Archive — History

Why Formula 1 is finished for meClive JamesThe Guardian

This article was written in the immediate aftermath of the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix, which was ruined by the most flagrant and offensive display of team orders in history. Rubens Barrichello, having had the upper-hand over Michael Schumacher for the entire weekend, ceded the victory to his team-mate literally at the finish line.

As you would expect from Clive James, this is a brilliant piece of writing. He really got to the appeal of motorsport like few could.

But seeing this article float through my Twitter timeline in the aftermath of Clive James’s death this week, it’s got me thinking.

Did Clive James stay true to his word? Did he never watch an F1 race again? I’m not aware of any contributions of his, beyond this moment. Am I wrong?

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Academia uneasy with lack of diversity on ‘dude walls’ of honourNell GreenfieldboyceNPR

A 'dude wall' featuring several portraits of white old men

On the campaign to remove — or make less prominent — walls of portraits of old white men from academia’s past.

“It just sends the message, every day when you walk by it, that science consists of old white men,” says [neuroscientist Leslie] Vosshall. “I think every institution needs to go out into the hallway and ask, ‘What kind of message are we sending with these oil portraits and dusty old photographs?'”

While defenders of dude walls warn of erasing history, the counterpoint is powerful:

…some argue that the old portraits themselves have erased history, by glorifying white men who hold power while ignoring the contributions to science and medicine made by women and people of colour.

Celebrations of individuals in this way always make me wary. It seems to be particularly common in higher education, where awards and buildings are routinely named after white males.

But very few breakthroughs are truly the work of a single individual. The people honoured in this way are likely the people most adept at taking all the credit for other people’s work.

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The paint-scraping myth: Why the story behind Mercedes’ special livery isn’t trueKeith Collantine and Dieter RenckenRaceFans

Mercedes' special livery - halo detail

Spoilsports! 😉

In all seriousness, I’m impressed at the effort Mercedes have put in to celebrating 125 years in motorsport and their 200th F1 race.

While having all the team personnel (including mechanics!) dressed up in 1950s-style outfits looks fun, it surely must be distracting. Watching the mechanics working on the cars in the garage with their baggy overalls dangling all over the place, I had to think some of these mechanics must find it all annoying.

Lewis Hamilton certainly seemed to find his special gloves annoying during free practice 3 yesterday when he tetchily requested his normal gloves as the session was about to start.

As for the livery, Toto Wolff said:

“I can tell you it’s definitely not making the car lighter… In all the briefing sheets prior to this weekend the engineers pointed out ‘too heavy stickers’…”

I’m sure it’s a small thing, but I’ve always wondered if thick stickers have an effect on aerodynamics. If you look at the photos on the RaceFans article, you can actually see how thick some of the decals are.

I’m sure they wouldn’t do it if it was a problem. But surely thick stickers would be more of a factor than matt paint?

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UX past, present, and future

Desire paths

UX past, present, and future

An enjoyable and informative history of user experience. Some familiar themes, but not entirely your standard take. A reminder that people have been doing something like user-centred design for longer than we sometimes think.

…UX is not really a new thing. It might seem new to your organisation and its design process, but in fact it’s been emerging since before the dawn of the internet, back in the 80s, and people have been looking to solve similar problems for almost 140 years.

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Testing the sound mirrors that protected Britain

Testing the sound mirrors that protected Britain

I very rarely link to (or even watch) a video. But I am happy to make an exception for Tom Scott’s excellent entertaining and educational videos.

Here, he tests concrete sound mirrors with drones. I’m fascinated by sound mirrors — an early 20th century technology designed to provide early warning of approaching aircraft, which became obsolete quickly as aircraft speeds increased, and radar took over.

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“Google was not a normal place”: Brin, Page, and Mayer on the accidental birth of the company that changed everything

“Google was not a normal place”: Brin, Page, and Mayer on the accidental birth of the company that changed everything

Fascinating article about the early days of Google. One eye-popping section recalls how they originally tried to sell their technology to other search engines, only to be knocked back.

I remember going to this one meeting at Excite, with George Bell, the C.E.O. He selects Excite and he types “Internet,” and then it pops up a page on the Excite side, and pretty much all of the results are in Chinese, and then on the Google side it basically had stuff all about N.S.C.A. Mosaic and a bunch of other pretty reasonable things. George Bell, he’s really upset about this, and it was funny, because he got very defensive. He was like, “We don’t want your search engine. We don’t want to make it easy for people to find stuff, because we want people to stay on our site.” It’s crazy, of course, but back then that was definitely the idea: keep people on your site, don’t let them leave. And I remember driving away afterward, and Larry and I were talking: “Users come to your Web site? To search? And you don’t want to be the best damn search engine there is? That’s insane! That’s a dead company, right?”

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How can we incentivise the digital world to make safer services?

How can we incentivise the digital world to make safer services?

How regulation came to be in railways, engineering and cars — and what this tells us about how digital services may be regulated.

Trigger points for regulation have varied depending on the field, the period of history and the country. However, the thing all these triggers have in common is a change in attitudes. People need to demand change to incentivize companies to make their products and services safer.

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Was there a civilisation on Earth before humans?

Was there a civilisation on Earth before humans?

This is mind-blowing.

Perhaps, for example, some early mammal rose briefly to civilization building during the Paleocene epoch about 60 million years ago. There are fossils, of course. But the fraction of life that gets fossilized is always minuscule and varies a lot depending on time and habitat. It would be easy, therefore, to miss an industrial civilization that only lasted 100,000 years—which would be 500 times longer than our industrial civilization has made it so far.

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Legends of the ancient web

Legends of the ancient web

Maciej Cegłowski considers the parallels between the early decades of radio, and the web. He notes how radio became a crucial propaganda tool for the fascists of the 1930s.

In less than four decades, radio had completed the journey from fledgeling technology, to nerdy hobby, to big business, to potent political weapon.

It’s a great history lesson. Read on to find the silver lining in his talk.

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