Not Safe From Wolves

What You Should Read (June 2015)

Hi there! It’s been a while since I did one of these because I found that collecting my links and stressing out about reading the “best stuff” was bringing me down.

This month’s is a cheat in two ways: 1) Much of it is sourced from a massive back log of stuff that I had marked that I should read, including lots from “Real Future”, Alexis Madrigal’s newsletter. I’ve binge-opened a lot of tabs to bring you this, as opposed to studiously collecting links for a month or two. And 2) a bunch of these are actually pictorials, so it’s “What You Should Look At” as much as it is what you should read.

USB Armory: Secure Computer on a StickViolet Blue

In truth, I wasn’t the first in my house to engage with the USB armory. The first one to try out the device was my 5-month-old kitten, who stole the device off my desk in the night and tested it as a cat toy.

This review by Violet Blue of the USB Armory lays out some of the best arguments yet for why this could be such an important device. INTERLOCK will appear as an SSL enabled application, served from the Armory so that your device-specific keys never leave the device.

The Cat Went Over Radioactive Mountain – Sarah Zhang

Ten thousand years may be the time scale of legends, but nuclear waste storage is a very real and practical problem for humans. It is a problem where incomprehensibly long time scales clash with human ones, where grand visions run up against forces utterly mundane and petty. … In 1981, the Department of Energy convened a task force on how to communicate with the future.

This article is total Aaron-bait because one of my favourite things in the whole world is the Clock of the Long Now, which I first saw a version of at the London Science Museum. I’d read about it in a Wired article in 1995. Here’s a particularly early-web-aesthetic HotWired link

I think of the oak beams in the ceiling of College Hall at New College, Oxford. Last century, when the beams needed replacing, carpenters used oak trees that had been planted in 1386 when the dining hall was first built. The 14th-century builder had planted the trees in anticipation of the time, hundreds of years in the future, when the beams would need replacing. Did the carpenters plant new trees to replace the beams again a few hundred years from now?

The two stories are linked in my mind, I’m sure there there was another Wired story about how to make warnings last longer than most of Western civilisation has – but I can’t find it. The Long Now guys wrote about it in 2012 but that’s far too recent. Apart from the above link, this Damn Interesting coverage of the same subject matter is also … damn interesting.

Do Artifacts Have Ethics? – Michael Sacasas

41 ethical questions about technology. I’ve been thinking about this one lately, partially inspired by Josh Corman‘s keynote at AppSec EU this year, and his work on I am the Cavalry.

Does the use of this technology bring me joy?

Does the use of this technology arouse anxiety?

How does this technology empower me? At whose expense?

What feelings does the use of this technology generate in me toward others?

Can I imagine living without this technology? Why, or why not?

And to scare / entice you into clicking on that “I am the Cavalry” link:

The Cavalry message is that our dependance on computer technology is increasing faster than our ability to safeguard ourselves. As computerization and connectivity become more ubiquitous, it’s important that we protect public safety and human life.

I hope that there’s a growing movement towards a kind of “Hippocratic Oath for Computing”, though I feel current economic incentives (for people and for companies) is set against that.

Trailer homesteading in the Mojave – Reanna Adler

Those last two did involve a lot of thinking. This is nicer, and has more photos. I used to read Free Cabin Porn (Safe for Work) compulsively. Despite not being in the least outdoors-y, I’m infatuated with minimal and sustainable living.

The smell of creosote is the first premonition of rain in the Mojave. It stinks, until you learn to associate it with rain, and then it takes on a kind of magic. The leaves of the creosote bush produce the smell, a potent resin that drips onto the ground with the downpour and acts as an herbicide against competing plants. The smell is more reliable than weather reports.

How Norway Lost Control of Its $500 Million Arctic Sub Base to the Russians – Kabir Chibber

We sold the only base worthy of the name that we had up there. It’s pure madness. We are the only country along with Russia to have a permanent presence in the Barents Sea, where we share a common border… if the ships aren’t there where they are needed, they might as well be scrapped altogether.

Be sure to check out the photos on the Norwegian auction site

The Undersea Network – Nicole Starosielski

The link is just to the introduction and I have to admit to not having read all of it but I’ve been recommending The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage to everyone who’ll listen, and this seems like an interesting companion piece. It makes the point that most books about telecommunications, telegraphy and the phone system more or less run up to the Cold War, as if we stopped laying cable and imposing unfair deals on small countries back then. (Also, if you like phone company related history pieces – I won’t shut up about Jon Gertner’s book on the topic).

I am standing on Electric Beach, on O‘ahu’s west shore—a beach named for the large power plant towering behind it and known for regular car burglaries. Three men are casually fishing off the edge of the point. Families are having barbeques. Posing as a tourist with a camera, I crouch down to take pictures of a manhole covered in rust-colored dirt (figure P.1). Underneath the manhole, a fiber-optic cable surfaces, bringing information encoded in light waves from the other Hawaiian islands.

Innovation Starvation – Neal Stephenson

The imperative to develop new technologies and implement them on a heroic scale, no longer seems like the childish preoccupation of a few nerds with slide rules. It’s the only way for the human race to escape from its current predicaments. Too bad we’ve forgotten how to do it.

The history of computer data storage, in pictures – Pingdom

Ye-es more pictures! Phew. Things were getting tense there. Those selectrons look cool.

The Village and the Village – Dan W

This is cool (also hat tip for the China Mieville reference in the title) – a town in Belgium which is totally surrounded by the Netherlands. (With bonus pretty pictures).

Even homes are bisected by the border, cleaving them into two countries. A flag on the house number indicates which country it is in; its nationality is determined by the location of the front door. Which also decides where taxes are paid. Some houses apparently swap the location of their front doors between countries to benefit from the most favourable taxes, but I couldn’t see any buildings where this was obviously the case.

Iterating GraceAuthor Unknown

Nanahananah METAFICTION.

A mysterious little book called Iterating Grace is floating around San Francisco right now. At least a dozen people have received the book in the mail—or in my case, by secret hand-delivery to my house. (Which is a little creepy.)

You just need to click through and look at it. It’s a beautiful piece of art, wrapped in a pretentious literary mystery.

No one knows who wrote the story or created the book. No one knows what the person who did it all wants. Most people I know who’ve received the book, who are all either journalists or authors, think it is some sort of dark-arts marketing scheme.

(There’s a part two to the coverage, as well).

What Would Happen If All Our Satellites Were Suddenly Destroyed? – George Dvorsky

There are other space war scenarios to consider. Jeff Kueter, the President of the George C. Marshall Institute — a Virginia-based think tank focusing on scientific issues and public policy — says that combatants could physically attack satellites from ground stations, jam com links, release pellet cloud attacks, deploy high-altitude weather monitoring rockets, or detonate high-altitude nuclear devices.

Well, if this happened, you’d be a lot more interested in that submarine cable book.

Next Exit, Armageddon – Jim Lo Scalzo

Tell me this doesn’t look like something straight out of Fallout: New Vegas?

A satellite calibration target, used during the Cold War to help America's Corona satellites focus their lenses before spying on the Soviet Union

(A satellite calibration target, used during the Cold War to help America’s Corona satellites focus their lenses before spying on the Soviet Union)

Only Openings – Frank Chimero

Things don’t have to be simple. They don’t have to scale. They don’t even have to be profitable. You can buck all of those assumptions that became gospel. And you can do it for no other reason than to start making something with fresh materials and new assumptions. Design, after all, is a way of creating.

From a talk given at the School of Visual Art’s Thesis Festival, and via UX Myths and Jaz.

 

aaaand that’s it!

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