News 01.20.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 01.20.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 01.20.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 01.20.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

In London’s Kew Gardens grows the Encephalartos woodii—a cycad brought from South Africa in 1899. It’s the only member of its species ever found, but my thoughts about the threat to biodiversity from the climate crisis are quickly interrupted by yet another plane droning overhead.

Kew Gardens is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it also sits underneath a flight path leading into Heathrow, Europe’s busiest airport. The planes come in over the 261-year-old park at a rapid clip, so low that you can read the writing on the fuselage. Kew is a beautiful place to walk around on a bright November afternoon, but if you’re looking for silence, you won’t find it here.

Cities are getting louder. Noise complaints to New York’s 311 service were on track to reach record levels last year, in part because the city’s airspace has never been more riddled with helicopters. Cars and planes have been engineered to be more quiet, but there are also a lot more cars on the road now, and the number of planes in the sky is expected to double in the next 20 years. As all these engines run more frequently, city dwellers are given fewer hours of respite from sound.

Noise isn’t simply an irritation or an interruption to peaceful moments. Loud sounds stress the body and can lead to a host of serious health problems, like high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes. Research shows that noise pollution in the U.S. is more severe in communities with lower socioeconomic status, and in areas populated by people of color.

Read the rest of this article at: Curbed

News 01.20.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 01.20.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

ONE MORNING LAST YEAR I woke up in my van. It was late November, and I was parked in a sun-bleached lot in Santa Cruz, California. I had tried to keep pace with T-shirt weather as it crawled down the coast, but my insulation was shit, and the tip of my nose felt like frost. I had slept through my alarm. I was running late.

One of the great under-discussed facts of the world is that you can get a free hot meal every morning by combing your hair, putting on a clean shirt, and walking into almost any hotel that serves a complimentary breakfast. Nobody checks if you’re a guest, and the staff probably care less about their employer’s bottom line than you do. On this particular morning I’d planned to dine at a local Hampton Inn, but breakfast ended in fifteen minutes and getting there meant driving halfway across town on a full-body hangover.

I scraped myself out of bed and lurched five feet to the driver’s seat, scrolling through Twitter with one hand and stuffing my feet into a decomposing pair of Vans with the other. If I wanted to show up in time to eat, I’d have to test the necessity of the combed-hair and clean-shirt protocols.

By this point I’d been on the road for six months, living out of a GMC Savana that was too new for a tape deck and too old for an aux port. I’d gutted the back and bolted a homemade bedframe to the body. I had a camping stove, a water tank, and a small solar generator. I pissed in a plastic bin, shaved in Walmart bathrooms, showered at truck stops, and idled in McDonald’s parking lots to play World of Warcraft on stolen Wi-Fi. I worked remotely and circled the country on $1,000 a month.

Read the rest of this article at: The Baffler

For decades, whole regions, nations even, have tried to model themselves on a particular ideal of innovation, the lifeblood of the modern economy. From Apple to Facebook, Silicon Valley’s freewheeling ecosystem of new, nimble corporations created massive wealth and retilted the world’s economic axis. Silicon Valley meant young companies scrambling to create the next great thing, and that scramble delivered new products to the world, so innovation became linked to start-ups.

AnnaLee Saxenian, a professor at the UC Berkeley School of Information, literally wrote the book on what differentiated the Valley from other centers of technology (particularly New England’s Route 128). The key words were decentralized and fluid. You worked for Silicon Valley, and working for Silicon Valley often meant striking out on your own, not only to make your name, but because innovation itself required small firms with new visions. That’s how disruption happened, no?

Then the post-dot-com generation of companies became the most ubiquitous and valuable corporations in the world, and Silicon Valley’s rhetoric began to change. Over time, the leaders of Facebook and Google, specifically, began to argue a new line: The most innovative, competitive companies are not small and nimble, but big and rich with user data. The real game isn’t among American internet companies; it’s global, and pits American giants against Chinese corporations, governments, and values. In competition with such power, small will lose, or so the executives warn when facing down antitrust action.

Read the rest of this article at: The Atlantic

News 01.20.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Until recently, Hoan Ton-That’s greatest hits included an obscure iPhone game and an app that let people put Donald Trump’s distinctive yellow hair on their own photos.

Then Mr. Ton-That — an Australian techie and onetime model — did something momentous: He invented a tool that could end your ability to walk down the street anonymously, and provided it to hundreds of law enforcement agencies, ranging from local cops in Florida to the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security.

His tiny company, Clearview AI, devised a groundbreaking facial recognition app. You take a picture of a person, upload it and get to see public photos of that person, along with links to where those photos appeared. The system — whose backbone is a database of more than three billion images that Clearview claims to have scraped from Facebook, YouTube, Venmo and millions of other websites — goes far beyond anything ever constructed by the United States government or Silicon Valley giants.

Federal and state law enforcement officers said that while they had only limited knowledge of how Clearview works and who is behind it, they had used its app to help solve shoplifting, identity theft, credit card fraud, murder and child sexual exploitation cases.

Until now, technology that readily identifies everyone based on his or her face has been taboo because of its radical erosion of privacy. Tech companies capable of releasing such a tool have refrained from doing so; in 2011, Google’s chairman at the time said it was the one technology the company had held back because it could be used “in a very bad way.” Some large cities, including San Francisco, have barred police from using facial recognition technology.

But without public scrutiny, more than 600 law enforcement agencies have started using Clearview in the past year, according to the company, which declined to provide a list. The computer code underlying its app, analyzed by The New York Times, includes programming language to pair it with augmented-reality glasses; users would potentially be able to identify every person they saw. The tool could identify activists at a protest or an attractive stranger on the subway, revealing not just their names but where they lived, what they did and whom they knew.

And it’s not just law enforcement: Clearview has also licensed the app to at least a handful of companies for security purposes.

“The weaponization possibilities of this are endless,” said Eric Goldman, co-director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University. “Imagine a rogue law enforcement officer who wants to stalk potential romantic partners, or a foreign government using this to dig up secrets about people to blackmail them or throw them in jail.”

Read the rest of this article at: The New York Times

News 01.20.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

To understand the complexity and significance of West African history, there is no better thing to do than to go to Freetown. Sierra Leone’s capital is sited in the lee of the ‘lion-shaped’ mountain that gives the country its modern name. Portuguese sailors began to visit this part of West Africa in the second half of the 15th century; after weeks of sailing down the flat mangrove-strewn swamps south from the Senegal river, they knew they were entering a different region when they saw this mountain, and named the whole part of the coast ‘Sierra Leone’. Today, the mountain shelters the upmarket beach resorts that stretch south of Freetown; and in the distance you can spy the large hump of Banana Island, where the slave trader John Newton (author of the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’) was imprisoned by a Temne trader in 1747.

Other aspects of this early history of trade and African-European encounters also remain. By the harbour downtown, by a clutch of corrugated-iron-covered stalls where fish is dried and prepared for sale, is the ‘De Ruyter stone’. This stone is named after a Dutch admiral who visited in the early 17th century, during European wars to control the slave trade, and is believed to have carved his name into one of the rocks that still stands on the beach.

For a long time, historians in the West have seen the Atlantic slave trade as shaping the beginnings of West Africa’s engagement with Europe. There is no question that the slave trade exerted a profound influence in many parts of Africa. However, to look at African history as the history of slavery and the slave trade is no more accurate than to study the history of the Nazis as the sum of the German past. Even at the height of the Atlantic trade, there is much more to say about West African history than can possibly be glimpsed by focusing only on the slave trade. Digging a little deeper into Freetown, some of this begins to emerge; and what follows is a brief tour of the city and its historical sites to show how this works in practice.

Freetown was founded in 1792, and soon became a key site in the antislavery movement. After the Act abolishing the slave trade was passed by the UK parliament in 1807, the Royal Naval West Africa Squadron was based in Freetown. Navy ships patrolled the West African coast on the lookout for vessels that Britain deemed to be slaving illegally; if they were captured, the Navy brought them to Freetown, and liberated their captives. In this manner, Freetown came to be home to people from all over West Africa, from as far south as the kingdom of Kongo, from what is now southern Nigeria, and from Dahomey.

Just a few hundred yards above the De Ruyter stone is the Asylum. Founded in 1817, this was where Africans liberated from the festering holds of their ships were first brought. The gates to the Asylum are locked, but multicoloured name tags have been tied around them, embossed with the names of some of the captives who passed through and whom historians have identified. The sign above the Asylum declares it the ‘Royal Hospital and Asylum for Africans Rescued from Slavery by British Valour and Philanthropy’, passing over in silence the histories of the 17th and 18th centuries when British slave traders (such as John Newton) frequented Sierra Leone; as if to remind visitors how much of African history is still characterised by silence.

Read the rest of this article at: aeon

P.S. previous articles & more by P.F.M.

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