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Working at the intersection of technology, media, and democracy.
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benwerd

benwerd

benwerd

ben@benwerd.com

 

What I read and watched in February 2021

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

Books

We Will Not Cancel Us: And Other Dreams of Transformative Justice, by adrienne maree brown. The centerpiece of this short book is an argument for compassionate transformative justice that doesn’t erase the experiences of survivors, and recognizes the desire of infiltrators to derail movements. It’s an important read, although I wish the book was longer, and that there were more concrete takeaways. Still, I found it thought-provoking, and more than that, it’s solid emotional backup for anyone called towards radical transformative justice. I’m deeply glad adrienne maree brown exists in the world.

Girlchild, by Tupelo Hassman. A searing portrait of a young girl’s life in an America that is rarely described. At once impressionistic and precise in its naturalistic detail, Tupelo Hassman’s writing walks a tightrope between heartbreaking and darkly comic. Or maybe it’s not a tightrope at all: throughout the bleakness of their trailer park context, her characters find ways to live with brightness and energy, never more than when they’re trying to break free.

A History of My Brief Body, by Billy-Ray Belcourt. “They hate our freedom, so only freedom matters.” Uncompromising in its honesty, this deep dive into the author’s lived experience at the intersection of queerness, NDN heritage, and white Canadian racism is beautifully written and unforgettably frank in its heartfelt call for joy, art, and poetry as acts of resistance. This patchwork collection of essays name-checks like-minded artists and lays intimacies bare in order to paint a portrait of life under oppression that rings with uncomfortable truth.

The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead. Fiction rooted in appalling historical tragedy. In some ways the plot proceeds in a straightforward way, but in doing so, it reveals truths about America that land harder for the author’s unsensational approach. These places existed. These things happened. These boys, though perhaps not with these exact names and these exact lives, really existed. And there are still real people who would prefer these stories remain untold.

Streaming

Judas and the Black Messiah. An absolute must-see. Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield, and Dominique Fishback all put in standout performances. This is a story that needs to be understood widely, told with vision, clarity, and deep humanity.

Notable Articles

Business

The Best-Case Outcomes Are Statistical Outliers. “Knowing that the future is probably not going to be all sunshine and roses allows you to prepare for a variety of more likely outcomes, including some of the bad ones. Sometimes, too, when the worst-case scenario happens, it’s actually a huge relief. We realize it’s not all bad, we didn’t die, and we can manage if it happens again. Preparation and knowing you can handle a wide spectrum of possible challenges is how you get the peace of mind to be unsurprised by anything in between the worst and the best.”

Finally, a private stock exchange. There are half as many public companies as there were twenty years ago. Efforts like this make sense to me - and they also help level the playing field between public companies like Google, which give public stock grants to their employees, and smaller firms that haven’t gone public yet.

How to be an angel investor in early stage startups when you don’t have any money. “Because angel investing has done so much for me and people often ask me how to get started, I wrote this guide on how to put time and energy into the startup scene to make the benefits of angel investing more accessible. Putting money into ETFs is super outdated advice because you don’t learn shit, it doesn’t do anything for your career and you’re not going to make enough money to catapult you across class boundaries. Meanwhile angel investing can help you learn new things, develop skills, build a reputation, have fun, and (potentially) create long-term returns.”

The Great Unbundling. This is a really thought provoking presentation about the state of the internet in 2021. Worth your time.

Social media sentiment ETF to launch in wake of Reddit rebellion. “The Buzz index aggregates investment-related content from social media sites such as Twitter and StockTwits, blogs and news articles.” Absolutely yikes, but also I bet it’ll make a ton of money.

Twitter Mulls Subscription Product, Tipping For Generating Revenue. This is FANTASTIC. More subscription business models, fewer targeted advertising models, please.

Labor & Delivery: Birthing the New Economy. “Like childbirth, there’s no one right way to build a business. We need more guides — doulas — to help us along the path that feels right for each of us.” A new Zebra manifesto - and its perfect.

Amazon’s Great Labor Awakening. “In San Bernardino, roughly 20 miles from the InTech campus, a group of students from Cajon High School recently took classes in the Amazon Logistics and Business Management Pathway, one of eight career tracks offered at the public high school, alongside medicine, human services and building trades. The school’s teenagers are mostly from low- and middle-income families. Many can name friends, family members or neighbors who are or have been employed by Amazon.” Dystopian.

Banking-as-a-service made fintech explode. But as a bigger market awaits, so do new problems. “"A lot of banking-as-a-service providers might end up having the traditional problem middlemen have in highly-fragmented markets," Falvey said. "The structure limits the ability for these providers to increase their margins over time."”

Culture

Blade Runner Director's Cut Was A Historic Film History Mistake. The Director's Cut was so much better than the original theatrical version. It's amazing to me that it was only released because of a simple mistake.

From 'Doctor Who' to 'Outlander': How Fans Craft Reverse Engineer Knits. What a lovely piece of internet culture: fans who love something so much that they reverse engineer it and figure out how to make it themselves. I, for one, would love a hand-knitted Doctor Who scarf.

Silence of the Lambs 30th Anniversary Review: Jodie Foster & Misogyny. "But Clarice is a woman. And The Silence of the Lambs, which is about a serial killer who targets women so that he can craft a suit out of their skin, is very careful to establish that Clarice exists in a world where men—all men, not just the ones who happen to be maniacs—unequivocally have the upper hand."

Dramatic discovery links Stonehenge to its original site – in Wales. Pretty amazing stuff: Stonehenge stood in Wales for some 400 years before being uprooted and brought to England.

movie night. “If you like the kind of movie where the filmmaker states the film’s thesis by having one of the characters recite an Auden poem out loud while nothing else happens ...” I loved this essay about movies, and love, and memory.

Remembering Octavia Butler: Black Sci-Fi Writer Shares Cautionary Tales in Unearthed 2005 Interview. Octavia Butler was a visionary and a genius. I loved this interview.

HE, by Kyle Ross. “He told his parents he was a boy. They told him he couldn’t be.” I enjoyed this flash fiction piece.

Media

Thanks to the Internet Archive, the history of American newspapers is more searchable than ever. "A stroll through the archives of Editor & Publisher shows an industry with moments of glory and shame — and evidence that not all of today’s problems are new." As with all of the Internet Archive's work, this is superb.

Consider the Source. “But the most startling admission in Sheehan’s interview is that he deliberately and repeatedly deceived his source. Ellsberg was reluctant to give Sheehan copies of the Papers. Instead, he let Sheehan review the material and take copious notes, but wouldn’t let him photocopy the documents until he was satisfied the Times was going to do something with them. Sheehan says he agreed to those conditions, but it’s not clear he ever intended to uphold them.”

How To Not Mess Up Online (and How To Apologize If You Do). This is a pretty good guide! I’m bad at following all the rules.

Two ‘Reply All’ Hosts Step Down Amid ‘Test Kitchen’ Fallout. Really disappointing behavior.

What makes for robust local news provision? Looking at the structural correlates of local news coverage for an entire U.S. state, and mapping local news using a new method. Richer areas have more news. A free market is not the model that will get us to a well-informed electorate.

New Cue the music: former Q editors join newsletter publishing boom. Q is one of the magazines of my childhood (or at least, my teenage self). Fascinating that it’s showing up again as a Substack.

PBS' streaming future: online donations, free 24/7 channels. “That's why PBS introduced one-click donations on Amazon's Fire TV platform last fall. Fire TV users can now donate to their local station right from within the PBS app, using the credit card details that Amazon already has on file, and even join to become a sustaining member. The simplicity of this approach seems to be a hit with consumers, with Rubenstein pointing out that it has had a higher conversion rate than any other donation page for local PBS stations. "There's a very strong future for this," he said. "My vision is that we expand that one click to every platform."”

Politics

Off the rails: Inside the craziest meeting of the Trump presidency. An incredible read. What a clown show.

Movie at the Ellipse: A Study in Fascist Propaganda. "The message of the video is clear. America’s glory has been betrayed by treachery and division sown by politicians seeking to undermine and destroy the nation. To save the nation, one must restore Trump’s rule." We need to already bolster ourselves against the risk of a second Trump term - or of a different, more competent fascist.

Donald Trump’s Business Sought A Stake In Parler Before He Would Join. "Talks between members of Trump’s campaign and Parler about Trump’s potential involvement began last summer, and were revisited in November by the Trump Organization after Trump lost the 2020 election to the Democratic nominee and current president, Joe Biden. Documents seen by BuzzFeed News show that Parler offered the Trump Organization a 40% stake in the company. It is unclear as to what extent the former president was involved with the discussions." This seems like it should be incredibly illegal?

The Queen has more power over British law than we ever thought. "The documents uncovered by the Guardian provide remarkable evidence that this process accords the Queen’s advisers a genuine opportunity to negotiate with the government over changes in proposed laws, that they do sometimes secure such changes before giving consent, and that they are even prepared to threaten to withhold consent to secure their policy preferences." That doesn't seem very democratic at all.

Critical Thinking isn't Just a Process. “And perhaps a key point here is that the difference between lies of omission—misleading by skipping relevant information—and lies of commission—outright lying—is not just that the latter is weak, it’s also that it’s harder for the person doing the misleading. It deprives them of their self-respect. And in countries like the United States, it’s not easy for a medical doctor at a respectable institution to be outright lying.” Interesting piece on the Kremlinology of determining how sick Trump actually was.

Science

Fecal transplant turns cancer immunotherapy non-responders into responders. "Researchers at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) demonstrate that changing the gut microbiome can transform patients with advanced melanoma who never responded to immunotherapy--which has a failure rate of 40% for this type of cancer--into patients who do."

Bernese researchers create sophisticated lung-on-chip. “Next to pharmaceutical applications, organs-on-chip are seen as having the potential to be used in precision medicine to test the patient's own cells in order to tailor the best therapy. Furthermore, such systems have the significant potential to reduce animal testing in medical and life-science research.” Super-cool.

California's coronavirus strain looks increasingly dangerous. Really terrible news.

Four causes for ‘Zoom fatigue’ and their solutions. Honestly, I’ll try anything - but these seem like good ideas.

Society

He made sure the bodies of the Muslim dead faced Mecca. COVID-19 claimed his life. “For over 30 years, Alshilleh helped to bury a generation of Southern Californian Muslims. The Riverside resident washed and shrouded the corpses of men per Islamic customs and drove the bodies of men and women to cemeteries from Rosamond to Victorville, San Diego to Orange County.” All for free.

A Journal of the Plague Week 46. "What do you do when you look out the window and see your neighbors being rounded up and taken away? Perhaps you look on impassively, or even with approval, telling yourself that they must have done something to deserve it, or maybe that it’s just easier for everyone if they’re out of the picture. Perhaps you lean out of your window and watch it happen, then close the window and go about your day. Perhaps you want to intervene, even knowing that it’s futile, that your neighbors will be deported anyway while you’ll be arrested, or worse. Perhaps you’re compelled to send some signal of solidarity to the people outside, knowing that this is equally dangerous and futile. Perhaps you look on with pity or sympathy, but then turn away and get on with your life, because what else can you do?" Heartbreaking thoughts about a remarkable photograph.

20,000 honey bees took over a tech office during Covid-19. Bzzzness.

There’s a Reason You Feel Numb Right Now. It’s been ten years since I moved to California for very stressful reasons. Those reasons have not let up. So this piece might as well be a user’s manual for me.

Employer-Tied Health Care Is Also a Tech Accountability Issue. “When individuals expose themselves to retaliation, doxing, and harassment from the legal teams of big tech companies in order to share information that benefits all of us, we must make sure that access to their therapist and primary care doctor is not one more thing they have to give up.” I continue to fail to see any upside to private healthcare as a system.

‘I Miss My Mom’: Children Of QAnon Believers Are Desperately Trying To Deradicalize Their Own Parents. “Elaina, a 28-year-old graphic designer from Missouri, has struggled to watch as her mom’s obsession with QAnon damages her life in potentially irreparable ways. She’s sinking deeper and deeper into debt, convinced that it will all soon be forgiven under a new financial system called NESARA — a bogus theory, revived by QAnon, that stems from a set of economic reforms that were proposed in the 1990s but never introduced before Congress. After Elaina and her husband bought a house last year, her mother told them to skip their mortgage payments.” These stories are heartbreaking.

The Best Time I Pretended I Hadn’t Heard of Slavoj Žižek. “Find someone who is crazy about Morrissey, and pretend you have no idea who that is. It drives people nuts. I don’t know why, but it does. Just kidding, I know exactly why, because I myself have been on the receiving end of the Žižek Maneuver. This girl I had a bit of a crush on told me she had never watched “Twin Peaks,” and it damn near killed me. The reason I had a crush on her in the first place is because we liked so many of the same books, and movies, and music. How could she have never watched “Twin Peaks?” Was she messing with me? How? It did not for a second occur to me that she just hadn’t got round to it. My immediate response was to believe that she had deliberately not watched it in order to get on my nerves. When she told me later that of course she had watched “Twin Peaks,” my eye started twitching.”

Malcolm X's family releases letter alleging FBI, police role in his death. It would be nice to have the truth come out.

Concierge Care Provider One Medical Gave COVID-19 Vaccine To Ineligible People. Not great. That said, I can’t wait until we all can get the vaccine.

Comparative suffering, judgment, and more. “How do you both cut people some slack as so many people are low-functioning right now, and also see that people’s true colors come out in times of crisis?”

Technology

Breaking Tech Open: Why Social Platforms Should Work More Like Email. “What would it look like if social platforms were required to integrate with an interoperable social infrastructure, or even used email itself as this standard? We could imagine new interfaces that mix and match social messages, ride-hailing, room rentals, or classifieds. The wealth of all of our social interactions would be multiplied and combined across platforms, resulting in a better experience for everyone.” It’s so refreshing to see this discourse hit the mainstream. Let’s do this.

Golems, smart objects, and the file metaphor. “The file made sense for desktop computers and bytes stored on disk. What could the file be now, in the era of the cloud and smart devices?” This is a lovely exploration of what turns out to be a complicated, nuanced idea.

“We need to do something to stop these conversations from happening.” Facebook’s data scientists warned that extremists were gathering in its Groups. “The re­searchers told ex­ec­u­tives that “en­thu­si­as­tic calls for vi­o­lence every day” filled one 58,000-mem­ber Group, ac­cord­ing to an in­ter­nal pre­sen­ta­tion. An­other top Group claimed it was set up by fans of Don­ald Trump but it was ac­tu­ally run by “fi­nan­cially mo­ti­vated Al­ba­ni­ans” di­rect­ing a mil­lion views daily to fake news sto­ries and other provoca­tive con­tent.”

Parler CEO Is Fired After 'Constant Resistance' Inside The Conservative-Friendly Site. “In an interview with NPR, Matze claimed that there was a dispute with Mercer over just how far Parler would take its openness to free speech. He said that if the company wanted to succeed, Parler would have crack down on domestic terrorists and any groups that incite violence, including the Trump-supporting conspiracy theory QAnon.” The board is committed to not doing that.

This is the Democrats’ plan to limit Section 230. For better or worse, these changes will be a major accelerant for decentralization. Protocols don't host.

Facebook and the Surveillance Society: The Other Coup. "To understand the economics of epistemic chaos, it’s important to know that surveillance capitalism’s operations have no formal interest in facts. All data is welcomed as equivalent, though not all of it is equal. Extraction operations proceed with the discipline of the Cyclops, voraciously consuming everything it can see and radically indifferent to meaning, facts and truth."

Signal ignores proxy censorship vulnerability, bans researchers. I’m a big proponent of Signal and, honestly, this seems very bad.

In Myanmar, one blackout ends, another begins. Governments arbitrarily turning the internet off and on to suit their needs - as they did in Myanmar - will just become more common. If we’re serious about decentralization, we need to also reduce our dependence on the internet backbone itself.

Medium Workers Union (MWU). I’m so proud of my friends and former colleagues at Medium. Solidarity.

Zuckerberg told staff: 'We need to inflict pain' on Apple. Quite the opposite.

Designing Inclusive Content Models. “If we’re building worlds, we should build worlds that let in as many people as possible. To do this, our discussions of content modeling need to include an expanded range of metaphors that go beyond just mirroring what we find in the world. We should also, when needed, filter out structures that are harmful or exclusionary.”

The New API for Wikipedia. Neat!

How Koo became India’s Hindu nationalist–approved Twitter alternative. “Radhakrishna and his platform are in a curious position. The founder insists he’s apolitical — he’s appeared in both left-leaning and right-wing outlets in the days since Koo has found the limelight — but is happily embracing the sudden rush to his app: Koo crossed 3 million users this month, fueled in large part by Modi’s party.”

Fintech companies must balance the pursuit of profit against ethical data usage. “While Big Tech collects consumer data to support their advertising revenue, banks can win the hearts of consumers by collecting data to drive personalization and superior UXs. This is especially true for local community banks and credit unions, as their high-touch approach to services has always been their core differentiator. By delivering personalized interactions while ensuring the data collection is secure and transparent, banks can regain market share and win the hearts of customers again.” Yes please.

Open source projects should run office hours. Really smart. I do this internally at my company, but I haven’t done it for open source projects I continue to maintain (like Known). I’m in.

The road to electric is filled with tiny cars. Absolutely fascinating.

Mailchimp employees have complained about inequality for years — is anyone listening?. Absolutely outrageous stories. Any company that acts like this does not deserve to have employees. I have friends at MailChimp, and who used to be there, including Kelly Ellis, who is quoted in the story. I moved my mailing list away after learning about her experience.

The Future of Web Software Is HTML-over-WebSockets. Interesting. I’m not sure I buy it yet - but I love the idea.

Amazon rainforest plots sold via Facebook Marketplace ads. File under, “are you serious?”

The problem of CryptoArt. “It turns out my release of 6 CryptoArt works consumed in 10 seconds more electricity than the entire studio over the past 2 years.”

 

Reading, watching, playing, using: January, 2021

This is my monthly roundup of the tech and media I consumed and found interesting. Here's my list for January, 2021: a month that included an armed coup attempt, my 42nd birthday, and the start of a new Presidency.

Books

The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, by Eric Hoffer. Fascinating, searing and insightful, but also set in its ways. It was originally published in 1951, and some of Hoffer’s perspective has not stood the test of time; however, the parallels he draws about mass movements around the world absolutely do, and I found it hard not to think about the current rise of Trumpian nationalism as he laid out his argument.

The Three-Body Problem, by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu. Spectacular science fiction ideas drawn from real imagination, woven into a nonsensical story with wooden, unbelievable characters that often stray into sexist tropes. It turns out I care about the latter more.

The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage (Book of Dust, Volume 1), by Philip Pullman. It’s absolutely magical to read a fantasy universe set in an alternate version of my hometown. I felt a waterfall of emotions, from homesickness to wonder. I’ve never read His Dark Materials, to my shame, and this has me very much wanting to go and read that trilogy before I continue with this one. But the last third is much weaker, and contains a narrative choice I won’t spoil but really didn’t need to be there. Not a perfect book, then, but for the first two thirds, it was moving in that direction.

Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America, by Laila Lalami . This series of dynamic first-person perspectives on the conditions of citizenship placed on the majority of people in this country who don’t happen to be white, male, or straight should be required reading for every American. It culminates in a manifesto of sorts that paints a picture of the sort of country we should be building. The only point of departure I have with the author is her apparent belief that faith makes a person more ethical; I simply don’t believe this to be the case. Nonetheless, this is her truth, and it’s related in a direct, dynamic way that adds a great deal to the discourse of what it means to be an American.

The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig. A lovely feel-good read. I occasionally felt like the author was over-stressing obvious conclusions, but that’s because the premise of depression leading to constant agonizing over past regrets is pretty much where I live. It left me, like its protagonist, eager to go out and live. Sure, you could unkindly describe it as Quantum Leap for people with depression. But honestly? Even that synopsis sounds great to me.

Streaming

Revolution of the Daleks. After the year we had, I really needed a solid Doctor Who special. And this was it: from great character development to a “fuck the police” subtext, this is the subversive show I love. I’m looking forward to more later this year, as soon as they finish filming during the pandemic (apparently they don’t quite know when that will be yet).

Locked Down. It was critically panned, and the subject matter is the definition of “too soon”, but I enjoyed this weird little movie. It’s neither a romantic comedy nor a heist movie, but it rhymes with both. It reminded me of a quirky novel.

chez baldwin. A Spotify playlist based on records found in James Baldwin’s home in France. Sublime.

Notable Articles

Business

How Google workers secretly built a union. I’m deeply pro-union, and excited to see more unionization in tech.

Vons, Pavilions to Fire “Essential Workers,” Replace Drivers with Independent Contractors. This is what we get for passing Proposition 22.

Imagine a Hiring Process Without Resumes. “Open hiring shifts resources to invest in workers, rather than finding ways to exclude them. Most important, this approach allows companies to build more resilient businesses and address one of today’s greatest social challenges: providing economic opportunities for people often viewed as unemployable.”

World's richest person Elon Musk to dedicate wealth to Mars colony. “And lest you think a trip to Mars is too pricey for most people, Musk has said he intends for there to be "loans available for those who don't have money," and jobs on the Red Planet for colonists to pay off their debts. Some critics say Musk's plans resemble an interplanetary form of indentured servitude.” You don’t say.

Seed Investments in Insurrection. “Some investors who rewrite the history of innovation. They forget that taxpayers funded the creation of the internet and contributed to pharmaceutical discoveries. They call for the end of regulations except for the ones that incentivize them to invest through tax benefits regular people don’t get. They want the government off their backs except when it comes to making sure no one builds affordable housing down the street from them.”

Culture is the Behavior You Reward and Punish. “People stop taking values seriously when the public rewards (and consequences) don’t match up. We can say that our culture requires treating each other with respect, but all too often, the openly rude high performer is privately disciplined, but keeps getting more and better projects. It doesn’t matter if you docked his bonus or yelled at him in private. When your team sees unkind people get ahead, they understand that the real culture is not one of kindness.”

Expensify CEO David Barrett: ‘Most CEOs are not bad people, they're just cowards’. “My opinion is a little bit different. I think this idea of "Oh, we're apolitical," I think that's kind of bullshit. I think there's no such thing in a democracy as being apolitical. Every action you take is your position. I think that a large number of these tech companies, by saying, "Oh, we're apolitical," that's a very convenient way of saying, "No, I'm voting for the status quo. I support the current administration, and I'm not going to take actions to do anything about it because it's actually good for business." I think it's actually pretty cynical.”

Why You Should Practice Failure. “We learn from our mistakes. When we screw up and fail, we learn how not to handle things. We learn what not to do.” All opportunities for growth.

Why I wouldn’t invest in open-source companies, even though I ran one. “The question then is: Is open-source a better business strategy than a more conventional, proprietary tech model? And the answer - at least to me - is a resounding "No". The ratio of failed OS businesses to successful ones is worse than in prop-tech; revenue kicks in much later, business model pivots are hampered by community resistance, and licensing issues leave OS businesses vulnerable throughout their lifetime. Instead, why not do what traditional businesses are doing, sell a product, and simply charge for the value it provides?” AKA “the exact same mistake I made twice.”

Making Twitter a better home for writers. It's super-interesting to see Twitter enter the paid newsletter space. Lots of interesting places to go with this.

Speaker Rider for Meaningfully Inclusive Events. Let's please all start using this.

Tractors won't be fully autonomous anytime soon — but not because they can't be. It’s interesting to think about the long term effects of autonomous farming. I don’t believe we can switch to this without much stronger social safety nets in place. I can also see a world where low-wage workers end up working behind computers, policing the decisions made by machine learning systems.

Culture

How about finding new books by mapping who thanks who. I love this idea. I wonder if a company other than Amazon or Google could pull it off?

A full accounting of the one hundred and fifty tales that make up the entirety of the thousand and one tales. This is a lovely writing project. It makes me want to do something similar - you know, with all my copious free time.

Three Things Cameron Couldn't Tell You, by Michael Haynes. I loved this short story.

Media

The mafia turns social media influencer to reinforce its brand. “Southern Italy’s mob bosses embrace digital platforms as a way to spread their message.” I’m excited to see the TikTok dances.

A sneak peak at power mapping, 2073’s top innovation. “What if every piece of journalism helped the public understand whether old or new power dynamics and values were at play?”

The Day Without News. If only.

Using printed QR codes for links in books. I love these examples, and the idea. URLs on the printed page have always sucked. Including QR codes inline can be beautiful, and simultaneously less obtrusive.

Open letter from Laura Poitras. “On Monday, November 30, 2020, I was fired from First Look Media, an organization I co-founded. My termination came two months after I spoke to the press about The Intercept’s failure to protect whistleblower Reality Winner and the cover-up and lack of accountability that followed, and after years of raising concerns internally about patterns of discrimination and retaliation.”

Apple is reportedly considering a podcast subscription service. Okay, but I want them to be compatible with my podcast player, and not have to use Apple's.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Journalism in Emerging Economies and the Global South. "Taking a deep dive into the critical challenges faced by the profession, the report examines issues including the pandemic’s impact on the personal safety and welfare of journalists, the structure of newsrooms and disruption to business models, the proliferation of fake news, and surging threats to media freedom. The study also identifies best practice and innovative approaches that have been developed as a response to the challenges of COVID-19."

Misinformation went down after Twitter banned Trump. By 73%. So there’s that.

Is there room for small, niche streaming services?. Take the quiz: how many streaming services are real and how many are fake? I got 6 out of 13 right.

Politics

The NDAA bans anonymous shell companies. The NDAA, which passed after this post was written, “includes a measure known as the Corporate Transparency Act, which undercuts shell companies and money laundering in America. The act requires the owners of any company that is not otherwise overseen by the federal government (by filing taxes, for example, or through close regulation) to file a report that identifies each person associated with the company who either owns 25% or more of it or exercises substantial control over it. That report, including name, birthdate, address, and an identifying number, goes to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). The measure also increases penalties for money laundering and streamlines cooperation between banks and foreign law enforcement authorities.”

Trump pressures Georgia's Raffensperger to overturn his defeat in extraordinary call. Just astonishing.

Same Elections, Different Americas. “Donald Trump will likely get away with massive election fraud. Crystal Mason got five years for one vote.”

I’m in a roomful of people 'panicked that I might inadvertently give away their location'. A remarkable account of the Capitol insurrection. I was surprised at how emotional my reaction to reading this was - there were tears. We came so close to something much worse.

What it was like for a reporter to be evacuated from the U.S. Capitol. “Back in the Capitol, police began a room-by-room search to find senators, staff and reporters who had been left behind. One senior GOP aide, who has an office not far from the Senate floor, said he took a steel rod and barricaded his door when the pro-Trump mob approached. For what seemed like 20 minutes, he said, rioters banged on his door, trying to break in.”

The other reason Facebook silenced Trump? Republicans just lost their power. "It has not escaped my attention that the day social media companies decided there actually IS more they could do to police Trump's destructive behavior was the same day they learned Democrats would chair all the congressional committees that oversee them."

Madness on Capitol Hill. ““This is not America,” a woman said to a small group, her voice shaking. She was crying, hysterical. “They’re shooting at us. They’re supposed to shoot BLM, but they’re shooting the patriots.””

Who decides when there are helicopters? Experts weigh in on National Guard monitoring protests. “It sets an incredibly troubling precedent when we think about what it might mean if any time there’s a protest you might have military surveillance helicopters there.”

First Amendment and free spech: When it applies and when it doesn't. “Let's look at some common First Amendment arguments, illuminated and debunked by constitutional experts.”

Lisa Montgomery becomes first woman to be executed by federal government since 1953. Stomach-turning. The death penalty is the opposite of justice. It’s just cold-blooded murder, committed by the state in our names.

Alt-Right Groups and Personalities Involved In Last Week’s Capitol Riot Received Over $500K In Bitcoin From French Donor One Month Prior. This is a remarkable story in every possible way.

Secret Service paid $3,000 a month for a bathroom near Jared and Ivanka’s D.C. home. One of 2021’s gifts is not having to care about these awful people anywhere near as much.

Self-styled militia members planned Capitol storming in advance of Jan. 6. “In charging papers, the FBI said that during the Capitol riot, Caldwell received Facebook messages from unspecified senders updating him of the location of lawmakers. When he posted a one-word message, “Inside,” he received exhortations and directions describing tunnels, doors and hallways, the FBI said. Some messages, according to the FBI, included, “Tom all legislators are down in the Tunnels 3floors down,” and “Go through back house chamber doors facing N left down hallway down steps.” Another message read: “All members are in the tunnels under capital seal them in. Turn on gas,” the FBI added.” Holy crap.

Biden’s climate plan emphasizes environmental justice. You know, I’d like to take a minute and appreciate how nice it is to read a headline about something that someone did in government and think, “that’s great”. It’s been quite a while.

Science

How researchers are making do in the time of Covid. “To gauge how researchers in different fields are managing, Knowable Magazine spoke with an array of scientists and technical staff—among them a specialist keeping alive genetically important strains of fruit flies, the maintenance chief of an astronomical observatory working to keep telescopes safe and on standby during the lockdown, and a pediatrician struggling to manage clinical trials for a rare genetic disease.”

Society

Working From Bed Is Actually Great. “Those with chronic illness or disabilities say that they hope that, much as the way the pandemic has made companies more open to remote work, the stigma around working from bed will also be broken.”

What If You Could Do It All Over?. “Most of us aren’t haunted so acutely by the people we might have been. But, perhaps for a morning or a month, our lives can still thrum with the knowledge that it could have been otherwise.” This is a sickness that I know very, very well. A really interesting exploration.

Meet the gun-toting ‘Tenacious Unicorns’ in rural Colorado (Queers, alpacas and guns). “How a transgender-owned alpaca ranch in Colorado foretells the future of the rural queer West.” I love this so much.

The imminent possibility of UFOs. The truth is out there.

The Retirement Crisis for Women of Color. "In fact, women of color are more likely to fall into poverty in retirement because they are less likely than white women to have retirement plans available through their employer, says Geoffrey Sanzenbacher, an associate professor at Boston College and research fellow at the Center for Retirement Research. It’s rare for workers to be able to save substantial amounts of money for retirement outside of those plans, creating inequality in who can save for the future."

The Ways We're Suppressed. "The cruelty of American Society isn’t simply in its unfairness, but in the fact that your fellow people actively support and canvas for said unfairness. They want to keep it the same way because it’s a way of justifying their own privilege - many people can’t face the fact that they got lucky two, or three, or a hundred times over, because luck suggests that their hard work wasn’t part of it. They’re people who are babies - so fragile on the inside that they can’t see that, yes, they worked hard and got stuff, but there were advantages along the way, and that acknowledging said advantages doesn’t discount the work they did."

Recompose, the first human-composting funeral home in the U.S., is now open for business. I’m fully 100% in.

Technology

Regulation is coming in 2021. Here’s how Big Tech is preparing for it. “The open internet. Section 230. China. Internet access. 5G. Antitrust. When we asked the policy shops at some of the biggest and most powerful tech companies to identify their 2021 policy priorities, these were the words they had in common.”

Downloading meditation apps and rethinking meetings: How tech leaders changed in 2020. “We asked a number of leaders across the tech world to reflect a bit on a crazy year, and to tell us a few things they've learned, what's changed, and how they're bringing the new normal into 2021. Here's what they told us.”

Feature Prioritizing: Ways To Reduce Subjectivity And Bias. Some good ideas to improve design sessions and avoid structural biases. I’m looking forward to putting them into practice.

Tech legislation to watch in 2021. Useful round-up of legislation on the cards for the coming year. I’m particularly hopeful for a nationwide privacy law.

On Online. “At first, the internet was where I found other people like me, people I hadn’t yet found in real life. They were on Diaryland and LiveJournal, being honest about what was going on in their lives and tooling around with HTML and CSS. Usually we liked the same music. We exchanged images of different artists, when images were hard to find. It was a place of solace. Now I can’t tweet a damn thing without someone I don’t know, who doesn’t know me, saying something in reply that mocks me, insults me, suggests total lack of awareness of the circumstances of my life, etc., etc. It’s not the place it once was, where we were vulnerable, honest, and seeking connection. Now, it feels like we are only seeking righteousness and/or a perfect aesthetic. It’s boring. I’m not the first to point this out.”

DALL·E: Creating Images from Text. Legitimately one of the most amazing technology demos I’ve ever seen. Click into the examples and see what I mean.

The continuing rise of private virtual neighbourhoods. “Perhaps what we’re seeing is the disentangling of social media back into social and media: newsletters and podcasts are best understood as being part of the media spectrum, even if many of them are smaller and have community spaces attached. And Discord space, Slack spaces, etc, these virtual neighbourhoods are pure social.”

A 25-Year-Old Bet Comes Due: Has Tech Destroyed Society?. “In 1995, a WIRED cofounder challenged a Luddite-loving doomsayer to a prescient wager on tech and civilization’s fate. Now their judge weighs in.” Frankly, neither man comes off very well.

Archivists Are Mining Parler Metadata to Pinpoint Crimes at the Capitol. “Using a massive 56.7-terabyte archive of the far-right social media site Parler that was captured on Sunday, open-source analysts, hobby archivists, and computer scientists are working together to catalog videos and photos that were taken at the attack on the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday.”

Federal Front Door. “Recent research has made clear what many folks have personally experienced: The federal government needs to improve how it interacts with the public. Enter the Federal Front Door, an initiative to improve public-government interactions across the board.”

Everything Old is New Part 2: Why Online Anonymity Matters. A really useful list of resources about why anonymity matters online, and why using real names is not the solution to online abuse.

Facing Forward. A really lovely reminder of another era of creativity in software design.

Turning off your camera in video calls could cut carbon emissions by 96%. “A new study from Purdue University in the US estimates that an hour of videoconferencing or streaming emits between 150 and 1000 grams of carbon dioxide. It also uses up to 12 litres of water and an area of land around the size of an iPad mini.” It’s rare to see the environmental impact of the internet industry discussed, but it’s important.

China wants to build an open source ecosystem to rival GitHub. "With GitHub in the crosshairs of Chinese censors, Beijing is backing Gitee as its official hub, an open-source institution tailored for a closed internet." Fascinating, not least because Gitee really just looks like a GitHub clone.

New WhiteHouse.gov. Hooray for a bilingual White House homepage again - and on WordPress!

‘The Big Shift’: Internal Facebook Memo Tells Employees to Do Better on Privacy. "Facebook VP Andrew Bosworth tells colleagues that privacy matters more than the product experience." If they can reform the company around privacy and the human rights of their users, I might even re-join. Color me skeptical, though.

‘For Some Reason I’m Covered in Blood’: GPT-3 Contains Disturbing Bias Against Muslims. Yet again, algorithms carry the bias of their sources.

Make Boring Plans. "Since we often end up in the land of novel technology, we owe it to ourselves and our customers to be boring in other ways. And the most important way that a Platform team can be boring is by writing boring plans." This is fantastic.

Protocols, Not Platforms: A Technological Approach to Free Speech. "Moving to a world where protocols and not proprietary platforms dominate would solve many issues currently facing the internet today. Rather than relying on a few giant platforms to police speech online, there could be widespread competition, in which anyone could design their own interfaces, filters, and additional services, allowing whichever ones work best to succeed, without having to resort to outright censorship for certain voices. It would allow end users to determine their own tolerances for different types of speech but make it much easier for most people to avoid the most problematic speech, without silencing anyone entirely or having the platforms themselves make the decisions about who is allowed to speak."

Facebook and Apple Are Beefing Over the Future of the Internet. "On Thursday morning, Apple CEO Tim Cook gave a speech explaining his company’s upcoming privacy changes, which will ban apps from sharing iPhone user behavior with third parties unless users give explicit consent. And he made plain that these new policies were designed at least in part with Facebook in mind." Let's be clear: rightly so.