phiffer.org

Dan Phiffer Dan Phiffer builds websites, makes art, and teaches in NYC

“This is something we should politicize”www.youtube.com

President Obama’s speech is worth watching in its entirety. Starts at 23:18.

Video

We are not the only country on earth that has people with mental illnesses, or want to do harm to other people. We are the only advanced country on earth that sees these mass shootings every few months.

Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response, here at this podium, ends up being routine. The conversation in the aftermath of it, we’ve become numb to this.

Have news organizations tally up the number of Americans who’ve been killed through terrorist attacks in the last decade and the number of Americans who’ve been killed by gun violence, and post those side-by-side on your news reports.

Vox’s Zack Beauchamp took up Obama’s challenge.

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In Search of Personalized Timeavant.org

My friends Taeyoon and Roon have been working on a project called In Search of Personalized Time. Last year they were collaborating remotely, with Taeyoon working on-site at a festival in Seoul coordinating with Roon here in New York on a very different timezone.

It was, as if, we are living in someplace else—in-between New York and Seoul—and doesn’t completely belong to either of those two places.

Similarly, in our perceptions, those conference calls were happening not in New York or Seoul’s local time, but possibly elsewhen—sometime else, that the participants from both places share momentarily.

Perhaps, we could create a time device, that shows your personal time, so that you can interact with it without syncing back with the GMT. Then perhaps, we could network these devices, and think about how to negotiate these personal times from person to person. then perhaps, we could create an alternative time-system, a consensus time, the bottom up approach towards deciding what time it is now.

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After showing the piece at LACMA earlier in the year, they participated in the Art Book Fair this past weekend along with Sam Hart, editor of AVANT.org.

After syncing the devices to their personal clocks, the volunteers were asked to spend the afternoon on a “scavenger hunt for time,” taking the Art Book Fair as an opportunity to begin new conversations about their sense of lived time and the significance of publication as an act of preserving a particular moment.

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Look at your fishwww.robinsloan.com

I recently upgraded my phone and discovered that the new version of iOS was running way too slow on my iPhone 5. But the new San Francisco font sure does look nice. I suffered with a slow ass phone for a few days, and then decided to just burn it all down and reinstall everything from scratch with iOS 8.

It worked! My phone is much faster, and I got rid of dozens of apps that I never use in the process.

As I was deciding which things to re-install, I came across Robin Sloan’s Fish in the (embarrassingly long) list of app store previous downloads. It had been a while, so I tapped through it again. It is still so good! If you have never tried it—and if you have an iPhone, I think it may only work on iPhones—you should absolutely install it.

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Or if you haven’t in a while, give it another read.

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Theory of Everythingtoe.prx.org

Despite his best efforts to avoid settling on a specific definition, Benjamen Walker has arrived at the raison d’être for his podcast Theory of Everything, paraphrasing Luc Sante:

My podcast is alive to the entire prospect. I focus on the ephemeral and the perishable, and the immemorial. I’m in the show-business of negative capability. I cover things that are about to occur without warning, as well as things that are subtly absent, and things that are silently waving goodbye.

Another episode has just gone up, Recent, Relevant, Random (r), which is—fittingly, given the discussion of recentness—a rerun. I was glad to return to it.

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The Problem We All Live Withwww.thisamericanlife.org

In case you missed it, here’s an important two-part series from This American Life about school integration. Find a couple hours to listen to these.

Part 1


MP3 download

Part 2


MP3 download

Link via Ta-Nehisi Coates

Metadata+ is dead, long live Ephemeral+ (updated)

In Spring 2014 I was driving through Boston on my way to visit family in New Hampshire. I started researching what some good lunch options might be along the route we were taking and decided to try out a new app I’d just installed called Jelly. It’s kind of like an instant, mobile app version of Quora: you can ask the app a question that gets broadcast out to your friends and friends-of-friends. Then, within a few minutes, answers are beamed back to your phone. Presto, I can get local recommendations for a lunch spot!

I’d recently finished reading Ethan Zuckerman’s Rewire. The book discusses how the scope of information we encounter—what ideas we’re exposed to—is limited by the boundaries of our pre-established social networks, an important aspect of the filter bubble phenomenon. I was thinking about how my lunch scenario fit into what I’d just been reading, me leveraging my social connections to solve the most first world of problems. And then this notification unexpectedly pops up on my phone, instead of the lunch tip I was waiting for.

Oof.

This was a notification from Josh Begley’s Metadata+, another app I’d recently installed. The app has a vague name, but its purpose is very particular. Whenever details emerge about a U.S. drone strike, it broadcasts a notification (also available via the Twitter handle @dronestream). It’s an invited interruption, a gentle reminder about how interconnectedness also includes 67-year-old midwives from North Waziristan.

Begley’s app is a great example of critical design. The first, and most obvious critique, is of the U.S. Government’s reliance on drone strikes abroad. The experience of living with this app shows just how infrequently we’re reminded that we are still at war, going on 14 years as of next Wednesday.

The other critique is about the capricious power Apple wields over digital culture. The name Metadata+ was chosen to obfuscate its purpose from app store reviewers, who rejected it repeatedly saying it was “not useful or entertaining enough.” Both Apple and Google have the last word on what software is deemed legitimate enough to install on a mobile phone. And as mobile phones increasingly become a default computing platform, it’s not hard to see the danger involved with censoring apps on the basis of political sensitivity. We’ve ceded control over the boundaries of permissible thought to corporate entities.

Which brings us to this past Sunday, when Apple decided to remove Metadata+ from the app store because of “excessively crude or objectionable content.”

Apple has a long and storied history of arbitrarily applying its decency policies to reject apps. As Sam Biddle has pointed out in Gawker, there are many, many other apps of questionable value that get approved all the time. It’s both a matter of inconsistency, and that political speech is being confined to those computers that happen to have keyboards and file systems.

But the larger issue, as pointed out by Zuckerman in his book, isn’t necessarily about what information is available to us, but rather that we care enough to seek it out. The removal of Metadata+ is about not being able to imagine why you’d want such a thing. And the extent that companies cater to our desires to be endlessly amused by safe and familiar material. We need these gatekeeper corporations to treat us more like digital cosmopolitans, to use Zuckerman’s phrase.

I was glad to learn from the Gawker piece that Begley is one step ahead of Apple on this one. He’s already released an identical version of the app, just with a different name: Ephemeral+.

Download it before it’s censored. Update: that one got pulled too.

Also, I highly recommend Life Alive for lunch, it’s a lovely vegetarian place in Salem, MA.

Which U.S. State Performs Best in the New Yorker Caption Contest?www.newyorker.com

As you might expect, New York and California have the highest number of total Cartoon Caption Contest wins with 87 and 76, respectively. But they also have the most losing entries.

The United States of the New Yorker Caption Contest: Wins Per 10 Thousand Submissions
The United States of the New Yorker Caption Contest: Wins Per 10 Thousand Submissions

This map shows that Alaska is actually the most successful state in terms of wins per ten thousand submissions! Though Alaska has only won the contest twice, the fact that it had a mere 2,102 documented contest entries renders its rate of approximately 9.5 wins per ten thousand submissions the highest in the country. Mississippi, another state not commonly associated with the New Yorker crowd, comes in at a close second, with 8.14 wins per ten thousand submissions.

Link via Caitlin

T. C. Boyle’s Chicxulubwww.newyorker.com

I’m just getting back into listening to podcasts again, and noticed that the New Yorker Fiction podcast hit episode number 100. Congratulations to Deborah Treisman! If you’re not a subscriber already, definitely listen to some of the old episodes, there’s a lot of great stuff in there. This T.C. Boyle story is up there with the best of them.

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Could a Bank Deny Your Loan Based on Your Facebook Friends?www.theatlantic.com

Facebook recently filed a rather unsettling patent application describing (among other things) a hypothetical social-graph-based credit scoring system. What level of freaked out would be an appropriate response?

Facebook makes its money by encouraging people to have large friend networks and create lots of content for it to show ads against. And given that that’s the primary profit driver for Facebook, as a practical manner, it would really surprise me if they decided to get into the credit-scoring business, just because I think that’s going to make people feel panicked and uncomfortable. If I were them, I would not be in a giant rush to do that.

This makes me wonder if a lot of people suddenly started blocking ads, would companies like Facebook move quickly to adopt more dystopian business models? Or would they be more likely to start embracing those business models much earlier—quietly, secretly, mischievously—in anticipation?

Link via Ingrid

What Happens Next Will Amaze Youidlewords.com

Maciej Cegłowski on the perilous surveillance of online advertising:

Ad fraud works because the market for ads is so highly automated. Like algorithmic trading, decisions happen in fractions of a second, and matchmaking between publishers and advertisers is outside human control. It’s a confusing world of demand side platforms, supply-side platforms, retargeting, pre-targeting, behavioral modeling, real-time bidding, ad exchanges, ad agency trading desks and a thousand other bits of jargon.

The winners in this game are the ones running the casino: big advertising networks, surveillance companies, and the whole brand-new industry known as “adtech”.

The losers are small publishers and small advertisers. Universal click fraud drives down the value of all advertising, making it harder for niche publishers to make ends meet.

Link via Ethan Marcotte