Skip to main content
 

The trough of sorrow

Every startup goes through the trough of sorrow. I've found it to be a useful way to describe the period that comes after initial enthusiasm and before things start to work out. It turns out it's quite a useful metaphor for non-startup life, too.

There are lots of drawings of it out there on the internet. Here's my interpretation:

Every new big endeavor comes with an initial rush of enthusiasm. You're elated by the possibilities. This is going to be amazing!

Then reality sets in, and the deep slide. "Oh fuck," you'll ask yourself. "What do I do now?"

And that's when you start to experiment. You have to. The thing you thought would work probably won't. Your initial ideas are probably wrong. The story you told yourself during that initial rush of enthusiasm was just that: a story.

You could stay in this trough of sorrow. Many startups, and many people embarking on creative projects, do just that. They cling too needily to their initial idea, or are ineffective in their experimentation. They run out of steam. Sometimes, when more than one person is involved, they start to fight with each other. (65% of early-stage startups fail because of preventable human dynamics. I would bet that more fail because they run out of hope.)

You've got to be willing to experiment more rapidly than you're probably comfortable with, using real people (not aggregate statistics or sales figures) as the arbiter of what will work. You've got to be willing to make decisions based on horribly imperfect, qualitative data. You've got to be willing to take a leap of faith. And you've got to be more invested in the journey than in the end product.

Then maybe - just maybe - you'll make it.

I've been through the trough of sorrow for virtually every startup I've ever worked at: the two I founded, the two where I was first employee, and the one with a hundred million dollars in the bank. Some made it; some didn't.

I've also been through the trough of sorrow for every creative project I've ever made. For some of them, I was able to persevere and make it work; others, I abandoned.

It's about experimentation, it's about luck, it's about treating yourself and your team well, and it's about being able to let go of your precious ideas. If you treat the endeavor as a fait accompli, or go about it as you might in a large organization where you've already found your feet, you will certainly fail. On the other hand, if you embrace a spirit of creative curiosity, there's everything to play for.

 

On resiliency at work

I use Range every day with my team - so I was delighted to chat with them about resilience at work.

Culture is the most important thing in any team. By a mile. Your collective norms, beliefs, and practices will define how everyone acts and reacts, how safe they feel to be themselves at work, and as a direct result, how high quality the work itself is.

You'll hear about my own journey, and most importantly, how creating a high-performing team means supporting the whole human.

You can read the whole interview here.

 

Crypto-unions and lobster rolls

Happy Labor Day. While the rest of the world celebrates its labor movements on May Day, America chose its date to disassociate with a massacre of labor protesters by police in 1886. A further protest in Chicago's Haymarket Square devolved two days later: a bomb was exploded by an unknown person and killed a police officer, and the cops again indiscriminately opened fire. Ultimately, socialists were blamed, as they always are, and the country succumbed to martial law.

The one country to have not chosen May Day to commemorate what became known as the Haymarket Affair is the one it happened in. The reason we drink beer and eat summer picnic food on Labor Day instead of considering its meaning is not an accident: it was a deliberate choice to bury the past and redirect our energy towards a holiday that celebrates "the dignity of work".

What insane, radical, unworkable idea were the protesters taking to the streets to advocate? It turns out it was the eight hour workday - something we think of as more or less normal today. In the cold light of 2020, it's hard to imagine guns being drawn over a 40-hour workweek.

Of course, that's how it works: what seemed radical then is normal now. What seems radical now will be completely normal in the future. While Labor Day itself is less a celebration of the labor movement and more a commemoration of an attempt to diffuse it, history shows that it tends to resist that diffusion. The march towards equality is not inevitable, but it has been unstoppable.

Unions are an important part of that struggle: a counter-balancing force to corporate power that allows workers to organize together and meaningfully negotiate for better working conditions. While not every union is good, the idea of unions is very good. 65% of Americans continue to support unions, but only 10% are actually a member of one. Meanwhile, the stagnation of worker wages is directly connected to the decline of unions.

I have no doubt that unions have been intentionally scuppered since at least 1974, when the Taft-Hartley Act banned sympathy boycotts and made "right to work" laws possible. But they've also been in need of the kind of change and innovation we've seen in other organizations over the last few decades. What does it mean to have a union for a remote workforce? Or for gig workers? And how does the idea of a union change when everyone is connected by the internet and can communicate instantly with one another?

Kati Sipp's excellent site Hack the Union has been expertly covering these kinds of changes for years. I think it's also time for technologists - particularly open source and decentralization advocates - to think about how their skills could be brought to bear in order to create new kinds of transparent unions.

Movements like Occupy Wall Street and modern anti-fascists use a headless, non-hierarchical leadership structure rooted in transparency and consensus, making them harder to infiltrate or eradicate. What if unions learned from them and used tools inspired by Open Collective to organize dues in the open?

Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) were created to take this leaderless approach and apply it to new kinds of businesses. Here, a blockchain is used to keep track of "who" is a member (using pseudonymous tokens instead of real-world identities), who can vote, and items put to a vote. Resources can be allocated based on what the organization decides. Instead of leaders, rules are maintained by code.

While DAOs were built to support a kind of libertarian ideal for business, what if they could be harnessed to support modern unions? The privacy and anonymity of individual members could be maintained while allowing any member to vote. Available resources could be inspected by anybody. There would be little potential for embezzlement and corruption, because of the unbreakable rules governing resource allocation, and membership could be spread organically.

I'm not a blockchain zealot, and there's no hard need for a potential solution for unions to be decentralized in this way. (Crypto-unions are just one suggestion.) What I think is needed is a conversation about how best to organize in the 21st century, so that the labor movement can continue its good work, so that worker rights can improve, and wages can break free of their stagnation. What's needed is a stronger opposite force to corporate power that allows ordinary working people to once again have a voice. The result will be to break more people out of poverty and create a more equal society for all.

In the meantime, enjoy your lobster rolls.

 

Photo from the Kheel Center archive.

 

In support of Miranda

On her podcast, Miranda Pacchiana has opened up about the aftermath of her lawsuit against her brother Adam Savage for sexual abuse.

Miranda is my cousin, and I believe her. I think her statement is an act of bravery; the impact on her has been significant, which she discusses in the episode. I know some of you know Adam, have been employed by him, or have friends and family who do. It's a difficult thing to think about, let alone discuss. All I ask is that you listen to her story.

 

The generational trauma of 2020

I've noticed more blog posts on my feeds talking about mental health, and more tweets talking about anxiety in the face of this year's challenges. I'm certainly feeling it too. This week I've been building a contingency plan for what happens if I have to take a leave of absence from work because of my mother's health, which has been an emotionally difficult task on top of an already emotionally challenging context.

2020 as a whole is a collective trauma. The thing about serious trauma is that it ripples. Its effects are felt in the lives of the people who lived through it; not just as they live through it, but forever. And then it's felt in their children. And finally, in their children.

My father is one of the youngest survivors of the Japanese concentration camps in Indonesia. He and his older siblings were kept alive by my grandmother. As a 12 year old, my aunt snuck out of the camp and swam through the sewers to find food for them to eat. My grandmother would gather snails and secretly cook them. Around them all - my grandmother, my aunts, my toddler father - was death and brutality. People in the camp were routinely tortured and murdered.

My grandmother wailed in her sleep every night until the day she died. The trauma certainly affected her children; my father has suffered from its effects in ways that he only became consciously aware of later in life. In turn, his anxieties affected his children - partially through the effect of his actions, but there is also significant evidence that trauma can be passed down epigenetically. My dad is both younger than most of his siblings and had children later in life, but I've seen the effects of this trauma spread to the fourth and fifth generations in my aunts' branches of the family.

The implications for families that have been split up through draconian immigration policies, or suffered at the hands of trigger-happy police, or been caught by a racist criminal justice system are obvious. The trauma of poverty, too, creates epigenetic changes that span generations. But during this terrible year, more of us than ever before have seen our relatives die or had our homes destroyed at the hands of natural disasters. We've lived under a kind of fear we thought was a thing of the past.

So, no wonder we're all feeling kind of terrible. The thing is, it won't just be for the moment. The impact of 2020 - and, yes, I'm afraid to say, 2021 too - is likely to be with many of us for the rest of our lives. If we're not careful, it'll be with our children, too, and their children.

The good news is that these traumatic effects can be reversed. Exercise, intense learning, and anti-depressants can help. But that implies that we'll all need systemic help: mental wellness support and a far stronger social safety net. Without this support, the hidden effects of the pandemic (and everything else that's happened this year) may be with us for a very long time to come.

 

Reading, watching, playing, using: August 2020

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

Books

Educated, by Tara Westover. I realized about halfway through that the abuse that seems to ahave punctuated Westover's life were not going to stop. This is a brave story, although her unwillingness to condemn the church or the core of her family's beliefs leave us to join some of the dots ourselves.

Streaming

Nice White Parents. A limited run podcast by the studio behind Serial, about the relationship between wealthy white parents and the public schools they claim to support. Eye-opening.

Mrs America. The story of the Equal Rights Amendment, rendered as a gripping, human story. There's no doubt that the feminist pro-ERA characters are in the right, but it's worth reading Gloria Steinem and Eleanor Smeal's critical editorial about the series. It's certainly true that the financial forces backing the Stop ERA movement are underplayed.

Lovecraft Country. Just spectacular. I'm only two episodes in, but I was hooked from the first minute.

Arlo Parks. I've become absolutely addicted to her music. Perfect for long walks and late nights by myself.

Notable Articles

Black Lives Matter

Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation. John Lewis wrote an editorial to be published upon his death. If you click through to just one article in this post, please make it this one.

Pollution Is Killing Black Americans. This Community Fought Back. "Black communities like Grays Ferry shoulder a disproportionate burden of the nation’s pollution — from foul water in Flint, Mich., to dangerous chemicals that have poisoned a corridor of Louisiana known as Cancer Alley — which scientists and policymakers have known for decades."

Louisiana Supreme Court upholds Black man's life sentence for stealing hedge clippers more than 20 years ago. "A Black Louisiana man will spend the rest of his life in prison for stealing hedge clippers, after the Louisiana Supreme Court denied his request to have his sentence overturned last week." Only one judge - the only Black person on the court - dissented, pointing out that the sentence was grossly disproportionate to the crime.

Black troops were welcome in Britain, but Jim Crow wasn’t: the race riot of one night in June 1943. "The town did not share the US Army’s segregationist attitudes. According to the author Anthony Burgess, who spent time in Bamber Bridge during the war, when US military authorities demanded that the town’s pubs impose a colour bar, the landlords responded with signs that read: “Black Troops Only”."

Revisiting an American Town Where Black People Weren’t Welcome After Dark. I'm ashamed to say that sundown towns were new to me as a concept.

‘Were your grandparents slaves?’ On the very white-dominated world of venture funding.

The Pandemic

Children May Carry Coronavirus at High Levels, Study Finds. "Infected children have at least as much of the coronavirus in their noses and throats as infected adults, according to the research. Indeed, children younger than age 5 may host up to 100 times as much of the virus in the upper respiratory tract as adults, the authors found."

A Covid Patient Goes Home After a Rare Double Lung Transplant. "The surgery is considered a desperate measure reserved for people with fatal, irreversible lung damage. Doctors do not want to remove a person’s lungs if there is any chance they will heal." I'm writing this from my parents' house, where I'm supporting my mother in the aftermath of her double lung transplant. You don't want one. Please, please, please wear a mask.

How the Pandemic Defeated America. "Since the pandemic began, I have spoken with more than 100 experts in a variety of fields. I’ve learned that almost everything that went wrong with America’s response to the pandemic was predictable and preventable. A sluggish response by a government denuded of expertise allowed the coronavirus to gain a foothold." They need to go.

In A Twist On Loyalty Programs, Emirates Is Promising Travelers A Free Funeral If Infected With Covid. Innovative.

We thought it was just a respiratory virus. UCSF's report shows damage to the heart, gut, skin and more. The virus may weaponize our own immune systems against us.

Secret Gyms And The Economics Of Prohibition. "What Evelyn uncovered can only be described as a speakeasy gym. You know, illegal, hush hush, like the underground bars during the Prohibition era. These underground gyms appear to be popping up everywhere, from LA to New Jersey."

Trump's America

The cost of becoming a U.S. citizen just went up drastically. And asylum is no longer free. "The Trump administration announced on Friday an exorbitant increase in fees for some of the most common immigration procedures, including an 81% increase in the cost of U.S. citizenship for naturalization. It will also now charge asylum-seekers, which is an unprecedented move."

How the Media Could Get the Election Story Wrong. We shouldn't expect an election night this year. It'll take weeks, and there's a real possibility the election will stretch until January. But the media is set up for a big announcement.

A bipartisan group secretly gathered to game out a contested Trump-Biden election. It wasn’t pretty. Unless Biden has a landslide victory - which, to be honest, he probably won't - there may be violence on the streets and a political stalemate. In a year that's been plenty nasty already, we shouldn't expect this to go anything close to well.

With their visas in limbo, journalists at Voice of America worry that they’ll be thrown out of America. "VOA has long employed journalists who are citizens of other countries because they offer specific knowledge and expertise, including fluency in English and one or more of the 47 languages in which VOA broadcasts. In addition to their language skills, they are steeped in the history, culture and recent politics of the countries they report on, and they often have hard-to-replace sources and contacts among dissident communities." And now their visas are in jeopardy and they worry about having to leave - some to oppressive regimes.

The Truth Is Paywalled But The Lies Are Free. Some of the best journalism in the country is paywalled, offered up to a limited, wealthy audience, but disinformation is available to all. The effects of this disparity of information may be profound. (I like patronage models like The Guardian's.)

Trump Might Try to Postpone the Election. That’s Unconstitutional. I just have no way to gauge if this is something that is actually going to happen or if we're all just engaging in hyperbole. Reality just seems so spongey at this point. Maybe both?

The myth of unemployment benefits depressing work. "If anything, research to date suggests the federal benefit supplement has boosted macroeconomic activity and, therefore, likely supported hiring. That’s because these benefits have supported consumer spending, which in turn helps retailers, landlords and other businesses keep workers on their own payrolls." Benefits are not some drag on productivity. They boost the economy and help people in real need.

As election looms, a network of mysterious ‘pink slime’ local news outlets nearly triples in size. "The run-up to the 2020 November elections in the US has produced new networks of shadowy, politically backed “local news websites” designed to promote partisan talking points and collect user data. In December 2019, the Tow Center for Digital Journalism reported on an intricately linked network of 450 sites purporting to be local or business news publications. New research from the Tow Center shows the size of that network has increased almost threefold over the course of 2020, to over 1,200 sites."

What ARGs Can Teach Us About QAnon. "QAnon is not an ARG. It’s a dangerous conspiracy theory, and there are lots of ways of understanding conspiracy theories without ARGs. But QAnon pushes the same buttons that ARGs do, whether by intention or by coincidence. In both cases, “do your research” leads curious onlookers to a cornucopia of brain-tingling information. In other words, maybe QAnon is… fun?" Also see Dan Hon's excellent deep-dive exploration of this idea.

Ronald Reagan Wasn’t the Good Guy President Anti-Trump Republicans Want You to Believe In. Ronald Reagan was a terrible President. I love that this is just the latest in a series of really high quality explorations in Teen Vogue.

The Unraveling of America. Wade Davis in Rolling Stone on the situation we find ourselves in. Not just the proximal one, but the existential situation that's been building for decades.

'Christianity Will Have Power'. "Evangelicals did not support Mr. Trump in spite of who he is. They supported him because of who he is, and because of who they are. He is their protector, the bully who is on their side, the one who offered safety amid their fears that their country as they know it, and their place in it, is changing, and changing quickly. White straight married couples with children who go to church regularly are no longer the American mainstream. An entire way of life, one in which their values were dominant, could be headed for extinction. And Mr. Trump offered to restore them to power, as though they have not been in power all along."

Noam Chomsky wants you to vote for Joe Biden and then haunt his dreams. Sold.

U.S. Government Contractor Embedded Software in Apps to Track Phones. "A small U.S. company with ties to the U.S. defense and intelligence communities has embedded its software in numerous mobile apps, allowing it to track the movements of hundreds of millions of mobile phones world-wide, according to interviews and documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal."

Postal Service warns 46 states their voters could be disenfranchised by delayed mail-in ballots. "Anticipating an avalanche of absentee ballots, the U.S. Postal Service recently sent detailed letters to 46 states and D.C. warning that it cannot guarantee all ballots cast by mail for the November election will arrive in time to be counted — adding another layer of uncertainty ahead of the high-stakes presidential contest."

Society and Culture

How a Cheese Goes Extinct. "There are countless ways for a cheese to disappear. Some, like Holbrook’s, die with their makers. Others fall out of favor because they’re simply not good: one extinct Suffolk cheese, “stony-hard” because it was made only with skimmed milk, was so notoriously bad that, in 1825, the Hampshire Chronicle reported that one ship’s cargo of grindstones was eaten by rats while the neighboring haul of Suffolk cheese escaped untouched."

The Global God Divide. I'm on Team Godless. But 44% of Americans say you need to believe in God to be moral.

Indian Matchmaking Exposes the Easy Acceptance of Caste. "The pervasiveness of caste in Indian communities, even beyond the ambit of arranged marriages, has dangerous consequences for those of us born into “lower” castes."

Lilly Wachowski finally confirms that, yes, The Matrix is an allegory for the trans experience. I think this is super-cool.

Lorenzo Wilson Milam, Guru of Community Radio, Is Dead at 86. What an inspiring human being.

Bat Boy Lives! An Oral History of Weekly World News. I used to delight in seeing Weekly World News headlines when I traveled to the US. This history was fascinating to me.

‘Bel-Air’: Drama Series Take On ‘The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air’ From Morgan Cooper & Westbrook Studios Heats Up Streaming Marketplace. I cannot overstate how amazing this is.

To the future occupants of my office at the MIT Media Lab. "He was very happy to hear from the current resident of our office, and explained that it should be no problem to get the window up and running. I’d need to set up a dedicated Linux box and download some Python to control the climate logic, but it shouldn’t be that hard to debug. He was willing to help."

Dead plots. Charles Stross on plots no longer available to authors in 2020.

Living in Switzerland ruined me for America and its lousy work culture. I'm a Swiss citizen. Sometimes I think I just might make the jump ... But a lot of what's listed here are things I recognize from Scotland, too.

“This Plane Is Not Going to Land in Cairo”: Saudi Prince Sultan Boarded a Flight in Paris. Then, He Disappeared. Surreal, and evil.

Technology

Women Are Leading Latin America’s Fintech Revolution. "Including women entrepreneurs equally could boost the global economy by $5 trillion, and companies with women founders generate 2.5x more revenue for every dollar invested than male-led companies. They also have higher stock prices and a 35 percent higher return on investment."

TikTok and the Law: A Primer (In Case You Need to Explain Things to Your Teenager). Ageism aside, this is a pretty good primer on the legal issues behind the forced TikTok sale.

TikTok and Microsoft’s Clock. "If Microsoft is able to buy the service and users of just the countries listed, how are they going to separate them from the rest of TikTok? Understatement: this sounds extremely complicated. How long will it take to do that? Weeks? Months? Will it operate as-is until that’s completed?"

Ad Industry Launches New Organization, Will Push Google And Apple On Tracking. Pfffft. Good luck with that. Doc Searls, who I hugely respect, wrote a great post on the subject, too.

Can Killing Cookies Save Journalism? "Instead, the company found that ads served to users who opted out of cookies were bringing in as much or more money as ads served to users who opted in. The results were so strong that as of January 2020, NPO simply got rid of advertising cookies altogether. And rather than decline, its digital revenue is dramatically up, even after the economic shock of the coronavirus pandemic."

The Need for Speed, 23 Years Later. "The internet is faster, but websites aren't". Instead of embracing speed, we've layered our pages with more and more cruft.

The UX of LEGO Interface Panels. An exploration of UX ideas using LEGO as a cipher. Sure, why not. (It's delightful.)

Scientists rename human genes to stop Microsoft Excel from misreading them as dates. Oops.

Facebook Fired An Employee Who Collected Evidence Of Right-Wing Pages Getting Preferential Treatment. "Individuals that spoke out about the apparent special treatment of right-wing pages have also faced consequences. In one case, a senior Facebook engineer collected multiple instances of conservative figures receiving unique help from Facebook employees, including those on the policy team, to remove fact-checks on their content. His July post was removed because it violated the company’s “respectful communication policy.”" Inexcusable stuff.

Facebook algorithm found to 'actively promote' Holocaust denial. "Last Wednesday Facebook announced it was banning conspiracy theories about Jewish people “controlling the world”. However, it has been unwilling to categorise Holocaust denial as a form of hate speech, a stance that [the Institute for Strategic Dialogue] describe as a “conceptual blind spot”." Understating it somewhat, I would say.

To Head Off Regulators, Google Makes Certain Words Taboo. A surely losing battle to ensure that internal communications revealed during discovery don't suggest monopoly control.

Design Docs at Google. Here heard second hand, but worth studying.

Judge Agrees to End Paramount Consent Decrees. Netflix and its cousins are now free to run movie theater chains.

Google's secret home security superpower: Your smart speaker with its always-on mics. Either super-cool or super-creepy, or maybe creepy-super-cool. Google Home has the ability to listen to your smoke alarm, or for broken glass, and then tell you about it.

tech brain. "what is tech brain? there are lots of things to point to, but if i had to come up with a thesis it would be that tech brain is a sort of constant willful reductionism: an addiction to easy answers combined with a wholesale cultural resistance to any kind of complexity."

Twitter launches new API as it tries to make amends with third-party developers. Once bitten ... but I really appreciate this new, non-advertising-centric direction.

RFC 8890: The Internet is for End Users. "As the Internet increasingly mediates essential functions in societies, it has unavoidably become profoundly political; it has helped people overthrow governments, revolutionize social orders, swing elections, control populations, collect data about individuals, and reveal secrets. It has created wealth for some individuals and companies while destroying that of others. All of this raises the question: For whom do we go through the pain of gathering rough consensus and writing running code?"

A Kenosha Militia Facebook Event Asking Attendees To Bring Weapons Was Reported 455 Times. Moderators Said It Didn’t Violate Any Rules. "In a companywide meeting on Thursday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that a militia page advocating for followers to bring weapons to an upcoming protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, remained on the platform because of “an operational mistake.”" People are dead.

 

It’s time to rethink the App Store

The App Store is a problem.

As bought into the Apple ecosystem as I am - to be clear, its devices and operating systems are by far the best I've ever used - the way it polices its software ecosystem has become a barrier to innovation.

I don't really care about Fortnight, and I'm on the fence about whether allowing effectively another App Store inside an App Store is a good idea. But removing a developer's ability to publish anything on a platform, regardless of whether it breaks the rules or not, seems like a big problem to me. And the rules around payments are worse.

If your app uses in-app payments of any kind, Apple takes a 30% cut. These payments can only be for virtual goods: you'll notice that if you take a Lyft ride or order a pizza, you'll be redirected to either enter your credit card or use Apple Pay for payment. (Apple takes a 0.15% cut of Apple Pay payments, regardless of the card you use.) The trick is that you can't use this latter method of payment if you could have used in-app payments: if you ask for a credit card for a digital good, but still allow the user to pay in-app, Apple still wants its 30%.

This is unequivocally digital rent-seeking. There's literally no reason for Apple to do this, except to bolster the estimated $50B it made last year from the App store. It's one major reason why it's the most valuable company in the world, with a $2.13 trillion market cap as of Friday.

It's a gatekeeper rather than a driver of innovation. As Francisco Tolmasky pointed out, Apple's App Store rules wouldn't have allowed for the invention of the web browser. There are likely many other inventions that would have been amazing on mobile and tablet devices that will never see the light of day because they fall afoul of some rule or other.

Similarly, it's been disheartening to see these rules start to bleed over into macOS. That OS contains a technology - literally called Gatekeeper - that prevents apps from running unless they're associated with an authorized developer ID. By default, the latest version will only open apps that have been notarized by Apple, which involves some extra software-driven checks in XCode. The only way to run an app that doesn't at least have a developer ID is to open up system preferences and reassure Gatekeeper that it's all going to be okay, on an individual basis - but macOS deliberately doesn't make it clear that you can do this.

Getting a developer ID costs a flat $99 a year. This heavily excludes developers from less wealthy regions of the world, as well as open source projects. And I strongly suspect that the rules will tighten up again - either formally or through interface changes - in the next version of macOS.

These are our devices; we bought them. We should be able to run the software we want on them. Anything else is heavily disempowering at best, and a barrier to trade and innovation at worst. And developers like Epic are experiencing firsthand where the chips fall.

 

I'm hiring

I'm looking for an entrepreneurial front-end engineer to help with our work at ForUsAll. Our mission is to help all Americans build a brighter financial future, a click at a time.

We heavily use React, Redux, and supporting packages like Storybook, Jest, and Styled Components. We're beginning to use more Node and Puppeteer, too.

Most importantly, you're a great communicator with a product mindset. We're a small team that uses human-centered processes to make product decisions - something you would be heavily involved in.

This is one of the most diverse engineering teams I've ever worked with, and people from all contexts and backgrounds are encouraged to get in touch. Your school or degree (including whether you have one) will not be evaluated, but you do have to be resident in the US and be legally permitted to work here.

If you have questions or want to get in touch, email me at my ForUsAll address: ben.werdmuller@forusall.com.

 

My daily writing process

I've been writing at least a post a day during my short social media hiatus. Although I'm a little bit worried about flooding the folks who subscribe via email - it's occurred to me to limit the mailing list to a couple of days a week and send as a digest - I find it meditative. I tend to write first thing in the morning, right after reading through my feeds in Reeder. I compose on my iPad in markdown using iA Writer and then copy to my site using its "copy as HTML" function. iA Writer uses micropub, so theoretically I could publish directly, but I like the opportunity to read over the piece in context before I push the button.

As I mentioned on Monday, I've been writing more fiction, which has mostly meant fleshing out a book in Scrivener. I've also been submitting some short stories for publication - my rejection-proof skin has been thickening steadily - and taking part in a few competitions. My round one piece for the NYC Midnight flash fiction challenge placed first in its group. To be honest, I needed the encouragement - and tonight I'll move on to round two with my head held high.

I have an iPad Pro with a magic keyboard case, which is strictly for creative work. My work accounts are nowhere to be seen, and notifications are switched off across the board. You can't develop software on an iPad - at least, not really - and I don't use it for coding projects. It's just for writing and drawing. While the OS is locked down to the extent that Apple may be legally forced to open it up sometime soon, I find it makes for a pretty good distraction-free environment. It's one of the best gadget purchases I've ever made. (Who would have thought I'd be so bought into the Apple ecosystem a decade ago? Not me.)

But even more importantly, cultivating the space to write and reflect has been an important habit for me. Like regular exercise and eating well, it sets me up for the rest of the day. In a world where we're expected to be always on and instantly reactive, some nearly-offline slow thinking time has proven to be a very good thing indeed. Getting that in first, over a cup of coffee while the morning is still quiet, has been lovely.

 

The tech industry is culpable for Trump

Kevin Roose has written an alarming wakeup call in the New York Times:

Pro-Trump political influencers have spent years building a well-oiled media machine that swarms around every major news story, creating a torrent of viral commentary that reliably drowns out both the mainstream media and the liberal opposition.

While election polls typically place Democrats ahead, they were flat out wrong in 2016, in large part because of the Trump campaign's ability to dominate social media. Facebook is the joint monarch of the social media landscape with YouTube; while engagement on the former is dominated by conservative content, Trump's ads about Biden's cognitive decline have enjoyed pride of place on the latter.

Trump is a danger to the country, to democracy, and to the stability of the world. (This statement would have seemed like out-there hyperbole four years ago, but, well, please feel free to take a look back at what has happened since.) Despite this, and despite commentary from pollsters and business executives, it's not at all a given that he will lose the election.

If he does win another four years, the tech industry will not be blameless. Our focus on engagement over community, and our promotion of targeted advertising over contextual ads and other business models, has paved the way for this new kind of authoritarianism. Microtargeting of political messages on social media is theoretically simply a new frontier in political messaging; in reality it has allowed disinformation to be disseminated at scale. The irony is that this kind of behavioral advertising isn't even that lucrative for most businesses; the harms vastly outweigh the benefits.

This is not a rhetorical discussion. We have concentration camps on our borders, an uptick in hate crimes, and a prevalence of xenophobic, nationalist, and anti-science policies. The climate crisis is being ignored even as our country burns. And we are all responsible.