This week I want to share a few links regarding the way internet is changing, how good old-fashioned money can be superior to the latest crypto-coin, a bit of environmental science, and the hurdles of academia. Let’s get to it:
The end of an era
This was a very nice read that made me think about how the internet has evolved in past few decades. When I started using it (mid/late 90’s), people were not using their name because everyone assumed that being anonymous was infinitely better than giving your data for anyone to take. We used searchers, but most of the content we consumed was archived in blogs and a few web pages (yahoo, msn, etc.). We wrote blog posts, built web pages, and shared stuff over P2P clients. With time, people started linking their internet persona with their real identity, and some kind of “personal-brand” culture invaded the web. Everyone gave their content to social networks in return of followers and likes, and lots of cool information was lost inside walled gardens (i.e., not indexed) or even worse, in dead sites that have been lost forever. So nowadays, when you try to search for anything online, web searchers provide you with more adds than useful data. Some say that this is due to how Google gets their benefits, but I think we also have caused a lot of trouble: in the end, if nothing is indexed and we only write 140-character tweets, what do you expect to find when you want some information?
The Open Secret of Google Search, on The Atlantic
The best crypto out there
A few months ago, I remember talking with some friends who defended that physical money was a thing from the past, and electronic was the way to go. They told me about how it was impossible to buy, for example, a baguette, and pay it by using their phone or credit card in the place they live. They also argued that paying in cash is a method that some companies use to evade paying taxes: they can avoid making an invoice, and there is no record about the transaction anywhere, which is not the case if you pay for a service with your credit card. The debate was interesting, but I think I was the only one defending being able to pay with cash. To me, the fact that no one really knows what you do with your money when paying like that is actually a super nice feature, and I love the privacy that it entails. Moreover, this totally private way to pay does not entail spending huge amounts of energy in any blockchain system. The article also talks about something that I did not really grasp at that time, which is the real danger that money becomes centralised around a company instead of a government. Will gubernamental e-coins tackle any of these aspects? Wait and see…
An elegy for cash: the technology we might never replace, on the MIT technology review
Battling CO2, one paella at a time
This is such a cool idea. Engineer rice varieties to have longer roots (soy they can fixate carbon deeper and for more time in the ground) and to eliminate more CO2 from the atmosphere. I have talked before in the blog about how we cannot ignore anymore these kind of measures, as even if we would stop greenhouse emissions today, humanity has caused so much damage to the planet that we would need decades of work to revert it back. Doing it on crops like rice, which is all over the globe, could be a very effective (and scalable) way to help.
Bursting the bubble
During the past few weeks, I have been reading some articles about the “resignation” trend. The first ones I found were related to people working in tech and industry, and they tell how many people, during the covid pandemic, realised that they were not happy at all with their lives, and other lifestyles were possible (and actually quite easy to achieve). Lots worked for long hours, with low salaries, and were being forced to live close to their offices in very crowded places, or even worse, doing several hours of commuting every day. Of course, this was brought to a halt by Covid. Some people living in big cities realised how crap their homes were (and how much they were paying for rent). Others were able to enjoy living in a nice place, and did their job remotely without interruptions and endless meetings. After the lockdowns, many companies kept the remote working culture, and some of the ones that did not, faced a big opposition from workers all over the globe (you can search for very good examples from giants like Facebook and Apple).
The two links that I am sharing now are a bit different, but I think they share a lot of the underlying problems. Apparently, universities in the US are facing a lot of trouble finding PhD students and postdocs, with positions being open for months without any candidate applying. Since covid, I have seen how many colleagues tried to change their working conditions, with some of them actually leaving for industry or teaching. Doing a PhD usually implies 3-4 years of low salary, endless hours, and huge peaks of stress. It might also mean that you have to leave your country/city, with all its drawbacks. For postdocs, the thing is quite similar. Of course, your salary is better, but there is a super high chance that you will be abroad, still working many hours, and with lots of uncertainties regarding your future. Many people are just so tired of not being able to make a living by doing science after decades of dedication and study, and they are fleeing to other areas that have better salaries, less working hours, and less uncertainties. Could the system resist this trend for long? Will we see any changes that make academia less of a capitalist bubble and more centered around the science and the people who make it? Dreaming is free, after all…
Has the ‘great resignation’ hit academia?, on Nature
As professors struggle to recruit postdocs, calls for structural change in academia intensify, on Science
And that’s it for the week. Stay safe!