Liked Links – May 18

Map of Bay Area Memespace: The Bay Area is unusually dense with idea-driven subcultures that mix and cross-pollinate in fascinating ways, many of which are already enriching rationalist culture. This map is my attempt at illustrating that landscape of subcultures, and at situating the rationalist community within it. – by Julia Galef –

Agathonic things: Though mediocrity is ubiquitous, among all the dross there are objects which improve with use—so-called agathonic things. Michael Helms and Larry Leifer proposed the idea of agathonic design in 2009. –

Edward Said’s : Edward Said, a Palestinan writer, academic and exile, talks about his book “Culture and Imperialism” and explains how the attitudes forged over the last 200 years continue to enforce the relationship between the west and the developing world.

This programme originally aired in February 1993.

T – by Eqbal Ahmad FB Fan Page Admin –

ADHD Needs a Better Name. We Have One.: ADHD is not purely a disorder; it is a mix of assets and liabilities. A more representative name for the condition is VAST, or variable attention stimulus trait. – by Edward Hallowell –

Weber–Fechner law: The Weber–Fechner law refers to two related hypotheses in the field of psychophysics, known as Weber’s law and Fechner’s law. Both laws relate to human perception, more specifically the relation between the actual change in a physical stimulus and the perceived change. – by From Wikipedia, the free –

The early days of home computing – in pictures: A new book documents the rapid evolution in home computer design – by Kadish Morris –


Burner Devices, Bunny Suits, Biosecurity Clauses, and Blood Work

Up until February, I averaged 30 countries a year​*​. Some for 24 hours, some for a week, but either way, my work ordinarily takes me all over the world. With the lockdown, of course, all of that has been put on pause, and like most other people who work with ideas for a living, I’m typing and Zooming and pivoting my existing work and future contracts into new biosecure shapes. And so, like everyone else, I’m planning for an interesting future. It’s clear that the digitization and post-geographisation of the consulting and advisory world has been hugely accelerated, and I think it’s also clear that it’s not going to go back to the old normal either. For sure, there is a considerable power in the sort of in-person meeting I would ordinarily do – whether in front of a single CEO, a 20 person board, or a 5000 person theatre – but that’s not always going to be enough to, you know, ask people to possibly die for. And by the time the vaccines are ready and working, the cultures of business meetings will have changed.

But what of that change? What do business meetings look like in a world that has experienced a pandemic? It’s a useful exercise to work through, because many of the same concepts are equally as relevant when we’re considering the mitigation of other vectored risks: cybercrime, for example, or industrial espionage.

Here’s what I’m thinking: Burner Devices, Bunny Suits, Biosecurity Clauses, and Blood Work. Ignoring for the moment the two-week quarantine that some countries are haphazardly imposing on some inbound travelers (because those will certainly go away sooner rather than later), it will most likely come down to individual companies to enforce their own particular rules.

Being granted access to a location-based headquarters, rather than just given a login to a virtual workplace, will depend on your own person being sufficiently and provably biosecure: blood test results showing a positive result for antigens, and a warm-zone changing area to put on tyvek PPE. Not to protect yourself, but to shield the staff community from your own personal viral shedding. Devices are filthy already, both microbiologically and with malware, so those can’t come in. If you need a screen to operate, you’ll get a blanked device to access the cloud with, VPN’d only, and isolated from the rest of the building. Masks, sure, or maybe the customer greeting rooms will be negatively pressured, and airlocked from the main building. Not just for Corona virus, or whatever the next one is, but for common flu and noro and all the other things we’re now also mitigating while we work to avoid Covid19.

But perhaps the most like is the biosecurity clause. And this goes both ways: the right to pause, or cancel, a contract if one party believes the other to be endangering biosecurity. If I’m due to visit a client in their clean-room meeting facility, and I turn up and find no one is wearing a mask and that dude in the corner is coughing suspiciously, can I contract the right to walk away without loss? Or can my client enforce the reverse, where I arrive from Brooklyn, attempting to smuggle in some fomites and looking feverish?

UPDATE: The doyenne of workplace design, Alex Deschamps-Sonsino, has a great thread about post-Covid offices here.

  1. ​*​
    All trips aggressively carbon-offset I assure you.
Augmentation Futures Wearables

Screens. Lots of screens.

I’ve wanted to be able to do this for a long time, and now we can. Here’s a video of my screen a minute or so ago​*​.

If you have an Oculus Quest, and install the Immersed app you can put your mac’s displays into a VR world, and then add more virtual monitors, and place them in space around you. This is slight bonkers. But not as bonkers as the fact that you can still use Zoom.

But then again, Immersed also lets you put yourself into a shared VR co-working space. So, you know, move that one from the future column over to the present day.

  1. ​*​
    Extra points to the people/cult members who spot the other thing hanging out in this video, and know of its brilliance. Because *damn* it’s good.
Ben Hammersley Live Events

New Event – Leading in Times of Uncertainty

I’m very happy to be speaking at the Executive Speakers Bureau virtual summit. on May 20th. I’ll be talking about “The Great Reassessment” – scenarios and planning for the post-Covid future.

Augmentation Futures Wearables Writing

ReadyBrek, AR, and Flirting in the age of Corona

If you grew up in the UK in the 1980s, you’ll know this image. It’s from a TV advert for a breakfast cereal called Ready Brek. It’s porridge, but much more finely milled, so it’s ready to eat as soon as you add the milk. It is unredeemingly grim, as are their adverts. I mean, I’m not saying that this part of my childhood is why I’ve spent most of my adulthood in Mediterranean climates, but watch this:

If this makes you nostaligic, you’re insane.

Anyway, the red outline to the child, denoting a belly full of carbohydrate mush to fuel their way through the Thatcherite dystopia, is actually a pretty good bit of user interface when applied to the present day unpleasantness.

We know that Apple have AR glasses coming to market in the next year or so. From this sort of reporting and this and this. And despite the social nightmare of the forward facing camera that contributed to the Google Glass fiasco, AR glasses rely on forward facing sensors of some form. It’d be easy – trivial, in fact – to overlay a social distancing guide to your field of view. And maybe a bit trickier, but still thereabouts, for a forward facing IR camera to overlay anyone running an obvious fever with a ReadyBrek outline.

Apple, of course, have a patent for technology that would do this very thing​*​.

The social practices that might come from exposing feverishness without contact, or from actually giving a genuine measure of the six-foot social distancing radius, are interesting to consider. After it becomes a matter of etiquette and good social graces to keep a distance, the violation of that boundary can be either an act of extreme aggression, or one of subtle intimacy: the On peut se tutoyer of public space. Or perhaps something more flirtatious. After all, fans, which given the unpleasantness of wearing a facemask in the summer, are due a comeback, have a long tradition of signaling and seductive language. Tiny breaches of the 6 foot boundary will take on their own greater meanings, while the unveiling of the lower half of the face becomes the most private of moments.

  1. ​*​
    One of the dark secrets of the Futurist trade is that people generally announce their plans well in advance. Whether in patent applications or political manifestos, most people are quite open about what they’re going to do – even people who you might think would want to keep their Evil Plan secret. At a rough guess, 99.5% of all punditry is just special pleading around this: “Surely they won’t do what they’re plainly said they will?” Yes, yes they will.

Liked Links – May 1

Process Philosophy: Process philosophy is based on the premise that being is dynamic and that the dynamic nature of being should be the primary focus of any comprehensive philosophical account of reality and our place within it. – by permeating –

Seattle’s Leaders Let Scientists Take the Lead. New York’s Did Not: The first diagnosis of the coronavirus in the United States occurred in mid-January, in a Seattle suburb not far from the hospital where Dr. Francis Riedo, an infectious-disease specialist, works. – by Charles Duhigg –

Hail the maintainers: Innovation is a dominant ideology of our era, embraced in America by Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and the Washington DC political elite. – by Lee Vinsel, Andrew Russell –

After dread: Where everyone seems to agree is that things can’t go back the way they were. As Fred Scharmen says, this isn’t the end of the world, but it’s certainly the end of a world. – by Cennydd Bowles –

Plot Economics: For the fourth time in my adult memory, humanity has collectively, visibly lost the plot at a global level. My criteria are fairly restrictive: The dotcom bust and the 2007 crash don’t make my list for instance, and neither do previous recent epidemics like SARS or Ebola. – by Venkatesh Rao –

Feral Cities, Pandemics, and the Military: In this episode of MWI’s Urban Warfare Project podcast, John Spencer is joined by Dr. Richard Norton. He is a professor of national security affairs at the US Naval War College and a retired US Navy commander. – by John Spencer –

Exclusive: Mary Meeker’s coronavirus trends report: Bond Capital, a Silicon Valley VC firm whose portfolio companies include Slack and Uber, told its investors this morning via email that the coronavirus’ high-speed spread and impact has similarities to the devastating San Francisco earthquake of 1906. – by Michael Kovac –

We Were Wrong: So Sorry that We Ruined Your Life: Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, is moving up in the betting odds for getting the Democratic presidential nomination, even though he is not running. The reason is that binge-watching newshounds have noticed something about his comportment during this crisis. – by Jeffrey Tucker –

China starts testing digital currency as Facebook’s Libra faces setback: Trial programs for China’s sovereign digital currency began last week as Libra, a cryptocurrency backed by Facebook, scaled back its ambitions to become a global currency. –

If you landed in a foreign country with no documentation, could you prove who you are?: How would you do it? There are three traditional pillars of identity. The first is documents. The second is biometric — your appearance, your fingerprints, etc. This can only be used if a record of your biometrics is on file somewhere, which (thankfully) is uncommon. – by McKinley Valentine –


Liked Links – April 30

The Signal Code: A Rights Based Approach to Information During Crisis: 1. The Right to Information 2. The Right to Protection from Harm 3. The Right to Data Security and Privacy 4. The Right to Data Agency 5. The Right to Redress and Rectification – by Authors –

Don’t just talk – show your work!: To take one specific example – coding – Github-type tools are uber-collaborative, but the typical user is perhaps wearing headphones and very much in a do-not-disturb work mode. –

To Run My Best Marathon at Age 44, I Had to Outrun My Past: Running is the simplest of sports: right foot, left foot, right foot. But the simplicity opens up complexity. There’s no ball to focus on, no mat to land on, no one charging toward you with their shoulder down. And so your attention shifts inward. – by Nicholas Thompson –

#15: Maintenance by design: I’m an author, organizational sociologist, strategy professor, unsuccessful furniture maker, and Xoogler—this is yet another of my attempts to make sense of the state of not-knowing. The ideas below are only partially baked. – by Vaughn Tan –

Two Kinds Of Caution: Financial Times: What We Get Wrong About Technology. It cites boring advances like barbed wire and shipping containers to argue that some of the most transformative inventions are not the product of complicated high technology but just some clever hacks that manage to revolutionize everyday living. – by Scott Alexander –

Strategic Warning: If Surprise is Inevitable, What Role for Analysis?: 1. Clarify the Warning Mission Any critical examination of the mission of warning analysis should give primacy of place to avoidance or limitation of damage—and not to the unrealistic standard of avoidance of surprise. –

The Cofounders: Meta-systematicity manifests as the forefront of all domains of meaning, including in personal psychology, rational understanding, social organization, and culture. – by Meaningness –

We’re not going back to normal: It’s now widely agreed (even by Britain, finally) that every country needs to “flatten the curve”: impose social distancing to slow the spread of the virus so that the number of people sick at once doesn’t cause the health-care system to collapse, as it is threatening to do in Italy right no – by GIDEON LICHFIELD –

Images From The Future

When reality looks like sci-fi world building


Weeknotes, October 22


Everything finds its right time. And despite the fact I’ve been writing online for more than 20 years, and have been running my own business for nearly nine, I’ve never been able to settle into the habit of writing about what I’m working on as I’m doing it. While I’ve known for years that Weeknotes, for example, are profoundly useful for both the reader and the writer, hooo boy have I found myself stuck in the paralyzing gap between neuroses, trigger-shyness, and pressing deadlines.

But now it feels right to start. If the gap between posts gets too large, feel free to give me a nudge. Hey, say hi anyway. Hi! I’m

Slowing it Down with Pencils and Cameras.

According to the specialists, I have pretty enthusiastic ADHD.

“We place people with these disorders on a spectrum, Ben. Neurotypical people are here. People with difficulties in school here. People who are usually in prison are here. And you? You’re waaaay over here. Sooooo…Whatever you’re using to compensate, you should keep doing that. But also: drugs!”

It’s of a type that’s been, frankly, kinda useful for my life — though which caused what is an interesting debate — as it’s a subtype that invokes hyper-noticing and connection-making. For a journalist who became a futurist and strategic consultant, the ability to see things and make connections between them that other people have yet to is, well, very useful. People do (you can too!) employee me for this skill. But also as a journalist, and someone who has bashed his head against a desk in the writing of five books and millions of printed words, I have always struggled with the point of the process where I have to get the insight out of my own head and into my client’s. Since my proper diagnosis, I’ve been purposefully working with some practices that genuinely help. Alongside meditation, the one that seems to really help is a return to paper. Introduced to Christina Wodtke’s Pencil Me In by Dan Hon in his excellent newsletter I’ve been taking the time to work first on paper, with sketching, away from screens. It slows me down considerably, not least in the act of concentrating on making my letters legible — drawing them, not writing them — but that seems to work wonders for my attention.

When I added in the habit of printing out all my daily news briefing emails — shrunk down to 4 pages to a sheet — reading those over breakfast with no devices, and pushing the wake-up-to-screen-on time back even just another 30 minutes, my brain, and the rest of the day, is a much happier place.

That’s all very well for work in isolation, but a lot of my work is collaboration. Not a problem. At a morning at the theatre with my daughter to see the puppeteer Tom Lee’s “Tomte” I saw him use the Ipevo v4K Here it is on my desk:

IMG_2343 2.jpeg

Because it’s a camera, I can use it as a scanner and all that. But more excitingly, I can switch to it in video conferencing apps, and sketch my thoughts right in front of people. I’m finding it’s *really*really*good* to do this on video conference calls. Especially with software developers when you’re explaining just what you’d like them to build. I’m building something. I’ll tell you more next week.


I’m writing this at homebase in Brooklyn, but tomorrow I’m flying to London for work with Sainsbury’s, and the Friday I’m onto Bangkok where I am giving a keynote at the Digital Thailand Big Bang. My talk is called “Everything Silicon Valley Says About Innovation Is Wrong”.

I should pack. Thank you for your attention.


Competence Porn

Originally Published in British Airways Business Life magazine in September 2019

I’m moving house right now, and so my thoughts have turned to porn. Now, now. Wait a second. Not the regular kind, or even the location-location-location sort that comes with getting onto the mailing lists of real estate agents in the new city a few thousand miles away from the old. Instead, it’s Competence Porn. Because while I type this, all of our worldly possessions are being wrapped and packed by three very nice Angelenos who are good, but not nearly as good as the Japanese moving company employees I am watching on YouTube to keep myself from interfering with their work.

Competence Porn is the genre of footage found all over YouTube that shows people being low-key awesome at something. Exhibiting skills so profound that they elevate seemingly regular jobs, or even commonplace daily activities, to levels of artistry you’ve never imagined, all while giving an air of being entirely unstressed by the effort. It is profoundly calming. Renaissance-era Italians had a word for this: sprezzatura, and the Japanese moving firms videos are my go-to dose when things are getting too much in real life. Watching them bow before they enter a house, removing their shoes, lining the walls and falls with scuff-protecting panels, then individually wrapping everything in custom-made boxes perfectly shaped for the items at hand, and packing every cupboard into boxes designed so that they can be unpacked into similar cupboards at the destination address with everything in the same exact place, well, it is so profoundly good, so profoundly pleasing, so profoundly moving in its competence that it puts the world back on its axis. Nothing can be truly hopeless when such people exist.

It’s not just movers that can claim full Competence Porn status. There are videos from a Chicago-based art restoration company, Baumgartner Restoration, that are the CP equivalent of mainlining heroin. There are whole sections of YouTube dedicated to professional car-detailers that will sooth your soul. Sugarcraft, metal tool restoration, even the guys who unblock drains for a living have spawned accounts with millions of subscribers who find deep solace in footage of skilled craftsmen using high-pressure jets to dislodge chunks of badness from pipes. And I am one of them, I must admit. I could give up watching these things any time I want, I would say to myself at 3am, just after this one more.

As soothing and as world-righting as it is, Competence porn-addiction is not without its potential downsides. Much as some blame media images of unobtainable physical perfection – on the fashion pages, or the covers of men’s protein-shakes’n’pseudo-science magazines – as a contributing factor to many peoples’ low self-esteem, there is the risk that an over consumption of images of profound ability might lead to you never trying to do anything, on the basis that you are currently terrible, or a paralysis of profound disappointment when you encounter the real thing and it’s not as good as the TV version. This is especially so when the CP is the fictional sub-genre. For example, I’ve personally worked with very senior government officials in three countries, and the realization that none of them were anywhere close to the West Wing’s Leo McGarry (the OG of stand-and-salute fictional-CP scenes) was profoundly disillusioning. This isn’t an uncommon example, according to both Westminster and Washington lore.

But it is the former issue that is perhaps the more serious. Ira Glass, the American radio producer and presenter whose style has influenced a whole generation of broadcasters and, especially, podcasters, calls it the Taste Gap. “All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap.” He has said, “For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit.”

We are left with a real choice here. On the one hand, we can see profound mastery as an unobtainable state. One to be admired, or one to dash our hopes against, but either way a thing that is not for us. Or we can better see it as rather just the current situation of someone who is simply further along on the same journey as we are. Today’s generation of innovation experts and personal efficacy coaches have a name for this: the Growth Mindset. This is the way of thinking that says that with the correct application of proper effort, you can absolutely become the person as skilled as want to be, and that your current slightly-rubbish state is a necessary part of that path. Personal growth, and innovation at every level from the private to the corporate to the national depends on this mindset, and for the sake of the rest of the century, we should practice it. As I am, right now, getting to the good bit: the special box for televisions. It’s like a dream.