Readings good, Amazon bad

Sometimes you'll get linked to an Amazon product page. Sure, you could buy it from there, but if you're in Australia, Readings Bookstore a way better place to get your p-books. They have numerous Melbourne locations, a great website* and free shipping anywhere in Australia.

It would be convenient, would it not, not have a handy bookmarklet which would copy the product title from the Amazon page you were looking at and search for that title at Readings? Yes, yes it would.

What are you waiting for?  Drag the bookmarklet below to your favourites bar. Next time you're on an Amazon product page, you'll be ready**.

*Yes, we made it.

** I haven't actually tested this on more than two pages. YMMV.

Imagine doing this for a job

Pity the Treasurer, who knows only that he must somehow produce 'growth', growth that will destroy the country his party governs.

Pity the Finance Minister, who desperately needs energetic young people to help prop up an ageing population, but who cannot access them because it is politically impossible to welcome, to employ, to access the talents and determination of those who risk everything to come to our shores.

Pity the Immigration Minister who must spend billions on locking them up in appalling conditions to satisfy the xenophobia of swinging voters.

Pity the Prime Minister, who, unable to provide actual evidence or reasons for the policies he has announced, must repeat inane soundbites tuned to appeal to ignorant, entitled constituents.

Pity most of all those who will come after us, who will have to pick up the pieces, clean up our messes, right our wrongs, and wonder: is this the best they could do?

On the permeability of the individual

We're accustomed to thinking of ourselves as atomic, indivisible entities. I am me, and you are you, and that’s that. I’m coming to see that this is only approximate. When people live and work together, sometimes—when it’s good—a gestalt entity emerges. Who can say who’s responsible for this piece of work, this meal, this idea, this experience? And as we offload more of our sensory and cognitive apparatus to a distributed digital armamentum, we share more of that apparatus with others. How long until the world mind?

Kinds of knowing

When I was twenty, an architect friend-of-a-friend designed a house where kitchen and shower wastewater ran in a stream across an internal atrium, the idea being that an awareness of one’s effluvia was a prerequisite for dealing with it effectively.

At the time, I didn’t get it: I had an intellectual appreciation for environmental concerns, but I didn’t see what I do now – how intuitively right his solution was. What is it, to feel something deeply, rather than just thinking it? What’s the difference between “knowing” and knowing?

Designing our lives

Code is hard but people are harder, and perhaps one’s own self is the hardest of all: it’s difficult to have the critical distance. We're skilled at considering how to make things better, quicker, more beautiful. Can we apply those same skills to our lives and our communities? Can we establish clear structures, eliminate the unnecessary, give ourselves breathing room? Can we refactor our methods, optimise our algorithms, stop making the same mistakes over and over? Can we spend a bit more time deciding what to do, and once we've made that decision, do it to the best of our collective abilities?

Two wheels good, four wheels bad

I’ve been thinking bike-positive thoughts of late, and thinking about ways to motivate people to walk/cycle/public transport their way around. It’s a challenge, particularly since my city (Canberra) is highly optimised for car transport. The roads are more direct, wider, better lit and better maintained than the bicycle paths. I can drive 13 kilometres in 17 minutes (average speed: 45.9 km/h) to get to work, whereas the same trip on cycle paths is 18 kilometres in 45 minutes (average speed: 24 km/h). So I need to spend an extra hour each day to commute back and forth by bike.

How can we start to change that equation? Conventionally, only economic incentives have been proposed to help reduce private car use – but people have repeatedly shown that economic incentives are ineffective. We should instead be thinking of using the currency which really matters: time.

Prioritise cycle routes over roads for cars: If the cycle paths were as direct as roads (or I could safely ride on the roads), I’d save almost half an hour (13km @ 24km/hr = 32.5 minutes each way).

Slow cars down: one way to make it safer for cars to coexist with bikes on the road would be to limit their speed, say, 40km/h, saving weight (smaller, less powerful engines), fuel, pollution, and noise. This would reduce the incentive to drive, help the environment, and make the roads safer for everyone. And before you think this is politically impossible, consider that we already have quite arbitrary speed limits already.