Not Safe From Wolves

What You Should Read (August 2015)

A more organically grown WYSR this month, hooray for a return to reading things.

A Psychogeography Of Games #1: Kentucky Route ZeroHannah Nicklin

The dialogue of Kentucky Route Zero kills me. It’s so delicate, so perfect, so evocative not just in the fact of it – in the elegance of the choice of it. Dialogue borrowed from the future, wandering a museum as you hear your choices remembered, reported by the people you encounter. Dialogue shifting between owners, the typical hero fizzes and fades, as you’re retuned to the angle of one of his co-adventurers.

Surprise! It’s an article about KRZ. BTW: I love this game. Hannah Nicklin is a poet and game designer who is now Speaker in Residence at VideoBrains, putting together monthly talks on the psychogeography of games – that is that where people come from affects the games that they create. I’ve not been, yet, and it’s a bit out of the way (but at least it’s in the UK) – but VideoBrains sounds like my kind of meet up, too.

Hagoromo president explains why he closed down his beloved chalk business – Takayasu Watanabe

Another reason is that the unit price of chalk plunged. We had to participate in auctions held by local governments in order to supply chalk to public schools. Recently, bid prices at auctions plummeted sharply. Contract prices were equivalent to our manufacturing costs.

Faced with declining revenue and operating losses, Takayasu Watanabe voluntarily closed this historic chalk manufacturing business in March. The race to the bottom (and the fact that chalk and blackboard were also being replaced by markers and whiteboard) meant that the business was not going to be sustainable in its current form and rather than radically scale the company back or sell to someone else, he decided to close it.

He cites a lack of protectionism as a factor, which I thought was interesting for someone to outright say:

Earlier, companies based in a city, ward or town were given a priority at auctions held by their governments. These days, local governments focus on bid prices rather than quality.

This is abhorrent for people who believe in “The Market”, but I sometimes do think that free trade and open bidding processes have their downsides too. As someone from a local Stafford generator business told me when I said about German companies winning contracts to build British trains – “Funny how we’ve never sold a generator to Germany”. The free market has winners and losers, and maybe that’s just not individual companies but whole countries?

Britain’s Privatised Rail Network Makes Millions For Foreign State-Owned Train Companies – George Bowden

Northern is one of several Serco-Abellio joint ventures. While Serco is a private business, Abellio is wholly owned by Nederlandse Spoorwegan – the Dutch state’s railway operator. With a £33,033m profit in 2012, money flows from Northern coffers to fund Dutch public transport.

This article is more inflamatory than one I would ordinarily link to – I’m not saying that I’m against investment by European governments in UK services, although it does send mixed messages about “privatisation” being more efficient than state controlled organisations when other states seem to be doing so well they can run our infrastructure, too.

The End of Capitalism has Begun – Paul Mason

You only find this new economy if you look hard for it. In Greece, when a grassroots NGO mapped the country’s food co-ops, alternative producers, parallel currencies and local exchange systems they found more than 70 substantive projects and hundreds of smaller initiatives ranging from squats to carpools to free kindergartens. To mainstream economics such things seem barely to qualify as economic activity – but that’s the point. They exist because they trade, however haltingly and inefficiently, in the currency of postcapitalism: free time, networked activity and free stuff. It seems a meagre and unofficial and even dangerous thing from which to craft an entire alternative to a global system, but so did money and credit in the age of Edward III.

Impossible to summarise, and I don’t agree with absolutely all of it, but I think we’re heading for already seeing some of the biggest economic shifts since World War II. There’s a future where there aren’t enough neccessary jobs for everyone to be employed, and we need to find a way to be okay with that which doesn’t involve calling poor people lazy because they’re not hard at work at some bullshit jobs that have sprung up in the wake of mass automation.

NeoCities

Neocities is a community of 51,100 sites that are bringing back the lost individual creativity of the web. We provide free web hosting and tools that allow anyone to make a website. Only your imagination is required. Join us!

It’s not a link to a thought provoking article, but if anything that gets people creating on the web is good in my book. Tumblr is the closest thing to a modern GeoCities, but despite the amazingly pretty / crazy flashing websites that people create on there, they are effectively filling in templates on a system owned by a large advertising monolith. It’s not exactly the future of the web (or, it’s not the future I’d want).

Stop Teaching Intro CS – Hardmath123

It’s like we’re all trying to climb a mountain, and we do so by lending a hand to whoever’s below us while getting a boost from whoever’s above us. The people at the very top are researchers, people blazing new trails and discovering new computer science.

[…]

…except it doesn’t quite work out like that. The problem is, somewhere near the middle of the mountain, people stop helping you up. After the first few cliffs, you suddenly lose sight of the smarter people, the people who were always a step ahead of you and ready to help.

Hardmath123 asks what’s the benefit of producing so many “introduction to Python in 10 minutes” or “getting started with Scratch” texts to get people into Computer Science, only for them to hit walls when they try and move beyond the hello-worlds or wiki-in-ten-minute projects that can be taught in a couple of hours. He’s not saying that beginners shouldn’t be taught, as much as saying that there as so few “middle” resources compared to beginning ones that we’re just introducing thousands of people to the frustrations of finding computers limiting as the difficulty ratchets up.

The Transformation: Dr. Richard Alpert, Ph.D. Into Baba Ram Dass

Be here now. Wow.

Meet the seven people who hold the keys to worldwide internet security – James Ball

The east and west coast ceremonies each have seven keyholders, with a further seven people around the world who could access a last-resort measure to reconstruct the system if something calamitous were to happen. Each of the 14 primary keyholders owns a traditional metal key to a safety deposit box, which in turn contains a smartcard, which in turn activates a machine that creates a new master key.

If you’ve ever wondered how the root keys for DNSSEC are kept secure, now you know. I love the spy stuff and security theatre (live streaming the signing process, man traps) along with usual office / computing is rubbish crap:

These steps are a strange mix of high-security measures lifted straight from a thriller (keycards, safe combinations, secure cages), coupled with more mundane technical details – a bit of trouble setting up a printer – and occasional bouts of farce.

The story of .yu – Citizen Ex

.yu finally ceased to exist on 30 March 2010, joining a short but significant list of domains overtaken by world events, including .cs (for Czechoslovakia) and .zr (for Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Controversially, the .su domain, assigned to the Soviet Union just fifteen months before its dissolution, is still in use by many organisations in Russia, and even by pro-Russian insurgents in Ukraine. These ghost domains remind us of technology’s debt to politics, and the ultimate futility of our attempts to fit real events into neat, easily labelled boxes.

Another hard to summarise link – a video this time – that’s an interesting perspective on the early Internet, on how people like Jon Postel tried (more or less in vain) to sidestep or ignore the politics, and what happens to a domain name when the country it belonged to doesn’t exist any more – and what happens to the history tied to the domain – made more important by the events in the real world at the time.

How to make the ultimate burger – Short List

Byron’s Tom Byng helps you make the ultimate burger.

ERMAGERD.

How to Solve Logic Puzzles – shanx

An camp counselor must assign cabins to this season’s campers. Seven different cabins are in a row leading away from the community hut, and are numbered one through seven, with cabin 1 being closest to the community hut and cabin 7 being furthest away. Seven different campers – Billy, Chasey, Dan, Felicia, Harold, Jamal, and Kindra – are this season’s guests. Only one camper can be assigned to each cabin.

Wikipedia on the Collapse of Cyberdelia and Techno Utopianism – Wikipedia

Anybody who doesn’t believe that we’re trapped hasn’t taken a good look around. We’re trapped in a sort of mutating multinational corporate oligarchy that’s not about to go away. We’re trapped by the limitations of our species. We’re trapped in time.

Bonus for ironic dead Geocities link!

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