A Manifesto for Outsider Engineers

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1. An interview with Julian Oliver, an author of the The Critical Engineering Manifesto

"So what I want to do with my work — and I know this is the same for my colleagues Gordan and Danja in the studio — is to come up with un-black-boxing strategies. To look for perforations and seams and enhance the possibility for edge detection, because it’s only when we see edges that we know where we are. The ideology of seamlessness associated with ‘cloud’ technologies, these children’s book metaphors (I would argue patronizing metaphors), are intrinsically disempowering and are designed as such. So if you can actually produce the seams that tie these technologies together, then you are being culturally, socially, and critically productive. Realizing that your smartphone is not having an intimate conversation with Facebook end-to-end, that the radio device on their phone is sending radio signals in a sphere and some of it could easily be intercepted or copied en route, is a point of awareness that needs to be reached through demonstration, which was my aim with the Transparency Grenade."

+ The Critical Engineering Manifesto, Berlin 2011-2014.


2. Lizzie Widdiecombe's profile of the man behind Soylent, a food replacement slurry, complete with Buckminster Fuller and self-mythology.

"Rhinehart’s bedroom is sparsely decorated, except for books on science and techno-utopianism: Steven Pinker, Isaac Asimov, R. Buckminster Fuller, the futurist and creator of the geodesic dome, whom Rhinehart admires for combining wild creativity with pragmatism. (He refers to him by his nickname, Bucky.) He pointed to a poster on the wall, showing the metabolic pathways in the human body. 'This is life—a walking chemical reaction,' he said. 'Bucky thinks of the body as a hydroelectric machine.' Politically, Rhinehart said, he’s a 'fallen libertarian.' He believes in maximizing freedom, but he hates the waste of capitalism. 'Things are worthless,' he told me. In an effort to optimize the dressing process, he alternates between two pairs of jeans, and orders nylon or polyester T-shirts from Amazon, wearing them for a few weeks before donating them. When the clothes get smelly, he puts them in the freezer, to get rid of the odor. 'Sometimes, during the day, a couple of hours will do it,' he told me. 'I’ll wear a towel.'"


3. President Obama's people are rolling out new rhetoric around how much he cares, personally, about climate change

"And while he routinely brings up climate change in closed-door meetings with world leaders, according to his aides, he also discusses it in his private life, talking about global warming’s implications with his teenage daughters. 'This is really real for him, in terms of what he’s leaving,' said Cecilia Muñoz, who directs the White House Domestic Policy Council and has helped coordinate federal investment in climate-resilient infrastructure projects. 'This is personal for him.' It’s a notable transformation for a politician who as a senator talked in grand terms about the need to combat global warming but adopted a much more constrained approach in the run-up to his 2012 reelection."

+ Ryan Lizza's play-by-play on the weak support Obama gave to the 2010 climate bill in the Senate.


4. How long before a black market for GDF11 exists?

"To see if GDF11 was crucial to the parabiosis effect, the scientists produced a supply of the protein and injected it into old mice. Even on its own, GDF11 rejuvenated their hearts.  Dr. Wagers and her colleagues wondered whether GDF11 was responsible for the rejuvenation of other tissues. In the current issue of the journal Science, they report an experiment on skeletal muscle in mice. They found that GDF11 revived stem cells in old muscles, making old mice stronger and increasing their endurance."


5. And they say we've entered late capitalism

"Armrest design is second to everything for the airline industry, which clearly doesn't give two hoots about the unpleasantness of touching your neighbor's elbows and, worse, encountering his or her sweaty skin. It's downright unseemly in an era when most airplanes have $10,000 televisions on the back of each seat. Hong Kong-based designer James Lee of Paperclip Design has a solution. His concept for the Paperclip Armrest has a double-decker configuration, effectively putting two arm rests in the space of one. No more sharing. Your neighbor's arm goes on the bottom level while yours fits on the top."


Today's 1957 American English Usage Tip

beloved is, when used as a p.p. (beloved by all; was much beloved), disyllabic (uvd); as a mere adjective (dearly beloved brethren; the beloved wife of), or as a noun (my beloved), it is trisyllabic; the first of these rules is sometimes broken in ignorance of usage & the second with a view to the emphasis attaching to what is unusual.

+ This is a grammatical point I've noticed for many years but never thought there was a real answer to. 


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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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