May 9, 2016

n+1 - Uncanny Valley > 15min

Most start-up offices look the same — faux midcentury furniture, brick walls, snack bar, bar cart. Interior designers in Silicon Valley are either brand-conscious or very literal. When tech products are projected into the physical world they become aesthetics unto themselves, as if to insist on their own reality: the office belonging to a home-sharing website is decorated like rooms in its customers’ pool houses and pieds-à-terre; the foyer of a hotel-booking start-up has a concierge desk replete with bell (no concierge); the headquarters of a ride-sharing app gleams in the same colors as the app itself, down to the sleek elevator bank. A book-related start-up holds a small and sad library, the shelves half-empty, paperbacks and object-oriented-programming manuals sloping against one another. ... My guide leads me through the communal kitchen, which has the trappings of every other start-up pantry: plastic bins of trail mix and Goldfish, bowls of Popchips and miniature candy bars. There’s the requisite wholesale box of assorted Clif Bars, and in the fridge are flavored water, string cheese, and single-serving cartons of chocolate milk. It can be hard to tell whether a company is training for a marathon or eating an after-school snack. Once I walked into our kitchen and found two Account Mana­gers pounding Shot Bloks, chewy cubes of glucose marketed to endurance athletes. ... “Just add logic!” I advise cheerfully. This means nothing to me but generally resonates with engineers. It shocks me every time someone nods along. ... Around here, we nonengineers are pressed to prove our value. The hierarchy is pervasive, ingrained in the industry’s dismissal of marketing and its insistence that a good product sells itself; evident in the few “office hours” established for engineers (our scheduled opportunity to approach with questions and bugs); reflected in our salaries and equity allotment, even though it’s harder to find a good copywriter than a liberal-arts graduate with a degree in history and twelve weeks’ training from an uncredentialed coding dojo. ... Half of the conversations I overhear these days are about money, but nobody likes to get specific. It behooves everyone to stay theoretical.

The Guardian - The day we discovered our parents were Russian spies 5-15min

Not only were their parents indeed Russian spies, they were Russians. The man and woman the boys knew as Mom and Dad really were their parents, but their names were not Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley. Those were Canadians who had died long ago, as children; their identities had been stolen and adopted by the boys’ parents. ... Their real names were Andrei Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova. They were both born in the Soviet Union, had undergone training in the KGB and been dispatched abroad as part of a Soviet programme of deep-cover secret agents, known in Russia as the “illegals”. After a slow-burning career building up an ordinary North American background, the pair were now active agents for the SVR, the foreign spy agency of modern Russia and a successor to the KGB. They, along with eight other agents, had been betrayed by a Russian spy who had defected to the Americans. ... Nearly six years since the FBI raid, I meet Alex in a cafe near the Kiev railway station in Moscow. He is now officially Alexander Vavilov; his brother is Timofei Vavilov, though many of their friends still use their old surname, Foley. ... “They showed us photos of our parents in their 20s in uniform, photos of them with medals. That was the moment when I thought, ‘OK, this is real.’ Until that moment, I’d refused to believe any of it was true,” Alex says. He and Tim were taken to an apartment and told to make themselves at home; one of their minders spent the next few days showing them around Moscow; they took them to museums, even the ballet. An uncle and a cousin the brothers had no idea existed paid a visit; a grandmother also dropped by, but she spoke no English and the boys not a word of Russian.

The New Republic - The Cure For Fear 5-15min

The root cause of fear, and how to treat it, has been one of modern psychology’s central questions. In the early twentieth century, Sigmund Freud argued phobias were “protective structures” springing from a patient’s “repressed longing” for his mother. In 1920, however, the American psychologist John B. Watson put forward a simpler theory: People develop fears through negative experiences. To test his hypothesis, he sought to condition an infant, whom he called “Little Albert,” to fear a white rat by presenting the rat to the child and simultaneously striking a steel bar. ... Different types of memories consolidate in different parts of the brain. Explicit memories of life events, for instance, consolidate in the hippocampus, the long, podlike structures near the center of the brain. Emotional memories, including fear, consolidate nearby in the amygdala, which activates the fight-or-flight response when it senses danger. The subjective experience of fear often involves both of these memory systems—a person will consciously remember past experiences while also undergoing several automatic physiological responses, such as increased heart rate—but they operate independently of each other.