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(This analysis is in part based on a Twitter thread started by Cameron Tonkinwise)

Metaphors change based on the way they are used. As Ian Hacking says of the categories we use to name different kinds of people (people who have autism, child viewers of television, women refugees, etc.), they are more interesting from the perspective of their dynamics, rather than semantics (Hacking 1999). In other words, how terms or categories are used in turn changes the meaning of the term, which continues to inform a dynamic feedback cycle as terms with changed meanings continue to change. …

The below is my dad, Robert Lee’s talk from the ADAPT NSW Conference November 2019.

My name is Robert Lee. I farm sheep and cattle just east of Cumnock in central west NSW. Coorah is a beautiful farm on the slopes just north of Orange ranging in elevation from 500 on the Bell River to 600 metres. Inside country I’ve always been told; although I’m a bit worried that the outside country is moving in. My family have been there for four generations prior to me; about as long as descendants of the British settlers can be, given that my Great Great grandfather was one of the original 10 settlers in Bathurst in 1815. He must have quickly ranged down the Macquarie River valley to Wellington and then up the Bell River to Larras Lee where he duly squatted. It always amuses me when Australian media reports that a certain farmer is from so many generations on the land. What is 5 or 6 generations when the previous owners had been managing quite well for well over a thousand generations? …

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Horse racing was a hugely important part of my childhood, particularly the gambling side of things. I ran the book at school for four years (and nearly lost a lot of money in the process when Rogan Josh got up in 2019 Hamish Dixon). I had a TAB account from the age of 15 (thanks mum and dad) and used various gambling systems to try and reliably pick winners — often successful, but addiction to the adrenal experience was my undoing. I’d sneak out of school at Friday lunch time and run 10km down the street to buy a Best Bets which would make me 20mins late for maths class every week in the first period after lunch and the enemy no.1 of our teacher, but the joy I got from analysing that little paper booklet was worth it every time. I remember heading out to Warrick Farm in my trackie-daks and putting five bucks worth of coins in the payphone to dial up one of the betting services listed in Best Bets to see who they recommended betting on for the day and the sense of purpose that gave me in some not very happy adolescent years. More importantly, horse racing was one of the ways I connected with my granddad, who also liked a punt. The races were kind of like an initiation ceremony for me: going to Rosehill to have a bet with Noel and Des and Peter was a cherished experience that represented one of my first entry points into the adult world. I still remember having a pre-mix cola and the occasional shandy with the fellas in the bar and Noel getting up on a handily priced winner in the last of the day back in….when was it, 1997? In the years gone by I’d always have a look at the Melbourne Cup, the last vestige of my connection with those times. I’m increasingly vexed every year with regard to how I should feel about what I now know about the racing industry, on the one hand, and the meaningful place it has in my life on the other. It binds together different important characters and emotions. I feel that having a bet is a way for me to connect with those now departed souls and those childhood years when mum always would place a bet on the Cup for my siblings and I. But this year the dream is dead, for whatever reason, whether it’s the 4 Corners program, the gross marketing that is splashed across the city every year for the carnival, bloody Tom Waterhouse popping up on my newsfeed, or something unaccountable in me that’s changed. I think I also like the challenge of change. But I’m not going to give up renewing my memories of the past, I’d be more emotionally impoverished if I gave that up. So, instead, I’m going to take a leaf out of Gerald Murnane’s book and write down all the cup runners I can remember from the past on bits of paper, see if I can find a record of their jockey silks online and colour little icons on each. Then I’m going to flick each piece of paper/horse across the top of a table, see who ends up first past the post and make a record of the trifecta. Then I’ll try find a little box to put them all away till next year when the race is run again. …

A Degree in Repair?

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The twentieth century saw the emergence of many new academic disciplines, across fields ranging from design, to business, to environmental science. The emergence of new disciplines is a story of implicit or scattered knowledges coming together as explicit, integrated models of learning. For example, while mercantile and designerly activities have been with humans throughout history, it was only in the 19th and 20th centuries that these practices became formalised as disciplines in business and design.

In this series of short articles, I begin imagining what a new degree in the discipline of Repair might look like. I’m very keen to have suggestions and criticisms offered while the process remains in its formative stages: Are there any subjects you’d imagine would be core to such a degree? What are the implications for existing disciplinary divides? What essential knowledges in medicine, microbiology, engineering, health sciences, architecture, design, literature and the social sciences might be important in such an offering?

(I wrote this in response to a story by Nick Kilver published by the ABC that used narrative to communicate data about climate change predications. It’s great to see journalism in different modes other than conventional reportage. The story provoked me to think about what my own abilities and preoccupations as a writer might bring to the topic of climate change in a piece of a similar length. Kilver’s story had a strong emphasis on communicating specific data. He no doubt wrote to that brief. My attempt is different in the sense that I wanted use a series of hypothetical emotional scenarios as the foundations for the piece and combine these with a vaguely formed design hypothesis about a service that allowed friends and families who were displaced from their previous communities due to climate change to reconnect with each other on a return journey that makes full use of emerging technologies, such as autonomous vehicles, virtual reality and computational photography. …

Contemporary quackery or sounding boards for geniuses? In this brief, undisciplined essay I suggest some different ways to think about design thinking.

Design alchemy

In his great new book Outnumbered, David Sumpter discusses the difference between what algorithms can actually do and the way they’re talked about in the media. He suggests much of the data science used in targeted marketing and recommendation engines is better termed ‘data alchemy’. Data alchemy isn’t bad it’s just a lot less accurate and scary than the hype suggests. I want to suggest that calling ‘design thinking’ ‘design alchemy’ might have two benefits: 1) design alchemy suggests inexact and untested practices of making which reflects the way much design thinking is done and prevents its efficacy being oversold; 2) the deliberately less salutary name might act as a balm for the levels of irritation design thinking increasingly provokes in contemporary design discourse. …

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(For Pat Armstrong and Anne Burdick)

“Show me your tabs! Can you believe it? That’s what she asked.”

Tom was meeting Kieran for a drink at a pub near the station. It was something they continued to do even though their initial efforts at relationship didn’t work out. He’d been to a job interview earlier that day, his first ever, and was really keen on the job: a writer for a design start-up specialising in voice operated UI and chatbots. He’d hoped his background as a poet would give him an edge over the other candidates.

“I didn’t know what to do. Is it a thing now, does this happen to everyone?” …

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(image credits, Rachael Wakefield-Rann)

Living with air travel

Travelling is a test for your life practices: Is there a gym in Dubai airport so you can rid your body of agitation during the transfer period? Are you able to maintain healthy equilibrium in the desert of transit, in the torpor of no-time and no-place? Will the magazines be suitably informative and entertaining? Where is the access to water to refill your bottles? Is your skin moist enough to remain resilient to outbreaks of dermatitis? Are your limbs supple enough to withstand the cramped seating?

You plug yourself and your devices in and charge up to prepare for the long haul. …


Tom Lee

Technology, landscape, narrative, poetics, design. Sydney-based academic and author of Coach Fitz.

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