Bookmarked Twenty things I wish I’d known when I started my PhD by Lucy Taylor (Nature)
Recent PhD graduate Lucy A. Taylor shares the advice she and her colleagues wish they had received.
Lucy Taylor provides some suggestions of things to consider when starting a PhD, such as identifying a work/life balanace, set yourself goals early, write down everything and backup your work. This reminds me of posts from Gayle Munro and Deborah Netolicky sharing some of their experiences. I think that some of these lessons can be applied to any sort of extended project. See for example Ryan Holiday’s research steps or Alex Quigley’s discussion of how to write a book. For more on research, check out this list of recommended books.

via Chris Aldrich

Bookmarked Dear Developer, The Web Isn't About You by Charlie Owen
We need to keep that beauty and weirdness going that first came with the early web. Because the webs beauty comes from its diversity. A diversity of tech, and a diversity of people. We’re the enablers and the defenders of that diversity. So let’s not make it about us. Let’s make it about the wonderfulness of the Weird Wild Web.
In this presentation, Charlie Owen provides a history of the stupid web and argues that we need to return to a beauty and weirdness found in the early web. This beauty and weirdness involves recognising that not everyone is alike, rich, well-connected or able-bodied. At the heart of this is returning HTML to the base of the design pyramid, as opposed to JavaScript. This reminds me in part of a post from Kicks Condor discussing the need for more design.

Much of this is beyond me at this point in time. However, I wonder if WordPress is a part of this problem, rather than a solution? I was really interested in the discussion of Cutting the Mustard (CTM) and wonder what this might look like on my own site(s). At the very least I was left thinking that I probably don’t empathise enough.

Marginalia

The Web is incredible. It’s incredible because it’s stupid. It’s a collection of very stupid, or more accurately, very simple, technologies, all chained together to make something much greater.

The Pyramid of Robustness (© C Owen Enterprises Ltd) was a thing that we cared about. We put the things that were the most solid and reliable at the bottom of the pyramid – in this case server-generated HTML. We then added on a presentation layer (CSS), and then an interaction layer (JavaScript).

We have got to the point where sites require ~2.5 megabytes to download, and the average content-based webpage is now bigger than a copy of Doom (a fully-fledged 3D shooter game) … Most of this size is due to sites not offering srcset variants on their images, and not taking the time to optimise images on those that they do offer. Some of it is due to third-party tracking, advertising, and marketing scripts (marketeers may well be the most script-heavy people in any organisation). A lot of it (but not most, by any means) is due to JS application bundles and third party scripts used to run a page (such as jQuery – still a major force on most of the web).

Yes, it’s technically amazing to build your 747, or have your JS build a content page, but it’s utterly over-engineered and impractical for most occasions. I’m laying it out here – I’m marking my line in the sand: JavaScript only when there’s no other choice. It shouldn’t be the first port of call for building a site.

If we want to make the web better for people then the most important thing that we can do is to learn the basics. Not of technology, but of our fellow humans. Because, as we’ve show earlier, empathy is the most important skill that a developer can have. Our job is 100% about people, about our fellow humans. How can we do an amazing job for them if we don’t understand who we are building for?

So how do you combine 100% universality with the fact that some people have ancient, terrible browsers that it would be a time-sink to support? CTM gives the answer! Only those browsers that are “good enough” receive the advanced features. Those that have poor technology support silently fail the test and receive the core version. No having to support ancient browsers!

via Greg McVerry

Bookmarked Zambia may serve as a crystal ball for countries looking to deal with Beijing by an author (ABC News)
China is building up the African nation of Zambia, but people are worried about what is riding on the deal with Beijing for the Zambians.
Even more interesting than Chinese ownership (do they own the third world?) was the ownership of business for 20 years:

Liu Ruumin came to Zambia from China 20 years ago … As a young man, he took a job with a state-owned construction company at a time before the internet had connected Zambia to the rest of the world.

This investment, both private and state, is nothing new and is a part of a long-term strategy.

It would be fascinating to see a breakdown of Chinese investment and ownership from around the world.

Bookmarked Should we really all fly less? by Diego Arguedas Ortiz (bbc.com)
But if I eat less meat or take fewer flights, that’s just me – how much of a difference can that really make? Actually, it’s not just you. Social scientists have found that when one person makes a sustainability-oriented decision, other people do too.
Diego Arguedas Ortiz discusses a recent study unpacking the individual actions that can help lead to climate change. Some of these actions include taking public transport, invest in renewable energies, eat less meat and stop flying. If this is too much then Arguedas Ortiz provides a list of actions to offset your activities. On the flipside, Martin Lukacs argues that individual action is a con and that what is really needed is collective action:

So grow some carrots and jump on a bike: it will make you happier and healthier. But it is time to stop obsessing with how personally green we live – and start collectively taking on corporate power.

Bookmarked Anatomy of an AI System by Kate Crawford and Vladan Joler (Anatomy of an AI System)
We offer up this map and essay as a way to begin seeing across a wider range of system extractions. The scale required to build artificial intelligence systems is too complex, too obscured by intellectual property law, and too mired in logistical complexity to fully comprehend in the moment. Yet you draw on it every time you issue a simple voice command to a small cylinder in your living room: ‘Alexa, what time is it?”
This dive into the world of the Amazon Echo provides an insight into the way that engages with vast planetary network of systems in a complicated assemblage. This includes the use of rare metals, data mining, slavery and black box of secrets. These are topics touched upon by others, such as Douglas Rushkoff and Kin Lane, where this piece differs though is the depth it goes to. Through the numerous anecdotes, it is also reminder why history matters.

Marginalia

Put simply: each small moment of convenience – be it answering a question, turning on a light, or playing a song – requires a vast planetary network, fueled by the extraction of non-renewable materials, labor, and data. The scale of resources required is many magnitudes greater than the energy and labor it would take a human to operate a household appliance or flick a switch.

Smartphone batteries, for example, usually have less than eight grams of this material. 5 Each Tesla car needs approximately seven kilograms of lithium for its battery pack. 6

There are deep interconnections between the literal hollowing out of the materials of the earth and biosphere, and the data capture and monetization of human practices of communication and sociality in AI.

Just as the Greek chimera was a mythological animal that was part lion, goat, snake and monster, the Echo user is simultaneously a consumer, a resource, a worker, and a product.

Media technologies should be understood in context of a geological process, from the creation and the transformation processes, to the movement of natural elements from which media are built.

According to research by Amnesty International, during the excavation of cobalt which is also used for lithium batteries of 16 multinational brands, workers are paid the equivalent of one US dollar per day for working in conditions hazardous to life and health, and were often subjected to violence, extortion and intimidation. 16 Amnesty has documented children as young as 7 working in the mines. In contrast, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, at the top of our fractal pyramid, made an average of $275 million a day during the first five months of 2018, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. 17
A child working in a mine in the Congo would need more than 700,000 years of non-stop work to earn the same amount as a single day of Bezos’ income.

The most severe costs of global logistics are born by the atmosphere, the oceanic ecosystem and all it contains, and the lowest paid workers.

In the same way that medieval alchemists hid their research behind cyphers and cryptic symbolism, contemporary processes for using minerals in devices are protected behind NDAs and trade secrets.

Hidden among the thousands of other publicly available patents owned by Amazon, U.S. patent number 9,280,157 represents an extraordinary illustration of worker alienation, a stark moment in the relationship between humans and machines. 37 It depicts a metal cage intended for the worker, equipped with different cybernetic add-ons, that can be moved through a warehouse by the same motorized system that shifts shelves filled with merchandise. Here, the worker becomes a part of a machinic ballet, held upright in a cage which dictates and constrains their movement.

As human agents, we are visible in almost every interaction with technological platforms. We are always being tracked, quantified, analyzed and commodified. But in contrast to user visibility, the precise details about the phases of birth, life and death of networked devices are obscured. With emerging devices like the Echo relying on a centralized AI infrastructure far from view, even more of the detail falls into the shadows.

At every level contemporary technology is deeply rooted in and running on the exploitation of human bodies.
The new gold rush in the context of artificial intelligence is to enclose different fields of human knowing, feeling, and action, in order to capture and privatize those fields.

At this moment in the 21st century, we see a new form of extractivism that is well underway: one that reaches into the furthest corners of the biosphere and the deepest layers of human cognitive and affective being. Many of the assumptions about human life made by machine learning systems are narrow, normative and laden with error. Yet they are inscribing and building those assumptions into a new world, and will increasingly play a role in how opportunities, wealth, and knowledge are distributed.

via Doug Belshaw

Bookmarked What the Times got wrong about kids and phones by Anya Kamenetz (Columbia Journalism Review)

Journalism can hand-wring, divide parents from each other, and cast technology as the heart of darkness. Or it can help shed light on a serious issue that I know lots of families are struggling to get right.

Anya Kamenetz pushes back on the digital ‘addiction’ perpetuated by the New York Times. Firstly, it is hyperbole that no one would give their child small doses of crack cocaine:

The parent who compares digital media to “crack cocaine” allows his kids to use it regularly, which is probably not what he would do with crack cocaine. (He also uses software to track his children online.)

Also, it is not productive to perpetuate extremes as they are not sustainable. For more on Kamenetz work watch her conversation with Mimi Ito.

Bookmarked How To Make The Most Of Trello By Syncing Cards Across Multiple Boards by Maria Sergo (blog.trello.com)
The Unito Power-Up operates under the assumption that no Trello board should be an island. Collaboration works better when it crosses the boundaries of boards, and even tools. That’s why Unito is a great way to sync (connect) information between Trello boards, letting your cards exist in more than one place at the same time.
I really like the look of this power-up to sync cards across different boards. It addresses one of my biggest frustrations with Trello.
Bookmarked If These Walls Could Talk: 3 Ideas For a Creative Classroom Culture by @amyburvall by Amy Burvall (Teacher Tech)
The more creative thinking strategies are embedded in our cultures (whether it be the classroom, home, or workplace), the more we are purposeful about practicing creativity – the more creative we will become. So yes, one CAN “teach” creativity to a certain extent, but it is probably more effective if creative strategies become ROUTINE, seamlessly integrated into daily life in the classroom.
Amy Burvall dives into the world of creativity. She explains that this does not have to be seperate from our exploration of knowledge and ideas, rather they are the routines that helps makes it possible. She provides three such examples: a wonderwall, visual metaphors and the articulating reason. It is interesting to contrast this with Jennifer Buckingham’s concerns with the crowded curriculum. This series of posts also offers a good introduction to Burvall’s work.
Bookmarked What the Internet Is For by Cory Doctorow (Locus Magazine)
The internet is not a revolutionary technology, but it makes revolution more possible than ever before. That’s why it’s so important to defend it, to keep it free and fair and open. A corrupted, surveillant, controlled internet is a place where our lives are torn open by the powerful, logged, and distorted. A free, fair, and open internet is how we fight back.
To me, this touches on Zeynep Tufekci’s work.
Bookmarked A digital future for libraries by Richard MacManus (newsroom.co.nz)
It’s great to have so much digital content available through libraries, but the sheer number of different apps and websites can be overwhelming for library users – especially when you have to register and log in to each app or website separately. In my own experience, each service also has its quirks. In an ideal world, you would have just one app for all types of library content.
Richard MacManus reflects on the rise of digital content when it comes to libraries. He touches on the numerous applications that litter the online space. It made many wonder what sort of data is collected by the modern library and how they use it.