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.

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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: 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: