Note to Self

Note to Self

United States

Host Manoush Zomorodi talks with everyone from big names techies to elementary school teachers about the effects of technology on our lives, in a quest for the smart choices that will help you think and live better.

Episodes

Bonus: Behind the Scenes at TED  

TED! TED!! TED!!!

A few months ago, Manoush traveled to Vancouver to tell the story of Bored and Brilliant on the TED main stage. And yes, it was big, and nerve-wracking, and totally exhilarating. Listen for her behind-the-scenes memories, and then watch the talk here.

Oh, and pre-order the Bored and Brilliant book if you haven't already. Because full transparency: algorithms love pre-orders, and more means the book might make it to Amazon's homepage. Which means more wacko experiments for us to do together in the future.  

We want to hear from you (as always).

If you did the Bored and Brilliant project in 2015, what's the one thing that sticks out in your mind two years later? Maybe you made a change to your phone habits? Maybe you watch a pot of water boil when you need to solve a problem in your life? 

I want to know what continues to resonate most with you. For those wacko experiments to come. Share a memory, a story, a tip with us. Record a voice memo and email it to notetoself@wnyc.org.

Don't forget to binge our Save the Planet five-pack, if you haven’t already. Whale poop, giant vacuum cleaners, hard-shelled plants - it’s a weird and wonderful world out there. And in your feed.

Save the Planet! Part 1: I'm Gonna Take My Clothes Off  

This is part of our five-episode pack on how science and technology can fight climate change. With better air conditioning, more whale poop, souped-up plants, and a giant vacuum. If all else fails, planet B. With David Biello, science curator at TED, author of The Unnatural World: The Race to Remake Civilization in Earth's Newest Age, and contributing editor at Scientific American.

It’s August. It’s hot, and no, you’re not imagining things, it is getting hotter. But whatever New York Magazine says, we can still save the planet. And technology can help.

We kick off our five-part series with a look at one technology the planet can’t live with, and humans can’t (or won’t) live without. Air conditioning. As the planet heats up, we’re blasting it in more places, and more often. Which heats the planet more, so we need more AC, and around and around. But there is a better way. Thanks, in part, to the internet of things. And a little tweak from you. 

Save the Planet! Part 2: Whale Poop  

This is part of our five-episode pack on how science and technology can fight climate change. With better air conditioning, more whale poopsouped-up plants, and a giant vacuum. If all else fails, planet B. With David Biello, science curator at TED, author of The Unnatural World: The Race to Remake Civilization in Earth's Newest Age, and contributing editor at Scientific American.

We love blue whales. They’re our ocean’s majestic, floating giants. They have hearts the size of cars. They travel alone or with a single friend. And also they poop. Super-fertilizing, massive turds.

The iron in whale poop fertilizes ocean algae. Which then blooms, makes oxygen for us, and helps sink CO2 into the Earth. 

Our guide David explains how whale poop has inspired innovations, like iron fertilization and ocean gardening. And how other technologies, riskier but cheaper ones, are stealing the spotlight a little. Note to self, beware of the climate change quick fix.

 

Save the Planet! Part 3: Super Powered Sweet Corn  

This is part of our five-episode pack on how science and technology can fight climate change. With better air conditioning, more whale poopsouped-up plants, and a giant vacuum. If all else fails, planet B. With David Biello, science curator at TED, author of The Unnatural World: The Race to Remake Civilization in Earth's Newest Age, and contributing editor at Scientific American.

Do you want a blue tomato? Because we can make one, thanks to the magic of gene editing. The question, of course, is should we.

Genetically-modified foods have been a battleground for years. And the debate about genetically-modified humans is ratcheting up. But what about tweaking the genes in algae? David Biello says we can alter our plants to suck up more CO2 - buying us a little time to get our carbon-spewing habits under control.

Closer to home, we can aim for control over our meat-heavy, food-wasting diets. Meatless Mondays, meet tofu Tuesday and fried-egg Friday. 

Save the Planet! Part 4: Suck It  

This is part of our five-episode pack on how science and technology can fight climate change. With better air conditioning, more whale poopsouped-up plants, and a giant vacuum. If all else fails, planet B. With David Biello, science curator at TED, author of The Unnatural World: The Race to Remake Civilization in Earth's Newest Age, and contributing editor at Scientific American.

Humans produce a lot of CO2. When we burn coal, drive a car, take a plane. When we breathe, except we can't help that. Unfortunately, carbon emissions are what's heating up the planet - shooting out of our tailpipes and smoke stacks into the atmosphere.

This week, tackling those emissions with a giant vacuum, taking the CO2 and sticking it underground. Which sounds suspiciously like that classic teenage slob move - shove your mess into the closet, deal with it later. Luckily, underground turns out to be a pretty big place. Bigger than our New York City closets, at least. 

Save the Planet! Part 5: Do Over?  

This is part of our five-episode pack on how science and technology can fight climate change. With better air conditioning, more whale poopsouped-up plants, and a giant vacuum. If all else fails, planet B. With David Biello, science curator at TED, author of The Unnatural World: The Race to Remake Civilization in Earth's Newest Age, and contributing editor at Scientific American.

Mars is the escape hatch, the backup plan. Planet B. Except for one thing. Mars is uniquely hostile to humans. Its surface is basically rocket fuel. Which means that for Mars to sustain human life, it needs a lot of support from Earth. Oops.

So why talk about it at all? Because it sparks innovation - solar panels were an offshoot of the space race. Because it’s freaking cool. And because it inspires. But let's not put all our eggs in that space shuttle just yet. 

 

Escape From Yahoo!  

Manoush has a secret tech shame: a Yahoo email address. Even with the (three) hacks, the company's sale to Verizon, and its plummeting cool factor, she's stayed. Call it loyalty, inertia, or a bad case of privacy paradox.

We heard from many of you, listeners, about your own digital traps. The services you just can't seem to log out of, even when you probably should. This week: the tech loyalties we keep past their expiration date. And how to extricate yourself - logistically and emotionally. Plus, what happens when big companies like Verizon buy big companies like Yahoo. Because it happens a lot, and there are casualties besides your pride.

With Brian Feldman, writer for New York Magazine, and Andy Yen, founder of ProtonMail. Maybe the best escape hatch is an encrypted folder in Switzerland.

 

Your Mailman Is a Drug Dealer. He Just Doesn’t Know It.  

The Dark Web conjures images of gothic fonts and black backgrounds, like a metal fan’s MySpace page circa 2001. But this section of the internet looks surprisingly normal. Accessible only through the TOR browser, there are Google-style search engines and Amazon-style marketplaces. Except what they’re selling are mostly illegal things—stolen passports, hacked account numbers, and drugs. A lot of drugs.

This week, we stress out WNYC’S IT department and venture onto the Dark Web. Where you can get heroin, fentanyl, or oxycontin shipped right to your door via USPS. And we talk to Nick Bilton, author of American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road, about how Libertarian philosophy and tech-bro hubris combined to spark an online drug revolution—and an opioid crisis.

Should We Post Photos of Our Kids Online?  

There’s David after the dentist. The BBC interview crashers. The Charlie bit my finger kid. That hero girl blanking Snow White. To say nothing of the baby pics in your Facebook feed, kid pics in your Instagram, and the teens in your Snapchat.

Kids are all over the Internet. But… should they be?

This week, we revisit a friendly debate about whether or not to post pics of children. With one of our favorite podcast hosts, Hillary Frank of the Longest Shortest Time.

TELL US WHAT YOU THINK

Do your parents post pictures of you? Or did they when you were younger? Do you post pictures of your kid?

Let us know. Our team made two surveys—one for parents and guardians, one for teens and young adults. Take just a couple minutes to answer, then share the surveys with your networks. It’s all research for an upcoming episode.

When Was the Last Time You Peed Without Your Phone?  

Yeah, it’s been a while for us too. So after a long weekend of photo sharing, music streaming, and group texts, let’s reset. It’s the Bored and Brilliant bootcamp: three quick challenges to help you make space for brilliance in our accelerating world.

Maybe you’ve heard this episode before, but even if you have, a boredom refresher can’t hurt. Take some time to daydream, and see what ideas bubble up as your mind wanders.

Try the radio instead of Spotify. Chase down the ice cream truck instead of ordering Postmates. Stare at the clouds instead of Facebook. Just for a day. Or an hour. It’ll feel weird. And then it’ll feel great.

 

We’ve Gained So Much With the iPhone. What Have We Lost?  

Think back to June 2007. Taylor Swift had released her first single, Barack Obama was running a long-shot campaign for the presidency, and the iPhone was about to change everything.

That first iPhone had no GPS, no video, no app store. No Candy Crush, no Instagram, not even Google. So how did it take over our brains and the world? In the past decade, smartphones have displaced most of the things in our pockets. Calendars, datebooks, the Walkman. Watches, address books, business cards. Tickets, boarding passes, keys. Cash. Eye contact. Boredom.  

This week, what we’ve gained, and what we’ve lost, thanks to the iPhone. With David Pogue, one of the first four (non-Steve Jobs) humans to get his hands on one, and Adam Greenfield, author of Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life.

We See Ourselves in Black Mirror  

Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones are the surprisingly funny minds behind Black Mirror, the binge-watch of choice for dystopian techies. (Besides CSPAN.)

These days, their show veers very close to reality. They’ve done episodes on the performative stress of social media, on the lethal consequences of cyber-bullying, and a show from 2013 on a cartoon character running for prime minister. They seem to have an eerily accurate pulse on our imminent tech future. Brooker and Jones came to the Note to Self studios to explain themselves.

And it turns out we have a lot in common. They’re also wary of their webcams. They also sleep with their phones close to their heads, and they also feel bad about it. They also worry about information overload and the impact of constant surveillance. They’re our type of nerd.

Charlie, Anna and Manoush talked about where their ideas come from, why they haven’t quit TV to launch a startup, and why Twitter is the world’s top video game.

Father's Day Bonus: Dad As the Lead Parent  

This Father's Day, a surprise.

 

You may remember our award winning series Taking the Lead, which we dropped into your feeds last month in celebration of Mother's Day. It follows the story of two Brooklyn women, Rachael Ellison and Leslie Ali Walker, who have a tech idea to help harried working mothers rise up in their professional ranks. 

If you haven't heard the first few episodes, they're right here:

Episode 1: The Paint Point Episode 2: The Paradox Episode 3: The Pressure Episode 4: The Partnership

Now, in celebration of Father's Day, we're re-releasing the final part of Taking the Lead: Manoush’s full conversation with Andrew Moravcsik, the accomplished author, academic, and husband to Anne-Marie Slaughter (yeah, the one who literally wrote the book on women in the workplace.) You’ll want to hear Andy’s insights into what being the lead parent has meant for his career, his psyche, and their marriage.

When this series originally aired, we created a list of stellar content (books, podcasts, etc.) to help anyone trying to stay sane as a working parent. Check it out. And keep the conversation going, we love to hear from you, always.  

What Sen. Wyden Does When He’s Not Questioning Comey or Sessions  

When Ron Wyden got to Congress, Oregon was known for its wood products and the Internet was a series of tubes. Now, things are a little more complicated.

Government hacking. Feds reading Americans’ emails. Border agents demanding your passwords. Corporations selling off your browsing habits. And our old friend, net neutrality. Sen. Wyden can get down into the weeds with the best of them. This week, he geeks out with Manoush about Rule 41, Section 702, and all the other acronyms and provisions that rule your life online. 

“I had to push back against overreach in the Bush administration, in the Obama administration, and I think it would be fair to say I'm going to be no less busy during the Trump Administration,” Sen. Wyden says.

With his seat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which heard from former FBI Director James Comey last week, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions yesterday, odds are pretty good.

 

 

Preview: Sen. Ron Wyden of the Senate Intelligence Committee  

Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which today is hearing testimony from former FBI Director James Comey. And just a guess, but chances are issues of hacking, data integrity, and digital meddling might come up.

But Sen. Wyden didn’t just start thinking about these issues during the 2016 campaign. He’s long been a champion of your rights in the digital realm. He sat down with Manoush earlier this week to talk about where that fight goes next. Here’s a sneak peek at their conversation.

Next week, come back for their whole interview, on border device searches, government hacking, cell phone security - oh, and how to keep us all safe without violating our rights.

Meet the Humans Who Protect Your Eyes  

Rochelle LaPlante works on contract as a content moderator. She’s seen basically every kind of image you can imagine. All the boring, normal stuff - cat videos, vacation snapshots, headshots for dating sites. Weird stuff, like hundreds and hundreds of feet. And the occasional nightmare-inducing photo of horrific violence, child abuse, graphic porn.

It takes a toll. Some things, you can’t unsee.

Sometimes Rochelle knows who she’s working for, often not. For about four cents a click, she marks whether the images, text or videos meet the guidelines she’s given. Meet the invisible workforce of content moderation.

This week, all the pictures that never make it to your screen. With Professor Sarah T. Roberts, who studies digital pieceworkers, and Rochelle LaPlante, who you should really thank for protecting your eyeballs.

What We Learned from Grandpa’s FBI File  

Daniel Aaron was the grandfather of our senior producer, Kat Aaron. He was a historian, a writer… and apparently a suspected communist. At least according to the FBI file uncovered by FOIA the Dead, which uses the Freedom of Information Act to request the files of everyone in the New York Times obituary page. So far, that includes anti-nuke leaders, fair-housing activists, journalists, and a flying nun.

But what you see when you look back through FBI files of yesteryear is that surveillance is shaped by politics. Whomever catches the eye of the FBI depends a lot on what’s going on in the nation, and the world. Right now, it’s not housing activism or anti-nuclear agitation that are (most) suspect. It's terrorists, it’s Occupy and Black Lives Matter. Maybe it’s you.

This week, Parker Higgins of FOIA the Dead and Jason Leopold, senior investigative reporter at Buzzfeed (and so-called FOIA terrorist) join us to look at surveillance past and surveillance very present.

  THE SCRAPBOOK

Here's a photo from Dan Aaron's scrapbook that we mention in the episode. Many more images are at the Pressed Wafer, the publisher that brought it out into the world. 

(Pressed Wafer)

 

GO FOIA YOURSELF

Happy Birthday, Freedom of Information Act! You're 50, and more relevant than ever.

Any U.S. citizen (or "lawfully admitted alien") can request information on themselves (or another living person) under FOIA. So why not, right? Here’s how:    

Use this portal to submit your request electronically. You can opt for a paper request, and that has its own instructions. Once you click submit, you’ll have to read & agree to some terms. But don’t worry, it’s a short TOS. Enter your email and you will receive a link to continue your request. That link will bring you to a page that asks for info like your name, email, date of birth, and address. The address part is so you can receive your file, which the FBI will send you via standard mail. Because they are old school. From there, the form is pretty simple. At one point you’ll be asked if you’re willing to pay for your file, which is up to you. You do not have to pay. They’ll explain, but shoot us a question if you’re unsure at notetoself at wnyc dot org.  You’ll certify your information and submit! You should get an email with a confirmation. Don’t expect the file soon, though… it can take a while.

N2S producer Megan requested her own file while making this list and it took exactly 7 minutes (she timed it). 

And a tip from Buzzfeed’s Jason Leopold, who we talk to this week - ask the FBI to "conduct a cross reference search as well as text searches of the ECF (Electronic Case File) and a search of ELSUR (electronic surveillance) records." Straight from the expert, guys. 

 

Ed Snowden Says a 'Very Very Dark Future' Is Not Inevitable  

With all the news of leaks, national security, and hacking destabilizing the world, who better to talk to than Ed Snowden? Manoush sat down with him—via video chat —on stage in D.C. at the K(NO)W Identity conference this week. And they talked about all the obvious things: the NSA, the Microsoft ransomware, and privacy.

But they also got really Note-to-Selfy. Manoush and Ed talked about identity, and the self, and the “quantified spiderweb of all our worst decisions” that follows us online.

"Privacy isn’t about something to hide," Snowden said. "Privacy is about something to protect. It’s about who you are, who you can be. It’s about the ability to make a mistake without having it follow you for the rest of your life." 

A full transcript of their chat is here, if you want.

 

Wait, What IS Reality? We Investigate.  

You know that feeling, maybe in college - you’re suuuper chilled out, maybe chemically-assisted, and you’re like, how do we know we’re even in the same reality, man?

That’s what the world has been feeling like, except, not so chill. Were reports that the President leaked classified intelligence fake news? Or was it real, but totally NBD? Was Comey pressured to drop the investigation into Flynn, or not? Was Spicer in the bushes, or among them? Is everything terrible and going to hell, or is America finally great again? Basically, how do we even know what reality IS any more?

This week, we investigate reality itself, with our friend Brooke Gladstone, host of WNYC’s On the Media and author of a new book, The Trouble With Reality: A Rumination on Moral Panic in Our Time.

The trouble with reality, Brooke says, is that it’s different for everyone. Facts and experience—those don’t bring us all to the same conclusion. So here we are, in an America with two sets of people with realities so far apart they’re like universes whose round edges barely touch.

Manoush and Brooke were not zapping their brains during this interview, but they do get pretty far out. Huxley and Orwell, Le Guin and Philip K. Dick and Thomas Paine. Sit back, relax as you will, and come along for the ride.

Oh, and that article Manoush mentioned in the interview, by Farhad Manjoo? It's here

Taking the Lead Episode 1: The Pain Point  

This Mother's Day, a surprise. For all you working mothers balancing deadlines and diapers, ambition and your (lovely) children, we're re-releasing all four episodes of our award-winning series Taking the Lead. This is the story of two Brooklyn women, Rachael Ellison and Leslie Ali Walker, who have a tech idea to help harried working mothers rise up in their professional ranks. 

Why? Because of numbers like these:

4.6 percent of S&P 500 companies have female CEOs  43 percent of highly-skilled women with children leave their jobs voluntarily at some point in their careers The U.S. is the only developing country that doesn't mandate paid maternity leave. The Family Medical Leave Act gives workers a maximum of 12 weeks off unpaid per year Almost 70 percent of mothers and over 90 percent of fathers are in the workforce Caregiving is projected to be the largest occupation in the U.S. by 2020 Only 7 percent of U.S. startups that received at least $20 million in funding have founders who are women 

And mothers often find themselves doing the heavy lifting at home. Enter Rachael and Leslie, who team up to create Need/Done, a digital platform with a feminist mission to help more women make it to the corner office. How does it work? Through a crowdsourced community of parents, the service provides backup childcare and household support. Think: Nextdoor meets Sittercity.

Start their story here, with Episode 1: The Pain Point. Rachael and Leslie leave their families behind in a snowstorm to visit Silicon Valley, meet the competition, and find out whether two Brooklyn moms have a shot at VC funding. We also talk to Anne-Marie Slaughter, author of The Atlantic article "Why Women Still Can’t Have it All" and the book "Unfinished Business," about why there's still resistance to gender parity at the top of many corporations. 

When this series originally aired, we created a list of stellar content (books, podcasts, etc.) to help anyone trying to stay sane as a working parent. Check it out. And keep the conversation going, we love to hear from you, always. 

P.S. We hope you keep listening... Find the rest of the series here:

Episode 2: The Paradox. Episode 3: The Pressure Episode 4: The Partnership
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