Top Reads: April 2022

This month's issue of top reads includes floating cities, AI imaging, and the wild story of a med student turned NBA referee.

Top Reads: April 2022
Photo by Carly Kewley / Unsplash

[Did a friend forward this your way? I write about trends in tech and social impact – with a few takes here and there. If you're into it, please subscribe!]

1. Meet DALL-E, the A.I. That Draws Anything at Your Command

NYT | 6 minutes

Source: OpenAI
“A neural network learns skills by analyzing large amounts of data. By pinpointing patterns in thousands of avocado photos, for example, it can learn to recognize an avocado. DALL-E looks for patterns as it analyzes millions of digital images as well as text captions that describe what each image depicts. In this way, it learns to recognize the links between the images and the words.”

Create "a teapot in the shape of an avocado." Artificial intelligence can now generate creative images from a few words of text. The potential for disinformation is high, and the potential for disruption to the arts could be even higher.

2. The Day Redditors Broke the Internet… Again

Reddit | 4 minutes

Source: Reddit
“Since its creation in 2017, we have heard repeatedly from our community to bring back r/place - a collaborative online canvas on which a single user can only place a single tile every five minutes. This year, we did just that. We brought back the most successful and collaborative digital art piece the internet has ever seen.”

This year Reddit saw an incredible turnout for r/place: the biggest online art board the internet has ever known. Check out this timelapse or dive into the Atlas to learn about the stories behind the pixels.

3. Black business ownership is higher than pre-pandemic. Women are driving that growth

NPR | 8 minutes

Source: Makeda Sandford for NPR
“And while it has been heavily gentrified in recent decades, commerce on Tompkins Avenue remains significantly Black-owned. On any given day you can walk by and smell some smoky jerk chicken from a local stand, mixed with incense wafting out from one of the neighborhood stores that specializes in local Black designers and African textiles.”

Black-owned businesses are the pulse of the community in Brooklyn. It's great to see this uplifting story about nearby Tompkins Ave. But make no mistake – Black-owned businesses are continually up against discrimination, predatory lenders, and systemic challenges – they deserve better policies across the nation.

4. Mexico’s biggest convenience store chain wants to become a superbank

Rest of World | 3 minutes

Source: Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG/Getty Images
“Oxxo has gathered users in numbers comparable to established banks and more than most neobanks — technology-driven startups that aim to open up banking to the masses. Customers can sign up for Spin at every one of Oxxo’s approximately 20,000 branches in Mexico. An account comes with an accompanying app that allows digital payments, transfers, and access to a loyalty program.”

The hype around fintech too often overshadows programs like Spin, which offers truly accessible financial services for the unbanked and underbanked. This program has tremendous potential to create economic mobility for millions of families.

5. Pizza Prices Surpass Subway Fares, Upending Decades of NYC Economics

Bloomberg | 5minutes

Source: Bloomberg
“Prices for plain slices are soaring above $3 throughout the city along with commodity and labor costs. With the Metropolitan Transportation Authority freezing fares at $2.75, the gap between the price of riding downtown and satisfying late-night hunger pangs is growing quickly.”

The pizza principle is the idea that a NY slice will always cost the same as a subway ride ($2.75). That’s changing thanks to rising utility prices, labor costs and inflation.

6. The Renewable-Energy Revolution Will Need Renewable Storage

The New Yorker | 25 minutes

Source: The New Yorker
“We need to expand our capacity; by one estimate, we’ll require at least a hundred times more storage by 2040 if we want to shift largely to renewables and avoid climate catastrophe. We may somehow find clean and reliable ways to mine, distribute, and recycle the ingredients for Li-ion batteries. And yet that seems unlikely. Although we usually think about renewable energy in terms of its sources, such as wind turbines and solar panels, that’s only half the picture. Ideally, we’d pair renewable energy with renewable storage.”

Energy storage will be key to the climate fight. I hope a few of these experiments with hydro, gravity and other storage solutions can help solve the challenges of intermittent renewable power.

7. Cruz Foam's shell-based Styrofoam alternative brings in $3.4M seed with DiCaprio and Kutcher

Yahoo! News | 4 minutes

Source: Cruz Foam
“Plastic foam like Styrofoam is a ubiquitous, harmful and nearly immortal single-use material that is long overdue for a good, green replacement — and Cruz Foam is here to supply it. The startup creates a durable yet backyard-compostable packing foam out of shrimp shells produced (and discarded) by the seafood industry. It recently extended its seed round to accommodate the interests of Leonardo DiCaprio and Ashton Kutcher, and is scaling up to meet the demands of its first major customer, Whirlpool."

This startup is turning shrimp shells into compostable packaging solutions. The company is early stage, but has a sound business model that's attracting big name customers and investors.

8. Wildlife Photos Are A New Treasure Trove For AI-Driven Conservation Research

The Verge | 4 minutes

Source: Tanya Berger-Wolf
“The team is implementing algorithms that create pixel values of patterned animals, like leopards, zebras, and whale sharks, and analyze those hot spots where the pixel values change most — it’s like comparing fingerprints. Having these fingerprints means researchers can track animals non-invasively and without GPS collars, count them to estimate population sizes, understand migration patterns, and more.”

The potential for wildlife conservation here is powerful. At scale, maybe it could even measure family units and genetic diversity in animal herds.

9. South Korea to build a floating city for 12,000 people next year with U.N. backing

NBC News | 4 minutes

Source: Oceanix
“The city is meant to serve as a kind of test of a new model of real estate development. The project’s leaders, a sustainable design startup called Oceanix, said the city should be able to withstand 100-year storms, with a foundation that rises as sea levels do.”

It’s certainly early days for floating cities, but this pilot in Seoul could prove to be an interesting testbed. The focus on circularity and pedestrian friendly design will also be a valuable social experiment!

10. The guy who quit medical school to become an NBA referee

The Hustle | 9 minutes

Source: The Hustle
“Shortly after the NBA scout first approached him, Mehta received an email from the NBA inviting him to a grassroots tryout camp in Dallas. Mehta had recently finished taking his MCAT — a grueling, 8-hour exam he’d spent countless nights studying for — and was accepted into medical school. To pass the summer, he’d found work as a scribe in an ER department. While he was flattered by the invitation, he didn’t take it too seriously. He still fully intended to be a doctor. But the NBA offered him a free flight and lodging, and since it was summer, he figured, “Why not?””

Cool story about value of hard work and the rewards that can come with taking risks early on. My favorite quote: “I figured if I always worked as if someone was watching me, I’d be successful.”

Bonus: Overland Partners designs binational park "as a prototype for border cities"

Dezeen | 2 minutes

Check out this winning design for a park at a US-Mexico border town. Wow.

That's it for this month! Enjoy this musical tour into deep space while you discover where you live once was on Pangea. And maybe drink some water.


Right field, Lancaster, PA