What I’ve Read This Week (July 19 2021 to July 25 2021)

Citizen Lab presents another report about yet another mercenary spyware vendor targeting activists and other similar civil rights affiliated targets. With NSO Group also being in the news recently, this report comes at the right time. More light needs to be shone on this kind of spyware and the governments that use them.

The company known as “Candiru,” based in Tel Aviv, Israel, is a mercenary spyware firm that markets “untraceable” spyware to government customers. Their product offering includes solutions for spying on computers, mobile devices, and cloud accounts.

Roxane Gay writes about why we are so terrible to each other online.

Increasingly, I’ve felt that online engagement is fueled by the hopelessness many people feel when we consider the state of the world and the challenges we deal with in our day-to-day lives. Online spaces offer the hopeful fiction of a tangible cause and effect — an injustice answered by an immediate consequence. On Twitter, we can wield a small measure of power, avenge wrongs, punish villains, exalt the pure of heart.

In our quest for this simulacrum of justice, however, we have lost all sense of proportion and scale. We hold in equal contempt a war criminal and a fiction writer who too transparently borrows details from someone else’s life. It’s hard to calibrate how we engage or argue.

In real life, we are fearful Davids staring down seemingly omnipotent Goliaths: a Supreme Court poised to undermine abortion and civil rights; a patch of sea on fire from a gas leak; an incoherent but surprisingly effective attack on teaching children America’s real history; the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act; a man whom dozens of women have accused of sexual assault walking free on a technicality. At least online, we can tell ourselves that the power imbalances between us flatten. Suddenly, we are all Goliaths in the Valley of Elah.

Riccardo Mori answers the question of “is this really bad UI or am I averse to change?”. This is something I ask myself often whenever I’m confronted with a UI change in a application I use frequently.

This insistence around the most superficial aspects of a graphical user interface — the look — often reminds me of the constant redesign iterations of some third-party apps in an attempt to make them more alluring to customers and to increase sales. The hyperfocus on always looking new and fresh can sometimes lead to harsh breaks in an app’s ‘usability continuum’ (as I like to call it). I’m sure you’ve experienced it more than once if you have been using Mac and iOS apps for the past several years. The developer triumphantly announces the ‘significant visual overhaul’ in the app’s changelog, and after the (often inescapable) app update you are presented with something that has changed so much, its controls completely rearranged, that it becomes unrecognisable and essentially forces you to relearn how to use the app as proficiently as before.

This week I also read finished two books so for the first time in this kind of post, I’m recommending a couple books. The first is Press Reset by Jason Schreier, a non-fiction book about the video games industry and the stories behind game studios that shut down for reasons like management failure, running out of money, or sheer avarice. It is a depressing but informative read.

The second book is the first in the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson. It has been a while since I’ve started reading a new fantasy series and I’m happy to say I’ve enjoyed this first book quite a bit. The magic system in the world of Mistborn is quite interesting, it reminds me of the bending system in Avatar: The Last Airbender. I’ve already bought the second book in the series and am looking forward to getting started on that.

That is all from me this week. See y’all next week!