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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, circling around the question its co-creators kept arriving at: “Would we actually use this?” and follows through to the future plans for the site.
Friday Five: October 20, 2017
It feels like a quip I’ve had to use far too often, but nevertheless whenever someone brings up impeachment in conversation I’m quick to note that even if we impeach the first twelve people in the line of succession we get to President Ben Carson. So, lets say a legal standard finally comes to bare that impeachment hearings are held. He’s out, and we now have to reckon with a totally different beast. President Pence. Jane Mayer for the New Yorker imagines what this might look like. Pence has long been an ally to big corporations, and big religion. Recently it’s on record that he joked about executing all gay Americans. The guy is generally pretty creepy, lest we forget he refers to his wife as “mother.” So before you call for impeachment again, take the time to dissect the next steps we’d have to take carefully. Are you really ready to deal with President Pence?
The British invasion can somewhat be encapsulated and defined by a visual style. The shaggy hair, psychedelic military regalia, a distinct clashing of upper class posh and working class grit. While its well known and discussed that every major celebrity depends on at least one stylist to help them look the part, the people who styled those who came to give definition to the term ‘rockstar’ are often neglected. Jim Farber tells the stories of those who bestowed the looks and tools that came to define both The Beatles and The Who.
Mike Monteiro was one of the early Twitter users. Recently, he quit the service. He wrote this essay to capture his thoughts on the state of the service, and really a look at the way social media is situated in society as a whole. The whole tale is worth reading but this bit is what really grabbed me:
But when companies tell you they need to be more transparent it’s generally because they’ve been caught being transparent. You accidentally saw behind the curtain. Twitter is behaving exactly as it’s been designed to behave. Twitter, at this moment, is the sum of the choices it has made.
As Twitter grapples with Nazis, Russian bots, and the commander in chief making nuclear threats (among others) on their platform, and they continue to not intervene, you have to consider that the tool is working as intended. Twitter was designed to make every voice matter, but perhaps the group of white men who made it didn’t consider what that really meant. I still continue to use the service, it continues to be a news source, an outlet, and a place for dialogue and learning. As more people leave the service however, the hate and harassment on the platform feels louder in comparison to the smart, thoughtful, and funny posts we came to the site for. So if the current trend continues, the megaphone gets taken over by the nazis and racists, and then what?
In the era of Blade Runner back in the mainstream, amongst other sci-fi peaks being reached, there are people out there making parts of these futuristic visions a reality. We’ve been able to make machines that look, feel, and sound human for a while now, but one aspect of relationship building is still yet to be cracked. Can a machine feel? Can we building a robot that we can actually connect to on a mental and emotional level? This deeply personal profile of Hiroshi Ishiguro tackles these questions, and his quest to make a machine that can master human interaction.
As the opioid epidemic continues to affect our country, its affect in the white collar world of finance have gone relatively underreported. The news coverage around the problem has mostly revolved around suburban and rural areas, small towns that have been rapidly flushed with pills. Max Abelson and Jeanna Smiaek looked into how the epidemic infected Wall St. and also spoke with those who went from addicts to launching luxury level treatment centers. So, while lower class addiction can lead to heroin use, can the rich and powerful fight the opioid epidemic by throwing money at it? Guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Shameless Self Promo: I wrote about the resurgence of Grateful Dead merch for Grailed.
Friday Five: October 13th, 2017
Wildfires continue to tear through California, spurred on by the Santa Ana winds. The unseasonable high temperatures and low humidity set the stage for the wildfires that have now claimed 29 lives and left hundreds unaccounted for. The pictures being published look near apocalyptic. While the root cause of the fires is still yet to be determined, Adam Rogers for Wired breaks down the science behind how these fires got so particularly bad and noted that stricter building codes and regulation could lessen the possible damage in the future.
Related: If you can spare it, donate to Direct Relief, who are on the ground offering medical support and aid for the evacuees and survivors.
Yeah, someone attempted to blow up an airport last week. No, I didn’t hear about it on the news either. Shaun King received a message from a follower to a local news article about the incident. A man walked into Asheville Regional Airport in North Carolina shortly after midnight carrying a black duffle bag, and walked out without the bag. He was caught on camera and, following protocol, bomb dogs were sent in. The bag contained explosive materials, and sharp nails and bullets to add shrapnel. The bomb was set to go off at 6:00 AM, but was defused well before then. So, day saved, no attack. The man was arrested, too. Michael Christopher Estes. White male, 46, who said on record he was “preparing to fight a war on U.S. soil” and this planned attack was part of his war. I’m sure there are other reasons this didn’t get any big coverage, but it’s hard to not get caught up on the fact that Estes doesn’t fit the typical “foiled terrorist plot” coverage archetype because of his race.
Earlier this week James Jebbia, the founder of skate/street-wear mega brand Supreme, confirmed that the company was selling a 50% stake to the Carlyle Group, valuing the company at a whopping $1 billion. This move, whilst opening a new store in Williamsburg amid continued rumors about a complete buyout from LVMH, only adds to the continued business buzz around the brand. While Supreme has been the biggest name in hyped fashion for a long time, this might be the first time theres been confirmed financial deals surrounding the often quiet powerhouse.
A cartoon avatar of Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg high fived a cartoon avatar of the companies head of VR, Rachel Franklin, in front of a backdrop of devastated Puerto Rico. Live, on camera, streaming for the whole world to see. As part of a rather tone deaf stunt and/or tech demo, Zuckerberg was given a “virtual tour” of an area of Puerto Rico severely damaged by the recent hurricanes. The entire event was very problematic, as the Facebook CEO and other employees continued to promote how it felt like they really were there, reaching out with cartoon hands to try and touch things. Watching people in VR is always awkward, watching a very awkward tech CEO in a virtual disaster zone is unbearable. The Ringer staff writers broke down every bad aspect of this event, and it’s worth repeating that Zuckerberg issued a non-apology, saying:
“My goal here was to show how VR can raise awareness and help us see what’s happening in different parts of the world. I also wanted to share the news of our partnership with the Red Cross to help with recovery. Reading some of the comments, I realize this wasn’t clear, and I’m sorry to anyone this offended.”
5. Weinstein, Sexual Harassment, and Twitter
A scandal outside of the White House this week, as numerous sources reported on multiple settled sexual harassment and/or assault suits against Weinstein Company namesake, and now ousted, Harvey Weinstein. The ripples from this one have been big. What was described as an “open secret” in the film industry has led to some disturbing tales, from Hollywood to the news desks of major networks. Some, like designer Donna Karen and actress Lindsay Lohan defended Weinstein. Can’t really say why. Many others came forward with their own stories of sexual misconduct in Hollywood, including men like Terry Crews and James Van Der Beek. Others revealed claims of cover ups, angry confrontations, and more. Like with any Hollywood scandal, Twitter was aflame with takes. The big blow up came as a result of a temporary banning of actress Rose McGowan who had been posting to speak out against sexual abuse. Twitter claims McGowan violated their terms of service when she posted someone’s personal phone number, but because they took so long to disclose this reason many believe she was being silenced for her views. When a service is quick to ban a woman posting about sexual assault but allows open hate speech, Nazis, and racism... Well, you have to ask yourself how seriously they considered those terms of service. You might find your Twitter feed lacking in female presence today, as many women are boycotting the service in protest.
Friday Five: October 6, 2017
By now, you’ve been inundated with media coverage of the mass shooting in Las Vegas. The facts bear repeating: one man, 59 dead, 527 injured. Jason Kottke collected a list of articles, old and new, that are worth reading regarding gun violence in America. While many reports referred to the Vegas shooting as the “deadliest mass shooting in American history,” surpassing last years Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, that fact isn’t actually true. In ‘modern’ American history, yes, but as was widely discussed online this week, America has a long storied past of mass shootings. As government officials release statements and tweets offering their “thoughts and prayers” the public was reminded that many of their votes are already bought and paid for by the NRA. Even the modifications used on some of the shooter’s guns known as "bump stocks” that turn a semi-automatic weapon into a de facto automatic weapon are being debated. Even the NRA has said they’re open to some small amount of regulation on them. Personally, I don’t believe anyone needs a gun, and I’m extra certain that nobody needs a gun specifically designed to attack other humans. We’re left asking yet again what will it take to enact government action and legal rulings against the epidemic of gun violence in America.
Probably 9 out of 10 people I interact with professionally work in some version of an “open office.” Almost every major company has adopted them for some or all of their offices, and many young startups like them because it allows them to fit more employees in less (costly) office space. While it seems like an idea that would encourage a better office culture, encouraging collaboration and allowing employees to work more closely with eachother, everyone knows in practice it makes employees less efficient. Need to make a call? Go book a conference room. Need to concentrate? Better invest in some good noise-cancelling headphones. So how did we get here? Vox investigates the origins of the open office, which look great and somewhat more peaceful than today’s elbow-to-elbow set up, and how we got here.
I suppose we were over do for a #design twitter meltdown. Dropbox launched their new branding this week, designed by the internal Dropbox Brand Studio in collaboration with Collins, to a rather raucous reaction from the Eames armchair critics. Personally, I think it’s a fine rebrand, visually interesting but does somewhat hide the actual purpose of their flagship product, but it might scare off some possible traditional enterprise customers. All of that aside, it wasn’t so long ago when rebrands were quiet affairs, with little notice from anyone outside the people directly involved. Now, rebrands are massive PR-pushing events, with media coverage and input from blogs dedicated to the things. It didn’t take long for the mud to begin flying on Twitter, which quickly turned to some direct attacks on the design teams that did the work. Freshman year at art school, almost everyone’s first studio critique starts with similar guidelines: discuss the work, not the creator, and don't ding something unless you can offer a way to improve upon it. Perhaps more "design critic” Twitter types should try and abide by those rules too.
You probably remember that back when the iPhone 7 launched a year ago, the biggest change being talked about was Apple’s removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack. Tech pundits debated the pros and cons of analog headphones versus Bluetooth. Personally, I was iffy on the whole thing, but it was probably because I never had any good wireless headphones before. Now I have a pair of wireless buds that I use daily, and a pair of noise cancelling over the ear headphones I keep wherever I’m working. This week, Google had a big keynote to announce their new line of products. New Google Home devices, an in-house Chromebook, earbuds that translate in real time, and the next generation of their signature phone, the Pixel 2. Lo and behold, the Pixel 2, a good looking phone for something that isn’t an iPhone, also decided to ditch the 3.5mm jack, going full wireless. So, does this mean that Apple’s prediction of a wireless future was right?
Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that back in 2015 an NSA contractor took home classified materials, including cyber defense data, which was later hacked from the contractor’s personal computer by a Russian hacking group. While it may not get as much attention as the Snowden leaks that continue to reveal the inner workings of the American surveillance apparatus, it underlines a bigger question about the way the NSA operates and why it hires so many contractors. The agency’s continued growth in scale, combined with it’s obvious “need-to-know" security policies, pose a human resources problem like no other.
Related: The End of Privacy
Headline of the Week: Bank Behind Fearless Girl Statue Settles U.S. Gender Pay Dispute
Friday Five: September 29, 2017
In which South Park gets a direct nod from the Columbia Journalism Review. As more and more writers, editors, and entire departments get laid off and more and more publishers and websites declare that they are “pivoting to video” one has to wonder what the end goal really is. The stats aren’t in favor of pivoting, in fact many publishers are seeing massive declines in page views after refocusing. The reality is, those who have been doing consistent video work for a while can do it well, but many publishers go for the spaghetti method, throwing a lot of video strategies out there and seeing what sticks. Naturally, this inconsistency leads to a massive drop off in audience. While many publishers see “more advertising money” as the carrot on the end of the stick, more and more advertisers are going to Google and Facebook for their traffic leaving the publishers high and dry.
Short answer: yes. Following Nestle’s acquisition of Blue Bottle, the third wave coffee crowd is left wondering where their beloved hot cup of mud goes next. From a business perspective it all works out. Nestle, dominating the prepackaged espresso pod market in America, has a tiny fraction of the actual café storefront market. By purchasing Blue Bottle, who have a foothold in every hip neighborhood in the major cities, they get their share and save themselves the legwork. The question left is: what happens to the rest of the players in the artisanal coffee market?
From global airline check in services going down to not being able to get through to 911, there are a lot of social infrastructure problems that can be traced back to one core problem, outdated code. While computers have doubled in power roughly every year for the past 40 years (commonly referred to as Moore’s Law, which computing power will soon outpace) a large portion of our programming has gone unchanged. James Somers for The Atlantic talks to the group of programmers that are on a mission to fix the old programming to save us from the major headaches (or life threatening situations) that could arise.
Aaron Edwards for The Outline waxes poetic on the therapeutic nature of the group chat in today’s world, specifically for marginalized groups and people of color. Group chat as therapy, group chat as outlet, group chat as comedy, and maybe most importantly, the group chat as support system.
Twitter announced this week that they’re rolling out their newest feature, tossing aside the old arbitrary limit of 140 characters and doubling it an arbitrary 280 characters. Well, it’s not exactly arbitrary, way back when Twitter was Twttr and all tweets were sent via SMS to 40404, the limit was set to allow for the longest possible username to fit within the standard 160 character SMS limit. However, the announcement wasn’t exactly met with fanfare. Perhaps the most requested feature yet to be added would be the ability to edit already posted tweets, but definitely the most talked about is a better reporting system and a call to arms for Twitter to deal with harassment in a more efficent manner. So, while rolling out the new feature, many users (including myself) took the occasion to remind Twitter that this is not what their users have been asking for. As some pointed out, this increased limit only allows for more vile words to be added to a tweet, or more personal information to be published and spread quickly. What will be the end result of this new feature? Like every other change to a major social platform, we’ll all get used to it eventually, but what remains to be seen is how the power to fit more words in a single message will be used.
Friday Five: September 22, 2017
Ways To Donate To Mexico & Puerto Rico
Catastrophic natural disasters are becoming an all too recurring theme. Mexico was hit by a 7.1 magnitude earthquake on Tuesday, toppling buildings and collapsing infrastructure. The death toll at time of writing has exceeded 250 people. Here are a few ways and places to donate to if you can spare it:
United Way Mexico Emergency Fund
Direct Relief Mexico
International Community Foundation
Hurricanes Jose and Maria dealt rough back-to-back blows to Puerto Rico and the surrounding islands. All of Puerto Rico is currently without power, making a true assessment of damage hard to measure. The governor has reported that it could be up to half a year before the island is totally up and running again, with a full recovery taking even longer than that. I’ve listed some places to donate below:
Convoy of Hope
All Hands Volunteers
As always, do your own research and donate where you feel most moved to. Someone recently referred me to Charity Navigator which compiles info on and rates charities on their finances, accountability, and transparency. I’d only note that both FEMA and the Red Cross have still not delivered supplies to areas effected by Hurricane Harvey. For more, see this Twitter thread from ProPublica.
The New York Times profiles Hatem El-Gamsey, a bodega owner in my neighborhood who is also a regular pundit on Egyptian news programs. The same man who works the grill in the morning might be weighing in on rising tensions with North Korea that afternoon, live via Skype from the bathroom of the same bodega. Notably, El-Gamsey called in to an Egyptian news program and correctly predicted the outcome of the 2016 presidential election along with his analysis, he’s been making appearances ever since.
Amanda Hess writes for the New York Times on how our social media feeds have given rise again to the silent film. As more and more people scroll through Facebook or Instagram with the sound off, creators and advertisers have relied on old tricks to get your attention, without interrupting your podcast. From cute cats to scantily clad women, the gimmicks are old as the medium itself, but apparently are still working. As more and more platforms continue to “pivot to video,” keep an eye on how many of them end up using the same old tropes.
Scaachi Koul for Buzzfeed News was on the scene of the Juggalo March on Washington. For the unaware, a Juggalo is a fan of the clown themed rap-metal-something group Insane Clown Posse. (Here is a mini-doc from a few years ago on their annual music festival, The Gathering of the Juggalos [NSFW], with plenty more like it on YouTube and Vimeo.) Like most fringe groups right now, the Juggalos are dealing with problems of intersectionality, and as the FBI lists them as a National Gang Threat, they continue to feel disrespected and misunderstood. Now, they feel like they’re being targeting by not only the federal government, but their local police too, with members feeling singled out because of the association to the group. Despite their looks and antics, the music of Insane Clown Posse has, only slightly, turned from meme to social wokeness, with lyrics dealing with racism and calling out bigotry in one’s own community. That being said, they do still spray Faygo soda over their audiences and perform extremely sexually graphic songs with no real logic to them alongside their newer material.
Another week, another attempt to disrupt the healthcare system for millions of Americans. Next week the senate will vote on the Cassidy-Graham bill, which for the sake of argument may as well be TrumpCare by another name (although some have taken to calling the move ‘Repeal And Go Fuck Yourself’.) A lot of buzz this week has been stemming from Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue on the subject, after his own child’s life was effected by the healthcare system, leading Kimmel to speak directly with Senator Cassidy. It’s now gotten to the point where GOP senators are swinging for deals to get this to pass, like letting Alaska keep Obamacare if they vote to replace it. While the senate tries to figure out how to solve this one, they did find an extra $700 million lying around for war. Want to make a call? The number is 202-224-3121. If you live in any of the states below, your senator’s vote has been marked undecided, so if you feel so inclined:
Arizona: Senator McCain – 202-224-2235
Alaska: Senator Murkowski –202-224-6665
Maine: Senator Collins – 202-224-2523
Ohio: Senator Portman – 202-224-3353
West Virginia: Senator Capito – 202-224-6472
Tennessee: Senator Alexander – 202-224-4944
Colorado: Senator Gardner – 202-224-5941
Perhaps buried in the news cycle by the natural and political disasters (“Rocket Man”), the Senate Committee on intelligence is continuing its investigation into Russia’s involvement in the presidential election, as Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s own investigation moves forward. As social media’s role in pro-Trump propaganda continues to come to light, both Twitter and Facebook have released statements saying that they are cooperating fully. While both platforms continue to be host to hatred and targeted harassment, at least they’re both willing to shoulder some responsibility about what happened leading up to election day and provide what data they can to get to the bottom of it all.
Related: Facebook adding more human oversight to ad targeting, Facebook to make political advertising more transparent
Bonus: If any of these acronyms mean anything to you, read
W3C embraced DRM leading to the EFF resigning.
Friday Five: September 15, 2017
At some point over the week I stumbled upon a Twitter thread that recapped the story of Gary Snyder (beat poet and inspiration for Kerouac’s Japhy Ryder in The Dharma Bums) having a chance encounter with a government employee named Daniel Ellsberg in a bar in Japan. A decade after that first meeting, Snyder’s self-direction and pacifist beliefs somehow bloomed within Ellsberg and led him to leak what we now know as the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times. It’s an interesting case of two near polar opposites having a debate that would change the course of our country, and as a fan of Snyder (and whistleblowers alike) I was kind of surprised I’d never heard the anecdote.
So first, some of you might be asking “what is a Pewdiepie?” and that is a completely valid question. Pewdiepie is the username of Felix Kjellberg, a Swedish video game streamer turned YouTube personality. Not just any YouTube personality though, with over 57 million subscribers Pewdiepie has consistently been the biggest YouTube channel for quite some time. While YouTube personalities and video game streamers might seem niche, it’s hard to argue with that kind of reach. Last week, while streaming a game, Pewdiepie called an opponent the n-word after his teammate was killed. The clip of this exchange almost immediately went viral in the YouTube and gamer spheres of Twitter. Many recalled the most recent controversy in which Pewdiepie had to confirm that he wasn’t a Nazi after making multiple jokes that suggested otherwise. Pewdiepie posted a video apologizing for the n-word incident, saying that in the heat of the moment he said the most offensive thing he could think of, which still doesn’t justify having the word in his arsenal of insults to begin with. Pewdiepie was in the works for a major deal with Disney during the Nazi controversy, and that deal fell through with the media blowback, along with many advertisers distancing themselves from YouTube personalities in general. Those fellow YouTube personalities are now worried that, just as they were beginning to come back, this latest blowup will scare advertisers off once again, which for some would disrupt their main or only source of income.
Boy wunderkind Archie Marshall, better known by his musical moniker King Krule, has returned. After releasing a critically acclaimed EP at age 17 and his first full length, 6 Feet Beneath the Moon, at age 19, Marshall was painted as the voice of the British underground. With small peeps and side projects, including guest verses on rap albums, production credits under pseudonyms, and a side step under his legal name with 2015’s A New Place 2 Drown, some have been clamoring for new King Krule material. Jazz Monroe sat down with Marshall to discuss his creative process, writer’s block, and the outlook on his new album, The Ooz.
Blue Bottle, the San Francisco darling of third wave coffee with sprawling crisp storefronts in various hip neighborhoods has agreed to sell Nestle a majority stake in their company. As Nespresso pods continue to take a share of the coffee marketplace, it’s an interesting deal at an interesting time to say the least. Is this the validation that “artisanal” coffee has been looking for? Will the Blue Bottle ethos survive under a corporate owner? Blue Bottle’s owner seems to see this as a way to keep doing what he’s doing without having to face the financial reality of going public.
There’s a lot that can be said about the iPhone X, what Apple is touting as their step towards the future of mobile phones. The iPhone X marks the first departure from the now unescapable smartphone silhouette. Design Twitter was kind of exploding when the thing was finally revealed, despite UI leaks giving us a pretty strong hint at what it would look like beforehand. No home button! Big display! But most of all, that “notch.” Apple isn’t the first to make a phone with an “edge-to-edge display” but, this is the first iPhone to have one. Vlad Savov for The Verge makes a case for leaning into the design choice of the notch by first noting that it was in fact a conscious decision by Apple to make the thing look that way. Many were quick to point out that they could have spaced out the sensors housed in the black band to make it a lot thinner and less intrusive on screen real estate, but when you consider it as a purposeful shape that Apple planned it takes on a bit of a different meaning. Whether you like it or not, the smartphone with the notch at the top will inevitably become to be synonymous with iPhone, because that’s how Apple has planned it.
Bonus: Polygon’s three piece series on Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, the #1 PC game that is still in beta.
Brendan "Playerunknown" Greene's whirlwind year
Meet Mr. Grimmmz, the face of PUBG streaming
PUBG is becoming an esport, whether it's ready or not
Friday Five: September 8, 2017
Ta-Nehisi Coates deconstructs how race relations in America led to the white supremacy base of the current administration. There’s little I can say about Coates’s writing on race in America that hasn’t been said better and said before. As storm systems slam predominantly minority areas of the south, and the funding to rebuild those areas becomes politicized, pay close attention the words used to describe the victims. If you’re going to read something about politics this weekend, it should be this.
Jenny O’Dell for her Bureau of Suspended Objects project tracks (or rather, tries to track) the origin of a free watch gifted to the Museum of Capitalism. The rabbit hole goes deeper than one might expect, giving us an in depth tour of faceless Instagram quick fashion brands, dropshipping, and the opacity of the internet.
Ahead of Tuesday’s Apple Event, where the company will launch its latest version of the now monolithic device, Wired takes a look back at how the iPhone got to where it is. I’ve owned every model of the iPhone that’s come out at some point or another, and I think between the four members of my family, we have a box somewhere with one of each in it. That includes a scratched up and slightly dented, but still working original iPhone. Like the video says, it’s almost hard to image the cellphone market before the iPhone, it really was that big of a turning point. But, now you can get a great smartphone from lots of other companies, and that’s posing a problem for Apple. Android is the only other serious OS competition, but lots of other phones run Android, including very good looking phones from Samsung and the tech-spec heavy Pixel, from Google. What will Apple do next? We’ll have to wait until Tuesday to see, but there’s a pretty high chance I’ll buy whatever it is at some point.
5. What We Talk About When We Talk About Hurricanes
For almost nine years I lived in a suburb of West Palm Beach. My parents still live there and most of my extended family live in the area. That suburb is now pretty close to almost every estimated path for Hurricane Irma, leading my family to evacuate ahead of a storm for the first time. The past couple of days, watching the reports come in from the Bahamas, Caribbean, and Puerto Rico, calling Irma unprecedented as it continues to break records, has left a lot of fellow Floridians dealing with how to best prepare for this storm. While they brace for the effects on the ground, the rest of the country is dealing with the unfortunate further politicization of natural disasters.
Hurricane Harvey federal relief funding is now tied into a “bipartisan” deal between the current administration and leading Democrats. Rush Limbaugh, the Palm Beach right wing conservative radio host, has been on the air repeatedly saying Hurricane Irma is a hoax and is being used to “further the climate change agenda” and “sell more water and batteries” a dangerous rhetoric encouraging the ignoring of evacuation orders and putting his audience’s lives at risk. On top of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are Hurricanes Jose and Katie also on the way, wildfires on the west coast, and an 8.2 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Mexico, the environmental science community is facing down our climate change denying politicians. Our Energy Secretary, Rick Perry, has a long history of climate change denial, as does the newly appointed head of NASA, Jim Bridenstine. It’s becoming a popular talking point after the devastation caused by Harvey, but as these natural disasters prove more fatal, maybe it is time we start making climate change denial an actual crime.
To my Florida friends who are evacuating, travel safely. To those who are going to ride out the storm, batten down the hatches and be safe.
Friday Five: September 1, 2017
1. Hurricane Harvey
Texas and Louisiana, and specifically the greater Houston area, are going through some tough times. The damage left by the storm is immense, and the damage being caused by flooding is even worse. Parts of Houston, the 4th biggest city in America and one of its most diverse, are entirely underwater. Unfortunately, this will be another incident that will be politicized and fall victim to red-tape bureaucracy. There will be time for mudslinging and political talk later. If you’re looking to do a little good today, there are plenty of places to send your money to, but I would offer the thought to prioritize your giving to grassroots organizations that are already on the ground. I’ve listed a few below:
The Galveston Food Bank
The Houston Food Bank
The Texas Diaper Bank
The Texas SPCA
The Houston Homeless Coalition
Heart To Heart
GHCF Hurricane Relief Fund
Moreover, after many major natural disasters, there is a lot of attention drawn to the Red Cross. I’d implore you to do a little reading on how they handle their donations before giving to them.
Related: How Climate Change Fueled Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Harvey Is What Climate Change Looks Like
Kim Bhasin and Lance Lambert charted the brand name references in pop music today. There’s a long weird history with name dropping luxury products in music, I’m still not entirely sure why rappers have a thing for Grey Poupon, but in the era of self-image broadcasting it seems to be on the rise. Somewhat unsurprisingly, Migos’s “Bad and Boujee” took the #1 spot for most brands named in a song. There are multiple reasons why artists might shout out a brand, as the article notes. Sometimes they want to start a conversation with the brand as part of a marketing deal, other times it’s actual paid placement, often though it’s totally unclear whether or not the brand has paid to be mentioned. With the VMA’s just happening (yeah, I kind of forgot that awards show still exists too) there has also been a conversation happening around whether product placement in music videos needs to be disclosed.
Craig Jenkins details the rise of Billboard 200 topping rappers and the in-and-out of court lifestyles they lead. With SoundCloud prodigy XXXTentation, the quickly rising 17-year-old Tay-K, and South Florida’s reigning king Kodak Black, there has been a sharp rise recently in smash hits coming from artists with violent rap sheets. XXXtentation has been the subject of sharp debate between rap fans, as previously reported on by The Outline, his supporters blindly claiming his charges were false and he was wrongly convicted and others pointing to the fact that he was in jail for the charges when his song broke. There’s often been a through line connecting criminal lifestyles and rap music; Snoop Dogg and Jay Z glorified both drug dealing and the life it came with, but it took a more serious 2001 gun charge to upend Jay Z’s career. However, there is a big difference between claiming to sell drugs and actually serving time for sexual assault and attempted homicide. As rap shows feature more and more mosh pits, they begin to look like hardcore shows of yore, setting a dangerous precedent where the audience is as violent as the song’s lyrics. It’s an interesting time to watch rap fans discuss their problematic faves in a post-Bobby Shmurda landscape.
Related: Why Black Boy Joy And Lil Uzi Vert's Melancholy Are All The Rage
A brief 13-minute video on how Conan ended up hosting The Tonight Show, and how he ended up getting cancelled. Some don’t realize Conan’s long standing career in TV comedy, cutting his teeth at SNL and The Simpsons. To finally land at the peak of TV comedy jobs, hosting the Tonight Show, only to have NBC’s handling of the situation flop the chances of Conan’s success, it’s an interesting tale of why things ended the way they did.
Last week, The War On Drugs released their 4th album “A Deeper Understanding” to critical acclaim. Amanda Petrusich for the New Yorker writes about the album, the band’s front man Adam Granduciel, and the band’s place in rock canon. As rap and hip hop continue to dominate the mainstream, it begs the question: what can rock music do to get back some of the limelight?
More new music from: Ex-War On Drugs member Kurt Vile with Courtney Barnett, LCD Soundsystem, Hiss Golden Messenger, and Mount Kimbie.
Friday Five: August 25, 2017
The New Yorker chronicles the rise of the Costco surfboard that has made itself infamous in the surf world. The big piece of floating foam is the tool of choice for many novice surfers, its buoyancy and size make it like a longboard for beginners, and most surf schools I’ve come across use it for everyone’s first lessons, including my own. While some (most) see them as crowding the lineup, usually being ridden by those who don’t quite grasp the “unspoken rules” and can be a danger to themselves and others, others see them as a fun toy. Some pro surfers have organized competitions, including costumes and stunts, as a way to blow off some steam from the rather over serious professional surfing circuit. Either way, Costco continues to sell these things like hotcakes.
In June of 2015, Dylann Roof walked into a church in Charleston, South Carolina, and murdered nine black church members, including the pastor. Roof, representing himself during his trial, displayed no remorse or regret. Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah tells the story of Roof’s upbringing, past, and radicalization for GQ. What happened in that church took place before anyone really foresaw our current political climate, and there isn’t the strongest connection between the Roof story and now. The connection that does exist is the way white supremacists and those who align themselves with those sorts of groups behave, talk, and gather online. The communities they form create a vicious cycle of perpetuating rage and hatred, and those types of communities have not gotten smaller, or quieter, since November 8th of last year. So it’s worth considering, how many other groups have spawned how many other Dylann Roofs since then, and what can we do to curb that type of behavior?
It was a year ago this week that, after a $140 million verdict against them, Gawker Media folded. While the bones of its infrastructure still exist, the spirit of the original isn’t there. Yet it seems almost ironic, the partisan reporting and pointed opinions that have come to be common in our news and media today were so frowned upon when Gawker was doing it not so long ago. There were pieces written against Trump even, before he was ever a political hopeful, and it was Gawker after all that first opened up an inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s strange email practices. So in an era where we look to our favorite internet writers so often, Michael Socolow offers a brief remembrance of the Gawker that was, and how we could probably use their brand of coverage today.
Amanda Lewis was at a cannabis industry (big pot) conference in Las Vegas last year, when a man she met at a party told her of a strange story. One big company, BioTech Institute LLC, was taking out utility patents (a very wide coverage patent, basically giving the holder all rights to crops and their byproducts) on weed strains, a lot of them. So begins the investigation into what could create a huge monopoly on weed if it ever gets federal legalization. Not that AG Sessions is going to let that happen anytime soon, but let’s say one day it does. If marijuana loses its Schedule 1 DEA classification, BioTech will basically have a patent infringement case against any company dealing with the plant, from growing, harvesting, distilling, selling, packaging, and everyone in between. It’s also worth repeating the often cited gripe with the current legal weed industry. While countless minorities, mostly black men, serve jail time for low level drug offences, many, mostly white men, are making huge profits doing what is essentially the same job.
On Tuesday morning, the Village Voice announced the newspaper would be moving to a digital only publication, ceasing it’s print version. While the news isn’t exactly surprising, it did feel like the day would never come when those bright red boxes wouldn’t be restocked every week. I probably only picked up a few issues here and there, when a friend was mentioned, someone I knew from the internet had some work in the paper, or the cover story looked interesting while I was waiting for the light to change. I do remember seeing someone refilling the boxes, maybe a week and a half after Hurricane Sandy, and that providing some semblance of the return to normal. The Voice was a staple of New York, a lot of the bigger names in news and writing at some point had their hand in the paper. When the news came out, it felt like one of the last great downtown landmarks was getting bulldozed for condos. The paper was one of the first outlets for the downtown weirdos, the punks, the marginalized, and so on. So, while it may live on online, many writers felt the need to pay tribute to their beginnings, and to say long live the Village Voice.
Friday Five: August 18, 2017
First, I would be remiss to not write briefly about the events that took place last weekend. The reaction by those who hold political power has been unsettling to say the least. To stay silent in the face of evil is to take the side of the oppressor. It might be just as bad to condemn “both sides.” It is on us now to confront those who seek to spread their corrupt thinking. I ask that you speak out against hate, bigotry, and white supremacy. Protect those who are being targeted and find ways to be a better ally. Confront those who belittle the issue, or act as if it is a fringe event. There should be no bystanders to this.
There were plenty of great pieces written in reaction to the events of last weekend, here are a few:
Love Needs Fury to Defeat Hate
Charlottesville and the Bigotocracy
The Other Inconvenient Truth
The United States Was Never Immune to Fascism
Or watch the VICE News piece ‘Charlottesville: Race and Terror’
Wired profiles Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom as he continues to lead the company on their mission to scrounge their service of bullying and harassing comments. The issues of online comments probably date back to the first time they were added to a site. The ability to hide behind an untraceable account gives trolls a platform for targeting individuals. As more and more people use social media services like Instagram, the amount of unsavory commentary increases alongside it. Systrom has been leading a team who are using machine learning to scrub comments as they’re posted, but some worry about the side effects this might have.
Related: The Mental Health Effects of Smartphone Addiction
The late great purple one got an unexpected memorial earlier this week. Pantone issued a standardized custom color in collaboration with Prince’s estate to be used for any official Prince business. For an artist so long associated with the color, it is a pretty fitting recognition.
James Poniewozik wrote about his favorite scene from Freaks and Geeks, and dissects how it captures the setting of small-town America at the time so well. It’s a great breakdown of the elements of the scene, and the show at large, that gave me a refreshed appreciation of the series.
A while ago I linked to an article written by Damon Krukowski in the Paris Review about analog noise in music. Well Krukowski went from writing a book about music technologies to now making a podcast about music technologies. It kind of makes sense though, what better way to discuss the qualities of audio than through an audio format? Ways of Hearing is the first show from Radiotopia’s ‘Showcase’ series, a kind of mini-series production of a show rather than full on seasons. It’s been interesting to watch podcasts sort out how to approach things like series, seasons, and episodic material. It wasn’t really until Serial that any podcast company really considering breaking the traditional format, but once the walls came down it feels like more and more shows are trying interesting things.
Friday Five: August 11, 2017
Bloomberg Businessweek’s cover story from last week was a profile on Patrick and John Collison, the two brothers who founded a company called Stripe. If you’ve bought something online recently, you’ve probably used Stripe without even realizing. They created the software that lots of other companies use to process credit card payments online. The profile paints them as a story of Winklevoss Twins gone right, they’re well read and in shape, running marathons while getting into MIT at 16, and so on. Nevertheless, the story provides an interesting look at one of the small-margin but highly contested marketplaces online.
If you’ve shopped at Trader Joe’s long enough, you start to notice something weird. Trader Joe’s is very, like very, secretive about where they source their products. It kind of become a thing over the past couple of years. So, Eater did what any crafty journalist looking for more information in 2017 would do, they filed a FOIA request. (Quick aside, FOIA is the common abbreviation for the Freedom of Information Act, which in post a post 9/11 United States allows private individuals to request DoJ files on a wide range of subjects that are subject to redaction or outright denial.) With the information provided, Eater can tell you exactly what non-Trader Joe’s brand name version of some of their most popular products are. It provides a very interesting look into the way the company operates and the industry of repackaging foods and goods.
When Chelsea Manning’s sentenced was communed by President Obama, one of the rumors swirling around the media industry was that Anna Wintour was interested in featuring Chelsea in a photoshoot. It turns out, that rumor has become fact. The latest issue of Vogue features a profile on post military prison life for Manning, accompanied by photos shot by the legendary Annie Leibovitz.
It’s long been a topic in tech circles that Facebook and Google end up having a chilling effect on innovation from smaller companies and individuals. The realization that if you want to make an app, you either have to be bigger than Facebook (or any other big tech company, but for the sake of the article we’re talking about Facebook) or have enough users that they end up acquiring your app. The Wall Street Journal tells the story of Houseparty, a simple multi-user video chat platform, and what they face going up against the biggest social media network in the world.
A well-to-do private boy’s school in Toronto wanted to teach their students about their own privilege. At a school with an “elite” reputation and $30,000 annual fees, using one of the most parent-feared video games as a teaching mechanism certainly isn’t traditional thinking. The teachers leading the program hoped that by playing the game through an educational perspective, the students could learn about race, sex, violence, and more, while seeing the irony and humor that GTA5 is written for which is often missed by younger players. Instead, quite worryingly, some younger players might take the lessons laid out by the game as literal, that gun violence and explosions are a quick solve to any problem and when the police come after you just drive faster. It’s an interesting look at how to use one of the most popular games to teach a lesson.
Friday Five: August 4th, 2017
Maybe you’ve heard of Patreon. Maybe a smaller podcast or blog you follow uses the platform to cover costs, or maybe a musician you’re a fan of uses it to fund a tour. Patreon quickly become the platform of choice for indie creatives. Unlike Kickstarter, which focuses on the idea of funding a single project and then the contract between the backer and the creator is done, Patreon is built around the idea of an audience of patrons providing monthly support directly to creatives. Adi Robertson for The Verge took a deep dive into the history of the platform. On the other side of the coin, Pateron has also become a safe space for “erotic” artists too. (NSFW: nipples and censor bars)
Remember when we were younger, probably in your early teens? Probably around the time you heard Hendrix or Led Zeppelin for the first time. That was the time when you said you’d never work in a cubicle or wear a tie to work. Well, c’est la vie, right? Franz Nicolay followed the rise and fall of the often thrown around term “sellout.” What exactly does it mean to sellout in 2017 anyway? Now that anyone can be discovered on the internet and made into an instant celebrity (lest we forget that Bieber was discovered as a dancer on YouTube originally) the term has almost lost it’s meaning. Is it selling out to make a full living as a musician? Can any musical act really provide for themselves on the pennies-per-stream they might be earning? If I was a musician and someone offered me a boatload of money to use my song in a Super Bowl commercial, I’d imagine anyone would have a hard time saying no.
Nobody would’ve guessed the story that would have media-twitter at each other’s throats this week would be about a bodega sandwich. It’s not even a chop cheese this time, either. Sadie Stein wrote a rather nostalgic piece for the New York Times about the buttered roll, a staple of probably every bodega in the five boroughs, and definitely of every breakfast cart in Manhattan. Where’s the slight, you ask? Stein specifically said that the Buttered Roll isn’t found outside of the greater New York City area, with the exception of areas where you find lots of NYC expats. Wherever you fall on that argument aside, it’s an interesting look at an unassuming workingman’s breakfast.
You know those pictures of those oh so perfect desk set ups with those plants placed just perfectly so? Siobhan Leddy thinks they’re kind of bullshit. In a world where more and more creatives are working on a freelance basis (the rise of the dreaded “gig economy” will inevitably be the death of us all), there is also a rise in these aspirational images. As I’ve been shifting from working a permalance gig out of an ad agency into freelancing, the one thing I’ve found myself missing from it all was the anchor of having a desk. It not only allows you to actually physically separate your work from your home, but gives a mental landmark for that same mode. Now, I mostly work out of my living room, sitting on the couch with my feet propped up on the coffee table. Not to say that I’m not more comfortable, but my coffee and water and notes spread around me isn’t as idyllic as the internet might make the “freelance lifestyle” out to be.
I never got into Nine Inch Nails. I’m familiar enough to recognize what they sound like, Trent Reznor’s singing is unique unto itself, but I don’t think I could sing a chorus to any of their bigger songs. I took a dive into their catalogue while reading this interview between David Marchese and Reznor and it provided an interesting background to the conversation they were having. The interview covers everything from teen angst, music in the age of social media, shock value, and Reznor’s personal views on the way the music industry is heading. For someone who seemingly doesn’t give a lot of interviews, he has a lot to say. It’s not necessarily pessimistic, but Reznor pulls no punches on what he sees as the amount of disposability of some music and musicians today. Luckily, he also points out that rock’s not dead. So at least we’ve got that.
Friday Five: July 28, 2017
Okay, so it’s been a hell of a week here in the U.S. so I’m going to break format a little bit. I’ll preface this by saying that next week (barring a major political incident) I won’t post anything politics related.
Early this morning, by the skin of their teeth, the senate rejected the “skinny repeal” of the ACA, more commonly know as Obamacare. While McCain’s loud “no” vote will be the one making headlines, senators Susan Connors of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska were the other two no votes that cost the GOP their majority. The repeal, which was written with the intention that after getting passed over to the House it would get cleaned up before being signed into law (on some sort of handshake verbal agreement between Senate and House republicans) would have left millions uninsured, more or less outlawed Planned Parenthood, and driven up insurance premiums at an estimated $20 million per year. The repeal bill was seemingly written around noon, and introduced at 10:30 PM without any plan to open the floor for comment or questions from the opposition. I went on a bit of a Twitter tear after the actual language of the bill was released along with the plan in place to push it through
All of the healthcare drama came hot on the heels of everyones favorite new political meme, after Anthony Scaramucci had a rather off-the-cuff discussion with Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker. While we should never forget the Trump/Billy Bush tape, the more than colorful language of Scaramucci only adds to the legacy of profanity coming from the current administration. I never thought I’d see the day when major news sources had to grapple with the appropriate way to correctly cover the quote:
“I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock.”
There’s one other political flashpoint I feel obliged to comment on. On Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted out his intention to bar transgender people from serving in our military. This idea is nothing short of un-American at it’s core and a direct attack at the LGBQT+ community at large. By simply existing in public transgender people display more courage and bravery than most just by stepping out their front door every day. To seek to take away the right of those who choose to serve on behalf of a country that seeks to humiliate and dehumanize them is cowardly at best. The idea that transgendered people in the military would place a financial or operational burden on our armed forces is a fallacy skewed by the perspective of those in power. America operates the wealthiest military on the planet, and the estimated cost of medically supporting the thousands of transgendered troops currently enlisted is less than a quarter of a percent of the US Armed Forces budget. This plan by Trump was made without the consultation or knowledge of those who lead our military, and is a divisive political move to sway voters. It is inexcusable to target a population this way for the sake of political gains. The outpouring of support that was shown for the LGBQT+ community only shows that Trump picked on the wrong group. I’d be remiss to not note that as of today, the Pentagon continues to state that they are not changing any policies regarding transgendered individuals serving in the militar and are awaiting further instruction from the White House.
Some links for further reading, if you’re inclined:
A mother speaks on the photo of her and her transgender son at the Texas state capitol:
“There are plenty of days when I ask myself whether I’m a good mom, but this was not one of them.”
Chelsea Manning on Trump’s plan:
“This is about bias and prejudice. This is about systemic discrimination. Like the integration of people of color and women in the past, this was a sign of progress that threatens the social order, and the president is reacting against that progress.”
And a brief followup from last week’s link on corruption in Pakistan:
The Supreme Court of Pakistan has ordered the removal of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif
Friday Five: July 21, 2017
Calibri, most famous for being the default font in Outlook and Word, is at the center of a corruption scandal in Pakistan. The Wikipedia page for the font has been locked, which if you know anything about how the Wikipedia community operates, is kind of a big deal. The short story of it is that a document leaked in the Panama Papers last year linked the Prime Minister of Pakistan’s daughter to the offshore firm from which the files were leaked. The Pakistani government then surfaced a (allegedly doctored) 2006 report, written in Calibri, stating that the connection had been properly reported and stated. The problem? Calibri wasn’t publicly available until 2007.
Gothamist reflects on the history of Milton Glasser’s now famous NYC tourism campaign design. The mark, which Glasser assumed would fade away quickly and therefore gave it to the city for free, now generates millions for the state annually. Now, you can’t walk around Manhattan without seeing the infamous design somewhere.
Try as I might to avoid putting a Trump link in every week, here we are again. Trump sat down with three New York Times reporters for a often rambling and incoherent interview, but his answers did offer some insight into just what in the world is going on in the West Wing recently.
From ideation to air, a 30 minute documentary on what the process was like to get an episode of Seinfeld to broadcast. Somehow, the show never loses interest, and seeing how it was made provides and interesting angle into each joke, character, and episode.
Jake Paul is a Disney Star/Internet Famous/Bro, for lack of a better description. Until his name had been appearing in headlines this week I’d never heard of him, despite the fact that he has over 8.5 million YouTube subscribers and 8.6 million Instagram followers. Jake Paul is part of a team of video creators called Team 10, who all share a house in a well-to-do neighborhood of Los Angeles. As Paul’s antics, stunts, and pranks became louder and more dangerous, his neighbors are starting to make formal complaints. Namely, he started a fire in the empty pool in the backyard of his house that reportedly reached over two stories high. In LA. In the middle of summer. Not to mention that Paul and company have listed the address for their house publicly on Google, leading to swathes of his fans and followers crowding the street and surrounding properties. Multiple sites began to carry the story about Paul vs. his neighbors after a local news show went to interview him, which resulted in maybe the most obnoxious of his videos yet.
Friday Five: July 14, 2017
Pretty much wherever you live, it’s getting pretty unbearably hot right about now. David Wallace-Wells’s long read for New York magazine on the effects of climate change counts the harrowing ways our planet is going to start killing us. And soon. Between the rising heat index of New York City to the economic effects of heat, things do not bode well. Take a moment to sort your recycling and find a few ways to be more energy conscious this weekend if you can.
Related: Short Answers To Hard Questions About Climate Change
Thrillist counts down the 100 greatest movie props, and collects the often strange stories behind them.
The story of an ugly bulky phone that is spreading like wildfire in Accra, Ghana. With rolling blackouts effecting much of the country, this relatively cheap phone that has a built-in portable battery and LED flashlight is gaining popularity as a backup phone. An interesting story about the penetration of gadgets in the less internet obsessed areas of the world.
4. OK Soda
OK Soda was a counterculture branded cola from, who else, Coca-Cola. This video essay chronicles the brand’s anti-advertising, using overt propaganda visuals and postmodern concepts, it certainly is an interesting case study in early self-aware advertising. Unfortunately the soda went under, probably because it reportedly tasted really bad.
A rather niche topic, but someone took the time to gather, archive, and organize the playlists from Gap stores. A very time capsule way of looking back at pop music from the recent past, alongside the clothing and ads that appeared along with the sounds.
Friday Five: July 7, 2017
Probably one of the most recognizable photos in the world is of a rolling hill in Sonoma County, California. Charles O’Rear was driving to San Francisco, and a quick photograph on the side of the road would lead to his highest paying photo ever. Abigail Cain traces the history of the default Windows XP background for Artsy.
Adam K. Raymond investigates the rise of the non-song on streaming services, specifically Spotify. You might remember a band releasing a completely silent album for fans to listen to as they slept, a PR stunt and gimmick designed to help the band raise money for their tour. Or maybe your phone was connected to the bluetooth at a July 4th BBQ and you drunkly put on the Star Spangled Banner for kicks. Maybe you needed some romantic music to surprise your bae for your prom-posal. The countless non-artists who upload music to Spotify have you covered. There are people who just cover pop-songs under “I think that’s what that song is called” titles, hoping the search algorithm drives users to them, or those who make covers of music not in the Spotify catalogue. It’s not just spammers though, you might recall that Drake added the inescapable Hotline Bling as a closing track to his 2016 Views, the song didn’t fit thematically or feel like part of the album, but because it was on there Views had enough streams to be platinum the second it came out.
Bloomberg covers the upstart brands like Toast, Pollen Gear, and Kush Bottles, that are offering their industrial scale packaging services to legal weed states. It’s long been a topic of weed smoking designs that it wouldn’t take much to improve upon the sticker labeled vacuum bags most major city dwellers are familiar with. As the industry continues to rake in countless dollars, it makes sense that some are finally started to seek and edge by better design, presentation, and marketing. The landmark success of Serra as a well designed and successful dispensary should be signal enough for others to quickly follow suit.
True Detective, Stranger Things, Halt and Catch Fire,The Leftovers, Westworld, hell even Vinyl had a well designed and interesting title sequence. With a trend that was paved by The Sopranos, the opening credits have become a proving ground of sorts, a quick way to gauge interest in a show without having to watch an entire episode. “The internet has made us all super visual” says Patrick Clair, who’s title credits include The Man in the High Castle, Daredevil, Westworld, and more. Lance Richardson for The Verge goes down the rabbit hole of how opening titles are doing in the age of Netflix.
As Trump and Putin prepare for their first face-to-face as presidents, the people are in the streets in Hamburg, where protests have mounted for all different sorts of causes. Things came to a head yesterday when the “black bloc” flipped cars, set them on fire, and were met with tear gas and water canisters. More than 70 police officers were reported as injured. It’s worth keeping an eye on Hamburg over the weekend as the protest are expected to continue.
Friday Five: June 30, 2017
On the heels of their $14 billion cash acquisition (still pending FTC approval, I believe) of Whole Foods, Amazon has released their latest Alexa powered smart home device called the Echo Show. While this may be the closest we’ve come to the Jetsons-eqsue future device, there are a lot of tech writers scratching their heads at some of the key features of the device. The Echo Show’s biggest selling points are it’s 7-inch touch screen and built in video calling features. Adding another touch screen into your home isn’t too concerning, but when an always-accessible video camera is connected to one of the most powerful companies in the world is dropped into your living room or kitchen, even the less privacy-focused tech blogs were raising concern.
As Zuckerberg continues his country-wide “I’m not evil I promise” tour, Facebook is still attempting to deal with it’s many issues that have come to a head in post-election America. While the company hasn’t quite locked down how to stop people from uploading crimes they’re committing, or live-streaming police officers shooting the black man next to them, they have taken active steps to curb hate speech, or at the very least hide it from you, on their platforms. The biggest initiative that their PR machine has pushed is their hiring of 3,000 content moderators (or censors). Now, the training presentation those moderators are receiving has been leaked to ProPublica. The truths they reveal are unsurprising but still unsettling. Facebook gets oddly specific with what they define as hate speech, which leads to a clear prioritization of majorities over minorities.
As the NYPD’s contract with data company Palantir (which I feel is noteworthy to mention, was founded by a group including the Gawker-suing Trump-supporting Peter Thiel) is coming to an end. The NYPD decided swiftly to end their use of the software provided by Palantir this week, and is planning to transfer their troves of data to a new software, but Palantir is yet to give the police their data in the format they need. Palantir insists they’re cooperating, the NYPD insists that they’re not, and what happens next could reveal a lot about the future of policing in America. A pop-culture side note, this article revealed that Palantir software led to the sting that got Bobby Shmurda arrested.
Earlier this week Trump lashed out on Twitter at the hosts of MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe.’ The hosts, Mika Brzenzinksi and Joe Scarborough, took to The Washington Post to respond.
See also: All of Trump’s Lies
Planet of the Apps is a half-baked rip-off of Shark Tank about apps that is exclusively available through Apple Music. The Outline details everything bad about it.
Friday Five: June 23, 2017
Apple held an internal meeting to discuss how they’re taking on internal leaks. Naturally, a recording of this meeting was leaked. William Turton for The Outline covers Apple’s Global Security team, comprised of ex-NSA and ex-FBI members working to keep the element of surprise ahead of giant product releases and feature updates. As more leaks seem to come from within Apple’s own walls, from the factory line to employees on Twitter, Apple is taking active measures to ramp
Gearheads and Patagucci fans alike find a niche obsession with vintage Patagonia pieces. While larger and older companies (Levi’s is probably the most relevant example) hire full time archivists to find, restore, and preserve piece of clothing from the brand, Patagonia only recently decided to create an official central archive. While the unmarked building isn’t open to the public, Brad Ressler from Outside magazine got special access, and there are some wild and interesting pieces to be seen.
3. Cardi B
Depending on your interest in Instagram, reality TV, and the NYC rap scene, you may have never heard the name Cardi B until just now. The latest Fader cover story profiles her rise from microcelebrity to MC, and how she’s handling her new found jump in fame. The story also features great portraits by Samantha Casolari.
Producer/musician Shlohmo put together a spaced out mix for Sneeze magazine, with absurd found footage/viral clip mashup visuals to match.
The Senate Republican leadership is still rushing to get their version of the TrumpCare healthcare bill passed before the July 4th recess. Considering that lives are literally on the line, I ask that you call your senator’s office and let them know how you feel.
Friday Five: June 16, 2017
The Verge ran an excerpt from ‘The One Device’ about the lead to a secretive project at Apple that would eventually spawn the first iPhone. Maybe now, just a few days short of 10 years since the release of the first iPhone, we can fully appreciate just how much Apple changed the game with just one release. The piece talks about how there were blips of “maybe we should make a phone” and probing of the industry (remember the ROKR?) since the iPod started selling like hotcakes with the release of iTunes for Windows. Everyone hears stories about how tense and high pressure things used to get at Apple under the reign of Jobs, but some of the quotes and anecdotes in this piece really give context to the type of ship that was being run. Under Jobs, a project wasn’t worth launching unless it was going to change the industry. With the iPhone being probably the most widely accepted and lauded innovations of the millennium, I think that legacy is pretty safely sealed.
About a year ago, there was a bank robbery. Now the Bonnie and Clyde, ski-mask, “everybody on the ground,” kind of robbery, though. Cryptocurrencies were starting to really hit their stride; Bitcoin, the biggest of all, was hitting a high on the wake of the Craig Wright story in the mainstream, and the second ever Halfing Day within the Bitcoin community. Ether, a new form of cryptocurrency running on a blockchain, was in it’s infancy. An alternative to Blockchain, designed to be more trustworthy due to the lack of transferring bitcoin and instead relying on “smart contracts” which are agreements that enforce themselves digitally. As Ether was picking up steam, a user in the community noted a bug, ominously on line 666 of the code for the smart contracts. This bug would allow anyone with an active Ether wallet to make withdrawals from the overall pool of money. Matthew Leising for Bloomberg follows the story of how a team banded together to try and stop the robber, and what happened in the aftermath.
As influencer marketing continues to grow, amid massive falterings and waverings (how many Fyre Festivals will it take?) Instagram is finally offering an official tool to allow people to tag their sponsored posts. The tool takes over the geotag section of a post to replace it with text stating “Paid partnership with [brand]” which, like the current solution to fit into the grey area of appeasing FTC regulations, might not be quite enough. A quick primer on the current default; most influencers satisfy the need to clearly mark posts that they have received compensation for with hashtags, most commonly #spon, #sponsored, or #ad (after #sp was deemed to vague to be clear to the average viewer), usually burying these after the truncation point of a caption or hidden in a second comment. So, this new official solution will face a similar issue to the current solution, will the average viewer see and recognize the tag? Geotags are arguably the least relevant and least viewed data of any Instagram post, and Instagram definitely knows that. Time will tell if the FTC will give them a pass.
After accepting public testimony, then requesting the testimony be a private session, and then withdrawing his request, Attorney General Jeff Sessions gave testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this week. The AG has been at the center of multiple kerfuffles and controversies, the biggest of which continues to be the firing of James Comey. After Sessions “recused” himself from the Russian hacking investigation, the duties were handed down to Comey. Only a few days later, Sessions signed the memo suggesting Trump fire Comey. This act alone has led the question of Trump’s obstruction of justice, a tricky and hard to prove accusation. So, in Sessions testimony, he seemed to be playing the role of defensive end for the Trump administration, offering blocking points when he could, and when the truth would paint the administration in a bad light Sessions seemed to conveniently forget. A lot. A lot of what he forgot revolved around his and other ranking members of the Trump campaigns interaction with Russian officials, namely Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, who Sessions was photographed within speaking distance with at two events. Sessions mainly relied on a “long standing practice” which may or may not existing in writing about the privacy of conversations between the Justice department and the President, and used this (non-executive) privilege to dodge a lot of questions that raise more suspicion in their lack of answers.
So, a brief recap, Comey in his testimony set up all the pieces for Robert Mueller (now leading the investigation), and Sessions made up his own rules to the game.
After the London Bridge attacks, Trump tweeted:
“Do you notice we are not having a gun debate right now? That's because they used knives and a truck!”
Well, Trump, now they’re using guns, right here in America. Practically in DC’s backyard. So, why aren’t we having a gun debate right now? Was it because the shooter was white, like every other radical terrorist that has acted in our country since your Muslim Ban? Is it because you and your party receive so much money from pro-gun groups? After every shooting, more and more people seem to ask “what will it take?” How many people must die before we can have a serious conversation about nationwide gun policy in the United States?
Friday Five: June 9, 2017
Yesterday saw former FBI Directory James Comey testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee. The Outline, linked above, did a great job of breaking down some key takeaways from Comey’s testimony. While there was a lot of rehashing of information already known, a couple clarifications on Comey’s written statement, which he submitted for public record the night before his in-person appearance, and a lot of focus on Trump’s semantics, there was a lack of the crack-the-case-wide-open statements many impeachment focused partisans were hoping for.
While it is expected of presidential campaigns to make their way into the classroom, the rhetoric of Trump was unprecedented. Buzzfeed News reviewed more than 50 reports of in-school bullying since the election and found many cases of students using direct quotes from Trump or his campaign to insult, torment, and scare fellow students. So, how does a school handle students becoming politically involved when the level of their involvement finds them repeating racist, sexist, or derogatory statements directly from the president’s mouth?
Using Tycho as a keystone example John Paul Titlow looks at how Spotify is working to do right by artists on the service. From offering musicians data insights into their listeners, and working to help them promote their live tours through hyper-targeted email campaigns, as well as offering artists featured placement within the Spotify app itself. All of this is basically playing the flip side to Apple Music, which offers musicians no information or data at all, and does little to help them make money outside of selling their music (of which Apple still takes a hefty cut.) As Spotify continues to perfect the playlist art form, they’re also beginning to track how high follower playlists, like their breakthrough hit Rap Caviar, effect the rise and growth of a musician.
This year marks the 90th birthday of an unofficial New York City landmark, The Strand bookstore. Gothamist breakdown the history of the literary cult favorite, through moves, trials, and tribulations. Whether it was rent hikes, competition from big box book stores, and the rise of Amazon, The Strand still stands as one of the best places to find a good book in the city, not to mention their often mind boggling rare books room.
As the Grateful Dead reenters the zeitgeist, from the fascination with parking lot merch, to a (very enjoyable) four hour documentary, to the current iteration of the band, Dead & Company, selling out arena dates across the country, the band’s expansive catalogue of (mostly live) music remains somewhat intimidating and impenetrable to many. A few friends who know I come from Deadhead parents and have myself taken a liking to the band have recently asked for recommendations on where to start, so I rather than trying to recommend certain concerts or recordings, I made playlist called (playing off the band’s unofficial-then-official archivist Dick Latava’s series ‘Dick’s Picks’): Mitch’s Picks.
Friday Five: June 2, 2017
Yesterday Trump announced his intentions to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement. In my humble opinion, as a resident of this planet, this is beyond imbecilic and shortsighted. The only other major countries not taking part in the agreement are Syria and Nicaragua, the latter only not taking part because they didn’t feel the terms were strict enough (Nicaragua plans to be operating at 90% fully sustainable energy by 2020.) If one looks at the technicalities, some hope does begin to shine through. To fully withdraw from the agreement, it will likely take close to four years, at which point Trump will be up for reelection and also be facing political opposition for the presidency. That is, if he is still holding the office at that point. In the face of our administration refusing to take a responsible stance against climate change, the state governments of Washington, California, and New York have formed their own agreement to align themselves with the Paris standards, as major tech players like Apple and Tesla speak out against Trump’s action.
A four-hour epic of a documentary tracing the history of the Grateful Dead premiered at Sundance 2017, and after a short run in select theaters is now streaming on Amazon. Scorsese backed and directed by Amir Bar-Lev, the documentary features never before seen footage and new interviews to give a full oral history of the band. Set up a bit like a Dead show in itself, the in-theatre screenings included a short intermission to refuel, and revealed some weird tid-bits that sometimes even the biggest deadheads were previously unaware of.
Related: A guide to the “essential” live Dead songs.
“I have hired the wild boar as VP of Disruption and Growth Hacking.”
In a world where every day can bring a new Tom-Clancy-Meets-M-Night-Shamalan level twist that actually has the possibility to effect our daily lives, well a surprise music release doesn’t really have the same “wow” factor as a Comey leak does it? Ann-Derrick Gaillot analyzes the state of surprise in today’s America for The Outline.
Friday Five: May 19, 2017
Chelsea Manning, who spent most of her 20’s in military prison, took her first steps as a free woman on Wednesday. Manning, faced with the longest sentence ever given to a whistleblower, had the majority of her sentence commuted by President Obama. Not only has Chelsea given example to many other leakers and whistleblowers, but she has also become a hero of the trans woman community as she began her transition process, an immensely difficult process even in the best of circumstances, while behind bars. As the media rushes to take sides on whether Chelsea is a traitor or a hero, another industry has apparently taken interest, as WWD reports: Vogue is looking to feature Chelsea in a full profile and photoshoot.
In what would be Steve Jobs’s last public appearance, Jobs visited the Cupertino city council, to pitch them on what is now seen as his last big project. It’s curved, largely made of glass, and sustainable. Steven Levy reports for Wired on the nearing completion of Apple’s new spaceship HQ. In typical Jobs/Ives fashion, the small stuff is being extensively sweated upon, with custom lights, faucets, fixtures, and staircases. As not only the Apple fandom, but architectural fanatics alike have been obsessing over the progress of the new campus, Jony Ives, Tim Cook, and others share their thoughts on how the new home of Apple is a testament to the sometimes loved, sometimes hated, legacy of Steve Jobs.
In a joint project by Gizmodo and ProPublica, a team of writers and researchers discover how startlingly easy it is for even a basic tech geek to gain access to the networks of Trump’s properties. Namely, Mar-A-Lago, the second White House as it were, where Trump and his team have spent more than enough time to been photographed and recorded by other resort guests. Being that the resort is situated on Palm Beach Island, it is not hard to get close enough on a boat to direct a strong antenna and pick up the networks within. For a man so obsessed with “the cyber,” his own cybersecurity was and is surpassingly penetrable.
The cover story of the latest issue of TIME, on how Russian operatives are finding new ways to use social media to further whatever agendas they see fit. Read it all with a grain of salt, obviously, but still an interesting piece nonetheless.
Nike’s landmark sneaker of the year, the Vapormax, is an extremely lightweight upper sitting on a system of transparent air bubbles. It looks and feels futuristic, which turns out to be ironic because the brand has been working on this technology for 36 years. Bloomberg tells the tale of the origins of the Vapormax’s signature sole, and the idea behind it.
Friday Five: May 12, 2017
Oh where to begin? Trump, in the midst of an investigation into his campaign, and himself, in relation to Russian influence, corruption, or collusion in the presidential election, fired the man in charge if the investigation. When Attorney General Sessions recused himself from the investigation (you can’t very well investigate yourself) the duty fell to Director of the FBI, James Comey. Well, as Trump quickly learnt, you can’t fire the man investigating you and expect nothing to happen. In the aftermath of this decision, which very few seemed to have been informed about beforehand, a few things have come to light. Reportedly and allegedly: Comey asked for more resources to help move along the investigation, Trump asked the Sessions who in turn asked Rosenstein to find a reason to fire Comey, and multiple sealed grand jury subpoenas have been sent out. Many in the media have been referring to the entire episode as “Nixonian,” with the firing of Comey echoing the Saturday Night Massacre. If Nixon getting the man investigating him fired led to the beginning of the end of his presidency, could the same thing be in store for Trump? It’s not hard to picture a near future in which Trump himself is in the hotseat, and who knows what will be uncovered when his candidacy and relations are combed through at the subpoena level of access. Some posit that while the firing of Comey certainly added fuel to the fire, the impeachment torch has been lit since the House passed TrumpCare.
As we continue to reel in the age of hacks, leaks, and tracking, what becomes more clear with each scandal is that privacy is no longer an inalienable right. As we continue to carry smartphones, and now invite always-on listening devices into our home, it seems true digital privacy is reserved for only the few who can truly afford it. The latest Amazon IoT gadget literally has a webcam that is always accessible, and don't even get me started on the one that is distinctly designed to watch you get dressed. Choose your tin-foil hat quote here; whether it’s the boilerplate classic “if you have nothing to hide, you must not have anything to say” or something headier.
For a crash course on “you should be a little more concerned with this kind of stuff” rhetoric, I always refer people to Glenn Greenwald’s 2014 TED talk ‘Why Privacy Matters.’
From the man who brought you history of japan, a twenty minute crash course that could supplement a rural high school World History class.
Good design is where you find it.
See also: Pre-Convergence Morgue
On the heels of Facebook announcing that they're working on a brain-to-web interface, planning a way to let you post online with just a thought, Kristen Brown tears down their thinking for Gizmodo. Yes, there have been small successes in typing with your brain, or a neural-to-image interface that could approximate an image of what a subject was picturing in their mind's eye, but while Silicon Valley continues to speak about the human body as if it's parts had technology counterparts, it simply isn't true.
Many scientists are skeptical that the “move fast and break things” approach will work very well when applied to us. After all, we are living, breathing organisms, not inanimate machines. That’s something we should try to remember.
Friday Five: May 5, 2017
Last week, we hit day 100 of the Trump presidency. While admittedly its a totally arbitrary report card time, The Verge compiled a great list of short essays on what happened in that time span, with topics including net neutrality, Trump’s Twitter, and North Korea. So, if you want to start your Friday with clenched fists, here’s a good place to start.
As tech and machine learning continue to infiltrate our everyday lives, there still persists the myth of our “new robot overlords.” There are multiple theories and ideas that contribute to the idea that if we don’t keep AI off the internet, or give them very specific instructions, they will somehow kill off the entire human race. Kevin Kelly picks apart this very notion for Backchannel, explaining the intricacies of artificial intelligence, how even if we do achieve AI, it is almost impossible that the machine learning will be able to “outsmart” us that quickly, and that our idea of intelligence has an infinite scale.
Even going out of my way to follow a few choice “alt-right” or adjacent streams, so much of the online presence of the new right wing is seemingly coded in their own in-speak. But, if you want to understand your opposition, it is a lot easier if you speak their language. New York Magazine delves deep into the movement, it’s roots, and it’s ever expanding presence both digital and political. Where we once had radical environmentalists, we now have right wing extremists, fueled by the “well educated and underpaid.” Their intentions are not veiled, their calls for white supremacy are not disguised, and their movement is likely to continue to grow.
10 years after it’s debut, Lil Boosie’s Wipe Me Down still signifies an important moment in southern rap. Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib dissects it’s influence, his personal connection, and traces Baton Rouge, the song’s, and Louisiana’s wild ride since the song’s took over the sound systems.
Yesterday the Republican majority House passed it’s healthcare bill. I have a number of political, social, and personal issues with it, but I’ll let you decide which pieces you want to feel outrage towards. It could be the defunding of Planned Parenthood and gutting of Medicaid, it could be the listings of sexual assault and related “injuries” as uninsurable pre-existing conditions, it could be the immense fiscal cost, or the estimated number of people that will die as a result of this plan. If your House Representative voted in favor of this bill, I’d ask you to call their office and let them know that you are their constituent, and you do not agree with their support of this plan. More importantly, TrumpCare still has the chance to be marked DOA by the Senate, so I’d also ask you to call your Senators’s offices, and let them know how you feel.
Friday Five: April 28, 2017
Galaxie 500, writes on the intricate joys of analog music for The Paris Review. As vinyl sales continue to rise in the United States, and even cassette sales are seeing a slight bump, there is a continual ongoing discussion between audio nerds and casual listeners alike about the distinct qualities of analog music. Perhaps it is because I can explain to someone how a vinyl record works, the physics are simple enough, but have a hard time explaining the process of encoding and streaming an .MP3 from a distant server. Even though I find myself spending more time streaming music than putting a record on the turntable as of late, I still have a certain fondness for the hisses, skips, and cracks of my favorite LPs. There are certain albums who’s skipping loops I know so well, that I can get up and move the needle seamlessly continuing the track.
Even with tapes and CDs as a kid, there was a weird joy in having a version of an album or song that was uniquely yours. I can recall owning a CD that I never heard the last two tracks on, my CD player would always skip over them, until years later and the strange sensation it was to hear how that album was actually supposed to end. I also still remember my first MP3 player, before the days of the omnipresent white headphones, a big bulky silver and blue Archos device, that was basically an enclosed hard drive with a simple display and a headphone port. The act of ripping my CDs into WinAmp, and transferring a large swath of my music collection to a device I could bring with me everywhere felt surreal.
So what do we lose when we give up our physical media? We are in the era of streaming music, Netflix, and Hulu. An age where music can be mastered to near perfection, losing the breath of a singer or the background chatter of instrumentalists. Do we dismiss the need to listen for the studio door being slammed, or the A/C kicking on in the middle of a recording? Will we eventually lose our ability to really listen closely?
EFF to target her with a simulated spearphishing attack. Her gmail account was compromised within hours. This experiment does a great job at highlighting how deceptive the Podesta/DNC leaks were, and how a poorly written email from an IT guy let the attackers in.
While unnamed possible state operatives run amuck, accessing emails to and fro, Wired went and talked with a group of current Computer Science freshmen to find out what the next wave of hackers will look like. What they found might give some hope, but only a little. From this small sample size, we find that they are largely private, wary of putting personal information on the internet, but also not quick to defend whistleblowers like Edward Snowden or groups like Wikileaks. They are largely supportive of bug-bounty programs, which many of them find profits from, and aren’t too worried about AI taking over the world. At Northwestern, where this class resides, all CS majors are required to take an ethics course, hopefully setting a course, or at least a point to measure against as they enter the professional field is somewhat reassuring. The only true issue at which they put a stake in the ground is massive surveillance. Noting that they aren’t worried that the NSA is collecting all this data, but what could happen if that database was breached.
Related: 15 under 15: Rising stars in cybersecurity.
and: The Outline on the piece
In a tour de force of Hollywood financial shadiness, Robert Kolker covers the lawsuit waging between the four creators of Spinal Tap and the studio that now holds the rights to the film. The studio claims that each creator is entitled to a measly $179 each (that’s in total, since the 80’s) in merchandising and soundtrack sales since the 1980’s, and if you know anything about the cult success of This is Spinal Tap, you know that there is no way that number is being accurately reported. So with some ammo on their side, the group is suing Vivendi, which owns Universal Music Group, for $400 million in total. They’re also fighting to regain the copyright to the intellectual property, which they had lost in a previous contract arrangement. This isn’t the first or last time creators will go to court with the studios, but fittingly, this could be the loudest.
Bonus: The Outline at One Year
After writing a blog post titled ‘Your Media Business Will Not Be Saved’, Joshua Topolsky set off to create a new type of media company. The result is a site called The Outline, which I’ve linked to before on this newsletter, and the site has been live for almost half a year, spending about as much time before that in development. Topolsky decided that now was a good moment to reflect on the lessons he’s learned, including treating a media company like a tech company, ad fraud and click rates, and an optimistic look towards the future.
Friday Five: April 21, 2017
Despite rising sea levels and continued inaction on global climate change, developers and buyers continue to support the building of mega condo buildings along South Florida’s famous picturesque waterfront properties. Christopher Flavelle goes deep into the looming real estate bubble for Bloomberg. Growing up in suburban South Florida, the amount that water would fill the rain reservoirs around town, or how our favorite beach was literally swept away after a major hurricane, the effects of climate change were not only very real, we could see the physical effects in person. In the Miami-Dade area, the effects are going to be even more drastic, and they’re coming quicker than any residents or developers will expect. Jim Cason, mayor of Coral Gables, is astutely looking out for when the water levels rise enough that the first boat can’t clear the bottom of the bridge to get out to see. That, he says, will be the first domino.
Emoji have now taken a major foothold in American English. However, as many know, or at least would have guessed by the name emoji, we did not invent them. That credit goes to Japan, who had a very basic set of emoji available to them on most phones (not smartphones, mind you) way back in the day. This talk from Webstock 2017 by Cal Henderson, the CTO of Slack, traces the history of emoji, how they engrained themselves into the way we communicate, and how they’ve changed since the single color pixel images that became part of Japanese common vernacular nearly overnight.
Steve Lacy, part of The Internet, has produced for some of rap’s biggest names. On top of that, his solo EP was recently released to a largely positive response. Wired sat down with Lacy to talk about his process. From Kendrick, to Frank Ocean, to his own music, he relies on a single tool to put it all together. His iPhone.
Juicero sells a very expensive IoT juice press. It first retailed for $700, and then the price came down to $400. The company garnered investors from all over Silicon Valley, including Google. The promise of Juicepress quality juices, prepackaged and ready at the push of a button, excited the tech industry as the food subscription model continues to grow. Investors hoped the company could replicate the success of Kurig or Nespresso, selling a piece of proprietary equipment, and then a subscription or individual units the buyer would need to continue using the device. Researchers at Bloomberg quickly found a flaw with the plan. You didn’t actually need the device, you could just take one of the prepackaged bags and squeeze out the juice.
NPR’s Jazz Night In America sat down with Robert Glasper, who draws the lines between Jazz and Hip-Hop samples, breaking down how certain producers and artists utilized samples, and the difference between chopping, lifting, and flipping a sample.