Finding a way back in
It has been a very long time since I contributed material to this site. Work has been a mad dash for months, and other intervening events kept me busy. Here's a small offering as a relaunch.
Leadership when there is no precedent
The island of Kiribati is sinking, one of the first casualties of the rising seas caused by global warming. Anote Tong, its President, shows exemplary leadership in confronting the emerging needs of his people and culture. From his interview with the Washington Post –
How does one plan the demise of one’s own country? I can assure you it’s not fun or exciting. It’s scary, but you’ve got to overcome that fear and you’ve got to think positively. As a leader, I have no right to lead if I cannot find a way out. So I had to create solutions that did not exist. I had to think about relocating our people and the best way to do it. There is no higher ground within our borders, so we’d have to move to higher ground elsewhere.
...I think it’s our responsibility today to make the decisions that would ensure the future of the next generation, and the generation after. For those who choose to go, our responsibility as leaders is to prepare them. We have to provide them with the kind of education that would ensure that if and when they relocate, they would move as citizens who are skilled and would find jobs and who would move with dignity. Dignity is absolutely vital, because people who have lost everything else must not lose their dignity.
...At home, we have many old men who are so wise and so responsible in understanding their role as elders to the rest of the community. It is sobering to know that no matter how well educated you think it might be, it’s the wisdom not the education that is important.
Big doubts about de-identification
As the market for private information continues to grow, there are those who promise to strip the identifiers from personal information. The promise is especially prominent in the world of medical information where researchers and marketers seek insights from our health records. Cory Doctorow illuminates the fallacy in the promise. A key issue is the future re-identification of the data –
Cavoukian and Castro are rightly excited by Big Data and the new ways that scientists are discovering to make use of data collected for one purpose in the service of another. But they do not admit that the same theoretical advances that unlock new meaning in big datasets also unlock new ways of re-identifying the people whose data is collected in the set.
Re-identification is part of the Big Data revolution: among the new meanings we are learning to extract from huge corpuses of data is the identity of the people in that dataset. And since we're commodifying and sharing these huge datasets, they will still be around in ten, twenty and fifty years, when those same Big Data advancements open up new ways of re-identifying -- and harming -- their subjects.
Planning commissioner admits fault, explains how bad architecture gets built
Alex Grant was chairman of the planning council in the English city of Greenwich. Some of the buildings approved by his commission have not been nominated for the dubious award of the Carbuncle Cup for the ugliest building in the United Kingdom. He reflects on the promise and the process of approving building developments and designs –
There was a charming swagger about the people from Tesco’s development arm Spenhill when they met with me and other councillors in 2006 and 2007: rather than dress down like most developers, Tesco’s then development director Patrick Stones once turned up in black tie on his way to a charity bash. Lots of reassurance was given about how the huge new Tesco would disguise its bulk, and help rather than hinder Woolwich’s small traders. Independent retailers were predicted to occupy small units by the Tesco entrance and around the corner on Woolwich New Road. A “green wall” of ivy and other creepers would climb the building directly above the car park entrance. We were told that the 258 flats directly above the supermarket, in four parallel blocks like a toast-rack and separated by winter gardens, would be a pioneering model of sustainable, high-density urban living.
...There were several changes as detailed applications rolled in over the following three years. Because of the recession from 2008 onwards Tesco said a “fundamental review of the scheme” was required before construction could start. Collado Collins were now off the job and in February 2009, and again in September 2010, new architects Sheppard Robson proposed “relatively modest changes” (all of which the council agreed to) which seemed innocuous but in practice dumbed the design down considerably.
...The council became so fixated on the opportunities that Tesco offered to deliver new civic offices that crucial details were overlooked. The design watchdog CABE had harboured doubts all along: in 2006 their first comment was that the scheme was “wanting in terms of urban design”. Although CABE later became happier, they prophetically warned that “many aspects of the scheme could be problematic to the quality of the public realm and as a place to live if it is implemented in a slightly different way”. In other words, details matter and seemingly minor design changes can have devastating consequences.
The website, The Great Discontent, does a marvelous job publishing interviews of people in creative work. Calling themselves "a magazine featuring interviews on beginnings, creativity, and risk," they allow a conversation to unfold at length bringing some great insights forward as a result. I like this in the recent interview with Liz Danzico, the new creative director for NPR –
A close second for my “Aha!” moment was when I was designing the digital design program with Steven Heller at SVA. I thought about the curriculum and the space; I thought about how the students could be hirable and what their skill sets should look like; I made more spreadsheets. But during one of our student’s weddings this past fall, I realized that all of that doesn’t actually matter. At the wedding, I sat at a table of 10 people who were all former students from different years: some of them were living with or married to one another, and all of them had formed a community over the past few years. I looked around the table and realized what we all built together: we created these relationships and this community. I was so focused on the pedagogy in the beginning that it didn’t occur to me that what matters is the community that these students are building together. At the end of the day, people are what matter. We sort of know that when we’re designing products, and that is what we talk about all the time, but I kind of forgot about that in putting together the program.
We are currently working with a Google Ventures company. It has me scouting around the edges of things where I found this delightful generosity – Google Ventures offering of "articles, guides, videos, and insights to help entrepreneurs like you succeed."
I was also very impressed with the launch of Google's "Material" framework for Android developers.