There are two conferences happening in NYC this weekend that I’m planning on going to. Platform Cooperativism just got started this morning and runs through tomorrow at The New School. The Creative Time Summit is happening Saturday/Sunday, at a high school in Bedford-Stuyvesant. I’m not sure how I’ll juggle both events tomorrow, but Platform Cooperativism has a livestream going if you want to follow along from home.
The Uberpeople forum exists in a state of quivering rage I usually associate with cable-news talk shows. Drivers are furious about everything. Spoiled passengers. Fare cuts. Living in fear of arbitrary ratings. The dumb Spotify thing streaming over the driver’s data plan rather than the passenger’s. A bunch of drivers are even using the forum as a home base to try to unionize in several cities.
But I also find some useful numbers to fill in the vagaries of the training video. For example, I should accept 90% of pings to avoid trouble. I’m also surprised to learn that Uber’s cutoff for driver ratings “below rider expectations” is generally agreed to be only 4.6 stars—I’d had no idea when using Uber as a passenger that rating someone four stars was kind of a big deal.
So what does a 4-star ride look like?
I’ve had a perfect rating for almost a week when I get a ride that I can tell is going to screw it up. I pull up, blocking a one-way street, and throw on my blinkers. After waiting the requisite few minutes, I text the guy. He opens the front door, makes a “one minute!” gesture, then shuts it again. Several more minutes tick by. I finally call, and the guy picks up, giggling. “We’ll be right out!”
When the couple finally gets in, nearly 10 unpaid minutes after I showed up, a cloud of weed stank follows them into my car. I try to hide my irritation. They’re headed to a restaurant in Chinatown I’ve been to a bunch of times, so we chat about that as I drive. Despite this, the stoned guy insists on giving me inefficient directions. When he directs me to turn the wrong way down a one-way street, I tell him not to worry, I’ve got this, and just drive them to the restaurant. The guy sulks.
The next day, my five-star rating has updated to a 4.8.
It’s a good article, and I’m slightly worried that it’s published in a publication that’s been shut down recently.
The website remains accessible for now, but if it were to go offline archive.org won’t have a copy: “Page cannot be crawled or displayed due to robots.txt.” Here’s the article text on Pocket, but that doesn’t include the embedded infographics.
I’ve saved a copy of the page’s HTML and images as WordPress metadata, for posterity. Perhaps I should be doing this more systematically. I bet a lot of my old posts link out to dead URLs.
The Verge’s Josh Dzieza on how Uber and its peers “turned us into horrible bosses.”
The rating systems used by these companies have turned customers into unwitting and sometimes unwittingly ruthless middle managers, more efficient than any boss a company could hope to hire. They’re always there, working for free, hypersensitive to the smallest error. All the algorithm has to do is tally up their judgments and deactivate accordingly.
Ratings help these companies to achieve enormous scale, managing large pools of untrained contract workers without having to hire supervisors. It’s a nice arrangement for customers too, who get cheap service with a smile—even if it’s an anxious one. But for the workers, already in the precarious position of contract labor, making every customer a boss is a terrifying prospect. After all, they—we—can be entitled jerks.
One question—maybe the most pressing question—is how the public feels about that brutal ratio of one targeted death to five or six unintended. The evidence so far is that the public is more or less okay with it.
Based on growing evidence for the role of greenspace in mental health and the importance of plant life for a slew of environmental services (including temperature regulation, air quality improvement, and soil stabilization), the plant community I work with is beneficial and should be embraced. A small but growing cadre of defenders respectfully refer to these plants as “spontaneous urban plants” that inhabit “novel ecosystems” which are in urgent need of further study.
To the average city-dweller, and compared to their cultivated counterparts, the species I advocate for can appear “messy” and unrefined: flowers that are too small, seed pods that are too big, thorns that tear clothing, roots that reach into brick and asphalt. They may seem indicative of disrepair, of indolence, of a community down on its luck or still climbing towards peak gentrification. It is perhaps this sensibility that drives building superintendents and maintenance crews out into the streets to “clean up” (massacre) these plants on a regular basis.
As the Weedy Species Alliance motto goes: “Let the Dandelions Live!”
On Twitter, people say things that they think of as ephemeral and chatty. Their utterances are then treated as unequivocal political statements by people outside the conversation. Because there’s a kind of sensationalistic value in interpreting someone’s chattiness in partisan terms, tweets “are taken up as magnum opi to be leapt upon and eviscerated, not only by ideological opponents or threatened employers but by in-network peers.”
Anthropologists who study digital spaces have diagnosed that a common problem of online communication is “context collapse.” This plays with the oral-literate distinction: When you speak face-to-face, you’re always judging what you’re saying by the reaction of the person you’re speaking to. But when you write (or make a video or a podcast) online, what you’re saying can go anywhere, get read by anyone, and suddenly your words are finding audiences you never imagined you were speaking to.
And what do you know, sending parrots via mobile phone is a thing that you can do in 2015.
Honan talked to a woman from the parrot-renting company, Happy Birds, about what it’s like to receive a request from M. Turns out it’s just a person with a phone.
“She said, ‘I’m doing it for someone else.’ She said ‘well, it’s for my boss’ friend.’”
There was another indicator, however, that this was a legitimate request. Just after the woman claiming to be M called Happy Birds, the company received an identical request through GigSalad — an online platform where performers and event services can connect with interested clients.
This wasn’t the only time I saw evidence of M turning to independent contractors on other platforms to execute requests. When I tried to get it to send a Minion to my colleague Katie Notopolous (she loves Minions) it helpfully offered that “I am able to set up a Tasker with Task Rabbit to go purchase a minion costume and can come interact and entertain for 20-30 min at a rate of $150 for the hour.” (I deemed this too expensive.)
In fact, much of M’s real-word efforts seem to run on contractors. Facebook confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the trainers are all independent contractors. Which to some extent answers the question of how Facebook can scale this up, before M becomes fully automated. It will take an army of humans, each doing small tasks. Simply put, before Facebook can make its robot act like lots of humans, it needs a lot of humans to act like robots.
See also: The Weird Robot Hotel
Today I’m headed to Boston to see a talk about a guide to evading surveillance written by Finn Brunton and Helen Nissenbaum. The book is called Obfuscation: A User’s Guide for Privacy and Protest and was recently reviewed in the Guardian, where Nissenbaum is quoted:
Our effort, both with TrackMeNot and AdNauseam, has been targeted at the former. I don’t love advertising but I can tolerate it. When supporters of the current structures of behavioural advertising say this will be the end of all the innovation and free stuff on the web, our response is: no. Although this might happen if advertising itself goes away, it does not require the back-end tracking for survival.
Aaron Boodman on the inevitability of software complexity:
So why is software so complicated? Because we want to build complicated things. Things with lots of features and options. Things that require thousands of computers spread across multiple continents. Things that can go to Mars and back. Things that drive themselves on the freeway. These things that we want to build are inherently complicated. Software is just the distillation of that complexity. Software is complexity.
See also: The Rise of “Worse is Better”
Web Mercator has been the default projection for the web since Google Maps first popularized it in 2005.
Though it is ubiquitous online (and historically useful to navigators), Mercator doesn’t get much love from the modern cartographer. And in general, Mercators are unsuited for cases when you want to compare the size or shape of anything that isn’t near the equator. So while Web Mercator is useful, we’ve been using Tangram to explore other options.
Tangram draws maps in real-time in your web browser, using a hotline to your graphics card called OpenGL.
Ellie on why killing weeds is counterproductive:
Is it really worth raging against the geographical pedigree of a plant introduced 200 years ago if it’s functioning to stabilize soil, feed late season pollinators, generate oxygen, cool the ground, and improve human mental health? Sure, there are villainous weeds out there (think Kudzu), but it’s all context-based, and plant communities that suffer from being overrun by a weedy villain are often not in the best shape to begin with.
Make sure you scroll all the way down to see all the lovely weed portraits.
See also: Next Epoch Seed Library on Ellie’s website.
I am 100% in favor of “flesh tones” reflecting a broader range than the usual “pasty white.”
On August 25th, Slack unveiled a new way for developers to connect to Slack, the “Add to Slack” button. It was the culmination of a great deal of work from many Slack employees, and just the beginning of what we have in store for Slack in the near future. Today, though, I want to talk about a seemingly small detail that has been more important to me than I would have expected: the skin color of the hand in the launch graphics.
I’m also 100% in favor of writing up the thinking behind these kinds of choices.
Diógenes, Brown Person: This hand should totally be brown. I’m brown.
Diogenes, Person: I’m trying to get good design work done and get this project out, not become an activist and start a movement or something.
Diógenes, Brown Person: It’s not a big deal, you’re the designer, you get to make it brown.
Diogenes, Person: Yea but, I’m going to ask Matt to do it, that’s like, making a thing of it.
More of us should make a thing of it. Especially us pasty folk.