[FKPXLS] VOL.48 / Good work done in defiance

If you’re eating breakfast while reading the paper and a story is so surprising that the bacon on your fork remains uneaten and cools down, you know it’s compelling.

In journalism, there’s a term called “bacon-cooler stories.” If you’re eating breakfast while reading the paper and a story is so surprising that the bacon on your fork remains uneaten and cools down, you know it’s compelling. 

That’s the showmanship of journalism. The thrill of discovering the unknown coupled with the catharsis of dethronement or atonement. The heroes and villains of these stories reduce the friction of being on the right side of history. As much as we dislike the “bad guys”, it’s much better when someone names the bad guys than bearing with an ominous and invisible force.  

In recent years, mainstream journalism has lost enough sleep trying to create the kind of “bacon-cooler stories” out of necessity to compete with the mob movement on social media. As a result, news reporting becomes somewhat indistinguishable with Op-Ed pieces, and Op-Ed becomes facts that people would use as evidence for the accusation. Now when we share them on social media, they are equal subsidiaries of a well-known brand. It was once sacrilegious to have these sections mixed up.

Meeting of the foreign desk. Editorial offices of the newspaper Liberation. Paris, France. 1983. © Abbas

When we used to flip the pages of printed papers, we could somehow feel a sense of dignity exuded from the front pages. The business of journalism is collecting, verifying, and assessing information. We trust that the business needs to do the job well to become respected, especially in the first few pages, they can’t mess them up. In the Internet age, the best writers, the truth seekers, no longer occupy the front of the page, as people don’t access news through the homepage of a website, but through a highly filtered network. 

Investigative journalist Bob Woodward exemplifies such rare vocational dignity. While a young reporter for The Washington Post, he worked with Carl Bernstein; the two did much of the original news reporting on the Watergate scandal. These scandals led to numerous government investigations and the eventual resignation of President Nixon. The work was called "maybe the single greatest reporting effort of all time".

Carl Bernstein(left) and Robert Woodward, who pressed the Watergate investigation, in Washington, D.C., May 7, 1973. It was announced that The Post won the Pulitzer Prize for public service for its stories about the Watergate scandal.

Intrigued by his story, I was delighted to find out about his Masterclass. In the course, Bob shares the four guiding principles by which he operates as a journalist. 

The first principle: move outside of your comfort zone 

Good reporters aren’t afraid to cover a wide variety of subjects, and to do so requires hard work and a willingness to learn. 

The second principle: leave opinion out of stories

Always separate emotional issues from the facts. Failing to separate opinion from fact costs you credibility with the public. 

The third principle: avoid taking sides

Bob is careful to not show partiality to anyone's news network, giving interviews to news organizations on both ends of the political spectrum. He decides to be a reporter and citizen without a political agenda by not participating in voting. 

The fourth principle: all good work is done in defiance of management

Bob maintains that this guiding principle does not permit the breaking of laws or rules, but instead encourages reporters to go their own way and carry out an investigation as they see fit. This is Bob’s central tenet, and it’s behind the mentality of independence that has fueled his career. Do what you feel you must within the law to get the story, even if your manager might disapprove of your methods. 

A weekend of binging through his course has left me with reflective thoughts and points of action as a writer, an investor, and a citizen of the world and of the Internet. We’ve gone so far and have cooled plenty of bacon, but what are we giving up those warm bacon for? How can we channel this sense of urgency, the desire to know, and the hunger for expressions into subject matters are still in the dark? 

Bob leaves the course with a powerful message: anyone can be a journalist. He reminds us that it is a journalist’s — or anyone’s — responsibility to seek facts, reality, and truth and to reveal them to the public. Such revelation can now happen anywhere on the Internet — the nooks and alleys, the commotion of a flea market, an underground bar. We need to continue searching and to not so flippantly name the bad guys just to indulge in a sense of justice.

SIM city, but with real data

What if we can apply A/B testing principles to the agile product development process to urban design? What if a city’s design is participatory, that every citizen can contribute proposals to shape the future of their home? That’s the mission of the project created by Dustin Carlin. A/B Street is a game exploring how small changes to a city affect the movement of drivers, cyclists, transit users, and pedestrians.

If you fix some traffic problem while playing A/B Street, my ultimate goal is for your changes to become a real proposal for adjusting Seattle's infrastructure.

Why not leave city planning to professionals? People are local experts on the small slice of the city they interact with daily — the one left turn lane that always backs up or a certain set of poorly timed walk signals. Laura Adler writes: "Only with simple, accessible simulation programs can citizens become active generators of their own urban visions, not just passive recipients of options laid out by government officials."

Existing urban planning software is either proprietary or hard to use. A/B Street strives to be highly accessible, by being a fun, engaging game.

Carlin asks an important question:

Businesses like Sidewalk Lab's Replica and Remix still need to generate income, but it's unclear why governments use taxes to pay for something only they see.

coco Chicago

The City of Chicago also launched a public design system for their citizens to remix with their own identity on Figma. The participatory public design will foster a sense of ownership that stems from the individuals. Accessibility leads to participation.

When AI becomes poetry

OpenAI, which started as a nonprofit with the goal of mitigating the potential harms of artificial intelligence, has announced its first commercial product: an AI text-generation system that the outfit previously warned was too dangerous to share.

So far, OpenAI says the GPT-3 API has around a dozen users including natural language search provider Algolia, legal research platform Casetext, mental health platform Koko, and AI friend Replika, which builds “AI companions.”

But as an aspiring writer, what really blows my mind is the ability to generate fiction and poetry. Gwern Branwen compiled a collection of creative-writing samples — including poems, parodies, dialogues and folk-tales.

My favorite is a series of parodies of Harry Potter in the style of Hemingway, Jane Austen, Conan Doyle, Czar of Russia, Orwell…

I’m still unsure whether I’m encouraged or demoralized by this, but knowing that this will happen sooner or later, how will we change the way we train future writers? Humans are much more capable of identifying nuance of context such as ethics, social cues, relevance, etc. We will increase become arbitrators, curators, and conductors of seemingly unrelated fragments of information, while machines will help finish and polish the ensemble.

Making $100k/yr on Github

Sponsor Syrup, built by Porzio

Caleb Porzio shared his journey of getting to $100k/yr through Github Sponsors. Porzio built a mini enterprise layer vertically integrated with his passion project.

Inspired by a cool idea to build an application layer on top of the Laravel package (96.8M downloads & 59.8k Github stars!!!), Porzio built Livewire, a full-stack framework for Laravel users that makes building dynamic interfaces simple. The side project slowly evolved into a full suite of community (forum) and content (podcast and tutorials).

Micromoguls like Pablo Stanley and Meng To have long been creating a full suite of utility, content, and community around their skillsets. I’ve learned most tactical knowledge from these micromoguls simply because they have more skin-in-the-game in industry, and making is the best way to learn. The challenge of It’s not hard to imagine the unbundling and rebundling of platforms like Udemy, Linkedin Learning, Skillshare where educational content will become more integrated into the jobs to be done, and the tools themselves are in the best position to create these content. Figma, Webflow, Retool, and Airtable are already showing the way.

‘Net City’: Building of a city for the future of work

Tencent has unveiled plans for an almost entirely car-free "city of the future," equivalent in size to Monaco, in the Chinese metropolis of Shenzhen.

Net City by NBBJ for Tencent

Architect NBBJ has unveiled a masterplan for Net City, a car-free district in Shenzhen "roughly the size and shape of Midtown Manhattan”. Fittingly, Tencent’s ambitious new urban development is designed to reflect the “distributed network of the internet itself”, according to Jonathan Ward, a design partner at Seattle-based architectural firm NBBJ.

“A typical city calls for simplistic and efficient zoning to keep everything under strict control and facilitate the flow of goods, cars, and people,” Ward said, "Planning a city with very few cars provides more flexibility to create solutions that are organic and human-focused."

Unlike many other tech campuses where most spaces are open only to employees, Net City’s commercial, transport and entertainment areas will be open to the public.

“It is not an ivory island out in the ocean, it's a vibrant part of the Shenzhen network of connectivity […] still high security where it needs to be, but it's part of the community.”

Arguably Hong Kong’s most iconic photo artists, Wing Shya began earning this rebellious reputation while working as a set photographer on Wong Kar-wai’s 1997 film Happy Together.

The bitter romanticism of Wong Kar-wai's Happy Together
Happy Together (1997) | Wong Kar Wai

Having zero experience in the norms of set photography, Shya followed none of the guidelines of the job and instead spent his time instead seeking out honest off-camera moments — lying in a car, smoking, sipping water, and staring at the sky.

In the Mood for Love (2000) | Wong Kar Wai

He explains:

I’ll say something like, ‘For this scene, these are your clothes, this is your room, this is your bed. You’re so bored today, so you go over there to smoke and then you come here to try on your clothes, because tomorrow is your wedding, and you don’t want to get married.’

I realized that this kind of not-acting is more interesting than the acting itself.

Because when people are acting, it’s finished; they’re no longer thinking about it. But when they are waiting and preparing for something, I think that’s more sexy sometimes.

How do we stay hungry and motivated? Especially in a time of remote working and isolation. One framework that my coach shared with me that I found helpful: simply identify and write down your external and internal motivations.

External motivators are when we leverage other people, places, and things to push us into action. For the most part, these are when we want to avoid negative consequences involving other people, places, and things.

E.g. accountability partners and groups, putting money down upfront, and self-bribery

Internal motivators are universal needs, drives, and desires that are easy to lose track of. The easy way to find these is to answer a set of questions that directly asks things such as:

  • How am I going to benefit from this?

  • How does my life stand to improve from this?

  • If I’m unhappy about the state of the world, what can what I do to make things better?

E.g. meditation, journaling in the third person, noticing emotions towards worlds events, especially negative ones

I think both my productivity and effectiveness have dramatically increased post-COVID due to the forced decrease of external motivations that have largely just been distractions in the hindsight. A healthy mix of internal and external motivators is probably the best. I like to keep the ratio 80/20.

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Tina is a designer, writer, and investor who’s online 24/7 hunting for ideas and ventures built with grit and purpose. Born in China. Based in NYC, you can find her traveling between worlds. Say hi on TwitterInstagram, or a corner café.