Top Reads: January 2022

This month's issue of top reads covers tech funding, climate in gaming and a trip into the sun.

Top Reads: January 2022
Photo by Assitej Norway / 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 here.]

1. ‘It’s All Just Wild’: Tech Start-Ups Reach a New Peak of Froth

NYT | 6 minutes

Source: NY Times / Joseph Melhuish
“For Daniel Perez, a co-founder of Hinge Health, a provider of online physical therapy programs, the unsolicited emails from investors started in late 2020. They contained pitch decks packed with the elaborate research that the investment firms had done on Hinge, including interviews with dozens of its customers and data on its competitors. These “reverse pitches,” which numbered in the 20s, were meant to persuade Mr. Perez to take money from the investment firms. He also got several term sheets, or investment contracts, from investors he had never met before.”

With startup funding widely accessible for many founders, the hype of a tech bubble is everywhere. The practice of the “reverse pitch” from platform VCs, however, has been on the rise for years and may be here to stay.


2. Quality over Quantity: Tracking Smart People to Find the Future

The Hard Fork | 4 minutes

Business time
Photo by Marten Bjork / Unsplash
“The movement of the youngest and most exceptional talent is hard to track but it’s incredibly helpful as a leading indicator on which companies or industries to go deeper on as an investor, employee or founder.”

The flow of talent is an important potential success metric for companies, industries and even countries. Great insights here!


3. More than 1 million fewer students are in college. Here's how that impacts the economy

NPR | 12 minutes

Source: Errata Carmona for NPR
“Declines in college enrollment have a compounded impact on the economy because there are economic consequences on so many levels: the individual, the community, businesses and society as a whole.”

The pandemic has expanded the education gap, which in turn will expand the wealth gap. These challenges will continue for many people and bend the social fabric of the US.


4. Cana Unveils Molecular Beverage Printer, a ‘Netflix for Drinks’ That Can Make Nearly Any Type of Beverage

The Spoon | 3 minutes

Source: The Spoon
“Friedberg and the Cana team have smartly positioned their system as a way to create beverages without all the plastic waste, claiming that the machine can print enough drinks to save a family from throwing about a hundred containers a month into the recycle or trash bin.”

This new innovation could be the next Juicero flop – or reinvent the way beverages are made. If successful, the consumer and commercial market must be enormous.


5. ‘Dataraising’ – when you’re asked to chip in with data instead of money

The Conversation | 5 minutes

Source: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
“Legal changes, organizational innovation, social movements and increased attention to the harms of concentrated data are also playing a role in the spread of this practice.”

With so much of our data in the hands of Big Tech, non-profits and civic organizations should consider “dataraising” as a way to enhance their reach and impact. A simple example: volunteers chip in data to help with monarch butterfly counts.


6. We Booped The Sun

The Atlantic | 5 minutes

NASA / SDO; The Atlantic
“The Parker spacecraft left Earth in 2018, and is traveling on a long loop around our star, making periodic visits. The spacecraft, built by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland, is designed to withstand the extremes of flying so close to our wonderful, scorching ball of nuclear fusion and dipping into its atmosphere, for a few hours, at least, to swim through sizzling matter.”

Missions to Mars get all the press. Meanwhile, humanity has achieved a remarkable feat of engineering: we sent a probe through the sun’s corona.


7. Hydrogen: Why Investors Should Pay Attention

Undervalued Shares | 9 minutes

Source: Undervalued Shares
“Few remember it nowadays, but the Japanese played a pivotal role in creating the Liquid Natural Gas industry in the 1970s. When Japan focuses its national attention on a task that it considers a national priority, it's worth keeping an eye on. Japan has the know-how and the capital to make things happen on a large scale. The subsequent outcomes will probably sit somewhere in between the opposing predictions. Maybe Volkswagen boss Herbert Diess was right when he said: "Green hydrogen should not end up in cars. It is needed for steel, chemical, aero." This could still leave room for hydrogen to grow into a significant new industry, because of the sheer amount of energy required in these sectors.”

Hydrogen has enormous potential for a clean energy future, and this may be the best primer I’ve seen yet. The economics aren’t quite there, but existing natural gas infrastructure and the need to decarbonize heavy industry could propel this technology forward in the years to come. Patient investors only!


8. Mapping Climate Grief, One Pixel at a Time

The New Yorker | 10 minutes

Source: Yuts / Courtesy Raw Fury
“Games, though, might have a singular kinship with our contemporary ruins, beginning as they so often do in dungeons, abandoned space stations, sinking ships, and deserted cities. They are maps where individual choice meets inhuman systems, not merely as representations but as reenactments that we learn to navigate.”

Norco is a fascinating indie game that examines life in the era of climate crisis. I love this intersection of art, gaming and real world challenges.


9. How Africa’s prehistoric geniuses led a technological revolution

Quartz | 4 minutes

Source: REUTERS/PASCAL ROSSIGNOL
“Consider the bow. It’s so useful that its invention seems both obvious and inevitable. But if it really was obvious, we’d see bows invented repeatedly in different parts of the world. But Native Americans didn’t invent the bow—neither did Australian Aborigines, nor people in Europe and Asia. Instead, it seems one clever Bushman invented the bow, and then everyone else adopted it. That hunter’s invention would change the course of human history for thousands of years to come, determining the fates of peoples and empires.”

A fascinating look at innovation in ancient history – from fire and axes to spearpoints and jewelry. The most significant early human discoveries came from Africa, where innovation continues to this day. Wakanda forever!


10. The con artist who sold rich investors a fake country

The Hustle | 12 minutes

Source: Johnson's Central America map via The Hustle
“After the beautiful view from the ship, Hastie and the others believed they would find St. Joseph, a European-style capital city outfitted with a government center and a theater… There was no property to be assigned to the landowners. No banks for depositing and withdrawing Poyaisian money. No easy access to wild game. Over the next couple months, the Poyais newcomers felt the consequences of the punishing heat and humidity, withering away from hunger, exhaustion, and malaria as they rationed provisions from the ship."

The dark tale of an opportunistic con artist who hatched an elaborate scheme to convince investors and settlers to support a fake country. Colonization ruined many lives in the Americas and beyond, leaving many lessons for us to this day.


I hope you're settling into the New Year healthy and happy. This month's bonus link is a new twist on the NYT's annual travel recommendations: 52 Places for a Changed World. Be safe out there, and be kind.

Snow Basin, UT