The Design History of Robert M. Pirsig’s Books

I published my article on the history of Robert Pirsig’s books at the Humanities Commons.

I admire Rober Pirsig’s work on the Metaphysics of Quality as described in his two books Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Lila. Robert passed away in 2017 I started to collect all the English editions of his books. I wrote an article entitle “The Design History of Robert M. Pirsig’s Books” in which I analysed all these books and their covers. The book proposal for Zen was rejected by 122 publishers. My article was rejected by only nine journals but this was done sequentially, which took almost a year. It seems like Pirsig’s curse is upon this manuscript. Academic publishing remains difficult and I recently interviewed Anton Angelo about it.

It is time to take a new approach and hence I decided to publish the article in the Humanities Commons. Please enjoy the article. High resolution scans of all the book covers are available over at the Open Science Framework. I also published the scans of all the covers over at Flickr. Have a look at the Zen and Lila albums.

The-Design-History-of-Robert-M-Pirsigs-Books

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How religious is Christchurch?

While driving around Christchurch I noticed a church on almost every corner. The name of the city could have already given me that hint, but it is better to check the facts first before jumping to conclusions. Christchurch was named after the Christ Church College at Oxford University.

There does not seem to be any register for churches in New Zealand and hence I searched the Charities Register for charities that provide religious services. The results contain more than 7000 charities, but many of them are no longer registered and/or have stopped operation. After some cleaning of the data I was left with 5590 records for New Zealand. It is important to note that not every religious charity is a church and not all churches are registered as a charity. One charity could also operate several churches. But for what it is worth, this approach does seem like a good approximation. The various Anglican parishes, for example, are listed individually.

Mapping these religious charities on a map would be slightly misleading since bigger cities will naturally have a higher number of charities. To create a density map of the religious charities in New Zealand I had to take the population distribution into account.

InfoShare from StatsNZ allows you to download the download the Estimated Resident Population for Urban Areas. It contains population estimates for many of New Zealand’s cities. Unfortunately, this list does not contain all the small cities, such as Akaroa.

After cross referencing the charities with the population information I created this density map of religious charities in New Zealand. Christchurch has 517 registered religious charities and a population of 404,600 in 2018 which results in 0.0012 people per charity. This puts Christchurch in the lower half.

You can have a look at the full visualization over at Tableau Public where you can also download the source data.

Click on the image to go to the full interactive graph.


Draft Proposal for a Memorial Exhibit about the Christchurch Mosque Tragedy At the Christchurch Brick Show 2019

Proposal for a LEGO memorial for the Christchurch Mosque Shooting victims.

On Friday March 15th 2019 New Zealand experienced its biggest terrorist attack in Christchurch that took the lives of 50 people. The loss to their families and their community is indescribable. It is our responsibility to pay respect to the victims, their families and their communities. Moreover, we must take action to prevent that such an event will ever happen again.

For this purpose we propose to build a memorial exhibit for the Christchurch Brick Show. The exhibit will consist of two parts.

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Visions of our android future

I started to play Detroit – Becoming Human and the start of the game introduces us to a world in which most of the work is done by androids. The designers paid attention to portraying every day life with androids. They show androids in the roles of care taker, cleaner, construction worker, but also as a companion. Many humans are without a job but still enjoy an android cleaning their mess. Of course this whole setup is a typical in-out-group setup. But if this is the future we are working towards then we will also have to address these questions. What if there is no more work left for humans? What if we like interacting with androids more than with other humans? Here are some of my highlights of everyday life in the game so far:

Android Parking

Detroit: Become Human

Android compartment in the back of the bus

The androids have to enter the public bus at the rear and are standing in a segregated compartment that is divided by a glass wall. This is of course a reference to Rosa Park who refused to give put her seat in the colored section of a bus for a white person in 1955.

Detroit: Become Human

An article on how autonomous cars make life and death decisions

The game features an article on how autonomous vehicles make life and death decisions by considering a wealth of background information to calculate the value of a person.

How machines make life and death decisions

Here is the text of the virtual news article:

When a driverless vehicle foresees an accident, the car’s computer makes life and death decisions – for example deciding which of two pedestrians to hit. But the exact process by which cars make these decisions is not very well understood.

Martin Forlong, of CrowneCars, tries to clarify: “In these situations, the car’s imaging system gathers data to determine, the pedestrian’s age, gender, life Expectancy, etc, in the blink of an eye.” This data is parsed through the public I record “to determine marital status, employment record, life expectancy and whether they have children.” The car then assigns a ‘value’ to each possible victim based on criteria like their contribution to society: “we put a premium on lives that will save other lives, like doctors and nurses.”

All this may sound very reasonable. But Felix Gamble, head of Anti-Automation League (AAL) says the system has no rights to make such judgements: “Somebody with a criminal record is not necessarily less I valuable to society than a doctor. That kind of information is irrelevant to the sanctity of human life.”

But Forlong dismisses such claims: “We want our cars to make the best possible i choices, and that means acting on the basis of all the information they can gather. The more, the better.”