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 [...]
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 [...]
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 [...]
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 [...]
"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 [...]
Ken Hoinsky moderates is an active participant in the /r/seduction Reddit under the name of TofuTofu. There, he has posted a "seduction guide" for lonely guys who want to learn how to "become awesome" with women. Hoinsky has a lot of fans. Though he set out to raise $2,000 to prepare his book, Above The Game: A Guide To Getting Awesome With Women, for publication, by the time it closed his Kickstarter had raised over $16,000.
The world-altering monetary miracle and/or freakshow that is Bitcoin was on full display at the Bitcoin 2013 conference in San Jose this May. There were more than a thousand attendees, among them bankers, libertarians, conspiracy theorists, sea-preneurs, developers, scantily clad vodka models, the Winklevoss twins, Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle, Soft Skull Press founder Sander Hicks, and a large fraction of the world's Bitcoin experts. Also, in the lobby, roaming gangs of Imperial stormtroopers and superheroes, since there was a comics convention going at the same time.
So is Bitcoin a great invention, or a trainwreck in the making? Maybe!
Because it's decentralized and no third parties such as [...]
Internet, yay! Internet, oh no!—surely, it’s obvious by now that there is as much reason for hope as there is for fear from our technological future. A rational and nuanced criticism will seek to define our true circumstances, identify dangers, and encourage beneficial progress. Thus far, however, tech critics have tended to extremes, either for or against the Internet: wringing their hands á la Nicholas Carr (The Shallows), or busting out the pompoms in the manner of Jeff Jarvis (What Would Google Do?). This simple-minded stuff will no longer do. It's into the vacuum of a powerfully felt need that contemporary theorists like Evgeny Morozov and Jaron Lanier have been [...]
When editors and sponsors demanded changes to his copy, the legendary absurdist comedian and radio star Fred Allen used to reply: "Where were you bastards when the pages were blank?"
This joke is about the common misconception about what really happens between writers and editors, which is a kind of alchemical collaboration, provided that the collaborators in question are in sympathy and closely attending to the matter at hand. Granted, that doesn't happen every time, on either side, but at its best there is no hostility, and no jockeying for an advantage in this symbiosis: no ego, no performance, just an intent shared focus on making something good together for [...]
When but a girl, I used to stay up quite late watching TV (exciting in itself!) trolling for Fred Astaire or Marx Brothers movies in a sea of horrific late-night jangling commercials like those featuring, in his white cowboy hat, the car dealer Cal Worthington "and his dog, Spot" (who turned out to be an elephant, often as not). Thus it was that one night I discovered "Monty Python's Flying Circus," a phenomenon that roared like a hurricane across the plain of my tender psyche, ending in an hoarse, explosive "It's!" How can I tell you what this meant to me? It was just a TV show, but "Monty Python" [...]
While interviewing author George Saunders last week on the release of the audiobook of his new story collection, Tenth of December, my Skype connection cut out maybe four times. Such a miserable and embarrassing development on so many levels—maybe the worst being that Saunders is one of the best talkers I've ever met, and in the middle of this incredible riff his voice would just float and burble off, culminating in that awful, plopping Skype disconnection sound. Indescribable, like getting a long letter from Oscar Wilde and someone sets fire to it as you're reading, or you've just been poured a delectable glass of Château d'Yquem and suddenly there [...]
Can you go to college on your computer? Some say yes, and others respond with a resounding no. But one thing is for sure: there is a boatload of public money to be vacuumed off an overcrowded, underfunded educational establishment desperate for at least the appearance of a quick fix.
Enter Udacity, the foremost provider of Massively Open Online Courses, or MOOCs. Does what's above look like college to you? Or rather, is this how college should look now?
They've been described as "a relentless force that will not be denied," revolutionary, "the single most important experiment in higher education." Also MOOCs are getting a drubbing from [...]
My leftist friends are mainly baffled by how much I like Andrew Sullivan. His blog, the Daily Dish, presents a libertarian-inflected center-right political stance. He supported the Iraq War; he is gay and a practicing Catholic. As Ken Layne recently remarked here, Andrew is "by any rational assessment, a demographic of one—a conservative liberal gay Republican Obama loyalist and Irish-English Oxford man who sought and secured permanent U.S. residency."
But the Dish is intelligent, rational, mannerly, and welcoming, in stark contrast to the common run of right-wing blogs. Here is a conservative who accepts me and my views freely, however much they may diverge from his. It was [...]
The suicide of Aaron Swartz last week has brought attention to a lot of things in need of immediate and substantial change: the unchecked power of ambitious, self-serving federal prosecutors; the curious disconnect between the ferocity with which those prosecutors hunted down a 20-something political activist, and their respectful reluctance to disturb the potentates of Wall Street; the absurdity of our current copyright laws; ditto, the outmoded laws still on the books with respect to "hacking."
There's also an important point to reiterate. I've seen a number of angry commenters on Twitter and elsewhere claiming that JSTOR "has blood on its hands." This is false. JSTOR declined involvement in [...]
Anybody who supposes himself wise is already demonstrating the reverse. Therefore the cleverest, most beneficial advice must always come disguised as something else. Because who can ever really believe that he knows better? I didn't even recognize the best advice I ever got for what it was until many years after it was given to me, and I don't flatter myself that I get it, even yet.
In the mists of antiquity I embarked on what would prove to be a mortifyingly checkered academic career at St. John's College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I was a very idealistic, very deluded kid. Ambitious, too. There was no such thing [...]
An op-ed appeared in The Times a couple of weeks ago, called "How to Live Without Irony," and it tore around the Internets like a brush fire. In this essay Christy Wampole, an assistant French professor at Princeton, complained and complained about the hipster, or "urban harlequin" as she styles him. He is "our archetype of ironic living," who "harvests awkwardness and self-consciousness."
So what are we supposed to act like, Prof. Wampole, if we do not want to act like an ironical hipster? A four-year-old, it emerges! Or a tree.
Observe a 4-year-old child going through her daily life. You will not find the slightest bit of [...]
Strike Debt, an offshoot of the Occupy movement, recently launched a project called the Rolling Jubilee, which has raised over $350K as I write; the money will be used to buy, and then forgive, around $7 million worth of distressed medical debt. That's what a "jubilee" meant, in Old Testament times: a period for cancelling debts, and for the manumission of slaves, that came around every five decades: "And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubile unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every [...]
Earlier in the week I casually retweeted a note from the activist Bob Fitrakis. He'd posted a story about secret new software patches that had been rolled out to Ohio voting machines, with dark suggestions of shenanigans afoot in the counting of the votes there. Election maniacs may recall Fitrakis from the Ohio debacle of 2004, when he worked with Cliff Arnebeck to try to prove election fraud. (The questionability of the 2004 results is not quite in tinfoil territory; many not-outwardly-foaming observers do still believe that the Kerry-Bush election was stolen in Ohio.)
Soon a response came from one @JoeBeOne:
Please don't spread shaky voting machine [...]
Part of a series about monsters and other scary things happening here through Halloween.
My grandmother was a witch: a species of santera from Havana, to be more exact. Not like she was decapitating chickens all over the place or anything, but she did speak in tongues and believe in demons, and in hell and especially, in the Devil, who held a good deal more sway over her beliefs and activities than God or Jesus ever did, as it still seems to me. Only now do I see the intensity of her superstitions, her prayers and novenas, her gloomy foretelling of the future, her brooding certainty about every damn [...]