NY Times:

The point of a model like this is not to try to predict the future but to help people understand why we may need to change our behaviors or restrict our movements, and also to give people a sense of the sort of effect these changes can have. […]

None of us know what lies ahead. But the wise uncertainty of epidemiologists is preferable to the confident bluster of television blowhards. The one thing we can be confident of is that enormous risks lie ahead — including a huge loss of life — if we don’t take aggressive action.

The possibility for the UK to reach herd immunity (a marketing slang for natural selection at this point, lacking of clear measures to protect the elderly or to strengthen the health system) is based on a lot of untested assumptions.

At the end: “I think one thing that people should remember is that nature is the biggest bio-terrorist. Nature wants to kill you.”

Bill Gates, back in 2015:

But in fact, we can build a really good response system. We have the benefits of all the science and technology that we talk about here. We’ve got cell phones to get information from the public and get information out to them. We have satellite maps where we can see where people are and where they’re moving. We have advances in biology that should dramatically change the turnaround time to look at a pathogen and be able to make drugs and vaccines that fit for that pathogen. So we can have tools, but those tools need to be put into an overall global health system. And we need preparedness.

The best lessons, I think, on how to get prepared are again, what we do for war. For soldiers, we have full-time, waiting to go. We have reserves that can scale us up to large numbers. NATO has a mobile unit that can deploy very rapidly. NATO does a lot of war games to check, are people well trained? Do they understand about fuel and logistics and the same radio frequencies? So they are absolutely ready to go. So those are the kinds of things we need to deal with an epidemic.

Tim Cook:

The global spread of COVID-19 is affecting every one of us. At Apple, we are people first, and we do what we do with the belief that technology can change lives and the hope that it can be a valuable tool in a moment like this. Teachers are innovating to make remote lessons come alive. Companies are experimenting with new ways to stay productive. And medical experts can diagnose illnesses and reach millions with critical updates in the blink of an eye. We are all adapting and responding in our own way, and Apple wants to continue to play a role in helping individuals and communities emerge stronger.

But this global effort — to protect the most vulnerable, to study this virus, and to care for the sick — requires all of our care, and all of our participation. And I want to update you about the ways in which we are doing our part.

The right call to make. If the government is refusing to act fast in face of evidence (as is the case here in the UK), we need to take responsibility in our hands.

If you are organising something, postpone it. If you run a company and can WFH, enforce it.

The virus is not the main danger, our unprepared medical system and fragile supply chains are. We know and have been told about what works and what doesn’t: there is no excuse at this point to delay action.

The only reason to panic is if everyone is going about as if nothing was happening.

AIGA:

Watching a single place evolve over time reveals small histories and granular inconsistencies. Train stations and airports are built, a gunpowder factory disappears for the length of the Cold War. But on certain maps, in Switzerland’s more remote regions, there is also, curiously, a spider, a man’s face, a naked woman, a hiker, a fish, and a marmot. These barely-perceptible apparitions aren’t mistakes, but rather illustrations hidden by the official cartographers at Swisstopo in defiance of their mandate “to reconstitute reality.” Maps published by Swisstopo undergo a rigorous proofreading process, so to find an illicit drawing means that the cartographer has outsmarted his colleagues.

Each day a different image or photograph of our universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.


(*)

Matthew Butterick:

They contradict Unicode. Unicode is a standardized system—used by all contemporary fonts—that identifies each character uniquely. This way, software programs don’t have to worry that things like the fi ligature might be stashed in some special place in the font. Instead, Unicode designates a unique name and number for each character, known as a code point. If you have an fi ligature in your font, you identify it with its designated Unicode code point, which is 0xFB01.

In addition to alphabetic characters, Unicode assigns code points to hundreds of symbols. Many of the programming ligatures shown above are visually similar to existing Unicode symbols. So in a source file that uses Unicode characters, how would you know if you’re looking at a => ligature that’s shaped like ⇒ vs. Unicode character 0x21D2, which also looks like ⇒? The ligature introduces an ambiguity that wasn’t there before.

This is from Connections, James Burke’s documentary television series produced by the BBC in 1978, on how technology and change happens. It’s a personal account of how we got to now, how ideas spread and technology evolves; overall I think what Burke does well is showing how everything is connected. Throughout Connections knowledge is analysed foremost as a distributed system within a community, rather than as a personal asset (as something that I, as an individual, have or not). In Burke’s view then progress happens when a new detail of reality becomes widely known to a group of people, to one civilisation.

His point is also that — as we add layers of technology to our society — it becomes impossible for each and one of us to have a solid understanding of how everything works. Knowledge has to be distributed, by necessity. In our everyday interactions — when we open the tap, flush the toilet, flip the switch — we don’t have to think about how something works: it just works. The functioning of the systems which support the technologies is abstracted for us.

As as result, we’re mostly clueless: we move between abstractions, failing to notice the model, unaware of the complexity of the network we built. To say it differently: any mature technology eventually recedes to the state of nature, to background, to part of the environment and of how things are, unquestioned and taken for granted. What Burke also seems to say is that although our strength — our ability to survive and adapt — derives from technology, the complexity that technology has introduced over time has reduced (if not removed) our individual ability to survive.

I sympathise with this argument — it’s why I was never charmed by the escape to the pond kind of literature. It’s naive at best to believe that at this stage any single one of us is not totally reliant on the layers of technology (water supply, electricity, and so on) that we put in place and on the outsourcing of the knowledge required to keep them running.

Which is another way of saying that reality has an infinite amount of details, most of which we’re unaware of. As soon as we look closely into something, we realise the stark vastness of our ignorance. It might be a useful thing to remind ourselves of, before entertaining any dream of self-sufficiency outside of society.

Toby Shorin:

In both the medieval and traditional forms of society, mankind was at the whim of God and nature. We could die in any number of ways. A locust wave (sent by God) ruined our crops, or you ate a poisonous berry, were bitten by a snake, or attacked by a bear, or some other cruel fate. To mitigate these eventualities the best we could do was pray to God, or for traditional humans, participate through ritual in the regeneration and renewal of the cosmos, an effort to help reinstantiate the natural order. So humans, weak and marginal, were just one figure in a cosmos of acting, agential beings and spirits.

Is this too not a form of full autonomy? Could we not say that human beings lived in a fully automated world then? One in which we were not at the center, but at the edges, just one part?

What if our desire for full autonomy is not a desire for “maximal mastery and total liberation, but the desire for limited agency? The desire to live once again in a naïve state of belief, one in which we are not paralyzed by optionality?

Twenty years ago (Jan 5th, 2020) Steve Jobs demoed Internet Explorer 5 for Mac. The app was chosen by Jobs for its bold UI, which was developed in complete secrecy within Microsoft but had an uncanny resemblance of the yet-to-be-unveiled Acqua interface of Mac OS X.

Maf Vosburgh, one of the developers who worked on the project, writes:

Coming from the artist-influenced multimedia world, the visual style Microsoft had in progress for Mac IE 5 looked ancient to me. Everything was the MacOS platinum style, shades of gray like cement, with a horde of tiny 16 by 16 pixel toolbar icons (in 4-bit color with a 1 bit mask) most of which had obviously been designed by engineers in a pixel editor like ResEdit.

I had the idea of making our browser chrome match the actual hardware you were on. If your Mac’s bezel was Bondi blue, we’d make our UI Bondi blue. That way our “frame” around the web page would match the bezel and so would be seen as part of the background and be distinct from the content. By being more vivid we would paradoxically blend into the background, and look more at home. […]

I put my idea to the rest of the Mac IE team, and they loved it. […] It rapidly came together and in Summer 1999 we demoed the secret New Look build of Mac IE5 to Steve Jobs, the first person to see it outside Nykris and a few people on the Mac IE team. Steve gave it his enthusiastic approval. Yeah!

So eventually MacWorld January 2000 came along, the venue for unveiling the Mac IE 5 beta. Steve Jobs insisted on doing the Mac IE 5 demo himself. Tnis is where things got a little surprising. Steve first showed a new build of Mac OS X which had a new user interface called “Aqua”. This looked, well, just like the Nykris design we’d been using for half a year at that point.

The debate around 5G is being framed as if picking Huawei instead of an European vendor would upset the control telecommunication providers have over their networks. The reality is more grim: we’ve long crossed that bridge, and most providers already do not have a full understanding of their own infrastructure:

In a modern telecommunications service provider, new equipment is deployed, configured, maintained and often financed by the vendor. Just to let that sink in, Huawei (and their close partners) already run and directly operate the mobile telecommunication infrastructure for over 100 million European subscribers.

The host service provider often has no detailed insight in what is going on, and would have a hard time figuring this out through their remaining staff.