How Bad Would Things Have to Get?

How bad would things have to get, for you to spend all of your money so your family could cram into a small, flimsy, rubber boat with 40 other people? Imagine you can’t swim, and nor can anyone else in your family. It’s night, you have no lights, and you must travel six miles across choppy seas. There is no captain. A man who has never even been on a boat will navigate. They tell you to sit on the dinghy’s inflated edge with your son on your lap. Your husband must stand, and you cannot see your brother near the back, because it’s so dark. How bad would things have to be, before you put your family in that boat? How bad would things have to get, before you actually felt lucky to get a spot on that boat?

Source: How Bad Would Things Have to Get?

Symbols Matter

Semiotics, or the study of symbols and sign processes and meaningful communication, has recently been on my radar because of a class I’m teaching.

Earlier this morning I stumbled on a post by Caitlin Winner on how she pushed forward with a small but meaningful change with the Facebook icon set used to display the now universally recognized Facebook Friends icon.

I shared my complaint with a designer friend and she helpfully pointed me to the poster next to mine which proclaimed, “Nothing at Facebook is someone else’s problem.” The lady icon needed a shoulder, so I drew it in — and so began my many month descent into the rabbit hole of icon design.

It turns out that others at Facebook have pursued similar changes. For e.g., the globe.

It turns out this kind of self initiated project is not unique at Facebook. Last year, designer Julyanne Liang worked with engineer Brian Jew to give the non-American half of the globe an accurate world view from the notification icon. Since then they’ve added an Asia-centric globe, too.

Symbols are important. The context in which they are used, the global recognition for certain symbols and the misuse of symbols shape our daily interactions. More importantly, this write up is a great example of how taking personal responsibility and ownership for changing things that seem small to some, but when implemented make a world of difference to others.

Source: How We Changed the Facebook Friends Icon

Using DNA for Access Control

You’ve probably heard of the genetic testing site, 23andMe. The site allows users to send in a swab covered in their saliva for genetic decoding. When that code is translated, it’s viewable online as a pie chart of ancestry. 23andMe even offers an API that allows you to share your genetic information with the REST of the world. Genetic information is some powerful stuff: It can countermand information that’s been passed down through a family, provide a clue to lost relatives, and even offer unexpected insights into one’s origins. But did you ever think that genetic information could be used as an access control? Stumbling around GitHub, I came across this bit of code: Genetic Access Control. Now, budding young racist coders can check out your 23andMe page before they allow you into their website! Seriously, this code uses the 23andMe API to pull genetic info, then runs access control on the user based on the results. Just why you decide not to let someone into your site is up to you, but it can be based on any aspect of the 23andMe API. This is literally the code to automate racism. The author offers up a number of possible uses, many of which sound fairly legitimate, however. Imagine a women’s support group online that restricts access to women only. What if JDate didn’t just take your word for it that you were Jewish, and actually checked your DNA to make sure?

Source: Using DNA for Access Control