The Takeaways: Week 44 of 2021

A periodic review of articles, newsletters, and podcasts that I found interesting, inspiring, or otherwise worth remembering.


Melissa Perri (host), Product Thinking. Episode 39: Dear Melissa - Answering Questions About Early PM Career Strategy (October 26, 2021)

Q: What tips would you give to someone who is concerned about being a generalist?

A: I think a concern that a lot of product folks have is what they are a specialist at… I think [all] product managers are actually specialists. We definitely have some generalist knowledge and background stuff that we have to talk about, but... I didn't realize that we were specialists until I started working with companies that didn't have product managers there. They had a lot of subject matter experts that were brought in as project managers, and I started to realize how we think differently...

  • a little bit of systems thinking
  • product sizing
  • look[ing] at what every business does and take certain aspects of it and say "you know what, we could apply that here."
  • being able to solve problems in unique and scalable ways with software


Samantha Artiga, Tradeoffs Research Corner. A lot of kids have lost caregivers to COVID-19 (November 5, 2021)

A recent study (PDF) published in Pediatrics by a team of researchers led by Susan Hillis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) quantified the number of children who lost parents or caregivers due to COVID-19 and found stark racial disparities, compounding other disproportionate impacts of the pandemic for children of color.

Combining COVID-19 data from the National Center for Health Statistics and birth certificate data from the CDC Natality Online Database, the authors used a statistical model to estimate that between April 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021, more than 140,000 children in the United States experienced the death of a parent or caregiver due to COVID-19. (Hillis told NPR recently that the number is now likely closer to 175,000.)

Compared to white children, American Indian and Alaska Native children were 4.5 times as likely to have had a parent or caregiver die due to COVID-19, while Black, Hispanic and Asian kids were 2.4, 1.8 and 1.1 times more likely, respectively.

John Cutler, The Beautiful Mess. TBM 45/52: Big Disrupted Enterprises vs. "The Best" (November 4, 2021)

Leader 3: Let’s fund this change effort incrementally based on outcomes. Here’s what we’ll try. It can’t be surface level. Here’s how we will measure our progress. It’s holistic and empowering. We have the right people. I might tap consultants, but I’m not going to outsource this to them. I’m going to fire bad apples immediately. It can’t be just “tech”, it will shape the whole business. Yes, we can learn something from Silicon Valley in terms of how to structure and empower teams, but we need to uphold our strong cultural values. We need a longer term focus than most of these startups. And oh, it will take a chunk out of profits for the next couple years, and then really start paying off.

I’m also tired of people making fun of the BigCos. The Leader 3s of the world are out there doing hard work, under challenging odds.

We need more empathy. Less blame and shame. And more appreciation for the hard work people are doing … especially in government, healthcare, and at disrupted mission-driven companies.

Ted Gioia, The Honest Broker. The Tragedy of Eva Cassidy (November 2, 2021)

But her most unlikely success was achieved with a song that was more than sixty years old, and performed so often that few would expect it had any new secrets to share. But at Blues Alley that night, Cassidy decided to sing “Over the Rainbow” from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Once again, this is the last thing you would do if you were aiming for a hit pop record in the digital age, but Cassidy picked songs because she loved them, not because they matched the items on an A&R executive’s check list.

Olivia Webb, Acute Condition. A new way to cash-pay (November 5, 2021)

However, providers also typically have a cash-pay option, often much cheaper than the negotiated rates (because, remember, hospitals enter rate negotiations with the artificially inflated chargemaster rates). Sometimes, the cash-pay option can be much cheaper than even the deductible a patient would have to pay.

The weird quirks of the cash-pay system are pretty well-known by healthcare insiders—one of my favorite happy hour conversations with healthcare people is hearing about how they’ve used cash-pay options to save thousands—but it’s a secret to most everyone else.


Reed Albergotti, The Washington Post. He predicted the dark side of the Internet 30 years ago. Why did no one listen? (August 12, 2021)

Agre began to rebel, in a sense, from his profession, seeking out critics of artificial intelligence, studying philosophy and other academic disciplines. At first he found the texts “impenetrable,” he wrote, because he had trained his mind to dissect everything he read as he would a technical paper on math or computer science. “It finally occurred to me to stop translating these strange disciplinary languages into technical schemata, and instead simply to learn them on their own terms,” he wrote.

Jennifer Ding with Jan Diehm and Michelle McGhee, The Pudding. Can data die? Why One of the Internet’s Oldest Images Lives On Without Its Subject’s Consent (October 2021)

Forsén shares her side of the story and asks for her image to be retired: “I retired from modelling a long time ago. It’s time I retired from tech, too. We can make a simple change today that creates a lasting change for tomorrow. Let’s commit to losing me.”

Helena Bottemiller Evich, Politico. Diet-related diseases pose a major risk for Covid-19. But the U.S. overlooks them. (October 31, 2021)

While there is no coordinated nutrition policy to tackle diet-related diseases in the U.S., even that approach would probably be far too narrow to make much of a dent, experts say. The problem is driven by so many factors, including poverty and systemic inequality, lack of access to healthy foods, lack of time to cook, overall stress levels, trauma, poor sleep, a lack of access to safe walking paths and parks, to name just a few.

Scaachi Koul, BuzzFeed News. Emily Ratajkowski’s New Book Tests The Limits Of Self-Awareness (October 25, 2021)

My Body is semi-defeatist, not seeking the possibility of a completely different system. [Author Emily] Ratajkowski can see the flaws but accepts the world as it is, working within it and offering her body up for consumption in ways she can’t fully control. She can celebrate her looks, but that comes with the double bind of capitalism, an inescapable scourge for any woman, but especially one who works in the beauty industry.

Brian Krebs, Krebs on Security. ‘Trojan Source’ Bug Threatens the Security of All Code (November 1, 2021)

Specifically, the weakness involves Unicode’s bi-directional or “Bidi” algorithm, which handles displaying text that includes mixed scripts with different display orders, such as Arabic — which is read right to left — and English (left to right).

But computer systems need to have a deterministic way of resolving conflicting directionality in text. Enter the “Bidi override,” which can be used to make left-to-right text read right-to-left, and vice versa.

Alexandrine Royer, Brookings TechStream. The wellness industry’s risky embrace of AI-driven mental health care (October 14, 2021)

Despite a rush to build applications using it, emotionally intelligent computing remains in its infancy and is being introduced in the realm of therapeutic services as a fix-all solution without scientific validation nor public consent. Scientists still disagree over the over the nature of emotions and how they are felt and expressed among various populations, yet this uncertainty has been mostly disregarded by a wellness industry eager to profit on the digitalization of health care. If left unregulated, AI-based mental-health solutions risk creating new disparities in the provision of care as those who cannot afford in-person therapy will be referred to bot-powered therapists of uncertain quality.

The field of affective computing, also more commonly referred to as emotion AI, is a subfield of computer science originating in the 1990s. Rosalind Picard, widely credited as one of its pioneers, defined affective computing as “computing that relates to, arises from, or deliberately influences emotions.” It involves the creation of technology that is said to recognize, express, and adapt to human emotions. Affective computer scientists rely on sensors, voice and sentiment analysis programs, computer vision, and ML techniques to capture and analyze physical cues, written text, and/or physiological signals. These tools are then used to detect emotional changes.