This Week I Learned #3

Less reading this week… because more composing.

Assumed audience: People who like reading and learning, on any of a wide array of subjects! (There’s probably something on this list for you!)

Epistemic status: Learning in public!

From my reading this week:

  • Feminism, capitalism, and AI. In The Wife Glitch, Jennifer Schaffer argues that modern tech is about valuing women’s work”… as a profit center for men. Lots of capitalism does kinds of language, which undercuts a lot of the otherwise interesting points of the piece about how many specifically domestic tasks have been tackled by the tech renaissance. A huge blind spot, too: lots of very traditionally/stereotypically male tasks are also coming under fire, and targets of machine learning/AI programs (e.g. driving). Still, the argument was engaging and I’m not sad I read it, even if I ultimately disagree with her.

  • Politics, journalism, sexual assualt. Laura McGann explains at Vox just how difficult a story to report the Tara Reade accusations against Joe Biden have been. One of the things I appreciate about this piece in particular is that it highlights just how hard good journalism is. McGann explains some of the lengths she went to in her attempt to chase down information (and to help Reade prove her case if it’s true), and it’s a lot. Worth a read for that perspective alone. Also worth a read for the way it appropriately complicates the narrative around Reade and Biden — neither in partisan fashion leaping to Biden’s defense, nor blaming Reade for being an imperfect witness,” nor even passing judgment on the case: just laying out the facts as well as McGann can.

  • Software rewrites. This piece (by John Millikin, on Stripe’s Increment) was a great dive into when and how to tackle actual software rewrites. One of the interesting things about this is that, while it argued against one of the long-standing pieces of wisdom in our industry — Joel Spolsky’s famous argument against rewrites — it’s arguably just restating Martin Fowler’s post from just a few years later about how to do rewrites well. Meta takeaway: this industry is pretty bad about actually learning the things we need to learn. (Maybe other industries are equally bad; I just have no insight into them.)

  • Christianity and human dignity. I don’t love D. B. Hart in general: I think he’s something of a blowhard. But this piece (from back in 2017) was excellent: an articulation of just how profoundly Christianity has reshaped our notion of human dignity. Christianity was not the origin of these ideas, of course: Judaism had been proclaiming them for millennia by the time Christianity exploded from being a small messianic Jewish sect into the world religion that it became in the first few centuries A.D. But precisely that explosion transformed our whole approach to humanity. Everyone, we now affirm, deserves to be treated with equal dignity, has inherently equal worth and personhood — not as a matter of rank or family, but by dint of being human. You don’t have to be a Christian or even think much of what we Christians believe about the universe to appreciate that change (though I’d suggest that if you do appreciate that change, maybe consider what we think about the universe?).

Two other notes, in closing:

  • I learned a ton this week about Dorico, a bit about virtual instruments and how to tweak them, and a little bit — by way of experience, that best of teachers! — about orchestration. Composing all week was a lot of fun, even if I didn’t get quite as far as I might have liked.

  • It strikes me that perhaps I should (re)title this series Things I Read This Week” instead of Things I Learned” since that’s actually how it’s functioning. Thoughts? Email me!