What we read this week (5 Apr)

On our varying perception of time, businesses within businesses, why we’re creeped out by the sound of our own voice, the Bitcoin bubble, and inventing jobs rather than searching for them.

Quote of the week

In a world of finite attention spans and seemingly infinite media, internet humour has a unique ability to break through the noise and tell an alternative to a dominant single story. While we are giggling at the jokes, we are also paying attention.

An Xiao Mina

Articles of the week

  • Contents Magazine: 10 Timeframes
    An excellent piece by Paul Ford on our variable and often confusing perception of time, and the control designers have over the way we interact with time.
  • Medium: A business within the business
    Dave Gray describes a way to give employees a greater sense of ownership and more agency within an organization through a change in structure that effectively creates miniature businesses within a business. “Podular” organizations, as he describes them, increase motivation and effectiveness in the long term.
  • NBC News: Why you hate the sound of your own voice
    Neuroscientist Jordan Gaines explains the science behind that cringey feeling you experience when hearing recordings of yourself.
  • Medium: The Bitcoin Bubble and the Future of Currency
    A long read by Felix Salmon on the current Bitcoin hype and why we should be less enthusiastic about it and more cautious.
  • New York Times: Need a Job? Invent It
    Education specialist Tony Wagner makes the case for using the education system to prepare people to create their own jobs. His key point: people should come out of school not with just a mass of information, but ready to use their knowledge and skills to create value.

What we read this week (29 Mar)

A short story on meat and machines, a new weather service, Vice and “gonzo journalism,” Mac apps and the configuration process, and cracking passwords.

Quote of the week

They made the machines. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. Meat made the machines.

Terry Bisson

Articles of the week

What we read this week (22 Mar)

On what it means to be a cyborg, machines chatting to each other on Twitter, human individual curiosity vs. organizational curiosity, Nike’s clever accelerator program and how the internet is making TV better.

Quote of the week

It’s a paradox we call reality / So keepin’ it real will make you casualty of abnormal normality.

Talib Kweli

Articles of the week

Week 128

On giving presentations and on patient management in hospitals.

On presentations

Last Thursday I gave a presentation to a group of design students from the University of Applied Sciences in Rotterdam. They were visiting Berlin, and their teachers had picked out some companies for them to visit. They were interested in hearing about what we do and how we work.

I was very pleased with how it went, since the students seemed genuinely interested and the presentation worked well, even though it consisted of me talking, with a little input from the group, for about an hour with a small page of notes I’d made up quickly, and some pointing around the room. This informal setup was the least demanding on time, but also on nerves, since there’s not much risk of anything going wrong.

Presentations frighten me to death, generally mostly beforehand though, thankfully, and not so much during. This applies even when there is no obligation towards the audience, only satisfying their curiosity. It helps the nerves a great deal, once you’ve started talking, to know what you’re talking about, and in which order. Working at Third Wave, fortunately, makes it relatively easy to talk about working at Third Wave, since no speculation or research is required, but structure is more abstract, not as apparent. I spent about 15 minutes making keywords organized into categories on a piece of paper, since I’ve made the mistake before of thinking I could figure the structure out as I went along, and though this sometimes goes well, it’s not at all a safe bet. A structure is necessary for peace of mind, even if it’s very rudimentary and not beautifully thought out. People need to have boxes to put things in, and any boxes at all will do better than no boxes.

There were around 15 students and two teachers in our office, which is normally occupied by 5 people, so there weren’t enough chairs for us, and so everyone including myself was standing. If you can get a small audience to stand in front of you, it’s difficult for things to go awry, because you can see them at all times, and the feedback you get from their facial expressions will tell you whether you’re on the right track or not at any given moment. I found these cues very helpful, and guided what I elaborated on and what I didn’t.

I thank the students and their teachers for their unusually full attention, for being such gracious guests, despite the lack of seating, and for giving me an opportunity to practice presenting.

A thought on hospitals and technology

I had a couple doctor friends visiting this past weekend. They told me about their work in their respective hospitals in Britain, and I was a little surprised at the stumbling blocks they constantly have to work around, and how (seemingly) easily technology could solve their problems.

When beds in one hospital ward fill up, any additional patients are still considered part of that ward, but are moved to another ward where there is more space. A cardiology patient could then wind up on the orthopedic ward, for instance. This causes big problems, because these patients become a case of out of sight, out of mind. The orthopedic team wouldn’t be responsible for the cardiology patient, but cardiology might forget that the patient is there, or where he is. Of course, the hospital tried to put in screens that show where these patients are, but the information they draw on is not always up to date, and often unhelpful or confusing, and so the screens aren’t really used.

Several of their problems seemed to come from different groups of people not having access to the same set of information at any given time. Another major issue was how to make one department ultimately responsible for a patient when many departments were involved, since in particularly complex medical cases, it often happens that no department accepts responsibility for the patient, at least initially. These are problems all organizations encounter to one extent or another: making sure there is a project lead who checks on progress regularly, making sure everyone stays informed on progress and changes. Perhaps there are useful solutions designed for businesses that hospitals could adapt for their own use.

After a bit of googling, it seems hospitals are a huge area of research for IoT and sensor technology applications, so perhaps my friends’ woes are already on their way to being solved.

What we read this week (15 Mar)

A web-based “brain” for robots, a disturbing culture revolving around hijacked webcams, the trickiness of making digital publishing sustainable for its workers, misgivings about Google Glass and a former Pixar employee’s storytelling tips.

Quote of the week

No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

Emma Coats

Articles of the week

  • The Atlantic: A Day in the Life of a Digital Editor, 2013
    A long piece by Alexis Madrigal on the tricky state of digital publishing, in response to a similarly-titled post by Nate Thayer. Madrigal’s assessment: “So far, there isn’t a single model for our kind of magazine that appears to work.”
  • BBC News: Web-based ‘brain’ for robots goes live
    Rapyuta is a project that seeks to make robots smarter by freeing up some of their internal memory and giving them a central, online “brain,” or reference resource, to draw upon when they come across something new. There are many parallels here to the way we deal with unfamiliar situations these days – consulting YouTube, Wikipedia and Quora, for example.
  • Ars Technica: Meet the men who spy on women through their webcams
    A disturbing report on “ratters,” people who use RATs (Remote Administration Tools) to spy on their victims (“slaves”) by hijacking their webcams.
  • The Guardian: Google Glass: is it a threat to our privacy?
    Google Glass brings an element of uncertainty and distraction into human interactions, and raises even more questions than we already have about the boundaries of personal privacy. This article raises some interesting points as to how we could get around some of these problems, and in what situations society might object to this type of technology altogether.
  • Story Shots: 22 #storybasics I’ve picked up in my time at Pixar
    A list of tips that apply to much more than movie-making. (Many of them are in fact quite relevant for business consulting, among other things.)

What we read this week (8 Mar)

A Weekly Reads tribute to Seed Magazine.

Quote of the week

Religion as augmented reality?

Justin Pickard

Articles of the week

We found this week that the great Seed Magazine is no longer running. Mysteriously, we couldn’t find any press releases or posts saying why or when this happened – content on the site just stops in early 2012. This is a Seed tribute edition of the Weekly Reads.

  • Seed Magazine: On Early Warning Signs
    Theoretical biologist George Sugihara talks about the intricate dependencies between systems in economics, biology and the climate, why instability is inevitable, and how complex systems show warning signs before huge changes happen.
  • Seed Magazine: Humans, Version 3.0
    On how culture will allow our abilities as a species to evolve, and on the processes of harnessing nature and recycling neurons.
  • Seed Magazine: World Wide Mind
    A beautifully written (and quite long) piece introducing a book on the possibilities that physical integration of the internet into human bodies could allow.
  • Seed Magazine: The Living City
    On defining and understanding cities, and the paradoxes of urban growth.
  • Seed Magazine: The Web is Not a Gadget
    A piece on Jaron Lanier’s controversial thesis that the web impedes human creativity.

What we read this week (1 Mar)

Culture’s effects on cognition, “good smart” vs “bad smart” technology, the Borg Complex, print-digital hybrids in publishing and tiny chips and the Internet of Things.

Quote of the week

There is absolutely no inevitability as long as there is a willingness to contemplate what is happening.

Marshall McLuhan

Articles of the week

  • Pacific Standard: We Aren’t the World
    A long and fascinating read about how culture affects cognition, and how the research of three academics is calling some of social science’s fundamental principles into question. The upshot: We are perhaps not all as alike as we think.
  • Wall Street Journal: Is Smart Making Us Dumb?
    Evgeny Morozov classifies sensor technologies into “good smart,” which usually simply provide information and allow us to make our own decisions, and “bad smart,” which use external forces like peer pressure to push us to make certain choices. Here he describes his worries about “bad smart” tech, and what implications might arise as these types of product become more common.
  • The Borg Complex: Borg Complex Symptoms
    Michael Sacasas recently defined the Borg Complex for “self-appointed evangelists of technological assimilation” who “would have us all abandon any critique of technology and simply adapt to the demands of technological society.” This list of symptoms is a good guideline and yes, we can see traits of the complex in ourselves. Acceptance is the first step…
  • desktop: New Publishing Hybrids
    An interview with Dan Hill on the merging process of digital and print media, and the design considerations that need to go into media that move between physical and digital.
  • Wired: Freescale’s Insanely Tiny ARM Chip Will Put the Internet of Things Inside Your Body
    Freescale makes tiny, tiny computer chips, that may have some interesting applications in a field that sounds a little outlandish: swallowable computing.

What we read this week (22 Feb)

A reality check on 3D printing, how voice commands on Android are being improved with neural networks, what the skyscraper of the future could look like, the dangers of being judged by our data, and trying to diagnose traffic problems with the help of SimCity.

Quote of the week

By trying to understand more of the world, we’ll probably feel like we understand less.

Roel van der Ven

Articles of the week

Week 124

Maddie’s new career plans, a reflection on good bosses, and a note on getting input from new people on major projects.

New things

As Igor said in a cryptic tweet last week, things are “happening … fast.” I’ve decided to follow an ever-growing urge to become a maths teacher, and will be leaving Third Wave at the beginning of June to pursue this. Though I’m still working out plans for afterwards, I hope to either study maths further or get some experience in the world of education (or perhaps even both simultaneously, if I’m lucky). I’d considered this path even before moving to Berlin over a year and a half ago, and now I know it’s something I have to try.

A brief story on this front, because it is worth sharing.

I’d been in a bad mood for a while, and after my long Christmas holiday hadn’t put a dent in it, I began to realize that I was neglecting something important, and this was becoming more and more troubling and distracting. I had only just come to the conclusion that I needed to go after the kind of work I spend so much time thinking about, when Igor and Johannes called me in for a meeting. They’d noticed I was unhappy, and wanted to know why, and if they could help at all. After tearing up a bit and debating how much to share, they reassured me I could tell them, whatever it was. Of course, they were not at all surprised. The great thing was that we’d all come to this realization at the same time, so little explanation was needed.

Their empathy and perceptiveness took me out of a potentially awkward position, and made a potentially difficult conversation easy and productive. This mutually respectful approach saves everyone involved a lot of time and worry. Had I not been prompted, it probably would have taken me another few weeks to muster up the courage to broach the topic. Igor and Johannes have been unbelievably supportive, and I can’t thank them enough for this. It can be hard to realize these things yourself, since your first instinct is often to suppress thoughts that might rock the boat, and being able to discuss your feelings openly with your bosses is invaluable.

To conclude, I am very pleased with how things are working out, and look forward to collaborating with Igor and Johannes for many years to come. I will hope, but not expect, to find bosses this great further down the road.

What I’m working on

It is fitting, then, that my major goal for the next three months and a bit is to get our learning project online. To recap: It will be a website about how technology is changing the way people teach themselves things – or in other words, the impact of technology on autodidactic learning.

We’ve just had a great chat with our friend Marguerite Joly about our learning project, what she’s working on at txtr, and exchanging ideas for each other’s projects. This is something we could stand to do more often, since she is both a joy to talk to and had some thoughtful input for us. It’s really refreshing and productive to talk to someone not involved in a project about the nuts and bolts, to check if you’re on the right track or have left out any key aspects of the problem.

What we read this week (15 Feb)

Reads this week: Kyle Studstill on working towards “the next big culture,” sequencing human genomes in bulk, Craig Mod on the growing pains of digital publishing, flat design versus realism in interface design, and the security risks of data-driven education.

Quote of the week

With equipment like this in the home of the future we may not have to go to work, the work would come to us.

Walter Cronkite, 1967

Articles of the week