- The first new pistol for the U.S. Army in 35 years is built on a modular framework, in part to accommodate the wide variety of hand sizes among enlisted men and women. This has become a more significant issue over the years as the number of women in combat roles has increased. The U.S. military has a history of limited options to meet the needs of women, a sort of technical debt owing to being a gender-restricted organization for most of its existence. Equipment like prosthetics and boots originally designed solely for men have contributed to worse patient outcomes and higher injury rates for female soldiers. In a world designed for men, this is a step in the right direction.
Feeding the Future:
- Rachel Stone, writing for Real Life argues that Soylent and SlimFast have more in common than being liquid meal replacements - they are both philosophical substances that "promise transcendence through self-denial," something of a filler that creates space for our flawed notions of improvement and optimization; morphing the body into a mechanically optimized vessel for productivity or arbitrary aesthetic standards. These meal-replacing, alternative foods are a strange invention of the 20th century: sustenance that is is devoid of cultural or geographic tradition, though they often reference those histories in their assorted flavor offerings.
- A study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation finds that unless production, recycling and waste management practices are changed, there will be more plastic (by mass) than fish in oceans around the world by 2050. This has big implications for ocean health generally and the quality of the aquatic food supply that many cultures are dependent on. Unfortunately, problems like this are connected directly to overly narrow "Design Thinking" practices that privilege business objectives or customer convenience over (sometimes literally) downstream effects that can be detrimental. If humans are to survive and thrive through the 21st century, we're going to need a more complete understanding of how our actions affect the entire system.
- Friday was Holocaust Remembrance Day, and one twitter bot was built to send out tweets from the perspective of those who died in the tragedy after being turned away by the U.S., echoing the humanitarian crisis we are seeing today. The automatic and relentless posting of lives lost is a poignant use of technology to make the past feel present.
- Our digitized social networks that help us connect at a distance also make us vulnerable to distributed harassment, but methods vary depending on cultural norms of privacy, value, and violation. This article from BuzzFeed details the practice of "meathooking" in China, where a continually broadening network of users gather information on a target, creating a sort of ad-hoc dossier. When building tools of any kind, it's important to consider how abusive users might pervert good design/engineering intentions, and do everything possible to mitigate those harms - a more complex task when developing products for a global user base.
- Simulating a near death experience in VR may reduce our anxiety around death and mortality, at least in the short term, according to a recent study from the University of Exeter. VR may prove to be one of the most useful technologies for studying human consciousness.
- You can now (kind of) have all of Vermeer's paintings in your home, courtesy of the art-display startup Electric Objects and their subscription service. This includes "The Concert," which was stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990 and has yet to be recovered. While a reproduction has questionable value, power, and impacts on the original (just ask Walter Benjamin or John Berger) - it's hard to say that making such exclusive art so broadly available isn't a net positive.