Weekly Reading

This week’s been a good week, I was in Provence enjoying some much needed sunshine and rosé and catching up on some reading.

First things first, I finally finished The Inheritance of Rome which I’ve been reading since early July. I’m not normally this slow at getting through a book, but this was one hell of an information-dense read. It’s fascinating to see how the foundations of our modern world were set through this early Middle Ages period. It’s a shame Ibn Hawqal’s book on Sicilian idiocy has been lost to time, if only for the sheer pettiness of the author.

Also finished was Marketing Warfare by Al Ries which while interesting, I can’t help but feel like the military anecdotes are a little trite. There’s definitely a lot to unpack in there, and I found it helpful to have more strategic principles detailed in such a clear way. While the author ascribes these as marketing challenges (and maybe they were when this was published in ‘85) it seems like business has changed and the challenges outlined are more to do with company strategy as opposed to pure marketing strategy.

That leaves me with Henry Kissinger’s On China which I’m ~80% through - more on that next week.

In other news I had plenty of time to catch up on some more general reading, more on which below.

Firstly, it seems like some positive news regarding Facebook, in as much as a court has decided that users can sue over their use of facial recognition technology. Unsurprisingly, that’s not the only issue they’re facing this week with new information coming to light about potentially sensitive user audio being listened to by human contractors and Facebook employing some defensive warfare (See, I learnt something from that book) following a resurgence in calls for the company to be broken up by US regulators.

It seems like Facebook aren’t the only ones in hot water over creepy facial recognition tech, unknown to pretty much everyone, King’s Cross station was using the technology too and a major breach has been found in Biostar 2’s systems, with more than a million people compromised. 🙃

If you hadn’t already noticed, the world’s falling apart. Mass tourism is creating issues (to put it lightly) in popular holiday spots and water and internet access in cities continues to be inadequate and only getting worse as demand continues to increase without adequate infrastructural investment. Germany appears to be entertaining some interesting ideas on a potential “sin tax” on eating meat, it certainly seems like something worth considering given the ecological impact of animal husbandry.

As if the climate weren’t a big deal, Nike seems to think there’s a need for a subscription service giving kids 4 to 12 pairs of shoes a year. Given the crucial importance of decreasing the environmental impact of our fashion purchases, this seems like a particularly meaningful kick in the teeth from a company that pretends towards left-leaning ideology.

And if all that wasn’t bad enough, recycling might not be as green as we all like to tell ourselves.

New research has been published exporing some of the issues in ensuring low-skilled workers benefit from increasing investment in high-tech jobs in Britain. Citylab has an excellent breakdown on this issue. Unsurprisingly, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.

Maybe we (as in the British) are to blame for everything that’s going wrong?

The Atlantic has a great article on the Anthropocene and human arrogance, it’s well worth a read.

The idea of the Anthropocene inflates our own importance by promising eternal geological life to our creations. It is of a thread with our species’ peculiar, self-styled exceptionalism—from the animal kingdom, from nature, from the systems that govern it, and from time itself. This illusion may, in the long run, get us all killed.”

I don’t know much about modern Russia, I’m going to have to find some good books to read in the near future to understand why events like this are happening.

If, like me, you have more than a passing interest in tattoos, Artsy have a great article on Utagawa Kuniyoshi’s influence on Japanese tattooing.

Conventional thinking tells us that a good UX is one in which the number of clicks the user makes is minimised. But sometimes, that just ain’t right. Maybe the problem is we’re all used to generic, formulaic thinking.

Quartz published an excellent article on some of the dark patterns we employ on ecommerce and similar sites. I get it, we use dark patterns because they work, but at some point we need to think about the moral and societal repercussions of our work.

In brighter news, two new experimental treatments for Ebola are working well enough that they will now be offered to all patients in the DRC.

Jason Bailey’s Artnome project has been on my radar for a couple years, this recent article showcases the artwork of Espen Kluge, a Norwegian artist who uses generative algorithms to create abstract portraits. His work’s both visually gorgeous and technically fascinating.

Finally, you should subscribe to Warren Ellis’ newsletter, Orbital Operations.