The Reconn Reader: 21 September, 2019

Each week, I share some of the most interesting articles I’ve come across in the past seven days. Here is this week’s selection. Inclusion does not mean endorsement. -CA

 

World & Politics

Second, it is important to change the narrative. In reality, there is no easy distinction between the formal and informal sectors. They are inextricably linked. Describing informal communities as illegal or squatter settlements devalues them. They are human beings just like everyone else. In fact, the makeshift urbanism of Nigeria, and the one billion people in informal cities around the world, is a testament to their resilience, innovation, sense of community, and positive outlook. They survive with little help from private markets or governments. (The Conversation)

The ultra-Orthodox parties insist that they are simply defending a status quo that dates to Israel’s founding and is meant to preserve study of the Torah by its most pious devotees. A compromise with Israel’s then-fledgling religious community gave Orthodox rabbis control over family and dietary laws, among other things, in exchange for their support for the new state. The ultra-Orthodox now make up only 10 percent of eligible Jewish voters, Israeli pollsters say — compared with 44 percent who consider themselves secular — but they have kept and added to those concessions thanks to their ability to extract promises in exchange for their political support. “We’re not becoming a smaller minority, we’re becoming a larger minority,” said Yitzhak Zeev Pindrus, a lawmaker from the ultra-Orthodox party United Torah Judaism. “But we’re trying to keep it the same way it is.” (New York Times)

The New Brazilian Right

There are, of course, other factions in the government. There is a lesser pole around Chicago-trained economy minister Paulo Guedes, who carries the banner for economic liberalism within the government and is in charge of the all-important pension reform effort; and another around justice minister Sérgio Moro, who represents law and order. A crusading anti-corruption law­yer, Moro was head of the Car Wash bribery investigation which felled countless members of Brazil’s political elite. Moro’s flashy style in conducting arrests and seizures helped galvanize a popular groundswell against the PT, but he has lost his sheen from recent revelations alleging impropriety and a partisan, anti-PT orientation in his investigation. His clumsy and so far unsuccessful attempts to interest legislators in his package of legislation meant to help reduce crime and corruption in the country—Bolsonaro’s central campaign promise—have not helped matters. (American Affairs)

Breaking Taboos in the Middle East

His parents only opened up to the idea of homosexuality through his coming out, Abdel-Hadi says, and My.Kali is trying to transfer the experience his parents went through to an entire generation of young people in the Arab world. One of the ways the magazine sought to do so was by collecting the prejudices one most frequently encounters on the internet — “Homosexuality is a disease,” “Gays are pedophiles,” “Homosexuality can be cured,” or “Homosexuality is a Western import” — and rebutting them in an article. “Even today,” says Abdel-Hadi, “it remains one of the most-read articles on our website.”

In the first years of its publication, My.Kali appeared only in English, but since 2016, the online magazine also publishes Arabic-language articles. Indeed, that was the moment when traffic to the website skyrocketed. “There is apparently a large demand for the issues that we address,” says Abdel-Hadi. (Der Spiegel)

 

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Business & Economics

“That first promotion gap is really critical,” says Krivkovich; it shrinks the female talent pool from which leaders are plucked. But for the women who do get promoted, soon another factor starts to come into play. Women in mid-level management often exist just outside the inner circle. Their male peers, for instance, might accumulate critical information more easily. That, in turn, helps determine who gets the best accounts or assignments the next year; it’s Joe instead of Jane. “Nobody at the moment feels we’re doing anything wrong, but that’ll be the biggest deal for the group, and it means Joe’s gonna get paid more than Jane,” says a 20-year veteran of Wall Street. “That little microissue that disadvantages women becomes emphasized over time.” Donna Milrod, head of State Street’s global clients division, previously spent 20 years at Deutsche Bank and has witnessed a similar dynamic at work. “Microaggressions is too negative; I’d call them microdecisions.” She adds, “It’s the small things, like men going out for a drink or men taking a business trip together.” (Fortune)

How Data Analytics Can Drive Innovation

The reason I picked those two structures is that neither one is absolutely better than the other. We’ve seen throughout many industries that very innovative firms have both types of structures. If you look at Apple, it’s very much a centralized, concentrated cluster with a small group of people responsible for a vast majority of innovation. But if you look at Google, you see a small group of clusters, and they are loosely connected. They are also very, very productive in terms of their innovation. You see that in pharma as well. You see Sanofi and you see Roche. Sanofi has a much more decentralized or dispersed structure, and Roche has a more concentrated structure. My question was, do these structures play a role in how they use analytics to innovate?(Wharton)

Boss-less business is no workers’ paradise

Lindred Greer, associate professor of management and organisations at the University of Michigan, believes that hierarchy is a necessary tool, though best used sparingly. To maintain management control without causing people to bow before power she recommends “flexing” between authority and autonomy, as US Navy Seals do. In the field, the Seals obey rank, but for the debrief everyone removes their stripes. In business, that might translate to holding certain meetings off-site and playing down status. A leader might, for example, say: “I hired you because you’re brighter than me, I really need you to let me know your thoughts,” she suggests. (Financial Times)

The wrinkle is that Casper has never posted a profit. And its biggest rivals say they are not, well, losing sleep. “Our stock’s up 80 percent, and we’re a $4 billion company,” Scott Thompson, Tempur Sealy’s chief executive, told me. “We’re having a great time.” “What we are not doing is spending money in P.R. to create buzz to raise more money to fund unprofitable operations,” he added. In Mr. Thompson’s view, Casper’s main innovation is “the willingness to lose tons of money for multiple years while hoping to find a business plan or find a greater fool to buy them.” (New York Times)

Sc

Science & Technology

If your brain hurts (trust me, mine does too), here’s a nice analogy that Duvenaud uses to tie it all together. Consider a continuous musical instrument like a violin, where you can slide your hand along the string to play any frequency you want; now consider a discrete one like a piano, where you have a distinct number of keys to play a limited number of frequencies. A traditional neural network is like a piano: try as you might, you won’t be able to play a slide. You will only be able to approximate the slide by playing a scale. Even if you retuned your piano so the note frequencies were really close together, you would still be approximating the slide with a scale. Switching to an ODE solver is like switching your piano to a violin. It’s not necessarily always the right tool, but it is more suitable for certain tasks.  (MIT Tech Review)

Jack Conte, Patreon, and the Plight of the Creative Class

Around the start of 2013, Conte got back in touch with Yam. In the years since graduation, Yam had founded and sold a mobile advertising platform, AdWhirl, and made a bunch of industry connections. “Jack told me he’d had this idea bubbling in his mind, and he was a little paranoid about the process of building a company,” Yam remembers. Conte wanted to discuss his scheme but asked whether they ought to sign a nondisclosure agreement with each other first. Yam dismissed this caution as the jitters of a tech neophyte. “I was like, ‘Jack, the ideas don’t matter at all—it’s how you execute them,’ ” he says. “So we met up at Coffee Bar, in the Mission, and he shared the idea.” And Yam promptly reversed himself: “I was like, ‘Don’t tell anyone! I’m gonna start building it tonight.’” (WIRED)

New Proof Solves 80-Year-Old Irrational Number Problem

The Duffin-Schaeffer conjecture “has this magical simplicity in an area of maths that’s normally exceptionally difficult and complicated,” Maynard says, a professor at the University of Oxford. He stumbled into the problem by accident—he is a number theorist, but not in the same area as most Duffin-Schaeffer experts. (He normally studies prime numbers—those that are divisible by only themselves and 1.) A University of York professor suggested Maynard tackle the Duffin-Schaeffer conjecture after he gave a talk there. “I think he had an intuition that it might be beneficial to get someone slightly outside of that immediate field,” says Maynard. That intuition turned out to be correct, although it would not bear fruit for several years. Long after that initial conversation, Maynard suggested a collaboration to Koukoulopoulos on a suspicion that his colleague had relevant expertise. (Scientific American)

What kind of researcher did sex offender Jeffrey Epstein like to fund? He told Science before he died

The researchers Epstein chose to support, it was becoming clear, fit the old stereotype of scientists whose brilliance makes them social outcasts. “The MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] Media Lab is a good example,” he said. (The Cambridge-based university has launched an independent investigation into what its president called the “deeply disturbing” relationship between Epstein and the lab, whose director, Joi Ito, resigned following media reports that Epstein had invested in his private companies as well as donating to the lab.)

Culture & History

Why would anyone shiver their timbers? Here’s how pirate words arrr preserving old language

Timber was a slang term for “wooden leg” (“timber toe” meant “man with a wooden leg”). It was also a nautical expression for the pieces of wood making up the ribs or frames of a ship’s hull. The term “shiver” meant “to splinter” (by happy coincidence, English has another verb “shiver” with equally appropriate “quiver, tremble” senses). There was undoubtedly a bit of word play going on with these mock oaths — the idea being something like “may my wooden leg (or ship) fly into small pieces!”. They are modelled along the lines of frightful curses like “Gorblimey” (a truncated version of “May God blind me”) and “Drat” or “Rats” (innocent sounding expressions until you realise they’re disguised forms of “God rot them”). (The Conversation)

Jack Conte, Patreon, and the Plight of the Creative Class

Around the start of 2013, Conte got back in touch with Yam. In the years since graduation, Yam had founded and sold a mobile advertising platform, AdWhirl, and made a bunch of industry connections. “Jack told me he’d had this idea bubbling in his mind, and he was a little paranoid about the process of building a company,” Yam remembers. Conte wanted to discuss his scheme but asked whether they ought to sign a nondisclosure agreement with each other first. Yam dismissed this caution as the jitters of a tech neophyte. “I was like, ‘Jack, the ideas don’t matter at all—it’s how you execute them,’ ” he says. “So we met up at Coffee Bar, in the Mission, and he shared the idea.” And Yam promptly reversed himself: “I was like, ‘Don’t tell anyone! I’m gonna start building it tonight.’” (WIRED)

The Secret History of Fort Detrick, the CIA’s Base for Mind Control Experiments

These were the most gruesome experiments the U.S. government ever conducted on human beings. In one of the them, seven prisoners in Lexington, Kentucky, were given multiple doses of LSD for 77 days straight. In another, captured North Koreans were given depressant drugs, then dosed with potent stimulants and exposed to intense heat and electroshock while they were in the weakened state of transition. These experiments destroyed many minds and caused an unknown number of deaths. Many of the potions, pills and aerosols administered to victims were created at Detrick. One of the most well-known victims of the MK-ULTRA experiments was Frank Olson. Olson was a CIA officer who had spent his entire career at Detrick and knew its deepest secrets. When he began musing about quitting the CIA, his comrades saw a security threat. Gottlieb summoned the team to a retreat and arranged for Olson to be drugged with LSD. A week later, Olson died in a plunge from a hotel window in New York. The CIA called it suicide. Olson’s family believes he was thrown from the window to prevent him from revealing what was brewing. (Politico)

The Renaissance Map That Filled My Childhood With Monsters

Other maps of that era might warn “Here be dragons,” but the Carta Marina revealed them. There was the fabled Leviathan rising and spouting two great arcs of brine with a vessel in its sights. Sailors desperately tried to scare off abyssal monsters using bugles. Serpents from the deep coiled around ships. Magnus annotated each one, to give credence to their reported sightings and legend. The grotesque sea-pig he pictured with eyes on its back, for example, had been spotted in the North Sea while he was assembling his map. As vivid as these creatures are, they only hint at the vast alien world that existed beneath the waves; the sea-owl “Xiphias” is, for example, being attacked by another creature, implying a whole monstrous food chain and concealed ecosystem. (City Lab)

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Carlos Alvarenga

Founder and CEO at KatalystNet and Adjunct Professor in the Logistics, Business and Public Policy Department at the University of Maryland’s Robert E. Smith School of Business.

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