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Aaron Parecki

Welcome to Spring in Portland

Ben Werdmüller

I just want a computer that works, man

I have a persistent, infuriating problem with typing.

The only laptop I own with a functional keyboard is my iPad Pro - the one device in this form factor that doesn’t actually ship with a keyboard. Even my work laptop suffers from the notorious broken butterfly keyboard problem.

Keys stick. They misfire. They double-type. Hitting the space bar once results in two spaces, which my computer turns into a period. Other keys have lost sensitivity. It's inconsistent.

The thing is, it creeps up on you. When your keyboard is iffy, you’re less likely to open your laptop to hack on something, or to use it to write. When you’re writing anything - blog posts, fiction, source code, documentation, even emails and Slack messages - keys that double-press or don’t fire at all can be catastrophic. It’s led to me writing less, coding less, and getting far less use out of my computers. Which, given what I do for a living, is not great. And considering what I paid for my Macs, it’s outrageous.

My laptop needs to feel like an extension of me. My outboard brain; my reliable toolkit. It can’t fail.

My personal laptop is five years old, which is beyond my usual threshold for upgrading, so I don’t feel horrible about replacing it with a newer model. But as much as I’d love to acquire a new M1 device, I’m not certain I want to give that money to Apple. I like Macs, but I feel burned.

So what might it look like to jump ship and find something else?

I want: a keyboard that works; excellent battery life; speed; a relatively lightweight form factor; privacy.

I’d also like: a low environmental footprint; repairable hardware; openness; a chassis that will last me at least 4-5 years; a default operating system that isn’t Windows.

Is that even a product that’s on the market?

My living depends on computers, so I’m willing to pay a premium for something that checks all the boxes. But in a world / industry where the default is Mac, I don’t even know where to begin.

What’s worked for you? Does this exist? Or should I just sit tight and wait for the new M1 Macs and be done with it?

Aaron Parecki

For the last few months we've been weighing the cat to keep track of her recovery from surgery in December. She now voluntarily jumps into this box on the scale around the time we have been weighing her. Creature of habit I guess.

Ben Werdmüller

On the eve of immunity, 10 reflections

1: I get my first vaccine jab tomorrow. Pfizer. I’m excited: by my reckoning that makes me about five weeks out from being immune. I’m privileged in that the pandemic has been inconvenient at most, but I miss hanging out with my friends and extended family. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It feels good.

2: The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are the first production uses of mRNA techniques for vaccination. Although they received emergency authorization from the FDA, the research began 30 years ago; already it looks like an HIV vaccine based on similar technology looks promising. The AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines in particular were based on techniques originally developed to treat HIV. Money is now flowing into mRNA research.

3: I have complicated feelings about vaccine passports. Dr. Fauci says the US federal government won’t introduce them.

On one hand, I think this is right. An internal COVID passport system is effectively akin to an ID card, which can have real knock-on effects on civil liberties. Here’s a thought experiment: what happens when it becomes easier to get a vaccine passport in one location than another? What do we know about provision of services in predominantly white neighborhoods vs in predominantly black neighborhoods?

I see a vaccine passport to travel between countries as less problematic; those already exist. But internal checkpoints to travel or use services are not great and can open the door to other forms of required ID that can perpetuate inequities.

On the other, it seems reasonable that private businesses will start requiring proof of vaccination to enter. You’ll need to show you’ve been vaccinated to go to bars, sports games, schools, and so on. Given the inevitability this private ecosystem, these proofs of vaccination will need to be regulated. So should we get ahead of them? How can we solve those issues of inequity and avoid mass surveillance while also keeping everyone safe?

Is it worse than a driving license? Does the analogy fit? It’s complicated.

4: At least 40,000 children in the US alone have lost a parent to COVID-19. The loss seems unfathomable.

5: It’s been weird watching people I grew up with turn into anti-mask COVID-deniers. I’m not sure what happened, but it’s surreal to find people I consider friends sharing FUD posts from the executive editor of Breitbart UK (also a climate denier!) while opining, “why is nobody thinking critically about this?”

Some of these same friends were also “jet fuel doesn’t melt steel beams” people, and in that light, I suppose the signs were always there. But I find it confronting to say the least to see this happen to people I trusted. I don’t know what happens to those friendships - and I’m fully aware that this post can’t exactly help - but it feels like disinformation that should have been squarely in the realm of the “out there” has become invasive.

It’s a smaller loss than many have endured, but I feel it, and I’m mystified by it.

6: All my immediate loved ones will have been vaccinated by Wednesday. This gives me a lot of peace.

7: My mother continues to decline, completely independently to the pandemic. It’s been a silver lining of this whole situation that I’ve been able to spend time with my parents and support them while this has been happening. She’s nine years out from her double lung transplant and continues to fight hard; an inspiration to all of us in both spirit and action. She resents her decline and dearly wants to be healthy. I wish I could wave a magic wand and make it so.

Pulmonary fibrosis treatment techniques may improve outcomes in patients with long covid damage to their lungs. It’s possible that mRNA techniques may also improve outcomes in patients with dyskeratosis congenita by correcting telomerase production. It’s all connected, but it’s going to be too late for my mother, my aunt, my grandmother, and my cousin.

8: Poorer countries may not be vaccinated until 2024. As a direct result, the pandemic could last for half a decade. One of the reasons Oxford University chose to work with AstraZeneca instead of Merck because of fears that working with a US company would prevent the vaccine from being equitably distributed.

How can we help with this?

I don’t have a satisfying answer, but I appreciate Janet Yellen’s calls for increased aid. I feel like the US should contribute more directly, not least because of its vaccine hoarding. We can and should do better. (That doesn’t mean we will.)

9: Locking down was important. According to the LSE, the stronger government interventions at an early stage were, the more effective they proved to be in slowing down or reversing the growth rate of deaths. We were repeatedly told by skeptics that we’d lose lives to suicide due to isolation; as it turns out, loss of life to suicide in 2020 was lower than the preceding three years. Lockdown was a public good that saved lives.

I note that conservatives who oppose lockdown are less vocal about blanket infringements on the right to protest. I’m much more concerned about these: in particular, 2020 saw important protests for racial equality that should not be impeded. Black Lives Matter, and the pandemic should not be used as an excuse to squash this movement.

10: I’ve said this before, but I hope we don’t “go back to normal” after pandemic. We need to move forward. So much change has been shown to be possible, from workplaces to societal inclusion to scientific endeavor. We’ve shown that we can come together as communities rather than isolated individuals. As the light at the end of the tunnel gets brighter, I see so many possibilities for growth. Let’s embrace them.

Aaron Parecki

Tonight I'm drinking a glass of bubbly to toast all the little robots that are hard at work producing the first batch of my #pk1stand for the ATEM Mini Extreme! We're trying to get ahead of the orders before the launch date so we can ship as many as we can at launch!

Aaron Parecki

I'm excited to be speaking at #Oktane21 this week!

Tue: Everything you ever wanted to know about OAuth
Wed: Virtual office hours
Fri: Livestreaming all day on OktaDev TV

Register for free today so you don't miss it! https://www.okta.com/oktane21/register/

Aaron Parecki

Just 6 days til we launch preorders for the new PK1 Extreme stand for the ATEM Mini Extreme! In my latest YouTube livestream I gave a sneak peek of the prototype and shared how I engineered this "by feel" instead of using real math. #pk1stand

Aaron Parecki

It's so cool to see a YouTube video review of my own product! Thanks @PetraTechCondo! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJmg-wKVZiY

Ben Werdmüller

Reading, watching, playing, using: March, 2021

This is my monthly roundup of the media I consumed and found interesting. Here's my list for March, 2021: a month where, at least in the United States, mass vaccination started to present the light at the end of the tunnel for the pandemic.

Books

The Death of Vivek Oji, by Akwaeke Emezi. Beautiful and sad; a tale of someone trying to be themselves in a context that won’t allow it, and of love and allyship becoming their own kinds of oppression. Despite the tragedy at the heart of the novel, it resonates with triumphant humanism, too. Emotional and sonorous and just about perfect.

Something That May Shock and Discredit You, by Daniel M. Lavery . A very personal book; powerful in a way that sneaks up on you with seemingly-banal interludes that add up to a meaningful whole. I’ve been a fan of his ever since The Toast, but this is something else entirely.

The Ministry for the Future, by Kim Stanley Robinson. It starts with a catastrophe - an extrapolation of climate change and the very dark places it might lead us - but then takes us on an exploration of how we might deal with it. It’s an informed celebration of invention, resolve, and the human spirit. If I have a criticism, it’s that it sometimes is far too utopian and engages in technological determinism, but what a change that makes. I’ve even forgiven its extensive passages on decentralized social networking (something I know a thing or two about) and blockchain, the wrongness of which casts doubt on the technical robustness of other climate solutions presented. This is hard economic science fiction, and yet, a very human book.

The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett. A near-perfect novel about identity and how the stories we tell about ourselves both define and disguise us. Modern, nuanced, and rich in a way that lingers long afterwards.

Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning, by Cathy Park Hong. A challenging, complicated book that provides a much-needed perspective via the author’s Asian American experience. I was drawn in by the first half, and again by the deservedly angry final essay. The rest of the second half is dedicated to her experiences as an artist, which are not always likable. But why should they be? She doesn’t owe anybody anything, and her honesty is a gift that deserves attention.

Notable Articles

Business

Imagine Your Flexible Office Work Future. "The C-Suite has had “flexibility” for years. If companies don’t expand it to other workers, they’ll find jobs elsewhere."

The End of Indie. "Unfortunately, as we’ve sought to lean more aggressively into scaling our investments and ideas behind an “Indie Economy” we’ve not found that same level of enthusiasm from the institutional LP market."

Four-Day Work Week Gains Popularity Around the World. "So last spring the company told everyone to sign off around lunchtime every Friday to ease into the weekend. The experiment was so successful—sales, employee engagement, and client satisfaction all rose—that in January, Awin decided to go a step further, rolling out a four-day week for the entire company with no cuts in salaries or benefits. “We firmly believe that happy, engaged, and well-balanced employees produce much better work,” says Chief Executive Officer Adam Ross. They “find ways to work smarter, and they’re just as productive.”" Honestly, what's the downside?

An alternative to competition. “And all we have to do is get enough customers to make our business work. That's it. That's how we stay alive. Not by taking marketshare away from anyone, not by siphoning off users, not by spending gobs of cash to convince people to switch. We simply have our own economics to worry about, and if we get that right, we're golden.” I like this way of thinking.

What Ended Indie. The discussion of GAAP accounting here - and in particular its shortcomings - is very familiar to me.

For Creators, Everything Is for Sale. “A rash of new start-ups are making it easier for digital creators to monetize every aspect of their life — down to what they eat, who they hang out with and who they respond to on TikTok.” It’s like an episode of Black Mirror.

In a First, Uber Agrees to Classify British Drivers as ‘Workers’. “Uber said it would reclassify more than 70,000 drivers in Britain as workers who will receive a minimum wage, vacation pay and access to a pension plan.” Everywhere, please.

The Personal Finance and Investment Advice Fallacy. “The personal finance circuit and the hustle economy are some of the most public acts of cruelty in capitalism. It exists to kick people when they’re down - telling those who are suffering because inherent unfairness of capitalism (where so much is based on where you are born, when you were born and whom you are born to) that it’s their fault, and that the reason they’re doing badly is because they haven’t taken the right advice or done the right thing.”

ESGs, sustainable investing are not as green as touted, investor says. “The financial services industry is duping the American public with its pro-environment, sustainable investing practices. This multitrillion dollar arena of socially conscious investing is being presented as something it's not. In essence, Wall Street is greenwashing the economic system and, in the process, creating a deadly distraction. I should know; I was at the heart of it.”

Green investing is a fraud. “Take "Environmental, Social, and Governance" (ESG) funds, pitched as a way to save for retirement without annihilating the planet you're planning to retire on. These were once so promising that they panicked the finance sector, so much so that the world's carbon barons convinced Trump to propose a law making it illegal to direct your investment dollars into an ESG.” Instead, ESG funds were gutted of their impact and are now largely marketing concerns.

Culture

Beeple sold an NFT for $69 million. Just, ugh.

The internet didn’t kill counterculture—you just won’t find it on Instagram. "Taken from the title of Chinese sci-fi writer Liu Cixin’s 2008 book, “the dark forest” region of the web is becoming increasingly important as a space of online communication for users of all ages and political persuasions. In part, this is because it is less sociologically stressful than the clearnet zone, where one is subject to peer, employer, and state exposure. It also now includes Discord servers, paid newsletters (e.g., Substack), encrypted group messaging (via Telegram, etc.), gaming communities, podcasts, and other off-clearnet message board forums and social media."

You’re probably using the wrong dictionary. “A book where you can enter “sport” and end up with “a diversion of the field” — this is in fact the opposite of what I’d known a dictionary to be. This is a book that transmutes plain words into language that’s finer and more vivid and sometimes more rare. No wonder McPhee wrote with it by his side. No wonder he looked up words he knew, versus words he didn’t, in a ratio of “at least ninety-nine to one.””

Media

Journalism is a public service. So why doesn’t it represent the public?. "All of this is to say, getting into a four-year university depends largely on generational wealth, which a myriad of immigrant households and historically marginalized racial minorities are still struggling to build. Those on the unlucky side of the gap see disadvantages compound from the start. I come from a family that lived below the poverty line, and that likely helped me earn a full scholarship to Boston University. This stroke of luck has changed my life, but it’s important to acknowledge that the hurdles don’t end there."

America is learning to rebalance its news diet post-Trump. "Nearly halfway through President Biden's first 100 days, data shows that Americans are learning to wean themselves off of news — and especially politics."

Nearly Half of Digital Subscribers Are ‘Zombies,’ Medill Analysis Finds. “Spiegel found that 49% of digital subscribers didn’t go to the websites they had paid for even once a month, putting them in a category known in news-industry slang as “zombies.” Concern is growing about this problem because even though the living dead may still pay for local news, they seem like a weak foundation to build a future on.” It makes me wonder why they subscribe; I suspect it’s closer to why people donate to charity than because they want to be constantly engaged with the content.

Here's why Substack's scam worked so well. “For all we know, every single one of Substack’s top newsletters is supported by money from Substack. Until Substack reveals who exactly is on its payroll, its promises that anyone can make money on a newsletter are tainted.”

AAJA Guidance on Atlanta Shootings. “We urge newsrooms to cover the shootings in the context of the current rise in attacks on Asian Americans. These shootings have come during a time of increasing attacks on the AAPI community, and heightened fear among AAPI communities across the country.”

Politics

Women in Congress on the Capitol riot: 23 lawmakers on what happened to them during the insurrection. "As the events of the deadly riot are examined in the impeachment trial, here is what almost two dozen lawmakers told The 19th about January 6, in their own words." Really harrowing.

Science

A Cephalopod Has Passed a Cognitive Test Designed For Human Children. Cuttlefish can pass the marshmallow test. Can you?

Facial recognition technology can expose political orientation from naturalistic facial images. "Accuracy remained high (69%) even when controlling for age, gender, and ethnicity. Given the widespread use of facial recognition, our findings have critical implications for the protection of privacy and civil liberties." Kind of terrifying.

Study: Preservative Used in Pop-Tarts and Hundreds of Popular Foods May Harm the Immune System. "A food preservative used to prolong the shelf life of Pop-Tarts, Rice Krispies Treats, Cheez-Its and almost 1,250 other popular processed foods may harm the immune system, according to a new peer-reviewed study by Environmental Working Group." And: "Recently published research has also found a link between high levels of PFAS in the blood and the severity of Covid-19."

How mRNA Technology Could Change the World. "For decades, researchers have struggled to design a workable vaccine for HIV, and many observers considered this field a dead end. But a new paper argues that these repeated failures forced HIV-vaccine researchers to spend a lot of time and money on strange and unproven vaccine techniques—such as synthetic mRNA and the viral-vector technology that powers the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Nearly 90 percent of COVID-19 vaccines that made it to clinical trials used technology that “could be traced back to prototypes tested in HIV vaccine trials,” Jeffrey E. Harris, the economist at MIT who authored the paper, wrote."

Stanford Scientists Reverse Engineer Moderna Vaccine, Post Code on Github. “We didn't reverse engineer the vaccine. We posted the putative sequence of two synthetic RNA molecules that have become sufficiently prevalent in the general environment of medicine and human biology in 2021.”

Society

How to have better arguments online. Not just online: “When we’re in an argument with someone, we should be thinking about how they can change their mind and look good – maintain or even enhance their face – at the same time. Often this is very hard to do in the moment of the dispute itself, when opinion and face are bound even more tightly together than they are before or after (the writer Rachel Cusk defines an argument as “an emergency of self-definition”). However, by showing that we have listened to and respected our interlocutor’s point of view, we make it more likely that they will come around at some later point. If and when they do, we should avoid scolding them for not agreeing with us all along.”

New study finds not knowing how to flirt is the main reason behind "involuntary singlehood". "Among the participants who indicated that they were involuntarily single, the most important factor by far was their lack of flirting skills. Following this factor, in decreasing order, were skills in perceiving signals of interest, “mating effort,” and choosiness. These last three factors were all relatively similar in their degree of impact."

Harry and Meghan: The union of two great houses, the Windsors and the Celebrities, is complete. “Having a monarchy next door is a little like having a neighbour who’s really into clowns and has daubed their house with clown murals, displays clown dolls in each window and has an insatiable desire to hear about and discuss clown-related news stories. More specifically, for the Irish, it’s like having a neighbour who’s really into clowns and, also, your grandfather was murdered by a clown.”

Private Schools Are Indefensible. I agree with the headline. They simply shouldn’t exist. This is an excellent piece that dives into some reasons why.

What the Pandemic Is Doing to Our Brains. “The pandemic is still too young to have yielded rigorous, peer-reviewed studies about its effects on cognitive function. But the brain scientists I spoke with told me they can extrapolate based on earlier work about trauma, boredom, stress, and inactivity, all of which do a host of very bad things to a mammal’s brain.”

Hospitals Hide Pricing Data From Search Results. Hospitals have to list pricing by law - but they explicitly add noindex, nofollow tags to pricing pages so they can't be searched and discovered. Seems like an opportunity for someone to build an open dataset.

Evanston, Illinois, becomes first U.S. city to pay reparations to Black residents. "The Chicago suburb’s City Council voted 8-1 to distribute $400,000 to eligible black households. Each qualifying household would receive $25,000 for home repairs or down payments on property."

Technology

Clubhouse Harassment, and Tech's Move from Enthusiast to Industrial Press. “I believe that a lot of the people in tech who are having this vacuous, oafish discussion of the media has as “haters” are actually just mad that they can’t say or do what they want and that every action they have isn’t the most important thing in the world.”

Google will end behavioral targeting, profile-building in its ad products. "Google helped create and grow the digital ad ecosystem that relied on tracking and targeting ads to people across the web. Now, up against pressure from regulators around data privacy and antitrust, Google will stop enabling cross-site tracking and targeting of individuals outside its own properties such as in inventory it sells through its Google AdX display and video ad exchange." Big changes are coming.

The SOC2 Starting Seven. "Here’s how we’ll try to help: with Seven Things you can do now that will simplify SOC2 for you down the road while making your life, or at least your security posture, materially better in the immediacy." File under "things I wish I'd read a year ago".

Lying to the ghost in the machine. “The point I'd like to make is that ready-trained NNs like GPT-3 or CLIP are often tailored as the basis of specific recognizer applications and then may end up deployed in public situations, much as shitty internet-of-things gizmos usually run on an elderly, unpatched ARM linux kernel with an old version of OpenSSH and busybox installed, and hard-wired root login credentials. This is the future of security holes in our internet-connected appliances: metaphorically, cameras that you can fool by slapping a sticker labelled "THIS IS NOT THE DROID YOU ARE LOOKING FOR" on the front of the droid the camera is in fact looking for.”

T-Mobile to Step Up Ad Targeting of Cellphone Customers. 'Wireless carrier tells subscribers it could share their masked browsing, app data and online activity with advertisers unless they opt out." As a previously-happy T-Mobile customer, I'm outraged by this.

He got Facebook hooked on AI. Now he can't fix its misinformation addiction. “I began video-calling Quiñonero regularly. I also spoke to Facebook executives, current and former employees, industry peers, and external experts. Many spoke on condition of anonymity because they’d signed nondisclosure agreements or feared retaliation. I wanted to know: What was Quiñonero’s team doing to rein in the hate and lies on its platform?” Surprise, surprise: that’s not what Facebook wanted to talk about.

The Mobile Performance Inequality Gap, 2021. “Whatever progress runtimes and networks have made in the past half-decade, browsers are stubbornly situated in the devices carried by real-world users, and the single most important thing to understand about the landscape of devices your sites will run on is that they are not new phones.”

One Year in the IndieWeb. I'm pretty much an indieweb zealot. These experiences are fair and representative of the community, it seems to me.

The Dao of DAOs. “After a contentious debate, the Ethereum core team, led by Vitalik Buterin, released a hard fork of the Ethereum blockchain. It was essentially a new version in which everything was the same, except in the forked version, the heist never happened.” A very telling paragraph. How decentralized is it, really, if the core team can vanish away transactions, regardless of the reason? (Hint: every blockchain can do this.)

In 2020, Two Thirds of Google Searches Ended Without a Click. Fuel for Google being more of a publisher than a referrer these days.

The End of AMP. “If you’re currently using AMP, you’ll be able to get rid of that monstrosity in May, and if you aren’t, you’ll now be competing for search positions previously unavailable to you. For publishers, it is a win-win.” FINALLY.

Aaron Parecki

Gmail has started taking literally 15 seconds to perform simple actions like archiving or deleting emails for me, and I'm just like what am I even pay—oh crap wait

Ben Werdmüller

Equitable community software

Today Richard Stallman announced that he has been reinstated as a board member of the Free Software Foundation with the antagonistic comment:

“Some of you will be happy about this and some of you will be disappointed. … In any case, that's how it is and I'm not planning to resign a second time.”

RMS originally stepped down after defending the late Marvin Minsky, an AI pioneer accused of assaulting an underage girl trafficked by Jeffrey Epstein. Epstein’s victims, RMS alleged, were likely “entirely willing”, and sex with a minor should not be considered rape. In the most generous possible interpretation, he was utterly clueless in a way that caused harm to women both inside and outside the movement, and to the free software movement itself.

His reinstatement was not announced on official Free Software Foundation channels, but rather informally in a talk given by RMS himself. He has since reappeared on the board page of the FSF website.

It’s a colossal own goal for the figurehead organization of the free software movement - and more so, for the movement itself, which in many corners still holds the Foundation and its work in high regard. It’s a clear example of how considering software as if it sits in a vacuum - outside of the social context in which it is run and built - can perpetuate harms, regardless of the intentions of its participants. It’s also yet another reason for women to walk away from the movement.

Software development communities often talk about running through rough consensus and running code. But who is consensus achieved between, and who is the code run for the benefit of? Traditional free and open source software models don’t consider this. The result is infamously hard to use interfaces and opaque documentation, as well as hostile, monocultural communities.

We need to move from a source-code-centric model for free software, to a community-centric model that shares ownership of both the software and the process used to build the software with everyone involved, from (yes) the coders and designers, to the people the software is being built for, to research subjects and the communities touched by it.

A world where software is enshrined to, and co-owned by, its community is not one where socially-oblivious developers making apologies for child rape could be venerated. It’s also one where design, documentation, and community care become equally important to the software itself, overcoming one of free software’s most longstanding issues. The benefits are real, and only extend the principles of openness inherent to the movement. After all, a software community that does not welcome anyone other than affluent, white men cannot be genuinely considered “free”.

This commitment to distributed equity requires both an extension of contributor covenants and free software licenses. Together, these legal frameworks need to provide co-operative-inspired processes for sharing ownership - a sort of “partner with community” to sit alongside the emerging exit to community idea. It goes beyond the mechanics of how source code is contributed and shared to define how the product and community are defined, designed, and governed. It’s a promise to distribute equity as widely as possible throughout the whole community.

You can’t separate the software from the community that built it. Therefore, true openness must dictate how that community is formed and run. We are what we choose to tolerate; in the same way that free software communities do not tolerate proprietary lock-in, they should not tolerate exclusionary social practices that lock people out.

RMS shouldn’t have been reinstated. It’s a disappointment, to put it mildly. But it’s also a line in the sand for the entire movement, and an opportunity - finally - to build something really new.

Aaron Parecki

My computer decided to make some glitch art this morning

Aaron Parecki

Sneak peek of my rig I'll be streaming from on Sunday for the giveaway livestream!

Streaming and chat and overlays using the YoloBox, a wireless camera with the Hollyland Mars 300 Pro, the Rode Wireless Go for audio, and an original ATEM Mini for additional camera angles, and of course my ATEM Mini Stand!

Make sure you check out my latest livestream on YouTube for instructions on how to enter the giveaway! Only a few days left!

Ben Werdmüller

Optimism and invention

It’s far easier to think of problems than solutions.

When I was founding my first startup - accidentally - in Scotland almost twenty years ago, the reaction I got more than anything else was “it’ll never work”. So many people told me to go get a real job that I left Scotland to get away from them. Even when I moved to the US a decade later and was working on the second startup I co-founded, people often told me that I should go do something more useful. “That’s the worst fucking idea I’ve ever heard,” one person - an entrepreneur, even! - once said to me.

While criticism is easy, optimism and invention are hard.

I think cultivating a bias towards forward motion - one that sees problems with clear eyes but nonetheless also sees the possibilities - is a vital skill not just for entrepreneurship, but for life. If you’re constantly concerned about what might go wrong, there’s very little you can effectively do. If you constantly worry that you’re not capable of achieving something, you never will.

Of course, the lists of things that might go wrong are different for different people, and a reasonable definition of privilege is that the list of things that could go wrong for you is shorter. Shortening everyone’s list should be a priority for us as a society. It’s also not a great idea to jump into something blind, because stuff could go wrong. That’s where testing comes in: speaking to experts and trying things out before you commit. The difference is between just refusing to contemplate something, and seeing problems as obstacles to overcome. A fixed mindset vs a growth mindset.

Take the web itself. Back in the early days, it was a handful of unstyled hyperlinks that could barely support images at all. Most users had, at most, a 56K modem that would take the best part of 10 minutes to download a 3 megabyte MP3. At the same time, CD-ROMs were booming, and were comparatively rich experiences. People could also make money from CD-ROMs - they were literally sold in shrink-wrapped boxes in stores - while the web was an unknown. It was easy to dismiss.

Of course, today, most computers don’t have a disc drive, and everyone’s using the web to do just about everything. The possibility was always there, but you had to use your imagination, and it required a lot of hard work from people who ignored the nay-sayers to get us there.

Again: it’s not about ignoring problems. We should absolutely be talking about the inclusion issues inherent to startups, for example, or the environmental issues associated with the blockchain. But that doesn’t mean those things are dead ends; instead, we should find new, more inclusive models for startups, and environmentally friendly algorithms for decentralization. And we should test and verify the assumptions we might have.

Which brings me back to those nay-sayers in Scotland. I hear it’s a better environment for entrepreneurship than it used to be, but it really was soul-destroying at the time. That I felt comfortable starting a company was somehow threatening to their worldview. I didn’t come from wealth; I wasn’t exploiting anyone; it was just an open source educational platform. But a lot of people wanted to tear me down simply for trying something different; for daring to be optimistic. It turned me off ever founding anything in Scotland again.

I’ve learned to seek out the people who “yes and” your ideas, and try to help you make them more robust, rather than trying to knock them down. Collaborators rather than detractors; co-inventors rather than critics. People who want to support you in manifesting a possible future rather than sniping.

I hope to be that co-creator, although I haven’t always been. I hope to find them. Even though it’s harder to invent a positive possible future than criticize the present, the possible outcomes are so much more profoundly good, and it’s so much more fun to get there.

Aaron Parecki

Gumroad is crowdfunding an investment round, so I took my Gumroad earnings for the month and invested it back into their service! https://techcrunch.com/2021/03/15/gumroad-wants-to-make-equity-crowdfunding-mainstream/

Ben Werdmüller

Tech after Covid

Incredibly, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Here in the US, everyone will be eligible for a vaccine from May, and projections suggest that a large portion of the population will be immune by the autumn. This is obviously great news for all of us.

Clearly, we can expect the world to change. In some ways it’ll change back to how it was before: we’ll gather in groups, go to bars and restaurants, see our friends and family. Most of us will probably go back to commuting to our workplaces, although some knowledge workers will be permanently remote or on flexible schedules. Even business travel will return to normal, albeit at two thirds its previous rate.

In other words, after a year of living virtually, reality is going to bounce back hard, with a minority of people sticking to their internet-bound habits. Real, physical items and experiences will trump virtual ones.

For many internet businesses, this will be a shock to the system. We won’t videoconference anywhere near as much, for example, and it’s telling that most of us are looking forward to that. We probably won’t spend quite as much time streaming video, hanging out on social media, or consuming content overall. We’ll go to stores again in much larger numbers rather than buying everything online. We’ll buy physical art from artists instead of collecting virtual NFTs. It’s even possible that the paid newsletter trend will be hit a little, as people find more immediate, in-person places to spend their money.

I think the implications are larger than many people imagine. I’m bullish on platforms that allow people to gather and meet people face-to-face: while gathering is a terrible idea right now, people are starved for human interaction. New kinds of in-person experiences demand ways to discover and share them. There will be a lot of parties; a lot of conferences and conventions; a lot of Secret Cinema-like immersive gatherings that experiment and push the envelope of what all of those things mean; a lot less Clubhouse. Conversely, social media will recede from being the main way we communicate with our friends to once again just being the backchannel to life in meatspace.

Here’s what I’m less sure about, but I’m hoping will happen. So many of our IRL behaviors were inherited; we often did things simply because those were the way they were done. After a break of over a year, I hope we can re-evaluate those patterns and see them with fresh eyes. Does rush hour have to exist, for example? Can we please rethink open plan offices? Are endless panels at conferences really necessary? What does it actually mean to share a real-world experience online? When someone sticks their phone in the air at a concert and records it, what is their underlying desire, and can we help them do it in a way that doesn’t obstruct everyone else’s view?

Some of this relates to social infrastructure and our political system: for example, I really hope it becomes socially unwelcome for sick people to come into work, but that heavily depends on time off finally becoming mandated. On the other hand, much of it is cultural. We have the opportunity to reinvent how we inhabit, gather, and share in the real world. That has the potential to be lovely.

In the meantime, as innovators and technologists, we have to see beyond the current moment. We’re not all going to be stuck in our houses in six months time. Inventing the future doesn’t mean inventing for a perpetual pandemic; investing in the future means seeing that trend head on. Let’s be ready for going outside again.

Aaron Parecki

Needed an excuse to go outside in the sun ☀️

Aaron Parecki

I would have been in Prague this week, instead I am staring at my computer screens giving a presentation from my desk.

Some day we'll be able to travel again. Sigh.

Aaron Parecki

“Installing most open source software today is equivalent to picking up a random thumb-drive off the sidewalk and plugging it into your machine.”

https://security.googleblog.com/2021/03/introducing-sigstore-easy-code-signing.html

😬 It’s painful but it’s kind of true.

Aaron Parecki

trying to psych myself into going to bed early tonight so I can wake up at 3am to give a presentation tomorrow

Ben Werdmüller

What matters

You probably know this David Foster Wallace joke:

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

When you're in the depths of your context, whatever that happens to be, it can be hard to even see the rules you’re unconsciously abiding by. I think it’s worth stopping, every so often, and particularly after a year like the one we’ve collectively had, to ask: what matters?

I think there are two traps in life. (There are certainly more, but let’s go with two for the purposes of this piece. Two traps is already a lot of traps.) The first is that you find yourself on a metaphorical treadmill, working really hard but not for any really good reason that gets you to anywhere in particular. The second is that you have a fixed goal in mind and are so fixated on getting there that you miss out on all the beauty and possibilities inherent to the journey. In other words: blinkered-ness and inflexibility.

Naming the decisions we make and understanding why we make them allows us to make better ones. For example, taking care of my parents is a choice - I could up and move to Singapore, say - but it’s only one on a technicality. I may have autonomy, but not in a way that I’d feel good about. Leaving the Bay Area and not being there for my family feels like the wrong thing to do. As much as I’d love to travel more and live somewhere else (which, in a vacuum, I really would), if I consciously weigh the two things against each other, staying here wins.

If I’m naming things and making conscious choices, understanding how much of myself I give to other people - and how much of my life is truly proactively under my control, vs. a reaction to external demands or desires - is an important exercise. I want to have a job, and I want to both spend time with and take care of people I love. But I also want to be my own, autonomous person, and give myself enough breathing space to live and grow.

Those conscious choices just scratch the surface. We all unconsciously give a lot of ourselves in response to external pressures. Consumer culture - the advertising, media, and word-of-mouth values we’re all exposed to hundreds of times a day - also has designs on us. It wants us to fit into a pigeonhole, follow a fashion, modify our bodies, get rich, become something we’re not. The message is that fitting ourselves into these templates will improve us somehow. For advertising, it’s a reflection of someone’s desire to convince you to buy their product; for media, it’s their desire to capture your attention; for everyone else, it’s their desire to feel better about themselves. People who are brave enough to truly be themselves are a threat to people who are not.

In the tech industry, a lot of people feel like they’ve constantly got to be in hustle mode: a particular kind of working all the time that is imposed through a mix of entrepreneurship porn and peer pressure. I’ve long since washed my hands of this side of tech culture, but it’s something I definitely was part of for a little while, and I continue to see it in others. I made choices that were detrimental to me in the name of the work I was doing (without realizing that, by harming me, these choices were also detrimental to that work). I meet and talk to a lot of people who still want to hustle hard because they’re under the impression they will somehow going to get rich quick. For a lot of people, there really isn’t a tangible goal: they hustle to the point of exhaustion and contort their personas into accepted forms simply because they think they’re expected to.

That same impulse is why immigrants are pressured to assimilate, or why people self-asserting their own gender identity is a threat to so many people. Assimilation takes the fear out of accepting someone from a culture a person doesn’t understand. Traditional gender identity and roles are well-understood; not just culturally accepted but culturally indoctrinated, prescribed, and sold to. It’s in a lot of peoples’ interests for us to conform to them, so there’s pressure to do that. But assimilation requires letting go of a key piece of who we are; adopting a traditional gender rather than expressing our true selves requires denying who we are. In some cases, the unfair expectations placed on us differ wildly: Black women are held to a different, more stringent standard to white women, who are held to a different standard again to white men.

Let’s ask again: what matters?

Everyone deserves to be accepted for the completeness of who they are. Acceptance matters; trust matters; respect matters; equity matters. A professional relationship is in peril if the parties involved don’t accept each other as people, or if they don’t accept the relationship itself. A romantic relationship is in peril if the same things are true. If we’re constantly judging each other, or holding each other to unfair or inconsistent standards, our respect for and acceptance of each other is drastically undermined.

It’s a universal but largely unspoken need: I want to be my full, weird, unbridled self, and I want to be accepted and loved for it. I want the people around me to be accepted and loved for who they are. I want the injustices of the past - the intentional and unconscious choices communities have made for centuries - to be named and redressed, so that everyone can be themselves.

The inclusive, nonconformist future is here, but isn’t evenly distributed yet. I don’t want to live in a place with a homogenous culture; I don’t want my community to be assimilated and sanitized to some out-of-date standard. I want everyone to be themselves. Life is so much richer when you can build community with people from a galaxy of contexts, ethnicities, and cultures; a spectrum of sexualities and genders; a rainbow of people who can all create and share and love and collaborate and grow with each other without losing their sense of self or the pressure to give up pieces of their identities. A culture that, above all, gives people the metaphorical and literal space to live.

To me, that’s what matters. Being accepted and loved for who I am, warts and all; accepting and loving the people I’m connected to for who they are, warts and all. Allowing people to really be themselves and rejecting conformity. And it leads to conscious choices: where to live, where to work, who to be connected to, and what to do next. Rejecting the cultural pressure to conform to traditional values and embracing the new and radical means finding the places, organizations, and people who do the same.

That’s what I think a good life looks like. I think it’s important to consciously know, and to name it. It’s what I want.

Aaron Parecki

PSA: If you contact me to tell me my link to your site is broken, that's your problem not mine. You do have the ability to create redirects if you change all your URLs around.

Aaron Parecki

Create your perfect ATEM Mini rig with the PK1 ATEM Mini Stand!

The stand perfectly fits an ATEM Mini with a @decksaver cover, and the stand provides several mounting points for @smallrig.global mounting brackets and accessories like a @feelworld_monitor 7" Monitor, @hollylandtech wireless HDMI receiver and wireless mic receiver!

The stand can be purchased from the link in my bio! Shipping worldwide from several different countries! If you have your own 3D printer you can even print it yourself!

Ben Werdmüller

Funding independence

When IndieVC arrived six years ago, it represented an exciting alternative to traditional venture investments. While revenue-based investing wasn't new, Indie made it mainstream, and started an important conversation: VC isn't appropriate for every business, so what's available for revenue-first, independent businesses that want to shoot for profitability instead of unicorn growth?

I was gutted today to read about its demise:

We’ve not been shy in sharing the challenges of departing from the well-known narratives of startups and VCs. 4 years ago, it cost us 80% of our LP base. Unfortunately, as we’ve sought to lean more aggressively into scaling our investments and ideas behind an “Indie Economy” we’ve not found that same level of enthusiasm from the institutional LP market.

Fundamentally, this shines an important light on a discrepancy in venture capital. Every VC fund depends on Limited Partners: typically institutional funds and the family offices of high net worth individuals that dedicate a portion of their investments to riskier, potentially high-yield businesses. While VC funds themselves claim to want to invest in the future, the investment managers in charge of LP money tend as a rule to be more risk averse. At the very least, in the same way that money from wealthy philanthropists is more opinionated than public funds, it is deployed according to the values of fund owners. Alternative models are met with reticence.

Radical changes in venture capital depend on radical changes in limited partner attitudes. So what does funding these kinds of sustainability-oriented businesses look like in light of this?

I suspect it looks like this: no funding. Instead, I wonder if we need to be building ecosystems like IndieHackers, which operates as a community of solo entrepreneurs focused on making their side projects profitable. Instead of funding, members promote each other and offer skill shares and examples from their own experiences. Product Hunt has evolved into a similar kind of space: one where individuals and funded companies alike share new things they've released, get feedback, and build community.

The idea of no funding is problematic, because only a certain kind of person can get something off the ground with only their own resources. Those people are usually wealthier, and wealthier people tend to come from a very narrow demographic. On the other hand, venture capital disproportionately (and problematically) already goes to people from that narrow demographic. So, screw it. Maybe the counterculture has better answers.

I link a lot to the Zebra movement; its upcoming co-op and crowdfunding partnerships make a lot of sense to me. I'm warming up more and more to the idea of exit to community as an exit strategy, which allows companies to shift ownership to their ecosystems and maximize their distribution of equity. But these approaches are most effective when a business has been established (although co-operatives and community collaboration can certainly help). I think there needs to be more support for the first step: getting a business zygote off the ground.

VC funding has the effect of allowing founders to focus on product for an artificially long time. In contrast, aiming from profitability from the get-go forces you to build a business from day one. (A third option, building a product and running it for the love of it outside of a business context, is a radically different thing, and not really interchangeable with the first two.) The result is two radically different kinds of ventures with different roadmaps, mindsets, and approaches. One is shorter on profitability; the second is shorter on product innovation.

Venture investors, at their best, are like co-founders; being a part of a portfolio creates a kind of network effect that maximizes value. You get introductions and advice you might not receive otherwise. This could potentially be substituted with small communities of practice. But another way VC founders win is by sharing equity: it's common for early-stage founders to swap a little ownership with each other to spread the risk. If one startup succeeds, all the founders in the network see some upside. I can imagine a world where indie founders do something similar, in a revenue-bound way: an equity spread that is paid down as a percentage of profits. If one company becomes wildly popular, every founder who's struggling to do the same gets a boost.

The bottom line is this: we need an established, alternative route for starting businesses on the internet. For some companies, VC is the right thing - but it's not the right thing for every company. For the others, rather than hoping for positive iterations of VC, the best bet may simply be to create community with each other, co-operate where possible, and make money on their own terms. To aim to be the million they never made. It's not about riches; it's about sustainability.

I'm sad to see Indie VC go. But I do have hope for the future.

Ben Werdmüller

A beautiful day on Colony 12

I can see twelve sailing dinghies out on the bay, tacking and jibing while the twin, hot suns reflect sparkles in the water. For a moment, I have to squint through the glare to see them from the bluff, but my lens corrects for the ambient light quickly. I save a vignette to my vault for posterity. Something to remember this view by.

“Sam!” I hear my mother call to me as if she was right here, but my lens lets me know she’s out on the water. The Aurora, her little blue sailboat, is in the middle of the group, and I can just about make out the shape of her waving to me from the stern. My lens catches me straining and shows me a picture-in-picture zoom of her face. “It’s such a beautiful day!”

At least I won’t have to waste any time looking for her.

“Mom, you need to come back to shore,” I say through our lens channel.

“Why? We’re having a competition out here,” she says. “I’m not winning yet, but I’m getting close!” She dips one hand in the water as her boat tilts with the wind. As spots of seawater spray onto her face, she grins broadly.

We can’t stay. While I stand on the bluff, my shoes dirtied by the marsh, escape pods are being readied.

I was three years old when we came to Colony 12. I dimly remember leaving the dark of the transport out to the sunny patch of dirt where terraforming was already underway. I grew up in the wooden home my parents built on the newly created bay. It’s where I learned to read; where my mother taught me to sail; where my father died from the lingering side effects of faster than light travel. It’s where I took care of my mother once it was just the two of us.

Colony 12’s twin planet follows in a Lagrange point sixty degrees behind its orbit. It was sunrise when it was struck by an asteroid; I was barely into my first cup of coffee. There was no flash. No roar or perceptible change. Just an unobtrusive notification from my lens telling me that the planets would collide within hours.

In less than that, the escape pods will leave. Not to the homeworld – that’s just a memory now – but to the constellation of motherships out beyond orbit. From there, perhaps we’ll join another colony, or find a new planet to inhabit.

It won’t be home.

I stand for a moment, taking in the smell of marsh and salt water I’ve known virtually for my whole life, and watch my mother’s smile. Just her and the wind.

But I have to tell her. I flick a news story about the collision to her lens.

“I’ll read that later, honey,” she says, her smile faltering a little. “I just want to sail right now.”

“We need to leave, Mom,” I tell her. “Right now. It’s dangerous to stay.”

“Nonsense,” Mom says. “It’s such a beautiful day. We’re having such a nice race. I wish you were out here with me, Sam.” In a way, I wish that too.

The Aurora is gaining on another, red sailing dinghy. Its wake cuts through the shimmering waves, returning my mother’s grin to full intensity.

I ask my lens to make sure there’s room reserved on the closest escape pod for both of us. Our places should have been allocated automatically, but I want to confirm. Everything is always taken care of – the lenses react to our conscious and subconscious intentions – but I can check if I want to. In the midst of all this subliminal technology, our waking lives on terraformed colonies aided by intelligent lenses plugged into to our central nervous systems, we’re still human beings.

One space is reserved.

I realize I recognize the pilot of the red dinghy: an old teacher of mine. His hair is lighter and the lines on his skin are more pronounced, but his face is unmistakable.

Glancing at the other sailors, I realize I recognize them all. In a single, terrible instant, I know why my mother won’t come in.

They’re all my mother’s age; all pioneer colonists. Early faster than light travel killed some of its test pilots outright. The others experienced symptoms that medical AI couldn’t diagnose. They all knew there was a risk, but they did it anyway. Our planet was dying. They needed to find a home for their children.

“I love you, Sammy,” my mother says, over the lens. She looks straight at me, eye to eye, over the link. I wish I could hold her hand one last time.

“I love you too, Mom,” I say.

“I’m proud of you,” she says.

“You’re everything I have,” I tell her. “I can’t leave without you.”

“I’ll be with you,” my mother tells me. “But you have to leave now.”

A new lens notification flashes into my peripheral vision. The twin is accelerating towards us. It’ll start interfering with our gravity within moments. We have under an hour left.

Something starts to pull at the treetops like an invisible hand.

“You need to go,” she says. “You don’t need me. Just picture me right now, out on the bay, with the wind in my sails. I'll be here.”

“Please,” I tell her.

“It’s a beautiful day,” my mother says, and the video link is cut.

I stand on the bluff, alone for the first time, watching the distant specks of boats float across the bay. This beautiful landscape, the smells, the mud on the bluff – it’s all her work. All for me.

I turn to leave. As I look back one last time, I think I can see the boats start to rise up from the water as the trees pull upwards. My mother’s face is turned with them, pointed at the sky.

Ben Werdmüller

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.”