Skip to main content

Engineer, startup founder, investor, and writer

benwerd

benwerd

benwerd

ben@benwerd.com

werd.eth

 

Thoughts and actions for the week of October 18, 2021

Thoughts

  1. I remember on my very first startup, my co-founder (the CEO) worried that we weren’t cool enough. We were building a white label community platform that was beginning to be used inside large organizations to share information: what would become a multi-billion dollar business. And we were doing it in a way that would allow companies to keep their internal information secure. But at the time, consumer social web startups were cool, and we lost focus by trying to chase that dream. The worry was more about the image of being a startup than creating something financially viable and doing it the right way.
  2. The startup community is absolutely chock full of posturing bullshit. A lot of this is the fault of VC hustle porn: raising money is celebrated. Having a great launch on Product Hunt seems awesome. Being able to tell regular people about your startup and having them recognize your brand is a milestone.
  3. But none of these things are the same as building an actually-successful business. Marketing and sales are important, of course, but if your entire effort is blustering and creating the right kind of external-facing energy, you’ll lose. There are plenty of those kinds of companies, but they’re not real: instead they’re sort of play-acting being a startup.
  4. You’ve got to ship. That means knowing how to build software that solves real problems and doing it, again and again and again, without losing focus.
  5. Another symptom of play-acting is just talking about what you’ll do instead of doing it, as if brainstorming or strategizing is as valuable a task as the act of making.
  6. Brainstorming and strategizing set the stage for the real work. They are not the real work.
  7. If you’re more worried about how you appear than the substance of what you do, you’ll want to spend most of your time on talk. Often founders like this will outsource the act of making as an afterthought, devaluing the skill and action of making in the culture of their organization. They want to be the ones who dictate what gets done without doing any of it.
  8. And of course, the people who make are on the hook for actually producing in this environment, and will receive the flak when it doesn’t happen, with little of the kudos when it does.
  9. This is what we call an abusive relationship.
  10. Not every maker can be a founder, but every founder should have a maker’s mindset.

Actions

  1. I’m in the process of shutting down a bunch of my cloud services (or at least, reducing them to their free tiers) and replacing them with home-spun alternatives. I used csvskit to take my large AirTable databases and turn them into local tables, saving me hundreds of dollars a month. More of this to come.
  2. I’m heading back to the west coast for a wedding. The trip is going to be a bit complicated, and I’m still trying to figure out the logistics.
  3. I’m also closing out my time in Cape Cod at the end of the month. I’ve been here since early August, in the house my great grandparents built. It’s been cathartic and wonderful to be here, but real life calls. I need to start packing up and preparing.
  4. We got here by road-tripping east; while my dad is going to fly back, my sister and I are planning to road-trip west. It’ll be a completely different kind of trip, and I can’t wait. Exactly when we do this, I’m still not sure, so there’s planning to be done. But it will happen.
 

How I think about giving

I was asked to go into a little more detail around how I think about my Fairness Fridays posts.

They were originally inspired by Fred Wilson’s Funding Fridays, which highlights a new crowdfunding campaign. I actually really like those: it’s a fun way to discover new projects that are getting off the ground. But while there’s a lot of focus on new businesses in my circles, and particularly new startups, there’s much less on groups on the ground who are working hard for equal rights and the dignity of vulnerable people. Although I’m not rich, I’ve been lucky enough to earn an above average technology sector salary. So this is a small thing I can do: contribute weekly to organizations in a way that’s within my means, and compound that by encouraging others to do the same.

My mission in work is to build things that have the potential to make the world more equal. That’s my philosophy towards giving, too. Most of the organizations I highlight are providing services that should really be provided by government but aren’t: I’m a strong believer in social safety nets as infrastructure. In a perfect world, giving and philanthropy of any kind wouldn’t need to exist, and the well-being of vulnerable people wouldn’t depend on the whims and attention of people who are wealthier. But here we are, and the people who do this advocacy and support work are hugely unsung heroes.

I typically don’t give to religious organizations, because I’m not religious, and I think any kind of proselytizing in the course of providing community services is immoral. (It should go without saying that I’m also not interested in conservative-leaning organizations: supporting the vulnerable means supporting an identity-positive, pro-choice future with a focus on distributing equity.) That said, I know that not every religious organization does this, and they do provide vital work in many communities, so I’ve made exceptions (particularly at the border). I also prefer to give to smaller, community organizations rather than larger nationwide endeavors, on the grounds that the former are likely more in need of funds - but again, I’ve sometimes made exceptions.

I often privately ask for recommendations, and I’d love any recommendations that you’re willing to share. If you know of a great local community organization that has the potential to help vulnerable people gain equity through advocacy and direct support, I’d love to hear about them.

These posts aren’t the only giving I do. I also donate on a monthly basis to many of the organizations you would expect, including the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center. These nationwide organizations do deeply important work, and my omission in this series does not imply a lack of support.

 

Fairness Friday: the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women

I’m posting Fairness Fridays: a new community social justice organization each week. I donate to each featured organization. If you feel so inclined, please join me.

This week I’m donating to the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women. Based in Albuquerque, CSVANW advocates for social change in the communities it supports to prevent violence against Native women and children.

It describes its mission as follows:

Organized in 1996 by three founding Native women, Peggy Bird (Kewa), Darlene Correa (Laguna Pueblo) and Genne James (Navajo), the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women (CSVANW) was created to provide support to other Native advocates working in domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, stalking and sex trafficking in New Mexico’s tribal communities. Their single goal: to eliminate violence against Native women and children.

[…] CSVANW is an award winning organization at the forefront to a dynamic approach to the tribal domestic and sexual violence fields that is demonstrating the most effective, creative and innovative ways to address and prevent the cycle of violence within tribal communities.

Its activities include training, technical assistance, advocacy, and direct support. It also sits on statewide taskforces in order to further its justice objectives.

I donated. If you have the means, I encourage you to join me here.

 

The twin sadnesses

As Ben Werdmuller awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into …

Stress has been a major part of my life this year, for obvious reasons. I’m no longer at the point in the year where I can claim to be ruled by grief with any real conviction, but it’s always there. Call me a high-functioning griever.

But the unhappiness I feel isn’t entirely the effect of losing my mother. It’s hard to compare, because it’s not fair to say there’s something deeper - that grief is already as deep as it gets, a sinkhole to oblivion just behind my eyes. It’s more that there’s another sadness that sits alongside it. They’re two different flavors, or two different entities that sit in two different universes with two different laws of physics. One is grief; the other is depression.

The manifestation of both of these sadnesses is that the world feels fundamentally wrong. In my grief, this is because my universe has lost its most important character, who I continue to reach for, make jokes with, and ask for advice like a kind of phantom limb until I remember. In my depression, it’s because I feel dissatisfied with the rhythms and timbre of my life. I can’t point to anything and say “this is wrong”, but in totality, wrongness pervades everything. There’s nothing to be fixed in either case because, in the case of grief, I can’t bring her back from the dead; in the case of depression, it’s hard to know where to begin.

My dissatisfactions go something like this:

One: my mother is gone, stolen by a terrible illness, which is an unfairness in the universe so profound that nothing is redeemable.

Two: I’ve been forced to play a game that I don’t particularly care for, knowing that the alternative is worse. The templated pattern of participating in regular society feels empty to me. Maybe this is because I was lucky (or unlucky) enough to be raised in a household that didn’t follow these norms. My parents didn’t have regular jobs; we didn’t settle in a single place; one year we traveled so much that I attended less than two thirds of the school year. We didn’t have money, and that was in part by my parents’ choice: my mother came from an upper middle-class family and my dad had a PhD in economics, and a comfortable life would have been easy for them. They opted out of the regular patterns and chose life experiences over wealth and stability, and knowing that there was an abundance of comfort and happiness in this, I don’t know that I can be content doing anything else. I honestly don’t know whether I’ve been ruined or freed.

Wealth is an empty goal. The people who chase it spend their lives gardening a number. What’s meaningful is choosing life: finding the things that spark and inspire you and following them. People talk about there not being reward without risk, but usually they mean in the sense of financial investments. Fine, but it works for life too: to be truly happy and truly yourself, you need to slip off the rails that have been set out for you. By definition, they’re not your rails. They’re someone else’s route: an aspiration that someone else has for the direction of your life.

I quietly admire the people who can feel comfortable following the regular path. Find a stable job, buy a house, start a family, get a dog, etc etc. And don’t get me wrong: I’d love to have a house, a family, a dog, and everything the etc etc implies. I want to do those things. And I think describing them in this way does them a disservice: starting a family, for example, is much more about - or at least, should be much more about - establishing a deep, mutually supportive partnership that becomes the emotional and practical bedrock of your life. I’ve always seen partnerships as being akin to being allies in an adverse world, and there’s nothing superficial about that. (A dog is just a dog, but dogs are great, so.) Still, something is missing, and I admire the people who don’t have that niggling dissatisfaction eating away at the core of them. They can just get on with it.

I wonder if it’s partially this: the traditional path is a deal that asks you to normalize yourself to a mainstream ideal in exchange for financial reward. You are asked to become a piece of a larger machine (both in terms of a business and mainstream society). The extent to which your natural self deviates from the shape of that piece, combined with the proportion of your life spent playing this part, is inversely proportional to your satisfaction in doing so. The more integral the piece you’re willing to play the part of is considered to be by the people who control the reward, the higher that reward will be, but your deviance from that norm remains the biggest deciding factor in how satisfied you are to play it, and therefore how sustainable playing it is for you in the long term.

Only the very lucky can find a place for themselves in the larger machine that is close to their actual shape. Everyone else must contort themselves into the available gaps.

And here’s where grief comes back into play: stress and sadness make you less malleable, less able to contort into the shape you need to be. Breathing requires exhalation into your full form. If you’re hurting, you’ve got to be yourself, whether that full self is considered to be valuable or not (financially and emotionally).

Everyone has expectations for me, in work and in life. The weight of fulfilling those feels heavier than it otherwise might. Mostly this is grief, but my dissatisfaction pre-dates this year’s crisis. I don’t enjoy disappointing people, but if their conception of me is of a high-earning engineer who is eager to follow the mainstream path, it’s wrong. I want to build a life from first principles following my ideals for what’s meaningful and good - fairness, equality, expression of one’s inner self and identity. It’s not clear to me that this is even possible, let alone desirable. (It’s desirable to me, but you’ve got to keep a roof over your head and food on the table. How do you do that well while deviating from the established path? Do I have anything of value to offer?)

And therein lies the true dissatisfaction. It’s inconvenient to other people for me to grieve, but too bad: I’m grieving. It’s inconvenient for me to not be the person other people want me to be, but too bad: that’s who I am. If I can’t have the space to be myself and to breathe in the way I need to, particularly in this moment, give everything that’s happened, then it’s the wrong life. But it’s not clear that I can provide enough value with who I actually am in order to make life sustainable. Am I valuable?

It becomes clear that community is the most important thing. Finding people who value you for you - not financially, but emotionally, and in the context of mutual respect and support. People in startup-land talk about finding smart, successful people to spend your time around, but that isn’t it at all. It’s not about cynically using people to gain points as part of some game. It’s about finding comfort and care. The goal isn’t to be rich. The goal is to find your people in a mutualistic way where you’re their people, too. Finding your place not in a machine but in a group where your true self is valued and welcomed.

These are the things I’ve been thinking about lately, while nurturing my sadnesses, and waking up from vivid dreams.

 

Thoughts and actions for the week of October 11, 2021

Thoughts

  1. I recognize today as Indigenous Peoples’ Day rather than Columbus Day: it’s a marker of the importance of the people who were here before Europeans arrived, and their resilience in the face of genocide and generations of oppression. For the first time, the President recognized it too: a major progressive step. I’ve heard some people of European descent make fun of it, which is nothing but ugly.
  2. One of America’s biggest exports these days is technology. The actual hardware we use is largely made in China, but most of the software that connects us is made Stateside. Apple is based in Cupertino; Facebook is based in Menlo Park; Microsoft is based in Redmond. Yes, they have offices all over the world, but the core of their strategy is defined in these places.
  3. The way we build the software that connects us matters. If it’s largely built by affluent white dudes in expensive neighborhoods, no matter the intentions of those people, it will disproportionately reflect their worldview. The lens through which they see the world becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  4. There are methodologies which attempt to correct for this worldview. Design thinking, for example, can be seen as a way to de-risk your product idea by testing with the people who you want to build it for. The lean startup process is a way of doing this that leans more heavily on quantitative, rather than qualitative, analysis.
  5. Notice the conceptual separation between the people you want to build it for and the people doing the building? These methodologies sit somewhere between a colonialist mindset and white saviordom. If you’re experimenting on communities in order to sell something to them more effectively and those communities are not themselves the owners of both the process and solution, you’re strip-mining them of value.
  6. You can most obviously see this in Facebook’s global outreach, including a disastrously self-serving attempt to provide free internet in India that just happened to shape local connectivity around its own services, and its use to promote genocide in Myanmar. These were headline-grabbing stories, but for every one of these, there are likely hundreds more that didn’t receive global scrutiny.
  7. The same goes for American foreign policy, which seeks to export US values without truly working with local communities. It’s nothing short of imperialism that strip-mines other nations of useful value. Companies like Facebook are an example of this ideology, not its limit.
  8. Whether you’re building software or global diplomacy, the only way to ethically build for a community is to build with them in every possible sense. They must be keepers of the platform, the ownership, the process, and the proceeds.

Actions

  1. As always, there’s a lot to do at work - mostly on the process side.
  2. I’m determined to hit my exercise goals every day this week. It’s crazy to me that I hit them for five months in a row at the beginning of this year and that I then let them drop so precipitously. I mean, it’s also easily been the worst year of my life, so it’s not that crazy, but I’d like to get back on the wagon to round out the year.
  3. I ordered a Dyer Dhow a few months ago, and it still hasn’t shown up. Where is it? I need to chase it down and maybe postpone the order until next year. I’m still on Cape Cod, but I won’t be here forever.
  4. As the year comes to a close, I need to do a little financial planning and trimming. Sadly, services like AirTable, which I used to depend on, probably won’t make the cut.
 

ForUsAll is hiring

Just a quick note: we're hiring Ruby on Rails engineers, Product Managers, a Head of Marketing ... all working for a mission-driven startup working to help more people reach financial safety in retirement.

Check out all our vacancies here.

 

Fairness Friday: The Transgender Law Center

I’m posting Fairness Fridays: a new community social justice organization each week. I donate to each featured organization. If you feel so inclined, please join me.

This week I’m donating to the Transgender Law Center. Based in Oakland, the Transgender Law Center provides support and advocacy for trans and gender non-conforming people nationwide.

It describes its mission as follows:

Transgender Law Center (TLC) is the largest national trans-led organization advocating for a world in which all people are free to define themselves and their futures. Grounded in legal expertise and committed to racial justice, TLC employs a variety of community-driven strategies to keep transgender and gender nonconforming people alive, thriving, and fighting for liberation.

Founded in 2002, Transgender Law Center (TLC) has grown into the largest trans-specific, trans-led organization in the United States. Our advocacy and precedent-setting litigation victories—in areas including employment, prison conditions, education, immigration, and healthcare—protect and advance the rights of transgender and gender nonconforming people across the country. Through our organizing and movement-building programs, TLC assists, informs, and empowers thousands of individual community members a year and builds towards a long-term, national, trans-led movement for liberation.

Its services include legal support and advocacy, support for Black trans women in the South and Midwest, and support for transgender people living with HIV.

I donated. If you have the means, I encourage you to join me here.

 

Some flash fiction

I've been experimenting with publishing flash fiction on Medium. Some recent pieces:

Mining on the crop-fields:

The rig embedded in my spine made a tell-tale beep: another coin earned. Three more and I could knock off for eight hours or so; another and I’d be saving towards some time off. I turned back to look at the field. Six hours down, since early this morning, and a lot of crop still to pick today.

Marriage therapy:

His thoughts flooded me and I lost myself in the tide. He felt the same in mirror image. My body was his, and his was mine. We swirled together, the borders blurring, our boundaries shifting, arbitrary divisions of flesh the only thing separating us from each other. The voice, whatever it was, was shaping and changing us somehow, and bringing us together, and feeding from what was lost.

The dark flood:

From time to time, I saw pinpricks of light on the horizon — other boats like mine, maybe, although I was careful not to draw attention to myself. Every so often, while the battery held, I turned on my phone to find endless water reflecting the dim light. Otherwise, it was pitch black: the stars were blocked by what I assumed was a thick layer of cloud, although when the sun failed to come up the next morning, I’d learn it was something else entirely. Strangely, it was balmy, like a hot summer night, and that should have been the giveaway.

The mirror of infinite worlds:

The technology had been heralded as a miracle. Not only did we know that parallel worlds existed, but we could peer inside and measure them: we could use knowledge of other universes to inform and improve our own. It was possible to steal scientific advances from other societies and incorporate them, but we could also take their movies, their music, their ideas. We could enjoy the best of all worlds as our own, and that included other versions of ourselves.

Like everything I do, these are prototypes. I'm trying to learn and get better while writing in public. I'd love your feedback.

 

Thoughts and actions for the week of October 4, 2021

Thoughts

  1. As I write this, Facebook is down. I’m not certain how much this will cost their business in lost ad revenue, although I’m sure someone will do the calculation. I’m sure there will be some kind of a post mortem. But it’s worth asking the question and taking it seriously: is a world without Facebook worse or better?
  2. Those of us who have been involved in decentralization have a stock response when something like this happens: “this is what you get when you have a single point of failure”. It’s true! My blog is up. Decentralized systems are up. But the ability to stay online is only a small advantage in the scheme of things. Does decentralization mitigate the harm caused?
  3. Decentralized systems have the potential to reduce centralized wealth and power (although not all decentralized systems - there’s an argument to be made that much of the emerging blockchain ecosystem is simply establishing new gatekeepers). But unless they have a radically different design, they can still perpetuate many of the same social harms. A decentralized Instagram would still create the social pressures that lead teenagers to suicide. Communications protocol design doesn’t solve for adverse social effects.
  4. Consider this analogy: would homemade cigarettes still cause cancer? Unless you completely reinvented the cigarette, the answer is yes.
  5. Which means that decentralization only affects one facet of the underlying harm. I agree that reducing explicit centralized control is a good thing - although we have to take care to reduce implicit centralized control, too, by preventing any network from being dictated by a small number of gatekeepers. The web itself is disproportionately led, designed, and built by multinational corporations, despite being decentralized. A decentralized protocol could still be hijacked by large, wealthy entities for ill.
  6. The most important decentralization work remains the need for anti-trust reform and to break up big companies. Which has nothing to do with protocol design. Nobody should get to be big or powerful enough to control a communications mechanism that informs the world, and that’s more of a social problem than a technical one. We need real progressive progress more than we need technical innovation in the space.
  7. “Progress over protocols” seems like a pretty good mantra to me. Not because protocols aren’t important, but because progress is the most important thing.

Actions

  1. I’ve been writing in 750 Words every day so far this month and I’d like to keep up the challenge. Most of these pieces have been flash fiction stories; I’ve shared some of these on Medium, and some haven’t made the cut. I want to publish more.
  2. My diet was significantly worse last week. Time to do better. More vegetables and sensible portions.
  3. I’ve got a lot of Jira tickets to write to string together some moving pieces.
  4. I’m thinking about offering my services as an advisor, board member, and (potentially) Swiss-US facilitator. I’m not sure where to start but I want to do more research.
 

Reading, watching, playing, using: September, 2021

This is my monthly roundup of the books, articles, and streaming media I found interesting. Here's my list for September, 2021.

Apps + Websites

Ambient Chaos. Finally, an ambient noise generator for the rest of us. I recommend zombie invasion + barnyard animals + church bells + lo-fi beats.

You feel like shit. “This is meant to be an interactive flow chart for people who struggle with self care, executive dysfunction, and/or who have trouble reading internal signals. It’s designed to take as much of the weight off of you as possible, so each decision is very easy and doesn’t require much judgment.” Nicely done.

Feeds Mage. This is wonderful: a way to extract blog feeds from your Twitter followers. I’ve been looking for something like this for some time.

Books

Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story, by Ursula K. Le Guin. Simple, effective lessons on writing, delivered with wit and insight by a master of her craft. Absolutely perfect. I’ll be coming back to this for the rest of my life.

Ms. Marvel Vol. 2: Generation Why, by G. Willow Wilson. Not quite as refreshing as the first volume - this one brings in both the X-Men and the Inhumans, dragging it into the Marvel universe more completely. But it’s still a ton of fun. Can’t wait to read the next one, and to see the series.

All Systems Red, by Martha Wells. An engagingly-written novella with a comic book sensibility. Fun: I would have absolutely devoured this when I was younger.

Across the Tracks: Remembering Greenwood, Black Wall Street, and the Tulsa Race Massacre, by Alverne Ball, Stacey Robinson, and Reynaldo Anderson. A short but meaningful graphic introduction to the Tulsa Race Massacre and the historical precedents leading up to it. It’s a story that more people should be aware of, and one that continues to echo today. This was a great start that left me wanting to dive in deeper.

Streaming

Django Moves to Portland - "Excellent Growbag" - Live on Shady Pines Radio. My sister Hannah wrote this song about death and decomposition, which is so lovely that my mother requested that it be performed at her memorial (which it was). Here she’s playing it as part of Shady Pines Radio’s Nocturnal Submissions.

Lil Nas X - Jolene (Dolly Parton Cover) in the Live Lounge. Just brilliant.

Notable Articles

Business

The startup where meetings are optional and Slack is forbidden. “Apart from the regular all-hands, individual contributors at Convictional only have a weekly one-on-one meeting with their manager, and like other asynchronous or async-first companies such as GitLab, Zapier and Twitter, the company relies heavily on email and document-sharing to communicate. But outside of Convictional, it’s hard to find another tech company that doesn’t use any chat or messaging platform at all.” This sounds quite lovely.

She’s the Investor Guru for Online Creators. “Hank Green, 41, a top creator on YouTube and TikTok, said he often tossed ideas back and forth with her by phone. Markian Benhamou, 23, a YouTuber with over 1.4 million subscribers, credited her with understanding what creators go through. Marina Mogilko, 31, a YouTube creator in Los Altos, Calif., said Ms. Jin “started the whole creator economy movement in Silicon Valley.””

The effects of remote work on collaboration among information workers. “Our results show that firm-wide remote work caused the collaboration network of workers to become more static and siloed, with fewer bridges between disparate parts. Furthermore, there was a decrease in synchronous communication and an increase in asynchronous communication. Together, these effects may make it harder for employees to acquire and share new information across the network.” So, how can we build new tools and processes to overcome these effects?

We are benefitting hugely from Brexit, says Estonia’s prime minister. ″“We have seen more than 4,000 British companies coming to Estonia,” Kallas continued, explaining that the UK companies’ main reasons were access to the EU, the country’s tax system, as well as Estonia’s flourishing tech scene and digital infrastructure.” Brexit was such a stupid own goal, and systems like Estonia’s make a ton of sense.

The trouble with ERGs. “An ERG wants to make all these really concrete changes often at a workplace but has no power to do that [...] They might have some funding or the ear of an executive, which we did at Uber, but ultimately it kind of relies on the good faith of an executive to work on whatever changes you want. ERGs kind of passively work against the idea of a union in that they’re a way for you to kind of spend your energy without it turning into anything, which I’m really sad about, but that’s what I’ve found in my experience.”

Returning to the Office and the Future of Work. “Wage labor can harm us in subtle and insidious ways, too. The American ideal of a good life earned through work is “disciplinary,” according to the Marxist feminist political philosopher Kathi Weeks, a professor at Duke and often-cited critic of the modern work ethic. “It constructs docile subjects,” she wrote in her 2011 book, “The Problem With Work.” Day to day, that means we feel pressure to become the people our bosses, colleagues, clients and customers want us to be. When that pressure conflicts with our human needs and well-being, we can fall into burnout and despair.”

How Lessonly, Bumble and HubSpot fight burnout. “In early May, the founder of Lessonly, a company that makes training software, sent out a companywide email issuing a mandate to all employees. But it wasn’t the sort of mandate employees around the world have been receiving related to vaccines and masks. This mandate required that every worker take an entire week off in July.” Next up, sabbaticals?

What We Actually Want Out Of Management. “Management is problematic because it is frequently used as a reward - a chance to make more money, but also exert power and control over people. Becoming a manager is a means of escaping the doldrums of the worker and allows you to start being the pusher rather than the pushed. Managers are often not measured on their team’s success or failures, or if they are, they are allowed to escape blame by claiming an underling failed them or gain accolades by claiming that they did the work somebody else did. The cultural disconnect of management from labor is the core problem - and, indeed, a lack of understanding of what leadership and management actually means.”

Inclusive meetings: encouraging collaboration from all. A really clear, well-written guide to running meetings well from the Co-op.

Crypto

Loot is a viral social network that looks like nothing you've ever seen. “At this point I feel it necessary to point out that there are no adventurers in Loot. There is no game in Loot. There are just items, and pictures of those items, and tens of millions of dollars betting that it will all somehow turn into something much more. As one tweet put it: “Loot is NFT improv.” [...] “At the end of the day, these are just items on a list,” Hofmann said.”

Bitcoin Uses More Electricity Than Many Countries. How Is That Possible? “We’ll explain how that works in a minute. But first, consider this: The process of creating Bitcoin to spend or trade consumes around 91 terawatt-hours of electricity annually, more than is used by Finland, a nation of about 5.5 million.” Or, seven Googles.

China says all cryptocurrency-related transactions are illegal and must be banned. “The central bank said cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin and Tether, cannot be circulated in the market as they are not fiat currency. The surge in usage of cryptocurrencies has disrupted “economic and financial order,” and prompted a proliferation of “money laundering, illegal fund-raising, fraud, pyramid schemes and other illegal and criminal activities,” it said.” Cue a minor crypto crash. But honestly: I expect that other countries may follow and create a dividing line between places that allow these currencies and those that don’t.

Why not replace bitcoin’s proof of work with proof of astrophysics. “Caveat: I clearly don’t know what I’m talking about. BUT could we invent new underpinnings of cryptocurrency that pump out social good, rather than pumping out carbon? It would be good to assemble a committee of smart people to figure that out.” I agree. I also worry about the opposite: I’ve been trying to write a story that involves a coin powered by proof of manual labor.

Culture

Abba reunite for Voyage, first new album in 40 years. Mamma mia.

'A Loveable Anarchist': The Oral History of Mr Blobby. “Now a cultural signifier of the 90s, Mr Blobby burst onto our screens in October 1992 as a character on the BBC’s Saturday night show Noel’s House Party. Hosted by Noel Edmonds, it had a “Gotcha” segment where they would prank celebrities. That’s where Mr Blobby came in. He was only supposed to last one series. But somehow, that’s not what happened.” If you’re new to Blobby, don’t miss the single, which may genuinely be the worst song ever recorded.

I found the largest truffle in the world. “I weighed the truffle straight away and knew I had something special on my hands. It weighed 1,310g. In the morning I spoke with Guinness World Records, who confirmed that it was the biggest truffle ever recorded. I could have sold it for €1m and made my fortune, but I knew instantly that I didn’t want to do that. It’s great to be rich, but I felt the truffle could have more impact if it was shared. The truffle was found in Istria and should be consumed here, not sold to a rich person abroad.” A lovely story.

Solarpunk Is Not About Pretty Aesthetics. It's About the End of Capitalism. “Solarpunk took inspiration from the Cyberpunk and Steampunk aesthetics that came before it—take the lush paradises of Studio Ghibli films with just a few more solar panels. Cyberpunk uses science fiction to explore our anxieties in the rapidly developing technical age, while Steampunk is nostalgic for the aesthetics of the industrial revolution. But unlike these dystopian and mechanical universes, Solarpunk is a more optimistic, regenerative vision of the future.” I’m all in.

One Woman’s Mission to Rewrite Nazi History on Wikipedia. “Similar battles over how to remember the past have been raging across society. Do we let the old bronze statues stand in our boulevards, or do we put them in a museum someplace, or do we melt them down? Can there be a “hero” who fought for a morally rotten cause? Are qualities like valor and self-sacrifice and tactical brilliance worth admiring anywhere they occur, even if, say, racial supremacism is there too? Some choose to take to the streets. Coffman fights on the terrain most familiar to her, with the weapons she knows best. Not that she would put it that way; she’s not big on war metaphors.”

A novel is born. I’m obsessed with this kind of thing: an author self-publishing across various media using the internet as a kind of canvas. So obsessed that I really want to try it myself.

Russell T Davies to return as Doctor Who showrunner. Wowsers! RTD revived the best show ever made and laid the blueprint. I’m excited.

Media

Re-thinking Academic Publishing: The Promise of Platform Cooperativism. “Or could we imagine a future where scholars are the ones at the helm of the scholarly publishing ecosystem? In this contribution, we propose to do just that: imagine a different — fairer, more economically sustainable, and inclusive — approach to open access. However, to do that, we need to think not only outside the scope of existing business and publishing models but also the existing organisational models.”

Journalist William Huie Concealed Lynchers in Emmett Till Case. “As Dave Tell points out in his book, “Remembering Emmett Till,” Huie needed releases from the murderers to indemnify Look magazine from litigation. But he couldn’t get four. He could only get two. So, he made his story fit his resources. He shrank the kidnapping and murder party to two and moved the murder scene as a consequence. So, instead of telling readers the truth—that Till’s lynchers killed him in a barn on a plantation run by Leslie Milam, a member of the killing party whom Huie concealed—he claimed J.W. Milam and Bryant beat Till near J.W. Milam’s home and shot him to death on the Tallahatchie River’s bank.”

Lyra McKee: four men arrested over killing of journalist in Derry. “The four men, aged 19, 20, 21 and 33, were arrested under the Terrorism Act 2006 on Wednesday morning. They were in the Derry area, and are now being questioned at Musgrave police station in Belfast.” Lyra’s death was a loss for the world.

How one coder became Indonesia’s misinformation guru. “To the overwhelming majority of observers, Fahmi successfully treads the line between the interests of entities who could be either his clients or his targets. Drone Emprit is one of a kind. With it, Fahmi has established credibility as a misinformation authority in a noisy landscape.”

Ministers plan legal requirement for broadcasters to make 'clearly British' shows like Only Fools and Horses. “Fleabag, Derry Girls and Only Fools and Horses were cited as the kind of “distinctively British” programmes that would meet the obligation. Ofcom will be asked to draw up a workable definition of the concept.” I’m not positive, but this might be the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard?

Sun-Times, WBEZ parent company to explore historic partnership to create country’s largest local nonprofit news service. “The Chicago Sun-Times and the parent company of public radio station WBEZ will explore a potentially historic partnership under a non-binding letter of intent that could create one of the largest local nonprofit news organizations in the country.” This makes a ton of sense - and doesn’t it make a nice change for consolidation to build bigger and better non-profit news orgs rather than some kind of private equity acquisition?

What I learned from a year on Substack. “The result is a job that feels more durable, and sustainable, than any other employment I’ve had. In the past, to lose my job might require only a bad quarter in the ad market, the loss of an ally in upper management, or the takeover of my company by some indifferent telecom company. Today, I can really only lose my job if thousands of people decide independently to “fire” me. As a result, I’ve never felt more empowered to cover the issues I find most meaningful: the fraught, unpredictable collisions between big tech platforms and the world around them.”

Politics

Newly formed White House council to promote competition across US economy to hold first meeting. “In July, Biden signed a sweeping executive order to promote competition in the US economy, parts of which target a key business strategy used by Silicon Valley companies. The wide-ranging order aims to lower prescription drug prices, ban or limit non-compete agreements that the White House says impede economic mobility and cracks down on Big Tech and internet service providers, among several other provisions.”

Science

Coronavirus Ventilation: A New Way to Think About Air. “COVID-19 does not kill as high a proportion of its victims as cholera did in the 19th century. But it has claimed well over 600,000 lives in the U.S. Even a typical flu season kills 12,000 to 61,000 people every year. Are these emergencies? If so, what would it take for us, collectively, to treat them as such? The pandemic has made clear that Americans do not agree on how far they are willing to go to suppress the coronavirus. If we can’t get people to accept vaccines and wear masks in a pandemic, how do we get the money and the will to rehaul all our ventilation systems?” But it’s not just about Covid - better indoor air quality could help in lots of ways.

Barnyard breakthrough: Researchers successfully potty train cows. ″“The calves’ rate of learning is within the range seen with 2- to 4-year-old children, and faster than for many children,” Matthews says. The waste, Langbein adds, could be moved to a storage tank, used for fertilizer, or even sampled to monitor the health of individual cows.”

Blood Concrete Could Be Used to Build Dwellings on Mars. “You may not be able to get blood from stone. But now, getting stone from blood is a real possibility… At least on Mars. New research published in Materials Today Bio suggests an unlikely source for building materials on Mars: astronauts’ blood.”

Harvard study challenges gender’s role in COVID-19 death rates. “Researchers agree more men are dying of COVID-19. But a new paper challenges whether biology is to blame.” Men are more likely to be at risk due to their context and profession (and sometimes, attitude).

The Kidney Project successfully tests a prototype bioartificial kidney. “The Kidney Project’s artificial kidney will not only replicate the high quality of life seen in kidney transplant recipients—the “gold standard” of kidney disease treatment, according to Roy—but also spare them from needing to take immunosuppressants.” This is a game-changer. Artificial organs could improve the quality of life of every transplant patient, which is progress that I care about a great deal.

U.S. declares more than 20 species extinct after exhaustive searches. “The Fish and Wildlife Service announced Wednesday that 22 animals and one plant native to the United States are now extinct and should be removed from the endangered species list after exhausting efforts to find evidence that they are still alive.”

Society

Oh My Fucking God, Get the Fucking Vaccine Already, You Fucking Fucks. It’s not going to affect anyone’s opinion, but I identify with the frustration: “You think vaccines don’t fucking work? Oh, fuck off into the trash, you attention-seeking fuckworm-faced shitbutt. This isn’t even a point worth discussing, you fuck-o-rama fuck-stival of ignorance. Vaccines got rid of smallpox and polio and all the other disgusting diseases that used to kill off little fucks like you en masse. Your relatives got fucking vaccinated and let you live, and now here you are signing up to be killed by a fucking disease against which there is a ninety-nine-percent effective vaccine. You fucking moron. Go in the fucking ocean and fuck a piranha. Fuck. Fuck that. Fuck you. Get vaccinated.”

We’ve Forgotten the Meaning of Labor Day. “American society has confused the worth of life with the value of cash, and the pandemic has made us pay for our mistake. It is time that makes a society flourish and life worth living. Time offers us the opportunity to share and learn and laugh and grow; it gives us the space to process and heal and renew. Time is the necessary ingredient in developing any skill, sharpening any talent, building any success, crafting any joy—and for too many people in this country, it is bought too cheaply.”

Experience: a stranger secretly lived in my home. “For years, the experience haunted me. When I was at home alone, I felt as if I was being watched. I lived somewhere else with an attic hatch and asked the landlord to put a lock on the outside.”

The Jan. 6 Riot Proves the Sept. 11 Era Isn't Over. ″“I am not a terrorist,” insisted Adam Newbold, a former Navy SEAL who posted that he had breached the Capitol. The war on terror had accustomed him to think that he could not be one by definition. But the most durable terrorism in this country is white people’s terrorism. A war cannot defeat it. Persistent political struggle can.”

Fear and Loathing in America. “The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hopes for Peace in Our Time, in the United States or any other country. Make no mistake about it: We are At War now -- with somebody -- and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives.” Hunter S Thompson’s column about 9/11, written just 24 hours after the attacks. And it’s unfortunately completely spot on about what the next 20 years would be like.

Judith Butler calls out transphobia as “one of the dominant strains of fascism in our times”. ″“The anti-gender ideology is one of the dominant strains of fascism in our times,” Butler said, referring to everyone who believes that sex is “biological and real or that sex is divinely ordained,” including TERFs like J.K. Rowling, fascists like Tucker Carlson, and religious conservatives like Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL). Their definition of the “anti-gender ideology movement” also includes anti-gay activists like opponents of marriage equality and anti-feminists who want to force women to follow traditional gender roles.” Notably, this section of the interview was subsequently censored by The Guardian.

Here's why California has the lowest COVID rate in the nation. ““If the small inconvenience of wearing a mask could protect my neighbor, I wear one with a smile,” he said. “Similarly, if the science, my own self-interest and the protection of my neighbors all are promoted by getting a vaccine, I’m happy to join my neighbors in line.”” Thank you, California.

He found forgotten letters from the '70s in his attic. Turns out they were missives from the Unabomber. “When it hit me that my correspondent was the same Ted Kaczynski who’d killed three people he’d never met, I felt a shiver of recollection of the fear that prevailed in the Bay Area in the 1970s, during the heyday of serial killers such as the Zodiac, Zebra, Santa Rosa Hitchhiker and Golden State. I was also, to be honest, thankful I hadn’t been rude to him.”

First ever census data on LGBTQ+ people indicates deep disparities. “According to the data, which captures results from July 21 to September 13, LGBTQ+ people often reported being more likely than non-LGBTQ+ people to have lost employment, not have enough to eat, be at elevated risk of eviction or foreclosure, and face difficulty paying for basic household expenses, according to the census’ Household Pulse Survey, a report that measures how Americans are faring on key economic markers during the pandemic.”

Prison Destroyed Video Proof of Guards Torturing Anti-Fascist, Lawyers Say. “According to new motions to dismiss filed by the Civil Liberties Defense Center (CLDC), a legal nonprofit, BOP prison staff attacked King after leading him into a small, off-camera storage closet, then deleted video evidence, and may have misrepresented facts about the incident to the FBI. King’s attorneys also claim officers tied him to a four-point restraint device for approximately five hours, and then proceeded to interrogate him despite his asserting his constitutional right to counsel.”

Technology

Apple delays plan to scan iPhones for child exploitation images. ″“Last month we announced plans for features intended to help protect children from predators who use communication tools to recruit and exploit them, and limit the spread of Child Sexual Abuse Material,” the company said in a statement. “Based on feedback from customers, advocacy groups, researchers and others, we have decided to take additional time over the coming months to collect input and make improvements before releasing these critically important child safety features.””

How Docker broke in half. “With the benefit of hindsight, Hykes believes that Docker should have spent less time shipping products and more time listening to customers. “I would have held off rushing to scale a commercial product and invested more in collecting insight from our community and building a team dedicated to understanding their commercial needs,” Hykes said. “We had a window in 2014, which was an inflection point and we felt like we couldn’t wait, but I think we had the luxury of waiting more than we realized.””

Someone could be tracking you through your headphones. “On several occasions, student and IT enthusiast Bjørn Martin Hegnes has been carrying equipment for listening in on Bluetooth and WiFi messages for an academic project. His goal was to investigate how many of us can be tracked in secret without even noticing.” Older Bluetooth devices maintain static MAC addresses which allow you to be tracked over time.

Releasing our Digital Vaccine Record code on GitHub. This is wonderful! California has released its digital vaccine record code as open source, allowing every state - and beyond - to operate their own standards-compliant, privacy-preserving record. More of this approach, please.

Facebook sent flawed data to misinformation researchers. ““A lot of concern was initially voiced about whether we should trust that Facebook was giving Social Science One researchers good data,” Mr. Buntain said. “Now we know that we shouldn’t have trusted Facebook so much and should have demanded more effort to show validity in the data.””

Digital exposure tools: Design for privacy, efficacy, and equity. “Exposure-notification apps are predicated on the assumption that if someone is informed of exposure, they will follow instructions to isolate. Such an expectation fails to take into account that isolation—and sometimes even seeking care when ill—is much harder for some populations than others. If apps are to work for all, and not make this worse for disadvantaged populations, there needs to be basic social infrastructure that supports testing, contact tracing, and isolation.”

Facebook Says Its Rules Apply to All. Company Documents Reveal a Secret Elite That’s Exempt. “In private, the company has built a system that has exempted high-profile users from some or all of its rules, according to company documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.”

Facebook Knows Instagram Is Toxic for Teen Girls, Company Documents Show. ″“Social comparison is worse on Instagram,” states Facebook’s deep dive into teen girl body-image issues in 2020, noting that TikTok, a short-video app, is grounded in performance, while users on Snapchat, a rival photo and video-sharing app, are sheltered by jokey filters that “keep the focus on the face.” In contrast, Instagram focuses heavily on the body and lifestyle.”

The Very First Webcam Was Invented to Keep an Eye on a Coffee Pot at Cambridge University. I don’t feel old, generally, except when I read pieces like this. I remember accessing this webcam like it was yesterday ...

Home computing pioneer Sir Clive Sinclair dies aged 81. “His first home computer, the ZX80, named after the year it appeared, revolutionised the market, although it was a far cry from today’s models. At £79.95 in kit form and £99.95 assembled, it was about one-fifth of the price of other home computers at the time. It sold 50,000, units while its successor, the ZX81, which replaced it, cost £69.95 and sold 250,000.” The ZX81 was my formative first computer. Rest in peace, sir.

Troll farms reached 140 million Americans a month on Facebook before 2020 election. “The report reveals the alarming state of affairs in which Facebook leadership left the platform for years, despite repeated public promises to aggressively tackle foreign-based election interference. MIT Technology Review is making the full report available, with employee names redacted, because it is in the public interest.”

Apple and Google Remove ‘Navalny’ Voting App in Russia. “Google removed the app Friday morning after the Russian authorities issued a direct threat of criminal prosecution against the company’s staff in the country, naming specific individuals, according to a person familiar with the company’s decision. The move comes one day after a Russian lawmaker raised the prospect of retribution against employees of the two technology companies, saying they would be “punished.”” This wouldn’t be an issue if the app store wasn’t hopelessly centralized.

Peter Thiel and Silicon Valley’s Pursuit of Power. “The specifics of the discussion were secret — but, as I report in my book, Thiel later told a confidant that Zuckerberg came to an understanding with Kushner during the meal. Facebook, he promised, would avoid fact-checking po­litical speech — thus allowing the Trump campaign to claim whatever it wanted. In return the Trump administra­tion would lay off on any heavy-handed regulations. Facebook had long seen itself as a government unto itself; now, thanks to the understanding brokered by Thiel, the site would push what the Thiel confidant called “state-sanctioned conservatism.”” Yikes.

Kids who grew up with search engines could change STEM education forever. “Gradually, Garland came to the same realization that many of her fellow educators have reached in the past four years: the concept of file folders and directories, essential to previous generations’ understanding of computers, is gibberish to many modern students.”

One to charge them all: EU demands single plug for phones. “Under the proposed law, which must still be scrutinized and approved by the European Parliament, phones, tablets, digital cameras, handheld video game consoles, headsets and headphones sold in the European Union would all have to come with USB-C charging ports. Earbuds, smartwatches and fitness trackers aren’t included.” I’m in favor of this kind of regulation - consider standardized mains power sockets, for example. As long as it doesn’t lock in USB-C forever.

What’s Missing from the Infrastructure Bill’s $65 Billion Broadband Plan? “The infrastructure bill, if passed as is, will require new broadband projects to provide 100 Mbps of download speed and 20 Mbps of upload speed. But the infrastructure bill falls short of providing what some advocates say is necessary: “symmetrical” upload and download speeds.”