Forest rebouncing, modern farmers, and LinkedIn psychopaths

Happy Monday! Today’s issue is going to be a medley of things.

Climate tales to inspire

In line with my previous rant in Deliberate 53 – Tales to inspire, not tales to condemn, I want to share good news from the climate front. Despite all Doom, Gloom, and Drama we are assaulted with every day – there is hope and inspiring initiatives are blooming in the Climate “industry”.

Forests are bouncing back

The world is literally a greener place than it was twenty years ago, and data from NASA satellites has revealed a counterintuitive source for much of this new foliage. A new study shows that China and India—the world’s most populous countries—are leading the increase in greening on land. The effect comes mostly from ambitious tree-planting programs in China and intensive agriculture in both countries.

The research team found that global green leaf area has increased by 5 percent since the early 2000s, an area equivalent to all of the Amazon rainforests.

You can read more in this NASA study.

I wrote a few things this week

In Oldschool Internet and the Blockchain I took a look at how big corporations are cannibalizing open standards the Internet is built upon, and how blockchain tech can help protect what’s left.

If you are using Roam, I have a treat for you (and if you’re not, this paragraph is going to be very confusing). In order to introduce a little more serendipity into my Zettelkasten, I wrote a plugin that will surface old blocks of my choosing into my daily pages. Every day, I enjoy a random block with a “Review” or “Grateful” tag. The plugin is called Troamback.

Using the precious few moments I can scavenge for myself while caring for my toddler, I am frantically typing up my long-overdue book reviews. The Scientist in the Crib is a deep dive into the cognitive framework of children exploring the world and how they closely match the scientific method. Of Wolves and Men is an account of the relations between the titular species.

Deliberate 52 – Farmers always Worked From Home ended up on the front page of Hacker News (New Yorker has a good intro on the social network if you’re not familiar). This is always exciting, but in a predictable Hacker News fashion, it sparked an unrelated and detailed discussion about the state of modern farming. Here are my favorite comments:

This commenter makes a great point how chores are now significally less laborious than in the past. It echoes the sentiment from my favourite TED Talk – Hans Rosling’s “The Magical Washing Machine”:

I think the problem with this debate isn’t about how much people have worked in the past, but more about what actually is work.

For example, in today’s society we do not think of basic chores like laundry as work, but in the past laundry was far more labor-intensive due to the lack of washing machines. Is repairing your broken furniture or clothes work? Is preparing your own food work? Those things are trivialized in today’s advanced capitalist societies, but might have been a substantial part of life for people in the past. Nowadays most people seem to just buy new furniture and clothes, and even food preparing has been substantially trivialized by resteraunts, orders, takeouts, and readymade meals, so we’re probably much more prilvileged than they were. But did the medieval people saw all of this extra work as “work” in today’s sense? (Graeber’s famous book (“Bullshit Jobs”) kinda touches on this aspect in the end chapter, but I wish he’ve delved a bit more on it. There’s a whole anthropology of work that’s left unexplored…)

Farming is much different now than it was in the past:

Modern farmers are polyglot technologists. Hybrid GMO seeds are selected to optimize yield in their specific soil and weather conditions. Tractors are largely self-driving along with a host of technology to rival a race car and harvesters give live feedback on the quality and quantity of grain so that farmers can make decisions about what to do with the grain- sell immediately, store, or take to a specialized storage facility to dry. Crops are rotated seasonally to minimize pests and optimize soil quality, sometimes on complex multi-year patterns of cover crops, cash crops, spring harvests, etc. Underground “tiling” is installed to speed the flow of water away from low-lying sections of fields to maintain consistent soil moisture across fields on rolling hills. And the futures, options, insurance and debt financing decisions to maintain stable income in the face of unpredictable weather and commodity prices rivals what any investment banker in Manhattan is doing. And that’s just for commodity grain producers, meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables have their own unique uses of cutting edge science and technology. A group of farmers in Iowa sitting at a conference about managing soil nitrogen are likely leveraging far more real science and tech than a group of web developers in the bay discussing the latest updates to React.

And this one is just so very Hacker News:

I’m a farmer in southern Colorado. Currently we grow marijuana and potatoes. I’m on HN because because I’m a long time Linux user (20+ years) and free software advocate and this is where a lot of the old boys still lurk

Deliberate Internet

Finally, I want to start your week by recommending “What I Learned from a Week of Shitposting on LinkedIn“. The whole social network is just something else, and Kyle Coberly calls out the particular narrative style:

It’s a special kind of skill to make a post that’s nominally about someone else, but is ultimately all about you.

And then has some fun with it:

How can you tell if the person you’re interviewing is also a GoodPerson? The math is a simple system of equations:

goodperson = you
goodperson = candidate
you = candidate = goodperson

That’s why you should only hire people exactly like yourself.

My LinkedIn timeline could definitely use more fun and a little fewer success junkies.

Addressing the unaddressed

I recently stumbled onto this mythology-inspired artist. “Leonardo Di Vintage is my favourite”:

From mythology studio

Everybody knows how an address looks like, and everybody has one – right?

The first time I traveled to Japan I was shocked to learn that the addressing scheme works differently than in the west: The blocks are the ones that have names, not the streets. A few years later, contracting in the middle east taught me about whole countries having problems with addressing, and have to resort to landmarks.

Irish Postal system (AnPost) has a very flexible addressing scheme. This Tumblr blog set out to test just how flexible.

Starlink, 5G, and Mobile Internet are all rolling out in parts of the world known as “developing”, and bring with them the opportunities of the global economy, and the global job market to previously underserved populations.

Despite the Internet being very much location-agnostic, banking services, and regulatory requirements are not. Several projects are looking to address the unaddressed, bridging the gap between digital and physical location.

  • What3Words is a geolocation scheme based on a combination of 3 words. The globe is covered by a grid, and every square is identified by 3 English words. For example, our family’s favorite tree is located at Require.Travel.Blues. The problem with the adoption of what3words has been the licensing system of the company behind it.
  • Google has recently rolled out something similar – “plus codes“. You can find them in your Google Maps App when you try to share the location. The same tree is located at 9G4352QH+PX (11 characters), or “52QH+PX Warsaw, Poland” (7 characters + locality).
Google Maps App has an interface to find the plus codes.

Helping Non-Profits

I’ve helped a couple of non-profits in my programming career. They are always full of optimistic, energized, driven and fun people – completely opposite to most of the ‘corporate’ workplaces. I quickly learned, that every coin has two sides, and corporations are still around for a reason.

As with everything in life, the downsides are directly correlated to the upsides. Yes, in a Non-Profit, you can be a bit unpredictable and inexperienced. It does not feel like work and you get a breather from a corporate feel of a professional workplace. But guess what – other people get to do that too.

More advice on how to manage your relationship with the NGO you’re helping in “The price of free time: programmer’s guide to helping a Non-profit”.

Deliberate Internet

I miss my bar

Stuck at home during a yet-another lockdown? I miss My Bar will recreate a Main Street cocktail bar ambient sounds in your headphones, while Sounds of The Pub will do the same for a hip Pub.

Yes, I am sick of lockdowns, too.

Nirvana Fallacy

Anne-Laure wrote an article that I wanted to tackle for a long time. Only better. In “Nirvana Fallacy”, she dissects a limiting belief that prevents constructive solutions:

Nirvana fallacy is based on faulty reasoning, where an argument assumes that a solution should be rejected because some part of the problem still exists after the solution is applied

Here is an example straight from 2020:

Fallacy: “Wearing a mask is useless because it will not fully protect me or others from coronavirus.”

The public debate very often misses the point that done is better than perfect and there is an opportunity cost to waiting for well, nirvana:

In each case, the danger is clear: by aiming for a perfect solution, we may ignore a useful solution; by aiming to completely solve a problem, we may fail to at least improve a situation.

Happy International Forest Day! Here is a podcast.

Yes, I am writing about Trees AGAIN. How could I not? I just learned that today, March 21 is designated as International Forests Day! And I was just sitting here thinking that 1st day of Spring is a nice holiday.

You can celebrate that important day by listening to the superbly named “Completely Arbotrary” podcast, where hosts review and rate a new tree every week.

Competence is fractal. Plus transgenic trees.

Imagine being hired at your dream company. Finally, you move from the current pond limiting your potential to an ocean of new possibilities and challenges. You’d get to learn from the smartest people you ever hoped to meet, and challenge yourself in ways you never thought possible.

And yet, after a while, you’d find yourself shocked that in your new peer group not everybody is the smartest fish in the sea. Some of your new colleagues would be less driven, less experienced, or less capable even than you!

How can that be? In my dream job, a pinnacle of workplaces, and the awesomest place on the planet earth™️?

I came to the conclusion that competence is fractal. Companies, rooms (and reservoirs) have a different average competence. But inside those, the competence is distributed unequally – there are people less competent, average, and spectacularly capable. You can also keep “zooming”, and any subset will have a similar distribution.

In the 1960s, Benoit Mandelbrot has observed the same property of chaotic events in financial markets. Inspired by this behavior, he continued the work on what he later named Fractals.

8 MANDELBROT SET IMAGES ideas in 2021 | fractals, benoît mandelbrot, fractal  art
A “Mandelbrot Set” – a particular fractal. Click for a trippy fractal video.

Assuming your dream workplace will be full of superstar players may be caused by the over-prescription of Gaussian distribution. As Nassim Taleb points out in Black Swan, the Gaussian curve only works for properties physically limited to a certain range – like height. In my experience, competence is not such a phenomenon.

Any room you enter will have a broad distribution of competence, and I like to focus on 2 particular consequences:

  1. It’s better to enter the rooms where I have more to learn, but will be at the lower end of distribution at the beginning,
  2. I have every right to be at this lower end. Somebody has to.

Trees!

I know right? Always a good time to talk about trees.

Transgenic Chestnuts

Richard Powers’s “Overstory” inspired me to write about trees previously. One of the heroes of the book is American Chestnut, an iconic and once plentiful tree that sadly is not around anymore. As the Sierra club recounts in “The Demise and Potential Revival of the American Chestnut”:

Between 1904 and 1940, some 3.5 billion American chestnut trees, the giants of the Appalachian hardwood forest, succumbed to a fungal blight called Cryphonectria parasitica.

From the same article I learned that thanks to genetic engineering, there is hope:

The fungus in question attacks only the trunk of mature American Chestnut trees. Roots of these once ubiquitous giants are constantly (100 years later!) producing offshoots, which meet their gruesome fate after few years but still are able to pollinate. The American Chestnut Foundation has a blight-resistant, genetically engineered specimen (“Darling 58”) that could mate and produce healthy (and genetically diverse) offspring of the currently attacked millions of wild trees. Wild.

Aside: The same Nassim Taleb praising Mandelbrottian distribution over the Gaussian one is a huge opponent of GMOs. His argument is that there is too much we don’t know about their interaction with the environment.

Hungry Trees

Yes, more trees. this time swallowing trespassing signs. Because we shouldn’t be telling trees what to (or not to) do.

Go for a walk (preferrably in the forest)

“It’s a Superpower’: How Walking Makes Us Healthier, Happier and Brainier” (The Guardian)

One of the great overlooked superpowers we have is that, when we get up and walk, our senses are sharpened. Rhythms that would previously be quiet suddenly come to life, and the way our brain interacts with our body changes.

Read more about the benefits of walking on deliber.at

All about the trees on the Internet

I have just finished „The Overstory” by Richard Powers. This delightful book recounts the story of a group of individuals and their relationships with trees and time. The trees are the real heroes of this fiction, and their stories unfold at the speed of wood.

Richard Powers has read over 120 books about trees as research, but his deep insights do not stop at flora. While learning the story of Neelay Mehta (one of the characters that is not a tree), I was immersed by the real and visceral depiction of the early Internet days and the current startup culture of San Francisco. I am sure Nick Hoel from midwest or Patricia Westerford were also true to their respective backgrounds.

I consider The Overstory one of the most compelling, beautiful, and essential fiction books. If my recommendation is not enough, take Hugh Jackman’s or Columbia University’s, which awarded the author a Pulitzer Prize.

Why is this newsletter about the consequences of the Internet devoted to trees? Even in computer science, we have learned a lot from them. Concepts like „branches” and „roots” are used by programmers daily, and it’s impossible to pass any job interview without a question about „tree balancing algorithms”. Trees are the mainstays of human consciousness – mighty Yggdrasil connected the many worlds of the Norse mythology, while the first people of Abrahamic religions did something involving a tree.

What are the lessons for the connected age?

  • Just like many rings add up to the thick trunk, the real advantage is built with compounding and time, not with viral sensations.
    On the Internet, it’s always a good idea to own your platform (steady trunk), so you can branch out.
  • Success may require sending many acorns out there before one takes hold.
    Somebody’s success may look overnight to you, but in fact, they endured rejection after rejection and kept trying despite unfavorable weather and the barren soil. The Internet makes it easier to send more acorns that ever before.
  • What inspiration can you take from the trees?
To make this issue (a)cornier, I couldn’t resist including this photo of my wife and me planting a tree at our wedding.

I thing I wrote

„Taking a walk to get unstuck” explores the Japanese tradition of forest bathing to improve mental health, how Plato has screwed us all, how Remote Work can bring us closer to our roots (pun intended), and outside – where we belong.

Tree surprising consequences of the Internet

  • Climate Strike Software License
    The things you use daily are based on freely-maintained software. From servers delivering you fresh Instagram photos, to factory equipment protocols that helped machine your sunglasses, to this very blog built on WordPress, the entire economy is running on top of Open Source. Just how all knowledge is built on top of previous discoveries.
    A group of maintainers had the idea to forbid the companies causing the climate change from using any software licensed under Climate Strike Software License. Quite often, software dependencies resemble trees themselves. If enough projects at the Root adopt this license, seemingly unrelated projects will use it as well, fossil fuel companies will have more operating costs, and renewable energy will win in the open market.
  • When You Give a Tree an Email Address
    The city of Melbourne assigned trees email addresses so citizens could report problems. Instead, people wrote thousands of love letters to their favorite trees.
  • Treehouse rentals are booming, according to Airbnb CEO.
    Not only are people booking rentals outside of cities, but they’re also looking for “something more private, intimate, smaller, unique, special — something that could be a destination in and of itself,” he said.
    To be honest, I always dreamed of opening a Treehouse resort. I forfeited that plan, when the pandemic hit, concluding that hospitality is risky. But maybe that’s a perfect opportunity to start something unique?

The printing of this issue of Deliberate Internet has not harmed any trees. It was solely focused on a single topic, gathering from different perspectives – what do you think? Do you like that approach or you prefer a medley? Let me know!