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

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
Taking the Lead Episode 2: The Paradox  

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 five 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 the professional ranks. 

If you're here and haven't heard Episode 1: The Pain Point, take a few minutes to listen to that first.

This is Episode 2: The Paradox. Rachael and Leslie test out a prototype of the service, and they have one especially eager participant: Manoush. Meanwhile, one of the founders discovers that she may be ready to swap in her corporate blazer for a Silicon Valley hoodie, but the other is beginning to question if she can maintain momentum with her current day job, lead-parenting, and starting a new company.

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. Here's our next episode: The Pressure. It's a good one.

Taking the Lead Episode 3: The Pressure  

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. 

If you haven't heard the first two episodes of our series, they're right here:

Episode 1: The Pain Point Episode 2: The Paradox

This is Episode 3: The Pressure. And it's exactly what it sounds like. Faced with financial barriers, Rachael and Leslie join a startup accelerator and pitch their idea to investors. But while honing their pitch, the business partners' different goals surface. Rachael is focused on the service's potential for social change. Leslie sees the potential to create a giant female-led company.

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. Here's our next episode, the final chapter in Rachael and Leslie's story... 

Taking the Lead Episode 4: The Partnership  

This Mother's Day, a surprise. For all you working mothers balancing deadlines and bake sales, 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. 

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

Episode 1: The Pain Point Episode 2: The Paradox Episode 3: The Pressure

So here we are, in the final chapter of Rachael and Leslie's story.

A quick recap: our two Brooklyn moms turned tech entrepreneurs, Rachael Ellison and Leslie Ali Walker are co-founders of Need/Done, a service for backup childcare and household support. (You can request an invite to it now. Think Nextdoor meets Sittercity.)

In the final chapter, the women face difficult choices: Should they drop the feminist mission behind the company when they make their pitch to investors? Does Rachael need to give up entrepreneurship so she can remain the kind of mom she wants to be?

Plus, we’ll end the suspense and talk about the seismic shift happening to our culture around women and work with Anne-Marie Slaughter, Hillary Clinton’s former advisor at the State Department. Anne-Marie is now the CEO of New America and the author of Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family, which she wrote after detailing her struggles to combine her career with parenting in a hugely popular piece for The Atlantic called "Why Women Still Can’t Have it All."

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. 

 

Why Are So Many Bots Following Manoush?  

Every day, Manoush is getting dozens of new followers on Twitter. Sometimes hundreds a day. And every new follower is the same. Generic user name, no photo, blank avatar. And even more suspect, these accounts have no followers, no tweets. In other words: Bots.  

Bot armies are taking over Twitter. But they’re not necessarily trying to advance a point of view, according to Phil Howard, a bot researcher. They’re aiming to sow chaos and make dialogue impossible. At the extreme, the goal is to destabilize our very sense of reality.  

“Their strategy is to plant multiple conflicting stories that just confuse everybody," Howard says. "If they can successfully get out four different explanations for some trend, then they've confused everybody, and they're able to own the agenda.”

This week, why someone would sic a bot army on Manoush. And what her bot brigade can teach us about how bots are shaping democracy, from last November to Brexit to the recent French election.

You can check if a Twitter account following you is real or fake, with Bot or Not, an aptly-named tool from the University of Indiana’s Truthy project.

Parents Just Don’t Understand, Tech Edition  

Mom sends a group text… to all four of her boyfriends. Another listener's mom sends the crying-laughing emoji - after their neighbor died. Stories of insensitive parents, tech-addicted kids, and the deep meanings of punctuation.

And there's one communication fail we all share, young and old. We cop out of tough conversations with a text. Yes, it's transparent, and yes, we all do it. Guys, we're better than this. 

This week, we fix intergenerational communication forever. Kidding! But we do have answers. Thanks to an expert - family therapist Dr. Gail Saltz. She’s here to help. 

 

AI Learns from Us. So It Learns Bias.  

Got a mole on your arm? Soon, an app will soon be able to screen it for cancer. That salad you ate yesterday may have been screened by a LettuceBot, an AI mounted on tractors that checks whether individual plants need water. And if you live in In Singapore or Pittsburgh, you might already be cruising around in a self-driving cab.

Amazing things are happening to the way we live, eat, and get around. Thanks to robots. But robots are programmed by humans. And those people carry implicit biases, as we all do. And those biases get encoded into the AI. Which can get really ugly, really fast. 

Like when Google Photo tagged Jacky Alciné’s photos of him and his friend as gorillas a few years ago. This week, we look back at what he found, how the company responded, and the bigger problem behind this one landmark incident. Plus, an update on what Jacky's doing now. 

Manoush and Jacky Alciné take a Note to Self(ie). (Manoush Zomorodi/Note to Self)

 

Revealing Selfies. Not Like That.  

We asked you guys to send us photos. We got a photo of a woman on the beach. A giant fish statue. Teeth.

Yes, really. 

We gave them to Andreas Weigend, veteran of Xerox Parc, former chief scientist at Amazon, to see what he could deduce. A lot, it turns out.

A little Google image search, a little metadata, and we can find where you are. Maybe who you are. What color phone you’re using to take the shot, and how many SIM cards you have.

Reading photos is more than a digital parlor trick. It’s the future of commerce, marketing, policing, lending, and basically everything else.

 

Spring Cleaning for the Mind  

There is a lot to take in in our world right now. And there are a lot of ways to do it. You can read articles posted by your Facebook friends, or by the journalists you follow on Twitter. You can watch cable news with your morning oatmeal.

Which makes it all too easy to succumb to information overload. That buzzy, anxious feeling of there’s just too much out there to consume - but I need to know all of it, right?

That feeling isn’t new. It’s just especially turned up in 2017. So this week, an episode worth repeating. We’re proposing one tweak - a challenge of sorts - to change your day. To help you think deeper and consume information meaningfully. Think spring cleaning for your neurons. With neuron experts Dr Daniel Levitin and Gloria Mark, Professor of Informatics.

And if you like this episode, you’ll love listening to the entire Infomagical series. You’ll find some calm and some focus. Maybe even magic. If you did the project, it might be time for a refresher!

Cucked: Defining Manhood the Alt-Right Way  

This week, the very ancient roots of a very modern word. Racist, sexist roots. And how this revolting word bubbled up from the dark corners of 4chan and Reddit to, well, this podcast.

Cultures and subcultures have always had their own slang. Their own secret languages, the in-crowd lingo. But the wonderful and terrible thing about the Internet is that secrets are hard to keep. Words and ideas can spread. Can become normal. (Think “on fleek” and “stay woke.”)

But what happens when the ideas are white supremacy and misogyny?

With Jonathon Green, author of Green’s Dictionary of Slang; writer Dana Schwartz of the Observer, who has written about cucked for GQ, and Derek Thompson of the Atlantic, whose book Hit Makers explores how ideas spread online.

Deep-Dark-Data-Driven Politics  

Data mining is nothing new in presidential campaigns. But in 2016, the Trump team took voter research to a new level. They hired consultants called Cambridge Analytica, which says it has thousands of data points on every American. They also claim they can use that data to create personality profiles. Assessments of each of our hopes, fears, and desires - and target us accordingly.

This is the science of psychometrics. And, as the story went, Cambridge Analytica’s dark digital arts helped Trump win, with ads designed to ring every reader’s individual bell.

Or, did they? Over the past few weeks, reporters and data experts started asking questions. Where did this data come from? Could the Trump campaign really execute a micro-targeted social media strategy? Did they have a secret sauce? Or was it just more ketchup?

This week, psychometrics and the future of campaign data-mining. With Matt Oczkowski of Cambridge Analytica, psychometrics pioneer Michal Kosinski, and Nicholas Confessore of the New York Times.

And if you're curious about Apply Magic Sauce, the psychometric tool we all tried during the Privacy Paradox, you can find it right here.  

The Man Who Invented Facebook Ad Tracking Is Not Sorry  

It’s one thing to get fired. It’s another thing to be escorted out by security. And another thing altogether to have your boss call while you’re sitting in the parking lot in shock, and ask what you might be doing next, and if you need investors.

But that’s Silicon Valley for you.

Before he got canned, Antonio García Martínez was an ads guy at Facebook. Pre-IPO. He designed the ad tracking system that allows products you searched for one single time to follow you around the internet. But he was also undercover as an author, taking notes for a tell-all. The book he wrote is called Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley. Stories of Face-versaries instead of birthdays, what it means to get an email from Zuck, and the cult of changing the world. 

Despite all he knows, despite ethnic-affinity targeting, he still thinks online ads are A-OK. So Manoush tries to save his ad-loving soul. 

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