Since New Year’s day a slow drip of many documents concerning the work of Cambridge Analytica across 68 countries is giving insights in how the combination of consumer tracking and targeted adverts is being used to influence democratic decisions. Not just within a country, but across multiple countries and simultaneously (meaning foreign interests presented as domestic opinions of the electorate in multiple countries). It’s not entirely surprising, these are age old instruments of propaganda, provocation etc, being redeployed in the digital age, which allows an entirely new level of scale and granularity that makes it a much more malicious beast. It’s shocking on two levels. First, it shows there’s a strong need to make radically transparent to people where material they get served in the silos is coming from, why it is being showed to them, whether it’s part of a/b testing or not, and who is paying/taking influence on each item presented to them. Second, even if there should be no effect at all of these type of campaigns (which seems to crop up as a defence here and there), it is revealing that office-seeking clients and political operatives buy into the cynical premise of the entire concept. Which alone should disqualify them from being elected. The clients need to be held more to account, than the service provider, regardless of any illegality on the side of CA.

The HindSightFiles twitter account is releasing a steady stream of Cambridge Analytica files during the first few months of 2020, leaked by former CA employee Brittany Kaiser. Part of these documents were used earlier in the US Mueller investigation into 2016 election influencing by Russia, and released to the UK Parliament after the initial CA scandal broke.

I’m intrigued by Zettelkasten, that Roel Groeneveld describes in his blog. Zettelkasten means filing cards cabinet, so in and of itself isn’t anything novel. It’s all in the described process of course, which originates with systems thinker Niklas Luhmann. I recognise the utility of having lots of small notes, and the ability to link them like beads on a necklace, which is much like the ‘threading cards‘ I mentioned here recently. A personal knowledge management process is extremely important, and needs to be supported by the right tools. Specifically for more easily getting from loose notions, to emergent patterns, to new constructs. Balancing stock and flow. Zettelkasten coming from a paper age seems rather focused on stock though, and pays less attention to flow. Crucially it encourages links between notes, a flow-like aspect, but to me often the links carry more meaning and knowledge than the notes/nodes it connects. The reason for linking, the association that makes a link apparent is an extremely valuable piece of info. Not sure how that would find its place in the Zettelkasten process, as while links exist, they’re not treated as a thing of meaning in their own right. Also some of the principles of the process described, especially atomicity, seem prone to creating lots of overhead by having to rework notes taken during a day. That type of reworking is I think best done in the style of gardening: when you are searching for something, or passing through some notes anyway, you can add, change, link, split off etc.

Filing...Tossed out filing card cabinets of the Manchester City Library (NH/USA), image license CC BY SA

In terms of tools, I am on the look out for something other than Evernote that I currently use. What I like about it is that it ‘eats anything’ and a note can be an image, text, web page, book, pdf, or a drawing, which I can add tags to, and can access through scripts from e.g. my todo tool, etc. Zettelkasten is fully text based in contrast. As a strong point that means it can be completely created from plain text files, if you have a tool that allows you to create, edit, search and put them in an overview extremely fast. But very often ideas are contained in images as well, so dealing with media is key I think. The Zettelkasten tool The Archive is worth a try, but lacks precisely this type of media support. Devonthink on the other hand is way over the top, and let’s one loose oneself in its complexity. The Archive keeps things simple, which is much better, but maybe too simple.

Found via Peter Rukavina. This guide contains a lot of interesting nuggets that apply to my company too. There are some longstanding differences in preference in our team about real time communications and remote working. Me with a strong preference for remote and asynchronous as default. This guide may serve well for further internal conversations.

Bookmarked Guide to Internal Communication, the Basecamp Way

Felienne Hermans, a Leiden University teacher started a series of postings about the mistakes she feels she made on the tenure track. I look forward to her reflections. In her kick-off posting she lists the mistakes she plans to look into, which I quoted below in full. Reading the list, there is much there I think that applies to life in general (e.g. 11, 12), being a professional (e.g. 3,4), being an entrepreneur (e.g. 6,8), and being an employer (e.g. 1,7, 10), not just the tenure track. Or at least by the looks of it, it matches my experiences in those roles.


So here, without any order or further ado is a list of mistakes I made on the tenure track, which I aim to all expand into blog posts over the next few weeks….

  1. I made no agreements with my direct supervisor on basically anything
  2. I had no real (concrete) research plan
  3. I had no system to track time
  4. I had no system to manage todo items
  5. I did not want to co-teach courses
  6. I took enormous risks spending time on irrelevant things (which *by sheer luck* turned out to be beneficial)
  7. I treated all students like they were mini-Felienne’s
  8. I had no system for managing ideas
  9. I had no system for managing research I read
  10. I did not spend effort on creating a group
  11. I did not understand personal factors in working with others (students and colleagues)
  12. I was not present enough in the university

(I met Felienne at the CoderDojoNL conference last November, where we both gave key-notes. Since then I read her blog.)

Op de eerste This Happened in Utrecht eind 2008 was een presentatie van Cultured Code, waar ik onder de indruk was van de focus van ze. Sinds die tijd gebruik ik met veel plezier Things, ook al kan ik het niet op mijn Android gebruiken.

Let wel op, volgens mij is het nog altijd zo dat je taken niet in een volgorde kunt zetten / afhankelijk van elkaar kunt maken (zodat taak 2 alleen in een context naar voren komt als taak 1 af is). Het gaat er dus vanuit dat alle taken parallel kunnen worden gedaan, en geen volgordelijkheid kennen. Dit kan een punt zijn als je het voor GTD gebruikt. Ik heb er zelf verder geen last van.

Replied to a post by Frank Meeuwsen

Ik zit nog geen kwartier in een trial van Things 3 te werken en ik voel dat ik weer een smak geld ga uitgeven voor een takenlijst app. Wat zit deze goed en intuïtief in elkaar. Tot op heden nog exact de juiste balans tussen eenvoud en geavanceerde planningsmogelijkheden. Het is bijzonder hoe je ond…

UntitledProbably the top left gives the most realistic information. Image by Brooke Novak, license CC BY

An organisation that says it wants to work data driven as well as sees ethics as a key design ingredient, needs to take a very close look imho at how they set KPI’s and other indicators. I recently came across an organisation that says those first two things, but whose process of setting indicators looks to have been left as a naive exercise to internal teams.

To begin with, indicators easily become their own goals, and people will start gaming the measurement system to attain the set targets. (Think of call centers picking up the phone and then disconnecting, because they are scored on the number of calls answered within 3 rings, but the length of calls isn’t checked for those picked up)

Measurement also isn’t neutral. It’s an expression of values, regardless of whether you articulated your values. When you measure the number of traffic deaths for instance as an indicator for road safety, but not wounded or accidents as such, nor their location, you’ll end up minimising traffic deaths but not maximising road safety. Because the absence of deaths isn’t the presence of road safety. Deaths is just one, albeit the most irreparable one, expression of the consequences of unsafety. Different measurements lead to different real life actions and outcomes.

Gauges‘Gauges’ by Adam Kent, license CC BY

When you set indicators it is needed to evaluate what they cover, and more importantly what they don’t cover. To check if the overall set of indicators is balanced, where some indicators by definition deteriorate when others improve (so balance needs to be sought). To check if assumptions behind indicators have been expressed and when needed dealt with.

Otherwise you are bound to end up with blind spots, lack of balance, and potential injustices. Defined indicators also determine what data gets collected, and thus what your playing field is when you have a ‘data driven’ way of working. That way any blind spot, lack of balance and injustice will end up even more profoundly in your decisions. Because where indicators mostly look back in time at output, data driven use of the data underlying those indicators actively determines actions and thus (part of) future output, turning your indicators in a much more direct and sometimes even automated feedback loop.

CompassOnly if you’ve deliberately defined your true north, can you use your measurements to determine direction of your next steps. ‘Compass’ by Anthony, license CC BY ND