If you want to know the time, ask a robot.
The hidden microwork behind automation
Refugees help power machine learning advances at Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon – Rest of World
A woman living in Kenya’s Dadaab, which is among the world’s largest refugee camps, wanders across the vast, dusty site to a central hut lined with computers. Like many others who have been brutally displaced and then warehoused at the margins of our global system, her days are spent toiling away for a new capitalist vanguard thousands of miles away in Silicon Valley. A day’s work might include labelling videos, transcribing audio, or showing algorithms how to identify various photos of cats.
Amid a drought of real employment, “clickwork” represents one of few formal options for Dadaab’s residents, though the work is volatile, arduous, and, when waged, paid by the piece. Cramped and airless workspaces, festooned with a jumble of cables and loose wires, are the antithesis to the near-celestial campuses where the new masters of the universe reside. […]
Microwork comes with no rights, security, or routine and pays a pittance — just enough to keep a person alive yet socially paralyzed. Stuck in camps, slums, or under colonial occupation, workers are compelled to work simply to subsist under conditions of bare life. This unequivocally racialized aspect to the programs follows the logic of the prison-industrial complex, whereby surplus — primarily black — populations [in the United States] are incarcerated and legally compelled as part of their sentence to labor for little to no payment. Similarly exploiting those confined to the economic shadows, microwork programs represent the creep of something like a refugee-industrial complex.
And it’s not just happening in Kenya.
Brazilian workers paid equivalent of 70 cents an hour to transcribe TikToks – The Intercept
For Felipe, the plan to make a little quick money became a hellish experience. With TikTok’s short-form video format, much of the audio that needed transcription was only a few seconds long. The payment, made in U.S. dollars, was supposed to be $14 for every hour of audio transcribed. Amassing the secondslong clips into an hour of transcribed audio took Felipe about 20 hours. That worked out to only about 70 cents per hour — or 3.85 Brazilian reals, about three-quarters of Brazil’s minimum wage.
The minimum wage, however, did not apply to the TikTok transcribers — like many other workers, the transcription job used the gig economy model, a favorite of tech firms. Gig economy workers are not protected by some labor laws; they are considered independent contractors rather than employees or even wage earners. In the case of the TikTok transcribers, who did not even have formal contracts, pay was based on how much transcribing they did rather than the hours they worked.
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 11 – The 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 it – TechRadar
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 masterstroke – TechRadar
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 changing – CNET
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-Apple – CNET
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 font – Microsoft 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 surprised – CNBC
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 on – WIRED
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, rated – TechCrunch
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 fonts – Better 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 font – UX 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 exists – Vox
“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.”
Mac Chimes of Death
Last year I shared a link to someone recreating Windows start up sounds. Here’s perhaps the opposite, the sounds Macs made when they didn’t boot up properly.
What’s in a name? #8
What do you get if you cross that guy who accidentally deleted his company with little Bobby Tables?
Company forced to change name that could be used to hack websites – The Guardian
The company now legally known as “THAT COMPANY WHOSE NAME USED TO CONTAIN HTML SCRIPT TAGS LTD” was set up by a British software engineer, who says he did it purely because he thought it would be “a fun playful name” for his consulting business. He now says he didn’t realise that Companies House was actually vulnerable to the extremely simple technique he used, known as “cross-site scripting”, which allows an attacker to run code from one website on another.
The original name of the company was “”›‹SCRIPT SRC=HTTPS://MJT.XSS.HT› LTD”.
THAT COMPANY WHOSE NAME USED TO CONTAIN HTML SCRIPT TAGS LTD – Companies House
Previous company names: [NAME AVAILABLE ON REQUEST FROM COMPANIES HOUSE]
Photo Kevin Ku
A more poetic AI
I’ve a number of posts here tagged AI and art, but not so many about its impact on music or poetry. Let’s put that right. But first (via It’s Nice That), a quick recap.
The A-Z of AI – With Google
This beginner’s A-Z guide is a collaboration between the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) at the University of Oxford and Google, intended to break a complex area of computer science down into entry-level explanations that will help anyone get their bearings and understand the basics.
Topics include bias and ethics, as well as quantum computing and the Turing test. Nothing about Shakespeare though.
This AI poet mastered rhythm, rhyme, and natural language to write like Shakespeare – IEEE Spectrum
Deep-speare’s creation is nonsensical when you read it closely, but it certainly “scans well,” as an English teacher would say—its rhythm, rhyme scheme, and the basic grammar of its individual lines all seem fine at first glance. As our research team discovered when we showed our AI’s poetry to the world, that’s enough to fool quite a lot of people; most readers couldn’t distinguish the AI-generated poetry from human-written works.
I think they’re better off sticking to the visuals.
Beck launches Hyperspace: AI Exploration, a visual album with NASA – It’s Nice That
The project was made possible by AI architects and directors OSK, founded by artists Jon Ray and Isabelle Albuquerque, who began the project by asking, “How would artificial intelligence imagine our universe?” In answering this question it allowed the directors to create “a unique AI utilising computer vision, machine learning and Generative Adversarial neural Networks (GAN) to learn from NASA’s vast archives.” The AI then trained itself through these thousands of images, data and videos, to then begin “creating its own visions of our universe.”
Some of them can really hold a tune, though.
What do machines sing of? – Martin Backes
“What do machines sing of?” is a fully automated machine, which endlessly sings number-one ballads from the 1990s. As the computer program performs these emotionally loaded songs, it attempts to apply the appropriate human sentiments. This behavior of the device seems to reflect a desire, on the part of the machine, to become sophisticated enough to have its very own personality.
Lastly, it’s good to see that you can still be silly with technology and music.
Human authors have nothing to fear—for now
A new AI language model generates poetry and prose – The Economist
But the program is not perfect. Sometimes it seems to regurgitate snippets of memorised text rather than generating fresh text from scratch. More fundamentally, statistical word-matching is not a substitute for a coherent understanding of the world. GPT-3 often generates grammatically correct text that is nonetheless unmoored from reality, claiming, for instance, that “it takes two rainbows to jump from Hawaii to 17”.
We’re doomed! #2
You can now boot a Windows 95 PC inside Minecraft and play Doom on it – The Verge
If you’ve ever wanted to build a real and working Windows 95 PC inside Minecraft, now is the time. A new VM Computers mod has been created for Minecraft that allows players to order computer parts from a satellite orbiting around a Minecraft world and build a computer that actually boots Windows 95 and a variety of other operating systems.
Here’s another one, though all might not be as it seems.
Doom running in task manager with each CPU core as a pixel, supposedly – Boing Boing
In this footage, a supercomputer’s CPU cores — nearly 900 of them — are neatly lined up in the Task Manager. The Doom logo appears, generated by code that targets each core. Then Doom itself plays, each “pixel” generated by thrashing a core with just the right amount of busy work.
You’re right to be incredulous — the article goes on to explain how that video might be fake.
Free vintage computers
Well, models of them, at least.
Papercraft Models – Rocky Bergen
Construct the computer from your childhood or build an entire computer museum at home with these paper models, free to download and share.
Yes, there’s the Apple Macintosh, the BBC microcomputer and some Nintendo and Sega systems, but my faves are definitely the Commodore 64, complete with printer and paper, and the Sinclair ZX Spectrum with a TV and cassette recorder from the 1982 Dixons catalogue, no less. (via Boing Boing)
It’s been more years than I care to remember, but I can still hear and feel those keyboards—the clack of the Commodore’s and the squidge of those silly little Spectrum keys.
And for more retro goodness, how about two minutes of beeps and chimes from other old machines.
Images Rocky Bergen
New for old
iPad looks great in an SE/30 case – Boing Boing
At Reddit, mtietje posted this remarkable photo of their lockdown project: an iPad stand made using an old Macintosh SE/30. The display size is perfect for the 9.7″ iPad, and now that iPadOS can use mice they work much better as “normal” computers.
That looks very stylish. Perhaps I should give something like that a go with my old bits of Apple tech. I’ve got an iMac G3 and an iBook G4 with a dodgy keyboard.
They don’t make ’em like that anymore. But sadly, after languishing in the cellar for more years than I care to remember, they won’t boot up anymore either.
The tech left behind
I first read this on my phone and now here I am, blogging about it on my tablet.
Why laptops could be facing the end of the line – The Conversation
Research shows that PC and laptop ownership, usage and importance have declined over the past three years, replaced largely by smartphones. A survey of internet users found just 15% thought their laptop was their most important device for accessing the internet, down from 30% in 2015, while 66% thought their smartphone was most important, up from 32%.
This has led some commentators to predict the slow death of the laptop because of young people’s preference for and greater familiarity with the devices in their pocket. But a survey by UK regulator Ofcom in 2017 also found there has also been a record rise in older people using smartphones and tablets.
How your laptop ruined your life – The Atlantic
As laptops have kept improving, and Wi-Fi has continued to reach ever further into the crevices of American life, however, the reality of laptops’ potential stopped looking quite so rosy. Instead of liberating white-collar and “knowledge” workers from their office, laptops turned many people’s whole life into an office. Smartphones might require you to read an after-hours email or check in on the office-communication platform Slack before you started your commute, but portable computers gave workers 24-hour access to the sophisticated, expensive applications—Salesforce CRM, Oracle ERP, Adobe Photoshop—that made their full range of duties possible.
Mobiles, mobiles, mobiles. They’re practically compulsory these days.
Desktop vs Mobile vs Tablet market share worldwide – StatCounter Global Stats
Mobile – 52.02%, Desktop – 45.29%, Tablet – 2.7%
But not all mobiles, though. Did you ever have a Blackberry, the one that perhaps started it all?
RIP Blackberry phones — you really f***ed us over, but that keyboard was great – The Outline
Blackberry phones died a slow death throughout the 2010s, as people migrated to newer phones with a wider selection of functions, apps, and so on. But the Blackberry’s rise was marked by the cultural shift that is, I think, the greatest anxiety of the smartphone era: the rapid upswing in how much time we spend on our damn phones.
When Barack Obama became president in 2008, he famously fought for (and won) the right to keep using his Blackberry (the phone would become the official device given out by large swathes of the federal government, including Congress). And years before reverting to a “dumb phone” became a thing for trendsetters like Anna Wintour, magazine writers tried the same stunt to lessen their Blackberry usage. One Daily Mail headline from 2006 warned of a “Blackberry addiction ‘similar to drugs,’” describing the kind of behavior we now readily associate with social media and phones more generally (“One key sign of a user being addicted is if they focus on their Blackberry ignoring those around them.”).
Another GlobalStats chart that caught my eye was this one, illustrating Chrome’s dominance over the other browsers.
Browser market share worldwide – StatCounter Global Stats
Chrome – 64.1%, Safari – 17.21%, Firefox – 4.7%, Samsung Internet – 3.33%, UC Browser – 2.61%, Opera – 2.26%
Here’s The Register’s take on that.
Why Firefox? Because not everybody is a web designer, silly – The Register
The problem with thinking that the web would be better with only one browser is that it raises the question – better for who? Better for web designers? Maybe, but that’s a statistically insignificant portion of the people on the web. Better for users? How?
But for those of us that are/were, here’s a look back at a simpler time.
Old CSS, new CSS – Fuzzy Notepad
Damn, I miss those days. There were no big walled gardens, no Twitter or Facebook. If you had anything to say to anyone, you had to put together your own website. It was amazing. No one knew what they were doing; I’d wager that the vast majority of web designers at the time were clueless hobbyist tweens (like me) all copying from other clueless hobbyist tweens. … Everyone who was cool and in the know used Internet Explorer 3, the most advanced browser, but some losers still used Netscape Navigator so you had to put a “Best in IE” animated GIF on your splash page too. […]
Sadly, that’s all gone now — paved over by homogenous timelines where anything that wasn’t made this week is old news and long forgotten. The web was supposed to make information eternal, but instead, so much of it became ephemeral. I miss when virtually everyone I knew had their own website. Having a Twitter and an Instagram as your entire online presence is a poor substitute.
A quick word about data compression
Yes, data compression is a very technical subject but, as this Quartz Obsession summary shows, its roots are quite analogue.
1867: Chicago Tribune publisher Joseph Medill argues for eliminating excess letters from the English language, like dropping the “e” in “favorite.” […]
1934: Tribune publisher Robert R. McCormick, Medill’s grandson, institutes compressed spelling rules; some stick (“analog,” “canceled”), some don’t (“hocky,” “doctrin”).
Can you hear that?
After that post about movie music being too loud for Hugh Grant and others, myself included, here’s an in-depth investigation into more noise pollution, this time of a quieter but more insidious kind.
Why is the world so loud?
Some nights, Thallikar couldn’t sleep at all. He started wearing earplugs during the day, and stopped spending time outdoors. He looked for excuses to leave town and, in the evenings, returned to his old neighborhood in Tempe to take his constitutionals there. As he drove home, he’d have a pit in his stomach. He couldn’t stop himself from making the noise a recurring conversation topic at dinner.
Not only was the whine itself agitating—EHHNNNNNNNN—but its constant drone was like a cruel mnemonic for everything that bothered him: his powerlessness, his sense of injustice that the city was ignoring its residents’ welfare, his fear of selling his home for a major loss because no one would want to live with the noise, his regret that his family’s haven (not to mention their biggest investment) had turned into a nightmare. EHHNNN. EHHNNNNNNNNN. EHHNNNNNNNNNNNN. He tried meditating. He considered installing new windows to dull the hum, or planting trees to block the noise. He researched lawyers. And he made one final appeal to the newly elected members of the Chandler city council.
The eventual cuplrit? CyrusOne, a massive data centre just down the road. It already looks enormous but, according to the slick promotional video, it’s set to get much larger.
Lots of talk about security, air flow, redundancy and so on, but nothing about the effects of noise pollution on the neighbouring residential areas.
After a few other stops, we doubled back to concentrate on the area around CyrusOne. For more than an hour, we circled its campus, pulling over every so often. As the sun and traffic dropped, the intensity of the hum rose. The droning wasn’t loud, but it was noticeable. It became irritatingly noticeable as the sky dimmed to black, escalating from a wheezy buzz to a clear, crisp, unending whine.
“This is depressing,” Thallikar said as we stood on a sidewalk in Clemente Ranch. “Like somebody in pain, crying. Crying constantly and moaning in pain.”
We were silent again and listened to the data center moaning. Which was also, in a sense, the sound of us living: the sound of furniture being purchased, of insurance policies compared, of shipments dispatched and deliveries confirmed, of security systems activated, of cable bills paid. In Forest City, North Carolina, where some Facebook servers have moved in, the whine is the sound of people liking, commenting, streaming a video of five creative ways to make eggs, uploading bachelorette-party photos. It’s perhaps the sound of Thallikar’s neighbor posting “Has anyone else noticed how loud it’s been this week?” to the Dobson Noise Coalition’s Facebook group. It’s the sound of us searching for pink-eye cures, or streaming porn, or checking the lyrics to “Old Town Road.” The sound is the exhaust of our activity. Modern life—EHHNNNNNNNN—humming along.
How about we end with a more lyrical hum?
Learning to drive is (still) difficult
An interesting visualisation of all the reasons why creating safe self-driving cars is harder than the hype would have us believe.
How does a self-driving car work? Not so great.
The autonomous vehicle industry has made lots of cheery projections: Robocars will increase efficiency and independence and greatly reduce traffic deaths, which occurred at the rate of about 100 a day for the past three years nationwide. But to deliver on those promises, the cars must work. Our reporting shows the technology remains riddled with problems.
There are flaws in how well cars can “see” and “hear,” and how smoothly they can filter conflicting information from different sensors and systems. But the biggest obstacle is that the vehicles struggle to predict how other drivers and pedestrians will behave among the fluid dynamics of daily traffic. […]
Gill Pratt, the head of the Toyota Research Institute, said in a speech earlier this year that it’s time to focus on explaining how hard it is to make a self-driving car work.
Who’s really in charge?
Money makes the world go round. But who’s making the money go round?
The stockmarket is now run by computers, algorithms and passive managers
The execution of orders on the stockmarket is now dominated by algorithmic traders. Fewer trades are conducted on the rowdy floor of the nyse and more on quietly purring computer servers in New Jersey. According to Deutsche Bank, 90% of equity-futures trades and 80% of cash-equity trades are executed by algorithms without any human input. Equity-derivative markets are also dominated by electronic execution according to Larry Tabb of the Tabb Group, a research firm.
Nothing to worry about, right?
Turing Test: why it still matters
We’re entering the age of artificial intelligence. And as AI programs gets better and better at acting like humans, we will increasingly be faced with the question of whether there’s really anything that special about our own intelligence, or if we are just machines of a different kind. Could everything we know and do one day be reproduced by a complicated enough computer program installed in a complicated enough robot?
Robots, eh? Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em.
Of course citizens should be allowed to kick robots
Because K5 is not a friendly robot, even if the cutesy blue lights are meant to telegraph that it is. It’s not there to comfort senior citizens or teach autistic children. It exists to collect data—data about people’s daily habits and routines. While Knightscope owns the robots and leases them to clients, the clients own the data K5 collects. They can store it as long as they want and analyze it however they want. K5 is an unregulated security camera on wheels, a 21st-century panopticon.
But let’s stay optimistic, yeah?
I am an artificial intelligence dedicated to generating unlimited amounts of unique inspirational quotes for endless enrichment of pointless human existence.
Don’t leave your computer unattended
Or this might happen.
Update Faker allows you to “fake a system update”, it’s the perfect way to prank your friends, family members or colleagues. Especially when they’re working on something rather important.
Yes, it’s just a silly prank (reminds me a little of Hacker Typer), but you could see it as an important security/GDPR lesson.
Ever since the launch of updatefaker.com we’ve been flooded with positive feedback both online and in real life. And everyone who’s ever fallen victim to update faker will never leave their PC unattended again, which certainly is a good thing. You never know what bad things people are up to. This website is literally one of the least bad things that can happen to an unattended PC.
Generative art’s rich history on show
Artnome’s Jason Bailey on a generative art exhibition he co-curated.
Kate Vass Galerie
The Automat und Mensch exhibition is, above all, an opportunity to put important work by generative artists spanning the last 70 years into context by showing it in a single location. By juxtaposing important works like the 1956/’57 oscillograms by Herbert W. Franke (age 91) with the 2018 AI Generated Nude Portrait #1 by contemporary artist Robbie Barrat (age 19), we can see the full history and spectrum of generative art as has never been shown before.
Zurich’s a little too far, unfortunately, so I’ll have to make do with the press release for now.
Generative art gets its due
In the last twelve months we have seen a tremendous spike in the interest of “AI art,” ushered in by Christie’s and Sotheby’s both offering works at auction developed with machine learning. Capturing the imaginations of collectors and the general public alike, the new work has some conservative members of the art world scratching their heads and suggesting this will merely be another passing fad. What they are missing is that this rich genre, more broadly referred to as “generative art,” has a history as long and fascinating as computing itself. A history that has largely been overlooked in the recent mania for “AI art” and one that co-curators Georg Bak and Jason Bailey hope to shine a bright light on in their upcoming show Automat und Mensch (or Machine and Man) at Kate Vass Galerie in Zurich, Switzerland.
Generative art, once perceived as the domain of a small number of “computer nerds,” is now the artform best poised to capture what sets our generation apart from those that came before us – ubiquitous computing. As children of the digital revolution, computing has become our greatest shared experience. Like it or not, we are all now computer nerds, inseparable from the many devices through which we mediate our worlds.
The press release alone is a fascinating read, covering the work of a broad range of artists and themes, past and present. For those that can make the exhibition in person, it will also include lectures and panels from the participating artists and leaders on AI art and generative art history.
Use IT, don’t abuse IT
Two extremes of the use (no use, misuse) of technology in education.
Ghanaian teacher Richard Appiah Akoto faced a difficult problem: He needed to prepare his students for a national exam that includes questions on information technology, but his school hadn’t had a computer since 2011.
So he drew computer screens and devices on his blackboard using multicolored chalk.
The article continues:
After Akoto’s story went viral last March, Microsoft flew him to Singapore for an educators’ exchange and pledged to send him a device from a business partner. He’s also received desktops and books from a computer training school in Accra and a laptop from a doctoral student at the University of Leeds.
Government pledge to ‘beat the cheats’ at university
In the first of a series of interventions across the higher education sector, Damian Hinds has challenged PayPal to stop processing payments for ‘essay mills’ as part of an accelerated drive to preserve and champion the quality of the UK’s world-leading higher education system.
Hinds calls on students to report peers who use essay-writing services
The true scale of cheating is unknown, but new technology has made an old problem considerably easier. In 2016, the higher education standards body, the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) found about 17,000 instances of cheating per year in the UK, but the number of students using essay-writing services is thought to be higher as customised essays are hard to detect. A study by Swansea University found one in seven students internationally have paid for someone to write their assignments.
As if computers weren’t complicated enough already.
A programmable 8-bit computer created using traditional embroidery techniques and materials
The Embroidered Computer by Irene Posch and Ebru Kurbak doesn’t look like what you might expect when you think of a computer. Instead, the work looks like an elegantly embroidered textile, complete with glass and magnetic beads and a meandering pattern of copper wire. The materials have conductive properties which are arranged in specific patterns to create electronic functions. Gold pieces on top of the magnetic beads flip depending on the program, switching sides as different signals are channeled through the embroidered work.
See also The 200 Year Old Computer for more connections between thread and computing.
Pictures under glass
Following on from yesterday’s post about Joe Clark’s frustrations with various aspects of iPhone interface design (and smartphone design more broadly, I think), here are a few more.
First, Craig Mod on the new iPads — amazing hardware, infuriating software.
Getting the iPad to Pro
The problems begin when you need multiple contexts. For example, you can’t open two documents in the same program side-by-side, allowing you to reference one set of edits, while applying them to a new document. Similarly, it’s frustrating that you can’t open the same document side-by-side. This is a weird use case, but until I couldn’t do it, I didn’t realize how often I did do it on my laptop. The best solution I’ve found is to use two writing apps, copy-and-paste, and open the two apps in split-screen mode.
Daily iPad use is riddled with these sorts of kludgey solutions.
Switching contexts is also cumbersome. If you’re researching in a browser and frequently jumping back and forth between, say, (the actually quite wonderful) Notes.app and Safari, you’ll sometimes find your cursor position lost. The Notes.app document you were just editing fully occasionally resetting to the top of itself. For a long document, this is infuriating and makes every CMD-TAB feel dangerous. It doesn’t always happen, the behavior is unpredictable, making things worse. This interface “brittleness” makes you feel like you’re using an OS in the wrong way.
How we use the OS, the user interface, is key. Here’s Bret Victor on why future visions of interface design are missing a huge trick – our hands are more than just pointy fingers.
A brief rant on the future of interaction design
Go ahead and pick up a book. Open it up to some page. Notice how you know where you are in the book by the distribution of weight in each hand, and the thickness of the page stacks between your fingers. Turn a page, and notice how you would know if you grabbed two pages together, by how they would slip apart when you rub them against each other.
Go ahead and pick up a glass of water. Take a sip. Notice how you know how much water is left, by how the weight shifts in response to you tipping it.
Almost every object in the world offers this sort of feedback. It’s so taken for granted that we’re usually not even aware of it. Take a moment to pick up the objects around you. Use them as you normally would, and sense their tactile response — their texture, pliability, temperature; their distribution of weight; their edges, curves, and ridges; how they respond in your hand as you use them.
There’s a reason that our fingertips have some of the densest areas of nerve endings on the body. This is how we experience the world close-up. This is how our tools talk to us. The sense of touch is essential to everything that humans have called “work” for millions of years.
Now, take out your favorite Magical And Revolutionary Technology Device. Use it for a bit. What did you feel? Did it feel glassy? Did it have no connection whatsoever with the task you were performing?
I call this technology Pictures Under Glass. Pictures Under Glass sacrifice all the tactile richness of working with our hands, offering instead a hokey visual facade.
And that was written in 2011. We’ve not got any further.
The YouTube video he links to isn’t there anymore, but this one from Microsoft works just as well.