Links from the past weeks

Links from the past week

  • What the Forest Remembers, by Jennifer Egan
    A short fiction piece that bundles from the past to the present, and then into the future. The story moves along, and suddenly brings you elsewhere – I like the little surprise. An ode to the power of fiction.

  • What Really Happens When Workers Are Given a Flexible Hybrid Schedule?
    Interesting to read about different experiences / preferences. Reams (observations? predictions?) were written but I had thought it was too early to generalise, and by now, the consensus is flexibility because there are just too many different preferences/ needs/ seasons in life to cater for. I believe that a policy which recommends (and not mandate) 2 days in the office makes sense for now. I don’t believe that a fully remote workplace does well where the work requires some form of apprenticeship but insisting on too much face-time seems wrong too. Maybe when management of the workplace is fully under the province of millennials will we truly create a different order.

  • China’s Reform Generation Adapts to Life in the Middle Class
    Peter Hessler catches up with his former students. 20 years, and a few stories about those who had grown up in China’s countryside and entered teaching college in the 90s.

  • The Economist touches on why Apple is in the media game:
    “None of the markets is a big prize for the world’s most valuable firm. The entire global recorded music industry had sales of $22bn in 2020, less than Apple made just from selling iPads. In about a month Apple generates as much revenue as Netflix makes in a year.

    Apple’s renewed interest in media is best explained by the transformation in the company’s scale, which radically changes the calculation of which side-projects are worthwhile. … In 2021 Apple tv+’s estimated content budget represented 0.6% of company revenues.

    … Streaming subscriptions may not lock people in as strongly as iTunes purchases did, but Apple’s various services still sink “meat hooks” into customers, making them spend more time with their devices and making it a bit more inconvenient to leave Apple’s ecosystem.”

  • Here’s a very neat image showing the mean risk of infection in different mask-wearing combinations, where ‘inf’ or ‘i’ refers to what the infectious is wearing, and ‘sus’ or ‘s’ refers to what the counter-party/ susceptible person is wearing.

    The research article can be found here. The FFP2 masks this study mentions ought to be similar in standards to a N95 or KN95. (3M has a table comparing the various mask standards.)
    [h/t Derek Powazek]

📖 Reading – 2021

Books here are only listed if I’ve completed them; recommended titles are in bold.


The Psychology of Money
Anxious People
The Midnight Library
Look Alive Out There
The Space Between Us
The Secrets Between Us
No Filter
Interior Chinatown
Goodbye Things
Klara and The Sun
26 Marathons
From The Belly of the Cat
The Happy Runner
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
Think Again
Running: Cheaper Than Therapy: A Celebration of Running
The Tyranny of Merit
Killing Commendatore
Lost Connections
Simply Invest
The Anthropocene Reviewed
The Great Indoors
Did You Ever Have a Family?
Land of Big Numbers
At Home
Spy Family
The Practice of Not Thinking
Four Thousand Weeks
Practical Magic
The Book of Form and Emptiness
Up Close with Lee Kuan Yew
Blockchain Chicken Farm
How to Do Nothing

41 books: 16 fiction

📺 Some things I’ve watched – 2021

Pretend It’s A City
Bling Empire
Tiong Bahru Social Club
Cecil Hotel
Call My Agent
Friends reruns
Handmaid’s Tale S4
The Practice rerun
Boston Legal
Shang Chi
The Big Leap
Grey’s Anatomy
Squid Game
Sing China
The Royal House of Windsor
Light the Night
Criminal Minds (SS 14 & 15)
Spiderman: No Way Home

I would recommend those in bold. Seems like nostalgia and crime rule this year.

📖 Snow Crash

“This Snow Crash thing—is it a virus, a drug, or a religion?”
Juanita shrugs. “What’s the difference?”

Neal Stephenson
Snow Crash


This book has never gotten on my radar. It is pretty cool that a book published in the early 90s speaks of augmented / virtual reality, a metaverse, and a virus pandemic that ties physical illness to a change in the brain structure. Is this caused by a virus, a drug or religion? Eerily relevant and still readable in 2021. The book abruptly speeds up towards the end, but overall, still a gripping book. Cyberpunk is quite a fun genre.

📖 How to Do Nothing

Repression is not silence, and is not “repression of dissent; nor does it rest on the enforcement of silence. On the contrary, it relies on the proliferation of chatter, the irrelevance of opinion and discourse, and on making thought, dissent and critique banal and ridiculous.”

Context collapse

“Spatial and temporal context both have to do with the neighboring entities around something that help define it. Context also helps establish the order of events. Obviously, the bits of information we’re assailed with on Twitter and Facebook feeds are missing both of these kinds of context.”

“In the last chapter, I try to imagine a utopian social network that could somehow hold all of this. I use the lens of the human bodily need for spatial and temporal context to understand the violence of “context collapse” online and propose a kind of “context collection” in its place. Understanding that meaningful ideas require incubation time and space, I look both to noncommercial decentralized networks and the continued importance of private communication and in-person meetings. I suggest that we withdraw our attention and use it instead to restore the biological and cultural ecosystems where we forge meaningful identities, both individual and collective.”

Jenny Odell
How to Do Nothing


The book meanders along in its own way, is not really trying to tell you how to do nothing, and instead examines how we have let the capitalist manager’s ideas of productivity taken over our attention. The book has somewhat of a misleading title or perhaps it is meant to attract attention. Odell does not mean for you to do nothing. Because if you withdraw entirely from society, you cannot make change or make things better for yourself. What Odell means by doing nothing is to disengage from attention economy, and engage in another framework e.g. speak to friends in person, engage in community, go take a walk and develop a sense of place. (She talks quite a lot about birds and birdwatching, which may or may not interest you.)

I especially appreciate the reminder that repression need not be by way of disallowing speech. Because living in this day and age, we know that by setting chatter atwitter, you can block discussion, create fatigue… It made me reconsider what I choose to read (Twitter, RSS, Reddit), and whether I have unwittingly withdrew too much. Perhaps this book started me back on keeping a blog.