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Reading, watching, playing, using: September 2020

This is my monthly roundup of the tech and media I consumed and found interesting. Here's my list for September.


The City We Became, by NK Jemisen. An effervescent tale about gentrification and the soul of cities, writ large as a fantasy adventure. I listened to this as an audiobook, which transcended its form into something more like a performance.


Teenage Bounty Hunters. By rights, nothing with a name like this should be good - but it turns out this series is a beautiful surprise. Sharply funny, particularly after the first episode or two. (Netflix.)

Raised by Wolves. I still don't know if I like it, but this science fiction epic about belief and community is like nothing I've seen before. (HBO Max.)

Notable Articles

Black Lives Matter

White supremacists and militias have infiltrated police across US, report says. "In a timely new analysis, Michael German, a former FBI special agent who has written extensively on the ways that US law enforcement have failed to respond to far-right domestic terror threats, concludes that US law enforcement officials have been tied to racist militant activities in more than a dozen states since 2000, and hundreds of police officers have been caught posting racist and bigoted social media content."

The Inevitable Whitelash Against Racial Justice Has Started. "In the immediate aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, white people seemingly joined Black people in their calls for justice and change. But that support was always soft. It was entirely predictable that most white people would abandon the movement long before justice was done or change achieved."

Muslim Students Are Leading A New Generation In the Fight to Free Imam Jamil Al-Amin. "Al-Amin’s legacy as a Black revolutionary targeted by state surveillance — who converted to Islam in 1971 after being incarcerated for five years in New York’s Attica Prison — and his position today as a Black Muslim political prisoner is forgotten in many circles. [...] Arshad adds that she never knew Al-Amin was targeted by COINTELPro until preparing for a surveillance workshop for Muslim Student Associations across Texas."

Society and Culture

At 31, I have just weeks to live. Here's what I want to pass on. "A life, if lived well, is long enough."

How Big Oil Misled The Public Into Believing Plastic Would Be Recycled. "We found that the industry sold the public on an idea it knew wouldn't work — that the majority of plastic could be, and would be, recycled — all while making billions of dollars selling the world new plastic." Unbearably frustrating.

Comedy Wildlife Awards 2020 finalists. Lovely!

The Off-Kilter History of British Cuisine. "It was the decade of fondue parties, cheese and pineapple chunks on cocktail sticks (considered an exotic indulgence at the time), Black Forest gateau, chicken Kiev, chili con carne, Neapolitan ice cream, and the prawn cocktail. [...] Inexpert and clumsy though it may have been, Britain’s exploration of new foods was indicative of deeper currents, as Britain, its empire definitively dead and buried, re-examined its place in the world."

Judith Butler on the culture wars, JK Rowling and living in “anti-intellectual times”. "I am not aware that terf is used as a slur. I wonder what name self-declared feminists who wish to exclude trans women from women's spaces would be called? If they do favour exclusion, why not call them exclusionary? If they understand themselves as belonging to that strain of radical feminism that opposes gender reassignment, why not call them radical feminists?"

The Rise of the 3-Parent Family. My friend David Jay, who founded the Asexual Visibility and Education Network, on his journey as a third parent. He inspires me in so many ways.

America in 2020

Deadly Terror Networks And Drug Cartels Use Huge Banks To Finance Their Crimes. These Secret Documents Show How The Banks Profit. This is the global financial system working as designed. Revealing it is an important work of journalism that has unfortunately mostly been lost under the weight of the election. The BBC has a good overview.

We Don’t Know How to Warn You Any Harder. America is Dying. "Take it from us survivors and scholars of authoritarianism. This is exactly how it happens. The situation could not — could not — be any worse. The odds are now very much against American democracy surviving."

Biden campaign launches official Animal Crossing: New Horizons yard signs. I ... am not positive this is what's going to make the difference.

Trump: Americans Who Died in War Are ‘Losers’ and ‘Suckers’. The Trump camp has denied it, of course.

saw the perfect wildfire today. A beautifully-written account of seeing the Oregon wildfires. At the time I read this, I didn't understand that I would shortly have my own experience.

A Doctor Went to His Own Employer for a COVID-19 Antibody Test. It Cost $10,984. Outrageous but unfortunately not surprising.

QAnon is a Nazi Cult, Rebranded. Only lightly rebranded, mind. QAnon's relationship to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an old, racist conspiracy theory, is incredibly alarming, but also just one of the many incredibly alarming things about it.

‘We’re No. 28! And Dropping!’. "out of 163 countries assessed worldwide, the United States, Brazil and Hungary are the only ones in which people are worse off than when the index began in 2011. And the declines in Brazil and Hungary were smaller than America’s."

Nothing to see here, folks. "News outlets continue to ignore climate change in articles about California's record-breaking weather." I decided to give a newspaper interview about my fire experience today for exactly this reason. I'm curious to see if my statements about climate change - which were deliberate and repeated - will make it in.

Effective Political Giving. "With less than two months left before the election, this is an explainer for the politically panicked. You're anxious, you feel the need to do something, and you have a little money to spare. Who should you give it to?"

‘Like an Experimental Concentration Camp’: Whistleblower Complaint Alleges Mass Hysterectomies at ICE Detention Center. "Several legal advocacy groups on Monday filed a whistleblower complaint on behalf of a nurse at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center documenting “jarring medical neglect” within the facility, including a refusal to test detainees for the novel coronavirus and an exorbitant rate of hysterectomies being performed on immigrant women." Will they deport these witnesses too?

New Climate Maps Show a Transformed United States. Speaks for itself. Really well-done; really terrifying.

Understanding PurpleAir vs. Measurements of Wood Smoke Pollution. File under: new skills we all need to have now.

‘We were shocked’: RAND study uncovers massive income shift to the top 1%. "RAND found that full-time, prime-age workers in the 25th percentile of the U.S. income distribution would be making $61,000 instead of $33,000 had everyone’s earnings from 1975 to 2018 expanded roughly in line with gross domestic product, as they did during the 1950s and ’60s." Shouldn't have been too shocked.

Nearly two-thirds of US adults unaware 6m Jews killed in the Holocaust. WTF.

Federal Agencies Tapped Protesters’ Phones in Portland. What's old is new again.

Trump 2016 campaign 'targeted 3.5m black Americans to deter them from voting'. Using our good friend Facebook, which eagerly helped the campaign.

I Lived Through Collapse. America Is Already There. "I lived through the end of a civil war — I moved back to Sri Lanka in my twenties, just as the ceasefire fell apart. Do you know what it was like for me? Quite normal. I went to work, I went out, I dated. This is what Americans don’t understand. They’re waiting to get personally punched in the face while ash falls from the sky. That’s not how it happens." Although where I'm typing this, ash is literally falling from the sky.

The FBI Is Secretly Using A $2 Billion Company For Global Travel Surveillance — The US Could Do The Same To Track Covid-19. Not completely my takeaway from this.

New York Police Planned Assault on Bronx Protesters. "New York City police planned the assault and mass arrests of peaceful protesters in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the South Bronx on June 4, 2020, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The crackdown, led by the department’s highest-ranking uniformed officer, was among the most aggressive police responses to protests across the United States following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and could cost New York City taxpayers several million dollars in misconduct complaints and lawsuits."

Technology and Business

The Entire Universe Might Be a Neural Network. Maybe one that was fed some really, really stupid data.

NSA surveillance exposed by Snowden was illegal, court rules seven years on. About time.

Harassers are nice to me, and probably to you. "Simply put, if you’re in a position of power at work, you’re unlikely to see workplace harassment in front of you. That’s because harassment and bullying are attempts to exert power over people with less of it. People who behave improperly don’t tend to do so with people they perceive as having power already."

Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity. "Results from two experiments indicate that even when people are successful at maintaining sustained attention—as when avoiding the temptation to check their phones—the mere presence of these devices reduces available cognitive capacity. Moreover, these cognitive costs are highest for those highest in smartphone dependence."

Remote Work Doesn’t Have to Mean All-Day Video Calls. Tell me more ...

Amazon Drivers Are Hanging Smartphones in Trees to Get More Work. "Someone places several devices in a tree located close to the station where deliveries originate. Drivers in on the plot then sync their own phones with the ones in the tree and wait nearby for an order pickup. The reason for the odd placement [is] to get a split-second jump on competing drivers."

Facebook Moves to Limit Election Chaos in November. "The social network said it would block new political ads in late October, among other measures, to reduce misinformation and interference." Utterly meaningless.

“I Have Blood On My Hands”: A Whistleblower Says Facebook Ignored Global Political Manipulation. “In the three years I’ve spent at Facebook, I’ve found multiple blatant attempts by foreign national governments to abuse our platform on vast scales to mislead their own citizenry, and caused international news on multiple occasions.” For example, in Ethopia.

Former Facebook manager: “We took a page from Big Tobacco’s playbook”. "Allowing for misinformation, conspiracy theories, and fake news to flourish were like Big Tobacco's bronchodilators, which allowed the cigarette smoke to cover more surface area of the lungs. But that incendiary content alone wasn't enough. To continue to grow the user base and in particular, the amount of time and attention users would surrender to Facebook, they needed more."

Gig Economy Company Launches Uber, But for Evicting People. One of the most shamelessly violent business ideas I've ever seen.

Poynter now offers six months paid parental leave. Here’s how it happened. I really think everyone should offer a year of equalized maternal and paternal leave, but what do I know.

Build terrible things: an edict for mid-level engineers. "Start optimizing for decision-making ability. Take on projects where you get to choose what your stack will be, what tools you’ll use, how you’re going to solve problems that come up, how much tech debt you’re going to accrue, what you’re going to build and when. You’ll do it all wrong at first, but your instincts will get better at a rate that will surprise you. You’ll fix mistakes where you can, and live with them where you can’t."

Options, Not Roadmaps. "Without a roadmap, without a stated plan, we can completely change course without paying a penalty. We don’t set any expectations internally or externally that these things are actually going to happen." A more little-a agile approach.

AVIF has landed. A pretty amazing new audio/video standard.

The Cloud. This is very how it used to be.