Thursday, October 23rd, 2014
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'I'd Like to Dispute These Charges, Please'

TJsYesterday, I received a text from my bank alerting me of some possibly fraudulent activity on my debit card. Despite the fact that it was tucked securely in my wallet, right next to my Qdoba rewards card, someone was using the number at a gas station in Lebanon. I can only assume they used the $97.60 to buy a tank of gas and then 57 hot dogs.

The matter was resolved very quickly, but my bank prompted me to comb through my recent activity and ensure everything else was kosher. Well, USAA, you were right. I have found some charges that must be fraudulent because I would never spend money so irresponsibly.

Over the last 30 days, these charges amount to:

$45.17 at J.P. Licks, an ice cream store. This absolutely could not have been me, because I'm lactose intolerant! Granted, I love ice cream. Granted, sometimes all I need after a long day is a cup of strawberry ice cream with hot caramel topping. Granted, I absolutely ate here 9 times last month. I’d like to dispute these charges. READ MORE

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"So companies like Facebook and Twitter rely on an army of workers employed to soak up the worst of humanity in order to protect the rest of us. And there are legions of them—a vast, invisible pool of human labor. Hemanshu Nigam, the former chief security officer of MySpace who now runs online safety consultancy SSP Blue, estimates that the number of content moderators scrubbing the world’s social media sites, mobile apps, and cloud storage services runs to “well over 100,000”—that is, about twice the total head count of Google and nearly 14 times that of Facebook."

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Mood Disrupted

Each quarter a gaggle of Bay Area venture capitalists are asked, you know, how does everything feel? Aside from totally great, of course. What's your sense of things, other than that you are changing the world utterly for the better?

This quarter’s index measurement fell [to 3.89] from the previous quarter’s index reading of 4.02. The Q3 reading is the first recorded decline in confidence in two years.

In the new report Professor Cannice indicates that “The lower Q3 index reading raises some concern for the near to medium term outlook for the high-growth venture environment.”

The concept of Valley investor "confidence" is unusual. In a survey context, confidence is usually something that respondents have in outside entities: in a government, in an economy in general, in markets that are subject to a wide variety of outside forces. But here, the question seems almost circular. The respondents are asked how confident they are in "the future high-growth entrepreneurial environment," the growth of which is, when things are going well, disproportionately contingent on venture capitalists' confidence. A very confident venture capitalist is a venture capitalist who can say, "I have a shot at turning this company, which makes no money, into a billion-dollar acquisition target for one of a small handful of large flush companies," or, much less often, "I think one of my very savvy early investments might be able to go public soon." There are factors that they cannot control, which might make them less confident; if just one giant tech company slows down its spending, hundreds of startups' prospects suddenly get dimmer. But the way investors talk in this report does not suggest they are too concerned about that, at least for now. They seem to be more concerned with talk. "The ‘bubble’ talk has grown louder, especially discussion about high valuations and burn rates," says one investor (this despite: "rampant disruptive innovation," the report later adds). His answer to the question about confidence, in other words, is to note that, despite everything being great, some other people sound less confident, talking about "burn rates" and "revenue" for reasons that he cannot fathom and which are certainly not at all strategic, and none of this makes any sense to him, because the fundamentals are just so strong, but there you have it, there's been some talk, oh well. It's confident leading the confident, in Silicon Valley! Which, counter-intuitively, is why this metric actually might mean something.

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New York City, October 21, 2014

★★ Purple sheets of dawn clouds went away, and gray, white, and blue vied for the skies. Humidity, chill, and brightness were in a marine or tropical-feeling imbalance: a little uncomfortable, a little comfortable, but only provisionally so either way. The sun ceded its share, then reclaimed it and more. Clouds gathered in the late west, edges rumpled and glowing like an illustration of gates to the mansions of paradise. Then the sun went lower and the mass of cloud was dark and grim. Later, in full night, light pollution cast bright auras on the low clouds as lightning glimmered and flared and eventually flashed. A hissing downpour arrived, and the patterns of light fuzzed away.

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A Brief Conversation with the Internet Concerning Renée Zellweger

Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 3.58.50 PMHere Are Some Pictures of Renée Zellweger

but

Here is Renée Zellweger’s Awesome Response To Trolls Over Her Appearance

however, this is

What’s Really Behind The Ridicule Of Renée Zellweger’s Face

and actually

If You Looked at Renee Zellweger's Plastic Surgery, You Need to See These Photos

which will remind you that people are dying, specifically of Ebola, despite the fact that

This Ohio man has the perfect reaction to Ebola

and anyway

Don’t panic over Ebola in America

READ MORE

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How Going Cash-Only Helped Me Curb My Spending

time to hit the atmThe Problem
I never carry cash. This shouldn't seem like a big deal, because debit cards can be cancelled if you lose them; parking meters, farmer’s markets, and even jukeboxes in the good dive-y bars all accept Visa these days.

For someone who has had the experience of clocking out of waitressing jobs and hurrying down the street at night in Queens trying hard to look like someone not carrying a bunch of low-denomination bills, sometimes just having a debit card feels safer.

And yet personal finance writers repeatedly offer numbers showing that cash-only spenders save more money than plastic hounds like me. According to a Time magazine piece by Gary Belsky and Tom Gilovich, authors of the 2010 book, Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes and How to Correct Them: Lessons from the Life-Changing Science of Behavioral Economics, research suggests that paying for things with credit or debit cards makes us feel removed from the notion that we’re spending money. And spending cash, Belsky and Gilovich say, makes us instantly feel a little bit poorer, making it easier to curb spending.

In those rare moments when I do have cash, I know I am definitely more money-grubbing with it when it comes to day-to-day purchases. (Example: No, you do not need a jumbo bag of the Reeses pumpkins. No one has ever needed Reeses pumpkins. No, I don’t care that they only exist one season a year. That’s not a good reason. Yes, I understand you’re at Rite Aid, and they sell Reeses pumpkins here. That’s not a good reason, either. They also sell glucose monitoring systems, and you’re not clamoring for one of those.) READ MORE

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In this Sunday's forthcoming New York Times Magazine—which has been magically sent backward in time, from the future, to the internet of today—I have a short piece on how dynamic, demand-based pricing is probably going to become a staple of supremely popular restaurants as logistics-driven startups, of a piece with Uber and Airbnb, begin looking to disrupt (lol) woefully inefficient restaurant seating systems. In summary: Hope you like eating out on Tuesdays at 9PM. Unless you are rich, then why are you worrying about this, or anything at all? It'll be just fine. You'll be just fine. Everything's fine.

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The Tall, Skinny, Shining Skyline That L.A. Deserves

Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 10.45.15 AMFor the last forty years, an odd rule from the Los Angeles Fire Department, known as Regulation 10, has required that every skyscraper in the city have a helipad for potential emergency rescues. This is why, architects argue, Los Angeles has a thoroughly medicore skyline. Here are a whole lot of them complaining to the New York Times about Regulation 10:

“The helipad regulation has hindered L.A. from having an iconic, memorable skyline in a city that desperately needs a stronger urban identity,” said Brigham Yen, a downtown realtor who writes a blog, DTLA Rising. “Downtown L.A. now has the opportunity to design visually stunning high-rises with spires that will strengthen its position as an urban center.”

Brenda A. Levin, a Los Angeles architect who has overseen renovations of some of the city’s most historic buildings, said that the restrictions had served only to encourage “mundane architecture.”

Requirement 10 was “an antiquated idea, and it stunts the architecture in a city that is known for design,” said Christopher C. Martin, the tower’s chief architect. “Can you imagine the Academy Awards if all the actors came out and said, in all L.A., we should have flattop haircuts?”

“In tall buildings, all the brush strokes should go up,” Mr. Martin added. “You should accentuate the height. To truncate the top is not attractive.”

Professor Woo said that while some people “dismiss it as only an aesthetic concern,” it was more than that. “That skyline is really crucial to the identity of the city,” he said. “People outside of here don’t realize this has been going on for 40 years — architects adjusted to it.”

Last month, the fire department agreed to drop the rule. This, the architects predictably predict, will allow a thousand spires to bloom, finally giving Los Angeles the cool, extremely distinct skyline that its residents deserve, so they no longer have to concede that point when they're accosted by someone from New York. READ MORE

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To Sleep, Perchance to Scream

3183441468_cee34f5695_zAt three in the afternoon when my daughter was about four weeks old, I hit a wall. With my fist, though not very hard, because I was trying to be as quiet as possible. Another day that week, I went into the bathroom, all the lights turned off, and screamed into a towel. Again, I didn't want to make very much noise, because my four-week-old daughter was "sleeping."

There are lots of tiny and useless nuggets of wisdom parents-to-be are given. My favorite is: "Sleep when your baby sleeps." But in the early days, she was never clearly sleeping, and any moment of silence from her corridor meant that we would panic, absolutely sure that she had SIDsed out on us. It was unclear what exactly she was doing for those twenty hours a day when she was supposedly asleep. She was noisy. So noisy. At night, she lay in her bassinet beside our bed, squawking and snorting like a young dinosaur. So I never slept. After ten or maybe fewer minutes of "rest" of my own, I'd sit up and peek over at her. If her eyes were closed when I looked, her preternatural senses alerted her that I was near and they'd fly open to make contact with mine. I'd try to feed her, change her diaper, reswaddle her. But by then she was fully awake. I'd walk her little burritoed body around, pacing, watching my husband not sleep, or sometimes, he'd do the walking while I sat there, miserable and terrified.

That's another great bit of advice: Parents should "take turns" or "do shifts." But every situation we encountered seemed like an emergency. She'd be crying in the bassinet next to us; she'd just lay there, wide awake, watching us; she'd need a diaper change. We'd get out the supplies, lay her on a tarp on the bed, get a thousand wipes, clean her up, put on a new diaper, swaddle her, then pick her up, only to hear the undeniable sounds of her having another bowel movement. I, the mother, who is expected to be gifted with a sense of what my baby needed, had no idea: Was she hungry? Tired? Too wet? Sick? Too dry? I was stuck in a constant and mindless cycle of trying literally anything to get her to sleep. READ MORE

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A Cool Hip Writer Who Has Definitely Had Sex Profiles Cameron Diaz

Cameron Diaz 11It is always hard to know what to wear to meet an icon.

I imagine this is what Cameron Diaz is thinking as she heads to our meeting in a dirt hole behind a Chinese restaurant somewhere near the Lower East Side. I love this hole; it is dark and and wet and fecund, like…well. Wet holes, I write in my notebook, oooh. The actress enters the gaping chasm—like a mouth, like the void, like… well—and seems perturbed, a propitious beginning.

“Does it bother you that I’m high right now on four kinds of Vicodin and a drug used to treat alopecia in animals?” I ask. “Does it?”

“I just…thought we were meeting in a restaurant,” she says, her blonde hair coruscating blondily in the dank.

“I’m not really about that,” I explain. “As you can tell from these.”

READ MORE

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Dutch Uncles, “In N Out”

2014 has been, for a broad swath of music, the year of the obligatory synth: Countless artists, new and old, have converged on the same neon moan, if only for a few bars on a few tracks. It makes it a little harder to tell when artists really mean it—to know which ones are just having a little fun with the past and which ones are wholly dedicated to performing it. Dutch Uncles? I don't know. But the song works!

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"Falstaff Press and Panurge Press were the best-known of [mail-order smut] publishers, and their books were also the best made. They make up a subgenre in the history of pornography that has largely been left behind: Too titillating to have any real scientific value, they often also had too much deflating scientific detail to be thoroughly useful to the average masturbator."

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New York City, October 20, 2014

weather review sky 102014★★★ The morning was a slightly discolored blue, like an antiqued piece of painted furniture. Haze scattered the light and made the east not even white but colorless. Downtown, a bit of mist—real or fake—floated over a damp and squalid crime scene being staged for cameras in an alley. People in the office huddled in outerwear at their computers till the smell of the heating system spread over the room. The afternoon light up Amsterdam was strong but bleak, even where it found red and green ivy spreading over a building eight stories up. Only at the end did it turn rich and golden, just before it went out. Dinner was organized and early, but nightfall was earlier.

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How Amazon Solved the Problem of Work

On Wednesday, October 8th, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk. The case pits warehouse workers Jesse Busk and Laurie Castro against their former employer. The issue at hand is time: Should minutes spent waiting to be screened at the end of the workday—Integrity manages warehouses that fulfill online shopping orders—be counted as work? If so, then shouldn't workers be paid?

Supreme Court cases that feel ethically simple are often legally complicated; similarly, cases that make it that far and yet appear legally tidy are often ethically difficult. This case seems to fall into the former category: you have decades of opaque labor legislation through which the definition of work must be read and in the shadow of which it must be revised; you also have a specific situation in which workers reach the end of their shifts and are then effectively detained at their workplaces for up to 25 minutes, without pay, in order to be checked for stolen merchandise.

One way to understand this post-work/pre-departure limbo is in terms of incentives: If this time counted as work, it would cost Integrity Staffing Solutions a lot of money, so Integrity Staffing Solutions would be motivated to minimize it. But if this extra time doesn't count as work, there is no direct incentive to fix anything. In that situation, Integrity's objectives are to make sure workers aren't stealing merchandise, and to do so at the minimum possible cost. It does not need to worry about workers' time, because that time, which is valuable to Integrity's efforts to prevent theft, costs them virtually nothing. Meanwhile, the value of this time to the employees has not changed. They're not home. They're not at their other jobs. They're not seeing friends. They are, as far as everyone else in their lives is concerned, still at work.

In some workplaces, long term worker morale would be an additional consideration. An employer might be incentivized to make sure its employees are happy enough to stick around. Being asked to wait in long lines due to an assumption that you are hiding stolen products in your bag is the kind of thing that might make an employee think, "I don't want to work in this place, where I am antagonized and treated as a potential criminal."

Integrity Staffing Solutions does not seem to see itself as the the kind of employer that owes its workers anything at all. In its job listings, it portrays itself as a leader in a bold new economy:

We are the people putting people back to work. We are the leaders of the new normal and we have been since 1997. Providing jobs, solutions and a deep competence for a new economy. We supply the skills that propel life forward. We inspire individuals to find their third, fourth and their umpteenth gear. We are an engine of opportunity. We are the gateway from good to great.

Welcome to the new normal. Welcome to Integrity Staffing Solutions. Engine of Opportunity. Engine of the new economy.

This listing's zealous tone takes on a new dimension when you consider Integrity's star client: Amazon.

READ MORE

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My Day Interviewing For The Service Economy Startup From Hell

HandyI was running to the interview, worried I’d get there late. My temp job was over as of a few days prior. Rent was due at the end of the month, and I needed a new source of income, fast. I was sending out multiple applications per day and I finally had a bite.

A new start-up company called Handybook called me quickly after I hit submit on their online application. I breezed through a phone interview and was invited to interview in person for a Customer Experience Associate position the very next day. Although it wasn't an ideal job, and I wasn’t sure how much it paid, it did promise full-time, steady employment and a standard benefits package—exactly what I needed to get by.

Sweaty and out of breath, I got to Handybook’s Chelsea offices moments before my scheduled interview time. I navigated my way through narrow hallways until I reached a nondescript door, and opened it to reveal around 15 employees at their desks, who all looked up in surprise at my intrusion.

"I’m here for an interview?" I smiled into the office space, trying not to feel uncomfortable by everyone sizing me up at once. Someone went to find the interviewer and I perched on a battered couch to wait.

The office was like a cliché of a start-up company: Everyone was wearing T-shirts and jeans, typing away on laptops and iMacs. The space was cramped and smelled vaguely like pod coffee, cleaning solution, and sweat. Every wall was a whiteboard full of cryptic notes and doodles.

Finally, Lindsay* came to get me, and we walked through a cluster of shelving and into a window-filled conference room with a long table and chairs. A LEGO set took up one end of the table and the walls were covered in more white boards. READ MORE

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The Beatles Never Existed

beatlessss

This is a serious subject, not a joke, and this site is here to expose the actions of those who exploited these young men and defrauded us their fans. It is to defend the honor of everyone involved who did not take part in it willingly. It has become apparent to us in this extensive and painstaking research that there were never just four individual people known as "John", "Paul", "George", and "Ringo" who comprised one Rock & Roll band known as "The Beatles", and rose to fame as the world's first supergroup. For all intents and purposes as far as we can tell, no one such group ever existed.

The Beatles Never Existed Dot Com

The Paul-Is-Dead meme has been kicking around for decades now, based on discrepancies in certain photos and fueled by the free-floating paranoia of the White Album; Paul looks a bit taller in the later photos, it turns out, and maybe the Abbey Road cover looks a bit like a funeral procession. The only reasonable explanation, the theory goes, is that Paul was killed in 1966 and replaced by a double, canonically known as William Campbell.

But recently, a site has suggested taking the theory one step further. If there was no Paul—that is, no singular person responsible for the musical output of "Paul McCartney" between 1942 and the present—then there couldn't really be a Beatles either. Everyone had to be in on it, which suggests they were either doubles themselves or sufficiently threatened by the threat of double-replacement that they kept quiet about it all. The Beatles as we know them, the four smiling lads having a great time playing music and being famous, never existed. It was all just a parade of doubles, orchestrated by a sinister British music establishment.

READ MORE

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Getting Personal with Jonathan Katz

jonathankatzInterviewing Jonathan Katz is an interesting experience, especially when doing so over the phone. After all, most of us know him from the animated sitcom he created, wrote and voiced in the 90’s, Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the series and is being celebrated with the release of a new album, Dr. Katz Live. Speaking to Katz over the phone was like talking to the Doctor himself. In fact, at times I caught myself opening up to him as if I were in an actual therapy session. Perhaps this is from his inquisitive nature and because he was genuinely interested in learning more about me as well.

As mentioned on his website, Katz’s comedy is not for everybody. It took him time to find his audience, but once he did, he established himself as a brilliant (and very dry) comedian. I recorded my conversation with him as I always do with interviews, to make sure I didn’t miss anything and in listening back on our conversation, I realized that I initially missed out on some of his humor. There were many moments, that that I never “got” until the second listening. Like the rest of the world, it took some time, but while I was a fan of the show before, now I’m an even bigger fan of the real guy. After you read our conversation, come back and read it again. I promise you’ll appreciate him even more the second time. READ MORE

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Todd Terje, "Delorean Dynamite (for sale)"

A song that you can enjoy aesthetically or for its cheery thesis: That music is a subset of advertising.

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"Ringo Starr Is The New Face Of Skechers."

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Cosmic Moans, Ranked


10. Neptune moan
9. Earth moan 2 ("song")
8. Uranus moan
7. Saturn ring moan
6. Jupiter moan
5. Saturn moan
4. Earth moan 1 ("voice")
3. Miranda moan
2. IO moan (moon-moan)
1. Uranus ring moan

(via Consequence of Sound)

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