Safely Ignored

by Hans Gerwitz

Pattern-seeking meat robot. Founder at The Artificial.

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Cheap Futures

At ThingsCon last week, Shannon and I participated in a speculative fiction workshop that resulted in a number of short stories with design morals.

This took less than 4 hours, and while the output was a bit rough and needed copyediting before being published in the resulting zine, it was believable work. The workshop was certainly a success in demonstrating how process can enable creative thinking, but it also shows how little effort is needed to produce a professional outcome.

So it re-haunted me about how shallow “futures” can be. When a highly capable design agency like IDEO spends minimal effort on forecasting but produces a polished presentation, the attention paid by the designophilic press is completely inappropriate. Their Future of Automobility project was beautiful but so conceptually weak that it inspired us to spend just one day responding with a future of our own.


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To My Compassionate Conservative Friends

Please talk to me.

I know we have our disagreements. But it seems we should agree about Trump.

You likely believe that unregulated markets and small government lead to a more rich society that benefits us all. As a social scientist I’ve grown to accept that civilization requires strong institutions and the protecting our common interests often requires hindering the aspirations of individuals. But we both are motivated by a desire for shared prosperity. Donald Trump talks about smaller government and deregulation, but his motives are clearly selfish. His wealth (what there is of it) does not trickle down. He wants us to believe his business savvy will lead to economic success, but successful business leaders discount him.

We probably agree that efficient government, should take place at the most local scope reasonable. The details likely cause some disagreement and we might fairly

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Wards of the State

It is difficult to imagine the United States preserving its heritage of individualism, equal rights before the law, free people running their own lives, once it is accepted that a significant part of the population must be made permanent wards of the states.

This quote from The Bell Curve–taken out of it’s original racialist and xenophobic context–succinctly explains why I see more Americans (and their students of meritocracy, the UK and Australia) fretting about the end of work.

The communalist cultures of Western Europe, even with the neoliberal oligarchical trends of the last few decades, are much better prepared. Despite (or perhaps with the luxury of) high employment, these strong welfare states already support part-time work and can even experiment with basic income.

So when automation means less labor is needed, it will be sensible that people work less. Without labeling them

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How will “privacy” limit Apple?

Apple’s been creeping towards privacy and encryption as a differentiator for some time, but last week’s address to EPIC was explicit. Tim Cook accused their neighbors of “lulling their customers into complacency about their personal information” and the digerati have taken note.

The result is some long-overdue public analysis of Google’s learn-everything-and-personalize strategy versus Apple’s. A false dilemma has emerged, driving concern that Apple will be obsessed with privacy at the risk of product quality. Dustin Curtis offers a thoughtful example of this narrative, where he has wisely reframed from privacy to security1 and pointed out that Google’s explicit sale is of user attention rather then data. Representative of the zeitgeist, he worries about “vast improvements in user experience” that Google’s aggregation of user data does or will enable.

So how might Apple’s stance

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Prototype communication

The engineer thinks

a prototype is a conversation with yourself

– Paul Graham, Holding a Program in One’s Head, August 2007

…while the designer hopes

a prototype is a conversation between designers and engineers

– Amit Pitaru, Eyeo Festival, June 2015

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The Anosognosic Phone

Back in September, a design student posted a design fiction video of Phonebloks, a modular phone platform. It got a lot of attention, but I counted myself among numerous skeptics of the design, given how much size and weight would be added and the unrealistic sizing of the imagined modules.

During October’s Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven, I had the chance to chat with aforementioned student, who seemed more interested in his small-scale plastic recycling project. It did not take long to confirm that he was an “idea guy”, not to be bothered with the realities of implementation; that’s for the magician engineers to work out. My skepticism was confirmed.

But that same week, Google Motorola (no slouch of engineering) announced Project Ara, which is basically the same concept, and “partnered” with Phonebloks to share in the attention. Later, I learned that 3D Systems would be working with

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A career consulting with Big Corporations has exposed me to a dizzying number of suburban corporate campuses around the world. Louise Mozingo’s Pastoral Capitalism (well described by the author [here](( offers a dispassionate survey of the rise of the dominant architectural form.

That dispassion highlights for me, by stark contrast, how much I despise these sprawling complexes. With many, the original university mimicry has been long forgotten in favor of more surface parking. The more recent or well-to-do firms usually have lovely places to stroll around, though, that provide a stark contrast to the cubicle farms surrounding them.

The best examples, such as Microsoft’s, are genuinely pleasant to stroll around. But when you board a bus or train from the middle of a thriving urban neighborhood, leave the city, and exit to

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Open Committee

Nevermind Netflix, the best drama shows these days are on the W3C mail ists. Recent episodes of www-style are gems, where characters like Maciej (Apple), Tab (Google), and Boris battle over the evolution of CSS, with Apple backing Adobe’s proposed Regions, and Google pushing aggressively for Shadow DOM.

Though heated at times, these arguments are between geeks in close communities with shared passions. They often reference conversations that have taken place at a pub during conferences. So sometimes an inside joke is referenced, such as when WebKit trimmed some old code and poked fun at Google’s weird PR about slimming down WebKit cruft after the Blink fork (a long-running joke) and their more recent “MOBILE-PERFORMANCE-OR-DIE-TRYING” mantra.

Bug trackers and version control systems generally lack <humor> tags, so industry observers see a commit message like that and go nuts imagining

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LEGO Scale

Greg J. Smith recently tweeted about a LEGO jail cell and estimated it’s measure at a ratio that didn’t quite match, so my curiosity was piqued.

There isn’t an applicable ISO standard, and the prevailing wisdom seems to vary between 1:40 and 1:48. I like the convention of 6-foot-tall minifigs, since that’s the average height of Danish men. This results in a ratio of 1:43.54….

Since studs are spaced at 7.985 mm, that translates to roughly 350 mm in the minifig world.

This means the LEGO magazine’s 4 by 6 stud cell is 4.6 by 6.9 ft, not as big as Greg’s 6 ft by 8 ft estimate. Set 4636‘s 3 by 4 stud cell offers less than 14 square feet, which isn’t even enough for a holding cell in Texas, where

Cells shall be constructed to house from one to 24 minifigs and shall contain not less than 40 square feet of floor space for the first minifig and 18 square feet of floor space for each

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The Sharing Pyramid

Our Seattle house is on AirBnB, Zipcar has freed us from car ownership for 5 years, Netflix replaced DVDs before that, and our office’s Cube is a 3D Hub. I’m definitely a fan of resource sharing and believe the rise of access rights (alongside ownership) is a long-term cultural shift rather than a fad.

But I don’t know about “the sharing economy”. Maybe consumers becoming sharing peers are able to capture economic value that otherwise would be aggregated by the usual oligarchs, but every car that doesn’t sell or hotel room that stays empty also reduces the available work for a lot of people of lower income than we the sharing peers.

So what value creation drives the benefits preached by Peers? How is this more than a AirBnB support group or feel-good social club celebrating a cultural shift? I don’t understand why I should want to become a Peer any more than join Citizens for

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