Science and Technology: Pocket computers and the scourge of e-waste

In my last post, I talked about my complaint that the computers we carry in our pockets are still being designed as if their primary purpose was to be a phone. To me, one of the main reasons this is a complaint at all is that they are designed to go obsolete after a time.

The fact is that most smartphones are still very capable computing devices when they get replaced. Yet, because they are designed imagining their primary purpose is to be a phone, they are also designed to be locked to a manufacturer, locked to a carrier, and locked to an operating system. As a result, when they cease to fulfill the requirements of any one of those considerations, they’re unable to do much more.

Yes, it is possible to “upgrade” some modern smartphones with newer versions of the operating system they’re locked to, and some few can be upgraded beyond that, but almost always only if you’re a technical expert willing to mess with some very technical stuff and possibly destroy the device.

The first and best thing smartphone manufacturers, carriers, and OS makers could do is end their tyranny over deprecated devices. Providing a way to repurpose these devices after they no longer able to meet other requirements would extend their lives and allow them to perform untold numbers of other tasks.

The best driving purpose behind such a repurposing would be to end the scourge of e-waste that otherwise still useful but deprecated devices represent. We could keep millions of smartphones from becoming waste simply by giving them a way to do something else.

Yes, that means that some may take new smartphones and do exactly that. So what? We don’t do this to any other computing device, so why do we do it with smartphones?

It’s a simple solution that could unlock all sorts of potential we haven’t even imagined yet. The question is not whether we should, but when we will.

DLH

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The Rambling Road: 180 days

Today, I engaged in my 180th consecutive day of meditation, a record for me for all sorts of reasons. I’m not renown for my ability to stick with things in general, and given that mindfulness is such an intentional action, this is a real milestone for me.

As important, it reflects on how important and powerful the practice of mindfulness is. There is a lot of information–and disinformation–out there about what mindfulness is and does, so I think it’s important to share my own experience so that others have a point of comparison when evaluating that information.

For me, mindfullness and meditation are part of a broader pursuit called active thinking. Active thinking as a brain training routine that encourages the practitioner to evaluate their thoughts with intent and, as much as possible, discipline themselves to train their brains to focus rather than be scattered.

This is an important undertaking for me as someone who struggles with (not formally diagnosed for a variety of reasons) adult ADHD and other mental health challenges. It’s easy for my brain to go wild, and my wild brain can get very dark, and active thinking forces me to evaluate why and to create boundaries that help reign the wildness in.

My own practice is something of a departure from traditional mindfulness in that, instead of always just making my brain stop thinking (my interpretation of most traditional meditation; your mileage may vary), I often take the time to seize the random thoughts blazing through my head and follow them to their sources. Doing so helps me understand what triggers them and, sometimes, how to manage those triggers.

I’m making no other claims, but the fact is that the closest approximation I can think of to my process is that presented in Sherlock’s mind palace from the BBC’s latest iteration of Sherlock Holmes. I imagine my own mind as a vast and unkempt library full of pesky beings who are constantly rearranging the books therein for reasons that are often difficult to understand. One of those beings in particular has the job showing me random books with the near constant question, “What about this?”

By using mindfulness and active thinking, I delve into that library with the intent of establishing some sort of order. Sometimes, I just wall things off to deal with them later. Other times, I place things in order and forbid the denizens from disturbing that order. I’m not always successful, and there is a lot of backtracking and repeating, but the process generally moves forward.

To me, the most important part of this process is that it, slowly but surely, reclaims my brain for me. Instead of it being an undisciplined thought generator, it increasingly stands by to deal with the information and thoughts I feed it. It’s an arduous process, but over time, it pays dividends that are worth the effort.

Mindlfullness is not a perfect process, hence the reason it’s called a practice. Everyone’s experience will vary, but in my opinion, it’s a worthwhile undertaking for anyone who wants to have better control over their own brains.

As for me, I’m shooting for a full year of mediation every day. Here’s to the challenge.

DLH

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My View from the Ramparts: Farmhack: My latest attempt at temporary animal fencing

I’ve spent quite a bit of the past decade trying to figure out how to create portable temporary animal fencing. My previous attempts were mostly focused on cattle because that’s what we had, but now that we have sheep and goats instead, the durability needs of the solution has changed.

My latest attempt uses 3/4in EMT conduit to build a frame to support 10ft sections of sheep fencing held on by 16 gauge wire. The secret to this assembly is the handy fittings from MakerPipe that allow me to assemble the frames with little more than cutting the pipe to length and wiring on the fence.

These panels are very lightweight but strong enough to resist rubbing by our sheep and goats and our livestock guardian dogs leaning on them. Once I get enough built to show them in use, I’ll post an update. –DLH

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Science and Technology: Can we talk about pocket computers for a bit?

So, here’s the thing… I know most of us think of that digital leash we carry as being a “phone”, and I guess, in some way, because of how it was manufactured, it is in some way a phone. Except, really, it’s not.

I know some people still talk on it, but if you look at the vast majority of what most people do with that thing we call a phone, the fact is it’s really a pocket computer hamstrung by the fact we keep thinking of it as a phone.

We need to stop that.

I know it’s a radical transformation in thinking, but we have these incredibly capable devices, connected to the entire world in multiple ways, yet we insist on continuing to think of it mostly as a more sophisticated version of the thing we had hanging on the wall in the 80s.

It’s not.

In fact, it is so much more than just a phone that calling it that refers to the function that is almost an afterthought compared to all the things it can do. It’s a camera. It’s a GPS. It’s a wireless messaging device. It’s a word processor, game console. video conferencing device, shopping portal…

In fact, it’s a computer. One you carry in your pocket.

If we stopped thinking of this device as a phone and started thinking of it as a computer, I suspect the way the technology would develop would be freed from the fetters of when it was only a phone and become a companion, or maybe even a replacement, for the thing sitting on our desktop or in our backpack; a device geared toward connecting us to the world and allowing us to create in ways we can only imagine right now.

Can we do that? Because I’m ready for it? Are you?

DLH

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Education: More on rethinking education.

The last time I posted to this blog, I opined that I believed it was time for us to rethink the purpose of education. More than two years later, I am more convinced than ever that premise is true.

From my view, the modern education system is a weird chimera of the classical notion of creating a well-rounded person by versing them in most or all of what was known at the time and the industrial notion of creating a class of workers with an interchangeable skill set. While there are arguments for both of those notions, the extremes to which we have taken them in the last few decades has left an education system that is broken and rotting from within.

I believe the fundamental purpose of modern education should be to equip every learner to be able to understand, use, and manipulate the vast store of information freely available to anyone who wants to access it. What that kind of education will look like will be different for every person based on their unique strengths and weaknesses.

As a result, I also believe the notion of massed group education by age and grade is also obsolete and needs to be replaced by a system that focuses on developing a student’s strengths and buttressing their weaknesses.

Yes, that means, in order to do what I am suggesting, we would have to replace vast swaths of the education system as we know it. Likely, that would mean reimagining teachers as managers for students who are, to a great degree, educating themselves with guidance. It would mean focusing the money part of education on developing coherent guidance for each student. It would mean dismantling the mass industrial model in favor of a focused individualized one.

Further, this new model would have to focus on all the things currently lacking from the industrial model. It would get kids outside as much as possible. It would emphasize physical and emotional development as much as it would academic and social development. It would focus on making students lifelong learners and thinkers over making them complaint workers.

I understand this is a pipe dream in the current climate, but the radical reform of education in some form is almost inevitable. If we start thinking about it now, maybe when the time comes, we’ll be able to make something good happen.

DLH

Read more at my Education weblog...

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