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Environmental Philly

If you’re from the Philadelphia area (or even if you’re not), please read the article in Philly Mag about how a non-coastal city still needs to prepare for the floods.

An image of a passenger jet, top-down view, on a runway. The run way is overtaken by water in rippling waves. It is a photo montage credited to Dan Saelinger, from Philadelphia Magazine

Philadelphia’s possible responses to climate change are outlined in this article by Clair Sasko and David Murrell in Philadelphia Magazine. I had already known that Philly is slated to get hundreds of thousands of climate refugees, from places like Miami and the coasts, but this article reminds me some will come from New Jersey. It’s an obvious idea, of course. The coasts will flood by the end of the century. We here in Philadelphia are so used to going to the New Jersey shores for vacation or to spend our summers that we forget about the people who live there all year round.

My friend in Pittsburgh says that the city has 191 car charging stations. We have less than 150 and we are a much bigger city. The article has a theory as to why that is. 80% of electric and hybrid owners charge at home, but the city stopped residents from putting up stations in front of their own houses, fearing a haves/havesnot divide over private parking spots on city streets. A bit myopic at best.

I don’t post about environmental things often, for two reasons. 1. I’m not living off-grid. I’m still driving a gas fueled car, we have natural gas in our home, and I don’t always know where my garbage goes (like clothing!) 2. I think the focus on the little guy, like me, is misleading. Huge corporations and literal nations are the overwhelming main contributors. We have to regulate them more. They are killing us all. I don’t know what to do about either one of those things. I do my research but I don’t have control over how my recycling gets processed, or how my donated clothes don’t end up being resold but instead put in a landfill. Don’t get me started on electronics. I use my phones, computers and cars until they are literally dead and cannot be revived. Does this give me some moral superiority over those who upgrade yearly? Probably not. That’s the thing, I don’t even know if I’m doing it right. My instincts tell me to use stuff until it can’t be repaired. Perhaps the right thing is to move it on earlier so more life can be squeezed from its parts. I just don’t know.

Hopefully we can get straight answers on all of this soon. Hopefully we’ll all be taking over the streets demanding them and instituting the changes business and governments need to make to save the planet.

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Cyberpunk vision

a screenshot of my cyberpunk board

My view of what a (good-ish) future looks like

Over on Pinterest, you can see over 400 futuristic images of fashion, architecture, inventions, housing, etc., on my Cyberpunk board. It’s by far my most popular board. (Apologies to those who are visually impaired. I don’t have descriptions of all the posts.)

Using the term “cyberpunk” to title this collection of images is probably misleading. Cyberpunk is a socio-economic thing, where mega corps own everyone and everything and people are mere slaves in the fake capitalist oligarchy. Tech is pervasive but quality of life is low (hence the genre’s motto “high tech, low life”) more than it is a futurism aesthetic. It was a good idea at the time, I thought, when I created the board. You’ll see why if you search Pinterest on the term. Everything is 1980s style sexist cyborg crap. I wanted to counteract that a bit.

One way my board does reflect cyberpunk’s genre is the difference between the haves and haves-not. It is subtle, but if you look at the fashion and housing especially, the obvious wealth needed to obtain any of it is crazed.

Anyway. Have a look through my cyberpunk board and tell me what you see.

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Digital coloring books

Online and off, I like coloring. But don’t call it a hobby.

Sandbox is an iPhone app that offers color-by-number pictures. There’s a free level and a premium level (~$40.00US/year). The free level’s been fine for me but I am tempted by some of the more complicated pictures that the premium offers.

Once you fill in the squares (all the pics are pixel grids), you can check a box to show an animation of the order in which you filled in the grid. Early on I began manipulating the order in which I populated pixels with “paint,” so I could make a certain animation happen.

Above you see a gif of completed grids. The animation that is added to the finished product is a separate feature from the grid-fill animation. The animation you see above is an easter egg of sorts. The grid has a surprise element that you can only see after you’ve completed the grid. Two examples of this post-fill animation are in the pic above.

A user can also make their own grids on Sandbox and submit them for others to color. You can scan in your photos and the app will convert it to a grid, with the premium customers getting better pixel detail than the freemium users. I’ve not shared any photo or drawing so I don’t know exactly how that works.

How I chose to color in the pixel squares affects the end animation

Like many people who spend hours playing Tetris or cards or the latest hey-pop-this-bubble/candy/bomb game, I also feel a bit guilty for the time I spend on Sandbox. Like Nir Eyal points out in his Indistractable book, the transition times between activities is the red zone. After everyone left the table tonight and it was time to go on to another activity for the evening (kid: Overwatch. Husband: Sports podcast/news on the phone. Me: blogging), I pulled up Sandbox “just for a minute.” I probably lost about 30-40 minutes. Poof. Gone.

For one thing, I didn’t want to blog. For another, I was tired. I heard on a TED podcast that people check Facebook, like, a gazillion more times when they are tired than when they are awake and alert. This rings true for me too. I scroll when my brain or my body is slowing down. Lately I’ve been coloring instead of scrolling so much. IMO this is an improvement!

There’s something soothing about repetitive actions, though, especially super-simple ones like tapping squares. And when I don’t have the energy or my thoughts are racing (or both), I tap, tap, tap away, planning out my final animation strategy while (almost) mindlessly filling pixels with color.

One of these days I’ll stop feeling guilty about it. I would be very embarrassed if, say, alien overlords invaded the Earth and I was forced to account for my pastimes. They would call Sandbox use a “hobby,” as if it were at the same level as knitting! Or sewing! (the horror). I would be ruined. More ruined than now having alien overlords, that is.

We all need some sort of calming exercise. The “boob tube” held the status as the mindless pastime for all of western civilization. Then came the internet, the web, and phones. Now we scroll and we watch TV very deliberately instead.

The real question is, why do I feel guilty? Why would I hide Sandbox from the aliens? What implicit value has society placed on iphone apps? We all know the answer – they are guilty pleasures. Trash. The new boob tube. But isn’t it merely a tool for us to calm our racing minds? To avoid stress? It may be boobtastic but it is useful. We’re human.

As I said. One day, perhaps when the aliens come, I’ll finally give up feeling guilty about being human.


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I’m one of those people who feels stuck in the dark ages.

a close up of a very dense wall calendar month view with weekends highlighted in yellow. Black print. Abbreviated days of the week are in another language, maybe Portuguese

I feel like I experience frustration daily at the lack of tech solutions to common and complex problems. “Why does this not exist yet!?” is a constant scream in my head. I need to start writing each of these situations/problems/solutions down. I know the answer, though, for most of them: No-one wants to build that. It will cost too much to make. Not enough people will buy it. These are mostly bullshit answers but they are what come out of the mouths of business people and engineers when I ask them about some of these gaps in tech. I get looked at like a crazy person, so I’ve stopped asking.

Here are 4 things I’ve been talking about for EVER. #2 and #3 are coming (hopefully) but at a snails pace (because: politics). #1 isn’t even on the tech/biz world’s agenda. #4 had better be here by next Xmas.

  1. A synchronizable wall calendar for the kitchen. I want a visual display of all my family’s calendar events. I want it presented in the typical wall calendar way, with a month view and a pretty picture above. I want everyone’s phones to sync to it, either automatically on manually. I want to drill down to minute settings on each event, e.g. shareable to the wall or not, shareable to each family member or not, etc.
  2. Better medical tech. We need more tech in healthcare, like AI diagnosing or robots that make medication dispensing errors the thing of the past. Total body scan health equipment available for free at pharmacies or even at home. We need to pick up heart valve blockages and aneurisms before they kill people. Stuff like that. AI will transform healthcare if we don’t let big pharma and the rest of them quash it.
  3. Self-driving taxis, fast trains and air taxis. Yes, I know fast trains exist in other countries. Our trains suck here. because: politics.
  4. Group Movie Sync. I want to have a corny xmas movie marathon with friends around the world. We can skype or use some sort of google group chat but we have no way of synching our movie start times. If we want to live watch with each other, we will need superhuman speeds and precision to make sure we are all on the same exact frame of the movie. A calendar with signups that would automatically start everything, the movie, the group video, etc, would be awesome.

Then there’s tech that is changing the culture but people don’t notice. One is surveillance capitalism. Those companies need to be legislated.

Another is communications and its invisible psychological burdens. Yesterday I posted about read receipts, those notifications you get under your text messages that say the recipient has “seen” your text. Most of my friends do not want senders to know whether or not they’ve seen the sender’s text. They see it as a privacy issue. My point was that a read receipt can be helpful to the sender. One of my friends said the opposite, that a read receipt in itself is a burden on the sender, e.g. now they are pressured to keep texting or perhaps explain themselves, etc.

Any way you look at it, read receipts are a THING. They are a tiny bit of comms minutiae we must contend with. Most people don’t bother to check their settings for any tech, so the defaults rule. Who decides the defaults? Default settings influence the culture. Take for example organ donation. Some countries are defaulted to opt everyone into the system. Those societies do not have organ shortages like the US, an opt-out default culture, does. A default setting in comms, like having read receipts on, turns into the norm. When we don’t bother thinking about and discussing settings like that, they shift parameters without our notice. This blog is a place where I can make note of these things, the technological/psychological details not many others seem to see.

I usually have a new idea or two a month about tech deficiencies, where problems exist that reachable tech (apps, software, hardware, methodology) could solve. I’ll try to remember to start listing them here.


Image by Andreas Lischka from Pixabay
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Rethinking read receipts

Screen shot of a read receipt. It says "Seen 9:18am" with a big gray checkmark next to it
My read receipts are more like “Seen 4:18am.”

I turned on “read” notifications for all my text messages.

For years I saw “read receipts” as a privacy issue. It was no-one’s business, I figured, whether or not I saw their text message or email. Plus, if I kept my reading or not reading hidden, I could keep the “I didn’t see it” excuse in my back pocket, able to be pulled out like a yellow card in foul territory.

I asked my crowd online what they thought about my move. Almost everyone expressed their “HELL NO” stance on turning on read receipts. The major sentiment was that no sender was owed the information of whether or not we’ve read their message.

Granted, some senders shouldn’t get that information. Companies that send marketing texts and emails, for example, should not be given even more data for free. I’m not a big fan of email newsletters for many reasons, one of them being it’s not clear on whether or not I can turn off the “opened” notification sent back to the sender and their newsletter vendor. While I understand the marketer’s need for that data, I am just not interested in being exploited in that way.

But the other day I was texting my college kid and I thought about the personal value in read receipts. Knowing what I’ve seen and what I haven’t can be really helpful to her. Then I thought about everyone I text. Why wouldn’t I let them know what I’ve seen and what I haven’t? Because I want to avoid answering them? I mean, that’s usually the answer for us texters, right? We want more time before we respond. We want a day or two to pass so whatever it is fades away or has less of an edge to it. (This is silly, of course. Everyone has seen our text messages.)

When it comes to work, read receipts can be oppressive. Work messages are locked in some sort of precipitous dance of power between colleagues. I get that. But for personal messages, what power balance are we trying to tip? I can’t see treating my loved ones as the opposing force in a text danse macabre. If a relationship is such that I am waltzing through a minefield, I will certainly address that situation with more deliberate moves than hiding behind texts or dodging emails.

We can set read receipts per individual. On the iPhone, you can find the setting under the “i” icon which sits under the sender’s photo and name at the top of the text message window. Scroll down to the bottom and you can turn read receipts on or off.

black circle against white background. inside the circle is a lower case I in italics. It symbolizes the "information" page

Android phones have defaults to set for all messages, but I’m not sure if the setting drills down to individuals like it does on the iPhone. Building individual settings for everyone you communicate with may not sound like fun to you. It doesn’t sound like fun to me either. For now I’m defaulting everyone to receive read receipts. This, to me, is living deliberately. It is being honest and transparent with people who deserve that from me.

So. Now you know. If you don’t see “Read” under my texts, you and I probably need to talk.


Header image from HowtoGeek.com and i symbol from Google search
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