Hello 2018

Welcome. This blog has existed occasionally since 2005, which you can tell from all the broken links. Back then being critical of technology wasn’t so popular. Now it is and everything is on fire (as the kids say, I think).

The header illustration is from a Spanish artist’s site that I can no longer find. 🙁

Keep on innovating everyone.

“Death, Denial and Self-Driving Cars” (NYT)

Mike Isaac:

All of tech, and really much of the automotive industry, speaks of driverless cars with the gravitas of inevitability: In the future, driving yourself will be more foreign than you think.

That’s why something like this isn’t just bad for Tesla, it’s bad for everyone betting on this future. Go listen to the leaders at Lyft, Uber or General Motors talk about driverless. Things like this inhibit this vision.

What I sort of question is the response from Tesla on this one. The company blog post started out sympathetic, but then flooded us with a bunch of numbers and statistics. I’m not sure that strikes the right tone after a guy just died.

Anyway, how does the industry recover from this? Just keep marching toward inevitability?

[No doubt: yes.]

Source: Farhad’s and Mike’s Week in Tech: Death, Denial and Self-Driving Cars

I agree with Illah Nourbakhsh, as he says in his thoughtful post on the topic. Excerpt:

There is much, much more to this than statistics or bug-tweaking. There are underlying questions about interaction design: do we design autonomy to replace people in such ways that new forms of error surface, or do we empower people to become incrementally safer, even if it means our technological trajectory is slower and more intentional? You know where I stand.

Source: Layers of Autonomy.

Don Norman on Tesla’s “reckless” autopilot feature

Forbes interviewed Don Norman about Tesla’s partially autonomous “autopilot” feature. Quote:

Tesla is being reckless. From what I can tell, Tesla has no understanding of how real drivers operate and they do not understand the need for careful testing. So they release, and then they have to pull back.

Source: Is Tesla Racing Recklessly Towards Driverless Cars? — Forbes

See the article for some terrifying videos taken by Tesla pseudo-drivers that capture autopilot oops moments.

Don Norman has added more comments on the story at his blog here: http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/interview_is_tesla_.html. And Tesla CEO Elon Musk says don’t worry, it’s all good. So who are you going to believe — the charismatic billionaire Tony Stark guy, or the nerdy design professor?

Our images of software developers

This is an excellent article by Birgitta Böckeler on the history of software developers and our images of them.

The stereotype of the socially-awkward, white, male programmer has been around for a long time. Although “diversity in tech” is a much discussed topic, the numbers have not been getting any better. On the contrary, a lot of people inside and outside of the IT industry still take it for granted that this stereotype is the natural norm, and this perception is one of the things that is standing in our way to make the profession more inclusive and inviting. So where does this image come from? Did the demographics of the world’s programmer population really evolve naturally, because “boys just like computers more”? What shaped our perception of programmers? This text is about some possible explanations I found when reading about the history of computing.

Read it for the history and insights on what to do about it.

Stop acting so surprised!

Whenever you hear yourself or somebody else saying things like “You don’t look like a programmer”, or “What? You don’t know ___?” — stop right there. It might be an innocent little comment that you don’t mean anything by, but the person you are saying it to might be hearing this for the 500th time, and your comment might be the last straw to make them think that they indeed do not belong. This is why such comments are often called “microaggressions”. Each one is small, too small to really be aggressive, but when they appear every week they have a significant cumulative effect.

Learn more about microaggressions to increase your awareness of this, for example by reading this excellent article about how microaggressions enforce stereotypes in tech.

Source: Born for it: How the image of software developers came about (via Pat Kua)

How does virtual reality affect kids?

Jeremy Bailenson’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford has been researching the effects of VR experiences on children. Below is a CBS video (from 2015) that talks about it.

Key soundbite: after kids experience something in virtual reality, 50% of them say a week later that it actually happened in the physical world.


That factoid can sound shocking, but I haven’t read the papers and don’t claim to know all the context and how meaningful or concerning it truly is. And of course even adult memory is famously unreliable (see: The Invisible Gorilla for a good discussion of that and other psychological illusions).

Source: The effects of make-believe: Stanford studies virtual reality, kids — CBS News

Via Therese Dugan and Fatherly.