Gift Idea: Puzzle States

Puzzle States gerrymandered jigsaws

I’ve combined political nerdery with fabrication nerdery to produce laser cut gerrymandered jigsaw puzzles. Each state’s political boundaries are laser cut into finished maple plywood to create a real wooden jigsaw puzzle. The pieces are the gnarly congressional districts designed every decade or so by politicians. States with lots of congressional districts (like California, Texas, and New York) make for pretty difficult puzzles. Even states with fewer districts get tricky to solve in the more populated areas.

The mere act of assembling a puzzle becomes a lesson in controversial computer-assisted gerrymandering, where politicians use Census results to carve their constituencies into districts that will keep them in power. I’m excited to say that for every puzzle purchased, we’ll be donating an additional puzzle to an innovative school civics education program. Students will learn about congressional representation and the decennial redistricting process. The puzzle pieces are also a great conversation starter for learning about The Great Compromise, whereby the far less populated states receive equal representation in the Senate.

Puzzle States are now for sale over at Etsy (you can always just go to Get one today for the campaign geek in your life.

Laser cut jigsaw puzzle

Thinking ethically about our relationships with social robots

Liveblog of Kate Darling’s Berkman Center lunch, A discussion of near-term ethical, legal, and societal issues in robotics.

Kate begins with the observation that there aren’t nearly enough experts in robotic law. Those that are interested in the emergent field need to become more expert, and many more need to join them in the pursuit.

Here are some of the emerging issues:

  • Liability: the chain of causality of harm is going to get longer and more complex
  • Code is going to contain ethical decisions as autonomous units interact with their environments
  • People’s sensitivity to invasion of privacy is more strongly manifested when infractions are committed by robots (vs. NSA infrastructure-level scripts). Public aversion to such invasions may actually be an opportunity to push for stronger privacy rights.
  • Our tendency to project lifelike qualities on robotic objects. People bond with their cars, phones, stuffed animals, and virtual objects in video games. But this effect is stronger in robots.
  • Physicality: we react differently to objects in our physical space than things on a screen


Continue reading Thinking ethically about our relationships with social robots

Clay Shirky: Planning Shan’t Trump Reality

Clay Shirky‘s on stage with Ginny Hunt at Harvard’s Institute of Politics discussing the lessons we can take away from the boondoggle (#netrevolution).

Clay’s first point is that of all the criticism of and the Affordable Care Act, no one has argued that it’s a bad idea to rely on the web as the central component of citizen interaction with a government program. All of the other communications options, from phone to fax, have been considered second-rate fallback options. Continue reading Clay Shirky: Planning Shan’t Trump Reality

Comedy Hack Day Demos at MIT Media Lab

Cultivated Wit Comedy Hack DayComedy Hack Day began when Craig realized he had two independent groups of nerdy friends: comedy nerds and computer nerds. Comedy Hack Day brings these two groups together.

The first event was held in NYC September 2012. The second was held at Twitter’s headquarters in San Francisco in April 2013 (watch highlight reel). This weekend, we infested the MIT Media Lab.

group shot

Here are the final demos:

Continue reading Comedy Hack Day Demos at MIT Media Lab

Beauty vs. Usability = Both

Like many users before me, I stared at my rat’s nest of Delicious bookmark tags one day and realized the futility of tagging all these links with words and phrases I’d never actually recall. At that point, I gave up on taxonomy and tried a new tactic: filing bookmarks into only two folders: Beautiful and Useful.

The beautiful examples were inspiring, artistic, and aesthetically gorgeous. The useful examples offered new functionalities, potential savings of time, and clever solutions.


Beauty vs. Utility
Beauty vs. Utility

This dichotomy approach failed, too, as I realized that there’s a sometimes complicated interplay between beauty and utility.

Javier Bargas-Avila, user experience researcher at Google and YouTube, is at the Harvard Berkman Center today (video) to share his psychological research on this interplay in user experience. Continue reading Beauty vs. Usability = Both

How do you make research more accessible?

One of my pet peeves in life is how rarely serious research is shared with lay audiences. There are many reasons for this, like overbearing publisher copyright policies and overburdened researcher duties, but I’m curious about creative solutions. What ideas do you have?

the YPP logoThis month, I’ve had the ridiculous opportunity to sit and read through the Youth & Participatory Politics corpus of research. YPP is part of the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning initiative. They study how young people use new media to become more civically and politically engaged people, and how online expression can become structural political impact. There are other deliverables, but I also want to use this opportunity to distribute and prepare this work for a broader audience.

Continue reading How do you make research more accessible?