conceptual high-rise building that would provide a place to grow, sell and learn about crops in unspecified locations across sub-Saharan Africa.
The Mashambas Skyscraper project won first place in the eVolo Skyscraper Competition, which annually invites architects and designers to conceive futuristic towers...[more]
This is a significant bug in our culture and a glitch in our DNA.
When we're on the spot, giving a speech, or pulled over by a cop, we get nervous.
We sweat, talk too fast, constrict our throat, avoid eye contact, put on a half smile and do many of the things that people often associate with lying.
At the same time, because the con man (who might also be a politician or CEO) has figured out how to avoid these telltale signs, we give them the benefit of the doubt and they lie with impunity.
If you have good intentions, you have two options: You can either avoid getting nervous (which comes with practice) or you can work on the most obvious symptoms you display, intentionally diminishing them. Actors are better on screen than the rare famous person doing a cameo because the actors have been taught how to read their lines without all the telltale signs of lying. (Of course, reading lines is lying...)
If you're using a microphone, use it. No need to brace your body to shout. Talk more slowly. Intentionally make eye contact...
And don't lie. But you knew that part.
You shouldn't have to practice appearing to be truthful when you're being truthful. But you do. Because we're humans and we're judging you.
This is far from complete but here’s a few thoughts on why I run.
I run for clarity
When I run my mind runs too. Its not empty but theres only one thing to do: run. So as I run it sort through the day, through the problems and often the obvious solutions finally dawn on me, or sometimes just clarity about the actual problem.
I spent on day stressed out feeling like things just weren’t working and I wouldn’t possibly get everything done. Within 2 mins of feet moving I realised the obvious things I missed: I have a team, why am I even doing some of these things myself when I have a team?!
I run for calm
Running is meditative. To start with my mind chases random thoughts and ideas. After a while I can start to see past those. In a sitting meditation I focus on my breathing and watch it come and go. When I run its similar: I focus on my breathing and sometimes just the pain. The burn in my legs, and effort to get oxygen demands my attention.
I’ve learnt over years that when something happens that leaves me angry and fuming: it might be what happened or it might just be the day. Sometimes I can channel the anger into fixing something that really should have been dealt with a long time ago, but often trying to do that might upset someone and create a bigger mess. I never know. I run to calm down. Sometimes when I’m done there’s no anger left. Other times there’s still a spark but usually with more idea why I’m annoyed and what I can do about it.
I run to go further
If I head out to hike there are plenty of spots that would take me all day to get there. I have to carry food, and more gear. But if I run I cover a 3 hour hike in maybe 1.5 hrs. I live near Waitakere Ranges, running means I can disappear into the hills for a few hours and get to beautiful spots I’d otherwise miss.
I run to explore
There’s a real joy to exploring. Just heading out of a trail with only a vague idea which path I’ll take. Sure I take a map and do some prep, but I have 3 or 4 options and I can just pick whatever looks most interesting when I get there.
I run to see how far I can go
I think this actually motivates me more than I notice. I love to just see how far I can get, how much it will hurt, where I’ll end up. This is the temptation to do an ultra, to do a triathlon, or just to enter that next race. Can I do it? Can I do it faster this time?
Initially reading the documentation it appears not to support optional URL parameters. But digging into the Fast Route docs it turns out there is some support:
parts of the route enclosed in [...] are considered optional, so that
/foo[bar]will match both
/foobar. Optional parts are only supported in a trailing position, not in the middle of a route.
So you can do something like
It also turns out that Lumen doesn’t strip trailing slashes when parsing URLs so the optional parameters were a useful workaround. I have a few routes like
SP. Deckard needs a drink. Blade Runner (1982)
Referendum in Turkey Versus Education and Economy Rates.
(via Amanda Petrusich)
For jazz musicians, “woodshedding” refers to the taking of a kind of lunatic sabbatical—a retreat to some isolated idyll, wherein the artist disconnects from his community and plays relentlessly and with a pathological focus. The goal is not so much output as self-betterment.
Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities
(via Peter Laurence)
Ginia Bellafante digs into Jane Jacobs’ contributions on the eve of a new documentary, Citizen Jane: Battle for the City by Matt Tyrnauer:
Jacobs had a term, “monstrous hybrids,” for the unhealthy partnerships that can arise between governments and big businesses. From the earliest days of his career, Mr. Trump has operated on the precise model that so unnerved her, relying on contacts in state and city government, as the historian Kim Phillips-Fein recalls in her new book, “Fear City: New York’s Fiscal Crisis and the Rise of Austerity Politics.” In the 1970s, in a deal with the Urban Development Corporation, Mr. Trump acquired the Commodore Hotel, near Grand Central Terminal, in exchange for big tax breaks that would extend for decades. In the author’s view, this was the beginning of the end for New York — the beginning, as she puts it, of displacement for working-class New Yorkers as the city sought to save itself from further decline by ingratiating itself to the wealthy, here and abroad. Oligarchs didn’t just arrive on West 57th Street in 2013; they had, in fact, been systematically courted for a very long time.
Although Jacobs was wrong about many things — most significantly in her refusal to imagine race as something that can shake things up in urban life — she was prescient as well, even in her later years, in books that virtually no one reads today. In 2004, for instance, at age 88, she wrote a book called “Dark Age Ahead,” a title she might have borrowed from Stephen K. Bannon’s diary. It was not widely praised, and yet it precisely pinpointed a cavalcade of pernicious social trends — rising rates of inequality, the factionalization arising from globalization, erosion of nuclear family life, the forfeiture of real academic learning for credentialism — that she felt certain would lead us to a grim place. She did not live to see Mr. Trump ascend to the presidency, but as someone who shared his absolute self-certainty, she surely would have said, “I told you so.”
I’ve just ordered a copy of Dark Age Ahead, which I haven’t read in its entirety: I’ve only seen fragments.
Also, Bellafante’s comment about Jacobs ‘refusal to imagine race as something that can shake things up in urban life’ may go too far.
Peter Laurence at Becoming Jane Jacobs wrote about this theme, saying
A recently published biography has contributed to the myth that Jane Jacobs was inattentive to issues of race. A book reviewer in the Literature Review of Canada wrote, “Her inattention to racism, whether in the form of American housing markets or in official policies like redlining, is well known—at least within the academy, and it was noticed before Death and Life was published.”
These confidently made assertions are wrong. Similarly, the source of the assertions, author Robert Kanigel’s claim in Eyes on the Street that Jacobs believed that discrimination against “Negroes” was little different from those of other slum populations and “that was about it” is incorrect and misleading. In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jacobs wrote about segregation, discrimination, and racism, with special attention to African-Americans, on multiple occasions and in various ways. She called racism “our country’s most serious social problem” (p. 71). She spoke of Americans’ “tendencies toward master-race psychology” (p. 284). She wrote of housing discrimination, noting that “colored citizens are cruelly overcrowded in their shelter and cruelly overcharged for it” (p. 274). She wrote of credit “blacklisting” (aka redlining), the denial of mortgages and business loans (pp. 299–300). In fact, as early as 1945, in a short history of the United States written for foreign readers when she worked at the Office of War Information, she honestly observed, “The nation’s 13,000,000 Negro citizens do not yet have full economic equality and opportunity" (Becoming Jane Jacobs, p. 296). And in Death and Life itself, she explicitly rejected the “Physical Fallacy,” when she wrote, “I do not mean to imply that a city’s planning and design, or its types of streets and street life, can automatically overcome segregation and discrimination. Too many other kinds of effort are also required to right these injustices” (pp. 71-72).
Mélenchon is upsetting the pre-digital firmament of French politics, no matter what the outcome of his campaign in this election:
Far-right websites, an ecosystem often referred to as the Fachosphère, have long given oxygen to Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front, which was the first French party to create a website. And the left has traditionally had intense ideological debates in the mainstream news media.
In this campaign, however, in which the left is split among several candidates, Mr. Mélenchon, a former Trotskyite and longtime Socialist senator before breaking ranks, has more YouTube followers than any rival and a league of active online supporters eager to jump on critics.
“Marine Le Pen has made an effort for years: It’s a sociological vote; it’s a crisis; it’s people who feel shut out of the system,” said Thierry Vedel, a political scientist who conducts election research at Sciences Po, a university in Paris. “Mélenchon is more complicated. Mélenchon’s campaign is trying. We can’t rule out that in the campaign, social media has had an effect.”
Mélenchon is very far left: he wants to renegotiate the pact with the EU, take France out of NATO, raise taxes, eliminate nuclear power, and more. He’s more to the left than I am.
Vigdís Finnbogadóttir [ˈvɪɣtis ˈfɪn.pɔɣaˌtoʊhtɪr] ( listen) (born 15 April 1930) served as the fourth President of Iceland from 1 August 1980 to 1996. She was the world’s first democratically directly elected female president. With a presidency of exactly sixteen years, she also remains the longest-serving elected female head of state of any country to date. Currently, she is a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, and a Member of the Club of Madrid. She is also to-date Iceland’s only female president.
Iceland is being colonized by English: the language, not the people.
The people of Iceland, a rugged North Atlantic island settled by Norsemen about 1,100 years ago, have a unique dialect of Old Norse that has adapted to life at the edge of the Arctic.
Hundslappadrifa, for example, means “heavy snowfall with large flakes occurring in calm wind.”
But the revered Icelandic language, seen by many as a source of identity and pride, is being undermined by the widespread use of English, both in the tourism industry and in the voice-controlled artificial intelligence devices coming into vogue.
Linguistics experts, studying the future of a language spoken by fewer than 400,000 people in an increasingly globalized world, wonder if this is the beginning of the end for the Icelandic tongue.
Former President Vigdis Finnbogadottir said Iceland must take steps to protect its language. Ms. Finnbogadottir is particularly eager for programs to be developed so the language can be easily used in digital technology.
“Otherwise, Icelandic will end in the Latin bin,” she said.
Asgeir Jonsson, an economics professor at the University of Iceland, said that without a unique language, Iceland could experience a brain drain, particularly among professions in science and the arts.
The problem is compounded because many new computer devices are designed to recognize English but not Icelandic.
“Not being able to speak Icelandic to voice-activated fridges, interactive robots and similar devices would be yet another lost field,” Mr. Jonsson said.
As much as the romanticism of a language enclave might appeal, Icelandic is doomed. My bet is that it will be spoken only by older people or in isolated villages in 100 years.
Blame the talking fridges if you are looking for a scapegoat.
Zenvus is an intelligent solution for farms that uses proprietary electronics sensors to collect soil data like moisture, nutrients, pH etc and send them to a cloud server via GSM, satellite or Wifi. Algorithms in the server analyze the data and advice farmers on farming. As the crops grow, the system deploys special cameras to build vegetative health for drought stress, pest and diseases. Our system has the capability to tell a farm what, how, and when to farm. Here are some images from the design and development of Zenvus.
To countless teenagers who had the wrong teacher in high school, it means, "a boring collection of right answers, categorized by topic."
Once we discover that some things we were taught aren't black and white any more (Pluto, DDT, infant formula), it's not surprising that people begin to go from bored to skeptical. About all of it.
Except that's not what science is.
Science is a process. It's not pretending it has the right answer, it merely has the best process to get closer to that right answer. Science is an ongoing argument, one where you show your work and make a prediction about what's going to happen next.
And you're not allowed to have magical faeries. Not allowed to change the explanation based on what just happened. You must begin again, from first principles, and make a new argument, and show new work, and make a better prediction.
Science isn't only done in the lab. Every one of us does it at work, daily.
Science isn't something to believe or not believe. It's something to do.
Dr CADx is a computer aided diagnostic system to help doctors diagnose medical images more accurately in order to provide better patient outcomes and save lives, and to provide pervasive radiology diagnostics in underserved regions.
John Kelly is trying to make the nation more fearful, to make a case for increased security measures at airports and in screening of immigrants:
The United States is as vulnerable to an attack today as it was the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Information in the press about national security is misleading or flat-out wrong, offering a false sense of security. The men and women of the Department of Homeland Security perform heroic work day and night for a largely ungrateful nation. If members of Congress are unhappy with the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration, they should pass new laws or “shut up.”
Those were the main takeaways from Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly’s first extensive remarks about how he intends to lead a vast bureaucracy on the front lines of immigration enforcement, passenger screening and cybersecurity.
“Make no mistake,” he said Tuesday during a speech at George Washington University. “We are in fact a nation under attack.”
Do you feel more or less safe after the billions we’ve spent since 9/11?
If Americans take his discourse at face value, they will be living in a paranoid society willing to trade fundamental freedoms and principles for a sense of security.
It was a meeting of nerds and sharks.
The self-described "biotech nerds" and "robotic nerds" were seven high school students from Washington, D.C. The eight teens who call themselves "sharks" and flew in from Ghana. "The shark is a big fish so it means you're big. Knowledgeable," explains Stephanie Obbo of Ghana, an aspiring medical doctor.
Together, the 15 high schoolers formed a team for the first World Smarts STEM Challenge. That's a science competition run by IREX, a global development nonprofit that strives to promote student enthusiasm for science, tech, engineering and math (aka STEM). Each of the 17 teams had teenagers in the D.C. area partnering with Ghanaians to identify and solve a real-world problem. NPR's Goats and Soda followed "Team McKwiny" — a name that blends D.C.'s McKinley Technology High School and Winneba Senior High School in Ghana...[more]
We get what we invest in. The time we spend comes back, with interest.
If you practice five minutes of new, difficult banjo music every day, you'll become a better banjo player. If you spend a little bit more time each day whining or feeling ashamed, that behavior will become part of you. The words you type, the people you hang with, the media you consume...
The difference between who you are now and who you were five years ago is largely due to how you've spent your time along the way.
The habits we groove become who we are, one minute at a time. A small thing, repeated, is not a small thing.
[And the same thing is true for brands, organizations and movements.]
In addition to controlling the color of light from your flash, gels can also allow you to alter the color of the ambient areas of your frame. The portrait above, done for the Baltimore Sun, is a good example. I made it as a storm approached, and the light was gray and pretty neutral.
The light was okay, but not great. I really wanted was a stronger color environment for the photo. And I also wanted the subject to pop more. So instead of daylight white balance, I shot it on incandescent (tungsten) white balance. This shifted the expected light source from 5600k to 3200k. In essence, the camera was expecting to shoot under tungsten lights.
But since the ambient environment was closer to neutral (a little cooler, even) the white balance setting had the effect of shifting everything way more blue.
I lit the subject with a single speedlight with a cardboard snoot. The snoot would help me to control the spill of the light form the flash.
To balance my flash's light to my camera's white balance setting, I had to turn it into a tungsten source by adding a full CTO gel. But I did not want my subject to be neutral, I wanted him to be warm and pop out against the blue. So I added another 1/2 CTO to the flash to overcompensate the color and render him in warm light even with the white balance shift.
This warm-on-cool effect makes him stand out, even though he is pretty small in the frame. In addition to being blue-shifted, the ambient is also underexposed between two and three stops. That helps the fully lit (and warm) guy stand out, too.
For comparison, here is a straight (no color shift or gel) lit version:
It's okay, but it doesn't have the color environment that the shifted version does. It's a subjective choice, to be sure. But it helps my guy, bathed in warm light, to pop out from the scene.
Most of the time when we color-shift the ambient using white balance and gels, we do so along the warm-to-cool scale. And it does not have to be a full-on, change to tungsten white balance shift, either. You can use your Kelvin white balance scale to tweak the warmth or coolness of your ambient light as much or as little as you want.
Then you simply counterract that shift with the appropriate complimentary amount of CTO or CTB gel on your key light. And since gels come in calibrated full and partial CTO/CTB units, this is very easy. In essence, with this white balance and gel combo, you can choose your ambient color at will.
It's Like In-Camera Photoshop
But there is no reason to limit yourself to warm vs. cool. You can use a white balance shift and complimentary gel to shift the ambient in any direction you want.
Take the portrait of contortioninst Shelley Guy, above. She is lit against a post sunset sky. I can leave it like that or I could shift the dusk light in any direction I wanted.
Shifting the white balance toward magenta, for instance—and compensating with a complimentary green gel on my flash—I would get this:
In the end, I stuck with the straight sunset. But the point is that we have the ability to shift the ambient in any direction we want, assuming we can gel our flash in the complimentary direction.
Like the Room? Fine. If Not, Change it.
So remember in the last post where we talked about looking at the scene on daylight white balance and seeing what color the room is giving you? If you don't like it, you can change it in any direction you want. Just remember to gel your flash in the complimentary direction if you want to zero out that color shift in our white balance.
With our color-graph indicators in the cameras' white balance controls, and a Rosco CalColor® gel kit, this becomes easy. Just gel your flash in the opposite direction as your white balance shift to compensate.
In the end, the CalColors® are not really so much about coloring your flash as they are about controlling the color of the ambient environment. Use your WB to shift the ambient, then the (complimentary) calibrated gels to bring your flash back as needed.
This technique can save you a lot of flash power, too. For instance, say you are building a night scene and using a lot of blue-gelled lights to establish that feel. Each of those blue gels is gonna cost you a stop or two of flash power, depending on how deeply colored they are. And since you may be lighting large areas with those flashes, they need to be backed up and power will be at a premium.
Instead, flash with white light and shift it all with your camera's white balance. Then use gels to counter-shift the key light(s) to compensate. These lights will tend to be closer to the subject, and can handle the power loss more easily.
A couple of things to remember:
• If you are not getting the saturation you want or expect from a white balance color shift, try underexposing the ambient. As with the photo at top, color shifts become more pronounced when coupled with underexposure.
• To make the subject stand out from the color-shifted background, try overcompensating with complimentary gels on the key light. For example, if shooting in a tungsten white balance setting, try using a full CTO + 1/4 CTO, or full CTO plus 1/2 CTO. That will make your subject warm against the cool, rather than just neutral.
• Or you may wish to integrate the subject into a color-shifted environment, as in the previous post. In this case, try compensating with a complimentary gel—but not all the way. In the scenario above, you might choose just a 1/2 or 3/4 CTO on your key light.
COMING NEXT: Gel Your Lamps
This is the most recent post in Strobist's Lighting 103 module. New installments publish on the first and third Thursday of each month. If you would like to be notified as they become available, please sign up here.
- David Brooks, The Coming Incompetence Crisis
Africa 4 Tech is an international platform and a network of innovators, connectors and brainers to source, design and code innovative solutions for & from Africa.
It's easy to say that, "the industry is to blame," or "the industry doesn't understand this."
But because no one is charge, because there's no coherent enforcement method, this is merely a shorthand. There is no industry, no economy, no market. Only people.
And people, people can take action if they care.
Jon Mooallem does a great job of using our changing climate as perhaps the best example of the future colonizing the present:
The future we’ve been warned about is beginning to saturate the present. We tend to imagine climate change as a destroyer. But it also traffics in disruption, disarray: increasingly frequent and more powerful storms and droughts; heightened flooding; expanded ranges of pests turning forests into fuel for wildfires; stretches of inhospitable heat. So many facets of our existence — agriculture, transportation, cities and the architecture they spawned — were designed to suit specific environments. Now they are being slowly transplanted into different, more volatile ones, without ever actually moving.
We’re accustomed to hearing about the tragically straightforward cases of island nations that will simply disappear: countries like Tuvalu and Kiribati that face the possibility of having to broker the wholesale resettlement of their people in other countries. Yet there must also be, in any corner of the planet, and for each human living on it, a threshold at which a familiar place becomes an unfamiliar one: an altered atmosphere, inundated by differentness and weirdness, in which, on some level, we’ll live on, in exile. The Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht describes this feeling as “solastalgia”: “a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at ‘home.’ ”
Still, we insulate ourselves from the disorientation and alarm in other, more pernicious ways, too. We seem able to normalize catastrophes as we absorb them, a phenomenon that points to what Peter Kahn, a professor of psychology at the University of Washington, calls “environmental generational amnesia.” Each generation, Kahn argues, can recognize only the ecological changes its members witness during their lifetimes. When we spoke recently, Kahn pointed to the living conditions in megacities like Kolkata, or in the highly polluted, impoverished areas affected by Houston’s oil refineries, where he conducted his initial research in the early ’90s. In Houston, Kahn found that two-thirds of the children he interviewed understood that air and water pollution were environmental issues. But only one-third believed their neighborhood was polluted. “People are born into this life,” Kahn told me, “and they think it’s normal.”
A University of British Columbia fisheries scientist, Daniel Pauly, hit upon essentially the same idea around the same time, recognizing that as populations of large fish collapsed, humanity had gone on obliviously fishing slightly smaller species. One result, Pauly wrote, was a “creeping disappearance” of overall fish stocks behind ever-changing and “inappropriate reference points.” He called this impaired vision “shifting baseline syndrome.”
Kahn calls our environmental generational amnesia “one of the central psychological problems of our lifetime,” because it obscures the magnitude of so many concrete problems. You can wind up not looking away, exactly, but zoomed in too tightly to see things for what they are. Still, the tide is always rising in the background, swallowing something. And the longer you live, the more anxiously trapped you may feel between the losses already sustained and the ones you see coming.
The future is always somebody else’s present — it will very likely feel as authentic, and only as horrific, as our moment does to us. But the present is also somebody else’s future: We are already standing on someone else’s ludicrous map. Except none of us are in on the joke, and I’m guessing that it won’t feel funny any time soon.
Much of the Russian cybercrime underworld is an enigma, but one technology serves as a crucial common link across all of it: Jabber.
In a space of cutting-edge tech, creativity and crime, the 18-year-old instant messenger is the most popular communication tool among Russian-speaking cybercriminals, according to new research from the security firm Flashpoint. It’s how hackers make deals, share intelligence and offer tech support on their malware products. While it already reigns in Russian communities, Jabber is simultaneously rising in popularity for cybercriminals around the world.
It’s a testament not only to the quality of the technology, but also to the influence of hacking trends set in Russia.
“In the cybercriminal economy, Jabber is seen as the gold standard for communication,” Leroy Terrelonge III, a senior researcher at the security firm Flashpoint, told CyberScoop.
Jabber (also known as XMPP or Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol) is an open-source, federated instant messenger with thousands of independent servers and upwards of 10 million users around the world. The technology runs behind the scenes of major products like HipChat, the popular private communication platform, as well as video game chat apps on Sony’s PlayStation and Electronic Arts’ Origin. WhatsApp, with well over a billion users, runs on a variant of XMPP. Journalists and privacy activists alike often maintain accounts.
Long time in the field
With Russians as the vanguard, “Jabber has a bright future in the cybercrime community,” Terrelonge said.
A lot of what makes Jabber highly usable for enterprises also makes it ideal for criminals. The technology supports strong encryption and a range of high security features that, along with its openness, have boosted its appeal in a post-Snowden age.
Jabber was created in 1999 and has had millions of users for well over a decade. Starting in 2013, however, adoption rose strongly as the world became more acutely aware of the mass hacking and surveillance employed around the net. In Russia, users finally began to drop ICQ, the 1996-era instant messenger that dominated the country’s online communications for nearly two decades, in favor of the superior security offered by Jabber. It’s no big deal there to download and securely use the messenger with off-the-record encryption.
For less-sophisticated cybercriminals — especially in developing countries where police have limited technology — Microsoft’s communications app Skype is often enough. But even in places where Skype dominates cybercrime communities, Jabber has made inroads, with more sophisticated hackers integrating it into Skype.
Jabber’s federation means that anyone can open a server and run it as they see fit. That’s enormously attractive to criminals worried about companies cooperating closely with governments, especially in the United States. And some Jabber servers are set up specifically to cater to criminals.
Pyotr Levashov, the recently arrested alleged mastermind behind the Kelihos botnet, is typical of high-powered Russian-language users. To run his global business, Levashov operated an encrypted off-the-record Jabber server and account.
Most hackers don’t run their own Jabber servers, however, and instead rely on servers run by others. Among the underground faithful, it’s widely assumed that the Exploit.im Jabber server is a prime target of law enforcement.
Exploit.im is run by the community at Exploit.in, a semi-exclusive Russian-language cybercrime forum with a long-established pedigree of relative trust and authenticity. Joining the community requires a certain level of vetting or payment. An Exploit.im account, afforded only to approved members, is effectively a certification of prestige and confidence for its several thousand users. On top of all that, the server’s administrators promise users no logging, strong privacy and reliable service.
If you can manage to get an account, it’s a hacker’s dream.
The post Why Jabber reigns across the Russian cybercrime underground appeared first on Cyberscoop.
- John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
If you’ve been reading my comment threads over the years you’ll likely be familiar with Lee Newham of London-based Designed By Good People.
Lee’s been kindly sharing his experience for as long as I can remember, so I thought it’d be interesting to get more of an insight into what makes the man tick. I asked him one question: What influences you? His reply was a nostalgic look at his path to design.
Photo via zodiactoys.wordpress.com.
We’re influenced by everything around us. I grew up in Nottingham and remember my trips to Zodiac Toys in the Victoria Centre and the amazing mechanical clock that was designed by Rowland Emett — the same guy who made Caractacus Potts’ inventions in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
The Aqua Horological Tintinnabulator, Nottingham, photo credit.
Then I moved to a seaside resort in North Devon, and remember the hand-painted signs that advertised day trips on buses, and the colourful lights along the harbour. I remember Matchbox Cars and Dinky Toys sold at Labbots, rows and rows of boxes with Thunderbirds, and Rovers, and Minis, with opening doors and boots. Their packaging was really exciting, and because the cars were made from metal they had a substantial weight which made them feel more special.
Photo via vintagetoys.com.
I remember the Bond film posters that I became a huge fan of, and Tootles the Taxi Ladybird books with their beautifully crafted pictures.
Image via @TheIronEngine.
As a child I was surrounded by boats, camper vans, and lots of classic cars, so when I was little I was always designing these things — cars that looked retro but had clever layouts inside that converted into boats and campers. Then the subject morphed into houses as my family bought a plot of land to build our own house. So I was six when I started designing houses and wanting to be an architect. I became interested in books by Oscar Niemeyer and Le Corbusier. I loved the ideas, visions, and drawings but hated the tall tower blocks I kept seeing. It was like going into McDonalds — nothing looked like the pictures.
Then, at the age of twelve, my first real influence came about: Bill Bernbach. His book was all about problem solving and ideas. I loved it. It made me smile. I could relate to the ideas, such as the VW ads, the Mobil campaign called ‘We want you to live’, and Avis’ ‘We try harder’.
“Can you really judge an idea from a storyboard? How do you storyboard a smile?”
— Bill Bernbach
I knew I wanted to be a designer.
Looking back, I guess it was a combination of everything — even high street signs were beautifully crafted back then. Everything was done by people with lots of training. Very little was dumbed down. It was a real craft.
When I eventually went to college in Somerset, my tutor, Malcolm Swatridge, was new, and a founding member of The Partners. Various designers visited the college to show us their work but, in addition to my tutor, I was most impressed by Pentagram’s John McConnell. Malcolm also introduced us to the work of Alan Fletcher, Bob Gill, Robert Brownjohn (he did the titles for Goldfinger and From Russia with Love), Carol, Dempsey & Thirkell, Minale Tattersfield (who I would later work for), Turner Duckworth, and Michael Peters. They all became heroes of mine, many of which I’ve been lucky enough to meet over the years.
Look around you, at buildings, into the past, how people actually shop in a supermarket, find out why things are the way they are, why people do what they do, visit historical sites, look up from your phone… it should all influence you.
The best person to sum things up is Peter Saville’s former assistant, Brett Wickens, who I Interviewed for my thesis when they were at Pentagram together. “You have to be a cultural sponge. Soak everything up and squeeze it when you need a solution.”
Lee Newham, Designed by Good People.
Rodney Brooks on robots in the food chain:
The average age of a Japanese farmer is now 67, and in all developed nations the average age is 60. Agriculture ministers from the G7 last year were worried about how this high age could lead to issues over food security. And as the world population is still increasing, the need for food also increases.
The Japanese government is increasing its support for more robots to be developed to help with farming. Japanese farms tend to be small and intensely farmed–rice paddies, often on terraced slopes, and greenhouses for vegetables. They are looking at very small robotic tractors to mechanize formerly manual processes in rice paddies and wearable devices, exoskeletons of sorts, to help elderly people, now that their strength is waning, continue to do the same lifting tasks with fruits and vegetables that they have done for a lifetime.
In the US farms tend to be larger, and for things like wheat farming a lot of large farm equipment is already roboticized. Production versions of many large pieces of farm equipment, such as those made by John Deere (see this story from the Washington Post for an example) have been capable of level 3 autonomous driving (see my blog post for a definition) for many years, and can even be used at level 4 with no one in the cab (see this 2013 YouTube video for an example).
There is now robotics research around the world for robots to help with fruits and vegetables. At robotics conferences one can see prototype machines for weeding, for precision application of herbicides and insecticides, and for picking fruits and vegetables. All these parts of farming currently require lots of labor. In the US and Europe only immigrants are willing to do this labor, and with backlashes against immigration it leaves the land owners with no choice but to look for robotic workers, despite the political rhetoric that immigrants are taking jobs that citizens want–it is just not true.
Tied into this is are completely new ways to do food production. We are starting to see more and more computer controlled indoor farming systems both in research labs in Universities and in companies, and as turn key solutions from small suppliers such as Indoor Farms of America and Cubic Farms, to name just two. The key idea is to put computation in the loop, carefully monitoring and controlling temperature, humidity, lighting, water delivery, and nutrient delivery. These solutions use tiny amounts of water compared to conventional outdoor farming. More advanced research solutions use computer vision to monitor crop growth and put that information into the controlling algorithms. So far we have not seen plays in this space from large established companies, but I have seen research experiments in the labs of major IT suppliers in both Taiwan and mainland China. We now have enough computation in the cloud to monitor every single plant that will eventually be consumed by humans. Farming still requires clouds, jut entirely different ones than historically. Indoor farms promise much more reliable sources of food than those that rely on outside weather cooperating.
Once food is grown it requires processing, and that too is labor intensive, especially for meat or fish of any sort. We are still a few years away from bionically grown meat that is practical, so in the meantime, again driven by lack of immigrants and a shortage of young workers, food processing is turning more and more to automation and robots. This includes both red meat cutting and poultry processing. These jobs are hard and unpleasant, and lead to many repetitive stress injuries. There are now many industrial robots in both the US and Australia being used to do some of these tasks. Reliance on robots will continue to grow as the population ages.
A GLIMPSE into the future of retailing is available in a smallish office in Hamburg. From there, Otto, a German e-commerce merchant, is using artificial intelligence (AI) to improve its activities. The firm is already deploying the technology to make decisions at a scale, speed and accuracy that surpass the capabilities of its human employees.
Big data and “machine learning” have been used in retailing for years, notably by Amazon, an e-commerce giant. The idea is to collect and analyse quantities of information to understand consumer tastes, recommend products to people and personalise websites for customers. Otto’s work stands out because it is already automating business decisions that go beyond customer management. The most important is trying to lower returns of products, which cost the firm millions of euros a year.
Its conventional data analysis showed that customers were less likely to return merchandise if it arrived within two days. Anything longer spelled trouble: a customer might spot the product in a shop for one euro less and buy it, forcing Otto to forgo the sale and eat the shipping costs.
But customers also dislike multiple shipments; they prefer to receive everything at once. Since Otto sells merchandise from other brands, and does not stock those goods itself, it is hard to avoid one of the two evils: shipping delays until all the orders are ready for fulfilment, or lots of boxes arriving at different times.
The typical solution would be slightly better forecasting by humans of what customers are going to buy so that a few goods could be ordered ahead of time. Otto went further and created a system using the technology of Blue Yonder, a startup in which it holds a stake. A deep-learning algorithm, which was originally designed for particle-physics experiments at the CERN laboratory in Geneva, does the heavy lifting. It analyses around 3bn past transactions and 200 variables (such as past sales, searches on Otto’s site and weather information) to predict what customers will buy a week before they order.
The AI system has proved so reliable—it predicts with 90% accuracy what will be sold within 30 days—that Otto allows it automatically to purchase around 200,000 items a month from third-party brands with no human intervention. It would be impossible for a person to scrutinise the variety of products, colours and sizes that the machine orders. Online retailing is a natural place for machine-learning technology, notes Nathan Benaich, an investor in AI.
Overall, the surplus stock that Otto must hold has declined by a fifth. The new AI system has reduced product returns by more than 2m items a year. Customers get their items sooner, which improves retention over time, and the technology also benefits the environment, because fewer packages get dispatched to begin with, or sent back.
Jensen Harris offers us ‘headhless AI’: AI without the chatter.
Headless AI is the application of artificial intelligence to vastly improve internal business processes.
It is fully transforming the crucial machinery of business — processes like hiring, lead generation, financial modeling, and information security. Legacy software has become a commodity in all of these areas, and purpose-built AI solutions will get a larger and larger wallet share of these huge enterprise cost centers.
Headless AI combines machine intelligence and learning loops to constantly evolve. Because these solutions plug into the data lifeblood of a company, they become incredibly valuable as the algorithms adapt to the patterns that work.
I call this form of AI “headless” because, unlike bots, the value is mostly not about the personality. Headless AI works with humans and augments their strengths. It doesn’t try to replace people; it gives them superpowers.
While being able to talk to your CRM is cool, having a sales platform that accurately predicts the 100 opportunities you can close this quarter is worth breaking the bank for. Having a cute avatar answer your customer support chats seems nice enough, but predicting ahead of time what areas of your product will get support requests so that you can fix them before customers suffer is pure gold.
Closing a factory is just one way to undermine a local community. Competition from superstores and shopping malls also devastated many small-city downtowns; now many small-town malls are failing too. And we shouldn’t minimize the extent to which the long decline of small newspapers has eroded the sense of local identity.
A different, less creditable reason mining and manufacturing have become political footballs, while services haven’t, involves the need for villains. Demagogues can tell coal miners that liberals took away their jobs with environmental regulations. They can tell industrial workers that their jobs were taken away by nasty foreigners. And they can promise to bring the jobs back by making America polluted again, by getting tough on trade, and so on. These are false promises, but they play well with some audiences.
By contrast, it’s really hard to blame either liberals or foreigners for, say, the decline of Sears. (The chain’s asset-stripping, Ayn Rand-loving owner is another story, but one that probably doesn’t resonate in the heartland.)
Finally, it’s hard to escape the sense that manufacturing and especially mining get special consideration because, as Slate’s Jamelle Bouie points out, their workers are a lot more likely to be male and significantly whiter than the work force as a whole.
Anyway, whatever the reasons that political narratives tend to privilege some jobs and some industries over others, it’s a tendency we should fight. Laid-off retail workers and local reporters are just as much victims of economic change as laid-off coal miners.
The battle between Slack and its competitors is essentially a fight over who will make the next piece of workplace software that no one can live without.
One of the best one liners I’ve heard in awhile.
Now that we can mine the data, it’s evident that many policies increase the number of people working, and improve the lives of poor children:
The clearest example of a program that appears to increase labor supply and hence the United States’ economic potential is the earned-income tax credit (E.I.T.C.), first enacted in 1975 and expanded several times since then. It supplements the income of low-income workers, and numerousstudies find that its existence means more Americans work than would in its absence.
For example, there was a major expansion of the program that was passed in 1993 and phased in over the ensuing years. Jeffrey Grogger of the University of Chicago finds that it was a major driver of higher employment among single mothers. By 1999, his research suggests, 460,000 more women who headed their household were working than would have been without the E.I.T.C. expansion. That is more, in his estimates, than the number of such women who were pulled into the work force by welfare reforms or a booming economy during that decade.
Child care subsidies appear to work the same way. It’s a pretty straightforward equation that when government intervention makes child care services cheaper than they would otherwise be, people who might otherwise stay home raising their children instead work. More women work in countries that subsidize child care and offer generous parental leave than in those that don’t.
In other areas, the relationship between public programs and higher incomes and employment rates is more indirect and takes longer to play out, but researchers are analyzing vast troves of data to detect trends.
For example, the food stamp program was introduced gradually in the United States from 1961 to 1975. Hilary Hoynes of the University of California, Berkeley, Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach of Northwestern University and Douglas Almond of Columbia University have found that low-income children who benefited from the program were healthier and more likely to be working decades later than otherwise similar children in counties where the program arrived later. There is similar evidence of long-term economic benefits from high-quality childhood education.
What is behind the surge of research in this vein? “It is a combination of data and time,” Ms. Hoynes said. “What we’ve seen so far is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what is possible.”
“We’re not there yet in terms of having models we can feed into to say that you’ll get X amount of extra G.D.P. in 20 years if you invest in people now,” said Chye-Ching Huang, who studies these issues at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “But maybe we will, as that body of evidence develops.”
The United States and other advanced nations are struggling to emerge from a pattern of persistently low growth, an era when many prime-age people aren’t in the labor force at all and productivity gains have been weak for years. Supplementing low-end wages through the tax code and ensuring that children have the food and education to become productive adults just may help, and that means “supply-side economics” isn’t just for low-tax conservatives any more.
If only the conservatives would wise up to these findings, which liberals approve of by instinct, and give up on the ‘safety net as a hammock’ trope.
Beautiful prose about connection with the scrub scraps of wildness just around the corner in suburbia:
I discovered my edgeland a few years ago on New Year’s Eve after moving back to my home county of Yorkshire in the north of England following a decade living in London. My wife, a London girl, had chosen the town of Harrogate, 180 miles north, because of its access to theaters, cultural pulse and coffee shops. But I’d visited it only a handful of times. We had planned to relocate together, but her job then kept her in the capital, so I found myself suddenly living alone in a strange town, in a strange house, in the depths of winter. All the maps I’d navigated my life by seemed redundant; my world was stacked up in boxes in an empty hallway.
Looking for the nearest open space was instinctive, but to my surprise it didn’t turn out to be one of the ornate gardens or parks of Harrogate’s center but a patch of vacant land a mile the other way, strewn with pylons and threaded with the varicose vein of an ancient river. Like me, the edgeland seemed caught between states, lost somewhere between past and present, and I felt an immediate sense of alignment with it.
To walk into such places daily is to be delivered into the possibility of escape — from ourselves, our fears and worries and the increasing madness of this human world. To do so reminds us that we are part of a greater and more beautiful planet than we often take the time to remember. And right now we need that as surely as we need anything.
Our brains also appear to respond to mathematical beauty as they do to other beautiful experiences.
In a 2014 study, Semir Zeki, a neuroscientist at University College London, and other researchers used fM.R.I. scanners to observe the brains of 15 mathematicians while they were thinking about various equations. The subjects were shown 60 mathematical formulas two weeks before they were scanned and during and after the scan. They were also asked to rate their level of understanding of each equation and their subjective emotional response to it, from ugly to beautiful.
The researchers found a strong correlation between finding an equation beautiful and activation of the medial orbitofrontal cortex, a region of the prefrontal cortex just behind the eyes. This is the same area that has been shown to light up when people find music or art beautiful, so it seems to be a common neural signature of aesthetic experience.
Geeks, take heart: While you can’t see or hear mathematical ideas, they too are capable of arousing a sense of beauty.
No doubt you’d like to know which equation won the beauty contest. It was the so-called Euler’s identity, which is a deceptively spare but profound equation that links five fundamental mathematical constants: a mix of real and imaginary numbers that combine to make zero.
What will we do with the zombie malls?
In the last three months of 2016, Americans spent $102.7 billion in online sales, which was 8.3 percent of the overall total of $1.24 trillion in retail sales. Many of those dollars were spent at strip malls, sometimes known as power centers in the trade.
But don’t confuse familiarity with success. Sears, which owns Kmart stores, announced in January it would close 109 Kmart locations. And last month, its parent company said there was “substantial doubt” that it could continue operating.
Stories like these mean that we are increasingly confronted with the carcasses of retail’s past.
“Zombie malls,” as they are known, are increasingly dotting the suburban landscape. The lights are on, the escalators keep moving, but their purpose in life has gone. Burlington Center has less than 20 tenants — including a Sears and a Foot Locker — but once had more than 100. Last Wednesday a woman came to the mall looking for shoes, and left frustrated because the Payless store had just shuttered.
The buying experience continues to morph. In just the past decade, cheaper internet access and the arrival of smartphones pushed traditional retailers onto the web. Now, some of these web retailers are beginning to cross back into the brick-and-mortar world. Amazon has opened a handful of bookstores, appealing to those who like to touch and feel (and smell?) their books before buying.
Bonobos, an online retailer of men’s clothing, is further blurring these distinctions. Saying “it’s not the perfect fit before you try it on,” Bonobos has opened more than 30 shops around the country where customers can try on clothes and find the best fit.
But you don’t walk out of the store with your purchase — instead, you walk out empty-handed. What you bought is shipped to your door.
Future Nobel laureate?
The American Economic Association, which awards the prize, hailed Mr. Donaldson in a statement as “the most exciting economist in the area of empirical trade.”
Past winners of the Clark medal include some of the most celebrated and influential economists of the past century, including Milton Friedman, Paul Samuelson and Lawrence Summers. Paul Krugman, another former winner and a leading trade economist, congratulated Mr. Donaldson on Twitter for “lovely, careful work.” Mr. Krugman is also an op-ed columnist at The New York Times.
The economics association highlighted Mr. Donaldson’s interest in historical research, an unusual focus for a leading economist. In one paper, Mr. Donaldson found that the spread of railroads in 19th-century India increased prosperity by increasing trade. A subsequent paper reached a similar conclusion about the United States.
Mr. Donaldson’s work has also examined the dynamics of trade among nations. One paper found evidence that domestic demand encourages the development of products that other nations also want. Mr. Donaldson and his co-authors reached this conclusion by comparing domestic demand and exports of pharmaceuticals.
Another paper raised questions about the standard idea that trade lowers prices by increasing competition. The paper found that these benefits are attenuated when new entrants are in a position to continue taking advantage of customers.
The economics association also highlighted Mr. Donaldson’s research techniques. It said he had “formed and become the principal practitioner of a distinctive style of research, based on important conceptual questions, careful data work and credible identification combined with state-of-the-art structural methods.”
For example, Mr. Donaldson’s paper on the economic effects of Indian railroads was based on data that he assembled through archival research. He also found a clever way to check the validity of his conclusions by comparing the impact of railroads that were built on schedule with those that were delayed or never built.
Think ecologically, not economically:
So how can economic policymakers be more like gardeners in their approach? They should think of policy as an adapting portfolio of experiments, says Eric Beinhocker, a leading thinker in the field of evolutionary economics. We should mimic nature’s process of natural selection, which can be summed up as diversify-select-amplify: set up small-scale policy experiments to test out a variety of interventions, put a stop to the ones that don’t work and scale-up those that do. Nobel-prize-winning political scientist Elinor Ostrom agreed. “We have never had to deal with problems of the scale facing today’s globally interconnected society,” she wrote. “No one knows for sure what will work, so it is important to build a system that can evolve and adapt rapidly.”
Realising that the economy is ever-evolving is an empowering insight. If complex systems evolve through their innovations and deviations, then this gives added importance to novel initiatives – from complementary currencies to open-source design – that are at the leading edge of new economic design.
First, get rid of free parking, and abolish parking minimums for new development. The new Apple building has more space allocated for parking than the building itslef.
For 14,000 workers, Apple is building almost 11,000 parking spaces. Many cars will be tucked under the main building, but most will cram into two enormous garages to the south. Tot up all the parking spaces and the lanes and ramps that will allow cars to reach them, and it is clear that Apple is allocating a vast area to stationary vehicles. In all, the new headquarters will contain 318,000 square metres of offices and laboratories. The car parks will occupy 325,000 square metres.
Apple is building 11,000 parking spaces not because it wants to but because Cupertino, the suburban city where the new headquarters is located, demands it. Cupertino has a requirement for every building. A developer who wants to put up a block of flats, for example, must provide two parking spaces per apartment, one of which must be covered. For a fast-food restaurant, the city demands one space for every three seats; for a bowling alley, seven spaces per lane plus one for every worker. Cupertino’s neighbours have similar rules. With such a surfeit of parking, most of it free, it is little wonder that most people get around Silicon Valley by car, or that the area has such appalling traffic jams.
The rule of thumb in America is that multi-storey car parks cost about $25,000 per space and underground parking costs $35,000. Donald Shoup, an authority on parking economics, estimates that creating the minimum number of spaces adds 67% to the cost of a new shopping centre in Los Angeles if the car park is above ground and 93% if it is underground. Parking requirements can also make redevelopment impossible. Converting an old office building into flats generally means providing the parking spaces required for a new block of flats, which is likely to be difficult. The biggest cost of parking minimums may be the economic activity they prevent.
Free parking is not, of course, really free. The costs of building the car parks, as well as cleaning, lighting, repairing and securing them, are passed on to the people who use the buildings to which they are attached. Restaurant meals and cinema tickets are more pricey; flats are more expensive; office workers are presumably paid less. Everybody pays, whether or not they drive. And that has an unfortunate distributional effect, because young people drive a little less than the middle-aged and the poor drive less than the rich. In America, 17% of blacks and 12% of Hispanics who lived in big cities usually took public transport to work in 2013, whereas 7% of whites did. Free parking represents a subsidy for older people that is paid disproportionately by the young and a subsidy for the wealthy that is paid by the poor.
The bottom line is that public policy is being created by the neoliberal economic decisions of corporations, a bottom-up phenomenon, not through government investments of legislation. As a result all we hear about is the soft goals of retraining of workers in ‘declining’ industries.
The panel’s recommendations include the development of an A.I. index, analogous to the Consumer Price Index, to track the pace and spread of artificial intelligence technology. That technical assessment, they said, could then be combined with detailed data on skills and tasks involved in various occupations to guide education and job-training programs.
A public-private collaboration, they added, is necessary to create such tools because information from many sources will be the essential ingredient. Those information sources range from traditional government statistics to the vast pools of new data from online services like LinkedIn and Udacity that can be tapped to gain insights on skills, job openings and the effectiveness of training programs.
“We’re flying blind into this dramatic set of economic changes,” Erik Brynjolfsson, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management, said in an interview.
Mr. Brynjolfsson was a co-chairman of the 13-member panel that drafted the 184-page report, which was published on Thursday by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, a nonprofit organization whose studies are intended as objective analysis to inform public policy. He and the panel’s other co-chairman, Tom Mitchell, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, also wrote a separate commentary in the journal Nature that was published on Thursday, explaining the problem.
Both the report and commentary were spurred by the advances in A.I. in recent years, including document-reading software and self-driving cars, which promise to make inroads into work done by humans. That prospect has created angst for many American workers about the difficulties of adapting to technological change and the failure of institutions to help them.
Yet technologists and academics still differ sharply on how fast the next wave of automation will proceed and how many occupations will be affected. That prompted the panelists to suggest the new data-monitoring tools and the pulling together of government and online data sources to sort through the consequences.
Yes, and the lack of agreement of the techies and professors will be used as an excuse to do nothing, and society will be blindsided when the obvious trend toward joblessness smacks us in the face.
Europe used to signify stability and peace. Now refugees and asylum seekers stream across the union’s porous borders. To find jobs for immigrants, you need an open and flexible labor market. But the comprehensive French welfare state — financed by mandatory contributions for pensions, health and unemployment benefits that push up wage costs — tends toward inflexibility. Firing anyone can be tedious and expensive, so there’s reluctance to hire. Youth unemployment stands around 25 percent. Over 31 percent of gross domestic product is spent on health, unemployment and other benefits, compared to 24.6 percent in Germany. France has in effect made a structural choice for unemployment. Everyone knows this. But because attachment to the model is fierce, honest discussion tends to be taboo.
Will France reform its welfare state and create a freer economy? How long can a country accept 25% unemployment of its youth? Does Le Pen offer the only hope to break the stalemate?
Her [Le Pen’s] path to victory runs roughly like this. She qualifies for the second round with about 24 percent of the vote. Macron is her opponent, with about the same score. The more right-wing Fillon supporters migrate to Le Pen. Supporters of the far-left candidate, Mélenchon, refuse to vote for Macron; they’ve had it with so-called “useful votes” and they believe Macron, for all his talk of being a progressive, will pursue “neoliberal” global capitalism. Some Hamon supporters also refuse to back Macron. The abstention rate soars. Le Pen squeezes past 50 percent and becomes president.
Le Pen wins, and France leaves the EU, and then we are in the end of days.
A study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests that as the planet warms toward two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels, each degree Celsius of warming will lead to the thawing of about 1.5 million square miles of permafrost.
That figure is at least 20 percent higher than most previous studies, said Sarah E. Chadburn, a researcher at the University of Leeds in England and the lead author of the study.