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Wednesday 4 October 2023 Dublin: 12°C
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# 7 great reads
Sitdown Sunday: The 40-year mystery surrounding three children left at a train station
Settle down 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.

1. Uvalde 

A harrowing piece detailing the recovery of two children who were both shot when a gunman opened fire at their school in Uvalde almost a year ago.

(The New York Times, approx 17 mins reading time)

In the aftermath, during the months of Noah’s physical therapy, Jessica Diaz-Orona had scrupulously kept her son away from any visible reminder of the horror. But now, she judged, it was time. After taking Noah to lunch at the restaurant he liked downtown, she walked him past the large murals honoring the 19 students and two teachers who had lost their lives. She pointed out three of the victims he knew best, Tess Mata, Layla Salazar and Alithia Ramirez, all smiling, the way she hoped he would remember them. Noah nodded and focused on his shoes.

2. Golden (dog) years

Emmy Favilla writes about the unexpected joy of fostering and adopting older pets.

(Slate, approx 10 mins reading time)

His guardians had moved out of the country, and after spending 14 years in the only home he’d ever known, Martin was understandably terrified. He had no perfectly cat-size windowsill to bird-watch on or sunbeams to bask in during the afternoon hours. His previous owner’s notes painted a glowing picture of him. Hiding behind the sign on his kennel for privacy, he was on anxiety medication and would not agree to be retrieved from his kennel for a meet-and-greet. Low growls made his stance clear. I ascended a small ladder and petted him gently from just outside his cage. I’m familiar with feline behavior cues, and I’m not afraid of a few paw swats. I carefully let him sniff my knuckles, then went in for some soft pats on his head. He was completely comfortable with this interaction. Papers were signed, and, minutes later, we were in a cab to Queens.

6. The search for family

A podcast on the captivating story of a woman’s search to find her birth parents after being left outside a train station with her two brothers at just two-years-old, and the mystery  The text version can be read here.

(The Guardian, approx 44 mins listening time/33 mins reading time)

In 2014, Elvira had a son with her partner, Marco, an Italian eyeglasses designer based in Barcelona. During her pregnancy, as her body changed, Elvira started to feel unsettled by how little she knew about her biological family. What if her parents had some sort of hereditary disease? After her son was born, her curiosity increased – and increased further with the birth of a second son in 2017. (That same year, Elvira and Marco married and bought a flat a few minutes from where Elvira had grown up.) Looking down at a breastfeeding child, Elvira wondered whether her mother had breastfed her, and what other rituals they had shared during the brief time they had together. Elvira’s sons were so obviously, heart-wrenchingly precious to her that she imagined only a life-shattering event could have driven her mother to abandon her children. As Elvira’s sons grew older, she realised something else was seriously amiss. “What five-year-old can’t name their parents?” she asked herself.

4. Twitter

Twitter might be on the brink of collapse at any moment, but just what about it has kept us so interested for almost two decade?

(The New York Times, approx 41 mins reading time)

If you pick a thousand people at random, you might not find many of us, and if you do, our derangement will be smoothed out into averages and obscured by medians, blinding you to the fact that the bulk of your Twitter reading comes from a tiny minority of the population that shares this peculiar deficiency with me. When we talk about the problems created by Twitter, we focus on what happens when people read the wrong sort of post, like disinformation from a malign actor. If we consider the posting side of things at all, it is to lament the excesses of cancel culture — typically from the receiving end. But if we really want to understand what Twitter has done to us, surely it would make more sense to account for the millions and millions of more ordinary posts the platform generates by design. Why has a small sliver of humanity taken it upon themselves to heap their thoughts into this hopper every day?

5. How to focus

Have you ever wondered how some people manage to stay focused for so long? Six people whose jobs require the utmost concentration share what they do to keep steady at all times.

(The Guardian, approx 11 mins reading time)

When you walk into an operating theatre, it’s almost like a sacred space. It demands all my focus. Precision. Still hands. Calm thoughts. Complete presence in the moment. Typically, I’ll do two operations in a day, each up to five hours long, and separated by a break of up to an hour. For the most part I’m standing, in one position, focused exclusively on an area of the heart that’s perhaps only a couple of millimetres wide, using sutures you almost can’t see with the naked eye, and often wearing magnifying glasses.

6. The hacker

A profile of Runa Sandvik, a cybersecurity expert who advises journalists and other people vulnerable to cyberattacks on how to keep their data safe from hackers, and what she encounters in her day-to-day work.

(Columbia Journalism Review, approx 22 mins reading time)

Over the course of our conversations, Sandvik maintained a guarded circumspection that at times verged on paranoia. We communicated exclusively through encrypted channels, even when discussing innocuous things, like making plans to meet up or sharing article links. She expressed a wariness of the internet, of how and where her data was stored. She was, in other words, privacy obsessed. When I asked Sandvik what would be required to make yourself entirely safe from cyber threats, she replied: you wouldn’t be online at all, and you would have to live in the forest. I often found her prudence perplexing. I wondered if there were things she was hiding from me—an awareness of risks that only someone with her expertise could appreciate. Or if, in her affable bluntness, she simply wanted to convey that most of us are blind to the surveillance dystopia in which we live.

…AND A CLASSIC FROM THE ARCHIVES…

An article from 2019 about the possibilities – and dangers – of creating a perfect lie detector test using AI and brain-scanning technology. 

(The Guardian, approx 23 mins reading time)

Converus’s technology, EyeDetect, has been used by FedEx in Panama and Uber in Mexico to screen out drivers with criminal histories, and by the credit ratings agency Experian, which tests its staff in Colombia to make sure they aren’t manipulating the company’s database to secure loans for family members. In the UK, Northumbria police are carrying out a pilot scheme that uses EyeDetect to measure the rehabilitation of sex offenders. Other EyeDetect customers include the government of Afghanistan, McDonald’s and dozens of local police departments in the US. Soon, large-scale lie-detection programmes could be coming to the borders of the US and the European Union, where they would flag potentially deceptive travellers for further questioning. But as tools such as EyeDetect infiltrate more and more areas of public and private life, there are urgent questions to be answered about their scientific validity and ethical use.

Note: The Journal generally selects stories that are not paywalled, but some might not be accessible if you have exceeded your free article limit on the site in question.

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