Thinking visually with Remarkable

Sketches, visualizations and other forms of externalizing cognition play a prominent role in the work of just about any scientist. It’s why we love using blackboards, whiteboards, notebooks and scraps of paper. I rarely rave about tools (to each their own, etc.) but here I write about the Remarkable, an e-paper device that has changed my habits for the better in several ways: I’ve been reading more, taking more notes, writing more, and also doodling and sketching more. I would describe it as a distraction-free piece of technology with just the right affordances.

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Talk, tradition, templates: a meta-note on building scientific arguments

The construction of gothic cathedrals like Chartres was governed not by blueprints but by “talk, tradition, and templates” — at least that is what Turnbull has compellingly argued. When you come across such a neatly alliterative triad, there are two ways you can go. You can adopt the terms in an unexamined way and rely on their alliterative power. Or you can go meta and think critically about what it takes to make a point that is as compelling as this in both form and content. See, and I like that second move a lot more.

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Deep learning, image generation, and the rise of bias automation machines

DALL-E, a new image generation system by OpenAI, does impressive visualizations of biased datasets. A widely circulated PR animation features meme-like koala dunking a baseball leading into an array of old white men — representing at one blow the past and future of representation and generation. This post jumps from reflections on techbros to the erasure of human labour in Cosmopolitan’s rushed “first AI magazine cover”.

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The Gruner Map: a 1913 map of the Togo Plateau in present-day Ghana

Few historical maps of Ghana’s Volta and Oti regions have been invested with so much political and sociohistorical meaning as Hans Gruner’s 1913 map of the Togo Plateau. Gruner, stationed for over twenty years at Misahöhe in present-day Togo, was a long-time colonial administrator known as much for his ethnographical and historical knowledge of the area as for being a petty tyrant with a powerful grip on ‘his’ district. The map is obscure and hard to find, and I make available some digital versions here.

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Why article-level metrics are better than JIF if you value talent over privilege

There is a considerable halo-effect attached to JIFs, whereby an article that ends up in a high IF journal (whether by sheer brilliance or simply knowing the right editor, or both) is treated, unread, with a level of veneration normally reserved for Wunderkinder. Usually this is done by people totally oblivious to network effects, gatekeeping and institutional biases.

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