I wrote something for the ICRC about drones, public trust, and why we can’t brute-force the public into being universally OK with the presence of little flying robots that are extremely hard to tell apart from one another. You can read it here.

Ever since that mind-bendingly awful heat wave hit the Pacific Northwest in late June, I’ve become obsessed with the history and politics of air conditioning. As part of my quest to become a minor-league expert on fun air conditioning facts, I picked up Salvatore Basile’s 2014 book, “Cool.”

Using data to explain why some parts of the US are less cool than others.

I currently live in New England, but I am not from New England. There’s a lot of things I find strange and inexplicable about the Frozen Northeast, but way up there at the top of the list? Almost no one has central air conditioning.

I’ve long been annoyed by how terrible Boston’s air conditioning situation is, but I became really invested in the topic at the end of June, as Boston hit record highs and the Pacific Northwest and Canada were subject to impossibly heatwaves. …

I am a technology skeptic. Sometimes I think we really would have been better off if we had forgotten all about leaving the ocean, and had instead remained cheerful filter feeders at the bottom of a tropical sea.

But I’ll admit to this: smartphones have made the American road trip a much more delicious experience. The smartphone may also be at least partially responsible for the slow and unseemly death of the casual dining chains that used to sprout up beside American highway exits like mushrooms after a rainstorm.

Let me explain.

There are better ways to spy on your family members

Eerily patrols your home and a great fan of the soccer game. Image: Ring

As if late 2020 wasn’t exhausting enough, Amazon has announced the Ring Always Home Cam, a flying camera drone for your house. It is sublimely dumb, a supposedly innovative tool that is neither innovative nor useful. It is a home-security device that can easily be defeated by a cat. It may also be a not-very-sneaky way for Amazon to map out the interior of your house so they can gaze ever more deeply into your personal desires and insecurities.

This chunky flying personal fan that goes BRRR contains multitudes.

The Ring Always Home Cam is a T-shaped drone that is…

Whether we like it or not

One of Facebook’s continent-spanning population density maps. Credit: Facebook

2019 has been a distinctly dramatic year for Facebook. Since January, the social media behemoth has been hit with a $5 billion fine for privacy violations and remains embroiled in U.S. antitrust investigations. In June, the company announced the release of Libra, its very own form of cryptocurrency, sparking criticism and speculation around the world.

Amidst all this hubbub, you may have missed that Facebook has also begun using artificial intelligence to map most of the population of the African continent. Facebook researchers combined computer vision techniques, population data, and high-resolution satellite imagery to search for built-up structures across the…

Image result for drone
Image result for drone

I have long been fascinated by why people are so disquieted by drones. While pretty much every one alive in 2019 experiences some degree of acute tech anxiety, drones, as a category of objects, still inspire an unusual amount of disquiet — much more so than, say, an iPhone. This distrust extends to both consumer drones you can buy at the mall and to enormous militarized drones: anything with the word ‘drone’ appended to it inspires clickbaity headlines and nervous conversations at bars. …

“The March of Progress.” Bored? Just show this image to your favorite evolutionary biologist and ask them why it annoys them!

We’ve probably all seen this image, which purports to show how knuckle-dragging chimpanzees turned inexorably into fully-evolved men who look just like Buff Abraham Lincoln. I suspect that a lot of people assume that the history of all drone (or unmanned aerial vehicle) technology follows the same simple, linear pattern as the “March of Progress” illustration does.

The most American of crustaceans.

We regularly drive from Boston to Southern Vermont to visit my partner’s family, up through the Green Mountains. The little two-lane road is deeply atmospheric, in that creepy Ichabod-Crane sort of way: it passes through a few little villages with economies that appear to be largely dependent on flea markets and small-batch artisan pottery. It was as we passed thorough one of these towns that I spotted the Patriotic Lobster, slapped confidently on the side of an otherwise mundane home. It was a wooden lobster painted in red, white, and blue colors, with a bit of rustic flair, the sort…

John William Hill’s 1860 watercolor of the Cucumbers of the Past. I think they have spines?

“Isn’t it weird how cucumbers don’t have spikes on them anymore?” my partner asked me.

“Cucumbers don’t have spikes,” I said, as I picked up a cucumber from the vegetable display at Whole Foods. “Cucumber have never had spikes. I have never encountered a grocery-store cucumber with spikes”

“They do,” he insisted. “ Well, they did. The cucumbers definitely had spikes when I was a kid. “

We stared at each other. It was a moment of perfect generational incomprehension. I was born in 1988. He was born in 1982. And apparently, sometime between when he was a little kid…

It’s a metaphor.

Everyone should stop Facebook. Everyone is not going to stop using Facebook this week. That’s OK. There’s a middle ground between deleting your account forever and between spending all of your waking, earthly hours refreshing your Facebook feed. And we should be telling our relatives and friends about that middle ground, instead of telling them they have to stop using Facebook right away. We can counter the sense of helplessness that many people feel about their relationship to Facebook and to other social media platforms — but we’re going to need to do it in an incremental, careful way.


Faine Greenwood

researches drone technology in humanitarian aid, writes about tech, drones, mapping, aid, and politics, draws weird pictures sometimes

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