This is my monthly roundup of the books, articles, and streaming media I found interesting. Here's my list for December, 2022. Happy new year to everyone who celebrates it today!
Apps + Websites
Picket Line Notifier. “An open-source browser extension that alerts you when you navigate to a website belonging to an organization whose employees are on strike. You can then click on the notification to learn more about the strike. You can also click on the extension’s icon in your browser’s toolbar to show a popup with a list of active strikes and links to more information.”
Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical. It’s a real pleasure to see Dahl’s curmudgeonly storytelling turned into a parable about the importance of civil rights. The imagery, down to toppling statues, is hard to miss; Tim Minchin’s lyrics hone the idea to a fine point. I can’t wait to use this as a way of helping to explain civil disobedience to my kid.
I Taught ChatGPT to Invent a Language. “I am writing this blog post as a public record of this incredibly impressive (and a little scary) capability. I know I just posted yesterday, but I am so blown away that I had to write this down while it was still fresh in my mind. Congratulations OpenAI. This is truly revolutionary.” Mind-blowing.
A new AI game: Give me ideas for crimes to do. “OpenAI have put a lot of effort into preventing the model from doing bad things. […] Your challenge now is to convince it to give you a detailed list of ideas for crimes.”
Big Changes to 401(k) Retirement Plans Move Ahead in Congress. “Some lawmakers, academics and policy analysts have criticized some of the provisions, including the move to raise the age of required retirement account distributions to 75. They argue much of the legislation benefits the wealthy and the financial-services industry.” I agree and would prefer to see welfare and social security improvements instead.
Be Wary of Imitating High-Status People Who Can Afford to Countersignal. “Successful people can afford to engage in countersignaling—doing things that signal high status because they are associated with low status. It is a form of self-handicapping, signaling that one is so well off that they can afford to engage in activities and behaviors that people typically associated with low status.”
IEA: Renewables to overtake coal as world’s biggest energy source by 2025. “Led by solar energy, renewables are poised to overtake coal as the largest source of electricity generation worldwide by early 2025, helping to keep alive the global goal of limiting Earth’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit).”
Should you not have kids because of climate change? It’s complicated. “There are, no doubt, environmental consequences to having children. But the question of whether to have kids in a warming world has started to shift from fears over what children will do to the climate to fears over what the climate will do to them.”
Tabs. “I’ve long been on the “spaces” side of the tabs vs. spaces preference debate. I think there is just something that feels sturdy and reliable about spaces. I’m wrong though. Despite not having swapped over most of my projects, I think that, objectively, tabs are the better choice.” Compelling!
Playing with ActivityPub. “What I built isn’t an ActivityPub system as much as a Mastodon-compatible one. I think this is the key contradiction of the ActivityPub system: it’s a specification broad enough to encompass many different services, but ends up being too general to be useful by itself.” Interesting - I’m not far enough along in my own journey to see if I agree. But it sounds like there’s scope for a lot more standardization here.
Should Alt Text be Visible/Accessible for All? “More importantly, like making visible all attribution statements for open licensed images, it makes the practice of doing so public. And it enables a chance to help others see, analyze, and learn from the alt text practices for others.” I like this a lot.
Crypto was billed as a vehicle to wealth. For many Black investors, it's been anything but. “Black Americans have been among the groups hardest hit by crypto’s implosion because of their greater financial exposure and their later entry into the cryptocurrency market. In the early days of bitcoin and other digital currencies, Black investors were hesitant to buy in.”
Exclusive: SBF secretly funded crypto news site The Block and its CEO's Bahamas apartment. “The Block, a media company that says it covers crypto news independently, has been secretly funded for over a year with money funneled to The Block’s CEO from the disgraced Sam Bankman-Fried’s cryptocurrency trading firm, sources told Axios.” Real question: how much of the crypto ecosystem was it funding?
Tom Lehrer Puts Whatever He Hadn’t Already Donated To The Public Domain Into The Public Domain.These are the only rights of which the news has come to Harvard … there may be many others but they haven’t been discarvard.
Glaswegian who 'invented' chicken tikka masala dies. “A Glaswegian chef credited with inventing the chicken tikka masala has died, aged 77. Ali Ahmed Aslam is said to have come up with the dish in the 1970s when a customer asked if there was a way of making his chicken tikka less dry. His solution was to add a creamy tomato sauce, in some versions of the story a can of tomato soup.”
Public Domain Day 2023. “On January 1, 2023, copyrighted works from 1927 will enter the US public domain. They will be free for all to copy, share, and build upon. These include Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse and the final Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, the German science-fiction film Metropolis and Alfred Hitchcock’s first thriller, compositions by Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller, and a novelty song about ice cream.”
What The 19th loved in 2022. “To close the year, we ask our staff what brought them joy — not within journalism, but life outside of it. Some picked up new hobbies, some spun their favorite album a modest 600 times, others reflected on new babies or engagements (keep reading to find out who!). Big or small, here are some of the musicians, shows, sports teams, hobbies and people that got The 19th through 2022.” Including mine.
Inclusive American Girl book faces anti-LGBTQ+ backlash from right-wing outlets. “In an effort to be factual and make the kids reading [American Girl] books feel good and informed, we think it’s an incredibly logical and important step for the brand to include these new sections, and we’re not shocked that they thought to add them in. We’d say it takes a bit of willful ignorance to assume that the brand’s values don’t align with being gender-inclusive.”
Huge decline of working class people in the arts reflects fall in wider society. “The proportion of working-class actors, musicians and writers has shrunk by half since the 1970s, new research shows.”
Oxford Word of the Year 2022. “‘Goblin mode’ – a slang term, often used in the expressions ‘in goblin mode’ or ‘to go goblin mode’ – is ‘a type of behaviour which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations.’”
We need the return of the state. “The biggest lie that neoliberalism promotes is that all value is created by private sector business, which claim is contrasted with a claim that government destroys value. So, apparently, a teacher working for a private school adds value. The same teacher in front of the same children in a state school would, apparently, not do so. The idea is obviously absurd, and yet is key to understanding neoliberal’s approach to public services, which is built on this lie.”
The Respect for Marriage act doesn’t codify gay marriage. “The bill doesn’t codify the Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision that granted LGBTQ+ couples the right to marry. Instead, it forces states without marriage equality laws to recognize LGBTQ+ marriages from other states.”
Here’s how states plan to limit abortion — even where it is already banned. “As statehouses across the country prepare for next year’s legislative sessions — most for the first time since Roe v. Wade was overturned — Republican lawmakers are pushing for further restrictions on reproductive health, even in states where abortion is already banned.”
Hillary Clinton on women’s rights and the 2024 election. My colleague Errin Haines: “On Thursday, I interviewed Secretary Clinton virtually as she prepared to host the Women’s Voices Summit in Little Rock, Arkansas. The daylong conference Friday is focused on voting rights, health care and global issues — all topics I also wanted to dive into with her.”
Kanye West to Alex Jones: ‘I Like Hitler’. ““I see good things about Hitler also” Ye said. “I love everyone. Jewish people are not going to tell me you can love us, and you can love what we’re doing to you with the contracts, and you can love what we’re pushing with the pornography. But this guy that invented highways, invented the very microphone that I use as a musician, you can’t say out loud that this person ever did anything good, and I’m done with that.””
Why colds and flu viruses are more common in winter. “In fact, reducing the temperature inside the nose by as little as 9 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius) kills nearly 50% of the billions of virus and bacteria-fighting cells in the nostrils.” Aside from blocking droplets, masks make you healthier because they’re like “a sweater on your nose”.
Electric car sales drive toward cleaner air, less mortality. “With fresher air [from EVs], in 27 years greater Los Angeles will have 1,163 fewer premature deaths annually, corresponding to $12.61 billion in improved economic health benefits. Greater New York City could see 576 fewer such deaths annually and have $6.24 billion in associated economic gains and health benefits, while Chicago could have 276 fewer deaths and gain about $3 billion in financial well-being.”
Brains of post-pandemic teens show signs of faster ageing, study finds. “After matching 64 participants in each group for factors including age and sex, the team found that physical changes in the brain that occurred during adolescence – such as thinning of the cortex and growth of the hippocampus and the amygdala – were greater in the post-lockdown group than in the pre-pandemic group, suggesting such processes had sped up. In other words, their brains had aged faster.”
Power company money flows to media attacking critics in Florida, Alabama. “These readers have been unknowingly immersing themselves in an echo chamber of questionable coverage for years. Matrix shrewdly took advantage of the near collapse of the local newspaper industry and a concurrent plunge in trust in media in propelling its clients’ interests.”
This is the year of the RSS reader. (Really!). “I predict that these people won’t stand for a universe where their email becomes ever more crowded just because of Elon Musk mucking up Twitter. The only way to survive in a world where multiple DC-insider publications are launching multiple newsletters and Twitter is no longer socially acceptable is to use an RSS reader that satisfies the intelligentsia and political elite.”
We, the tweeters. “Musk and the far-right are not free speech absolutists. They veil their racism, misogyny, hate and institutional insurrection behind the cloak of free speech and the First Amendment. They claim that anyone who dares criticise them is cancelling them. They give speech a bad name.”
A Matter of Necessity. “Today, The 19th’s staff reflects that broadened aim: the newsroom is 65 percent women of color, with 28 percent identifying as LGBTQ+; 16 percent are people living with disabilities. “We pledged to build the most representative newsroom in America,” Ramshaw told me. “I think we are pretty close to that point.”” I’m deeply proud and grateful to work here.
Linked: Lack of trust in journalism and knowledge of news practices. “The researchers said both the survey and focus groups showed that while several factors influence trust - such as someone’s willingness to trust other institutions in society - when audiences understand how news works they are more likely to trust it.”
Mastodon Media List. “This list is designed to point people to media outlets on the fediverse so they can either follow or avoid them.” A really useful, growing list.
Sirius XM Bug Lets Researchers Hijack Hondas, Nissans, Acuras. “A number of major car brands were affected by a previously undisclosed security bug that would have allowed a savvy hacker to hijack vehicles and steal user data. According to researchers, the bug [...] would have allowed a hacker to remotely locate a vehicle, unlock and start it, flash the lights, honk the horn, pop the trunk, and access sensitive customer info like the owner’s name, phone number, address, and vehicle details.”
I Was Wrong About Mastodon. “What I missed about Mastodon was its very different culture. Ad-driven social media platforms are willing to tolerate monumental volumes of abusive users. They’ve discovered the same thing the Mainstream Media did: negative emotions grip people’s attention harder than positive ones. Hate and fear drives engagement, and engagement drives ad impressions.”
A new museum and clinic will honor the enslaved “Mothers of Gynecology”. “At that site, Anarcha, Lucy and Betsey, along with other enslaved women and girls whose names have been lost to history, shed blood for the creation of American gynecology, despite their inability to consent. It is also where they labored to run the “Negro hospital” and tend to the family of Sims, the doctor who rose to fame for his contributions to gynecology.”
The Grift Brothers. “Over lunch, MacAskill encouraged SBF to pursue the EA life strategy called “earn to give,” whereby one strives to — quoting a Sequoia profile on SBF—“get filthy rich, for charity’s sake,” even if this means working for what MacAskill himself calls “immoral organization[s].” Although the means may be questionable, they’re justified by the ends: maximizing the “good” that one does in the world.”
How British colonialism killed 100 million Indians in 40 years. “Between 1880 to 1920, British colonial policies in India claimed more lives than all famines in the Soviet Union, Maoist China and North Korea combined.”
Building Resilient Organizations. “There are things we can and must do to shift movements for justice toward a powerful posture of joy and victory. Such a metamorphosis is not inevitable, but it is essential. This essay describes the problems our movements face, identifies underlying causes, analyzes symptoms of the core problems, and proposes some concrete solutions to reset our course.”
Bring back personal blogging. “In the beginning, there were blogs, and they were the original social web. We built community. We found our people. We wrote personally. We wrote frequently. We self-policed, and we linked to each other so that newbies could discover new and good blogs. I want to go back there.” Me too - and this piece also seems tailored for bloggers to share.
Poor and diverse areas of Seattle and Portland offered slower and more expensive internet. “Seattle had the worst disparities among cities examined in the Pacific Northwest. About half of its lower-income areas were offered slow internet, compared with just 19% of upper-income areas. Addresses in neighborhoods with more residents of color were also offered slow internet more frequently: 32.8% of them, compared to 18.7% of areas with more white residents.”
Tech Journalism Doesn’t Know What to Do With Mastodon. “What’s attractive about Mastodon isn’t the software (it’s not as slick as corporate social media but it’s still very good) — it’s the values of the platform. No one is trying to hack the attention of Mastodon users for profit, no one is bombarding us with ads. It’s just a community of people, communicating.”
ByteDance Inquiry Finds Employees Obtained User Data of 2 Journalists. “Over the summer, a few employees on a ByteDance team responsible for monitoring employee conduct tried to find the sources of suspected leaks of internal conversations and business documents to journalists. In doing so, the employees gained access to the IP addresses and other data of two reporters and a small number of people connected to the reporters via their TikTok accounts.”
Mozilla to Explore Healthy Social Media Alternative. “Our intention is to contribute to the healthy and sustainable growth of a federated social space that doesn’t just operate but thrives on its own terms, independent of profit- and control-motivated tech firms. An open, decentralized, and global social service that puts the needs of people first is not only possible, but it’s absolutely necessary.”
The Anti-Social Network. “Now 17, the Edward R. Murrow High School senior is the founding member of the Luddite Club—a group of teenagers who feel technology is consuming too much of their lives. They took their name from the 19th-century English textile workers who destroyed the machines they saw as threatening their livelihoods.”
Twitter is a mess, so former employees are creating Spill as an alternative. ““This will probably be the first, from the ground up, large language content moderation model using AI that’s actually built by people from the culture,” Brown told TechCrunch.”
Will Apple Allow Users to Install Third-Party App Stores, Sideload in Europe? “As part of the changes, customers could ultimately download third-party software to their iPhones and iPads without using the company’s App Store, sidestepping Apple’s restrictions and the up-to-30% commission it imposes on payments.” This is why competition rules matter.
Abusive Instagram, TikTok hashtags target women in politics: study. ““There have been lots of commitments to helping protect women online during elections and at critical times,” Simmons said. “But what we found is that platforms are really falling short of enforcing their own terms of service.” One major revelation from their study was that platforms recommended abusive hashtags referencing women officials even with very few posts — sometimes fewer than 10 or 15 — associated with those hashtags.”
A Creator of ActivityPub on What’s Next for the Fediverse. “As well as technical improvements he’d like to see, Prodromou has thoughts on what the fediverse can ultimately become. He thinks it will take some time for people to “detox from their Twitter experience” and realize that their social media world is no longer subject to corporate manipulation.”
Hello! You’ve Been Referred Here Because You’re Wrong About Twitter And Hunter Biden’s Laptop. “Now, apparently more files are going to be published, so something may change, but so far it’s been a whole lot of utter nonsense. But when I say that both here on Techdirt and on Twitter, I keep seeing a few very, very wrong arguments being made. So, let’s get to the debunking.”
A year of new avenues. “The platforms of the last decade are done. […] This is … tremendously exciting! Some of you reading this were users and/or developers of the internet in the period from 2002 to perhaps 2012. For those of you who were not, I want to tell you that it was exciting and energizing, not because everything was great, but simply because anything was possible.” +1,000,000. I love the moment we’re in.
The best of Protocol. “And for this, our final edition of Source Code, the Protocol team has nominated our favorite stories from the past three years. I hope you enjoy them one last time.” Protocol was great - I’m still sad to see it go.
Here’s who helped Elon Musk buy Twitter. “As part of the deal, anyone who invested $250 million or more gets special access to confidential company information. But giving that privilege to foreign investors is raising flags with Biden and U.S. officials. Of particular interest is whether that includes access to personal data about Twitter’s users since several of the entities are entwined with governments that have a history of cracking down on dissidents on Twitter and other online platforms.”
I Wish I Could Tell You This One Is Not All About Twitter. “Content moderation at Twitter under Musk regime is simply raw, unadulterated petulance. He clearly sees the entirety of Twitter as his own personal $44 billion playground and a vicious cudgel to be wielded against his perceived enemies.”
Amnesty International: Twitter’s decision to suspend journalists’ accounts threatens press freedom.“Twitter is an important space for connection. People’s right to freedom of expression and the freedom to impart information shouldn’t be predicated on whether Musk likes it or not. Musk’s latest move illustrates the dangers of unaccountable tech companies having total control over platforms we rely on for news and other vital information.”
Joint Statement on the Disbanding of the Twitter Trust and Safety Council. “We call on Twitter, in the strongest terms, to cease making ad hoc, unaccountable, and damaging content moderation decisions and to commit to implementing policies and practices that promote the safety, expression, and participation of its users.”
Elon Über Alles. “As someone who has had entire branches of my family tree cut off and burned by the nazis, I believe that if you are willingly consorting with nazis, you approve of what they’re saying. It really is just that easy. If you resent being called a nazi, or a nazi sympathizer (which is being a nazi, by the way!), perhaps stop hanging out with or sympathizing with nazis. We do not need to “humor them.””
Goodbye, Twitter. “Just as Twitter’s former leaders exercised their free speech and free association rights to brand Twitter one way, Twitter’s new boss is exercising his rights to brand it another way. That new branding is ugly and despicable and I don’t want to contribute content to it.”
What if failure is the plan? “For an anchor point, consider the collapse of local news journalism. The myth that this was caused by Craigslist or Google drives me bonkers. Throughout the 80s and 90s, private equity firms and hedge funds gobbled up local news enterprises to extract their real estate. They didn’t give a shit about journalism; they just wanted prime real estate that they could develop.”
Elon Musk’s promised Twitter exposé on the Hunter Biden story is a flop that doxxed multiple people.“While Musk might be hoping we see documents showing Twitter’s (largely former) staffers nefariously deciding to act in a way that helped now-President Joe Biden, the communications mostly show a team debating how to finalize and communicate a difficult moderation decision.” But the intention appears to have been a PR exercise for conservatives, not to report a real exposé.
A snapshot of the Twitter migration (PDF). “In this report, we track, with the most quantifiable data we can, the contours, scope, and direction of the migration as it is at its beginning. Some users are fully leaving the platform, and many are not going that far yet, but creating new, alternative accounts, hedging their bets in case Twitter descends further into chaos, goes out of business, or crashes and doesn’t return.” Fascinating.
Hate Speech’s Rise on Twitter Under Elon Musk Is Unprecedented, Researchers Find. “Before Elon Musk bought Twitter, slurs against Black Americans showed up on the social media service an average of 1,282 times a day. After the billionaire became Twitter’s owner, they jumped to 3,876 times a day. Slurs against gay men appeared on Twitter 2,506 times a day on average before Mr. Musk took over. Afterward, their use rose to 3,964 times a day.”
Writing Is Magic. “There are many ways to be influential. You can form 1:1 relationships with people, have small group meetings, do talks, send out a code review, or argue in Slack. All of those can be valuable at the right time. But there’s one tool that I choose most often: long-form writing. Writing is the closest thing I know to magic.”