Aging gracefully in your career and life

An interesting essay in The Atlantic by Arthur C. Brooks:

I suspect that my own terror of professional decline is rooted in a fear of death—a fear that, even if it is not conscious, motivates me to act as if death will never come by denying any degradation in my résumé virtues. This denial is destructive, because it leads me to ignore the eulogy virtues that bring me the greatest joy.

How can I overcome this tendency? The Buddha recommends, of all things, corpse meditation: Many Theravada Buddhist monasteries in Thailand and Sri Lanka display photos of corpses in various states of decomposition for the monks to contemplate. “This body, too,” students are taught to say about their own body, “such is its nature, such is its future, such is its unavoidable fate.” At first this seems morbid. But its logic is grounded in psychological principles—and it’s not an exclusively Eastern idea. “To begin depriving death of its greatest advantage over us,” Michel de Montaigne wrote in the 16th century, “let us deprive death of its strangeness, let us frequent it, let us get used to it; let us have nothing more often in mind than death.”

Your Professional Decline Is Coming (Much) Sooner Than You Think

I’m a big fan of WeCroak, an iOS app (very much in this tradition) that reminds you five times a day that you will die. The essay has tips for managing your inevitable professional decline, but mostly this is about acceptance. There is nothing more focusing that the prospect of death. And focus is key.

Never tell me the odds…

In a 1961 survey, 90 percent of doctors said they preferred to not tell a patient he or she had cancer. Many people died without even knowing what killed them.

That may offend contemporary ears, but it’s not necessarily a story of negligence or dishonesty, nor is the idea of a Prognosis Declaration a vote for denial. It’s simply an acknowledgment that knowing more sometimes serves us less. And no matter what we choose, we never really get to know everything. 

Don’t Tell Me When I’m Going to Die

Plan to discourage use of plastic bags spurs collection of plastic bags

File under unintended consequences:

A Canadian store’s attempt to help the environment and gently shame its customers into avoiding plastic bags by printing embarrassing messages on them has not gone quite as planned.

Far from spurring customers to bring their own reusables, the plastic bags — variously emblazoned with “Dr. Toews’ Wart Ointment Wholesale,” “Into the Weird Adult Video Emporium” or “The Colon Care Co-op” — have become somewhat of a surprise hit.

“Some of the customers want to collect them because they love the idea of it,” David Lee Kwen, the owner of the store, Vancouver’s East West Markettold The Guardian newspaper.

Store’s Bid to Shame Customers Over Plastic Bags Backfires

The ACLU has some AI surveillance recommendations

Niraj Chokshi, writing for the New York Time:

To prevent the worst outcomes, the A.C.L.U. offered a range of recommendations governing the use of video analytics in the public and private sectors.

No governmental entity should be allowed to deploy video analytics without legislative approval, public notification and a review of a system’s effects on civil rights, it said. Individuals should know what kind of information is recorded and analyzed, have access to data collected about them, and have a way to challenge or correct inaccuracies, too.

To prevent abuses, video analytics should not be used to collect identifiable information en masse or merely for seeking out “suspicious” behavior, the A.C.L.U. said. Data collected should also be handled with care and systems should make decisions transparently and in ways that don’t carry legal implications for those tracked, the group said.

Businesses should be governed by similar guidelines and should be transparent in how they use video analytics, the group said. Regulations governing them should balance constitutional protections, including the rights to privacy and free expression.

How Surveillance Cameras Could Be Weaponized With A.I.

These recommendations appear to boil down to transparency and not tracking everyone all the time without a specific reason. Seems reasonable as a starting point.

The Complexity of Ubiquitous Surveillance

Bruce Schneier advocates for a technological “pause” to allow policy to catch up:

[U]biquitous surveillance will drastically change our relationship to society. We’ve never lived in this sort of world, even those of us who have lived through previous totalitarian regimes. The effects will be felt in many different areas. False positives­ — when the surveillance system gets it wrong­ — will lead to harassment and worse. Discrimination will become automated. Those who fall outside norms will be marginalized. And most importantly, the inability to live anonymously will have an enormous chilling effect on speech and behavior, which in turn will hobble society’s ability to experiment and change.

Computers and Video Surveillance

On the other hand, isn’t it a good thing we can spot police officers with militant, racist views?

Rock Paper Scissors robot wins 100% of the time

Via Schneier on Security, this is old but I hadn’t seen it either:

The newest version of a robot from Japanese researchers can not only challenge the best human players in a game of Rock Paper Scissors, but it can beat them — 100% of the time. In reality, the robot uses a sophisticated form a cheating which both breaks the game itself (the robot didn’t “win” by the actual rules of the game) and shows the amazing potential of the human-machine interfaces of tomorrow.

Rock Paper Scissors robot wins 100% of the time

Having super-human reaction times is a nice feature, and this certainly isn’t the only application.

Riley Howell

He kept charging. A bullet to the torso did not stop Riley Howell. A second bullet to the body did not prevent him from reaching his goal and hurling himself at the gunman who opened fire last week inside a classroom at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. The third bullet came as Mr. Howell was inches from the gunman, who fired at point-blank range into his head.

. . . He tackled the gunman so forcefully that the suspect complained to first responders after his arrest of internal injuries, the parents said the authorities told them.

. . . . .

“The chief said no one was shot after Riley body-slammed him,” said his mother, Natalie Henry-Howell.

Riley Howell’s Parents Say He Was Shot 3 Times While Tackling the U.N.C. Charlotte Gunman

A life cut short, but a final act of astonishing courage and sacrifice.

I hope to die as well as Riley Howell. I hope to die as well as Riley Howell. I hope to die as well as Riley Howell. RIP.

Notre Dame will be rebuilt again

Sophie Gilbert, writing for The Atlantic:

What seems hopeful, though, is that it will be rebuilt, because the history of sacred structures is defined by exactly this cycle of ruin and repair. Cathedrals in Europe are palimpsests, built and rebuilt on the same sites over thousands of years: They bear additions and repairs—and sometimes total reconstruction—by countless hands. Notre Dame, for example, is believed to have been put up on the original site of a temple to Jupiter. Four separate churches predated its consecration, and all were destroyed, or demolished, before the cornerstone for Notre Dame was laid in the springtime of 1163, 856 years ago. Notre Dame’s spire, the one that burned on Monday, was added in the 19th century, replacing the original, which had been weakened by the elements over the course of 500 years.

Notre-Dame Isn’t Lost

Notre Dame is a symbol, and a collection of old materials, and most importantly, a sacred space. It exists because generations of humans have attached meaning to its enclosure. And like all physical things, it will crumble and decay. It has before, and it will again. But we keep rebuilding. And that is its meaning.

If you want to feel what is special about Notre Dame, feel the collective pain of watching it burn, and the collective determination to make it whole again. It is not the ancient wood or stone that imbues it with meaning or emotionality. It is this determination to reflect on our collective past and strive again to preserve the sacred space for ourselves and our children. The cycle of destruction and construction is both inevitable and human.

The Onion, of course, makes this point in its own special way.

Notre Dame was built, destroyed, and rebuilt over the course of hundreds of years, and we will rebuild it again, only to watch it decay once more, for indeed that is its fate, as it is the fate of all of man’s works. Like Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the mountain, we will endeavor to fix the cathedral despite all empirical evidence to the contrary, in a world which demonstrates time and time again that there is nothing real to be found in worshipping the ersatz edifices that serve as a sorry facsimile of any real human connection.

Paris Vows To Rebuild Notre Dame Despite Cosmic Absurdity Of Seeking Inherent Meaning In Fleeting Creations Of Man

Nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect. But Notre Dame is special because it is powerful evidence that we keep trying, and we always will. Notre Dame retains its meaning, especially now.

It’s not hard to find criminals on Facebook

Over and over again, researchers have documented easily found groups of hackers and scammers offering their services on Facebook pages. Researchers at Cisco Talos just documented this again:

In all, Talos has compiled a list of 74 groups on Facebook whose members promised to carry out an array of questionable cyber dirty deeds, including the selling and trading of stolen bank/credit card information, the theft and sale of account credentials from a variety of sites, and email spamming tools and services. In total, these groups had approximately 385,000 members.

These Facebook groups are quite easy to locate for anyone possessing a Facebook account. A simple search for groups containing keywords such as “spam,” “carding,” or “CVV” will typically return multiple results. Of course, once one or more of these groups has been joined, Facebook’s own algorithms will often suggest similar groups, making new criminal hangouts even easier to find.

Hiding in Plain Sight

They aren’t even hiding, and Facebook’s automated systems helpfully suggest other criminals you might also like. This is a serious problem for all big online communities. YouTube recently had to deal with disgusting child exploitation issues that its algorithms helped create as well.

Most services complain that it is hard to stamp out destructive behavior. (But see Pinterest.) Yet when their own algorithms are grouping and recommending similar content, it seems that automatically addressing this is well within their technical capabilities. Criminal services should not be openly advertised on Facebook. But apparently there’s no incentive to do anything about it. Cue the regulators.

Asteroid Horror Plot

Turns out blowing up asteroids might not be such a great idea because, like the Terminator 2, they rebuild themselves:

As time went on, the gravitational pull of the asteroid’s resilient core was able to pull back ejected shards. It seems that asteroids don’t just absorb mind-boggling amounts of damage, but, as previous work has hinted, they also are able to rebuild themselves.

If We Blow Up an Asteroid, It Might Put Itself Back Together

The best strategy seems to be deflection. Isn’t that a pretty good general principle?

Happy Friday!