Top Reads: May 2022

This month's top reads feature subsea internet cables, rights for rivers, and insights on how cryptocurrency vanished into thin air.

Top Reads: May 2022
The caldera of Sete Cidades – São Miguel, Azores Islands

After a scenic and restful vacation, I return to a nation broken yet again. Catching up on the horrible news was both challenging and frustrating. Here are ways to help the communities in Uvale and Buffalo.

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1. Umpires, Not Kings

No Mercy / No Malice | 9 minutes

“Competition depends on rules, and rules depend on umpires. We should fight to protect competition — not winners. Because winners subvert the process. In the name of competition, they demand that their anticompetitive acts go unpunished. In the name of freedom, they insist on their right to shout down the dissenter’s voice. In the U.S., winners have funded “think tanks” and politicians, bought newspapers and cable news stations, and convinced us the umpire is our enemy.”

Great read on the importance of setting rules for competition, from old railroad companies to the latest moves by Big Tech. Business needs to have rules.

WIRED | 6 minutes

Source: Shana Novak / Getty Images
“Researchers from KU Leuven, Radboud University, and University of Lausanne crawled and analyzed the top 100,000 websites, looking at scenarios in which a user is visiting a site while in the European Union and visiting a site from the United States. They found that 1,844 websites gathered an EU user's email address without their consent, and a staggering 2,950 logged a US user's email in some form. Many of the sites seemingly do not intend to conduct the data-logging but incorporate third-party marketing and analytics services that cause the behavior.”

This may come as no surprise, but data brokers and their trackers are everywhere. If online privacy is important to you, use an alternative email address and privacy-first browser like Brave or DuckDuckGo.

3. Leader of Pussy Riot Band Escapes Russia, With Help From Friends

NYT | 7 minutes

Source: NYT
“She decided it was time to leave Russia — at least temporarily — and disguised herself as a food courier to evade the Moscow police who had been staking out the friend’s apartment where she was staying. She left her cellphone behind as a decoy and to avoid being tracked.”

The thrilling story about an activist’s escape from Russia - and her ongoing protest against Putin and the senseless war in Ukraine.

4. Sea Change

Rest of World | 22 minutes

Source: Rest of World
“The internet’s initial promise was to decentralize telecommunications, releasing consumers from the monopoly grip of telecomms incumbents. Over the last 30 years, the internet has done that, and much more. But undersea cables, owned by the internet’s behemoths, hint at a return to where we started: a near future in which a select group of massive corporations have not merely tightened their hold on our online activity but have deliberately rebuilt the internet for their own use, according to their own specifications, from the ocean floor up.”

A chronicle of Google and Meta’s efforts to use subsea cables to bring more people online in Africa. These big companies are defining internet access across an entire continent, a development with the potential to create many challenges ahead.

5. A solar power plant in space? The UK wants to build one by 2035.

Space | 4 minutes

Source: Space Energy Initiative
“Over 50 British technology organizations, including heavyweights such as aerospace manufacturer Airbus, Cambridge University and satellite maker SSTL, have joined the U.K. Space Energy Initiative, which launched last year in a quest to explore options for developing a space-based solar power plant.”

This concept seems like science fiction, but could propel humanity into an era of energy abundance. That doesn’t mean efforts to cut emission should stop – it will take centuries just to slow down and reserve that trend.

6. This Canadian river is now legally a person. It’s not the only one.

National Geographic | 7 minutes

Source: Tim Clayton, Corbis / Getty Images
“While this is a first in Canada, it’s part of a global, Indigenous-led campaign echoing the rights of nature movement, which aims to provide concrete protections for the natural landscape. In recent years, many rivers — from New Zealand’s Whanganui to the United States’ Klamath River — have been given personhood. In 2018, Colombia’s Supreme Court granted the Amazon — the world’s largest river — legal rights.”

This article examines the emerging legal status of waterways and Indigenous land rights. Rivers are essential and sacred for many. It’s great to this movement advance!

7. A Different Kind of Cityhood Movement in Metro Atlanta

Bloomberg CityLab | 8 minutes

Source: Elijah Nouvelage / Bloomberg
“The juxtaposition of the low-rent accommodations with a megachurch and roller coasters collectively represents the rugged reality and promise of the area. As its own city, Mableton would have one of the largest concentrations of low-income families and renters in the region. But it would also have better resources to support them, says Leroy “Tre” Hutchins, a steering committee member of the South Cobb Alliance, the nonprofit organization behind the push for Mableton’s cityhood.”

An inside look at a community-led effort to incorporate a new city outside Atlanta. Becoming a city could go a long way for residents – from improving waste management to protecting renter's rights.

8. How Crypto Disappeared Into Thin Air

The Atlantic | 6 minutes

Source: Getty Images
“Crypto valuations, though, are generally founded on a different principle: Intrinsic value doesn’t matter. The value of an asset is not dependent on its use value in the real world, or its ability to generate cash in the future. Instead, the value of an asset depends on what people think it’s worth. This is a kind of postmodern vision: There is no “real” value, only narratives of value we collectively construct and choose to believe in, or not. As the crypto and NFT (non-fungible token) investor Nick Tomaino put it last fall, “If the collective group of people on the internet believes something has value, it has value. We are in a world where belief equals value.”

You may have heard about the recent implosion of the Luna stablecoin. This article has a quick explainer on the collective belief in crypto – and its volatility.

9. Why free stuff makes us irrational

The Hustle | 8 minutes

“People do it because they are guided by a good feeling — “a positive glow that people have about not having to pay,” according to Shampanier. As Ariely explains further, when people see something for free, they don’t see the downside.”

Check out this fascinating article on our behavior when goods or services are free. Whether it’s free shipping or frozen pizza samples, we’re likely to make odd purchase decisions when the cost is zero.

10. ‘It’s a glorified backpack of tubes and turbines’: Dave Eggers on jetpacks and the enigma of solo flight

The Guardian | 18 minutes

Source: Jetpack Aviation
“At the moment, the flight duration is too short, and the degree of difficulty too great. But this was also the case – and then some – for the Wright brothers. Their first motorized flyer was exceedingly difficult to fly for anyone but themselves, and it was a good decade between their demonstrations and the first practical, mass-market airplanes that could be flown by anyone else. Meanwhile, no one was much interested. In the first few years of their test flights, they flew in plain sight, between two highways in Dayton, Ohio, to the resounding indifference of the world.Which is where Mayman and Jarry still find themselves. They have done the difficult work, which is to design, manufacture and test a jetpack simple and intuitive enough that a rube like me can fly under controlled conditions. With enough investment, they could bring the cost down significantly, and they very well might be able to solve the flight-duration issue, too. But, for now, there are two paying customers at the Jetpack Aviation bootcamp, with the rest of the human race giving this pair of visionaries a collective shrug.”

The author Dave Eggers writes about his experience with the miracle of solo flight and early tests of jetpack technology. In short, we’re a ways off from any practical Iron Man suits.

That's it for this month! Check out this beautiful time lapse video of the Arctic midnight sun.

Take care of yourselves in the summer ahead.


Capelinhos, the newest land in Europe – Faial, Azores Islands