Monday, September 15th, 2014
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7

"Sketch" Is a Lie

The SketchFactor app, which is intended to provide users with warnings as to the location of "sketchy" neighborhoods, was launched last Friday to near-universal howls of protest. The most common complaint was one of racism. Among dozens: "White duo behind app to avoid 'sketchy' neighborhoods is shocked to hear it's racist," said The Raw Story; "Smiling Young White People Make App for Avoiding Black Neighborhoods," wrote Sam Biddle in Valleywag.

SketchFactor works like this: users can tag locations with their impressions of "sketchiness" determined according to the "Sketch Point Legend." In addition to crime, you can report a "Bizarre Discovery" or a "Strange Encounter." Visitors consulting a map [...]

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75

Seriously, Fuck You, "Kindle Unlimited"

Last week, Amazon informed us that for ten dollars per month, Kindle users can have unlimited access to over six hundred thousand books in its library. But it shouldn't cost a thing to borrow a book, Amazon, you foul, horrible, profiteering enemies of civilization.

For a monthly cost of zero dollars, it is possible to read six million e-texts at the Open Library, right now. On a Kindle, or any other tablet or screen thing. You can borrow up to five titles for two weeks at no cost, and read them in-browser or in any of several other formats (not all titles are supported in all formats, but most [...]

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11

Man Vs. Word

In 1969, a psychologist named G. Harry McLaughlin published the results of a number of experiments he’d made on speed readers in the Journal of Reading. His fastest subject was Miss L., "a university graduate with an IQ of 140" who had taken a speed reading course and claimed to have achieved speeds of sixteen thousand words per minute "with complete comprehension." He hooked her up to the electro-oculograph, a device that measures eye movements, and let her rip.

Miss L. read Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust at 10,000 words per minute [...] When she was half way through I asked her for a recall [...] Miss L. recalled [...]

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8

Are You Useful to Anyone?

Pitchfork Reviews Reviews was a Tumblr that launched in 2010. It, as one might expect, reviewed Pitchfork album reviews in a piercingly strange and touching voice—flat, declarative, obsessive, a bit breathless—that made it wildly compelling. But Pitchfork Reviews Reviews was only partly about Pitchfork reviews. The true subject of the blog was the anonymous young man who wrote it—his insecurities, his fears, and his triumphs of experience and understanding as he made his way through the various milieus of New York. It was weirdly elegant, tender and funny because of the author's willingness to share uncomfortable details about his own life.

The deceptively banal confessional tone had a charm [...]

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6

Marc Andreessen and the Inevitability of Catastrophic Ideas

Greed is right, greed works… Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA. Thank you very much. — Michael Douglas in the character of Gordon Gekko, in Wall Street c

Gordon Gekko was meant to be a villain, but he became a plutocratic folk hero. There has been greed enough in the last thirty-seven years, surely, to have transformed the USA into a positive utopia according to the Gekko formula, with prosperity for all.

[...]

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20

The Dead Cannot Consent

The End of the Tour is a movie currently in production based on David Lipsky's 2010 book, Although of Course you End Up Becoming Yourself: a Road Trip with David Foster Wallace. In 1996, shortly after Wallace’s sudden burst into literary superstardom with the publication of Infinite Jest, Rolling Stone had sent Lipsky to conduct an interview with with him. The magazine spiked the interview, and years later, after Wallace's suicide, Lipsky incorporated the material into his book—to my mind, the best about David Foster Wallace that anyone has yet written.

There is every reason to anticipate that the movie will be great: It stars Jason Segel [...]

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11

The Faulkner Truthers

"I am the best in America, by God," William Faulkner wrote to his editor in 1939, and history has only confirmed that he was not deceived as to the quality of his gift. Faulkner's position in the American literary pantheon is such that his life has been dissected from every possible angle, inside the academy and out—even James Franco had a go at the Old Man, as some Faulkner devotees like to call him. But nobody has yet succeeded in tracing the exact path by which his genius developed.

He dropped out of high school; he dropped out of college. He corresponded with no mentor, belonged to no literary school [...]

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6

How "Adventure Time" Came To Be

Adventure Time is a smash hit cartoon aimed primarily at kids age six to eleven. It’s also a deeply serious work of moral philosophy, a rip-roaring comic masterpiece, and a meditation on gender politics and love in the modern world. It is rich with moments of tenderness and confusion, and real terror and grief even; moments sometimes more resonant and elementally powerful than you experience in a good novel, though much of Adventure Time’s emotional force is visually evoked—conveyed through a language of seeing and feeling rather than words.

The heroes of Adventure Time—a boy in a white helmet named Finn, and his shape-shifting mutant dog/adopted brother, Jake—spend their [...]

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16

Writing In Public

Hamilton Nolan's stern post on Gawker, "Twitter is Public," spoke the thoughts of many a journalist yesterday. Those who write for a living (and are therefore themselves occasionally trussed, spit and taken for a spin on the rotisserie of public opinion) can't help but goggle in disbelief that the concept of "public" can be misunderstood. Journalists think about this all the time because the right to report and publicize has often been under attack, such as when the police try to stop someone recording or filming in the street, or when a celebrity or politician objects to the publication of public information, or when [...]

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11

The Great Crypto Stagecoach Robbery

Anyone holding Bitcoins—or pretty much any cryptocurrency, really—has taken a substantial hit in the last few months, with the exchange rate of dollars to Bitcoins dropping from a high of around $1200 last November to around $550 today. But it's possible that those whose Bitcoins were parked at the long-troubled Mt. Gox exchange have suffered a near-wipeout, or even a total one, in what may have been the catastrophic theft of some 744,000 Bitcoin from that exchange.

Mt. Gox was the first big Bitcoin exchange; as such it attracted the most attention, the most traffic, and the most trouble. It was hacked repeatedly because, at one time, it was [...]

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3

Shh, Nobody Move: The Republicans Are Sane Again!

The one surprise left to us in American politics is the rare appearance of good news—that really is a shock, the jewel at the bottom of Pandora's box (ἐλπίς, the spirit of Hope, ha ha). And a certain amount of good news has been wandering over the transom in recent weeks, courtesy of the Sanity Wing of the Republican party, of all places, which until late last year I had assumed to be an entirely theoretical phenomenon, like phlogiston.

Back in October, Daily Beast "conservative pundit" David Frum spoke out against the Tea Party in no uncertain terms, calling for "the rational caucus" of Republican congressional leaders to [...]

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55

"Her": This Movie Makes No Sense

"When we were in pre-production we started thinking about how we were going to create future L.A., and was I was excited by the idea of collaging two cities together and so we ended up going to Shanghai and using very specific, curated areas of Shanghai with very specific curated areas of Los Angeles and I think… it was this idea that we were trying to make this very warm, tactile world, with the materials and fabrics and the woods, and create this world that felt like this utopic world that everything's nice and everything's comfortable and even in this world where you're getting everything you need and having [...]

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13

Can't We All Just Get Along? Oh, Right. No.

Before anybody throws himself off a bridge over things written on the Internet, let's clear a few things up regarding Tom Scocca's essay, "On Smarm," which was the occasion of a grand hullaballoo last week. I love this essay: it crystallizes so many things, so elegantly and so hilariously. Its central premise is a little blurry, however, in a way that has sown confusion and grief in certain quarters. Freddie DeBoer, contributor to The New Inquiry, lost his muffin in its entirety; unable to confine himself to writing one zillion comments on the article itself, he wrote a blog post about it too. DeBoer claims that smarm vs. [...]

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18

I'm Gonna Take A Pass On Russell Brand's Bloody Revolution

I am glad that there is such a thing as Russell Brand, and I was as impressed with his recent conversation with Jeremy Paxman as everybody else was, for I share his egalitarian and environmentalist views. It is beyond refreshing to see someone in the public eye willing to speak out in this way. I've read Brand's books and seen some of his comedy and movies, too, and heard a little of his old radio program, and am generally a fan.

However I believe his calls for "revolution" are the absolute worst, even if he means the Velvet kind, as I hope and believe he must.

Brand [...]

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36

Are The Startup Fellas Hellbent On Destroying Education Even Literate?

Lost in the maelstrom of sadness, confusion and malaise that marks our annual observance of September 11th was a Medium post by Udacity's new Director of Mobile Engineering, one Oliver Cameron.

Here's the opening paragraph of Cameron's post, "The Story of Building an Education Startup".

Most revolutionary companies aren’t born with the intent to change the world, yet there I was trying to do exactly that. I was on the verge of starting my third company, and I wanted to do something truly special. I listed all of the industries I thought I could have an impact in, and quickly became fixated on education. It’s a market that [...]

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16

The Next Google: It's Like Google, But For Search

It is no longer appropriate for search to be under the thumb of private industry. It's a critical part of the national infrastructure. So if I were a real pinko, I'd be advocating for the nationalization of Google, à la Chavez—but I'm not a real pinko. Besides, the American people have already bought and paid for an ideal alternative to Google. That's right: we have the means in hand to create a public, ad-free, totally fair and reasonably transparent search engine with a legal mandate to operate in the public interest, and most of the work is already done. We have also a huge staff of engineers to conclude what [...]

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22

The Ka-Ching Zone

The quasi-hypnotic effects of certain Internet activities were discussed by Alexis Madrigal in The Atlantic recently: "The Machine Zone: This Is Where You Go When You Just Can't Stop Looking At Pictures On Facebook." In particular, Madrigal drew serious attention, at last, to the elephant in the room: people may spend hours a day demonstrating compulsive "engagement" on Facebook or Tumblr, but they very commonly loathe themselves for doing so:

Silicon Valley has made the case to itself (and to the users of its software) that we are voting with our clicks. [...] Of course, that completely elides the role the company itself plays in shaping user behavior to [...]

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38

Something Ordinary In The Air

I worked for a brief time for a lawyer in London named Randolph Fields, who was co-founder of what became Virgin Airlines, among a lot of other things. (He died aged just 44, I was sad to learn, in 1997.) He was a guy simply busting with life, when I knew him; a very smart and I think a kind man underneath all the rich-guy mucho-macho posturing, fond of fast living and poker.

As they designed their new airline, Fields and Richard Branson worked through zillions of maddening details, from buying their first plane (a complicated affair) to applying for routes to developing all the new amenities they'd [...]

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1

Love, A Cad, A City

"Water, as they say, eventually finds its level," writes Adelle Waldman at a key moment in the excellent new novel, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. The remark, on the surface, is a vindication of the hero's ambition to "make it" as a writer in New York, but appears also to refer at a deeper level to his apparent inability to find the right woman. In the course of the novel, Nate Piven will enjoy and/or despise the companionship of several women; just one of them will offer him real love, a meaningful connection rather than the shallow, calculating or convenient relationships that proliferate in the careerist turmoil of single [...]

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