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Dublin: 3 °C Tuesday 28 January, 2020

Sitdown Sunday: The secret history of women in coding

Settle back in a comfy chair and sit back with some of the week’s best longreads.

IT’S A DAY of rest, and you may be in the mood for a quiet corner and a comfy chair.

We’ve hand-picked the week’s best reads for you to savour.

shutterstock_1209433882 Source: Shutterstock/Jacob Lund

1. Can you live without the ‘big five’ tech giants?

That’s what Kashmir Hill tried. And she says it was hell.

(Gizmodo, approx 25 mins reading time)

Not only am I boycotting their products, a technologist named Dhruv Mehrotra designed a special network tool that prevents my devices from communicating with the tech giants’ servers, meaning that ads and analytics from Google won’t work, Facebook can’t track me across the internet, and websites hosted by Amazon Web Services, or AWS, hypothetically won’t load.

2. Life after Parkland 

Debbi Hixon’s husband Chris died at the Parkland shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in 2018. Here is how she grappled with the aftermath.

(New Statesman, approx 43 mins reading time)

It was now 2:23. Authorities were responding, but it was too late. Nikolas Cruz, then 19 years old and a former Marjory Stoneman Douglas student who’d later confess to perpetrating what was unfolding, was wreaking havoc in the 1200 building. Using a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle, Cruz was in the process of shooting and killing 14 students and three adults, and injuring 17 others. The shooting would last about seven minutes before Cruz discarded his weapon and slipped away from the scene.

3. The secret history of women in coding

Computer programming once had a great gender balance – so what went wrong?

(New York Times, approx 45 mins reading time)

Wilkes quickly became a programming whiz. She first worked on the IBM 704, which required her to write in an abstruse “assembly language.” (A typical command might be something like “LXA A, K,” telling the computer to take the number in Location A of its memory and load it into to the “Index Register” K.) Even getting the program into the IBM 704 was a laborious affair. There were no keyboards or screens; Wilkes had to write a program on paper and give it to a typist, who translated each command into holes on a punch card. She would carry boxes of commands to an “operator,” who then fed a stack of such cards into a reader.

4. Sexual fluidity

Our understanding of sexuality has continued to evolve – this piece is a really interesting and nuanced look at the pansexual revolution, where people are less concerned with gender than the person they love.

(The Guardian, approx 16 mins reading time)

“I always describe my sexuality as: ‘If you’ve got nice hair and pretty eyes, I’m down for it,’” explains Jezz, a 26-year-old editor working in historical publishing. “It’s not that gender doesn’t matter, because it can be important, but it’s a bit of an afterthought. It’s just like: ‘Oh, hello.’” For a while, she wasn’t sure what to call this, but eight years ago she settled on “pansexual” as the closest word. “It took me a while to figure it out. [The TV series] Torchwood was about the only thing I’d heard of. I was talking about maybe being pansexual and someone said: ‘Oh, like Captain Jack in Torchwood.’”

5. Was the Fyre Festival documentary a scam?

The Netflix documentary about Fyre Festival was a huge hit – but what was going on behind the scenes? This takes a deep-dive into both that and the Hulu documentary.

(New Republic, approx 12 mins reading time)

Swaigen is also an associate producer of Hulu’s Fyre Fraud and appears in that documentary: He’s the guy with the glasses and deadpan expression who wonders why everybody is so obsessed with Great Exuma. (“I guess it’s an island with a bunch of pigs,” he observes.) Some of his footage ended up in the Netflix movie because it was owned by his contractor at the time, Matte Projects, whose co-founder Brett Kincaid also co-produced Fyre.

6. ASMR children on YouTube

Children can earn thousands through making ASMR videos on YouTube. But at what cost?

(Wired , approx 22 mins reading time)

While most girls her age earned their pocket money babysitting the neighbours’ kids, Kelly spent that summer in her bedroom filming 50 custom-made ASMR videos. She would receive daily email requests for bespoke videos, shoot the footage, receive the money over PayPal (ten minutes cost $50, whereas for $30 (about £23) you’d get a five-minute clip) and upload the video to her YouTube channel, Life with Mak.


In 1948, EB White wrote about what it was like to raise a pig… and then kill it.

(The Atlantic, approx 19 mins reading time)

The scheme of buying a spring pig in blossom time, feeding it through summer and fall, and butchering it when the solid cold weather arrives, is a familiar scheme to me and follows an antique pattern. It is a tragedy enacted on most farms with perfect fidelity to the original script. The murder, being premeditated, is in the first degree but is quick and skillful, and the smoked bacon and ham provide a ceremonial ending whose fitness is seldom questioned.

More: The best reads from every previous Sitdown Sunday>

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