Vegan meat June 15, 2012Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV202 , comments closed
From the Huffington Post comes news of “Beyond meat”, a vegan meat startup funded by Evan Williams and Biz Stone, co-founders of Twitter. The aim of the company is to mass-produce meat substitutes based on plant tissues.
Why? For starters, Stone is a vegan and this venture will help to promote a vegan lifestyle for those who cannot live without their chicken tacos. Also, although the article does not pursue this matter, the meat-based diet popular in the Western world is not sustainable. Basically, turning edible plant matter into meat prior to human consumption is inefficient and creates associated externalities of waste and greenhouse gases. So, the hope is that producing “meat” directly from plant matter will address these issues that arise with the genuine article.
Does it taste like chicken? Reports suggest the new product is neither tasty nor offensive which, one would think, makes it perfect for processed food production.
Only one issue remains. What to call the fake meat? If it is going to sell, it needs some better branding and that starts with a good handle.
- The most obvious name would be “fake meat”. However, drawing attention to its fakeness seems like a bad idea. Who would eat margarine if it were called “imitation butter” (as Michael Pollan notes)? The same goes for mock meat, faux meat, and meat analogue!
- In some cases, I would suggest the term “mismeat”. This name conveys the happy thought, for meat eaters, that one might easily mistake the product for real meat. Of course, few fake meats rise to that standard, so the name might instead be construed as an admission that eating it instead of meat is a mistake.
- Another tactic is to call the fake meat “veggie-meat”, so that fake chicken would be called “veggie chicken”, for example. This nomenclature seems to work, and “veggie dogs” and “veggie burgers” have become common coinage in our household on those occasions when we eat the stuff.
- Stone seems to favor “vegan meat”. However, that name sounds too much like an oxymoron, like the proverbial “business ethics” or “airline food”.
The basic problem with all these names is that they concede the second-rate status of the material. A meat substitute remains an imitation of the real thing, not something to be sought out for its own sake. Instead, we need to Think different. Therefore, I suggest “iFood”!
A dead cat stirs debate June 14, 2012Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV202 , comments closed
From Der Spiegel comes news of a Dutch artist, Bart Jansen, who has turned a dead cat into a helicopter. Jansen somehow lighted on the idea that the cat, which was killed in a collision with a car, should be commemorated through modification into a novelty aircraft. He calls the heli-cat “Orville” after the aviation pioneer Orville Wright.
Controversy surrounds the project. Besides a commemoration, Jansen justifies his project by claiming that Orville is an artwork. Indeed, Orville is currently being exhibited at an art gallery in Amsterdam as part of the KunstRAI art festival. So, it enjoys the authorship of a recognized artist and the imprimatur of an art gallery.
However, some critics find the work to be rather tasteless. “It’s weird, it’s wrong, and it’s absulutely [sic] fucked up. That guy is sick, and I’m glad he’s far, far away from me” comments TheDeadlySteak on the YouTube video. Jansen’s defenders concede that it is tasteless, yet contend that good taste is not necessary for good art. “this shock art= sucessful as proven by comments. Well done sir” comments chemoman1. miraro1 says that “Art doesn’t have to make people feel better, there are worse pieces of art that a dead cat flying around.”
Other critics find it abusive or disrespectful. “I regard my pets as family, and so respect them too much to do something like this with their remains. So it just makes me feel kind of sad to see what I perceive as disrespect and more than a little narcissism” says Venckman. However, others question whether or not a dead cat can really be the subject of abuse or disrespect. “What’s with the rage? The cat was already dead before he was made into a helicopter, so it doesn’t count as animal abuse” says TheMagneticCoffin. pseudotruth argues that “it’s important not to criticise the actions of somebody that has done neither harm to anyone nor anything. After-all the cat was already dead.”
Finally, some critics feel that it is immoral. lloowik sighs that “I guess respect and dignity are not universal virtues after all” while GlossyShoes worries that “you are inspiring people to abuse cats”. Venckman points out that “Nor is it any more morally ‘wrong’ than taxidermy, which is to say it’s not.”
Let me address these three points in turn.
- Is it art? I would argue that the issue of art is not all-or-nothing. Anything can be an artwork; the question is, “How good an artwork is it?” Orville is a poor example of art. Good art is something that is valuable for its own sake, and that captures a message of enduring or universal significance. Orville is more of a gimmick. It seems to have value only as a publicity stunt for Jansen, and conveys no message of significance beyond, “Look what I can do with a dead cat!”
- Is it abusive or disrespectful? The story suggests that the cat was already dead through misadventure when Jansen got a hold of it. Thus, it did not suffer at his hands and so was not abused by him. What counts as disrespect is determined by etiquette, the prevailing rules of good manners. On this reading, Jansen was certainly disrespectful since the reanimation of dead bodies, even of cats, would strike most observers as ghoulish or unnerving. I think that Jansen would be happy to admit this: Disrespect is part of his gimmick.
- Is it immoral? Orville’s treatment does not seem to be inherently immoral. As Venckman points out, it could simply be read as an unusual form of taxidermy, which is not itself immoral (though it may be in poor taste, etc). More disturbing is the possibility that it could prompt abuse of living cats or other animals. People have been convicted of animal cruelty, apparently perpetrated for the purpose of posting video of the abuse to YouTube. However, Jansen’s video is not of this kind. So, it seems unlikely that people would be encouraged to abuse animals by witnessing Orville and the attention drawn to him.
Whatever the verdict on Jansen’s Orville, the case illustrates the role of different sorts of values in assessing it. In instrumental terms, Orville provides mixed results: He makes for a lousy helicopter but a good publicity stunt. In terms of intrinsic values, the assessment is more problematic. In aesthetic terms, Orville seems more gimmicky that arty. In terms of social mores, Orville is clearly offensive to established manners. In terms of moral values, it is conceivable that Orville could cause some people to view cats or other animals in general with less than the respect they are due. That would be a shame.
There remains the assessment of Jansen himself. Is his a “sicko” or a narcissist, or is he an artist educating us by challenging our notions of taste and decorum?
John Hodgman explains design June 13, 2012Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV202 , comments closed
John Hodgman, comedian and frequent guest correspondent for The Daily Show, explains design at the recent TED conference in LA.
I wish I had some pithy comments to add, but I am awed by Hodgman’s insight. For example, I had never perceived the affordances of the Juicy Salif as a utensil or, indeed, as a weapon. Should it be classified as a munition?
“Shave and a haircut” > 2 bits of security June 8, 2012Posted by Scott Campbell in : STV302 , comments closed
A news bit in New Scientist this week picked up on the findings of a security researcher who discovered that people over the age of 55 tend to pick computer passwords twice as strong as those chosen by teenagers. The researcher, Joseph Bonneau, a computer scientist at the University of Cambridge, also observed that Germans and South Koreans pick stronger passwords than Indonesians.
Unfortunately, New Scientist declined to speculate much about why adults pick better passwords than teenagers, but two thoughts came to me. My first (and fleeting) impression was that the whole thing was a little counter-intuitive. Shouldn’t the youth of the world who have never known a time without the internet would be more savvy about things like password security or knowing how to manage their online lives safely? Ha-ha! The net-generation are better known for their lack of online discretion (see: the various instances of underage sexting, cyberbullying, and drinking and the frequent investigations carried out via social networking websites). Students and teenagers are frequently warned that the internet never forgets, and photos or As the University of Waterloo Center for Career Action recommends to students with Facebook accounts:
“Ask yourself, when you are updating your status or writing on a wall, whether you would post the same information on the lunchroom wall at work. Your colleagues or boss might not be impressed by status updates like ‘TGIF!’ or ‘Just had another boring meeting.’”
Not that the youth of yesteryear were likely any better. Late-night cowtipping as a sacred, if mythological, rite of passage comes to mind. So maybe getting a stronger password is a sign of maturity, the 21st century’s equivalent of “get a haircut and get a real job”, and maybe old dogs still have a few tricks left to teach?
My second thought had more to do with the geographic discrepancy. That some people are better at picking passwords than other isn’t just a matter of maturity but culture. It shoots a bit of a hole in the notion of internet-driven cultural convergence or global internet culture. As many studies have shown, people tend to hang out online with the same kind of people they’d hang out with offline. In this case, they tend to pick up the same security practices as well.
Phone squatting June 7, 2012Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV202 , comments closed
An article about a new phenomenon, that I will call “phone squatting”, appeared in a recent New York Times. In a nutshell, phone squatting means parking your car in a parking space and then using your phone for calls, texts, etc. This phenomenon seems to be on the rise, and is sometimes a sore point for other drivers who covet the spot occupied by the squatter:
Brianne Miller was parked recently in downtown San Francisco e-mailing on her BlackBerry. She heard a honk, looked up and discovered a man in a BMW waiting for her spot. She signaled to him that she would be a few more minutes.
“He flashed an obscene gesture,” she said. She smiled and waved, trying not to escalate things. “He sped off in a huff,” she added with a laugh. “It was a really, really good spot.”
The article notes that the increase in phone squatting would seem to be a positive thing: It may reflect the growing acceptance that driving while texting or talking is not a good idea. Better to pull into a parking spot to use the phone.
The article, I think, does not get to the bottom of the drawbacks of phone squatting. As the example above suggests, the immediate issue is that other drivers may desire the spot taken up by the squatter. The person wanting the spot then gets frustrated when it becomes clear that the spot that seemed to be opening up is, in fact, not available.
If that were the only issue, then I think that phone squatting would not merit much attention. We would simply get used to this new and understandable practice. However, phone squatting also undermines the social contract that underlies how drivers share parking spaces. The understanding is that the purpose of parking spaces (in most cases) is to provide drivers with access to neighboring amenities, such as stores. That is, a driver parking in a spot is expected to get out of the car, do some shopping or visiting, and then return and leave, freeing the space for another visitor. The practice of phone squatting violates this expectation because it treats the spot itself as the amenity: The driver does not exit the car while making use of the spot. Other drivers may see this use of parking spaces as illegitimate. As Brianne Miller notes, she had a “good spot”, good not merely as a place to put a car but good as a place from which nearby amenities could easily be accessed.
What is to be done? One option is to do nothing. With time, the public may simply come to understand in a new way how parking spots are to be shared. If drivers come to regard them as amenities in their own right, then the problem will cease to exist, at least as a matter of social contract. However, many parking lots are provided by businesses for the convenience of clients, and those businesses are not likely to welcome squatters. Perhaps certain spaces could be designated for squatting, much like spaces for people with special needs. Spaces on the periphery of parking lots might be ideal, as they would be less likely to inconvenience paying customers. Of course, businesses may not be thrilled with paying for such spaces either, although it might make for some good PR.
Another possibility would be for government to pay for parking spaces designated for squatting or, at least, available for squatters. Given the increase in public safety to be had from providing such spaces, this system might be a good value for the public expenditure. Of course, taxpayers might insist that drivers should simply upgrade to hands-free devices, which remain legal for use while driving in many jurisdictions. Why make the public subsidize drivers who do not invest in proper equipment?
In fact, I think that designing a proper solution to this issue would have to await more systematic study of it. Where does this issue really become a problem, when, and for whom? Whatever the answer, it provides a good illustration of how the design of technology, including cell phones and parking, reflects a mutual understanding about how certain resources are shared in the public realm.
Trenchless and trenchant in Niagara Falls June 5, 2012Posted by Scott Campbell in : STV100 , comments closed
The University of Waterloo has been home to the Centre for the Advancement of Trenchless Technologies (CATT) since 1994. I didn’t know that. At least not until today, when I read about the Underground Infrastructure Research International Conference and Trenchless Road Show, organized by CATT and hosted at Niagara Falls. Two days, and over 400 people with an interest in underground construction methods that don’t require a trench. The road at the end up my driveway has been under construction since early spring to improve the water pipes and I suspect I’ve seen some of the products of this research and development.
What struck me about CATT and the road show is that the motivation doesn’t seem to be the improvement of natural landscapes by hiding infrastructure below ground. Instead, the emphasis is affordability and sustainability of existing infrastructure:
Our focus is on our out-of-sight buried aging, deteriorating and failing water mains and wastewater infrastructure,” said Mark Knight, executive director of CATT and a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Waterloo. “Affordability is the key issue. We can’t afford to do things using the traditional dig and replace methods as it is not sustainable or affordable. We want to make sure this critical infrastructure, through proper water user rates, is maintained, renewed, rebuilt and is sustainable for future generations.”
A lot of engineering comes down to maintenance, repair, and upkeep (As David Edgerton brings up in The Shock of the Old, and I highlighted last month), particularly so with infrastructure. Although many good stories can be told about the creation and growth of technological systems, there is much more to any system than that. Thomas Hughes, perhaps better than anyone else, charted the historical creation, growth and evolution of large technological systems of the 19th and 20th century, but knew that he was only seeing part of the story. He admitted that for every historian of technology inspired by Charles Darwin’s view of evolution there must also be others aligned with Edward Gibbons to see the decline and fall of a technological “empire”.
But to pick up on the idea of natural landscapes and infrastructure, I couldn’t help but chuckle when I noticed the location of the CATT-sponsored Road Show. Despite popular belief, Niagara Falls is one of the least natural landscapes one could imagine. “Harnesssed, redirected, rebuilt, and ﬂanked with fakery, the Falls are an icon of artiﬁce” says Ginger Strand in her 2008 book, Inventing Niagara. For example, up to three-quarters of the water going over the falls is redirected towards power turbines to generate electricity for hundreds of thousands of people, but the water levels are carefully monitored and controlled lest they dry up along the flanks. Especially during tourist season when they turn the falls “up” to ensure a proper spectacle. Another example of fakery: the famous Maid of the Mist tour boats were named after a supposed Native American legend of a maid who went over the falls into the mists, but that story was actually concocted by white settlers. Even better: the mist itself that hangs over the horseshoe falls has even been “corrected” to ensure tourists don’t get too wet and stay away.
So what better place to host a meeting about trenchless construction than Niagara Falls. A field dedicated to maintaining and hiding the infrastructure of our lives as efficiently as possible, right next to one of the biggest infrastructure illusions around.