This is my monthly roundup of the books, articles, and streaming media I found interesting. Here's my list for November, 2021. It’s a little shorter than normal because I spent a portion of the month offline.
Research: People prefer friendliness, trustworthiness in teammates over skill competency. “People who are friendly and trustworthy are more likely to be selected for teams than those who are known for just their skill competency and personal reputation, according to new research from Binghamton University, State University of New York.” File under “no shit, Sherlock”: if you’ve got to work with someone every day, you want them to be kind and trustworthy, regardless of how good they actually are at their job. Ideally, you want both; if you can only have one, the person who’s a better human will and should win out every time.
Remote work will break the US monopoly on global talent. “Tech companies based in San Francisco and Seattle have “innovation hubs” whose primary role is to create a place that talent that hasn’t been able to get a visa to the US. We’ve also started to see this in places like Lagos and Buenos Aires. Nigerian developers can work alongside startups in Berlin and London, while Argentinian developers work as consultants for companies based in the US. We’re going to be seeing a lot more of this now that remote work is more widely accepted by companies worldwide.” This is a really positive change.
Putting Post Growth Theory Into Practice. “The Post Growth Entrepreneurship Incubator helps founders break free from traditional business models and implement sustainable non-extractive practices. […] We promote cross-subsidizing charity with our businesses, and we’re trying to offer an alternative for startup founders who want to bring their activist, artistic, spiritual business ideas to life without selling out in the commercial startup ecosystem. Too much of the startup ecosystem uses the Silicon Valley model of ‘capital, scale, exit.’ Instead we’re promoting: bootstrapping, flat growth, and non-extraction.”
Theranos patient says blood test came back with false positive for HIV. “Erin Tompkins, who got her blood drawn from a Theranos device at a Walgreens in Arizona, said the test misdiagnosed her as having an HIV antibody, sending her into a panic.”
The Token Disconnect. “Silicon Valley ran dry on large breakthroughs in software, so we decided to invent the “blockchain”, a simulacrum of innovation that organically fermented from the anti-institutional themes in the Western zeitgeist to spawn an absurdly large asset bubble with absolutely nothing at the center. There is no there there, and crypto morphed into a pure speculative mania which attracted a fanatic quasi-religious movement fueled by gambling addiction and the pseudo-intellectual narrative economics of the scheme. All conversation around crypto is now simply the sound and fury of post-hoc myth making to rationalize away the collective incoherence of the bubble in a near perfect exemplar of the motivated reasoning of economic determinism.” Sharing because it’s an interesting take; I don’t necessarily agree with everything here.
Appalling Monica Lewinsky Jokes—And the Comedians Who’ve Apologized. “But in the two-plus decades since those jokes were made, some comedians have taken responsibility for their cruel comedy. Ahead, a rundown of some of the hosts and comedy programs that targeted Lewinsky and Tripp—and the parties who have since publicly taken responsibility for their hurtful barbs over the years.”
Belgian gallery uses art after being turned down by artist. “The friendly stranger who clocked the familiar image asked the gallery about it, and a representative allegedly claimed they’d been in touch with Bateman and worked something out. Bateman searched her email and found a permission request from the gallery, dated in March—which she had politely declined and promptly forgotten about. Somehow, what the gallery had taken away from the exchange was that it could just use her work anyway.” I used to share an office with Hallie and have followed her journey. (My current Twitter avatar - a picture of me - was drawn by her.) This gallery’s actions were a very unfair devaluation of the value of her work and her rights as an artist.
Conservative MP Nick Fletcher Blames Crime On Female Doctor Who. Doesn’t he look tired?
The global streaming boom is creating a severe translator shortage. “Training a new generation of translators to meet this supply issue in certain translation hot spots will take time, and most importantly, better compensation, said Lee, whose company Iyuno-SDI operates in over 100 languages and routinely clocks in over 600,000 episodes of translations every year. Lee said that roughly one in 50 applicants are able to pass Iyuno-SDI’s translator qualification exam. “I don’t think we’re happy with even 10% or 15% of who we work with,” he said. “We just have no other options because there’s just not enough professional translators.””
Danny Fenster, U.S. Journalist in Myanmar, Gets 11 Years in Jail. “The sentence seemed to be the latest signal that Myanmar’s military, which seized power in February, would not bow to pressure, including sanctions, from the United States and other countries. The State Department has repeatedly called for Mr. Fenster’s release.” Imprisoned by a despotic regime and failed comprehensively by the US.
How Facebook and Google fund global misinformation. “An MIT Technology Review investigation, based on expert interviews, data analyses, and documents that were not included in the Facebook Papers, has found that Facebook and Google are paying millions of ad dollars to bankroll clickbait actors, fueling the deterioration of information ecosystems around the world.”
Secret recordings of NRA officials after Columbine school shooting show strategy. “In addition to mapping out their national strategy, NRA leaders can also be heard describing the organization’s more activist members in surprisingly harsh terms, deriding them as “hillbillies” and “fruitcakes” who might go off script after Columbine and embarrass them.”
It’s not ‘polarization.’ We suffer from Republican radicalization. “The polarization argument too often treats both sides as equally worthy of blame, characterizing the problem as a sort of free-floating affliction (e.g., “lack of trust”). This blurs the distinction between a Democratic Party that is marginally more progressive in policy positions than it was a decade ago, and a Republican Party that routinely lies, courts violence and seeks to define America as a White Christian nation.”
Spotsylvania School Board orders libraries to remove 'sexually explicit' books. Here’s why this is of note: ”“I think we should throw those books in a fire,” Abuismail said, and Twigg said he wants to “see the books before we burn them so we can identify within our community that we are eradicating this bad stuff.”” Holy shit.
Octopuses, crabs and lobsters to be recognised as sentient beings under UK law following LSE report findings. “Octopuses, crabs and lobsters will receive greater welfare protection in UK law following an LSE report which demonstrates that there is strong scientific evidence that these animals have the capacity to experience pain, distress or harm.”
What would health experts do? 28 share their holiday plans amid Covid-19. “To try to gauge where things stand, we asked a number of infectious diseases experts about the risks they are willing to take now, figuring that their answers might give us a sense of whether we’re making our way out of the woods.”
Gresham High students speak out against school resource officers. “Group member Stasia recalled being accused of carrying drugs by a staff member. “I was told that I would end up like Breonna Taylor if I had a substance on me that I shouldn’t have had,” Stasia said, referencing a Black woman killed by police in Louisville, Kentucky.” Police officers and guns don’t belong in schools. Period.
38% of US adults believe government is faking COVID-19 death toll. “The finding is likely unsettling to the surviving loved ones of the nearly 756,000 Americans who have already died of COVID-19. It also squares with previous survey results from KFF showing that personally knowing someone who became severely ill or died of COVID-19 was one of the strongest motivators for convincing unvaccinated people to get vaccinated.”
Experience: I taught two dogs to fly a plane. “I have trained a 190kg boar to pretend to attack an actor, a cat to plunge shoulder-deep into water as if catching a fish and a cockatoo to winch up a bucket, take out a coin and drop it into a piggy bank. But when a TV company asked if I could teach a dog to fly a plane, I faced the toughest challenge of my career.”
Work is no longer the meaning of life for some Americans. “Before the coronavirus pandemic, nearly one quarter of all Americans said that they find meaning and purpose in their lives because of their work and their jobs. Now, that number has declined by more 9% in a new Pew research study, affirming anecdotal stories about the American population’s increasing disinterest in participating in the labor market.” To be honest: good.
ICU is full of the unvaccinated – my patience with them is wearing thin. “Translating this to the choice not to take the vaccine, however, I find my patience wearing thin. I think this is for a number of reasons. Even if you are not worried about your own risk from Covid, you cannot know the risk of the people into whose faces you may cough; there is a dangerous and selfish element to this that I find hard to stomach.”
The abolitionist history of pumpkin pie and Thanksgiving. “The Northern farmer, just by existing, was a natural-born abolitionist, she argued. Pumpkin pie and Thanksgiving were celebrations of a better, more godly way of agriculture without the institution of slavery.”
Since the Thanksgiving Tale Is a Myth, Celebrate It This Way. “It was the Wampanoag in 1621 who helped the first wave of Puritans arriving on our shores, showing them how to plant crops, forage for wild foods and basically survive. The first official mention of a “Thanksgiving” celebration occurs in 1637, after the colonists brutally massacre an entire Pequot village, then subsequently celebrate their barbaric victory.”
Why overly kind and moral people can rub you up the wrong way. “All this means that altruistic behaviour can make us walk a metaphorical tightrope. We need to balance our generosity perfectly, so that we are seen as cooperative and good, without arousing the suspicion that we are acting solely for the status.”
Hanukkah’s darker origins feel more relevant in time of rising antisemitism, intense interest in identity. ““The old message of 15 or 20 years ago was: It’s all about unity. Now it’s all about identity and difference. The Jewish story is in conflict between sameness and difference. On the one hand, our grandparents fought so hard for us to fit in, to pass, quote-unquote. We want that, but we’re conflicted. Now someone views me as ‘White,’ and it’s like: ‘No, I’m Jewish.’”” Lots to think about here, including with respect to my own identity.
The English turned Barbados into a slave society. Now, after 396 years, we’re free. “Prof Hilary Beckles, a Barbadian historian, the current vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies and a leading figure in the push by Caribbean islands to secure reparations, sums it up best. “Barbados was the birthplace of British slave society and the most ruthlessly colonised by Britain’s ruling elites,” he writes. “They made their fortunes from sugar produced by an enslaved, ‘disposable’ workforce, and this great wealth secured Britain’s place as an imperial superpower and caused untold suffering.””
Tracy Chou's life as a tech activist: abuse, and optimism. “As an Asian-American woman who has spent much of her career calling out the gender inequities and racism embedded in Silicon Valley, Chou is all too familiar with this sort of abuse and harassment. Since 2013, when she famously urged tech companies to share data on women in technical roles, the 34-year-old software engineer has been a key figure in the industry’s prolonged reckoning with its culture of exclusion. But whatever progress she’s made has come at great personal cost—especially as her Twitter following has ballooned to more than 100,000 accounts. “In doing this diversity and inclusion activism work,” she says, “I built more of a profile that then exposed me to more harassment.””
Why you should prioritise quality over speed in design systems. “Speed for the sake of speed means nothing. If our design systems don’t ultimately lead to better quality experiences, we’re doing it wrong.” Not just design systems.
U.S. Treasury Is Buying Private App Data to Target People. “Two contracts obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request and shared with The Intercept by Tech Inquiry, a research and advocacy group, show that over the past four months, the Treasury acquired two powerful new data feeds from Babel Street: one for its sanctions enforcement branch, and one for the Internal Revenue Service. Both feeds enable government use of sensitive data collected by private corporations not subject to due process restrictions. Critics were particularly alarmed that the Treasury acquired access to location and other data harvested from smartphone apps; users are often unaware of how widely apps share such information.”
'Dog phone' could help lonely pooches call owners. ““Whatever form that takes, we’ve taken another step towards developing some kind of ‘dog internet’, which gives pets more autonomy and control over their interaction with technology,” she added.”