Ian Fitzpatrick

MonthJuly 2018

Dark Matter: 10 July 2018

This week in the design of modern charm offensives:

From Neils Hoven’s outstanding post on the limits of analytical evaluation in designing game experiences — though his points apply broadly across products and experience types:

everyone knows that data is noisy, so companies use large test groups and increased rigor to mitigate those concerns. But the real problem isn’t tests giving the wrong answer, so much as it is the assumption that the infinite degrees of freedom of creating a compelling product can be distilled to a limited number of axes of measurement.

The whole piece is worthy of your time, particularly if you find yourself in a position to challenge, measure or otherwise evaluate the effectiveness of complex interaction models.

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I absolutely loved this excerpt from a 100 Product Managers interview with Spencer Wright, on the design of his product, The Public Radio:

We took that to an extreme and just removed the knob all together. We also, in order to make our lives easier and partly to appeal to the kind of people that would have this kind of routine, we designed it so it fits into a Mason jar. It was partly a manufacturing constraint where we were like, “Hey, we’re not Apple. We’re not going to be able to make this beautiful, brushed aluminum thing.” Partly, it was just the kinds of people that might buy this product are … We should be charming them. We should be delighting them in some way. Putting an electronic device in a Mason jar is a pretty good way to do that.

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Found on Twitter: an excellent thread started by Slava Pestov on the unintended consequences of elevating experienced product talent into corporate management:

One of the consequences of the software industry’s age bias is that much of what you use on a daily basis is developed by people for whom it is their first real project. This is why the same mistakes are made over and over again

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A Mike Monteiro / Mule workshop on design ethics sounds like a great thing to suggest the next time your manager blathers on about design thinking in a departmental goal-setting session. Also good: more women on your design teams.

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Superflux does all the good work. This time: six films for The Future Starts Here exhibition at the Victoria & Albert museum. I’m partial to We Are All Connected But Do We Feel Lonely?, which is quite elegant (despite sounding like the title of a mid-90’s Moby EP).


This week in fake-it-’til-you-make-it AI:

The state of labor in 2018, in a single, blistering tweet from Laine Nooney:

So we’re in the moment of a splitting AI reality: on the one hand, a trend in backending “AI” with low paid humans doing rote tasks; on the other, vast AI infrastructures funded by mega-companies forming govt surveillance networks, operating at the scale of a nonhuman sublime.

The above, in response to Olivia Solon’s piece for The Guardian on the fascinating rise of ‘pseudo-AI’, which absolutely merits your time, if only for passages like this:

Alison Darcy, a psychologist and founder of Woebot, a mental health support chatbot, describes this as the “Wizard of Oz design technique”: “You simulate what the ultimate experience of something is going to be. And a lot of time when it comes to AI, there is a person behind the curtain rather than an algorithm,” she said, adding that building a good AI system required a “ton of data” and that sometimes designers wanted to know if there was sufficient demand for a service before making the investment.

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Monica Dinculescu has built a javascript emulator of the legendary Yamaha Tenori-On sequencer, just because she could, friends.

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Vitalik Bukerin v. Martin Weitzman in the World Series of blockchain transaction fee economics is delightful, if you’re the sort who’s into regulatory pricing theory.

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I’m pretty sure this is the same approach Pied Piper used to tacke video compression, but apparently we’re seeing a giant step forward in optimization algorithms. From a piece last week in IEEE Spectrum:

Whereas prior optimization algorithms solved problems by progressing step-by-step in a single direction, the new algorithm works by sampling a variety of directions in parallel. Based on that sample, it discards less optimal directions and chooses the most valuable directions to progress toward solutions. This act of adaptively evolving what data the algorithm works on helps solve the problem of diminishing returns.

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Spend a few minutes with Mona Sloane’s piece for the LSE Politics and Policy blog on ethical approaches to AI, and what these may mean for Britain. There’s a lot of ground that will be familiar here to many of you, but Sloane makes the oft-overlooked point that funding for social sciences will play an outsized role in determining the success of these kinds of ethical technology challenges.


This week in search of neon mood boards:

This is terrifying: meteorologist Nick Humphrey’s post on Siberian ‘extreme heat events’ and a phenomenon called ‘Arctic Amplification’:

The weakening (of the polar jet stream) is causing the polar jet to become much wavier, with greater wave “breaks” and blocking patterns where waves sit in the same place for weeks promote extreme weather patterns (extreme cold relative to normal as well as extreme heat, very wet, and drought conditions).

I find no gentle comfort in James Bridle’s response:

The future, yes, is unevenly distributed. But it’s clearly visible, it’s hot and it’s wet and it’s going to be a struggle, and it’s happening right now, happening first to the places and people we’ve tried to ignore or despoil, but it will be everywhere in time.

Though a bit of hope in a relevant, if disconnected point made this week by designer Dan Hill, who notes that cities like Stockholm and Amsterdam retain large swathes of their space as public land and commons:

This puts those cities in position of strength, in terms of inequality, strategically addressing systemic challenges like climate change etc.

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I typically avoid referencing paywalled content, but Matina Stevis-Gridneff’s piece for the Wall Street Journal on mobile currency in Somaliland is absolutely spectacular. An excerpt:

Apart from phone-to-phone transactions, users can top up their mobile wallets by handing cash—shillings [the Somaliland currency] or dollars—over to an official agent, who is often a single person in a shack on the side of the road. “This service has been a driving force for the smooth operation of our economy,” said Abdikarim Dil, Telesom’s chief executive. Since mobile-money services aren’t regulated by the central bank, they aren’t subject to the restrictions that traditional banks face, including requirements meant to block terror financing.

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McKinsey published a really solid primer on the Chinese public cloud, delivering a fascinating look at the challenges facing digital utilities.

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Finally, I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by Tagwalk, which Business of Fashion describes as having aspirations of ‘the Google of Fashion’. This caught my eye, for reasons more professional than personal:

“Now, if you remember that Prada used neon last season and want to see who else did for a mood board, you can do it fast and with just a few clicks of your mouse.”

Quick Dark Matter metadata update: I’ve recently taken a new job. Also, this has migrated back to MailChimp. You probably figured that out already. Also, the new BODEGA record, Endless Scroll, is perfection.

Until next time.