Apple’s China Agreement


The Devil is in the Details

Apple has agreed that the encryption keys for iCloud user accounts for Chinese persons will be stored in China, as Reuters reported today.

If you aren’t familiar with Chinese law and the situation around this, this may seem relatively innocuous: a company is doing business in a country, and complying with that country’s local laws. What’s significant about this is that it represents a major change in how legal process works.

Shanghai from a Different Angle,” by sama093
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Hard and Soft Skills in Tech


It’s both more serious and less serious than we’ve admitted

I’ve recently seen a lot of very anxious responses from people in tech at anything which suggests that their “core skills” may be devalued, especially in favor of other skills which they haven’t spent their lives on. Most importantly, this shows up in the argument over “hard” versus “soft” skills. That anxiety is itself a signal of how important this has become. But there’s a hidden assumption we’ve been making that (I suspect) has increased the anxiety far out of proportion: and maybe perversely, it comes from not taking soft skills seriously enough. Today, I’d like to share some thoughts on what’s actually happening, and a set of things we can do to help fix it for all of us.

The hard and the soft. Left: “Hammer” by 0Four; Right: “Cloth in the Khiva Market” by eatswords.

1. Some observational data

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Your “Financial Shock” Wealth


Understanding money, inequality, and why the tax bill is important

Imagine that today you accidentally got overcharged $1 somewhere, and a week from now they realized this and gave you your dollar back. On the whole, this might be annoying, but it probably won’t be a big deal to you. Not having that dollar likely didn’t affect your life in any material way; the “opportunity cost” you lost out on could probably be well-summarized by the interest rate on a dollar for a week.

That means that an unexpected expense of $1 basically costs you $1. If you got the dollar back later, you’d be more or less where you started.

Money!,” by Hans Splinter
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Donald Trump in the Age of Cynicism


A model for understanding what’s going on today

I want to tell you a story about something that happened in the news a few days ago. Even though it didn’t turn into a giant disaster, it accidentally revealed a lot about what’s really going on in the United States right now — and may offer us a clue to understand the situation we’re in.

1: Cojones

Last week, ex-general John Kelly made public remarks that many interpreted as testing the waters for military rule. He explained how only members of the military, and the families of those killed in combat, can really understand the nature of government and legitimately criticize the President — unlike civilian members of Congress, or the press. The next day, Sarah Huckabee Sanders doubled down on the point, saying it is “highly inappropriate” for a (civilian) reporter “to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general” — this despite the fact that Kelly is no longer a general, that civilian control over the military is a bedrock of the American system, or that this “debate” was over the fact that Kelly had provably lied several times in his remarks that previous day.

The idea that “only the military can really understand what it takes to run the government” is common rhetoric worldwide: from Thailand to Egypt to Argentina, it’s been the bedrock argument of why the military should seize power. Fortunately, and to our country’s credit, several other ex-generals quickly (and publicly) stomped down Kelly’s suggestion, and nobody seems to have taken up his idea.

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The Gun Argument That’s Not Even Wrong


Why the “Founders’ Intent” doesn’t matter

“What was the Founders’ intent?”

This is a favorite question for people to ask when discussing the Constitution — especially the Second Amendment, where arguments over the meaning of the “militia” clause and over the changing nature of guns over 250 years are de rigeur. The problem with these arguments isn’t that one side or the other is right: the problem with them is that they’re not even wrong. They are debating a completely meaningless question.

The latest context for this is a gun which may or may not have been invented by Joseph Belton in 1777. That year, he sent a letter to the Continental Congress, offering his newly-designed “repeating flintlock” gun to the Army: a gun which could, he said, fire as many as twenty balls in a matter of five seconds. This gun has taken on importance in political disputes because it would be evidence that the Founders were aware of the possibility of automatic weapons, and wrote the Second Amendment fully conscious of that. This particular dispute was shaken up today, when journalist Adam Weinstein claimed that the gun was an elaborate hoax penned by his grandfather, and never existed at all.

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What Can Be Pardoned?


Some unexpected ins and outs of an executive power

The President’s power to pardon people accused or convicted of crimes is in the news like it hasn’t been since Clinton pardoned a number of dubious people on his last day in office, or maybe even since Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon. And it’s in the news for a good reason: Trump and his inner circle are under investigation for a truly stunning array of major crimes, ranging from accepting illegal foreign campaign contributions to actively conspiring with a foreign power to subvert elections, and just a few days ago, Trump made vividly clear that he would happily pardon anyone he saw as furthering his own cause.

What this means is that discussions of pardons aren’t just about legal theory: they’re about the practical ins-and-outs of criminal investigations, political lobbying, and just what a determined prosecutor can do to bring a corrupt politician to justice, when that politician seems to have unlimited power to stop him.

The answer may be, more than you expect — but not in the ways you expect it.

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The Future of Telecommuting


Potentially Positive Economic News?

There’s a common theme in news analysis about the economy: it tells you about how some new development will prove excellent for the rich, terrible for everyone else, and help bring about the decline of civilization. So it’s a bit hard for me to say this, but I think there may be some actually positive news all around for once — and it has to do with a change in telecommuting.

The story begins with the graph above, which comes from Christopher Groskopf’s recent article about the rise of telecommuting among software engineers. His article collects a variety of data and graphs, which show that this is becoming significantly more popular, one of the most-desired perks of a SWE job, and has in particular been on the rise since around 2012.

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