Category Archives: ideas

Online Privacy Should Be Modeled on Real-World Privacy (or, Stop Following Us Around Constantly!)

I’ve been saying that for some time — years — so I am glad to see someone like  Daring Fireball come out and say it too. I don’t know about you, but I am sick of the degree of tracking that occurs. I was talking to someone about Birkenstock shoes last night and the next day, Instagram/Facebook put a Birkenstock ad in my IG Stories. It is likely a coincidence, or the fact that the person I was talking to may have been searching on info about them and IG put 2 and 2 together, but it is freaky. 

Needless to say, there is a whole INDUSTRY of companies that track the hell out of us, and it has to stop. Here’s to Apple and others giving us more control over this.

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On policing and lack thereof


With the situation in the US concerning police and the use of deadly force, there is much discussion of defunding the police. One argument is that the police can be replaced with other social service workers, as this town did here. Then there is the story of Camden and how they fired all their police, though they did replace them. Some believe that police are unaccountable, and when you try to hold them accountable, they do thinks like this (What Can We Learn From the Chicago Police Department’s API Shutdown?). Or they do pullbacks like this How to Stop a Police Pullback – The Atlantic.

My thoughts, which don’t amount to much, is there is not one answer to deal with problems in police forces. They clearly need to be accountable. They may need to shift some of their responsibilities to other services. This has been done in the past (e.g. the officers who give out parking tickets are different than the ones that make arrests). They also should be paid well: nothing encourage corruption like poorly paid police officers.

Societies need public police forces. I don’t believe the lack of police means things automatically get better. There needs to be some form of organized force that keeps the peace and enforces laws. Otherwise, you will get individuals taking advantage, gangs of organized crime, and private police forces. An unaccountable police force is bad, but no police force is worse.

Finally, here are two good links. This one, which eviscerates the idea that looting is acceptable: There Is No Defense of Looting – The Atlantic. And this one, which highlights the failure in parts of the world to control the criminal organizations forming: El Salvador’s president Bukele cut deals with MS-13 gang in bid to reduce killings, report says – The Washington Post. Mexico has similar problems. Any member of a society that thinks they are immune to this need to ask why they think that.

(Photo by Esri Esri on Unsplash)

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Brush up on philosophical ideas at The Stone

Keeping up with contemporary philosophy can be difficult for people who are not dedicated to it. Which is why I am happy to share news about The Stone over at the New York Times. As they describe it:

(The Stone is) A forum for contemporary philosophers and other thinkers on issues both timely and timeless. The series moderator is Simon Critchley, who teaches philosophy at The New School for Social Research.

I read a number of good essays there. The ideas can be challenging, but the language used is not. Well worth checking out.

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Fifty ideas and concepts to ponder


I am not sure if these will change your life, but this piece is full of interesting ideas and concepts to consider: 50 Ideas That Changed My Life — David Perell

I like the circle of competence one. It’s worthwhile to consider and remember when you hear someone smart in one area making claims in other areas. Chances are they are not any more competent in all areas than anyone else, and you should take their claims with a grain of salt.

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Some random thoughts on bullet journals


There’s merit to be had in having a bullet journal. It lets you capture the things you have to do and track and quickly capture them. If this appeals to you and you want to learn more, I found this use helpful:  Learn – Bullet Journal

That used to be my impression of how they worked, and they looked very minimal.

It seems though that bullet journals have transformed into these amazingly detailed books filled with calligraphy and they started to look like this:

Now there is nothing bad about that, and for some that is an impressive way of capturing information. But as the person who made that wrote, it may not be the best way to be productive, and she switched to a simpler mode of documentation.

I can’t say which is the better way of doing things: it’s a personal preference in my opinion.

I do want to say that there is this person who has come up with a smart way to visually represent the things she has to do. For example, here’s her todo list for decluttering her house. It’s a much better visual representation of what she has to do.

Likewise this is a smart way to plan a big meal:

If I were to do a bullet journal, I think I’d stick with the minimal approach. But even that is a lot of work. Perhaps if I were more artistically inclined I’d go with the more graphic approach.

Like I said, random thoughts.

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You need more than a room of your own. Virginia Woolf said so herself

As Austin Kleon highlights in this post:

It is curious to me how often, when people quote Woolf, they quote the room part and leave out the money part — especially when you consider that money buys you both the time and the space

I’m not sure why people leave that out, but it’s an essential part of the freedom required to create fiction or any other artistic endeavour. The money frees you from the basic needs, just like the room gives you the social freedom you need. You can still create art if you are weighed down by poverty and responsibilities, but it’s harder.

I recommend that post by Kleon, and Kleon’s blog in general.

 

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If you are feeling blah, set up an inspiration board

For some people, the first response is going to be: “great idea, but I need some bootstrap inspiration”.  Totally understandable response. So here are seven boards to get you going on making your own: Peek at the Inspiration Boards of These 7 Female Designers

If you first response was something the opposite of “great idea”, then all I would say is try to find 3 or 4 items that represent things you value and have them in a space that you can see often. Maybe they are awards, or pictures of people you love, or items from trips you’ve been on. A cluster of things to remind you of what you have and what you accomplished. They may sit on a shelf instead of a board, but they will inspire you nonetheless. Whatever works.

One thing I would recommend is set the board up so you can change it often. I find if the board is inflexible, you end up not seeing it any more. If you have a dozen images or items you want to post, perhaps post a fraction of them, then switch them around with the unposted ones. It will keep it fresh that way.

It is a slog being locked down during this pandemic. Anything that lifts your spirits help. Inspiration boards can be one of those things. Make yours today.

 

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Some thoughts on the pandemic and plasticity

Will people be largely changed by the pandemic, or will they revert to the way they were? My initial thought was that people would all be changed to some degree by the pandemic. I am now leaning towards thinking that it will depend on two things: the degree it impacts them and the plasticity of the individual.

By plasticity, I mean malleability but in a way that once reshaped, you likely do not go back to your original shape. Some plastics are very easy to reshape and some are not. I think some individuals are like thin plastic bottles that crumble with the least pressure, while other individuals are more like thick plastic bottles that revert more or less to their original form once you release the pressure on them.

Plasticity is one thing. The other thing to consider is the impact the pandemic has on a person. A person that lost a loved one or their job or their business suffers a big impact. If your biggest impact is missing going out or to the gym or getting a haircut then the impact is little.

Given that, I think the pandemic will change people in the following ways:

Impact vs plasticity Easily shaped Hard to shape
Little Impact Some change No change
Big impact Big change Some change

People easily shaped that experience a big impact  will be seriously changed by the pandemic. Most others will experience some change, and a certain class of person will not change at all.

 

 

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Is it time for Frank Ramsey to get his due?

In some ways, that question is ridiculous. Ramsey and his ideas are embedded in so many fields of thought, from mathematics to economics to philosophy. However, I had never heard of him before. Or I should say, I had heard of him, but I never thought of him the way I thought of Russell or Wittgenstein or other contemporaries he had.

That might change now. There are two good pieces I recently found, here on CBC Radio and here in The New Yorker. I really enjoyed both. If you do too, you can get a recent book on him called, Frank Ramsey: A Sheer Excess of Powers
by Cheryl Misak
.

Recommended.

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It’s that time of the year and seeing how people are into it, here’s how to start a garden without a backyard


I’m seeing lots of people growing pandemic gardens in their homes using scallions, celery, etc. I think that is cool. If you’ve done that, or if you want to go to the next phase, read this: How to Start a Garden Without a Backyard – The Simple Dollar

I want to add that many dollar stores will have seeds and other things to get started. You can also shop garden stores online and get supplies that way. You have options.

Of course, if you have a backyard or other areas you can plant, go for it. But if you have more gardening ambitions than you have space, give that a go.

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Generation Jones: the cusp gen, between boomers and Gen X

If you are a member of those people born between 1954 and 1965, you may never felt comfortable being associated with Boomers or Gen X. You may have felt a bit of both and a bit of neither. Congratulations, there is a gen for you now: Generation Jones.

Let me let Wikipedia explain:

Generation Jones is the social cohort of the latter half of the baby boomers to the first years of Generation X.

The term was first coined by the cultural commentator Jonathan Pontell, who identified the cohort as those born from 1954 to 1965 in the U.S.who came of age during the oil crisis, stagflation, and the Carter presidency, rather than during the 1960s, but slightly before Gen X. Other sources place the starting point at 1956 or 1957.

Unlike boomers, most of Generation Jones did not grow up with World War II veterans as fathers, and for them there was no compulsory military service and no defining political cause, as opposition to United States involvement in the Vietnam War had been for the older boomers.

Also, by 1955, a majority of U.S. households had at least one television set, and so unlike boomers born in the 1940s, many members of Generation Jones have never lived in a world without television – similar to how many members of Generation Z (1997–2012) have never lived in a world without personal computers or the internet, which a majority of U.S. households had by 2000 and 2001 respectively.

Unlike Generation X (1965–1980), Generation Jones was born before most of the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s and ’70s.

So, lots of reasons why you may feel unique. And you are. And also this generational explanations for how you are is slightly more accurate than horoscopes, but not much more, in my opinion.

For more on this, see Generation Jones – Wikipedia

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Do Authoritarian or Democratic Countries Handle Pandemics Better?

There’s already been some pundits claiming autocratic countries have been handling the pandemic better than democratic countries.  This piece on the website for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace argues differently. It’s worth reading, but a key part of the piece is this:

Despite attempts by politicians to use the crisis to tout their favored political model, the record so far does not show a strong correlation between efficacy and regime type. While some autocracies have performed well, like Singapore, others have done very poorly, like Iran. Similarly, some democracies have stumbled, like Italy and the United States, while others have performed admirably, like South Korea and Taiwan. The disease has not yet ravaged developing countries, making it impossible to include poorer autocracies and democracies in the comparison.

Keep this in mind, especially afterwards, when writers and authorities argue that we need more controls on people to fight future pandemics.

In Defense of Self-Help Books

A strong defense of self help books can be found here: On Self-Help Books | The Book of Life.

Essentially the argument is that the genre has been overtaken and is associated with people like this:

And not associated with this:

We need a list of good self help books, classic and current. Unfortunately, even lists with the so called best self-help books of all time  are lacking in literary qualities. That’s a shame.

I think we need a new list of self-help books then, a list stretching  from the classics such as the Dhammapada and the Bible and the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, all the way to present day books like In Search of Meaning. A new list of books that help us live better lives but that are good as books themselves. It’s time for such a list, and time for the current list of self-help books to take a backseat to this new list.

 

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On two risks regarding taking an “abundance of caution” approach to danger

With regards to the coronavirus and what to do about it, I see many cases of  overreaction. Specifically I see people and organization saying they are taking an abundance of caution when it comes to deciding how to act.  And to me, an abundance of caution is equivalent to overreacting. With this overreaction, I see two longer term risks:

Risk one: people get desensitized to future risks because the current models of danger let them down.  An example of this, via Conundrum: Why People Do Not Listen to Evacuation Orders – Scientific American:

The fact that we failed to catch this intensification has had a counterproductive effect,” said Berrien Moore, director of the University of Oklahoma’s National Weather Center. “People tend to say, well, it’s uncertain, or it wasn’t predicted. And that leads to inaction. … Our models have let us down.”

Desensitization makes it harder to react the next time an outbreak occurs.

Risk two: it’s not a sustainable approach. We take risks all the time: when we drive to work, when we cross the street, the food we eat, the places we visit, all of these have risks associated with them. We assess the risk (sometimes poorly) and try to make rational decisions. We don’t tend to decide with an abundance of caution, because to do so is to severely limit what we can do. The tradeoffs we make when we decide that way end up harming us overall.

Desensitization and sustainability may not be big concerns if this outbreak is a rare event. If it is not rare but something we start seeing regularly, then this abundance of caution response may harm future efforts to control such contagions.

If you believe this is a rare event, then the benefit of overreaction makes sense. If you do not believe it is, then overreaction will cause problems in the future.

 

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Congratulations! You get an extra day this year and it lands on a Saturday!

If someone said you get an extra hour in a day or an extra day in a week or month, you’d likely have ideas on what to do with it, yes? Well today is one of those days! You only get this day once every four years, though, which makes it extra special. Given that, consider doing something special for even part of the day. You deserve it! So start that project you always wanted to start, go visit that place you always wanted to visit, reach out to that person you haven’t reached out to in some time. Today is the perfect day for it.

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The Free-Time Paradox in America

Here’s something to ponder on a Sunday:

The rich were meant to have the most leisure time. The working poor were meant to have the least. The opposite is happening.

That is extracted from this: The Free-Time Paradox in America – The Atlantic

It’s a fascinating study of work and leisure and why it is not what many expected.

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The 22 rules of storytelling, according to Pixar

Anyone wanting to tell a story, be it a novel or a business proposal, could do well to read  The 22 rules of storytelling, according to Pixar.

At my work we are a fan of #4. But they are all good.

Stuck telling a story? Check out the list.

 

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On retirement in the 21st century: three good pieces

The notion of retirement in the Western world has been changing since the mid 20th century, and it will continue to change as the population increasingly gets older. To get an appreciation for what that means and what can be done, these three articles are worth reading:

  1. It’s Time to Say It: Retirement Is Dead. This Is What Will Take Its Place | Inc.com
  2. Baby boomers delaying retirement: It’s a myth, because retirement is inevitable, and bleaker than ever.
  3. This Is What Life Without Retirement Savings Looks Like

Not fun reading, but essential.

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Great gift ideas I can vouch for (under $200) from Bay Bloor Radio


I can’t vouch for everything on this list, but over the years I’ve acquired a three of the items on it and they are all good:

  1. Grado headphones
  2. Tivoli radios
  3. Sonos One speakers

Some are even on sale!

For more details, go here: Gift Ideas Under $200 | Bay Bloor Radio Toronto | Bay Bloor Radio Toronto Canada

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Yes, social networking technology distorts how you think of the world


And this piece tries to show how this happens: The Social-Network Illusion That Tricks Your Mind – MIT Technology Review

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The problem with colonizing other worlds…

The problems with colonizing other worlds can be read here:  Humans Will Never Colonize Mars.

It’s a bucket of ice water to dump on the head of anyone who optimistically thinks it will happen. It may happen, centuries from now.  More likely places like Mars will be colonized by robots that will do a lot of the activities we once expected humans to do.

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The decline in the arts as a bachelor degree major


Can be seen here: Has the Sharp Decline in Philosophy Majors Hit Bottom? (guest post by Eric Schwitzgebel) – Daily Nous.

It is remarkable how much majors in history and philosophy have declined. I feel we need these things more than ever. That said, my bachelor degree is with a major in computer science. I have studied much philosophy and history since then, but not in an academic setting. It would be good to find a way to study them more formally without the commitment of getting a bachelor degree.

There are so many online sites teaching computer science topics. We need more that teach philosophy and history in the same way.

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Checking in with death

If this sounds morbid and unappealing, I recommend you overcome that and give it a read: Checking in with death – Austin Kleon.

Checking in with death lets you live better. If you are into mindfulness or dealing with mental health issues or just want to appreciate life more, I recommend checking in with death.

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The case for unions


German Lopez from Vox makes it, here: America needs more unions – Vox.

As for me, many unions fall under the idea of countervailing power, which I am a strong proponent for. The countervailing power aspect is important.  The worst unions are not that.

 

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Did Rembrandt’s use mirrors for his paintings?


It’s debatable for sure, but there are a number of people who think he did. This piece (from a few years ago) titled The Mirrors Behind Rembrandt’s Self-Portraits in The New York Times  looks into one paper that argues so

In a paper published Wednesday in the Journal of Optics, Mr. O’Neill lays out a theory that Rembrandt set up flat and concave mirrors to project his subjects — including himself — onto surfaces before painting or etching them.

By tracing these projections, the 17th-century painter would have been able to achieve a higher degree of precision, Mr. O’Neill said. His research suggests that some of Rembrandt’s most prominent work may not have been done purely freehand, as many art historians believe.

He is not the first to suggest that old master painters used optics for their famous portraits.

In 2001, David Hockney, a renowned British painter, and Charles Falco, an optical sciences professor at the University of Arizona, published a book in which they argued that master painters secretly used mirrors and lenses to create hyperrealistic paintings, starting in the Renaissance.

Their theory, known as the Hockney-Falco thesis, generated controversy among scientists and art historians, some of whom took the findings as an implication that old master painters had “cheated” to produce their works.

I’ve read Hockney on this and he makes a strong case too. Not everyone agrees though. It’s worth reading the article and get a better picture, pardon the pun.

My thought is it’s likely all artists of the time would have used them to some extent. But Rembrandt is such a remarkable painter that it can only account for some of his greatness, if any.

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One of the the better reviews of WeWork and their IPO is naturally this one, by Stratechery


Stratechery is always great and this piece is no different: The WeWork IPO – Stratechery by Ben Thompson.

What makes it good is that rather than just slamming WeWork superficially, as many takes have, it delves into what could possibly justify why WeWork is a good investment.

My take is that if WeWork had a different executive, it could be a successful company. I think the comparison to AWS is somewhat valid, and in the gig economy with lots of short term work, it could become very successful. (It worked really well for a recent project I was on).

That said, I believe the executive team of WeWork will not be able to handle any drying up of capital or a recession of any length. Or investors will wake up and ask themselves why WeWork should be valued way more than IWG/Regus. Time will tell, of course.

One last thing: my understanding is that WeWork had to start from scratch in terms of buying up / leasing real estate, but AWS did not start from scratch and took advantage of existing capacity Amazon currently had.

(Image link to the original piece in the article reference)

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The U.S. Supreme Court is not what you think


There was much concern from progressives when Gorsuch and then Kavanaugh joined the U.S. Supreme Court. It was believed by myself and others that the court was going to vote 5-4 in lock step on every option, with the 5 conservative judges routinely beating the four liberal ones.

If you are progressive, it is still a concern. But as these two pieces show, the Supremes vote more independently than you or I might think:

  1. The Supreme Court’s Biggest Decisions in 2019 – The New York Times
  2. The Supreme Court Might Have Three Swing Justices Now | FiveThirtyEight

This is not to say it is entire unpredictable how they will vote on matters before them. The liberal and conservative labels are convenient and often useful, but there’s much more to consider than just that when trying to determine how they will vote. Read the two pieces and see if they change your mind.

(Photo by Claire Anderson via unsplash.com)

On superurbanization

Urbanization is an increase in cities  through their growth, either in more cities being created or growth within cities. Superurbanization is a new idea. It’s how some cities get the lion share of growth at the expense of other cities.

To see what I mean, look at this chart: A chart showing the growth of tech in US cities

Source: Tech is divergent | TechCrunch

Cities are growing everywhere, as people move from rural areas. But some cities are growing much more than others.

Smaller cities are trying to do something about it, as this article shows. But in the end, we may end up with more and more supercities, and smaller cities may suffer in the same way rural areas are suffering now.

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Two women on being 60

Emma Thompson in the New York Times and Lesley Manville in the Guardian.

Interesting perspectives from them. Worth reading.

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On dreams and goals


How you read this piece depends on who you are: Is It Ever Too Late to Pursue a Dream? You may recall it: it’s a long article about Dan Stoddard, a 39 year old, 6 foot 8 inch, 300+ pound guy playing basketball for a small college in Ontario who want to play pro.

When I read it, I first thought: no way. The guy’s too old, too big, too…you name it, he isn’t going to be a professional basketball player. That’s one  way to read it. A very grounded way to read it.

Another way  to read it  is to consider how dreams and goals shape us and change us and change others around us. I have a friend who sets very high goals and sometimes lands short of them. But even landing short, she accomplishes something beyond most people and beyond herself. The accomplishments matter, because they matter to her. The accomplishments matter, because they get others to seek out goals too. Others, like her, setting aim and leaving the ground.  Leaving the ground, the way Dan Stoddard does.

How you consider these quotes depends on who you are.

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Three different stories about modern Japan


I loved these stories. I don’t believe they tell me anything in particular about modern Japan, but I found them all fascinating:

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On Small Pleasures


This seems like a wonderful book, Small Pleasures Book | The School of Life.

It reminded me of small pleasures of my own, like listening to the rain while sitting on a porch, or driving at night listening to jazz, or having a good croissant and latte in a quiet spot.

I think I want to keep a list of such pleasures and make sure I have them constantly in my life. They are the things that make our lives bright and warm.

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The idea of North American and 11 nations…


…Is a good one, I think. I found after I read this book, American Nations, I had a much better appreciation for decision made by people from different regions of the United States, once I had a better understanding of the culture and background of each “nation” and how that affects their thinking.

If you are curious, this is a good article that summarizes the ideas in the book:Which of the 11 American nations do you live in? – The Washington Post

The book is good, though. Worth a read.

Two tools to help you be more productive at work

Spotify

You can use Spotify to listen to music while you work. But sometime music can be distracting. Sometime all you want is to drown out the sounds in your work environment. During those times, a good alternative to music is rain sounds. Spotify has a lot of different rain sounds to choose from. Well worth trying for those noisy work spaces that you need to be productive in.

Flow

 
Another good way to be productive is to use the Flow desktop app for the Mac. I’ve tried many a timer app and I like this one best. It is simple to get started with. It reminds you when to take a break and when to work, but let’s you chose if you want to get back into the flow. It can block out certain apps that might prevent you from being productive, like your browser. Also worth a look.
(Image from pexels.com)

Some contrarian ideas on happiness and being happy

Can be found here:

  1. BBC – Future – Why the quickest route to happiness may be to do nothing
  2. Daniel Kahneman explains why most people don’t want to be happy — Quartz

Basically, happiness is an elusive and not well defined idea and we are better off seeking things other than happiness. It is great to be happy, but it may not be great to try and be happy. Feel free to read and disagree.

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On cities and digital technology and loneliness

This is a good piece: How to redesign cities to fight loneliness.

It talks about how cities and services can be changed to fight loneliness. This is good. The flipside of it, though, is that cities are designed and have evolved to promote loneliness. One of the reasons people come to cities is to get away from things. The cost of that is often loneliness.

Cities are not the only contributor. Digital technology also can contribute to loneliness. But like cities, digital technology can also help to assist those struggling with being alone.

The bigger problem is loneliness in general. Cities and digital technologies can help there. But there are bigger social and cultural issues in the mix, and those need to be addressed as well.

 

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How to go, how to stay, how to live a good life

I was always impressed by this, and have read it often. Young people especially should read it: Reconnecting with Newfoundland – Free Candie.

 

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Some thoughts on Philip Pullman, free speech and de-platforming

I think often of this speech Philip Pullman gave regarding the rights and limits associated with free speech. I like what he says, and I like how he says it.

I’d like to see a similar one for de-platforming. No one has a right to be popular on social media. No one has a right to access and use a specific platform. No one has a right to stay on the platform if they don’t abide by the rules. If they get kicked off, they can complain on other platforms. They can complain to the owners of the platform. They can build a platform of their own and make their own rules and say what they want in a law abiding way.

But wait, isn’t that a violation of someone’s free speech? I don’t think it is. It gives too much power to existing platforms to treat them like utilities. They are not utilities. If they are utilities, then they should be heavily regulated. Better that they are not regulated, that they do not gain too much power, and that people that want to exercise their free speech build their own platforms.

Free speech should be defined within the context of a citizen and their government. People should be able to say what they want within the law. People should also be willing to accept the social consequences if they say something that offends others. That is what Pullman is saying in some ways. If his book shocks and offends you, you can take action that may harm him by reducing the number of books he might sell. That is the consequence he is willing to take in order to write the book he wanted to write. He understands that free speech has consequences. The one consequence he is not willing to accept is to be prevented from speaking. (I would add that the other consequence he is unwilling to accept is to be physically threatened, an all too common threat that hangs over discussions of free speech on the Internet.)

People who are deplatformed are not prevented from speaking either. They are being prevented from speaking the way they prefer, and that is a different matter. They want to speak their way without the consequence of being deplatformed.

 

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Where are all the aliens? A guide to thinking about this.

If you have ever wondered that, then read this: Where are all the aliens? — Quartz

It brings together all the ideas behind this and describes them simply and clearly.

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Sara restaurant in Toronto has a cool way to deal with cell phones at restaurants

According to blogTO, the tables are of a ….

…Design by ODAMI and MiiM (that) incorporates innovative tabletop cubbies with heavy, spill-proof lids designed to stow your phone at the beginning of the meal. Servers remove the lid at the end to remind you to return to your phone, and emerge from the period of serenity Sara offers diners.

Nice restaurant, great idea. For more on it, see:  Sara – blogTO – Toronto