Saturday, January 31, 2015

Bending Jaws

[ed. Big surf along Hawaii's northern shores this winter.]

Marshawn and Gronk

[ed. The hopes and dreams of entire cities, millions of people, rest with these guys. Not Conan, the other two guys.]

The Secret to Raising Smart Kids

A brilliant student, Jonathan sailed through grade school. He completed his assignments easily and routinely earned As. Jonathan puzzled over why some of his classmates struggled, and his parents told him he had a special gift. In the seventh grade, however, Jonathan suddenly lost interest in school, refusing to do homework or study for tests. As a consequence, his grades plummeted. His parents tried to boost their son's confidence by assuring him that he was very smart. But their attempts failed to motivate Jonathan (who is a composite drawn from several children). Schoolwork, their son maintained, was boring and pointless.

Our society worships talent, and many people assume that possessing superior intelligence or ability—along with confidence in that ability—is a recipe for success. In fact, however, more than 35 years of scientific investigation suggests that an overemphasis on intellect or talent leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unwilling to remedy their shortcomings.

The result plays out in children like Jonathan, who coast through the early grades under the dangerous notion that no-effort academic achievement defines them as smart or gifted. Such children hold an implicit belief that intelligence is innate and fixed, making striving to learn seem far less important than being (or looking) smart. This belief also makes them see challenges, mistakes and even the need to exert effort as threats to their ego rather than as opportunities to improve. And it causes them to lose confidence and motivation when the work is no longer easy for them.

Praising children's innate abilities, as Jonathan's parents did, reinforces this mind-set, which can also prevent young athletes or people in the workforce and even marriages from living up to their potential. On the other hand, our studies show that teaching people to have a “growth mind-set,” which encourages a focus on “process” (consisting of personal effort and effective strategies) rather than on intelligence or talent, helps make them into high achievers in school and in life.

The Opportunity of Defeat

I first began to investigate the underpinnings of human motivation—and how people persevere after setbacks—as a psychology graduate student at Yale University in the 1960s. Animal experiments by psychologists Martin Seligman, Steven Maier and Richard Solomon, all then at the University of Pennsylvania, had shown that after repeated failures, most animals conclude that a situation is hopeless and beyond their control. After such an experience, the researchers found, an animal often remains passive even when it can effect change—a state they called learned helplessness.

People can learn to be helpless, too, but not everyone reacts to setbacks this way. I wondered: Why do some students give up when they encounter difficulty, whereas others who are no more skilled continue to strive and learn? One answer, I soon discovered, lay in people's beliefs about why they had failed.

by Carol S. Dweck, Scientific American | Read more:
Image: Jim Cummins/Getty

Friday, January 30, 2015

Gordon Parks, Louis Armstrong, Los Angeles, California, 1969.

Go Ahead, Angela, Make My Day

It was in Greece that the infernal euro crisis began just over five years ago. So it is classically fitting that Greece should now be where the denouement may be played out—thanks to the big election win on January 25th for the far-left populist Syriza party led by Alexis Tsipras (see article). By demanding a big cut in Greece’s debt and promising a public-spending spree, Mr Tsipras has thrown down the greatest challenge so far to Europe’s single currency—and thus to Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, who has set the austere path for the continent.

The stakes are high. Although everybody, including Mr Tsipras, insists they want Greece to stay in the euro, there is now a clear threat of Grexit. In 2011-12 Mrs Merkel wavered, but then decided to support the Greeks to keep them in the single currency. She did not want Germany to be blamed for another European disaster, and both northern creditors and southern debtors were nervous about the consequences of a chaotic Greek exit for Europe’s banks and their economies.

This time the odds have changed. Grexit would look more like the Greeks’ fault, Europe’s economy is stronger and 80% of Greece’s debt is in the hands of other governments or official bodies. Above all the politics are different. The Finns and the Dutch, like the Germans, want Greece to stick to promises it made when they twice bailed it out. And in southern Europe centrist governments fear that a successful Greek blackmail would push voters towards their own populist opposition parties, like Spain’s Podemos (see article).

A good answer to a bad question

It could all get very messy. But there are broadly three possible outcomes: the good, the disastrous, and a compromise to kick the can down the road. The history of the euro has always been to defer the pain, but now the battle is about politics not economics—and compromise may be much harder.

Tantalisingly, there is a good solution to be grabbed for both Greece and Europe. Mr Tsipras has got two big things right, and one completely wrong. He is right that Europe’s austerity has been excessive. Mrs Merkel’s policies have been throttling the continent’s economy and have ushered in deflation. The belated launch of quantitative easing (QE) by the European Central Bank admits as much. Mr Tsipras is also right that Greece’s debt, which has risen from 109% to a colossal 175% of GDP over the past six years despite tax rises and spending cuts, is unpayable. Greece should be put into a forgiveness programme just like a bankrupt African country. But Mr Tsipras is wrong to abandon reform at home. His plans to rehire 12,000 public-sector workers, abandon privatisation and introduce a big rise in the minimum wage would all undo Greece’s hard-won gains in competitiveness.

Hence this newspaper’s solution: get Mr Tsipras to junk his crazy socialism and to stick to structural reforms in exchange for debt forgiveness—either by pushing the maturity of Greek debt out even further or, better still, by reducing its face value. Mr Tspiras could vent his leftist urges by breaking up Greece’s cosy protected oligopolies and tackling corruption. The combination of macroeconomic easing with microeconomic structural reform might even provide a model for other countries, like Italy and even France.

A very logical dream—until you wake up and remember that Mr Tsipras probably is a crazy leftwinger and Mrs Merkel can barely accept the existing plans for QE. Hence the second, disastrous outcome: Grexit. Optimists are right that it would now be less painful than in 2012, but it would still hurt.

by Editors, The Economist |  Read more:
Image: Bridgeman

Farnese Gallery. Annibale Carracci. Mercury and Paris, (detail). Frescoe. 1597-1603/4. Rome

Hey, Newcomers—Welcome to the Only City in the Country that Isn't Ridiculous and Horrible!

Hey! Are you new here? Welcome. Have a seat. Don't sit there, it's wet, sit there. Would you like anything? We don't have that. Would you like something else? Would you like some weed? We have plenty of weed.

One more question: Who are you again?

Just to make things clear, it's not like the rest of us aren't happy you're here. We're happy you're here. Ish. Happy-ish. We're not super happy about what's happening to our rents, but we're happy that we're a bigger city than Boston now, because of you. (Fuck Boston.) We're happy to be going to the Super Bowl. (Once again: Fuck Boston.) We're happy you chose Seattle over all the other places you could have chosen, but it's not exactly like we're surprised, because all of us chose Seattle, too. Seattle is better than other places. FACT. We're also happy you're here because everyone currently living here who's single was just going, 'God, we could really use some new people to choose from.' The dating pool was getting gnarly. Please have sex with as many of us as you can.

Now, as to your questions. "Oooh, the Seattle Freeze—what do you do about the Seattle Freeze!?" Please stop asking this question. Kindly click here and stop asking us this question.

As for, "Oooh, I don't know how to find restaurants on my own! Tell me food secrets only locals know!" That's a reasonable request. Pro tip: Angela Garbes, who is hilarious, writes about eating out in the city every damn week in The Stranger, and all the damn time on Slog, our blog (, and she's gone ahead and written down some foodie secrets only locals know here. Read it, memorize it, and then keep everything you learn secret from the next wave of newcomers. (...)

For those of you who just want to bitch and moan about how California is better than Seattle, or how New York City is better than Seattle, or how Vienna is better than Seattle, or how Spokane is better than Seattle, we have you covered, there, too. (Spoiler alert: Not even the person from Spokane thinks Spokane is better than Seattle.)

A whole bunch of newcomers to the city are living in micro-housing, aka apartments the size of closets, because Seattle is more lenient on developers building apartments the size of closets than any other city in the country, which we're quite proud of, because density is good, and people ought to be able to live in whatever shapes they damn well want to. But what is it like to live in one of those closets? Heidi Groover went and found out.

The other kind of newcomer to the city is living in a brand-new luxury building with a rooftop fire pit and boozy building-wide parties—and 9 times out of 10, this kind of newcomer works for Amazon or Microsoft. Brendan Kiley ascends to that world right here.

Ann Greene Kelly, Untitled, 2013. Brick, shoe sole, wire, Quickcrete, found stone. 8x6x7”. Photo: Lance Brewer. Courtesy the artist.

Lars Andersen: A New Level of Archery

[ed. THE viral video of the moment. Awesome.]

The Instant Ramen Power Rankings

After interviewing Hans Lienesch, the Ramen Rater, I wondered: how does the instant ramen in my neighborhood rate? What’s best? There are countless brands of instant noodles made and distributed around the world. How hard or punishing would it be to taste one’s way through a stack of them to figure out what’s worth keeping in the cupboard?

And, after 17 packages of ramen, I couldn’t eat anymore. My feet were swollen like they’d been on a transcontinental flight. It had to stop somewhere.

If we can rank our pro football teams, I thought, we can do it to our food. Why not take the sports analogy even further, I asked myself through sodium-induced mania at 1:30 in the morning, and for a while, I was convinced I’d created a highly scientific and totally foolproof metric to measure instant noodle quality. The equation looked something like this:

rSCORE = (R_taste*1.1)〖+R〗_value+V_misc-((N_a-2000))/500
〖 R〗_value=(.69-Price)/1.1
V_misc= (E_prep+A_ttract+F_ind+S_num)/6

I eventually realized that what I had done didn’t make much sense at all; I’ll chalk it up to hallucinations due to consuming one million percent of my daily salt intake. In the end, I just assigned a 1-10 score and plotted the brands on a scatter chart based on taste and price.

MyKuali Penang White Curry

Like Hans Lienesch, The Ramen Rater, said in my interview with him, there’s just nothing like this on the market right now. The creamy, sinus-clearing broth actually tastes like it took more than three minutes to prepare. It includes a sachet of non-dairy creamer (!), and it is the one instant noodle you might be able to pass off in an actual restaurant. The only issue is that it’s difficult to find—I had to get it on eBay, where I paid about $2.75 per package.

Taste (out of 10): 9.5

Acecook Super Big Ramen Tonkotsu

I loved this ramen—the broth was deeply rich and creamy, like having a nice hot pig smoothie. The ramen block was also exceptional, with thicker-than-average noodles. This product also had, by a lot, the most insane amount of sodium: 3,080 mg, which is 128% of your daily allowance. Your rings won’t fit your hands after eating this, but your palate will thank you.

Taste: 9

by Lucas Peterson, Lucky Peach |  Read more:
Image: uncredited

Black Mirror

One of the most disturbing moments in the British TV series “Black Mirror” is what appears to be a passionate love scene. The episode takes place in a version of the future where most people have had small devices, called “grains,” surgically implanted in their heads that can record and replay their memories on demand. As the encounter progresses, it is revealed that the couple are actually having dull and mechanical sex, their eyes grayed out as they both tune into their grains to watch memories of their previous trysts, from an earlier, steamier time in their relationship.

Each episode of “Black Mirror” — named for the way our screens look while powered down — paints a different nightmarescape of a future gone technologically awry. In one episode, for example, a woman uses a mail-order kit to create a golem of her deceased boyfriend using his social-media profiles. Another follows an obnoxious cartoon character as he becomes a powerful political figure after performing a series of public stunts. Still another imagines a post-peak-oil future, wherein people generate energy and currency by pedaling on stationary bikes, and the only escape from the drudgery is reality-show fame. The show feels like required viewing for our always connected, device-augmented lives. (...)

That the show probably owes its American stature to social media is perfectly appropriate, because the series fixates on our codependent and contradictory relationship with technology and media. We love being able to share our inner monologues and the minutia of our lives with one another, until, that is, it all goes horribly wrong in ways previously unimaginable. Or even if it doesn’t, we still find ourselves annoyed, jealous, infuriated and even depressed by the behavior of others (and occasionally ourselves) online. And yet we keep logging on. (...)

In America, we treat the release of each new Apple product with the reverence usually reserved for pop icons. The sly ingenuity of “Black Mirror” is that it nails down our love for the same devices we blame for our psychological torment. Brooker understands that even as we swear off tweeting and promise to stop Googling our exes, our phones are still the last things we see before falling asleep and the first things we reach for when we awaken.

To that end, the gadgets in “Black Mirror,” including the creepy memory-recording devices, look sleek enough to want, which is perhaps the show’s cleverest trick. It is impossible to watch the show and not idly fantasize about having access to some of the services and systems they use, even as you see them used in horrifying ways. (You might not feel this way about, say, “The Terminator.”) Most television shows and movies can’t even correctly portray the standard interfaces that we use to browse the Web, send a text message or make a voice call, let alone design them in a desirable way.

by Jenna Wortham, NY Times |  Read more:
Image: Tom Gauld

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Piotr Rosiński. Przejście (Passage)

Hamlet and Ophelia
, Andrej Dugin

Basic Bitch

[ed. See also: Columbusing, and overanalyzing the term Basic]

Over the past year, we have arrived at an odd cultural and lexicographical moment: To dress “normal” is the height of chic, yet to call someone “basic” is the chicest put-down, one that shows no signs of disappearing. This is despite the increasing obviousness, with ever-more widespread usage, that basic isn’t an especially new or insightful insult. It’s just about the oldest one in the book.

Basic, according to the BuzzFeed quizzes and CollegeHumor videos that wrested the term from the hip-hop world and brought it into the realm of white-girl-on-white-girl insults, means someone who owns things like Uggs and North Face and leggings. She likes yogurt and fears carbs (there is an exception for brunch), and loves her friends, unless and until she secretly hates them. She finds peplum flattering and long (or at least shoulder-grazing) hair reliably attractive. She exercises in various non-bulk-building ways, some of which have inspired her to purchase special socks for the experience. She bought the Us Weekly with Lauren Conrad’s wedding on the cover. She Pins. She runs her gel-manicured hands up and down the spine of female-centric popular culture of the last 15 years, and is satisfied with what she feels. She doesn’t, apparently, long for more.

The basic bitch — as she’s sometimes called because it’s funnier when things alliterate, and because you’re considered a poor sport if you don’t find it funny — is almost always a she. In more sophisticated renderings,her particularities vary by region and even neighborhood, but she is almost always portrayed as utterly besotted with Starbucks’s Pumpkin Spice Latte. It is the setup to nearly every now-familiar punch line about a basic bitch, her love for the autumnal mass-market beverage. Pumpkin Spice Lattes are “mall.” They reveal a girlish interest in seasonal changes and an unsophisticated penchant for sweet. They are sidewalk chalkboards announcing their existence in polka-dot bubble letters. They are from the mid-aughts. They are easy targets.

Basic rolls beautifully off the tongue. It’s a useful insult. Like trashy or gauche, it derives its power from the knowledge that if you can recognize someone or something as basic, you probably, yourself, aren’t it. It also feels restrained, somehow. You don’t quite have to stoop to calling someone a slut or a halfwit or anything truly cruel. It’s not as implicating as calling someone tacky — the basic woman is so evidently nonthreatening she doesn’t even deserve such a raised pulse. Basic-tagging is coolly lazy. It conveys a graduate seminar’s worth of semiotics in five letters. “So basic,” you think, scrolling through your Facebook feed. “She’s basic,” you offer to a friend, commenting on her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend. It was a word we’d been looking for.

by Noreen Malone, The Cut |  Read more:
Image: Wikipedia

Three Feet by Six Feet by Three Feet

What sounded like a scream jolted me awake at 5:54 a.m. Less than two feet away, the man in the neighboring capsule had awakened from a nightmare, but the way he followed it with three quick sneezes made me wonder if his cry was actually the first in a series of predawn sneezes. There in my narrow capsule, at the top of two stacked rows of sleepers in a warren of hallways, I rolled on my side, my knees pressed against the tan plastic wall, and squeezed my eyes shut. I couldn’t fall back asleep.

Every sound was magnified in the polite, labored silence of the capsule hotel: a humming fan; a rattling curtain; a strange mechanical whoosh, whoosh. As time passed and the Tokyo sky lightened outside, the sound of rousing sleepers filled the hall. Men cleared their throats. One crinkled a plastic bag. Others coughed and sniffled. When a guest lowered a piece of luggage from his capsule, it hit the carpeted floor with a reverberating thud. This hotel contained 630 capsules spread throughout its many floors in what entomologists might describe as a human hive. In the neighboring cell, a man’s ring tapped the wall, rattling my ears with a clank. Seconds passed. Then some other part of his body bumped as he turned over in bed, his skin making the familiar rubbing sound as it pulled against the stiff cotton sheets. I wore earplugs, but earplugs could only filter so much.

The Green Plaza Capsule Hotel in Kabukichō, central Tokyo’s red light district, occupies a nondescript white tower on a narrow side street north of bustling Yasukuni-dori. Train tracks run beside it, diverting cross-town traffic to opposite blocks and creating a secluded section of this otherwise sleepless neighborhood of bars, love hotels, and barely concealed prostitution. What the capsule hotel calls a “room” costs 4,300 yen a night, or $36, and runs six feet long by three feet wide and three feet high. Those dimensions feel like a doghouse. Pickup trucks have bigger beds. Despite the red light location, the hotel is a respectable operation. It houses businessmen mostly, often drunk, and it segregates the sexes. Women and men stay on different floors; each group has its own traditional onsen bath and dining areas on other floors. On an upper level, men can pay half the price of a capsule to sleep side-by-side in a shared, open “napping” room, separated by dividers. A capsule is challenging; shared group space would be hell.

When I told my friends in Oregon that I’d be sleeping inside a fiberglass pod, they thought I was nuts, but my logic was simple: Small lodging meant a small bill, and in Tokyo, where budget hotels charge between $55 and $130 per night, capsules meant I could stretch my limited budget enough to stay in Japan for three weeks. If you booked in advance online, you could stay at a capsule hotel for $353.79 for 13 days. I considered it. Capsule-style hotels are coming to the US, and they’re cheap. My girlfriend swore she wouldn’t last a night. “Our closet is bigger than that,” she pointed out; we lived in a studio and stored clothes under our bed. But the time to reconsider had passed. “Thank you for booking with Expedia!” the confirmation email said.

In a capsule nearby, a man hacked, and, as I turned onto my stomach, I knew I wouldn’t be sleeping anymore that day. (...)

When traveling, I sleep in rental cars and on couches. I’ve spent the night on airport floors, in poolside chaise lounges, and in a hammock in Mt. Rainer National Park. I assumed I could handle a capsule.

Kabukichō, where Green Plaza is located, is the largest red-light district in Asia. Set inside central Tokyo’s neon intestines, bright vertical signs climb the sides of buildings and pedestrians fill the streets. Women in sequined dresses click by on high heels, long slits showing their calves, even in winter. Although prostitution isn’t legal in Japan, the law’s language makes non-coital acts permissible, so the sex trade thrives.

People come to Kabukichō to drink, to fuck, to throw up on their shoes. When they’re done, they spend the night in a capsule for the price of a fancy dinner and sweat out their hangovers in a bath the next day before catching a train home. I spent the night among them.

by Aaron Gilbreath, TMN | Read more:
Image: Matt Eshleman

The Ventures

Willi Baumeister, Runner (Läuferin II), 1925

Comcast Renames Man ‘Asshole Brown’ After He Tries to Cancel Cable

Comcast probably doesn’t relish being one of those companies that many Americans love to hate. But sometimes, the cable giant makes this way too easy.

Consider the case of Ricardo Brown. After Brown’s wife had a disagreement with the cable company recently, Comcast started sending him monthly statements under the name “Asshole Brown.”

The disagreement happened when Brown’s wife Lisa tried to cancel her cable. She got referred to one of the company’s dreaded “retention specialists,” who apparently didn’t like being told “no,” as Lisa Brown told the blogger Christopher Elliott, who first reported the story.

“I was never rude,” she told Elliott. “It could have been that person was upset because I didn’t take the offer.”

Like many phone companies and ISPs, Comcast makes it frighteningly difficult to cancel an account. The company retains an army of retention specialists whose sole job is to keep you from signing off. Last year, the journalist Ryan Block recorded a Kafkaesque conversation he had with a Comcast retention specialist from hell. That call has been listened to nearly 6 million times.

by Robert McMillan, Wired |  Read more:
Image: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The Shape of the App Store

Every developer knows how tough it can be to make a living on the App Store. There’s a lot of money being made there, but it’s not spread very evenly. Those at the top of the charts make the lion’s share of revenue, while the vast majority are left to fight over the scraps. But exactly how lopsided is it? And how does that affect an indie developer’s chances of finding success? For a long time, I was resigned to never really knowing the answers to these questions, because although there’s wide consensus that the distribution of revenue in the App Store is best represented by a power law, I had no way of knowing how sharply or gently the graph of that power law curved. My own apps haven’t spent enough time on the Top Grossing list to collect the data I would need to make a prediction, and Apple sure isn’t sharing it.

And then on January 15, Marco Arment gave me (well, all of us) a belated Christmas present. In his piece titled Overcast’s 2014 Sales Numbers, Marco shared the financial performance of his podcast player, Overcast, through a series of statistics and graphs. Because the information he shared was so detailed, and because Overcast has been so successful, I realized that Marco’s post could provide some insight into how an app’s rank on the U.S. Top Grossing list correlates with its daily revenue. (...)

To provide some context to the results, you may be familiar with the Pareto distribution. It’s the origin of the classic “80-20 rule” that’s used to explain so many phenomena that obey a power law. “Twenty percent of the people in an organization do eighty percent of the work.” “Twenty percent of the population control eighty percent of the wealth.” You hear these types of statistics a lot, but they’re usually not very accurate. Often, they are useful as a first estimate at best. So I didn’t actually expect App Store revenue to obey the 80-20 rule. In fact, I expected it to be a much sharper curve, representing even greater disparity in the distribution of revenue than the 80-20 rule would suggest – maybe a 90-10 split, or even a 95-5 split. As it turns out, the revenue distribution curve of the App Store is even sharper than I imagined.

I expected a “hockey stick” curve that’s characteristic of power law models, but I didn’t expect one like this. The hockey stick breaks upwards at around position 870 on the U.S. Top Grossing list. With about 1.2 million apps in the App Store at the time the data was collected, that arguably puts 99.93% of apps in the “long tail” of the App Store. The “head” of the App Store, those 870 top grossing apps that make up 0.07% of the App Store population, collect over 40% of the App Store revenue that’s paid out.

Luckily, there’s a lot of money to be made in that long tail. At the top of the long tail, in position 871 on the U.S. Top Grossing list, an app still makes over $700 in revenue per day. That’s almost $260,000 per year. Even number 1,908 on the U.S. Top Grossing list makes over $100,000 per year. In fact all apps above number 3,175 on the U.S. Top Grossing list produce enough revenue to at least make its developer the United States household median income for 2014 ($53,891). And this is just for a single app. Most indies I know develop more than one app simultaneously. Developers who can put together a collection of apps that rank at about 6000 on the U.S. Top Grossing list (about $25,000 in revenue per year) stand a good chance of building an app business that can sustain them and their families.

by Charles Perry, Metakite Software |  Read more:
Image: Metakite Software

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Everybody Loves Marshawn Lynch

Has any nickname ever fit any human better than “Beast Mode” fits Marshawn Lynch?

Sometimes he’ll be running and it’ll seem like he’s cornered, and then he’ll just run right through whatever defenders looked like a problem. He finds cutback lanes that shouldn’t exist, he almost always falls forward for an extra few yards when he goes down, and as the game unfolds and the defense gets tired, he only gets better. Beast Mode.

On any given play, he can go from a regular running back to some kind of hulked-out superhero flying into the end zone. Beast Mode.

It’s not just your imagination if it feels like Marshawn Lynch never gets brought down by just one guy. As Danny Kelly wrote for SB Nation this week, Lynch broke 101 tackles in 2014, the most since Pro Football Focus started tracking that stat eight years ago. In the NFC Championship Game against the Packers, he was the most dominant player on either team. He forced a playoff-record 15 missed tackles, and 110 of his 157 yards came after contact. (...)

Now let’s talk about what he’s like off the field. What’s amazing about anyone complaining about Lynch’s media boycott is that nobody in the NFL has given us better quotes than Beast Mode.

“I’m just ’bout that action, boss,” he said at last year’s media day. “I ain’t never seen no talking win me nothing.”

“If I do [talk on the field],” he said in 2012, “only thing I tell them is, ‘You know where I’m at: seven yards deep. I ain’t too hard to find.’”

Last year, Deion Sanders asked him, “You don’t like podiums, do you?”

Lynch: “Nah, it ain’t my thing.”

Deion: “What is your thing?”

Lynch: “Lay back, kick back, mind my business, stay in my own lane.”

What does his dog do during Seahawks games? Does he watch him play?

Lynch: “No. He’s out doing his doggie dog thing, living in his doggie dog world. You feel me?”

Yesterday, he showed up to face thousands of reporters and said, “I’m here so I won’t get fined,” 29 times in a row. Anyone who can read that sentence without smiling is taking all this far too seriously.

The only real downside of Lynch’s silence turning into media day’s biggest story is that it obscures his actual story. It’s one of the more incredible tales we probably won’t hear this week.

by Andrew Sharp, Grantland |  Read more:
Image: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty

Architect and surfer David Hertz's Golden Means Eco-Board, with graphics taken from Le Corbusier’s Modular Man abstracted to represent the sine wave patterning of natural proportions found in the wave form.

Raising Elvis

I am a real New Jersey housewife. I tell my girlfriends that we could start our own show, the Real Tired Housewives. A show without huge earrings or catfights but with a lot of driving and packing of lunches. A lot. I have five children. When I say this (actually, mumble it) people’s mouths drop open, and some mixture of awe and repulsion twitches across their faces. Wow, they say. I can feel them calculating. They do not know whether to bow down in reverence or call for a psych exam. And then comes the part that I really hate. Four girls and one boy, I say.

I wait.

“Is the boy last?” they always ask.

They get this hopeful smirk on their faces, like they have caught me. Like I kept on having kids, until I got a boy. As though the girls were obstacles on my way to getting it right. The Holy Grail, a son. “No,” I answer, with a thrust of my chin. “He’s the fourth.”

That boy, my fourth, is now twelve. His name is Henry. He loves me. Oh no, he hates me. Loves me, hates me. He’s twelve.

* * *
It’s been an eye-opening twelve years. A time to examine some preconceived—literally—notions regarding the raising of boys and girls. Especially my own. I had been stunned and hurt by the comments I heard after the birth of our daughters. The nurses at the hospital told me that they hear a lot of women apologize to their husbands after giving birth to girls. Seriously. Right in the labor room. One nurse said, “Don’t they realize that it is the man who determines the sex of the baby?” Another quipped, “So maybe the men should apologize.”

So I shouldn’t have been surprised when visitors would say, “Maybe next time,” with a dismissive wave at our little pink bundles of joy. Or, “How soon are you going to try again?”

My brother-in-law actually said, “Three girls. That’s the pits.”

He’s lucky to be alive.

“Another girl? Is Hank mad at you?” a neighbor asked.

And when I answered, “Yeah, my husband’s furious, he’s kicking me out next week,” she didn’t even flinch.

And yet: No one was as shocked or as happy as I was when the doctor held up that baby boy in the hospital.

“I feel like I won the lottery,” I said to Hank.

I’d had three miscarriages after my three girls and before Henry’s birth. I had been flush with grief. I was delighted with my family but had wanted more children—not necessarily a boy or a girl, just another baby. When my body didn’t cooperate, I was stunned, but also ashamed. It’s a feeling my obstetrician said that many women confessed to, but that he couldn’t understand. It had been a terrible time, trying to mother my three daughters with the joy they deserved while being sick with the loss of those unborn babies. Finally having a healthy baby made me gleeful.

But still something nagged at me. People were now treating me like I had finally done something correctly. Did I secretly agree? Was I that big of a jerk?

“It’s about time,” I heard again and again. “Oh, your husband must be thrilled.”

So even while I was telling myself that I was just happy to have a healthy baby, I was thrilled to have a son. Finally. A small voice inside me yelled, You patriarchal hypocrite, as I floated and gloated through the aftermath of his birth.

by Allison Gehlhaus, Brain, Child | Read more:
Image: uncredited

EFF’s Game Plan for Ending Global Mass Surveillance

We have a problem when it comes to stopping mass surveillance.

The entity that's conducting the most extreme and far-reaching surveillance against most of the world's communications—the National Security Agency—is bound by United States law.

That's good news for Americans. U.S. law and the Constitution protect American citizens and legal residents from warrantless surveillance. That means we have a very strong legal case to challenge mass surveillance conducted domestically or that sweeps in Americans' communications.

Similarly, the United States Congress is elected by American voters. That means Congressional representatives are beholden to the American people for their jobs, so public pressure from constituents can help influence future laws that might check some of the NSA's most egregious practices.

But what about everyone else? What about the 96% of the world's population who are citizens of other countries, living outside U.S. borders. They don't get a vote in Congress. And current American legal protections generally only protect citizens, legal residents, or those physically located within the United States. So what can EFF do to protect the billions of people outside the United States who are victims of the NSA's spying?

For years, we've been working on a strategy to end mass surveillance of digital communications of innocent people worldwide. Today we're laying out the plan, so you can understand how all the pieces fit together—that is, how U.S. advocacy and policy efforts connect to the international fight and vice versa. Decide for yourself where you can get involved to make the biggest difference.

This plan isn't for the next two weeks or three months. It's a multi-year battle that may need to be revised many times as we better understand the tools and authorities of entities engaged in mass surveillance and as more disclosures by whistleblowers help shine light on surveillance abuses.

(If you'd like an overview of how U.S. surveillance law works, check out our addendum.)

Intro: Mass Surveillance by NSA, GCHQ and Others

The National Security Agency is working to collect as much as possible about the digital lives of people worldwide. As the Washington Post reported, a former senior U.S. intelligence official characterized former NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander's approach to surveillance as "Collect is all, tag it, store it… And whatever it is you want, you go searching for it."

The NSA can't do this alone. It relies on a network of international partners who help collect information worldwide, especially the intelligence agencies of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom (collectively known, along with the United States, as the "Five Eyes.") In addition, the United States has relationships (including various levels of intelligence data sharing and assistance) with Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Singapore, Spain, South Korea, Sweden, and potentially a number of other countries worldwide. There are also other countries—like Russia, China, and others—engaging in surveillance of digital communications without sharing that data with the NSA. Some of those governments, including the U.S. government, are spending billions of dollars to develop spying capabilities that they use aggressively against innocent people around the world. Some of them may do so with even less oversight and even fewer legal restrictions.

Although whistleblowers and journalists have focused attention on the staggering powers and ambitions of the likes of the NSA and GCHQ, we should never assume that other governments lack the desire to join them. Agencies everywhere are hungry for our data and working to expand their reach. Read about international surveillance law reform and fighting back through user-side encryption.

We focus here on the NSA because we know the most about its activities and we have the most legal and political tools for holding it to account. Of course, we need to know much more about surveillance practices of other agencies in the U.S. and abroad and expand our work together with our partners around the world to confront surveillance as a worldwide epidemic.

Mass surveillance is facilitated by technology companies, especially large ones. These companies often have insufficient or even sloppy security practices that make mass surveillance easier, and in some cases may be actively assisting the NSA in sweeping up data on hundreds of millions of people (for example, AT&T). In other cases, tech companies may be legally compelled to provide access to their servers to the NSA (or they may choose to fight that access). Read more about how tech companies can harden their systems against surveillance.

The NSA relies on several laws as well as a presidential order to justify its continued mass surveillance. Laws passed by Congress as well as orders from the U.S. President can curtail surveillance by the NSA, and the Supreme Court of the United States also has authority to put the brakes on surveillance.

The Game Plan

Given that the American legal system doesn't adequately protect the rights of people overseas, what can we do in the immediate future to protect Internet users who may not be Americans?

Here's the game plan for right now. Note that these are not consecutive steps; we're working on them concurrently.

by Rainey Reitman, Electronic Frontier Foundation | Read more:
Image: EFF

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


[ed. Finally, an app that actually makes sense. I'd sign up if it paid for my gas.]

Roadie — an app that connects people who want to ship an item with drivers who are going in the same direction — launched publicly in several states this morning, with the goal of turning existing automobiles already on the road into an ad hoc network of cargo vehicles.

Marc Gorlin, the company’s founder and CEO, wants to tap into the existing supply of passenger vehicles already on the road to make it easier to send anything — even things that can’t be sent through the postal system affordably because of size or shape — quickly. Users just have to post details and pictures of the item they want delivered and the pickup and drop-off locations and “Roadies,” or the drivers, can choose the delivery that is most convenient for them or along the routes they plan to take. Gorlin previously co-founded Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), Kabbage Inc., VerticalOne, and a number of other companies.

“There’s this transportation heat map that exists of the people, the places they go and patterns,” Gorlin said. “Whether it’s going to work every day, going on vacation, whether you’re the sales rep that covers the same territory every week, you have a more powerful transportation heat map than UPS, FedEx, and USPS combined. Imagine what can you do with that system. Roadie is going to reveal that transportation heat map.”

Roadie will also roll out a route recognition feature called Roadie Route Learning using the opt-in location service on the app, though this will only become available to people after they become frequent users of the app.

“Once we build a heat map based on initial density, we’ll slowly start to turn this feature on,” Gorlin said. “We’ll get there, and when we do, it will be absolutely transformative for the shipping industry.” (...)

Though there are existing players in the sharing economy like Shyp, for instance, that focus on the shipping industry, Roadie is a fundamentally different service. For one, the item being shipped does not need any kind of packaging since the driver can simply stow the item in their trunk or available seats. Additionally, the Roadies deliver the packages themselves and can therefore be tracked in real time using the app, whereas Shyp packs the item and sends it through a postal service that they get consolidated rates for.

“Shyp is essentially a luxury concierge service,” Gorlin said. “Maybe they’re more champagne; we’re more beer and more people drink beer.”

In addition to receiving 80%of fares, which are a combination of a base fare plus a fee based on mileage as well as urgency, drivers receive an end-of-year email with all the miles they drove, which can be written off as business deductions. As an added benefit, in the next few weeks, Roadie will also partner with several businesses to provide a series of rest stops where drivers can stop and get food and other supplies at discounted prices. Drivers also can access roadside assistance in the case of maintenance issues or emergencies which will connect them with tow trucks or other assistance even if they’re not in the middle of a delivery.

by Johana Bhuiyan, Buzz Feed | Read more:
Image: uncredited

Curtis Mayfield

Keep YouTube Weird

In 2013, Jason Calacanis wrote a post titled, “I ain’t gonna work on YouTube’s farm no more.” In it, the media entrepreneur detailed how, despite being one of the top funded YouTube creator partners, he turned down the platform’s money when it was time to renew his contract.

Many thought he was crazy to reject cash from the largest online video distributor on the planet. But if the claims made about YouTube’s new partner agreement in a blog post by cellist Zoe Keating are true, it may have been a smart move after all.

First, some background on Keating’s post: YouTube is launching a subscription streaming music service not unlike Spotify or Rdio called “Music Key.” Last summer, the Google-owned video platform took heat for allegedly bullying independent labels and artists into agreeing to below-market royalty rates, with the threat that their content would otherwise be removed from YouTube’s previously free, open platform. YouTube rightly reversed course on that decision, but the new agreement it’s now offering to YouTube Partners is even worse.

The terms of the new agreement, while logical from YouTube’s perspective, place huge restrictions on where and how a musician can host their music on both YouTube and other platforms. And the bullying hasn’t stopped. Keating wrote that, if she refused to sign the new YouTube music services agreement, her channel, which has over a half a million views and close to 5,000 followers, would be blocked from the monetization portions of the platform.

According to the new agreement, anything Keating uploads to Youtube will be automatically included in the Music Key subscription service. And it’s not just Keating’s uploads. If she chooses to withhold anything from YouTube, but a third party subsequently uploads it, including her name in the description, it will also be added to Music Key. Not that Keating would have much incentive to withhold music — anything she releases on another platform, like Bandcamp or iTunes, must be uploaded to YouTube at the same time, per the terms of the new contract. (...)

The agreement also states that all of Keating’s videos, along with any third-party uploads of her songs, will be “monetized,” meaning there will be pre-roll ads placed ahead of them — or as she describes them, “Doritos ads.” This is hardly in the spirit of artist control nor YouTube’s ContentID feature, which spots when an artist’s song has been used in somebody else’s video. Normally, when an artist discovers their work has been uploaded by somebody else, they have three choices: Issue a DMCA notice to have the video taken down, monetize the video by allowing ads, or do nothing. ContentID is a reasonable, if imperfect, system that prioritizes artist control over all else. But going forward, if Keating doesn’t feel it’s right to force ads onto, say, a mother’s video mashup of her son’s sporting achievements set to Keating’s work, she has no choice.

Moreover, the contract lasts five years, which is long by industry standards — the Musicians Union recommends not signing any contract that lasts over three years.

But perhaps the worst element of the contract is that, unless she signs, not only will Keating lose the free promotion and analytics that she currently receives as a YouTube partner, but she won’t be able to monetize through ContentID at all. Even if this “monetization” is only pennies for many artists, and even if they have to share those pennies with YouTube, the notion that artists will be paid literally nothing for their work unless they sign an onerous contract is egregious. Hell, I could upload a song I wrote to that most-despised service Spotify right now through a service like TuneCore and theoretically make money off it without signing an insanely restrictive contract. (The number of listens would likely be so low that the royalty amount would be less than the cost of the paper check it was written on, but that isn’t the point).

And again, if Keating refuses to comply with any of these stipulations, her channel, and the audience she’s spent years building and who expect to see her work on YouTube, will be eliminated, per YouTube’s latest demand. With this, YouTube has gone from the most artist-friendly major music platform on the planet to the least.

by David Holmes, Pando Daily |  Read more:
Image: Brad Jonas

Do Happy Couples Masturbate?

“I have an important question about married life, which remains incomprehensible to me, but I am trying to understand,” I Gchatted my childhood friend Vanessa last week. She’s been with her husband for a decade. “When the hell do you masturbate?”

If a hobby is an activity pursued for pleasure, then masturbation is perhaps the hobby most of humanity shares. Though the prevalence of masturbation varies by age, most men and women in all age groups say they do it, and the majority of Americans of both genders continue to indulge at least up to age 60. But contrary to what you might think about handsy adolescents, today’s most frequent masturbators are between the ages of 25 and 29 — a group very much in the relationship stage of their lives. Born not long after Betty Dodson published her revolutionary masturbation how-to Sex for One (the 85-year-old leads female-masturbation workshops to this day), they were raised solidly in an age of sex-positive feminism, easily accessible erotica, and general sexual openness and transparency.

Not that the role of masturbation in a sex-positive relationship is entirely clear. On the one hand, pioneers like Dodson have helped to align sexuality with self-empowerment, which has taught us to think of masturbation as a healthy element of a diverse sexual menu as opposed to a shameful, inadequate substitute for sex — even from day one in a fulfilling relationship. Most studies find that a big majority of married Americans report masturbating (and since it’s self-reporting, that probably undersells it). “Even if I had all the men in the world that I wanted in my bed, even if I had Ryan Gosling, I would still masturbate with sex toys,” French sex columnist Maïa Mazaurette recently told me. “I don’t want to go back to a world without plastic!”

On the other hand, well, masturbation is sort of inherently antisocial. Within the bounds of a relationship defined, in part, by both partners’ willingness to devote sexual energy to one another, it can be downright rude. Can we ever really get over the embarrassment of purely personal indulgence? Or take the indulgence of your partner as anything other than a rejection of you? Even if we want to be open, practically and emotionally, exposing deeply private habits to anyone — even the one you love — is reflexively uncomfortable. And hearing your girlfriend rev up her vibrator after saying she’s going to sleep early can be hard to shake. Just because everyone’s doing it doesn’t mean that the negotiations won’t be awkward or that the concessions will be easy to get used to. (...)

But — what kind of index of relationship happiness is masturbation? The relative importance is actually unclear. A 1991 study in the Journal of Sex Education and Therapy found that women who masturbate report better “marital satisfaction” than those who don’t, perhaps because women are less likely to orgasm from intercourse. Meanwhile, a 2014 study in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy found that married men who are bored with or distant from their wives report masturbating more than their happily married peers. As is the case with most sexual behaviors, the question is not what is happening but how (and many researchers point out that masturbation can be crucial in balancing partners’ occasionally disparate sex drives). In part, that’s because it’s as much a sexual exploration of autonomy as it is an autonomous sex act — a highly refined personal craft, honed and reinvented incrementally over the course of decades. How much can a routine that started before you learned to shave really say about adult relationships? Especially since, after a lifetime of solitary craftsmanship, masturbation can get, well, bizarre.

by Maureen O'Connor, NY Magazine |  Read more:
Image: John Wesley, Untitled (1991)

Monday, January 26, 2015

Waterdam, Marathon, Greece, 1934, Alfred Eisenstaedt. (1898 - 1995)

Socrates's Strangeness

The philosopher Socrates remains, as he was in his lifetime (469–399 B.C.E.), an enigma, an inscrutable individual who, despite having written nothing, is considered one of the handful of philosophers who forever changed how philosophy itself was to be conceived. […]

The extant sources agree that Socrates was profoundly ugly, resembling a satyr more than a man—and resembling not at all the statues that turned up later in ancient times and now grace Internet sites and the covers of books. He had wide-set, bulging eyes that darted sideways and enabled him, like a crab, to see not only what was straight ahead, but what was beside him as well; a flat, upturned nose with flaring nostrils; and large fleshy lips like an ass. Socrates let his hair grow long, Spartan-style (even while Athens and Sparta were at war), and went about barefoot and unwashed, carrying a stick and looking arrogant. […] Something was peculiar about his gait as well, sometimes described as a swagger so intimidating that enemy soldiers kept their distance. He was impervious to the effects of alcohol and cold, but this made him an object of suspicion to his fellow soldiers on campaign. […]

What seemed strange about Socrates is that he neither labored to earn a living, nor participated voluntarily in affairs of state. Rather, he embraced poverty and, although youths of the city kept company with him and imitated him, Socrates adamantly insisted he was not a teacher and refused all his life to take money for what he did. […] Because Socrates was no transmitter of information that others were passively to receive, he resists the comparison to teachers. Rather, he helped others recognize on their own what is real, true, and good—a new, and thus suspect, approach to education. He was known for confusing, stinging and stunning his conversation partners into the unpleasant experience of realizing their own ignorance, a state sometimes superseded by genuine intellectual curiosity. […] Socrates was usually to be found in the marketplace and other public areas, conversing with a variety of different people—young and old, male and female, slave and free, rich and poor—that is, with virtually anyone he could persuade to join with him in his question-and-answer mode of probing serious matters. […]

It did not help matters that Socrates seemed to have a higher opinion of women than most of his companions had, speaking of “men and women,” “priests and priestesses,” and naming foreign women as his teachers: Socrates claimed to have learned rhetoric from Aspasia of Miletus, the lover of Pericles; and to have learned erotics from the priestess Diotima of Mantinea. […]

Athenian citizen males of the upper social classes did not marry until they were at least thirty, and Athenian females were poorly educated and kept sequestered until puberty, when they were given in marriage by their fathers. Thus the socialization and education of males often involved a relationship for which the English word ‘pederasty’ (though often used) is misleading, in which a youth approaching manhood, fifteen to seventeen, became the beloved of a male lover a few years older, under whose tutelage and through whose influence and gifts, the younger man would be guided and improved. It was assumed among Athenians that mature men would find youths sexually attractive, and such relationships were conventionally viewed as beneficial to both parties by family and friends alike. A degree of hypocrisy (or denial), however, was implied by the arrangement: “officially” it did not involve sexual relations between the lovers and, if it did, then the beloved was not supposed to derive pleasure from the act—but ancient evidence (comedies, vase paintings, et al.) shows that both restrictions were often violated. What was odd about Socrates is that, although he was no exception to the rule of finding youths attractive, he refused the physical advances of even his favorite.

via: New Shelton wet/dry |  Read more:
Image: uncredited

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Molly Markow "Untitled"

Into the Cave

When Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition was published in 1959, the second wave of feminism was wind blowing across the water of American life—an energy that was gathering and palpable, if largely invisible. In the decades that followed, however, Arendt was largely indifferent to the politics of gender and sex. She refused outright to define her intellectual project in terms of her gender, and certain arguments, even her general view of social and political life, have been criticized as antithetical to feminist concerns.

In The Human Condition, Arendt argues that some activities are fit to appear to other people, and others not; some belong in public and others in private. The public is, or ought to be, the bright realm of free speech and action, the place of politics proper. Being seen, people and actions are properly open to judgment by others, so as to allow us to decide issues pertinent to our life in common. By contrast, the private is the shadow realm of necessity, where we labor to maintain our bodies and the life of our species. While human actions constitute history in linear time, our unending labor for biological maintenance swings in a circle, a ceaseless cycle. (...)

Arendt calls the private realm “the realm of necessity.” The language is hers, but it’s a variation on an old binary theme, the song of necessity and freedom. Figured variously as chaos, the animal, the feminine and the shadow realm, human necessity is the umbrella term for those aspects of life not subject to the rational will. In Arendt’s understanding, it especially signifies the immediate reality of embodied life, the thick stuff of it, the part that’s been squicking out Western squares from Plato to the present. To the chagrin of the Platonist, it is an irreducible aspect of our living being.

In its most mundane iterations, necessity is a driving and an equalizing force that compels everyone. We all eat and drink, we shit, we sleep and probably try to get off—you, yes you. With luck, the resources for doing so are reasonably secure and we can meet these demands with dignity, securely and without fear of opprobrium at the salience of our appetites and drives. Fussing over particulars aside, there is not a lot of room for reason-giving or reason-having in this realm of experience. Bodies drive us in some things. We do them because we are essentially beholden—we have to. And, having to do them, we prefer to do them in private.

Pain is the most intense manifestation of this phenomenon. As Elaine Scarry puts it in The Body in Pain (1985), pain brings about “a state anterior to language, to the sounds and cries a human being makes before language is learned.” Scarry links pain’s destruction of language to the fact that, unlike most states of consciousness, it has no reference point—in pain, the whole of the matter is bounded in the body of who feels it. Pain is not an experience that can be shared in such a way that its full force will be adequately communicated to another. It is in this sense a private phenomenon. No accident that, absent some cause that would render it meaningful, one prefers to suffer pain out of public view. (...)

The most beautiful account of childbirth I’ve encountered in prose is the closing scene of Meridel Le Sueur’s underground feminist classic The Girl. Written at the tail end of the Depression but not published until 1978, the novel is a fictionalized account of events drawn from the lives of the women in Le Sueur’s writing group. It combines a potboiler plot with radical political commentary and bleeding-edge representations of how it feels to be alive, all in a colloquial vernacular that occasionally rises to the level of poetry. In the closing scene, the nameless title character enters the final throes of labor in a makeshift tenement where a public demonstration is also being organized. The women, says the girl, “made a little cave in the corner.” Then, as she begins to push, “It’s the realest dream.”

Through most of my own long labor I made a show of autonomy. I joked with my mother and husband, negotiated the terms of medical intervention with hospital staff, and balanced my body over the rolling waves of pain—between “How could it be worse?” and “Is that all there is?”

As the moment drew near, though, this performance of control diminished to a vanishing point. I requested a Coca-Cola. My rational will drew itself up and moved aside as I felt the force of life itself flow down and through my body, like water falling from a great height. They made a kind of cave around me. I screamed and was gently admonished to move the sound lower down in my body. I bellowed then, and the cry was deep and huge, evidence of a power that seemed alien but must have come from me, a power I could channel but not command.

As my body opened, the pain was ecstatic—ek-static, in the sense of the Greek roots of the word—that is, I stood outside myself. My field of vision was shortened to arm’s length and then dissolved. Borderless, I craved touch, needed skin on my skin and the pressure of hands and elbows to open me up and hold me together. There was a fissure, and for some time I occupied a liminal space between self and world. Hearing voices that exhorted it to bear, my body bore down. Cloudbreak, and return, and then a baby on my breast, looking up into my face. (...)

“They made a little cave in the corner.” This sense of enclosure, of invulnerability through the presence of intimates, goes a long way toward allowing life to come through over the objections of the self-conscious mind. Privacy is not essentially a question of the presence or absence of other people, as all of us who have been “in private” with others surely know. Rather, it is a feeling of being sheltered, of safety in vulnerability and permission to let go.

by Dawn Herrera-Helphand, The Point |  Read more:
Image: Amanda Greavette

Li Xiao Xing in Rodeo F/W 2013 by Johan Sandberg

The street art of JR, Brazil’s favela graffiti.

Bitcoin and the Digital-Currency Revolution

About a half-billion dollars worth of it vanished from an online exchange in Tokyo. A prosecutor in Manhattan arrested the 24-year-old vice chairman of its most prominent trading body on drug-related charges of money laundering. Its founder’s identity remains a mystery, and last year, it shed two-thirds of its value, losing an additional 44% in just the first two weeks of January. In his year-end letter to investors, Warren Buffett’s advice about it was emphatic: “Stay away.”

The digital currency known as bitcoin is only six years old, and many of its critics are already declaring it dead. But such dire predictions miss a far more important point: Whether bitcoin survives or not, the technology underlying it is here to stay. In fact, that technology will become ever more influential as developers create newer, better versions and clones.

No digital currency will soon dislodge the dollar, but bitcoin is much more than a currency. It is a radically new, decentralized system for managing the way societies exchange value. It is, quite simply, one of the most powerful innovations in finance in 500 years.

If applied widely to the inner workings of our global economy, this model could slash trillions in financial fees; computerize much of the work done by payment processors, government property-title offices, lawyers and accountants; and create opportunities for billions of people who don't currently have bank accounts. Great value will be created, but many jobs also will be rendered obsolete.

Bitcoin has some indisputable flaws, at least in its current iteration. Its price fluctuates too wildly. (Who wants the cost of their groceries to vary by 10% from week to week?) Its anonymity has made it a haven for drug dealers. “Wallets” (as the individual software applications that manage bitcoin holdings are known) have proven vulnerable to cyberattack and pillaging, including the wallets of big exchanges such as Tokyo’s Mt. Gox and Slovenia’s Bitstamp.

Even though the core program that runs bitcoin has resisted six years of hacking attempts, the successful attacks on associated businesses have created the impression that bitcoin isn’t a safe way to store money. Until these perceptions are overcome or bitcoin is replaced by a superior digital currency, the public will remain suspicious of the concept, and regulators will be tempted to quash it.

Like any young technology, bitcoin is a work in progress, but its groundbreaking core software program is constantly being improved. It is open-source and copyright-free, and thus accessible to anyone who wants to peer inside it, copy it, suggest improvements or create applications for it.

Inspired by this potential, “probably 10,000 of the best developers in the world are working on bitcoin,” estimates Chris Dixon, a partner at the venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. This volunteer army has developed military-grade encryption to make bitcoin wallets more secure and insurable and also new trading tools to help stabilize the price. The faults of digital currency are being resolved.

by Michael J. Casey and Paul Vigna, WSJ |  Read more:
Image: Bloomberg

A Modern Clinical Trial

It was my ritual for seven years.

Every day, take two sets of pills—one labeled, the other a mystery. Every three months, take three sets of blood-pressure readings, twice a day for a week. Once a year, collect urine for 24 straight hours, lug it everywhere in an ice pack, then get it through airport security for a flight from Washington to Boston.

For me and about 1,000 other participants in our medical trial, the payoff for such tedious detail came back last month: The combination of the two common types of blood-pressure drugs being tested didn’t make any significant difference in the progression of our inherited kidney disease.

That was disappointing. But it didn’t necessarily mean that the trial was a failure, a waste of the time I spent on it, or a poor use of the $40-million in taxes that paid for it. The trial’s participants got top-notch medical attention for our polycystic kidney disease, and our records will almost certainly help others with PKD, now and in the future. (...)

Randomized clinical trials are widely recognized as the gold standard for proving whether a treatment or practice really works. In our trial, everyone took two sets of daily pills. For half of the participants, the second pill was just an inert placebo. Neither the patients nor the trial doctors knew who was really getting both medications, allowing for a rigorous test of the two-drug combination.

All of that logistical structure can mean a huge financial cost. Randomized trials now account for about 20 percent of the $30-billion annual budget of the National Institutes of Health. Private drug companies spend more than $30-billion on them.

Yet drug trials fail at a rate of about 90 percent. That level of failure has attracted serious attention now that U.S. medical research has entered a period of tighter budgets, accelerating technological advances, and extensive procedural reassessments. In that light, much about our trial’s design and execution illustrates a system of human experimentation that’s ripe for overhaul. (...)

One of the most important questions in any trial, of course, is what medical intervention to test.

My trial, like many, was heavily shaped by testing on animals. Jared J. Grantham, an emeritus professor of nephrology and hypertension at the University of Kansas who led the creation of the PKD Foundation 30 years ago, said there were many studies prior to the trial—typically involving mice—that gave scientists hope that PKD might be slowed by the combination of two drugs. Those drugs, Lisinopril and Telmisartan, use different chemical mechanisms to block angiotensin, a hormone that raises blood pressure by constricting blood vessels.

But for many diseases, mice and other animal models are proving notoriously unreliable in predicting drugs’ effect on human beings. "From the point of view of PKD specifically, we have a number of hypotheses that have come out of the basic-science laboratories, and to a large extent the animal models often don’t exactly mimic what’s going on in people," said Joseph V. Bonventre, a professor of medicine at Harvard University and chief of the renal unit at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

More generally, many observers suspect researchers of becoming too enamored of their animal models.

"We’re extracting some cartoon version of the disease, and then treating it, so that the animal model becomes the focus of our research, not that actual human disease," said Susan M. Fitzpatrick, president of the James S. McDonnell Foundation and an adjunct associate professor of neurobiology at Washington University in St. Louis. "And we learn more and more about the model, but not the disease."

by Paul Baskin, Chronicle of Higher Education |  Read more:
Image: Julia Schmalz

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Cobweb

Can the Internet be archived?

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 took off from Amsterdam at 10:31A.M. G.M.T. on July 17, 2014, for a twelve-hour flight to Kuala Lumpur. Not much more than three hours later, the plane, a Boeing 777, crashed in a field outside Donetsk, Ukraine. All two hundred and ninety-eight people on board were killed. The plane’s last radio contact was at 1:20 P.M. G.M.T. At 2:50P.M. G.M.T., Igor Girkin, a Ukrainian separatist leader also known as Strelkov, or someone acting on his behalf, posted a message on VKontakte, a Russian social-media site: “We just downed a plane, an AN-26.” (An Antonov 26 is a Soviet-built military cargo plane.) The post includes links to video of the wreckage of a plane; it appears to be a Boeing 777.

Two weeks before the crash, Anatol Shmelev, the curator of the Russia and Eurasia collection at the Hoover Institution, at Stanford, had submitted to the Internet Archive, a nonprofit library in California, a list of Ukrainian and Russian Web sites and blogs that ought to be recorded as part of the archive’s Ukraine Conflict collection. Shmelev is one of about a thousand librarians and archivists around the world who identify possible acquisitions for the Internet Archive’s subject collections, which are stored in its Wayback Machine, in San Francisco. Strelkov’s VKontakte page was on Shmelev’s list. “Strelkov is the field commander in Slaviansk and one of the most important figures in the conflict,” Shmelev had written in an e-mail to the Internet Archive on July 1st, and his page “deserves to be recorded twice a day.”

On July 17th, at 3:22 P.M. G.M.T., the Wayback Machine saved a screenshot of Strelkov’s VKontakte post about downing a plane. Two hours and twenty-two minutes later, Arthur Bright, the Europe editor of the Christian Science Monitor, tweeted a picture of the screenshot, along with the message “Grab of Donetsk militant Strelkov’s claim of downing what appears to have been MH17.” By then, Strelkov’s VKontakte page had already been edited: the claim about shooting down a plane was deleted. The only real evidence of the original claim lies in the Wayback Machine.

The average life of a Web page is about a hundred days. Strelkov’s “We just downed a plane” post lasted barely two hours. It might seem, and it often feels, as though stuff on the Web lasts forever, for better and frequently for worse: the embarrassing photograph, the regretted blog (more usually regrettable not in the way the slaughter of civilians is regrettable but in the way that bad hair is regrettable). No one believes any longer, if anyone ever did, that “if it’s on the Web it must be true,” but a lot of people do believe that if it’s on the Web it will stay on the Web. Chances are, though, that it actually won’t. In 2006, David Cameron gave a speech in which he said that Google was democratizing the world, because “making more information available to more people” was providing “the power for anyone to hold to account those who in the past might have had a monopoly of power.” Seven years later, Britain’s Conservative Party scrubbed from its Web site ten years’ worth of Tory speeches, including that one. Last year, BuzzFeed deleted more than four thousand of its staff writers’ early posts, apparently because, as time passed, they looked stupider and stupider. Social media, public records, junk: in the end, everything goes.

Web pages don’t have to be deliberately deleted to disappear. Sites hosted by corporations tend to die with their hosts. When MySpace, GeoCities, and Friendster were reconfigured or sold, millions of accounts vanished. (Some of those companies may have notified users, but Jason Scott, who started an outfit called Archive Team—its motto is “We are going to rescue your shit”—says that such notification is usually purely notional: “They were sending e-mail to dead e-mail addresses, saying, ‘Hello, Arthur Dent, your house is going to be crushed.’ ”) Facebook has been around for only a decade; it won’t be around forever. Twitter is a rare case: it has arranged to archive all of its tweets at the Library of Congress. In 2010, after the announcement, Andy Borowitz tweeted, “Library of Congress to acquire entire Twitter archive—will rename itself Museum of Crap.” Not long after that, Borowitz abandoned that Twitter account. You might, one day, be able to find his old tweets at the Library of Congress, but not anytime soon: the Twitter Archive is not yet open for research. Meanwhile, on the Web, if you click on a link to Borowitz’s tweet about the Museum of Crap, you get this message: “Sorry, that page doesn’t exist!”

The Web dwells in a never-ending present. It is—elementally—ethereal, ephemeral, unstable, and unreliable. Sometimes when you try to visit a Web page what you see is an error message: “Page Not Found.” This is known as “link rot,” and it’s a drag, but it’s better than the alternative. More often, you see an updated Web page; most likely the original has been overwritten. (To overwrite, in computing, means to destroy old data by storing new data in their place; overwriting is an artifact of an era when computer storage was very expensive.) Or maybe the page has been moved and something else is where it used to be. This is known as “content drift,” and it’s more pernicious than an error message, because it’s impossible to tell that what you’re seeing isn’t what you went to look for: the overwriting, erasure, or moving of the original is invisible. For the law and for the courts, link rot and content drift, which are collectively known as “reference rot,” have been disastrous. In providing evidence, legal scholars, lawyers, and judges often cite Web pages in their footnotes; they expect that evidence to remain where they found it as their proof, the way that evidence on paper—in court records and books and law journals—remains where they found it, in libraries and courthouses. But a 2013 survey of law- and policy-related publications found that, at the end of six years, nearly fifty per cent of the URLs cited in those publications no longer worked. According to a 2014 study conducted at Harvard Law School, “more than 70% of the URLs within the Harvard Law Review and other journals, and 50% of the URLs within United States Supreme Court opinions, do not link to the originally cited information.” The overwriting, drifting, and rotting of the Web is no less catastrophic for engineers, scientists, and doctors. Last month, a team of digital library researchers based at Los Alamos National Laboratory reported the results of an exacting study of three and a half million scholarly articles published in science, technology, and medical journals between 1997 and 2012: one in five links provided in the notes suffers from reference rot. It’s like trying to stand on quicksand.

The footnote, a landmark in the history of civilization, took centuries to invent and to spread. It has taken mere years nearly to destroy. A footnote used to say, “Here is how I know this and where I found it.” A footnote that’s a link says, “Here is what I used to know and where I once found it, but chances are it’s not there anymore.” It doesn’t matter whether footnotes are your stock-in-trade. Everybody’s in a pinch. Citing a Web page as the source for something you know—using a URL as evidence—is ubiquitous. Many people find themselves doing it three or four times before breakfast and five times more before lunch. What happens when your evidence vanishes by dinnertime?

by Jill Lepore, New Yorker |  Read more:
Image: Harry Campbell