Archive — Society

The privilege of free time in Open SourceDries Buytaert

Caption: "Free time to contribute is a privilege."

Dries Buytaert makes a very good point here. Time is the scarcest resource we have. This is making open source a closed shop.

Today, I’ve come to understand that inequality makes it difficult for underrepresented groups to have the “free time” it takes to contribute to Open Source.

He suggests some ways open source communities could take action on this.

Overall, being kinder, more patient and more supportive to others could go a long way in welcoming more people to Open Source.

The culture of coding seems nasty generally. I’m not sure if it’s specifically a problem with open source as opposed to developers generally.

But I always found it odd how unwelcoming, patronising and generally unhelpful people in open source communities (such as WordPress support forums) can sometimes be. Sometimes it doesn’t seem very open at all.

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People won’t stop staring at their phones, so a Dutch town put traffic lights on the groundNeha Thirani BagriQuartz

Experimental Dutch traffic crossing

An interesting experiment to place pedestrian crossing signals on the ground, “where everyone is already looking”. The Netherlands seems to be the place for experimental road safety design (see also: the squareabout).

This has got to be an improvement on the modern fad of placing pedestrian crossing signals at chest height to the side, where they simply get blocked by other people, rather than across the road where everyone can see it.

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Note — 2019-01-06

It’s 10 years since Woolworths closed down. I worked there at the time. To this day, the whole experience is among the most surreal of my life.

At the time, I wrote a lengthy series of blog posts detailing my own story of the goings-on around the failure of one of Britain’s most iconic businesses.

Being on the shop floor while a British institution collapsed around me taught me a bit about business. But it taught me a lot about people. Enjoy this look back.

(These used to be linked to each other using a WordPress plugin, but these were lost during a migration — so here they all are.)

  1. Woolworths: The curiously British US-based company
  2. Woolworths as it was known and loved, and neglected
  3. Woolworths: Childhood memories and adult gripes
  4. It wasn’t just the credit crunch
  5. The blunder of Woolworths
  6. Identity crisis
  7. The beginning of the end
  8. The nasty side of human nature
  9. Woolworths: Final thoughts and wrapping up

For more on Woolworths 10 years on from its collapse, check out Graham Soult’s excellent report.

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Samaritans — Idles

I’ve become obsessed with this song. It contains an important message that is beginning to be heard, but still needs to be heard more widely. This is a song for now.

Discovering Idles has felt a bit like discovering Pulp when they released Common People. Although 9-year-old me didn’t really understand what appealed to me about Pulp, now I think I do. Distinctive-sounding music, yes. But also lyrics that are interesting (a rarity in and of itself), and important, and for right now.

The first time I knowingly heard Idles it was when another song was played on the radio in the morning, Great. I remember sitting up in my bed, astonished at the lyrics. You don’t often hear songs that are so political, especially ones that actually hit the nail on the head — and say what I would want to say, but so much better.

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Thoughts on vulnerability

Illustration of a woman in a workplace

Thoughts on vulnerability

This is a really enlightening and enjoyable article about how vulnerability can sometimes be a strength.

What I’ve realized is that sometimes being vulnerable is a really powerful feeling, like being bilingual: being present and making clear decisions in a meeting while rocking a baby, or confidently stopping someone mid-presentation to ask what an acronym means. Or having my waters break and calmly finishing a meeting. Like, that’s bad-ass, right?

But what struck me most about this article was the point about how a thoughtless office space design in a less-than-diverse workplace created an unforeseen problem for a woman who needed a little privacy.

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Adding value, by adding values

Electric scooter in San Francisco

Adding value, by adding values

Ben Terrett from Public Digital has written something similar to I tried to write last week about designing for society, not just for individuals. Of course, this is much clearer and more succinct than (and written before) mine.

To illustrate the point, the article uses the example of an electric scooter hire scheme in San Francisco:

This is a service where every detail has been designed for the user. It’s unbelievably convenient—for the user alone, and no-one else.

The downside is streets swamped with dumped scooters. There’s nowhere “official” to put them, so like me, no-one knows what to do with a scooter once they’ve finished using it. They just get dumped anywhere.

These scooters are absolutely meeting a user need, but at the expense of a societal need.

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Keeping it weird

Keeping it weird

Or, more accurately, stopping it being weird. This refers to the problem that most psychology research is conducted on people that are western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic.

Tim Kadlec considers the implication this has on our understanding of how people use the web.

We’ve known for a while that the worldwide web was becoming increasingly that: worldwide. As we try to reach people in different parts of the globe with very different daily realities, we have to be willing to rethink our assumptions. We have to be willing to revisit our research and findings with fresh eyes so that we can see what holds true, what doesn’t, and where.

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In praise of mediocrity

In praise of mediocrity

Tim Wu wonders why some people say they don’t have any hobbies.

Yes, I know: We are all so very busy. Between work and family and social obligations, where are we supposed to find the time?

But there’s a deeper reason, I’ve come to think, that so many people don’t have hobbies: We’re afraid of being bad at them. Or rather, we are intimidated by the expectation — itself a hallmark of our intensely public, performative age — that we must actually be skilled at what we do in our free time.

It’s a fascinating point, although I’m not sure what I think of it yet. I don’t derive much enjoyment out of being bad at something. Why would I pursue it?

If anything, I probably think the opposite to Tim Wu. There are many people out there struggling away at hobbies, perhaps dreaming big, only to be ultimately frustrated. These people might be better off quitting.

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Lottery math is human math

Lottery math is human math

It’s irrational to buy a lottery ticket. And yet, millions do, even more when the prize is huge.

As economists will point out, people don’t buy a lottery ticket for an x% chance of winning millions. They buy a lottery ticket for to dream of winning millions.

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The BBC Domesday Project

The BBC Domesday Project

A fascinating long article on the BBC Domesday Project from 1986. This huge project celebrated the 900th anniversary of the Domesday book, with an ambitious modern-day take on documenting all of Britain.

The technology was so unique that became obsolete almost immediately. It required a special LaserDisc player connected to a BBC Master computer with a special controller. The price tag put it out of reach of almost everyone, even schools and libraries.

It’s a prime example of the challenges of digital preservation.

Moreover, copyright issues — as well as the sheer volume of content — have raised questions over whether some the content could ever be used again. It is certainly difficult to replicate the original experience (although a few YouTube videos give a flavour).

This article goes into some of the thinking behind the technology decisions, and makes a valiant case that the Domesday Project is not a failure, as some like to think of it.

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Distracted driving — UX’s responsibility to do no harm

Distracted driving — UX’s responsibility to do no harm

More on the need for (UX) designers to consider ethics in everything they do.

I urge you to consider your own design priorities and choices in the same way that responsible physicians do when they take the Hippocratic Oath, saying “first, do no harm.” So, I ask the UX community at large: what is an equivalent code of ethics for our discipline?

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How good is “good”?

How good is “good”?

YouGov asked people to rate how positive and negative certain expressions are.

Warning: Contains pretty charts.

As it turns out, “good” and “bad” are not exactly mirrors of one another on the scale. Bad has an average score of 2.60, meaning its mirror equivalent on the scale ought to score 7.40. “Good”, by contrast, scores a 6.92.

This situation remains the case for the other examples where “good” and “bad” are used: “pretty good”, “really good” and “very good” are seen less positively than they should be to truly mirror “pretty bad”, “really bad” and “very bad”.

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Somehow we missed it

Somehow we missed it

More on the hard work designers need to do to ensure they have a positive impact on society.

To create a platform designed to connect millions of people and not imagine its potential misuses is wilful blindness. When we imagine and design and build tools and technologies and platforms and services it’s as important, perhaps more important to ask ‘how might this be misused’ as it is to ask ‘how might this be used’.

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The carrot is not important — Chasing it is

The carrot is not important — Chasing it is
“I’ve never had a goal”

Two related posts from Jason Kottke.

I think I fall into the camp of people who don’t want or need a goal. Alex once astutely pointed out that I will set myself a goal, then work towards it, and once I reach my goal, I stop.

Pedal for Scotland is a case in point. Last year I stopped cycling immediately after completing it, having spent all summer getting fit. Sure enough, I have done the same again this year.

I tell myself that it’s harder to cycle in winter, and Pedal for Scotland happens to fall at the point in the year where it’s getting darker in the evenings. But perhaps that’s just an excuse. I plan to start running and doing other forms of exercise to make sure I keep fit in winter as well.

Anyway, the point is, perhaps a goal is useless if you think of it as the only point. I love this idea — that chasing the carrot is more important than the carrot itself.

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5 thoughts on self-help

5 thoughts on self-help

I have never read what I would think of as a self-help book. I’m sceptical of them. But at the same time I am interested in self-improvement. Or at least, keeping check on yourself and learning generally, which I guess is a form of self-help.

In this article, Austin Kleon points out that:

…the problem with self-help today is that it has returned to the very quick-fix pseudoscientific snake-oil cures that [the first self-help book, written by Samuel] Smiles (what a perfect name) was reacting to…

I would argue that this isn’t necessarily just a problem for the self-help genre either. I am inherently wary of anything that claims to provide a one-size-fits-all silver bullet solution. Because it’s bound to be more complicated than that.

One of the worst things that self-help can do is convince you that you as an individual are to blame for all of your problems, and that if you’re struggling it’s just because you aren’t making the right moves.

Worst of all, some self-help books imply that if the book fails to help you, it’s not the book’s fault, it’s yours.

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Designers are defining usability too narrowly

Designers are defining usability too narrowly

Another call on designers to think more widely when they are working on digital products. Khoi Vinh saw a Nielsen Norman Group report on best practice on websites aimed at children — but he felt the report focused too narrowly on usability.

I don’t dispute the findings at all. But it’s disturbing that the report focuses exclusively on usability recommendations, on the executional aspect of creating digital products for kids. There’s not a single line, much less a section, that cares to examine how design impacts the well-being of children…

We’re moving past the stage in the evolution of our craft when we can safely consider its practice to be neutral, to be without inherent virtue or without inherent vice. At some point, making it easier and easier to pull the handle on a slot machine reflects on the intentions of the designer of that experience.

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It’s not just you, everything looks the same on Instagram

It’s not just you, everything looks the same on Instagram

If it seems when you scroll through your feed that everything looks similar, that’s probably because it is. That artfully constructed shot of your latté and avocado toast brunch? The shot of your feet dangling over the edge of a waterfall? You in the back of a canoe?

It’s been done before. To death.

I’m still not missing Instagram.

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Designing Google Maps for motorbikes

Designing Google Maps for motorbikes

Some nice work from Google Maps on how they immersed themselves in their users’ world to understand how to improve Google Maps for motorbike users in places like Delhi and Jakarta.

The research team included engineers, UX designers, product managers, and marketing leads, all from different parts of the world. We met with two-wheeler drivers from Jaipur, Delhi, Bangalore, and Jakarta, in environments from bustling transportation hubs to kitchen tables in people’s homes. Our intention was to understand and relate to people in a way that felt authentic — we wanted to learn through immersion.

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The danger of listening to people who talk a lot

The danger of listening to people who talk a lot

Those who talk well and talk lots can command attention in meetings – and they get an unprecedented amount of airtime in modern organisations.

Whilst extroverts put it all out there for the world to see, introverts often keep their best ideas inside. If you’re ignoring them, you’re at risk of missing the problem and the solution.

As Paul Taylor says here, it is more important to widen and deepen connections with everyone. We need to prioritise ways of doing this, and preventing hippos and loud voices getting their way each time.

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Consume less, create more

Consume less, create more

We first consume and then think if we really needed it… Have we not seen people who are constantly busy on their phones consuming stuff without moving a needle for anyone? We need to jump off the consumption treadmill.

The goal, then, is to consume mindfully…

This is part of the reason why I have committed to writing about a link each day. It gives me direction and focus for what I consume, and I find myself wasting less time on pointless content. (Goodbye Instagram, I miss you far less than I expected.)

As a result, I’m learning more, thinking more, and feeling sharper.

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Thermostats, locks and lights: digital tools of domestic abuse

Thermostats, locks and lights: digital tools of domestic abuse

How smart devices are being used by perpetrators of domestic abuse.

We are becoming increasingly aware of some of the darker side of technology. Perhaps this is a challenge to designers and technologists — to ensure that their products can’t be used in this sort of way.

The people who called into the help hotlines and domestic violence shelters said they felt as if they were going crazy.

One woman had turned on her air-conditioner, but said it then switched off without her touching it. Another said the code numbers of the digital lock at her front door changed every day and she could not figure out why. Still another told an abuse help line that she kept hearing the doorbell ring, but no one was there.

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