Eugene Fedorenko is Designing, Writing, Reading, and Traveling

Reading (never enough)

Current books: The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford Europe: A History by Norman Davies Eloquent JavaScript, 3rd Edition: A Modern Introduction to Programming by Marijn Haverbeke

See posts only about books, articles, or websites.

The Paradox of Going Outside

By James Somers

Good essay on why we need to go outside, even if it can be unpleasant sometimes.

On appreciation of nature:

Muir was not just born mindful of nature, he was fastidious throughout his life in the study of botany, geology, theology, biology, ecology, in the languages of man and God that make the whole world pulse with meaning. My mistake in Glacier was not in failing to appreciate the high flowers, the playful lives of the squirrels; it was in thinking that such an appreciation would come naturally.

On going into the wild:

In a culture pervaded by artifice, by self-awareness and advertising, the grand gesture away from it all—“Fuck it, I’m going into the wild”—is just another trope. We’ve seen that movie. In fact it was called Into the Wild and for the parties involved it was sort of a pathetic catastrophe.
This is the bind I’m in: I feel small in urban life—“tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized,” as Muir put it. I want to get away for a bit. I’m inspired by Thoreau and company to get really away. But in the very breath of my demand for the “authentic” wild, the un-guided tour, I’m cringing at how flaccid and disgracefully naive I probably sound—how much like one of Krakauer’s goons, the kind of person who will either gentrify the woods or get myself killed in them. This reaching toward the outdoors, far from clearing my head, confounds it further. This deep-seeming thing I crave may well not exist. Or worse, it does—and I’m too bound up by ego to seize it.

Masha Gessen on the Ins and Outs of Russia

Interview with Masha Gessen, Russian-American author, journalist, and The New Yorker staff writer.

On Russian Americans supporting Putin:

I think that among Russian émigrés, it’s actually a very specific thing, which is that there have been distinct waves of Russian immigration.

My parents and I came here in 1981 as part of the Jewish immigration. We were fleeing the Soviet Union. My parents made the decision to step into the abyss. They knew nothing about the West or what was going to happen to them here. They thought they would never be able to see their friends and relatives in the Soviet Union. They made this decision to get out of the Soviet Union because it was so important for them to leave the Soviet Union.

People who came here — who were much more numerous — who came here starting in about 1990 and basically through that decade, who I think are the people you’re referring to — they were fleeing the collapse of the empire. They were not running away from the Soviet Union. They were not leaving Russia. They were leaving that sense of extreme instability and uncertainty that was created by the end of the Soviet Union.

So to them, there’s no contradiction between liking Putin, who came in and said, “I’m going to take you back to that imagined stability and predictability of the Soviet Union” — there’s no contradiction between that and what they felt when they were leaving. So I think it’s perfectly logical that they support him.

On fall of GDP per capita in Russia and totalitarianism:

Poverty and scarcity are actually very good for totalitarian societies. They maintain that sense of mobilization that’s essential for totalitarian societies.

This is actually not my idea, but I think it has a lot of merit, this idea that the mass protests in Russia that we saw in 2011, 2012 were partly a function of prosperity. People lived well enough that they had the luxury of demanding good governance. When you’re constantly worried about your survival, you do not actually engage proactively in politics.

On a stereotyped strong Russian women:

Where does that come from? I think that comes from life. Look, part of the Soviet experiment was this very strange gender-equality ideology. Strange because it was an enforced ideology. It was top-down. Women were almost equally represented in the workforce to men.

But of course, at home, they also did all the housework. Housework in the Soviet Union was not doing housework in the United States. It was washing clothes by hand, often in a communal bathroom or a communal bathhouse. It was cooking in a communal kitchen. It was getting food products in conditions of extreme shortages.

It was like this constant battle for survival and for the survival of one’s family. I think that that made women strong, productive, and created a kind of matriarchal family that wouldn’t exist if women weren’t also breadwinners on par with men.

On smiling in Russia:

I think that there’s a kind of grumpy and dark culture in Russia. Russians certainly have a lot of discernment in the fine shades of misery. If you ask a Russian how they are, they will not cheerfully respond by saying they’re great. If they’re miserable, they might actually share that with you in some detail.

There’s no shame in being miserable in Russia. There’s, in fact, a lot of validation. Read a Russian novel. You’ll find it all in there. We really are connoisseurs of depression.

Into the Personal-Website-Verse

By Matthias Ott

Great essay on the importance of independent web presence. I wasn't aware of Webmention W3C recommendation and the whole IndieWeb movement but so glad they exist.

Dieter Rams designed one of Gillette’s most successful razors

I believe my father had this razor when I was a child. What a stark contrast to any of Gillette’s ugly razors on the market today. Years ago I switched to Harry’s only because of their superior handle design, but then discovered safety razors with their timeless designs and never looked back. (Coincidentally, recently my dad switched back to a safety razor as well. He uses his grandfather’s handle brought from Germany during World War II. Priceless family heirloom.)

Goals vs. Systems

By Scott Adams

On writing as a system vs a goal:

Writing is a skill that requires practice. So the first part of my system involves practicing on a regular basis. I didn’t know what I was practicing for, exactly, and that’s what makes it a system and not a goal. I was moving from a place with low odds (being an out-of-practice writer) to a place of good odds (a well-practiced writer with higher visibility).

On why systems are a better fit for most of us:

There are obviously some special cases in which goals are useful. If you plan to become a doctor, for example, and you have the natural ability, then by all means focus. But for most of us, we have no idea where we’ll be in five years, what opportunities will arise, or what we’ll want or need by then. So our best bet is to move from a place of low odds to a place of better odds. That means living someplace that has opportunities, paying attention to your health, continuously upgrading your skills, networking, and perhaps dabbling in lots of different areas.

Via Chris Bowler’s The Weekly Review.

Why Did America Give Up on Mass Transit?

By Jonathan English

Why ridership per capita low is so low in US?

Over the past hundred years the clearest cause is this: Transit providers in the U.S. have continually cut basic local service in a vain effort to improve their finances. But they only succeeded in driving riders and revenue away. When the transit service that cities provide is not attractive, the demand from passengers that might “justify” its improvement will never materialize.

On sharing the road with the cars:

It is not a coincidence that, while almost every interurban and streetcar line in the U.S. failed, nearly every grade-separated subway or elevated system survived. Transit agencies continued to provide frequent service on these lines so they remained viable, and when trains did not have to share the road and stop at intersections, they could also be time competitive with the car. The subways and els of Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston are all still around, while the vast streetcar and interurban networks of Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Detroit, and many others are long gone. Only when transit didn’t need to share the road with the car, and frequent service continued, was it able to survive.

On a vicious cycle that destroys American public transportation:

Service drives demand. When riders started to switch to the car in the early postwar years, American transit systems almost universally cut service to restore their financial viability. But this drove more people away, producing a vicious cycle until just about everybody who could drive, drove.

I live in a suburb and don’t commute to the office that often lately, but when I do I usually drive. That said, being within a walking distance from a train station was important in choosing our current house. Philadelphia will get too congested and too expensive to park at some point, so I want to have a plan B. Hopefully a local high-speed line will still be around then.

Self-Host Your Static Assets

By Harry Roberts

Great up-to-date analysis of risks, mitigations, and myths surrounding static assets hosting. Some of these were considered best practices just recently, but often they were blindly trusted and not tested.

How I Dropped Dropbox

By Khoi Vinh

Clearly, storage is a commodity now. And while Dropbox has worked hard to differentiate itself with new features, at its core, it’s still hard to argue that the service is truly much more than storage. Even the company’s elegantly designed and reasonably popular Paper app hardly feels additive; it’s hard to make a case for innovation when the key value-add is something as basic as word processing.

Then last month my view of Dropbox’s unique value diminished even further when Apple announced that folder sharing would soon be coming to iCloud Drive. This replicates fully the most compelling reason I had to stick with Dropbox: the ability to give other users access to my select folders directly in the macOS Finder. That, combined with Dropbox’s recent announcement that it would be increasing the annual cost of my pro plan by US$20 at renewal time, finally convinced me to cancel my subscription.

I’ve been considering doing the same lately. First, I am already paying for iCloud to store my photos, so Dropbox storage is redundant. Second, I don't like the level of access Dropbox is requesting on my Mac. And third, I am not a fan of the direction they are taking as a company.

On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs: A Work Rant

By David Graeber

Over the course of the last century, the number of workers employed as domestic servants, in industry, and in the farm sector has collapsed dramatically. At the same time, ‘professional, managerial, clerical, sales, and service workers’ tripled, growing ‘from one-quarter to three-quarters of total employment.’ In other words, productive jobs have, just as predicted, been largely automated away (even if you count industrial workers globally, including the toiling masses in India and China, such workers are still not nearly so large a percentage of the world population as they used to be.)

But rather than allowing a massive reduction of working hours to free the world's population to pursue their own projects, pleasures, visions, and ideas, we have seen the ballooning of not even so much of the ‘service’ sector as of the administrative sector, up to and including the creation of whole new industries like financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors like corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources, and public relations. And these numbers do not even reflect on all those people whose job is to provide administrative, technical, or security support for these industries, or for that matter the whole host of ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza delivery) that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working in all the other ones.

These are what I propose to call ‘bullshit jobs’.

Can “Indie” Social Media Save Us?

By Cal Newport

Proponents of the IndieWeb offer a fairly straightforward analysis of our current social-media crisis. They frame it in terms of a single question: Who owns the servers? The bulk of our online activity takes places on servers owned by a small number of massive companies. Servers cost money to run. If you’re using a company’s servers without paying for the privilege, then that company must be finding other ways to “extract value” from you—and it’s that quest for large-scale value extraction, they argue, that leads directly to the crises of compromised privacy and engineered addictiveness with which we’re currently grappling.

[…]

When the problem is framed this way, the solution promoted by the IndieWeb movement becomes obvious: own your own servers. On a smaller scale, this is an old idea. For the past twelve years, I’ve hosted my personal blog using a server that I lease in a Michigan data center; I’ve enjoyed knowing that I own what I post there and that no one is trying to monetize my data or exploit my attention. And yet, running a personal blog that you write yourself is quite different from running a social network. To create social platforms that work on servers owned by users rather than big corporations, the IndieWeb developers have had to solve a tricky technical problem: decentralization.

This is exactly why most of my online activity shifted from Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to this website. It’s more work to share this way and I miss a good chunk of my audience, but I enjoy owning my data and controlling the way it’s presented. I am keeping an eye on IndieWeb as at this point it’s clear that most of us are not happy with social networks, so something must replace them eventually.