London Visit Next Week, Three Events

I’ll be in London for Sept 19 – 24. This trip, I’ve built in some slack to meet more people and do some leisurely exploration. The main thing I’ll be there for is the Work Marathon, organized by the Serpentine Gallery and held at the Royal Geographic on Saturday 22nd (all-day event). In the words of the organizers:

The 2018 Work Marathon invites artists, sociologists, anthropologists, writers, musicians, architects, scientists and philosophers to address the complex and timely questions of work, labour, automation and leisure.

My talk is titled Archetypes for the Anthropocene. Tickets £15, but I do have 2 guest passes left to hand out for the first two people who ask.

I will also be doing a small informal lunch talk/discussion at Entrepreneur First on Friday, 21st around noon on Anthropocene-Rules Institutions (you may be noticing a theme here). If you’re interested in attending, let me know.

And finally, I’ll be hosting, along with Zhan Li, a small dinner meetup on Wednesday the 19th at 6:30 PM in Bankside. We’ll be limiting this to about 10, and there’s a few spots left if you’re interested. The theme for the meetup is Amateur Hour in the Intellectual Wilderness. 

Besides these 3 events, I should have time on Thursday 20th, Sunday 23rd and the morning of the 24th to meet up with a few people, drop in to visit offices, etc. I am particularly interested in visiting workplaces, since I’m always curious about business culture in other countries.

I also plan to carve out some time for a few touristy things (British Museum, Transportation Museum, Westminster) and would be glad to have company for these excursions.

Contact me by email if you’re interested in one or more of the above.

Think Entangled, Act Spooky

I like the concept of the Anthropocene. It finesses or postpones at least some of the conflict around the idea of climate change, broadens the conversation to include all human impact on the environment, and grounds thinking in geological (heh!) time without overloading it with burdensome sentiments like guilt or fear. The term leaves the future open to both positive and negative possibilities. It acknowledges human agency as the most powerful force currently reshaping the planet without getting too judgmental about what that means.

The Ash Yggdrasil by Friedrich Wilhelm Heine (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

I find existing definitions of the Anthropocene unsatisfying though. Most of them, reasonably enough, focus on planet-scale external markers, ranging from the birth of agriculture to the first nuclear tests and climate change. But this seems too open narrative arbitrariness and not open enough to insight. If we turn inward though, there is a rather natural and fertile definition that immediately suggests itself:

The Anthropocene begins when survival in the built environment is as cognitively demanding as survival in the natural environment of evolutionary adaptation.

Note that “as cognitively demanding” is not the same thing as “as hard across the board”. It means you you have to think as hard for the same survival probability, but many other things might get easier.

A good illustration of this is life in a major city versus life in a small town. The former is more cognitively demanding but many things besides thinking become a lot easier. Nobody ever moved to a bigger city in search of a simpler life. A less emotionally stressful life, perhaps. A less impoverished life, perhaps. A more comfortable and convenient life, perhaps. But not a simpler one.

Now let’s apply that reasoning at civilizational history scale.

[Read more…]

Social Media Consciousness


The most amazing consequence of the recent transition to social media consciousness is nothing. [Read more…]

Refactorings Roundup 08/26/2018 09/1/2018

It’s been a surprisingly busy August, usually the doldrums for us consultant types. Good haul of activity to round up this week: 5 selections from friends-of-ribbonfarm, 12 from elsewhere on the internet, 7 short takes. Happy Labor Day, and here’s the fruit of some human and robot labor for your hopper.

There is now a “robot” at San Jose airport. It is not a very good robot.

This roundup is a human-filtered subset of links and short takes aggregated by the Feed Fox bot authored by Zach Faddis, and running on the Mastodon instance. You can follow the bot directly if you want the unfiltered firehose.

New Posts

I am the very model of a self-recursive modeler by putanumonit. Link

Exploratory conversation by @msweet. Link

How Do You Value a Human Being? by @vgr. Link

How to spot good “futurism” by Link

Introducing key terms by @meaningness. Link

Comment on this post with your blog link if you want it monitored by Feed Fox for potential inclusion, along with your mastodon (preferred) or twitter handle. 

Stuff We Read

Wired guide to quantum computing . Link. ht @vgr

Thinking about willpower, or lack thereof . Link. ht @bkam

Bret Victor’s Quotes Page. Link . ht @a

This helped me a lot to navigate the political waters these days—not that I understand it all. Link. ht @steve

The ‘Other’ category in Singapore. Link. ht @visakanv

Excellent post on how you can get infrastructure rot in important sectors of the economy. Link. ht @jdp

Interesting (and potentially FUD-inducing) example of future warfare… Link ht @msweet

Fascinating how even with the Internet you still have these separations between groups of humans in terms of available memetics [Sewage Analysis]. Link. ht @jdp

“Perhaps intuitive but an interesting study nonetheless on walking eight minutes to acutely raise creativity. Link. ht @bkam

Review of Edward Said ‘On Late Style’. Link. ht @bueno

Failures in audience respect when communicating about climate change. “Risky time.” Link. ht @necopinus

Emoji, part 1: in the beginning. Link. ht @ipfactor

If you are on the refactorcamp mastodon instance, you can tag links #heyfeedfox so they’re picked up by Feed Fox.

Short Takes

“the left likes to pretend production is a solved problem, the right likes to pretend distribution is a solved problem” — @Harry_Pottash

New theory of ideological polarization/culture wars. When one ideology is taken seriously enough by those in power to exercise influence, ALL ideologues believe the pendulum might swing their way in the future and they’ll get their turn to try out their policy ideas. So all ideologues tend towards pragmatic centrism to increase their odds of gaining influence. But when ideology-apathetic opportunistic grifters are in power, all ideologues feel powerless and get more extremist. — @vgr

The only certainty in life is that the fragile will break. — @msweet

Mistaking the illegible for the non-existent and the legible for reality is one of the underpinnings of human nature.We’ve survived anyway because our explicit rationality doesn’t matter very much, in the long run. — @saamdaamdandbhed

A lack of information problem can hide like a master of disguise. Sometimes it presents as feeling directionless or uninspired. — @strangeattractor

Internet survival skill: when you read an accusation against someone, you must hold a kind of quantum superposition of “guilty” and “innocent” in your mind, to avoid being swept up and used as part of an online mob.The human brain really, REALLY doesn’t like holding that superposition for any length of time. Maybe this is why it “innocent until proven guilty” didn’t catch on until so recently in human history. — @nindokag

When people can shoot further than they can shout, it becomes wise to be very quiet. — @machado

If you are on the refactorcamp mastodon instance, you can tag short takes #heyfeedfox so they’re picked up by Feed Fox.

How Do You Value a Human Being?

How do you value a human being?

Only two kinds of humans have a clear consensus value: first responders and what one might call first actors. Doctors, nurses, fire-fighters, cops, and modern soldiers are all first responders; valued because they defend one of the two borders of the human condition against the unknown; the border across which existential threats emerge.  At the other border, the exploratory frontier of the human condition, we find our first actors — scientists, artists, athletes, entrepreneurs, mystics and (when we interior civilians are feeling particularly generous) philosophers. They are the prime movers of the human story.

First responders restore a local human equilibrium after a negative disturbance; first actors disturb a local human equilibrium in positive ways. Both are boundary actors, charged with precipitating a response to things happening at the boundary between the changeless fictive interior of the human condition and the restive chaos of the universe beyond. The value of boundary actors is assumed. The value of interior actors usually requires justification.

Boundary actors are assumed worthy. Using them as a yardstick, everybody else must make their own case.

[Read more…]

Refactorings Roundup 08/19/2018 – 8/25/2018

This week’s roundup features 4 new posts from friends of ribbonfarm: a book review, a career lessons type thing, 2 things about games. There are 8 links from elsewhere in the stuff-we-read section. Plus a new short takes section with <500 character thoughts from our Mastodon. We’re still working on tweaking the format.

Some urban goatspace

This roundup is a human-filtered subset of links and short takes aggregated by the Feed Fox bot authored by Zach Faddis, and running on the Mastodon instance. You can follow the bot directly if you want the unfiltered firehose.

New Posts

Hedge: A Greater Safety Net for the Entrepreneurial Age (book review) by @stefanozorzi. Link

Any Experience is Good Experience, and Other Falsehoods by @james. Link

How to Not Lose at 4d Chess by @vgr. Link

Player of Games by Link

Comment on this post with your blog link if you want it monitored by Feed Fox for potential inclusion, along with your mastodon (preferred) or twitter handle. We mainly feature selections from longform blogs with a refactor-y vibe.

Stuff we read

“Federation is the worst of all worlds”. Link. ht @vgr

If you haven’t seen The Prisoner I can’t recommend it enough. Link. Link. ht @britt

Some Arctic Ground No Longer Freezing—Even in Winter. Link. ht @vgr

Everyone is stupid and contagious right now in Washington. Link. ht @jdp

Designing Happiness (interview with Stefan Sagemeister). Link. ht @mark

Ambient particulate air pollution reduces life expectancy at birth by average of 1 year, globally. Link. ht @strangeattractor

A weirdly fun and good “11 laws of showrunning” essay (pdf) that could serve as a leadership guide as well. Link. ht @vgr

The Great Chinese Art Heist . Link. ht @vgr

f you are on the refactorcamp mastodon instance, you can tag links #heyfeedfox so they’re picked up Feed Fox.

Short takes

Resilience is having the strength to shoulder much, and the wisdom to carry little. — @zacharius

If you are on the refactorcamp mastodon instance, you can tag short takes #heyfeedfox so they’re picked up Feed Fox.

Flying Blind into the Anthropocene

For several days, Seattle has been enveloped in wildfire haze, with an air quality index (AQI) between 150-200, coded red for unhealthy. For these few days it has been among the most polluted cities on the planet. Many of us learned for the first time about N95 masks, which are rated to keep out 95% of 3 micron particles. Supposedly an AQI of 150 is equivalent to smoking 7 cigarettes a day.

Photo credit: Sean McCabe in Vanity Fair

It struck me that we’ve been doing the everyday equivalent of piloting an airplane on instruments. Weather reports, AQI numbers, mask ratings, and metaphoric comparisons to cigarettes have been more useful for guiding behavior than direct sensory evidence. Even the knowledge that we are breathing wildfire haze rather than some other sort of less harmful smog is based on on instruments, since the actual fire is in Canada, too far away for the smell of burning to carry.

Though there has been direct sensory evidence — being outside felt like being in an awful smoke-filled bar, the sunsets have been a lovely red, and visibility has been poor — the sensory reality has been something like a spectator sport with a very misleading relationship to atmospheric reality and meaningful responses to it. Air quality degrades to harmful levels well before you notice it. You can either believe the reports and numbers, or find out the hard way that going for a run outside is a bad idea. You can either wear the recommended mask, or find out the hard way that being outside for a long time makes you feel ill.

AQI numbers are abstract proxies and open to criticism, but they are not bullshit. They have a detectable relationship to reality. Wearing the masks is a matter of faith in the science, but their efficacy exceeds that of ceremony or superstition. Understanding the numbers and responding by limiting outdoor activity, keeping windows closed, and perhaps wearing masks, is instrumentally rational behavior in a literal sense: it has to do with how we think about reality through instruments.

By this standard, only a small fraction of people in Seattle (many of them tourists from Asia where mask-wearing has been socially normalized) are being instrumentally rational. I have been among the instrumentally irrational. Though we own a mask, the idea of wearing it and standing out made me not wear it, so I came home the other day wheezing and short of breath.

Our condition this week in Seattle has been something of a microcosm of the human condition in the anthropocene. Through a mix of design and accident, we’ve created a novel environment that is at once strongly shaped by human behaviors and highly opaque to normal human sensory modalities. But we haven’t instrumented this environment well enough to make up for our sensory deficits.

Worse, we seem to collectively lack the instrument rating to fly this civilizational airplane.

So we are flying blind into the anthropocene, without the appropriate instrument rating, on a wing and a prayer.

Feed Fox Links: 8/12/18 — 8/18/18

We’re starting a little community experiment. Zach Faddis has written a nice bot named Feed Fox that monitors a bunch of friends-of-ribbonfarm RSS feeds and toots out links on the Refactor Camp mastodon instance (which we’ve decided to leave open for registration for now). It also listens for, and boosts, links tooted by members and tagged #heyfeedfox. We’ll be publishing a weekly selection of links farmed thusly by the bot, probably on Sunday or Monday. If you want the unfiltered real-time firehose, you can follow the bot itself.

Moodpic: Mt. Rainier enveloped in wildfire haze and clouds, ht @vgr

Stuff written by friends of ribbonfarm

Review – The Artist’s Journey by Steven Pressfield by Zenpundit

In Conversation: Things We Like This Month by @adrianryan

The tyranny of the perfect day by @msweet

Comment on this post with your blog link if you want it monitored by Feed Fox, along with your mastodon (preferred) or twitter handle.

Stuff read by friends of ribbonfarm

Dominant men make decisions faster ht @vgr

No senses playing by the rules when the adversary won’t. Also it’s wartime. ht @britt

Denialism: What drives people to reject the truth ht @britt

Olmsted probably didn’t believe the “lungs of the city” theory he used to promote his parks movement. ht @vgr

If you are on the refactorcamp mastodon instance, you can tag links #heyfeedfox so they’re picked up Feed Fox.

Refactor Camp 2018: Cryptoeconomics and Blockchain Weirding Post-Mortem

refactor camp 2018

Refactor Camp: Cryptoeconomics and Blockchain Weirding was a 2-day conference held in Austin Texas on May 12-13th 2018. The event featured talks, workshops, and breakout sessions focused on blockchain technology, the sociology of blockchains, and whatever other weird nonsense the speakers could come up with.

Our hope with this event was to “stretch the Overton window” a bit in terms of thinking about the implications and elements of blockchain technology and, in the Ribbonfarm tradition, facilitate some more speculative thinking and discussions than what happens at other cryptocurrency events.

Topics covered included:

  • Blockchain as Metaphor – Take some feature of a mature blockchain ecosystem and map it into another domain (e.g. Decentralization in urban infrastructure or.)
  • Sociology of Blockchain Geopolitical implications of blockchain
  • Magic, Ritual & Blockchain
  • Blockchain as an International / Multicultural Phenomenon
  • Crypto Econophysics

We were able to record most of the talks and have uploaded them to Youtube as well as embedding them below. Special thank you to all the speakers who took the time to prepare a talk. [Read more…]

Tarpits and Antiflocks

Computers used to be the size of buildings. Today my computer gets lost between the seat cushions. But two parts of the computer didn’t become a million times smaller and faster: the display and keyboard. They are the low speed, power hungry, monkey-compatible data ports. Our biology is holding us back.

Naturally, there are a hundred teams screwing around with every idea they can think of to connect directly to the brain. They are tickling neurons with magnets and brain monitors and even wires under the skull. They are training computers to pick up subvocal cues, theorizing about quantum tunneling, etc etc. Then they talk to journalists who put out breathless articles on “USB ports for your brain”.

The people who make fun of the dubious science in these projects are right. They also miss the point. Individually, each team’s approach is almost certainly wrong. But collectively they are doing the right thing. They are an antiflock, exploring a tarpit.

[Read more…]