Recent reading

I had been meaning to do a roundup of things I’ve been reading at least weekly, probably every Saturday, but haven’t quite gotten into that routine.

Here, though, are some recent highlights of articles I’ve read. These go back to just after Christmas—so almost three weeks’ worth of reading already. This is especially heavy on the past week of reading—and of course what I remember best.

I am trying to be better about posting links and thoughts here, to my owned-and-operated blog first, and only then to share from here to the platforms and social networks.


First lady of radio, photographer witness to apartheid and its demise, Pascal creator and advocate for more efficient software

Plus an aside about Unix

Annie Nightingale, 1940-2024

Fiona Sturges. “Annie Nightingale didn’t only kick down doors in radio – she held them open.” The Guardian. January 12, 2024.

When Annie Nightingale, who has died aged 83, first approached the BBC in the hope of getting on the radio, she was instantly rebuffed.

Not for nothing was she known as the first lady of radio; Nightingale was the first woman in Britain to be awarded her own radio show (it took the station another 12 years to hire another) and would become the network’s longest-serving presenter.


Like her one-time contemporary John Peel, Nightingale was held in high regard by musicians of all stripes who would deluge her with demos in the hope of getting her seal of approval and, if possible, some airtime on her show. Such was her dedication to championing new sounds that she continued to do her job into her 80s on Radio 1, rather than moving her show on to the more sedate sister station, Radio 2 (she did, however, present one-off shows and documentaries on the station, and on 6 Music). Unlike many of her peers, she never fell into the trap of catering only to her age and background, remaining as just as excited about new music in her 80s as she was in her teens and 20s.

Peter Magubane, 1932-2024

Alan Cowell. “Peter Magubane, 91, Who Fought Apartheid With His Camera, Is Dead.” New York Times. January 1, 2024.

After many brushes with the authorities, including five years under a so-called banning order, which denied him the right to work or even be photographed or quoted, Mr. Magubane went into the Soweto riots “with my camera and a vengeance,” he said.

“Because of my photos, the entire world saw what was happening,” he said.

Niklaus Wirth, 1934-2024

Liam Proven. “RIP: Software design pioneer and Pascal creator Niklaus Wirth.” The Register. January 4, 2024.

In his work, the languages and tools he created, in his eloquent plea for smaller, more efficient software – even in the projects from which he quit – his influence on the computer industry has been almost beyond measure. The modern software industry has signally failed to learn from him. Although he has left us, his work still has much more to teach.

—and, via the above:

Larry Peterson. “You should read Section 8 of the Unix User’s Manual.” The Register. February 9, 2022.

In addition to describing how to shutdown and boot a system, it defined the process for managing long-running daemon processes, the Unix equivalent of today’s microservices. If you had responsibility for configuring and managing system services on your department’s server, which came with superuser privilege, you needed not only to know how to program Unix, you also needed to understand the ins and outs of operating Unix.

As a grad student, the lessons I learned while being responsible for sendmail(8) on a live multi-user system were immeasurable. Every mistake instantly sent the faculty into the hallway looking for the responsible idiot. (In my defense, this was at a time when email addresses contained % and ! operators in addition to @, and their precedence was not well-defined.)

Artificial intelligence

Generated product madness, the NYTimes OpenAI lawsuit and its threat to journalism (and reading), and AI as the future of photography—and how it “understands” photographic framing

Mike Masnick. “The NY Times Lawsuit Against OpenAI Would Open Up The NY Times To All Sorts Of Lawsuits Should It Win.” Techdirt. December 28, 2023.

In the end, though, the crux of this lawsuit is the same as all the others. It’s a false belief that reading something (whether by human or machine) somehow implicates copyright.

This is false.


If the NY Times successfully argues that reading a third party article to help its reporters “learn” about the news before reporting their own version of it is copyright infringement, it might not like how that is turned around by tons of other news organizations against the NY Times. Because I don’t see how there’s any legitimate distinction between OpenAI scanning NY Times articles and NY Times reporters scanning other articles/books/research without first licensing those works as well.

Gideon Jacobs. “A.I. Is the Future of Photography. Does That Mean Photography Is Dead?” New York Times. Dec. 26, 2023.

Alejandro Cartagena (a photographer and the publisher of Fellowship, a site dedicated to elevating photography and exploring postphotography imagery): Yes, these images are photographic — in some sense. For example, the computer models understand framing photographically. They understand how to use the horizon. They understand how to frame a portrait based on 180 years of photographic diarrhea. These models are looking at images, and the most predominant type of image out there is the photograph. I believe this kind of technology was inevitable because what else were we supposed to do with the trillions of images that have been generated?

Storm damage in Maine

Kay Neufeld. “Maine’s historic landmarks under siege from powerful storms.” Portland Press-Herald. January 12, 2024.

Pemaquid Point was battered by high waves and 79 mph winds on Tuesday night and Wednesday, … The gusts and surges toppled an entire wall of the historic Bell House, scattering bricks and exposing its interior to the elements.

The case for taking Gaza genocide charges seriously

Megan K. Stack. “Don’t Turn Away From the Charges of Genocide Against Israel.” New York Times. Jan. 12, 2024.

To understand this extraordinary spasm of violence as an act of national self-defense, you’d have to accept that Israel’s only chance for safety depends upon Gaza being crushed and emptied — by death or displacement — of virtually all Palestinians.

And, indeed, Israeli officials have said as much.


We should approach this question humbly, because we — Americans, the West — have repeatedly shown that we are good at recognizing genocide only in retrospect.

—and, via the above:

Raz Segal. “A Textbook Case of Genocide.” Jewish Currents. October 13, 2023.

Israel has been explicit about what it’s carrying out in Gaza. Why isn’t the world listening?

Chabad tunnel story goes viral and reveals antisemitism online

Elad Nehorai. “How Twitter activists turned a viral story about Orthodox Jews into a modern blood libel.” The Forward. January 9, 2024.

A new Jewish story has gone viral: A tunnel has been discovered under the legendary Chabad headquarters on Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights, popularly referred to as 770.

This is a story that is at turns baffling, amusing and heartbreaking. The fact that it is also utterly bizarre, especially to outsiders, has caused it to go viral. And almost as soon as it did, so too did the antisemitic conspiracies.


Since Oct. 7, many white nationalist accounts have exploited the lack of moderation on X — and the tacit approval of Elon Musk — to grow their audiences with effective and deceptive marketing techniques. In particular, many have rebranded themselves as pro-Palestinian advocates, and have grown their followings exponentially as a result.


Social housing and livable Vienna

Philip Oltermann. “The social housing secret: how Vienna became the world’s most livable city.” The Guardian. January 10, 2024.

The Viennese term for estates like these is Gemeindebauten, “communal buildings”, which hints at their underlying philosophy. “One of the key concepts to understanding Vienna’s approach to housing is social sustainability,” says Maik Novotny, an architecture critic for the Austrian newspaper Der Standard. “In order to avoid the creation of ghettoes and the costly social conflicts that come with them, the city actively strives for a mixing of people from different backgrounds and on different incomes in the same estates. Social housing isn’t just for the poor.

The enshittification of Airbnb

Ryan Zickgraf. “Airbnb Was Supposed to Save Capitalism. Instead, It Just Devolved Into Garbage.” Jacobin. January 6, 2024.

Now, Airbnb is in the stage that journalist Cory Doctorow has dubbed the “enshittification” of online platforms. “Once [buyers and sellers] are locked in, the surplus is handed to shareholders and the platform becomes a useless pile of shit,” writes Doctorow. What that means is that while Airbnb’s founders talk of being on an infinite time horizon to help humanity, the platform keeps charging higher fees, and is making more money — all without having to provide the baked-in services and amenities of a hotel to users or adhere to the hospitality industry’s (admittedly thin) regulations and worker protections. The company’s share price is up over 60 percent this year, based on a recent earnings report that named this year’s second quarter the most profitable one yet.