Version numbers and default fonts

Can’t really get excited about a new version of Windows, no matter how much the Google News algorithm thing wants to push it at me.

Microsoft looks ready to launch Windows 11The Verge
It’s not long until we find out whether Microsoft is ready to dial the version number of Windows up to 11. The Windows elevent (as I’m now calling it) will start at 11AM ET on June 24th, and The Verge will be covering all the news live as it happens.

Windows 11 is already full of bugs, but you shouldn’t worry about itTechRadar
Microsoft has released an early version of Windows 11 for members of its Windows Insider Program, and users are already encountering issues and bugs with the new operating system. That’s kind of the point of course, as this developer build is being used as a kind of pre-release beta for the full version that’s expected to launch in “Holiday 2021”, and people who are using it are encouraged to spot and report any bugs and issues.

Why Windows 11 going with Amazon for its Android apps, and not Google, is a masterstrokeTechRadar
It’s an ingenious move when you think about it. It enables more apps on the new Microsoft Store with minimal effort from Microsoft, and helps it become a substantial rival to Apple’s Mac App Store, with iOS apps now available on M1 Macs.

Windows 11 looks a little different. Here’s what’s changingCNET
Windows 11 features a streamlined new design, with pastel-like colors and rounded corners, and overall a more Mac-like look. The Windows Start menu has moved from the bottom left of the screen to the middle, with app icons arranged in the center next to it.

For years, Apple sold itself as the anti-Microsoft. Now Windows 11 is the anti-AppleCNET
But the Microsoft of old didn’t entirely go away. Analysts believe Nadella’s broadsides against Apple during his Windows 11 launch speech weren’t just about knocking Microsoft’s biggest frenemy. His tone wasn’t jovial, nor was he dismissive like former CEO Steve Ballmer when Apple co-founder Steve Jobs first showed off the iPhone in 2007. Nadella was serious.

This caught my eye, however.

Beyond Calibri: Finding Microsoft’s next default fontMicrosoft Design
Default fonts are perhaps most notable in the absence of the impression they make. … Calibri has been the default font for all things Microsoft 365 since 2007, when it stepped in to replace Times New Roman across Microsoft Office. It has served us all well, but we believe it’s time to evolve. To help us set a new direction, we’ve commissioned five original, custom fonts to eventually replace Calibri as the default.

So, farewell then, Calibri and hello either Tenorite, Bierstadt, Skeena, Seaford or Grandview.

Who comes up with these names, I wonder.

Microsoft is rolling out a new default font to 1.2 billion Office users after 14 years — and the designer of the old one is surprisedCNBC
As de Groot put it in an email, “I had proposed Clas, a Scandinavian first name and associated with ‘class,’ but then the Greek advisor said it meant ‘to fart’ in Greek. Then I proposed Curva or Curvae, which I still like, but then the Cyrillic advisor said it meant ‘prostitute’ in Russian, it is indeed used as a very common curse word.”

I’m not sure how the title of that article squares with the title of this one.

Even the Calibri font’s creator is glad that Microsoft is moving onWIRED
It’s the end of an era, but Calibri’s designer, Lucas de Groot, has no qualms about letting his typeface rest for a bit. “It’s a relief,” he says. De Groot created Calibri in the early 2000s, as part of a collection of fonts for enhanced screen reading. “I designed it in quite a hurry,” he says. “I had some sketches already, so I adapted those and added these rounded corners to get some design feeling in it.”

Do you have a favourite?

Microsoft’s new default font options, ratedTechCrunch
Bierstadt is my pick and what I think Microsoft will pick. First because it has a differentiated lowercase l, which I think is important. Second, it doesn’t try anything cute with its terminals. The t ends without curling up, and there’s no distracting tail on the a, among other things — sadly the most common letter, lowercase e, is ugly, like a chipped theta. Someone fix it. It’s practical, clear and doesn’t give you a reason to pick a different font.

Regardless, there’s certainly a bewildering number of typefaces out there. Too many?

All you need is 5 fontsBetter Web Type
I came to the same conclusion as Massimo and many other designers—I don’t need a huge range of fonts of questionable quality to choose from, I only need a few high quality ones. So I created my own list of 5 fonts that I use most often.

But how about a little background on a very different Microsoft font.

The origin story of the Wingdings fontUX Collective
Wingdings was never intended to be typed. Contrary to what happens today, when we can just select one picture from many available online, and copy and paste it on a document; in the ’90s was not easy to find pictures that could be used in an uncomplicated way with the text. In addition, image files were too large for the simple HDs of computers at the time. Therefore, Wingdings offered an alternative for anyone who wanted to use icons in high resolution and that could be resized, but without taking up a lot of space on the machines.

This way, the font can be considered the offline predecessor of the emoji, an alphabet that is now an integral part of modern communication.

Why the Wingdings font existsVox
“We were influenced by images from similar historical and modern sources,” Bigelow says. The Lucida Icons spanned many eras. “Pointing fingers and hands go back to medieval manuscripts and, before that, to ancient Roman gestures; airplanes are 20th-century inventions; and keyboards, computers, computer mice, and printers, included in the Lucida Icons fonts, were part of office life in 1990 when we drew the images.”

Not selling the web, ok?

Tim’s in the news again, in another ridiculous NTF story.

Tim Berners-Lee’s NFT of world wide web source code sold for $5.4mThe Guardian
The NFT sold on Wednesday was created by the English scientist Berners-Lee in 2021 and represents ownership of various digital items from when he invented the world wide web in 1989. The sale effectively comprises a blockchain-based record of ownership of files containing the original source code for the world wide web. The final price was $5,434,500 and half of the bidders were new to Sotheby’s.

A tidy sum.

Tim Berners-Lee defends auction of NFT representing web’s source codeThe Guardian
“This is totally aligned with the values of the web,” Berners-Lee told the Guardian. “The questions I’ve got, they said: ‘Oh, that doesn’t sound like the free and open web.’ Well, wait a minute, the web is just as free and just as open as it always was. The core codes and protocols on the web are royalty free, just as they always have been. I’m not selling the web – you won’t have to start paying money to follow links. “I’m not even selling the source code. I’m selling a picture that I made, with a Python programme that I wrote myself, of what the source code would look like if it was stuck on the wall and signed by me.

That ‘not selling the source code’ doesn’t quite square with how this was being reported earlier, but whatever.

World Wide Web code that changed the world up for auction as NFTReuters
The original source code for the World Wide Web that was written by its inventor Tim Berners-Lee is up for sale at Sotheby’s as part of a non-fungible token, with bids starting at just $1,000. […] The digitally signed Ethereum blockchain non-fungible token (NFT), a one-of-a-kind digital asset which records ownership, includes the original source code, an animated visualization, a letter written by Berners-Lee and a digital poster of the full code from the original files.

Orbiting plywood?

We’re used to wooden acting in space, but what about some actual wood?

World’s first wooden satellite aims to prove plywood can survive spaceCNET
The WISA Woodsat is a 4-inch (10-centimeter) square satellite that’s scheduled for a fall launch on a Rocket Lab Electron rocket in New Zealand. Getting to orbit is only part of the adventure. Once it’s there, the team will monitor the little cube to see how its plywood build stands up to cold, heat, radiation and the vacuum of space.

Woodsat is the brainchild of Jari Makinen, co-founder of CubeSat replica kit company Arctic Astronautics. The European Space Agency, or ESA, is providing a suite of sensors to track the satellite’s performance and will also help with pre-flight testing.

I remember reading about something similar last year.

Japan developing wooden satellites to cut space junkBBC News
A Japanese company and Kyoto University have joined forces to develop what they hope will be the world’s first satellites made out of wood by 2023. … Space junk is becoming an increasing problem as more satellites are launched into the atmosphere. Wooden satellites would burn up without releasing harmful substances into the atmosphere or raining debris on the ground when they plunge back to Earth.

Coverage of “wooden satellites” misses the pointArs Technica
Unfortunately, making satellite housings out of wood won’t help with this, for many, many reasons. To start with, a lot of the junk isn’t ex-satellites; it’s often the boosters and other hardware that got them to orbit in the first place. Housings are also only a fraction of the material in a satellite, leaving lots of additional junk untouched by the change, and any wood that’s robust enough to function as an effective satellite housing will be extremely dangerous if it impacts anything at orbital speeds.

Unlikely journeys

I think I’ve incorrectly conflated two separate topics when I think about cars of the future; electric cars and self-driving cars. The former doesn’t have to rely on the latter, right? Perhaps that’s just as well.

The costly pursuit of self-driving cars continues on. And on. And on.The New York Times
The wizards of Silicon Valley said people would be commuting to work in self-driving cars by now. Instead, there have been court fights, injuries and deaths, and tens of billions of dollars spent on a frustratingly fickle technology that some researchers say is still years from becoming the industry’s next big thing.

Now the pursuit of autonomous cars is undergoing a reset. Companies like Uber and Lyft, worried about blowing through their cash in pursuit of autonomous technology, have tapped out. Only the deepest-pocketed outfits like Waymo, which is a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet; auto giants; and a handful of start-ups are managing to stay in the game.

But as we’ve seen before, electric cars come with their own unique challenges.

Electric cars can sound like anything. That’s a huge opportunity to craft the soundscape of the futureTime
Then there’s whatever BMW is doing with its i4 electric-sedan concept. At low speeds, the i4 sounds like an electrified orchestra warming up for a performance. But as it accelerates, the tone becomes deeper and lower. Then comes a high-pitched skittering effect, as if some kind of reality-bending reaction were taking place under the hood. “We conceived a sound to celebrate the car, intended as a highly complex performative art installation,” says BMW sound designer Renzo Vitale. Vitale, who worked alongside famed film-score composer Hans Zimmer on the i4, says it was his counterintuitive idea to make the noise deepen as the car gains speed. “It was a metaphoric way to say, ‘We are looking at the past,’” he says.

Perhaps, by the time all this is resolved, there’ll be less need for these crazy machines.

Commuting is psychological tortureWelcome to Hell World
I can’t even calculate the savings in gas, wear on my car, etc. But I can tell you that with nearly two hours back in each of my days, plus the extra 40 minutes or so of making myself presentable to be in close proximity to others, I have been able to reinvest that time in myself. I have been eating better, I have time for the gym, I have time to give my dogs the exercise they need. I know this year has been mentally taxing on so many, but I’ve found these changes work so much better for me.

Working – and living – within screens

Surely, once everything’s back to normal, we can stop bothering with Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meets and so on. But, as the first of these two Guardian articles explain, there are plenty of other companies out there — Mozilla Hubs, Gather, Wonder for instance — who are hoping that, not only will we continue to meet online, but we’d do so even more deeply. Needless to say, not everyone agrees.

Can virtual meeting spaces save us all from Zoom fatigue?The Guardian
These platforms are meant to improve remote work, but is a virtual experience that fills the entire day better or worse than spending a couple of hours on video calls but being otherwise generally invisible? “Employers probably want to help people gel, but they risk trying to do too much,” says Dr Linda Kaye, who studies the psychology of gaming and online behaviour. “I’m not saying it’s not useful in a work context, but when you force it on people it becomes inauthentic.” Her research reflects the fact that valuable social connections can be forged online. But just because we can create virtual worlds to work in, should we? […]

Much depends on the type of workplace you’re in – its culture and the sector in which it operates. While Hubs, the platform used by the engineers at the University of Nottingham, could work brilliantly for design, technology or architectural businesses, I’m not sure I can see social workers holding a case conference in a virtual world. Would it feel appropriate for a legal firm dealing with serious crimes to hold their meetings as avatar versions of themselves on Gather? Similarly, it’s hard to imagine holding a disciplinary session as a cartoon version of yourself.

As much as I’m enjoying my weekly book club on Second Life, I’m not sure about swapping the office for it. But it’s not just at work where we feel like we live in a screen. As this fascinating study from UCL shows, thanks to our smartphones we’re living in screens all the time.

Smartphone is now ‘the place where we live’, anthropologists sayThe Guardian
A team of anthropologists from UCL spent more than a year documenting smartphone use in nine countries around the world, from Ireland to Cameroon, and found that far from being trivial toys, people felt the same way about their devices as they did about their homes.

“The smartphone is no longer just a device that we use, it’s become the place where we live,” said Prof Daniel Miller, who led the study. “The flip side of that for human relationships is that at any point, whether over a meal, a meeting or other shared activity, a person we’re with can just disappear, having ‘gone home’ to their smartphone. … This behaviour, and the frustration, disappointment or even offence it can cause, is what we’re calling the ‘death of proximity’. We are learning to live with the jeopardy that even when we are physically together, we can be socially, emotionally or professionally alone.” […]

“The smartphone is perhaps the first object to challenge the house itself (and possibly also the workplace) in terms of the amount of time we dwell in it while awake,” they conclude, coining the term “transportal home” to describe the effect. “We are always ‘at home’ in our smartphone. We have become human snails carrying our home in our pockets.”

Notion commotion

In an effort to avoid work/procrastinate/improve my workflow, I thought I’d take a look at Notion, the online productivity/life admin/project-management app/workspace/system. I’d spotted it a while ago, but took no real notice. Time for a revisit?

The productivity app that won the pandemicDebugger
In April 2020, as many businesses were shutting down due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Notion was booming. Although the expansive note-taking app had been around since 2013, the company’s founders and investors apparently understood that the way we work would suddenly see a drastic change as the coronavirus spread across the country. Notion founder and CEO Ivan Zhao raised $50 million, pushing the company’s value to $2 billion. The gamble on the part of Zhao and his investors was a good one. Notion’s user base has more than quadrupled since 2019. In August, Zhao told Protocol that each week was its biggest ever in terms of growth.

As well as supporting teams grappling with remote working during our various lockdowns, it’s helping us manage our wellbeing, as Angela Lashbrook goes on to explain.

I’m one of these anxious, depressed, low-control people, which would help explain why I’m always looking for the next solution for transforming my thoughts from a frantic pile of garbage into something resembling coherence. A 2017 dissertation by Charlotte Massey, then a graduate student in cognitive psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, found that when people felt sad, they created more computer folders when organizing their files than those who were in a good mood. According to Massey, research shows that a negative mood can lead people to be more analytical and systematic in their behavior, such as becoming more intently organized and oriented toward problem-solving. Because when we feel bad, we naturally look for ways to identify and fix the problem.

I think this is why productivity apps, in particular Notion, have become so popular in the past year. (Even watching other people use productivity apps has become a popular pastime for some.) A lot of us are not doing great. We are in negative mood states because we are lonely, anxious, and depressed — for obvious reasons. A spreadsheet or a to-do list or a Notion page are not going to solve the pandemic, but if we use them correctly, they can help us feel more in control of our lives.

Their website has a ton of guides, support and customer stories, but you can spend hours and hours trawling through the million Notion tutorials on YouTube. It seems especially popular with university students.

Not just students, though.

And don’t think this is just for your studies or your business — like its analogue predecessor, the Bullet Journal, this is for your whole life!

There’s no such thing as the perfect solution, though.

And so on and so on, round and round. Let’s leave the last word to Angela again, in this piece about a more familiar tool.

The next wellness trend should be Google SpreadsheetsOneZero
What a green cell communicates to Hannah, and anyone who uses a similar method of spreadsheet design, is that she kicked ass that day. She got her word count. A red cell, conversely, shows that she didn’t fulfill her end of the bargain, didn’t complete her goal, and now that long beautiful row of green will be marred by a stressful little red box. And while list-making can be beneficial on its own, utilizing a grid that can be visually marred by empty space or the wrong color is a surprisingly effective motivator.

Couldn’t agree more.

When phones were fun

Do you remember the good ol’ days before almost every mobile phone designer converged on the now ubiquitous glossy, black rectangle? No? Perhaps this new TV series might help.

Rise and fall of cell phone company Nokia will be charted in new TV seriesVariety
Rabbit Films has begun production on “Mobile 1.0” (working title), a six-part scripted drama that explores the meteoric rise of Nokia to become the world’s leading manufacturer of mobile phones before a dramatic fall from grace. […]

“Mobile 1.0” is the first account of the Finnish electronics company’s expansion from a small business into a global player in the mobile phone industry, beating huge established brands. The first season will focus on the years 1988-1990, when technology for mobile phones was in its infancy.

It’s not the first time Nokia has traded in nostalgia. Remember the relaunch of their 3310?

Those who want to reminisce a little more might be interested in these videos from Michael Fisher, aka Mr Mobile.

When phones were funYouTube Playlist
In “When Phones Were Fun,” Michael Fisher re-reviews cellphones from the golden age of mobile, the decade-long span of experimentation from the turn of the century to approximately 2009. From one-of-a-kind relics like the Samsung Matrix Phone and Motorola AURA, to mainstream smash hits like the T-Mobile Sidekick, “When Phones Were Fun” is 50% retro review, 50% mobile-tech history lesson … and 100% nostalgia comfort-food goodness!

But perhaps I should be more optimistic about current phone designers. Not all of them make glossy, black rectangles. Some are designing glossy, black rectangles that bend and swivel.

That last one is interesting, but perhaps not interesting enough? Oh well.

A new breed of robots?

Robots have fascinated us for years, but are we looking at them all wrong? Kate Darling, robot ethicist at MIT Media Lab, shows us a different way.

Robots are animals, not humansWIRED UK
Automation has, and will continue to have, huge impacts on labour markets – those in factories and farming are already feeling the after-shocks. There’s no question that we will continue to see industry disruptions as robotic technology develops, but in our mainstream narratives, we’re leaning too hard on the idea that robots are a one-to-one replacement for humans. Despite the AI pioneers’ original goal of recreating human intelligence, our current robots are fundamentally different. They’re not less-developed versions of us that will eventually catch up as we increase their computing power; like animals, they have a different type of intelligence entirely. […]

While there are many socioeconomic factors that influence how individual countries and societies view robots, the narrative is fluid, and our western view of robots versus humans isn’t the only one. Some of our western views can be directly attributed to our love of dystopian sci-fi. How much automation disrupts and shifts the labour market is an incredibly complicated question, but it’s striking how much of our conversations mirror speculative fiction rather than what’s currently happening on the ground, especially when our language places agency on the robots themselves, with pithy headlines like “No Jobs? Blame the Robots” instead of the more accurate “No Jobs? Blame Company Decisions Driven by Unbridled Corporate Capitalism”.

Comparing robots to animals helps us see that robots don’t necessarily replace jobs, but instead are helping us with specific tasks, like plowing fields, delivering packages by ground or air, cleaning pipes, and guarding the homestead. … [W]hen we broaden our thinking to consider what skills might complement our abilities instead of replacing them, we can better envision what’s possible with this new breed.

The New BreedPengiun
Kate Darling, a world-renowned expert in robot ethics, shows that in order to understand the new robot world, we must first move beyond the idea that this technology will be something like us. Instead, she argues, we should look to our relationship with animals. Just as we have harnessed the power of animals to aid us in war and work, so too will robots supplement – rather than replace – our own skills and abilities.

We’ve seen what happens when you add technology to animals, but this other way round sounds much more promising. One to add to the to read list.

Nothing lasts forever #2

After 25 years, the original Space Jam website has been replacedEsquire Middle East
The original website, launched in 1996, became a viral phenomenon in the early 2010s, as an internet that had evolved far past the 56k dial up modem found the site completely untouched from what it had once been. In an online world in which it often seems nothing is preserved, visiting the website felt genuinely like discovering the Tomb of Tutankhamun.

Web designer Max Böck compares the resources and loading times of the two versions. Progress?

Space JamMax Böck
Although connection speeds and devices keep getting better and better, the web is actually getting slower. We see the increasing bandwidth as an invitation to use more and more stuff in our websites. More images, more videos, more JavaScript. We just keep filling the available space, jamming up the pipes in the process so nothing actually gets faster. Well, at least the dial-up sound is gone now.

Here’s something from the Web Design Museum for those in the mood for more movie reminiscences.

Flash websites of Hollywood moviesYouTube Playlist
Via B3TA – “The Web Design museum are collecting flash intros to film websites, should you want to remember what the Memento site looked like in order to tattoo it on your leg so you never forget again.”

Crypto-curious

Curiosity has finally gotten the better of me. I’ve just signed up with Ziglu to buy a tiny fraction of an Ether and an absolutely miniscule fraction of a Bitcoin.

Money, done differentlyZiglu
Money doesn’t need to be confusing. Buy and sell digital currency within seconds at great rates. Send or gift both traditional and digital currency to anyone – instantly. Payments in any currency to family, friends or businesses – instantly and anywhere.

I’m not the only one a little curious.

Crypto by the county – how attitudes vary across the countryZiglu
When we commissioned a poll at the beginning of the year to get a view of attitudes towards cryptocurrency across the country, we weren’t expecting such a difference in attitudes between regions of the UK. Londoners are over four times more likely to have invested in crypto than the Scottish; the Northern Irish are 50% more curious about crypto than the East Anglians.

Brits curious yet baffled by cryptocurrencyFinextra
Of the three in ten people (31%) curious about investing in crypto, 62% have held back from buying any because they do not understand the market, while 43% say they do not know of a safe way to buy it. However, the nationally representative survey of 2,000 Brits, commissioned by money app Ziglu and conducted by OnePoll, also found that they would invest if they had a better understanding of cryptocurrencies (64%) and mainstream financial institutions start offering crypto to retail customers (36%).

CEO Mark Hipperson is the man behind Starling Bank, and is no stranger to tricky conversations with regulators and investors when starting things like this.

Ziglu wants to bring the challenger bank mindset to cryptoTech.eu
“So you’re launching a new bank that’s going to be an app only bank. Your website is not going to do any servicing, which was pretty unique at the time, it’s through this app only. You’re not going to deal with cash, you’ve got no branches, you’re not going to deal with cheques and you’ve not got billions of pounds in reserves like all the other big banks. And you think you’ve got a chance to compete in the marketplace?”

It was scepticism overcome as the app-only bank model has been normalised, he added, and people now expect that ease and usability in all their dealings with financial services.

Ok, so now what?

What can you buy with Bitcoin?The New York Times
Pornography, patio furniture and an at-home coronavirus test are among the odd assortment of goods and services people are purchasing with the cryptocurrency.

Just a little déjà vu?

Hot on the heels of that Second Life/digital identity documentary I shared earlier is news of another documentary exploring virtual themes, but of a very different kind. Have you heard of simulation theory? It’s like Second Life, but instead of being outside looking in, we’re on the inside wanting to look out.

Are we all living in the Matrix? Behind a documentary on simulation theoryThe Guardian
Coincidences we accept as quirks of chance are just imperfections in the system we’ve been plugged in to, whatever shape it might take. We could be brains in a vat, receiving electrical stimuli through wires manipulated by scientists, or perhaps we’re nothing more than bytes of data on some intelligent being’s hard drive. Plato posited that we could be shackled in a cave, mistaking the shadows on the wall for the things casting them. From VR video games to pop culture, any number of metaphors speak to the core concept of a dimension that can be seen through by those who know how to look. In the case of the more adventurous psychonauts accepting these figurative ideas as literal fact, some even attempt to control the illusion.

What is Simulation Theory? Do we live in a simulation?Built In
New York University philosophy professor David Chalmers has described the being responsible for this hyper-realistic simulation we may or may not be in as a “programmer in the next universe up,” perhaps one we mortals might consider a god of some sort — though not necessarily in the traditional sense. “[H]e or she may just be a teenager,” Chalmers said, “hacking on a computer and running five universes in the background… But it might be someone who is nonetheless omniscient, all-knowing and all-powerful about our world.”

Yes, as conspiracy theories go, it’s pretty out there. But think of it as just another whacky creation myth. I mean, do you really understand superstring theory and quantum entanglement? Nah, me neither.

Finding our digital selves

I’m a big fan of the work of Joanne McNeil and Jenny Odell. I guess the all-knowing Google must have picked up on that somehow, which was why YouTube recommended I watch this video of the two of them, plus others, on a panel discussing social media. The event was organised by the Second Life Book Club, and was what prompted me to resurrect my long-forgotten account last week.

Second Life Book ClubSecond Life
Meet book authors and discuss your favorite books at the Second Life Book Club, a series of literary-minded events. Draxtor Despres will bring established as well as up-and-coming authors, poets, publishers, and indie store owners together for virtual book discussions.

Previous shows are on this YouTube playlist, and news of the next ones are on this events calendar maintained by the host, Bernhard Drax (Draxtor Despres in SL), one of the people behind this award-winning documentary.

Our Digital Selves: My Avatar is MeYouTube
Filmmaker Bernhard Drax travels from Los Angeles to rural South England to explore why people ranging from 24 to 92 years of age find solace and inspiration in a user-created digital wonderland that only exists inside their computers. Drax sends his documentarian avatar Draxtor Despres into the virtual universe of Second Life as well as next generation VR platforms like High Fidelity and Sansar where he meets a 40-something disabled Chicago native feels best represented by a colorful superhero gecko and Cody LaScala – confined to a wheelchair his entire life – who makes his avatar an exact replica of his physical self.

Here are some crappy pics I took from last week’s Book Club event, with the sci-fi writer Julie Novakova. It’s all really piqued my interest in digital identities again, though I feel like such a newbie.

Giving Second Life a third chance

Do you remember Second Life? Not only is it still around, but it’s having something of a comeback, thanks to you-know-what.

Huck’s absolute beginner’s guide to Second Life for the coronavirus curiousWhat the Huck?
Registrations are up. People are rediscovering Second Life. Which makes sense, because one of the first things you realise after a couple of days of self-isolation/working from home is just how much we all need contact with other human beings. It’s so important that we stay at home right now, but that doesn’t mean to say we have to stop socialising, and SL offers that possibility.

A message from our CEO: Coronavirus and Second Life operationsSecond Life Community
We are seeing an increase in new registrations and returning residents during this outbreak. Please be kind and welcoming to those who may just need a friendly conversation to escape from this crazy world for a moment or more. If you have a friend or colleague who is looking for a safe place to socialize online during these tough times, we encourage you to help them discover how Second Life can enable them to feel less isolated by connecting them to your favorite communities or experiences.

I had an account with Second Life for a while back in the late-naughties, and remember very little. The only link I have on here about it is this one from 2010, about a university’s virtual version of itself falling foul of Second Life’s codes of conduct. The Chronicle’s news story I was linking to isn’t there anymore, but I found this one from the same time.

California College loses Second Life for a second timeUS News
It was a pretty big deal, then, when Woodbury University, a small school in Burbank, Calif., got booted off Second Life for the second time in four years on Tuesday, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports. Woodbury was kicked out the first time in 2007. Linden Labs, which owns and oversees Second Life, didn’t give a specific reason for the ban, but the Chronicle story suggests that it had to do with accusations of vandalism and Woodbury’s ongoing dispute with another group on Second Life.

Here’s another write-up of that from 2010, going in to more detail.

Woodbury University banned from Second Life (again)Krypton Radio
The real life Woodbury University has been barred from having any official representation in Second Life since July of 2007, when the original Woodbury University region was first trashed by IntLibber Brautigan employee Maldavius Figtree and then completely destroyed less than a week later by Linden Lab itself. Linden Lab deleted the region and most of its users due to its use as a headquarters for planning and executing grid raids by the now inactive griefing group known as the Patriotic Nigras.

The ten year anniversary of all that was noted last year on the Second Life forums, so it must have been quite significant at the time.

I was surprised that this story was the only one on Second Life that I had shared here on this blog. As I explain on my About page, all these links are first gathered up on my Pinboard site, so I went back there to see if I had anything else from around that time. They were all from 2016, the first time I peeked back inside this curiously old-fashioned futuristic land.

Why is ‘Second Life’ still a thing?Vice
“As the VR market continues to grow, new experiences are introduced, and new hardware is released, we’re seeing many experiences and behaviors that reflect what Second Life users have been doing for years,” Altberg said. Indeed, the most surprising thing about Second Life is not that it’s still a thing, but that 13 years after its inception, it is still way ahead of its time.

The digital ruins of a forgotten futureThe Atlantic
Second Life was supposed to be the future of the internet, but then Facebook came along. Yet many people still spend hours each day inhabiting this virtual realm. Their stories—and the world they’ve built—illuminate the promise and limitations of online life.

Whatever happened to Second Life?Alphr
Three years on, and Second Life seems no closer to finding a respectable reason for being than it did in 2006. It might try and shuffle sex into a corner, and pretend that it’s a melting pot of creativity, business and academia, but it ultimately serves no purpose. It’s like the nouvelle cuisine of the 1980s: pretty, fascinating but ultimately unfulfilling. “What’s the point of Second Life?” I asked one of the “greeters” on the Second Life Help Island, desperate to find something that could make this vast, billion-dollar empire seem worthwhile.

Well I quite like the place, third time round, though I’m still none the wiser about it all. Thankfully, help is still around.

Mirrored

I liked the way that my posture, whilst reading this article on how to sit correctly when working from home, was exactly the same as the photo they use to show how not to do it. We must both have heavy chins?

How to avoid neck, shoulder and back pain while working from homePatient
Have you found it hard to set up a comfortable workspace during the coronavirus lockdown? Started missing your standing desk or office chair whilst working from home? Our workspace can cause our muscles considerable pain if not set up properly, so we asked two experts to explain how best to do it.

Nothing that we don’t already know, really — screen at correct height, proper back support etc etc. We know the guidelines, we just need to follow them. Perhaps one of these would help?

Slouching too much? Can’t sleep comfortably at work? Get yourself a helping hand!Sora News 24
Thanko, Japan’s premiere producer of bizarre products, is back with the “Chin Rest Arm.” … This multipurpose, posable, movable, slightly sexy plastic hand will help keep your head up when times are tough. Literally! You can also use it in place of a neck pillow when you’re trying to escape the slow march into death by catching a few winks at work.

Good riddance

So long, and thanks for all the insults.

The complete list of Trump’s Twitter insults (2015-2021)The New York Times
As a political figure, Donald J. Trump used Twitter to praise, to cajole, to entertain, to lobby, to establish his version of events — and, perhaps most notably, to amplify his scorn. This list documents the verbal attacks Mr. Trump posted on Twitter, from when he declared his candidacy in June 2015 to Jan. 8, when Twitter permanently barred him.

Let’s see how the new guy’s account gets used.

How Biden becomes @POTUS: A Twitter transition breakdownHollywood Reporter
The multi-step process will begin with the archiving of official tweets sent during the Trump administration.

When Joe Biden takes the White House, he’ll also take @WhiteHouseThe New York Times
The tweets on each current account will be archived under different names. The Trump administration’s tweets under @POTUS, for example, will be transferred to @POTUS45.

Biden Twitter account ‘starts from zero’ with no Trump followersBBC News
Donald Trump inherited the Potus account’s 13 million or so followers when it moved to him from Mr Obama – but that will not happen this time.

Update – 24/01/2021

Here’s an angle on this I hadn’t considered before.

‘I am not sad. I am really not sad’: Trump’s Twitter reply-guys reckon with a post-Trump eraOneZero
Many of Trump’s early reply-guys eventually burned out or changed tactics; others have long since been booted from Twitter themselves. But dozens of otherwise ordinary anti-Trumpers, like Guterman, still draw hundreds of thousands of followers to their online tilts, and they’re facing an unclear future without their archnemesis. “I guess I’ll go read a book,” tweeted Jeff Tiedrich, perhaps the king of the reply-guys and the publisher of a leftist politics blog, in the hours after Trump’s suspension.

“It’s a new era for Twitter now,” Guterman said. “I don’t think there’s any need anymore for me to do this.”

Doomed

Have you ever compared Facebook’s algorithmic autonomy and global reach to a Cold War era mechanism for assured nuclear destruction? Perhaps you should.

Facebook is a Doomsday MachineThe Atlantic
[I]t took the concept of “community” and sapped it of all moral meaning. The rise of QAnon, for example, is one of the social web’s logical conclusions. That’s because Facebook—along with Google and YouTube—is perfect for amplifying and spreading disinformation at lightning speed to global audiences. Facebook is an agent of government propaganda, targeted harassment, terrorist recruitment, emotional manipulation, and genocide—a world-historic weapon that lives not underground, but in a Disneyland-inspired campus in Menlo Park, California. […]

Megascale is nearly the existential threat that megadeath is. No single machine should be able to control the fate of the world’s population—and that’s what both the Doomsday Machine and Facebook are built to do. […]

[T]here aren’t enough moderators speaking enough languages, working enough hours, to stop the biblical flood of shit that Facebook unleashes on the world, because 10 times out of 10, the algorithm is faster and more powerful than a person. […]

In other words, if the Dunbar number for running a company or maintaining a cohesive social life is 150 people; the magic number for a functional social platform is maybe 20,000 people. Facebook now has 2.7 billion monthly users. […]

If the age of reason was, in part, a reaction to the existence of the printing press, and 1960s futurism was a reaction to the atomic bomb, we need a new philosophical and moral framework for living with the social web—a new Enlightenment for the information age, and one that will carry us back to shared reality and empiricism.

Those were the paragraphs that Patrick Tanguay highlighted in one of his recent newsletters. As much as I love reading about the horrors of Facebook — and social media more widely — I’m left wondering what the point of this piece was. Will attitudes really change after reading this, or is this just more confirmation bias? Take this paragraph, for instance.

These dangers are not theoretical, and they’re exacerbated by megascale, which makes the platform a tantalizing place to experiment on people. Facebook has conducted social-contagion experiments on its users without telling them. Facebook has acted as a force for digital colonialism, attempting to become the de facto (and only) experience of the internet for people all over the world. Facebook has bragged about its ability to influence the outcome of elections. Unlawful militant groups use Facebook to organize. Government officials use Facebook to mislead their own citizens, and to tamper with elections. Military officials have exploited Facebook’s complacency to carry out genocide. Facebook inadvertently auto-generated jaunty recruitment videos for the Islamic State featuring anti-Semitic messages and burning American flags.

That’s an appalling summary, unconscionable, how can this continue, something must be done etc etc. And yet here we are, nearly 3 billion users. Is it all being dismissed as tabloid exaggeration, resulting in nothing changing? A Doomsday that nobody notices?

Trump’s Twitter troubles

We all know how important a strong password is, right?

Top 200 most common passwords of the year 2020NordPass
Here are the worst 200 passwords of 2020. The list details how many times a password has been exposed, used, and how much time it would take to crack it. We also compare the worst passwords of 2019 and 2020, highlighting how their positions have changed. The green arrows indicate a rise in the position while the red ones – a fall off. Check if your password is on the list and strengthen it if it is.

Well, you’ll never guess what.

Dutch prosecutors say Trump’s Twitter account was hacked by guessing his password: maga2020!Vox
Despite insistence from the White House and Twitter that there was no evidence of a hack, public prosecutors in the Netherlands confirmed details of an intrusion on Wednesday. The hacker, 44-year-old Victor Gevers, was facing potential jail time for accessing the president’s infamous social media account. But prosecutors said Gevers had acted in an “ethical” way by immediately disclosing what he had done to Dutch authorities.

Trump Twitter ‘hack’: Police accept attacker’s claimBBC News
Mr Gevers said he was very happy with the outcome. “This is not just about my work but all volunteers who look for vulnerabilities in the internet,” he said. The well respected cyber-security researcher said he had been conducting a semi-regular sweep of the Twitter accounts of high-profile US election candidates, on 16 October, when he had guessed President Trump’s password. […]

Earlier this year, Mr Gevers also claimed he and other security researchers had logged in to Mr Trump’s Twitter account in 2016 using a password – “yourefired” – linked to another of his social-network accounts in a previous data breach.