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Links: February 2019

They Really Don’t Make Music Like They Used To

In a tight, compressed space, music can get asphyxiated.

The One Minute Presentation Test

What do the people most likely to leave need to know before they leave? (This often keeps them from leaving, by the way.) What are the important details that show people how you got to that solution. (This backs up the work they just saw.) And finally, the nerdy nerdy background stuff for the die-hard fans. (This is usually most interesting to the people who either need to build or extend the thing you’re showing.)

Facebook: Where Friendships Go to Never Quite Die

Having many Facebook friends, then, is kind of like having a big old encyclopedia (in the days before the internet). Most of the time it’s just gathering dust on a shelf, taking up space, but you keep it around anyway, because one day you might need it. Of course, some people do unfriend their weak ties, if they find them irritating or just want to keep their network more intimate. But Facebook lowers the cost of keeping these people at the edges of your life—you have to do something to get rid of them—and so you may feel that you might as well keep them around.

“Friendships are environment-specific, and Facebook is its own environment,” says Michael Harris, the author of The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection. “It is a petri dish in which anything that has the possibility of growing will grow, in terms of social connection. If you took those friendships offline, they would wither and die.”

This is the bargain of drinking Facebook’s unicorn blood. It will give you powers heretofore unwielded by man—a council of everyone you’ve ever met who can be summoned to advise on matters of great and small import with the click of a button. But in return, you must watch the hollow shells of those relationships limping along every time you log on.

Tech Is Splitting the U.S. Work Force in Two

In a new study, David Autor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Anna Salomons of Utrecht University found that over the last 40 years, jobs have fallen in every single industry that introduced technologies to enhance productivity.

The only reason employment didn’t fall across the entire economy is that other industries, with less productivity growth, picked up the slack. “The challenge is not the quantity of jobs,” they wrote. “The challenge is the quality of jobs available to low- and medium-skill workers.”

Forget privacy: you’re terrible at targeting anyway

Anyone can, in a few seconds, think of some stuff they really want to buy which The Algorithm has failed to offer them, all while Outbrain makes zillions of dollars sending links about car insurance to non-car-owning Manhattanites. It might as well be a 1990s late-night TV infomercial, where all they knew for sure about my demographic profile is that I was still awake.

You tracked me everywhere I go, logging it forever, begging for someone to steal your database, desperately fearing that some new EU privacy regulation might destroy your business… for this?

Look Around You

Much like world trade, the effectiveness of empathy is a product of proximity. Sat in an office interacting with our colleagues (yet not those in distant warehouses or on the front line) and with little day-to-day contact with customers, a disconnect is forged.

What we do see, often looks a lot like us. Our community is suffocated by a lack of diversity, not only in the countless ways we are slowly starting to comprehend, but also thanks to the narrow providence of the ideas shaping our work. Lacking a culture of independent critique typical of other creative professions like film and architecture, few seem willing or able to challenge the toxic orthodoxy behind the handful of American companies exerting the most influence. And so DevOps begat DesignOps, DesignOps begat ResearchOps, each specialism competing to commoditize its expertise in order to prove its worth to business leaders who know the cost of everything but the value of nothing.

Abolish Billionaires

Inequality is the defining economic condition of the tech age. Software, by its very nature, drives concentrations of wealth. Through network effects, in which the very popularity of a service ensures that it keeps getting more popular, and unprecedented economies of scale — in which Amazon can make Alexa once and have it work everywhere, for everyone — tech instills a winner-take-all dynamic across much of the economy.

We’re already seeing these effects now. A few superstar corporations, many in tech, account for the bulk of American corporate profits, while most of the share of economic growth since the 1970s has gone to a small number of the country’s richest people.

But the problem is poised to get worse. Artificial intelligence is creating prosperous new industries that don’t employ very many workers; left unchecked, technology is creating a world where a few billionaires control an unprecedented share of global wealth.

But the adulation we heap upon billionaires obscures the plain moral quandary at the center of their wealth: Why should anyone have a billion dollars, why should anyone be proud to brandish their billions, when there is so much suffering in the world?

Letter of Recommendation: Ronnie James Dio

When he held the microphone, his voice exploded out of him, a smelling-salts blast under the noses of anyone on the verge of giving up.

All the Bad Things About Uber and Lyft In One Simple List

Every person lured from a bus or a train into a Lyft or Uber adds congestion to the streets and emissions to the air. Even in cities that have made tremendous investments in transit — like Seattle which is investing another $50 billion in light rail — Uber and Lyft ridership recently surpassed light rail ridership.

Worse is the tale of two cities effect: Relatively well off people in Ubers congesting the streets of Manhattan and San Francisco slow down buses full of relatively low-income people. By giving people who can afford it escape from the subway, Uber and Lyft also reduce social interaction between people of different classes and lead to a more stratified society.

I Cut the ‘Big Five’ Tech Giants From My Life. It Was Hell

My laptop is inside the locked apartment. I use a password manager, stored on that laptop, to get into all my online accounts, so I couldn’t get into Airbnb on another computer even if I wanted to toss in the towel on the blockade.

A masochistic part of my brain reminds me that I am in this mess because I used a site hosted by AWS. I could have just booked a normal hotel room via the phone, and then I would be picking up a new key card at this very moment. Technology creates the problems that technology solves, and vice versa.

Tapedeck.org

Hundreds of blank cassettes, filterable by brand, running time, coating type, and color. If this is your type of thing (it is very much mine), here’s an old love letter from me to mixtapes, complete with downloadable mixtape.

Ryan Adams Dangled Success. Women Say They Paid a Price.

Something changed in me that year. It made me just not want to make music.

Imagine how many women can say this. 😞

Dazzling Gradients and Geometric Designs Baked into New Pies and Tarts by Lauren Ko

Everyone please continue making colorful geometric confections and I will continue admiring them.

WorldWideWeb

Behind the scenes of the recreation of the first ever web browser (CERN’s WorldWideWeb from 1990). So cool!

Tortoise: TNT Album Review

This recent review of my favorite Tortoise record, more than 20 years after its release, articulates much of what I love about the record, which is particularly relevant to my own musical aspirations for this year.

Tortoise didn’t exactly fit on either compilation—they were too disjointed, too ready to leave the groove behind if something else caught their fancy. But these compilation placements helped to reframe their music as a studio creation first, something assembled from parts.

TNT is a record where copy, cut, paste, and undo reign supreme. Individual parts were worked up in rehearsals, recorded in various combinations, and later reconfigured into new pieces of music by McEntire and the band.

One of the delicious tensions of TNT is its ex post facto assembly. It doesn’t really sound like music created by careful manipulation of each bit and put together from parts. You almost always have a sense that individual people, not machines, are playing each part and even though the players’ skill ranges from “highly accomplished” to “virtuoso,” the pieces also sound human. You can see hands on keys and people standing over drum kits. Beats are a bit off-kilter, the guitar seems in dialogue with the bass.

Parker’s 12-note phrase seems to ask a question and then half answer it, and because it conveys the feeling of an incomplete thought, it leaves a space for the listener to fill.

Tortoise were never interested in making actual dance music, the same way they never wanted to improvise in a conventional way. The music is about what happens in the cracks.

Tortoise’s take on Reichian repetition has an appealing pop edge to it, foregoing long-form trance induction and instead laying out a basic premise: tweak the rhythm with bits of piano, bass, and percussion, and get out. All the pieces function together, and none, with the possible exception of the title track, draw undue attention to themselves.

TNT is not about certainty. It’s a free-floating work that tends to find a different meaning everywhere it lands, an album that’s beautiful on the surface but gets harder to parse the deeper you go. To enjoy it is to embrace that uneasy sense of not-knowing, of luxuriating in a sound that doesn’t tell you what to feel.

‘It Is Not a Closet. It Is a Cage.’ Gay Catholic Priests Speak Out

Fewer than about 10 priests in the United States have dared to come out publicly. But gay men probably make up at least 30 to 40 percent of the American Catholic clergy, according to dozens of estimates from gay priests themselves and researchers. Some priests say the number is closer to 75 percent. One priest in Wisconsin said he assumed every priest was gay unless he knows for a fact he is not. A priest in Florida put it this way: “A third are gay, a third are straight and a third don’t know what the hell they are.”

Even before a priest may know he is gay, he knows the closet. The code is taught early, often in seminary. Numquam duo, semper tres, the warning goes. Never two, always three. Move in trios, never as a couple. No going on walks alone together, no going to the movies in a pair. The higher-ups warned for years: Any male friendship is too dangerous, could slide into something sexual or could turn into what they called a “particular friendship.”

“You couldn’t have a particular friendship with a man, because you might end up being homosexual,” explained a priest, who once nicknamed his friends “the P.F.s.” “And you couldn’t have a friendship with a woman, because you might end up falling in love, and they were both against celibacy. With whom do you have a relationship that would be a healthy human relationship?”

How Has the “Crack Cocaine of Gambling” Affected Illinois? The State Hasn’t Bothered to Check.

New work: I had some fun animating gambling addiction, supporting the great reporting of Jason Grotto, Sandhya Kambhampati, and Dan Mihalopoulos.

The Lucky Ones

My tattoos, inked over the past sixteen years, were supposed to be disparate, pieces of memory that would not speak to each other. But that’s not how tattoos work.

My younger brother, Beto, a tattoo artist, who inked most of them, calls tattoos “art wounds.”

When I’m honest, luck feels like debilitating guilt that turns into apathy. I dodged, often by none of my doing, limitations that people in my own family and all around me continue to have no choice but to endure. I had a pathway to be legalized. I got to go to college. I got to travel the world. I get the luxury of surprise when I disclose that I used to be undocumented. I get that split second of math their faces give up before the questions start.

The fallout of the moment is when the story falls apart. You read me, you placed me. Suddenly “them” is “us.” It’s me your friend, colleague, or neighbor in places where I’m not supposed to be. This is where my over reliance of the word “luck” usually begins. The trap of exceptionalism is to place distance between us and them.

The Impossible Job of Speaking Truth to Trump

Where retired intelligence figures like former CIA Director John Brennan had chosen direct attacks on Trump himself, Coats—who, after all, works for the guy, and whose workforce depends for its impact on him being able to share its analysis with the president—was low-key. He opted to reiterate facts.

Former intelligence officials who have worked with Coats told me that this practice is how he sticks up for the community. It lacks flair, but it’s honest. It lets lower-level officials and former officials—such as Peter Strzok and Lisa Page—get attacked without public rebuke. But it’s helped preserve Coats’s position so far.

Morrissey’s End Credits Song from “Green Book”

This gift from Demi Adejuyigbe is the best internet of the year so far.

The changing face of US cities is putting pedestrians’ lives at risk

In the United States, driver fatalities fell from 27,348 in 2006 to 23,611 in 2017, but pedestrian and cyclist fatalities increased from 5,567 to 6,760.

The Amazon Race

This game puts you in the unenviable shoes of an Amazon warehouse worker.

How the Design of My New Blog Came to Live

The great Veerle Pieters walks us through the design process behind her beautiful new site.