Friday 26 March, 2021

Named after the former US President and Supreme Commander of Allied forces in WW2.

Often recommended (to me) as an aid to decision-making.

My problem: I don’t have anyone to whom I can delegate stuff.

Quote of the Day

”Our boiler broke last week, so I skipped the newsletter. How weird must it be to be a plumber? Like that thing with the Queen thinking everywhere smells of fresh paint, plumbers must experience life as a series of smelly people who are thrilled to see you.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

John Garth | Cello Concerto in B-Flat Major, | I. Allegro moderato


Long Read of the Day

Ben Thompson on “Sovereign Writers and Substack”

As regular readers know, I’ve been puzzled about some of the fury and indignation directed at Substack (the outfit I use to send out this edition of my blog every morning) for allegedly inducing some high-profile writers (or whom the critics disapprove) to publish on Substack.

Ben Thompson has a daily newsletter (for which I pay a hefty annual subscription because he’s a really good analyst of what goes on in the tech industry). On Monday he turned his beady analytical eye on the Substack controversy, and came up with this intriguing concept of the Sovereign Writer as a lens through which to view the changes in our media ecosystem.

Here it is. And it’s worth reading in full.

The Alan Turing £50 note: the nerdiest banknote ever?

From The Register:

Turing’s face will adorn a polymer version, which replaces the familiar paper of old. Noting Turing’s contributions to codebreaking as well as to the fields of mathematics and computer science, Governor {of the Bank of England] Andrew Bailey said: “By placing him on our new polymer £50 banknote, we are celebrating his achievements, and the values he symbolises.”

Bailey also noted of Turing: “He was also gay, and was treated appallingly as a result.”

Indeed he was. Despite his wartime efforts, Turing was persecuted by the state for his homosexuality and was convicted of gross indecency in 1952. He died in 1954 from cyanide poisoning and an inquest determined his death as suicide.

He was eventually granted a posthumous pardon in 2013 following an apology in 2009 from then British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

On the note, Turing’s birthday (23 June 1912) is rendered in binary on ticker tape, a medium he thought could be used to enter data into machines. And the table and mathematical formulae come from Turing’s famous 1936 paper “On Computable Numbers, with an application to the Entscheidungsproblem.”

UK Deliveroo riders can earn as little as £2 an hour

According to this report by Sarah Butler on the realities of the gig-economy, a survey of more than 300 riders for the food delivery service reveals that some couriers can earn as little as £2 an hour.

As the company prepares for an £8.8bn stock market flotation next month, analysis of thousands of invoices sent in by riders found that as many as a third of the riders who took part in the survey received less than the legal minimum hourly wage for over-25s of £8.72.

Deliveroo has said riders are paid more than £10 an hour on average, but the analysis by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism of invoices collected via Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain found more than half of the couriers were paid less than that.

It found that one cycle courier in Yorkshire was paid the equivalent of £2 an hour over 180 hours of work.

The food delivery group does not guarantee minimum pay rates, as it argues couriers are independent self-employed contractors not entitled to benefits such as holiday pay and thee national minimum wage.

Couriers are supposed to receive an average £4 to £5 an order but they say that pay rates are complex, making it hard to calculate what they are owed.

Deliveroo says those logged on to its app are not necessarily working for it, as they are free to reject work without penalty and could be working for other apps at that time.

Upton Sinclair 2.0?

This looks like an interesting read. Here’s an excerpt from the blurb:

In 1937, the famed writer and activist Upton Sinclair published a novel bearing the subtitle A Story of Ford-America. He blasted the callousness of a company worth “a billion dollars” that underpaid its workers while forcing them to engage in repetitive and sometimes dangerous assembly line labor. Eighty-three years later, the market capitalization of has exceeded one trillion dollars, while the value of the Ford Motor Company hovers around thirty billion. We have, it seems, entered the age of one-click America—and as the coronavirus makes Americans more dependent on online shopping, its sway will only intensify.

Alec MacGillis’s Fulfillment is not another inside account or exposé of our most conspicuously dominant company. Rather, it is a literary investigation of the America that falls within that company’s growing shadow. As MacGillis shows, Amazon’s sprawling network of delivery hubs, data centers, and corporate campuses epitomizes a land where winner and loser cities and regions are drifting steadily apart, the civic fabric is unraveling, and work has become increasingly rudimentary and isolated.

The New York Times has a good review which puts it in the same league as George Packer’s great book, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America. For example:

In Alec MacGillis’s urgent book, “Fulfillment: Winning and Losing in One-Click America,” true fulfillment is elusive in Amazon’s America. Through interviews, careful investigative reporting and vignettes from across the country, MacGillis deftly unravels the strong grip Amazon has on the United States, from the ground level — in the inhumane working conditions of the warehouse, in rural towns upended by deindustrialization and subject to the glint of Amazon’s economic promise — to the gilded halls of Washington, D.C., where Amazon’s lobbyists flock.

Rather than the smooth story of innovation that makes Amazon’s rise to power inevitable, MacGillis reminds us that the company’s totalizing influence is one of parasitic opportunism, filling the spaces left by the decline of American manufacturing and taking advantage of industrial consolidation. Through careful detail and deeply humanizing portraits of communities impacted by Amazon, MacGillis gives us a picture of contemporary America as mere survival under precarity — the simple need for shelter, food and a safe workplace. Another one for my reading list.

On being married to a startup

Here’s an aspect of the tech world you rarely hear discussed: what starting a company does to relationships. Nobody who thinks that building a successful company is easy has ever done it. And anybody who’s been a marital or other partner of a founder will confirm how difficult it can be for everyone.

Sifted has an interesting piece by Amy Lewin who went round interviewing founders’ partners. It confirms what you’d expect. But she doesn’t seem to have talked to people whose relationships were vaporised by the stresses of converting a consensual hallucination into a working corporate reality. I wonder what the picture would be like if she had.

Another, hopefully interesting, link

  • Tim Hunkin: the Secret Life of the Vacuum Cleaner — Remastered for HD. This is truly wonderful — a revitalised version of a marvellous old TV series. It’s 30 minutes long, and worth every one of them. Link

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