Doctors as gatekeepers

Recently I´ve grown interested in the whole Quantified Self thing. It has many other names,  but the core meaning is clear: We, humans, are beginning to have better and better ways to measure ourselves. [1] This capability increases along 3 axes:

  1. Measuring ourselves is getting cheaper (e.g. measure your heart rate with a phone App)
  2. We can measure much more stuff (e.g. heart rate, physical activity or blood sugar levels were just the beginning, now we can get readings on hemoglobin saturation, ECG, HRV and PWTT all in 10 seconds, with a single device)
  3. We can measure our bodies with increasing precision at levels that used to be reserved for scientists, astronauts or doctors.

More on this later on. [2]

Traditionally speaking, doctors help people by identifying causes for problems and, based on their extensive (and expensive, but more on that later) knowledge, suggest strategies and treatments. While a lot of symptoms require nothing more than a visit to a doctor to be detected and/or identified, others need some more advanced diagnostic procedures and tools. But these are getting easier to get a hold of.

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Henrique (his personal website) is a good friend with a solid, consistent passion. He likes open design, co-creation and participatory approaches. And this is why exists. Designoteca is a an open design repository, connecting designers and producers, with a strong focus on digital fabrication.
Henrique dedicated the past few months, along with the good help from Heraldo and a bit of my input, to make Designoteca happen.

Designoteca home page

Designoteca has been online for a while, but just last week released the new paypal enabled functions. You can now effortlessly upload a design, establish your price and immediately be ready to start licensing your designs. And the whole thing helps you select the right type of license, from the Creative Commons catalog.

On the website you can upload editable and non-editable file types, set up a description, indicate which technology should be used to fabricate your products and even use tags
to group similar ideas. It really has come a long way.

The whole idea is that anybody can give shape to their own ideas, and be able to make a living from them. In order to help people getting into digital fabrication, Designoteca has introductions to the topic, what processes and software one can use to model and produce her ideas. And has the site grows, it should become a meeting place for people to work on similar projects, each one contributing with a part. Right now, e.Moped the open source electrical bicycle is asking for help, maybe you can drop by and lend a hand?

There is a lot of talk at on how to make it better, so if you got suggestions, fire away!

Piracy control and the rise of Openness

Heads up: I´ve been reading Kevin Kelly´s “What Technology Wants” and I thoroughly recommend it. Some of the ideas I discuss here (such as the importance of language for progress) are discussed in his book. 

Language is arguably the single most important human invention. It freed us from being isolated in our own minds and opened the doors for sharing, debating, teaching and learning. It allowed us to pool our experiences together and participate in the making of culture. It was the invention that led to other inventions and their successful spreading.

Yet, today, we see a strong movement to wall up Intellectual Property and to better defend it against piracy. PIPA and SOPA have been dropped for now but I would not be surprised if these media-corporation-backed laws were to emerge again, with slightly different provisions. ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) can be used to frame, from a legal point of view, generic drugs as counterfeit drugs. It could also potentially allow for the search of laptops and media players at border controls (There is some discussion on this one). Right here in Portugal, police traffic patrols are checking vehicles for pirated media and everybody is warned not to have anything suspicious on their car.

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Samsung and “Future Proof TV”

I’m sorry I’ve not written in a while, I’ve been extra busy with a submission for an architecture competition of sorts. I’ll talk more about it later, if good news come my way. Wish me luck.

Samsung has just unveiled a TV set that has a slot for hardware upgrades.
This is not irrelevant and is in line with a tendency of TV sets to become smarter and more like a living-room computer. The software on these things has been improving consistently, with advanced image and audio processing.

Now, when Samsung adds a physical bay for the swapping of hardware, things get more interesting. For some reason, they call this a “Future Proof TV”.

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What is Openness and where does it come from

This blog is not about Openness but given its relevance these days, I´ve formed my own opinion about it. It has been showing up on the radars of many for a while now and is related to a wider context. It is a central aspect of how people are working and might well be the defining characteristic in professional practice in development for the following years. The big boys have noticed it too.

In broad terms, Openness is the quality of a system being open. For our purposes, this means the disappearance of previous divisions in knowledge and practice. A large, heavily vertical institution tends to be less open than a small one, where everybody has a larger spectrum of roles, for example. In itself, this already signals that Openness is somehow related to the simplification of work. But we will get there in a second.

Openness manifests itself in organizations being more transparent and closer to their audiences; in knowledge becoming available to more people other than the specialists; in a bigger involvement from the masses in policy-making and so on.[1] In a deeply cynical XXI century, this can be a bit of a surprise.I´m a bit of a cynical person, so I doubt all of this has simple “good will” roots. [2]

So where does it come from? Did just everybody decide to be cool and invite others in?
Openness follows a natural tendency of artificial systems to mimic natural ones. Artificial systems (e.g. formal organizations; companies and so on) have set rules and procedures (dynamically changing, by the way), whereas natural systems (e.g. biosphere, society) have frameworks of operation. [3] The biggest difference between the artificial and the natural, in this light, is who sets the rules and who follows them. When it comes to the artificial world, the prevalent tendency of simplification and modelling of reality results in a centralization (even when systems are said to be distributed, by virtue of their simplification, they leave out stakeholders) of decision power. Just as natural systems are highly specialized and adapted, artificial systems, man-made creations, tend to be more broad. No matter how specific an artificial system seems to be, I think that is all a matter of scale and perspective. A km is nothing in astronomic terms.

The problem is that the world has become more complex and less forgiving, so those who had the monopoly of knowledge and power (make no mistakes, somebody is likely to hold it still. Utopia is THE horizon), scrambled for ways of recruiting expertise and insight from those who had been out of the loop and could have something fresh to offer. This has happened both voluntarily and eagerly as well as cautiously. Open source software is an example of the first, the release of criminal investigation data to nab a wrongdoer is a case of the second, for example.

So, as the world gets more complex, segmented views of it no longer serve the purpose of ever increasing progress. Operating at a percentage of its potential capacity, society organized itself to correct artificial divisions.

Because it creeped up on us, it was a just murmur for a long time, but the present bias towards Openness has been raising steadily since the days of Industrial revolution, when industrialists shaped the school curricula to create a society of specialized workers. Although it was an artificial division of labor, it was achieved by the democratization of access to education. In the short run this is somehow ironic, but with perspective, it becomes more evident.

In the past few decades, we have been building the infrastructure to support Openness (e.g. education, communications, transport, etc) and now, our generation lives with free communications, easy access to independent publications, free and detailed information, freedom to associate, funding platforms and etc (this list goes for ever). It has never been easier for so many, to affect so many others, independently.

Openness, by dissolving previous walls, allows for deeper self-expression and realization and suddenly, we are all specialists in our own things. Designers are working around this principle.

Much like a theoretical terra-forming process, human action has steadily inched towards where we stand. Our society was constructed and Openness seems to be, from here, the natural balance of things. [4]

[1] In an interesting twist of this, US anti-terror strategy post 911 was to mimic the headless network of independent terrorist cells from al-Qaeda. Fascinating read at Wired.
Basically, the distribution of decision power is a sub-trend of Openness.

[2] For the most part, Openness is considered a good thing. This is, naturally, open for discussion. Yes, pun intended.

[3] In nature, and we are not talking about about animals and plants alone, conditions for survival and demise of a participant (e.g. a certain type of social role, or some cactus in a desert, or a star in a galaxy) vary widely. All this happens accordingly to the specific needs of said participant (e.g. the relevance of that social role; ways of collecting and storing water; availability of fuel).

[4] Because civilization is no static system, I’m not suggesting the end of war and famine, misery and overall jackassery. But if you look at nature, it seems that this is the way things should be.