Cool History

Uncovering history through curiosity

Liked Personism, Communism, and Feminism by Siderea (

It all started when I decided I wanted to know the origin of the expression “male chauvinist”.

I appreciate her dedication to following a thread of curiosity down multiple avenues of research!

Chauvinism is the unreasonable belief in the superiority or dominance of one’s own group or people, who are seen as strong and virtuous, while others are considered weak, unworthy, or inferior.

But why “male chauvinism”?

Somehow, somewhere along the line, a term for nationalism became used to express an idea about sexism, and that is not an obvious thing to do.

Her hypothesis and research traces its origins back to communism, before the House Un-American Activities Committee drove it underground:

Communism sees human affairs as organized by what communism terms classes, which mostly lump out to workers and bosses; communism seeks to elevate the status of workers by getting workers to realize that they are workers before all else, and that it is only by banding together in solidarity with other workers that they can have the power to improve their lives. Thus all other identities are seen as threats to the communist project, at least when those other identities are not subordinated to one’s identity as a worker…

“Chauvinism”, thus, is an excellent term for what communists reviled: it doesn’t just neutrally designate a preference for identifying with one’s nation and taking pride in it, but ridicules having absurd, self-sabotaging levels of loyalty and devotion to a nation that will never appreciate or reciprocate it.

Cool Technology

Parrots making Zoom friends

Liked Birds of a Feather Video-Flock Together (ACM Conferences)

Design and Evaluation of an Agency-Based Parrot-to-Parrot Video-Calling System for Interspecies Ethical Enrichment. | Proceedings of the 2023 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems

This feels both sweet and appalling that social creatures are kept as solitary pets 🫤🦜

Learning Reflection Technology

Using AI for facts is a cue to unsubscribe

I just saw a post in my news feed reader where the author generated a list of (theoretically real-world) examples with Chat-GPT.

I immediately unsubscribed.

My husband says I’m being unfair. But I see it as a measure of quality: if you use Chat GPT to generate examples, to me that indicates you don’t care about being factual. To trust any generated list I would need an assurance it was fact-checked — which might be slightly faster than just doing the research in the first place but still require time. If you can’t be bothered to do research, you’re not meeting my standards for evidence. I’d have thought nothing of it if he just didn’t list examples, but as soon as I saw it was generated, I lost my trust in the entire article, and my interest in reading the newsletter. (It was also a feed I followed relatively recently so I was still in the evaluation stage.)

Featured Ponderings Reflection Writing

Reclaiming intentionality in browsing and blogging

I’ve been feeling overwhelmed recently with keeping up on everything I’d like to read online. I’ve also struggled to finish writing blog posts, especially longer articles that tie together many things I’ve been reading and thinking.

I wonder if I’m being too passive in what I consume, and reactive in what I blog about. Most of what I write online lately is in response to or prompted by something I’ve read. I’ve built my own wide stream of information coming in, curating my sources and being selective about what to read from the stream — but I’m still letting others shape what I’m thinking about.

Some of this is good and important — listening to others, participating in the cultural conversation, following curiosity, embracing serendipity. My intake can’t only come from what others curate for me, though. I suspect my balance of intake is off: I need a greater amount of what I read to be something I’ve actively sought out. I’m good at this in my book reading; I can extend my approach from there. To claim ownership of my attention, I should more proactively choose what I spend time thinking about. By starting from a concept rather than discovering one as I go, I could blog more purposefully as well. In fiction writing, I hate prompts, but they do make blogging easy. I can create my own prompts to blog about.

A lot of what comes my way through my RSS feeds does fall into my focal areas, since I’ve chosen who to follow based on shared interests. This style of reading broadly without intent supports blogging that synthesizes many sources through filtering and pattern-matching for insights. This type of writing is connective (and valuable), but doesn’t necessarily go deep. I want to also do more directed thinking: to set out on my reading with a question to intentionally research, a hypothesis of my own to investigate. For now I’m adventuring through content, seeing what there is to see. That’s a good place to start; sometimes, now I have the lay of the land, I should also pursue quests.

Featured Learning Technology The Internet

Internet era life skills

I recently encountered somewhat shocking — though not necessarily surprising — data about the average person’s computer skills. The vast majority of people are not able to complete complex tasks on a computer. Only five percent of Americans had high level computer skills that allowed them to do things like troubleshoot or analyze data using multiple tools.

These data are from 2011-2015, so the numbers have certainly changed. I would definitely guess there are fewer people who are unable to use a computer at all. But, I was discussing with a friend that we doubted there’s been a substantial increase in the number of people able to complete complicated, multi-step, multi-program tasks. Over the past ten years, technology and user interfaces have trended towards simplification and single-task software (there’s an app for that!). Reducing friction for common tasks removes challenges people might have needed to troubleshoot in the past — and if you don’t ever face problems accomplishing what you need to, you never get to practice or even develop troubleshooting skills.

And basic computer literacy isn’t enough to get by in the internet age. Someone learning how to use the internet today needs to also learn a broad range of skills to protect themselves, communicate effectively, and obtain trustworthy information. Too many people are credulous and uncritical in what they believe. There are so many dark design patterns (or are we not calling it that anymore?) and bad actors attempting to manipulate you that it requires a bulwark of skills to defend against having your time and money stolen, or even worse, indoctrination.

Many of these skills are personal responses to systemic problems that some regulation might assist with. Not that regulation is easy: GDPR wound up giving us all obnoxious popup cookie banners instead of reducing the cookies websites use or data corporations collect — but at least some websites do now allow you to reject non-essential cookies.

Activism Art and Design

Politicized Design: escaping oppressive systems with participatory movements

Watched Politicizing Design from the Grassroots by Bibiana Oliveira SerpaBibiana Oliveira Serpa from Futuress

Drawing from popular activist movements in Latin America, this talk explores the possibilities for the politicization of design.

In her PhD thesis that she recently defended for the Design program of the State University of Rio de Janeiro (ESDI/UERJ) in Brazil, Bibiana delved into her experiences as an active member of different civil society grassroots movements to reveal some of the political, ethical, and practical issues that permeate the transformative action of these collectives.

Through Militant Research Methodology and inspired by her action in the fields of popular education and feminism, she traced paths for a possible politicization of the Design field. In this conversation, Bibiana shares some of the lessons she learned from this journey, articulating four axes she considers crucial for the politicization of Design: ontology, epistemology, practice, and content.

Presented by Bibiana Serpa, a PhD visual designer from Brazil

Design & Opressão (Design and Oppression Network)

Articulação de Mulheres Brasileiras

What is militant research?

  • aims to educate people politically
  • participatory — cannot only research
  • acts in the “context of discovery” not “context of justification” — not seeking to support an existing theory, but to learn
  • always collective

Process of politicization

social movements are self-educating and self-transforming –> politicization

politicization = political learning — “a relational and experiential process”


Four types of Long COVID

Bookmarked People’s CDC COVID-19 Weather Report (

34% have heart, kidney, & circulation-based symptoms; risk of heart failure post-COVID is almost doubled
33% have respiratory & sleep problems, anxiety, headache & chest pains
23% have musculoskeletal & nervous system symptoms
10% have combined digestive & respiratory symptoms

From Weill Cornell Medicine’s press release:

Only in the first symptom pattern was the sex ratio roughly 1 to 1; in the other three, female patients made up a significant majority (more than 60 percent).


Rethinking the way we publish science

Liked The dance of the naked emperors by Adam Mastroianni (Experimental History)

To recap, I argued in my last post that:

1. We’ve published science lots of different ways for a long time, and universal pre-publication peer review is both pretty new and historically strange.

2. That system doesn’t seem to accomplish the goals that it claims to or that we wish it would.

3. It’s worthwhile to try other things.

That’s also why I’m not worried about an onslaught of terrible papers—we’ve already got an onslaught of terrible papers.

Sick burn 😂

But seriously, it is not good for society or science when access to scientific research is limited to academics. This only reinforces the perceived division between academics and the public, and exacerbates anti-intellectualism. And, it is hardly helpful for scientists to be silo’d away from the public either — any insular group will miss out on the perspectives and wisdom of other groups of people with different backgrounds and experience. Shifting the expectation that papers should be readable by laypeople would encourage plainer language and force writers to clarify their explanations.

If science weren’t hidden behind expensive paywalls, people outside academia could draw on the latest research for decisions, and participate in conversations about science. Codesign is on the rise in community engagement and graphic design; improving access could enable communities to give input to projects and future research. Instead of researchers coming up with projects on their own, they could listen to the needs of the community to fill in gaps (for example, the gap in medical research for women).

Also learned a new concept, weak-link problem, from his referenced article The Rise and Fall of Peer Review:

Why did peer review seem so reasonable in the first place?

I think we had the wrong model of how science works. We treated science like it’s a weak-link problem where progress depends on the quality of our worst work. If you believe in weak-link science, you think it’s very important to stamp out untrue ideas—ideally, prevent them from being published in the first place. You don’t mind if you whack a few good ideas in the process, because it’s so important to bury the bad stuff.

But science is a strong-link problem: progress depends on the quality of our best work.

See also: Imagining a better way — for everything


Notes from the SPARKS Conference 2022: Day 1

The Time is Always Now:

Centering Equity and Community Voice as an Evergreen Communications Tool

by Paj Nandi at DH

  • everyone filters information through their unique lens of lived experience
  • thus CONTEXT is essential to communicate effectively
  • communications serves to share information AND power
  • comms sits at the axis of power and access
  • comms as strategy channels access, counters discrimination
  • equity-centered philosophy:
    • partner directly with community and shift power
    • create positive narratives rooted in community
    • work to undo harmful narrative
    • practice cultural humility
    • be mindful of own biases
  • intent > process > outcome > impact
Environment Health Science

Correlation does not equal causation: tree planting episode

Replied to The association between tree planting and mortality: A natural experiment and cost-benefit analysis (

Tree planting in Portland, Oregon is associated with decreases in non-accidental and cardiovascular mortality, and the magnitude of this association increased as trees aged and grew.

Look, I’m a huge proponent of planting trees but you gotta be careful about correlation and causation. The article itself admits that “It is an observational study, so it cannot establish a causal relationship between trees and mortality.” Yet you’d believe the study established causation based on the monetary claims about the value of tree planting if you only read the abstract, which claims, “Using US EPA estimates of a value of a statistical life, we estimated that planting a tree in each of Portland’s 140 Census tracts would generate $14.2 million in annual benefits (95 % CI: $8.0 million to $20.4 million).” You cannot make this estimate if you do not know it to be a causal relationship.

I get really pissed when environmentalists mislead the public towards their preferred outcome using faulty or over-interpreted data*. I wrote a report about single-use items a few years ago, and the deeper I dug into statements about straws and such that were listed on environmental advocacy sites, the more of a sham they turned out to be. I wound up doing a literature review to find valid, empirical evidence in support of our paper, and uncovered that compostable packaging actually has greater impacts when it is not composted — which is often!

Tell people to plant trees because they clean the air, provide shade, and reduce flooding, but don’t lie and tell them planting a tree will make them live longer.

*There are many reasons for this in the scientific literature, but at the core comes down to two challenges: science is insufficiently funded and researchers are rewarded for significant findings. See also: Imagining a better way — for everything