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Fairness Friday: Anti Police-Terror Project

I’m posting Fairness Fridays: a new community social justice organization each week. I donate to each featured organization. If you feel so inclined, please join me.

This week, I'm donating to the Anti Police-Terror ProjectBased in Oakland, APTP is leading the way in pushing for criminal justice reform. And make no mistake, American criminal justice needs deep reform. Violence is pervasive and abuse is rampant, particularly against communities of color.

APTP describes its mission as follows:

The Anti Police-Terror Project is a Black-led, multi-racial, intergenerational coalition that seeks to build a replicable and sustainable model to eradicate police terror in communities of color. We support families surviving police terror in their fight for justice, documenting police abuses and connecting impacted families and community members with resources, legal referrals, and opportunities for healing. APTP began as a project of the ONYX Organizing Committee.

Recent campaigns have included support for Black communities after Covid, in the light of historic, systemic inequalities, mental health focused responder reform, and effective police oversight in Oakland. This is vital work.

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

 

 

Fairness Friday: abortion access in Texas

I’m posting Fairness Fridays: a new community social justice organization each week. I donate to each featured organization. If you feel so inclined, please join me.

This week, I’m highlighting two organizations involved in providing access to abortions and reproductive health for women in Texas. I find the Supreme Court’s failure to block the state abortion ban to be extremely troubling. The law itself is horrific, allowing anyone to sue anyone who helps a woman obtain an abortion, with no requirement to have any connection at all to the person being sued. There are no exceptions for rape and incest.

It’s abhorrent. Women have domain over their bodies, as men do. Abortion bans rob them of this.

In addition to the organizations below, I’ve donated to the ActBlue Texas abortion fund, which splits donations to abortion funds across Texas. If you need an abortion in Texas, or know someone who does, Need Abortion contains resources to find providers and financial assistance.

The Texas Equal Access Fund helps low-income people get access to abortions in north, east, and west Texas. Abortion bans disproportionately hurt people from disadvantaged backgrounds. The organization describes its mission as follows:

Texas Equal Access Fund believes that when it comes to abortion, there is no choice if there is no access. Restrictions on abortion access and funding are discriminatory because they especially burden people with low incomes, young people, people in rural areas, and people of color. We oppose all efforts to restrict abortion rights and are committed to fighting for access to abortion for all. We believe that abortion is a fundamental feature of health care, and that it is the responsibility of government to cover abortion as part of social safety net programs. However, in the absence of government funding, we believe it is our duty to act now to support those who want abortions and cannot afford them.

TEA notes that “almost half of our clients are already parenting at least one child and 70% of the people we fund are people of color.”

If you have the means, I encourage you to donate here.

The Afiya Center provides refuge, education, and other resources to Black women. In addition to helping provide access to abortions, TAC provides a range of important services, including HIV/AIDS support, reproductive justice, and work on maternal mortality (Black women are the most likely to die in childbirth in Texas).

It describes its mission as follows:

The Afiya Center (TAC) was established in response to the increasing disparities between HIV incidences worldwide and the extraordinary prevalence of HIV among Black womxn and girls in Texas. TAC is unique in that it is the only Reproductive Justice (RJ) organization in North Texas founded and directed by Black womxn.

At TAC we are transforming the lives, health, and overall wellbeing of Black womxn and girls by providing refuge, education, and resources; we act to ignite the communal voices of Black womxn resulting in our full achievement of reproductive freedom.

If you have the means, I encourage you to donate here.

 

 

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.”

 

What do I want you to know about Ma?

I wrote this piece to read at my mother's memorial on Saturday, August 28. I don't want to lose it, so I'm posting it here, to my personal space.

This is terrifying to me, which is why I’ve decided to write something down. I can’t possibly hope to represent Ma well. Even finding a story to tell is incredibly hard because there are so many of them: a lifetime of happy stories from a childhood that always felt like a kind of wheatgerm-fueled adventure where we lived on our own terms in spite of what the world might have wanted from us.

I started calling her Ma as a term of endearment when I was an adult. “Mum” is too British; “Mom” doesn’t sound right coming out of my mouth. “Mom”. So I confess, I absolutely stole Ma from [our cousins] the Neales, who have similar accent difficulties, and who I admire in lots of ways.

But when we were growing up, I called her Debbie. We were a very respectful but non-hierarchical household: we called our parents by their first names, we were encouraged to take things apart and ask how things worked, and we were consulted on all kinds of things that children are not necessarily best-equipped to weigh in on - but we were trusted, and that was wonderful, and a reflection of how both my parents think and thought. It’s a mindset rooted in equality, growth, and learning.

 

So. What do I want you to know about Ma?

Everything. Or at least, quite a few things. But let’s start here:

I want you to know that she was really freaking smart.

In my line of work, which is working in product and engineering in the tech industry, people often say things like, “explain this like you were explaining it to your mother.” It’s obviously a completely sexist line of thinking, which is kind of a reflection of the tech industry to be honest, and I take great satisfaction in telling them that my mother taught me to program. Not only that, but she learned assembler, which is one of the most intricate ways to program.

She would sit patiently with me for hours on end, and together we’d plug source code into our 8-bit Atari. She taught me BASIC, and then later on, we moved on to more complicated languages together.

When we didn’t have the money to get the latest and greatest PC, she organized a computer club at a local business in Oxford so that I’d have access. Every Thursday night, a bunch of kids from across the city would play games, make art, learn to code, and become computer literate together under her gentle guidance.

She studied the telecommunications industry, and knew that both the internet and the mobile revolution were coming. She understood the implications, and spoke to many of the people who were making things happen. She wrote detailed analyses of the forces that would reshape much of society over the coming decades.

She took me with her to industry shows in Cannes, and as a family we went to technology conferences across Europe, where we’d go sightseeing (and I might sneak into an event or two) and she’d be running panels and conducting interviews.

She was unassuming about it; she wasn’t self-important, but if she’d been someone else, she could have become a billionaire.

Instead, she withdrew from the industry, retrained, became a middle school science teacher in one of the most impoverished towns in California, and never looked back. I don’t remember her as happy at work as when she was teaching those kids. Even when she started to get sick, she went into work every day with an oxygen tank on her back, looking like a Ghostbuster. Even when she couldn’t work anymore, she helped her school get grants and organized an educational program with NASA. She was dedicated and she loved it.

She would engage in debate about anything. It was common to see her and my dad watching a documentary or lecture on any number of obscure topics and discussing it late into the night and sometimes days later. She became fascinated by science and space. She could speak a bunch of languages and would read and analyze academic reports in languages she didn’t even know yet. She was well-read, and read voraciously - often with multiple books on the go at once, which even this year she’d alternate between during dialysis and while she was getting her tube feeds in bed - and was hungry for knowledge.

So, sure, I’ll explain it like I’m explaining it to my mother. I’ll include all the detail, know that she’ll understand the implications better than I will, and be ready for a series of informed, insightful questions - and to be, more than anything else, challenged on the ethics of it.

 

What do I want you to know about Ma?

I want you to know that she cared. She wasn’t just kind and forgiving, willing to see the best in absolutely everyone and go out of her way to help - although she was definitely all of those things. But more than that, she really cared deeply: about people and the intricacies of their lives, about the world, and particularly about fairness.

Before I was born, both my parents were involved in struggles to support affirmative action and tenants’ rights. She described herself as having been radicalized early on, but it’s not particularly that she was radical: she could just see past the social templates that everyone is expected to adhere to, and which perpetuate systemic injustices, and could see how everything should operate to be fairer.

That was true on every level. She wanted she and Steve and Erica to all be treated equally, and would make it known if she thought the others were getting a raw deal. She tried her best to treat Hannah and I equally. If someone made a sexist or a homophobic remark around her, she would call it out. If someone was xenophobic, or unthinkingly imperialist, she would bring it up. She was outspoken - always with good humor, but always adamant about what really mattered.

Later in life, when she had a little bit more money, she gave to causes she believed in: representation for women, reproductive rights, racial justice, voting rights, and the environment. She was glued to the Presidential debates, appalled by the previous guy, and was completely on top of what was going on in the world.

She was a feminist, as we all should be. She defined her own identity, dressed as she wanted to dress, acted as she wanted to act, spoke how she wanted to speak. It wasn’t that she was irreverent towards more traditional expectations; they were utterly irrelevant. As they should be.

 

What do I want you to know about Ma?

I want you to know that she was herself - and that self was full of life and energy and humor and movement. And I’m not just talking about her amazing trousers.

The last time I was here at the Cape, which was three years ago, we were all hanging out in the pond behind Little Lane. For some reason, there was an inflatable bull out there with us. None of us could climb on top of it: Hannah, me, Anna, I think Rachel was there, Wiley, Elise.

Ma was weak, and the lung transplant drugs were taking their toll, and she was having trouble eating food. And when she started to climb onto that bull, I’ve got to admit, I was kind of worried.

But by god, climb she did, and she was the only one of us who made it to the top of that bull. And once she’d scrambled to the top of it, she lifted her arms up in victory.

That was Ma.

We realized later that she absolutely was not supposed to be in a closed body of water as an immunosuppressed person, but whatever. There were no ill effects. She climbed the bull.

She spent the last decade scrambling to the top of the biggest metaphorical inflatable bull you’ve ever heard of. And she spent most of that decade balancing precariously on top of it with her arms held high in victory.

When Pammy gifted us the Sunfish - the same boat that they had both sailed when they were younger - it was like a key to unlocking the bay. We spent days and days tacking around the bay, finding exactly the right breeze, and making our way back to Grandmother’s Beach at high speed in a single tack. She would yell: whooooooosh! And then we’d think about tacking back to Sagelots and doing it all again.

Life was always full of those small moments of joy. Taking Tessie, our little Jack Russell Terrier, out on Port Meadow and watching her bound through the tall grass. Going out to the wildlife sanctuary outside of Turlock and seeing the birds fly through the reeds. Sneaking out and stealing a dinghy late at night from Grandmother’s Beach and oohing at the phosphorescence shimmering around our oars. Getting out the sofabed and all sitting together under the covers to watch Doctor Who or a movie on a Friday night. Sitting around the table with people she loved, picking crabs.

When she got sick, life was still full of those moments of joy. Even just a five minute walk through the park had the same energy. Just a few months ago, she got out and walked the boardwalk at Monterey. “I still have life-force in me,” she told the doctors. She loved to live.

 

What do I want you to know about Ma?

One last thing for now. I actually have a message to impart. Not so long ago, while she was lying in a bed on the tenth floor at UCSF, surrounded by all the tubes and hospital paraphernalia, she gave me a simple instruction:

“Tell everyone I love them.”

And she did. She loved you so much. She loved all of us so much, in a way that was open, and forgiving, and kind, and all in her own way.

I’m really glad you’re all here. She would be glad too. She was hoping to be with you all one more time.

Thank you.

 

A delay

I failed to publish a Fairness Friday post today. In my defense, I've been preparing for my mother's memorial, which is tomorrow.

I'll likely post on Sunday. For now, I hope that you have a lovely weekend, full of good things, and urge you to tell your loved ones how you feel about them.

 

11 assertions about blockchain

  1. Proof-of-work is a disaster. There’s no way to couch it; arguments about it providing economic incentives for renewable energy are cognitive dissonance at best. Proof-of-work blockchains have the environmental footprint of a small country. Bitcoin could raise global temperatures by two degrees over the next decade all on its own. There is no valid argument for that being acceptable - or necessary.

  2. Not all blockchains are terrible. Algorand could be considered to be carbon-negative if you accept that carbon offsets are effective (I don’t). Still, it’s got a very low footprint. Proof-of-stake chains have a much lower impact; Ethereum is a high profile example of one that’s making the change. But, of course, it should have happened faster.

  3. The financialization of everything sucks. The instinct to put everything on-chain is a horrible idea that undermines social contracts in favor of free markets. In its worst embodiments, it’s a hardcore conservative libertarian’s wet dream. To have value, something doesn’t need to have financial value. Social contracts, representative democracy, social programs, and welfare all have immeasurable social value that should not be replaced with a Decentralized Autonomous Organization or anything else. Not to mention creating art for the sake of art, or community spaces for the sake of community. We don’t have to - and shouldn’t - make everything into a market.

  4. But putting some resources on-chain isn’t bad. A rough rule of thumb for me: if the current gatekeeper for a resource is a wealth silo (giant corporation, wealthy individual) then it’s a prime candidate for replacement by a decentralized mechanism. Once again for the conservative libertarians: our democratically-elected government represents us and our interests, so government-run programs are not candidates for this.

  5. Too many projects use an “if we built it they will come” mentality. I once saw a crypto investor tell an audience that he likes crypto projects to find an audience for their work in year two or three. That’s bonkers. As with every other software project - or every project - you need to validate the need and the users on day one. Otherwise you’re playing a very risky game, probably with other people’s money. It’s fun to pretend that you’re smarter than everyone else and can make something amazing without outside input, but it’s also highly unlikely.

  6. And most of them are near-impossible to use. Using web3 projects is a horrible, archaic user experience. Centralized exchanges like Coinbase are far easier to use than decentralized exchanges for almost everyone, and unless someone comes up with the equivalent of Netscape Navigator (the first truly usable web browser), centralized services will always be the gateway to blockchain tech for most people.

  7. Crypto may threaten to replace reserve currencies. The dollar has been used as a reserve currency for decades, but the ease of cross-border trade with cryptocurrencies may unseat it. Countries like China and El Salvador seem to be betting on this. It’s not obvious to me that a truly-decentralized currency replacing the dollar is a bad thing; but of course, not every cryptocurrency is truly decentralized. Even the likes of Bitcoin aren’t if a single entity controls enough of the miners.

  8. Crypto is transforming global trade on a local level (which is great). I’m personally aware of freelancers in countries like Colombia being paid in crypto rather than USD or local currency. Vietnam, India, and Pakistan lead global adoption. I think this is a really positive change that could have a major impact on traditional global power hierarchies.

  9. Some incumbents wont go down without a fight. Both the empowerment of individuals in the global south and the upending of reserve currency structures will be major issues over the next decade or so. It’s the kind of change that has the potential to start wars. And at the very least, there are plenty of interests locked up in the traditional financial system that will do what they can to preserve their wealth.

  10. Free markets tend not to protect the vulnerable - and we can’t afford to not. We need mechanisms to mitigate climate change, to empower people who live in poverty, to support social goods like education and public health, and to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to lead a prosperous, good life in health and safety. Those things need to be dealt with intentionally.

  11. We need to be wary of crypto-libertarians. We need to beware of people who want to replace representative democracy with a financialized system, and who want to replace social safety nets with markets. Markets and society can happily live hand in hand; one does not need to replace the other. There are lots of opportunities that come with decentralization; conservative libertarians see opportunities to remove these social protections. We should continue to build for progress, and not tear down important protections that were hard-won over generations.

 

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

 

Fairness Friday: California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance

I’m posting Fairness Fridays: a new community social justice organization each week. I donate to each featured organization. If you feel so inclined, please join me.

This week, I’m donating to the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance. CIYJA is an organization run and developed by undocumented youth organizers. It describes its work as follows:

CIYJA is a statewide immigrant youth-led alliance that focuses on placing immigrant youth in advocacy and policy delegations in order to ensure pro-immigrant policies go beyond legalization, and shed light on how the criminalization of immigrants varies based on identity.

Its work includes pressure to divest from private prisons and to prevent deportations and family separations.

I donated. If you have the means, I encourage you to do the same.

 

Photo by Peg Hunter.

 

The three-dimensional engineer

I’m hiring for a few engineers right now: five Ruby on Rails positions (most of them senior), two JS positions, and a quality engineer. More than a few people I’ve spoken to for these roles have apologized to me for coming from different backgrounds and not having been the product of a conventional CS track.

There’s no need to apologize for this. At all. In fact, I really like working with people who come from non-traditional backgrounds and/or small startups. Conversely, I’m not at all swayed by whether people went to top CS schools (or did CS at all) or are an an alumnus of a Fortune 500 tech company. Perhaps it’s worth exploring why; it seems obvious to me, but maybe isn’t to everyone.

The short answer is: it’s about priorities and values. Big companies and well-established CS tracks tend to (but don’t always!) lead to a certain kind of templated thinking that doesn’t necessarily translate to a smaller startup environment. People from more creative backgrounds or who have worked on smaller startups tend to be focused on making an outsized impact on a real, human problem using a broader set of skills, rather than developing a niche skill and working their way up the corporate ladder.

The skills required to climb the corporate ladder are intrinsically different to the ones required to solve problems quickly. One of the reasons I’ve avoided big tech companies for most of my career is that I’m allergic to office politics and the confrontation that inevitably arises: if a major concern for someone is building and maintaining power within an organization, becoming a gatekeeper to information, or not being willing to help build a supportive team culture, they’re going to be an obstacle to the team’s success.

If, on the other hand, a person’s focus is on solving the problems in front of the team and building the best product possible (including the best culture that leads to building the product), everyone is going to have a better time working together, and the product is exponentially more likely to be fit for purpose. All teams are communities of people pulling together to achieve a common goal. For any community to work well, the focus must be on the whole community’s success, while also ensuring that every member of the community is treated well and benefits from the group’s work.

In a smaller startup or organization, this is crucial. In these contexts, the focus needs to be on building. You have to go broad, because there just aren’t enough people to go around; you have to have a “no job too big / no job too small” mindset. Everyone needs to be a doer, not a manager. The CEO is doing everything from setting business strategy to unplugging the toilets. Engineers will sometimes need to make product decisions, think about design, or gather insights from customers. They need to find scrappy ways to get answers to questions themselves, sometimes by any means necessary. It’s not about hustling - hustle culture is not productive - but it is about pulling together to build the right product in the right way, using the full weight of your skills and insights.

I’ve been really impressed by engineers who have made their way to the discipline through meandering paths. Some of the best engineers I’ve ever worked with don’t have degrees; some studied music or art or literature. Perhaps this group has self-selected to be particularly passionate about solving the right sorts of problems; perhaps the wider breadth of disciplines helps to build stronger problem-solving skills; perhaps it’s something else entirely.

It’s not that you can’t have these skills if you’ve come from a traditional CS path. I studied computer science (with AI) in Edinburgh, and have met plenty of really strong team players with this background too. But they tend to be people who have been drawn to smaller, scrappier startups in the past. They’ve often built their own thing (although not everybody has the resources and freedom to do so, so perhaps they’ve been drawn to other people’s startups). They have a bias towards working on interesting projects rather than simply building up their own wealth and career.

It’s unfortunately also true that people from more “traditional” paths tend to be from a narrower demographic: CS degrees and Fortune 500 tech companies infamously have an inclusion problem. If you’re serious about solving problems for a breadth of people, you’d better have a team who represents those people. And, honestly, as well as being the right thing to do, it’s just more fun to work on a more diverse team.

Everyone on a team should be compensated well, should enjoy good work-life integration, and should be able to work in an emotionally supportive (not just emotionally safe) environment. Ideally, everyone should bring a different perspective, their unique creativity, and a set of skills and personality traits that allows them to contribute uniquely to the community as a whole. They should have a bias towards action and be able to Sherlock Holmes their way through problems in collaboration with their colleagues. That requires a sort of scrappiness that isn’t taught in CS degrees, and isn’t required in resource-rich Fortune 500 companies.

There’s no need to apologize for being different. I’m grateful for it, and I’m excited to build a community of unique, talented, creative people who build software that matters together.

 

This is a personal post, but I'm hiring Ruby on Rails, Front End JS, and Lead Quality engineers. If this is you, I'd love to meet you!

Photo by Lagos Techie on Unsplash

 

Fairness Friday: California Environmental Justice Alliance

I’m posting Fairness Fridays: a new community social justice organization each week. I donate to each featured organization. If you feel so inclined, please join me.


This week, I’m donating to the California Environmental Justice Alliance. Based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Abolitionist Law Center describes its mission as follows:

The California Environmental Justice Alliance (CEJA) is a statewide, community-led alliance that works to achieve environmental justice by advancing policy solutions. We unite the powerful local organizing of our members in the communities most impacted by environmental hazards – low-income communities and communities of color  – to create comprehensive opportunities for change at a statewide level. CEJA builds the power of communities across California to create policies that will alleviate poverty and pollution.

Particularly in the wake of the UN climate change report, climate change and establishing environmental justice is the key issue of our time. Low-income communities, and disproportionately people of color, will be the worst hit by climate change. Organizations like CEJA are crucial to solve the underlying problems and advocate for the vulnerable.

CEJA's campaigns include climate justice, advancing energy equity in California, and establishing green zones.

I donated. If you have the means, I encourage you to do the same.

 

 

Fairness Friday: Abolitionist Law Center

I’m posting Fairness Fridays: a new community social justice organization each week. I donate to each featured organization. If you feel so inclined, please join me.

This week, I’m donating to the Abolitionist Law Center. Based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Abolitionist Law Center describes its mission as follows:

The Abolitionist Law Center is a public interest law firm inspired by the struggle of political and politicized prisoners, and organized for the purpose of abolishing class and race based mass incarceration in the United States.

I became aware of the ALC through its Director of Operations, Dustin McDaniel, who was also the lead investigator of the organization’s report into exposure to toxic waste at a Pennsylvania state correctional institution.

Its programs include ending solitary confinement, supporting the political rights of the incarcerated, healthcare rights, and perhaps most importantly, releasing people from prison.

I donated. If you have the means, I encourage you to do the same.

 

Photo by Joe Piette is of the release of Debbie Africa, which the ALC worked on.