Skip to main content

Working at the intersection of technology, media, and democracy.
He / him.


Why I don't want to open up (yet)

Dan Crenshaw, who represents Texas's second congressional district, published a pretty partisan op-ed in the Wall Street Journal this week. In it, following a series of misrepresentations of liberal policy positions on the crisis, he offers:

It is time to reopen America in a smart and deliberate fashion and stop calling people murderers because they want to get back to work. The American people are responsible enough to live free and confront risk. Let them do so.

You might recall his Texan senate colleague Dan Patrick's suggestion that we should sacrifice the elderly to get the economy moving. Sacrificing lives to get back to work seems to be a common argument among Texas Republicans.

Still, there's a good reason why these arguments will be attractive to a lot of people: people are really hurting right now.

I'm one of the lucky 37% of Americans whose job can be done from home; the majority do not have this luxury. There have been 38.6 million unemployment claims over the last eight weeks, bringing the unemployment rate to 17.2% as of last week. This in a country that has arguably the worst worker protections in the developed world, and the only industrialized nation without universal healthcare. America is a brutal place to live through a pandemic.

In this environment, it makes sense that a lot of people feel they need to get back to work. Without a steady paycheck, and with no social safety net to fall back on Americans are much more likely to fall into homelessness than citizens of most countries. It's an utterly dire situation, brought about by a steady erosion in workers' rights, and rising income inequality over decades. Around 133,000 deaths a year are caused by individual poverty in the United States - a number that will surely get worse as more people lose their livelihoods.

But going slow to go fast works for pandemics, too.

Research into the 1918 Spanish flu indicates that cities which implemented stronger measures to contain the outbreak didn't perform worse during the pandemic, and performed better than other areas once the pandemic was over. The pandemic, not the lockdown, is the source of economic collapse: the Wall Street Journal, a conservative-leaning newspaper that published Crenshaw's op-ed, reported last month that economies without lockdowns were freefalling too.

If there's a choice at all, it's not between locking down and a thriving economy; the economy will nosedive either way. The choice comes down to how many people we want to die along the way. (Spoiler alert: the number of people you should be okay with dying is zero.)

Americans are dying at a rate of one 9/11 every one to two days. People of color are particularly at risk. The US death toll has eclipsed every other country's death toll in absolute terms (although it's currently 12th in the world per capita). The government's own estimates imply a death toll anywhere between 300,000 and 1.8 million Americans without shelter in place orders - and many statisticians believe they've been lowballed.

People aren't stupid. In an environment where hundreds of thousands of people are dying, most Americans are not going to start eating at restaurants, gathering in large groups, or going back to work in crowded offices. They're not going to take flights if they can help it, or go on lavish holidays. Polls show that most Americans don't want to reopen at all. And all this before the predicted second wave, which will cause a spike in the number of deaths and depress the economy further.

Abandoning lockdowns when the death rate is still rising will damage the economy more than continuing the quarantine. It will also potentially kill millions of people with lives, loved ones, hopes and dreams. Which should probably be the primary concern for anyone who isn't absolutely soullessly dead inside.

If we don't tackle the source of the problem rather than the symptoms, the economy will be depressed for years, and many people will needlessly die. Nobody in any party should want that. So let's go to the source, and put some more faith in science and innovation.

Researchers are curently trialling a Covid-19 test that will report results in 20 minutes, without being sent to a lab. If it works, we'll all be able to test ourselves on a regular basis, and self-quarantine if we get a positive result. Even if it doesn't work, reliable, slower tests are available, and there are some promising early results from vaccine trials (even if scientists, wisely, are urging for caution).

As Keith Humphreys at Stanford writes, widespread testing has controlled the virus in countries like Germany, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan. But embracing these kinds of testing programs requires putting a confidence in government that doesn't come easily to Americans. It's not a part of America's DNA, for the same reason that we haven't managed to create a safety net or establish universal healthcare like every other developed nation.

If one was feeling particularly jaded, one might argue that caring for other members of our communities wasn't part of American culture. But it is. This is a compassionate country, full of people who energetically do care about each other. I believe we can do this.

Provable, widespread testing holds the key to opening up in the shorter term, and vaccinations will help in the medium to longer term. We will need to prove that we have been tested recently in order to go back to work. Once vaccinations are available, we'll need to prove that we've had one to combat this year's strain. The key isn't in a gung-ho belief in American risk-taking; it's in our ability to rise to the challenge and find a cure.

We also need to finally accept that the conditions experienced by the most disadvantaged in our society affect all of us. We need to provide stronger social support. We need to follow the advice of the American College of Physicians and enact universal healthcare, bringing American standards up to meet the rest of the world. We need to become community-minded, rather than ruthlessly individualistic, once again.

I'm over this pandemic. I hate being locked down. I want to see my friends and loved ones, and I want to go back to the office. But I want to do it right: in a way that establishes a true path forward and brings us all back to health for good. Widespread testing, investment towards a vaccine, and true social support while we wait for safety. That's the only way forward.


Photo by United Nations COVID-19 Response.


Going slow to go fast

In a business, and particularly in early-stage startups, there can be enormous pressure to go as fast as you can. In these environments, making fast decisions, and pushing code or building a design to get to the closest stated objective, is prioritized over a more contemplative process.

Famously, Facebook put it this way: "Move fast and break things." Get your code out there, big picture be damned. A few bugs here and there, or mounting technical debt, are acceptable collateral. Over at OKCupid, CEO Mike Maxim put it in strategic terms: "we can’t sacrifice forward momentum for technical debt."

Six years ago, Facebook moved away from this motto to the far less catchy "move fast with stable infra". As Mark Zuckerberg explained at the time, "what we realized over time is that it wasn't helping us to move faster because we had to slow down to fix these bugs and it wasn't improving our speed." Moving code around quickly so you can close out a Jira or GitHub ticket quickly and move onto the next thing isn't anywhere near as helpful as it feels. The right thing to do is take a step back and ask questions about what you're doing with a bigger picture in mind.

"There were plenty of cases where people would rush software out the door and learn something, but never put that learning back into the program. That analogy was borrowing money, thinking that you never have to pay it back."
~ Ward Cunningham

The same is true outside of product development. A 2010 study published in Harvard Business Review found that teams that took time to slow down, consider the impact of what they are doing, and have debate within the team moved faster - perhaps counterintuitively - than those that concentrated on running as fast as possible.

It's not enough to write code, build a design, or make a decision. To be effective, you need to think about how your decisions affect your community: your team, your customers, the other teams in your company. Software development is a people business more than anything else, and your decisions, fundamentally, should make the next set of similar decisions easier. 

Are you designing a page, or are you designing a way to empower your team to design subsequent, similar pages in the right way?

Are you fixing a bug, or are you taking the time to make sure this kind of bug never shows up again?

Are you just building a new feature, or are you also laying the groundwork for subsequent, similar features?

Are you making a strategic decision, or are you hardening the principles and process by which future strategic decisions will be made?

Are you doing work for yourself, or are you empowering your colleagues?

There are certainly more questions to ask. Hemant Taneja, Managing Director of General Catalyst, has some excellent questions that every management team should ask themselves. The core questions for each business, and each team, will vary.

Velocity is not the same as effectiveness. By stopping to think about how we can be more effective in our work and decisionmaking, we can move faster, have a better working life, and do better work.

Slow down. Think about what you're doing. Build for systems and principles, not individual goals. You'll get there faster.


Facebook bought Giphy for $400M. That's not as weird as it sounds

Axios is reporting that Facebook has bought Giphy for $400M.

Giphy is the animated GIF database that powers functionality in most of the social apps you can think of. It makes money through behind-the-scenes deals to provide that functionality, although its APIs are available to anyone.

$400M sounds like a lot of money - and it is - but it's actually $200M less than its most recent valuation. When it raised $72M from investors in a Series D funding round back in 2016, the price of its shares extrapolated to a valuation of $600M. The acquisition is therefore effectively a down round: the company sold at a lower price-per-share than its most recent investors paid. While the investors who bought in during the Series D round may not be getting such a good deal, Betaworks, which incubated it, should see a nice profit.

Giphy's functionality is available in an enormous number of tools, from Tinder and Snapchat to Telegram and Signal. Facebook's own Instagram is one of them, which is the ostensible reason for the acquisition, but the net result is that the company will be aware of activity on virtually every social app in existence, including the ones with end-to-end encryption. Animated GIFs are wildly popular, in part thanks to Giphy, and a social app that doesn't offer the functionality is considered incomplete. Giphy's API calls from these apps will contain important clues about what people are talking about all over the world, across platforms - and how often each platform is being used.

What happens next? I expect the secure apps to move away from using it, as a start. Unfortunately, there is no alternative to the service, open or otherwise - it's had a cool $150M pumpted into it since inception, and it's highly unlikely that an open alternative will be able to offer its level of curation anytime soon. So we'll likely see this functionality diminish in these apps in favor of stickers, which don't require such a curated ecosystem.

The down round does suggest that VC-funded companies are going to enter some (more) choppy waters in the near future. But to be honest, while it might be embarrassing for some previously-bullish funds, some price corrections are probably not a bad thing for the industry.



Image via GIPHY, obviously.


We just approved warrantless web surveillance

The PATRIOT Act has long been used to justify warrantless surveillance into ordinary Americans. It was a fast follow to the horrors of 9/11, but thanks to a renewal by President Bush, a four-year extension by President Obama, and an extension of important clauses in the USA Freedom Act, an entire generation is now used to the civil rights violations it authorizes.

On Wednesday, the following amendment to the reauthorized USA Freedom Act, sponsored by Ron Wyden, failed by one vote:

(C) An application under paragraph (1) may not seek an order authorizing or requiring the production of internet website browsing information or internet search history information.

Nine democrats, including San Francisco's own Diane Feinstein, voted against the amendment, effectively allowing an American's web browsing data or search history information to be surveilled without a warrant.

The definitions of web browsing information and search history are important here. "Website browsing information" means everything you do on the web, not just through a browser. It's functionally impossible to distinguish web browser activity from APIs hit by an app, say, or an Internet of Things appliance in your home. Manual web browsing is, for most people, a minority of their internet use. APIs represent at least 83% of internet traffic. Your apps and devices send API pings hundreds of times an hour, letting services know about your activity. With this data, it's possible to infer when you're home, traveling, eating, sleeping, talking to a friend, or buying something. In a world where so many of us are so heavily attached to the internet, the ability to warrantlessly scan our web activity comes close to providing barrier-less surveillance of our every move.

Correspondingly, the definition of "search history information" is vague. We immediately think of the literal text history of our search requests, which would be invasive enough; your search data can be used to figure out if you're pregnant, what you're religious views are, and who you're going to vote for. But log into your Google activity dashboard: you'll see more information about what you've watched, location information, topics Google thinks you're interested in, your news history, call and message history, and more. From raw information, Google makes inferences about who you are. That, too, can be accessed.

All of this is to say that Wyden's amendment was a good one, and the representatives who blocked it should be ashamed of themselves. The PATRIOT Act and its successor have been inevitably abused. It is legislation without appropriate checks and balances that protect civil liberties while protecting lives.

There are no great workarounds. Warrant canaries - notices published by a service provider saying that they have not received a subpeona for information - have not been legally tested, and are not definitive. In any event, they do not (and may not) notify the subject of the surveillance.

"Arguing that you don't care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say."
~ Edward Snowden

The best we can do product-wise is use peer-to-peer encryption technology based on open, auditable code, and trust that there are no undisclosed security flaws. I use Signal for texting. Open VPNs like Bitmask are available. But the single biggest thing we can do is to vote out our elected representatives that consistently support surveillance.


Amazon wants to disrupt digital cinema distribution

There was talk on Monday that Amazon wanted to puchase the struggling AMC theater chain, which also happens to be the world's largest, incorporating Odeon cinemas in the UK and across Europe.

Fortune posed a question about what an Amazon buy-out would be like, suggesting that tickets could be incorporated into Amazon Prime, and that Amazon originals could be shown in real cinemas first. Both of those things could happen, but I think there's an infrastructure play that's worth paying attention to.

Digital movies are distributed to theaters using technology developed by the Digital Cinema Distribution Coalition, co-founded by Cinemark Theatres, Regal Entertainment Group, Universal Pictures, Warner Bros - and, yes, AMC. It uses satellites and high-bandwidth internet connections to send movies, trailers, and pre-show content to theaters (75% of all of them as of 2017) in Digital Cinema Package format. Notably, DCP is an outdated format that uses JPEG 2000 as its primary visual codec, in a world where 8K streaming is about to be mainstream.

If Amazon can replace this distribution mechanism with its own network and infrastructure, starting with the world's largest cinema chain and a co-owner of the incumbent, it can offer its own, more modern services over the internet. These can also include modernizing theater advertising; National CineMedia, the largest cinema advertising company, is partially controlled by AMC.

In a world where movies are moving online faster than ever before, sometimes skipping box offices entirely, some degree of consolidation between home and theaters makes sense. Services like Netflix already use Amazon for their infrastructure; with this change, most of the entertainment world would use its services. In addition, the distribution mechanisms for theaters and the home could begin to converge. By allowing theoretically anyone to use these services, the definition of what constitutes a theater could expand. And a consolidated advertising pipeline would allow campaigns to reach viewers across media.

It's a big opportunity that crosses the traditional boundaries of the movie industry, which is why a company like Amazon is well-placed to take advantage of it. What it doesn't benefit is independent theaters, which, if Amazon is successful, will need to buy into its services. The effect will be that every movie theater in the world will effectively be a part of the same dark chain, running on Amazon logistics. In turn, filmmakers will need to engage with the Amazon ecosystem if they want to reach any kind of audience at all.

A valuable question is then: what would an alternative look like that benefits independent filmmakers and cinemas, while embracing the new, streaming-forward world? Is there a way we can build open marketplaces for distribution, while taking advantage of advances in codec technology to stream high quality footage faster, and decentralizing payments? It's a different kind of technology problem, but one that increases the size of the pie for everyone, instead of locking an entire industry into one vendor's solutions. A modern technical solution is certainly better than the Digital Cinema Distribution Coalition's offerings, but an open marketplace will ensure the future success of the industry in ways that a closed one won't.


Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash


21st century democracy requires an open web

Like it or not, Google and Facebook are becoming the leading patrons of the news industry:

Over the next few months, Google and Facebook will, combined, spend close to a quarter billion dollars supporting local news. [...] Google said it expects its relief funds will reach at least 4,000 different publishers. Facebook has already dispersed $16 million across 200 different newsrooms.

Elsewhere in that article, Richard Gingrass, the VP of News at Google, has a telling quote: "The money we make with our advertising tools is entirely dependent on the success of publishers."

The core of Google and Faceboook's revenues depend on publishers - and as such, they've spent the best part of two decades ensuring that they are intrinsically linked to those publishers' digital strategies, in order to maximize its share of the proceeds. Without their willing participation in these two corporate ecosystems, the entire news industry loses its distribution, its revenues, and its communities.

Once upon a time, each website produced a feed of content, in one of several standard formats, which you could read with any number of readers. New content would show up in your reader as soon as it was published; depending on your app, it might be presented in a reverse-chronological list, or it might be shown to you via an algorithm that predicted what you might want to read first. In either case, the mechanics of production, monetization, distribution, and audience growth were owned by the publisher.

This is no longer the case. In the world of 2020, while production is still up to the publisher, monetization, distribution, and audience growth have all been siloed away by third parties. Publishers see a cut of monetization, but the vast majority of the value gained from distribution and audience growth is captured by the platforms.

Google Reader's closure was an important step in building this new world. Not only was Reader a great feed reading product, its APIs and infrastructure were used by many other feed readers. Suddenly, that infrastructure was gone; innovation in the feed space became a great deal harder. Meanwhile, Google redirected its investment towards its own walled garden. As Wired noted at the time:

No matter what Mountain View says about changing user habits, though, both Now and Plus do one thing: They keep you in Google's world. It's a de-emphasis of content source.

And perhaps these walled gardens do offer something of a better user experience for many users. (We could debate that. I prefer feeds.) The problem isn't so much about the principle of closed software vs open feeds. The problem is that the entire news industry has consolidated down to two points of distribution.

Anyone with a passing familiarity with Michael Porter's Five Forces will have identified that Facebook and Google have outsized supplier power over the entire news industry. This influence is often wielded in ways that benefit the technology giants at the cost of publishers; consider the infamous pivot to video, which was based on incorrectly reported analytics that just happened to benefit Facebook's platform.

In turn, the news industry has an important part to play in democracy, civic life, and the health of our communities. According to one of many studies, voters in districts with less campaign coverage had a harder time making democratic decisions and were less likely to vote. Each dollar spent on investigative journalism yields multiple dollars of savings to society. A loss of local news can also actually make it harder to track the spread of infectious disease.

The news touches all of society. And all of it is in the hands of two wealthy tech companies.

So where do we go from here?

First: I believe that the news industry needs to have representation in technical circles, and have a strong influence in how new technology standards are made. The Washington Post recently joined the World Wide Web Consortium, but not all publishers are able to devote the time or staffing to do this work. A non-profit dedicated to advocating on behalf of publishers, and advising publishers on technology issues, could spread the work and the cost for the benefit of the entire industry.

Second: publishers need to buy in as first-class participants. They need to acknowledge that the world has changed, and their role in it has shifted. Technology is not their expertise - so they need to find and embrace people who can provide it with their interests at heart.

Third: anti-trust legislation must be reformed. The current legislation, which looks at pricing as an indicator of consumer welfare, makes little sense in the internet era. A monopoly that is provided free at the point of use is still a monopoly, and may still have a crushing effect on society and the economy.

Fourth: we need an uptick in grant-based funding for open technology projects. Venture capital funding has an important place in the technology ecosystem, but VCs tend to want their investments to "own" a market. Monopoly is seen as a feature, not a bug. Technology projects that are inherently anti-monopolistic are currently harder to fund. And in a world where startups are incredibly highly-funded, it can be hard to lure top-level talent to other projects.

Fifth: open technology projects need to find ways to be as usable and human-centered as their walled garden cousins. Having great principles doesn't absolve you of the requirement to solve real human needs in an elegant way.

Sixth: we have to accept that the news might not be profitable, but we need it more than ever before. It's time to accelerate innovation around models for support.


Photo by Brian McGowan on Unsplash


Tools to navigate the CARES Act

I wrote a piece for the ForUsAll blog on how and why we built tools to help ordinary people navigate the CARES Act. It encompasses why I joined the team, and how we were able to help during this moment:

With the pandemic came the looming shadow of a deep recession, skyrocketing unemployment, and an increasing number of people who can’t pay for basic essentials like food and housing. We set out to help people find their way to financial safety in the way we always have: with a mission-driven, scalable, technology solution, built with empathy and a desire to help the most vulnerable.

Read more here.


Four Questions: May 3, 2020

I'm dogfooding the set of questions developed for my recording life project.


1. What did you do today?

I've been spending a lot of time with my mother since the quarantine began. It happened to  coincide with her beginning to feel quite a bit worse; being able to work from home, by which I mean her home, has been a silver lining to the crisis.

The last nine years have been practice, in a way: because of the immunosuppression associated with getting a lung transplant, and because of the uncertainty over most of that time about whether I would come down with pulmonary fibrosis too, we've been rich with masks and hand sanitizer, and know what it's like to hunker down and hope for the best. Her health has been so recurrently poor that I've been on a rollercoaster of grief for the best part of a decade. You think that at some point it'll get better to deal with, but it never really does. It's like watching someone you love be endlessly tortured, hoping that at some point she'll feel better. And sometimes she does, and life is wonderful, which is just enough hope to carry on with.

The latest indignity has been internal bleeding - we don't yet know where, or how - which has left her weak and in a state of permanent discomfort. She's been too weak to go out for a walk, so we took her for a drive, instead: up through Guerneville and the Russian River, and then across through Bodega Bay, where the sun glittered on the Pacific Ocean. We drove through side streets and wondered what it would be like to have a home there, with a view of the water.

When we came back, she slept, but not before telling me she might like to eat shrimp, as long as it was from a sustainable source that didn't use slaves. Social justice is part of who she is. I hope I live up to her spirit, and it continues to live on in me.

Of course, I bought the shrimp. Later, I'll peel and clean them, and cook them with just a little bit of butter, parsely, and garlic.


2. What did you enjoy?

I loved driving down the California coastline with my parents. When we got back, Ma and I sat on the sofa together, and she rested against me, falling asleep while I gave her a head rub.

I shouldn't enjoy going to the supermarket, but I do. Usually I go to Oliver's Market, a local, employee-owned store. These days you need a mask to enter, and the signs make clear that the trolleys are sanitized. This time I splurged on some organic, local meat, as well as butter from France and Germany. I bought my dad some Fort Point KSA, which has become one of both of our favorite beers.

And before everything, I loved waking up in the crisp morning, making a cup of coffee, and reading the news (on my iPad). The air is clear and still, and everything feels peaceful. I can trick myself into thinking that life is good.


3. What did you find difficult?

It's hard to watch someone you love go through their own crisis. Both my parents are getting older, and have a harder time than they deserve. It's deeply unfair, and I'm virtually powerless; I can be present, but I can't fix any of it.

And then, of course, this wider crisis is hard for everyone. It's a difficult time.

I have some work to do that should really have been done on Friday, and there's a book I've been meaning to start for weeks. But in the end, I needed to take this weekend to decompress. I had high hopes for what I might be able to achieve during the quarantine, but they have not been matched by reality. I'm forgiving myself for this. The bar has been lowered from achieving a set of lofty goals to just getting through it all.


4. What has changed?

Ma's decline. Other than that, my life this weekend is not materially different to my life last weekend. I expect each week to be more or less the same until at least September. We just continue through the turbulence, ever onwards, until we land somewhere new.


Reading, watching, playing, using: April 2020

Here's the media I consumed and found interesting in April.


Untitled Goose Game. I'm late to the party, but this is super-fun with exactly my level of silly.

Novlr. I'm writing this again, and for whatever reason, I find this a better environment than Scrivener. Maybe it's something about being a web-native writer?

Drizly. Yes, I ordered delivery alcohol for the first time this month. I'm not proud of it. I'm also not not-proud of it.


The Plot Against America. Atmospheric, unsettling, and one of the most tense last hours of television I've ever seen. Unfortunately hugely relevant.

Sex Education. Silly, in a good-natured way. I just wish everyone wasn't so incredibly posh.

Notable Articles

The Pandemic

'People are panic-buying cocaine': the drug dealer, spaceman, therapist and others on life after coronavirus. 16 very different people explain how life under Coronavirus has changed.

The Contrarian Coronavirus Theory That Informed the Trump Administration. An infuriating interview with Richard Epstein, a Professor at New York University School of Law, who Trump administration officials have been listening to for reasons I cannot understand.

If I Wrote a Coronavirus Episode. "Tina Fey, Mike Schur, and 35 more TV writers on what their characters would do in a pandemic." Transcendantly good.

This Pandemic Is Not Your Vacation. "All over the United States, people are fleeing urban areas with high infection rates for the perceived safety and natural beauty of rural areas. [...] The virus, some people have taken to saying, “does not discriminate.” But that’s not quite true. It is putting our class and racial hierarchies in harsh relief — systems that favor the rich and the globally mobile while declaring the work of so many of the working class “essential.” Wealth is the vector. And the economically precarious will suffer because of it — whether they’re cleaning the offices of the infected in New York or checking groceries in Blaine County, Idaho."

Apricot Stone Will FaceTime You to Recreate the Restaurant Experience at Home. "At the agreed-upon day and time, Ishkhanian calls via video chat: FaceTime, Duo, or Skype. Answer and you’ll see him standing at the restaurant next to a table set with water and wine glasses. Music plays in the background as he guides you through the menu and takes your order." I can't decide if this is weird or great. Maybe both?

The Americans defying Palm Sunday quarantines: 'Satan's trying to keep us apart'. America.

Coronavirus in New York: A paramedic's diary. "There's only one patient we've seen so far who I feel wasn't Covid-19 and that's because it was a suicide. Imagine: I was there and my brain felt relief. This person's dead and it's a suicide. I felt relief that it was a regular job."

The unkindest cut: Last call for a Zabar’s lox slicer. "“Look, Len,” he said. “I love you, but you’re over 90 years old and you’re in the group that is most susceptible to the virus and if you got it, if anything happened to you, I could never forgive myself.”"

California launches nation's first disaster relief fund for undocumented immigrants. "New $125m fund will support those ineligible for federal support, but who make up 10% of the state’s workforce, largely in essential services." I'm very grateful to live in a more compassionate state than most.

"It'll all be over by Christmas". "Trump is shooting for May 1st because he's been told the economy will take 6 months to recover, minimum, and he's shooting for the November election deadline. This is laughably optimistic, even if the pandemic had burned out by May 1st: we're in Greatest Depression territory already, the hospitality sector has crashed 75%, airlines have crashed 90%, etcetera. It's not going to be back to normal by November, even if the Fairy Godmother shows up and banishes the horrid virus with a wave of her wand. Period." Let's look the crisis in the face, rather than tell stories to ourselves.

The Media’s Coronavirus Coverage Exposes Its Ignorance About the Working Class. "A reporter who thinks they hold no positions is much more dangerous than one with strong opinions, because at least the latter might have a hope of understanding what they are reporting and why. Perhaps most dangerous of all is a reporter who sees the structures of capitalism—bosses wishing they could force their workers to work through a pandemic, workers still unable to feed their families without opened businesses, immigrants pitted against native workers—and sees them as an immutable and unchallengeable fact, as inevitable as the sunrise, and just as comforting."

Lockdowns flatten the “economic curve,” too. "Cities that locked down faster in 1918 bounced back better."

Sinking feeling. "I clung to the middle class as I aged. The pandemic pulled me under."

Media & Society

The Terror Of The Umpty Ums. A lovely, and surprisingly meta, Doctor Who short story from Steven Moffat.

The Character of the Doctor Is More Important to Me Than Doctor Who Will Ever Be. More Doctor Who - this is a great encapsulation of why the show means so much to me.

The Weirdly Enduring Appeal of Weird Al Yankovic. What an amazing portrait. I was super into Weird Al as a kid, and I still love his attitude and irreverence. I finally got to see him live about ten years ago, and he was a revelation.


Facebook Wanted NSO Spyware to Monitor Users, NSO CEO Claims. "Facebook representatives approached controversial surveillance vendor NSO Group to try and buy a tool that could help Facebook better monitor a subset of its users, according to an extraordinary court filing from NSO in an ongoing lawsuit."

Utah attorney general suspends state contract with Banjo in light of founder’s KKK past. "The Utah attorney general’s office will suspend use of a massive surveillance system after a news report showed that the founder of the company behind the effort was once an active participant in a white supremacist group and was involved in the shooting of a synagogue."

What’s Missing From Zoom Reminds Us What It Means to Be Human. "While we’ve discovered that in many cases it can, more importantly we’ve discovered that, regardless of bandwidth and video resolution, these apps are missing the cues humans use when they communicate. While we might be spending the same amount of time in meetings, we’re finding we’re less productive, social interactions are less satisfying and distance learning is less effective. And we’re frustrated that we don’t know why."

How a handful of Apple and Google employees came together to help health officials trace coronavirus. The fascinating story of how the contact tracing apps came to be.


Building from scratch in 2020

I've been continuing work on my recording life project. At this point, the questions are finalized, and I've been building the first version of the platform. The working name is Four Questions.

It's been a long time since I've built new software from scratch under my own steam. The first question I had to answer is: how will I build it?

I roll my eyes at people who are snobby about any programming stack: whatever is productive for you is the right choice. Of course, if you're running a new business, "productive for you" has to cover a lot of ideas: you need to consider if you can build stable, resilient code that supports a delightful user experience at speed, whether you can hire a great team that builds in that language, and what the infrastructure landscape looks like. But for a personal project, it's all fair game.

For this project, I've decided that I want to stretch myself a little. I don't want to build this stack in the same way I chose to build Known in 2013, or Elgg in 2003. Both of those were based on PHP, albeit in very different eras; it'd be a fast build, but kind of boring, and the hosting options are limited.

I started writing node.js code at Medium four years ago, and although my learning curve was steeper than I would have liked, I eventually fell in love with it. JavaScript has traditionally been clunky and ambiguous, but ES6 and ES7 turned it into a much more elegant, expressive language. The combination of these improvements and npm - which gives you instant access to over a million libraries - makes it a hard platform to beat. It's also incredibly easy to build automatic testing and linting with npm, including as a pre-commit hook into git.

I've also become a fan of more modern versions of React; we used it at Unlock, and I was taken with how easy it is to build genuinely reactive interfaces. The web has become a place to access applications as much as a place to access documents. A lot of older-style web apps, from earlier in this transition process, feel more like slightly interactive documents. React apps can be made to feel like a real application, with a minimum of development effort. If you don't want to build on the web using JavaScript, you do you, but there's nothing inherently wrong with it. And adding Next.js allows pages to be rendered on the server, reducing the time to largest contentful paint and allowing non-JS browsers (including headless browsers) to access the content.

To node.js, Next.js and React, I've added Material-UI, which makes Google's material design framework easy to access from React.

So now my biggest question is: what should I use as the database? I'm torn between using a straight Postgres database, something like a MongoDB, Firebase, or FaunaDB. The latter is completely new to me and seems to be designed for serverless architectures, so maybe I'll try that. I'll try it and report back.

There's a lot of choice out there, and no correct answers. The downside is that setting up your development stack in 2020 is significantly more time-consuming than it ever was. The upside is that you have more choice, more developer support, and friendlier tools than ever. It's a different kind of fun to old-school web development - my first web scripts were written in Perl, and this is a universe away - but it's still definitely fun.

If you're a developer, what are you using these days?


Four Questions: April 14, 2020

I'm dogfooding the set of questions developed for my recording life project. And recording my life for my own benefit.


1. What did you do today?

I've been working long hours at ForUsAll, trying to get some tools together that will help people get access to their retirement savings under the CARES Act. The last few weeks involved a lot of working past midnight, which had knock-on effects on my wellbeing; this week, I'm trying to guard my time a little better. So far, I feel much better as a result.

My day involved a mix of writing code, having meetings, discussing company and product strategy, and pinning down technical implementation details. I spend at least half of my day in meetings, which drives me a little bit crazy, because it doesn't feel like getting things done. I like to make things a lot more than I like to talk.

2. What did you enjoy?

There was a moment where I was drinking my coffee and finishing off that day's blog post, and the morning light was streaming in, and I found myself thinking, "this is very nice". I like the quiet, and I like the tacit permission to stay in and work on things.

When I lived in the UK, I always felt like I needed to take advantage of any sunny day that came along. California sort of short-circuited that for me: they're mostly all sunny days. So despite everything, I'm enjoying having permission to stay indoors and read and write, which is when I'm at my happiest.

3. What did you find difficult?

I found myself getting short with some other managers at work - the endless stream of Zoom calls can wear me down, and if I find that a meeting is not covering important new ground, I'm finding it harder to be patient. I regret that, and I'll try and do better. I'm definitely finding that I have a shorter fuse under lockdown; for reference, though, my fuse is usually very, very long.

The biggest thing I found difficult is knowing that my mother is having a hard time. We spent over a fifth of last year in the hospital with her, and this spring she's progressively experiencing more pain and nausea. I don't want her anywhere near a hospital. Because she's immunocompromised, the risk of contracting Covid-19 is too great. I'm powerless, and I don't know what to do. I hope she starts to feel better.

4. What has changed?

This week I started to exercise after each meeting. 10 pushups after a meeting; 20 if I called it; X2 if it was unscheduled. It's actually genuinely added to my day - I felt like my muscles were atrophying. I think I'll start swapping out the exercises, though: sit-ups one day, push-ups another, and so on. I miss the gym. Gyms are terrible places, so this is saying something.

I've started to notice more cars on the road and people on the streets. I think people are either beginning to feel stir crazy, or the fear of pandemic has subsided. People are still social distancing - except for joggers, who are a scourge - but more of them are leaving their houses. I don't know if that's a good thing.

My Trumpiest relatives are now calling for everything to open again. I find that deeply disturbing. Their response is that "the majority agrees" with them, as if that's a counter to science. The majority of Americans enjoyed The Big Bang Theory. Forgive me if I don't have much faith.


Stretch questions:

5. What are you grateful for?

My health, and the continued health of my family. I'm particularly glad that my mother has not been re-admitted to hospital.

6. Which changes do you want to keep?

I'd love to see some of the societal changes stick around. We're cutting checks to people in need. We're helping the homeless to find unused places to live. We've emptied the jails for non-violent offenders awaiting trail, partially eliminating the predatory bail system. Some medical treatments are free at the point of use. All of those things are fantastic.

I also want to keep more flexible working from home policies: I think remote working is a deeply positive trend, for those that can do it. It opens up the whole country, and allows people who couldn't previously come into an office (eg carers and some single parents) to have access to jobs they wouldn't otherwise be able to do. Those are wonderful things.

7. What are you scared of?

Anyone I love getting the virus. Anyone getting the virus.

I'm also scared of some of the implications. I'm worried about calls for widespread surveillance. I'm deeply worried about the President declaring that he has absolute authority. I'm scared that the USPS will go away and that voting by mail won't be available for a general election in a pandemic.

In other words, I'm afraid of four more years or Trump, and I'm scared we'll come out of this situation with fewer freedoms and civil liberties.

8. What has stayed the same?

People. Work is surprisingly similar. The day to day of my mother's life in particular. The ludicrousness of our government.

9. When did you last laugh?

I think in a phone call with my sister, where she was describing her alternative life in Stardew Valley. She's been self-isolating with cold symptoms for a few weeks, and I'm looking forward to hanging out with her again when all of this goes away.


I'm offering free startup feedback sessions

As Director of Investments at Matter Ventures, I evaluated thousands of startups, saw hundreds of pitches, invested in 24 ventures, and supported 75. Additionally, I've founded two startups (both exited), was the first employee at two more, have raised money, and have advised many more beyond the Matter universe.

I'd love to help you.

I'm offering 30 minute feedback sessions. To get started, click here to book.

I'll ask you to pitch me your startup for 5-10 minutes. I'll ask questions and then offer advice (which, of course, you can take or leave - what you do with feedback is up to you).


Four Questions

Thanks to everyone who responded after my previous post about recording life on the ground. Lots of people had ideas about which questions would be useful to ask on an ongoing basis about life under quarantine; lots of people also told me that 10 questions was far too many.

Most people were circling around the same questions, so I've decided to make these my core. And then there will be optional questions that you might choose to add onto any day's report.

The core questions:

1. What did you do today? Purely tactical: what did the day look like? It might seem obvious to us right now, as we're in the moment, but once the pandemic passes it likely won't. It'll also most probably differ from country to country.

2. What did you enjoy? This and the next question could have been condensed into "how are you feeling?", but the more direct prompt is more likely to elicit more specific answers. It's also a prompt to remember what has been good about the day; in difficult times, there's an importance to that.

3. What did you find difficult? Again, it's worth being specific. These two questions were inspired by Arne Rubinstein's GOLDEN framework - thanks to Erik Visser for forwarding it to me.

4. What has changed? This is deliberately ambiguous. Perhaps it's something big, like a policy change or a government reshuffle. Perhaps it's something small, like a change in personal routine to find healthier ways to adapt. But change is a constant, and it's worth recording the delta between one day and the next.

And then, the stretch questions:

5. What are you grateful for? A suggestion from Nick Doty. Maintaining a gratitude practice yields all sorts of benefits, but it can be more beneficial if you do it on a longer timescale - weekly, not daily. So it's an optional question here.

6. Which changes do you want to keep? A suggestion from Sonia Virdi. Not all of the changes are bad - for example, more flexible work from home policies, a stronger social safety net for some workers, and cleaner air. What is worth holding onto?

7. What are you scared of? It's not always productive to give voice to our fears, but sometimes they need to be written down.

8. What has stayed the same? A suggestion from Ben Seymour. Not everything is in flux. Some things are constants, but everyone's constants are different. What are they for you?

9. When did you last laugh? A suggestion from Edith Speller. Think back to the last time you laughed - it was probaby in an intimate moment that says a lot about your life and your current situation. Where you find humor and light tells a whole story.

I'm still interested in feedback - you can always email me at My new commitment is to get a prototype up and running by next week. (Of course, if you're a blogger, you can get started with posting your answers to these questions without any extra tools.) Look for an update on Tuesday, April 21st.


Photo by Grianghraf on Unsplash


Recording life on the ground

I'm more and more convinced that we all need to tell this story. Covid-19 landed in a world that was succumbing to nationalist leaders who enjoy bending the truth to suit their own narratives. The story of this global pandemic can't be left to them to tell. It also can't be left to the rich and powerful, or to brands. It needs to be a shared patchwork that we all contribute to.

I believe the indieweb has a part to play here. If it's at all possible, everyone should be writing on their own site, and backing up to a place they control. It should all be saved in the Internet Archive, and maybe on IPFS, and anywhere else you can think of. If one site filters stories out because advertisers don't want to be associated with coronavirus, or blips out because it went out of business, it shouldn't take the stories about this unprecedented period of history with it.

If you're wondering how and where to blog and share your story, I wrote this guide last year.

But of course, not everyone is equipped to write their own narrative. Writing is a muscle; I don't claim to have developed it perfectly, but I think I find it easier to get to a published post than many people. I've been wondering how to help people to share their perspectives without making it hard.

Over on Twitter, one person suggested around 10 questions that people could answer on a regular basis, and maybe upload a photo to go along with it. I like that idea a lot.

So here's what I'm thinking: I'll do the heavy lifting of building a platform that asks those questions. If you have a website that supports micropub, it'll post them on your own site for posterity. If you have a WordPress site, it'll use the REST API to do that, too. But those things are optional. You'll also just be able to post to the website and keep your answers there - and know that they'll be shared to the Internet Archive, IPFS, and some other redundant backups. The content will be made available under a license that will allow the entire archive of stories to be downloaded.

Aside from building this platform, which is my job, the only thing remaining is: what should the questions be? I have my own opinions, but I'd love to hear yours. You can always write to me at

I'll commit to providing an update on this project by this time next week. Look for an update on Tuesday, April 14.


Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash


Past history is not an indicator of future possibilities

Everything changed in the blink of an eye.

I remember when I experienced my first earthquake. I was standing in a house in Berkeley, all white plaster over wooden walls, and it was like a wave suddenly passed through it. In an instant, the walls flexed and curved like butter. My reassuring knowledge that walls were always fixed and solid were gone forever, replaced with a new understanding of the world. Walls are solid until they're not.

Our reality is solid, until it's not.

We're told that we'll be quarantined until May. Based on the numbers we're seeing and the trajectory of the covid-19 infection graph, I don't expect us to be out of the woods until late summer at the earliest. I also expect there to be a second wave of infections as we segue back towards winter. It'll be interesting to see what happens with respect to the November elections in particular.

And when this is finally, mercifully over - because there's widespread, continuous testing, or a vaccine, or both - the world will never be the same again.

There's a carefully-written legal disclaimer that you'll find anywhere you're asked to make an investment: "past success does not guarantee future performance". It's another way of saying "the conditions we live under tomorrow are not guaranteed to be the same as today's". An investor who assumes that the market will continue to grow indefinitely is doomed to failure. A human being that assumes that life will always be the same may find themselves in a similar boat.

There are life changes I've procrastinated on making. I'm sure we all have some. It's really easy to procrastinate if you think your window of opportunity will be open forever; you can do it tomorrow, and then when tomorrow comes, you push it off again. There's always tomorrow. Except, there isn't. It turns out there comes a day when it isn't possible anymore, and you can never be really sure when that day will come, or why. I didn't have "global pandemic" on my bingo card, but here we are.

I don't know what life will look like once the quarantine clears. We'll be in the midst of a recession, for sure, with millions of people out of work and in need of help. We'll also have ramped up warrantless surveillance, which will be hard to roll back. We can respond by creating a world with fewer freedoms, or a free world where we finally choose to help vulnerable people in need. Unfortunately, we will likely all feel the sting of missing friends and family.

Whatever the world looks like, it'll be important to remember that our window of reality is impermanent. It'll feel like the new normal will go on forever, but the next changes are sure to follow. Having an eye on the future but living in the present feels like the right strategy to me. Happiness isn't necessarily the only goal; I think it's also about building a life that is resilient to the sorts of storms we're all living through. But if you're not happy, if you don't feel fulfilled, then something needs to change. Don't wait.

Or at least, that's the advice I'm giving myself.


Reading, watching, playing, using: March 2020

Here's the media I consumed and found interesting in March. We're all deep in the global pandemic, so I've decided to exclude covid-19 related media for this month - which means this list is a lot shorter, because I've basically been mainlining the news.


Houseparty. There may be serious issues with its privacy policy, so I'm not sure how long I'll continue to use it for. But it's been a lovely way to catch up with friends, often halfway across the globe. Also, my sister and I have been using it to play trivia games. It passes the time.

iA Writer. Not new to me, but I've started using it heavily. I sent a short story to a publisher, and I'm working on a few more. Its minimalist interface works well for me. (Even though it's a markdown editor, I don't use it to write markdown at all.)

Lemmings. A mobile remake of one of my favorite games. It's really good!


Dark Waters. A gripping, beautifully-acted true story that cuts to the core of American capitalism: Dupont's efforts to hide its brazen chemical pollution.

Just Mercy. It starts a little too slow and by-the-numbers, but by the end, this story about the founding of the Equal Justice Initiative is undeniably powerful. Sometimes the unnuanced racism of the Alabama officials seems otherworldly, and that's exactly the point. There's so much work still to do.

Tiger King. Yes, I've been watching this, just like everyone else with a Netflix subscription. It's exactly the rapid descent into insanity this quarantine demanded.

Devs. Slow but deeply interesting. It reminds me a little of the excellent first season of Mr Robot. I'm not sure where it's going to go, but I'm a huge Alex Garland fan, and I'll follow him anywhere.

Notable Articles


The Man Behind Trump’s Facebook Juggernaut. "Before Parscale worked for the campaign, he was a digital marketer in San Antonio with no political experience. Referring to his work for Trump in 2016, he has said, “I was thrown into the Super Bowl, never played a game, and won.”"

Syrian Children Freeze to Death. Bombs Rain Down. And ‘Nobody Cares.’ "The Syrian government’s assault on a rebel-held province has created one of the worst humanitarian emergencies of a brutal nine-year war."

Sexism is Probably One Reason Why Elizabeth Warren Didn't Do Better. Infuriating.

Media & Society

Nine out of 10 people found to be biased against women. "Despite progress in closing the equality gap, 91% of men and 86% of women hold at least one bias against women in relation to politics, economics, education, violence or reproductive rights."

How Living Abroad Helps You Develop a Clearer Sense of Self. Co-signed.

A Photographer’s Parents Wave Farewell. A photographer captured her parents waving goodbye, every visit from 1991. The result is beautiful and heartbreaking.

Are You an Anti-Influencer? "Some people have a knack for buying products that flop, supporting political candidates who lose and moving to neighborhoods that fail to thrive."

Escape Pod 723: How Did it Feel to be Eaten? I really loved this science fiction short story. (I've also been enjoying the Nature Futures archive.)

A quick trip to the library, and suddenly, all is right with the world. Libraries are one of the wonders of the modern world. We can't let them fade away.


Funding for female founders increased in 2019—but only to 2.7%. "In 2019, investment juggernaut SoftBank poured at least $5 billion into the imploding co-working company. That's about $1.5 billion more than the total VC investment in all female-founded companies combined during the same period."

The History of the URL. A fairly technical history of one of the building blocks of the modern internet.

Apple benefits from forced Uighur labor at its iPhone supplier factories in China, according to an explosive new report. Your iPhone (and mine) might be made using concentration camp labor.

The untold origin story of eBay that I lived, and the times that could have killed it. The untold story of one of the internet's most famous successes.


Covid-19 retirement plan emergency benefits

If you're in the US, have a 401k, and were adversely affected by the pandemic, there are financial options available to you. (I'm working very hard right now to build tools to support these options.)

Jeff Schulte, our CEO at ForUsAll, breaks them down in a blog post. I hope it's useful to you.


Socialism as a Service

I've often remarked that the extravagent benefits often enjoyed by workers at Silicon Valley companies are roughly equivalent to what everyone receives in a social democracy. Full healthcare benefits? Check. Commuter benefits for people who need them? Check. Childcare? Check. Etc. People need those benefits, but they've mostly been the preserve of the wealthy - despite them being perfectly possible for everyone.

Similarly, the response to Covid-19 in the US has been equivalent to how many social democracies operate as a matter of course. Decent unemployment insurance, stronger support for the homeless, an eradication of the predatory bail system, and so on - these are things that we've needed to do for years. That they're now happening in the midst of a global pandemic only demonstrates that the barriers to doing so were always illusory.

I'm Head of Engineering at a startup that provides 401(k) retirement benefits. Our mission is to help everyone build a stronger financial future - and in particular to support people who are on lower incomes, working for the vast majority of American businesses. My personal opinion is that I would prefer to see a fair pension system; 401(k)s have some fundamental flaws that adversely affect both the financial markets and individual employees. In some ways, they're a forcing function to keep workers in their jobs. But it's highly unlikely that we'll see a public pension system, so building an equitable, accessible 401(k) platform is the pragmatic thing to do - it will provide a benefit to many people that fills a gap where government has fallen short.

There are many places in American society where government should provide benefits or safety nets but isn't. It's a more libertarian, individualistic society; community care is far less a part of the culture. One can debate the merits of that (I think you know where I stand), but there are ways startups and other organizations can fill in the gaps.

For example: what would it take to disrupt the health insurance market? Yes, we need to continue fighting for Medicare for All, and hopefully we'll get it soon, but let's assume that we continue to have an obstructionist in power. Forget the current system and its inefficient brutality: what would a genuinely better alternative look like?

What would it take to disrupt unemployment insurance? Or disability benefits? How can a startup empower people to own their own homes in a non-predatory way?

I believe that government should be solving these problems. I believe in a social contract and that we all need to take care of each other as a community. But while that dynamic has so badly failed in America, how can mission-driven businesses undermine and disrupt the worst tendencies of American capitalism so that it once again works for ordinary people? What do real businesses that empower ordinary people look like? If we can't embrace real social democracy in the way most developed countries do, how can we offer Socialism as a Service?



Yesterday, while going for a walk, I saw someone dressed in bin liners torn to form a kind of full-body plastic balaclava. Underneath, she was wearing a mask and sunglasses. She wore gloves so that she had virtually no exposed skin. As we passed by each other on the street, over six feet between us, she looked at me nervously.

"That," I thought to myself, "is a really good idea." 2020 is wild.

Today Bandcamp is forgoeing its share of revenue from all sales. (Its usual fee is 15%.) Independent artists are struggling in the current climate, so it's a great time to buy music from them. This post will have links to some of my favorites.

To begin with, I love Ariel Wang's EP Cat Faze. Moontide is a hauntingly beautiful song.

People continue to go outside. Couples are out walking together; people are exercising; families are walking their dogs, who all seem to be living their best lives. People are traveling to help each other. Everyone is practicing social distancing, but nonetheless, the streets are full of the best parts of humanity. What's missing is the rush of people on their way to and from work. The bustle of commuters and the stench of evening cars.

I wonder how all of this is going to remake how we work. I'm very anxious for the people who have lost their jobs; so many that the government doesn't want to release the official figures. There's talk of 20% unemployment, up from 3.5%. All those people need jobs; many of them may find themselves hired for remote work in place of their in-person positions.

But I don't know how realistic that is on a broad scale. I've got the privilege of a knowledge worker job: all I need is a laptop and an internet connection. Not every job can be converted in this way. We need our in-person workers. While there is probably going to be some kind of transformation, what we really need is a support package.

Gaelynn Lea's album Learning How to Stay is gorgeous. Her Tiny Desk Concert is worth watching, too, if you've never seen it.

It's been interesting to see reforms people have been fighting to see for years suddenly enacted. Non-violent offenders are being released from prison pre-trial; empty hotels and motels are being used to house the homeless; Republicans are proposing a universal basic income. Dogs and cats living together; mass hysteria. I love it. I don't love the context, at all, but I love that we've demonstrated that all these things are possible.

People are likely to fall through the cracks. I've been wondering about sex workers, which is a vulnerable population that nobody really talks about at times like these. How are they staying safe and well? I don't think they exactly have a benefits package to draw on. Do they have to continue working and risk exposure for both themselves and their clients? Do they go online and stream?

Meanwhile, Gamestop has self-classified as an essential service and told its employees to continue to come to work. Gaming is not essential. Companies like this need to face serious legal penalties - and we all need to boycott them. Luckily, for gamers, many better options are available.

Sapphire Lung's Chamber Slime is offbeat and full of life. They're worth seeing live, but if you can't, this album is the next best thing.

In some ways, I'm eating healthier and living a better lifestyle than I did when we weren't under quarantine. I've been eating a lot of beet and lentil soups; I've been taking solid exercise after work; I'm starting to drop and do push-ups between meetings. I used to do this a long time ago, and worked up to 150 push-ups a day. I'm nowhere near that number now, but maybe I can get there again?

But I miss hanging out with friends. I held a Zoom happy hour and posted it opportunistically on Facebook; the mix of people who turned up was a lovely cross-section of my life, and I was delighted to be able to introduce people to each other. Based on that, I'm sure I'll hold more. Life was so different less than a month ago. And it will be different again.

I realized last night that I was scared of getting the virus. Yes, I don't want to pass it on, but I'm genuinely afraid of contracting it myself. It's not to be messed with, and in a world where I had it and doctors had to choose between respirating me and saving someone else, I would want them to pick the other person. I don't want to live with the idea that my life was chosen over someone else's. Those are the decisions being made in many places right now. And at the same time, I don't want to go.

Thomas Truax builds his own instruments and plays incredible, avant-garde music. I'd love to see him collaborate with Sapphire Lung. His Bandcamp subscription supports him in lieu of live gigs.


Dispatches from a shelter in place

How are you holding up? Do you need something? Let me know.

The Bay Area is like a zombie movie. Particularly at around 8am, when the smells and sounds of commuter traffic should dominate, the quiet feels supernatural. Was I whisked away in the dead of night? Is this the Upside-Down?

For some reason, construction continues unabated. I feel bad for those workers, although they're far apart from each other, so I imagine the risk of infection is minimal. I also worry about the supermarket cashiers, the kitchen staff, the food delivery people, and above all, our medical and emergency workers. Although we're under a shelter in place order, venturing outside is not banned, and going for a walk is sometimes a good idea; every time I do, I see few people, but at least one ambulance.

I've started to feel a pain in my chest when I cough, as if I can feel my lungs, but I'm almost certain it's psychosomatic. My anxiety is getting the better of me, despite my best intentions, so it's almost certainly that. Nonetheless, I'm trying to be careful.

Work continues unabated. We actually might be more productive, which suggests some uncomfortable truths about our open office layout and the number of ad hoc meetings. I've been going through videoconferencing solutions like shampoo brands: Hangouts is choppy, and GoToMeeting is annoying to use. I put my own money down for a paid Zoom account, which is by far the best. Ideologically, I'd love to use an open source, peer to peer web-based product like Jitsi, but in our real world situation, they unfortunately haven't held up. I'm sure they'll get there.

18% of American workers have lost their jobs or had their hours slashed during this crisis. I feel very privileged to not be one of them, and I want to help where I can.

I've really appreciated texting with friends, some of whom I haven't heard from in a while. I've been appreciating the photos of peoples' lockdown spots, and of people making their own fun. There are dolphins in the Venice canals. Southern California has unimaginably good air right now. If you squint, there are silver linings.

I want to stay healthy. I want to stay happy. I'm finding small ways to exercise, and to keep myself finding beauty in small things. It helps - a lot - to know that my family and friends are out there. The internet is, right now, a very clear force for good. We're all connected. All one world. All getting through this together.

PS: my matching fundraiser for Doctors Without Borders is up to $908. Please consider joining us if you have the means. I'll double your money for the first $1,000 in donations.