Helen Garner on happiness

“What is happiness, anyway? Does anybody know? It’s taken me 80 years to figure out that it’s not a tranquil, sunlit realm at the top of the ladder you’ve spent your whole life hauling yourself up, rung by rung. It’s more like the thing that Christians call grace: you can’t earn it, you can’t strive for it, it’s not a reward for virtue. It exists all right, it will be given to you, but it’s fluid, it’s evasive, it’s out of reach. It’s something you glimpse in the corner of your eye until one day you’re up to your neck in it. And before you’ve had time to take a big gasp and name it, it’s gone.

So I’m not going to spend what’s left of my life hanging round waiting for it. I’m going to settle for small, random stabs of extreme interestingness – moments of intense awareness of the things I’m about to lose, and of gladness that they exist. Things that remind me of other things. Tiny scenes. Words that people choose, their accidentally biblical turns of phrase. Hand-lettered signs, quotes from books, offhand remarks that make me think of dead people, or of living ones I can no longer stand the sight of. I plan to keep writing them down, praising them, arranging them like stepping stones into the dark. Maybe they’ll lead me somewhere good before I shrivel up and blow away.” (via)

TikTok’s CEO makes his case to a hostile Congress

Shou Zi Chew, CEO of the video-sharing app TikTok, appeared before the House Energy and Commerce Committee Thursday, to respond to concerns about the app’s links to the Chinese government, and its data-handling practices. As suggested by a prepared version of his remarks that was released late on Tuesday, Chew focused on the fact that TikTok is used by a number of small businesses in the US, and also promotes freedom of expression. “We do not believe that a ban that hurts American small businesses, damages the country’s economy, silences the voices of over 150 million Americans, and reduces competition in an increasingly concentrated market is the solution to a solvable problem,” Chew’s testimony stated. The TikTok CEO also assured Congress that ByteDance, the app’s Chinese owner, “is not an agent of China or any other country.”

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal last week, Chew argued that banning the app or forcing its owners to sell won’t accomplish anything that the company’s proposed solution, known as Project Texas, doesn’t already achieve. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the US, however, which has the right to block deals in the interest of national security, has rejected TikTok’s proposed solution, and said its Chinese owners must sell the app or it will be permanently banned in the US. As I’ve written previously for CJR, TikTok has spent more than a year on Project Texas, which involves storing data related to US users on US servers belonging to Oracle, a corporate software provider, and appointing a board of US advisors to oversee its recommendation algorithms, another focus of the government’s concern. A spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a briefing that the US has “failed to produce evidence that Tik Tok threatens US national security.”

The US government may have failed to show that TikTok threatens national security, but the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Department of Justice are looking into reports that TikTok staffers used the app to surveil several US journalists, including Emily Baker-White, who currently works at Forbes. In a prior role at BuzzFeed, she wrote about TikTok’s handling of data, including the fact that multiple officials with ByteDance had gained access to data on US users. TikTok officials reportedly tried to use the app to track Baker-White’s movements and those of a Financial Times journalist, in an attempt to determine how they got access to the documents they used in their reporting. Baker-White said that a source close to the investigation told Forbes the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division is working with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and has subpoenaed information from ByteDance.

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My mother the troll, and the sad ending to her life

Brenda Leyland was a stylish, well-spoken and rather private woman who lived in a picturesque village in Leicestershire. Her son Ben knew she told stories, and that some of them may have been on the tall side. He also knew that she spent a lot of time on her laptop and was increasingly living online. What he didn’t know was that his mother had become a Twitter troll who spent the final years of her life relentlessly attacking the parents of Madeleine McCann, who disappeared in Portugal in 2007. In 2014, Brenda was approached by a journalist who told her she had been reported to Scotland Yard and her tweets were being investigated as part of a larger campaign of abuse against the McCanns.. “Well, that’s fair enough,” she said calmly. But Brenda’s face gave her away. Her eyes blinked and her cheek twitched anxiously.Four days later, on 4 October 2014, Brenda killed herself.

Former Meta staffer says she was paid $190,000 a year to do nothing

This week, Meta made headlines again after announcing it would be laying off 10,000 workers. These layoffs are in addition to the 11,000 employees it fired in November of last year—meaning that in four months, Meta has let go of over 20,000 workers. In a video with over 122,000 views, TikTok user Maddie (@maddie_macho) writes that she got “paid $190k to do nothing at Meta.” How did this happen? According to Maddie, she was hired to be a recruiter, but was also told that she should not hire anyone for 6 months to a year. Instead of hiring, Maddie said she spent her days going through the company’s onboarding process and attending team meetings—something that confused her. “Why are we meeting? We’re not hiring nobody!” she says in the video.

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Did scientists really discover a new superconductor?

At the American Physical Society’s annual March meeting in Las Vegas, Ranga Dias, a physicist at the University of Rochester, announced that he and his team had achieved a century-old dream of the field: a superconductor that works at room temperature and near-room pressure. Interest was so intense that security stopped people from entering the overflowing room. The results, published in Nature, appear to show that a conventional conductor — a solid composed of hydrogen, nitrogen and the rare-earth metal lutetium — was transformed into a flawless material capable of conducting electricity with perfect efficiency. While the announcement has been greeted with enthusiasm by some scientists, others are far more cautious.

Resurrect an ancient library from the ashes of a volcano. Win $250,000

If you know anything about machine vision — or know anyone who does — you could win $250,000 if you can somehow decipher what’s written on an ancient scroll of papyrus, which was carbonized by the eruption of Vesuvius thousands of years ago (things in Pompeii were vaporized, but in nearby Herculaneum they were buried in hot mud and preserved). The scrolls were found in 1750 by a farmer digging a well, who uncovered part of the ruins of a massive villa that was owned by the father-in-law of Julius Caesar. Using a particle accelerator, scientists were able to lift some of the text from the scrolls, showing that “digital unwrapping” is possible. And now a group of Silicon Valley investors have started a contest to help decipher as much of the scrolls as possible.

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Canada imitates Australia’s news law, but to what end?

Two years ago this month, Australia passed a law called the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code, which, as the name suggested, forced digital platforms like Facebook and Google to negotiate deals to pay the news media for the latter’s content. If they failed to do so, the Australian government would reserve the right to impose deals between the parties. Before the law was passed, Google warned users that the legislation could affect their ability to search; meanwhile, Facebook tried to sway public opinion against the law by promising to block all news content from its platform in Australia. When the law passed, Facebook did precisely that. But after amendments made the law less stringent, the platform removed the ban. Eventually, both Facebook and Google cut deals with multiple news companies.

Fast forward two years, and a similar scenario is playing out in Canada. Encouraged by the sums of money that Australian media companies received as a result of the legislation there—about a hundred and fifty million Australian dollars, according to a report in CJR by Bill Grueskin, a professor at Columbia Journalism School—the Canadian government moved to implement its own version of such a law: Bill C-18, the Online News Act, which has been through the House of Commons and is now making its way through the Senate. Last month, Google removed news from Canadian search results in what the company described as “tests.” Last week, Facebook said that it will cut off access to news in Canada if the law is passed in its present form. Rinse, repeat. 

Last week, Sabrina Geremia, the head of Google’s Canadian arm, and Jason Kee, its public policy manager, testified before a Canadian government committee hearing into Bill C-18. (The committee asked other Google executives to appear, including the CEO, Sundar Pichai, but they declined). Kee claimed that the bill would incentivize “clickbait” journalism and favor larger news companies over smaller publishers. Google’s opposition—or, at least, its tactics in trying to remove news from search results in Canada—may have backfired: News Media Canada, a lobby group representing digital and print publishers, said in a statement that Google’s move to cut off Canadians’ access to news was “heavy-handed” and that it “underscores that there is a significant power imbalance between publishers and platforms,” thus proving a need for regulation.

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