or below $0 per megawatthour (MWh),” the EIA said in its report.

“In contrast, average hourly prices in March 2013–15 during this time of day ranged from $14/MWh to $45/MWh. Negative prices usually result when generators with high shut-down or restart costs must compete with other generators to avoid operating below equipment minimum ratings or shutting down completely.

California Reaches Solar Milestone, Electricity Prices Turn Negative

A crucial climate mystery is just under our feet


Interesting story, but it’s complicated. Complicated in reading and understanding, so, take your time and read and think as if the pop quiz follows tomorrow in school. Basically, with soil and carbon, how can we entire plants to feed more people and, at the same time, not release carbon into the atmosphere but store it in the soil? Another version of “have your cake and eat it too.”

Excerpt, but the excerpt is just a taste:

Janzen has the rare ability to explain complicated things with such clarity that, when talking to him, you may catch yourself struck with wonder at an utterly new glimpse of how the world works. Plants, he explained, perform a kind of alchemy. They combine air, water, and the sun’s fire to make food. And this alchemical combination that we call food is, in fact, a battery — a molecular trap for the sun’s energy made of broken-down CO2 and H2O (you know, air and water).

Sugars are the simplest batteries. And sugars are also the building blocks for fat and fiber, which are just bigger, more complicated batteries. Ferns, trees, and reeds are the sum of those parts. Bury these batteries for thousands of years under conditions of immense heat and pressure, and they transform again — still carrying the sun’s energy — into coal, oil, and gas.

To feed our growing population, we keep extracting more and more carbon from farms to deliver solar energy to our bodies. Janzen pointed out that we’ve bred crops to grow bigger seeds (the parts we eat) and smaller roots and stems (the parts that stay on the farm). All of this diverts carbon to our bellies that would otherwise go into the ground. This leads to what Janzen dubbed the soil carbon dilemma: Can we both increase soil carbon and increase harvests? Or do we have to pick one at the expense of the other?

A crucial climate mystery is just under our feet

While this photograph of a seemingly regular house may look unassuming to you, located twenty-six feet beneath this modest…



While this photograph of a seemingly regular house may look unassuming to you, located twenty-six feet beneath this modest two-story suburban house in Las Vegas, Nevada lies a 5,000 square foot doomsday bunker.


It comes complete with a four-hole golf course, a sauna, a jacuzzi, a barbecue, and a swimming pool, and was designed to be able to withstand a nuclear explosion.


The bunker was commissioned by businessman Girard B. Henderson in the 1970s, who feared attack from the Soviets.


It was purchased by a mysterious group called the Society for the Preservation of Near Extinct Species for $1.15 million in March 2014.


Journey into Night: January in Svalbard

island, Julian-Hanna, Svalbard, Spitsbergen, arctic, polar-night

The strangest thing about visiting the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen in the Svalbard archipelago during the 24-hour darkness known as polar night is that you can’t see the island you’re on. I was surprised, when I flew into Longyearbyen this past January, how unsettling an experience it was. The fact that I was there for an island studies conference compounded the sense of absurdity: though I talked about islands all week, I never actually saw the island I was on. It was pitch black when we landed – nearly everyone arrived on the same afternoon flight from Tromsø and climbed out of the cabin to go blinking across the runway moonscape – and blackness followed us from morning till night. It was still dark when we boarded the return flight at noon on the day of the US presidential inauguration. I was ready for the cold (the temperature hovered around -15, often with a strong wind chill), but I was not prepared for the disorienting feeling of being on an island built largely from my own imagination.


Everywhere is someone’s dystopia, etc.







You know, even if I was interested playing the Solarpunk setting as straight as possible, it would still probably come out looking like a pretty unpleasant place to live, and that has everything to do with the kind of character I enjoy writing.

See, I think even the most idyllic society would have people who Just Aren’t Happy There. Who feel trapped, or don’t fit in, or fall through the cracks, or whatever. And that there are more explanations for why than just “these people are wrong and probably not very nice either.” Those outliers are the people I like writing about, and who I keep returning to again and again, in every setting, no matter how objectively good/okay/shitty the wider world is. Hell, I even (sometimes especially) like writing about them when they are Wrong or Not Nice.

I like creating and consuming stories about these people trying to carve, scrape, or smash a space for themselves in worlds that never seemed to hold them. Or smashing themselves/turning liquid to fit. Even if they don’t succeed. Even if they don’t survive. (Again, maybe especiallyin those latter cases.)

I’ve always been less than uninterested in fiction that only asks  “how do we make an ideal world?” I want fiction that takes it for granted that “ideal” and “world” barely belong in the same sentence, and then asks,  “what then?”

And I guess that’s my favorite thing about writing. Taking any kind of world, and asking it, “what then?”

This kind of stuff is why I don’t like the formulation of solarpunk as utopic. A space in which people are generally trying to do things better, with limited resources in every sense, is a space where people willfail to fit in, will suffer, sometimes unjustly, will make mistakes. 

I think your sense of “solarpunk played straight” and stories about these kinds of characters would be fantastic, because it gets precisely to the point that there’s a never-ending supply of nuance and exception that will always result in conflicts and will always feature people worthy of an exceptional effort of compassion and understanding. Sometimes their communities will fail them, and that’s worth exploring too. I think what would make a story like that solarpunk is when it’s clear that the community could have, and should have, done better. What’s less so is when the community’s failure is inevitable, based on immutable prior conditions.

There’s no such thing as a singular ideal world. There aren’t even going to be singular ideal communities, but to even get close to that we need to accept that the precise mechanics of improvement will vary wildly from place to place, time to time, people to people. 

Solarpunk doesn’t hope to depict a world with no suffering, because that’s an unachievable goal and efforts to reach it converge on fascism. Solarpunk hopes to build widespread conventions of compassion and innovation that mean fewer people suffer, and that people suffer less. 

It sounds like you’ve got exactly the attitude necessary to tell compelling stories about a world that is trying to improve and succeeding, but is still a world made of people with all the variety and pain that that will always entail.

It’s not quite solarpunk but for a good example of this kind of thinking I recommend Cory Doctorow’s “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom,” which is about a post-scarcity civilization in which everybody’s needs are comprehensively met, but in which the protagonist suffers because he’s an asshole and he makes bad decisions. It’s possible to read that story, empathize with the protagonist, and still recognize that almost anybody would choose that world over this one and be better off for it.

Another good one is “Pacific Edge,” in which the major emotional conflict involves heartache – which certainly isn’t going anywhere.

That’s all not to mention the fruitful territory for stories about people fighting and winning against the neoliberal hellscape that is the world as it exists today, which is where on the timeline I think the heart of solarpunk is, but even best-case scenario, post-solarpunk worlds where the communities of the world are generally collaborating toward peace and sustainability, there will be people who are unhappy.

That’s okay. Almost good, even – in the sense that pursuits toward the alternative, again, converge on fascism. 

I really hope you don’t feel like your interest in exploring experiences of othering, alienation, and exclusion mean that you can’t write stories that fit comfortably in with solarpunk. These realities – that better isn’t perfect, that there are painful steps in between here and better, that any system has margins and therefore marginalization – they’re all extremely important, core complexities, and I think exploring these real life complications, with which all optimistic movements have to grapple, is one of the highest kinds of meaningful storytelling solarpunk can aspire to.

The world around your protagonist doesn’t need to be an expansion on, or reflection of, their inner state. Solarpunk says it shouldn’t be. The world goes on around you in all its nuance and complexity as you, in all your nuance and complexity, move within it. You don’t need an empty world to show a person who’s lonely. You don’t need a horde of zombies to show someone who’s enraged. We all know it’s not the case that the world getting better generally means we personally are each guaranteed a proportionate and evenly distributed increase in baseline pleasure. We shouldn’t write like it has to be.

I’d really love to read your “Playing solarpunk straight” stories. 

My reply got pretty long, so it’s under the jump!

Keep reading

This is a great response, and I really enjoyed reading it! 

I think the point I’m most interested in from your response is this one:

the only way to really keep things from going bad in the long term is to occasionally step back and figure out if what we’re doing is still working. But that’s another thing we’re kind of bad at, for all the reasons I mentioned… Well, in this entire post. 

It reminded me of the argument some philosophers have made that we’re at the “End of history” – that large Liberal Democracies are the final form of politics and we’re going to be living with them forever because we’ve “found the right answer.”

To my mind, frequently stepping back and asking “Did this work? Is it still working?” is vital for effective political movements. For example, I think of solarpunk as being a post-”is this working” revision to Original Flavor punk, because capitalism turned out to be more capable than expected of commodifying aesthetics that are hostile to commodification.

I also want to add that I don’t think most solarpunks think all fiction needs to be optimistic. Cautionary views are important and valuable. Solarpunk emphasizes optimism because we got frustrated that “things get worse for everyone” seems to be the onlynarrative going right now in speculative fiction.

Hey, no problem! I love discussing and pontificating and whatnot.

End of History! One of those things I always forget has its own name, argh. And yeah, I guess that’s something I always have at the back of my mind when I’m doing worldbuilding. That any given type of setting is just another link in the chain, and the center won’t hold forever. And there probably isn’t any kind of stable end we’re heading towards, and that’s probably okay.

Oh, I didn’t mean Solarpunk specifically! I just meant it’s something that gets knocked around in certain Internet Writer circles, and it gets on my nerves a little because I don’t really find light! and uplifting! fiction particularly fun or satisfying to read or write.

I also don’t think downbeat things have to be cautionary, and actually prefer it when they aren’t. I think I mentioned before on here that “do that!” and “don’t do that!” in fiction usually come from the same, fairly obnoxious place, and are often in complete agreement with each other. I don’t really like stories that tell you how to think of them, or telling people how to think about my stories in-text. I like when the narrative/setting/characters re just presented as they are without comment, so the reader can draw their own conclusions.

So yeah, “everything will get worse for everyone!” is as heavy-handed as “FUTURE GOOD!” I’m more fond of “people will always be people,” or, if I’m quoting song lyrics “change will surely come, and be awful for most but really good for some.” (With the caveat that most changes are about the same that way, within reason. Basically, the relevant example is that a Solarpunk will have just as much inconvenience and bullshit as our own, but it’ll be different inconvenience and bullshit.)

Spy Images From Cold War a ‘Gold Mine’ for Climate Scientists

climate, siberia, seeing machines, climate change, satellite imagery



The recent declassification of tens of thousands of images from Cold War spy satellites is helping climate scientists compare Siberian terrain between then and now, and they’re showing some obvious signs of climate change.

It was common practice during the Cold War for the U.S. and Soviet Union to spy on each other using any means necessary, which included satellite and aircraft images from space to find military bases and possible signs of invasion. After the Soviet Union was broken apart, the U.S. released their images from Corona and Gambit, two reconnaissance satellites that were decommissioned in the 1980s.

The University of Virginia is now using those images to study the remote area of the Siberian tundra. By using images from current satellites, they are able to create a time lapse of the terrain. They found that the shrubbery and forested areas expanded by 26 percent since the 1960s images were taken.

“These spy images are a gold mine as a reference point,” said Howie Epstein, coauthor of the research. “We know from Earth-observing satellite data that the Arctic generally has been greening for 35 years or so. But the Siberian tundra had not been as closely observed until relatively recently.

“We now know that a lot of greening has been going on there, too, with tall shrubs and woody vegetation. The vegetation has been getting both taller and expanding in space and range.”

Though this may sound normal or even natural, Siberia has been widely affected by this expansion. Increased vegetation means an increase in carbon dioxide uptake or heat absorption, leading to a warmer regional climate and less snowfall overall. This has altered the ratio of plants to animals and affected the food web in the area.

Spy Images From Cold War a ‘Gold Mine’ for Climate Scientists

The Kufra Basin in the Sahara Desert of Libya is one of the most heavily irrigated oases in the world. The Libyan government…


The Kufra Basin in the Sahara Desert of Libya is one of the most heavily irrigated oases in the world. The Libyan government enacted a plan in the 1970’s to enable agricultural cultivation in the desert by extracting water from the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System, a non-renewable source of fossil water located beneath the surface. Because the area receives only one inch of rain per year, the acquirer is now nearly dried up.
24.129228, 23.218823
Source imagery: DigitaGlobe

Douglas Coupland: ‘The nine to five is barbaric’

Douglas-Coupland, 9-5, employment, work, future-of-work, technolgy, 1995, 2017

“Most people who work in tech – 99% – don’t want to look at the implications of what they are doing. They just want to hit their milestones and that’s it.” But there’s no turning back. The internet is here to stay and will continue to profoundly change societies and the workplace. “If the internet stopped one day, can you imagine the chaos? What would we call that scenario? It’s called 1995 – that’s how far we’ve come.”


Imagination vs Speculation


Fiction has two modes: the imaginative and the speculative. The mode that has to do with pure, unbridled invention and the mode that tries to think logically about rules and consequences. So the imaginative parts of Lord of the Rings have to do with the whole-cloth contrivance of things that don’t exist: ents, hobbits, dwarves. The speculative parts have to do with how, given the rules of Tolkien’s universe, his characters might behave. What would it take for a homebody hobbit to leave home? This principle goes for stories that lack ‘fantastic’ elements as well. The imaginative part of Huckleberry Finn is Huck and Jim and their life circumstances. The speculative part is what it might take for Huck and Jim to bond and run away. Imagination is Jim finding a dead body. Speculation is Jim preventing Huck from seeing it.

(That good speculation requires a good imagination is a given. But it is still different, for my purposes, from the act of creating something from nothing.)

In order for speculation to be concerned with what mighthappen though, it has to be concerned with what is. Every act of speculation speaks as much about what rules a writer thinks govern a fictional world as it does about how those rules might manifest. And if a writer is trying to speculate about how reality could go, as many writers are, then they are proposing hypotheses about the way reality is. In a third season storyline of The Wire, for example, the show imagines that Baltimore establishes a zone for the legal use and exchange of drugs. It then speculates how the government, police, and citizens would react—revealing general principles about what motivates these people and why.

But fiction is weird. Fiction usually isn’t concerned with either a fictional reality or a real reality—but both, simultaneously. So in a satirical movie like Election, the story is at once attempting to distill a supposedly real phenomenon (what happens when unscrupulous people butt up against cowards and innocents) and be consistent within a necessarily heightened movie reality. Which means that fiction, in order to feel ‘correct,’ has to scan according to both realities. If you don’t think that automatons of ambition exist, or you don’t think that they succeed in the end, or you think using Tracy Flick to depict that kind of person puts unrepresentative blame on the heads of teenage girls—the speculation doesn’t track for you. On the other hand, based on what the movie establishes about Tracy Flick, we would also consider it ‘illogical’ or bad speculation if she suddenly behaved selflessly.

Interestingly, the more metaphorical or satirical a work is—in other words, the more it is attempting to have meaning—the more, I would argue, it becomes concerned with ‘real’ reality. The more, that is, its implications about reality affect whether or not it works. If I’m watching Transformers, it doesn’t actually matter that much whether it makes sense that a giant alien robot would pal around with a teenage kid. Because Transformersisn’t trying to claim much about reality.* But if I’m watching a production of Rhinoceros, it sure as hell matters whether I think fascistic impulses exist, or whether they colonize people in the absurd, virulent way Rhinocerosdepicts. It matters less whether Rhinocerosestablishes complicated rules for its fictional world. Though it should be (and is) self-consistent.

*(Insofar as Transformersis trying to distill a reality, one might claim it is trying to distill what a certain attitude or fantasy looks like. So it is consistent with the reality of the terms of that fantasy—cars, heroism, hot girls— rather than whether or not that fantasy is especially likely to happen. “ IfI were trying to make the perfect heterosexual boy fantasy movie, what would I include? In other words, what is the perfect heterosexual boy fantasy movie? What defines a heterosexual boy?” In a thoughtless execution of the het boy fantasy genre— XXX? Crank? I don’t know—this kind of consistency would matter even less.)

What am I getting at? I want to set aside the definition of ‘speculative fiction’ that acts as a euphemism for science fiction. And I want to examine what makes good or bad speculative fiction, and what counts as ‘speculative fiction’ in the first place. Right now, the terms ‘science fiction’ and ‘speculative fiction’ are a confusing conflation of three different genres:

1. Fantasy with tech or futuristic trappings. Star Wars, Transformers.

2. Speculation about the consequences of a scenario that doesn’t exist (a technological innovation, a social innovation, a crazy circumstance). Looper, A Handmaid’s Tale, Asimov, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Contact.

3. A technology or a fantastic setting as a metaphor for a real world phenomenon. The Forever War, Metamorphosis, Frankenstein, Xenogenesis.

There are good and bad executions of all of these genres. And of course they tend to overlap. But in order to talk about whether a given work is failing or succeeding, we have to talk about which realities the works are trying to make claims about (or take as a given), and therefore whether or not the claims are accurate or convincingly depicted.

The first category mostly only needs to scan according to its fictional reality. When this kind of story makes a claim about real reality, it usually tends to be a claim about human emotion or human values (what is tragic, what is virtuous, what is cool). The questions you ask about Star Wars are things like “Is this fun?” or “Does it make sense that Luke is sad here?” The last category, in turn, mostly needs to scan according to its real reality. Something like Xenogenesismakes you ask questions like “Is this effectively evoking the conflicted, shell-shocked experience of cultural assimilation?” Frankenstein is more of a story about hubris rather than a story primarily about the actual consequences of reanimating the dead. Stories in this category can be tremendously complex on the narrative level, and care about being consistent and exciting on that level, but the speculation part tends to exist primarily in the service of a concept rather than itself.

I think of it this way: speculation in service of a concept will be closed, rather than open. The Wire’s Hamsterdam storyline is open because there was no way it really hadto go, other than the way that the writers thought logically sprang from the state of Baltimore’s citizens and civic institutions. But something like District 9is trying to convey a pre-established position about the mechanics of prejudice and othering. District 9is more effective if its narrative logic is sound, but there was also no way District 9’s plot was going to depict any fallout from alien contact other than xenophobia. Top-down rather than bottom-up storytelling. Evidence-based versus theory-based. This isn’t inherently a good or bad thing, for the record, just a distinct difference in genre. In metaphorical stories, the logic of something is considered more or less known to the author; the problem is how to get other people to internalize the logic.

True speculative fiction (category 2) and true narrative fiction (category 1) seem to resemble each other more than they do metaphorical fiction (category 3) because they both take the bottom-up approach. What is something like a sitcom ( situational comedy) other than putting characters in a scenario and asking what will happen? Beyond approach, what Friendsand Star Warsand Game of Thronesand Isaac Asimov all have in common is a curious paucity of thematic content (that is: it’s difficult to say what they are “about”), but not in a bad way. Extremely hard speculation like The Wire tends to not be terribly thematic because theme requires a certain amount of artistic control that epistemically honest speculation doesn’t lend itself to. When works of hard speculation are thematic, and when they’re good, they seem to mostly lend themselves towards themes about the complexity of systems. Which makes perfect sense. Hard speculation is also different from “hard science fiction” that mostly applies its hardness to its setting and not to its narrative. Only occasionally, like in things like The Silmarillion,does a hard worldbuilding story understand that its worldbuilding isthe story and put the focus there accordingly.

All this said, most works of speculation are in-between things. Things like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Brazilor Heror Children of Men or Contactor Snowpiercer. Eternal Sunshineis fairly honest speculation about how people would use a memory-altering technology, but the only reason the story proposes that technology is to explore things about romantic relationships. Most stories, in other words, choose their speculation in a thematically pointed way, even if they’re not transparently allegorical.

The thing I want to figure out is why the way that something like Eternal Sunshinespeculates thematically is so much better than the way that something like Herdoes, despite the fact that they have similar subject matter and approach. While both pure narrative and pure metaphor and pure speculation can all, to a certain extent, get away with ignoring one or both of the above, blended works seem to ignore the other categories at their peril. The absolute worst executions I can think of are the metaphorical stories that are undermined by a refusal to speculate. Stories that have such a poor understanding of consequences or such a lack of curiosity about them that it ruins the metaphorical and literary power of the reality they are trying to convey (see: what it means for a work of art to take itself seriously). A good metaphor will not simplify reality, but will open it up, and this is impossible to do without a good understanding of what reality is (or a respect for the fact that understanding reality is overwhelmingly difficult).

Works like Herand Snowpiercer seem weak to me because their artistic reach extends their grasp, but in a lazy way rather than a forgivably ambitious way. They imagine overly wholesale fictional circumstances: allthe people fall in love with their computers, allof society is trapped on this train. These are huge statements about the pervasiveness of both loneliness and the stratification of society, yet neither of them are convincing on the individual character or narrative level, and so their huge claims fall flat. Theodore mostly seems to be lonely because he’s an almost inhumanly stunted person. I found myself wishing the movie were just a simple story about an individual in the real world that falls for a catfisher. Similarly, I felt that Snowpiercerwould almost be more convincing as a story set in an actually oppressively stratified country. Those “realistic” stories would be less symbolic, but far richer. Although movies like The Matrixand Children of Menalso have overly ambitious speculative conceits, both put considerable effort towards the complexity and excitingness of their narratives and also make much smaller claims about reality. The Matrixis a metaphor for a more generic feeling of unreality and aimlessness, while Children of Men tries to be a thriller in a speculative circumstance, but makes few sweeping, moral claims about society that it has to prove. Poor speculation, in other words, takes its ideas as “given” and uses metaphor as a kind of autotune to conceal a lack of work.

[C redit both to Peli Grietzer for autotune as a figurative concept, and Gabe Duquette for this specific usage].

Reversing the Lies of the Sharing Economy

Medium, Brett Scott, P2P, sharing economy, rent, economics, employment, precarity, Uber, platform cooperatives

There’s nothing resembling a “sharing economy” in an Uber interaction. You pay a corporation to send a driver to you, and it pays that driver a variable weekly wage. Sharing can really only refer to one of three occurrences. It can mean giving something away as a gift, like: “Here, take some of my food.” It can describe allowing someone to temporarily use something you own, as in: “He shared his toy with his friend.” Or, it can refer to people having common access to something they collectively own or manage: “The farmers all had an ownership share in the reservoir and shared access to it.” None of these involve monetary exchange. We do not use the term “sharing” to refer to an interaction like this: “I’ll give you some food if you pay me.” We call that buying. We don’t use it in this situation either: “I’ll let you temporarily use my toy if you pay me.” We call that renting. And in the third example, while the farmers may have come together initially to purchase a common resource, they don’t pay for subsequent access to it.


z\w\a\r\t\24 in HELVETE #3 - ’ Bleeding Black Noise’ “The third issue of Helvete, “Bleeding Black Noise,” features artwork and…


z\w\a\r\t\24 in HELVETE #3 - ’ Bleeding Black Noise’

“The third issue of Helvete, “Bleeding Black Noise,” features artwork and essays that focus on the sonic aspects of Black Metal, specifically its interactions with Noise — the interruptions, creations, and destructions of signals. “Bleeding Black Noise” is a revision of Steven Parrino’s statement, “My relation between Rock and visual art: I will bleed for you.” In this issue, Rock is replaced with Noise, and Bleeding is celebrated as a release of the Black Noise — raw energy and formless potential. The essays and art portfolios included here experiment with sonic and conceptual feedback, as well as the way that black noise works through feedback as a process, resonating as background hums or drones, and cascading in foregrounded screams.”

Edited by Amelia Ishmael

Contributors Gast Bouschet, Faith Coloccia, Nadine Hilbert, Bagus Jalang, Alessandro Keegan, Max Kuiper, Kyle McGee, Susanne Pratt, Simon Pröll, Michaël Sellam, Nathan Snaza, Bert Stabler

Exhibition: Sector 2337 (Chicago, IL) February 12 - March 12, 2016.

Mastodon is dead in the water

Medium, Mastodon, GNU Social, social media, federation, twitter, identity, free software

This is the first attempt I’ve seen at a decentralized alternative to major social networks that feels like a modern, well-designed, user-friendly competitor, actually surpassing the native UI for Twitter in some areas. There are still some bugs, rough edges, and server downtime issues, but overall it cleanly passes the bar for “minimum viable UX”, and this inspires hope for me that open-source alternatives don’t always mean a precipitous drop in user experience quality.




Containers is an 8-part audio documentary about how global trade has transformed the economy and ourselves. Host and correspondent Alexis Madrigal leads you through the world of ships and sailors, technology and tugboats, warehouses and cranes. At a time when Donald Trump is threatening to toss out the global economic order, Containers provides an illuminating, deep, and weird look at how capitalism actually works now.


Love in the Time of Cryptography

Quinn Norton, Love, Privacy, technology, surveillance, legibility, log files, encryption

There are few pictures of us together. Very few were taken by us; neither of us are much for selfies. Those that do exist, we ask our friends to keep offline. We know that the vague and soft anonymity of our relationship probably won’t last forever. And I doubt there will ever be a surfeit of digital connections between us. Our phones trace the paths we walk together, existing in telecom databases (and more recently, in WhatsApp’s logfiles) long after we’ve moved on. Their cell tower and GPS logs are like a pair of maze paths with no walls, lines coming together and parting, and coming together again. But what we said on those walks is lost, even to us. Only the feelings, memories, and paths remain.


Creative entropy — a killer problem with Laloux’s evolutionary purpose

Medium, creative entropy, evolutionary purpose

The concept of ‘Evolutionary purpose’ — a central theme from Laloux’s Reinventing Organisations — is a deeply flawed conceptual model. There’s convincing evidence that it doesn’t even exist, and even if you try to implement it anyway there are major flaws including ‘creative entropy’ — a gradual loosening of an organisation’s focus — which may be the opposite of what’s needed to realise a big idea.


A Manifesto for the Open Participatory Organization

Medium, organisation, Open Participatory Organization

This new zeitgeist is less interested in the old social influences of authority and social obligation, and more concerned with demonstrable legitimacy and guaranteeing universal access to the common wealth. Today we are more interested in opt-in/out ways of participation than with committed and consistent roles. We are empowered by communities of practice and peer-to-peer connectivity rather than social status and statutory reputation. We are a generation exploring real abundance in nature and ingenuity that flows from human spirit when it is set free. This shift in attitude signals a reckoning with old ways of power which instrumentalizes the earth, and institutionalizes and bureaucratizes human activity.


Intro to Rally Point Alpha

Medium, Andrew Venezia, consciousness, integral practice, Blue Church

I’m here and interested because I’m fascinated with collective intelligence and have been studying and researching it for the last 7 years or so, mostly from a consciousness and identity oriented angle. I undertook a two year research project for my Master’s Degree focusing on what is called “We Space” — Intersubjective Awareness Practices, which you can find here. We Space is one name for the more directly contemplative practices of ‘Collective Intelligence’ though I also include organizational practices such as Theory-U in the rubric.


Badiou’s “four objections” to the idea of a post-work future

Medium, Badiou, post work, post capitalism, UBI, automation, work, purpose, meaning

Badiou notes that the positive programme of Inventing the Future is organised around three points — full automation, universal basic income, and a “post-work” society — and that the first two of these points are really dependent on the third (automation as the means, UBI as the necessary consequence). He therefore addresses his critique to this nexus of ideas


In the case of Hypsiboas punctatus, we found that under twilight-nocturnal conditions, between 18% and 30% of all the light…

bioluminescence, frogs, Hypsiboas punctatus, GFP, flourescent

In the case of Hypsiboas punctatus, we found that under twilight-nocturnal conditions, between 18% and 30% of all the light (photons) emanating from the frog’s skin were florescent. That’s a substantial proportion, enough to add significant fluorescence to the typical green (in daylight) colouration of the frog, enhancing its visibility.

Finding fluorescence in a land animal is particularly interesting because it has been generally considered irrelevant but for its presence in some insects (spiders, scorpions, beetles, butterflies, moths, dragonflies, millipedes) and in two avian species, parrots and parrotlets. In parrotlets, differences in feather fluorescence between sexes have been found to serve a function in mating and attraction.

With the polka-dot tree frog, we expect that its fluorescence plays a role in inter-species visual communication (because it matches the sensitivity of the frogs’ eyes photoreceptors for blue and green). We do not believe that it has any relevance to mating, as florescence does not seem to differ between females and males.