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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.”

 

Fairness Friday: La Casa de las Madres

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 La Casa de las Madres. Based in San Francisco, La Casa de las Madres provides a shelter and support for women and children who are victims of domestic violence.

It describes its mission as follows:

La Casa de las Madres acts boldly to create a community where violence against women and children is not tolerated. We envision a society in which all individuals and families have equal access to basic resources and asset-building opportunities.  We envision a future where safety and respect in intimate relationships are the norm.

To achieve this future, La Casa offers a continuum of comprehensive and empowering services to women, teens, and children exposed to and at risk of abuse.  We provide access, tools and support—clinical and peer-based—that strengthen their ability to affect change and break the cycle of violence.

Its services include phone support and an emergency shelter, as well as support centers across nine locations.

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

 

Planes, trains, and automobiles

I’m writing from around 33,000 feet above Wyoming on a flight from San Francisco to Boston.

I feel guilty flying: it’s not something I’m particularly pleased to do, and not only because I don’t enjoy the experience. We’re destroying our planet, and by taking the easy way out and boarding an Airbus A321 across the country, I’m part of that. JetBlue announced on takeoff that this flight was carbon neutral, but I don’t think I believe in carbon credits, and the principle goes far beyond offsetting a single flight.

Earlier this year, I drove a hybrid van across the country. A few years ago, I took the train. Each was a pretty long journey: the train is almost three full days, and to be safe driving cross country you’ve really got to take at least a week. In comparison, this flight will take five hours.

What does adequate mass transit look like?

If there had been high speed rail with a quality internet connection, I would have taken it without any question. But driving means taking weeks off work; the train means taking a few days. It wasn’t time I could easily spend. Adding connectivity to the train would have made it the perfect way to do it.

Amtrak’s infrastructure dates back to 1971 and hasn’t really been updated since then. (Imagine my surprise when I booked an en-suite sleeper cabin and discovered that the toilet bowl was next to the head of my bed.) If we could invest in it just to bring it up to the level of every other nation in the global north - frankly, a task we need to perform with all our infrastructure - it would be a viable way to get around. As it is, it’s an also-ran that isn’t even cheaper than boarding a plane.

The popularity of planes shows that Americans are willing to take mass transit if it’s the best option. What are domestic flights if not buses in the sky? So there’s every possibility of creating a modern train system that people will use, and which works well.

Make it run fast and on time. Make sure there’s food, great internet, the opportunity to sleep, and a variety of options. Add seat-back entertainment - hey, maybe you could order your food from there - and comfortable seats. Do away with the 1971 aesthetic but keep the amazing staff that have kept the railways working for decades, sometimes handing down roles from parent to child. Make the north-east Acela route - essentially the same experience as getting on virtually any standard class train in Europe - the base level. For business travelers, make it like a moving hotel. And then encourage everyone to use it for the experience.

This isn’t frivolous: transit is important. Preventing people from moving around the country (or between countries) is not an option. So let’s upgrade our options and do it in style - and help save the planet in the process. The money is there; all that’s required is will.

 

Mining on the crop-fields

A short flash fiction piece about blockchain:

There was someone like this every few months, it seemed. They couldn’t just get on with it. They had to break the pattern somehow; fight the algorithm, as if we weren’t all working for ourselves now. They didn’t seem to get it. This was a new kind of freedom: no bosses, no corporate structure. Just mining for coin through good, hard work.

You can read the whole thing over on Medium.

 

Thoughts and actions for the week of September 27, 2021

Thoughts

  1. The web is no longer the platform. If anything, it’s become a sort of connective middleware: a place to be shared through. The actual work is happening in apps, devices, and other levels of the stack, and I think, to some extent at least, that’s where a lot of the innovation will take place.
  2. Last week I talked a lot about blockchain, but I think personal hardware is also fascinating. Why couldn’t a social network be built with Arduinos and Raspberry Pis or their equivalents? Why couldn’t the protocols and mechanisms be built with Bluetooth and peer to peer mesh networks instead of HTTP?
  3. Over time, the frameworks that have overwhelmingly been used for web development become less and less applicable. Rails and its downstream descendants (Laravel and so on) were super-interesting for building websites a decade ago, but is that what the internet is today? Yes and no.
  4. Which isn’t to say that the underlying principles don’t matter. The web’s openness, interconnectedness, and ease of execution are key values for any new platform. Maybe it’s better and more accurate to say that the web itself could extend to other types of devices and other protocols. It doesn’t need to be limited to HTML and HTTP, or links that you click in a browser. Nor does it mean that those links aren’t valuable. Of course they are! It’s just, there’s more.
  5. What might it mean to build something completely new to connect people?

Actions

  1. I need to find a really great, foundational Ruby on Rails course I can use as a refresher for existing coders. Ideally with a site license. I’m curious if anyone can recommend anything like that.
  2. I also need to re-set up my development environments on my own laptops, unfortunately (post-theft). I’ve been dragging my feet but it’s becoming crucial at work, and for my personal stuff, including Known.
  3. I’m flying to Boston on a red eye on Tuesday night. I’m heading back to Cape Cod and need to make sure I’ve got everything I need for the next few weeks.
  4. As it turns out, what I thought was an ear infection is just stress. I need to find new ways to chill out! And possibly get a mouthguard to prevent any tooth-grinding at night.
  5. One of the things that might be causing stress is my heavy social media use. I think I might take October off - or even the rest of the year. I have a few days to think about that one. I would continue to blog and use feeds. It’s safe to say that every time I’ve done a social media fast I’ve felt better as a result.
 

The status is not quo

“I’m sorry to bother you,” the person on the end of the landline call - obviously a scammer - said to me in a clipped Indian accent. “I’m calling from Medicare health insurance. I’m hoping to speak with Deborah?”

“I’m afraid she’s passed away,” I told him.

“For real?” he said. I heard a click on the line as he hung up.

I’m not the same person I was. They tell me I never will be again.

The other night, I lay awake in bed at three in the morning as my mind raced through an involuntary clips show of audio and emotions from the last year. When I closed my eyes - every time, not just once or twice - I heard the beep of an ECG monitor, so loudly and clearly that I had to open them again to make sure it wasn’t real.

Maybe this is normal after this kind of trauma. I don’t know what normal is in this situation. It sometimes feels like I’m barely holding on.

I can’t dream about her. A few nights before, I lay awake thinking about this. I had a dream where an old friend told me everything that was wrong about myself. I had a dream where I was the Doctor’s companion and we were evading some new iteration of the Cybermen. I had a dream where I was moving to London. But not once in the three and a half months since my mother’s death has she shown up. I miss her; why can’t I see her?

It dawned on me that I felt like she was angry with me. She didn’t want to die in a hospital; she had told me that a hundred times. When she was still semi-coherent in that final week, she said clearly, “this is not okay”. (She had also, months earlier, told me that if it wasn’t possible to move her from the hospital, that would also be okay.) But the amount of oxygen she needed meant we were unable to move her. Palliative care was the nightmare she had perhaps anticipated; it’s still not something I want to write directly about. Her death was hard and not what she had wanted. And she wasn’t showing up to say hello because I’d done her wrong.

When I realized that this is what I’d been thinking, a place I’d subconsciously been in for months, I spent the rest of the night unable to hold myself together. She’s not gone because she’s mad at me. She’s gone because she’s gone.

I haven’t really been okay.

“It’s not your fault your parents moved to California. I would have said, ‘sorry, Mum’,” a friend told me years earlier, in a pub in Edinburgh after the local TechMeetup. “Why should you have to move for them?” I suppose it’s hard to understand for some people, who are perhaps more tethered to geography and familiarity than family, but that’s exactly what I did.

My parents moved back to California to look after my Oma; my paternal grandmother. That’s enough of a reason, but Oma shepherded her children through a Japanese concentration camp in Indonesia. Through her ingenuity and perseverance, my dad, who was a toddler at the time, survived. (She also helped save another, unrelated child, who I would love to find.) So when she needed help, my parents flew back and bought a house in the San Joaquin Valley so she could move in with them.

Turlock is a small town outside of Modesto. Lately it’s been the epicenter of some particularly regressive anti-mask groups; when my parents moved there, every radio station played country music and there wasn’t a single bookstore in town. When I first visited, the roads were littered with the remains of tiny American flags. But they didn’t have a lot of money and it was what they could afford. It was easy driving distance to the Bay Area, where they had met and where a lot of my extended family still lived. When my Oma passed away a few years later, they stayed; my mother had become a teacher nearby and it changed her life.

When UCSF diagnosed her with pulmonary fibrosis, the same condition that had taken her mother twenty-five years before, her life changed again. I remember the day my Grandma died like it was yesterday; my mother cried out in the living room and I, all of six years old, didn’t know what was happening. It seemed to me that one day Grandma was here, and the next she wasn’t.

One Christmas, as my then-girlfriend and I were preparing for our trip to head over there, I had a startling conversation with Ma. “I don’t want you to be alarmed,” she said, “but I’ve started to use oxygen.” Within a month I’d made plans to be in California. I remembered my Grandma, and I was scared of losing my mother. That’s why I moved; I couldn’t not. It wasn’t anything close to a choice.

Every moment became the potential last time I’d see her. Thanksgiving became maybe the last Thanksgiving. Christmas could be the last Christmas. Her oxygen tanks got bigger and bigger until she couldn’t work anymore. We ran two fridge-sized oxygen concentrators in parallel to make sure she had enough airflow; the long, plastic tubes trailed across the floor as a path to find her.

It was because I had moved to California that I was with my parents the night she was called in for her lung transplant. She sat bolt upright, her eyes blazing with some mixture of fear and excitement. My parents drove into the hospital in their car; I drove to pick up my sister in mine. I couldn’t get my girlfriend on the phone, and I remember the absolute silence as the moon lit the hills on the edge of the Altamont Pass. I felt completely alone. When Ma sat on the gurney on the outside of the double doors leading to surgery and told me to take care of my father, to be patient with him, I felt alone again.

We got another eight years with her. I feel grateful for that.

They weren’t easy years, though. She was in and out of hospital, and in 2019 she spent more than eleven straight weeks lying in a bed looking over Golden Gate Park. More than once, she nearly died, but she fought hard. “I’m not ready to say goodbye,” she would say. Even in her last week, she said, “I still have life-force in me.”

More than once, when I flew to New York for a work trip or Oregon for fun, I needed to take an emergency flight back. Behind every plan was the question: what if something bad happens to Ma?

For me, a silver lining of the pandemic was being able to easily spend time with her. By then, they’d moved to Santa Rosa for the cleaner air (it was years before the house would be threatened by raging fires that ultimately came to a stop within a block of it). I worked from a bedroom, which I rearranged so I could sit on Zoom calls with a bookshelf behind me, like I’d seen journalists do on the News Hour. I’d do a meeting, then go check on Ma, then do another meeting. Sometimes, if she was feeling up to it, I’d take her outside and we’d go for a walk. Every night, I’d help her up the stairs and tuck her into bed. Sometimes I’d help her brush her teeth from there, if she wasn’t feeling strong enough to stand in the bathroom. She stopped being able to eat hard food and I’d help set up her feeding bag and connect it to the tube the doctors inserted in her belly.

Sometimes - not enough, which I regret dearly - I would lie on the bed next to her and we’d talk. We’d discuss which books we’d both been reading (or, as her eyesight failed, listened to). We’d talk about what was going on in my life, and her worries about hers. We’d talk about trips we’d like to take and how she thought about life. She would give me advice and perspective, and I tried to do the same.

My sister was often there. At the end of the night, when all the talking was over, she would sit at the end of Ma’s bed with a guitar and sing lullabies. She read to her, sometimes over FaceTime while Ma was at dialysis.

Over the last few years, my sister started to suffer from chronic pain. I’m not remotely qualified to diagnose this or verify if it’s true, but I have to assume that it’s at least in part caused by the stress of it all; the sadness of watching our mother fade against her will.

My dad was a saint. He devoted his life to looking after her. He did everything he could to find cures and solutions to whatever the current problem was, and drove Ma everywhere she needed to go. He slept next to her at the hospital and sat with her at her appointments. His entire life was spent being a carer. Even when his own health began to falter, and his knees gave in, he was devoted to her.

She was the center of our lives, and she’s gone.

I’m lucky, in comparison, to still have my physical health. I’m a lot heavier than I was when we started this journey, but I can walk and run. Emotionally, though, I feel like I’m running an emulation layer: I look like I’m more or less okay, so I feel like people expect me to be more or less okay. I’m barely holding it together, somehow getting through each day, but it’s not something that people can see and hear and touch. It’s buried deep, my brokenness, but it’s there, waiting to erupt.

I want to be clear that I don’t resent it. On the contrary, I feel lucky: I had the ability to move to be closer to my parents and support them through this seismic event. I got to spend more time with, and be closer to, my family than most people ever get to. That’s been an incredible gift.

I also wish none of this had ever happened. I wish my mother had been healthy, and nobody else in my family had succumbed to this awful condition, and life remained uninterrupted. I couldn’t tell you what that would even look like, but I can say that it wouldn’t look anything like what the last decade has been.

And I want a hug. I want this pain, the hole that’s been ripped by the outrageous theft of my mother by this awful genetic condition, to be acknowledged. I want to be taken care of like I’m sick, because I feel sick, even if my body is to all intents and purposes intact. I want to lie under a blanket for a while and breathe. I want to tear apart the fabric of the universe and glue it back together in a shape that doesn’t feel quite so wrong. I want to sleep through the night. I want to let go of this guilt that won’t stop eating at me. I want to feel closeness and love and comfort.

I want to take this disease, which we now know is called dyskeratosis congenita, and I want to burn it to the ground. I want to avenge my grandmother Carol, and my mother Deborah, and my aunt Erica, and my cousin Michael, and anyone else it dares to take from me. From us. I want justice for our theft.

And I want, somehow, to be okay.

For the time being, my attention and focus are gone. I’m not the same person. Very little seems important, because very little is important. There isn’t much to do for now except let it all wash over and accept that it’s a forever part of me. Her loss has been a decade of love, and care, and trauma. It’s not going away; slowly, maybe, it’ll fade.

After that, when it finally does, who knows.