This is my monthly roundup of the links and media I found interesting. Do you have suggestions? Let me know!
Apps + Websites
DALL·E 3. Once again, this looks completely like magic. Very high-fidelity images across a bunch of different styles. The implications are enormous.
Photoshop for Web. Insanely good. It blows my mind that this can be done on the web platform now.
Privacy Party. This is really good: a browser extension (for Chrome-based browsers) that goes through your social networks and helps you update your settings to optimize for privacy and security. Really well-executed.
Notion web Clipper - Klippper. I’m a heavy Notion web clipper user, but this is far better for my needs. I was worried I’d need to build it myself. Luckily: no!
Mastodon 4.2. Lots of good new changes here - and in particular a much-needed search overhaul. My private instance is running the latest and I like it a lot.
How the “Surveillance AI Pipeline” Literally Objectifies Human Beings. “The vast majority of computer vision research leads to technology that surveils human beings, a new preprint study that analyzed more than 20,000 computer vision papers and 11,000 patents spanning three decades has found.”
California governor vetoes bill banning robotrucks without safety drivers. The legislation passed with a heavy majority - this veto is a signal that Newsom favors the AI vendors over teamster concerns. Teamsters, on the other hand, claim the tech is unsafe and that jobs will be lost.
ChatGPT Caught Giving Horrible Advice to Cancer Patients. LLMs are a magic trick; interesting and useful for superficial tasks, but very much not up to, for example, replacing a trained medical professional. The idea that someone would think it’s okay to let one give medical advice is horrifying.
AI data training companies like Scale AI are hiring poets. These poets are being hired to eliminate the possibility of being paid for their own work. But I am kind of tickled by the idea that OpenAI is scraping fan-fiction forums. Not because it’s bad work, but imagine the consequences.
John Grisham, other top US authors sue OpenAI over copyrights. It will be fascinating to see the outcome of this - which, in turn, will set a precedent for how commercial data can be used to train AI (and other software systems) going forward.
Who blocks OpenAI? “The 392 news organizations listed below have instructed OpenAI’s GPTBot to not scan their sites, according to a continual survey of 1,119 online publishers conducted by the homepages.news archive. That amounts to 35.0% of the total.”
Microsoft announces new Copilot Copyright Commitment for customers. “As customers ask whether they can use Microsoft’s Copilot services and the output they generate without worrying about copyright claims, we are providing a straightforward answer: yes, you can, and if you are challenged on copyright grounds, we will assume responsibility for the potential legal risks involved.”
Our Self-Driving Cars Will Save Countless Lives, But They Will Kill Some of You First. “In a way, the people our cars mow down are doing just as much as our highly paid programmers and engineers to create the utopian, safe streets of tomorrow. Each person who falls under our front bumper teaches us something valuable about how humans act in the real world.”
EVs are a climate solution with a pollution problem: Tire particles. Another reason why the really sustainable solution to pollution from cars is better mass transit.
Revealed: top carbon offset projects may not cut planet-heating emissions. “The vast majority of the environmental projects most frequently used to offset greenhouse gas emissions appear to have fundamental failings suggesting they cannot be relied upon to cut planet-heating emissions, according to a new analysis.”
Earth ‘well outside safe operating space for humanity’, scientists find. “This update finds that six of the nine boundaries are transgressed, suggesting that Earth is now well outside of the safe operating space for humanity.” No biggie.
Why the United States undercounts climate-driven deaths. Another way the effect of the climate crisis is understated: climate deaths are undercounted. Changing this state of affairs is possible but requires effort, training, and resources. In the meantime, many people still don’t understand how serious the crisis actually is.
Nature TTL Photographer of the Year 2023: Winners Gallery. Every image here is stunning.
‘The scripts were the funniest things I’d ever read’: the stars of Peep Show look back, 20 years later.Before there was Succession, there was Peep Show. A brilliant piece of TV that launched a bunch of careers. If you haven’t seen it, give yourself the gift of checking it out.
The Berkeley Hotel hostage. I know people who worked with Douglas Adams and I’m incredibly envious of them. He seems like someone I would have really enjoyed meeting - and his books (all of them) were a huge part of my developing psyche. This story seems so human, so relatable. Trapped by his success, in a way.
Refusing to Censor Myself. A less-discussed problem with book bans: publishers will self-censor, as they did here by requiring the removal of the word “racism” in the context of internment camps.
Writer Sarah Rose Etter on not making things harder than they need to be. I found this interview fascinating: definitely a writer I look up to, whose work I both enjoy and find intimidatingly raw. And who happens to have a very similar day job to me.
FTC Sues Amazon for Illegally Maintaining Monopoly Power. “Amazon’s ongoing pattern of illegal conduct blocks competition, allowing it to wield monopoly power to inflate prices, degrade quality, and stifle innovation for consumers and businesses.” Whatever happens here, it will be meaningful. It’s also nice to see the FTC actually wielding its antitrust powers.
Intuit Pushing Claim That Free Tax-Filing Program Would Harm Black Taxpayers. Intuit has a stranglehold on how taxes are filed in America. For what? Many other countries just have an easy to use tax portal of their own. This is a business that shouldn’t even need to exist.
Migrants tracked with GPS tags say UK feels like ‘an outside prison’. I had no idea Britain was fitting migrants and asylum seekers with ankle bracelets and surveilling them to this level. It seems impossible that this is something people would think is right and just. The dystopian cruelty is mind-boggling.
An endless battle for the rights of the underclass. Every word of this, but particularly: “Cultural warfare was a political ploy designed to keep workers from recognizing our common ground and banding together against corporate abuses and thefts.”
US economy going strong under Biden – Americans don’t believe it. It’s how we measure the economy, stupid.
What Mitt Romney Saw in the Senate. A fascinating read that makes me want to check out the full book, which seems to me like an attempt by Romney to save the Republican Party from Trumpism (as well as, let’s be clear, his own reputation). Wild anecdote after wild anecdote that highlights the cynicism of Washington political life.
Never Remember. The best thing I read on the anniversary of 9/11 by far. It feels cathartic to read. But it’s also so, so sad.
New Elon Musk biography offers fresh details about the billionaire's Ukraine dilemma. If I was building technology to let people watch Netflix and check their email from remote locations, I would also be upset about it being used for drone strikes. But if that’s the case, you shouldn’t be deploying your tech to the military in the first place. Nor should you be making strategic military decisions of your own.
Majority of likely Democratic voters say party should ditch Biden, poll shows. No surprises here. We need more progressive change than we’re getting. But obviously, if it’s Biden v Trump, there’s only one choice.
AOC urges US to apologize for meddling in Latin America: ‘We’re here to reset relationships’. Yes. Absolutely this. And everywhere.
The Anti-Vax Movement Isn’t Going Away. We Must Adapt to It. Depressing. I agree that vaccine denial is not going away, and that we need to find other ways to mitigate outbreaks. But what a sad situation to be in.
Remote work may help decrease sexual assault and harassment, poll finds. “About 5 percent of women who were working remotely reported instances in that time, compared with 12 percent of in-person women workers. Overall, only 5 percent of remote workers reported instances in the past three years, compared with 9 percent of those who work fully or mostly in person.”
Working mothers reach record high, above pre-pandemic levels. Flexible work from home policies have allowed more mothers with young children to join the workforce than ever before. Yet another reason why these policies are positive for everyone and should not just stick around but be significantly expanded.
Amanda Zamora is stepping down as publisher at The 19th. Amanda is absolutely fearless and I was privileged to work with her. As co-founder of The 19th, she was an absolutely core part of what it became: both a strategist and culture instigator. What she does next will certainly change media; I’ll be cheerleading.
Failing Without Knowing Why: The Tragedy Of Performative Content. Thought-provoking for me: particularly as someone who thinks through ideas through writing. But perhaps that writing doesn’t need to be in public, in front of an audience.
How I approach crafting a blog post. “I don’t think I’ve seen someone walk through their process for writing a blog post, though.” I love this breakdown! Tracy’s structured process shows up in the quality of her posts. I love the thoughtfulness here.
In defense of aggressive small-town newspapers. This: “The prevalence of “news deserts” has apparently led some to think it’s normal for neighborhood news outlets to function as lapdogs rather than watchdogs.” The purpose of journalism is to investigate in the public interest.
In the AI Age, The New York Times Wants Reporters to Tell Readers Who They Are. I think this is the right impulse: people tend to follow and trust individual journalists, not publications. Building out profiles and establishing more personal relationships helps build that trust.
Counting Ghosts. “Web analytics sits in the awkward space between empirical analysis and relationship building, failing at both, distracting from the real job to be done: making connections, in whatever form that means for our project.”
Publisher wants $2,500 to allow academics to post their own manuscript to their own repository – Walled Culture. The open access movement is an important way academics can fight back against predatory publishers for the good of human knowledge everywhere - but the publishers are still out there, grifting.
A New Low: Just 46% Of U.S. Households Subscribe To Traditional Cable TV. I’ve lived in the US for twelve years, and at no point have I even been tempted by traditional cable. Every time I encounter it, I wonder why people want it. It’s a substandard, obsolete product. So this is no surprise.
The Ad Industry Bailed On News. Can An AI Solution Offer A Way Back? Services like this become single points of failure with outsize power over the journalism industry. It’s a bad idea. No one entity should be the arbiter of bias in news or where a buyer should put their money. For one thing, who watches that entity’s own inevitable bias? And if you’re offering AI as a bias-free solution, you’ve already lost.
Zine: How We Illustrate Tech (and AI) at The Markup. Lovely!
White House to send letter to news execs urging outlets to 'ramp up' scrutiny of GOP's Biden impeachment inquiry 'based on lies'. I couldn’t be less of a fan of the current Republican Party but I hate this. The White House should not be sending letters to the media encouraging them to do anything. That’s not the sort of relationship we need our journalistic media to have.
Snoop Dogg can narrate your news articles. Snoop Dogg gimmick aside, this is actually pretty neat, and useful. I’d also like the opposite: sometimes I want to read podcasts. Different contexts demand different media; I wish content itself could be more adaptable.
Non-news sites expose people to more political content than news sites. Why? Two thirds of the political content people consume come from non-news sites. And most of the news content people read is not overtly political. Instead, it’s mostly coming from entertainment - which has no ethical need to report factually.
Naomi Klein's "Doppelganger". “Fundamentally: Klein is a leftist, Wolf was a liberal. The classic leftist distinction goes: leftists want to abolish a system where 150 white men run the world; liberals want to replace half of those 150 with women, queers and people of color.”
US surgeons are killing themselves at an alarming rate. One decided to speak out. “Somewhere between 300 to 400 physicians a year in the US take their own lives, the equivalent of one medical school graduating class annually.”
Oxford University is the world’s top university for a record eighth year. This presumably means that the Turf Tavern is the best student pub in the world.
Britain’s attitude to refugees shows, once again, that it’s a colonial nation. “Hostile immigration policy stokes racism but the foundation it builds upon itself is racist and maintains a ‘colonial present’. Through dealing with migrants like pests, who deserve to be locked away in a prison barge, the British government continues to ignore the fact that, “Borders maintain hoarded concentrations of wealth accrued from colonial domination.”″
19th News/SurveyMonkey poll: The State of Our Nation. Lots of interesting insights in this poll, including on nationwide attitudes to gender-affirming care (only 29% of Republicans think their party should focus on it) and gun control (82% of Americans want to restrict access in domestic abuse cases).
Victims of forced sterilization in California prisons entitled to reparations. One thing I learned from this story is that forced sterilization of inmates has still been widespread in the 21st century in America. Ghoulish.
Unconditional cash transfers reduce homelessness. It turns out that if you give homeless people money as assistance, it really helps them. This is something society should do.
Why Starting Your Investor Updates With “Cash on Hand” Information is a Major Red Flag Right Now. It’s Maybe the Only Thing Worse Than Not Sending Updates at All. I appreciated this succinct discussion on using venture dollars well from Hunter Walk. In particular, this: “Startups spend a $1 to ultimately try and create more than $1 of company. If you do that repeatedly and efficiently we will all make money together.” Too many founders still think of investment as being akin to a grant.
Meta in Myanmar, Part I: The Setup. “By that point, Meta had been receiving detailed and increasingly desperate warnings about Facebook’s role as an accelerant of genocidal propaganda in Myanmar for six years.” We need more discussion of this - I’m grateful for this four-part series.
Optimizing for Taste. A solid argument against A/B testing. A lot of it comes down to this: “It fosters a culture of decision making without having an opinion, without having to put a stake in the ground. It fosters a culture where making a quick buck trumps a great product experience.” I agree.
Meredith Whittaker reaffirms that Signal would leave UK if forced by privacy bill. Signal on UK privacy law: “We would leave the U.K. or any jurisdiction if it came down to the choice between backdooring our encryption and betraying the people who count on us for privacy, or leaving.” Good.
U.S. Counterintel Buys Access to the Backbone of the Internet to Hunt Foreign Hackers. “The news is yet another example of a government agency turning to the private sector for novel datasets that the public is likely unaware are being collected and then sold.”
Digital Disruption: Measuring the Social and Economic Costs of Internet Shutdowns & Throttling of Access to Twitter. This report found that removing access to Twitter created significant economic and social impacts. Question: are some of these now replicated with the switch to X?
Build Great Software By Repeatedly Encountering It. This is really important, and why we talk about “eating your own dogfood”. If you don’t use what you build, you can’t build anything great.
EV charging infrastruture is a joke – Brad Barrish. Non-Tesla EV charging infrastructure is awful. It’s good that Tesla has opened the standard, but it’s not good that the only really viable charging infrastructure is owned by one company. It needs to be fixed.
The #ViewSource Affordance. I strongly agree with this. “View source” has been an important part of the culture of the web since the beginning. Obfuscating that source or removing the option does damage to its underlying principles and makes the web a worse place. I like the comparison to the enclosure movement, which seems apt.
Online Safety Bill: Crackdown on harmful social media content agreed. This is a horrendous bill that is designed to encourage self-censorship, including around topics like “illegal immigration”, as well as vastly deepen surveillance on internet users. And Britain passing it will likely embolden other nations to try the same.
WordPress blogs can now be followed in the fediverse, including Mastodon. I’d prefer if this was default WordPress functionality - but the big lede is buried here. Hosted WordPress sites are getting fediverse compatibility. That’s a huge deal.
Finishing With Twitter/X. Who at the intersection of tech and politics is still posting on Twitter? And should they be? A good breakdown.
Unity has changed its pricing model, and game developers are pissed off. As with API pricing changes across social media, these tiers disproportionately penalize indie developers. The message is clear: they don’t want or need those customers. In a tighter economy, much of technology is re-organizing around serving bigger, wealthier players.
Silicon Valley's Slaughterhouse. “Andreessen wasn’t advocating for a tech industry that accelerates the development of the human race, or elevates the human condition. He wanted to (and succeeded in creating) a Silicon Valley that builds technology that can, and I quote, “eat markets far larger than the technology industry has historically been able to pursue.””
Google vet wants to turn your hot water heater into a "virtual power plant". I really need this for my home, and I suspect my entire region needs it. This could do a lot of good and be the start of something much bigger using virtual power plants as a platform.
It’s Official: Cars Are the Worst Product Category We Have Ever Reviewed for Privacy. Every modern car brand abuses your personal information. 84% sell your data (including where you go and when). 56% will share it with law enforcement without a warrant. And none of them have demonstrably adequate security.
Tucson's Molly Holzschlag, known as 'the fairy godmother of the web,' dead at 60. Rest in peace, Molly. We’ve lost one of the really good people who made the web better.