Soft Hacking: Seeing is Believing

When I was in high school nearsightedness came on slowly and some days it would be worse than others, like when I was tired and came home and I’d reach for the door and it’d be blurry. The exhaustion compounded my frustration and it made me mad to lose focus. It was beyond my control. I went on like it was temporary but by my senior year I had to start sitting toward the front of the classroom to read the board and I went for an eye exam.

Putting on my first pair of glasses I saw the detail in my doctor’s face. Seeing her skin, the pores of her skin, shocked me. I rode my skateboard home from Rainbow Optics and I could see the little stones in the aggregate concrete, and the leaves in the trees! Wow, I could see individual leaves. The sharpness of the texture. I had forgotten it, my nearsightedness had come so slowly.

I didn’t want to weaken my eyes, I thought to keep my eyes strong by only wearing glasses when I needed to, which, at the time, was when I was in school and when I went to see the movies.

It was driving, needing to read the streets signs at a distance, that brought glasses into my daily life for good, and now I only take them off to read and to sleep.

Soft Hack is for work. I’m a medical professional and so many of the people I see I forget, and the lens displays their name when I need it. Other information too, I set the stream to display at low volumes. Other softies were seeing more than me and I thought maybe I might get into that, but again, it was like keeping my eyes strong. Only this time, it’s my memory—what I consider my innate intelligence.

After my first year wearing Soft—that’s how most people refer to this brand of augmented reality; and you really don’t know who with glasses has Soft Hack glasses at first, but then you get close enough and you know, you can see them—I upgraded the firmware. The expense was covered by work, and I more or less had to. Not peer pressure so much as to stay competitive with my peer group. People without prescriptions will often take their AR glasses off after work. I have them on all the time. The cues are more and more helpful and I know this because one time the frequency got jammed and when I expected a helper, nothing arrived. I powered my glasses off and turned them on. It worked.

I worried that my glasses might have been hacked, and that was on my mind all day until I finally went to sleep. In the morning I attributed my fear to fatigue. I drank a cup of coffee and finished packing for my trip.

“You’re going to America,” my friend and colleague said. “You got that patch?”

We were informed of the software by an email that went out to the team who would travel to the United States together. As Swedes we all enjoyed our paid vacations but some decided to do service, a short two-week trip to visit a hospital in a region of the world experiencing crisis.

The United States is a weird animal and going on a service mission was kind of exciting. We landed at Chicago’s O’Hare. I’m from Stockholm and I thought I’d seen all a big city could be, but that city, lakeside, a huge inland sea in the middle of the country, was just mind-boggling. It wasn’t the size. It was the people. We’ve accepted hundreds of thousands of refugees, as had the rest of Europe, we had to. But this was different, in America, the people all looked like refugees. The suffering of those people—it was beyond depressing, it disturbed me.

“What’s wrong?” my colleague asked.

“What’s wrong with these people?”

“They’re Americans. Are you seeing them in hard light?”

“What the fuck!?”

“Don’t get mad.”

The refugee population lived in make-shift camps throughout the parks and streets. And you couldn’t help but feel that they were somehow different from you. That they were of another order of being. They had come from the surrounding farmlands of Illinois and the neighboring states. What once had supplied a center of industry, the granaries and abattoirs that shipped product out from the Great Lakes and upon the St. Lawrence to the Atlantic and on the Illinois Waterway down to the Mississippi and into the Gulf, and by rail throughout the nation. That bread basket was now empty, the water table depleted, the weather destabilized. It will take six thousand years for rain to replenish the Ogallala Aquifer, once one of the world’s largest. It was once!

In the hotel I lay back and read my email. My colleague forwarded back to me the old email we all received in Stockholm and I installed the software. In the morning when I went outside: the city, the people, they looked better. I could see them, my brothers and sisters.

Why Mars? A Multiplanetary Species, But It Won’t Be Humanity: Outer Space as Salvation Myth

It’s powerful, practical even, to charge your employees with great purpose. Scientific discovery, satellite communications, asteroid mining are all useful and practical reasons to launch rockets, and where humanity steps back in awe, Elon Musk takes his SpaceX employees further by saying they’ll make us a multiplanetary species. Granted our technology will explore and work in outer space, but to understand how earthlings would fare on another planet you only have to visit the zoo.

Kim Stanley Robinson’s observation that a book about a multigenerational spaceship is a “prison novel” makes sense, because the people aren’t leaving confinement. Even The Martian could be seen as a jail-break, with returning to Earth being the escape from prison—but no film in that genre ends with the hero inspiring the next generation’s return to confinement.

Why does the idea of outer space excite humanity?

Notice, it’s never pictured as confinement, most space fantasy is a liberating exploration. Because we’re not thinking, not conceiving of total dependence on machine-enabled life support in an extremely hostile (read: deadly) environment. That’s where Gravity broke from the optimism of our previous concepts of space travel.

Industry propaganda can shoulder some of the blame for our culture’s misconception of life among the stars, but there’s nothing wrong with fantasy. Giving the human imagination an expansive run is productive, producing inventions, untold discovery, and fun stories about what it is to be human. And yet, for the hard science of space exploration, where are human protagonists in the picture? Back on Earth, operating a remote. What if the robot could be experienced in a sensory immersion VR that was distributed, downloaded by anyone with a rig. Or even further, the protagonists might be, and this is the future now: bioengineered cyborgs.

Forgive me, I have an adverse reaction to any salvation myth, or leader of a company, private or public, cult or corporate, that uses the myth, it goes something like this: a small group of chosen, elite and special people, have an insight into reality that everyone else lacks—people either willfully deny its existence or are just intellectually incapable—and the chosen few have a mission [insert anything, crazy or mundane] that upon accomplishment will save them, and in some versions of the myth, all the rest of humanity, and life on earth. In the case of Elon Musk, it’s just humanity that Mars will save; life on Earth, that’s been struck by an asteroid or some other disaster and thank god, humanity has a backup for itself, that colony on Mars. You just have to believe.

Elon Musk makes a good point, when you wake up in the morning your work should inspire you. Dealing with human problems all the time can be depressing, and the engineering of rocketry is a problem where smart people can apply themselves and produce real results—whereas having to deal with geopolitics, that’s depressing. Reason for humanity going to Mars: in a time-scale beyond our lifetimes, the evolution of life on earth beyond its surface will be epoch-making, and going further still: becoming multiplanetary will be a backup for humanity. Backup is a telling metaphor because what will be making in-roads to outer space is our technology. Robots have proved better suited to space exploration than humans. Curiously, as we develop our technology it becomes more akin to biology in the complexity and atomic scale of its construction: imagine how artificial intelligence in a bioengineered bot will be exploring the surface of Mars, or reproducing itself on a moon base as it manufactures structures of some 3-D printed composite of regolith.

If the reason for going to Mars was truly to create a backup for humanity, why not a colony on the floor of the ocean? That’s so much closer to home.

Facebook Credits: Getting Paid to View Ads and Creating an In-Platform Economy

Attention, our free time, is the only scarcity online. With so many pages, videos, podcasts to experience, no one wants to waste time on ads—unless it pays. Let’s say the advertiser pays people to view an ad. Currently advertisers pay Facebook to get their ad in front of customers. Let’s imagine Facebook’s News Feed where along with the standard ads and Friend updates, there appears a narrow white bar with a button you can click to unfurl an ad, crediting a dime to you. That ten cents would be an in-platform digital currency.

To seriously consider this scenario with its attendant why-nots and impossibles, let’s attempt to answer: what is the purpose of our economy? With the billions in advertising revenue Facebook collects annually, it might seem the economy works best when money is extracted from an ecosystem and converted to share price and ten-figure entries in the company’s bank account. It’s easier to measure and make sense of the accumulation of money, watching the scoreboard in a global economic contest, than measuring the velocity of flow. But what if the economy actually functions better when money circulates more?

Corporations store billions, much of it overseas to avoid paying taxes, and they have difficulty spending all that cash back into the economy—other than by purchasing other companies; as with Google, where it has become Alphabet, a holding company for all the other companies they purchase. Numbers go up, that’s good. That’s the assumption: the economy is healthy when each company increases the amount of money they have accumulated. Is our economy designed to extract money from communities, or to increase the circulation of money? What would the circulation of money look like online?

Given that Facebook has billions in revenue from advertising, the argument against designing a system that pays people to view an ad assumes that the purpose of the economy is to accumulate rather than circulate money. Facebook could push the payment of money by advertisers out to their customers, and incentivize a whole new level of activity. Imagine if a micropayment could be given to another person or page with the same ease of transaction as Liking something. The currency would be purchased with real dollars through an exchange and spent into the platform’s economy, and it could be earned by anyone who opted into viewing ads.

This “Facebook Credit” could be accumulated through viewing ads and then transferred to another person or page in Facebook by the push of a button, and the person could turn it into cash through a currency exchange.

As digital interaction evolves, the ads could be created by customers. Facebook could create a link on a company page where fans of a company or local business could go to design an ad (or upload a jpeg from their computer) and submit it to the business. If the company approved the ad, the designer would receive a percentage of Facebook credit for each person that opens the ad.

Fan- and customer-created ads would likely better speak to the community and potential customers, and the ads would be adopted according to how much engagement they create. Of course, ad agencies could jump in that space, and it would probably open up opportunities for the smaller agencies. What if ads only had value depending on how effective they proved to be in the market? The large sums paid to ad agencies would become something for TV and movie pre-rolls. Rather than transferring the TV budgets to the online advertising, the entire model could be reinvented by digital platforms.

But our extractive economy is baked into the online experience. Facebook uses the information we give it and charges advertisers for that data and access to eyeballs, extracting profit from its platform. Yet all this isn’t natural law, it’s a design, and like anything designed by people, it can be improved by people. What’s better for the economy, better for the company, and better for everyone: extracting money from an economy or increasing its circulation?

For more about the difference between extractive and generative economic models, check out Owning Our Future: The Emerging Ownership Revolution http://www.marjoriekelly.com/books/owning-our-future/

40-Second Elvis Movie

At a party convened to celebrate poetry, If Not For Kidnap, a guy introduced himself and said he’d perform an Elvis song from an avant-garde French movie in which Elvis played an ornithologist. James Okubo, a filmmaker based in L.A., was at the party with me and I said let’s make it—the Northwest Film Center had an upcoming 40 second film festival.

Here’s a sample of the storyboards I made for this project: Storyboard

Portland 2050?! Punctuation from the Future

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The emails I received from the future appear “spoken,” possibly evidence of a keyboardless interface—-they might be using a quantum computer that has entangled my machine! If any more qubits settle from their superposition in another, what is it, an alternate timeline, our potential futures, our actual future: I’ll post the text here for you.

Matchmaker

I got an interview with Maubi and it wasn’t a call or an interview. They use a hiring platform at WeWork downtown, the co-working space that installed a read-out station. I checked in at the desk and went to the room where RealU has their office. A small waiting area but they got me in quick—-the office has been modified somewhat. The room has numerous stalls, private chambers, and my appointment was scheduled and it was only a matter of the RealU guy telling me to go into number five. He gave me a key card and I passed it over the door and it unlocked and the door popped open and a pleasant light came up inside the stall that had only a chair and a desk and a computer and a wireless hat that hung on a stand in one corner. When I sat down the computer screen came on and it went through a welcome menu that was redundant because a voice said the same script through some speakers that I didn’t see. I guess the onscreen display was for deaf people and I wondered if maybe this was also a visual interview and in that event, I smiled and said hello.

Please put on your thinking cap and we’ll show you the company, the voice said. And I was like great they think this is funny.

I had been preparing for this interview for the last week, I had the time because I needed this job. Maubi, the robotics firm based in South Korea, had opened their U.S. branch in Hillsboro, Oregon and I’m not afraid of the uprising—-I think western culture’s fear of robots is crazy. They’d see that in my read out. I am a good candidate, at least, I think so!

The “interview” was simple.

I put on the hat and it communicated with the electrochemical jelly of my brain. A labor of love I’m told, but that bitch took years to build. And now, I was finally reading out my mind.

My internal thoughts were going lickety-split and my raw brain waves were reading out as electrical signals into the hat as I looked at the screen. The screen, it was their website and it was automated to step through the pages and I’d seen them all before and then it passed into another layer which I thought was Maubi’s intranet and I was seeing pages about the machines and asked to say done out loud when I was ready for the next one. I figured timing was a factor and I didn’t obsess over any one thing or reread a page after I was finished. I just read the page and said done and then they configured a series of puzzles I had to solve with my mind.

I read the problem and thought out each solution and said done. Only once did I have to pause, it was a problem involving an assembly process and I remembered my lab partner, the feeling of her by my side. I thought about what she told me and I tucked in that piece of the puzzle, and then I was instructed to collect my thoughts.

Leaving the room I felt confident. The voice had said, perfect. Thank you for being with RealU today. Maubi has received your thoughts about the company and will contact you if they find you have the insight they’re hiring for.

Nope. No singularity. No computer can make itself, that’s our brains making them smarter. The guys humping data are still trying to make it explode—-hasn’t happened, but the intellectual work of machines has stepped up. It’s, how to say, collaboration? We’re basically partnered with the technology. No intelligence explosion, just humans married to their devices, and I’d say my first experience reading out my thoughts wasn’t intimidating at all. It was a screening device, that’s all. So many applicants for these jobs, you wouldn’t believe! The real thing is to be called for the in-person interview because then you know they know you can understand the work and they want to know if they can work with you.

I stepped out of WeWork and walked along the North Park Blocks. I should’ve asked her to marry me. What had I been thinking?

Graphic Design for Oregon Environmental Justice

OPAL is a nonprofit in Portland doing advocacy for environmental and social justice. I volunteered to help out and they asked for some graphic design: new business cards, letterhead, MailChimp header, social media templates, Thank You card, and a poster.

OPAL Business Card

My first task was to create a vector graphic of their circle logo, name, and tagline (what you see on the back of the card) from a 74 KB jpeg file. OPAL needed the vector logo ASAP because they didn’t have an .ai file on hand for the logo and it looked fuzzy on their social media (74 KB is small!), and especially when sized up.

OPAL Back of Card

On the business card I used curves of light and dark green circle within circles as a design element to echo their logo. The curves seen on the back of card became the visual motive that integrates their visual communications. We used that on the letterhead, MailChimp header, and Thank You card. The social media template allowed OPAL to have volunteers insert photos and quotes to create a unified campaign. I experimented with color halftone on the photo for visual style:

OPAL Social Media

OPAL asked if I could create a graphic from one of their student volunteer’s drawings to clarify the image while keeping the spirit of the original. I made the poster as a vector graphic with Illustrator so it could be scaled to any size.

YEJA Poster

Youth Environmental Justice Alliance. Feel it! To experiment with the animation feature inside Photoshop, I made a GIF for social media. Here’s a quick-assembly limited animation:

Bus Riders Unite GIF

OPAL is a great place to get involved with your community!