Blog pauses seem popular at the moment. As you’ve already guessed, I’ve decided to leave mine for a while, though I’m still making a note of what catches eye on the web over on Pinboard.
Category: Technology & the Web
This category is the home for articles about the internet and email, phones and social media, and the history of technology and computing.
So, farewell then, iPod
That’s that, then. Add it to the list.
‘The spirit lives on’: Apple to discontinue the iPod after 21 years – The Guardian
In a statement announcing the discontinuation, Greg Joswiak, Apple’s senior vice-president of worldwide marketing, said the “spirit of iPod lives on”. “Music has always been part of our core at Apple, and bringing it to hundreds of millions of users in the way iPod did impacted more than just the music industry – it also redefined how music is discovered, listened to, and shared,” he said.
RIP iPod 2001-2022: The complete history of Apple’s iconic music player – Macworld
“Why music?” Jobs asked in his introduction. “Well, we love music, and it’s always good to do something you love. More importantly, music is a part of everyone’s life. Everyone! Music’s been around forever; it will always be around. This is not a speculative market.”
Now, 21 years later, Apple has announced that its pocket digital music and media player has reached the end of its life. Apple will continue to sell the iPod touch “while supplies last” and when the last unit is gone, that’ll be the last you’ll ever hear of Apple’s iconic device.
RIP the iPod. I resisted you at first, but for 20 years, you were my musical life – The Guardian
Now that the agile upstart has become a knackered warhorse, laden with nostalgia, it’s worth remembering that the iPod was contentious when it was launched back in October 2001, holding a then-remarkable 1,000 songs. What the author Stephen Witt calls “the most ubiquitous gadget in the history of stuff” did more for Apple – paving the way for the iPhone and iPad – than it did for the music industry. While the arrival of the iTunes store 18 months later helped to stem illegal filesharing, the iPod still allowed users to unbundle individual tracks from albums; download sales never came close to making up for collapsing CD revenue during the music business’s lost decade. I was initially grumpy about the iPod, complaining that it devalued music and drove a bulldozer through the concept of the album. A shuffle function? Barbarians! Eventually, of course, I bought one and loved it.
And here’s a look at ten iPod competitors that didn’t make it.
Shuffled by the iPod – Tedium
In a 2012 retrospective, New Scientist contributor Jacob Aron nailed this device’s many problems compared to an iPod with a single paragraph: “Imagine a portable music player that holds just a single hour of content, interrupts your listening with 30-second advertisements, and whose store offers none of your favorite songs. And all this could be yours for the bargain price of $299.” (One thing it had going in its favor, though? Longevity: Per AudioWorld, it could run on two AAA batteries for a gobsmacking three months.)
The game is on #2
If you’re at a loose end, try sorting this little game out.
Each Curvy puzzle consists of a grid of hexagonal tiles. On each tile appears a single or double set of lines, and each set of lines has its own color. These tiles must be rotated to find a solution in which lines of the same color connect, with no loose ends.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to actually win the game:
Dead trees – Unit 520
Dead Trees is a game prototype / destructible physics experiment that is totally not inspired by the popular block laying game™ of unknown origin that takes the initial concept ad absurdum.
I like how it describes itself: “Desaturated colors, no way to win anything. Just stacking and breaking blocks until you lose.”
Hope for the internet?
Counteracting the overwhelming sense of disappointment I feel when thinking about the internet these days is this welcome interview with Matt Mullenweg (cool URL), the founder of WordPress. Long, but quite inspiring.
How WordPress and Tumblr are keeping the internet weird – The Verge
We’re doing a good job at democratizing publishing. WordPress is on the right path there. Like I said, I think it’ll get to an 85% share. I now feel so strongly about them doing the same thing for e-commerce, because I think that we need those same freedoms: freedom to publish, freedom to transact, freedom to use any payment system, freedom for the transaction fees to be just as low as humanly possible versus going up every year. We need open-source alternatives, not just to Shopify, but also Amazon, and Etsy, and everything else. […]
I’ll tell you a stat most people don’t realize. Half of all users who sign up for WordPress.com every day are there to blog. To be honest, even internally, we assumed everyone was coming to us for CMS features, and I think we over-indexed on that more business-y side that you just described. That’s also because we thought more revenue was coming, but when we sliced the data differently, we actually found that more than half of signups were there primarily to blog. I think it’s cool that people are still blogging. […]
If we can create a third place on the internet that doesn’t have an advertising model — you might have seen that we just launched an ad-free upgrade for Tumblr. Twitter and Facebook never do that because their business models don’t allow them to. But, luckily, since Tumblr isn’t making very much money right now, we can afford to do that and make it the model. I think that’s pretty cool. We have a really decent chance to bootstrap a non-surveillance-capitalism-based social network, which I think is impossible for the incumbents right now. They just have the golden handcuffs.
Facebook’s leaky data problem
Vice have seen a leaked document written by Facebook privacy engineers which sounds the alarm on how they deal with users’ data.
Facebook doesn’t know what it does with your data, or where it goes: Leaked document – Vice
“We’ve built systems with open borders. The result of these open systems and open culture is well described with an analogy: Imagine you hold a bottle of ink in your hand. This bottle of ink is a mixture of all kinds of user data (3PD, 1PD, SCD, Europe, etc.) You pour that ink into a lake of water (our open data systems; our open culture) … and it flows … everywhere,” the document read. “How do you put that ink back in the bottle? How do you organize it again, such that it only flows to the allowed places in the lake?”
An interesting analogy. Stop polluting the lake?
Photo by Jenn Wood
The metaverse on the high street
Amazon may have decided to shut up shop, but that’s not put
Meta plans to open its first retail store as it highlights metaverse-related products – The New York Times
The Meta Store, at the company’s campus in Burlingame, Calif., will open on May 9, Meta said. The store will showcase Meta’s hardware, including the Quest 2 virtual-reality headset, the Portal video calling device and the Ray-Ban Stories smart sunglasses. Customers can try out the devices to experiment with virtual and augmented reality and buy the items in the store or later online at Meta’s or Ray-Ban’s website.
I won’t be rushing to get there.
Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse obsession is driving some current and former Facebook employees nuts: ‘It’s the only thing Mark wants to talk about’ – Insider
Last year, it lost $10 billion on its Reality Labs segment, which handles metaverse projects. It intends to spend that much this year, too, and possibly for many years to come. Zuckerberg has said the metaverse is a long-term project that won’t be fully developed for a decade or more. So far, there’s little to show for so much money spent, according to another employee who recently left. “There’s still not much to touch or look at, much less use,” the person said, “for all of its metaverse proclamations.”
Mark Zuckerberg’s augmented reality – The Verge
Animating the push for AR glasses and Facebook’s rebrand to Meta is a desire by Zuckerberg to cast the company he founded as innovative once again, people familiar with his thinking say. The social network’s reputation has been stained by a series of privacy and content moderation scandals, hurting employee morale and faith in leadership. Regulators are trying to break the company up and curb its business of personalized advertising. And among its Silicon Valley peers, it has become known as a ruthless copycat. If the AR glasses and the other futuristic hardware Meta is building eventually catch on, they could cast the company, and by extension Zuckerberg, in a new light. “Zuck’s ego is intertwined with [the glasses],” a former employee who worked on the project tells me. “He wants it to be an iPhone moment.”
Yeah but what if we are?
Simulation theory, the idea that we’re all living inside a supercomputer is pretty far-fetched, to be sure. But no one really believes it, right?
Of course we’re living in a simulation – WIRED
In other words, yes, and with sincere apologies to Tonelli and most of his fellow physicists, who hate it when anybody suggests this: The only explanation for life, the universe, and everything that makes any sense, in light of quantum mechanics, in light of observation, in light of light and something faster than light, is that we’re living inside a supercomputer. Is that we’re living, all of us, and always, in a simulation.
Jason Kehe presents an interesting case (one that I really hope is more than a little tongue-in-cheek) in his review of David Chalmers’s new book, Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy.
Over the course of writing this essay, I must confess that everything seemed to confirm the truth of the simulation. Every impossible coincidence I experienced or heard about—simulated. The stranger at the café who quoted practically verbatim a line I was reading in a book—simulated. Every new book I picked up, for that matter—simulated. Seriously, how could every book one reads, in the course of writing about reality, be about reality in such a fundamental way? […]
This, it seems to me, is what the physicists, and simulation skeptics of all sorts, are missing. Not a belief in the simulation, per se, but the irresistible possibility of it, the magical conspiracy. It doesn’t diminish or undermine their science; quite the opposite, it enriches and energizes it. How many people, generally unmotivated to learn, find their way to a concept as intimidating as, say, quantum indeterminacy by way of the (far more welcoming) simulation argument? I’d guess a great many, and physicists would do well not to belittle that entry point into their work by calling it fluff, nonsense, the sci-fi pursuits of littler minds.
I get that it’s hard to prove a negative, that we can’t prove that our reality is not virtual, but does the inverse follow? Are our virtual worlds really real? Here’s an interview with David Chambers.
Can we have a meaningful life in a virtual world? – The New York Times
I think what moves a lot of people is the idea that somehow if you were in a virtual world, it would all be fake, it would be an illusion. Maybe the virtual worlds are like video games: Nothing that happens there really matters; it’s just an escape from the issues in the real world. Whereas I think what happens in virtual worlds can, in principle, be very significant. You can build a meaningful life in a virtual world. We can get into deep social and political discussions and decisions about the shape of society in a virtual world. Rather than living in a video game, my analogy would be more like we’re moving to a new, uninhabited country and setting up a society. The issues will be somewhat different from the issues where we came from, but I wouldn’t consider that escapism. Also, I’m not saying abandon physical reality completely and go live in a virtual world. I think of the virtual world as a supplement to physical reality rather than a replacement, at least in any remotely short term.
That sounds very familiar.
Featured image Locus Amoenus region of CDS
What to do with anonymous trolls
The debate over the contents of the draft Online Safety Bill continues.
New plans to protect people from anonymous trolls online – GOV.UK
The government recognises too many people currently experience online abuse and there are concerns that anonymity is fuelling this, with offenders having little to no fear of recrimination from either the platforms or law enforcement. […]
So today the government is confirming it will add two new duties to its Online Safety Bill to strengthen the law against anonymous online abuse. The first duty will force the largest and most popular social media sites to give adults the ability to block people who have not verified their identity on a platform. A second duty will require platforms to provide users with options to opt out of seeing harmful content.
Filter out ‘unverified’ accounts, tech giants told – BBC News
The DCMS acknowledged that people use anonymous accounts for a variety of reasons, including whistle-blowing, exploring their sexuality or sharing their experience in an authoritarian company. However, it said users should be given tools to “control who can interact with them”.
But here’s Benedict Evans’s take on it, from a recent newsletter. And even the government agrees that he knows what he’s talking about.
The UK’s content regulation hairball
The UK’s Online Harms Bill began as a pretty sensible and narrowly defined effort to solve one kind of problem: make a list of specific kinds of harmful content, and create an obligation for platform companies to make reasonable best efforts to minimise them. Unfortunately it’s now become a grab bag of hobbyhorses and every random terrible Internet regulation idea from the last decade.
The latest idea is that somehow if the Internet wasn’t anonymous, no one would behave badly, and so big Internet platforms need to give everyone an option to verify their identity, and an option to hide content from people who aren’t verified. This is a bizarre overreach – the UK wants YouTube offer people in Vietnam, Argentina and New Zealand an option to upload passports. Yet since this of course has to be optional, no one will actually do it, so the switch to turn off unverified content will just hide everything and be completely useless. Meanwhile, there have been any number of studies in the last few years demonstrating that the vast majority of problematic accounts are not anonymous anyway. This is regulation by press release – we expect better.
Photo Soumil Kumar
What a mess #2
The war in Ukraine is horrendous, doesn’t bear thinking about. But if you do want to think about it, here are a few interesting links. Let’s start with something positive from the art world.
A selection of resources in support of the people of Ukraine – It’s Nice That
We stand in solidarity and support of the Ukrainian people and everyone affected by this war, and wish to use our platform to help. So, here, we’re sharing a growing list of resources put together with our sister company Creative Lives in Progress, shared by our team and community. They include places to donate and volunteer; creative responses to the crisis including projects, campaigns and fundraising sales; key information for those who need it; and other useful links, such as a free photo bank to tackle Russian government propaganda, a list of Ukrainian illustrators to commission, and a callout for help with Ukrainian artist visas.
STOP WAR: A new series of works by Sho Shibuya in support of Ukraine – Design You Trust
In the peak of the coronavirus epidemic, he decided to recycle each of the New York Times front pages to turn them into works of art. The designer dedicates his new series of works to the war in Ukraine, a senseless and fratricidal war. A war that became a tragedy for millions of people. A war that cannot be justified.
Ukraine-based content platform launches a free resource of images of Russia’s war in Ukraine for anyone to use – It’s Nice That
Vista’s Depositphotos, a Ukraine-based content platform, has launched a free image collection, Say No to War, detailing the “brutal truth of what’s happening in Ukraine, as well as images of protests from around the world and inside of Russia”, says the Depositphotos team.
Rich with imaginative detail, Maria Prymachenko’s colorful folk art speaks to life in Ukraine – Colossal
Expressive and consistently advocating for peace, Prymachenko’s paintings are widely known throughout Ukraine and internationally: she received a gold medal at the Paris World Fair in 1937, when Pablo Picasso is said to have dubbed her “an artistic miracle.”
Earlier this week, Russian attacks northwest of Kyiv destroyed the Ivankiv Historical and Local History Museum, where about 25 of her works were housed. According to the Ukrainian Institute, though, local residents were able to retrieve the pieces from the burning museum before they were lost entirely. The aggression subsequently prompted calls for Russia to be removed from UNESCO, which declared 2009 the year of Prymachenko.
Ukraine accuses Russia of burning down a museum – Hyperallergic
About 25 paintings by Ukrainian artist Maria Pryimachenko were destroyed in a fire incited by an attack as part of the Russian invasion, Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said today, February 28, on Twitter. The works were housed at the Ivankiv Local History Museum in the Kyiv province. A video circulating on Twitter shows what appears to be the museum’s building in flames. The destruction of the museum was also reported by the Kyiv Independent. Hyperallergic could not independently verify these reports.
Some big names from the world of music aren’t faring too well.
Anna Netrebko withdraws from upcoming Met Opera engagements – Opera Wire
The company noted that in “not complying with the Met’s condition that she repudiate her public support for Vladimir Putin while he wages war on Ukraine, soprano Anna Netrebko has withdrawn from her upcoming Met performances in Puccini’s ‘Turandot’ this April and May, as well as the run of Verdi’s Don Carlo next season.”
Putin’s Maestro, and the limits of cultural exchange in wartime – The New York Times
How will we think of Valery Gergiev a century from now? One of the world’s leading conductors, he has in just the last week lost a series of engagements and positions, including as chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic, for not disavowing the war in Ukraine being waged by his longtime friend and ally, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
How would those cancellations be spun in Russia, I wonder.
Outside Russia, Putin’s propaganda machine is swiftly crashing down – Vanity Fair
Under pressure from the Ukrainian government and other foreign leaders, tech giants and cable providers are issuing a flurry of measures to curb the reach of Russian state media in Europe as Russia wages war on Ukraine. Google on Tuesday blocked the YouTube channels of RT and Sputnik, two Kremlin-owned outlets that serve as mouthpieces for Vladimir Putin’s propagandistic agenda across the continent. The move came a day after Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, and TikTok both said they would block RT and Sputnik content on their platforms in the E.U. Nick Clegg, Meta’s head of global affairs, cited “requests from a number of governments and the E.U.” and “the exceptional nature of the current situation” as he announced the restrictions, which prevent users across E.U. countries from accessing pages or content posted by the two state-backed outlets. Microsoft likewise took action against “state-sponsored disinformation campaigns” Monday as it blocked RT and Sputnik content from appearing on its platform in Europe and banned advertising from Russian state media. In doing so, the company joined Google, YouTube (which is owned by Google), Twitter, and Facebook, all of which have either restricted or banned state-backed media outlets from selling ads.
Russian state TV is covering the war very differently – CNN
Russian media coverage looks very different than how CNN and other western news outlets are covering the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Ukraine war: ‘My city’s being shelled, but mum won’t believe me’ – BBC News
“I didn’t want to scare my parents, but I started telling them directly that civilians and children are dying,” she says. “But even though they worry about me, they still say it probably happens only by accident, that the Russian army would never target civilians. That it’s Ukrainians who’re killing their own people.” […] Oleksandra says her mother just repeats the narratives of what she hears on Russian state TV channels. “It really scared me when my mum exactly quoted Russian TV. They are just brainwashing people. And people trust them,” says Oleksandra.
Some Russians are breaking through and trying to make a different, though.
How Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova is using crypto to fight for equality – Time
[I]n the days following the late-February invasion of Ukraine, she helped launch UkraineDAO, a fundraising campaign that racked up almost $7 million in cryptocurrency donations in less than a week, with funds channeled towards Ukrainian aid organizations. “It’s really important for me to be a good activist and be an influential artist to be able to maintain my anti-Putin voice. In that way, it’s all inherently connected,” she says.
Here’s another example of new technology being used for good.
When war struck, Ukraine turned to Telegram – WIRED UK
“How to distinguish our equipment from the enemy?” UkraineNOW posted on Friday, sharing pictures of Ukrainian and Russian tanks. On Saturday, three separate posts in the space of just six minutes warned of imminent airstrikes across Ukraine (“air alarm: Lviv, Rivne ❗️❗️❗️”); maps showing air raid shelter locations were shared. On Sunday the channel advised on ways to safely pass military checkpoints (“turn on the hazard warning light, no video recording”) and what to do if there are attacks on chemical processing plants (“close the windows and do not open them unnecessarily”).
With nearly 500,000 members before Russia’s invasion, UkraineNOW was already one of the country’s biggest Telegram channels. Now a million people depend on it for updates about the war.
And it’s nice to see the Second Life community playing its part too.
Linden Lab statement on Ukraine – Second Life Community
Effective Monday, we will be further supporting our eligible Ukrainian-based community members by granting them a temporary 30-day moratorium on recurring account fees such as Premium Membership and Land Maintenance fees. We will review this again after 30 days and assess what we can do as next steps where necessary. We invite any of our Ukraine-based community members to contact support with any specific questions they may have.
Second Life community rallies to help Ukraine-based creators on platform – New World Notes
This is a Google Spreadsheet of Second Life stores and website Marketplace shops owned by Ukraine-based creators on the virtual world platform. It was quickly created by SL community members within the first 24 hours of the Putin regime’s invasion of that country, with a goal of supporting these merchants with L$ purchases — which they can subsequently convert into their local currency. (Whenever, that is, they are able to find a stable Internet connection in the now-embattled region.)
Slava Ukraini! Ways to show your support for Ukraine in Second Life (and in real life, too!) – Ryan Schultz
You might be surprised to learn that current events in the real world are often quickly reflected in the virtual world! The war in Ukraine is no exception, and in almost no time at all, Second Life content creators have responded! This blogpost will showcase FREE clothing and home/yard decor to allow you to express your feelings about this unwanted, unnecessary, heartbreaking war.
Sadly, not everything online is a positive influence.
Scammy Instagram ‘war pages’ are capitalizing on Ukraine conflict – Input
Hayden, who claims to be a 21-year-old from Kentucky, says that after learning about the war breaking out through the hip-hop Instagram page @Rap, he saw an opportunity. He had already run a popular war page called @liveinafghanistan. More recently, he had renamed it @newstruths and pivoted to posting viral, vaguely conservative-leaning videos featuring people shoplifting and clips of President Biden. But on Wednesday night, it was wartime again, and so the page became @livefromukraine.
Seven ways to spot fake photographs of the war in Ukraine – The Art Newspaper
As it turns out, this piece of video was produced in DCS, a popular flight simulator game, and was originally posted to YouTube as a tribute to the Ghost, before being repurposed and circulated online as genuine footage. The footage is purposely miscaptioned and therefore fabricated.
Russia using TikTok to spread anti-Ukraine disinformation, experts say – USA Today
Cyabra’s analysts tracked thousands of Facebook and Twitter accounts that had recently posted about Ukraine. Researchers saw a sudden and dramatic increase in anti-Ukrainian content in the days immediately before the invasion. On Valentine’s Day, for instance, the number of anti-Ukrainian posts created by the sample of Twitter accounts jumped by 11,000% when compared with just days earlier. Analysts believe a significant portion of the accounts are inauthentic and controlled by groups linked to the Russian government. […]
Russia tailors its propaganda message for specific audiences. For Russians and pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, the message is that Russia is trying to defend its own people against Western-fueled aggression and persecution in Ukraine. Similar tactics have been used, including by Nazi Germany when it invaded Czechoslovakia under the guise of protecting ethnic Germans living there, Ludes noted.
But let’s not forget Western media is not without its flaws.
‘They seem so like us’: In depicting Ukraine’s plight, some in media use offensive comparisons – The Washington Post
Such coverage resorts to “Orientalist concepts of ‘civilization’ that have long been present in European colonial discourse,” said Denijal Jegic, a postdoctoral researcher in communication and multimedia journalism at Lebanese American University in Beirut, in an interview. “This implicitly suggests that war is a natural phenomenon in places outside of the Euro-American sphere, and the Middle East in particular, and that war would take place because of a lack of civilization, rather than due to unjust geopolitical power distribution or foreign intervention.”
Recalling that Western media cares more about people Western countries – The Morning News
In light of a round-up in the Washington Post of offensive descriptions in the media of the Ukraine invasion—ironic considering a headline the Post used for a George F. Will column as recently as July: “Civilized nations’ efforts to deter Russia and China are starting to add up”—an old graphic feels pertinent:
The Fox News journalist fact-checking channel’s pundits on air over Ukraine – The Guardian
Last week Griffin had already corrected Fox & Friends’ Steve Doocy and lectured the Fox News host Harris Faulkner about how Joe Biden stationing troops at Ukraine’s border would have given Putin “a pretext to go into Ukraine”, but the veteran journalist stepped it up in recent days as she apparently lost patience with the opinions of some of the Fox News punditocracy.
It’s hard to know what to say.
Help for teachers and families to talk to pupils about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and how to help them avoid misinformation – DfE Education Hub
Establish the facts by pointing pupils towards “trusted, reputable sources that explain the what, where, when, why and who”. It encourages teachers to challenge incorrect information when they see it and to present evidence for facts and get pupils to do the same.
How to talk to children about what’s happening in Ukraine – Metro News
As parents and carers we can feel like what we should be doing is giving them all of the facts and keeping them informed. But this approach can sometimes leave children feeling overwhelmed, Tania explains. ‘Children tend to be really good at spontaneous questioning. If they want to know something, they’ll ask,’ she says. But if they do ask, or you feel that they need some explanation or reassurance, it’s important to think about how you’re feeling first.
Let’s take a step back.
Ukraine Recap: the origins of Putin’s war – and why it’s not gone to plan – The Conversation
Putin has also expressed his concern the Nato has reneged on a pledge after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 that it would not expand into the former Soviet republics. Whether there was indeed a formal pledge along these lines is doubtful, writes Gavin Hall of the University of Strathclyde. But what is not in doubt, writes Aldo Zammit Borda of City, University of London, is that Russia, Ukraine, the UK and US sat down and agreed that Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be respected. In return, Ukraine gave up its nuclear arsenal, at the time the third-largest in the world.
Beyond the fog of war: books to help us understand the invasion of Ukraine – The Guardian
A crucial weapon that Putin’s Kremlin deployed in defanging the – albeit rickety and imperfect – democracy that grew up in Russia in the 1990s was his control of the press. No one has written about this better than Kyiv-born Peter Pomerantsev in Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible, a hilarious but terrifying account of his own career in the Russian media. Joshua Yaffa did a fantastic job of exploring how ordinary people navigated the system Putin built in Between Two Fires: Truth, Ambition and Compromise in Putin’s Russia.
But the west is very much not guiltless in supporting the corrupt systems that have bedevilled both Russia and Ukraine (anger at which drove Kyiv’s 2014 revolution). To understand how kleptocracy is enabled out of western capitals, and, above all, out of London, read Kleptopia by Tom Burgis. The oligarchs from both sides employ western lawyers, accountants and wealth managers to hide the money they stole, then spend it on property, luxury goods, fine art and more.
The best books on Ukraine and Russia – Five Books
The Soviet Union fell apart on the issue of Ukraine. The first to raise the banner of independence were the Baltic states, but they’re small countries and they’re not Slavic. The Ukrainian referendum of December 1991 didn’t ask the question of what one wanted to do with the Soviet Union, the referendum was about Ukraine only: ‘Do you want Ukraine to be independent?’ But once more than 90% of Ukrainians responded in the affirmative, the USSR was gone within a week. The Central Asian republics were really pushed out of the Soviet Union because Russia was not interested in a union with them without Ukraine. That’s the beginning of the most recent part of the story: the Soviet Union fell on the issue of Ukraine and now, if there are to be effective Russian economic, military and other spheres of influence, Ukraine is essential, like it was back in 1991.
UK universities brace for impact of sanctions against Russia – The Guardian
Simon Marginson, a professor of higher education at the University of Oxford, said most academics would support a research boycott with heavy hearts and concerns for Russian colleagues. “All the Russian academics I know oppose the war. The internal situation in Russia will get nastier and they will need solidarity, so there is a case for maintaining ties,” he said.
What a mess. Let’s leave the last word to the Ukrainians themselves.
Thoughts, hopes and disappointments in Kyiv: a street photographer’s photos of Ukraine – 2001-2021 – Flashbak
Everyday moments in Kyiv before the tanks rolled in.
In the nation’s darkest hours, Ukrainians look out for each other – Kyiv Independent
Civilians all across the country do whatever it takes to help each other: They deliver medicine and food for those hiding in bomb shelters. Both regular citizens and restaurant chefs prepare meals for the military, refugees, and civilians. People adopt abandoned animals and offer shelters and rides to fellow Ukrainians.
Liutyk is no exception: The girl, together with her mother and best friend, has been offering warm food and drinks for free to fleeing Ukrainians who are spending exhausting hours in lines on the border with Poland in Lviv Oblast, where she lives. “Such difficult times either break the nation or, just like in our case, unite it entirely,” Liutyk says.
Turning noise back into sound
Whether loud or quiet, noise can be a problem. But not for everyone though, as Victoria Bates, associate professor from the University of Bristol, demonstrates.
How the noises of a hospital can become a healing soundscape – Psyche Ideas
The label of ‘noise’ is attached to sounds for a wide range of reasons that go beyond loudness. A quiet sound can become noisy over time, sometimes bothering only one person who is frustrated that nobody else can hear it: a ticking clock, for example, or the rattling of an air conditioner. Loud sounds can be tuned out through familiarity. ‘Alarm fatigue’ is often experienced by staff members working in high-technology environments. […]
‘Noise is to sound what stench is to smell (and what weed is to plant) – something dissonant, unwanted, out of place, and invasive.’
A fascinating take on how to turn noise — not just an acoustic phenomenon, but an individual and social one — back into sound.
These sounds save lives – Vimeo
The purpose of the film was initially to promote & demystify the topics within Victoria Bates’ new book titled Making Noise in the Modern Hospital. But as we developed the script and style, we found that by broadening the audience and centering the patient experience the film could also serve a therapeutic and educational purpose. If this film can help us reframe how we hear and listen within hospitals, maybe then it can help us cope in future moments of distress or anxiety.
A visit to hospital can be a uncomfortable experience and noise is often a source of complaints. Over the years, the NHS has spent significant amounts of money on things like sound-proofing and internal communications campaigns to try and reduce noise within the hospital, but as our film makes clear – silence is never the goal.
Metaverse schmetaverse #2
VR headsets are bulky and cumbersome, convincing virtual touch is a long way off, and I’ve no idea if virtual smell is a thing. But not to worry, enthuses philosophy professor David Chalmers, “these temporary limitations will pass.”
Adventures in technophilosophy: On the reality of virtual worlds – Literary Hub
The physics engines that underpin VR are improving. In years to come, the headsets will get smaller, and we will transition to glasses, contact lenses, and eventually retinal or brain implants. The resolution will get better, until a virtual world looks exactly like a nonvirtual world. We will figure out how to handle touch, smell, and taste. We may spend much of our lives in these environments, whether for work, socializing, or entertainment. My guess is that within a century we will have virtual realities that are indistinguishable from the nonvirtual world.
And from this assertion it’s only a short haptic skip and a jump to his take on simulation theory and his belief that VR technologies will eventually “be able to support lives that are on a par with or even surpass life in physical reality.”
As much as I enjoy spending time in Second Life, I think I’ll leave the notion that virtual worlds could one day be indistinguishable from the physical world to the movies. Here’s Joanne McNeil’s take on VR and the metaverse.
Freedom as a preset: Joanne McNeil on metaverses past and present – Filmmaker Magazine
There was a brief moment of VR hype in 2016 that faded, but this new round of messaging—and investment—suggests that this time plans are serious. Plus, the technology latches on, Voltron style, to other enormously hyped digital trends like the marketplace blockchain concepts known as Web3. […]
Money isn’t the opposite of freedom, exactly, but capitalism certainly forecloses on our degrees of it. In a widely circulated interview The Verge conducted in December with the stars of The Matrix, Keanu Reeves laughed at the idea of NFTs and seemed largely unimpressed with Facebook and other “capitalistic platform” applications of virtual world technology, which he is otherwise enthusiastic about.
NFTs again. It’s hard to imagine them providing a solid foundation for the metaverse.
‘Huge mess of theft and fraud:’ artists sound alarm as NFT crime proliferates – The Guardian
In theory, blockchain technology was supposed to make it easier for digital artists to sell unique tokens of ownership, offering buyers a permanent record of ownership linked to the work. […]
But other artists say that the past year’s crypto boom has been a nightmare. Among the problems is that anyone can “mint” a digital file as an NFT, whether or not they have rights to it in the first place, and the process is anonymous by default. “It is much easier to make forgeries in the blockchain space than in the traditional art world. It’s as simple as right-click, save,” said Tina Rivers Ryan, a curator and expert in digital art at the Albright-Knox gallery in Buffalo, New York. “It’s also harder to fight forgers. How do you sue the anonymous holder of a crypto wallet? In which jurisdiction?”
The big Bitcoin drop, explained – Wealthsimple
“The market is still deciding whether [bitcoin] is going to be an alternate financial system or if it’s some kind of a scam,” Stephane Ouellette, of the Toronto-based institutional crypto platform FRNT Financial, told Bloomberg in December. After all, even if you do believe that cryptocurrencies will lead to a new technological era and change the financial world and all that jazz, bitcoin might not be the token that endures and defines defi. The big question is whether the panic late this week and the forced sales will continue to weigh on bitcoin’s price, or if crypto true believers and value seekers can outweigh these forces.
Websites as flytraps, content as bait
Max Böck (previously) is fed up with the sorry state of the web these days, sentiments I share completely. And here’s Rubens Cantuni with similar thoughts on habit-forming app design, “like seeing those tobacco commercials from the 50s.”
This breakfast cereal does not exist
What better way to start the day than with a bowl of eggo nut frosted strawberry pancakes. I think I’ll pass on the carbonated waffle balls, even if they are the “gold standard for waffle ball fun innovation using wheat-based flavors and crispy aluminum foil.”
Glorious Geocities homepage archaeology
Cameron Askin has created a wonderfully giddy collage of the animated GIFs and other mad decorations that completely covered our Geocities homepages back on the 90s. And follow the links to see archived pages care of the WayBack Machine too. I wonder if he used that Geocities Torrent.
A love letter to the Internet of old – Cameron’s World
In an age where we interact primarily with branded and marketed web content, Cameron’s World is a tribute to the lost days of unrefined self-expression on the Internet. This project recalls the visual aesthetics from an era when it was expected that personal spaces would always be under construction.
I came across this via a recent B3ta newsletter, but this animated tribute to clashing colour schemes and Comic Sans and Times New Roman has been blasting away since 2015, going by the links to all the press about the project Cameron has collected.
Revisit everything wonderful about Geocities with one impeccable website – Fast Company
Travel back in time to the best and weirdest GeoCities sites – Vice
RIP GeoCities: what the internet looked liked before the internet was cool – It’s Nice That
Gaze deeply into this loving tribute to the heyday of Geocities web design – AV Club
Cameron’s World – BoingBoing
Hundreds of Geocities images organized neatly – Hyperallergic
This nostalgia project is keeping GeoCities alive – The Daily Dot
Witness a glorious graveyard of Geocities GIFs – The Next Web
Think today’s internet is weird? Check out this madness from back in the day – Huffington Post
Given the current climate crisis, you can understand why most visions of the future are quite negative. Over a hundred years ago, however, the future was imagined much more positively.
The future imagined in Albert Robida’s La vie électrique (1890) – The Public Domain Review
Who participated in the first video date? A good couple for candidacy in this regard are Georges Lorris and Estelle Lacombe, who meet via “téléphonoscope” in Albert Robida’s 1890 novel Le Vingtième siècle: la vie électrique in which he imagines “the electric life” of the future. Adding a visual component to two recent technologies, the telephone (1876) and the phonograph (1877), this device lets scattered families in the year 1956 reunite around a virtual dinner table. For the lovebirds Lorris and Lacombe, the téléphonoscope facilitates their unapproved liaison in an immunologically fraught world. (And, for those without a beau, it also offers a service akin to on-demand streaming.) This proto Zoom / Netflix hybrid is just one of several prescient predictions in Robida’s novel.
If you want to know the time, ask a robot.
Living in a virtual democracy
My reintroduction to Second Life has been quite gradual, as I didn’t stray very far from the SL Book Club at first. But a comment there one evening about the Confederation of Democratic Simulators caught my attention, so much so that I now call it home.
So what is the CDS? It describes itself very simply as the oldest democracy in Second Life, but there’s more to it than that.
Confederation of Democratic Simulators
All are welcome to the CDS to visit, explore, and become a part of our dynamic community. Our estate consists of six regions that have loosely based Germanic, Tuscan, Alpine, and Mediterranean themes, representing different historical periods.
Accompanying its website, there’s a discussion forum, a Flickr group and a Facebook page. There are also a couple of entries in the Second Life Destination Guide.
The Confederation of Democratic Simulators – Second Life Destination Guide
The Confederation of Democratic Simulators (CDS), founded in 2004, is a community-operated by and for its citizens. … Land ownership in the CDS means citizenship, with the right to vote, run for office, and have a say in the direction and projects of the regions.
It’s a vibrant, active community that regularly comes together to celebrate such events as International Women’s Day, Oktoberfest and Dia de los Muertos.
Celebrating International Women’s Day in Second Life – Inara Pey: Living in a Modemworld
The theme for this year’s IWD is #EachForEqual, a call for gender equality, and the day will be marked in Second Life at Celebrating International Women’s Day in SL, a series of events throughout the day organised and hosted by the Confederation of Democratic Simulators (CDS). These will comprise music, dance, live performances and interactive activities.
What marks this place as a little different from the sprawling, homogeneous Linden Homes estates in Bellisseria is its emphasis on democratic, resident-led project development, with its citizens being encouraged to play an active role in the political life of the community. This has been the case from the very start, as this introduction to the CDS from 2007 clearly shows.
Playing democracy in a virtual world – YouTube
The Confederation of Democratic Simulators is an old institution in SecondLife. Are they still alive and well? Is democracy in virtual worlds a delusion or can it be achieved? Newbie virtual journalist Draxtor Despres meets up with residents and administrators to find out how much free will can be handled by a simulated system….
Transcript of my lecture in Second Life on democracy in virtual worlds – David Orban
Here is the transcript of my inaugural lecture of the Craedo Auditorium in Colonia Nova in Second Life. Welcome to this seminar about “The theory and practice of democracy in virtual worlds”. I want to thank CARE, CRAEDO, and the Confederation of Democratic Simulators for inviting me to give this talk at the inauguration of this auditorium.
It all started with a sim modelled after the town Rothenburg in Bavaria.
What became Neualtenburg was later renamed Neufreistadt.
Confederation of Democratic Simulators – Second Life Wiki
The Confederation of Democratic Simulators, CDS in short, is the latest phase in the project that started as the city of Neualtenburg in the mainland sim Anzere, then moved to the private island “Neualtenburg” and after a split-up of the two founders with the rest of the population, the citizens continued under the name “Neufreistadt”. When the project became more than just a single simulator, the name Confederation of Democratic Simulators was adopted for the government and the project in general.
Neufreistadt – Second Life Wiki
Since its inception as a group-owned tiered mainland sim in Anzere, the government model followed a rather long discussion period held mostly on the Linden Lab forums, for a period of about 10 weeks and involving around 20 people interested in jointly presenting a project to Haney Linden, who raised a challenge on Aug 31st, 2004, for projects to “preserve the snow sims”. A proposal based on the forum discussions was elaborated by Ulrika Zugzwang and presented by her and Kendra Bancroft for appreciation; after Haney approved it, the forum discussion moved towards establishing a constitution, a provisory government, and a layout of the city to be built, inspired on the Bavarian city of Rothenburg, and adhering to the “theme” of a medieval Bavarian setting. […]
Linden Lab removed the support to any similar projects after much public claims of favoritism, and a decision was made to move the whole city into a private island, called “Neualtenburg”.
That sim was soon joined by others.
Official blog of Colonia Nova
Currently, the CDS consists of one region, Neufreistadt, with another region in the planning process, Colonia Nova. Neufreistadt is one of Second Life’s oldest resident-governed regions and is widely known for its unique combination of politics, fog, and Bavarian architecture. Colonia Nova, a Roman themed simulator, is currently under development.
Locus Amoenus is the 4th sim of the CDS, which will be built this summer. It will be located west to our Roman sim Colonia Nova, and again, the theme is roman. Main differences are that this sim will be more pastoral in essence, not a city core – and with a sea shore and quay.
This project has more history than I can get my head around. I’m not going to attempt to summarise all the chronologies and controversies here, but to give you an indication of some of the incentives and drivers behind the project, I found this from 2004.
Why discussing governments is so hard… – Gwyneth Llewelyn
[T]here is no “easy” way to do it, if you just have a monolithical group with a few team leaders. What happens if the team leader gives up? Or gets angry with the group? Or “sells out” the land? All these questions pop up every time a fantastic project comes to an end because its original proposers, for one reason or another, simply “go away”.
One alternative, as envisioned by the Neualtenburg group, is having a form to “rotate” the leadership of the group, assign people different roles in mantaining the themed sim, get rules for what can be done and what cannot, and so on. The important part to remember here is change. People change, SL changes, the city should change as well. Monolithic group structures do not deal well with change. No matter how good the “Utopia” is, if there is a change, you need to adapt to change. It’s pointless to remain stubborn and insist that you want to “resist change” – SL is not different than RL in that aspect. You don’t want to change – you die.
And this is from 2005.
Neualtenburg – SL’s most hated project – Gwyneth Llewelyn
All these issues make sense from a RL point of view: if you want to organise something and make it enduring, the best way we frail humans know to achieve that purpose, is having a democratically elected association of people to work together. That’s what Neualtenburg is about – a project which belongs to the whole group, and not just to a few “group officers”. It seems to be working. The currently elected “president” of the Representative Assembly – the law-passing body of the City Government – is neither a founding member, has no building skills whatsoever, is not an officer of the group, and has not contributed tier or money to the project This is completely alien to the whole concept of Second Life – either from the anarchistic or the capitalist group. And, thus, being alien, the project is viewed with serious distrust.
As with any kind of democracy, you can’t please all the people all the time. This is from last year.
The Confederation of Democratic Simulators – When democracy…fails – This Island SL
Wandering around the CDS, the place looks good enough, with public amenities, public footpaths and public buildings. However dig deeper and get into the whole political landscape of the CDS, you find the SL democratic equivalent of nepotism. Friends voted in by the RA into places of power within the two commissions. Friends voted into places of power, even though those friends have no clue whatsoever about what that position entails.
Setbacks and infighting notwithstanding, the community has persevered. It’s now certainly a larger, more detailed environment than it was before, with buildings being redeveloped and more regions being added (and with still more to come).
Neufreistadt – The new Antiquariat building – Mizou’s Second Life
This building in Neufreistadt was a replacement of an earlier built dating back to the creation of Neufreistadt. I rebuilt it in 2018 and you can visit it on the Marketplatz in Neufreistadt and familiarise yourself with the history of Confederation of Democratic Simulators.
The Monastery – Second Life Destination Guide
When consciousness first dawned, men and women were equally the two sides of human-ness. In reverence and longing for that balance long since lost, this Monastery is built as a place of remembrance for what may yet again return. The Monastery is based loosely on the “real life” Abbey of St Mary on the tiny Scottish island of Iona.
It’s interesting to compare Draxtor’s admittedly low-res video from 2007 above with his return in 2020, below — a testament to the community’s longevity.
Made in Second Life – Holiday Stories – YouTube
Happy holidays from Second Life! In this special edition of “Made in Second Life,” we hear how several community members are experiencing the holidays in the virtual world as they come together remotely to celebrate amidst the global pandemic.
Starting at around the 2:11 mark, Rosie Gray introduces a wintry CDS and showcases how they mark the change in seasons and celebrate the holidays.
And what excellent timing, to stumble upon that snowy video now, almost exactly a year later, as the weather in both RL and SL gets a little chillier.
Header image Jerry McNally
Gone? Not really
I’ve just been reading on the internet that Pamela Paul, the editor of The New York Times Book Review, has written a new book.
100 Things We’ve Lost to the Internet – Pamela Paul
[A] captivating record, enlivened with illustrations, of the world before cyberspace—from voicemails to blind dates to punctuation to civility. There are the small losses: postcards, the blessings of an adolescence largely spared of documentation, the Rolodex, and the genuine surprises at high school reunions. But there are larger repercussions, too: weaker memories, the inability to entertain oneself, and the utter demolition of privacy.
Not really, but go on.
What does tech take from us? Meet the writer who has counted 100 big losses – The Guardian
“There are a lot of terrible things to say about the internet,” she says. “What I wanted to focus on was not so much all of those doomsday scenarios, although they exist, but to look at all of these forces and say: ‘What does this mean for what we do in our daily lives – from the moment we wake up to the iPhone alarm to the moment when we’re trying to fall asleep at night and we can’t because we’re like: ‘Oh my God, there’s this newsletter that arrives at 11pm, let me just see what it says’? What does it actually mean down here at the level of how we live?”
It’s hard to read that article (about a book I wouldn’t have heard about if it wasn’t for the internet) and not respond with simply, “Ok boomer, whatever.” Yes, the internet’s changed many aspects of society, from book selling to banking, and yes, my predominant response to the web these days is one of disappointment. But I’m not sure many things have been lost, as such. We still have options. We can still make different choices.
She sounds a little pessimistic. Perhaps she should read this.
Welcome to Pessimists Archive, a project created to jog our collective memories about the hysteria, technophobia and moral panic that often greets new technologies, ideas and trends.
There are sections that mark the worrying introduction of television and computing amongst others (Pamela Paul bemoaned the loss of civility, above. That went years ago, apparently), but the archive starts way back in 1858.
Telegraph – Pessimists Archive
It was humanity’s first taste of mass communications, and immediately triggered the same concerns about information overload, frivolous communications, loss of privacy, and moral corruption that today we blame on the internet.
There are eight newspaper clippings about telegraphs, including one that claimed “global telegraphy could screw with earths currents and disorder the universe.” But there are 65 clippings about bicycles, and even 17 about teddy bears.
Perhaps Pamela Paul needs to be reminded that being pessimistic about a new thing is not itself a new thing.
Photo by Museums Victoria
We’ve sadly not reached peak NFT yet
None of this makes sense. It didn’t make sense back in March when I first tried to get my head around it all, and I’m none the wiser now.
Miramax is suing Tarantino over Pulp Fiction NFT auction — Quartz
Earlier this month, Tarantino announced plans to auction off unique digital versions of items from the 1994 cult classic, including scanned copies of script pages for seven scenes that didn’t make the final cut. The “secret” NFTs will only be viewable by whoever purchases them. But here’s the five-dollar shake: Miramax claims these NFTs are not Tarantino’s to sell.
Interpol and David Lynch release 2011 collaboration as limited NFT series – NME
The New York band joined forces with the renowned Twin Peaks director for their 2011 Coachella performance, during which they combined Lynch’s I Touch A Red Button Man short film with their 2010 single ‘Lights’. Fans can now own the unique piece of work, with a limited series of eight NFTs up for grabs through the new Lynch x Interpol website. The non-fungible tokens include “newly recorded versions of ‘Lights’ joining Lynch’s engrossing animations”.
A fake Banksy sold for $330K is a perfect symbol of a wild NFT market – The Next Web
There are numerous reports of NFT fraudsters selling fake artworks, stealing credit card information, and hacking into cryptocurrency accounts. Perhaps the most notorious example yet is this week’s sale of a fake Banksy NFT. […] As well as not looking like a Banksy, the piece was reportedly unsigned and hadn’t been authenticated by the artist’s agency. The true mastermind may forever remain a mystery. Whoever they may be, their ruse has further exposed the risks of buying NFTs.
Boy, 12, makes £290,000 in non-fungible tokens with digital whale art – The Guardian
Benyamin Ahmed’s collection of pixelated artworks called Weird Whales went viral during the school holidays. His success may be a harbinger of the digital business models that could disrupt the banking sector. His father, Imran, a software developer, described the artwork as similar to “digital Pokémon cards” and said they had been a big success because collectors realised their historical significance.
Their “historical significance”??
We’re virtually there already
It’s great to hear Draxtor bringing a little pragmatism to the metaverse debate in this interview with PC Gamer.
Virtual worlds are already better than the metaverse will ever be – PC Gamer
For seven years Drax has been documenting the smaller, more personal side of the Second Life community, one he tells me has continued to thrive even as Second Life largely receded from the public eye. His documentaries focus on the ways people use Second Life to overcome disability; explore how the Black Lives Matter movement manifested in the game; or simply record regular book clubs held inside Second Life. […]
As Drax notes, total physical immersion is almost besides the point: “The secret sauce of [Second Life] is community. Loads of people feel completely immersed although they have no headset. I am personally psyched about where headset tech goes but Silicon Valley needs to understand that for a lot of people, this does not mean an increased sense of being there. The level of perceived immersion has to do with what people contribute to their communities”.
And here’s someone else who thinks a more real metaverse is already here.