Fungible Imaginations

Code for America's new leader; Courage at Amazon; Supreme Court goes digital (sort of); and much more.


This is civic tech: Say hello to Amanda Renteria, the new CEO of Code for America! She sees an “enormous opportunity” two key goals during the current crisis: “We must answer the call and work with our partners in government to meet the immediate needs of the moment by delivering a strong and equitable social safety net….Additionally, we must think big for the longer term, to scale our partnerships with government at every level and fundamentally rethink and rebuild services in the digital age.” Amen to all of that!

Here’s more on Renteria’s background in government service from Zack Quaintance of Techwire.

Related: Code for Canada has launched Open Call, a new initiative aimed at helping governments build digital services using free, open source tools, for residents and businesses during COVID-19.

The Coronavirus Tech Handbook, which has been viewed 700,000 times since its launch a month ago, is crowdfunding so it can keep going.

Open government and civic hacker groups in New York, led by Reinvent Albany and BetaNYC, are asking Governor Andrew Cuomo to publish the state’s COVID-19 tracking information as machine-readable open data.

Tim Bray, a top software engineer, has resigned after five years as a vice president and distinguished engineer at Amazon Web Services, to protest the company’s firing of whistleblowers who were calling out dangerous working conditions among Amazon warehouse workers. Bray quit after first trying to escalate his concerns internally. In a scathing post decrying “a vein of toxicity running though the company culture,” he writes, “At the end of the day, the big problem isn’t the specifics of Covid-19 response. It’s that Amazon treats the humans in the warehouses as fungible units of pick-and-pack potential.” He also notes that every one of the activists fired were a woman, a person of color, or both.

If you think your internet service has gotten worse since pandemic lockdowns became widespread, Sascha Meinrath has the data to prove you right. Writing for The Hill, he reports that based on 750,000 US broadband speed tests per day, the number of counties where broadband download speeds did not meet the FCC’s minimum criteria rose to 62.2% in March compared to 52.8% in February. “Our internet is breaking,” he writes, “and it’s not breaking equitably,” noting that redlining of minority and rural areas is widespread.

People are getting their Wi-Fi from library parking lots, and The New York Times’ Cecilia Kang is on it.

A majority of American adults say the internet has been essential for them personally during the pandemic, according to a new survey by the Pew Internet Center.

Attend: This Friday at 10am Mountain Time, Liz Barry of Public Lab and Cui Jai Wei of vTaiwan will discuss “Distributed Governance,” hosted by Danny Spitzberg of MEDLab.

Tech and politics: The Davids Alexrod and Plouffe, who led Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign to victory, are worried that prospective Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden isn’t doing enough digital campaigning (ya think?) and have some suggestions on how he can step up his game on the The New York Times oped page.

Fortunately, they don’t propose he try to act like an Instagram influencer, but some down-ballot candidates are attempting that feat in their efforts to connect online, reports Makena Kelly for The Verge.

Tech and democracy: For the first time ever, the U.S. Supreme Court held oral arguments by phone conference yesterday and, after years of refusing any live broadcast of its hearings, let the public listen in. In a nice touch, one of the software platforms it used was RealPlayer, one of the first media players capable of streaming media over the Internet.

Meanwhile, as the U.S. Senate reconvenes, the House is still in recess, with Republican minority leader Kevin McCarthy claiming that efforts to hold hearings or votes by Zoom would be hacked, as Lisa Mascaro reports for the AP.

Deep thoughts: Make time to savor sci-fi author Kim Stanley Robinson’s short essay in The New Yorker on how the virus is “rewriting our imaginations.”

Related: The New Possible, an incomplete and evolving collection of many surprisingly doable things that the coronavirus crisis has revealed.

End times: Maybe it’s best to watch less news?

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