Links on the Margins - April 2nd

Pandemic vacations, blockhain private jets, Tracy Morgan, and brain surgery

Ranjan here. In this week’s link roundup, we include pandemic pieces looking at the public health angle, whether city folk should head for the hills, and why we can’t get N95 masks. I continue to be wowed by the data visualization work of The Pudding, while Can found a story on globalized litigation within the bikini business. There’s also a video about blockchain-based private jet tokens, just because. And the NY Times has a new newsletter that Margins’ readers would love.

This is where I’d normally write a line about you, our readers, staying safe, or something, but this tweet has me rethinking writing that over and over again.


the pandemic is not your vacation

I’ve spoken with a few friends who already have, or are contemplating, exactly the thing covered in this Anne Helen Peterson piece: leaving NYC for a more rural area. I get the decision, especially when kids are involved (I have two very young kids and hoooo boy, in a Manhattan 2br, it’s quite something), but the idea still makes me uncomfortable.

This piece nails the complexity (or lack thereof, just don’t do it) of the decision:

All over the United States, people are fleeing urban areas with high infection rates for the perceived safety and natural beauty of rural areas. Some of them own second homes in those areas; others are paying upwards of $10,000 a month, depending on the area, for temporary housing. The common denominator among those populations is, again, wealth — either their own or their families’. They can flee the city because their jobs can be done remotely, or they don’t work at all. They either had a vacation house already, or they can afford to fork over what amounts to a second rent, or second mortgage.

Why a Pandemic Is Bringing Out Our Best Online

The NYTimes just launched a weekday newsletter that I have to imagine any regular Margins’ reader will like. It looks like it will live in that same hazy space somewhere between technology, business, and culture, where we dabble.

Here’s the direct sign-up link.

I’m Shira Ovide (pronounced OH-vee-day), and I’ll be your guide each weekday to how technology is transforming our lives and world — for better or worse. There will be pieces about how technology is helping us stay close and protected — or not — during the pandemic. There will be insights into how big technology companies are dealing with our changing online lives. There will be tales of people doing the best they can with virtual life. I promise you will find joy and oddities here, too.

America needs N95 masks. These people are trying to get them to health care workers.

I imagine you’ve at least thought about trying to help healthcare workers get PPE somehow. I had been curious why getting what seem like simple masks into the U.S. was so complicated. This Vox piece does justice for their whole “explainer” brand:

Centralization of manufacturing by a small number of health care companies has long been understood to be a problem in pharmaceuticals (recall the Epipen scandal or ask any diabetic), but it’s as much of a problem with PPE and basic medical supplies.

The Evolution of the American Census

I’ve always been fascinated by the media business aspect of The Pudding. Their data storytelling often feels more impactful than any of the big publications, yet they seem to be some kind of utopian media collective. This one covers how the evolution of the U.S. Census reflects changing American values. Somehow they have the original text from the actual documents photographed:

Disrupting the Private Jet Industry with Blockchain Technology

I still have a project where I track blockchain news. As you can imagine, the grift long ago overtook the good when you search “blockchain” on YouTube. This recently came up, and something about it felt just so comforting. It was this perfect glimpse at life before the pandemic. 

We get an interview with someone who is the Chairman of a company that “uses blockchain technology to deliver a more efficient way for people to book private jets.”

We get that long lost joy of hearing lines like “the real value isn’t in crypto, it’s in the blockchain.”

Things that once would’ve annoyed me to no end suddenly bring me joy. Welcome to my quarantine.


Tracy Morgan Turns the Drama of His Life Into Comedy

I’ve been on a 30 Rock binge lately. I remember watching it when it first came out, but rewatching it after 10 years of immersion in American culture is way different. I didn’t even know about Tracy Jordan, sorry, Morgan before. This is an interesting profile of the actor and the comedian, who, after suffering a brain injury after an almost-fatal car crash, is getting back into show business.

“Tracy was primed for a comeback,” the actor and filmmaker Jordan Peele, who is an executive producer on “The Last O.G.,” told me. During his rehab, Morgan watched a lot of Peele’s sketch-comedy series “Key & Peele,” and after he recovered he met with Peele, who, at the time, was working on his directorial début, “Get Out.” Morgan and Peele came up with the premise for “The Last O.G.,” and began developing it for FX, which passed, before TBS picked it up. Although Tray’s return to civilian life has echoes of Morgan’s return to show business after the highway crash, the character can be better understood as a counterfactual exercise: Tray is who Morgan might have been, given a bad—or, given the details of Morgan’s fairly tumultuous life, a worse—break.

The Itsy-Bitsy, Teenie-Weenie, Very Litigious Bikini

A few months  ago, a friend of mine in Turkey asked me to bring her a pair of bikinis, that you could only buy in the US. Sure, I said, and ordered them. Little did I know that the company that sold them was started by a Turkish businesswoman. But the more interesting part came later when I found that the company and the bikinis were part of a big legal dispute that spanned all the way to Brazil.

“I created this bikini to survive,” Ms. Ferrarini said. She was born in São Carlos, a university city outside São Paulo, where her father was a bricklayer and her mother was a seamstress. When she was 10, her mother taught her to crochet so that she could make clothes for herself and her younger sisters. Around 1994, she moved to Trancoso, took a room in a guesthouse, and tried to make money with her craft. She crocheted thong bikini bottoms and sold them by pacing the beach. It was nudist, though, and that created a problem.

The Contrarian Coronavirus Theory That Informed the Trump Administration

Contrarians, by definition, are wrong most of the time. You can dig into the semantics, and if you care to reply to his by “well, actually”, you are probably part of the problem, but, alas. Most contrarians, luckily, don’t mean harm and the most damage they can inflict is a sudden increase in your heart rate. But some are quite dangerous. No, I am not talking about VCs on Twitter. I am talking about actual important people, some of whom have the ear of the Trump administration without having to have paid for it. This is a whirlwind of an interview, showing how people who can string together very smart-sounding words with little content can inflict so much damage. Not something I have to ever worry about!

Admit to it. You’re saying I’m a crackpot.

I’m not saying anything of the—

Well, what am I then? I’m an amateur? You’re the great scholar on this?

No, no. I’m not a great scholar on this.

Tell me what you think about the quality of the work!

O.K. I’m going to tell you. I think the fact that I am not a great scholar on this and I’m able to find these flaws or these holes in what you wrote is a sign that maybe you should’ve thought harder before writing it.

Today Google stops funding climate change deniers

I remember the day Google announced Gmail on April 1st. It seemed like a joke! At a time when most email providers gave you a couple megabytes, 1GB of storage seemed too good to be true. I don’t know if that was the start of the now-reviled tradition of April Fools jokes by internet companies. Google is no longer the computer lab masquerading as a business but is the bottleneck for most people to get to the internet, and is one of the world’s biggest corporations. It’s no wonder that it attracts such heavy scrutiny. This link is no joke.

For 21 years, Google’s mission has been to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. However, since 2013, we have funded think tanks, policy-makers, and lobbyists that supported strong technology policies, but also spread misinformation about climate change. Many of these organizations have actively worked to derail environmental protections, often successfully. Today, Google is ready to say that this is completely unacceptable, and we are declaring a zero tolerance policy for funding any entities that oppose aggressive actions to halt climate change.

The Terrible Beauty of Brain Surgery

Just trust me.