The newest post is below this text.
If you’d like to recieve the Friday Five via email you can sign up here.
For posts from before 2017, please see the archive links at the bottom of the page.
Friday Five: BRB
After almost four years of (nearly) weekly writing, I'm taking an official break for a little bit. Due to recent work and upcoming travel plans, it's been a little harder than normal to keep Friday Five up to date. The newsletter and site (which I plan on redesigning for a few reasons) will probably be back to the regular schedule at the end of the summer, with maybe a sporadic update here and there. If you want to keep up with that fresh content, I'm on Twitter, I have a shared reading list on are.na, or you can follow this twitter bot for a more streamlined feed. For new music, I still publish a weekly playlist over at OK Mondays, or feel free to follow me on Spotify, too.
See ya soon,
Friday Five: June 8, 2018
Bourdain was an icon and inspiration to many, myself included. A chef, writer, and TV host who often publicly questioned his place in the world as each. The food industry, journalism, and television would not be what it is today without his contributions. Often a voice of truth, speaking on behalf of those who could not, and acting as an unignorable bullhorn for those being oppressed and those who were silenced.
Make a meal with and for your friends this weekend. Ask them how they’re feeling.
The piece that started it all: Don’t Eat Before Reading This
Erik Carter has penned an excellent essay for the Walker Art Center’s magazine on the state of graphic design as a profession today.
There is a highly specific sense of nostalgia attached to receiving the annual holiday toy catalog from Toys “R” Us. It came with the stickers you could put on the toys you wanted and hope your parents would buy for you. Earlier this week the company put everything up for sale, including the iconic giraffe, as they shuttered the company. The latest cover story for Businessweek is that it didn’t have to end this way.
Five years after his now infamous NSA leaks, Edward Snowden sat down with the Guardian to discuss how the way the world views security and privacy has changed.
A crucial reexamining of the marshmallow test, adding for biases around wealth and privilege, and the implications of what our misunderstanding of the original results means.
Meanwhile, for kids who come from households headed by parents who are better educated and earn more money, it’s typically easier to delay gratification: Experience tends to tell them that adults have the resources and financial stability to keep the pantry well stocked. And even if these children don’t delay gratification, they can trust that things will all work out in the end—that even if they don’t get the second marshmallow, they can probably count on their parents to take them out for ice cream instead.
Friday Five: June 1, 2018
1. Puerto Rico
A Harvard study puts the death toll from Hurricane Maria above 4,600. The U.S. official record still says 64.
What happens when the most popular tech bro tweets at you?
It is true that every print is unique to every finger, even for identical twins, who share the same genetic code. Fingerprints are formed by friction from touching the walls of our mother’s womb. Sometimes they are called “chanced impressions.”
This might explain how we’ve arrived at this improbable moment when microdosing LSD in order to increase workplace productivity is, in some precincts, more professionally acceptable than having a glass of wine. But it’s not LSD that has replaced our midday cocktails; it’s that other modern intoxicant: productivity.
5. New Music
Ye, Father John Misty, Oneohtrix Point Never
Friday Five: May 25, 2018
Something must be in the air of the news cycle. On top of the great reporting by Cat Ferguson on how Facebook enables the taking advantage of addicts for the Verge, there was also excellent work done by Reply All. The latest episode, The Pain Funnel, examines the South Florida rehab scam industry, and the lives it effects. Last Week Tonight also did a feature segment on the issue, giving a good overview of the how the effort to help people get sober by President George W. Bush and the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) combined to allow those with malintent to take advantage of the early stages of what we now see as an opioid crisis.
Documents released by the ACLU this week detailed the workings of Rekognition, Amazon’s realtime facial recognition software being sold to, and used by, police departments across the country. Like many facial recognition programs before it, Rekognition was biased against both women and people of color. The problem is well known within the communities working on this technology. So, while Amazon sold the product on the basis of “making communities safer,” every expert knew better. What will Amazon do to rectify it’s problem, if anything at all?
Related: Google Employees Resign in Protest Against Pentagon Contract, A new ‘ethnicity recognition’ tool is just automated racial profiling
3. Hiro Murai
Murai, often collaborator with Donald Glover, is the director and cinematographer for much of Atlanta as well as the music video for This Is America. Molly Lambert interviewed Murai about the reaction to the music video, as well as where Murai sees himself in the complicated cultural landscape he’s helping to shape.
The banking industry is having a very good year, and they now have senate approval to have an even better one. Amidst the political chaos this week, the first of many proposed rollbacks of the Dodd-Frank bill, the rules set in place after the 2008 financial crisis to prevent the big banks from getting too carried away, was signed. Despite uncertain futures in the job market, as well as a sporadic at situation in global trade, American banks are free to rake it in.
Friday Five: May 18, 2018
medical aid for Palestinians here)
The shooting at Santa Fe High School today was the 22nd school shooting this year (if you’re looking to get involved politically, or would like to make a donation, I recommend Everytown.)
Tom Wolfe Passed Away on Monday. He was 88.
Haspel (See Last Week’s Edition) Was Confirmed Anyway
Friday Five: May 11, 2018
Trump’s nominee to head the CIA faced questions from the Senate Intelligence Committee this week. Most of Gina Haspel’s 30 year career with the CIA remain classified, save for the cherry picked patriotic stories made public to ramp up support for her nomination. Outside of the stories the CIA has shared is a much darker tale. Haspel helped to start, maintain, and direct the CIA’s “Detainment and Interrogation Program,” which insofar as anyone needs to be concerned is just D.C. code talk for “torture.” Under Haspel’s watch, POW’s, most without trial and conviction, were beaten, starved, sleep deprived, waterboarded, and more. These “detainees” included pregnant women. Despite this public knowledge, few on the Intelligence Committee were willing to press Haspel for real answers. Instead, they touted the party line: what Hapsel was doing at the time was technically legal under U.S. law, and despite the horrors of it, they were orders given by a superior which she followed. This, as history has proven, is not a valid excuse for horrors done in our name. Trump touted “torture works” from the stump during his campaign multiple times. With John Bolton already in the White House, if Haspel ends up leading the CIA (which, in all likelihood, she will) we should be very concerned with what will happen as conflict is re-escalates in the Middle East.
See also: Gina Haspel Failed The Test, Haspel’s Testimony Raises New Questions, and the latest episode of Intercepted
A new study based on research from the Harvard Business School has proven what many working in advertising already know: people don’t want to know how much Facebook knows about them.
I’ve written in this newsletter multiple times about the conversation around music coming from artists like XXXtentacion and Kodak Black. Recently, a campaign to #MuteRKelly has risen, in alignment with the Times Up movement. These two conversations came to a head this week when Spotify announced that R. Kelly, among others, would no longer be featured in editorially curated playlists (like the massively popular Rap Caviar) on Spotify. Many fans of the controversial artists cried censorship. To clarify, the music from these artists is not being removed from the Spotify catalogues (I have to assume that would be a much bigger legal headache), and anyone can still type in their names and stream the songs in an instant, the artists are just being removed from any playlists created by Spotify. However in the aftermath of this announcement, many pointed that Chris Brown was still featured on many playlists, as were other artists with problematic pasts. Spotify has appointed a team to review featured artists on a “case by case” basis, but it’ll be worth watching where the company decides to draw the line.
At Google’s developer conference, Google I/O, they announced a bevy of new updates and features to the company's suite of software and products. Gmail will suggest phrases to write your emails for you, Google Home will make sure your kids are saying “please”, Android will try and help you become less addicted to your phone. Good luck on that last one. Among the most notable was a new AI driven tool called Google Duplex. Duplex would allow your Google Assistant (the official title for the voice that responds when you yell “Hey Google!” into the ether) to make a phone call and schedule appointments on your behalf. The voice given to Duplex includes “ahhs” and “umms” to imitate human speech, under the guise of making the person on the receiving end not realize they were talking to a robot, I guess? This raised red flags with a lot of AI researchers. Obviously. Google clearly didn’t think through the implications of having a “more perfect” robocalls in the age of Fake News and manipulated media. Now, Google has walked back the demo saying that the product is still very much in development and will now be sure to have the Duplex voice announce that it is indeed a machine at the beginning of every call.
From the Gawker-ne-Gizmodo Media Group’s Special Project Desk, the story of Univision’s long downward spiral, and all the pink slips that came with it.
Friday Five: May 4, 2018
Mother’s Day is next Sunday. As part of National Mamas Bailout Day, a BLM affiliated program to get mothers, biological or not, reunited with their families, VOCAL-NY is aiming to raise $30,000 to help pay the bail for women who are incarcerated not for a crime, but simply because they can’t post bail. Donate if you can.
The media is still chasing its tail regarding Michelle Wolf’s comedy speech at the White House Correspondents Dinner. Trying to explain to either side why they’re wrong is kind of a moot point. The stated point of the WHCD is to gather the press corps in defense of free speech and a free press. This is something that is quite often taken for granted in the U.S. Despite the cries of “fake news” and the skewed media biases we see on both sides, we are relatively safe to publish any views we want without fear of being jailed or worse. This blatantly is not true in many other parts of the world. Over the weekend, 10 journalists were killed in Afghanistan. Peter Maass wrote about those who face real danger in their journalistic endeavours, as the count of reporters killed by the Taliban and Islamic State rose to 34 in Afghanistan alone.
There is a new fringe group of fragile white men being radicalized on the internet. Incels, short for “involuntary celibate,” are men who, at the basis of their manifesto, want to kill women who won’t sleep with them. They idolize Elliot Rodger, who killed six people and injured more in 2014. The man who drove a van into a group of people in Toronto recently identified with their ideology publicly online. The problem is that, like many other internet based hate groups, this ideology is not being dealt with seriously. The New York Times is running op-eds (that I will not link to directly) calling for the “redistribution of sex”, as if The Handmaid’s Tale is a idealistic future for people, instead of condemning these ideas they are being broadcasted louder.
This week found Zuckerberg in the spotlight again, though this time of his own volition. At the F8 Conference, Facebook’s equivalent to WWDC; a developer conference that is also a press keynote, Facebook announced new VR platforms, new Instagram and Messenger features, a Clear History tool, and that Facebook will launch its own dating service (effectively killing Match and Tinder). What happened much more quietly is that Facebook decided to absolve themselves of responsibility of the deaths linked to genocidal internet hate speech in Myanmar. Free Basics is a program where Facebook partners with local telecom companies in areas that lack modern internet infrastructure to provide, as the name suggests, a version of the internet lensed through the Facebook platform for free. As part of the company’s continued mission to help “connect the world”, the reality remains that they want all of the world online, as long as the world is online to use Facebook. Now the reality of what that means might be finally starting to settle in.
5. New Music
from Rae Sremmurd, Iceage, DJ Koze, and Leon Bridges
Friday Five: April 27, 2018
As the public eye continues to focus on Facebook in the wake of the Cambridge Analyica debacle, many more questions have been raised on the specifics of the company’s policies and how and when they are enforced. In response, Facebook has made public for the first time it’s entire Community Standards playbook. The rules are oddly specific in some areas, and totally vague in others. Issie Lapowsky and Steven Levy delve into the mud for Wired.
Some of the most interesting people in media I know are obsessed with a niche corner of the internet: Bossip headlines. The Times asked Bossip editors to break down some of their favorite headlines.
Before a few years ago, when you booted up an Apple computer, you were greeted with an anthropomorphic Mac II, smiling back at you. Susan Kare’s work is in the MoMA, she is the designer behind some of the most well known icons and pictograms in computer history, but outside of small design circles, her name and story is rather unknown. A bomb, a dog, a trash can, and what many now refer to the “Apple symbol” were all created by Kare. Alexandra Lang profiles Kare for the New Yorker.
On the surface, YouTube is having a no good very bad year. Take a peek slightly behind the curtain though, past the Paul brothers, Tide pods, and propaganda, and you’ll see that YouTube is still growing. Daily users are up, advertising revenue is up (despite many larger advertisers walking away and then most of them coming back), and it looks like YouTube might have a viable plan to survive the chaos that's been thrown their way. Lucas Shaw and Marcus Bergen have the story for Businessweek.
Eric Lundgren is an e-waste activist. This week, a court declared that he’d committed a crime against Microsoft to the tune of $700,000 and 15 months in prison. Lundgren, in an effort to prevent more computers from ending up in a landfill, sold “restore discs” which would lengthen the lifespan of licensed computers. While Lundgren’s defense was that he was simply providing a service which helped those who had already purchased a Windows computer get the most out of their machine, Microsoft said that he was preventing future sales of their computers. You can see how both sides have a valid argument, but to say that Lundgren was committing an offense directly to Microsoft takes a bit of a leap. Tom Jackman tells Lundgren’s rise to e-waste infamy and how the case ended up in court for the Washington Post.
Friday Five: April 20, 2018
If you haven’t heard of Palantir yet, well that’s a longer conversation. The elevator pitch is this: imagine if Cambridge Analytica was started by a crazed Silicon Valley republican who believes he can beat death, in an effort to use personal data collection to aid the U.S. government in hunting terrorists. It’s as messed up and scary as it sounds. Now, as personal data collection comes into the spotlight, Palantir wants to go domestic. Peter Waldman, Lizette Chapman, and Jordan Robertson break it down for Businessweek.
The CEO of WPP, the world’s largest advertising holding company, stepped down earlier this week, following the opening of an investigation into his “personal misconduct.” Sir Martin Sorrell’s empire suddenly was no more. While few outside of the advertising world had ever heard his name, especially in the United States, Sorrell had a pretty big impact on the industry. Often brash and outspoken, the man did away with the “gentlemanly” nature of the industry before to create the cutthroat industry it is today. Some admired him, many feared him, and more still had an axe to grind. Because of an extensive NDA signed by multiple parties, the details around Sorrell’s “personal misconduct” have yet to come out, but if the amount of eyes and ears on him are any indication, it’s only a matter of time. Ken Auletta tells the of Sorrel’ls rise to power for the New Yorker.
In the early days of the current generation of console gaming, there was a vibrant and active hacker and modder scene. The original Xbox, Microsoft’s fflagship product, had gone to market with some vulnerabilities that made it a hotbed for what would now be called jailbreaking. For a relatively cheap price, someone, somewhere, could install a “mod chip” that would allow you to do a variety of things that Microsoft and the game developers surely never intended. Brendan Koener tells the story of a small group of teen hackers who entered the scene and then went much further than simple cheat codes.
It’s one of those jobs that if done well, you won’t notice it at all. In kitchens all over the world, expediters are the ones who set the pace of the dining room, the metaphorical choreographers in the ‘Chef’s Table’ ballet. Part intuition, part highly organized communicator, the position requires the command of a drill sergeant who, as is repeatedly stressed in the article, must remain calm at all times. Tejal Rao writes on the quarterback of the kitchen for the New York Times.
Friday Five: April 13, 2018
Mr. Zuckerberg Goes to Washington
To be honest, I didn’t really expect that many people to watch Zuck’s testimony. I definitely wasn’t expecting the amount of memes that came out of the whole thing. People were live tweeting the day-long sessions like it was the Oscars or the Super Bowl. What once was fodder for security advocates and internet privacy activists was suddenly the most popular topic on Twitter. The irony wasn’t lost there, either.
Here’s the rub. After two days of (imagine heavy air quotes here) “grilling” by committees who’s questions largely revolved around the very basic function and business model of Facebook, as well as some large winding tangents regarding Russia, Facebook’s stock closed over 4% higher than before the hearings. There were only mere murmurs of possible regulation. According to the press at large: Zuck, and by extension Facebook, left the arena “unscathed.” The reality is that until those who truly understand tech today, and its implications for the future, choose policy positions over high paying Silicon Valley jobs, any real effective regulation of the big tech companies is just shy of impossible. If anything was taken away from the deep lack of knowledge of the larger issues with Facebook’s data collection and the following “breach”, it’s that the lack of understanding of technology isn’t a new phenomenon. Because the tech companies were encouraged to grow so rapidly without restriction or consideration for the long term consequences of what they were doing, or perhaps in full knowledge of the potential harm and disregard anyway, those who we’ve charged with the power to govern them have thrown their hands up and walked away.
With this lack of context, Zuckerberg was more or less able to duck questions that would have invited a wider opening for scrutiny. The canned answer quickly became “my team will follow up with you regarding that.” While some of the questions being asked would fairly require some research to get an exact and accurate number, data point, or reference, others may have well as served as a proxy answer for “I’d rather not answer that in a public setting.” That Zuckerberg was able to walk out not having answered for some of the biggest questions regarding Facebook’s policy for imitating the NSA’s habit to “collect it all” had many privacy researchers pulling their hair out. Here was the chance for the often dodgy head of one of the biggest non-state personal data collectors out there, and what we got was lost analogies about pickup trucks, skis, and a clearer picture of the 21st century luddites in office. Granted, it’s not just the senate and congress that lack understanding on what’s being collected. Most people don’t fully grasp what the company actually knows about you.
Where Zuckerberg did feel some pressure was on the business regulation side of things, as opposed to the technological or data questions. The most visible hot (booster) seat moment came when Senator Lindsey Graham (of all people) asked Zuck to “name a Facebook competitor” and Zuckerberg first tried to dodge the question, and when put back on track failed to give a solid answer. When asked if Facebook was a monopoly, Zuck replied it “doesn’t feel that way.” Which gave the audience a laugh. I saw a lot of people throwing out the idea that if Facebook bothers you that much, you can just leave it. And go where, I’d ask? The truth is that it has never been that simple. To believe such is really a privileged perspective.
The other biggest laugh in the room came from when Senator Orin Hatch asked how Facebook manages to sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for the service.After an odd word choice that a free “version” of Facebook would always exist, Zuck gave the obvious answer: “Senator, we run ads.” There’s the old adage that “if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product” which as of late has been often applied to Facebook’s business model. Facebook isn’t selling you, or your data, outright, but the targeted advertising business model works so well because Facebook sells the ability to target the specific audience you fit into. Facebook’s business model is to sell access to the ability to target people. Some of the more thoughtful responses to Zuckerberg’s testimony have been not to ban the collection of data, but to ban the ability to target you for ads based on that data. If you take away targeted advertising as business platform, the reason to scrape up and store so much personal data becomes moot. While the government has a hard time regulating tech companies, they happily regulate the hell out of advertising. Perhaps by framing the privacy concerns this way, we can better get to the root of the problem.
At the end of the day, Facebook is still fighting to gut biometric privacy laws, they are still running political advertising, and privacy experts are still saying “told ya so!” Zuck will not enact any serious changes that will hamper Facebook’s growth, which means that in all likelihood no serious long term change will come from these hearings. While Facebook Inc.’s main business is Facebook, it's worth noting because many surveyed didn’t know, Facebook also owns Instagram, WeChat, Oculus, and many other companies. As Facebook came under pressure, many looked at how Instagram had managed to not make the same mistakes as it’s parent company. Even if Facebook is being more transparent about if and when your personal data is being scraped and sold, or at least when it breaks their policy, they have no intent to stop building ad profiles around you.
Facebook does not need access to your camera or microphone to know what you’re talking about or interested in. The complex algorithm that processes your data and forms your ad profile exists in a black box. The only reason Zuckerberg landed in the hot seat this week was because that data was sold to an outside source, instead of remaining within the Facebook ecosystem. The issue has never been Cambridge Analytica, the issue has always been Facebook, and all the other data collecting companies behind the largest tech platforms.
Friday Five: April 6, 2018
1. Inside the “Woke” Civl War at the New York Times
2. The Lofty Optimism of the Streaming Revolution
3. The Weird World of Instagram’s Virtual Celebrities
4. Twitter Might Wreck Third-Party Apps
5. New music from: GILA, Ross From Friends,Ty Segall, and Cardi B’s debut EP
Friday Five: March 30, 2018
As Soundcloup rap continues to become mainstream, there has been an ongoing discussion around how to grapple with many artists’ problematic (to say the least) pasts. From murder charges, to domestic violence, to sexual assault, to alleged rape, these aren’t rappers that are just talking about criminal pasts, the news can prove its real. While many say “oh I’ll listen to this rapper, but not that one because he’s accused of sexual assault” it seems to kind of skirt around the actual notion that Lawrence Burney put forth for Noisey. You don’t actually have to listen to anyone. It’s that simple. As Pelin put it (while linking to another piece on the same topic) “ethical consumption … is subjective.” It is up to you to decide which artists you can support or not.
If you’re under the age of 32 you’ve probably at least heard of Fornite by now. If you haven’t, here’s the jist. Arguably the most popular video game du jour, Fornite has a free-to-play “Battle Royale” mode (largely copied from the success of PUBG) in which 100 or so players are dropped onto a small map scattered with destructible objects, guns, and powerups. Players battle to be the last person standing, and have the ability to craft makeshift forts out of materials gathered from the environment. This simple premise is layered with a cartoonish style and meme-able emotes and in-game phrases. For a better look at how the game has embedded itself in youth culture, Patrick Klepek spoke to the teachers and parents who have witnessed it’s rise.
Related: Why Fortnite is so popular
If you live in New York City you’ve probably seen those obnoxious Fiverr ads on the subway. The marketing around companies like Lyft, Uber, and Caviar has become pretty transparent. You will be struggling to make ends meet, but think of all the “freedom” you’ll have now that you’re working for yourself! Jia Tolentino breaks down the root of this false dream for the New Yorker.
I watched Annihilation on a flight recently, and while the movie left some to be desired, you can’t help but be impressed on the CGI and effects in the movie. This interview with the Visual Effects Supervisor for the movie, Andrew Whitehurst, provides some interesting insight into the process of the effects in the movie. Whitehurst also worked on Ex Machina, which won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, namely for the the work on the character of Ava. From fractals to old lenses, Whitehurst and his crew found interesting ways to make rural England feel like a surreal American south.
5. New Music
From Cardi B, Tyler, The Creator, Frankie Cosmos, and Amen Dunes
Friday Five: March 23, 2018
Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, and Data Privacy
On Saturday, the New York Times and The Guardian ran stories based on reporting and interviews with a ex-employee/”whistleblower” from a political data analytics firm called Cambridge Analytica. The reporting said that the firm had gathered psychographic information (which, coming from someone who works in social media advertising, can be often shakey profiles at best) on about 50 million people and used it in their work for Trump’s presidential campaign. They gained access to that much data from a Cambridge University researcher; Dr. Aleksandr Kogan’s 2014 app called This Is Your Digital Life. Back in 2014, app developers had a lot more access to more personal data through Facebook’s API. Developers could access not only all of your incoming and outgoing messages, but also request access to information about all of your friends and contacts. That being said, while the 50 million number is plausible, many experts argue that its likely marketing hype for Cambridge Analytica. Dr. Kogan selling/giving his data to Cambridge Analytica was a violation of Facebook’s policies though. When Facebook found out, they had both parties sign affidavits that the data had been destroyed, but apparently never bothered to check if they actually did. All of that, that they had the data and didn’t delete it, we’ve known for at least two years. Cut to the 2016 election. Cambridge Analytica claims to have been working for the Trump campaign, and used models and information from the 2014 data. That’s a pretty big PR crisis for Facebook, who have already had a pretty rough time since the election anyway.
The issue here isn’t that Cambridge Analytica used Facebook data to target people susceptible to swaying their vote. The problem is that Facebook’s data can be used in that way at all. This isn’t something Facebook was unaware it was capable of. They used to have case studies on election marketing featured on their business platform site. President Obama did a similar thing, but was much more open that the campaign’s Facebook app would be gathering personal data. Cambridge Analytica took those case studies to their logical extremes, but Facebook made it all possible. #DeleteFacebook started trending, and Zuckerberg issued a non-apology and went on a press tour. The company’s stock tanked. Now, Zuckerberg is being asked to testify before judicial review boards both here and in the UK. Regulation is coming, but many worry that it won’t be enough.
For a video summary of the key facts and events, watch this video from The Verge. Wired also put together a good explainer.
Some other links for the week:
Anil Dash’s 12 Things Everyone Should Understand About Tech
On the Nerve Agent Attack in England
“Fifteen Years Ago, America Destroyed My Country”
The March for Our Lives is tomorrow, find your local event here
Be Very Worried About John Bolton
Behind the Scenes of Apple’s “Welcome Home” Ad
Friday Five: March 16, 2018
Wednesday the 14th marked one month since the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Various groups, spearheaded by the outspoken Stoneman Douglas students themselves organized school walkouts, to hold a minute of silence for each of the 17 victims and protest the lack of progress on national gun control reform. In some areas, entire schools participated. In others, lone students walked out by themselves. While many schools tried to handle the protest as best they could, many punished the students for skipping class or leaving campus. The pictures from the protest are powerful, and at the very least some protesters found creative ways of displaying their outrage.
Related: Jake Paul, in the Wake of Parkland (Hey Naomi!)
It’s been a strange time for free speech on the internet. Reddit, arguably one of the most entertaining or most vile places on the internet depending on what part of the site you look at or frequent, became a political hotbed during the last presidential election. The site plays host to one of the largest and loudest contingents of Trump supporters on the mainstream web, and while they mostly stay contained to their own area of the site (r/The_Donald), the hate speech, threats, and racism has spread to the rest of the site as well. Andrew Marantz embedded himself in the Reddit offices, and spoke with one of the site’s founders and current CEO, to find out how the company has been trying to walk the line of supporting free speech while keeping the site as a place people would want to visit and that advertisers would want to promote themselves.
Related: Silicon Valley Is Having An Existential Crisis Over "Time Well Spent." But So Are We.
The magazine formerly known as National Geographic’s latest issue was a special edition, fittingly tilted ‘The Race Issue.’ The company, coming to terms with the state of racism not only in America but around the world, decided now would be a good time for some self-reflection. The magazine brought in some outside help to examine its own past, mired in racially charged coverage. As we try and move towards a ‘post-racial America’ perhaps more publications, websites, us individuals, could use some reflection too.
Ever heard of a mechanical copyright license? There’s a good chance one of the apps or streaming services you’ve used today relies on them. As Spotify prepares to go public next month, the company has been legally required to air some of its finances so potential stakeholders can gauge the health of the business. Included in those disclosures is an open lawsuit, Wixen vs. Spotify. Wixen Publishing, a music publishing company is arguing that Spotify did not serve physical paperwork to every copyright holder for every song in its catalogue. That sounds insane, right? Spotify’s catalogue contains more than 30 million songs. To understand how this argument holds up in court, you’ll need to understand a bit more about those pesky old fashioned mechanical copyright license, which Sarah Jeong has done an excellent job breaking down for readers in this piece.
Hawking once estimated he worked only 1,000 hours during his three undergraduate years at Oxford. In his finals, he came borderline between a first- and second-class degree. Convinced that he was seen as a difficult student, he told his viva examiners that if they gave him a first he would move to Cambridge to pursue his PhD. Award a second and he threatened to stay. They opted for a first.
Those who live in the shadow of death are often those who live most. For Hawking, the early diagnosis of his terminal disease, and witnessing the death from leukaemia of a boy he knew in hospital, ignited a fresh sense of purpose. “Although there was a cloud hanging over my future, I found, to my surprise, that I was enjoying life in the present more than before. I began to make progress with my research,” he once said. Embarking on his career in earnest, he declared: “My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.”
Related: A New View of the Moon
Friday Five: March 9, 2018
Is the chorus dead? It by and large holds true that to have a radio hit, you need a catchy hook. That being said, the music industry is still figuring out how to deal with streaming music overtaking every other for of music listening. The conversation is no longer “don’t touch that dial” its “pass me the aux cord.” As such, songwriters are rethinking what it means to have a hit, and reassessing the tools at their disposal to get that earworm to you. The ABAB(C)B song structure is getting thrown out the window, and maybe for the first time in a long time, what pop music sounds like is starting to shift.
Every season, designers from every discipline from fashion to graphic design to advertising to interior decorators all want the answer to the same question: what is the hottest color right now? Outside of creative pursuits, you might not know that there is an official answer to that question. Pantone, which also issues color matching systems, and color guides, publishes colors of the year, as well as seasonal guides. Bruce Falconer for the New York Times takes us inside the strange and profitable world of color forecasting.
You can go to Cuba and discuss last weeks football game, or the last episode of Game of Thrones, or any other pop culture topic, with native Cubans. Yet there is no “legal” way for them to have access to American media, it still makes its way to the island. Through a sneakernet, a bring-your-own-hard drive collection called The Packet is updated and distributed on a weekly basis. Nick Parish breaks down the contents of The Packet, and discusses the meta-business that has developed in its network. From personals to advertising, branding and PR, entire ad hoc media empires have risen up to fill in the gaps.
The New York Times Magazine annual feature returns. Dissecting the work of everyone from Cardi B to Jake Paul, and trying to figure out what it all means for the music landscape at large.
Related: King Krule - Live On The Moon
“The history of our generation will probably be in PDF form.”
Friday Five: March 2, 2018
There’s kind of a dark joke in some tech circles now that “you’re nobody until Facebook copies you or Google buys you.” As the tech giants continue to swell in size, more and more people are starting to question just how they gained so much power so quickly. While regulations exist against monopolies, those who enforce them perhaps didn’t fully grasp what they were dealing with as these companies rapidly grew. Now companies like Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook are so big and powerful that the rest of the tech world essentially has no choice but to bend to their will. Charles Duhigg tells the story of a couple that tried to stand up against Google to paint a picture as to why these companies need to be put in check.
As the gun control debate stemming from the Parkland shooting continues to unfold, a closer eye is being turned to Florida’s often extreme gun laws. That this school shooting took place there has put a magnifying glass on the state’s laws not seen since the murder of Trayvon Martin. Just how did the state come to not only accept but embrace the “Stand Your Ground” law? Mike Spies unfurls the influence of the N.R.A.’s chief lobbyist in the state, Marion Hammer.
Thiel, the Trump-supporting Silcon Valley outcast who still thinks putting teenager’s blood in his body will help him live forever may yet come to rue the day he decided to bankroll lawsuits against Gawker. As a book about the Thiel, Hogan, Gawker case is set to come out, new facts are coming to light that may move the legal needle away from the vampire tech-bro. Thiel and his accomplice in the plan to bankrupt Gawker have been put on the record conspiring other legally dubious actions, further twisting the long strange tale of media conspiracy.
In the age of Tristan Harris and “Time Well Spent”, it would appear that those in power at the largest internet companies maybe have finally reacquired their moral compasses. From social media manipulation to smartphone addiction, a serious look is being given to at the moral, social, political, mental, and physical implications of the connected world we live. The New York Times has assembled some great work on the state of studies on the effects of the modern world on our minds and society at large, and how the latest innovations in tech are playing into the moment.
Friday Five: February 23, 2018
By now you’ve probably seen Cameron Kasky put Marco Rubio on the spot during CNN’s town hall, you’ve probably also heard how teens are reacting to being called “crisis actors” by trolling right back. Following the Stoneman Douglas shooting, the school’s students have been put in the national spotlight and — have been handling it surprisingly well. They’re teens who have been raised with the internet, so they can quip back on Twitter with ease. They’re as sarcastic and sharp as any other person on the cusp of millennial and Generation Z, and right now they’re pissed off at those who keep trying to scapegoat the blame; be it the NRA or politicians or news anchors or online right wing trolls. So while Trump’s campaign was largely born on the internet, so were these kids, and they can use the same tactics better than the adults can.
See also: The Scene from a Parkland Living Room
While the teens might be good at the internet, the giant corporations that run it have been really dropping the ball. For around three or four hours on Wednesday, the number one video that YouTube was recommending was one that painted David Hogg as an actor who was being paid by the democrats to push an anti-gun narrative. YouTube claims they removed the video as soon as it was brought to their attention, but that leaves the question of how the video made it to #1 in the first place. Because people have gotten so good at gaming the algorithms that surface breaking news, top videos, and Facebook posts, and the big internet companies refuse to moderate, what can only be referred to as Fake News quickly gets surfaced. So how many times must similar incidents happen before they finally agree to do what so many in the media have been asking for and have some type of review process before videos like the one at the center of this incident hit the front page?
See Also: The Algorithm Will Not Save Us
As Vox Media cut 50 of its employees this week as the company scales back its efforts in the online video department, the conversation began again about where this idea to “pivot to video” came from in the first place. Antonio Garcia Martinez for Wired writes about three epiphanies he’s had recently about video, voice, and the future of the way we consume media. A large section of the piece talks about the moment he found himself getting used to voice control, and how odd it felt once he didn’t have it where he wanted. While I don’t own any voice controlled devices, I have recently used one at a party where the real appeal of talking out into the room to request a song without having to go over to the computer made a case for itself.
While I’d noticed a few when I watched the show, turns out there are a lot more references to real art than I thought.
During a one verse freestyle between songs at the BRIT Awards, Stormzy called out May on her lack of a response to the Grenfell Tower fire as well as the Daily Mail for, well, being the Daily Mail.
Friday Five: February 16, 2018
Others have made my own points better than I could. There is more we can and should do to prevent gun violence in this country. Politicians have to make a choice between the money of the NRA and gun lobby, and the lives of innocent children. Year after year many of them choose the money.
If you feel moved to donate towards enacting sensible gun legislation, find out more about Everytown For Gun Safety.
Patrick Klepek is a video game journalist and streamer. More often than not -- to be a journalist in 2018 means having a social media presence, doubly so for a streamer. Klepek started small, but when he began working for Waypoint, Vice’s gaming vertical, his popularity took off and he found himself existing in a more public eye. As his personal life took some turns, Klepek reflects on what he owes his fans and how to maintain a healthy relationship with social media when so much of his life and job revolves around it.
David comes up to us and describes a scene. He says, “You’re going to go to the scene. You’re going to realize that [the previous] detective, he did a bad job. Wendell, you’re going to see the photos of the girl. Dominic, you’re going to start getting the stats, looking at what the report was. Going back over, you’re going to realize it’s impossible to have gone down the way it was reported, because the guy would have to be like eight feet tall to get that trajectory. If he did, then something must be left in here, and you’re looking for any evidence that may be around, and Wendell, you discover that there’s a shot through the window. The glass is on the inside. It means it came from the outside. That means whoever the perpetrator was wasn’t inside, like the person they say in the report. The bullet came from outside. From there, let’s see the trajectory. It would be right here, in the refrigerator. Let’s see, not the wall. In the refrigerator, we find the bullet here. Let’s go outside, make a new discovery.” He explained the whole scene to us. He said, “Now you guys are going to do that whole thing, but they’re going to be on me about the profanity and language that we use.” So, I said, “Let’s just come out the box with it.” He said, “You’re going to do that whole scene, but the only word you can say is ‘fuck.’” I said, “What?”
Salon launched a new ad-free option where you can choose to forego ads if they can use your computer to mine bitcoin.
Tuesday afternoon the Times announced it was hiring Quinn Norton. Late Tuesday night, the Times announced it was firing Quinn Norton. Norton, a writer known for covering the Occupy movement and Anonymous, wasn’t shy about using -- shall we say “colorful” -- language online. Dealing with trolls and covering 4chan as part of her beat, the often racist and vile vernacular found in the darker corners of the web was part of her normal lexicon. So when many media-types surfaced tweets containing derogatory language it put the Times in a bit of an odd spot. Norton was hired for her knowledge and closeness of free-speech activists and radical internet activists, but was also criticized for being a “bad-faith ally” for being in regular communication with neo-nazis and racists. Adam Rogers for Wired breaks down what happened, and where it all fits in the larger media landscape right now.
Friday Five: February 9, 2018
The story of Henry Worsley’s attempt at the insane: a solo trip across Antarctica. A modern day explorer, pushing the limits of what humans can do, Worsley’s story is one that we rarely hear nowadays. We have no Magellan’s, no Edmund Hillary’s. For many, hitting a joint and turning on Planet Earth is the closest we’ll get to seeing the far flung reaches of our globe. Nevertheless Worsley, with recording gear in his pack, set out one day to see if he could brave it.
My first handful of concerts as a toddler were on the shoulders of my Parrothead by way of Deadhead parents. I think the first cocktail I recognized the name of was a margarita, and there are plenty of photos of my brother and I in single digit age donning Hawaiian shirts and parrot baseball caps. The man who brought the beach bum leisure lifestyle to the masses has now transformed into the Man he was supposed be railing against. Complete with name brand hotels, restaurants, prepared foods, and soon even an retirement community will fall under the Margaritaville brand. As his semi-biographical play prepares to hit Broadway, Taffy Brodesser-Anker profiles the musician, as the pirate who once looked at 40 now looks at 71.
For a self diagnosed test of the Internet of Things era, Kashmir Hill outfitted her home with as many smart gadgets as she could fit. While millions have smart assistants, automated thermostats, and connected doorbells in their homes, few give real thought to how much data these devices are producing and where that data is going after it leaves their home. Hill connected all the new devices to a router, accessible to her colleague Surya Mattu, who analyzed the data to see what information could be gleaned.
On Tuesday, I was giggling at my desk. I had the luxury of a slow afternoon and remembered that SpaceX was launching a rocket that day. The Falcon Heavy is now the most powerful rocket ever launched. The payload was one of owner Elon Musk’s cherry red Tesla Roadsters, with a dummy strapped into the drivers seat and blasting David Bowie’s Life On Mars on repeat. While watching any rocket launch brings a wave of joy, the stage that occurred around T+00:07:50 is what had me laughing. After detaching from the main thruster, two giant rocket boosters automatically returned to the launch area and landed near simultaneously. Despite other factors of the test flight not going quite as planned, this feat alone was pretty incredible to watch. So what is SpaceX going to do after that?
I’m not very good at surfing. That doesn’t stop me from going out every chance I get, though. When the weather is warm, I groggily lug my board on the A train. There are a few regular faces I’ve come to recognize in the lineup at Rockaway beach over the past few years. Silent nods to be traded until more talkative people arrive. The waves are rarely better than “okay” by any standards, which leaves a lot of time in between short rides for paddling around and shooting the shit, or just sitting quietly watching for a swell on the horizon. While Instagram and surf flicks might lead you to believe otherwise, that’s what a large majority of surfing is: sitting, watching, paddling around, biding time. Now, there’s an alternative. Predictable and geometrically perfect waves, all to yourself, on demand. Kelly Slater, the closest thing the surfing world has to a star, opened a wave pool in inland California. The World Surf League replayed a famous California break with the new minute-plus barrels found inland on the surfing world tour. So now, the surfing world has to grapple with what these new waves mean, and how it effects the sport and practice of what they do, and the existential question of if riding an artificial wave is even surfing at all.
Friday Five: February 2nd, 2018
The New York Times looks back to figure out why the New York City subway system is so screwed right now.
Sonia Chopra for Eater waxes poetic on the weird world of cute and bizarre Japanese food mascots.
Ahead of this weekend’s Super Bowl, Shaun King and Josh Begley present the highlight reel of the season: every concussion, in agonizing slowness, from the past few months. The NFL is still facing a massive crisis of heart, and viewers are grappling with how best to rationalize their fandom of the sport.
See also: Is It Okay To Watch the Super Bowl?
In an excerpt from Emily Chang’s new book; an investigation into how and why women were slowly removed from powerful positions in America’s tech hub. From the famous Lenna to women only programming clubs, how did we get to James Damore?
After 2,000 days on the red planet, the Curiosity rover taken a lot of photos. Alan Taylor selects their favorites for The Atlantic.
Friday Five: January 26, 2018
Margit Wennmachers is probably one of the most powerful women in tech. Quietly, and more or less out of public view, Wennmachers has run PR, spin, or damage control for some of the biggest names in tech. She’s on the board of Andreessen Horowitz, and the other partner of her now defunct PR firm is now global head of comms at Facebook. Whenever a tech CEO lands in hot water, they call Margit. When a tech journalist gets a call from Margit they pick up. So, who is this woman? How did she end up in this position? Jessi Hempel shares her story for Wired.
Hypebeast culture now has cross streets. Emilia Petrarca spent some time in SoHo talking to the throngs of (mostly) boys who hang around, showing off their latest gear. It’s kind of wild, looking back when I first moved back to the city as a teenager and found myself hanging around the fashion scene, everyone was on Prince and Elizabeth just a few blocks away. The “sprezzatura” style was kind of the #menswear look-du-jour and I was working at the now defunct Gant Rugger. Now, everyone looks like a variation of a tumblr and soundcloud rapper lovechild, face tattoos and Supreme adjacent clothes included. It’s always hard to explain the style of the moment to someone visiting from out of town, but at least now I know where to send them to take a look.
As the cryptocurrency investment boom continues despite a recent crash in bitcoin, this story from the Wall Street Journal should serve as a lesson to the volatility of the market. On January 8th, the total bitcoin market lost more than $100 billion in value. One programmer made one change to the valuation on the exchange they worked at. South Korea was on the fence about outlawing cryptocurrency trading and mining, and as such the prices in the region were all over the map, driving the overall value up. The programmer removed the South Korean indexes from the exchange, and their valuation for bitcoin crashed. The big idea around cryptocurrencies is that there is no central bank to value or regulate them, so when exchange marks a price difference the other exchanges have to react not based on a centralized voice saying “hey this is what the price is.” but off the reactions of every other exchange. Like a domino effect on top of a ripple effect, the prices for bitcoin and the other cryptocurrencies tumbled all day. Brendon Chez, 31, was the one who made that change to the first exchange, and the Journal tells the story.
4. Men Only
The Financial Times broke a story that feels ripe for the middle of the #MeToo moment we’re in. An annual men only charity dinner and auction gala was held in London called the Presidents Club. The room was full of some of the most powerful men in Europe. Politicians, businessmen, bankers, athletes, oil tycoons, you name it. It was also staffed by 130 scantily clad women, two of whom were undercover reporters for FT. The behavior recorded and reported by them had organizations sending back donations from the event, people saying they were never there and had no idea what was going on, and eventually the entire charity folding.
5. Some New Music
From James Blake, Khruangbin, Charlotte Day Wilson, and Migos
Friday Five: January 20, 2018
While we’ve never been more empowered to share our opinions (says guy writing a newsletter), the state of free speech on the internet probably isn’t quite what the technology’s early pioneers envisioned. The latest issue of Wired centers around the point that while speech is running free as the wind, it isn’t always a pro-democracy equality carrying tool. From Russian bots to extremist videos, swatting and Twitter trolls, 4chan and Reddit, well hey they can all speak freely at least. Right? So how does one reckon with the equal-ish playing field? Should Twitter really still be the “free speech wing of the free speech party” today? As the issue has gained some traction in techno-political circles, many are pointing to one of the interviewees, James Damore, as an example of the other side of the coin that maybe Wired shouldn’t be lending it’s credence to. Damore, one who’s currently suing Google for what can be summed up as “anti-conservative bias”, was fired for circulating a memo speaking out against the company’s diversity policies. As written in Gizmodo, it’s worth remembering why he was fired in the first place. It’s always worth reminding that the legal basis for free speech in America is government censorship, not private censorship, i.e. your employer.
As we hit the one year mark of the end of Vine, with Vine 2 on the horizon, many are looking back to talk about what might come next. Ann-Derrick Gaillot for The Outline wrote a great piece about its like for those who didn’t pivot to another platform to become a Paul brother or other Disney backed/affiliated internet persona. The piece touches on those who didn’t get fame or fortune from their creativity, but instead had their ideas and jokes stolen. What amounts to intellectual property theft seems to disproportionately affect the Black Vine community. From “eyebrows on fleek” to “do it for the Vine,” many of the creators of the most infectious memes on the platform simply faded into the fray when the platform shut down. So, where are one of these creators now, and what do they want from the next iteration of the platform?
Gaillot pens a love letter to the Patagonia and Teva uniform of late ‘17.
3. RIP The Awl
The home of some of the internet’s best/weirdest writing, and launch point of some of my favorite internet writer’s careers, will be shuttering at the end of this month.
Last Saturday, an anonymous essay by an anonymous photographer regarding Aziz Ansari and a sexual encounter that went too far for the author was published by Babe.net. It is not my place to define what happened between the two of them, but it certainly doesn’t sound consensual through-and-through. However, in the era of Weinstein-esque reporting, there is a lot to be said about the writing and publication of the essay. Julianne Escobedo Shepherd’s piece for Jezebel, linked above, is very good and worth reading. As is Lindy West’s for the New York Times. The Jezebel piece does a great job of examining how the media covers, reports on, and publishes pieces about sexual harassment and assault. The publications that have been doing it are finding “best practices” for what can be an emotionally burdensome ordeal, for writers, researchers, subjects, and readers, as well as legal implications that come from accusations about rape and assault. That being said, it is a news article, not general interest, and should still be treated as such, fact checking and all. Because of some of the ways the Ansari piece was written, there were openings for doubt, takedowns, disbelief, and discrediting. Various outlets ran pieces defending Ansari, and it became clear that Babe was not the first place the author brought her story, and that there were reasons other outlets chose not to run it. As, inevitably, more stories come forward about abuse by those with power, the media will have to reckon with the in’s and out’s of reporting them.
The ex-CEO of Uber made $1.4 billion yesterday. The current board of Uber arranged the sale of $9.3 billion in stock that officially closed, making the founder and now ousted Travis Kalanick a billionaire. The CEO’s fall from grace was well documented, from dashcam videos to public apologies, Kalanick quickly took Uber from Silicon Valley darling to one of the more controversial tech startups in the world. From dodging regulations to sexual harrasment, the company culture quickly turned toxic and trust in the company, and specifically in Kalanick himself, hit an all time low. Businessweek uncovered a few other less public steps in the saga that add darker and weirder turns into the story of Kalanick’s departure.
Friday Five: Jan 12, 2018
Have you ever had to catch a train out of Penn? Its pretty miserable. The whole building feels like an old middle school at best, and a crumbling building at worst. Post Hurricane Sandy, parts of the infrastructure of one of the busiest travel hubs in America are on the verge of breaking down entirely. Over the years, various attempts have been made to repair or replace the parts of the station that desperately need attention, but nobody really wants to foot the bill. Devin Leonard covered all angles thoroughly for Businessweek.
Earlier this week, the New York media scene was littered with rumors that a certain magazine was about to reveal the identity of the woman who started the Shitty Men In Media list. Donegan’s piece on the story of why she started the list, what happened, and what we should all take away from it, is masterful. Poignant, in that very quickly the focus of the public discussion shifted from the behaviour described in the document to the existence of the document itself. Many quotes have been pulled, but the one that I’ve seen surface again and again since the essay’s publishing is this:
“... this is another toll that sexual harassment can take on women: It can make you spend hours dissecting the psychology of the kind of men who do not think about your interiority much at all.”
The story of a bug that affects almost every device we use, and the attempt to keep it under wraps until it could be dealt with effectively before it could be exploited. The bug, uncommon in that it affected devices at the chip level, isn’t something that would be easy to patch. Likely, a lot of services will be slowed as a result. The fact that the researchers who discovered it managed to keep it a secret for seven months, in an industry notorious for leaks, is pretty incredible.
The word used by Trump to describe places like Africa and Haiti.
Related: How the media handled it
Turn Out the Lights was one of my favorite albums of last year, and Baker’s appearance on NPR’s Tiny Desk series is very good too.
Friday Five: December 22, 2017
Jiyang Fang for the New Yorker takes a deep dive into the self-beautification craze in China. As the trend of what constitutes a “good” selfie changes in the country, companies are making billions on the software and hardware that enable them. The biggest player is Meitu, who make both the most popular selfie editing app and a line of phones designed specifically for the “best” front-facing camera possible. Coinciding with the filter-mania is a rapid uptick in the amount of cosmetic plastic surgery happening in the country, teenagers are obsessed with a cultural ideal of Anglo-western beauty and will pay a lot of money to look closer to their digitally edited selves.
Ted Chiang, of Story of Your Life and Arrival fame, writes for Buzzfeed about a more realistic techno-dystopia future. The robots aren’t coming for our jobs, but capitalism and the Silicon Valley mentality might be.
A deep dive in how Google Maps has taken strides in the race against Apple’s native maps app. Google’s algorithmic prowess let loose on Maps, combined with better (or at the very least more) satellite data has let them add more information in towns both big and small.
An interesting look behind the people just out of frame.
5. Some End of Year Lists
Polygon’s 50 Best Games
Pitchfork’s Year in Music
The Fader’s Listmania 2017
Bloomberg’s Year in Money
Bloomberg’s 100 Best Photos of 2017
The Atlantic’s 50 Best Podcasts of 2017
The New Yorker’s Year in Culture
It’s Nice That’s Year in Review
That’s all folks. As I’ll be travelling next week and into the new year, there probably won’t be a newsletter next week. Thanks for reading.
See you all in the future.
Friday Five: December 15, 2017
Why do some memes last longer than others? How does one measure the success of a meme? These are pressing questions in our content drive times. If jokes are cultural artifacts, surely Twitter and Instagram have become the new breeding grounds for these monuments to our own stupid senses of humor.
First, porn was going to ruin children. Then Google was going to make us all stupid. And who could forget that all human relationships were on the verge of apocalypse because of Tinder? The endless cycle of “the internet is ruining humanity” mania has come back around once again, but maybe at a much more rapid clip. Is Facebook listening to everything we say? Is YouTube exploiting children for profit? How much Fake News is there online? The internet of 2017 isn’t the same internet of the 90’s. Though, as the internet has changed, so have we it’s users, and doubly so the way we use it.
You might remember last year, there was a was a DDoS attack on Dyn. The attack resulted in crippling the eastern seaboard’s internet infrastructure, with effects rippling outwards. This was in October, with the election looming, and people were notably freaked out. Was this a test run? Would our Election Day be hacked? Was it ~the Russians~? Well, as we found out last week, it wasn’t Russia, it was the handiwork of a couple college kids. To be fair, it wasn’t the trio of Rutgers students who launched that attack, but they did write the code that powered it. Mirai, a botnet that utilized the exponentially growing number of dumb “smart” devices with default passwords to flood websites and servers with requests, was originally written to strong-arm Minecraft server owners. The tale of how it ended up online and how the FBI tracked down it’s creators to charge them with crimes in Alaska is a long and interesting one, by Garrett Graff for Wired.
In a rather fast moving deal, at least from public perspective, Disney has bought large portions of Fox (not including Fox News) for a large sum of money. The business side of Hollywood has just shifted drastically, with analysts referring to the move to being like Disney becoming Walmart of TV and movies. Disney now owns a lot of super heroes, all of the Star Wars movies, the Simpsons, and many other landmark rights and properties. As Disney prepares to launch their own streaming service to take a bite out of Netflix, this also sets the company up to have quite the catalog of content to launch with.
Yesterday Ajit Pai, the ex-Verizon lawyer and lobbyist who is now the Chairman of the FCC, passed his wet dream of a bill to undo the Net Neutrality laws that went into effect under the Obama administration. A majority of the country is not in favor of this. Regulatory groups are not in favor of this. The ACLU and EFF both led campaigns to raise awareness and a groundswell of opinion against Pai’s action. Nevertheless, Pai passed his motion with a 3-2 vote. Now, many are calling on Congress to use their Review Act to reverse the FCC decision. However, with how much money the telecom industry, who stand to make massive profits in the future with the move, have paid members of Congress, well it’ll be an interesting battle. It wouldn’t be a newsletter from me without some political action you can take in the next week, so sign up at battleforthenet.com and make your voice heard. The effects of the undoing of net neutrality might not be felt right away, but the possibilities it opens up are not good. From censorship to prioritization, this is more than a shoddy Netflix stream. Those with money will keep their internet connections, but those less fortunate might not be able to do things online that we take for granted. Things like apply for college, file taxes, bank, get news, connect with family, and more. If not for your own good, do something for theirs.
Friday Five: December 1, 2017
Keeping it brief today because I’m writing this while in the middle of packing stuff because I’m moving! Here’s some links:
Uptown rats and downtown rats are different
David Karp is leaving Tumblr
Dirty Rock/Today’s Perv/Matt Lauer is a creep
~444,000 comments against net neutrality on the FCC’s site came from a Russian botnet
They’re planning on voting on a very bad tax plan today
Give em a bit of the ol’ razzle dazzle
What do you do with a patient with a “Do Not Resuscitate” tattoo?
Where there’s a screen, there’s an ad space
Friday Five: November 17, 2017
I’ve yet to find a good way to donate, but please read up on and help spread awareness of the damage left by the earthquake on the border of Iraq and Iran, and the lack of aid the area is receiving more than partially due to United States sanctions. If you know of a good way to donate please let me know.
Earlier this week, Christie’s sold a painting of Christ for over $450 million, smashing previous auction records to bits. The painting was so valuable because it was said to have been painted by Leonardo Da Vinci, but walking embodiment of the downtown art attitude Jerry Saltz thinks otherwise. While Saltz admits he’s no expert (but he has seen a lot of art), he raises some points worth considering. The painting just doesn’t feel like a Da Vinci, it doesn’t really fit in the canon of his work, it doesn’t contain any of those signature flares. So, why were bidders so eager to believe it? Well, wouldn’t you if you’d just spent a fortune on it?
Remember ‘Pizzagate’? The conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton was secretly helping a child sex trafficking ring running out of the basement of a pizza shop in D.C.? The one that led a man to travel from North Carolina and enter said pizza shop with an assault rifle and demand answers? Yeah, that whole thing. Amanda Robb has followed that story for months, working backwards and deconstructing how the story was created and spread and modified through the sinewy pathways of the weirdo web. From 4Chan to Russian bots, the article takes us through the strange timeline of fake news. If you ever wanted a comprehensive primer for these stories spread and are so widely believed even after they’re publicly debunked, read on.
An interactive guide to a confusing form of music. Godfathered by Brian Eno, generative music is music created by a system. Sometimes there is input, other times the system is purely left to generate on it’s own. Their are digital forms, physical forms, and written forms. It’s equally confusing and interesting, but if you’ve got a bit of time to kill I’d recommend poking around.
I’m writing this newsletter on a Late 2013 15-inch MacBook Pro with a Retina Display. This machine has been my school computer, my personal computer, and my work computer at various times. It’s kind of scuffed up and dinged, but I’ve more or less refused to upgrade to a newer machine (not for lack of want). Why? Because I, like many other “creatives” think that this era of MacBook Pros (2012 - 2015) was the pinnacle of Apple’s laptop line. Marco Arment, avid blogger and Apple fan, agrees, and broke down the reasons why on his site. From the features, to the ports, to the design, it was the best total package Apple has offered. So much so that they still sell a version of the computer over five years later, along side their more expensive but less packed current line.
5. Speed Freaks
Doree Shafir meets the people who listen to podcasts at up to 3X the normal speed. Personally, I listen to podcasts using Overcast and turn on their Smart Speed feature (which shortens silences in podcasts) and maybe bump the speed to 1.15X for really long shows like Waking Up with Sam Harris. These people though, they listen to podcasts really fast, all the time. It’s a much discussed trope in media these days that theres just too much TV to keep up with. There’s also too many podcasts, and many of them are really good, but to sacrifice comprehension for the sake of consumption seems rather odd.
Friday Five: November 10, 2017
It has been a not very great week for Snapchat. Their earnings call had investors jumping ship (and dumping stock), alongside a questionably intentioned minority stake buy from Tencent. The company has stated they intend to redesign the Android version of the app, have discussed adding a feed (to help us olds use the platform a little bit easier) and find new revenue streams with their already up-and-down ad platform. So, this story about another dwelling problem for Snap couldn’t have come at a more troublesome time. Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane to the far away time of 2012. Snapchat, having launched just a year before in 2011, was starting to gain a foothold. First, on college campuses, and then quickly in high schools after that. The app quickly became notorious for sexting, the self-destruct feature of the photos shared allowing for semi-private back and forth between hormone struck romantics. It took a very long time for Snap to shake that reputation and get to the more youth friendly image they work to maintain today. Now, authorities are beginning to shed light on some of the side effects of Snapchat’s new younger demo. While predatory behavior towards minors isn’t exclusive to Snapchat, the very nature of the platform makes it harder to investigate potential abuse cases than other platforms which maintain records of conversations.
Related: Just How Fucked Is Snapchat?
It’s long been discussed in the loud whispers that an open secret can carry that Louis C.K. was a perv. Leading up to the publishing of the Times article yesterday, as Louis C.K. cancelled his movie premier and late night appearances, media twitter was sounding off that the worst kept secret in comedy was getting on-the-record confirmation. Five separate women gave accounts of some seriously gross behavior from C.K. proving that no matter your clout, fame, or star power, it is open season on inappropriate sexual behavior. As many of the New York media crowd have pointed out, Gawker ran stories on this exact type of behavior from C.K. back in 2015, reigniting the “bring back Gawker!” pleas. Jezebel (one of the still running Gawker off-shoots) ran their own rehashing of the story yesterday as well.
After slowly letting some users beta test the feature (and others who quickly developed a workaround using some java) Twitter has rolled out 280 characters to everybody. The decision has been a little polarizing, with many citing it as yet another case of the service adding features nobody has asked for. The whole thing quickly became a meme unto itself, and so naturally brands had to hop in and see what damage they could do as well. The true test was of course when Cheeto in Chief first exceeded his traditional 140 characters. Like I say about most changes to social media, everyone will make a big fuss for about two weeks, and then it will become normal.
Related: Designing 280
Also: Twitter Is Rethinking It’s Verification Policy
America continues to have one of the most confusing and bureaucratic tax systems in the world. For the first time in 27 years, the current administration thinks they should crack open the books and rework the tax code. So naturally everyone wants to know how it will affect them individually. The answers vary, but unless you own a big business it probably isn’t going to help you out all that much.
The spiritual successor to the Panama Papers has arrived. Also collected and dissected by the ICJJ, the Paradise Papers expose the secret money schemes of the super rich. While the Panama Papers mostly revealed secrets of individuals, the headlines from the Paradise Papers have mostly been related to big businesses. Namely, Apple has been using Jersey as a tax haven, and Nike also really doesn’t want to pay taxes. Of course, it wouldn’t be a news story in 2017 without some ties to the current administration, so its no surprise that the Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, has gotten caught up in these new reports too. Ross has maintained ties to a freight and shipping company, which works closely with a nationally owned Russian natural gas firm, run by Putin’s son-in-law. Granted, Putin’s son-in-law isn’t as close to him as Kushner is to Trump, but I digress. Surely it’s no coincidence that these reports are coming out as the GOP tries to get it together to pass a tax plan, the light is being shined on the cracks of our current system as anyone with a lot of money tries to hold on to as much of it as possible.
Friday Five: November 3, 2017
In 1926, New York City passed what came to be known as The Cabaret Law. Put into effect to clamp down on black owned bars and clubs, the law declared that an expensive and hard to obtain permit was required for live music or dancing at any establishment. Later, in the 90’s, Giuliani used the law to harass club owners who would have to cue DJs to put on Radiohead albums to stop people from dancing. In the past few years there has been a groundswell of groups and individuals asking the city to strike down the law. Club owners, DJs, dancers, and musicians banded together to raise awareness of the law and strike up public opinion. A somewhat rare feeling; it actually worked. This past Tuesday, the city council voted to overturn The Cabaret Law. So, next time you’re out, feel free to dance a little harder.
Related: NPR on The Cabaret Law, The Outline on the movement to repeal
The worse case scenario of forgetting your password, Mark Frauenfelder forgot his pin for a device on which he kept bitcoin. He retells the tale of his lost password for Wired, giving a history of why he had his bitcoin locked up so tightly, and the struggle of forgetting just a few numbers. It’s the most exciting story about trying to reset your password I’ve ever read.
For roughly 11 minutes Thursday night, @realdonaldtrump was deactivated on Twitter. The company has since put out a statement that a customer service department employee, who had already put in their two weeks, pulled the plug on the account on their last day of work. Either way, the internet rejoiced.
If you’re a regular Facebook or Instagram user, you’ve probably had something like this happen to you. You’re talking with a friend about something, say peanuts, and then maybe fifteen minutes later when you open your phone and check Facebook there’s an ad. For peanuts. It’s freaky, right? Like, maybe, just maybe, Facebook is listening to you all the time and serving you ads based on what you talk about. Obviously the company denies that they would ever abuse the access you give them into your day-to-day life that way, but they also won’t really disclose how much they know about you either. The latest episode of Reply All delves into this topic, and covers it pretty well. As someone who has worked on the other side of the relationship, from the ad agency targeting standpoint, this is only skimming the surface. The amount of information that Facebook, Instagram, and any other social network you see ads on has on you is the stuff of sci-fi privacy nightmares.
After the employees of both integral New York local coverage sites made agreements to unionize last week their billionaire owner, Joe Ricketts, founder of TD Ameritrade, shuttered both DNAinfo and Gothamist yesterday. Not only did he decide to close them down, but he also removed the content of the sites entirely, basically screwing over the site’s writers who would want or need that content to get new work, to put up a letter explaining his decision. So within the span of a year, a rich person funded a lawsuit that shutdown Gawker, and a rich person didn’t like his employees getting any big ideas and shuttered these two sites. This news almost coincided with the Condé Nast’s announcement that they would be ceasing the print edition of Teen Vogue and letting go of 80 employees. While a lot of incredible and important journalism has been done in 2017, the amount of changes and hostility towards the industry doesn’t paint being a journalist in a very good light.
Friday Five: October 27, 2017
CGI has gotten scary good. Like, make a president say anything you want good. This video essay from Alan Warburton goes briefly over the history of the CGI and VFX industries before going over what the landscape looks like now. If you saw Star Wars: Rogue One, you might have been privy to the weird CGI Grand Admiral Tarkin riff raff, which has kicked off a discussion about what way things should go in the future. The video is a very informed look at mainstream CGI, the weirdo outsider artists making work on their own, and those on the fringe of whats next.
Last week, almost everyone I know in tech was talking about paperclips. A new game had surfaced called Universal Paperclips. The game was based off of an old AI thought experiment called the Paperclip Maximizer. Basically, the thought goes that if you built a highly intelligent AI and told it “make me as many paperclips as you can” it would eventually consume the whole universe to optimize that result. That game got a lot of people talking, mostly about how strangely addicting it is, as almost a near perfect example of the “idle clicker” genre, and how bizarre it gets in the late stages. Some people beat it in a few hours, other took days to labor over decisions trying to find the “right” way to “win.” Adam Rogers for Wired dissects the game, and the AI debate it is (only kind of) about.
I feel like this same news cycle happened around this time last year, but I digress. In a very New Yorker way, Dungeons and Dragons is surfaced as a resurrected cultural phenomenon. In the screen addicted age of whatever-ennials, the rising popularity of a pen and paper roleplaying game is a standout. On top of that, the game has started bubbling up in pop culture again as well. The piece starts out telling the story of Brooklyn Strategist, a game store and café in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn that not only have I played a session of Dungeons and Dragons at, but is around the corner from one of my old apartments. The space is regularly filled with people of all ages, from various walks of life, playing games together, many of which are pen and paper games with a DM (Dungeon Master, or GM, a Game Master in non-Dungeon games) or Warhammer, which is just as interesting to watch. Then the piece goes on to tell of yet another list of celebrities who have been known to play and the shows and podcasts based around the game. I guess maybe now that people need more escapism than ever, the game you can easily get lost for hours in and is pretty good at keeping people off their phones has yet another reason to attract new players.
Related: A 35 Year Strong DND Campaign
To anyone outside of the industry, this may get a little too inside baseball. Yet another group of sites have been investigated and found to have been selling more or less completely fraudulent ad networks to advertisers and media companies. Supposedly, the media companies placing ads here had no idea that there purchases were being misrepresented (“oh but the KPIs were so good!”) While social networks are dealing with their own type of misinformation, the ad world at large continues to grapple with their self-created problem: the more you focus on driving clicks, the more people will step up to find ways to profit from driving clicks. The long story short was that some major companies had been purchasing ads, and receiving reports that they were doing well, despite the fact that no human had ever seen or interacted with the ads. Zombie websites stuffed to the gills with ads were running somewhere unseen, dummy sites playing host to nonsense, with those being paid to place the ads walking away with millions. It’s hard enough to explain the whole process let alone charge someone with a crime for it, and it is only a matter of time until more fraud arrises until the metrics for success start to change.
Fittingly, this interview with Charles Broskoski, one of the creators of Are.na, begins with trying to describe just what the site is. I have friends who use it constantly, I have friends who used it a few times and fell off (like myself), and many others who have only heard of it in passing. Part Pinterest, part research tool, Arena has served as both moodboard and end product for many in the tech and design communities. It is both tool and network, kind of like a visible brain pattern for its users. The interview goes through its design and creation,