The W: A Weekly Reading List

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In this week’s edition…confronting the new backlash against “women’s only”…India slowly takes on smart cities…WeChat’s endless functionality has its downsides…AI behavior should be an academic discipline…monster manifestations…obituary writing – the best beat in journalism…and more.



Business & Economics

Rethinking Sustainability in Light of the EU’s New Circular Economy Policy

Yet many companies face serious challenges when it comes to executing on a circular economy strategy. They usually run into at least one of four barriers: They lack access to used products, they aren’t able to refurbish or recycle used products in a cost-effective way, their products are not designed with circularity in mind, and their customers discount the value of refurbished or remanufactured products. (Harvard Business Review)


It Is a Mystery Why Bankers Earn So Much

But hiring the best cosmetic surgeon in the world does not make cosmetic surgery a good idea. Deals can be brilliantly executed at the time without adding to a company’s long-term value and many are unwound — often with the help of the same advisers — when a chief executive leaves. “Companies pay far too much to advisers. It’s really not worth it,” says Peter Zink Secher, co-author of The M&A Formula. (Financial Times)


When Men Sue Women’s Empowerment Orgs for Gender Discrimination

Kristen sees a strong distinction between businesses running gender-specific promotions as a way to drum up business (like a ladies’ night drink special) and the women-focused business, networking, and empowerment events and programs, where there is a legitimate policy, rather than commercial, interest in excluding men. She argues that had Ladies Get Paid and similar women business and networking events had the resources to go to trial, they’d have California case law on their side to win. (Slate)


Geopolitics & World

Who’s Afraid of Mexican Populism?

“His likely cabinet picks are technocrats and businesspeople, not radicals,” Jennifer Piscopo, an expert in Latin American politics at Occidental College, told Bloomberg.  His “win is more a story about Mexican voters’ dissatisfaction with the incumbent government than a preference for leftist demagoguery. His election raises questions about Mexico’s future, but fears about a Venezuelan-style dictatorship on the U.S.’s southern border are overblown.” (The Atlantic)


‘Egyptian Society Being Crushed’ Five Years After Military Coup

“Under Mubarak, there was not much room for dissent, but there were clear red lines,” Sarah Yerkes, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think-tank, said. “People could mostly go about their business, as long as they did not criticise Mubarak, Islam or the security forces. Today, no one is safe. The government is fractured, so there is no clear line of control, and anyone can become a target of the regime at any time,” Yerkes told Al Jazeera. (Al Jazeera)


Modi’s Grand Vision for India’s Cities is Slow to Take Shape

The vision for Amaravati is to create a “smart city” — a futuristic alternative to the country’s current urban areas, where slums, traffic congestion and alarmingly high pollution levels are all too common. Fourteen of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in India, according to the World Health Organization. To tackle this issue, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi identified about 100 cities to be developed under a smart cities program launched in June 2015, with the twin aims of improving living standards and boosting economic growth. (Nikkei Asian Review)


Technology & Computing 

Self-Driving Cars are Headed toward an AI Roadblock

It may be too early to know. “Driverless cars are like a scientific experiment where we don’t know the answer,” Marcus says. We’ve never been able to automate driving at this level before, so we don’t know what kind of task it is. To the extent that it’s about identifying familiar objects and following rules, existing technologies should be up to the task. But Marcus worries that driving well in accident-prone scenarios may be more complicated than the industry wants to admit. “To the extent that surprising new things happen, it’s not a good thing for deep learning.” (The Verge)


The Man Who Created the World Wide Web Has Some Regrets

As a student at Oxford in the early 1970s, Berners-Lee built his own computer using an old television and a soldering iron. He graduated with a first-class degree in physics, without any particular plans for his future. He subsequently landed a series of jobs at different companies as a programmer, but none of them lasted long. It wasn’t until the early 1980s, when he got a consulting position at CERN, near Geneva, that his life began to change. He worked on a program to help nuclear scientists share data over another nascent system. At first, Berners-Lee quaintly called it “Enquire Within Upon Everything,” named after a Victorian-era domestic handbook that he had read as a child. (Vanity Fair)


Outside the Green Bubble of China’s Super-App

Another WeChat-eschewer who works as a product manager at a state-owned internet company has ditched the app in favor of Telegram, an encrypted messaging app that requires a VPN — or virtual private network — to scale China’s Great Firewall. The man, who is in his 30s, is so concerned about privacy that he asked to be anonymous and instead go by the random, unique code 3MzYWI5bTcxaTM that allows him to track his quotes. He tried WeChat for a week back in 2011, before it was officially released, but promptly uninstalled it. He compares the mini-ecosystem created within WeChat to “The Matrix” — the 1999 sci-fi movie in which humans are imprisoned inside of a simulated reality — and says that those who don’t use WeChat are like inhabitants of “Zion,” the only city with a small population of Matrix-rejectors. (Sixth Tone)


Science & Nature

Is the Quiet Eye the Secret of Success for Athletes?

“There is a small window of opportunity for the motor system to receive information from the eyes,” explains Sam Vine at the University of Exeter. “And experts have found a better way to optimise that window and to keep that window [open], which helps their movements to be really accurate and really precise.” (BBC)


Machine Behavior Needs to Be an Academic Discipline

This new discipline is concerned with the scientific study of machines, not as engineering artifacts, but as a new class of actors with their unique behavioral patterns and ecology. Crucially, this field overlaps with, but is distinct from computer science and robotics, as it treats machine behavior observationally and experimentally, without necessarily appealing to the machine’s internal mechanisms. Machine Behavior is akin to how the fields of animal behavior—also known as ethology—and behavioral ecology study the behavior of animals without necessarily focusing on physiology or biochemistry. (Nautilus)


Arts & History

Forget Jet Packs—Why Don’t We Have Stair-Climbing Wheelchairs?

In a 2002 interview with MIT News, Blanco talked about how his Cuban background spurred his inventive spirit: “I come from a lesser-developed country. After my father died, our family knew scarcity. I started by inventing toy airplanes for myself, then an electric egg cooker. I moved on to inventing things that would help the country people, such as solar-cooled bins to store produce.” (IEEE Spectrum)


Here There be Dragons

A late medieval English prayer roll in the Morgan Library is a physical manifestation of the fears it claims to protect against: death in childbirth, fever, sudden death, false witness, wicked spirits, pestilence. And it is full of monsters. The saints called upon to protect the readers from peril are pictured calmly facing down all manner of ferocious beings. Saint Margaret, Saint Armagillus of Brittany, Saint George, and Saint Michael triumph over scaly dragons with, variously, bat wings, fangs, talons, multiple heads, and arrow-shaped tongues. Red-spotted griffins and miniature dragons creep among the vines that divide the roll into discrete sections, and fierce desert beasts menace John the Baptist. King Henry VI, included among the saints, is accompanied by his emblematic antelope: a wondrous spotted creature with a gleaming red eye, tusks, and jagged horns that could saw down a tree—at least according to medieval bestiaries. Should this noble beast also be considered a monster? It depends on how we define monsters. (The Magazine Antiques)


Culture, Media & Entertainment

Non-Performing Band Members: From Coldplay to The Grateful Dead

Often, though, the creative director doesn’t get nearly that level of billing, even if there’s a close association. But the association is often enough. Virgil Abloh, who has served as Kanye West’s creative director for more than a decade, has earned himself enough fashion-world credibility that he’s the subject of GQ profiles himself. Abloh has a long history with Kanye, meeting him in 2003, not long before West broke through, and their relationship, which started in merchandise, soon became much deeper and more significant. Whatever your feelings about West, it’s fair to say he has some of the most interesting visual sense of any mainstream artist. And that’s in no small part due to the influence of Abloh. (Tedium)


She Knows How to Make an Exit. You’re Reading It.

Writing daily obits only reinforced what I had long suspected: It is the best beat in journalism. The reason is simple: In following their subjects from cradle to grave, obits are the most narrative genre in any daily paper. For a writer, there is little better than being paid to tell stories. Zelma Henderson in 2004. She was the sole surviving plaintiff in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the landmark school desegregation case of 1954. Obit writers chronicle the lives of the world’s movers and shakers, of course — the presidents, kings and queens, and captains of industry. These obits are required reading, but they rarely produce those exquisite frissons of pleasure that come from reading (or writing) about something wondrous and strange. (The New York Times)


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