Object Lessons: You Should Be Angry About This Edition

DHS plans to separate migrant children from their parents at border crossings. This is disgusting on so many levels, but particularly hair-raising because our federal government has a history not only of failing to keep track of children under its care (1500 kids “missing” in 2017) but also has actually placed some migrant children under the care of traffickers, as with these Guatemalan teens forced to work on a chicken farm in Ohio by threat of death. H/T nicoleandmaggie for boosting the signal on this one. Call your senators to voice that both the separation itself and the lack of oversight into the welfare for these children are unacceptable.

Editor’s note: Apparently there is some Twitter controversy on the point of children being sufficiently tracked by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. The idea being that undocumented families are purposefully opting out of the system (being unresponsive to HHS oversight and therefore the children become “missing”) and that one should not call for additional scrutiny and monitoring of these families and children. While I agree this is probably what’s happening for the majority of these missing cases, it also gives me great pause to say follow up shouldn’t be necessary. A lot of it really depends on the rigor of the vetting process HHS uses to place children. But absent that information / expertise knowledge, I’ll stick to what I know to be true: i.e. separating children from their families is bogus and awful.

Facebook has come up with a new way to identify and prevent revenge porn from proliferating on its platform. The catch? You have to send FB your nude photos in order for it to work. What could possibly go wrong!?

In other tech surveillance dystopia news, Amazon Echo recorded this family’s conversation and sent it to a random person on their contact list. While these sort of one-off bug stories pop up once in a while, I really worry the extent to which people actively choose to bring these ambient-listening systems into their homes and on their persons. Even for those who choose not to opt in, there’s a constant throng of other people’s devices which I think over time will listen and collect data about us too, with or without our consent.

I love McSweeney’s. Particularly this piece, skewering the “well-meaning” affluent for their NIMBY housing policies: I will do anything to end homelessness except build more homes.

I feel like this always gets lost when people talk about the constraints of being “politically correct” in America:

Sometimes, I like to delude myself that this is a particularly messed up era of politics. But then I remember good old Dick Nixon who, in order to improve his election chances, actively tried to sabotage peace talks to end the Vietnam War:


Object Lessons: Money Diary Edition

Xin recently posted a Man Repeller style money diary on her blog which I loved. I really appreciate the format, especially the emoji summaries for the daily expenses (were my emoji game that strong)! Also I feel like the general tenor of the comments section for MR is a lot less judgmental than the Refinery 29 money diaries (although I must admit R29’s salary negotiation series is pretty great). Along the same lines, I’ve really been enjoying The Guardian’s How I Spend It posts, the UK diarists seem to be from a lot of different financial backgrounds and have incomes/lives which seem much closer to “average” than I what I’ve seen on the American outlets. Also Kitchn’s food budget diaries, which has basically underscored for me that I still spend way too much.

Trying to remember this as I go into the next few months:


This Twitter bot which spits out demographic data of vote-eligible Americans is super trippy. It really goes to show how disparate our views on a number of issues are, how little they align with the dipolar narrative espoused on major media outlets, and– most strikingly– how many people just don’t vote.

I know the media is in a tizzy right now about Facebook’s politics-related scandals, but can we take a moment to reflect that they are still actively allowing landlords to post discriminatorily targeted ads in violation of the Fair Housing Act? Like, I know the motto has long been “move fast and break things” but this is not some deeply complicated technical issue, guys. Come on.

Speaking of tech companies creating their own unregulated surveillance state, did you know that Slack now has a feature where your boss can export your private messages. Neat, huh!?

Given how much interest there has been in tech regulation, I am kind of surprised-unsurprised that there’s been no mainstream coverage of either GDPR or FOSTA, which are going to have a huge effect on internet content in the very immediate future.

For FOSTA in particular: On the one hand, human trafficking is an under-addressed problem in the US and more tech-savvy trafficking rings have long used sites like BackPage to bulk-advertise forced sex work for underage girls (average age of entry into prostitution is fourteen). On the other hand, losing access to online ad agencies are forcing independent sex workers to go back to working with pimps or on the streets– making a currently un-trafficked population become trafficked. Plus, the likelihood of overly aggressive moderation is going to cause spaces where consensual sex connections are currently being formed online to be pushed further to the fringes or go underground. For instance, Craigslist personals has already shut down. One can readily imagine dating sites– OK Cupid, Tinder, Grinder, etc.– to face massive legal difficulties as it becomes increasingly difficult to connect strangers online without an in-depth and costly background check process to ensure they are complying with FOSTA.

In the long-term, though, it seems like what’s most likely is that sex-oriented sites and/or dating sites will end up going off-shore, a la Mastadon (now “Switter”). So the BackPages of the world will crop again, just with servers outside the Untied States. And then we’ll be back to square one, but with a lot of upended lives as collateral damage.

The Atlantic: The Myth of ‘Learning Styles’:

Another study published last year in the British Journal of Psychology found that students who preferred learning visually thought they would remember pictures better, and those who preferred learning verbally thought they’d remember words better. But those preferences had no correlation to which they actually remembered better later on—words or pictures. Essentially, all the “learning style” meant, in this case, was that the subjects liked words or pictures better, not that words or pictures worked better for their memories.
I’ve really been enjoying listening to the FIRE Drill Podcast lately. The hosts, Gwen of Fiery Millennials and J of Millennial Boss make it really clear that they are committed to putting on a diverse array of guests on their show. In a recent episode with ESI Money (now owner of Rockstar Finance), they push him to consider his own biases in selecting content that may not serve the diverse array of the personal finance community.

J also recently posted on her blog a post for girl’s coding boot camp Kode With Klossy— which is offering free scholarships to its camp, getting more young women into the tech pipeline. Definitely something I’d like to see if I can sign Little Sis up for when she’s the appropriate age.

I’ve been thoroughly obsessed with this song since watching Thoroughbreds:

How have I never heard of Lizzo before!? All her music videos are amazing.

Object Lessons: Dirty Computer Edition

Apparently Amazon Alexa is laughing spontaneously and it’s creeping out a bunch of device owners. The most interesting accounts, in my opinion, are the ones that claim the voices they’ve heard are different than .wav files stored on the device. Which makes me wonder whether Amazon has taken listening in on device owners to the next level by collecting voice information for text to speech? (Complete speculation based on nothing in particular.)

Have you heard of swatting? Apparently this is becoming increasingly common in online circles and video game communities where someone calls in a fake emergency to invoke a law enforcement (and possibly SWAT team) response on another person. Which, just, it feels like there are so many levels to this, not the least of which that it takes literally nothing more than an anonymous call for a truck full of armed paramilitary operatives to shoot up someone’s home.

As far as social media sites go, I feel like Reddit is doing the best job at moderating out the most toxic elements of its user base. It certainly hasn’t been perfect, but I appreciate that they’re so frank about the fact that at some point you need to apply somewhat arbitrary standards to your platform to keep it from devolving into chaos. Also the nature of subreddits, which largely act as self-policing communities with their own individual cultural mores, allow the worst echo chambers to be silo’d away from the rest of the site.

Between job hunt stuff and work, I’ve been more or less distracting myself with lots of movies and whimsical, cute internet things. In particular, I love white_onrice‘s Miniature Gami project, especially this photo of little origami bats flying out of a mug cave:

I’m also majorly obsessed with Janelle Monae’s new singles Django Jane and especially Make Me Feel. (possible nsfw: language, sexual content) I’ve been a huge fan of her music since ArchAndroid and truly believe she’s one of the best performers out there. We were able to see her during her Electric Lady tour and, my goodness, her stage presence is off the charts!

Also, I know I’m late to the game on this but the Obamas’ outgoing presidential and first lady portraits are a-m-a-z-i-n-g. Amy Sherald painted Michelle Obama’s portrait while Barack Obama’s was painted by Kehinde Wiley. My fiancé and I gushed about the choice of painting the president among a backdrop of greenery, it feels reflective of the way President Obama strove to run the government. Contemplative but powerful as well as wonderful complement to Wiley’s other portriats painted among floral backdrops.

Object Lessons: Backdoor Roth Edition

It’s official: Congress is aware of (and seemingly okay with?) Backdoor Roth IRA contributions. I’ve been conservative and avoided Backdoor Roth contributions because of the step transaction doctrine. Now I can make this work if I roll my Traditional IRA into my 401k. This will take some doing and may not be worth it if I am leaving my job soon. That said, I think I should probably try to manage it, especially if I can swing a Mega Backdoor Roth contribution on my way out the door.

In case you missed it, the stock market has been pretty wacky the past week. I’m a buy and hold person– I learned that one the hard way– but single day 1500-point drops don’t happen all too often and it caught my attention. TIL: there is an ETF that tracks volatility (VIX) and a twin ETF that inversely tracks volatility (XIV). Whatever finance wizardry makes this possible also helped this guy lose $4 million in a day, including $1.5 million of raised capital. Ouch.

Digital linguistics run head on into our legal system: interpreting emoticons to determine intent. Also, apparently some judge in Israel decided that emojis constitute a binding written agreement?

Physician on Fire’s story about getting sued for volunteering on the board at his former small community hospital is e-x-a-c-t-l-y the reason I don’t advertise my net worth in $’s on this blog. The more people think you have, the more likely they are to hack you, sue you, or otherwise put a target on your back for money. I feel sad and paranoid writing that, but I really think it’s true.

I found this article in Nature fascinating. “Biological sex” in humans is so much more complicated than just X and Y chromosomes.

From FastCompany: Beyond Survival Kits: Humanitarian Aid Is Going Wireless, Communal, And Autonomous. I really like the idea of Citizenship Kits for quick distribution of temporary relief and aid:

The framework for dynamic national mobility (DyNaMo) builds on the precedent and practice of successful long-term e-residency programs developed by Estonia in the 2010s. It allows displaced individuals to gain digital-legal “citizenship”–though not necessarily rights to physical residency. The Kit places between 2,000 and 50,000 people into a pool for temporary legal “citizenships” and provides a means of extending local legal and welfare systems for up to 120 days to those displaced from countries under meaningful threat from war, genocide or non-voluntary resettlement due to a natural disaster or other significant cause.

Early Retirement Extreme put together this table designating the “Wheaton levels of personal finance.” I fall at completely different levels depending on which attribute you consider, but in general I think I’m somewhere around Level 5 or “Optimization.” My savings rate is high, I prioritize expenses based on my values, and I like to, uh, optimize. What level are you? 

Object Lessons: HQ2 Edition

The Real Real got hit with a $5 million law suit because, according to the complaint, TRR “systematically inflated the total weights of small uncertificated gemstones knowing that the average consumer would have no way to know that the weights were inflated.”  I’ve read rumblings about problems with TRR’s authentication process, but the allegation the company is actively defrauding buyers is stunning. Given my own bad experiences, I’m resolved to steer clear.

This public defender is a friggin’ saint: when being a good lawyer means dressing your client.

My Money Blog deconstructed Charlie Munger’s life and turned it into a financial independence blueprint. Munger’s approach–building up to 10x annual living expenses through saving his salary and then pivoting to more aggressive investments– seems like an appealing alternative to sticking it out with a job until I’ve reached 25x. I’m not a real estate investment sort of person, so I’d have to think of another type of business that’s scalable.

Seventeen states introduce right to repair legislation. Good, I say! The fact that only Apple can replace batteries on their laptops and mobile devices is absurd and anti-competitive.

Amazon announced their candidate cities for HQ2. Not to be a major NIMBY about it, but I really hope it doesn’t end up in my metro region. The recent immigration of highly-paid tech workers (myself included) is pushing local housing costs to their limit. The current rate of housing development already can’t keep up and is hollowing out the city’s middle and working class households. Not to mention my generally iffy feelings about Amazon and the absurd tax breaks cities are offering. For instance, Chicago proposed letting Amazon keep tax revenue generated by its employees. Bonkers! Is your city on the list?

After demonetizing a bunch of LGBTQ and mental health-related content last year, YouTube has decided to up the ante and cut money going to smaller vloggers by raising the standards for ad eligibility. Meanwhile, after years of pushing brands to pivot to video, Facebook overhauls their news feeds algorithm to, you guessed it!, “de-prioritize videos, photos, and posts shared by businesses and media outlets”. It’s almost as if these huge online platforms don’t care about their content creators at all.

Not all technology is bleak though. For instance:

Object Lessons: Semiotics of Robot Fashion Edition

Nobody has ever confused me for a Bitcoin bull– the ever-increasing energy consumption of transactions and non-fiatness of the currency has always had me wary. But even supporters, and especially new speculators, should keep in mind that the Bitcoin market is unregulated, shallow, and can be heavily influenced by a handful of investors.

What happened to the legacy premium fashion brands? I bought a Tommy Hilfiger sheath dress a decade ago, wear it weekly, and it still looks brand new! I wonder if clothes from the current class of premium brands– Everlane, Cuyana, DSTLD– will have the same longevity? I expect this new wave of brands will cut quality to lower production costs, particularly during the next recession (thereafter losing their hardcore followers). Everlane’s clothing has rapidly declined in quality over the past few years as they’ve expanded. Maybe that’s just the lifecycle of a premium brand.

When people tell me robots will take all our jobs, I read stuff like this bot-generated Harry Potter chapter and feel a lot more secure.

Speaking of robots, Racked explores how we design and dress female androids reflects whether we’re building artificial intelligence or artificial subservience. (Hint: it’s the latter).

Crinolines: an agent for asserting feminine sexual authority and busting class barriers. Who knew? “Crinoline-clad women, in the reactionary cartoonist’s imagination, crushed men beneath their expanding skirts or caged them within steel frames.” Which kind of reminds me of the women crushing things under their heels trend from the past few years.

In case you haven’t noticed, reality is collapsing into a cheap supermarket tabloid: This article from the NY Times on a secret government U.F.O. research program is the best too-bizarre-to-be-fake news this country needs.

I ❤ Kristen Wiig:

Object Lessons: Capitalist Overlords Edition

From Bloomberg: “Major companies including Cisco Systems Inc., Pfizer Inc. and Coca-Cola Co. say they’ll turn over most gains from proposed corporate tax cuts to their shareholders, undercutting President Donald Trump’s promise that his plan will create jobs and boost wages for the middle class. The president has held fast to his pledge even as top executives’ comments have run counter to it for months. Instead of hiring more workers or raising their pay, many companies say they’ll first increase dividends or buy back their own shares.”

Everything I know about capitalism I learned from this paperclip game. (Warning: do not engage unless you’re looking to kill about six hours.)

Should law enforcement need a warrant to get your phone location data from service providers? I think the answer is clearly no, but it’s interesting to contemplate an alternate world where companies didn’t collect our metadata in a centralized fashion by default.

Jeff Bezos wishes there were a trillion people in the solar system because then “we’d have a thousand Einsteins at any moment.” Personally, I’m way more interested in all our “lost Einsteins“– bright kids from low income and minority backgrounds whose talent is being left untapped.

I just discovered thegeneraleconomy Instagram and it’s the most refreshing “commerce” site I’ve seen in a while. It’s like Poshmark meets minimalism, minus the seller’s fees. Could definitely be dangerous if I got back into the clothes shopping game.

I was once into lifelike doll-sized architectural replicas, so this Buzzfeed video in which producers cook tiny food with a palm-sized working stove speaks to a special place in my heart: