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Ethical living

Mural which reads "You are personally responsible for becoming more ethical than the society you grew up in"

/via LinkedIn

Reafferent loops

In Peter Godfrey-Smith’s book Other Minds, he cites work from 1950 by the German physiologists Erich van Holst and Horst Mittelstaedt.

They used the term afference to refer to everything you take in through the senses. Some of what comes in is due to the changes in the objects around you — that is exafference… — and some of what comes in is due to your own actions: that is reafference.

Peter Godfrey-Smith, Other Minds, p.154

Godfrey-Smith is talking about octopuses and other cephalopods, but I think what he’s discussing is interesting from a digital note-taking point of view.

To write a note and read it is to create a reafferent loop. Rather than wanting to perceive only the things that are not due to you — finding the exafferent among the noise is the senses — you what you read to be entirely due to your previous action. You want the contents of the note to be due to your acts rather than someone else’s meddling, or the natural decay of the notepad. You want the loop between present action and future perception to be firm. Thus enables your to create a form of external memory — as was, almost certainly, the role of much early writing (which is full of records of goods and transactions), and perhaps also the role of some early pictures, though that js much less clear.

When a written message is directed at others, it’s ordinary communication. When you write something for yourself to read, there’s usually an essential role for time — the goal is memory, in a broad sense. But memory like this is a communicative phenomenon; it is communication between your present self and a future self. Diaries and notes-to-self are embedded in a sender/receiver system just like more standard forms of communication.

Peter Godfrey-Smith, Other Minds, p.154-155

Some people talk about digital note-taking as a form of ‘second brain’. Given the type of distributed cognition that Godfrey-Smith highlights in Other Minds, it would appear that by creating reafferent loops that’s exactly the kind of thing that’s happening.

Very interesting.

Hiring is broken, but not in the ways you assume

Hacker News is a link aggregator for people who work in tech. There’s a lot of very technical information on there, but also stuff interesting to the curious mind more generally.

As so many people visit the site every day, it can be very influential, especially given the threaded discussion about shared links.

There can be a bit of a ‘hive mind’ sometimes, with certain things being sacred cows or implicit assumptions held by those who post (and lurk) there.

In this blog post focusing on hiring practices there’s a critique of four ‘myths’ that seem to be prevalent in Hacker News discussions. Some of it is almost exclusively focused on tech roles in Silicon Valley, but I wanted to pull out this nugget which outlines what is really wrong with hiring:

Diversity. We really, really suck at diversity. We’re getting better, but we have a long way to go. Most of the industry chases the same candidates and assesses them in the same way.

Generally unfair practices. In cases where companies have power and candidates don’t, things can get really unfair. Lack of diversity is just one side-effect of this, others include poor candidate experiences, unfair compensation, and many others.

Short-termism. Recruiters and hiring managers that just want to fill a role at any cost, without thinking about whether there really is a fit or not. Many recruiters work on contingency, and most of them suck. The really good ones are awesome, but most of the well is poison. Hiring managers can be the same, too, when they’re under pressure to hire.

General ineptitude. Sometimes companies don’t knowing what they’re looking for, or are not internally aligned on it. Sometimes they just have broken processes, where they can’t keep track of who they’re talking to and what stage they’re at. Sometimes the engineers doing the interviews couldn’t care two shits about the interview or the company they work at. And often, companies are just tremendously indecisive, which makes them really slow to decide, or to just reject candidates because they can’t make up their minds.

Ozzie, 4 Hiring Myths Common in HackerNews Discussions

I’ve hired people and, even with the lastest talent management workflow software, it’s not easy. It sucks up your time, and anything/everything you do can and will be criticised.

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t strive to make the whole process better, more equitable, and more enjoyable for all involved.

If you have been put in your place long enough, you begin to act like the place

Astronaut on the moon with an Anarchist flag planted

📉 Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit

💪 How to walk upright and stop living in a cave

🤔 It’s Not About Intention, It’s About Action

💭 Are we losing our ability to remember?

🇺🇸 How The Presidential Candidates Spy On Their Supporters


Quotation-as-title by Randall Jarrell. Image from top-linked post.

Why we can’t have nice things

There’s a phrase, mostly used by Americans, in relation to something bad happening: “this is why we can’t have nice things”.

I’d suggest that the reason things go south is usually because people don’t care enough to fix, maintain, or otherwise care for them. That goes for everything from your garden, to a giant wiki-based encyclopedia that is used as the go-to place to check facts online.

The challenge for Wikipedia in 2020 is to maintain its status as one of the last objective places on the internet, and emerge from the insanity of a pandemic and a polarizing election without being twisted into yet another tool for misinformation. Or, to put it bluntly, Wikipedia must not end up like the great, negligent social networks who barely resist as their platforms are put to nefarious uses.

Noam Cohen, Wikipedia’s Plan to Resist Election Day Misinformation (WIRED)

Wikipedia’s approach is based on a evolving process, one that is the opposite of “go fast and break things”.

Moving slowly has been a Wikipedia super-power. By boringly adhering to rules of fairness and sourcing, and often slowly deliberating over knotty questions of accuracy and fairness, the resource has become less interesting to those bent on campaigns of misinformation with immediate payoffs.

Noam Cohen, Wikipedia’s Plan to Resist Election Day Misinformation (WIRED)

I’m in danger of sounding old, and even worse, old-fashioned, but everything isn’t about entertainment. Someone or something has to be the keeper of the flame.

Being a stickler for accuracy is a drag. It requires making enemies and pushing aside people or institutions who don’t act in good faith.

Noam Cohen, Wikipedia’s Plan to Resist Election Day Misinformation (WIRED)

Collaboration is our default operating system

One of the reasons I’m not active on Twitter any more is the endless, pointless arguments between progressives and traditionalists, between those on the left of politics and those on the right, and between those who think that watching reality TV is an acceptable thing to spend your life doing, and those who don’t.

Interestingly a new report which draws on data from 10,000 people, focus groups, and academic interviews suggests that half of the controversy on Twitter is generated by a small proportion of users:

[The report] states that 12% of voters accounted for 50% of all social-media and Twitter users – and are six times as active on social media as are other sections of the population. The two “tribes” most oriented towards politics, labelled “progressive activists” and “backbone Conservatives”, were least likely to agree with the need for compromise. However, two-thirds of respondents who identify with either the centre, centre-left or centre-right strongly prefer compromise over conflict, by a margin of three to one.

Michael Savage, ‘Culture wars’ are fought by tiny minority – UK study (The Observer)

Interestingly, the report also shows difference between the US and UK, but also to attitudes before and after the pandemic started:

The research also suggested that the Covid-19 crisis had prompted an outburst of social solidarity. In February, 70% of voters agreed that “it’s everyone for themselves”, with 30% agreeing that “we look after each other”. By September, the proportion who opted for “we look after each other” had increased to 54%.

More than half (57%) reported an increased awareness of the living conditions of others, 77% feel that the pandemic has reminded us of our common humanity, and 62% feel they have the ability to change things around them – an increase of 15 points since February.

MICHAEL SAVAGE, ‘CULTURE WARS’ ARE FOUGHT BY TINY MINORITY – UK STUDY (THE OBSERVER)

As I keep on saying, those who believe in unfettered capitalism have to perpetuate a false narrative of competition in all things to justify their position. We have more things in common than differences, and I truly believe the collaboration is our default operating system.

Everything intercepts us from ourselves

🤝 Medieval English people used to pay their rent in eels

🤺 The Mad, Mad World of Niche Sports Among Ivy League–Obsessed Parents

📜 Archaeologists unearth ‘huge number’ of sealed Egyptian sarcophagi

🌉 3D model of how the Charles bridge in Prague was constructed

💪 Every Man Should Be Able to Save His Own Life: 5 Fitness Benchmarks a Man Must Master


Quotation by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Image from top-linked post.

Fighting health disinformation on Wikipedia

This is great to see:

As part of efforts to stop the spread of false information about the coronavirus pandemic, Wikipedia and the World Health Organization announced a collaboration on Thursday: The health agency will grant the online encyclopedia free use of its published information, graphics and videos.

Donald G. McNeil Jr., Wikipedia and W.H.O. Join to Combat Covid Misinformation (The New York Times)

Compared to Twitter’s dismal efforts at fighting disinformation, the collaboration is welcome news.

The first W.H.O. items used under the agreement are its “Mythbusters” infographics, which debunk more than two dozen false notions about Covid-19. Future additions could include, for example, treatment guidelines for doctors, said Ryan Merkley, chief of staff at the Wikimedia Foundation, which produces Wikipedia.

Donald G. McNeil Jr., Wikipedia and W.H.O. Join to Combat Covid Misinformation (The New York Times)

More proof that the for-profit private sector is in no way more ‘innovative’ or effective than non-profits, NGOs, and government agencies.

Seeing through is rarely seeing into

Statue of a man showing bicep muscles, but the statue is crumbling

♂️ What does it mean to be a man in 2020? Introducing our news series on masculinity

🎓 America Will Sacrifice Anything for the College Experience: The pandemic has revealed that higher education was never about education.

💽 One of the world’s most cited computer scientists wants cooperatives to be the future of how data is owned

✏️ Your writing style is costly (Or, a case for using punctuation in Slack)

🔐 Taking Back Our Privacy: Moxie Marlinspike, the founder of the end-to-end encrypted messaging service Signal, is “trying to bring normality to the Internet.”


Quotation-as-title by Elizabeth Bransco. Image from top-linked post.

Perceptions of the past

The History teacher in me likes this simple photo quiz site that shows how your perception of the past can easily be manipulated by how photographs are presented.

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