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Reading, watching, playing, using: August, 2022

Happy Labor Day to everyone who celebrates the organized labor movement today in the US. This is my monthly roundup of the books, articles, and streaming media I found interesting. Here's my list for August, 2022.

A note: it’s taken me a while to hit publish on this post because our son was born on September 2nd. We instantly fell in love. More on that soon. For now, please understand if my posting frequency plummets for a little while.

Books

Fiction

The School for Good Mothers, by Jessamine Chan. A ton of ideas about parenting, society, and the present moment, crammed into an emotional near-future science fiction story. I wish the protagonist had been more sympathetic - but the future it paints is alarmingly plausible.

Notable Articles

Business

Workplace Productivity: Are You Being Tracked? “Two years ago, her employer started requiring chaplains to accrue more of what it called “productivity points.” A visit to the dying: as little as one point. Participating in a funeral: one and three-quarters points. A phone call to grieving relatives: one-quarter point.”

The organized labor movement has a new ally: venture capitalists. “White’s solution is to plan an “exit to community.” Once the company starts earning income, it plans to buy out its investors and give their equity to the unions it helped organize, effectively transitioning corporate control to the customer base.”

American Express' platinum-level duplicity. “American Express’ decision to begin donating to Republican objectors reflects the desire of some in the business community to put the events of January 6, 2021, behind them. That, according to an open letter recently signed by former American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault and other prominent business leaders, is a big mistake.”

Varo layoffs are a sign of neobanks’ struggle to break even. ““Most American neobanks cater to lower-income customers, who previously may have incurred overdraft, [non-sufficient fund fees] and maintenance fees at big establishment banks,” Mikula told Protocol. “But these consumers also tend to be higher credit risk, making it challenging to lend to them. No U.S. neobank has built a meaningful lending business.””

Climate

California to Ban the Sale of New Gasoline Cars. “The rule, issued by the California Air Resources Board, will require that all new cars sold in the state by 2035 be free of greenhouse gas emissions like carbon dioxide. The rule also sets interim targets, requiring that 35 percent of new passenger vehicles sold by 2026 produce zero emissions. That requirement climbs to 68 percent by 2030.”

The temperature threshold the human body can't survive. “When the wet bulb temperature gets above 95 degrees F, our bodies lose their ability to cool down, and the consequences can be deadly. Until recently, scientists didn’t think we’d cross that threshold outside of doomsday climate change scenarios. But a 2020 study looking at detailed weather records around the world found we’ve already crossed the threshold at least 14 times in the last 40 years.”

Women are working to make the clean energy transition more equitable. “Women are disproportionately facing the impacts of the climate crisis: They are more likely to be displaced by climate disasters, and due to lower-paid jobs, caregiving responsibilities and the wage gap, they have less economic means to recover and adapt to a changing climate.”

Crypto

More Than Half Of All Bitcoin Trades Are Fake. “More than half of all reported trading volume is likely to be fake or non-economic. Forbes estimates the global daily bitcoin volume for the industry was $128 billion on June 14. That is 51% less than the $262 billion one would get by taking the sum of self-reported volume from multiple sources.”

Insider Trading in Cryptocurrency Markets. “We find evidence of systematic insider trading in cryptocurrency markets, where individuals use private information to buy coins prior to exchange listing announcements. Our analysis shows significant price run-ups before official listing announcements, similar to prosecuted cases of insider trading in stock markets.”

Feds Blacklist Tornado Cash, Ban Ethereum Mixing Tool in US. “In a Monday announcement, the body added the Tornado Cash website and a long list of Ethereum addresses to its Specially Designated Nationals list, banning American citizens from using the tool or transacting with these addresses.”

Pearson Sees NFT, Blockchain Helping Making Money From E-Books Sales. “The chief executive officer of Pearson Plc, one of the world’s largest textbook publishers, said he hopes technology like non-fungible tokens and the blockchain could help the company take a cut from secondhand sales of its materials as more books go online.”

Culture

Queer YA books are selling in record numbers despite bans targeting them. “Of the close to 5 million units of LGBTQ+ books sold in 2021, the biggest absolute gains in this market came from LGBTQ+ YA books, which saw an increase in sales of 1.3 million units from the previous year. Queer YA is more popular than ever — no longer a niche category, but redefining what is mainstream for teen readers.”

As list of banned books in schools grows, ‘soft’ censorship is spreading. “Free speech advocates say these practices are as troubling as bans — particularly when the books singled out overwhelmingly have themes related to race, gender and sexuality and are written by authors who are women, LGBTQ+ and/or people of color.”

Billy Bragg on the difference between the backlash to Salman Rushdie and Jerry Sadowitz. “Over the past decade or so, Rushdie has sought to return to some sort of a normal life, despite the threat hanging over him. The fact that he continued to take the stage at literary events is a tribute to his belief in freedom of expression and he has been rightly commended for his bravery.”

Doctor Who casting director: "We’re casting more disabled actors". “It’s more interesting. Also, if you can’t cast diversely on Doctor Who, what show can you do it on? It goes everywhere, on this planet and others, and you don’t want to see the same kind of people all the time. You don’t want it to be exclusively middle-class white people speaking with RP accents.”

on leading a purposeless life. “Maybe it is okay to not pursue potential and just be okay with being. Why must there be a reason for everything?” Beautiful.

Author Salman Rushdie attacked on lecture stage in New York. “He has said he is proud of his fight for freedom of expression, saying in a 2012 talk in New York that terrorism is really the art of fear.”

Interview: Jake Novak on His Infamous SNL TikTok Video. “Honestly, as horrible as the internet has been to me in the past six weeks, I have really enjoyed this hiatus. I’m getting to see my friends more and just have more meaningful experiences in real life.”

Democracy

Why I Changed My Mind on Student Debt Forgiveness. “It is simply impossible for students to work their way through college in the way previous generations could. And at the same time, states have reduced funding to their public colleges that historically allowed schools to charge low tuition prices.”

We reject the free speech-trampling rules set by J.D. Vance and Ron DeSantis for covering their rally. “Think about what they were doing here. They were staging an event to rally people to vote for Vance while instituting the kinds of policies you’d see in a fascist regime.”

John Mackey: Whole Foods CEO says ‘socialists are taking over’ schools and gun control debate. ““My concern is that I feel like socialists are taking over,” the multi-millionaire organic grocery magnate said. “They’re marching through the institutions. They’re… taking over education. It looks like they’ve taken over a lot of the corporations. It looks like they’ve taken over the military. And it’s just continuing.””

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff leans in to being a voice for gender equity. “Emhoff is the first second gentleman to the first woman vice president, and for him, tackling gender inequality in ways big and small felt like a natural, and critical, component of creating this role. He is actively attempting to model for others what it means to be an ally in actions, not just words.”

It's Manly Man Summer at the Claremont Institute. “In a piece titled “Men and the Future of America,” Klingenstein praises senator Josh Hawley for a speech trumpeting the “masculine virtues.” And what are those? They are, according to Klingenstein, “stoicism, competitiveness, conquest, achievement and aggression.” These are qualities to be managed, not repressed, because repressing them turns them toxic, into “dysfunctional behaviors—crime, drugs, pornography, and the like.”” I find this ideology so repulsive, so baffling.

How the Claremont Institute, home to Trump lawyer John Eastman, rose and fell. “Lewis said he agreed with Claremont leaders that the country is locked in a cold civil war. “Our country is upside down,” he said. “It’s unrecognizable.” He praised the program and its focus on “the myth of systemic police racism.” […] “They’re trying to train people to take a kind of extreme populist right-wing ideology back with them to Washington.”“

After slow response, Biden administration ramps up abortion access protections. “Helen Silverstein, head of the government and law department at Lafayette College, said that the administration’s actions this week were notable because they sent a clear — if delayed — signal to the Democratic base that the executive branch is taking access to reproductive health care seriously.”

Orbán gets warm CPAC reception after 'mixed race' speech blowback. “The reaction to Orbán’s “mixed-race” remarks was “a little bit overblown,” Ede Vessey said, maintaining that the prime minister was referring to a stark clash of cultures that has taken place in some Western European countries that have accepted refugees from predominantly Muslim countries.”

Senate Judiciary holds hearing on threats to election workers. “Election officials from both the Democratic and Republican parties, as well as nonpartisan officials, testified at the hearing on election workers, a workforce that has received more attention after former President Donald Trump lied about widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election. As Trump considers another run for office in 2024, he has repeated unfounded claims about election security that election administrators say has made their work more difficult.”

Justice Department sues Idaho over abortion ban, citing ‘medical emergency’ violation. ““The law thus places medical professionals in an impossible situation,” Gupta said. “They must either withhold stabilizing treatment required by EMTALA or risk felony prosecution and license revocation. In so doing, the law will chill providers’ willingness to perform abortions in emergency situations and will hurt patients.””

ShotSpotter Asks Court To Hold It In Contempt Rather Than Turn Over Information To Defense Lawyer. “It’s tough to say what a judge will find admissible, but ShotSpotter’s past history suggests it is willing in some cases to alter reports to justify arrests that have already occurred. If the PD contacted ShotSpotter post-arrest to get a report altered, it may show officers had no reasonable suspicion to stop the arrestee — a stop that resulted in his arrest.”

Sen. Tiara Mack says twerking video response has led to harassment, threats. ““It’s been a whirlwind. Anywhere from misogynistic comments, racist comments, classist comments,” she said. “I’ve received death threats. I’ve received emails and phone calls of people calling me the n-word. I’ve received fatphobic comments. Just everything under the sun.””

Republican candidates are changing how they handle abortion after Roe v. Wade. “Multiple Republican midterm candidates have removed from their campaign sites references to particularly strict anti-abortion stances, a shift from primary campaigning to the approaching general election and an indication of growing concern in the Republican Party over how to handle abortion policy post-Roe v. Wade.”

Health

U.S. life expectancy drops sharply, the second consecutive decline. “American Indian and Alaskan Native people have experienced a particularly precipitous drop in life expectancy since 2019, going from 71.8 to 65.2 years. This kind of loss is similar to the plunge seen for all Americans after the Spanish Flu.”

Kids Born Near Fracking Sites More Likely to Have Leukemia, Study Says. “Children who are born near fracking sites are as much as three times more likely to be diagnosed with leukemia later on, according to new Yale research.”

For years, Black trans women have been told their life expectancy is 35 years. That’s false. “Willis says the statistic once communicated an urgency in the community. Today, she thinks trans people need more complicated stories.”

Experts debunk monkeypox myths as misinformation spreads. “Can monkeypox spread on the subway? Can it kill like COVID-19? Experts respond to monkeypox myths and misconceptions.”

Just because some people can pretend COVID is over, doesn’t mean it actually is. “People are still dying of COVID and even more people are getting long COVID (which we’re seeing develop into myalgic encephalomyelitis for many long haulers, and trust me, you don’t want it). The CDC and Food and Drug Administration have mostly abdicated their responsibility to prevent infections, focusing only on serious illness and death, while ignoring long COVID and the impact of the virus on disabled people.”

Media

Person-Centered Terms Encourage Stigmatized Groups’ Trust in News. “Participants trusted articles that used person-centered terms for their group more than articles that used stigmatizing terms.” Understandably.

People of color at 'New York Times' get lower ratings in job reviews, union says. “While there were some fluctuation — on average, the performance of Black employees rose over the intervening years, while it declined for Latinos at the organization — white workers were consistently assessed as outperforming their peers.”

Healing Polarized Communities. “We cannot begin bridging communities beyond our newsrooms without building — and supporting — more diverse communities within our newsrooms.” So proud to work here.

Choose Your Own Literary Adventure. “The colorful recommendation chart, one of many that have rippled through the Twitter and Instagram feeds of book lovers, came from a small bookstore in Madison, Wis., called A Room of One’s Own. […] The charts seem to speak the internet’s language, one that meets people where they are by acknowledging that literature can be overwhelming, and people often don’t know where to start.”

A luxury magazine photo hid relics Cambodia says could be stolen. For me the lede here is: Architectural Digest appears to have deliberately run a photo altered to hide the fact that an article’s subject owns stolen Cambodian artifacts.

After Roe v. Wade Reversal, Readers Flock to Publications Aimed at Women. “Alexandra Smith, the audience director of The 19th, which was founded in 2020, said growth in traffic had been “exponential.” She said an increase in search traffic had continued well after the June 24 court decision, with readers now looking for information on how the decision could impact access to Plan B and IUDs. They were also looking to read about the impacts on other civil rights, such as marriage equality.” Hey, I get to work there!

Alex Jones must pay $50m for Sandy Hook hoax claim. “Despite retracting his claims about Sandy Hook, Jones has continued to use his media platform to argue the case was rigged against him and claimed that members of the jury pool “don’t know what planet they’re on”. His Infowars website depicted the judge being consumed by flames.”

Science

How a theory about transgender contagion went viral. “The problem: Overwhelming evidence shows that your child almost certainly hasn’t been duped. Although some people do reconsider or reverse their transition, once a person starts identifying as trans, it’s quite unlikely they’ll change their mind. No matter how strongly you believe that the internet, social contagion, and positive representations of transgender people turned your child trans, chances are your child disagrees.”

French Scientist's Photo of ‘Distant Star’ Was Actually Chorizo. “But a few days later, Klein revealed that the photo he tweeted was not the work of the world’s most powerful space telescope, as he had in fact tweeted a slice of chorizo sausage.”

Society

Capitalism Gives Me the Freedom to Pursue as Many Side Gigs as I Want to Pay Off My Increasing Bills And Loans. “I like to think of myself as an independent contractor who threw out his nine-to-five job for about five to nine different jobs over the course of a year, a contractor with significantly less of the legal protections established in the past hundred years or so by Congress and the Supreme Court.”

Ask Damon: I want to redistribute my slave-owning ancestor's wealth. “Anyway, if you’re sincere in your desire to attempt to right your family’s wrongs, find those descendants, show them the money and then hand it to them.”

Happiness Is Two Scales. “Instead, happiness and unhappiness are two separate, independent scales. A good life requires tackling each one separately.”

Period poverty: Scotland first in world to make period products free. “It will be for the country’s 32 councils to decide what practical arrangements are put in place, but they must give “anyone who needs them” access to different types of period products “reasonably easily” and with “reasonable dignity”.”

Why a Life-Threatening Pregnancy Complication Is on the Rise. “For African American women, simply the stress of living in America increases the risk of preeclampsia.”

Lionsgate Will Mandate Abortion Safety Protocols, CEO Says in Memo. “Thank you, Lionsgate, for being the only studio who treated this issue with the respect and urgency it deserves. There’s still work to be done, but this is a step in the right direction.”

Races are finally making room for nonbinary runners. “More races across the United States are creating divisions for nonbinary runners to compete, and in some cases, to win awards. The New York City Marathon introduced a nonbinary category last year. The Chicago Marathon also quietly added a nonbinary registration category this year, one runner said. The Boston Marathon will include a nonbinary category in 2023, though athletes say the race needs to flesh out its policy before nonbinary runners can be fully included.”

NJ police used baby DNA to investigate crimes, lawsuit claims. “The blood samples are not directly shared with law enforcement agencies. But if police are able to reliably obtain the samples through subpoena, then effectively, the disease screening process is entering all babies born in the state into a DNA database with no ability to opt out.”

Economic consequences of major tax cuts for the rich. “We find tax cuts for the rich lead to higher income inequality in both the short- and medium-term. In contrast, such reforms do not have any significant effect on economic growth or unemployment.”

The Dangerous Ideas of “Longtermism” and “Existential Risk”. “By reducing morality to an abstract numbers game, and by declaring that what’s most important is fulfilling “our potential” by becoming simulated posthumans among the stars, longtermists not only trivialize past atrocities like WWII (and the Holocaust) but give themselves a “moral excuse” to dismiss or minimize comparable atrocities in the future. This is one reason that I’ve come to see longtermism as an immensely dangerous ideology. It is, indeed, akin to a secular religion built around the worship of “future value,” complete with its own “secularised doctrine of salvation.””

Facial recognition smartwatches to be used to monitor foreign offenders in UK. “Through their opaque technologies and algorithms, they facilitate government discrimination and human rights abuses without any accountability. No other country in Europe has deployed this dehumanising and invasive technology against migrants.”

Federal Judge Places County Jail Into Receivership After County Fails To Comply With Consent Decree. Mind-blowing: “A-Pod is one of four “pods” the prison is divided into. […] Because the inmates have free run of the pod, they can access the roof and escape. For whatever reason, they rarely actually escape. Instead, they leave the prison and return with contraband. No one is assigned to work A-pod because it cannot be controlled in its current state.”

Vast New Study Shows a Key to Reducing Poverty: More Friendships Between Rich and Poor. “The findings show the limitations of many attempts to increase diversity — like school busing, multifamily zoning and affirmative action. Bringing people together is not enough on its own to increase opportunity, the study suggests. Whether they form relationships matters just as much.”

Technology

Opening the Pandora's Box of AI Art. “I’ve never felt so conflicted using an emerging technology as DALL-E 2, which feels like borderline magic in what it’s capable of conjuring, but raises so many ethical questions, it’s hard to keep track of them all.”

Listen up: Podcasts are coming to Twitter. What’s Odeo is new again.

Bay Area tech startup Sanas wants people to sound whiter. “Experts who spoke to SFGATE were troubled by Sanas’ emphasis on people in the Global South making themselves understood to Americans, as opposed to Americans accepting other accented voices.” Indeed.

Whistleblower: Twitter misled investors, FTC and underplayed spam issues. “Twitter is grossly negligent in several areas of information security. If these problems are not corrected, regulators, media and users of the platform will be shocked when they inevitably learn about Twitter’s severe lack of security basics.”

Class action against Oracle's worldwide surveillance machine. “Oracle’s dossiers about people include names, home addresses, emails, purchases online and in the real world, physical movements in the real world, income, interests and political views, and a detailed account of online activity.”

A Dad Took Photos of His Naked Toddler for the Doctor. Google Flagged Him as a Criminal. ““This is precisely the nightmare that we are all concerned about,” Mr. Callas said. “They’re going to scan my family album, and then I’m going to get into trouble.””

Mozilla Foundation - In Post Roe v. Wade Era, Mozilla Labels 18 of 25 Popular Period and Pregnancy Tracking Tech With *Privacy Not Included Warning. “Eighteen out of 25 reproductive health apps and wearable devices that Mozilla investigated for privacy and security practices received a *Privacy Not Included warning label. These findings raise concerns in the post-Roe landscape that data could be used by authorities to determine if users are pregnant, seeking abortion information or services, or crossing state lines to obtain an abortion.”

A new jailbreak for John Deere tractors rides the right-to-repair wave. “Farmers around the world have turned to tractor hacking so they can bypass the digital locks that manufacturers impose on their vehicles. Like insulin pump “looping” and iPhone jailbreaking, this allows farmers to modify and repair the expensive equipment that’s vital to their work, the way they could with analog tractors.”

This Is the Data Facebook Gave Police to Prosecute a Teenager for Abortion. “Facebook gave police a teenager’s private chats about her abortion. Cops then used those chats to seize her phone and computer.”

OnlyFans Accused of Paying Bribes to Put Enemies on Terrorist Watchlist. “According to the suit filed earlier this year by Evans and fellow porn content creator Kelly Pierce, OnlyFans reportedly bribed Facebook employees to wrongfully place the actresses — who used OnlyFans competitor sites to sell their content — on a terrorism watchlist run by a consortium of internet companies, resulting in them being “shadowbanned” on Instagram and other social networks integral to the promotion of their content.”

Teens, Social Media and Technology 2022. “The share of teens using Facebook has declined sharply in the past decade. Today, 32% of teens report ever using Facebook, down 39 points since 2014-15, when 71% said they ever used the platform.”

Who could write protocol fiction for speculative infrastructure? “But we don’t need just design fictions. We need business model fictions, engineering feasibility study fictions, interop protocol specification fictions, investment return fictions.”

Gmail is now officially allowed to spam-proof politicians’ emails. “It’s sad that instead of simply stopping sending spam emails, Republicans engaged in a bad-faith pressure campaign — and it’s even more unfortunate that Google bought it.”

iOS Privacy: Instagram and Facebook can track anything you do on any website in their in-app browser. “With 1 Billion active Instagram users, the amount of data Instagram can collect by injecting the tracking code into every third party website opened from the Instagram & Facebook app is a staggering amount.”

Ex-Twitter employee found guilty of spying on Saudi dissidents. “Abouammo was found to have used his position at Twitter to find personal details identifying critics of the Saudi monarchy who had been posting under anonymous Twitter handles, and then supplying the information to Prince Mohammed’s aide Bader al-Asaker.”

Silicon Valley engineers are quitting for climate change. “Big Tech is no longer the young upstart, and there’s a new kid in town luring away smart people looking for purpose and willing to take a chance on something new: climate tech.”

This startup wants to copy you into an embryo for organ harvesting. ““We are not trying to make human beings. That is not what we are trying to do.” says Hanna. “To call a day-40 embryo a mini-me is just not true.””

The Metaverse Is Not a Place. “But what if, instead of thinking of the metaverse as a set of interconnected virtual places, we think of it as a communications medium? Using this metaphor, we see the metaverse as a continuation of a line that passes through messaging and email to “rendezvous”-type social apps like Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and, for wide broadcast, Twitch + Discord. […] The interactions are not place based but happening in the ether between two or more connected people. The occasion is more the point than the place.”

Joel Kaplan’s Policy Team Sways Big Facebook Decisions Like Alex Jones Ban. “The company could have acted much earlier, one Facebook researcher wrote on the internal message board when they quit in August. The note came with a warning: “Integrity teams are facing increasing barriers to building safeguards.” They wrote of how proposed platform improvements that were backed by strong research and data had been “prematurely stifled or severely constrained … often based on fears of public and policy stakeholder responses.””

· Posts

 

Reading, watching, playing, using: July, 2022

This is my monthly roundup of the articles I found interesting. Here's my list for July, 2022.

Notable Articles

Business

Bank of America Memo: “We Hope” Worker Power Worsens. “A Bank of America executive stated that “we hope” working Americans will lose leverage in the labor market in a recent private memo obtained by The Intercept. Making predictions for clients about the U.S. economy over the next several years, the memo also noted that changes in the percentage of Americans seeking jobs “should help push up the unemployment rate.””

Amazon to Acquire One Medical Clinics in Latest Push Into Health Care. “One Medical, which is based in San Francisco, operates a network of primary care providers that offer in-office and virtual medical services, and is one of the leading competitors to a similar but smaller service Amazon had started to offer.” Exercise for the reader: should end-user healthcare provision be a place where you can make a lot of profit?

Climate

Is accepting the end of humanity the key to climate action? This scholar thinks so. “Accepting that human civilization is finite, he says, will challenge us to change our priorities, from worshiping extraction and growth to uplifting the most marginalized in society.”

Wildfires Are Setting Off 100-Year-Old Bombs on WWI Battlefields. “The area where the fire rages was the site of 12 battles during World War I. More than 200,000 people died and untold numbers of explosives were used. It’s a major problem across Europe that lingers to this day. The Royal Air Force and U.S. Army Air Force dropped 2.7 million tons of bombs on Europe during World War II alone. Seventy years later, those bombs are still killing people.”

NOAA introduces heat.gov as climate change worsens.Heat.gov is geared toward a wide range of decision makers, from companies to local governments to individuals, Spinrad told Protocol, “whether it’s a mom trying to decide whether it’s safe for kids to play outside, or a construction foreman trying to decide if it’s OK for their workers to be out on the job, or a public works manager trying to figure out when road repairs can be undertaken.””

Carbon removal trade group launches with ‘Hippocratic oath’ for the industry. “The statement is brief, just 15 sentences, and commits signatories to abstract ideals like acting with humility and honesty, being guided by science, and recognizing the value of “including voices from all backgrounds in conversations” about carbon removal.”

North Carolina Republicans Push Bill Forcing Towns To Destroy Electric Car Chargers. “In North Carolina, Trump GOP lawmaker Ben Moss has pushed forward a ridiculous bill (HB 1049) that would require towns and cities use up to $50,000 in taxpayer funds to destroy free electric vehicle stations on public land, if local authorities don’t build free gas and diesel pumps alongside them. There’s, of course, no provision included in the bill that works in the opposite direction.”

Covid

The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan was the early epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. “While there is insufficient evidence to define upstream events, and exact circumstances remain obscure, our analyses indicate that the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 occurred via the live wildlife trade in China, and show that the Huanan market was the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

COVID cases and deaths are spiking in nursing homes, AARP data shows. “One in 35 nursing home residents tested positive for COVID-19 in June, a 27 percent increase from the previous month. The death rate from COVID between May and June of this year nearly doubled, from 0.04 deaths per hundred residents to 0.07 deaths per hundred residents.”

Crypto

Web3: The hope for protocols over platforms. “Let’s experiment in ways that let us slowly deconstruct platforms, by replacing some of the core primitives that they own with open protocols that are collectively owned and governed by their own communities.”

The Consequences of Silence. On the Celsius freeze: “My entire business is secured and backed by these funds. If they are not returned, my business would go bankrupt, my 15 employees would be let go, and 14 years of my life’s work lost and at the age of 49 years old, I would have to start over with nothing.” “Having my funds frozen has been devastating to me and my family both financially, mentally, and physically. I cannot sleep most nights and am over-whelmed with worry and dread for my family’s future. I have two small children. A 3-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son. I am the sole bread winner for my family, and I pride myself on making smart financial and parental decisions for them to provide a better life and a bright/positive future.”

How Crypto Is Evolving the Future of Books and Publishing. ““Imagine when all of an author’s readers can suddenly make money as well,” says Margarita Guerrero, head of partner and publishing relations at the publishing startup Readl. “How much more would they be engaged?”” Seems like a complete misunderstanding of why people like books to me.

Lost at OpenSea. “Like social audio, NFTs were a pandemic fad. This fad, however, was aimed at allowing kids who were too young to buy bitcoin when it first launched to pretend to be savvy investors. The results, when the market crashes further, will be catastrophic.”

The sinking of Voyager. “I have no problem with a hedge fund lending only to seven counterparties, if it is lending its own funds or those of professional investors who understand the risks they are taking. But Voyager marketed high-risk investments to retail depositors with promises of safety and (non-existent) insurance. To my mind, this isn’t just bad, it is criminal. But crypto is an unregulated, borderless space. Even if Voyager has lied to its customers and embezzled their funds, it is unclear what if any power national authorities have to hold it to account. And even though there will undoubtedly be a forest of lawsuits, the money is gone.”

Crypto collapse reverberates widely among black American investors. “A quarter of black American investors owned cryptocurrencies at the start of the year, compared with only 15 per cent of white investors, according to a survey by Ariel Investments and Charles Schwab. Black Americans were more than twice as likely to purchase cryptocurrency as their first investment. The value of those investments has imploded. The total market capitalisation of cryptocurrencies has plunged below $1tn from more than $3.2tn last year. The fall in digital assets comes alongside a bear market in US stocks.”

Culture

Aboard the World's First Hot-Air Balloon Restaurant. “During the flight, Schmeinck serves wine and gives more information about her dishes. Standing-room only encourages interactions between the chef, pilot, and other diners as the balloon sails above the countryside, taking in the view from a cruising altitude that ranges 500 to 2,500 feet. “Sometimes when the clouds are low, we can go right through them,” says Schmeinck. “It’s a little bit misty. Then we’re above the clouds and see the sun shining. That moment is unforgettable. It’s amazing for me, after all these years.”” Bucket list.

For Centuries, English Bakers' Biggest Customers Were Horses. “But in pre-industrial England, horse bread carried the taste of shame. The dark bran bread sat at the bottom of a hierarchy that gave brown bread to farmers and servants and reserved white bread for the elite. Indeed, Englishpeople turned to horse bread during times of strife, and the abject poor likely ate it year round. And since horse bread was fed to laboring animals, humans who ate it were looked upon with disdain.”

After 37 Years, the Sunny World of ‘Neighbours’ Comes to an End. “At that time, the world of “Neighbours” offered an antidote to the contentious impact of conservative, Thatcherite legislation in Britain, Carr said, which supported “do it yourself” economic policies that its opponents said widened inequality. “Neighbours” offered “a different, wildly positive vision of what a community could be,” Carr said. “Everyone tends to work together rather than be adversarial.”” As a kid, I loved it.

Announcing the Shortlist for the Inaugural Ursula K. Le Guin Prize for Fiction. “The nine shortlisted books will be considered by a panel of five jurors—adrienne maree brown, Becky Chambers, Molly Gloss, David Mitchell, and Luis Alberto Urrea. The winner will be announced later this year on October 21st, 2022, Ursula K. Le Guin’s birthday.”

Erotica Author Chuck Tingle Has Some of the Best Writing Advice. “Having spent the last few days with Tingle’s voice in my head, the only way I can describe the experience is that it feels like the sun has come out after days of rain. To have a voice that is relentlessly upbeat and positive, telling me I can do anything I try to, and that my best efforts will be enough? It’s like my brain was just, I don’t know, pressure washed?”

All [White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy] is Local. Words of warning from Librarian Shipwreck: “What about books banned for depicting people of color and queers in a positive light, providing accurate information about health and sexuality, or for acknowledging the truth about American history? Bills (that thankfully didn’t pass) to fine and jail librarians for “obscene” (read: queer, comprehensive sex education, anatomy) books? Or librarians being told they can’t help patrons find information about abortion, or even say the word?”

James Beard Awards 2022: Cristina Martinez brings the best Mid-Atlantic chef prize to Philadelphia. “Chef Cristina Martinez, an advocate for immigrants’ rights and an undocumented immigrant herself, was named the best chef for the Mid-Atlantic region Monday by the James Beard Foundation, in its first black-tie ceremony since 2019.” I just ate at South Philly Barbacoa and it was fantastic.

representation matters. Winnie Lim’s blog is one of the best things I read. This is a great example of why.

Netflix criticised for shooting Stranger Things in Nazi prison and marketing it as hotel. “Internet streaming giant Netflix and hit show Stranger Things are facing criticism for shooting part of its new season in an infamous Lithuanian concentration camp and making plans to convert the site into a hotel in collaboration with Airbnb.” Combined with it resharing photos of serial number tattoos fans are getting on their wrists, it’s not a great look, to say the least.

Unknown Number by Azure. A beautifully-written story told through text messages and published as a Twitter thread. Now nominated for a Hugo.

Hell Yeah, Tom Cruise. “So, 45 seconds in, I realized what Top Gun really was: propaganda. Never again tell me you can’t make a conservative movie in Hollywood. After its release there was a 500 percent increase in applications to the Navy’s flight program.”

Democracy

San Francisco Mayor Wants PD To Be Able To Commandeer Cameras Owned By Residents Because Reasons. “Having dumped its “progressive” District Attorney, Chesa Boudin, the city of San Francisco has decided it’s going to be far more Dirty Harry in the future. The alleged justification is (perhaps temporary and anomalous) increases in crime. It’s time to run roughshod over constitutional rights again.”

A radical attack on the First Amendment. “Prohibited topics include endorsing the concepts of white privilege or male privilege. Specifically, employers cannot conduct trainings that state an individual can be “privileged” or “oppressed” due to their “race, color, sex, or national origin.” Further, trainings cannot suggest that anyone should “feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the individual played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin.””

The billionaires buying the midterm elections. “The largest donor to the main Republican super PACs is billionaire Ken Griffin, owner of Citadel, a hedge fund. Griffin donated $28.5 million to the SLF and CLF through the end of March. In a 2012 interview, Griffin was asked if “the ultrawealthy have an inordinate or inappropriate amount of influence on the political process.” “I think they actually have an insufficient influence,” he replied.”

‘There are a lot of people who don’t want to know the truth’: Why an Arizona election official is leaving her job. “The impact of lies about America’s most secure election is still taking shape around the country but has included harassment and threats of violence aimed at a women-led workforce. A survey of election workers conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice earlier this year showed 30 percent of poll respondents said they knew of one or more elec­tion work­ers who had left their jobs at least in part because of fear for their safety, increased threats or intim­id­a­tion. Twenty percent said they planned to leave before the 2024 elec­tion.”

Correction director: Arizona cities would collapse without prison labor. “There are services that this department provides to city, county, local jurisdictions, that simply can’t be quantified at a rate that most jurisdictions could ever afford. If you were to remove these folks from that equation, things would collapse in many of your counties, for your constituents.” The 13th Amendment abolished slavery except for people convicted of crimes. And here we are.

The City Where Investigations of Police Take So Long, Officers Kill Again Before Reviews Are Done. “Now, Open Vallejo and ProPublica have looked at what happens inside the department after those killings occur, examining more than 15,000 pages of police, forensic, and court files related to the city’s 17 fatal police shootings since 2011. Based on records that emerged after dozens of public records requests and two lawsuits filed by Open Vallejo, the news organizations found a pattern of delayed and incomplete investigations, with dire consequences.” Remarkable reporting.

Indiana doctor performed abortion for a 10-year-old girl, document shows. “For the past two weeks, the veracity of a story of a 10-year-old girl who was raped and got an abortion has been debated in the media. But a document reviewed by The 19th shows that the Indiana physician who performed the abortion submitted record of it to the Indiana Department of Health and the Department of Child Services.”

Pharmacies can’t deny prescription birth control or emergency contraception, HHS says. “Pharmacists cannot deny people prescribed medication — including hormonal birth control or emergency contraception — because those people are pregnant or might become pregnant, per new guidance from the Biden administration.”

Republican-backed measure to restrict filming of police officers passes Senate committee. ““We believe that this bill stacks the deck against the public check on officer misconduct,” Timothy Sparling, a lawyer and legislative advocate for Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice, said during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday.”

Biden Team Rejected Emergency Declaration Over Roe Decision. “The Biden administration considered declaring a public health emergency to preserve broad access to abortion services following the US Supreme Court’s decision last month to overturn Roe v. Wade, but officials ultimately decided against the move, according to people familiar with the matter.”

Biden to sign executive order on abortion access, legal backing, privacy. “The executive order will direct the White House counsel and the U.S. attorney general to coordinate volunteer lawyers who will defend patients and medical providers facing state-based charges for “lawfully seeking or offering reproductive health care services throughout the country.” Those lawyers could, the White House suggested, defend people who are prosecuted for traveling from a state that has banned abortion to one where it remains legal.”

‘They are preparing for war’: An expert on civil wars discusses where political extremists are taking this country. “That’s when I started to follow the data. And then, watching what happened to the Republican Party really was the bigger surprise — that, wow, they’re doubling down on this almost white supremacist strategy. That’s a losing strategy in a democracy. So why would they do that? Okay, it’s worked for them since the ’60s and ’70s, but you can’t turn back demographics. And then I was like, Oh my gosh. The only way this is a winning strategy is if you begin to weaken the institutions; this is the pattern we see in other countries. And, as an American citizen I’m like, These two factors are emerging here, and people don’t know.”

Supreme Court Justices 'Prayed With' Anti-Roe Activist Before Ruling. “At an evangelical victory party in front of the Supreme Court to celebrate the downfall of Roe v. Wade last week, a prominent Capitol Hill religious leader was caught on a hot mic making a bombshell claim: that she prays with sitting justices inside the high court. “We’re the only people who do that,” Peggy Nienaber said. […] In other words: Sitting Supreme Court justices have prayed together with evangelical leaders whose bosses were bringing cases and arguments before the high court.”

Christian Nationalists Are Excited About What Comes Next. “It is also a mistake to imagine that Christian nationalism is a social movement arising from the grassroots and aiming to satisfy the real needs of its base. It isn’t. This is a leader-driven movement. The leaders set the agenda, and their main goals are power and access to public money. They aren’t serving the interests of their base; they are exploiting their base as a means of exploiting the rest of us.”

DeSantis signs bill requiring Florida students, professors to register political views with state. “Public universities in Florida will be required to survey both faculty and students on their political beliefs and viewpoints, with the institutions at risk of losing their funding if the responses are not satisfactory to the state’s Republican-led legislature. […] Based on the bill’s language, survey responses will not necessarily be anonymous — sparking worries among many professors and other university staff that they may be targeted, held back in their careers or even fired for their beliefs.”

Mitt Romney: America Is In Denial. “I hope for a president who can rise above the din to unite us behind the truth. Several contenders with experience and smarts stand in the wings.” I wonder who he means.

Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' bill isn't the only anti-LGBTQ+ bill taking effect today. “Collectively, the bills build toward an atmosphere of silence around LGBTQ+ people and restrict how LGBTQ+ youth can learn about themselves and participate at school, advocates say.”

‘It’s Scary’: Students Fear Going to College in Red States After Roe. “After the overturning of Roe, millions of college students found themselves attending institutions where they would no longer have access to certain types of reproductive healthcare. Now, students who had committed to attending colleges or universities in majority conservative states are rethinking their decisions. Meanwhile, rising high school seniors say they now have something new to consider when compiling their lists of prospective schools: the access and right to an abortion.”

Media

Meta officially cuts funding for U.S. news publishers. “As the company moves forward with sweeping changes to the Facebook experience, news has become less of a priority.”

How Florence Nightingale Changed Data Visualization Forever. “Recognizing that few people actually read statistical tables, Nightingale and her team designed graphics to attract attention and engage readers in ways that other media could not. Their diagram designs evolved over two batches of publications, giving them opportunities to react to the efforts of other parties also jockeying for influence. […] The reforms Nightingale fought for […] would be driving forces—along with the development of vaccines that conferred immunity to diseases and artificial fertilizer that boosted crop yields—in doubling the average human life span during the following century.”

Edinburgh is the Best City in the World in 2022, According to Time Out Index. “The Scottish capital scored high across the board, and performed exceptionally high for walkability (93 percent) and being ‘easy to express who you are’ (88 percent) – better than basically everywhere else in the world. It also scored 95 percent for being beautiful – and with an ancient castle slap-bang in the city centre and loads of green space, it’s hard to argue with that.” I miss it!

Influencers take to TikTok for abortion-related paid partnerships. “The company decided to use its entire influencer marketing budget for May 15 to July 15 on sponsored content on TikTok, asking influencers and micro-influencers on the platform to talk about what overturning Roe could mean for people’s access to health care. Favor declined to share the total dollar amount spent on influencer marketing during this period.”

The Knight Foundation is Betraying its Mission. “By sponsoring a journalism event featuring Tucker Carlson, the philanthropy is mistaking openness for strengthening democracy.”

Wisconsin School District Bans Book on Japanese-American WWII Internment. “Ann Zielke, a parent of a student in the district, told NBC News that School Board Vice President Terri Boyer claimed the book offered an “unbalanced” account of historical events. “What she said to me was that we actually need an ‘American’ perspective,’” Zielke said, adding that the people in the internment camps were Americans.”

When truth is another casualty: Why Ukraine is losing ground in the war by not telling the whole story. “John Mair, co-editor of the book, says we should not confuse the proximity of this war with ease of access to information, saying: “The challenge for British journalists… is not just safety but keeping the right side of the so far invisible Ukrainian censorship machine.””

Science

Two decades of Alzheimer's research may be based on deliberate fraud that has cost millions of lives. “[…] it looks like the original paper that established the amyloid plaque model as the foundation of Alzheimer’s research over the last 16 years might not just be wrong, but a deliberate fraud.”

Habitual use of GPS negatively impacts spatial memory during self-guided navigation . “Although the longitudinal sample was small, we observed an important effect of GPS use over time, whereby greater GPS use since initial testing was associated with a steeper decline in hippocampal-dependent spatial memory.” Using GPS regularly makes you worse at finding your own way to places shocker.

Society

Vice President Kamala Harris was criticized for using visual descriptors. Why? “The ongoing dustup over Vice President Kamala Harris describing herself during a meeting with disability rights leaders this week is much ado about an increasingly common practice and a distraction from the substance of the gathering, advocates say.”

Should class snobbery be banned under the Equality Act? “One experiment cited in the report found teachers “give grades according to class”, explained Rickett. “When the pieces of work were identical, they’d give lower marks to children perceived to be working class.””

Hyundai subsidiary has used child labor at Alabama factory. “A subsidiary of Hyundai Motor Co has used child labor at a plant that supplies parts for the Korean carmaker’s assembly line in nearby Montgomery, Alabama, according to area police, the family of three underage workers, and eight former and current employees of the factory.”

Dr. Caitlin Bernard Was Meant to Write This With Me Before She Was Attacked for Doing Her Job. “On Wednesday night, our state’s attorney general said his office would be investigating Dr. Bernard. So I’m writing this essay myself, not only to bring attention to the chilling effect on medicine we’re seeing at this moment — but also because I’m terrified that I or any one of our colleagues could soon face what Dr. Bernard is going through after delivering care to our patients.”

Philadelphia created American obstetrics. Black women were exploited from the start. “America’s maternal mortality crisis traces back to Philadelphia, home to the nation’s first delivery wards. From the start, Black people received unequal treatment and were exploited for science.”

Pet Rent Is the Newest Tool of Housing Discrimination. “To no one’s surprise, the burden falls heaviest on those least able to bear it. In a recent paper, “Pet Friendly For Whom?” Jennifer W. Applebaum, a Ph.D candidate at the University of Florida and data researcher Kevin Horecka, Ph.D., reported the results of their survey of pet friendly housing across Texas. The conclusion was stark: “Low-income communities and communities of color were more likely than higher income and predominantly white communities to pay disproportionately higher fees to keep pets in their homes.””

Security director: Suspect in July 4 Highland Park shooting was ‘sizing up’ synagogue. “Authorities have not yet attributed a motive to the shooting that killed seven and injured dozens at a Fourth of July parade. Highland Park has a significant Jewish population and is home to several other synagogues and Jewish institutions.”

Abuse, discrimination, exclusion: Transgender men explain domino effect of losing reproductive care post-Roe. “The 2015 U.S. Trans Survey found that nonbinary people and trans men report being sexually assaulted at a higher rate than other LGBTQ+ people. Fifty-one percent of trans men and 55 percent of nonbinary people out of over 27,000 respondents said they had been assaulted in their lifetime. […] “It’s just become a pure rape culture out there for trans men in particular. This law will be horrific.””

Akron Police Officers Placed on Leave After Fatal Shooting of Jayland Walker. “A lawyer for the family of Mr. Walker said the footage shows that he was running away, unarmed, when police officers fired at him more than 90 times. The lawyer, Bobby DiCello, reviewed footage of the shooting on Thursday. His legal team also visited the medical examiner’s office on Friday and reviewed the autopsy, which has not been finalized. Mr. DiCello said it showed that Mr. Walker had been struck at least 60 times.”

California late start law aims to make school less of a yawn. “Beginning this fall high schools in the nation’s most populous state can’t start before 8:30 a.m. and middle schools can’t start before 8 a.m. under a 2019 first-in-the-nation law forbidding earlier start times. Similar proposals are before lawmakers in New Jersey and Massachusetts.” This is a big deal. I can’t believe they were making teenagers go to school before 8am.

Technology

Who Is Collecting Data from Your Car? “The Markup has identified 37 companies that are part of the rapidly growing connected vehicle data industry that seeks to monetize such data in an environment with few regulations governing its sale or use.”

Abortion rights supporters are trying to reduce barriers to access through search keywords. “Anti-abortion activists have long dominated the online search strategy game, driving traffic to crisis pregnancy centers. Post-Roe, that’s starting to change.”

Open-Source Security: How Digital Infrastructure Is Built on a House of Cards. “As is characteristic of public goods, market participants lack incentives to correct this inefficiency. Companies can profit from open source without expending any resources to improve it. Psychologists call this the bystander effect. When multiple parties have the capacity to solve a problem, each individual party feels less responsibility to take action. Although securing this public good is in every company’s self-interest, very few companies want to be the ones to take on that burden. There is little reason to think the market will correct itself without intervention.”

Facebook's TikTok-like redesign marks sunset of social networking era. “The leadership of Meta and Facebook now views the entire machine of Facebook’s social network as a legacy operation. They aim to keep cranking it to generate the cash they need to subsidize their decade-long plan to build the metaverse — where, maybe, social networking will be reborn in a 3D interface.”

The entire world is about to get a lesson in Revlon. “I claim no insight into the personal feelings of the board members, their fears, their hopes, their dreams, but their legal obligation here is to maximize stockholder wealth, and though they could, consistent with those duties, decide that in the long term Twitter is more valuable as a standalone company than the $44 billion Musk agreed to pay right now, that seems … unlikely … and so their legal obligation is to pursue that $44 billion. And if investors can win in a courtroom, there is absolutely a benefit to fighting with Musk about it. The $1 billion dollar break fee won’t begin to compensate the company for the damage Musk has done, but more importantly, $1 billion is less than $44 billion.”

Today I learned Amazon has a form so police can get my data without permission or a warrant. “Here is something I didn’t know when I purchased Amazon Ring cameras and Amazon Echo Dots: there is a webpage where law enforcement can fill out a form, say there’s a life-threatening emergency, and get access to your data without your consent, a court order, or any kind of warrant. There’s nothing in the Terms of Service about this, and the company has maintained for years that it helps police get consent first, but it’s happening anyhow.”

“We’re just fucking illegal”: Uber Files reveal a pattern of shady behavior around the world. “The documents lay out how the company’s deep pockets during this era — Uber’s lobbying and PR budget was $90 million in 2016 alone — was used to secretly influence politicians, oligarchs, and regulators around the world, and even sometimes break local laws. Dozens of stories about the contents of the leak have been published since the documents surfaced. Rest of World compiled the most glaring findings from the leak concerning Uber’s operations in non-Western countries, including South Africa, India, Nigeria, and Russia.”

Microsoft Mapped Broadband Affordability Gaps Because The U.S. Government Couldn’t Be Bothered To. “The FCC’s maps historically also haven’t been willing to map broadband prices and affordability. To that end, the NTIA has been doing some good work trying to illustrate broadband affordability gaps, again caused by regional monopolization. As has Microsoft, which, last week, offered an updated look at digital equity, a measurement that heavily integrates broadband availability and affordability.” Click through to the dashboard, which is illuminating.

The week the open web won. “I want to address a few suggestions that have been made to me implying that my recent blogging had been the final shove which yeeted this Bill over the edge. […] I’m just…well, me. A random and rapidly ageing Scottish woman with a vegetable garden, albeit a woman who has been Extremely Online since 1994 and Extremely Perturbed by this Bill since 2019, blogging in a personal capacity, in my spare time, 400 miles away from the centre of power.”

A New Attack Can Unmask Anonymous Users on Any Major Browser. “When you visit a website, the page can capture your IP address, but this doesn’t necessarily give the site owner enough information to individually identify you. Instead, the hack analyzes subtle features of a potential target’s browser activity to determine whether they are logged into an account for an array of services, from YouTube and Dropbox to Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, and more. Plus the attacks work against every major browser, including the anonymity-focused Tor Browser.”

Europe faces Facebook blackout. “The Irish Data Protection Commission on Thursday informed its counterparts in Europe that it will block Facebook-owner Meta from sending user data from Europe to the U.S.”

How China uses search engines to spread propaganda. “[…] as authoritarian states like China increasingly use online platforms to disseminate narratives aimed at weakening their democratic competitors, these search engines represent a crucial battleground in their information war with rivals. For Beijing, search engines represent a key—and underappreciated vector—to spread propaganda to audiences around the world.”

Vast Cache of Chinese Police Files Offered for Sale in Alleged Hack. “A vast trove of data on Chinese citizens allegedly siphoned from a police database, some of which checks out as legitimate, is being offered for sale by an anonymous hacker or hacking group. If confirmed, it would mark one of history’s largest leaks of personal data.”

Facebook Asks Judge to 'Crack the Whip' in Attempt to Silence a Black Whistleblower. “He was fired by Facebook’s outsourcing partner, Sama, in 2019 after he led more than 100 of his colleagues in a unionization effort for better pay and working conditions. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his work, and is now suing both Meta and Sama in a Nairobi court, alleging that he and his former colleagues are victims of forced labor, human trafficking and union-busting.”

Google will start auto-deleting health clinic location data. “Jen Fitzpatrick, SVP of Core Systems at Google, wrote in a blog post that the company will start deleting visit data from facilities like abortion clinics, fertility centers, counseling centers, domestic violence shelters, addiction treatment facilities and weight loss clinics “soon after” the visits take place when its system identifies that a visit has taken place.”

Social Media Can Be Reimagined for the Good of Society. “Yet what well-meaning regulatory proposals lack is a vision of social media that could be good for society. At best, these regulatory approaches seek to make existing social media less awful. But an emerging movement that we might call “the Good Web” envisions the possibility of social media that has a salutary role in a public sphere. What’s less clear is which of several dueling visions of the Good Web might lead us to a healthy social media environment.”

· Posts

 

Reading, watching, playing, using: June, 2022

This is my monthly roundup of the books, articles, and streaming media I found interesting. Here's my list for April, 2022.

Books

Reap3r, by Eliot Peper. A page-turner set in a very familiar world to me - I had fun recognizing the scenery, the interpersonal dynamics, the cultural references. There was adventure, plausible near-future science fiction scenarios mined for tension; I had trouble putting it down, and that’s exactly what I wanted from it. Worth a read.

The Glass Hotel, by Emily St John Mandel. Her writing style takes a lot of getting used to: not so much plot as collage. I spent the first third to a half wondering where we were going. Still, there’s an interesting story here, and well-drawn characters. The themes take some teasing out but are rewarding.

Notable Articles

Business

Starbucks Threatens Loss of Trans Benefits in Anti-Union Push, Staff Say. “Starbucks Corp. managers in several states have told baristas that its vaunted transgender-inclusive health-care benefits could go away if they unionize, employees alleged in interviews and a new complaint filed with the US labor board.”

Microsoft Announces It Will Include Pay Ranges In All U.S. Job Postings. Experts Predict It Will Be The First Of Many. “Changes may not ripple through big companies immediately. Many employers don’t relish sharing pay data that’s long been kept secret. Laws in some other jurisdictions that require disclosure of pay ranges—there are now six, including New York City—don’t go into effect for months, and employers have already pushed to postpone the practice there.” But when it happens - and it will - it will be a great step forward, in particular for communities that have systemically been underpaid.

Microsoft adopts principles for employee organizing and engagement with labor organizations. “We recognize that employees have a legal right to choose whether to form or join a union. We respect this right and do not believe that our employees or the company’s other stakeholders benefit by resisting lawful employee efforts to participate in protected activities, including forming or joining a union.” Major statement from Microsoft, breaking rank with most of the rest of the industry.

Climate

The US Supreme Court just gutted federal climate policy. ““Capping carbon dioxide emissions at a level that will force a nationwide transition away from the use of coal to generate electricity may be a sensible ‘solution to the crisis of the day,’” the decision reads. “But it is not plausible that Congress gave EPA the authority to adopt on its own such a regulatory scheme.””

The US is pushing EVs while sending its polluting gas-guzzlers abroad. “But what’s missing from that agenda is any plan for how to deal with the diesel and gas-guzzling vehicles being exported in increasingly large numbers to low-income countries around the world. That essentially offshores carbon and air pollution, but in the case of the climate and public health, out of sight isn’t out of mind. That missing piece could wind up derailing the very purpose of Biden’s clean transportation plan and global climate goals.”

Covid

COVID vaccines saved 20M lives in 1st year, scientists say. “The researchers used data from 185 countries to estimate that vaccines prevented 4.2 million COVID-19 deaths in India, 1.9 million in the United States, 1 million in Brazil, 631,000 in France and 507,000 in the United Kingdom.”

Crypto

Cryptocurrency Titan Coinbase Providing “Geo Tracking Data” to ICE. “Coinbase, the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the United States, is selling Immigrations and Customs Enforcement a suite of features used to track and identify cryptocurrency users, according to contract documents shared with The Intercept.”

Bitcoin fell below $20,000 — and why it has further to go. “Of course, everyone is asking, why did bitcoin plunge so quickly Saturday night? What pushed it below $20,000 so suddenly? Somebody is selling. Who needs to sell?”

Why the crypto crash hits different in Latin America. “As the Venezuelan economist Aarón Olmos of the Institute of Higher Administrative Studies (IESA) told Rest of World, people in Latin America began turning to crypto as a way to circumvent their unstable or stagnant economies. He said that in surveys he ran with crypto users in Venezuela, the most common response was, “I would rather have a digital asset whose price goes up and down than a currency whose only real trend is down, thanks to the political economy.””

Inside a Corporate Culture War Stoked by a Crypto C.E.O. “He also questioned their use of preferred pronouns and led a discussion about “who can refer to another person as the N word.” And he told workers that questions about women’s intelligence and risk appetite compared with men’s were “not as settled as one might have initially thought.”” Reprehensible.

There's an Interesting Theory About Why Anthony Hopkins Is Suddenly Shilling NFTs. “Since Hopkins’ public turn towards blockchain, Twitter users have been quick to point out that CAA is an investor in the OpenSea NFT market, and others still suggested that the agency is pushing its talent to shill NFTs because of this investment.”

Culture

Nate. “I made this comic to explain things to my family, but you can have it too.” This is delightful.

A half star review of Top Gun: Maverick (2022). “Even if one can ignore the rabidly bloodthirsty nature of this movie, it is still absolute garbage. The morals of this story are, and I am not exaggerating in the slightest: soldiers should ignore orders to stand down, and you should take actions without thinking about them. Our heroes follow these lessons throughout the story and are constantly rewarded for it. It is a child’s understanding of bravery and honor, coated in thick layers of some of the most painfully sentimental slime that Hollywood has ever produced.”

Edinburgh Festival Fringe: Phoebe Waller-Bridge heralds 'new dawn' in major shake-up to win over locals and 'red card' rogue venue operators. “The Fringe Society has pledged to “eradicate” exploitative, unsafe and unfair work practices by introducing a new three-stage system, which will see event organisers banned from using the official programme, website and box office if they fall foul of official guidelines for a third time.” Good to see.

Media

Twitter is the go-to social media site for U.S. journalists, but not for the public. “More than nine-in-ten journalists in the United States (94%) use social media for their jobs, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey of reporters, editors and others working in the news industry. But the sites that journalists use most frequently differ from those that the public turns to for news.”

Every week, two more newspapers close — and ‘news deserts’ grow larger. “Already, some 2,500 dailies and weeklies have shuttered since 2005; there are fewer than 6,500 left. Every week, two more disappear. And although many digital-only news sites have cropped up around the nation, most communities that lost a local newspaper will not get a print or digital replacement.”

Fox Corp. Loses Bid to Toss Dominion Defamation Lawsuit Over Vote-Rigging Claims. “Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric M. Davis on Tuesday denied Fox Corp.’s motion to dismiss the suit, saying Dominion Voting Systems had shown that the Murdochs may have been on notice that the conspiracy theory that rigged voting machines tilted the vote was false but let Fox News broadcast it anyway. Dominion cited in its suit a report that Rupert Murdoch spoke with Trump a few days after the election “and informed him that he had lost,” the judge noted.”

Politics

The fall of Roe v. Wade is the culmination of the Democratic establishment’s failures. “The overturning of Roe v. Wade, and the underwhelming reaction from senior Democratic leaders to that huge defeat, make the case even clearer that the party’s too-long-in-power leaders — including President Biden — need to move aside. On their watch, a radicalized Republican Party has gained so much power that it’s on the verge of ending American democracy as we know it.”

The Philosophy that Underpins the Right: It's Not What You Think. A notable piece from a venture capital investor: “After the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe vs. Wade, I was chatting with someone who grew up in another country and hadn’t spent a lot of time in and around American politics. They were trying to understand the inherent contradictions between a theoretically conservative right that expands the government to legislate over personal decisions like the healthcare around a pregnancy.”

Pride sponsors also donate to lawmakers behind anti-LGBTQ+ bills. “At least seven companies and their employee-led PACs tracked by Data for Progress continued campaign donations for the 2022 election cycle to politicians backing anti-LGBTQ+ legislation after signing a pledge against such bills from the Human Rights Campaign and Freedom for All Americans.”

Overturning Roe v. Wade could drive voter turnout, poll finds. “A Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that 64 percent of U.S adults say they do not want abortion rights to be overturned, with 37 percent of voters saying a Roe reversal would make them more motivated to vote.”

Living With The Far-Right Insurgency In Idaho. “A lot has been written about both the radicalization of the Republican Party and the decline of democracy in the U.S. — about the country being at a precipice. It’s maybe easy for those warnings to become background noise, or to dismiss them as doom-mongering pieces of clickbait. But in Idaho, the nightmare scenario is crossing into reality, as an authoritarian GOP sets about to create a whiter, Christian nation.”

Christian nationalism on the rise in some GOP campaigns. “According to a recent survey by the institute, white evangelical Christians were among the strongest supporters of the assertion that God intended America as a “promised land” for European Christians. Those who backed that idea were far more likely to agree that “true American patriots may have to resort to violence ... to save our country.””

Science

Dyslexia Actually Grants Special Powers, Researchers Say. “A team of Cambridge scientists published research in the journal Frontiers of Psychology earlier today that raises the possibility that dyslexia, which affects an estimated one in five people worldwide, could actually help the human species adapt and ensure future success.”

‘Fluffy’ crab that wears a sponge as a hat discovered in Western Australia. “Hosie said it wasn’t clear why Lamarckdromia beagle was so fluffy.” But I’m glad that it is.

Why Is This Tiny Frog So Awful At Jumping? “The pumpkin toadlet, which is a frog but not a toad, is so terrible at landing its jumps that its sheer incompetence has become a subject of scientific inquiry. A team of researchers from the United States and Brazil that includes Confetti and Singh say they have an answer: The miniaturized toadlets are so tiny that the fluid-filled chambers in their inner ears which control their balance function rather ineffectively, dooming the valiant little jumpers to a lifetime of crash landings.”

Asteroid samples contain 'clues to origin of life': Japan scientists. “Scientists have been questioning how organic matter -- including amino acids -- was created or where it came from, and the fact that amino acids were discovered in the sample offers a reason to think that amino acids were brought to Earth from outer space.”

Society

Texas educator group proposes referring to slavery as “involuntary relocation” in second grade curriculum. “This group proposing second grade curriculum revisions was given a copy of Senate Bill 3, Texas’ law that dictates how slavery and race is taught in Texas. In it, the law states that slavery can’t be taught as a true founding of the United States and that slavery was nothing more than a deviation from American values.”

1955 warrant in Emmett Till case found, family seeks arrest. “A team searching a Mississippi courthouse basement for evidence about the lynching of Black teenager Emmett Till has found the unserved warrant charging a white woman in his 1955 kidnapping, and relatives of the victim want authorities to finally arrest her nearly 70 years later.” All this terrible history is so close.

Patients in Texas abortion clinic waiting rooms were turned away as Roe fell. “Those turned away were patients who were now outside an already small window: In September, Texas banned abortion past six weeks of pregnancy. That law was the first in a series of abortion restrictions passed in states across the country in the last year that served as a preview of life after Roe.”

Liberal Supreme Court justices detail post-Roe America in furious abortion dissent. ““Those responsible for the original Constitution, including the Fourteenth Amendment, did not perceive women as equals, and did not recognize women’s rights,” Breyer continued, adding that the court may as well rely on standards from the Dark Ages, and that this “consigns women to second-class citizenship.””

Ohio Makes It Easier for Teachers to Carry Guns at School. “A new law requires educators and other school staff members who want to carry a weapon to undergo no more than 24 hours of training — compared with more than 700 hours previously.” What could possibly go wrong?

Young women are leading the movement to stop the next school shooting. ““People often forget that women are the backbone of most of our progressive movements in this country,” Eastmond said. “So, I have noticed a lot of women involved [in gun reform], but that’s not something out of the ordinary that we haven’t seen before. I think women just naturally end up involved in progressive change.””

A Year in Photos of Gender Expansive Youth Across U.S. “The photographer Annie Flanagan spent a year documenting gender-expansive young people across the U.S. as they experience adolescence at a fraught political and cultural time. Flanagan’s subjects are supporting one another, thriving, and finding joy. They’re getting ready for summer vacation. They’re hanging out with their friends. They’re maneuvering the social dynamics of prom. They’re walking across the stage at high school graduation and getting their diplomas, looking to the future, and planning for better days. These moments send their own message.”

It’s Been 50 Years. I Am Not ‘Napalm Girl’ Anymore. “I cannot speak for the families in Uvalde, Texas, but I think that showing the world what the aftermath of a gun rampage truly looks like can deliver the awful reality. We must face this violence head-on, and the first step is to look at it.”

Ethiopia’s Invisible Ethnic Cleansing. “For more than a year and a half, a largely invisible campaign of ethnic cleansing has played out in Ethiopia’s northern region of Tigray. Older people, women, and children have been loaded onto trucks and forced out of their villages and hometowns. Men have been herded into overcrowded detention sites, where  many have died of disease, starvation, or torture. In total, several hundred thousand Tigrayans have been forcibly uprooted because of their ethnicity.”

Technology

Instagram and Facebook remove posts offering abortion pills. “The Facebook account was immediately put on a “warning” status for the post, which Facebook said violated its standards on “guns, animals and other regulated goods.” Yet, when the AP reporter made the same exact post but swapped out the words “abortion pills” for “a gun,” the post remained untouched. A post with the same exact offer to mail “weed” was also left up and not considered a violation.”

Section 230 Is a Last Line of Defense for Abortion Speech Online. “Section 230 is the last line of defense keeping reproductive health care support, information, and fundraising online. Under Section 230, internet platforms that host and moderate user-generated content cannot generally be sued for that content. Section 230 is not absolute. It does not provide immunity if the platform develops or creates the content, and it does not provide immunity from the enforcement of federal criminal laws. But, crucially, it does protect against criminal liability from state laws.”

They Live and the secret history of the Mozilla logo. “So that was the time that I somehow convinced a multi-billion dollar corporation to give away the source code to their flagship product and re-brand it using propaganda art by the world’s most notorious graffiti artist.”

W3C to become a public-interest non-profit organization. “We need a structure where we meet at a faster pace the demands of new web capabilities and address the urgent problems of the web. The W3C Team is small, bounded in size, and the Hosted model hinders rapid development and acquisition of skills in new fields.”

Amazon Shows Off Alexa Speaking in the Voice of a Dead Relative. “In a video demo shown at the event, a young boy says, “Alexa, can Grandma finish reading me ‘The Wizard of Oz’?” — whereupon a synthesized voice of the grandmother emanates from an Amazon Echo Dot smart speaker.” That’s a hard no from me.

Facebook and Anti-Abortion Clinics Are Collecting Highly Sensitive Info on Would-Be Patients. “More than a third of the websites sent data to Facebook when someone made an appointment for an “abortion consultation” or “pre-termination screening.” And at least 39 sites sent Facebook details such as the person’s name, email address, or phone number.”

Facebook Is Receiving Sensitive Medical Information from Hospital Websites. “A tracking tool installed on many hospitals’ websites has been collecting patients’ sensitive health information—including details about their medical conditions, prescriptions, and doctor’s appointments—and sending it to Facebook.”

Tesla Accused of Shutting Off Autopilot Moments Before Impact. “In the report, the NHTSA spotlights 16 separate crashes, each involving a Tesla vehicle plowing into stopped first responders and highway maintenance vehicles. In the crashes, it claims, records show that the self-driving feature had “aborted vehicle control less than one second prior to the first impact” — a finding that calls supposedly-exonerating crash reports, which Musk himself has a pension for circulating, into question.”

Firefox Rolls Out Total Cookie Protection By Default To All Users. Really good work.

Salesforce to employees: We're not going to stop working with the NRA. “Salesforce employees have asked the company to end its relationship with the National Rifle Association. But during an all-hands Wednesday, co-CEOs Bret Taylor and Marc Benioff said that the company wouldn’t bar specific customers from using its services, according to a recording obtained by Protocol.”

Smartphones Blur the Line Between Civilian and Combatant. This seems to be laying some dangerous ground: “The principle of distinction between the two roles is a critical cornerstone of international humanitarian law—the law of armed conflict, codified by decades of customs and laws such as the Geneva Conventions. Those considered civilians and civilian targets are not to be attacked by military forces; as they are not combatants, they should be spared. At the same time, they also should not act as combatants—if they do, they may lose this status.”

· Posts

 

Reading, watching, playing, using: May, 2022

This is my monthly roundup of the books, articles, and streaming media I found interesting. Here's my list for May, 2022.

Books

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, by Susan Kuklin. I wanted to like this, but I can’t recommend it. Granted, it’s almost a decade old, and the discourse has evolved since then. But the author leaves gender essentialism and some stories that verge on abuse unaddressed. It’s great that these teenagers’ stories are told verbatim, but it’s not great to miss out on the nuanced commentary that they demand. I love the idea and I hope someone executes it better than this.

Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot, by Mikki Kendall. A heartfelt argument for truly intersectional feminism. Occasionally challenging in the way that helps you stretch and learn, and overall a vision of what the politics of the future need to look like. As an introduction, it’s near-perfect, and I want to send it to quite a few people I know.

Notable Articles

Business

The Worst Thing You Can Do At Work After Another Mass Shooting Is Nothing. ““You can’t do ‘business as usual’ after a tragic event, which is something that many employers do and fail to prioritize the needs of their staff during such a difficult time,” said Katheryn Perez, a California-based psychotherapist. “The needs and humanity of your staff should take priority over anything.””

SpaceX Paid $250,000 to a Flight Attendant Who Accused Elon Musk of Sexual Misconduct. “The flight attendant told her friend that the billionaire SpaceX and Tesla founder asked her to come to his room during a flight in late 2016 “for a full body massage,” the declaration says. When she arrived, the attendant found that Musk “was completely naked except for a sheet covering the lower half of his body.” During the massage, the declaration says, Musk “exposed his genitals” and then “touched her and offered to buy her a horse if she would ‘do more,’ referring to the performance of sex acts.””

Virtual communication curbs creative idea generation. “In a laboratory study and a field experiment across five countries (in Europe, the Middle East and South Asia), we show that videoconferencing inhibits the production of creative ideas. By contrast, when it comes to selecting which idea to pursue, we find no evidence that videoconferencing groups are less effective (and preliminary evidence that they may be more effective) than in-person groups.” Flaring? Bad over video. Focusing? Just fine.

Climate

April sets record for highest CO2 levels in human history. “Levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached the highest levels on record for any calendar month during April, averaging 420 parts per million (ppm) for the first time since observations began in 1958, according to new data.”

Covid

The Normalization of "Working Through Covid". “But I am here to say — to myself as much as any of you faced with this decision — that this is line of thinking is morally bankrupt. It has productivity culture brainworms. It is evidence of the most toxic scarcity mindset, and one of the most pernicious side-effects of the spread of “flexible” work.”

Covid's toll in U.S. reaches 1 million deaths, a once unfathomable number. “The United States on Wednesday surpassed 1 million Covid-19 deaths, according to data compiled by NBC News — a once unthinkable scale of loss even for the country with the world’s highest recorded toll from the virus.”

Crypto

From Argentina to Nigeria, people saw Terra as more stable than local currency. They lost everything. “The apparent security of stablecoins has made them attractive to people in countries that experience high inflation or currency devaluations, such as Argentina, Iran, and Nigeria. The UST crash, which has hit other crypto assets, shattered that illusion. Valeria is one of more than a dozen people Rest of World  spoke with, from countries including Argentina, Venezuela, Iran, Iraq, and Nigeria, who invested in UST — the third-largest stablecoin — and its accompanying Luna token, and who said they have now lost tens of thousands of dollars in savings.”

There is a moral case against crypto. ““We” are not, in fact all going to make it — in a negative-sum or even zero-sum game, that’s impossible. The people using this line might, but that’s because they got in before everyone else. They are relying on the “greater fool” — which they hope includes you, dear reader — continuing to believe these lies and perpetuating their dishonest schemes.”

Cautionary Tales from Cryptoland. “It’s a compelling pitch; I’ll give them that. But crypto has so far been enormously successful at taking wealth from the average person or the financially disadvantaged and “redistributing” it to the already wealthy.”

Coinbase admits users may lose crypto if exchange goes bankrupt. “Coinbase said in its earnings report Tuesday that it holds $256 billion in both fiat currencies and cryptocurrencies on behalf of its customers. Yet the exchange noted that in the event it ever declared bankruptcy, “the crypto assets we hold in custody on behalf of our customers could be subject to bankruptcy proceedings.” Coinbase users would become “general unsecured creditors,” meaning they have no right to claim any specific property from the exchange in proceedings. Their funds would become inaccessible.” Uhh.

Culture

Want to make it in the music industry? You better go viral on TikTok. Halsey: “Basically I have a song that I love that I wanna release ASAP but my record label won’t let me. I’ve been in this industry for 8 years and I’ve sold over 165 million records. And my record company is saying that I can’t release it unless they can fake a viral moment on TikTok. Everything is marketing. And they are doing this to basically every artist these days. I just wanna release music, man. And I deserve better tbh. I’m tired.”

Filtered for ownership. “Incredible to think of ownership as being so arbitrary. Implies that we could have completely different configurations of ownership, moral frameworks around it, feelings around it.” A fun exploration of several different ownership conundrums.

Yep, I created the new AVATAR font. “Like any self-respecting type designer, I’ve seen the SNL Papyrus skit, and I usually watch it again whenever someone sends me a link (which is pretty often). I do believe it’s Ryan Gosling’s finest performance. But unlike many type nerds, I think Papyrus is actually a pretty cool-looking font, and must admit that it wasn’t a bad fit for the original AVATAR logo, despite also appearing on Shakira merch and off-brand tea.”

Fiction Fodder

NASA Sponsored Researcher Suggests It Might Be Possible to Change the Laws of Physics. “In an extremely cosmic-brain take, University of Rochester astrophysics professor Adam Frank suggests that a civilization could advance so much that it could eventually tinker with the fundamental laws of physics.”

Media

Online retail images reveal skin tone discrepancies. “Their study, “Computing Colorism: Skin Tone in Online Retail Imagery,” published March 13 in Visual Communication, found that still images of models had statistically lighter skin tones than in videos of the same product and model. They also found evidence of “tokenism” – that is, many of the websites had one model who was considerably darker-skinned than the others”

Doctor Who: Ncuti Gatwa to replace Jodie Whittaker, BBC announces. “The Scottish actor, who was born in Rwanda, starred as Eric Effiong in Netflix’s hugely popular Sex Education about the socially awkward high school student Otis (Asa Butterfield) and his sex therapist mother Jean (Gillian Anderson). He will become the first black actor to play the title role full-time.” With no shade to the current era, which I’ve enjoyed very much, I can’t wait.

‘Wipe Jews Off the Face of the Earth’: Racism and Antisemitic Slurs of Viral YouTuber Exposed. “Watson uses a string of racist and homophobic epithets and claims that he is sick of “media f—t activists” sticking signs “up in my face trying to get me to join the gay ft Palestinian cause. I don’t give a shit about Israel and Palestine. I care about white people. Not sand n—r Jew P—i f—t c—s”.”

Politics

Why is the GOP escalating attacks on trans rights? Experts say the goal is to make sure evangelicals vote. “In the 2018 midterms, the Human Rights Campaign, with polling firm Catalyst, found that people they dubbed “equality voters,” those whose support for LGBTQ+ rights strongly influenced their voting choices, made up 29 percent of the electorate. White evangelicals made up 26 percent of the vote.” This is going to be an increasingly losing strategy over time.

Inflation’s biting. Roe’s fraying. Dems are still trying to connect with voters. “When Porter gave an emotional speech about how inflation has been hitting her family for months during a private House Democratic Caucus meeting last week, she said it seemed like the first time the personal toll of high consumer prices had sunk in for some lawmakers in the room.”

Former Pentagon chief Esper says Trump wanted to shoot protesters. “Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper charges in a memoir out May 10 that former President Trump said when demonstrators were filling the streets around the White House following the death of George Floyd: “Can’t you just shoot them? Just shoot them in the legs or something?””

What you need to know about the Title 42 policy that sends migrants to Mexico. “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced that it plans to end Title 42 on May 23 because COVID-19 cases have decreased and vaccines are widely available. But that date is now in question because of Republican-led lawsuits aimed at keeping the policy in place.”

Fed judiciary says yes to free PACER searches. Here are the details so far. “Federal judiciary policymakers have approved a plan to eliminate costly fees for online docket searches amid debate in Congress about whether to force the court system to make its PACER electronic court record system free for the general public.” RIP Aaron Swartz.

Science

Is Sunscreen the New Margarine? “So Lindqvist decided to look at overall mortality rates, and the results were shocking. Over the 20 years of the study, sun avoiders were twice as likely to die as sun worshippers.”

Cats learn the names of their friend cats in their daily lives. “This study provides evidence that cats link a companion’s name and corresponding face without explicit training.”

Researchers Pinpoint Reason Infants Die From SIDS. “Previously, parents were told SIDS could be prevented if they took proper precautions: laying babies on their backs, not letting them overheat and keeping all toys and blankets out of the crib were a few of the most important preventative steps. So, when SIDS still occurred, parents were left with immense guilt, wondering if they could have prevented their baby’s death.”

Society

The Science Is Clear: Gun Control Saves Lives. “The science is abundantly clear: More guns do not stop crime. Guns kill more children each year than auto accidents. More children die by gunfire in a year than on-duty police officers and active military members. Guns are a public health crisis, just like COVID, and in this, we are failing our children, over and over again.”

All Aboard Germany's Gas-Saving Summer of Super-Cheap Trains. “For the three months of summer starting June 1, a month’s travel ticket will cost just 9 euros ($9.56) a month for all subways, buses, trams and regional trains. This will slash the cost of public transit to almost token levels.” Way to make me homesick for Europe.

Guns have become the top injury-related cause of death for U.S. kids. “School shootings have become tragically common in the U.S., but constitute only a small fraction of gun deaths among children.”

Current Causes of Death in Children and Adolescents in the United States. “Since 2016, that gap has narrowed, and in 2020, firearm-related injuries became the leading cause of death in that age group.” Guns are now the leading cause of death for children in the United States.

329 years later, last Salem 'witch' who wasn't is pardoned. “Massachusetts lawmakers on Thursday formally exonerated Elizabeth Johnson Jr., clearing her name 329 years after she was convicted of witchcraft in 1693 and sentenced to death at the height of the Salem Witch Trials.”

Vast majority of Americans don’t want Supreme Court decisions on marriage, contraception overturned, new poll shows. “An exclusive The 19th/Momentive poll of more than 8,000 Americans revealed strongly held opinions on maintaining Supreme Court precedent on cases rooted in the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of personal liberty.”

What abortion restrictions and laws look like in every state in the US - right now. “The 19th created this dashboard to centralize updates on the status of abortion rights in each state in this moment. While we will continue our extensive, in-depth coverage of the shifting abortion access landscape, this tool provides us with a way to share breaking news and how it affects access in each state.”

Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy: Our Maternal Death Rates Are Only Bad If You Count Black Women. “In an interview with Politico, the following words came out of Cassidy’s mouth: “About a third of our population is African American; African Americans have a higher incidence of maternal mortality. So, if you correct our population for race, we’re not as much of an outlier as it’d otherwise appear. Now, I say that not to minimize the issue but to focus the issue as to where it would be. For whatever reason, people of color have a higher incidence of maternal mortality.””

Fetus-powered street lamps? Republicans ramp up outrageous anti-abortion lies ahead of Roe's demise. ““In places like Washington D.C.,” fetuses are “burned to power the light’s of the city’s homes and streets,” claimed Catherine Glenn Foster, who had, just minutes before, sworn not to lie under oath. The GOP-summoned witness let loose the wild and utterly false accusation that municipal electrical companies are powered by incinerated fetuses.”

How inequities make the baby formula shortage worse for many families. “In the meantime, parents have begun stockpiling if they can – and rationing when they can’t. Much of the burden is falling on households that need financial assistance: The White House noted that people on the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) account for about half of all infant formula purchases. Parents who work lower-income jobs often need to rely on formula more because their jobs do not allow for them to establish breastfeeding easily – assuming a parent can produce enough milk to begin with.”

American Dragnet: Data-Driven Deportation in the 21st Century. “ICE has used face recognition technology to search through the driver’s license photographs of around 1 in 3 (32%) of all adults in the U.S. The agency has access to the driver’s license data of 3 in 4 (74%) adults and tracks the movements of cars in cities home to nearly 3 in 4 (70%) adults. When 3 in 4 (74%) adults in the U.S. connected the gas, electricity, phone or internet in a new home, ICE was able to automatically learn their new address. Almost all of that has been done warrantlessly and in secret.”

New poll captures how people with disabilities feel about abortion. “The Data for Progress national poll indicates that 55 percent of non-disabled people and 53 percent of people with disabilities believe that abortion should be legal in most circumstances, which largely reflects recent data from other polling firms.”

Leaked Supreme Court draft abortion decision could stop patients from seeking the procedure. “The leaked ruling is certain to embolden conservative-led states eager to restrict access to the procedure. And it will discourage patients from seeking abortions that, under current law, they are constitutionally entitled to, experts said.”

Supreme Court has voted to overturn abortion rights, draft opinion shows. “No draft decision in the modern history of the court has been disclosed publicly while a case was still pending. The unprecedented revelation is bound to intensify the debate over what was already the most controversial case on the docket this term.”

Canadian astronauts no longer free to rob and kill with abandon in space or on the moon. “The amendment explicitly states that Canadian criminal jurisdiction will apply to the lunar station itself, and any “means of transportation” to the station. And just in case, “on the surface of the moon.””

Technology

Microsoft’s Verified ID could create digital privacy issues. “As part of Verified ID, individuals would be able to get digital credentials that prove where they work, what school they graduated from, which bank account they have — and, perhaps more controversially, whether they’re in good health according to their doctor.” It supports DIDs, interestingly.

If Tech Fails to Design for the Most Vulnerable, It Fails Us All. “The reality is that making better, safer, less harmful tech requires design based on the lived realities of those who are most marginalized. These “edge cases” are frequently ignored as being outside of the scope of a typical user’s likely experiences. Yet they are powerful indicators for understanding the flaws in our technologies.”

In Extremely Confusing Twist, Facebook Says It Isn’t Building a Metaverse After All. “Facebook’s dream of the metaverse, a VR hellscape stuffed with annoying ads and screeching children, is as incoherent and confusing as ever after reading an 8,000 word essay by Nick Clegg, the president of global affairs at Facebook’s parent company Meta.” Honestly can’t believe I’m living in a reality where Nick Clegg of all people is in a position to describe the future.

Bada Bing, Bada Boom: Microsoft Bing’s Chinese Political Censorship of Autosuggestions in North America. “We analyzed Microsoft Bing’s autosuggestion system for censorship of the names of individuals, finding that, outside of names relating to eroticism, the second largest category of names censored from appearing in autosuggestions were those of Chinese party leaders, dissidents, and other persons considered politically sensitive in China.” Including here in the US.

We Need to Take Back Our Privacy. “That data becomes an even more powerful form of surveillance when it is combined with other data. A woman who regularly eats sushi and suddenly stops, or stops taking Pepto-Bismol, or starts taking vitamin B6 may be easily identified as someone following guidelines for pregnancy. If that woman doesn’t give birth she might find herself being questioned by the police, who may think she had an abortion.”

Taking a Break from Social Media Makes you Happier and Less Anxious. “At the end of this week, the researchers found “significant between-group differences” in well-being, depression, and anxiety, with the intervention group faring much better on all three metrics. These results held even after control for baseline scores, as well as age and gender.”

Apple discontinues the iPod after 20 years. “While Apple may be done with making dedicated music players, the company says that “the spirit of iPod lives on” in all of its devices that play music, such as the iPhone, iPad, and HomePod Mini.”

Israel Arrests 9 for 'AirDrop' of Crash Images Aboard Plane. “A taxiing plane returned to the gate at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport on Tuesday after photos of aviation disasters popped up on passengers’ phones - sent, Israeli authorities believe, by nine people on board using the iPhone “AirDrop” function.”

Data Broker Is Selling Location Data of People Who Visit Abortion Clinics. “A location data firm is selling information related to visits to clinics that provide abortions including Planned Parenthood facilities, showing where groups of people visiting the locations came from, how long they stayed there, and where they then went afterwards, according to sets of the data purchased by Motherboard.”

· Posts

 

Reading, watching, playing, using: April, 2022

This is my monthly roundup of the books, articles, and streaming media I found interesting. Here's my list for April, 2022.

Books

Kleptopia: How Dirty Money Is Conquering the World, by Tom Burgis. Fascinating but also narrow: in this true life tale of global kleptocracy, all the players in the west are amoral at worst, while the real thieves are in the former Soviet Union. Still, there’s a lot to learn from the author’s research, and enough here to embarrass the banks and moneymen who made it all possible.

Notable Articles

Business

Rise of women in tech leadership. “Women in tech are gaining ground as the technology industry—or at least its largest players—makes slow but steady progress in shrinking its gender gap, and women in tech leadership are making the fastest advances.” Lots of work still to do, but good!

LinkedIn’s ‘career break’ feature can help normalize resume gaps. “LinkedIn users can classify their time away from paid work as one of 13 “types” of career breaks — including bereavement, career transition, caregiving, full-time parenting and health and well-being — and add details about what led to the career break and what they’ve done during the break.” I think this is good?

The Things We Did Not Do While Reaching $2M ARR. “A list of things tech startups usually go through that we did not.”

The Rise of the Triple Peak Day. “Findings from Microsoft and its researchers suggest that the 9-to-5 workday is fading in an age of remote and hybrid work and more flexible hours. That pattern was first spotted early in the pandemic, when Microsoft Teams chats outside the typical workday increased more than in any other time segment, particularly between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.” This is not okay.

Returning To The Office Is Creating The Great Reckoning. “Despite the endless pablum about “leadership” in business, those who lead - bosses, managers, and so on - by and large are not the ones doing the work, to the point that many of them have only the most tangential understanding of the tasks they’re demanding other people complete.”

Amazon Workers on Staten Island Vote to Unionize. “The win on Staten Island could herald a new era for labor unions in the United States, which saw the portion of workers in unions drop last year to 10.3 percent, the lowest rate in decades, despite widespread labor shortages and pockets of successful labor activity.”

Covid

75% of US children have now had COVID, up from 44% due to omicron. “About a third of all children in the country were newly infected during the omicron wave. Together, the data showcase just how poorly the country has done at shielding children—including those not yet eligible for vaccination—from the pandemic virus.”

Crypto

On anti-crypto toxicity. “If you feel the urge to “cyberbully” someone in crypto, direct it at the powerful players behind crypto projects that are actively taking advantage of the vulnerable. Or, just as reasonably, direct it at the powerful tech executives, venture capitalists, elected representatives, and lobbyists who have contributed to the untenable situation we find ourselves in.”

Gwyneth Paltrow, Mila Kunis are pushing women to invest in NFTs. “But they’re also buying into an unpredictable market that some theorize has already peaked. Most NFTs don’t sell and only a small group of people are responsible for the vast quantity of NFT trading, said Mason Nystrom, an analyst for Messari Capital.”

Culture

Donald Glover Interviews Donald Glover. “I mean farming everything. Talent, ideas, moments. You ever heard of Bauhaus?”

the html review. “The html review is an annual journal of literature made to exist on the web.”

Star Trek: Picard to Reunite Next Generation Cast for Season 3. Let’s be real: I will watch the hell out of this.

Return to Monkey Island. A new sequel from Ron Gilbert, following canonically from Monkey Island 2? Sign. Me. Up.

I would like to be paid like a plumber. “I explained this to Kurt but I thought I’d better reiterate it here. I do not want and will not take a royalty on any record I record. No points. Period. I think paying a royalty to a producer or engineer is ethically indefensible. The band write the songs. The band play the music. It’s the band’s fans who buy the records. The band is responsible for whether it’s a great record or a horrible record. Royalties belong to the band.” Steve Albini makes his pitch to Nirvana to help make In Utero.

Media

The L.A. Riots Were 30 Years Ago. I’m Still Trying to Understand Them. “But my editor, who was white, removed all references to King’s race from the story’s opening paragraphs.”

From the Arab Spring to Russian censorship: a decade of internet blackouts and repression. “Over the last six months, Rest of World spoke to more than 70 technologists, telecomms experts, activists, and journalists from around the world to track how governments’ control over the internet has grown and evolved during the past decade. Their testimony shows that the free, open, global internet is under severe threat.”

Let’s make journalism work for those not born into an elite class. ““Most news coverage isn’t created with people experiencing poverty in mind,” Heather Bryant, a journalist and founder of Project Facet, has said. That is frequently made clear when outlets want to run sensitive and authentic stories concerning class.”

White newspaper, Black city. “After years of sluggish progress, there’s something to be said about how journalists are growing more willing to publicly air the dirty laundry of their own publications in the name of making them better. While new journalism organizations are radically redefining what it means to reflect the communities they serve, it’s unclear if older institutions can truly reckon with their failures.”

How Silicon Valley is helping Putin and other tyrants win the information war. ““The power that Facebook has is scary. The way it is using it is even scarier,” a Russian journalist, who did not want to be named due to security concerns, told me. Her account was suspended after she was reported to Facebook by numerous accounts accusing her of violating community standards.”

Bitch Comes to a Close. Just a complete bummer.

BBC Staff Exodus: Women of Color Exhausted from Fighting Broken System. “At least 15 women of color have left the BBC in the last year saying they are “exhausted” from fighting a system that “is not systemically built to support anyone who is different,” a Variety investigation has uncovered.”

Politics

Supreme Court Denies Equal Rights To Puerto Ricans — Again. ““Equal treatment of citizens should not be left to the vagaries of the political process,” Sotomayor wrote. “Because residents of Puerto Rico do not have voting representation in Congress, they cannot rely on their elected representatives to remedy the punishing disparities suffered by citizen residents of Puerto Rico under Congress’ unequal treatment.””

Older women voters will likely play a big role in the midterm elections. ““Women over 50+ may not only be the decision makers in their households, they may also be the decision makers of the midterm elections,” Margie Omero, principal at GBAO, a public opinion research firm, said in a statement accompanying the poll results.”

Science

Alzheimer’s May Be Caused by Cell Phones, Scientists Say. “According to a press release on the research, most scientists agree that Alzheimer’s is caused by excess calcium buildup in the brain. And pulsed electronically generated electromagnetic fields (EMFs) emitted from cell phones, the study says, may be causing or worsening that calcium buildup.”

Reversing hearing loss with regenerative therapy. “In Frequency’s first clinical study, the company saw statistically significant improvements in speech perception in some participants after a single injection, with some responses lasting nearly two years.”

Society

Brooklyn Public Library Launches Campaign Against State Book Bans. “The Books UnBanned campaign provides youth ages 13 to 21 with online access to banned books.” Just superb.

Black principals receive leadership training, support through new initiatives. “Studies link Black principals, especially women, to better academic performance. New initiatives aim to train and support them.”

Stop matching lone female Ukraine refugees with single men, UK told. “The UN refugee agency has called on the UK government to intervene to stop single British men from being matched up with lone Ukrainian women seeking refuge from war because of fears of sexual exploitation.” Gross.

Ketanji Brown Jackson confirmed: How she will change the Supreme Court. “The Senate on Thursday voted 53-47 to confirm Jackson’s historic nomination to the nation’s highest court. Though Jackson will not change the court’s conservative majority, she will change the court. Her presence is set to create the first all-women liberal wing of the court, whose dissenting opinions are expected to outline their vision for a more just country and possibly influence future Supreme Court rulings.”

Oklahoma’s legislature approves total abortion ban. “This June, the Supreme Court is expected to rule on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case that examines the constitutionality of a 15-week abortion ban. Many observers believe the court, which has a large conservative majority, will use that case to overturn Roe v. Wade, allowing states to restrict access to the procedure as much as they wish.”

Technology

As Western social media apps leave Russia, Snap’s Zenly hangs on. “If you’re a restaurant chain, you’re either selling Subway sandwiches in Russia or not. You’re either selling a Rolls-Royce or not. It’s not as straightforward for the tech platforms.”

Applied for Student Aid Online? Facebook Saw You. “For millions of prospective college students, applying online for federal financial aid has also meant sharing personal data with Facebook, unbeknownst to them or their parents, The Markup has learned. This information has included first and last names, email addresses, and zip codes.”

Some Thoughts On Twitter. “I continue to believe that a single person owning one of the most important communications protocols of the internet is a bad idea, but maybe it can be a bridge to something better.”

Web scraping is legal, US appeals court reaffirms. “In its ruling, the Supreme Court narrowed what constitutes a violation of the CFAA as those who gain unauthorized access to a computer system — rather than a broader interpretation of exceeding existing authorization, which the court argued could have attached criminal penalties to “a breathtaking amount of commonplace computer activity.””

Jeff Bezos is worth $160bn – yet Congress might bail out his space company. “Who will, overall, be benefiting from space exploration? Will it be a handful of billionaires or will it be the people of our country and all of humanity?”

Lyft asked if this driver needed help. He was already dying. “Lyft says it’s worked hard to develop security features to keep drivers safe. In addition to the texts the company sends, Lyft also has 24/7 safety teams and partners with ADT, so drivers can use the Lyft app to contact the security company and get emergency services sent to their location. But Philpotts’ story is a case study not only in how those safety features fail in real life-and-death situations, but also in how Lyft itself fails the families of drivers who are hurt or killed on the job.”

Planting Undetectable Backdoors in Machine Learning Models. “Given the computational cost and technical expertise required to train machine learning models, users may delegate the task of learning to a service provider. We show how a malicious learner can plant an undetectable backdoor into a classifier. On the surface, such a backdoored classifier behaves normally, but in reality, the learner maintains a mechanism for changing the classification of any input, with only a slight perturbation.”

Ukraine using ClearviewAI facial recognition to identify Russian war dead. “In another conversation, a stranger sent a message to a Russian mother saying her son was dead, alongside a photo showing a man’s body in the dirt — face grimacing and mouth agape. The recipient responded with disbelief, saying it wasn’t him, before the sender passed along another photo showing a gloved hand holding the man’s military documents.” Grim.

A Web Renaissance. “So if we have the tech, then why hasn’t it happened already? The biggest thing that may be missing is just awareness of the modern web’s potential. Unlike the Facebooks and Googles of the world, the open, creative web doesn’t have a billion-dollar budget for promoting itself. Years of control from the tech titans has resulted in the conventional wisdom that somehow the web isn’t “enough”, that you have to tie yourself to proprietary platforms if you want to build a big brand or a big business.”

Pipedream Malware: Feds Uncover 'Swiss Army Knife' for Industrial System Hacking. “On Wednesday, the Department of Energy, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, the NSA, and the FBI jointly released an advisory about a new hacker toolset potentially capable of meddling with a wide range of industrial control system equipment.”

Police Records Show Women Are Being Stalked With Apple AirTags Across the Country. “Of the 150 total police reports mentioning AirTags, in 50 cases women called the police because they started getting notifications that their whereabouts were being tracked by an AirTag they didn’t own. Of those, 25 could identify a man in their lives—ex-partners, husbands, bosses—who they strongly suspected planted the AirTags on their cars in order to follow and harass them. Those women reported that current and former intimate partners—the most likely people to harm women overall—are using AirTags to stalk and harass them.”

· Posts

 

Reading, watching, playing, using: March, 2022

This is my monthly roundup of the books, articles, and streaming media I found interesting. Here's my list for March, 2022. This was an intense month, so a shorter list than usual.

Streaming Media

Severance. My kind of science fiction: darkly satirical, with a dramatic vice that closes with each new episode. Really beautifully done.

Notable Articles

Business

Epic Games Acquires Bandcamp as 'Fortnite' Maker Expands Into Music. “Bandcamp will play an “important role in Epic’s vision to build out a creator marketplace ecosystem for content, technology, games, art, music and more,” the games company said. According to Bandcamp, under its revenue model artists receive net an average of 82% of every sale.” Fascinating!

Equal Pay Day: What can transparency laws do to the gender pay gap? “After years of little progress toward pay equity, more and more states and localities are passing pay transparency laws that eliminate the secrecy around salaries and could be a powerful tool for eliminating the gender pay gap.”

More Employees Are Saying That Tesla’s Factory Is Horrifically Racist. “One single mother said she was excited to work for Tesla but was fired because she made a complaint about Black workers being call the N-word on the assembly line. According to the report originally published in the LA Times, other employees were also called racial slurs and insults and penalized for telling management.”

Climate

In a US first, California will pilot solar-panel canopies over canals. “India already has solar panels over canals, but the mile-long Project Nexus in California’s San Joaquin Valley will be the first of its kind in the US.” Go Turlock!

Crypto

Executive Order on Ensuring Responsible Development of Digital Assets. “We must take strong steps to reduce the risks that digital assets could pose to consumers, investors, and business protections; financial stability and financial system integrity; combating and preventing crime and illicit finance; national security; the ability to exercise human rights; financial inclusion and equity; and climate change and pollution.”

Ukraine Is Selling NFTs to Finance Its Military. “While it might seem like a weird attempt to gin up funds, Ukraine claims to have raised more than $54 million so far through cryptocurrency donations in order to help fund war and relief efforts in the embattled country. So there’s definitely something to be said for jumping on the crypto train to raise money.”

The (Edited) Latecomer's Guide to Crypto. “Here, a group of around fifteen cryptocurrency researchers and critics have done what the New York Times apparently won’t.”

Exxon Mobil reportedly gets in on Bitcoin mining. “Exxon Mobil has begun a pilot program to set up Bitcoin miners at an oil well in North Dakota. The project reportedly runs off 18 million ft³ of natural gas that would otherwise be flared.” Oh, great.

Culture

MC Hammer ‘Will Beat Yo' Ass’—and Other Hard Tales of the MTV-Friendly Rapper. “Serch claims the $50,000 hit was confirmed by fellow Def Jam artist Eric B., and was supposed to be carried out by the Los Angeles crips. In a later interview, Serch said fear and anger over the incident has never left him.”

Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” Adjusted for Late-Stage Capitalism . “Working 8 to 6, but they call you after hours / Barely gettin’ by, lots of crying in the shower / You might prequalify, won’t even hurt your credit / Ran out of sick days—well, I hope y’all don’t catch it”

Grimes Reveals Y, Her New Baby Daughter With Elon Musk, in Cover Interview. Come for the secret baby, stay for an interview that makes Grimes seem like a pretty cool person.

The case for induction cooking. “But for all the sexiness of cooking with gas (a concept bolstered by aggressive lobbying and advertising from the natural gas industry), it has been shown to be catastrophic for the environment, emitting potent greenhouse gases like methane into the atmosphere. Worse, a recent study demonstrated that 75 percent of these emissions occur when the stove is off.” This is mostly about how amazing induction is for cooking - I’m envious.

Notable Sandwiches #20: The British Rail Sandwich. “The British Rail sandwich is not really a sandwich at all, but rather a category of sandwiches—modest constructions of hard-boiled egg, cheese and tomato, pressed luncheon meat, tongue, boiled ham, cucumber, prawns, etc., offered on the trains traversing Britain’s many kilometers of railway, particularly (though not exclusively) during the four-and-a-half decades in which it was operated by the her majesty’s government.” Ah, memories.

Will Smith Did a Bad, Bad Thing. “When Will Smith stormed onto the Oscar stage to strike Chris Rock for making a joke about his wife’s short hair, he did a lot more damage than just to Rock’s face. With a single petulant blow, he advocated violence, diminished women, insulted the entertainment industry, and perpetuated stereotypes about the Black community.”

Media

Google is releasing an open source harassment filter for journalists . “Harassment Manager also lets users download a standalone report containing abusive messages; this creates a paper trail for their employer or, in the case of illegal content like direct threats, law enforcement. For now, however, there’s not a standalone application that users can download. Instead, developers can freely build apps that incorporate its functionality and services using it will be launched by partners like the Thomson Reuters Foundation.”

Politics

California reparations for slavery descendants only. “After more than six hours of debate Tuesday, California’s reparations task force voted that only Black Californians who can prove a direct lineage to enslaved ancestors will be eligible for the statewide — and first-in-the nation — initiative to address the harms and enduring legacy of slavery.” Progress.

Science

Associations between alcohol consumption and gray and white matter volumes in the UK Biobank. “Here, we show that the negative associations between alcohol intake and brain macrostructure and microstructure are already apparent in individuals consuming an average of only one to two daily alcohol units, and become stronger as alcohol intake increases.” Drinking any amount of alcohol shrinks your brain.

Dual use of artificial-intelligence-powered drug discovery. “An international security conference explored how artificial intelligence (AI) technologies for drug discovery could be misused for de novo design of biochemical weapons. A thought experiment evolved into a computational proof.” Nightmare fuel.

Crows possess higher intelligence long thought primarily human. “Research unveiled on Thursday in Science finds that crows know what they know and can ponder the content of their own minds, a manifestation of higher intelligence and analytical thought long believed the sole province of humans and a few other higher mammals.”

Society

How COVID pressure led single moms to turn to coliving with other adults. “The move to cohabitation eased a significant amount of pressure for Villagomez-Morales at a time when parents, but especially single parents, were being squeezed on all sides — by child care, loss of work and extreme burnout. That, mixed with a housing market that has become increasingly inhospitable to low-wage people, and especially moms, has more single parents looking into the benefits of cohabitation to ride out the pandemic.”

After George Floyd’s murder, police built a secretive surveillance machine that lives on. “We found evidence of a complex engine of surveillance tailor-made for keeping close tabs on protesters and sharing that information among local and federal agencies, regardless of whether the subjects were suspected of any wrongdoing.”

Tatiana Perebyinis and two children identified as those seen dead in viral Lynsey Addario photo from Ukraine. “Photos flashing on his Twitter feed showed four people lying next to a World War II memorial just outside Kyiv after they were fired on by the Russian military. One of them was his wife, and two were his children.” Pure horror.

Mark and Lily Osler: Governor’s order on transgender youth cruel, short-sighted. “Because Gov. Abbott has moved to threaten transgender kids by criminalizing the kind of support they need, it’s time for Lily and me to tell this part of our family story and to address the harm Gov. Abbott is doing.”

In most states, over half of all women of color earn less than a living wage. “In nine states, 50 percent or more of all women workers are earning less than $15 an hour. But in 40 states, 50 percent or more of all women of color — Black women, Latinas, Native American women and Asian American and Pacific Islander women — are earning below a living wage. In 23 states, 60 percent or more of all women of color have hourly earnings under $15.”

What Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination means to Black women. “At the start of this week’s hearing, The 19th spoke to people who gathered on the steps of the high court about what her historic journey to the most powerful bench in the United States means.”

These Companies Are Clamoring for Women's Dollars As They Help Tank Pro-Women Legislation. “Companies clamoring for women’s dollars are making huge donations to politicians and political action committees specifically designed to tank legislation aiming to lift women and families out of poverty, according to new research obtained by Jezebel.”

Technology

Twitter Wants to Reinvent Itself, by Merging the Old With the New. “Now, over a decade later, Twitter is reversing course. The company is pursuing the sort of decentralization Mr. [Blaine] Cook championed. It is funding an independent effort to build a so-called open protocol for social media. It is also weaving cryptocurrency into its app, and opening up to developers who want to build custom features for Twitter.” Quite a lovely piece about decentralization.

The web is for everyone: Our vision for the evolution of the web. “We believe to make the web a better place we need to focus our work on these nine areas.” From Mozilla.

EU's Digital Markets Act will require Apple to open iMessage. “European regulators on Thursday revealed their plan to rein in the anti-competitive practices of Big Tech and fundamentally remake how some of the world’s most powerful companies do business. The rules, which target tech giants like Apple, Amazon, Meta and Google, are far-reaching and would have huge ramification for those companies’ software and services.” Good.

Is tech still failing Black communities? Data says yes. “There was just a 1% increase in representation of Black workers in technical roles at large tech companies between the years of 2014 and 2021, according to the report titled State of Tech Diversity: The Black Tech Ecosystem.”

Facebook paid Republican strategy firm to malign TikTok. “In October, Targeted Victory worked to spread rumors of the “Slap a Teacher TikTok challenge” in local news, touting a local news report on the alleged challenge in Hawaii. In reality, no such challenge existed on TikTok.”

· Posts

 

Reading, watching, playing, using: February, 2022

This is my monthly roundup of the books, articles, and streaming media I found interesting. Here's my list for February, 2022.

Apps + Websites

Globle. Like Wordle but for countries. “Every day, there is a new Mystery Country. Your goal is to guess the mystery country using the fewest number of guesses. Each incorrect guess will appear on the globe with a colour indicating how close it is to the Mystery Country.” Good fun, but I am not good at this.

Nerdle - the daily numbers game. Another Wordle alternative. I was daunted at first, but it’s pretty fun! The need for equations to resolve mathematically adds a really satisfying extra dimension.

Books

Being Seen: One Deafblind Woman's Fight to End Ableism, by Elsa Sjunneson. A frank, and often wryly funny, account of life as a Deafblind woman. Some of her experiences were familiar to me, at least second-hand; the account of hearing aids squealing at the wrong moment made me think of someone very dear to me who happens to be Deaf. The author is a self-described activist, and the passages discussing ableism and capitalist healthcare were as searing, pointed, and brilliant as the passages describing her experiences were human. I loved every moment of getting to know her.

Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself, by Melody Beattie. Far more religious than I’d like, and decidedly dated, but it hits the nail on the head more often than it doesn’t. My own codependence is not a result of a relationship with an alcoholic, but the symptoms, discussion of internal self-talk, and potential solutions feel relevant and sometimes confronting. I’m late to my own diagnosis, and the ideas here feel like a part of the solution.

Streaming

Wet Leg - Oh No (Official Video). I love Wet Leg. Their latest song is all about social media addiction and (like everything else they’ve done) it’s brilliant.

Notable Articles

Business

The McNamara Fallacy – measurement is not understanding. “The McNamara Fallacy is to presume that (A) quantitative models of reality are always more accurate than other models; (B) the quantitative measurements that can be made most easily must be the most relevant; and (C) factors other than those currently being used in quantitative metrics must either not exist or not have a significant influence on success. This flawed approach to reasoning is also known as the quantitative fallacy.” Worth also mentioning here that the Vietnam War was deeply misguided in its own right and that the US committed atrocities in the name of fighting a boogieman that didn’t make any sense. The underlying message here - keep research human - is paramount.

Workers for Frozen Food Giant Amy’s Kitchen Allege Unsafe Conditions at Bay Area Factory. And Amy’s has hired a firm to squash worker attempts to form a Union. Really disappointing.

Why More VCs May Want To Back Your Bootstrapped Company. But should you take the money?

The elaborate con that tricked dozens into working for a fake design agency. “But what those who had turned on their cameras didn’t know was that some of the others in the meeting weren’t real people. Yes, they were listed as participants. Some even had active email accounts and LinkedIn profiles. But their names were made up and their headshots belonged to other people.”

Top Performers Have a Superpower: Happiness. “Within the workplace, we know that happier employees are more likely to emerge as leaders, earn higher scores on performance evaluations, and tend to be better teammates. We also know, based on substantial research, that happier employees are healthier, have lower rates of absenteeism, are highly motivated to succeed, are more creative, have better relationships with peers, and are less likely to leave a company. All of these correlates of happiness significantly influence a company’s bottom line.”

Waterstones acquires Blackwell’s, the UK’s biggest independent bookseller. Very, very sad to see Blackwell’s purchased - by the hedge fund that owns Barnes and Noble, no less.

Climate

Indonesia Is Switching Capital Cities Because the Old One Is Sinking Into the Ocean. “The flooding, pollution, sinking earth and congestion have gotten so catastrophic, in fact, that the country is switching capital cities altogether. Yes, seriously: the government is packing up and moving the country’s capital to the island of Borneo, according to the Associated Press.”

Crypto

The Sick, Refreshing Honesty of Web3. “From the start, online businesses have presented themselves as making culture, even as they really aimed to build financial value. Now, at last, the wealth seeking is printed on the tin.”

North Korea: Missile programme funded through stolen crypto, UN report says. “North Korean cyber-attacks have stolen millions of dollars worth of cryptocurrency to fund the country’s missile programmes, a UN report briefed to media says.” Oops?

The Human Web. “Web3 will succeed, or fail, to the extent that it solves human problems, to the extent that it makes navigating Web0 more tractable—not to the extent that it monetizes everything conceivable, or enables a small number of people to make a financial killing.”

Culture

The Radical Woman Behind “Goodnight Moon”. “Brown helped create a new type of children’s literature that provided both aural and visual feasts. Her books—including “Goodnight Moon,” which celebrates its seventy-fifth anniversary this year—delighted, surprised, and sometimes disturbed.”

Book Renovation. “Anyway, right now, I’m working on the revision of Book 2 of the Great Cities. A friend asked me how to do revisions, so I figured I might as well lay out my process here. Note that this is my process; as with all other writing advice, you should look at many methods and then choose or customize something that works best for you. So here goes.” Some lovely writing advice from none other than NK Jemisin.

Inspired by gravity. “Today, being weird online means one of two things. Either you’re trying to get there before other people do, not missing an opportunity, changing the rules to your advantage. That’s the excitement some folks feel right now: they feel like it’s possible to rewrite gravity.”

A Vibe Shift Is Coming. Will Any of Us Survive It? “Monahan reassured me that it’s okay not to survive the shift. We all have permission to stay stuck at whatever makes us feel comfortable, and if that’s in 2016 or 2012 or 2010, that’s fine.” How about 1997? Asking for a friend.

No-knead Gatorade bread. “After placing the cast-iron pot into the oven, the distinct smell of grape-flavored Gatorade wafted through the apartment. I do not know how if there are words in the human language to describe the emotions I was feeling. We were essentially enveloped in sublimated grape Gatorade, breathing it in, along with the gentle scent of baking bread. You guys should really try doing this.”

I'm common as muck and spent £150 in a Michelin star restaurant to see if it was worth it. “I’ve never grown up thinking of food as anything other than fuel to get through the day. I grew up on free school meals (chips and gravy, for the most part). As an adult, celebratory meals out are spent at Toby Carvery, where the all-you-can-eat roasters fill all of my requirements for a happy time.” This is quite lovely.

Media

‘We’ll keep reporting, whatever the risk from the junta,’ say Myanmar’s journalists. “A year after the coup, the military continues to egregiously restrict media freedoms across the country and attempts to terrorise journalists into silence. Nearly all the journalists who were working in Myitkyina before the coup have fled. Many are unable to continue reporting at all.”

Want to Make Real Progress in Newsroom DEI? Audience Engagement is Essential. “What does a truly inclusive culture look like? Most newsrooms think of diversity and inclusion work primarily as an internal affair — being respectful to everyone in the organization and treating everyone within that sphere equally. But inclusion work can’t succeed in a bubble.” Useful insights and tactics for improving newsroom DEI - which improves democracy for all of us.

We are deeply and profoundly sorry: For decades, The Baltimore Sun promoted policies that oppressed Black Marylanders; we are working to make amends. “Instead of using its platforms, which at times included both a morning and evening newspaper, to question and strike down racism, The Baltimore Sun frequently employed prejudice as a tool of the times. It fed the fear and anxiety of white readers with stereotypes and caricatures that reinforced their erroneous beliefs about Black Americans.”

Documenting and Debunking Dubious Footage from Ukraine’s Frontlines. “With every alleged provocation a potential pretext for conflict, Bellingcat has decided to track and detail such claims as well as the circumstances surrounding them.”

Politics

Boris Johnson Is a Liar. “The first thing you need to know about Boris Johnson is he’s a liar.” This is brilliant: Jonathan Pie explains Johnson to the New York Times in video. Easily the best thing the Opinion page has ever done.

House approves bill to end forced arbitration of MeToo claims. “The U.S. House on Monday approved a bill that would ban mandatory arbitration in sexual harassment and assault cases brought by workers, consumers and even nursing home residents, queuing the measure up for Senate passage and President Joe Biden’s signature.”

How thousands of text messages from Mark Meadows and others reveal new details about events surrounding the Jan. 6 attack. “If POTUS allows this to occur… we’re driving a stake in the heart of the federal republic.” Remarkable.

An antifascist’s position on Ukraine. “While Russia holds culpability for bringing us to the brink of war, America likewise holds culpability for creating a long-term ecosystem where peace and diplomacy seem impossible, and where war, either now or later, is destined to break out.”

Facebook Allows Praise of Ukraine’s Neo-Nazi Azov Battalion. “Facebook will temporarily allow its billions of users to praise the Azov Battalion, a Ukrainian neo-Nazi military unit previously banned from being freely discussed under the company’s Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy, The Intercept has learned.”

Science

Reading on a smartphone affects sigh generation, brain activity, and comprehension. “In this study, we investigated the cause for comprehension decline when reading on a smartphone by simultaneously measuring respiration and brain activity during reading in 34 healthy individuals. We found that, compared to reading on a paper medium, reading on a smartphone elicits fewer sighs, promotes brain overactivity in the prefrontal cortex, and results in reduced comprehension.”

The International Space Station to be retired and crashed into the Pacific Ocean. “NASA said that commercially operated space platforms would replace the ISS as a venue for collaboration and scientific research.” Ugh.

America’s most widely consumed cooking oil causes genetic changes in the brain. “Used for fast food frying, added to packaged foods, and fed to livestock, soybean oil is by far the most widely produced and consumed edible oil in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In all likelihood, it is not healthy for humans.”

Society

American Capitalism Needs a Reboot. “Enda Brophy, associate professor of the labor studies program at Simon Fraser University, says there’s more frustration with capitalism as a system now than at any time since perhaps the 1960-’70s. “Significantly, poll after poll tells us that younger generations and millennials above all have highly negative opinions of capitalism and highly positive opinions around socialism and trade unions,” Brophy said. “People are quitting jobs as they never have before and labor organizing is growing in unexpected industries.””

Forced sterilization is legal in 31 states, new report shows. “According to the report from the National Women’s Law Center, 17 states allow the permanent, surgical sterilization of children with disabilities. The report is written in plain language, designed to be understood by at least some of the people impacted most by these laws.”

Furries Are Leading the War Against a Book-Banning Mississippi Mayor. “Last week, a Mississippi mayor tried to strong-arm a local library into banning some books. The result was swift, and in retrospect, entirely predictable: A group of furries got on Twitter to do something about it.” Lovely!

Exposed documents reveal how the powerful clean up their digital past using a reputation laundering firm. “Now, documents viewed by Rest of World shed light on the reputation management industry, revealing how Eliminalia and companies like it may use spurious copyright claims and fake legal notices to remove and obscure articles linking clients to allegations of tax avoidance, corruption, and drug trafficking. The Elephant case may be one of thousands just like it.”

States propose bills on restricting LGBTQ+ school curriculum. “The White House denounced Florida’s bill in an emailed statement on Tuesday, adding that the legislation “is not an isolated action,” as more Republican lawmakers “take actions to regulate what students can or cannot read, what they can or cannot learn, and most troubling, who they can or cannot be.”” A really troubling trend: an onslaught of bigoted bills that will further isolate queer youth.

Abortion ban in Texas still causing surges at clinics in nearby states. “In Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, Colorado, Louisiana and southern Nevada, clinics have all continued to see a dramatic surge in patients, representatives told The 19th, with some treating more than twice the number of people they saw before the Texas law known as Senate Bill 8 took effect in September.”

Oh, God, how it hurts to write this. “I came to this black wall again to see and touch your name, and as I do I wonder if anyone ever stops to realize that next to your name, on this black wall, is your mother’s heart. A heart broken 15 years ago today, when you lost your life in Vietnam.” War is evil and must be avoided.

San Francisco police linked a woman to a crime using DNA from her rape exam, D.A. Boudin says. “San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen said she was alerted to the alleged practice this weekend, and that she has submitted an inquiry to the City Attorney’s Office to draft legislation to prevent DNA evidence — or any sort of evidence collected from a victim’s rape kit — to be used for anything other than investigating that rape itself.”

Ukrainian refugees are already being driven out by the Russian invasion. “EU countries might be more open to absorbing Ukrainians fleeing the wrath of their adversary. But there might also be more willingness to accept Ukrainians because they are white, European, and majority Christian, revealing the “troubling rise of nationalist movements rooted in fear of the other,””

Technology

Google Fonts lands website privacy fine by German court. “The unauthorized disclosure of the plaintiff’s dynamic IP address by the defendant to Google constitutes a violation of the general right of personality in the form of the right to informational self-determination according to § 823 Para. 1 BGB.” Embedding Google resources like fonts as a GDPR violation: wow.

Letter to the US Senate Judiciary Committee on App Stores. “I am Bruce Schneier, a longtime security technologist, author, speaker, and thinker; and author of many books, papers, and articles on the topic both Internet security and privacy. I currently teach cybersecurity policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. I am writing in support of S.2992 and S.2710, which are attempts to redress the power of dominant technology firms.”

Tesla drivers say their cars are making random stops. ““My wife has requested that I don’t use cruise control or autopilot while she’s in the car, as we experienced an unwarranted, aggressive automatic braking episode which caused great pressure against her pregnant belly on a previous road trip,” one driver said in their report.” I drive a Tesla Model 3 and don’t use cruise control or autopilot for exactly this reason: it stops randomly. It’s relatively rare, but one time is one time too many.

Europe’s crackdown on those annoying consent banners is a huge deal. “For one thing, [...] American lawmakers and regulators have often looked at the “consent spam” polluting Europe and pointed to it as one of the worst consequences of GDPR. This new decision [...] exposes that spam to be a violation of the law, not a fulfillment of it.”

Humanitarian organizations keep getting hacked because they can’t spend to secure data. “What we see over and over again is that humanitarians are being expected to hold some of the most sensitive data in the world of the most vulnerable people in the world and have the resources of mall cops to protect against the cyber hacking equivalent of Delta Force.”

Is Momentum Shifting Toward a Ban on Behavioral Advertising? ““The use of personal data in advertising is already tightly regulated by existing legislation,” [IAB Europe Director] Mroczkowski said, apparently referencing the GDPR, which regulates data privacy in the EU generally. He further noted that the new rules “risk undermining” existing law and “the entire ad-supported digital economy.”” Let’s be totally clear: the ad-supported digital economy is not worth protecting.

Why the balance of power in tech is shifting toward workers. “Concerns and anger over tech companies’ impact in the world is nothing new, of course. What’s changed is that workers are increasingly getting organized. Whether writing public letters, marching in protest, filing lawsuits, or unionizing, the labor force that makes the corporate tech world run is finding its voice, demanding a future in which companies do better and are held more responsible for their actions.”

Radio station snafu in Seattle bricks some Mazda infotainment systems. “The problem, according to Mazda, was that the radio station sent out image files in its HD radio stream that did not have extensions, and it seems that Mazda’s infotainment system of that generation needs an extension (and not a header) to tell what a file is. No extension, no idea, and the system gets corrupted.” And now those Mazdas are stuck on the station forever. At least it’s NPR!

How Fresh Grads with Zero Experience Get Hired as Senior Engineers. “What greeted me when I walked into their luxury apartment were flies circling around piles of unwashed dishes and utensils in the kitchen. When I stepped into the bathroom, I saw urine on the floor. Each room had bunk beds in it.”

That broken tech/content culture cycle. “Here’s how you do it. […] Build a platform which relies on cultural creation as its core value, but which only sees itself as a technology platform. Stick to this insistence on being solely a “neutral” tech company in every aspect of decision-making, policy, hiring and operations, except for your public advertising, where the message is entirely about creativity and expression.”

What using RSS feeds feels like. “To me, using RSS feeds to keep track of stuff I’m interested in is a good use of my time. It doesn’t feel like a burden, it doesn’t feel like I’m being tracked or spied on, and it doesn’t feel like I’m just another number in the ads game.” Yes, this exactly. I love RSS.

Surveillance Too Cheap to Meter. “Even ignoring the fact that lawmakers have generally made the collection of surveillance data a requirement for mobile network licenses, it would cost the telcos more money to stop the surveillance of their customers than to continue doing it.”

Bionic Eye Patients Are Going Blind Again After Manufacturer Decides They’re Obsolete. “Currently, Second Sight is planning to merge with Nano Precision Medical, another biotechnology company, to stave off complete financial ruin. However, it doesn’t have any plans to support their bionic eye patients — and likely never will again.”

My journey down the rabbit hole of every journalist’s favorite app. “Otter and its competitors, which include Descript, Rev, Temi and the U.K.-based Trint, are digital warehouses whose advantages of speed and convenience are bracketed by what experts say can be lax privacy and security protections that may endanger sensitive text and audio data, the identities of reporters and the potentially vulnerable sources they contact.”

I have no capslock and I must scream. “In a near future, a team of desktop computer designers are looking at the latest telemetry and updating the schematics of the hardware-as-a-service self-assembling nanohardware.”

A Long Bet Pays Off. “The bet, to be revisited a decade and a year later, would be whether the URL of their wager at Long Bets would survive to a point in the semi-distant future.” And it did!

Support open source that you use by paying the maintainers to talk to your team. “I think I’ve come up with a novel hack for the challenge of getting your company to financially support the open source projects that it uses: reach out to the maintainers and offer them generous speaking fees for remote talks to your engineering team.” This is really smart!

Twitter is sharing safety tips in Ukrainian — including how to delete your account. “On Wednesday night, as Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Twitter’s Safety team began sharing tips in Ukrainian for how users in the country can cover their digital tracks to help keep themselves safe. That included details for deleting their accounts entirely.”

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Reading, watching, playing, using: January, 2022

This is my monthly roundup of the books, articles, and streaming media I found interesting. Here's my list for January, 2022.

Books

This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. A treatise on love and conflict wrapped up in beautiful, occasionally wryly hilarious prose and a science fiction conceit. It took me a little while for this to hook me, but when it did, I found myself wanting a lot more. It stops just as the story becomes really interesting; an appetizer rather than a full meal.

The Jakarta Method: Washington's Anticommunist Crusade and the Mass Murder Program That Shaped Our World, by Vincent Bevins. If every American - and every citizen of a first world nation - could read and understand this, it would make the world a better place. An illuminating, aggravating portrait of how the US used murder to further its interests around the world, and how that has affected modern culture everywhere. It should be required reading. Please get yourself a copy.

Being Seen: One Deafblind Woman's Fight to End Ableism, by Elsa Sjunneson. A frank, and often wryly funny, account of life as a Deafblind woman. Some of her experiences were familiar to me, at least second-hand; the account of hearing aids squealing at the wrong moment made me think of someone very dear to me who happens to be Deaf. The author is a self-described activist, and the passages discussing ableism and capitalist healthcare were as searing, pointed, and brilliant as the passages describing her experiences were human. I loved every moment of getting to know her.

Streaming

A Hero. A nuanced morality play. Occasionally the protagonist’s poor decisions stretch credulity, but there’s a lot to think about here; nobody is out to cause harm, but the plot spirals nonetheless. The writing, direction, and cinematography are masterful but never anything less than subtle. Beautifully done.

Notable Articles

Business

VCs with Ignorant Views on Race Have No Place in Venture Capital. No founder or investor should work with anyone like this. But please note: he’s not just a VC, he’s the founder of Palantir. Which assumptions do Palantir’s products and services - famously sold to law enforcement and more - have baked into them?

The touchy-feely groups where CEOs learn to emote. A lot of my work style is indirectly inspired by the Stanford “Touchy Feely” class - it was what led to a lot of Matter’s culture, which I’ve found enormously helpful. This might sound like ridiculous stuff on the face of it, but it really works, and it’s a way to get to a kinder business culture.

Hybrid Tanked Work-Life Balance. Here’s How Microsoft Is Trying to Fix It. “While initially this seemed like the best way for teams to stay connected, we’ve since realized that these non-stop video calls, emails, and chats have turned into digital overload, and we see the well-being impacts in our Microsoft employee surveys. Between April and November 2020, employees’ satisfaction with work-life balance dropped by 13 percentage points.”

How to quit like a boss. “The goal of this post is to summarise some patterns and anti-patterns, so that in the future you or I can leave our roles in the most professional and positive way possible. The content is applicable to people in a wide range of companies, at different levels of seniority, but is probably most directed at mid-career types.”

The 5 Stages of Burnout. This, unfortunately, all sounds familiar to me.

YC’s $500,000 Standard Deal. Wowzers. It’s going to be hard for other accelerators to compete with this. (Matter invested one tenth of this amount.)

Building American Dynamism. I do not subscribe to the future this a16z piece paints. The future is for and by the public, not locked up in private businesses.

Three words popping up in LinkedIn job listings. “LinkedIn has been watching how different keywords correlate to engagement on company posts, and which words have been appearing more often in job listings on the site. The terms “flexibility,” “well-being” and “culture” all appear in LinkedIn posts more often than they did in 2019, LinkedIn revealed Tuesday in its 2022 Global Talent Trends Report. Company posts that use those terms also attract more engagement, LinkedIn found.” Shocking nobody but important to highlight.

Backlash as US billionaire dismisses Uyghur abuse. “Billionaire investor Chamath Palihapitiya is under fire for saying that he - and most Americans - “don’t care” about abuses against the Uyghur minority in China. [...] Boston Celtics Forward Enes Kanter, who has been outspoken about human rights issues and campaigned on behalf of the forced labour law, was among those condemning the comments. “When genocides happen, it is people like this that let it happen,” he wrote.”

When Microsoft Office Went Enterprise. “Practically, any time someone tries to take on two conflicting perspectives in one product, the product comes across as a compromise. It is neither one nor the other, but a displeasing mess. The hope I had at the start was that by deprioritizing our traditional retail-customer focus on personal productivity at the start of the release, we avoided the messy middle. We succeeded at that, but I was struggling with how unsatisfying this felt.”

Let’s stop saying these two things. “When I hear “drinking the Kool-Aid”, I think about Leo Ryan, Jackie Speier, and 900+ dead followers of Jim Jones. [...] If your white grandfather was eligible to vote prior to the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, you were eligible to vote. When you talk about being grandfathered in, that’s what you’re referring to.”

Your Startup’s Management Training Probably Sucks — Here’s How to Make it Better. “When you’re a really small startup, co-founder drama is the likely company-killer. But as your org gets larger, the thing that often tanks the company is waiting too long to bring on competent management.”

Covid

Utah tech company founder claims COVID vaccine part of extermination plot by 'the Jews'. “The founder and chair of Entrata, a Silcon Slopes tech firm, sent an email to a number of tech CEOs and Utah business and political leaders, claiming the COVID-19 vaccine is part of a plot by “the Jews” to exterminate people.” I wonder how many other people quietly hold similar views?

What older people and caregivers need to know about omicron. “The 19th spoke with a wide range of experts about what older people and family caregivers should know about the risk omicron poses to seniors, as well as best practices to keep loved ones safe.”

‘Menace to public health’: 270 doctors criticize Spotify over Joe Rogan’s podcast. “The letter was first reported by Rolling Stone, which quoted Katrine Wallace, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois Chicago school of public health, calling Rogan “a menace to public health” for airing anti-vaccine ideology.”

A paperwork hurdle for trans people: COVID-19 vaccine cards. “Mahoney is one of several trans and nonbinary people who told The 19th they feel like they are being put in stressful situations where they are required to out themselves, or use their deadname. Some also feel like they are being left out of data collection on COVID-19 vaccination entirely — that transgender people are an afterthought.”

Neil Young demands Spotify remove his music over Joe Rogan vaccine misinformation. “In an open letter to his manager and record label that was posted to his website and later taken down, Young wrote: “I am doing this because Spotify is spreading fake information about vaccines – potentially causing death to those who believe the disinformation being spread by them. Please act on this immediately today and keep me informed of the time schedule.””

Overworked Pharmacy Employees Are the Covid Pandemic’s Invisible Victims. “Bloomberg spoke with a dozen current and former Walgreens and CVS pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, most of whom requested anonymity because they feared retaliation. More responded to Bloomberg’s reporting request via email and text messages, detailing crushing workloads in sparsely staffed stores.”

Crypto

My first impressions of web3. “This was surprising to me. So much work, energy, and time has gone into creating a trustless distributed consensus mechanism, but virtually all clients that wish to access it do so by simply trusting the outputs from these two companies without any further verification.” Moxie Marlinspike, creator of Signal, dives into web3.

Andy Warhol, Clay Christensen, and Vitalik Buterin walk into a bar. “Bill Gates once said, “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.” That doesn’t mean to rush out and buy the latest meme stock, meme coin, or overpriced NFT. But it does mean that it’s important to engage with the social, legal, and economic implications of crypto. The world advances one bubble at a time. What matters is that what’s left behind when the bubble pops makes the world richer in possibilities for the next generation to build on.”

The NFT Art World Wouldn't Be the Same Without This Woman's Nightmares. “While she’s not able to discuss financial specifics, her compensation, she says, “was definitely not ideal.” However, she insists, she’s grateful for the experience and the entryway to a realm she can no longer imaging living without.”

Why Bored Ape Yacht Club is Racist and Started by Neo Nazis. “Knowing the history of alt-right/4chan types in crypto I started looking into it. I found what I believe to be definitive evidence that the group behind the creation of these images are neo-nazis. Here is how I have arrived at this conclusion.”

Culture

Pet Door Show’s Up-and-Coming Artists You Should Know in 2022. My sister’s epic list of new, independent artists that are worth a listen. Amazing as always.

Bambi: cute, lovable, vulnerable ... or a dark parable of antisemitic terror? “Far from being a children’s story, Bambi was actually a parable about the inhumane treatment and dangerous precariousness of Jews and other minorities in what was then an increasingly fascist world, the new translation will show. In 1935, the book was banned by the Nazis, who saw it as a political allegory on the treatment of Jews in Europe and burned it as Jewish propaganda.”

Superheroes create cultural acceptance for popular oligarchy. “What does the current popularity of comic book superheroes, in culture, do? It reinforces the idea of a hierarchy of human, with the ubermensch as its apex. The superhero makes things alright without being asked. It looks after us, it protects, it cleans up the streets. It’s a parental role. [...] It says that the superhero is someone other – it ain’t us. And that’s a good thing, it says.”

Vegan Babybel Cheese Is Here at Last. “Instead of the classic red wax featured in the dairy version, the mini vegan cheese wheels are wrapped in peelable green wax. The cheese snack is made from a blend of coconut oil and starch and contains calcium as well as vegan-friendly vitamin B12.” Honestly, this seems kind of great?

Caffs Not Cafes finds the magic in London’s old school joints. “The page functions as a hub of London’s best local eateries and their delicious dishes, celebrating these spots in all their day-to-day glory. Many of them have distinct shopfronts, too, which 30-year-old Rangaswami never fails to point out, often via poetic captions about the history of hot dogs, old school cash registers or musings over what a chip shop might say if it could talk.” Quite lovely.

Breaking the mold. “Merch is so often seen as the death knell of a media property, the maggots hatching in the corpse of art - but a lot of the time, the exact opposite is true. Some of the most beloved media properties of Millennial childhoods were, in one way or another, made by toys.” A great breakdown of franchise toys and their cultural impact.

Media

If American democracy is going to survive, the media must make this crucial shift. “Much of this work has been impressive. And yet, something crucial is missing. For the most part, news organizations are not making democracy-under-siege a central focus of the work they present to the public.”

BBC licence fee to be abolished in 2027 and funding frozen. “The culture secretary, Nadine Dorries, is expected to confirm that the cost of an annual licence, required to watch live television and access iPlayer services, will remain at £159 until 2024 before rising slightly for the following three years. She said this would be the end of the current licence fee funding model for the BBC, raising doubts about the long-term financial future and editorial independence of the public service broadcaster under a Conservative government.” This is big news - while the license fee is a regressive tax, the BBC’s status as a public broadcaster has been important. It’s, broadly speaking, a force for good. What happens now?

Joe Rogan and the problem of false balance. “To illustrate this, I want to talk briefly about Joe Rogan, because a Facebook post about him is what inspired this article. Full disclosure, I am, to say the least, not a fan of Rogan. In my opinion he is (to quote a friend of mine), “a dumb person’s idea of a smart person” (which to be clear, does not automatically mean that anyone who likes him is dumb). He frequently makes claims that are nonsense, and he uses his podcast to give a voice to all manner of quacks and conspiracy theorists.”

Politics

Capitol rioters called Nancy Pelosi's office looking for a 'lost and found' for items they left behind on January 6, according to Rep. Jamie Raskin. “And when they were told that they were trespassing and invading the Capitol, they said the president invited them to be there. They didn’t have any kind of subtle understanding of the separation of powers. They just thought that the number one person in the US government had invited them to be there, and therefore they had a right.”

Biden has nominated 8 Black women to become appellate judges. “As of Wednesday, with the selection of Arianna J. Freeman for the 3rd Circuit, the president has nominated eight Black women to the 13 U.S. Courts of Appeals. Five have been confirmed, most recently on Thursday, when Judge Holly A. Thomas cleared Senate approval to join the 9th Circuit. If the remaining three are confirmed, Biden would have doubled the total number of Black women to ever serve on federal appeals courts from eight to 16.”

Kamala Harris drove within several yards of pipe bomb at DNC headquarters during Capitol riot. “Then-Vice President-elect Kamala Harris drove within several yards of a pipe bomb lying next to a bench outside the Democratic National Committee headquarters on January 6, 2021, and remained inside the DNC for nearly two hours before the bomb was discovered, according to multiple law enforcement officials familiar with the situation.”

Science

Scientists Train Goldfish To Drive On Land In Tiny Cars. “Not only were the fish able to reach the targets, but they could overcome obstacles, dead ends and wrong turns, and weren’t fooled by false targets laid out by the researchers. Their FOV Formula One demonstrates that the navigational skills of fish aren’t dependent on a watery environment, and that something more universal may be at play in deciding how we find our way.”

How bad are gas stoves? I ran some experiments to find out. “Every year more damning evidence piled up. In 2013 another meta-analysis confirmed the results of the 1993 meta-analysis. But this time, researchers were more specific and pointed to gas stoves in particular as the likely cause of respiratory illness. They concluded, “Children living in a home with gas cooking have a 42% increased risk of having current asthma.”” I love cooking with gas, but it may be time to change.

What the Discovery of an Extra Artery Means for Human Evolution. ““The study demonstrates that humans are evolving at a faster rate than at any point in the past 250 years,” said Teghan Lucas, lead author of the study and an archaeologist at Flinders University, in a press release. In fact, Lucas predicts that the median artery will continue to be a common occurrence in the human forearm far into the future.”

Society

The Last Time the Suez Canal Was Blocked a Utopian Communist Micronation Was Formed at Sea. “The last time ships got stuck in the Suez Canal, they were there for eight years. From 1967 to 1975, in the aftermath of the Six-Day War, 14 ships were stranded in the Great Bitter Lake, a salt lake connected to the canal. Unable to leave, the crews, dubbed the “Yellow Fleet” because of the desert sand that eventually covered them, developed their own society at sea. This society developed its own postal service and stamps, and held a version of the Olympics in 1968.”

Rampant caste-based harassment means Dalits like me are silenced on social media. “Even today, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube in India are dominated by dominant castes. In fact, I quit Instagram last year because I could not relate to the elite, high-resolution world of the dominant castes. Given the lack of diverse voices, caste slurs are rampant on social media in India. Many caste names are casually used as curse words.”

Notes From the End of a Very Long Life by New York's Oldest. “At the end of each year, I asked the elders if they were glad to have lived it. Did the year have value to them? Always the answer was the same, even from those, including Ruth, who had said during the year that they were ready to go, that they wished for an end sooner rather than later. Yes, they said, yes, it was worth living.”

Oh, 2022! SF author Charlie Stross’s stock take of where we are this year. Come for the cogent commentary on covid - stay for the link to the absolutely batshit community about quantum Bible changes. Insightful as always.

Who owned slaves in Congress? A list of 1,700 enslavers in Senate, House history. “More than 1,700 people who served in the U.S. Congress in the 18th, 19th and even 20th centuries owned human beings at some point in their lives, according to a Washington Post investigation of censuses and other historical records.” Amazing work; a vital database. An important and troubling part of America’s history. Slavery is core to what it is.

Look around you. The way we live explains why we are increasingly polarized. “Whether it comes to the climate emergency or systemic racism, the migrant crisis or the ongoing pandemic, so much turns on whether we can acknowledge and accept the intertwining of our separate lives. But it’s not just our homes that are styled now like defensive fortresses.” A superb portrait of modern American society.

Black mothers in MLK Jr.'s neighborhood will receive monthly cash payments. “The program, which will launch early this year in King’s neighborhood, will send monthly payments of $850 to 650 Black women over two years, making it one of the largest guaranteed income programs to date. Guaranteed income — the concept of sending people cash payments with no strings attached — was featured in King’s 1967 book, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” in which he argued that sometimes the simplest idea could be the most effective in ending poverty.”

How a Married Undercover Cop Having Sex With Activists Killed a Climate Movement. “In 2003, Kennedy had been sent undercover by an elite unit in London’s Metropolitan Police Service to gather intelligence on activists like Wilson. He spent seven years living a double life: He was a fearless organizer who had a shadowy backstory as a cocaine runner, but he was also a cop with a family in Ireland.” I suspect this is more common than we realize. Activists are often targeted for intelligence gathering, and this is a good way to do it over time. It’s morally repugnant, of course.

Patriot Front Fascist Leak Exposes Nationwide Racist Campaigns. “The detailed inner workings and patterns of operation of fascists in the neo-Nazi organization Patriot Front have come to light after a massive leak from their chat servers. The exposed communications show coordination with their leader Thomas Rousseau to deface murals and monuments to Black lives across the United States, and intimate struggles to bolster morale through group activities like hiking and camping.”

San Francisco Police Illegally Spying on Protesters. “It’s feels like a pretty easy case. There’s a law, and the SF police didn’t follow it.”

The Revenge of the Hot Water Bottle. “A hot water bottle is a sealable container filled with hot water, often enclosed in a textile cover, which is directly placed against a part of the body for thermal comfort. The hot water bottle is still a common household item in some places – such as the UK and Japan – but it is largely forgotten or disregarded in most of the industrialised world. If people know of it, they usually associate it with pain relief rather than thermal comfort, or they consider its use an outdated practice for the poor and the elderly.” I loved this piece about the history of hot water bottles. (They’re great!)

Faster internet speeds linked to lower civic engagement in UK. “Volunteering in social care fell by more than 10% when people lived closer to local telecoms exchange hubs and so enjoyed faster web access. Involvement in political parties fell by 19% with every 1.8km increase in proximity to a hub. By contrast, the arrival of fast internet had no significant impact on interactions with family and friends.” This feels solvable to me.

On pronouns and shades of pink. “An accusation of virtue signalling often feels, to me, the same kind of denial of solidarity as the old “if you think people should pay more tax, write a cheque to the Treasury yourself”. Individualising the social must be something the left resists the right in doing, for the left to have any real meaning.”

My heart bursts with pain. “These extracts are from letters written by victims of the Holocaust during their final days. Needless to say, their messages are desperately sad. But they should never be forgotten.”

Full-time transgender workers among lowest paid LGBTQ+ people in US. “The HRC found that trans men and nonbinary or gender-nonconforming people earn 70 cents for every dollar the typical worker earns, while trans women earn 60 cents to that dollar, based on responses from roughly 6,800 LGBTQ+ workers last spring.”

Technology

2021: A Year of Resilience in Tech. “2021 was another big year for tech workers organizing for a greater say at their workplaces. This year, more workers took action to build lasting, enforceable structures to protect their rights. Across multiple industries, it was a record year for unionizing, and tech was no exception.”

Wordle Is a Love Story. “But since Wordle was built originally for just Mr. Wardle and Ms. Shah, the initial design ignored a lot of the growth-hacking features that are virtually expected of games in the current era. While other games send notifications to your phone hoping you’ll come back throughout the day, Wordle doesn’t want an intense relationship.” Just really lovely.

The anti-muslim Bulli Bai app is just the latest in GitHub’s list of moderation failures in India. “While GitHub quickly took down the app, following massive social media backlash, this is the second time in seven months that the platform has been used to target Muslim women in India. In mid-2021, a similar web application called “Sulli Deals” was hosted on Github to trade Muslim women without their consent. The app was online for weeks before it was taken down.”

Jan. 6 launched a wave of anti-content moderation bills in America. “Facebook, Twitter and other tech companies took an unprecedented step last year when they banned a sitting U.S. president from their platforms in the wake of the attack on the Capitol. Since that day, Republican legislators in more than half the country have introduced their own unprecedented wave of bills that aim to prevent tech platforms from taking that very kind of action.”

Happy 10th Birthday, Bridgy! Wow. Time flies. Bridgy is such an important part of the indieweb ecosystem. Thank you to Ryan and everyone who’s worked on it.

Google Had Secret Project to ‘Convince’ Employees ‘That Unions Suck’. “A National Labor Relations Board ruling sheds light on a highly secret anti-union campaign at Google, that a top executive explicitly described as an initiative to “convince [employees] that unions suck.”” Gross.

Using Foreign Nationals to Bypass US Surveillance Restrictions. “What’s most interesting to me about this new information is how the US used the Australians to get around domestic spying laws.” The US and GCHQ have a similar arrangement, I think?

Google's Alleged Scheme to Corner the Online Ad Market. “The document provides unprecedented insight into how Google allegedly misled advertisers and publishers for years by manipulating auctions in its own favor using inside information. As one employee put it in a newly revealed internal document, Google’s public claim about second-price auctions were “untruthful.””

Why companies are hiring sci-fi writers to imagine the future. OK, how do I get to do this for a living?!

Over 40 small tech companies just stood up to Apple and Google. “The Act, introduced by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Chuck Grassley, would keep large platforms like Apple and Google from excluding competitor products. Specifically, it prohibits businesses from using a companies’ data to compete against it, biasing search results against competitors, or requiring other companies to buy their own services for preferential placement. It also keeps companies from preventing interoperability.”

The baseline for web development in 2022. “The baseline for web development in 2022 is: low-spec Android devices in terms of performance, Safari from two years before in terms of Web Standards, and 4G in terms of networks. The web in general is not answering those needs properly, especially in terms of performance where factors such as an over-dependence on JavaScript are hindering our sites’ performance.”

Welcome to the Link-in-Bio Economy. “By and large, these linking tools are making money through a swirl of paid-subscription programs and commissions on the transactions that happen inside the link-in-bio. Whether that is enough to sustain a profitable business isn’t clear, but it’s easy to envision a future in which link-in-bios become even more ubiquitous, something like the new personal website in the TikTok age. When you stumble across an influencer and want to know what their deal is, your first stop will be their link-in-bio.”

Searching for Susy Thunder. “There were ways to use the rules to break the rules. The older she got, the more she saw the polygraph as a lesson, revealing, to her, the hidden truth of the world: that everything is a system, and every system can be cracked.” A genuinely amazing, beautifully-written portrait of an important hacker and so much more.

The IRS Should Stop Using Facial Recognition. “Though [ID.me] asserts that “significant benefits” come from the use of one-to-one facial recognition, the company fails to adequately address its known harms or deeply engage with specific findings that indicate substantial racial bias.”

The New York Times Purchases Wordle. “Wordle was acquired for an undisclosed price in the low seven figures.” BRB, getting to work on building a viral word game ...

Google Fonts lands website privacy fine by German court. “The unauthorized disclosure of the plaintiff’s dynamic IP address by the defendant to Google constitutes a violation of the general right of personality in the form of the right to informational self-determination according to § 823 Para. 1 BGB.” Embedding Google resources like fonts as a GDPR violation: wow.

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Reading, watching, playing, using: December, 2021

This is my monthly roundup of the books, articles, and streaming media I found interesting. Here's my list for December, 2021.

Books

Foundation, by Isaac Asimov. This was a groundbreaking, genre-defining book when it was written, and some of the ideas remain outstanding. Reading it this year was an exercise in uncovering paelofuture: interesting in historical context, but almost completely lacking in the human context I need to really dig into a story. I’m going to alienate a bunch of science fiction fans by saying so, but I didn’t enjoy it at all.

All about Love: New Visions, by bell hooks. A complicated book. On one hand, it’s full of really important insights into the nature of loving that I think every adult should read and understand. (You should read it!) On the other, she’s sometimes too emphatic about ideas that need challenging: in particular, I was struck by her reductive opinions about Monica Lewinsky and her putting the onus on her gay sister to deal with their parents’ homophobia. Her insistence that religion is a required moral authority also doesn’t land with me. Regardless, when this book rings true, it does so deeply, in a way that permeates the soul.

Pemmican Wars, by Katherena Vermette, Donovan Yaciuk, and Scott B. Henderson. Shades of Kindred here: a graphic novel about a fostered Métis teen girl who slips through time to Canada’s colonial past during a history lesson. It’s slight, but the art and writing are evocative. I wish there was more character development, but perhaps that will come in later volumes. This volume plants the seeds for a story to come.

Red River Resistance, by Katherena Vermette, Scott B. Henderson, and Donovan Yaciuk. The story being drawn here is important and needs to be told. I wish there were more pages: at times the book feels like a series of impressionistic vignettes rather than continuous plot. But I’m still hooked, and I’m curious to see where this is going. There’s not enough about Echo in the mix for me; we learn about Canada’s sordid past with respect to its indigenous peoples, but not enough about how that connects to the present. I assume that’s coming in future volumes.

Northwest Resistance, by Katherena Vermette, Scott B. Henderson, and Donovan Yaciuk. It’s all starting to come together, with an almost Quantum Leap style twist. The narrative is less impressionistic, too: there’s more detail here than in previous volumes, and we’re learning more about Echo. Intriguing, magical, and instructive about Canada’s genocidal past.

Road Allowance Era, by Katherena Vermette, Scott B. Henderson, and Donovan Yaciuk. Easily the best of the series. The narrative comes together, and Echo realizes she can control her time travel ability, as well as the poignant source of her ability. The atrocities continue, too, and the book does a great job of contextualizing them both emotionally and historically. The central conceit works really well throughout, in the same way it did for Octavia Butler in Kindred.

Streaming Media

Don’t Look Up. A genuinely great movie about climate change, without ever really being about climate change. Hilarious, sobering, deeply affecting, cynical, and smart. I loved every moment.

Notable Articles

Business

Playing Startup Versus Building a Company. “Figuring out how to build and run a business isn’t easy—and a lot of the moves you need to make aren’t intuitive. However, too many people approach it by just copying what it seems like everyone else is doing without taking a hard look at what your actual goals are and really learning how to go about the job of Founder and CEO. They’re “playing startup” as opposed to actually building a company.”

Google will fire unvaccinated employees. “Workers who haven’t complied with the vaccine mandate — by either sending in proof of vaccination or qualifying for a religious or medical exemption from Google — will go on paid leave for 30 days starting Jan. 18. They had until Dec. 3 to send proof of vaccination or to apply for an exemption. Google won’t accept testing as an alternative to vaccination, according to a company memo cited by CNBC.”

Covid

Pro-Trump counties now have far higher COVID death rates. “Since May 2021, people living in counties that voted heavily for Donald Trump during the last presidential election have been nearly three times as likely to die from COVID-19 as those who live in areas that went for now-President Biden. That’s according to a new analysis by NPR that examines how political polarization and misinformation are driving a significant share of the deaths in the pandemic.”

Secret Investigation Documents Reveal How The CDC’s First COVID Test Failed In The Pandemic’s Early Days. “In the US, the responsibility for developing a test fell to the CDC. [...] The team tasked with developing the nation’s first test was in the tiny RVD lab, which included four smaller procedure rooms, all located on the seventh floor of Building 18 at the CDC headquarters. In January 2020, the RVD lab was staffed by nine people — only three of whom were full-time employees.”

When COVID patients get new lungs, sould vaccine status matter? “About one in 10 lung transplants in the United States now go to COVID-19 patients, according to data from the United Network for Organ Sharing, or UNOS. The trend is raising questions about the ethics of allocating a scarce resource to people who have chosen not to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.” Healthcare should save everybody’s life, regardless of choices. But this is such a frustrating trend.

Laclede County, MO Health Department stops COVID work. “The local health department of a rural southern Missouri county is halting its COVID-19 response efforts after Attorney General Eric Schmitt wrote agencies this week demanding they drop mitigation measures.” It’s like they’re actively trying to kill people.

Trump White House made 'deliberate efforts' to undermine Covid response, report says. “Birx also told the panel that Atlas and other Trump officials “purposely weakened CDC’s coronavirus testing guidance in August 2020 to obscure how rapidly the virus was spreading across the country,” the report said. The altered guidance recommended that asymptomatic people didn’t need to get tested, advice that was “contrary to consensus science-based recommendations,” it said, adding, “Dr. Birx stated that these changes were made specifically to reduce the amount of testing being conducted.”

US Army Creates Single Vaccine Against All COVID & SARS Variants, Researchers Say. “Within weeks, scientists at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research expect to announce that they have developed a vaccine that is effective against COVID-19 and all its variants, even Omicron, as well as from previous SARS-origin viruses that have killed millions of people worldwide.”

Crypto

Is web3 bullshit? “The hazy vision of new decentralized internet, built on the blockchain, to succeed the “Web 2.0″ of Google and Facebook seems to be reaching a threshold of ambient cultural awareness such that non-tech pundits, news-engaged normies, magazine editors, uncles, online attention-seekers etc., feel the need to weigh in on the question.” This is a great round-up of different perspectives on the topic: from enthusiasts to cynics, and everything in between.

Smart Contract Bug Results in $31 Million Loss. “The basic problem is that the code is the ultimate authority — there is no adjudication protocol — so if there’s a vulnerability in the code, there is no recourse. And, of course, there are lots of vulnerabilities in code. To me, this is reason enough never to use smart contracts for anything important. Human-based adjudication systems are not useless pre-Internet human baggage, they’re vital.”

New Study on NFTs Deflates the "Democratic" Potential for the Medium. “Ten percent of NFT buyers and sellers make as many transactions as the remaining 90 percent, it found, suggesting high concentration in the NFT marketplace. This statistic suggests that decentralized marketplaces have given way to more specialized platforms, which have come to occupy similar roles as gallerists and brand names in the non-crypto economy. The study also revealed that the average sale price of three-quarters of NFTs is just $15; meanwhile, only 1% of NFTs sell for over $1,594.” This seems like a pretty standard power law distribution, which I’m not sure why crypto would be exempt from.

How Cryptocurrency Revolutionized the White Supremacist Movement. “Hatewatch identified and compiled over 600 cryptocurrency addresses associated with white supremacists and other prominent far-right extremists for this essay and then probed their transaction histories through blockchain analysis software. What we found is striking: White supremacists such as Greg Johnson of Counter-Currents, race pseudoscience pundit Stefan Molyneux, Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer and Andrew Anglin of the Daily Stormer, and Don Black of the racist forum Stormfront, all bought into Bitcoin early in its history and turned a substantial profit from it.”

Melania Trump Launches an NFT and Blockchain Venture Based on Solana. “The former first lady of the USA – Melania Trump – will join the cryptocurrency universe by releasing her non-fungible token platform. The first NFTs, called “Melania’s Vision,” will be available to purchase for a limited period around the Christmas holidays.” Oh no.

The Future Is Not Only Useless, It’s Expensive. “It’s tempting to say they suck the way everything sucks now, but it’s more like how one particular strain of American aesthetics has sucked for the last 20 years. NFTs are the human capacity for visual expression as understood by the guy at the vape store.” This piece is so beautifully brutal.

Web3/Crypto: Why Bother? “A blockchain is a worse database. It is slower, requires way more storage and compute, doesn’t have customer support, etc. And yet it has one dimension along which it is radically different. No single entity or small group of entities controls it – something people try to convey, albeit poorly, by saying it is “decentralized.””

Culture

Here's Why Movie Dialogue Has Gotten More Difficult To Understand (And Three Ways To Fix It). In general I don’t agree that movies have become less easy to understand - I have no trouble with Christopher Nolan dialogue, for example, and I don’t get why people can’t understand Tom Hardy - but this is an interesting look into the industry and how the different pieces fit together.

Michael Sheen turns himself into a 'not-for-profit' actor. “But when I came out the other side, I realised I could do this kind of thing and, if I can keep earning money, it’s not going to ruin me.” This is the coolest thing.

‘They were a bit abrasive’: how kids’ TV Clangers secretly swore. “The Clangers were briefly drawn into this combative arena in a special one-off episode called Vote for Froglet, in which Postgate tried to persuade the planet’s residents of the virtues of the two-party system. After a snap election, with the Soup Dragon running on the “free soup for all” ticket, the Clangers were unconvinced and stuck with their enlightened autonomous collective.”

Acclaimed author bell hooks dies at 69 . Rest in power, bell hooks. What an intellectual, moral, literary force. If you haven’t read her work, please do. It’ll change the way you see the world.

Love Actually Child Star Labels Festive Romcom Cheesy And Sexist: 'I Think It's A S*** Film'. “I think it’s aged badly. All the women in it are sort of passive objects. I think that there was an article describing them as passive objects to be acquired.”

Coldplay will stop making music in 2025, lead singer Chris Martin announces. Why wait?

Betty White, a TV Fixture for Seven Decades, Is Dead at 99. Such a loss; such a life.

Media

Nobel winner: ‘We journalists are the defence line between dictatorship and war’. “Ressa has spent much of the last four years trying to point out that none of this is happening in isolation and that the “assault on truth” is doing the same to western democracies as it has done to her country. Muratov is even more gloomy. “It’s terrifying that countries that have been living in a democracy for so many years are rolling towards a dictatorship. That’s just a terrifying thought.””

Number of journalists behind bars reaches global high. “It’s been an especially bleak year for defenders of press freedom. CPJ’s 2021 prison census found that the number of reporters jailed for their work hit a new global record of 293, up from a revised total of 280 in 2020. At least 24 journalists were killed because of their coverage so far this year; 18 others died in circumstances too murky to determine whether they were specific targets. China remains the world’s worst jailer of journalists for the third year in a row, with 50 behind bars. Myanmar soared to the second slot after the media crackdown that followed its February 1 military coup. Egypt, Vietnam, and Belarus, respectively, rounded out the top five.”

Politics

Trump social media company claims to raise $1bn from investors. “Donald Trump’s new social media company and its special purpose acquisition company partner said on Saturday the partner had agreements for $1bn in capital from institutional investors.” I don’t believe them.

How Donald Trump Could Subvert the 2024 Election. “Only one meaningful correlation emerged. Other things being equal, insurgents were much more likely to come from a county where the white share of the population was in decline. For every one-point drop in a county’s percentage of non-Hispanic whites from 2015 to 2019, the likelihood of an insurgent hailing from that county increased by 25 percent. This was a strong link, and it held up in every state.” A well-reported, frankly terrifying story.

Trump called aides hours before Capitol riot to discuss how to stop Biden victory. “Trump’s remarks reveal a direct line from the White House and the command center at the Willard. The conversations also show Trump’s thoughts appear to be in line with the motivations of the pro-Trump mob that carried out the Capitol attack and halted Biden’s certification, until it was later ratified by Congress.”

Kanye West publicist pressed Georgia election worker to confess to bogus fraud charges. “Weeks after the 2020 election, a Chicago publicist for hip-hop artist Kanye West traveled to the suburban home of Ruby Freeman, a frightened Georgia election worker who was facing death threats after being falsely accused by former President Donald Trump of manipulating votes. [...] She said she was sent by a “high-profile individual,” whom she didn’t identify, to give Freeman an urgent message: confess to Trump’s voter-fraud allegations, or people would come to her home in 48 hours, and she’d go to jail.”

Kanye West’s 'Independent' Campaign Was Secretly Run by GOP Elites. “The Kanye 2020 campaign committee did not even report paying some of these advisers, and used an odd abbreviation for another—moves which campaign finance experts say appear designed to mask the association between known GOP operatives and the campaign, and could constitute a violation of federal laws.” Kanye believe it?

Society

Man donated his body to science; company sold $500 tickets to his dissection. “But instead of being delivered to a research facility, David Saunders’ body ended up in a Marriott Hotel ballroom in Portland, Oregon, where http://deathscience.org/ held an “Oddities and Curiosities Expo.” At the October 17 event, members of the public sat ringside from 9 am to 4 pm—with a break for lunch—to watch David Saunders’ body be carefully dissected. Tickets for the dissection sold for up to $500 per person.” Horrifying.

“This Is Blackface”: White Actors Are Playing Black Characters In Virtual Reality Diversity Training. “One employee described the use of white actors in Black roles as “a really tough thing for a lot of us to stomach.” Two raised concerns about white actors mimicking Black dialect while acting as Black characters. Three independently described an incident in which a white simulation specialist used the n-word while acting as an avatar of color. That actor now trains other simulation specialists. Employees also raised concerns about the visual creation of Mursion’s avatars, citing lack of variation in the skin tone, hair, and facial features of their characters of color, and about the company’s failure to promote and support women employees of color.”

Women may soon qualify for the draft. Here’s what you need to know. ″“This overall lack of strong support, though, illustrates what we call benevolent sexism, which is a sexism that rests on paternalistic beliefs: ‘Women need protection, and their skills are nurturers, not fighters. We need to protect them from war so as to not corrupt their virtue and purity and inhibit them from fulfilling their duties as wives and mothers,’” Chod said. “This was the same argument made in the 19th and early-20th centuries to bar women from voting.””

New Zealand plans to make it illegal for kids to buy cigarettes — for life. “People aged 14 and under in 2027 will never be allowed to purchase cigarettes in the Pacific country of five million, part of proposals unveiled on Thursday that will also curb the number of retailers authorized to sell tobacco and cut nicotine levels in all products.” Wait, we can do this?

Peter Thiel’s Free Speech for Race Science Crusade at Cambridge University Revealed . “Their common concern was the increasing threat from the advancement of a ‘liberal’ agenda to traditional Christian religious and theological beliefs – including an unnerving fascination with race science.” Lots to digest here.

The Anti-Abortion Movement Could Reduce Abortions if It Wanted To. “Why would groups that want to end abortion not support the most efficient way to make abortions less common? The answer is that their mission extends beyond abortion and into the regulation of sex, gender roles and the family. Contraception and abortion are tied together because both offer women the freedom to have sex for pleasure in or outside of marriage, and both allow women greater control over their lives and futures. The “pro-life” goal isn’t an end to abortion. It’s to establish another means of controlling women.”

About Three-in-Ten U.S. Adults Are Now Religiously Unaffiliated. I’m one of them, and it’s still weird to me to be in a minority (vs the UK, where some polls have over 50% of respondents not identifying with any faith). There’s nothing wrong with being religious, but there’s nothing wrong with not being religious, too. I’d love to have better representation of that in this country.

FDA permanently allows medication abortion pills through mail. “The Thursday announcement upholds a decision from April to temporarily suspend federal requirements that had previously required in-person purchase of abortion pills from a clinic, hospital or medical office.” Trump challenged it; I’m glad this has gone through.

Technology

Crime Prediction Software Promised to Be Free of Biases. New Data Shows It Perpetuates Them. “Millions of crime predictions left on an unsecured server show PredPol mostly avoided Whiter neighborhoods, targeted Black and Latino neighborhoods. [...] “No one has done the work you guys are doing, which is looking at the data,” said Andrew Ferguson, a law professor at American University who is a national expert on predictive policing. “This isn’t a continuation of research. This is actually the first time anyone has done this, which is striking because people have been paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for this technology for a decade.””

US rejects calls for regulating or banning ‘killer robots’. “Speaking at a meeting in Geneva focused on finding common ground on the use of such so-called lethal autonomous weapons, a US official balked at the idea of regulating their use through a “legally-binding instrument”.” It may seem laughable now, but technology improvements will make this feasible very shortly. Internationally agreed upon protections would be smart.

Hackers Are Spamming Businesses’ Receipt Printers With ‘Antiwork’ Manifestos. ““Someone is using a similar technique as ‘mass scanning’ to massively blast raw TCP data directly to printer services across the internet,” Morris told Motherboard in an online chat. “Basically to every single device that has port TCP 9100 open and print a pre-written document that references /r/antiwork with some workers rights/counter capitalist messaging.”” I love this.

The Popular Family Safety App Life360 Is Selling Precise Location Data on Its Tens of Millions of Users. “Life360, a popular family safety app used by 33 million people worldwide, has been marketed as a great way for parents to track their children’s movements using their cellphones. The Markup has learned, however, that the app is selling data on kids’ and families’ whereabouts to approximately a dozen data brokers who have sold data to virtually anyone who wants to buy it.” This should be illegal.

This Swiss Firm Exec Is Said To Have Operated A Secret Surveillance Operation. “The co-founder of a company that has been trusted by technology giants including Google and Twitter to deliver sensitive passwords to millions of their customers also operated a service that ultimately helped governments secretly surveil and track mobile phones, according to former employees and clients.”

A mysterious threat actor is running hundreds of malicious Tor relays. “Since at least 2017, a mysterious threat actor has run thousands of malicious servers in entry, middle, and exit positions of the Tor network in what a security researcher has described as an attempt to deanonymize Tor users. [...] at one point, there was a 16% chance that a Tor user would connect to the Tor network through one of KAX17’s servers, a 35% chance they would pass through one of its middle relays, and up to 5% chance to exit through one.”

An Open Letter to Mr. Mark Zuckerberg: A Global Call to Act Now on Child and Adolescent Mental Health Science. “We do not believe that the methodologies seen so far meet the high scientific standards required to responsibly investigate the mental health of children and adolescents. Although nothing in the leaks suggests that social media causes suicide, self-harm, or mental illness, these are serious research topics. This work, and the tools you are using should not be developed without independent oversight. Sound science must come before firm conclusions are drawn or new tools are launched. You and your organisations have an ethical and moral obligation to align your internal research on children and adolescents with established standards for evidence in mental health science.”

Kickstarter plans to move its crowdfunding platform to the blockchain. “Crowdfunding platform Kickstarter is making a big bet on the blockchain, announcing plans to create an open source protocol “that will essentially create a decentralized version of Kickstarter’s core functionality.” The company says the goal is for multiple platforms to embrace the protocol, including, eventually, http://kickstarter.com/.” The word “eventually” is doing a lot of work here! But it’s a way more and more startups will try and expand - by creating a bigger pie and being the owners of the way their market business is conducted. They get to stay clear of antitrust regulations while literally owning the market. Will it take years for this to happen? Yes. Is it near-inevitable? Also yes.

Reimagining projections for the interactive maps era. “We have put a lot of thought into making this feature feel seamless and natural, so that our customers could adopt it on all kinds of map apps by adding one line of code. Let’s take a deep dive into why we did it, and how it works under the hood.” Superb work from the Mapbox team.

I blew $720 on 100 notebooks from Alibaba and started a Paper Website business. “TLDR; I started a business that lets you build websites using pen & paper. In the process I went viral on Twitter, made $1,000 in two days, and blew $720 on 100 paper notebooks from Alibaba.”

The Asymmetry of Open Source. “With the recent revival of the discussion about sustaining open source spurred on by multiple severe CVEs in a popular logging library, and with so many hot takes clamoring for more funding—some calling on companies, others on maintainers—I wanted to write about the problem and its solutions more holistically, as I have spent many years thinking about this from my own experience with both failing and succeeding… a perspective that I hope some of you will find helpful.” An excellent list of open source funding techniques.

Reporter likely to be charged for using "view source" feature on web browser. “The reporter discovered that the source code of the website contained Social Security numbers of educators. The reporter alerted the state about the social security numbers. After the state removed the numbers from the web page, the Post-Dispatch reported the vulnerability. Soon after, Governor Parson, “who has often tangled with news outlets over reports he doesn’t like, announced a criminal investigation into the reporter and the Post-Dispatch.”” Idiocy.

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Reading, watching, playing, using: November, 2021

This is my monthly roundup of the books, articles, and streaming media I found interesting. Here's my list for November, 2021. It’s a little shorter than normal because I spent a portion of the month offline.

Notable Articles

Business

Research: People prefer friendliness, trustworthiness in teammates over skill competency. “People who are friendly and trustworthy are more likely to be selected for teams than those who are known for just their skill competency and personal reputation, according to new research from Binghamton University, State University of New York.” File under “no shit, Sherlock”: if you’ve got to work with someone every day, you want them to be kind and trustworthy, regardless of how good they actually are at their job. Ideally, you want both; if you can only have one, the person who’s a better human will and should win out every time.

Remote work will break the US monopoly on global talent. “Tech companies based in San Francisco and Seattle have “innovation hubs” whose primary role is to create a place that talent that hasn’t been able to get a visa to the US. We’ve also started to see this in places like Lagos and Buenos Aires. Nigerian developers can work alongside startups in Berlin and London, while Argentinian developers work as consultants for companies based in the US. We’re going to be seeing a lot more of this now that remote work is more widely accepted by companies worldwide.” This is a really positive change.

Putting Post Growth Theory Into Practice. “The Post Growth Entrepreneurship Incubator helps founders break free from traditional business models and implement sustainable non-extractive practices. […] We promote cross-subsidizing charity with our businesses, and we’re trying to offer an alternative for startup founders who want to bring their activist, artistic, spiritual business ideas to life without selling out in the commercial startup ecosystem. Too much of the startup ecosystem uses the Silicon Valley model of ‘capital, scale, exit.’ Instead we’re promoting: bootstrapping, flat growth, and non-extraction.”

Theranos patient says blood test came back with false positive for HIV. “Erin Tompkins, who got her blood drawn from a Theranos device at a Walgreens in Arizona, said the test misdiagnosed her as having an HIV antibody, sending her into a panic.”

Crypto

The Token Disconnect. “Silicon Valley ran dry on large breakthroughs in software, so we decided to invent the “blockchain”, a simulacrum of innovation that organically fermented from the anti-institutional themes in the Western zeitgeist to spawn an absurdly large asset bubble with absolutely nothing at the center. There is no there there, and crypto morphed into a pure speculative mania which attracted a fanatic quasi-religious movement fueled by gambling addiction and the pseudo-intellectual narrative economics of the scheme. All conversation around crypto is now simply the sound and fury of post-hoc myth making to rationalize away the collective incoherence of the bubble in a near perfect exemplar of the motivated reasoning of economic determinism.” Sharing because it’s an interesting take; I don’t necessarily agree with everything here.

Culture

Appalling Monica Lewinsky Jokes—And the Comedians Who’ve Apologized. “But in the two-plus decades since those jokes were made, some comedians have taken responsibility for their cruel comedy. Ahead, a rundown of some of the hosts and comedy programs that targeted Lewinsky and Tripp—and the parties who have since publicly taken responsibility for their hurtful barbs over the years.”

Belgian gallery uses art after being turned down by artist. “The friendly stranger who clocked the familiar image asked the gallery about it, and a representative allegedly claimed they’d been in touch with Bateman and worked something out. Bateman searched her email and found a permission request from the gallery, dated in March—which she had politely declined and promptly forgotten about. Somehow, what the gallery had taken away from the exchange was that it could just use her work anyway.” I used to share an office with Hallie and have followed her journey. (My current Twitter avatar - a picture of me - was drawn by her.) This gallery’s actions were a very unfair devaluation of the value of her work and her rights as an artist.

Conservative MP Nick Fletcher Blames Crime On Female Doctor Who. Doesn’t he look tired?

Media

The global streaming boom is creating a severe translator shortage. “Training a new generation of translators to meet this supply issue in certain translation hot spots will take time, and most importantly, better compensation, said Lee, whose company Iyuno-SDI operates in over 100 languages and routinely clocks in over 600,000 episodes of translations every year. Lee said that roughly one in 50 applicants are able to pass Iyuno-SDI’s translator qualification exam. “I don’t think we’re happy with even 10% or 15% of who we work with,” he said. “We just have no other options because there’s just not enough professional translators.””

Danny Fenster, U.S. Journalist in Myanmar, Gets 11 Years in Jail. “The sentence seemed to be the latest signal that Myanmar’s military, which seized power in February, would not bow to pressure, including sanctions, from the United States and other countries. The State Department has repeatedly called for Mr. Fenster’s release.” Imprisoned by a despotic regime and failed comprehensively by the US.

How Facebook and Google fund global misinformation. “An MIT Technology Review investigation, based on expert interviews, data analyses, and documents that were not included in the Facebook Papers, has found that Facebook and Google are paying millions of ad dollars to bankroll clickbait actors, fueling the deterioration of information ecosystems around the world.”

Politics

Secret recordings of NRA officials after Columbine school shooting show strategy. “In addition to mapping out their national strategy, NRA leaders can also be heard describing the organization’s more activist members in surprisingly harsh terms, deriding them as “hillbillies” and “fruitcakes” who might go off script after Columbine and embarrass them.”

It’s not ‘polarization.’ We suffer from Republican radicalization. “The polarization argument too often treats both sides as equally worthy of blame, characterizing the problem as a sort of free-floating affliction (e.g., “lack of trust”). This blurs the distinction between a Democratic Party that is marginally more progressive in policy positions than it was a decade ago, and a Republican Party that routinely lies, courts violence and seeks to define America as a White Christian nation.”

Spotsylvania School Board orders libraries to remove 'sexually explicit' books. Here’s why this is of note: ”“I think we should throw those books in a fire,” Abuismail said, and Twigg said he wants to “see the books before we burn them so we can identify within our community that we are eradicating this bad stuff.”” Holy shit.

Science

Octopuses, crabs and lobsters to be recognised as sentient beings under UK law following LSE report findings. “Octopuses, crabs and lobsters will receive greater welfare protection in UK law following an LSE report which demonstrates that there is strong scientific evidence that these animals have the capacity to experience pain, distress or harm.”

What would health experts do? 28 share their holiday plans amid Covid-19. “To try to gauge where things stand, we asked a number of infectious diseases experts about the risks they are willing to take now, figuring that their answers might give us a sense of whether we’re making our way out of the woods.”

Society

Gresham High students speak out against school resource officers. “Group member Stasia recalled being accused of carrying drugs by a staff member. “I was told that I would end up like Breonna Taylor if I had a substance on me that I shouldn’t have had,” Stasia said, referencing a Black woman killed by police in Louisville, Kentucky.” Police officers and guns don’t belong in schools. Period.

38% of US adults believe government is faking COVID-19 death toll. “The finding is likely unsettling to the surviving loved ones of the nearly 756,000 Americans who have already died of COVID-19. It also squares with previous survey results from KFF showing that personally knowing someone who became severely ill or died of COVID-19 was one of the strongest motivators for convincing unvaccinated people to get vaccinated.”

Experience: I taught two dogs to fly a plane. “I have trained a 190kg boar to pretend to attack an actor, a cat to plunge shoulder-deep into water as if catching a fish and a cockatoo to winch up a bucket, take out a coin and drop it into a piggy bank. But when a TV company asked if I could teach a dog to fly a plane, I faced the toughest challenge of my career.”

Work is no longer the meaning of life for some Americans. “Before the coronavirus pandemic, nearly one quarter of all Americans said that they find meaning and purpose in their lives because of their work and their jobs. Now, that number has declined by more 9% in a new Pew research study, affirming anecdotal stories about the American population’s increasing disinterest in participating in the labor market.” To be honest: good.

ICU is full of the unvaccinated – my patience with them is wearing thin. “Translating this to the choice not to take the vaccine, however, I find my patience wearing thin. I think this is for a number of reasons. Even if you are not worried about your own risk from Covid, you cannot know the risk of the people into whose faces you may cough; there is a dangerous and selfish element to this that I find hard to stomach.”

The abolitionist history of pumpkin pie and Thanksgiving. “The Northern farmer, just by existing, was a natural-born abolitionist, she argued. Pumpkin pie and Thanksgiving were celebrations of a better, more godly way of agriculture without the institution of slavery.”

Since the Thanksgiving Tale Is a Myth, Celebrate It This Way. “It was the Wampanoag in 1621 who helped the first wave of Puritans arriving on our shores, showing them how to plant crops, forage for wild foods and basically survive. The first official mention of a “Thanksgiving” celebration occurs in 1637, after the colonists brutally massacre an entire Pequot village, then subsequently celebrate their barbaric victory.”

Why overly kind and moral people can rub you up the wrong way. “All this means that altruistic behaviour can make us walk a metaphorical tightrope. We need to balance our generosity perfectly, so that we are seen as cooperative and good, without arousing the suspicion that we are acting solely for the status.”

Hanukkah’s darker origins feel more relevant in time of rising antisemitism, intense interest in identity. ““The old message of 15 or 20 years ago was: It’s all about unity. Now it’s all about identity and difference. The Jewish story is in conflict between sameness and difference. On the one hand, our grandparents fought so hard for us to fit in, to pass, quote-unquote. We want that, but we’re conflicted. Now someone views me as ‘White,’ and it’s like: ‘No, I’m Jewish.’”” Lots to think about here, including with respect to my own identity.

The English turned Barbados into a slave society. Now, after 396 years, we’re free. “Prof Hilary Beckles, a Barbadian historian, the current vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies and a leading figure in the push by Caribbean islands to secure reparations, sums it up best. “Barbados was the birthplace of British slave society and the most ruthlessly colonised by Britain’s ruling elites,” he writes. “They made their fortunes from sugar produced by an enslaved, ‘disposable’ workforce, and this great wealth secured Britain’s place as an imperial superpower and caused untold suffering.””

Technology

Tracy Chou's life as a tech activist: abuse, and optimism. “As an Asian-American woman who has spent much of her career calling out the gender inequities and racism embedded in Silicon Valley, Chou is all too familiar with this sort of abuse and harassment. Since 2013, when she famously urged tech companies to share data on women in technical roles, the 34-year-old software engineer has been a key figure in the industry’s prolonged reckoning with its culture of exclusion. But whatever progress she’s made has come at great personal cost—especially as her Twitter following has ballooned to more than 100,000 accounts. “In doing this diversity and inclusion activism work,” she says, “I built more of a profile that then exposed me to more harassment.””

Why you should prioritise quality over speed in design systems. “Speed for the sake of speed means nothing. If our design systems don’t ultimately lead to better quality experiences, we’re doing it wrong.” Not just design systems.

U.S. Treasury Is Buying Private App Data to Target People. “Two contracts obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request and shared with The Intercept by Tech Inquiry, a research and advocacy group, show that over the past four months, the Treasury acquired two powerful new data feeds from Babel Street: one for its sanctions enforcement branch, and one for the Internal Revenue Service. Both feeds enable government use of sensitive data collected by private corporations not subject to due process restrictions. Critics were particularly alarmed that the Treasury acquired access to location and other data harvested from smartphone apps; users are often unaware of how widely apps share such information.”

'Dog phone' could help lonely pooches call owners. ““Whatever form that takes, we’ve taken another step towards developing some kind of ‘dog internet’, which gives pets more autonomy and control over their interaction with technology,” she added.”

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Reading, watching, playing, using: October, 2021

This is my monthly roundup of the books, articles, and streaming media I found interesting. Here's my list for October, 2021.

Books

The Girl with All the Gifts, by M. R. Carey. I wasn’t prepared for the visceral gore, but beyond the zombie shenanigans, this is a complex tale of comparative morality. It definitely hits differently after the pandemic - there are obvious parallels that the author couldn’t have foreseen. I found it relevant and gripping in equal measure; the first time in a long time that I’ve wanted to hide behind the sofa from a book.

Reparations Now!, by Ashley M. Jones. Honest, direct poetry that bursts from the page and speaks out loud with a distinctive voice that demands to be heard. This is truly great writing - truly great art - that intimately illuminates a particular lived experience while cutting to the core of what America is.

Notable Articles

Business

The New Anti-Remote Propaganda Wants To Gaslight You Back To The Office. “This is the next front of this fight - the executive sect has realized that simply telling people that remote work is terrible using the flimsiest arguments possible won’t work. Thus they’ve moved on to scaring the workers themselves. Remote workers are “short-changed,” and too much remote work is “bad for your career.” It’s bad for younger employees, and will have you “leaning out of your career.” The Wall Street Journal worries that jobs won’t be able to keep things fair, and researchers say that it’s bad for most employees.” And remote workers - the Times worries - may get left behind in the hybrid office.”

Paying influencers? The FTC has a warning for you. “While both the existence and use of social media “influencers” are a relatively recent phenomenon, the FTC said it found previously that such actions violate the prohibition on “unfair or deceptive acts or practices.” A company that knows about these determinations and flouts them can face fines under the Federal Trade Commission Act — hence the notices warning these firms.” I will not cry if influencer culture has to endure a crackdown.

Amazon copied products and rigged search results, documents show. “A trove of internal Amazon documents reveals how the e-commerce giant ran a systematic campaign of creating knockoff goods and manipulating search results to boost its own product lines in India - practices it has denied engaging in. And at least two top Amazon executives reviewed the strategy.” It’s almost as if all-encompassing global monopolies are always harmful?

How Slack and Discord became tools for tech worker organizing. “Many companies are not willing to talk about how workers are using their tools to accumulate power. Slack, Discord and Reddit are all open about their platform’s ability to bring people closer together, particularly those with similar interests, or those who want to vent about work. These kinds of interactions can be important first steps in building a larger movement in the workplace.” Unions are a force for good and the push for unionization in tech is a positive, progressive change.

My employee wasn't respectful enough after the company messed up her paycheck. “I’m getting tired of the respect gap I’m seeing with younger staff. I think Jane would be better suited in a different department. I’m not comfortable having her on my team since it’s obvious she doesn’t understand she’s entry-level and not in charge. Should I wait a while before suggesting she transfer to a different department?”

Why introverts excelled at working from home. “While the transition to remote work in early 2020 was abrupt for everyone, some found themselves thriving more than others – in many cases, thanks to their personality type. Many introverted workers found working from a distraction-free environment preferable. Client needs also changed in ways that benefited introverts’ skillsets, while virtual communication offered introverts more opportunities to share their thoughts. For ‘quiet deliverers’ who may once have flown under the radar, remote work offered not only a less taxing day-to-day, but also an opportunity to combine that extra energy with new ways of working – and really stand out.”

Tesla's market value tops $1T after Hertz orders 100K cars. “Hertz said in its announcement that it will complete its purchases of the Tesla Model 3 small cars by the end of 2022. It also said it will establish its own electric vehicle charging network as it strives to produce the largest rental fleet of electric vehicles in North America.” Most importantly, this is a major step towards mainstreaming electric cars in the US.

Crypto

Cryptocurrency's Carbon Footprint Underestimated. “This could mean that in the worst case the top 5 cryptocurrencies had a carbon footprint of between 1100 and 2770 MtCO2/yr, or between Japan (~1074) and the EU (~2637).”

Culture

I'm Fine I'm Fine Just Understand, by ND Stevenson. Just beautiful. What a wonderful use of the newsletter form.

Hannah Gadsby Calls Out Netflix Over Its Defense of Dave Chappelle. ″“Hey Ted Sarandos!” Ms. Gadsby wrote. “Just a quick note to let you know that I would prefer if you didn’t drag my name into your mess. Now I have to deal with even more of the hate and anger that Dave Chappelle’s fans like to unleash on me every time Dave gets 20 million dollars to process his emotionally stunted partial world view.””

Netflix just fired the organizer of the trans employee walkout. “The employee was terminated on suspicion of leaking metrics to the press related to the Dave Chappelle special. Those metrics — about how much Netflix paid for The Closer and how many people it reached — subsequently ended up in a report on Bloomberg. While the employee had shared the metrics internally, they spoke out against the leaks to colleagues, worried they might hurt the walkout movement.”

Superman Drops 'American Way': 'Truth, Justice and a Better Tomorrow'. I don’t really care for Superman these days, but this seems like a much better motto.

What I Learned About My Writing By Seeing Only The Punctuation. A lovely little web tool for revealing the hidden, underlying structure in your writing.

The Power of Dave Chappelle’s Comedy. “Onstage, he refers to himself as the man who walked away from fifty million dollars, but the credibility he derived from that act sixteen years ago is now being deployed defensively and cynically, as if to place above suspicion any possible motive for telling denigrating jokes about trans people. He is also the man who walked into a reported sixty-million-dollar Netflix deal.”

James Bond and Doctor Who got smaller as they become fantasy. I really feel this. I’d prefer to feel like these stories are happening in another layer to the world; spooky goings-on just out of eyeshot.

Media

The Taliban are using private messaging apps to threaten Afghan journalists. “Journalists who spoke to Rest of World also said the Taliban often use apps like WhatsApp and Telegram because they know journalists typically turn off DMs on Twitter and change Facebook Messenger settings to avoid this type of harassment.”

New Report Shows Black Media's Critical Role in Covering Issues Affecting Black Communities. “The report, “Why Black Media Matters Now,” analyzed the coverage of nearly 100 Black-owned news outlets over 15 momentous months between March 2020 and May 2021. In general, it found that Black media publishes as much as six times more coverage than mainstream outlets on issues of importance to Black communities, including racism, health disparities, and voting access.”

Netflix suspends trans employee who tweeted about Dave Chappelle special. “The tweet thread went viral, quickly spiraling into a conversation about free speech and cancel culture. Netflix then suspended Field along with two other employees for trying to attend a director-level meeting they weren’t invited to. Another trans employee is quitting the company over how the special — and Field’s comments — were handled.”

Alden Global Capital, the Hedge Fund Killing Newspapers. ″“They call Alden a vulture hedge fund, and I think that’s honestly a misnomer,” Johnson said. “A vulture doesn’t hold a wounded animal’s head underwater. This is predatory.””

Behind SmartNews, the $2 billion unicorn trying to fix the news algorithm. ″“I don’t know what you can do to convince an audience member to challenge their own political beliefs through news consumption. I don’t think that conversion happens easily or quickly,” said Jeremy Gilbert, a professor of digital media strategy at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, to Rest of World. He gave SmartNews credit for building its app with these social issues in mind, but asked, “But what does it mean to tell ‘real news,’ if it doesn’t fit what their notion of that already is?””

Spotify and Pandora lead US in audio listeners. “Additionally, Spotify will overtake Apple in podcast listeners for the first time to become the new leader in the category. We expect Apple podcast listeners to plateau and Spotify listeners to keep increasing throughout our forecast period.” Spotify is fast becoming the Facebook of audio.

These competitors joined forces to allow readers to use a single login across their news sites. “The founding media partners all agreed, however, that having more first-party data and increasing the share of registered visitors would allow them to build better relationships with readers and more relevant news products. Their collective first step has been OneLog, a single sign-on system being used across a variety of news sites owned by Swiss Digital Alliance members TX Group and Ringier.” Now imagine if authentication was built into the browser.

Medill Launches Groundbreaking Subscriber Engagement Tool. ″“The benchmarking data is one of the things that makes the index so valuable,” Franklin said. “It’s not just ‘How am I doing?’ It’s ‘How am I doing compared to other similarly sized news organizations across companies around the country?’ Several publishers have mentioned how valuable the benchmarking data is to them.”” Seems like a useful way to let small newsrooms collaborate to share data that affects their bottom line. I’d love to see more projects along these lines.

Prominent PR firm spreading disinformation ahead of Honduran elections. “The political group is using a network of Facebook pages and websites made to appear as legitimate news outlets.”

Politics

Jan. 6 Protest Organizers Say They Participated in ‘Dozens’ of Planning Meetings With Members of Congress and White House Staff. “Rolling Stone separately confirmed a third person involved in the main Jan. 6 rally in D.C. has communicated with the committee. This is the first report that the committee is hearing major new allegations from potential cooperating witnesses. While there have been prior indications that members of Congress were involved, this is also the first account detailing their purported role and its scope. The two sources also claim they interacted with members of Trump’s team, including former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who they describe as having had an opportunity to prevent the violence.”

Science

First Malaria Vaccine Approved by W.H.O. “Malaria kills about half a million people each year, nearly all of them in sub-Saharan Africa — including 260,000 children under 5. The new vaccine, made by GlaxoSmithKline, rouses a child’s immune system to thwart Plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest of five malaria pathogens and the most prevalent in Africa.”

When You Go to the Loo, a Bat Might Go Boo. ″“I’ve had the soft, leathery caress of a bat’s wing against my buttocks while having a poo,” said Leejiah Dorward, a postdoctoral researcher at Bangor University in Wales.”

Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness drops after 6 months, study shows. “The effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine in preventing infection by the coronavirus dropped to 47% from 88% six months after the second dose, according to data published on Monday that U.S. health agencies considered when deciding on the need for booster shots.” Man :(

Costs of IQ Loss from Leaded Aviation Gasoline Emissions. It turns out small aircraft can still use leaded fuel, and the impact of the resulting IQ loss in these highly-trafficked routes is significant. “We find that aircraft-attributable lead contributes to $1.06 billion 2006 USD ($0.01–$11.6) in annual damages from lifetime earnings reductions, and that dynamic economy-wide methods result in damage estimates that are 54% larger.”

Elephants have evolved to be tuskless because of ivory poaching, a study finds. ““When we think about natural selection, we think about it happening over hundreds, or thousands, of years,” said Samuel Wasser, a conservation biologist at the University of Washington, who was not involved in the research. “The fact that this dramatic selection for tusklessness happened over 15 years is one of the most astonishing findings.””

Our hearts and brains are so tightly connected, studies have found, that when we hear the same story, our heart rates sync up. “The novel find­ing is that heart rate cor­re­la­tion be­tween sub­jects does not re­quire them to ac­tu­ally be in­ter­act­ing, or even be in the same place. They can be lis­ten­ing to sto­ries all alone at home, and their heart rate fluc­tu­a­tions will align with the story, and thus cor­re­late with other lis­ten­ers. It’s not the in­ter­ac­tion be­tween peo­ple but the story it­self that does the trick.”

Are We on the Verge of Chatting with Whales? “If Bronstein’s idea works, it is quite realistic to develop a system analogous to human language models that generates grammatically correct whale utterances. The next step would be an interactive chatbot that tries to engage in a dialogue with free-living whales. Of course, no one can say today whether the animals would accept it as a conversational partner. “Maybe they would just reply, ‘Stop talking such garbage!’” says Bronstein.”

Society

Pandora Papers: An offshore data tsunami. “The Pandora Papers investigation is the world’s largest-ever journalistic collaboration, involving more than 600 journalists from 150 media outlets in 117 countries. The investigation is based on a leak of confidential records of 14 offshore service providers that give professional services to wealthy individuals and corporations seeking to incorporate shell companies, trusts, foundations and other entities in low- or no-tax jurisdictions. The entities enable owners to conceal their identities from the public and sometimes from regulators. Often, the providers help them open bank accounts in countries with light financial regulation.”

The New Deal devalued home care workers. Advocates hope new legislation can undo that. “The low pay and lack of benefits is a legacy of racism baked into President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, which left farm and domestic workers — many of them women, many people of color — out of the job and financial protections it offered. As Congress debates President Joe Biden’s proposed $3.5 trillion Build Back Better legislation, which includes funds for home care and provisions that would make it easier for care workers to organize, advocates for caregivers say it’s a chance for the country to show new respect for their work and move toward compensating it fairly.”

Black Children Were Jailed for a Crime That Doesn’t Exist. Almost Nothing Happened to the Adults in Charge. “They would eventually estimate that kids had been wrongly arrested 500 times. And that was just for kids arrested by the sheriff’s office. This estimate didn’t account for other law enforcement agencies in the county that followed Davenport’s “process.” As for how many times the juvenile detention center had improperly locked up kids through its “filter system,” the lawyers estimated that number at 1,500.” A completely horrifying story that is entirely representative of America.

Indigenous Peoples' Day, as explained by Native Americans. “Indigenous Peoples’ Day advocates say the recognition helps correct a “whitewashed” American history that has glorified Europeans like Italian explorer Christopher Columbus who have committed violence against Indigenous communities. Native Americans have long criticized the inaccuracies and harmful narratives of Columbus’ legacy that credited him with his “discovery” of the Americas when Indigenous people were there first.” This is the first time the President has recognized it: a significant change.

Southlake school leader tells teachers to balance Holocaust books with 'opposing' views. “A top administrator with the Carroll Independent School District in Southlake advised teachers last week that if they have a book about the Holocaust in their classroom, they should also offer students access to a book from an “opposing” perspective, according to an audio recording obtained by NBC News.” The opposing perspective being ...?

The “Phone Disaster”. “For young Uyghurs like Qeyser, at first it seemed as though the People’s War would have nothing to do with him. But in the fall of 2014, administrators in Qeyser’s school called a general assembly and asked all the students to turn over their phones. Since he had shared a news article on WeChat about Ilham Tohti, a Uyghur intellectual who was sentenced to life in prison because he had published policy recommendations critical of the Chinese colonization of the Uyghur homeland, Qeyser was terrified. “I just pretended to be so calm. But my heart was beating through my chest. Fortunately the teacher who checked my WeChat did not look closely. But another friend was detained. He spent nine months in a detention center.””

Holiday Shopping 2021: Poorer Americans Plan Not to Spend This Season. “The survey, released Wednesday, shows that 11.5% of U.S. holiday shoppers say they plan not to spend anything on gifts and services this holiday. That’s up from 4.9% in 2020 and 2.9% the previous year. It’s the highest in at least 10 years.” Reflective of a giant, terrifying gap between rich and poor.

In-N-Out Burger isn't only opposed to vaccine mandates. It also supports anti-LGBTQ politics. “But for anyone who’s paid attention to the ins and outs of In-N-Out over the years, news that the fast-food chain refused to do the vaccine checks required by both counties should not have been a shock. Nor should its petulant response: “We refuse to become the vaccination police for any government.” The LGBTQ community has long been wary of the company, and with good reason.” I’ve been to In N Out for the last time.

Lawyer Who Won $9.5 Billion Settlement Against Chevron Reports to Prison. “In July, Judge Preska found Mr. Donziger guilty of all charges. On Oct. 1, Mr. Donziger was sentenced to six months in prison, a day after he asked the court to consider an opinion by independent United Nations experts that found his court-ordered home confinement of more than two years a violation of international human rights law.” This is a pretty outrageous sentence, and the details about the case are almost - but sadly not quite - unbelievable.

A C-Shaped Recovery? “This seems to me like a very important and very under-appreciated fact about the past two years. This is not just the first recession in which household income didn’t fall. It’s the first recession — in modern times, if not ever — that hit higher income families harder than low-income ones. So far, it looks less like a K-shaped recovery than a C-shaped one.”

Technology

Facebook released (and criticized) its research on how teens experience Instagram . “Antigone Davis, Facebook’s global head of safety, is scheduled to testify in front of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Thursday. The company is clearly worried about how it’s going to go. Worried enough, in fact, that it published two slide decks showing internal research on how teens experience Instagram, some of which informed the Wall Street Journal’s Facebook Files investigation.”

Being a tech whistleblower is dangerous and expensive. Now there’s a guide to the risks. “Pinterest whistleblower Ifeoma Ozoma, alongside whistleblower support agencies including Lioness, the Signals Network, Elite Strategy Global and the Whistleblowing International Network, launched a website intended to serve as a guide to helping workers across the tech industry decide if they want to speak publicly about an issue or story, and, if they do, plan strategies like Haugen’s.”

Banks and fintechs agree: It’s time for screen scraping to go. So what’s next? “Banks have complained that startups were essentially hacking into their systems to grab their customers’ data through screen scraping, while fintechs accused banks of selfishly restricting access to information that legally belongs to account holders.” The tech underlying the US financial system is absurd, and if it doesn’t terrify you, it should. It’s an accident waiting to happen. Stronger standards will lead to stronger security and a much better consumer experience.

Facebook banned me for life because I created the tool Unfollow Everything. “I still remember the feeling of unfollowing everything for the first time. It was near-miraculous. I had lost nothing, since I could still see my favorite friends and groups by going to them directly. But I had gained a staggering amount of control. I was no longer tempted to scroll down an infinite feed of content. The time I spent on Facebook decreased dramatically. Overnight, my Facebook addiction became manageable.”

How Facebook Hides How Terrible It Is With Hate Speech. “In public, Facebook seems to claim that it removes more than 90 percent of hate speech on its platform, but in private internal communications the company says the figure is only an atrocious 3 to 5 percent. Facebook wants us to believe that almost all hate speech is taken down, when in reality almost all of it remains on the platform.”

UX design has a dirty secret. “This confusion over the breadth and scope of user experience design can be seen in the misapplication of concepts and methodologies like Design Thinking. Design Thinking was developed as a consulting tool to help management take a more deliberate approach in innovating on new services and products. The model includes five steps: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test. At face value, this seems like a robust approach, however Design Thinking is often adopted as a substitute for actual user-centered design, with activities being led internally and without users, ultimately resulting in UX Theatre.”

Software developers have stopped caring about reliability. “It’s hard to overstate just how much software developers have given the finger to reliability in the past 10 years or so. It’s for the simplest, silliest reasons, too, like those web forms. My web browser has been perfectly competent at submitting HTML forms for the past 28 years, but for some stupid reason some asshole developer decided to reimplement all of the form semantics in JavaScript, and now I can’t pay my electricity bill without opening up the dev tools. Imagine what it’s like to not know how to do that. Imagine if you were blind.”

City worker saw homeless people lined up to get $5 gift card for face scan uploaded to Google. “A new photo obtained by the Daily News shows another view of the line of homeless people who gathered in an Atlanta park last May to get $5 gift cards in exchange for 3-D facial scans uploaded to Google.” Article is from a couple of years ago, but is notable because this is part of the dataset being used to improve photography and recognition of people of color on the new Pixel devices.

What we can learn from "_why" the long lost open source developer. “Perhaps most importantly, he taught countless people the joy of programming. _why showed veteran coders and n00bs alike a curious, adventurous, and creative side of programming. He demonstrated that code could be more than just a form of technical problem solving: it could be a form of self-expression and of art.”

Trump’s site Truth Social broke software rules, says copyleft group. It turns out they forked Mastodon but are lying about it and aren’t complying with the AGPL: “Truth Social doesn’t comply with that license and, in fact, refers to its service as “proprietary.” Its developers apparently attempted to scrub references that would make the Mastodon connection clear — at one point listing a “sighting” of the Mastodon logo as a bug — but included direct references to Mastodon in the site’s underlying HTML alongside obvious visual similarities.”

Photoshop's journey to the web. “Over the last three years, Chrome has been working to empower web applications that want to push the boundaries of what’s possible in the browser. One such web application has been Photoshop. The idea of running software as complex as Photoshop directly in the browser would have been hard to imagine just a few years ago. However, by using various new standardized web technologies, Adobe has now brought a public beta of Photoshop to the web.” It’s amazing to me that this is possible - and I honestly question whether it’s really necessary. But I get that it makes a ton of sense for Chrome OS users in particular.

Facebook Papers: ‘History Will Not Judge Us Kindly’. “Facebook employees have long understood that their company undermines democratic norms and restraints in America and across the globe. Facebook’s hypocrisies, and its hunger for power and market domination, are not secret. Nor is the company’s conflation of free speech and algorithmic amplification. But the events of January 6 proved for many people—including many in Facebook’s workforce—to be a breaking point.”

Facebook prioritized ‘angry’ emoji reaction posts in news feeds. “Behind the scenes, Facebook programmed the algorithm that decides what people see in their news feeds to use the reaction emoji as signals to push more emotional and provocative content — including content likely to make them angry. Starting in 2017, Facebook’s ranking algorithm treated emoji reactions as five times more valuable than “likes,” internal documents reveal. The theory was simple: Posts that prompted lots of reaction emoji tended to keep users more engaged, and keeping users engaged was the key to Facebook’s business.” Much later, they turned the value of angry responses to zero - with no effect on Facebook’s engagement.

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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.”

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Reading, watching, playing, using: August, 2021

This is my monthly roundup of the books, articles, and streaming media I found interesting. Here's my list for August, 2021. Once again, this is a lighter list: I spent a lot of my month with family, helping to organize my mother’s memorial. Apart from that, it's been a time for reflection rather than consumption.

Books

100 Boyfriends, by Brontez Purnell . Raw in a way that transcends honesty, these confessional short stories are full of uncomfortable life. The writing is incredible. I’m not sure what I took away, exactly, but I think it’s time for a shower.

Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, by bell hooks. Although it’s written for teachers, there are lessons here that transcend that field to be insightful for anyone in a hypothetical position of authority. Today, the topics and even its writing style are still cutting edge. When it was written a quarter century ago, it must have been incredibly radical. I wish every teacher and manager in my life had read it.

Notable Articles

Business

One Medical Employees Accuse Concierge Care Provider Of Less Focus On Patients. “Dozens of One Medical employees are trying to unionize as a response to what they say has been mismanagement of the organization’s COVID-19 response, poor working conditions for staff and, they allege, a declining focus on patients.” I’m a long-term One Medical customer and have definitely (but anecdotally) noticed this in the quality of care I’ve received over time.

Inclusive icebreakers. “To ‘break the ice’ is a metaphor for dissipating tension in a group of people who don’t know each other very well. Word Histories gives a bit of background behind the phrase, which seems to be hundreds of years old. However, there are still some common activities being used that have the opposite effect for some people – making them feel even more disconnected from the rest from the group.” An important point with some great suggestions.

VCs are financing a servant economy. “But this is more than just the most recent unicorn-bubble fad. It’s bringing us one step closer to living in a servant economy. The world’s most powerful VC investors are funding an economy where technology allows a ‘ruling class’ to command an ‘underclass’ of servants with the swipe of an app.”

Court rules California gig worker initiative is unconstitutional, a setback to Uber and Lyft. “A California judge on Friday ruled that a 2020 ballot measure exempting rideshare and food delivery drivers from a state labor law is unconstitutional because it infringes on the Legislature’s power to set workplace standards.” Great news!

The Secret Bias Hidden in Mortgage-Approval Algorithms. “We found that lenders gave fewer loans to Black applicants than White applicants even when their incomes were high—$100,000 a year or more—and had the same debt ratios. In fact, high-earning Black applicants with less debt were rejected more often than high-earning White applicants who have more debt.” Alternative credit scores are vital - Classic FICO disproportionately harms people of color.

What If People Don’t Want A Career? “In May I ended up on Burnout TikTok, where every 5th video offered withering commentary on the futility and frustration of toiling away for long hours at a job they didn’t particularly like. I can’t find the video anymore but the one that sticks in my head was a TikToker venting about how the idealized career is — when you think about it — a raw deal. It went something like this: You devote the bulk of every day for 30-40 years in the prime of your life to various companies to make them and their shareholders money and then you get ten years near the end of your life to do what you please. Sounds like a bad arrangement.”

Crypto

Remarks Before the Aspen Security Forum by SEC Chair Gary Gensler. “Right now, large parts of the field of crypto are sitting astride of — not operating within — regulatory frameworks that protect investors and consumers, guard against illicit activity, ensure for financial stability, and yes, protect national security.”

Chelsea Manning Is Back, And Hacking Again, Only This Time For A Bitcoin-Based Privacy Startup. “Halpin asked Manning to look for security weaknesses in his new privacy project, which eventually became Nym, a Neuchâtel, Switzerland-based crypto startup. Halprin founded Nym in 2018 to send data anonymously around the Internet using the same blockchain technology underlying Bitcoin. To date, Nym has raised some $8.5 million from a group of crypto investors including Binance, Polychain Capital and NGC Ventures. The firm now employs 10 people and is using its latest round of capital to double its team size.” I’ve known Harry for a long time, and was privileged to meet Chelsea when she was an advisor to his previous startup (which we invested in at Matter). I’m excited to see this collaboration.

Culture

What Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings looked like as two Weinstein movies. “My script review became the second part of a carefully coordinated one-two punch. At that point, Ain’t It Cool was a useful platform for filmmakers who were trying to convince studio heads that there was an audience out there for serious-minded genre fare produced with all of the resources required, and it was not always an easy sell. I was happy to make the case: The scripts were great enough that Jackson deserved the chance to see them through.”

‘Bloody’ overtaken as the UK’s most popular swear word, study suggests. I’ve been self-censoring since I got to the US - people swear much less often here - but I’m being less diligent over time.

My dead dad’s journal: How I finally met a man I knew for my entire life. “It was a window into the mind of a loving father. It was a look into the fraught thought process of a deeply analytical man. A religious man who knew he was sinning. An addict who was self-aware, and still couldn’t pull himself out from the abyss. It was Jekyll talking to Hyde. Bruce Banner talking to the Hulk. And, in honor of my dad I feel I must also include: It’s Data talking to Lore.”

Feels Good Man! Pepe, copyright, and NFTs. “And then NFT craze hits, and Pepe becomes a star in the non-fungible token markets. I’ve spent countless hours in NFT platforms in the last months, every time I open a new page, there’s usually an animated Pepe waiting for me. Many NFT artists are part of the meme generation that grew up on Pepe and other memes, so these tend to feature heavily on their output (probably only beaten by Doge). Instead of fighting the trend, Furie joined the NFT revolution, and started making lots of money off Pepe “originals”, and allowing most other NFTs of Pepes to continue.”

Politics

Afghanistan Meant Nothing. A Veteran Reflects on 20 Wasted Years. “And so I sit here, reading these sad fucking articles and these horrified social media posts about the suffering in Afghanistan and the horror of the encroaching Taliban and how awful it is that this is happening but I can’t stop feeling this grim happiness, like, finally, you fuckers, finally you have to face the thing Afghanistan has always been. You can’t keep lying to yourself about what you sent us into.”

Science

Atlantic Ocean currents weaken, signalling big weather changes. “The Atlantic Ocean’s current system, an engine of the Northern Hemsiphere’s climate, could be weakening to such an extent that it could soon bring big changes to the world’s weather.”

A Major Report Warns Climate Change Is Accelerating And Humans Must Cut Emissions Now. “Global climate change is accelerating and human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases are the overwhelming cause, according to a landmark report released Monday by the United Nations. There is still time to avoid catastrophic warming this century, but only if countries around the world stop burning fossil fuels as quickly as possible, the authors warn.”

Rain falls at Greenland ice summit for first time on record. “That meltwater is streaming into the ocean, causing sea levels to rise. Already, melting from Greenland’s ice sheet --the world’s second-largest after Antarctica’s -- has caused around 25% of global sea level rise seen over the last few decades, scientists estimate. That share is expected to grow, as global temperatures increase.” We’re increasingly screwed.

Evolution is now accepted by a majority of Americans. “The level of public acceptance of evolution in the United States is now solidly above the halfway mark, according to a new study based on a series of national public opinion surveys conducted over the last 35 years.” That number is 54%, which is absolutely pathetic.

Society

Nearly half of American workers don’t earn enough to afford a one-bedroom rental. “Rents in the US continued to increase through the pandemic, and a worker now needs to earn about $20.40 an hour to afford a modest one-bedroom rental. The median wage in the US is about $21 an hour.” Some absolutely dire statistics here.

2020 Census data: The United States is more diverse and more multiracial than ever. “While the under-18 population decreased during the last decade, it is rapidly diversifying. Non-White US residents younger than 18 now make up 53% of the population among minors, up from 47% in 2010.” (NB: I don’t like the “non-white” framing; white is not the default.)

Disability Advocates Fight Ruling Allowing Electric Shock Treatment Back In Mass. Residential School. “students wear backpacks equipped with electrical stimulation devices around the clock. Workers at the residential school employ the shocks using a remote control device when the students display a range of unwanted behaviors.” WTF?

‘It’s not hard work for me’: At 101 years old, this Maine lobsterwoman still works the water. “Virginia Oliver is the oldest licensed lobsterer in Maine and possibly on the planet. But in her eyes, it’s simply what she does. Her world has changed in once-unimaginable ways since 1920, but in other ways it’s hardly changed at all.” Come for the story, stay for the amazing photo.

Afghanistan's all-girls robotics team frantically trying to flee Taliban. “Members of the team, who range in age from 12 to 18, have overcome war and other hardships to pursue their love of engineering and robotics and strike a blow for national pride. They’ve made global headlines as a symbol of a more progressive Afghanistan.”

Op-Ed: As a doctor in a COVID unit, I’m running out of compassion for the unvaccinated. Get the shot. “I can pretty much guarantee we would have never met had you gotten vaccinated because you would have never been hospitalized. All of our COVID units are full and every single patient in them is unvaccinated. Numbers don’t lie. The vaccines work.”

Feds Deliberately Targeted Black Lives Matter Protesters, A Report Says. “Movement leaders and experts said the prosecution of protesters over the past year continues a century-long practice by the federal government, rooted in structural racism, to suppress Black social movements via the use of surveillance tactics and other mechanisms.”

What I Learned While Eavesdropping on the Taliban. “When people ask me what I did in Afghanistan, I tell them that I hung out in planes and listened to the Taliban. My job was to provide “threat warning” to allied forces, and so I spent most of my time trying to discern the Taliban’s plans. Before I started, I was cautioned that I would hear terrible things, and I most certainly did. But when you listen to people for hundreds of hours — even people who are trying to kill your friends — you hear ordinary things as well.”

Parents Are Not Okay. “School is only just starting and already kids are being quarantined in mind-boggling numbers: 20,000 across the state of Mississippi, 10,000 in a single district in Tampa, Florida. They’re getting sick too, with hospitalizations of kids under 17 across the country up at least 22 percent in the past month, by the CDC’s count, and each new week sets pediatric hospitalization records for the entire pandemic.”

Technology

Electric cars have much lower life cycle emissions, new study confirms. “But Bieker’s analysis says that there is no future for internal combustion engine vehicles if we are to actually decarbonize. HEVs only reduce lifecycle emissions by about 20 percent, and PHEVs are little better in Europe (25–27 percent lower than gasoline), a little worse in China (6–12 percent lower than gasoline), and adequate in the US (42–46 percent lower than gasoline). But compared to BEVs, a PHEV will have much greater lifetime emissions in all three areas. (India has almost no PHEVs, apparently.) And the advantage of BEVs over HEVs and PHEVs only grows as the grid decarbonizes more.”

Why Silicon Valley’s Asian Americans Still Feel Like a Minority. “On her way out she asked her likely successor, a White man, if he needed help navigating the company. She says he told her, “I don’t really need to prepare that hard—the manager has my back.” [Bo] Ren was floored. She’d spent more than 100 hours preparing for the same interviews so she could prove she deserved the spot. Being White, she says, is “like having a skip pass at Disney World. I realized there is a bamboo ceiling, and I’d have to work 100 times harder.””

The voices of women in tech are still being erased. “When we look at the impact of women’s voices in tech today, we can see both that they have led calls for accountability and also that they have been literally and figuratively undervalued. From doing voiceover work that becomes the basis for voice tools that millions use, without being paid or acknowledged accordingly, or doing work on the foundational concepts of AI, women are often present in tech without being listened to.”

Global organizations urge Apple to drop child safety features. “More than 90 civil liberties organizations around the world sent a letter to Apple’s Tim Cook Thursday, urging the CEO to walk back its plans to use machine learning to automatically detect child sexual abuse material on users’ devices.” Although everybody wants to protect children, the implications are unfortunately enormous.

On TikTok, misogyny and white supremacy slip through ‘enforcement gap’. “News investigations have nevertheless revealed that TikTok is used by Islamic State militants and to promote neo-Nazism. While the platform has started releasing transparency reports with details about the content it has removed for violating its guidelines, it is not yet part of a consortium of tech giants such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube involved in an industry anti-terrorism effort to collaboratively track and review content from white supremacists and far-right militia groups.”

Why are hyperlinks blue? “As a user experience designer who has created websites since 2001, I’ve always made my links blue. I have advocated for the specific shade of blue, and for the consistent application of blue, yes, but I’ve never stopped and wondered, why are links blue? It was just a fact of life. Grass is green and hyperlinks are blue. Culturally, we associate links with the color blue so much that in 2016, when Google changed its links to black, it created quite a disruption. But now, I find myself all consumed by the question, WHY are links blue? WHO decided to make them blue? WHEN was this decision made, and HOW has this decision made such a lasting impact?”

The future needs files. “I want all OSs, including mobile ones, to properly support real files as they are amazing, inspiring, and possibly the future of how we build our digital future.”

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Reading, watching, playing, using: July, 2021

This is my monthly roundup of the books, articles, and streaming media I found interesting. Here's my list for July, 2021. This is a lighter list than usual because I'm in the middle of driving across the US with my family.

Books

Mexican Gothic, by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia. An atmospheric horror story that was so slow burn that I was beginning to drift away, despite its intriguing subtexts about domination, colonization, and generational trauma - but then the story changed lanes at breakneck speed and I was hooked again. Smart, creepy, sensual, and unique in a way that defies all expectations.

Notable Articles

Business

Why the U.S. can’t have open banking. “As open banking sweeps the world, countries from the U.K. to Australia to Chile to Nigeria are adopting the concept, which generally includes mandates for API access to bank infrastructure and consumer rights to banking data. There’s global momentum behind it, but in the U.S. rule-making is still at an early stage. Reforms to Section 1033 of the Dodd-Frank Act, the law that governs consumer access to financial data, are seemingly years away as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau weighs public comments.”

Spotify Exec Calls Artist 'Entitled' for Requesting One Penny Per Stream. “I think Taylor Swift doesn’t need .00001 more a stream. The problem is this: Spotify was created to solve a problem. The problem was this: piracy and music distribution. The problem was to get artists’ music out there. The problem was not to pay people money.”

The Church of American Startups and Capitalism. “Where startups claim to be so unique in their thinking and in what they do, they are absolutely a product of the protestant work ethic that frames America’s belief in what capitalism is. The church of business - modern American business - has become so absorbed by the cult of personality because it is easier to pray to the saints of startups than to recognize that a culture geared toward a conveyer belt of endless labor is beyond depressing.”

The World Is More Obvious Than We Want It To Be. “The adulation for the wealthy and successful is based on wanting what they have, but rarely accepts the common means through which they got it - luck, privilege, chaos and the ability and means to be persistent. Most people don’t have the time or energy to do a side hustle, and it’s an act of cruelty to guilt them into thinking that carving out a separate job on top of their other job is something they “have to” do.”

Funding To Black Startup Founders Quadrupled In Past Year, But Remains Elusive. “To be sure, much work remains to be done. Black startup entrepreneurs still received only a tiny fraction — 1.2 percent — of the record $147 billion in venture capital invested in U.S. startups through the first half of this year, Crunchbase numbers show. That compares with the more than 13 percent of the U.S. population that is Black or African American.”

Visualizing All the Vacant Office Space in San Francisco. “And employing the framework we introduced last year, there is now 12.7 Salesforce Towers, or 747 Salesforce Tower floors, worth of empty office space spread across San Francisco, which is roughly enough space to accommodate between 98,000 (based on an average, pre-Covid, density) and 131,000 (a la twitter) worker bees.”

Apple reportedly postpones in-person work until at least October. Likely the first of many.

Crypto

In bitcoin, Black entrepreneurs see a chance to rebuild generational wealth. “Building viable enterprises is possible “in a decentralized finance space,” said Evans, who teaches law at Penn State and began studying and speaking on blockchain and crypto four years ago. “No one’s standing in the way. There’s no bank. There’s no credit score. There’s no redlining. That’s transformative and very powerful.””

Culture

Self-publishing. “The corollary of this method is simple: unless you feel you can figure out how to market your book, unless you want to devote as much energy to that marketing plan as you did to its authorship and production, unless you are prepared to sustain your marketing effort through constant iteration and refinement, you probably shouldn’t self-publish.”

How the son of a homophobic politician in Nigeria became a queer OnlyFans star. “Bolu said he joined OnlyFans because he wanted to broaden the idea of what it means to be Black and gay, and show people that you can be both queer and masculine at the same time. In the first several weeks after he started using the site, he said he earned around $2,000 (he declined to share more information about his income). “I’m an exhibitionist by nature, so I feel good doing this. When I post pictures and videos of my Black, gay, muscular body, it does numbers. So, I’m going forward with that,” Bolu said.”

He Leaps for the Stars, He Leaps for the Stars by Grace Chan. I really enjoyed this short story in Clarkesworld about personas, fame, machine learning, and escape.

Media

Nikole Hannah-Jones Issues Statement on Decision to Decline Tenure Offer at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and to Accept Knight Chair Appointment at Howard University. “I cannot imagine working at and advancing a school named for a man who lobbied against me, who used his wealth to influence the hires and ideology of the journalism school, who ignored my 20 years of journalism experience, all of my credentials, all of my work, because he believed that a project that centered Black Americans equaled the denigration of white Americans.”

Politics

FACT SHEET: Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy. From limits on non-competes to anti-surveillance measures to better anti-trust scrutiny, this seems like a pretty great bundle of measures.

Adam Smith to Richard Spencer: Why Libertarians turn to the Alt-Right. ″[It’s] incredibly easy for the alt-right to reach out to libertarians; they’re both already literally speaking the same language. Socialists control the media? Swap ‘Socialists’ out for ‘Cultural Marxists’ and you’re halfway to becoming the new Richard Spencer. Hillary Clinton was clearly the social justice candidate in 2016, and Trump was against it. If you’re somebody who bases their entire ideology around opposing social justice, you’re going to be drawn towards the candidate who describes Neo-Nazis as ‘very fine people’.”

Why I oppose recall of DA Chesa Boudin. “These reforms were desperately needed: disproportionate treatment of Black and Brown people in arrests, prosecutions, and lifetimes of incarceration isn’t just a trend of a few decades — it has taken place over centuries in America. Many in our LGBTQ+ community are in desperate need of criminal justice reform now.” I oppose his recall too.

Science

Study: 20% of vaccinated health workers who test positive suffer from long COVID. “Majority of 39 ‘breakthrough’ cases among 1,497 monitored were mild, but research author says persistence of symptoms among minority ‘raises concern’.”

First ‘Time Crystal’ Built Using Google’s Quantum Computer. “Like a perpetual motion machine, a time crystal forever cycles between states without consuming energy. Physicists claim to have built this new phase of matter inside a quantum computer.”

Society

Emergency Department Visits for Suspected Suicide Attempts Among Persons Aged 12–25 Years Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic. “In May 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, ED visits for suspected suicide attempts began to increase among adolescents aged 12–17 years, especially girls. During February 21–March 20, 2021, suspected suicide attempt ED visits were 50.6% higher among girls aged 12–17 years than during the same period in 2019; among boys aged 12–17 years, suspected suicide attempt ED visits increased 3.7%.”

How Twitter can ruin a life: Isabel Fall’s complicated story. “It’s incredibly hard to imagine “Attack Helicopter” receiving the degree of blowback it did in a world where Twitter didn’t exist. There were discussions of the story on forums and in comment threads all over the internet, but it is the nature of Twitter that all but ensured this particular argument would rage out of control. Isabel Fall’s story has been held up as an example of “cancel culture run amok,” but like almost all examples of cancel culture run amok, it’s mostly an example of Twitter run amok.”

Cop Plays Taylor Swift Song to Block BLM Protest Video From YouTube. “Burch, confused, says, “Are we having a dance party now?” The officer eventually admits, “You can record all you want. I just know it can’t be posted to YouTube.” Later, the officer, identified as Sgt. David Shelby, reiterates to Burch, “I’m playing my music so that you can’t post on YouTube.” The video [...] has been viewed more than 170,000 times since it was shared Thursday.”

Working from home might be worse for the environment than commuting. “In a white paper about the shift in energy consumption during the pandemic, Steve Cicala, an associate professor of economics at Tufts University who studies environmental and energy policy, wrote that in 2020, about a third of the U.S. workforce shifted to working from home due to the pandemic. Simultaneously, there was an almost 8% increase in residential consumption of electricity and about a 7% and 8% reduction in usage among commercial and industrial buildings, he wrote.”

MIT Predicted in 1972 That Society Will Collapse This Century. New Research Shows We’re on Schedule. ″“Changing our societal priorities hardly needs to be a capitulation to grim necessity,” she said. “Human activity can be regenerative and our productive capacities can be transformed. In fact, we are seeing examples of that happening right now. Expanding those efforts now creates a world full of opportunity that is also sustainable.”” Cool cool cool.

Are They Picking At Us? “Racism and xenophobia can hide under the very thin veneer of polite societal norms, like that shiny, sugary layer on a fruit tart that looks super-fake at the supermarket bakery table. I felt grateful for the refuge the community potluck table at our mosque offered. Ours was the only table in town where you could find grilled seekh kebabs, barbecue chicken, KFC hot wings, Palestinian chicken with vermicelli rice, potato salad, okra sabzi, Southern fried okra, Lahori-style fried fish, cornmeal-fried trout, fruit chaat, and, yes, even that fruit tart.”

I’m a Parkland Shooting Survivor. QAnon Convinced My Dad It Was All a Hoax. ““It started a couple months into the pandemic with the whole anti-lockdown protests,” Bill said. “His feelings were so strong it turned into facts for him. So if he didn’t like having to wear masks it wouldn’t matter what doctors or scientists said. Anything that contradicted his feelings was wrong. So he turned to the internet to find like-minded people which led him to QAnon.””

Technology

How Underground Fiber Optics Spy on Humans Moving Above. “By shining a laser through the fiber optics, the scientists could detect vibrations from above ground thanks to the way the cable ever so slightly deformed. As a car rolled across the subterranean cable or a person walked by, the ground would transmit their unique seismic signature. So without visually surveilling the surface, the scientists could paint a detailed portrait of how a once-bustling community ground to a halt, and slowly came back to life as the lockdown eased.”

Apple founder Steve Wozniak backs right-to-repair movement. ″“We wouldn’t have had an Apple had I not grown up in a very open technology world,” Mr Wozniak, its co-founder with Steve Jobs in the 1970s, said.” It shouldn’t even be a question.

The ugly, geeky war for web privacy is playing out in the W3C. “The W3C is under siege by an insurgency that’s thwarting browsers from developing new and important privacy protections for all web users. “They use cynical terms like: ‘We’re here to protect user choice’ or ‘We’re here to protect the open web’ or, frankly, horseshit like this,” said Pete Snyder, director of privacy at Brave, which makes an anti-tracking browser. “They’re there to slow down privacy protections that the browsers are creating.””

Police in Latin America are turning activists’ phones against them. “To break into devices more easily, a number of Latin American countries have contracted cybersecurity firms that make software allowing authorities to bypass encryption and other protections. The companies often argue that their tools help aid legitimate criminal investigations, but critics have said they’re often used by authoritarian regimes to infringe on civil rights.”

In-Vehicle Infotainment Systems Especially Distracting to Older Drivers. On car touchscreens and voice interfaces: “Researchers found that the technology created potentially unsafe distractions for all drivers, though this safety risk is more pronounced for older adults, who took longer (4.7-8.6 seconds) to complete tasks, experienced slower response times, and increased visual distractions.”

A Defunct Video Hosting Site Is Flooding Normal Websites With Hardcore Porn. “As pointed out by Twitter user @dox_gay, hardcore porn is now embedded on the pages of the Huffington Post, New York magazine, The Washington Post, and a host of other websites. This is because a porn site called 5 Star Porn HD bought the domain for Vidme, a brief YouTube competitor founded in 2014 and shuttered in 2017. Its Twitter account is still up, but the domain lapsed.” Cool URIs don’t change, etc etc.

She exposed how Facebook enabled global political manipulation. Now she's telling her story. “Her story reveals that it is really pure luck that we now know so much about how Facebook enables election interference globally. Zhang was not just the only person fighting an entire swath of political manipulation, it also wasn’t her job. She had discovered the problem because of a unique confluence of skills and passion, then taken it upon herself, driven by an extraordinary sense of moral responsibility. To regulators around the world considering how to rein in the company, this should be a wakeup call.”

· Posts

 

Reading, watching, playing, using: June 2021

This is my monthly roundup of the books, articles, and streaming media I found interesting. Here's my list for June, 2021.

This month, I started posting notable links to my site as I saved them. You can follow my bookmarks here (and subscribe via RSS).

Books

A Queer History of the United States, by Michael Bronski. Flawed but fascinating. Given that he encompassed such a wide range, I sometimes wished the author had slowed down and gone into more detail. Episodes that demand nuance were often not given enough, and bisexuality was barely mentioned. Still, it was an eye-opening, mind-expanding read.

Notes on Grief, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. “How is it that the world keeps going, breathing in and out unchanged, while in my soul there is a permanent scattering?” A pertinent read for me right now. Every word, heavy with loss and love and the rage of disbelief, resonates.

How to Love, by Thich Nhat Hanh. “In a deep relationship, there’s no longer a boundary between you and the other person. You are her and she is you. Your suffering is her suffering. Your understanding of your own suffering helps your loved one to suffer less. Suffering and happiness are no longer individual matters. What happens to your loved one happens to you. What happens to you happens to your loved one.” Simple, affirming, and inspirational from beginning to end.

Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro. A sort of melancholy science fiction fairy tale about loss, love, loneliness, religious belief, and what it means to be human. I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first; by the end I felt acceptance. An example of what I hope for from speculative fiction.

Streaming

Collective. I wish I’d gotten around to seeing this remarkable documentary sooner. Gripping and frustrating in equal measure, the true-life story of how a team of hero journalists uncovered massive governmental corruption in Romania demands close attention. Easily the best movie I’ve seen this year.

Bo Burnham: Inside. It wants to be something as impactful as Hannah Gadsby’s incredible Nanette, but never quite gets there. Still, I found this effective as a piece of theater more than a comedy special: a portrait of a comedian’s self-questioning and increasingly unraveling mental state during the pandemic. Burnham’s critiques and parodies of internet culture in this context are particularly spot on (perhaps excluding a piece about white women’s Instagram feeds). And honestly, the songs are great.

Harvard Justice. In 2009, Harvard televised one of its most popular courses, on political philosophy and ethics. I’ve been watching it this month on YouTube and loving it. Accessible but thought-provoking; the lecturer, Michael Sandel, is brilliant.

Notable Articles

Business

Y Combinator Entrepreneurs Say Accelerator Expelled Them Over Critiques. “Two entrepreneurs claimed Friday the startup accelerator Y Combinator kicked them out of its program for speaking publicly about misogyny and members’ efforts to circumvent COVID-19 vaccine eligibility requirements.”

The Work-From-Home Future Is Destroying Bosses' Brains. “The reason that remote work is so threatening to a lot of corporate thinkers is that it largely devalues the middle management layer that corporate society is built on. When you’re in person, a middle manager can walk the floors, “keep an eye on people” and, in meetings, “speak for the group.” While this can happen over Zoom and Slack, it becomes significantly more apparent who actually did the work, because you can digitally evaluate where the work is coming from.”

Forget Going Back to the Office—People Are Just Quitting Instead. “As the pandemic clouds lift, the percentage of Americans leaving employers for new opportunities is at its highest level in more than two decades.”

The document culture of Amazon. “Reading documents is so ingrained in our culture and process that our scheduling tools have check boxes to automatically create a document. If I’m catching up on a new service or feature launch, I will find the document rather than emailing or calling the product manager.” I really love this.

Do Chance Meetings at the Office Boost Innovation? There’s No Evidence of It. “Remote work, though, can enable ideas to bubble up from people with different backgrounds. Online, people who are not comfortable speaking up in an in-person meeting may feel more able to weigh in. Brainstorming sessions using apps like Slack can surface many more perspectives by including people who wouldn’t have been invited to a meeting, like interns or employees in other departments.”

Office and Company Culture Are Bullshit. “The big push back to the office - and the many, many, many people I’ve had contact me saying they don’t want to go back - is only about control. Company culture is industrial guilt - it’s “just what we do here” - and without an office, it becomes significantly harder to wield, because there isn’t an easy way to wield power over a distributed group of people. It’s hard to feel like you’re a fancy King that people fear the wrath of when you don’t have an office to trot around, with middle-management Lords that also get off on the authority of power and draw little satisfaction from actual work that rewards you with money.”

Lord of the Roths: How Tech Mogul Peter Thiel Turned a Retirement Account for the Middle Class Into a $5 Billion Tax-Free Piggy Bank. “Over the last 20 years, Thiel has quietly turned his Roth IRA — a humdrum retirement vehicle intended to spur Americans to save for their golden years — into a gargantuan tax-exempt piggy bank, confidential Internal Revenue Service data shows. Using stock deals unavailable to most people, Thiel has taken a retirement account worth less than $2,000 in 1999 and spun it into a $5 billion windfall.”

What Salaries Did Startup CEOs Earn in 2020? “Interestingly, Female CEOs were more likely to take a pay cut during the pandemic. When comparing male and female CEOs, female leaders took a 30% reduction in salary at the peak of the pandemic ($101,000 compared to $138,000 in 2019) while their male counterparts saw an increase ($146,000 compared to $143,000 in 2019).”

Crypto

Beyond Resale Royalties. So Why Is DADA Ditching Royalties? “Fast forward three years since we tried to devise a royalty standard, and now it is art and not collectibles that is bringing hundreds of millions of dollars into the NFT ecosystem. Yet OpenSea is now too busy to put resources into guaranteeing resale royalties on their platform. Today, if an artwork is sold on a crypto art marketplace and resold on OpenSea, the artist does not get royalties.”

Sir Tim Berners-Lee Is Selling The Original Source Code For The World Wide Web as an NFT. “The work includes the original archive of dated and time-stamped files from 1990 and 1991, containing 9,555 lines of source code and original HTML documents that taught the earliest web users how to use the application. The auction item also includes an animated 30-minute video of the code being written and a digital signature from Berners-Lee himself, as well as a letter written by him over 30 years later in which he reflects on the process of creating the code and the impact it has made.”

Culture

Roxane Gay Starts Publishing Imprint With Grove Atlantic. “Roxane Gay Books will focus on underrepresented fiction, nonfiction and memoir writers, with or without agents.”

How Memes Become Money. “It’s appropriate to give credit to people for their creativity and compensate them for their labor. It’s empowering to siphon value from the social-media companies that have been making billions off our personal lives. But it’s also a kind of giving up.”

In Argentina, cheap government-issued netbooks sparked a musical renaissance. “More than four million students received a computer between 2011 and 2015. These were exactly the years that saw the rise of a budding generation of rappers, trappers, and freestylers. The overlap is no coincidence to Sebastián Benítez Larghi, director of the sociology department at the La Plata National University. “The working classes have always had a tradition of cultural creation — urban rhythms are just more proof of that.””

Media

Nikole Hannah-Jones, a Mega-Donor, and the Future of Journalism. “Emails obtained by The Assembly show that UNC-Chapel Hill’s largest journalism-school donor warned against Nikole Hannah-Jones’ hiring. Their divergent views represent a new front in the debate over objectivity and the future of the field.”

An open letter on U.S. media coverage of Palestine. “Yet for decades, our news industry has abandoned those values in coverage of Israel and Palestine. We have failed our audiences with a narrative that obscures the most fundamental aspects of the story: Israel’s military occupation and its system of apartheid.”

Pulitzer Prizes 2021: Darnella Frazier wins special citation from Pulitzer Prize board. “The board said Frazier was honored “for courageously recording the murder of George Floyd, a video that spurred protests against police brutality around the world, highlighting the crucial role of citizens in journalists’ quest for truth and justice.””

‘We’re Going to Publish’: An Oral History of the Pentagon Papers. “So Ellsberg and I made this agreement: If I could get The Times to agree to publish the whole thing, they’d do their best to protect him. He’d give us the whole thing. He wouldn’t be publicly announced as a source.” One of the most important acts of whistleblowing and journalism of the 20th century.

Andreessen Horowitz’s ‘Future’ is a media machine. ″“We have a business to run, and we’re in the business of investing in the future and providing returns for LPs,” Wennmachers said. “So as much as I can help advance the future and the narrative of the pro case for the future … that’s what I’m trying to do. That is the goal.”″ So in other words, it’s the VC equivalent of an inflight magazine.

Newsrooms Need To Treat Coordinated Online Attacks On Reporters Like Propaganda - And Act Like They're At War. “And yes, this is a war, and it is a war being fought by the New York Post, by Fox News, and by many solo writers that have found a successful career in joining these campaigns, because outrage breeds clicks.”

Why the AP is no longer naming suspects in minor crime stories. “These minor stories, which only cover an arrest, have long lives on the internet. AP’s broad distribution network can make it difficult for the suspects named in such items to later gain employment or just move on in their lives.”

Lifting the mask. Edward Snowden launches his Substack: “Though my relationship to time fluctuates, the gravamen of my disclosures remains constant. In the past eight years, the depredations of surveillance have merely become more entrenched, with the capabilities that used to be the province of governments now in the hands of private companies, too, which employ them to track and tether us and attenuate our freedoms. This enduring danger, this compounding danger, is one of the reasons I’ve decided to lift my voice again — adding a new page to my “permanent record”...one to which I hope you subscribe.”

Linda Amster gets due recognition for work on Pentagon Papers. ″“I asked him why my name wasn’t included, and he said, ‘Well, we knew that we all might have to go to prison, and you are a woman, and we don’t want you to have to go to prison,’” Amster recalled.”

Fears for future of American journalism as hedge funds flex power. “According to a recent analysis, hedge funds or private equity firms now control half of US daily newspapers, including some of the largest newspaper groups in the country: Tribune, McClatchy and MediaNews Group.”

I am Palestinian. Here’s how Israel silences us on social media. “In 2015, Israel arrested 27-year-old Nader Halahleh and imprisoned him for seven months over seven posts on Facebook. That same year, 17-year-old Kathem Sbeih was also arrested over a Facebook post and placed in administrative detention — a policy from the British Mandate in which Israel imprisons Palestinians without charge or trial — for three months, despite being a child. By 2017, more than 300 Palestinians were detained under the pretext of incitement. For some Palestinians, just being able to post on social media under their real names is a risk too dangerous to take.”

Politics

Statement of Concern. “We [the undersigned] urge members of Congress to do whatever is necessary—including suspending the filibuster—in order to pass national voting and election administration standards that both guarantee the vote to all Americans equally, and prevent state legislatures from manipulating the rules in order to manufacture the result they want. Our democracy is fundamentally at stake. History will judge what we do at this moment.”

Donald Trump Belief That “Reinstatement” to Office Coming: Delusional. “I can attest, from speaking to an array of different sources, that Donald Trump does indeed believe quite genuinely that he — along with former senators David Perdue and Martha McSally — will be “reinstated” to office this summer after “audits” of the 2020 elections in Arizona, Georgia, and a handful of other states have been completed. I can attest, too, that Trump is trying hard to recruit journalists, politicians, and other influential figures to promulgate this belief — not as a fundraising tool or an infantile bit of trolling or a trial balloon, but as a fact.”

Revealed: rightwing firm posed as leftist group on Facebook to divide Democrats. “In an apparent attempt to split the Democratic vote in a number of close races, the ads purported to come from an organization called America Progress Now (APN) and used socialist memes and rhetoric to urge leftwing voters to support Green party candidates.”

Former NSA contractor Reality Winner, jailed for leaking secrets about Russian hacking, released early from prison. “Winner, 29, was sentenced to more than five years in prison in 2018 after she leaked classified information to The Intercept news outlet about Russia’s attempts to hack the 2016 presidential election. She pleaded guilty to leaking a classified report that detailed the Russian government’s efforts to penetrate a Florida-based voting software supplier. At the time, the sentence was the longest ever for a federal crime involving leaks to the media.” Thank you for your service.

’Nightmare Scenario’ fresh details on chaos, conflicts inside Trump’s pandemic response. “In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, as White House officials debated whether to bring infected Americans home for care, President Donald Trump suggested his own plan for where to send them, eager to suppress the numbers on U.S. soil. “Don’t we have an island that we own?” the president reportedly asked those assembled in the Situation Room in February 2020, before the U.S. outbreak would explode. “What about Guantánamo?””

Records Show Nearly 900 Secret Service Employees Got COVID. “The records show that of the 881 positive test results recorded between March 1, 2021 and March 9, 2021, the majority, 477, came from employees working as special agents, and 249 were from members of the uniformed division.”

Science

Telomerase Regulation. If we’d figured this out, my mother would have lived a normal, healthy life. It’s also an issue associated with 90% of human cancers. I strongly suspect we’ll crack it in my lifetime.

Scientists shocked as particle transforms between matter and antimatter for the first time. “The charm meson has a light and heavy version that helps distinguish between its matter and antimatter states.”

Coronavirus infections dropping where people are vaccinated, rising where they are not. In other news: Popes Catholic, bears defecating in woodland.

Everything You Know About Obesity Is Wrong. “Which brings us to one of the largest gaps between science and practice in our own time. Years from now, we will look back in horror at the counterproductive ways we addressed the obesity epidemic and the barbaric ways we treated fat people—long after we knew there was a better path.”

Are advertisers coming for your dreams? “Now, brands from Xbox to Coors to Burger King are teaming up with some scientists to attempt something similar: “Engineer” advertisements into willing consumers’ dreams, via video and audio clips. This week, a group of 40 dream researchers has pushed back in an online letter, calling for the regulation of commercial dream manipulation.”

What Happened to the Lyme Disease Vaccine? “No human vaccines for Lyme exist. But that wasn’t always the case. Before Lyme disease shots went to the dogs, people had a safe and effective vaccine, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1998. But anti-vaccine forces claimed it was dangerous, tanked its popularity and sued it out of existence after just a few years on the market.” Meanwhile, the Lyme epidemic continues to grow.

When an Eel Climbs a Ramp to Eat Squid From a Clamp, That’s a Moray. “Moray eels can hunt on land, and footage from a recent study highlights how they accomplish this feat with a sneaky second set of jaws.” Also: perfect headline, well done.

What’s the Difference Between a ‘Borb’ and a ‘Floof’? “Let us now apply this logic. Borbs as a category heavily intersect with birbs, defined as both are by roundness. But just as every bird is not a birb, every birb is not a borb. Some birds naturally have deep chests and short necks, easily securing their borbness: chickadees, European Robins, and Bearded Tits, the last of which seems to be the poster child for the type. Other clear borbs include pigeons, thrushes, warblers, game birds, small parrots, most owls, and penguins.”

Why Is the Intellectual Dark Web Suddenly Hyping an Unproven COVID Treatment? ”While Big Tech continues to issue a confused, belated, and at times contradictory response to the problem of people using its platforms to promote health quackery, Weinstein, Heying, Taibbi, and Weiss have positioned themselves as the vanguards of intellectual freedom by, in their ways, buttressing these claims. In fact, and without, perhaps, even realizing it, they’ve acted as foot soldiers for something entirely commonplace: a politicized and pseudoscientific response to a deadly disease.”

Blood test that finds 50 types of cancer is accurate enough to be rolled out. “A simple blood test that can detect more than 50 types of cancer before any clinical signs or symptoms of the disease emerge in a person is accurate enough to be rolled out as a screening test, according to scientists.”

Society

Why We Are Publishing the Tax Secrets of the .001%. “Today, ProPublica is launching the first in a series of stories based on the private tax data of some of our nation’s richest citizens. We obtained the information from an anonymous source who provided us with large amounts of information on the ultrawealthy, everything from the taxes they paid to the income they reported to the profits from their stock trades.”

‘A career change saved my life’: the people who built better lives after burnout. “Among her clients, burnout is common. “We’re at a tipping point, I think, where the old world is not fit for purpose any more,” she says. “There’s this narrative in society which is that in order to be successful, you’ve got to sacrifice your health or your relationships, or things that are important to you. You’ve got to hustle. And I really don’t agree with that.””

I said I couldn’t stand Indian food. Then a Twitter friend took me to dinner. ““This is the guy,” Preet said to the owner and some friends, meaning “the guy who slagged the cuisine of our ancestors whose mind we just might change.” I smiled gamely and said I was willing to make amends. There was laughter and a lot of smiles and knowing looks. It turns out they’d been expecting me. I was not going to get away with my usual only-child behavior of a quick taste here and there. This was going to be a marathon.”

What Do Conservatives Fear About Critical Race Theory? “Increasingly, conservatism after Donald Trump has been defined by a fear that American society is on the verge of being displaced by a progressive reimagining, with woke politics and aggressive redistribution. Progressivism is defined by an equally urgent hope that it can, in fact, displace old patterns of ecological destruction and discrimination. It is interesting—and slightly ironic—that critical race theory, with its invocations of structural racism, should be so central to the policy debate right now: part of its teaching is that the patterns of American society can’t be easily dislodged by a change in manners, and that if you are snapping your fingers to make the past disappear you are only doing so in tandem with the rhythms of the past.”

She got hurt working for Amazon. Here's why she doesn't want to quit. “Amazon’s high injury rates were reported last week in a study by the Strategic Organizing Center, a labor advocacy group that used data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to analyze the rates of serious injury in fulfillment and delivery roles. The SOC is using the data to push for changes to Amazon’s notoriously long hours, strict and limited break schedules, and repetitive-motion work that can cause chronic pain. The group found that Amazon’s serious injury rate was more than double Walmart (its closest competitor) last year, and that Amazon employees take an average of one to two weeks longer to recover from these injuries than the average injured warehouse employee.”

Why We Shouldn't Be Surprised People Don't Read. “It’s more than sucking the joy out of learning - we have changed on a societal level what it means to be educated. Education has become so pragmatism-focused that it’s unsurprising that we have people that learn basically everything outside of school through a web browser - we have educated generations of kids to consciously or otherwise view knowledge as something one acquires as quickly as possible, and usually for a task.”

What the Rich Don’t Want to Admit About the Poor. “For the most part, America finds the money to pay for the things it values. In recent decades, and despite deep gridlock in Washington, we have spent trillions of dollars on wars in the Middle East and tax cuts for the wealthy. We have also spent trillions of dollars on health insurance subsidies and coronavirus relief. It is in our power to wipe out poverty. It simply isn’t among our priorities.”

Grenfell FC: "This club is bigger than any one individual". ″“You felt the loss everywhere in those weeks,” says Rupert. “Then one day, there was a young man who came in who I felt was struggling with his mental health. He’d lost both his parents a few years prior, three months apart. I can’t imagine what that must have been like. And he’d lived in the tower. It felt like history was repeating itself. I asked him what had helped him get through the death of his parents. He said football. So we formed a football team. Right there, like that.””

The Electrification of Everything: What You Need to Know. Short answer: we’d better upgrade the grid.

How You Start is How You Finish? The Slave Patrol and Jim Crow Origins of Policing. “Policing in southern slave-holding states followed a different trajectory—one that has roots in slave patrols of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and police enforcement of Jim Crow laws in the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries. As per Professor Michael Robinson (2017) of the University of Georgia, the first deaths in America of Black men at the hands of law enforcement “can be traced back as early as 1619 when the first slave ship, a Dutch Man-of-War vessel landed in Point Comfort, Virginia.””

Kids Need Freedom, Too. “The problem with a society devoted to zero risk is that kids grow up overprotected and under-socialized. They miss out on the thrilling experience of fending for themselves, crucial in forging confidence. They miss out on learning to assess risk and dealing with minimal danger without constantly deferring to an authority.” I’m excited that free-range parenting will be back in style by the time I’m a parent. I can’t imagine doing it any other way.

Conservatives now use the label ‘critical race theory’ to describe any conversation about race that makes them uncomfortable. “On its face, the opprobrium misunderstands the point: CRT is less about blaming white people than interrogating systems of power and privilege. But that’s the very thing that frightens conservatives: If children recognize the culpability of systems, as opposed to individuals, they’ll also recognize societal problems require collective solutions. The myth of rugged individualism will vanish.”

'I was completely inside': Lobster diver swallowed by humpback whale off Provincetown. ″“All of a sudden, I felt this huge shove and the next thing I knew it was completely black,” Packard recalled Friday afternoon following his release from Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis.” Call me shaken.

Oregon Has Legalized Human Composting. I really wish California did this.

Abigail Disney: Why the Rich Protect Dynastic Wealth. “If your comfort requires that society be structured so that a decent percentage of your fellow citizens live in a constant state of terror about whether they’ll get health care in an emergency, or whether they can keep a roof over their family’s heads, or whether they will simply have enough to eat, perhaps the problem does not rest with those people, but with you and what you think of as necessary, proper, and acceptable.”

Fighting the pressure for pandemic personal growth. “But there’s a larger norm at work behind questions like this, and behind the greater expectation that people could use lockdown to boost their coronapreneurial profiles. An obsessive focus on productivity is “part of late-stage American capitalism,” Blustein said. “This productivity ethos has gotten transported into our hobbies, it’s gotten transported into our relationships, into our physical and mental health.””

5 pads for 2 cellmates: Menstrual products still scarce in prison. “Unable to get more than an allotted number of pads, Bozelko began reusing them. The prison’s pads were thin, she said, thinner than the pads typically sold outside, and the adhesive barely stuck to her clothes. She once saw another woman’s pad fall to the ground because the glue was so weak, so Bozelko stepped on it, hiding the pad beneath her boot to save her from humiliation. She and her cellmate received five of these pads to share among themselves every week, and asking a guard for another pad often led to a rejected request and ridicule.” Why are we so cruel?

Technology

Mass scale manipulation of Twitter Trends discovered. “We found that 47% of local trends in Turkey and 20% of global trends are fake, created from scratch by bots. Between June 2015 and September 2019, we uncovered 108,000 bot accounts involved, the biggest bot dataset reported in a single paper. Our research is the first to uncover the manipulation of Twitter Trends at this scale.”

Passport. A neat solution for independent subscription media businesses. I kind of want to use it.

1997: The Year of DHTML. A nice history of DHTML and the DOM, for people (like me) who are interested in that sort of thing.

I saw millions compromise their Facebook accounts to fuel fake engagement. “During my time at Facebook, I saw compromised accounts functioning in droves in Latin America, Asia, and elsewhere. Most of these accounts were commandeered through autolikers: online programs which promise users automatic likes and other engagement for their posts. Signing up for the autoliker, however, requires the user to hand over account access. Then, these accounts join a bot farm, where their likes and comments are delivered to other autoliker users, or sold en masse, even while the original user maintains ownership of the account. Although motivated by money rather than politics — and far less sophisticated than government-run human troll farms — the sheer quantity of these autoliker programs can be dangerous.”

Introducing Astro: Ship Less JavaScript. Neat!

Colorado is now the 3rd US state with modern privacy legislation, with a twist. “In other words, Do Not Track – or something very much like it – is back in Colorado, and ignoring the setting, like companies did widely when Do Not Track was created, is not an option any more. The technical details will need to be figured out between now and when this provision goes into effect, which two and a half years away. So plenty of time to get this right.”

Day One at Automattic. “Day One not only nails the experience of a local blog (or journal as they call it) in an app, but also has (built) a great technical infrastructure — it works fantastic (when) offline and has a fully encrypted sync mechanism, so the data that’s in the cloud is secured in a way that even someone with access to their database couldn’t decode your entries, it’s only decrypted on your local device. Combining encryption and sync in a truly secure way is tricky, but they’ve done it.”

Apple’s emoji keyboard is reinforcing Western stereotypes. “The feature associates “Africa” with the hut emoji and “China” with the dog emoji.”

China’s tech workers pushed to their limits by surveillance software. “A Chinese subsidiary of Japanese camera maker Canon, Canon Information Technology, last year unveiled a new workspace management system that only allows smiling employees to enter the office and book conference rooms. Using so-called “smile recognition” technology, Canon said the system was intended to bring more cheerfulness to the office in the post-pandemic era.”

· Posts

 

Reading, watching, playing, using: May 2021

This is my monthly roundup of the tech and media I consumed and found interesting. Here's my list for May, 2021.

Books

Wintering, by Katherine May. Unmistakably written from a position of privilege, I nonetheless found this book to be a kind of warm hug; the written equivalent of a cup of hot chocolate on an icy day. I did find myself occasionally irritated by how carefree this supposedly troublesome life actually was, but mostly I found myself yearning to live in the Love, Actually world she seems to inhabit.

PET, by Akwaeke Emezi. Slight but heavy: a fantasy story with strong themes about ethics, family, history, and the line between good and evil - all drawn together with strong characters and beautiful prose. For me, the epilogue let the story down a little bit with emotion that didn't quite ring true. Nonetheless, I'm quickly learning that I'll follow Akwaeke Emezi anywhere.

While Justice Sleeps, by Stacey Abrams. This was closer to a Dan Brown or John Grisham novel than I’d anticipated: a taut thriller that occasionally stretches plausibility but is a lot of fun from beginning to end. It turns out Stacey Abrams can do it all. I hope there’s a movie.

My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir, by Jenn Shapland. Infused with longing and written with an eye for poetry, this is a personal exploration of the boundary between love and possession: between lovers, between queer people and communities not ready to accept them, between a long-dead author and her biographer. I found it thought-provoking, sad, and in some ways, triumphant: a suppressed love story finally taking flight. May we all have the courage and the freedom to be and love as ourselves.

The Coming Insurrection, by Comité Invisible. “Power is no longer concentrated in one point in the world; it is the world itself, its flows and its avenues, its people and its norms, its codes and its technologies. Power is the organization of the metropolis itself.” I don’t agree with all of the conclusions about what to do next, but the descriptions of the problems that must be overcome here ring true. Perhaps oddly, I made connections with Emergent Strategy; the two arrive at very similar ideas about decentralization and the power of hierarchy-less organizing through very different lenses.

Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal, by G. Willow Wilson. Super-fun, and refreshing in lots of ways. There are some broad characterizations here, but hey, it’s a comic book. I loved it, and hope the TV show is even half as charming.

Streaming

His House. Superficially a horror movie, His House serves as a layered metaphor for the immigrant experience. It's expertly built on every level - both the real-life horror and the supernatural scares had me watching from behind a cushion - but comes into its own in its final act.

Notable Articles

Business

How Basecamp blew up. "This account is based on interviews with six Basecamp employees who were present at the meeting, along with a partial transcript created by employees. Collectively, they describe a company whose attempt to tamp down on difficult conversations blew up in its face as employees rejected the notion that discussions of power and justice should remain off limits in the workplace. And they suggest that efforts to eliminate disruptions in the workplace by regulating internal speech may cause even more turmoil for a company in the long run."

Looking for (more of) a new kind of startup…. "There’s a new and important kind of startup that’s become wildly successful the last few years. These startups, for which we still lack a good name, look to their customers like a direct replacement to some large, familiar incumbent, but uses technology to provide a strictly superior offering."

Forced Entrepreneurs. "Conventional wisdom suggests labor market distress drives workers into temporary self-employment, lowering entrepreneurial quality. Analyzing employment histories for 640,000 U.S. workers, we document graduating college during a period of high unemployment does increase entry to entrepreneurship. However, compared to voluntary entrepreneurs, firms founded by forced entrepreneurs are more likely to survive, innovate, and receive venture-backing. Explaining these results, we confirm labor shocks disproportionately impact high-earners and these same workers start more successful firms. Overall, we document untapped entrepreneurial potential across the top of the income distribution and demonstrate the role of recessions in reversing this missing entrepreneurship."

Poor in Tech. “I knew I was the only poor person at my tech startup because I made more there than I’d ever made before; a daring amount I had been afraid to ask for during the offer process. I discovered through misadventure that I still made less than any of the executive assistants, or the receptionist. I was, in fact, the lowest-paid person in the building including the interns. I hadn’t known what was possible, so I couldn’t even think to ask for what I was worth to them.” This resonated for me hard.

You Probably Shouldn’t Work at a Startup. My experience is different to this - but it's definitely an interesting read. What this piece doesn't really discuss is meaningful work, and getting to work cross-functionally, which is something that's much easier in an early-stage startup than another company. I like to use my whole self: go broad rather than narrow and deep. Big companies typically want you to do the latter.

'FIND THIS FUCK:' Inside Citizen’s Dangerous Effort to Cash In On Vigilantism. "Frame and the entirety of the Citizen apparatus had spent a whole night putting a bounty on the head of an innocent man." This company - and this CEO in particular - sounds absolutely deranged.

A Worker-Owned Cooperative Tries to Compete With Uber and Lyft. "The Drivers Cooperative, which opened for business in New York this week, is the most recent attempt. The group, founded by a former Uber employee, a labor organizer and a black-car driver, began issuing ownership shares to drivers in early May and will start offering rides through its app on Sunday." Hell yes.

The Abusive Corporation's New Tool: Wellness and Mental Health. "If a job is making you commute an hour each way and having you work ridiculous hours with no extra compensation for it, but also giving you free counseling, they’re not really that concerned with your mental health. They’re just concerned with you finding a way to cope with the oftentimes unfair conditions they’re putting you under, and doing so in a way that’s significantly more affordable than making your life better and paying you more money."

Crypto

The Tether Ponzi Scheme. “Tether is a fraud on the scale of Madoff or Enron and we’re in the middle of a bubble for the history books.”

Bitcoin’s most recent adopters are working-class migrants. "Salgado is now part of a growing number of Latin Americans using cryptocurrency to transfer money from the United States south of the Rio Grande. They represent a new wave of crypto users who are not tech enthusiasts or white-collar financiers but rather working-class people whose livelihoods depend on a technology that is often seen as experimental."

Teens Controlling Multi-Million-Dollar DeFi Protocols Are Not Playing Around. "Jai Bhavnani, 19, David Lucid, 20, and Jack Lipstone, who just turned 20, founded Rari Capital in April 2020, less than a month after the founders’ home state of California went into COVID lockdown. That was also shortly after Bhavnani graduated from the college preparatory school which ties together six of the seven members of the Rari team."

A country's worth of power, no more!. I'm excited to see Ethereum move to proof of stake. Its smart contract platform has a lot of potential - but not if it is environmentally disastrous. It's nice to hear that the change is so close.

How Iran Uses Bitcoin Mining to Evade Sanctions and “Export” Millions of Barrels of Oil. "Exact figures are very challenging to determine, but Elliptic estimates that Iran-based miners account for approximately 4.5% of all Bitcoin mining." Interesting detail: Mosques get free electricity in Iran, so it turns out some of them have been illicitly mining coin.

UK police raided a shady Bitcoin mining facility they thought was a weed farm. "Naturally, officers were convinced they were looking at the "telltale" signs of a cannabis factory. But, when they busted in to the site on May 18th, they found a bank of 100 specialized bitcoin miners instead."

Culture

Stacey Abrams Contains Multitudes. "Abrams went on to write seven more Selena Montgomery books (one of which, “Never Tell,” is in development with CBS), as well as two nonfiction works under her own name, while pursuing her day jobs as a tax lawyer, business owner, state lawmaker, candidate for governor and voting-rights advocate, to name a few."

1988: P.R.E.S.T.A.V.B.A.. Text adventures as a medium for protest in Soviet Czechoslovakia: "Soon the shared games “became a fully-fledged means of communication within a subculture of young geeks, like 8-bit chain letters or, perhaps, social media of the early digital era”: an internet that existed mostly on magnetic tapes shoved into school backpacks and zipping around the country on buses and bicycles. While literature and music was heavily censored by the government and could not be legally distributed by amateurs, software was not on the radar of the Party or its secret police at all. The authorities had not yet realized that the computer could be a medium for expression."

The one where writing books is not really a good idea. An interesting exploration into making money through serial fiction - which is something I plan to try in the future.

Gross Viral Food Videos Like Spaghetti-Os Pie Are Connected to This Guy. I'd been wondering.

Sinead O’Connor Remembers Things Differently. "O’Connor saw herself as a protest-singing punk. When she ascended to the top of the pop charts, she was trapped. “The media was making me out to be crazy because I wasn’t acting like a pop star was supposed to act,” she told me. “It seems to me that being a pop star is almost like being in a type of prison. You have to be a good girl.” And that’s just not Sinead O’Connor."

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers: An Explainer. “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is the grandest, most delightful, most ambitious MGM technicolor musical that was ever based on the story of a mass rape.”

The Linda Lindas on their viral song Racist, Sexist Boy: ‘It’s good to let the anger out and scream’. "The video of Mila and her three teenage bandmates that make up the Linda Lindas screaming “You are a racist, sexist BOYYYY!” is taken from a rage-filled live performance inside the LA public library for AAPI Heritage Month. Overnight, the clip became one of the most cathartic and energizing songs to come out of the pandemic." The Linda Lindas are so great.

How to Write Creative Fiction: Umberto Eco's Four Rules. “Fictional characters live in an incomplete—or, to be ruder and politically incorrect—handicapped world. But when we truly understand their fate, we begin to suspect that we too, as citizens of the here and now, frequently encounter our destiny simply because we think of our world in the same way that fictional characters think of theirs. Fiction suggests that perhaps our view of the actual world is as imperfect as the view that fictional characters have of their world.”

Media

Scroll is joining Twitter!. Absolutely huge news in medialand. And Tony told me that Scroll still has a commitment to the open web.

Just 12 People Are Behind Most Vaccine Hoaxes On Social Media, Research Shows. “"The 'Disinformation Dozen' produce 65% of the shares of anti-vaccine misinformation on social media platforms," said Imran Ahmed, chief executive officer of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, which identified the accounts.”

Lovely eulogies to Fleet Street’s John Kay, but they overlook one important fact. "In this more sensitive era, there are presumably good reasons why anyone new to Kay will have finished the prominent Sun and Evening Standard pieces unaware of the existence of Kay’s first wife, Harue, whom he killed in 1977."

'On The Media' Co-Host Bob Garfield Fired Over Bullying Complaints. "Garfield’s termination follows two investigations into his conduct. The first, an internal investigation conducted last year, “resulted in disciplinary action, a warning about the potential consequences if the behavior continued, and a meaningful opportunity to correct it,” New York Public Radio said in a statement. The organization said a second, more recent outside probe found Garfield had again violated the anti-bullying policy."

Stunned: UNC Hussman Faculty Statement on Nikole Hannah-Jones by Hussman Faculty. "Failure to tenure Nikole Hannah-Jones in her role as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism is a concerning departure from UNC’s traditional process and breaks precedent with previous tenured full professor appointments of Knight chairs in our school. This failure is especially disheartening because it occurred despite the support for Hannah-Jones’s appointment as a full professor with tenure by the Hussman Dean, Hussman faculty, and university. Hannah-Jones’s distinguished record of more than 20 years in journalism surpasses expectations for a tenured position as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism."

John Oliver places fake sponsored content on to local news: ‘Far too easy’. "The “Venus Veil” also got airtime on KVUE Austin’s sponsored show airing immediately after Thursday evening news, and an in-person showing on Denver’s Mile High Living. “None of this was nearly difficult enough to get on to TV, and it wasn’t even that expensive,” Oliver mused; the Denver Mile High in-person segment cost $2,800, KVUE Austin cost $2,650 and ABC 4 Utah cost $1,750. “It was all shockingly affordable and sadly, on some stations, didn’t even look that out of place,” he said." That is affordable. Can I place segments on how great single-payer healthcare is?

Politics

Pentagon Surveilling Americans Without a Warrant, Senator Reveals. "The Pentagon is carrying out warrantless surveillance of Americans, according to a new letter written by Senator Ron Wyden and obtained by Motherboard."

Rise of a megadonor: Thiel makes a play for the Senate. “The largesse has transformed Thiel, an early Facebook investor and PayPal co-founder, into an outsize figure in the fight for control of the 50-50 Senate, providing fuel to two longtime associates who embrace his populist-conservative views. Top Republicans have expressed astonishment at the size of the donations and say they’ve turned Vance and Masters — who’ve never before run for elected office and will have to overcome primary rivals with far longer political resumes — into formidable contenders in the blink of an eye.”

Risk of Nuclear War Over Taiwan in 1958 Said to Be Greater Than Publicly Known. "When Communist Chinese forces began shelling islands controlled by Taiwan in 1958, the United States rushed to back up its ally with military force — including drawing up plans to carry out nuclear strikes on mainland China, according to an apparently still-classified document that sheds new light on how dangerous that crisis was. [...] Mr. Ellsberg said he also had another reason for highlighting his exposure of that material. Now 90, he said he wanted to take on the risk of becoming a defendant in a test case challenging the Justice Department’s growing practice of using the Espionage Act to prosecute officials who leak information." Daniel Ellsberg is one of my heroes.

Stop glorifying ‘centrism’. It is an insidious bias favoring an unjust status quo. Amen. “Centrists in the antebellum era were apathetic or outright resistant to ending slavery in the US and then in the decades before 1920 to giving women the vote. The civil rights movement was not nearly as popular in its time as moderates who like the more polite quotes from Martin Luther King Jr think it was.” It is not a moral stance.

Science

The Pastry A.I. That Learned to Fight Cancer. "In Japan, a system designed to distinguish croissants from bear claws has turned out to be capable of a whole lot more."

Mammals can breathe through anus in emergencies. "Although the side effects and safety need to be thoroughly evaluated in humans, our approach may offer a new paradigm to support critically ill patients with respiratory failure."

Researchers force two mice to hang out and induce FOMO in a third. "So the researchers generated “synchronized interbrain activity” by stimulating two mice with 5-Hz tonic (continuous) stimulation for five minutes and desynchronized activity by stimulating other pairs of mice with 25-Hz bursting stimulation for five minutes. About twice as many of the synchronized mice chose to socialize with each other—grooming, sniffing, etc.—as the desynchronized mice did. When two mice were synchronized into a 5-Hz pair and a third mouse got the 25-Hz burst, the pair shunned the desynchronized third. The researchers conclude that “imposed interbrain synchrony shapes social interaction and social preference in mice.”"

Neural implant lets paralyzed person type by imagining writing. "This week, the academic community provided a rather impressive example of the promise of neural implants. Using an implant, a paralyzed individual managed to type out roughly 90 characters per minute simply by imagining that he was writing those characters out by hand."

Society

New Study Estimates More Than 900,000 People Have Died Of COVID-19 In U.S.. "The analysis comes from researchers at the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, who looked at excess mortality from March 2020 through May 3, 2021, compared it with what would be expected in a typical nonpandemic year, then adjusted those figures to account for a handful of other pandemic-related factors."

Take profit out of jail calls. Make it free to talk to loved ones behind bars. “I spend more than $100 every month to hear my son’s voice for just 15 minutes a day, time I split with his children. And I spend hundreds more to get him everything he needs inside: real food, basic toiletries, fresh linens and clean socks. I often have to choose between utility bills and supporting him, a choice no mother should ever have to make.”

Seeing the Real Faces of Silicon Valley. “For many midlevel engineers and food truck workers and longtime residents, a region filled with extremes has become increasingly inhospitable.”

Long working hours killing 745,000 people a year, study finds. “The research found that working 55 hours or more a week was associated with a 35% higher risk of stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease, compared with a working week of 35 to 40 hours.”

White People Never Supported Racial Equality; They Just Said They Did. “It was a fad. White people love Black people like they love TikTok dances and acid-washed jeans and liberty and justice for all. Have you never seen a white woman cry on cue or a Democrat campaigning in a Black barbershop? You really believed that shit? Even after the most white people in the history of America voted for a white nationalist authoritarian?”

We Need To Get Real About How the Pandemic Will End . "We seem to be holding onto the comforting fiction that we will eventually get around to vaccinating people in countries that have so far either had success keeping out the pandemic completely, or have had small outbreaks before, while they just keep up mitigating a little longer. I do not believe that the story we tell ourselves is realistic."

Remains of 215 children found at former indigenous school site in Canada. “The remains of 215 children, some as young as three years old, were found at the site of a former residential school for indigenous children, a discovery Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described as heartbreaking on Friday.” The absolute horror - and this isn’t an isolated case.

Technology

What's Salesforce?. This is a pretty good overview for engineers! I've lost count of the times I've needed to answer the exact same question.

Berkshire Hathaway’s Stock Price Is Too Much for Computers. When stock prices get larger than 32-bit integers.

Some experiences with neutral technology. "Sometimes I look at my phone and think: I’m looking through a portal to California. My phone will never feel quite as part of the world as it does under Californian skies lit by the Californian sun. Here in London, or anywhere else really, my phone will always very slightly shimmer with an otherworldly light."

Facebook is still censoring groups fighting the military coup in Myanmar. “Following the February 1 coup d’état in Myanmar, activists, pro-democracy campaigners, and even supporters of the remnants of the NLD government, are asking for that ban to be rescinded. After a dramatic reshuffling of the political landscape, the ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) are no longer opponents of the democratically-elected government, but core members of the resistance to the new government. They say that Facebook’s moderation is now penalizing the broader anti-coup movement because of its loose association with groups proscribed by the last government, which in turn is limiting their ability to organize and communicate.”

Local-first software: You own your data, in spite of the cloud. "In this article we propose “local-first software”: a set of principles for software that enables both collaboration and ownership for users. Local-first ideals include the ability to work offline and collaborate across multiple devices, while also improving the security, privacy, long-term preservation, and user control of data."

Google Chrome testing RSS-powered 'Follow' button, feed. Yes please.

How the cookie poisoned the Web. "Today our poisoned minds can hardly imagine having native capacities of our own that can operate at scale across all the world’s websites and services. To have that ability would also be at odds with the methods and imperatives of personally targeted advertising, which requires cookies and other tracking methods. One of those imperatives is making money: $Trillions of it."

Twitter's revved-up product focus piques publisher, advertiser interest. "After years of criticism for being slow-footed and indecisive, Twitter has finally started to spread its wings, shipping a torrent of product changes this year." I'm really bullish on Twitter - and I like it considerably more than Facebook.

US Soldiers Expose Nuclear Weapons Secrets Via Flashcard Apps. This isn't in any way the fault of the flashcard apps, which are clearly being used for effective learning. But someone needs to teach soldiers better infosec practices.

Secret Chats Show How Cybergang Became a Ransomware Powerhouse. ““Any doofus can be a cybercriminal now,” said Sergei A. Pavlovich, a former hacker who served 10 years in prison in his native Belarus for cybercrimes. “The intellectual barrier to entry has gotten extremely low.””

· Posts

 

Reading, watching, playing, using: April, 2021

This is my monthly roundup of the media I consumed and found interesting. Here's my list for April, 2021.

Books

Captain America Vol. 1: Winter In America, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. To be honest, I was expecting more. Ta-Nehisi Coates is such a brilliant writer, but this volume felt minimalist to the point of being abstracted away from the drama. It does set up the story for a little more, but not enough more. Still, it felt good to read a comic book again - it’s been quite a while.

Suite for Barbara Loden, by Nathalie Léger, translated by Natasha Lehrer and Cécile Menon. I read it in one sitting, mesmerized by the writing and the articulation of a recognizable kind of sadness. This is the kind of book I would write if I was brave enough: almost certainly not as skillfully, but with an intention to gather the dark corners of solitude and weaving it into poetry. The translation is superb; I wish I could read it in its original French.

Shuggie Bain, by Douglas Stuart. Immersive and real. I could smell Glasgow in every page. The desperation of these well-rounded characters trying to survive through post-industrial poverty, and the moments of human beauty despite it all, ring true. The writing is excellent; the heart at the center of it all beats strong.

Streaming

Nomadland. Naturalistic to the point that fiction and reality are blurred. Frances McDormand gives an impressive performance as always, but what really stands out are the real-life characters drawn into the story. Their lives are written across their faces; tragic but defiant.

The Father. Anchored by kaleidoscopic writing and nuanced performances, we see one man’s dementia play out from all sides. The set is a character in itself, reflecting slips of memory and a rapidly unraveling relationship with time. Watching it from the context of my own parents’ - albeit very different - failing health was tough. One of those films where quiet recognition leaves you cathartically weeping alone in the dark.

The Mitchells vs. The Machines. I guffawed. A lot. Packed full of in-jokes, this has everything you’d expect from the people who made Into the Spider-Verse and The LEGO Movie. A+, five stars.

Notable Articles

Business

The Mysterious Case of the F*cking Good Pizza. “Suddenly, I was seized by a need to get to the bottom of a matter that felt like a glitch in the fabric of my humdrum pandemic existence: Where did these clickbait restaurant brands come from, even if they didn’t seem to technically exist? And why did delivery marketplaces across the U.S., and countries around the world, suddenly seem to be flooded with them?”

The Wrong Kind of Splash. Om on Unsplash: “I was a fan up until last evening when I got an email announcing that the company was being acquired by none other than Getty Images. Hearing this was like a red hot spike through the eyes. A startup whose raison d’être was to upend draconian and amoral companies like Getty Images was going to now be part of Getty. Even after I have had time to process it, the news isn’t sitting well with me.”

Let Your Employees Ask Questions. “But you also have to recognize that as a founder, you’re empowered to fuck things up. If you spend three months chasing a market that turns outs to be a dead end, nobody is going to fire you. You own the place. If someone does that at a large company, they’re maybe getting fired. And your employees will bring that reticence to your startup. So, early on, plan on providing feedback and answering a lot of questions about how you want things to get done.”

Investing in Firefly Health. This announcement caught my attention for this: “Health insurance is undergoing a rapid cycle of unbundling and repackaging. Vertically-integrated “payviders” (groups that both pay for services, like an insurer would, and administer those services, like a provider would) are emerging as a new standard, and provider networks are being recontoured as virtual-first care models take root.” I have some thoughts on what the ultimate “payvider” would be - but I wonder if these sorts of services will help get America more comfortable with the idea of a real healthcare system.

How Index Funds May Hurt the Economy. "In recent decades, the whole economy has gone on autopilot. Index-fund investment is hyperconcentrated. So is online retail. So are pharmaceuticals. So is broadband. Name an industry, and it is likely dominated by a handful of giant players. That has led to all sorts of deleterious downstream effects: suppressing workers’ wages, raising consumer prices, stifling innovation, stoking inequality, and suffocating business creation. The problem is not just the indexers. It is the public markets they reflect, where more chaos, more speculation, more risk, more innovation, and more competition are desperately needed."

If You Love Us, Pay Us: A letter from Sean Combs to Corporate America. "Corporations like General Motors have exploited our culture, undermined our power, and excluded Black entrepreneurs from participating in the value created by Black consumers. In 2019, brands spent $239 billion on advertising. Less than 1% of that was invested in Black-owned media companies. Out of the roughly $3 billion General Motors spent on advertising, we estimate only $10 million was invested in Black-owned media. Only $10 million out of $3 billion! Like the rest of Corporate America, General Motors is telling us to sit down, shut up and be happy with what we get."

Amazon Workers Defeat Union Effort in Alabama. "The company’s decisive victory deals a crushing blow to organized labor, which had hoped the time was ripe to start making inroads." Pretty disappointing.

Why Can’t American Workers Just Relax?. “Alarmed by the toll of increasingly nonexistent boundaries between work and home during the pandemic, a growing number of nations want to help their citizens unplug when they’re done with work. In the last few months, several governments, including Canada, the E.U., Ireland, and even Japan—which invented the word karoshi, for death by overwork—announced they’re considering “right to disconnect” laws. Similar laws are already on the books in Argentina, Belgium, Chile, France, Ireland, Italy, the Philippines, and Spain.” Some great links to movements for better working conditions here.

Personal Reflection: Empathy In The Workplace. "The best empathetic leaders are frequently grounded in authentic emotional connectivity with those on their team and beyond. Empathy in this context conveys sincere optimism about how “we can make it through life’s challenges together” and gives others the sense of “team” at a time when they feel most vulnerable and alone. Positive corporate culture creates this emotional support in the organization that goes well beyond tackling corporate objectives."

Six fun remote team building activities. Range is leading the way on organizational culture. This is so great. I bought a SnackMagic box for my team.

Changes at Basecamp. This is a shockingly regressive move from Basecamp, a company that literally wrote the book on building team culture. While "paternalistic benefits" like gym memberships are arguable, not being able to discuss societal context or give feedback to your peers in a structured way paves the way for a monoculture that excludes entire demographics of people. Basecamp's workers should unionize. This is the exact opposite of what an inclusive, empathetic company should be doing.

An Open Letter to Jason and David. "Anyways, it appears your reaction to the pleas and asks to recognize that Basecamp already represents a diversity of experiences and that we want the company’s software and policies to do the same has once again been lacking and disproportionate. But what’s particularly disappointing is the direction of your reaction. The oppressive direction. The silencing direction."

Culture

1984: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. A wonderful look back on one of the best games ever made, co-authored by Douglas Adams himself.

Non-Fungible Taylor Swift. “To put it another way, while we used to pay for plastic discs and thought we were paying for songs (or newspapers/writing or cable/TV stars), empowering distribution over creators, today we pay with both money and attention according to the direction of creators, giving them power over everyone. If the creator decides that their NFTs are important, they will have value; if they decide their show is worthless, it will not.”

Media

Why We’re Freaking Out About Substack. “Danny Lavery had just agreed to a two-year, $430,000 contract with the newsletter platform Substack when I met him for coffee last week in Brooklyn, and he was deciding what to do with the money.” Some notable details here about Substack’s behind the scenes deals.

NPR will roll out paid subscriptions to its podcasts. Worth saying that PRX's founder Jake Shapiro now works at Apple on podcasts. This is a good partnership, and I trust Jake to maintain an open ecosystem.

SiriusXM Is Buying ‘99% Invisible,’ and Street Cred in Podcasting. "Under the new arrangement, “99% Invisible” will remain available at no cost on all platforms supported by ads. But the parties may explore exclusive partnerships for some products down the line. In addition to a large catalog of free podcasts that are available on all platforms, Stitcher sells a premium service offering special features from podcasts it has a relationship with — including ad-free listening, early access and bonus content — for $4.99 per month."

Politics

Justice Dept. Inquiry Into Matt Gaetz Said to Be Focused on Cash Paid to Women. “A Justice Department investigation into Representative Matt Gaetz and an indicted Florida politician is focusing on their involvement with multiple women who were recruited online for sex and received cash payments, according to people close to the investigation and text messages and payment receipts reviewed by The New York Times.”

Yellen calls for a global minimum corporate tax rate. I think I'm in favor of this? But it seems difficult to implement in practice.

What Georgia’s Voting Law Really Does. “The New York Times analyzed the state’s new 98-page voting law and identified 16 key provisions that will limit ballot access, potentially confuse voters and give more power to Republican lawmakers.”

Big Tech Is Pushing States to Pass Privacy Laws, and Yes, You Should Be Suspicious. “The Markup reviewed existing and proposed legislation, committee testimony, and lobbying records in more than 20 states and identified 14 states with privacy bills built upon the same industry-backed framework as Virginia’s, or with weaker models. The bills are backed by a who’s who of Big Tech–funded interest groups and are being shepherded through statehouses by waves of company lobbyists.”

Science

COVID was bad for the climate. “To keep global warming under 2°C, we’d need sustained emissions reductions in this range every year for the next 20-30 years. The pandemic has been hugely disruptive, but it’s still temporary, and all signs point to a strong recovery. The drop in emissions was largely caused by lockdown, not persistent structural changes that will persist for decades to come.”

Finding From Particle Research Could Break Known Laws of Physics. “Evidence is mounting that a tiny subatomic particle called a muon is disobeying the laws of physics as we thought we knew them, scientists announced on Wednesday.” So exciting!

A Surprising Number Of Sea Monster Sightings Can Be Explained By Whale Erections. Today I learned.

American Honey Is Radioactive From Decades of Nuclear Bomb Testing. "The world’s nuclear powers have detonated more than 500 nukes in the atmosphere. These explosions were tests, shows of force to rival nations, and proof that countries such as Russia, France, and the U.S. had mastered the science of the bomb. The world’s honey has suffered for it. According to a new study published in Nature Communications, honey in the United States is full of fallout lingering from those atmospheric nuclear tests."

Flu Has Disappeared Worldwide during the COVID Pandemic. ““There’s just no flu circulating,” says Greg Poland, who has studied the disease at the Mayo Clinic for decades. The U.S. saw about 600 deaths from influenza during the 2020-2021 flu season. In comparison, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated there were roughly 22,000 deaths in the prior season and 34,000 two seasons ago.”

Society

Estimates and Projections of COVID-19 and Parental Death in the US. "The number of children experiencing a parent dying of COVID-19 is staggering, with an estimated 37,300 to 43,000 already affected. For comparison, the attacks on September 11, 2001, left 3000 children without a parent."

Clearview AI Offered Thousands Of Cops Free Trials. “A controversial facial recognition tool designed for policing has been quietly deployed across the country with little to no public oversight. According to reporting and data reviewed by BuzzFeed News, more than 7,000 individuals from nearly 2,000 public agencies nationwide have used Clearview AI to search through millions of Americans’ faces, looking for people, including Black Lives Matter protesters, Capitol insurrectionists, petty criminals, and their own friends and family members.”

What an analysis of 377 Americans arrested or charged in the Capitol insurrection tells us . "Nor were these insurrectionists typically from deep-red counties. Some 52 percent are from blue counties that Biden comfortably won. But by far the most interesting characteristic common to the insurrectionists’ backgrounds has to do with changes in their local demographics: Counties with the most significant declines in the non-Hispanic White population are the most likely to produce insurrectionists who now face charges."

Reflexive McLuhanism. "To paraphrase Churchill: First we shape X, then X shapes us. If a defining characteristic of humanity is making and using tools, then a defining characteristic of society is being shaped by those same tools."

‘My full name is Tanyaradzwa’: the stars reclaiming their names. "Names are important and they have meaning, said the cultural historian and campaigner Patrick Vernon, whether that is familial significance or the time or day someone was born, for example. “The fact that people still feel they have to change or anglicise their names, and water down their heritage to fit in or succeed within the dominant culture, says we’ve still got a long way to go.”"

My Son, the Organ Donor. "My son’s vital organs saved four lives. His skin and other tissue donations will go on to help countless others. His strong heart now vigorously thumps inside the chest of a teenage boy." Please consider signing up to be a donor.

How to Name Your Black Son in a Racist Country. "And then warn him. Inform your son that he will likely be the only Tyrone in the cohort of 100 Americans and that there will be white people in his cohort who think gentrification is a good thing and who do not read. Let him know that those white people are not worth his time and that he should make a group chat with the six other Black folks in his cohort because he will regret not doing so later."

Get Ready for Blob Girl Summer. "So many people have died this year, millions, and I have survived to take into my body a miraculous shot that is the very flower of medical science, a code written in my genome to lock out the great threat. And I, imbibing this, have the temerity to not even be sexy. If Vaxxed Girl Summer is meant to be a kind of pan-cultural Rumspringa I ought to be someone that transcends schlubhood under its thrilling aegis. And yet."

Technology

NFT Canon. “The a16z NFT Canon is a curated list of readings and resources on all things NFTs, organized from the big picture, what NFTs (non-fungible tokens) are and why they matter... to how to mint, collect, and do more with them -- including how they play into various applications such as art, music, gaming, social tokens, more.”

Asian Americans in tech say they face ‘a unique flavor of oppression’. “Diversity training was "half-assed, whitewashed," she said. No one said the words "white supremacy" or "institutionalized racism."”

Social Attention: a modest prototype in shared presence. “My take is that the web could feel warmer and more lively than it is. Visiting a webpage could feel a little more like visiting a park and watching the world go by. Visiting my homepage could feel just a tiny bit like stopping by my home.” Nice proof of concept.

Google wins copyright clash with Oracle over computer code. “In siding with Google, Breyer wrote that, assuming for the sake of argument that the lines of code can be copyrighted, Google’s copying is nonetheless fair use. The fair-use doctrine permits unauthorized use of copyrighted material in some circumstances, including when the copying “transforms” the original material to create something new.” An important win in for Google at the Supreme Court.

Target CIO Mike McNamara makes a cloud declaration of independence. It makes sense that Target would want to move away from AWS, and their approach avoids lock-in to any cloud provider. All of this is made possible by free and open source software tools.

At Dynamicland, The Building Is The Computer. "Instead of simulating things like paper and pencils inside a computer, Realtalk grants computational value to everyday objects in the world. The building is the computer. Space is a first-class entity — a building block of computation. Digital projectors, cameras, and computers are inconspicuously attached to the ceiling rafters, creating space on tables and walls for projects and collaboration. Most of the software is printed on paper and runs on paper. But the deeper idea is that when the system recognizes any physical object, it becomes a computational object." Magical.

Signal adopts MobileCoin, a crypto project linked to its own creator Moxie Marlinspike. "Security expert Bruce Schneier thinks it’s an incredibly bad idea that “muddies the morality of the product, and invites all sorts of government investigative and regulatory meddling: by the IRS, the SEC, FinCEN, and probably the FBI.” He thinks the two apps—crypto and secure communications—should remain separate. In his mind, this is going to ruin Signal for everyone."

After Working at Google, I’ll Never Let Myself Love a Job Again. "After I quit, I promised myself to never love a job again. Not in the way I loved Google. Not with the devotion businesses wish to inspire when they provide for employees’ most basic needs like food and health care and belonging. No publicly traded company is a family. I fell for the fantasy that it could be."

Revealed: the Facebook loophole that lets world leaders deceive and harass their citizens. “The investigation shows how Facebook has allowed major abuses of its platform in poor, small and non-western countries in order to prioritize addressing abuses that attract media attention or affect the US and other wealthy countries. The company acted quickly to address political manipulation affecting countries such as the US, Taiwan, South Korea and Poland, while moving slowly or not at all on cases in Afghanistan, Iraq, Mongolia, Mexico, and much of Latin America.”

DoJ used court order to thwart hundreds of Microsoft Exchange web shells. “In an unprecedented move, the Department of Justice used a court order to dismantle ‘hundreds’ of web shells installed using Exchange Server vulnerabilities patched by Microsoft six weeks ago.” A court order that allowed the FBI to go in and pre-emptively patch compromised systems. Fascinating.

Australian firm Azimuth unlocked the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone for the FBI. “Azimuth specialized in finding significant vulnerabilities. Dowd, a former IBM X-Force researcher whom one peer called “the Mozart of exploit design,” had found one in open-source code from Mozilla that Apple used to permit accessories to be plugged into an iPhone’s lightning port, according to the person.”

Exploiting vulnerabilities in Cellebrite UFED and Physical Analyzer from an app's perspective. "Cellebrite makes software to automate physically extracting and indexing data from mobile devices. They exist within the grey – where enterprise branding joins together with the larcenous to be called “digital intelligence.” Their customer list has included authoritarian regimes in Belarus, Russia, Venezuela, and China; death squads in Bangladesh; military juntas in Myanmar; and those seeking to abuse and oppress in Turkey, UAE, and elsewhere. A few months ago, they announced that they added Signal support to their software." This is a genuinely incredible blog post.

Why not faster computation via evolution and diffracted light. "What is the ultimate limit of computational operations per gram of the cosmos, and why don’t we have compilers that are targeting that as a substrate? I would like to know that multiple." Inspiring and mind-bending in that way that many genuinely new ideas are: connecting multiple existing ideas to create something fresh. A really great blog post.

University duo thought it would be cool to sneak bad code into Linux as an experiment. Of course, it absolutely backfired. "Computer scientists at the University of Minnesota theorized they could sneak vulnerabilities into open-source software – but when they tried subverting the Linux kernel, it backfired spectacularly."

Read Facebook's Internal Report About Its Role In The Capitol Insurrection. "From the earliest Groups, we saw high levels of Hate, VNI, and delegitimization, combined with meteoric growth rates — almost all of the fastest growing FB Groups were Stop the Steal during their peak growth. Because we were looking at each entity individually, rather than as a cohesive movement, we were only able to take down individual Groups and Pages once they exceeded a violation threshold. We were not able to act on simple objects like posts and comments because they individually tended not to violate, even if they were surrounded by hate, violence, and misinformation. After the Capitol Insurrection and a wave of Storm the Capitol events across the country, we realized that the individual delegitimizing Groups, Pages, and slogans did constitute a cohesive movement."

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Reading, watching, playing, using: March, 2021

This is my monthly roundup of the media I consumed and found interesting. Here's my list for March, 2021: a month where, at least in the United States, mass vaccination started to present the light at the end of the tunnel for the pandemic.

Books

The Death of Vivek Oji, by Akwaeke Emezi. Beautiful and sad; a tale of someone trying to be themselves in a context that won’t allow it, and of love and allyship becoming their own kinds of oppression. Despite the tragedy at the heart of the novel, it resonates with triumphant humanism, too. Emotional and sonorous and just about perfect.

Something That May Shock and Discredit You, by Daniel M. Lavery . A very personal book; powerful in a way that sneaks up on you with seemingly-banal interludes that add up to a meaningful whole. I’ve been a fan of his ever since The Toast, but this is something else entirely.

The Ministry for the Future, by Kim Stanley Robinson. It starts with a catastrophe - an extrapolation of climate change and the very dark places it might lead us - but then takes us on an exploration of how we might deal with it. It’s an informed celebration of invention, resolve, and the human spirit. If I have a criticism, it’s that it sometimes is far too utopian and engages in technological determinism, but what a change that makes. I’ve even forgiven its extensive passages on decentralized social networking (something I know a thing or two about) and blockchain, the wrongness of which casts doubt on the technical robustness of other climate solutions presented. This is hard economic science fiction, and yet, a very human book.

The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett. A near-perfect novel about identity and how the stories we tell about ourselves both define and disguise us. Modern, nuanced, and rich in a way that lingers long afterwards.

Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning, by Cathy Park Hong. A challenging, complicated book that provides a much-needed perspective via the author’s Asian American experience. I was drawn in by the first half, and again by the deservedly angry final essay. The rest of the second half is dedicated to her experiences as an artist, which are not always likable. But why should they be? She doesn’t owe anybody anything, and her honesty is a gift that deserves attention.

Notable Articles

Business

Imagine Your Flexible Office Work Future. "The C-Suite has had “flexibility” for years. If companies don’t expand it to other workers, they’ll find jobs elsewhere."

The End of Indie. "Unfortunately, as we’ve sought to lean more aggressively into scaling our investments and ideas behind an “Indie Economy” we’ve not found that same level of enthusiasm from the institutional LP market."

Four-Day Work Week Gains Popularity Around the World. "So last spring the company told everyone to sign off around lunchtime every Friday to ease into the weekend. The experiment was so successful—sales, employee engagement, and client satisfaction all rose—that in January, Awin decided to go a step further, rolling out a four-day week for the entire company with no cuts in salaries or benefits. “We firmly believe that happy, engaged, and well-balanced employees produce much better work,” says Chief Executive Officer Adam Ross. They “find ways to work smarter, and they’re just as productive.”" Honestly, what's the downside?

An alternative to competition. “And all we have to do is get enough customers to make our business work. That's it. That's how we stay alive. Not by taking marketshare away from anyone, not by siphoning off users, not by spending gobs of cash to convince people to switch. We simply have our own economics to worry about, and if we get that right, we're golden.” I like this way of thinking.

What Ended Indie. The discussion of GAAP accounting here - and in particular its shortcomings - is very familiar to me.

For Creators, Everything Is for Sale. “A rash of new start-ups are making it easier for digital creators to monetize every aspect of their life — down to what they eat, who they hang out with and who they respond to on TikTok.” It’s like an episode of Black Mirror.

In a First, Uber Agrees to Classify British Drivers as ‘Workers’. “Uber said it would reclassify more than 70,000 drivers in Britain as workers who will receive a minimum wage, vacation pay and access to a pension plan.” Everywhere, please.

The Personal Finance and Investment Advice Fallacy. “The personal finance circuit and the hustle economy are some of the most public acts of cruelty in capitalism. It exists to kick people when they’re down - telling those who are suffering because inherent unfairness of capitalism (where so much is based on where you are born, when you were born and whom you are born to) that it’s their fault, and that the reason they’re doing badly is because they haven’t taken the right advice or done the right thing.”

ESGs, sustainable investing are not as green as touted, investor says. “The financial services industry is duping the American public with its pro-environment, sustainable investing practices. This multitrillion dollar arena of socially conscious investing is being presented as something it's not. In essence, Wall Street is greenwashing the economic system and, in the process, creating a deadly distraction. I should know; I was at the heart of it.”

Green investing is a fraud. “Take "Environmental, Social, and Governance" (ESG) funds, pitched as a way to save for retirement without annihilating the planet you're planning to retire on. These were once so promising that they panicked the finance sector, so much so that the world's carbon barons convinced Trump to propose a law making it illegal to direct your investment dollars into an ESG.” Instead, ESG funds were gutted of their impact and are now largely marketing concerns.

Culture

Beeple sold an NFT for $69 million. Just, ugh.

The internet didn’t kill counterculture—you just won’t find it on Instagram. "Taken from the title of Chinese sci-fi writer Liu Cixin’s 2008 book, “the dark forest” region of the web is becoming increasingly important as a space of online communication for users of all ages and political persuasions. In part, this is because it is less sociologically stressful than the clearnet zone, where one is subject to peer, employer, and state exposure. It also now includes Discord servers, paid newsletters (e.g., Substack), encrypted group messaging (via Telegram, etc.), gaming communities, podcasts, and other off-clearnet message board forums and social media."

You’re probably using the wrong dictionary. “A book where you can enter “sport” and end up with “a diversion of the field” — this is in fact the opposite of what I’d known a dictionary to be. This is a book that transmutes plain words into language that’s finer and more vivid and sometimes more rare. No wonder McPhee wrote with it by his side. No wonder he looked up words he knew, versus words he didn’t, in a ratio of “at least ninety-nine to one.””

Media

Journalism is a public service. So why doesn’t it represent the public?. "All of this is to say, getting into a four-year university depends largely on generational wealth, which a myriad of immigrant households and historically marginalized racial minorities are still struggling to build. Those on the unlucky side of the gap see disadvantages compound from the start. I come from a family that lived below the poverty line, and that likely helped me earn a full scholarship to Boston University. This stroke of luck has changed my life, but it’s important to acknowledge that the hurdles don’t end there."

America is learning to rebalance its news diet post-Trump. "Nearly halfway through President Biden's first 100 days, data shows that Americans are learning to wean themselves off of news — and especially politics."

Nearly Half of Digital Subscribers Are ‘Zombies,’ Medill Analysis Finds. “Spiegel found that 49% of digital subscribers didn’t go to the websites they had paid for even once a month, putting them in a category known in news-industry slang as “zombies.” Concern is growing about this problem because even though the living dead may still pay for local news, they seem like a weak foundation to build a future on.” It makes me wonder why they subscribe; I suspect it’s closer to why people donate to charity than because they want to be constantly engaged with the content.

Here's why Substack's scam worked so well. “For all we know, every single one of Substack’s top newsletters is supported by money from Substack. Until Substack reveals who exactly is on its payroll, its promises that anyone can make money on a newsletter are tainted.”

AAJA Guidance on Atlanta Shootings. “We urge newsrooms to cover the shootings in the context of the current rise in attacks on Asian Americans. These shootings have come during a time of increasing attacks on the AAPI community, and heightened fear among AAPI communities across the country.”

Politics

Women in Congress on the Capitol riot: 23 lawmakers on what happened to them during the insurrection. "As the events of the deadly riot are examined in the impeachment trial, here is what almost two dozen lawmakers told The 19th about January 6, in their own words." Really harrowing.

Science

A Cephalopod Has Passed a Cognitive Test Designed For Human Children. Cuttlefish can pass the marshmallow test. Can you?

Facial recognition technology can expose political orientation from naturalistic facial images. "Accuracy remained high (69%) even when controlling for age, gender, and ethnicity. Given the widespread use of facial recognition, our findings have critical implications for the protection of privacy and civil liberties." Kind of terrifying.

Study: Preservative Used in Pop-Tarts and Hundreds of Popular Foods May Harm the Immune System. "A food preservative used to prolong the shelf life of Pop-Tarts, Rice Krispies Treats, Cheez-Its and almost 1,250 other popular processed foods may harm the immune system, according to a new peer-reviewed study by Environmental Working Group." And: "Recently published research has also found a link between high levels of PFAS in the blood and the severity of Covid-19."

How mRNA Technology Could Change the World. "For decades, researchers have struggled to design a workable vaccine for HIV, and many observers considered this field a dead end. But a new paper argues that these repeated failures forced HIV-vaccine researchers to spend a lot of time and money on strange and unproven vaccine techniques—such as synthetic mRNA and the viral-vector technology that powers the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Nearly 90 percent of COVID-19 vaccines that made it to clinical trials used technology that “could be traced back to prototypes tested in HIV vaccine trials,” Jeffrey E. Harris, the economist at MIT who authored the paper, wrote."

Stanford Scientists Reverse Engineer Moderna Vaccine, Post Code on Github. “We didn't reverse engineer the vaccine. We posted the putative sequence of two synthetic RNA molecules that have become sufficiently prevalent in the general environment of medicine and human biology in 2021.”

Society

How to have better arguments online. Not just online: “When we’re in an argument with someone, we should be thinking about how they can change their mind and look good – maintain or even enhance their face – at the same time. Often this is very hard to do in the moment of the dispute itself, when opinion and face are bound even more tightly together than they are before or after (the writer Rachel Cusk defines an argument as “an emergency of self-definition”). However, by showing that we have listened to and respected our interlocutor’s point of view, we make it more likely that they will come around at some later point. If and when they do, we should avoid scolding them for not agreeing with us all along.”

New study finds not knowing how to flirt is the main reason behind "involuntary singlehood". "Among the participants who indicated that they were involuntarily single, the most important factor by far was their lack of flirting skills. Following this factor, in decreasing order, were skills in perceiving signals of interest, “mating effort,” and choosiness. These last three factors were all relatively similar in their degree of impact."

Harry and Meghan: The union of two great houses, the Windsors and the Celebrities, is complete. “Having a monarchy next door is a little like having a neighbour who’s really into clowns and has daubed their house with clown murals, displays clown dolls in each window and has an insatiable desire to hear about and discuss clown-related news stories. More specifically, for the Irish, it’s like having a neighbour who’s really into clowns and, also, your grandfather was murdered by a clown.”

Private Schools Are Indefensible. I agree with the headline. They simply shouldn’t exist. This is an excellent piece that dives into some reasons why.

What the Pandemic Is Doing to Our Brains. “The pandemic is still too young to have yielded rigorous, peer-reviewed studies about its effects on cognitive function. But the brain scientists I spoke with told me they can extrapolate based on earlier work about trauma, boredom, stress, and inactivity, all of which do a host of very bad things to a mammal’s brain.”

Hospitals Hide Pricing Data From Search Results. Hospitals have to list pricing by law - but they explicitly add noindex, nofollow tags to pricing pages so they can't be searched and discovered. Seems like an opportunity for someone to build an open dataset.

Evanston, Illinois, becomes first U.S. city to pay reparations to Black residents. "The Chicago suburb’s City Council voted 8-1 to distribute $400,000 to eligible black households. Each qualifying household would receive $25,000 for home repairs or down payments on property."

Technology

Clubhouse Harassment, and Tech's Move from Enthusiast to Industrial Press. “I believe that a lot of the people in tech who are having this vacuous, oafish discussion of the media has as “haters” are actually just mad that they can’t say or do what they want and that every action they have isn’t the most important thing in the world.”

Google will end behavioral targeting, profile-building in its ad products. "Google helped create and grow the digital ad ecosystem that relied on tracking and targeting ads to people across the web. Now, up against pressure from regulators around data privacy and antitrust, Google will stop enabling cross-site tracking and targeting of individuals outside its own properties such as in inventory it sells through its Google AdX display and video ad exchange." Big changes are coming.

The SOC2 Starting Seven. "Here’s how we’ll try to help: with Seven Things you can do now that will simplify SOC2 for you down the road while making your life, or at least your security posture, materially better in the immediacy." File under "things I wish I'd read a year ago".

Lying to the ghost in the machine. “The point I'd like to make is that ready-trained NNs like GPT-3 or CLIP are often tailored as the basis of specific recognizer applications and then may end up deployed in public situations, much as shitty internet-of-things gizmos usually run on an elderly, unpatched ARM linux kernel with an old version of OpenSSH and busybox installed, and hard-wired root login credentials. This is the future of security holes in our internet-connected appliances: metaphorically, cameras that you can fool by slapping a sticker labelled "THIS IS NOT THE DROID YOU ARE LOOKING FOR" on the front of the droid the camera is in fact looking for.”

T-Mobile to Step Up Ad Targeting of Cellphone Customers. 'Wireless carrier tells subscribers it could share their masked browsing, app data and online activity with advertisers unless they opt out." As a previously-happy T-Mobile customer, I'm outraged by this.

He got Facebook hooked on AI. Now he can't fix its misinformation addiction. “I began video-calling Quiñonero regularly. I also spoke to Facebook executives, current and former employees, industry peers, and external experts. Many spoke on condition of anonymity because they’d signed nondisclosure agreements or feared retaliation. I wanted to know: What was Quiñonero’s team doing to rein in the hate and lies on its platform?” Surprise, surprise: that’s not what Facebook wanted to talk about.

The Mobile Performance Inequality Gap, 2021. “Whatever progress runtimes and networks have made in the past half-decade, browsers are stubbornly situated in the devices carried by real-world users, and the single most important thing to understand about the landscape of devices your sites will run on is that they are not new phones.”

One Year in the IndieWeb. I'm pretty much an indieweb zealot. These experiences are fair and representative of the community, it seems to me.

The Dao of DAOs. “After a contentious debate, the Ethereum core team, led by Vitalik Buterin, released a hard fork of the Ethereum blockchain. It was essentially a new version in which everything was the same, except in the forked version, the heist never happened.” A very telling paragraph. How decentralized is it, really, if the core team can vanish away transactions, regardless of the reason? (Hint: every blockchain can do this.)

In 2020, Two Thirds of Google Searches Ended Without a Click. Fuel for Google being more of a publisher than a referrer these days.

The End of AMP. “If you’re currently using AMP, you’ll be able to get rid of that monstrosity in May, and if you aren’t, you’ll now be competing for search positions previously unavailable to you. For publishers, it is a win-win.” FINALLY.

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Reading, watching, playing, using: January, 2021

This is my monthly roundup of the tech and media I consumed and found interesting. Here's my list for January, 2021: a month that included an armed coup attempt, my 42nd birthday, and the start of a new Presidency.

Books

The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, by Eric Hoffer. Fascinating, searing and insightful, but also set in its ways. It was originally published in 1951, and some of Hoffer’s perspective has not stood the test of time; however, the parallels he draws about mass movements around the world absolutely do, and I found it hard not to think about the current rise of Trumpian nationalism as he laid out his argument.

The Three-Body Problem, by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu. Spectacular science fiction ideas drawn from real imagination, woven into a nonsensical story with wooden, unbelievable characters that often stray into sexist tropes. It turns out I care about the latter more.

The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage (Book of Dust, Volume 1), by Philip Pullman. It’s absolutely magical to read a fantasy universe set in an alternate version of my hometown. I felt a waterfall of emotions, from homesickness to wonder. I’ve never read His Dark Materials, to my shame, and this has me very much wanting to go and read that trilogy before I continue with this one. But the last third is much weaker, and contains a narrative choice I won’t spoil but really didn’t need to be there. Not a perfect book, then, but for the first two thirds, it was moving in that direction.

Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America, by Laila Lalami . This series of dynamic first-person perspectives on the conditions of citizenship placed on the majority of people in this country who don’t happen to be white, male, or straight should be required reading for every American. It culminates in a manifesto of sorts that paints a picture of the sort of country we should be building. The only point of departure I have with the author is her apparent belief that faith makes a person more ethical; I simply don’t believe this to be the case. Nonetheless, this is her truth, and it’s related in a direct, dynamic way that adds a great deal to the discourse of what it means to be an American.

The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig. A lovely feel-good read. I occasionally felt like the author was over-stressing obvious conclusions, but that’s because the premise of depression leading to constant agonizing over past regrets is pretty much where I live. It left me, like its protagonist, eager to go out and live. Sure, you could unkindly describe it as Quantum Leap for people with depression. But honestly? Even that synopsis sounds great to me.

Streaming

Revolution of the Daleks. After the year we had, I really needed a solid Doctor Who special. And this was it: from great character development to a “fuck the police” subtext, this is the subversive show I love. I’m looking forward to more later this year, as soon as they finish filming during the pandemic (apparently they don’t quite know when that will be yet).

Locked Down. It was critically panned, and the subject matter is the definition of “too soon”, but I enjoyed this weird little movie. It’s neither a romantic comedy nor a heist movie, but it rhymes with both. It reminded me of a quirky novel.

chez baldwin. A Spotify playlist based on records found in James Baldwin’s home in France. Sublime.

Notable Articles

Business

How Google workers secretly built a union. I’m deeply pro-union, and excited to see more unionization in tech.

Vons, Pavilions to Fire “Essential Workers,” Replace Drivers with Independent Contractors. This is what we get for passing Proposition 22.

Imagine a Hiring Process Without Resumes. “Open hiring shifts resources to invest in workers, rather than finding ways to exclude them. Most important, this approach allows companies to build more resilient businesses and address one of today’s greatest social challenges: providing economic opportunities for people often viewed as unemployable.”

World's richest person Elon Musk to dedicate wealth to Mars colony. “And lest you think a trip to Mars is too pricey for most people, Musk has said he intends for there to be "loans available for those who don't have money," and jobs on the Red Planet for colonists to pay off their debts. Some critics say Musk's plans resemble an interplanetary form of indentured servitude.” You don’t say.

Seed Investments in Insurrection. “Some investors who rewrite the history of innovation. They forget that taxpayers funded the creation of the internet and contributed to pharmaceutical discoveries. They call for the end of regulations except for the ones that incentivize them to invest through tax benefits regular people don’t get. They want the government off their backs except when it comes to making sure no one builds affordable housing down the street from them.”

Culture is the Behavior You Reward and Punish. “People stop taking values seriously when the public rewards (and consequences) don’t match up. We can say that our culture requires treating each other with respect, but all too often, the openly rude high performer is privately disciplined, but keeps getting more and better projects. It doesn’t matter if you docked his bonus or yelled at him in private. When your team sees unkind people get ahead, they understand that the real culture is not one of kindness.”

Expensify CEO David Barrett: ‘Most CEOs are not bad people, they're just cowards’. “My opinion is a little bit different. I think this idea of "Oh, we're apolitical," I think that's kind of bullshit. I think there's no such thing in a democracy as being apolitical. Every action you take is your position. I think that a large number of these tech companies, by saying, "Oh, we're apolitical," that's a very convenient way of saying, "No, I'm voting for the status quo. I support the current administration, and I'm not going to take actions to do anything about it because it's actually good for business." I think it's actually pretty cynical.”

Why You Should Practice Failure. “We learn from our mistakes. When we screw up and fail, we learn how not to handle things. We learn what not to do.” All opportunities for growth.

Why I wouldn’t invest in open-source companies, even though I ran one. “The question then is: Is open-source a better business strategy than a more conventional, proprietary tech model? And the answer - at least to me - is a resounding "No". The ratio of failed OS businesses to successful ones is worse than in prop-tech; revenue kicks in much later, business model pivots are hampered by community resistance, and licensing issues leave OS businesses vulnerable throughout their lifetime. Instead, why not do what traditional businesses are doing, sell a product, and simply charge for the value it provides?” AKA “the exact same mistake I made twice.”

Making Twitter a better home for writers. It's super-interesting to see Twitter enter the paid newsletter space. Lots of interesting places to go with this.

Speaker Rider for Meaningfully Inclusive Events. Let's please all start using this.

Tractors won't be fully autonomous anytime soon — but not because they can't be. It’s interesting to think about the long term effects of autonomous farming. I don’t believe we can switch to this without much stronger social safety nets in place. I can also see a world where low-wage workers end up working behind computers, policing the decisions made by machine learning systems.

Culture

How about finding new books by mapping who thanks who. I love this idea. I wonder if a company other than Amazon or Google could pull it off?

A full accounting of the one hundred and fifty tales that make up the entirety of the thousand and one tales. This is a lovely writing project. It makes me want to do something similar - you know, with all my copious free time.

Three Things Cameron Couldn't Tell You, by Michael Haynes. I loved this short story.

Media

The mafia turns social media influencer to reinforce its brand. “Southern Italy’s mob bosses embrace digital platforms as a way to spread their message.” I’m excited to see the TikTok dances.

A sneak peak at power mapping, 2073’s top innovation. “What if every piece of journalism helped the public understand whether old or new power dynamics and values were at play?”

The Day Without News. If only.

Using printed QR codes for links in books. I love these examples, and the idea. URLs on the printed page have always sucked. Including QR codes inline can be beautiful, and simultaneously less obtrusive.

Open letter from Laura Poitras. “On Monday, November 30, 2020, I was fired from First Look Media, an organization I co-founded. My termination came two months after I spoke to the press about The Intercept’s failure to protect whistleblower Reality Winner and the cover-up and lack of accountability that followed, and after years of raising concerns internally about patterns of discrimination and retaliation.”

Apple is reportedly considering a podcast subscription service. Okay, but I want them to be compatible with my podcast player, and not have to use Apple's.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Journalism in Emerging Economies and the Global South. "Taking a deep dive into the critical challenges faced by the profession, the report examines issues including the pandemic’s impact on the personal safety and welfare of journalists, the structure of newsrooms and disruption to business models, the proliferation of fake news, and surging threats to media freedom. The study also identifies best practice and innovative approaches that have been developed as a response to the challenges of COVID-19."

Misinformation went down after Twitter banned Trump. By 73%. So there’s that.

Is there room for small, niche streaming services?. Take the quiz: how many streaming services are real and how many are fake? I got 6 out of 13 right.

Politics

The NDAA bans anonymous shell companies. The NDAA, which passed after this post was written, “includes a measure known as the Corporate Transparency Act, which undercuts shell companies and money laundering in America. The act requires the owners of any company that is not otherwise overseen by the federal government (by filing taxes, for example, or through close regulation) to file a report that identifies each person associated with the company who either owns 25% or more of it or exercises substantial control over it. That report, including name, birthdate, address, and an identifying number, goes to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). The measure also increases penalties for money laundering and streamlines cooperation between banks and foreign law enforcement authorities.”

Trump pressures Georgia's Raffensperger to overturn his defeat in extraordinary call. Just astonishing.

Same Elections, Different Americas. “Donald Trump will likely get away with massive election fraud. Crystal Mason got five years for one vote.”

I’m in a roomful of people 'panicked that I might inadvertently give away their location'. A remarkable account of the Capitol insurrection. I was surprised at how emotional my reaction to reading this was - there were tears. We came so close to something much worse.

What it was like for a reporter to be evacuated from the U.S. Capitol. “Back in the Capitol, police began a room-by-room search to find senators, staff and reporters who had been left behind. One senior GOP aide, who has an office not far from the Senate floor, said he took a steel rod and barricaded his door when the pro-Trump mob approached. For what seemed like 20 minutes, he said, rioters banged on his door, trying to break in.”

The other reason Facebook silenced Trump? Republicans just lost their power. "It has not escaped my attention that the day social media companies decided there actually IS more they could do to police Trump's destructive behavior was the same day they learned Democrats would chair all the congressional committees that oversee them."

Madness on Capitol Hill. ““This is not America,” a woman said to a small group, her voice shaking. She was crying, hysterical. “They’re shooting at us. They’re supposed to shoot BLM, but they’re shooting the patriots.””

Who decides when there are helicopters? Experts weigh in on National Guard monitoring protests. “It sets an incredibly troubling precedent when we think about what it might mean if any time there’s a protest you might have military surveillance helicopters there.”

First Amendment and free spech: When it applies and when it doesn't. “Let's look at some common First Amendment arguments, illuminated and debunked by constitutional experts.”

Lisa Montgomery becomes first woman to be executed by federal government since 1953. Stomach-turning. The death penalty is the opposite of justice. It’s just cold-blooded murder, committed by the state in our names.

Alt-Right Groups and Personalities Involved In Last Week’s Capitol Riot Received Over $500K In Bitcoin From French Donor One Month Prior. This is a remarkable story in every possible way.

Secret Service paid $3,000 a month for a bathroom near Jared and Ivanka’s D.C. home. One of 2021’s gifts is not having to care about these awful people anywhere near as much.

Self-styled militia members planned Capitol storming in advance of Jan. 6. “In charging papers, the FBI said that during the Capitol riot, Caldwell received Facebook messages from unspecified senders updating him of the location of lawmakers. When he posted a one-word message, “Inside,” he received exhortations and directions describing tunnels, doors and hallways, the FBI said. Some messages, according to the FBI, included, “Tom all legislators are down in the Tunnels 3floors down,” and “Go through back house chamber doors facing N left down hallway down steps.” Another message read: “All members are in the tunnels under capital seal them in. Turn on gas,” the FBI added.” Holy crap.

Biden’s climate plan emphasizes environmental justice. You know, I’d like to take a minute and appreciate how nice it is to read a headline about something that someone did in government and think, “that’s great”. It’s been quite a while.

Science

How researchers are making do in the time of Covid. “To gauge how researchers in different fields are managing, Knowable Magazine spoke with an array of scientists and technical staff—among them a specialist keeping alive genetically important strains of fruit flies, the maintenance chief of an astronomical observatory working to keep telescopes safe and on standby during the lockdown, and a pediatrician struggling to manage clinical trials for a rare genetic disease.”

Society

Working From Bed Is Actually Great. “Those with chronic illness or disabilities say that they hope that, much as the way the pandemic has made companies more open to remote work, the stigma around working from bed will also be broken.”

What If You Could Do It All Over?. “Most of us aren’t haunted so acutely by the people we might have been. But, perhaps for a morning or a month, our lives can still thrum with the knowledge that it could have been otherwise.” This is a sickness that I know very, very well. A really interesting exploration.

Meet the gun-toting ‘Tenacious Unicorns’ in rural Colorado (Queers, alpacas and guns). “How a transgender-owned alpaca ranch in Colorado foretells the future of the rural queer West.” I love this so much.

The imminent possibility of UFOs. The truth is out there.

The Retirement Crisis for Women of Color. "In fact, women of color are more likely to fall into poverty in retirement because they are less likely than white women to have retirement plans available through their employer, says Geoffrey Sanzenbacher, an associate professor at Boston College and research fellow at the Center for Retirement Research. It’s rare for workers to be able to save substantial amounts of money for retirement outside of those plans, creating inequality in who can save for the future."

The Ways We're Suppressed. "The cruelty of American Society isn’t simply in its unfairness, but in the fact that your fellow people actively support and canvas for said unfairness. They want to keep it the same way because it’s a way of justifying their own privilege - many people can’t face the fact that they got lucky two, or three, or a hundred times over, because luck suggests that their hard work wasn’t part of it. They’re people who are babies - so fragile on the inside that they can’t see that, yes, they worked hard and got stuff, but there were advantages along the way, and that acknowledging said advantages doesn’t discount the work they did."

Recompose, the first human-composting funeral home in the U.S., is now open for business. I’m fully 100% in.

Technology

Regulation is coming in 2021. Here’s how Big Tech is preparing for it. “The open internet. Section 230. China. Internet access. 5G. Antitrust. When we asked the policy shops at some of the biggest and most powerful tech companies to identify their 2021 policy priorities, these were the words they had in common.”

Downloading meditation apps and rethinking meetings: How tech leaders changed in 2020. “We asked a number of leaders across the tech world to reflect a bit on a crazy year, and to tell us a few things they've learned, what's changed, and how they're bringing the new normal into 2021. Here's what they told us.”

Feature Prioritizing: Ways To Reduce Subjectivity And Bias. Some good ideas to improve design sessions and avoid structural biases. I’m looking forward to putting them into practice.

Tech legislation to watch in 2021. Useful round-up of legislation on the cards for the coming year. I’m particularly hopeful for a nationwide privacy law.

On Online. “At first, the internet was where I found other people like me, people I hadn’t yet found in real life. They were on Diaryland and LiveJournal, being honest about what was going on in their lives and tooling around with HTML and CSS. Usually we liked the same music. We exchanged images of different artists, when images were hard to find. It was a place of solace. Now I can’t tweet a damn thing without someone I don’t know, who doesn’t know me, saying something in reply that mocks me, insults me, suggests total lack of awareness of the circumstances of my life, etc., etc. It’s not the place it once was, where we were vulnerable, honest, and seeking connection. Now, it feels like we are only seeking righteousness and/or a perfect aesthetic. It’s boring. I’m not the first to point this out.”

DALL·E: Creating Images from Text. Legitimately one of the most amazing technology demos I’ve ever seen. Click into the examples and see what I mean.

The continuing rise of private virtual neighbourhoods. “Perhaps what we’re seeing is the disentangling of social media back into social and media: newsletters and podcasts are best understood as being part of the media spectrum, even if many of them are smaller and have community spaces attached. And Discord space, Slack spaces, etc, these virtual neighbourhoods are pure social.”

A 25-Year-Old Bet Comes Due: Has Tech Destroyed Society?. “In 1995, a WIRED cofounder challenged a Luddite-loving doomsayer to a prescient wager on tech and civilization’s fate. Now their judge weighs in.” Frankly, neither man comes off very well.

Archivists Are Mining Parler Metadata to Pinpoint Crimes at the Capitol. “Using a massive 56.7-terabyte archive of the far-right social media site Parler that was captured on Sunday, open-source analysts, hobby archivists, and computer scientists are working together to catalog videos and photos that were taken at the attack on the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday.”

Federal Front Door. “Recent research has made clear what many folks have personally experienced: The federal government needs to improve how it interacts with the public. Enter the Federal Front Door, an initiative to improve public-government interactions across the board.”

Everything Old is New Part 2: Why Online Anonymity Matters. A really useful list of resources about why anonymity matters online, and why using real names is not the solution to online abuse.

Facing Forward. A really lovely reminder of another era of creativity in software design.

Turning off your camera in video calls could cut carbon emissions by 96%. “A new study from Purdue University in the US estimates that an hour of videoconferencing or streaming emits between 150 and 1000 grams of carbon dioxide. It also uses up to 12 litres of water and an area of land around the size of an iPad mini.” It’s rare to see the environmental impact of the internet industry discussed, but it’s important.

China wants to build an open source ecosystem to rival GitHub. "With GitHub in the crosshairs of Chinese censors, Beijing is backing Gitee as its official hub, an open-source institution tailored for a closed internet." Fascinating, not least because Gitee really just looks like a GitHub clone.

New WhiteHouse.gov. Hooray for a bilingual White House homepage again - and on WordPress!

‘The Big Shift’: Internal Facebook Memo Tells Employees to Do Better on Privacy. "Facebook VP Andrew Bosworth tells colleagues that privacy matters more than the product experience." If they can reform the company around privacy and the human rights of their users, I might even re-join. Color me skeptical, though.

‘For Some Reason I’m Covered in Blood’: GPT-3 Contains Disturbing Bias Against Muslims. Yet again, algorithms carry the bias of their sources.

Make Boring Plans. "Since we often end up in the land of novel technology, we owe it to ourselves and our customers to be boring in other ways. And the most important way that a Platform team can be boring is by writing boring plans." This is fantastic.

Protocols, Not Platforms: A Technological Approach to Free Speech. "Moving to a world where protocols and not proprietary platforms dominate would solve many issues currently facing the internet today. Rather than relying on a few giant platforms to police speech online, there could be widespread competition, in which anyone could design their own interfaces, filters, and additional services, allowing whichever ones work best to succeed, without having to resort to outright censorship for certain voices. It would allow end users to determine their own tolerances for different types of speech but make it much easier for most people to avoid the most problematic speech, without silencing anyone entirely or having the platforms themselves make the decisions about who is allowed to speak."

Facebook and Apple Are Beefing Over the Future of the Internet. "On Thursday morning, Apple CEO Tim Cook gave a speech explaining his company’s upcoming privacy changes, which will ban apps from sharing iPhone user behavior with third parties unless users give explicit consent. And he made plain that these new policies were designed at least in part with Facebook in mind." Let's be clear: rightly so.

· Posts

 

Reading, watching, playing, using: December 2020

This is my monthly roundup of the tech and media I consumed and found interesting. Here's my list for the final month of the hell-year.

Books

Intimations, by Zadie Smith. Six personal, revealing essays about living in the pandemic. Real; insightful; human.

The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury. A classic, of course, but new to me. I love the way he melds a very folksy, warm linguistic approach with mind-bending, often horrifying ideas.

Streaming

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. Anchored by two astonishing performances, this does feel like a filmed play rather than a movie in itself, but is no worse for it. Chadwick Boseman is remarkable; Viola Davis's complete transformation even more so.

Soul. Just about as good a movie as Pixar has ever made - which is to say, it's very good indeed. I'm not sure what kids get out of it, but the themes of parenting and what it means to really live come through loud and clear.

Notable Articles

Business

Corporate Reporting in the Era of Artificial Intelligence. “Company managers specifically consider machine readers, as well as humans, when preparing disclosures.” An interesting new world, where human-readable articles are actually designed for artificial intelligence readers, approaches. SEO was our first toe-dip. Now it's maybe just Robot Reader Optimization?

Investing in Moov: Open Source Financial Services Building Blocks. I really like this approach. Open source + a modular structure will empower just about everyone in the financial services ecosystem, and in turn makes Moov a good investment.

How This CEO Creates an Internal Culture With a “Crazy Focus” on Good Storytelling. "When we have communication issues within the company or with our customers and prospects, it all comes back to the fact that we didn't spend enough time trying to understand the story." I love everything about this.

Death of an Open Source Business Model. I've spent a huge amount of my career - well over a decade - on open source businesses. This all rings true to me, and is an important reminder (unfortunately).

Big Tech risks big fines, and even break-up, under Europe's new content and antitrust rules. I’m not against it.

The Making of a Dumpster Fire. Now this is marketing.

Czech Startup Founders Turn Billionaires Without VC Help. I like this a lot. I use JetBrains personally, but had no idea that this was how the company was built. Inspiring.

Culture

Andrew Bird’s Cozy Melancholy. Andrew Bird is the absolute best.

Why Is Publishing So White?. “There’s a correlation between the number of people of color who work in publishing and the number of books that are published by authors of color.” Which is shown clearly in this very revealing, well-presented data.

Whatever Happened to ______ ?. “There are studies showing that some men “feel insecure” — to put it mildly, and possibly euphemistically — when a woman earns more than her male spouse. What those articles aren’t saying is that a woman’s life may be in danger if she outpaces a male partner in her chosen career, tipping the scales away from tattered patriarchal mythology.” A sad, beautifully-written account of one such story in the arts.

every tv show I have binge-watched since march: part one. “My conclusion is that Buffy is a television show about a beautiful young queer witch named Willow trying and failing to leave her toxic hometown friend group, and the ways in which being unable to let go of the people we loved in our youth who are no longer able to have healthy relationships with us can warp us and turn us evil.”

Media

Mapping Black Media. “We’re offering a map and directory of nearly 300 community media outlets across the U.S. that primarily serve Black communities across the diaspora.”

Substack launches an RSS reader to organize all your newsletter subscriptions. Yes! I welcome new RSS readers with open arms.

A contentious local election revealed an information gap. High school reporters stepped up to fill it.. One of those heartwarming stories that is actually kind of dystopian - local news is vital for democracy - but still, I’m a big fan of this.

'I figured I'd give it a year': Arthur Sulzberger Jr on how the New York Times turned around. “Paul Goldberger, a longtime Times architecture critic and one of the paper’s wisest observers, said the most relevant description of Sulzberger Jr’s philosophy could be found in an Italian novel, The Leopard: “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.””

True equity means ownership. "For far too long, newsroom leaders have been wringing their hands over how to serve Black and brown communities. How many diversity initiatives, recruitment efforts, and implicit-bias trainings do we have to endure without the follow-through?"

Why on Earth Is Someone Stealing Unpublished Book Manuscripts?. “Whoever the thief is, he or she knows how publishing works, and has mapped out the connections between authors and the constellation of agents, publishers and editors who would have access to their material.” Kind of fascinating as a mystery.

Politics

Trump administration officials passed when Pfizer offered months ago to sell the U.S. more vaccine doses.. "Before Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine was proved highly successful in clinical trials last month, the company offered the Trump administration the chance to lock in supplies beyond the 100 million doses the pharmaceutical maker agreed to sell the government as part of a $1.95 billion deal months ago."

Rejecting Opposition From Judiciary, House Passes Bill to Make PACER Free. "The U.S. House on Tuesday passed bipartisan legislation that would make PACER free for the public, handing a win to transparency advocates despite the federal judiciary’s opposition to the bill." Thinking of Aaron Swartz.

Four Seasons Total Landscaping: The Full(est Possible) Story. If you dig into it, the story gets no less remarkable and crazy.

Society

'Juno' Star Elliot Page Announces He Is Transgender. "Hi friends, I want to share with you that I am trans, my pronouns are he/they and my name is Elliot. I feel lucky to be writing this. To be here. To have arrived at this place in my life."

New report reveals alleged horrors of sex testings in international sports. Absolutely horrifying story, including forced operations.

'Nobody knows': Experts baffled by mystery illness in India. Extremely troubling.

The pandemic was already testing me. Then a man covered in Nazi tattoos showed up in my ER. “We all saw. The symbols of hate on his body outwardly and proudly announced his views. We all knew what he thought of us. How he valued our lives. But our job was to value his.”

Sharrows, the bicycle infrastructure that doesn’t work and nobody wants. I grew up cycling, and really wish I could feel safe doing it here. I just don't. I've known one person who sadly died in a cycling incident, and many more who have been seriously hurt. We need to take back our cities from cars.

How one woman is building the future for Google in Silicon Valley. I’d say it’s the other way around: one woman is building the future of Silicon Valley on behalf of Google. I’m excited to see this come to fruition, although I wish this kind of thing could be government-driven.

Texas Wedding Photographers Have Seen Some $#!+. "The photographer who got sick after shooting the COVID-positive groom said her experiences throughout the pandemic have left her a little depressed. She recalled one conversation from that wedding, before she left the reception. “I have children,” she told a bridesmaid, “What if my children die?” The bridesmaid responded, “I understand, but this is her wedding day.”"

Tax cuts for rich don't 'trickle down,' study of 18 countries finds. "Large tax cuts for the rich lead to higher income inequality and don't fuel economic growth or cut unemployment, a new paper by academics from the London School of Economics and King's College London says." Ya don't say.

Preindustrial workers worked fewer hours than today's. “Before capitalism, most people did not work very long hours at all. The tempo of life was slow, even leisurely; the pace of work relaxed. Our ancestors may not have been rich, but they had an abundance of leisure. When capitalism raised their incomes, it also took away their time. Indeed, there is good reason to believe that working hours in the mid-nineteenth century constitute the most prodigious work effort in the entire history of humankind.”

The Life in The Simpsons Is No Longer Attainable. “The most famous dysfunctional family of 1990s television enjoyed, by today’s standards, an almost dreamily secure existence.” Just an absolute punch in the gut.

The Journalist and the Pharma Bro. “Why did Christie Smythe upend her life and stability for Martin Shkreli, one of the least-liked men in the world?” And she still seems to be neck-deep in his gravitational pull.

Technology

Web Conversations With the Year 2000. It’s funny because it’s true. I thought we’d be in such a different place.

Web Conversation From the Other Side. A more serious rewrite of Paul Ford’s other piece. Both are worth reading side by side.

Command Line Interface Guidelines. “These are what we consider to be the fundamental principles of good CLI design.” Well-researched and smartly presented.

How our data encodes systematic racism. “What is the difference between overpolicing in minority neighborhoods and the bias of the algorithm that sent officers there? What is the difference between a segregated school system and a discriminatory grading algorithm? Between a doctor who doesn’t listen and an algorithm that denies you a hospital bed?”

Social Networking 2.0. A vital piece about the future of the internet. It’s surreal seeing pieces in the more mainstream / less radical tech business sphere talking about things many of us were advocating over ten years ago. But I’m glad we got here.

Firefox Was Always Enough. I agree with all of this. I'm a die-hard Firefox user, for all the reasons that make Mozilla great, and none of the reasons that have caused it problems.

Wildfire smoke is loaded with microbes. Is that dangerous?. I worry about this: having been evacuated for a wildfire, and helping to care for a parent who had to have a lung transplant, this is a confluence of worries. (Filing this under “technology” because I don’t have a “science” category. I should fix this for next month.)

Zoom helped China suppress U.S. calls about Tiananmen, prosecutors allege. Horrendous.

Inside the Whale: An Interview with an Anonymous Amazonian. "Jeff loves Prime Video because it gives him access to the social scene in LA and New York. He’s newly divorced and the richest man in the world. Prime Video is a loss leader for Jeff’s sex life."

Creating Decentralized Social Media Alternatives to Facebook and Twitter. A reasonable overview, although it necessarily skips out on some detail. This is where I’ve spent much of my career, and honestly, I’m eager to go back. The time is right.

Inside India’s booming dark data economy. “Thanks to lax privacy laws and high consumer demand, details on everything from how you shop to who you date are all for sale.”

Taking a Fresh Look at APIs Across All the United States Federal Agencies. Super-interesting!

· Posts

 

Reading, watching, playing, using: November 2020

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

Books

Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson. A sobering, intelligent take on America's unspoken caste system, comparing it to similar systems around the world. For me, the history of how the Nazis looked to America's treatment of its Black population was particularly shocking.

Streaming

The Undoing. You know, I was skeptical, but it worked out well. It's somewhere between absolutely trash TV and a gripping thriller. And I like creepy Hugh Grant way more than I like apparently-charming Hugh Grant.

The Flight Attendant. Fresh off The Big Bang Theory, which I consider to be easily the worst television show ever made, Kaley Cuoco redeems herself in this pulpy, funny, unsettling thriller. It reminded me a bit of Run. Definitely a guilty pleasure watch - but that's kind of what I needed.

Save Yourselves! I felt personally attacked. But this hipsters-are-oblivious-of-an-alien-invasion movie is more of a roast than a takedown, and is absolutely hilarious. Recommended.

Notable Articles

Business

Justice Department Files Antitrust Lawsuit Challenging Visa’s Planned Acquisition of Plaid. “Visa’s con­cerns about Plaid un­der­pinned its de­ci­sion to buy the com­pany and pay a large rev­enue mul­ti­ple for it, the law­suit al­leges. The gov­ern­ment said Visa’s CEO de­scribed the deal as an “in­sur­ance pol­icy” to neu­tral­ize a threat to the com­pa­ny’s debit busi­ness. The law­suit quoted an­other ex­ec­u­tive who in 2019 com­pared Plaid to an is­land “vol­cano” whose cur­rent ca­pa­bil­i­ties are just “the tip show­ing above the wa­ter” and warned that “[w]hat lies be­neath, though, is a mas­sive op­por­tu­nity—one that threat­ens Visa.””

Unexpected & Inevitable. “The investor hears it and at first they don’t believe you. “Nah,” they say, as they start to argue with you whether that’s the way the world really works. Then, after a beat or two, they go, “wait, you’re right.” And after another moment, they think “fuck, that’s the only way it can be.”” I agree with Eric: this is what investors are looking for. You have an insight about the world that most people don’t, and you’re uniquely equipped to capitalize on it.

Spotify to acquire Megaphone. Megaphone is the network formerly known as Panoply. Spotify seems to be single-handedly creating value in the podcast market right now, but Apple has been quietly making acquisitions - like to keep its own ecosystem competitive.

Apple’s Shifting Differentiation. I found this exploration of Apple’s chip strategy to be really interesting. “Instead the future is web apps, with all of the performance hurdles they entail, which is why, from Apple’s perspective, the A-series is arriving just in time. Figma in Electron may destroy your battery, but that destruction will take twice as long, if not more, with an A-series chip inside!”

Women-owned businesses are struggling. Stimulus could help.. "Women and people of color were shut out of much of the initial rounds of stimulus because the program was set up to work through commercial banks. Those who didn’t have an existing relationship with a commercial bank found it harder to access the funds. And because the money ran out quickly, it left many without a lifeline."

The Double Standard of Female CEOs Moving Fast and Breaking Things. “We hold our female CEOs to impossible standards while not holding their male counterparts to high enough ones.”

The privacy fight is heading to the office. “I don't think Americans believe in privacy universally. And it's not a constitutional right. It's like, we have a right to free speech, we have a right to bear arms, we don't have a right to privacy in our federal constitution.”

Google Pay relaunch transforms it into a full-fledged financial service. Of note: “Google has co-branded banking accounts coming up in 2021. The new service, called Plex, essentially allows banks to partner with Google and use Google Pay as their own direct banking app.”

How Venture Capitalists Are Deforming Capitalism. "Even the worst-run startup can beat competitors if investors prop it up. The V.C. firm Benchmark helped enable WeWork to make one wild mistake after another—hoping that its gamble would pay off before disaster struck." VCs are upset about this article, but honestly, to me, it rings true.

Secret Amazon Reports Expose Company Spying on Labor, Environmental Groups. "Dozens of leaked documents from Amazon’s Global Security Operations Center reveal the company’s reliance on Pinkerton operatives to spy on warehouse workers and the extensive monitoring of labor unions, environmental activists, and other social movements." Gross.

Hulu raises Live TV price to $65, matching YouTube TV’s latest price hike. Here’s what I can’t fathom: why people tolerate cable TV at all. Every time I dive into it, I regret it. It’s a morass of shitty ads and low-quality programs that shout at you.

Unilever NZ’s 1-year trial of a 4-day week. I'm very into this.

Culture

The Shape of a Story. A beautiful exploration of narrative plot, Moomins, allegory, and the purpose of story in navigating real-world challenges.

Zillow Surfing Is the Escape We All Need Right Now. Is it? Or is it another form of doomscrolling, searching for places we could never afford in aspiration of an unreachable life we were told we could have? Hey, I'm just asking questions here.

As ‘Doonesbury’ turns 50, Garry Trudeau picks his 10 defining strips. Doonesbury is by far the best syndicated cartoon strip. I'm a lifetime fan. I met Trudeau once, at the Edinburgh Book Festival; we talked about Asterix. Lovely man.

Who’s in the Crossword? I loved this: a data-driven exploration of representation in crossword clues, with insight into how they’re produced.

Media

Confusion at BBC as boss says staff can attend Pride marches after all. “He told staff on Friday morning they would still be allowed to attend LGBT Pride marches, providing they remained celebratory and individuals were not seen to be taking a stand on any “politicised or contested issues”.” This is a ridiculous stance.

Google funds mouthpiece of Rwandan regime. “The worst case scenario for the NGO representative, however, is that „Google is signalling that it is funding repression and supports the muzzling of free speech, the closing of political space in Rwanda and attacks on political opponents and human rights defenders.“”

Travel influencers are being paid to whitewash authoritarian regimes. “Uncritically spreading political propaganda is unethical under all circumstances and especially in the form of branded content, where the lines are very blurry, and the audience might therefore not recognize it as such.”

How a crop of startups are trying to make for-profit local news work. "Evan Smith, the CEO of the Texas Tribune, said that when launching the local politics driven news site more than a decade ago, “We decided that for-profit was a non starter and that the market had failed.”"

News publishers dial up the marketing heat on their subscription products. Subscriptions are far better than advertising as a support mechanism. And news sustainability is deeply important.

Yes, Product Thinking Can Save Journalism. Six Reasons Why News Media Need Product Thinkers. "Knight Lab’s series on product thinking in media started with a question: “Journalism Has Been Disrupted. Can Product Thinking Save It?” After more than 25 years in digital publishing -- and as the editor for the series -- I think the answer is “Yes.”"

Politics

How a C.I.A. Coverup Targeted a Whistle-blower. “The C.I.A. has corrupted F.B.I. agents to violate basic rules as to how the Department of Justice does criminal prosecutions.”

Uber and Lyft had an edge in the Prop 22 fight: their apps. “In the weeks leading up to Election Day, the companies used their respective apps to bombard riders and drivers with messages urging them to vote for Prop 22, the ballot measure.” Let’s please make this illegal.

Evidence suggests several state Senate candidates were plants funded by dark money. Just one of a litany of dirty tricks used in this election.

I Lived Through A Stupid Coup. America Is Having One Now. “Ha ha ha, they lede, who’s going to tell him? Bitch, who’s going to tell you? An illegitimate leader has got all the guns and 40% of your population is down to use them. And y’all got jokes.”

We Need Election Results Everyone Can Believe In. Here’s How.. Smart suggestions for improving trust in our elections (undercutting the kind of FUD we’ve seen this month).

Trump races to weaken environmental and worker protections before January 20. Actively ghoulish.

Society

Why is Covid-19 is killing more men than women in middle age? Scientists are looking for answers not only in underlying health risks but also in biological and external factors. “Over­all, how­ever, men make up about 54% of U.S. deaths, and a sig­nif­i­cantly higher por­tion in mid­dle age. The death-cer­tifi­cate data through late Oc­to­ber show men make up nearly 66% of more than 42,000 Covid-19 deaths oc­cur­ring among peo­ple be­tween their mid-30s and mid-60s.”

Americans, Stop Being Ashamed of Weakness. "Too often in America, we are ashamed of being weak, vulnerable, dependent. We tend to hide our shame. We stay away. We isolate ourselves, rather than show our weakness."

Kamala Harris will be the first HBCU grad in the White House. “It’s not just about her being a Black woman. It’s about her being more than that, the intersectionality of who she is.”

Living With a QAnon Family as the Prophecy Crashes Down. “They’re treating it like there’s going to be an apocalypse — no matter who wins.”

Florida passes $15 minimum wage, a hike that could narrow the gender pay gap. Two important facts here: if a higher minimum wage can be passed in Florida, it can be passed just about anywhere. And it will disproportionately help women and people of color.

The new normal: Women and LGBTQ+ people are buying guns in 2020. “Although there is no official demographic breakdown of gun sales by race or gender, interviews with the gun community — new owners, sales people, analysts and activists — reveal a mounting anxiety among women and LGBTQ+ people, particularly those of color. And some are choosing to arm themselves for the first time.”

Why is life expectancy in the US lower than in other rich countries?. “The short summary of what I will discuss below is that Americans suffer higher death rates from smoking, obesity, homicides, opioid overdoses, suicides, road accidents, and infant deaths. In addition to this, deeper poverty and less access to healthcare mean Americans at lower incomes die at a younger age than poor people in other rich countries.”

Performative philanthropy and the cost of silence. "Days after joining the Criminal Justice Reform department, I was warned by a senior member of the team that I should avoid pushing for grantmaking strategies that centered racial equity, as Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan did not believe race was relevant to the issue of mass incarceration. I was told that previous attempts to educate the couple on this matter had contributed to a former employee being terminated."

Less screen time and more sleep critical for preventing depression. "A cross-sectional and longitudinal analysis of data from the UK Biobank, involving almost 85,000 people, has found that lifestyle factors such as less screen time, adequate sleep, a better-quality diet, and physical activity strongly impact depression." Also, water is wet.

Federal government to execute first woman since 1953. It was a heinous crime, but the death penalty is a disgusting, brutal practice that is not befitting of a supposed democracy.

A dinner party killed my Dad. Please stay safe this Thanksgiving.

AMA: Racism is a threat to public health. “The AMA recognizes that racism negatively impacts and exacerbates health inequities among historically marginalized communities. Without systemic and structural-level change, health inequities will continue to exist, and the overall health of the nation will suffer.”

Period poverty: Scotland first in world to make period products free. I miss living in a progressive nation.

Technology

I became an unwanted woman in tech.“There is something innately different now about my words. They’ve not changed, but their context has entirely shifted. It’s as though I walk around now with a badge that invites dismissal and disrespect. That badge is called womanhood.”

Roam: My New Favorite Software Product. I have a Roam account but I haven’t made it work for me yet. Articles like this make me want to try harder to get on the bandwagon.

A new way to plug a human brain into a computer: Via veins. Do not want. (But future iterations might be more interesting / palatable.)

DHS Buying Cellphone Geolocation Data To Track People. "The Department of Homeland Security is purchasing consumer cellphone data that allows authorities to track immigrants trying to cross the southern border, which privacy advocates say could lead to a vast “surveillance partnership” between the government and private corporations." Hands up if you're surprised.

User Stories Not Wireframes. "User stories provide the context of what a wireframe is for. When you give user stories to a developer, you greatly increase the chances they will be thoughtful about the product and features they are implementing. When they understand the bigger picture — who is this for, what are they trying to accomplish and why are they trying to accomplish it — they can take ownership over the project."

Product Hunt requirements document. A wonderfully concise example of what a good requirements document can look like.

HP ends its customers' lives. There's a reason why the free software movement started with printer drivers. It's mind-boggling to me how HP can continue to be so antagonistic to their customers. (Inkjet printers are the worst deal in technology.)

What using AT&T’s 768kbps DSL is like in 2020—yes, it’s awful. A reminder that if you’re serving all of America, you can’t assume a high-quality broadband connection.

Apple Silicon M1 Chip in MacBook Air Outperforms High-End 16-Inch MacBook Pro. I’m waiting for version 2, but this is super cool.

Your Computer Isn't Yours. "This means that Apple knows when you’re at home. When you’re at work. What apps you open there, and how often. They know when you open Premiere over at a friend’s house on their Wi-Fi, and they know when you open Tor Browser in a hotel on a trip to another city."

Parler, Backed by Mercer Family, Makes Play for Conservatives Mad at Facebook, Twitter. Bleuch.

How Discord (somewhat accidentally) invented the future of the internet. I’m not a gamer, so I was late to Discord. But it does feel like part of the future of online communities.

The iOS COVID-19 app ecosystem has become a privacy minefield. “It's hard to justify why a lot of these apps would need your constant location, your microphone, your photo library.” Relatively few of these apps use the comparatively privacy-protecting APIs developed by Apple and Google.

How the U.S. Military Buys Location Data from Ordinary Apps. “A Muslim prayer app with over 98 million downloads is one of the apps connected to a wide-ranging supply chain that sends ordinary people's personal data to brokers, contractors, and the military.” This is spectacularly not okay.

We Need Mandatory Enduser APIs for Social and Search Systems. This is an older piece (from 2018) but it still holds up, and I agree with it completely.

As internet forums die off, finding community can be harder than ever. It feels like this problem has been solved lots of times over on the internet - but it's both a huge problem and a real opportunity for the right startup.

How a young, queer Asian-American businesswoman is rethinking user safety at Twitter. “Su's goals sit at the heart of what could become a very different Twitter one day, if — and it remains a very big conditional — the company is serious about the changes it's been signaling over the last year.” Fingers crossed.

Rock-star programmer: Rivers Cuomo finds meaning in coding. The only time "rock star programmer" is an acceptable phrase.

The Secrets of Monkey Island's Source Code. A deep look into assets and code behind my favorite game of all time.

‘Tokenized’: Inside Black Workers’ Struggles at Coinbase. “One Black employee said her manager suggested in front of colleagues that she was dealing drugs and carrying a gun, trading on racist stereotypes. Another said a co-worker at a recruiting meeting broadly described Black employees as less capable. Still another said managers spoke down to her and her Black colleagues, adding that they were passed over for promotions in favor of less experienced white employees.”

Building your own website is cool again, and it's changing the whole internet. All hail the indieweb. I’m here for it.

· Posts

 

Reading, watching, playing, using: October 2020

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

This month I've changed my process a little: I save my links to a Notion database, export them at the end of the month, and convert them into a blog post using a small script. Instead of taking a couple of hours at the end of the month to put the post together, I save my thoughts on each link as I read it, and collation at the end (in iA Writer) takes much less time.

Streaming

The Queen's Gambit. A beautifully written, impeccably acted drama with gorgeous cinematography and superb attention to detail. I'm still working through it, but I can't recommend it enough.

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. It's been pretty controversial, and it's often in hugely bad taste, but I found the broad humor at the expense of American bigotry to be cathartic. And yes, "that" Giuliani scene is everything it's been reported to be.

Seven Seconds. This new-to-me police drama based on a Russian movie is really well done: a story about police corruption and how our criminal justice system fails the people who need it the most.

Ted Lasso. Sure, it's ostensibly about sports, which isn't usually my thing. But it's also a really optimistic, funny comedy that mines a lot of humor from the cultural differences between the US and UK, which is really my thing. Very occasionally it goes broader than it needs to, particularly in its first few minutes, but there's something here for everyone.

Notable Articles

Business

How we built a $1m ARR SaaS startup. I’m always interested to read peoples’ journeys. This one is very clearly written, with lots to think about.

The end of the American internet. “80-90% of internet users are now outside the USA, there are more smartphone users in China than in the USA and western Europe combined, and the creation of venture-based startups has gone global.” This is a broadly good thing: the internet was always American-led, for better or for worse. As the platforms that dominate it become more internationally-based, it becomes less of a monoculture.

Why the Survival of the Airlines Depends on Frequent Flyer Programs. “The Financial Times pegs the value of Delta’s loyalty program at a whopping $26 billion, American Airlines at $24 billion, and United at $20 billion. All of these valuations are comfortably above the market capitalization of the airlines themselves — Delta is worth $19 billion, American $6 billion, and United $10 billion. In other words, if you take away the loyalty program, Delta’s real-world airline operation — with hundreds of planes, a world-beating maintenance operation, landing rights, brand recognition, and experienced executives — is worth roughly negative $7 billion.”

Facebook Just Forced Its Most Powerful Critics Offline. “The Real Facebook Oversight Board, a group established last month in response to the tech giant’s failure to get its actual Oversight Board up and running before the presidential election, was forced offline on Wednesday night after Facebook wrote to the internet service provider demanding the group’s website — realfacebookoversight.org — be taken offline.” Ridiculously petty.

How Clubhouse brought the culture war to Silicon Valley’s venture capital community. "I am convinced that most people in the tech world do not understand the role of a free media in a liberal society."

San Francisco Apartment Rents Crater Up to 31%, Most in U.S. During Covid. “One-bedroom rents in San Francisco fell 24% and two-bedrooms were down 21%, to $2,873 and $3,931 a month, respectively.” Still way too high.

How to Stay Sane While Working at Home. “Staying happy, healthy and productive requires effort when you’re working at home. This essay provides five suggestions for keeping things on an even keel.”

The warmth/competence matrix for women, from the West Wing to the workplace. "The warmth / competence matrix is a useful tool to optimize a leader’s influence in the workplace, especially during a crisis." I found this to be a fascinating insight into how women are stereotyped and held back at work.

U.S. Accuses Google of Illegally Protecting Monopoly. “The Justice Department accused Google of maintaining an illegal monopoly over search and search advertising in a lawsuit filed on Tuesday, the government’s most significant legal challenge to a tech company’s market power in a generation.” The most significant lawsuit in the tech industry since Microsoft’s own antitrust suit. Whatever happens here, it will remake the internet industry forever.

Surveillance Startup Used Own Cameras to Harass Coworkers. "The big picture for me having worked at the company is that it has opened my eyes to how surveillance can be abused by the people in power."

Reviewing Ben Thompson’s Stratechery. “Competition driven by quality reflects what antitrust and net neutrality advocates want competition to look like — i.e. the better product wins, instead of whomever owns the pipes (or the channels). But that doesn’t mean it is what competition actually does look like, even on the internet.”

Culture

Correction by Hal Maclean. We regret the error.

Work, Float, Eat, Dream: Life on the International Space Station. “You need to become an extraterrestrial person.” First-hand descriptions of what it’s like to live on the ISS. What an adventure.

A Book Of Beasts – an accumulation of things. A very sweet modern bestiary.

Praise Song for the Kitchen Ghosts. “Remembering her grandmother’s jam cake, biscuits, and sweet black tea, Crystal Wilkinson evokes a legacy of joy, love, and plenty in the culinary traditions of Black Appalachia.”

Inside Creative Growth, the Always Inspiring Oakland-Based Incubator For Artists With Disabilities. My friend Madelyn works at Creative Growth. As well as the insightful New Yorker profile, it’s fun to see examples of the art made there. This organization is a gem, and we need more like it.

How a Revered Studio for Artists with Disabilities Is Surviving at a Distance. “As their artists endure month after month of quarantine, Creative Growth faces an extreme version of the dilemmas that other arts organizations and educational institutions have struggled with during the pandemic: if your purpose is to foster the ideal conditions for learning and making things together, how do you proceed when those conditions are suddenly impossible?”

The return of Spitting Image shows how toothless British satire has become. When I was growing up, Spitting Image was an important part of the social landscape. The satire was biting. This modern reboot sounds rubbish. In life and comedy, the rule is: always punch up.

His Writing Radicalized Young Hackers. Now He Wants to Redeem Them. "Doctorow says that the intention of Attack Surface wasn’t to swing in the other direction on the spectrum between “nerd triumphalism” and “nerd despair,” as he puts it. Instead, it’s to find a more nuanced middle ground, one that acknowledges that technology can win some battles, but that others must be won with human willpower and political struggle, sometimes with the aim of controlling technology’s most dangerous applications."

Noelle Stevenson Shares Her Coming Out Story in an Original Comic. This is completely lovely on every level.

Easily Diminished at the Edges by Amanda Hollander. “Fay had expected many different emotions in the wake of the aliens arriving, but she had not anticipated the ennui.”

Shonda Rhimes Is Ready to "Own Her S***": The Game-Changing Showrunner on Leaving ABC, "Culture Shock" at Netflix and Overcoming Her Fears. “Shonda Rhimes was tired of the battles. She was producing some 70 hours of annual television in 256 territories; she was making tens of millions of dollars for herself and more than $2 billion for Disney, and still there were battles with ABC. They'd push, she'd push back. Over budget. Over content. Over an ad she and the stars of her series — Grey's Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder — made for then-presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.” A fascinating portrait of an inspiring creator.

About Face. A remarkable graphic essay about authoritarian cultural signifiers, conformity, and an alarming breakdown in American society.

WarGames: A Look Back at the Film That Turned Geeks and Phreaks Into Stars. The film that got me - and so many other people - into computing. It’s a fundamentally ethical, anti nuclear war film.

The NYT Best-Seller List Has an Awful Lot of Right-Wing Trump-Loving Conservative Authors. ... and they’re buying their way there. This is a bigger problem than political books, but it’s clear that conservative authors in particular are purchasing legitimacy.

Media

UK gov report links local newspaper circulation and voter turnout: Absence of journalism in some areas potentially 'catastrophic'. "Government -backed research has found that for every percentage point growth in a local daily newspaper’s circulation, electoral turnout on its patch goes up by 0.37 percentage points."

James Murdoch: Rebellious Scion. “A contest of ideas shouldn’t be used to legitimize disinformation. And I think it’s often taken advantage of. And I think at great news organizations, the mission really should be to introduce fact to disperse doubt — not to sow doubt, to obscure fact.”

Kat Downs Mulder named managing editor/digital of The Washington Post. It’s exciting to see a product leader take on this kind of role in media.

The Problem of Free Speech in an Age of Disinformation. “Other democracies, in Europe and elsewhere, have taken a different approach. Despite more regulations on speech, these countries remain democratic; in fact, they have created better conditions for their citizenry to sort what’s true from what’s not and to make informed decisions about what they want their societies to be. Here in the United States, meanwhile, we’re drowning in lies.”

Facebook Stymied Traffic to Left-Leaning News Outlets. “Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein expressed frustration with Facebook in a Twitter thread Friday, explaining that the loss of traffic had “real effects” on the organization. Mother Jones saw a roughly $400,000 drop in the site’s annual revenue, and couldn’t fill positions or pursue certain projects as a result, she said.” No single company should ever have this kind of power.

Climate news Trump can use. “The vast majority of news stories published about Biden’s climate plan since Thursday’s presidential debate have adopted the Trump campaign’s framing of the conflict. They focus solely on Trump’s attacks on Biden’s climate plan, and ignore the fact that Trump doesn’t have a climate plan at all.” Infuriating when so much is at stake.

Politics

‘Where are all of the arrests?’: Trump demands Barr lock up his foes. “Donald Trump mounted an overnight Twitter blitz demanding to jail his political enemies and call out allies he says are failing to arrest his rivals swiftly enough.” Seems like a normal thing that definitely happens in a democratic society.

Is America in Decline?. A fascinating discussion between J. Bradford DeLong and Om Malik on Pairagraph, which seems like an interesting platform for intellectual debates.

The Swamp That Trump Built. “An investigation by The Times found over 200 companies, special-interest groups and foreign governments that patronized Mr. Trump’s properties while reaping benefits from him and his administration. Nearly a quarter of those patrons have not been previously reported.”

Don’t know any COVID-19 patients who’ve died or been in the hospital? That may explain a lot. “Other research suggests that a failure to embrace COVID-19 restrictions may be fueled by a lack of empathy, in the same way that someone in rural Pennsylvania may not view urban gun violence as an urgent problem, or that those without military family members may give less thought to the ongoing toll of combat.”

As Trump Flouts Safety Protocols, News Outlets Balk at Close Coverage. “Among the concerns raised by reporters: Many flight attendants and Secret Service agents on Air Force One have not worn masks; White House aides who tested positive for the coronavirus, or were potentially exposed, are returning to work before the end of a two-week quarantine; and the campaign has instituted few restrictions at the raucous rallies that Mr. Trump is now pledging to hold on a regular basis until Election Day.”

Inside the Fall of the CDC. “How the world’s greatest public health organization was brought to its knees by a virus, the president and the capitulation of its own leaders, causing damage that could last much longer than the coronavirus.”

HHS halts a taxpayer-funded advertising effort that aimed to ‘defeat despair, inspire hope’ on the pandemic by using Santa and celebrities like Dennis Quaid. The single most insane scandal of the Trump administration. I can’t stop laughing about it. Don’t miss the audio.

Judge cites Trump tweets in restricting feds at protests. “A federal judge found Friday that tweets by President Donald Trump helped incite improper conduct by federal officers responding to racial justice demonstrations in Portland, Oregon.” Finally.

Biden Camp Cancels Austin, Texas Event After Pro-Trump ‘Ambush’ on Campaign Bus. ““We’ve got you now,” the man shouted. “You’re going to vote for Trump whether you like it or not, you’ve got no choice.”” This whole account is genuinely frightening, not just in itself, but for the implications.

Society

Stay-at-home orders cut noise exposure nearly in half. “People’s exposure to environmental noise dropped nearly in half during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, according to University of Michigan researchers who analyzed data from the Apple Hearing Study.”

How Teens Handled Quarantine. “The percentage of teens who were depressed or lonely was actually lower in 2020 than in 2018, and the percentage who were unhappy or dissatisfied with life was only slightly higher.” It turns out that making kids go to school at ungodly hours has a negative effect. Who knew?

8 Million Have Slipped Into Poverty Since May as Federal Aid Has Dried Up. “The number of poor people has grown by eight million since May, according to researchers at Columbia University, after falling by four million at the pandemic’s start as a result of a $2 trillion emergency package known as the Cares Act.”

Megan Thee Stallion: Why I Speak Up for Black Women. “Wouldn’t it be nice if Black girls weren’t inundated with negative, sexist comments about Black women? If they were told instead of the many important things that we’ve achieved?”

Exam Surveillance Tools Monitor, Record Students During Tests. “On one occasion, I was ‘flagged’ for movement and obscuring my eyes. I have trichotillomania triggered by my anxiety, which is why my hand was near my face. Explaining this to my professor was nightmarish.” It’s absurd that students are so afraid that they’re not using their real names. Abolish surveillance - at school and everywhere.

The House on Blue Lick Road. I should probably start a “weird” category. Don’t miss this link.

'We are broken': Montana health care workers battle growing Covid outbreak. “If I have to stay late after working, if it means doing it on my day off. They're not going to pass alone on my unit. Again. None of them.” Healthcare workers are superheroes and I’m grateful for all of them.

Technology

What Working At Stripe Has Been Like. A pretty great summary of working for Stripe during a period of hypergrowth from Patrick McKenzie, who famously was a successful sole operator beforehand.

SpaceX Is Building a Military Rocket to Ship Weapons Anywhere in the World. "SpaceX and the Pentagon just signed a contract to jointly develop a new rocket that can launch into space and deliver up to 80 tons of cargo and weaponry anywhere in the world — in just one hour." We should not be uncritically cheerleading for this company.

Cory Doctorow: ‘Technologists have failed to listen to non-technologists’. "Technologists have failed to listen to non-technologists. In technological circles, there’s a quantitative fallacy that if you can’t do maths on it, you can just ignore it. And so you just incinerate the qualitative elements and do maths on the dubious quantitative residue that remains. This is how you get physicists designing models for reopening American schools – because they completely fail to take on board the possibility that students might engage in, say, drunken eyeball-licking parties, which completely trips up the models."

Git scraping: track changes over time by scraping to a Git repository. A really smart way to track changes to a website or dataset over time and commit it to git. The example, using fire data, is brilliant.

Data & Society — Good Intentions, Bad Inventions. “Lenhart and Owens break down 4 common “healthy tech” myths by explaining where they come from, what they obscure, and how we can move beyond them. Intended for those designing, developing, and regulating emerging technologies, the primer provides teams with fresh ideas for how to analyze and improve user well-being.”

When It Rains, Rotterdam’s Bikers Get To Go Through Lights Faster. “Now, when it starts to shower, the traffic lights prioritize cyclists so they don’t wait so long to cross. At the same time, car drivers need to wait a little longer, because they are inside and can stay dry.” I think this is the coolest thing.

Various first words. “The first characters sent on ARPANET, the predecessor to the internet, by Charley Kline, 1969: lo – for “login,” but it crashed.”

How Google Drive Can Make Every Corner of Your Life Easier. An absolutely epic guide to the platform, with full instructions for every tip.

Something Awful, a Cornerstone of Internet Culture, Is Under New Ownership. It was (1) a hugely important source of early internet culture, (2) a cesspool.

50 years ago, I helped invent the internet. How did it go so wrong? “When I was a young scientist working on the fledgling creation that came to be known as the internet, the ethos that defined the culture we were building was characterized by words such as ethical, open, trusted, free, shared. None of us knew where our research would lead, but these words and principles were our beacon.”

Flamethrowers and Fire Extinguishers – a review of “The Social Dilemma”. This is how I felt about The Social Dilemma, too. It’s an important problem that needs to be discussed. But I wouldn’t trust the people who claim to have the solutions here. Not at all.

Moxie Marlinspike Has a Plan to Reclaim Our Privacy. Moxie is a hero of mine, and Signal is one of the most important apps and projects on the internet. This portrait only increased my respect for him.

Animals Keep Evolving Into Crabs, Which Is Somewhat Disturbing. I’m ready.

Dutch Ethical Hacker Logs into Trump’s Twitter Account. The President of the United States had set his password to “maga2020!”

Apple, Google and a Deal That Controls the Internet. “Apple now receives an estimated $8 billion to $12 billion in annual payments — up from $1 billion a year in 2014 — in exchange for building Google’s search engine into its products. It is probably the single biggest payment that Google makes to anyone and accounts for 14 to 21 percent of Apple’s annual profits.”

Police are using facial recognition for minor crimes because they can. “Law enforcement is tapping the tech for low-level crimes like shoplifting, because there are no limits. But the tool often makes errors.”

I became an unwanted woman in tech. “There is something innately different now about my words. They’ve not changed, but their context has entirely shifted. It’s as though I walk around now with a badge that invites dismissal and disrespect. That badge is called womanhood.”

· Posts

 

Reading, watching, playing, using: September 2020

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

Books

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

Streaming

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

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

Notable Articles

Black Lives Matter

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

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

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

Society and Culture

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

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

Comedy Wildlife Awards 2020 finalists. Lovely!

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

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

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

America in 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Technology and Business

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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Reading, watching, playing, using: July 2020

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

A few people have asked about my process. I save my interesting links into Pocket, which is integrated into Firefox, my browser of choice. (I trust Mozilla to look after me more than any other browser manufacturer.) And then on the first day of the next month, I go back and re-examine everything I've saved.

If you're receiving this post via my email list, I use Mailchimp to gather the latest content from my blog's RSS feed and send an email at 10am. This morning I reset the timer to noon so that I could get the post out today. I'll return the setting to 10am once it's out.

By the way, I never use affiliate links. This post isn't trying to sell you anything - but let me know if it's useful, or if there are ways it could be more so.

Hardware

Apple Watch 5. I've been resisting quantifying myself, and my series 3 has been broken for a long time. But we're entering the fifth month of quarantine, and I wanted to make sure I was getting the exercise I needed. The series 5 is a nice improvement - it feels a great deal more responsive - and both the VO2 max and ECG functions are really good.

Withings Thermo. Because temperature is an indicator for covid-19, measuring it early and often, and seeing the trend (which is flat for me) is useful. I'm pretty bought into the Withings universe at this point, with the blood pressure monitor and the Body+ smart scale. They're well-built, the app that links them all is equally good, and I like that they're multi-user.

Apps

Libro.fm. I've never really been into audiobooks, but I recently changed over to listen to them when I drive and work out. Podcasts have been less enticing to me recently. Unlike Audible's parent company, Libro.fm doesn't sell technology to ICE to power deportations, and it gives a portion of sales to your local independent bookstore.

Nedl. I invested in Ayinde Alayoke and his team as part of Matter. The app they've created is really cool: a way to broadcast and search the content of live, real-time audio all over the world. He's raising a new round via Wefunder, and I was proud to join.

Books

The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charlie Jane Anders. Nominated for this year's Hugo awards, I was invigorated by this exploration of belonging, identity, and what it means to be human. Clearly informed by our present moment, it's an argument for something better than the divisiveness and greed we find ourselves subject to.

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong. Vuong's words seem to have a pulse of their own. Sad but occasionally hilarious, I recognized aspects of the immigrant struggle, and of being caught between two parallel universes (figuratively; unlike the previous book, this is not science fiction). Vuong is a poet, and that rhythm and sense of beauty shines here.

So You Want to Talk about Race, by Ijeoma Oluo. Ijeoma was the Editor at Large at The Establishment, a publication for writers marginalized by mainstream media that I was proud to support at Matter. It's taken me a long time to get to her book, which deserves its popularity. It weaves her own story with important anti-racist ideas, and I think it would make a great primer for people who are new to them, as well as an important reminder that we need to do the work for the rest of us.

Streaming

Palm Springs. Yeah, it's kind of dumb, but this 21st century Groundhog Day is also smarter than you think. I'm not sure I laughed out loud, but I had fun watching it. (Hulu.)

The Dog House: UK. All the niceness that made The Great British Bake-Off compelling viewing, directed into a show about adopting shelter dogs. It's the least demanding show you'll ever watch, and maybe also the cutest. I needed it this month. (HBO Max.)

The Act. Beautifully acted by an absolutely incredible cast (in particular, it makes Joey King seem woefully underused in everything else she's ever been in). A harrowing true story. (Hulu.)

Notable Articles

Black Lives Matter

What I Learned as a Young Black Political Speaker in Liberal White Austin. "What I fear that white Democrats do not understand is that Black Americans have no interest in playing team games if they do not see themselves alive on either team. Democrats offer minor reforms and change street names to Black Lives Matter Avenue. Many of them paternalistically say actions like defunding the police are unrealistic. But if I die in the best world that you can imagine, then there’s a problem with your imagination."

Wrongfully Accused by an Algorithm. "Mr. Williams knew that he had not committed the crime in question. What he could not have known, as he sat in the interrogation room, is that his case may be the first known account of an American being wrongfully arrested based on a flawed match from a facial recognition algorithm, according to experts on technology and the law."

What the police really believe. "Inside the distinctive, largely unknown ideology of American policing — and how it justifies racist violence."

GOP senator introduces bill to stop federal funding for schools teaching ‘1619 Project’. "Republican Sen. Tom Cotton introduced a piece of legislation on Thursday that will prohibit the use of federal funds to teach the award-winning New York Times piece The 1619 Project in K-12 schools." Imagine being this racist, or being represented by someone this racist.

McClatchy journalists absolutely can show support for Black lives. I'm glad this was cleared up, but it seems a bit silly that it was ever a question. Support for human rights is not and should not be a political issue.

Breonna Taylor Is On The Cover Of O Magazine — The First One Ever Without Oprah. Arrest the cops who murdered her.

Trump's America

Lest We Forget the Horrors: A Catalog of Trump’s Worst Cruelties, Collusions, Corruptions, and Crimes. "This election year, amid a harrowing global health, civil rights, humanitarian, and economic crisis, we know it’s never been more critical to note these horrors, to remember them, and to do all in our power to reverse them. This list will be updated between now and the November 2020 Presidential election."

Minimum wage workers cannot afford rent in any U.S. state. "Full-time minimum wage workers cannot afford a two-bedroom rental anywhere in the U.S. and cannot afford a one-bedroom rental in 95% of U.S. counties, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s annual “Out of Reach” report." (Here's that report.)

Homeland Security fears widespread mask-wearing will break facial recognition software. Allow me to play my tiny violin.

Is this the beginning of Trump's Dirty War? "As if on cue, John Yoo, the legal architect of George W. Bush’s torture regime, has emerged as one of Trump’s newest advisors, helping craft legal-sounding justifications for Trump to expand his powers to dictatorial proportions." A genuinely terrifying comparison of Trump's recent actions to historical events in Argentina and elsewhere.

Anti-fascists linked to zero murders in the US in 25 years. Right-wing extremists, not so much. As many people have said, the difference is: right-wing activists want people to die, while left-wing activists want people to have healthcare.

“Defendant Shall Not Attend Protests”: In Portland, Getting Out of Jail Requires Relinquishing Constitutional Rights. "A dozen protesters facing federal charges are barred from going to “public gatherings” as a condition of release from jail — a tactic one expert described as “sort of hilariously unconstitutional.”" But not ha ha hilarious.

Esper requires training that refers to protesters, journalists as 'adversaries'. "A mandatory Pentagon training course newly sent to the entire force and aimed at preventing leaks refers to protesters and journalists as "adversaries" in a fictional scenario designed to teach Defense Department personnel how to better protect sensitive information."

Dismantle the Department of Homeland Security. By Richard Clarke! Let's not allow the people who were involved in George W Bush's administration absolve themselves of the war crimes they committed, but nonetheless, this is a remarkable editorial.

Culture and Society

Carl Reiner, Perfect. A completely lovely remembrance of Carl Reiner by Steve Martin.

It’s time for business journalism to break with its conservative past. Yes, please.

Magical Girls as Metaphor: Why coded queer narratives still have value. "From unhealthy power dynamics, such as student-teacher relationships; to biphobia, transphobia, body shaming and white beauty standards; to an over-saturation of tragic endings, “forbidden love” and coming-out narratives; I couldn’t really see myself in any of that. But as a young queer pre-teen, I did see myself and what I wanted to be in anime. Not often in yuri, surprisingly, but in magical girl anime and in idol anime."

Why Children of Men haunts the present moment. A beautifully bleak exploration of one of the best films ever made.

Q&A: The Fearless High School Newspaper Editor Covering Portland Protests. This is so incredibly cool and gives me hope for the future. "I found out that my dad has been tear gassed before, because when we were tear gassed he was like, “This is the worst tear gas I’ve ever felt.”"

When Did Recipe Writing Get So...Whitewashed? "Last year when my book was coming out, I had to take a stand against italicizing non-English words. It's a way that Western publications literally "other" non-white foods: they make them look different. But why can't dal and jollof rice and macaroni and cheese all exist in the same font style?"

Tech

Pivot to People: It’s Time to Build the New Economy. "Today’s calls for ethical, humane, responsible, regulated and beneficial technology, compounded with venture capital’s virtue signaling in solidarity with Black lives, brings us to a critical crossroads for corporate America." I really hope this is the future of the tech industry.

Spies, Lies, and Stonewalling: What It’s Like to Report on Facebook. "The company seems to be pretty comfortable with obfuscating the truth, and that’s why people don’t trust Facebook anymore."

Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks. "We show, via a massive (N = 689,003) experiment on Facebook, that emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness. We provide experimental evidence that emotional contagion occurs without direct interaction between people (exposure to a friend expressing an emotion is sufficient), and in the complete absence of nonverbal cues."

The Adjacent User Theory. "Our success was anchored on what I now call The Adjacent User Theory. The Adjacent Users are aware of a product and possibly tried using the it, but are not able to successfully become an engaged user. This is typically because the current product positioning or experience has too many barriers to adoption for them."

“Hurting People  At Scale”. "As it heads into a US presidential election where its every move will be dissected and analyzed, the social network is facing unprecedented internal dissent as employees worry that the company is wittingly or unwittingly exerting political influence on content decisions related to Trump, and fear that Facebook is undermining democracy."

Regulating technology. I strongly disagree with Benedict Evans on his conclusions - long-time readers will know I'm very pro anti-trust, and buy into Tim Wu's arguments completely - but his argument is worth a read.

Twitter says it's looking at subscription options as ad revenue drops sharply. Ads are dying; payments are likely to supplant them just about everywhere. Medium was far ahead of the curve, as was Julien Genestoux with Unlock.

New Survey Reveals Dramatic Shift in Consumer Attitudes Towards Advertisements In Quarantine. I mean, let's be clear: ads suck, and they always have. In the pandemic, our tolerance for bullshit has gone way down.

HOWTO: Create an Architecture of Participation for your Open Source project. I've created two major open source projects and helped to build a third. This is a really great guide which I'm happy to endorse.

Compassionate action over empathy. On building with compassion instead of empathy. This is an important distinction that I need to internalize more. "I worry that when we fixate on empathy, we stay focused and stuck on whiteness and the guilt that millions are feeling for the first time. It’s one reason I’ll no longer recommend White Fragility. The whole book stays on white feelings without switching to privileged action."

Image "Cloaking" for Personal Privacy. "The SAND Lab at University of Chicago has developed Fawkes, an algorithm and software tool (running locally on your computer) that gives individuals the ability to limit how their own images can be used to track them." Super-smart tech.

Mischief managed. "How MSCHF managed to dominate the internet — with fun!" As I mentioned last month, I'm a fan.

Microsoft Is in Talks to Buy TikTok in U.S. Simultaneously, the President is talking about banning it and not allowing Microsoft to buy it. Apropos of nothing, Facebook is about to come out with a competitor called Reels. I'm sure the ban is completely unrelated.

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