Thursday, October 30th, 2014
1

Serial tackles one story over the course of many installments–roughly as many as encompass a season of an HBO drama such as True Detective, the show to which Serial is often compared because the first serial Koenig has tackled is the story of Adnan Syed, a high school student convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend. Did he do it? Or has he been wrongly jailed for a crime he didn't commit? Each episode is an installment in an ongoing attempt to figure that out.

The producers themselves don't know how their story ends: They approach the subject as intensely curious storytellers, not crusaders for the accused or the deceased.

The new episode of Serial is out this morning, and it's not too late to catch up. It is, I agree, "So Good You Want to Binge-Listen." But don't hold off until it's over to do that: The waiting, week-to-week, is enriching in a way that's totally obvious and yet still somehow surprising, and really sort of damning for all the new season-release binge TV, much of which has been great but none of which I can remember in any episodic way at all. Talking about Transparent with friends has been depressing: Everyone watched it all at once and nobody remembers anything specific, so it's all "the acting was good" and "what great ideas for characters." We are addled and dazed by the things we do to relax! We are weak. We demand structure.

---
0

New York City, October 28, 2014

★★★★ Leaves on the trees still dappled the long west-thrusting rays of sun under the scaffolding. Spotlights raised vignettes of gleam and color all around. Even one Trump tower looked OK, for a moment. Textured brick on a townhouse looked like a nubby wool blanket; wide bars of light fell through the narrow slats of fire escapes. A woman walking and talking on a cell phone in the open keened with joy that sounded close to grief, echoing back news about someone's pregnancy tests. By downtown there was a little scattering haze, but a passing airplane was still a sharply snipped white-paper form overhead. A starling, rich motor-oil brown, less flew down than fell from a tree, landing on its feet and starting to jog up the street. Clouds spread over the afternoon. Breezes sloshed around easefully. The smells on the evening air were pleasant ones.

---
6

The Diary of Samantha Pepys

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 3.19.32 PM

October 8: Up betimes and to the office to do business. After copying and writing some documents, so to luncheon, where I desired fricassee of rabbit and a leg of mutton boiled and three carps in a dish, but instead ate a sandwich. Then back to the office to discourse with students regarding the preparation of their documents, and I took pains to find out what amongst the students was wanted and fitting to be done. So by Subaru home, and by and by to Whole Foods, where I purchased pasta, which pleased me much. The saleslady did request if I would like to contribute to a charity, and I declined, having not the inclination. There was a great shower in the streets, so an employee walked me to my car with an umbrella, and I had cause to reflect on this practice as not enjoyable for the employee and uncomfortable for myself. And so home to dine in my chamber, where I ate heartily and lustily, and then to bed and the weather very chilly and requiring another blanket.

October 9: Woke late and to the office, where I prepared my affairs and papers. Having an old dress new furbished, I was pretty neat in clothes today—and my mongrel dog very clean and proper, having received an unwelcome bath after rolling in something deceased. Walked the streets a half an hour with the mongrel dog and then to the market for a roasted chicken and potatoes, where people discoursed in the aisles about problems concerning airline miles. Then home to sit in my commodious room and to pay bills and copy documents, which pleased me much, and I had a pretty dinner of the chicken. Having put things in order, a desire for good cheer and discourse prompted a telephone call to my sister in California, who is great with child and fatigued. Drank a Manhattan and good Malago wine. Persistent sniffles suggest a malady is coming on, and I am plagued by a cold sore, which lends the appearance of a diseased French prostitute. And so up and to bed.

READ MORE

---
0

In Defense of an Unlikable Protagonist, When the Unlikable Protagonist is Yourself

timthumbThere’s this thing I’ve done since I was a kid that I rarely talk about—mainly because it’s embarrassing. Anytime I’m alone, I'm probably scripting scenarios in my head of how my life should go. Not the kind of fantastical daydreaming that encompasses what would happen if the fates were ever to align and I finally got to meet my pun-loving idol Dave Coulier; actual, real-life situations ranging from romantically tense showdowns with men (that never actually come to fruition), to the mundane small talk I practice to ensure I’m the most charming customer in the cramped waiting room of my local auto body shop.

Maybe it's a childhood tic, born out of severe unpopularity coupled with an overactive imagination. Maybe it's the machinations of a subconscious pushing me to become a writer long before I ever realized I wanted to spend my life putting words on paper. Whatever the reason, it’s something I still do, to this day, almost to the point of obsession. I’m rarely living in the moment because it’s a veritable television writer’s room in my head, with a million self-contained voices pitching different narratives, joke arcs, and real-time admonishments to their leading lady: me.

The thing that each of those scenarios have in common? In each and every one, I am always right. I am always the best. Even when spurned, I am always the most downtrodden heroine who will rise again, likely by way of a cleverly crafted monologue filled with dated references and verbal cues worthy of an Amy Sherman-Palladino television program. After all, when you’re constantly crafting your own narrative, you’re never the villain. But that’s the thing—it’s just a narrative. In my actual world, I rarely stick to the script, and I’m the villain far more often than I’d care to admit. READ MORE

---
---
13

Shot Through the Heart

14329622976_2ae10f5741_z

Last Thursday night, the governor of New York State and the mayor of New York City announced that the first case of Ebola had been diagnosed at Bellevue Hospital. The man—a doctor who had recently returned from treating Ebola patients in West Africa—had fallen ill that morning, after a night of bowling in Williamsburg, they said. I live in Greenpoint, less than a mile away from the bowling alley he had been in just twenty-four hours earlier.

Hearing this struck fear in my heart. Not because I thought there was any real risk of me getting Ebola: I trusted the information the CDC reported, that Ebola can only be contracted from a person with active symptoms, and even in cases of a very sick person coming in casual contact with me, it would be relatively hard to contract Ebola. I am a fairly pragmatic person, capable of talking myself through the logical ends of various what-if scenarios. I have faith in modern medicine.

The fear wasn’t about me, though: It was for my nine-month-old daughter. The what-if scenarios, though only momentary, were extreme. For just one second, it seemed absolutely certain to me that she would somehow, devastatingly skirt the odds and come down with Ebola.

A thing I have learned about myself-as-parent: When my child is involved, it takes some extra arguing with my brain for rationality to prevail.

READ MORE

---
1

It's funny when people make distinctions about whether it's darker in the morning or the evening, as if it isn't the most obvious truth of our time that it's all darkness, and it's not going to get any better, ever. That said, the clocks go back this Sunday, so the inherent sense of gloom and futility you feel of an afternoon—the crushing knowledge that there's no point to any of it and no one is less useful than you and the sorrowful certainty that the things you spend your sad little days worrying about are just additions to the list of wasted time and chances missed—will be settling in an hour earlier starting next week. Enjoy.

---
3

"McDonald’s Corp. is hoping a new marketing campaign can add some much-needed flavor to its business. Facing sagging profits, the fast food giant plans to launch a new advertising campaign starting early next year with the slogan “Lovin’ Beats Hatin’” — which aims to spread happiness in the face of Internet hate, said people familiar with the matter."

---
1

Atelje, "Transition"

A gentle instrumental opening theme for your morning; a six-minute postponement before whatever is going to happen today just loses its patience and happens already. Also worth a listen: "Ode to Studio." (Studio was Dan Lissvik's previous project.)

---
0

The Cost of Traveling and Moving Across Canada

driving in CanadaI recently moved across Canada, from Vancouver, BC to Toronto, ON, with my boyfriend, in a van with all of our worldly possessions! Here’s what it cost us:

Van rental: $842.11, ALL IN. I emphasize that because it should have been significantly more. The prices we were initially quoted for the 11-foot cargo van were at least that much, plus an additional $1,000 drop-off fee because it was a one-way rental. Had that been the case, we definitely would have just thrown away all of our stuff and flown. Then we discovered that my boyfriend was able to use his company’s corporate account for the rental, which meant a huge discount (no fees for insurance or additional drivers) and no drop-off fee. We rented the van for six days, but were able to make it Toronto in five, so we also saved money by returning the rental a day early.

Gas: $826.02. I’d like to say that we did a lot of research and budget planning for this move, but we most definitely did not, and it showed the most with gas. Our very rough estimate (based on nothing, I guess? Phantoms and vapors?) was that gas would be $500-$600. We were very wrong! Gas prices were highest in Ontario ($1.43/L) and BC ($1.42/L), and cheapest in Alberta ($1.16/L). We could have saved money if we had driven through ‘MURICA, but we were afraid crossing the border with all of our stuff might be a headache. The van was just a terrible gas guzzler, period, but our gas mileage also took a beating because of the terrain through BC, Alberta, and Ontario (where large parts of the trip involve very twisty roads through mountains, or at least mountain-ish areas), and the DEMON WINDS in the prairies, where you have to keep the steering wheel turned 45 degrees just to go in a straight line. READ MORE

---
1

Spaceport New York

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 9.26.38 AMWhen One World Trade Center formally opens next week, it will not have a fancy restaurant at the very top of the building, like Windows on the World in the North Tower of the World Trade Center before it, even though the building's owner, the Port Authority, originally planned for one. Instead, the Port Authority realized, its top three floors would be more valuable as functionally empty space—it will be an observation area for an expected three-and-a-half million people a year.

According to the Wall Street Journal, The revenue produced by this massive observation space—which the Port Authority hopes will approach some fifty-three million dollars annually by 2019, or around one quarter of the building's revenues—will help it fill in the gap caused by site's nearly four-billion-dollar construction costs. (If, by 2019, the building pulls in the hundred and forty-four million dollars a year it is expecting, it will only be generating the kind of income that a three-billion-dollar building is currently expected to make.)

Further uptown, at the luxury condo building One57, a thirteen-and-a-half-thousand-square-foot penthouse known as the Winter Garden, which was purchased for ninety million dollars, making it the most most expensive single apartment in Manhattan's history, sits empty. It will continue to do so, but "for the occasional party," because its owner, William Ackman, the activist investor and founder of Pershing Square Capital Management, has no plans whatsoever to relocate his family from their current Upper West Side residence. Rather, "myself and a couple of very good friends bought into this idea that someday, someone will really want it and they’ll let me know." READ MORE

---
0

New York City, October 27, 2014

weather review sky 102714★★★★ A golden dawn led into a brilliant morning, almost dazzling enough to hide the dogshit on the sidewalk. A sweater was the right choice aboveground, but the subway was too hot for it. The blue of the sky suffused the stairs back up to the street; a streak of blue reflected in a passerby's shiny oxblood boots. The office was hotter than the subway had been. Outside was the kind of coolness identified with cleanliness. Cirrus wisps feathered back and forth on the sky. Now the light on the buildings was generous. Sunset was pink and blushing, and the day lingered as best it could under the circumstances.  

---
29

Two Minutes of Walking on the Internet as a Woman

Here is a video that will surprise only men. In it, a woman walks through the streets of New York City, briskly and silently, eyes ahead. Over the course of ten hours she is approached, catcalled and harassed dozens upon dozens of times, all in broad daylight.

The effect is powerful and useful—"10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman" is a succinct answer to anyone who asks, incredulously, if street harassment is really that bad. People who couldn't see for themselves—the ones who needed to, at least—now can.

But the video works in two ways: It's also a neat portrayal of what it is like to be a woman talking about gender on the mainstream internet. This became apparent within minutes of publication, at which point the video's comment section was flooded with furious responses. The following are all "Top Comments" as determined by YouTube's viewers and voting system—this is what outwardly appears, among people who chose to engage with this video, to be a consensus (most dissent is voted into oblivion). It is a VAST MAJORITY. Starting with the very top post:

READ MORE

---
0

Amy Poehler's 'Yes Please' Is the Best Non-Self-Help Self-Help Book Ever

yespleaseBefore I can start my thoughts on Amy Poehler’s Yes Please (Dey Street Press, out today), I have to put aside Professional Writer Voice and make a confession: I love self-help books. I’m not talking about the ones that promise if you just think positively piles of money will magically appear. I mean the ones that urge us to be better people, that gently tell us it’s slowly inch-by-inch going to be okay and that it helps our hearts to be kinder to others and to ourselves. I have an entire shelf of them. If there’s a Brene Brown book to be had, I own a dog-eared, heavily-underlined copy, and I’ve kept lists of self-help books quoted by other self-help books. All of them are by Pema Chodron.

I mention this because Poehler’s Yes Please reads like a self-help book, and I mean that very much as a compliment. Actually, Yes Please is better, because it’s funny and lacks self-helpy cheesiness. Throughout, Poehler reflects on her life, gives advice through the lessons she’s learned (particularly those learned through improv), and delivers enough comedic nonsense to keep it entertaining. I want to hug this book, and not just because Poehler also suggests reading Pema Chodron. This isn’t to suggest she gives advice the whole time, but that in describing her experiences, it’s easy to see how much further cultivating healthy habits and relationships can take us.

With section titles like “Say whatever you want,” and “Be whoever you are,” Yes Please is even structured like a self-help book, and throughout, Poehler offers stand alone pages of wisdom like, “Nobody looks stupid when they are having fun,” and “forget the facts and remember the feelings.” But it’s sharing her experience of the world that makes Yes Please relatable. In “Plain girl vs. the demon,” she describes her own difficulties with self criticism, i.e. the demon that resides in her brain, and offers a smart way of countering it. “When the demon starts to… say bad shit about me I turn around and say, ‘Hey, cool it. Amy is my friend. Don’t talk about her like that.’ Sticking up for ourselves in the same way we would one of our friends is a hard but satisfying thing to do.” READ MORE

---
2

A Modern History of Thirst

We need water. And maybe somebody's daughter. — The Who, "Water"

Recently, in a story about brands and hashtags, the New York Times defined a word.

The effort to co-opt cool can backfire, Mr. Roan said. When someone is "watching a topic that's trending and then whips up some contrived way to get their voice in that conversation, it's very predatory and a super-false way to speak," he said. Or worse: "It reeks of thirst," he said. (We looked it up, and "thirst," in this case, means "desperate.")

This definition may or may not come from UrbanDictionary.com, where the top entry for the word 'thirsty' is dated to 2003 and contains two definitions. The first is, "Too eager to get something (especially play)"; the second, merely "desperate." Ten years later, another user defined thirsty as "The need to gain fame and admiration through social media," specifically "by posting 'selfie' pictures to boost the self esteem."

Now, not to universalize anyone's experience, but one of the things about having a living human body is that there are certain functions with which we are all necessarily familiar—one of those is the physical imperative to imbibe water. If we don't have water, we die. To one degree or another, everyone is familiar with this bodily phenomenon, which, as far as shared language is concerned, makes for a powerful, experiential reference point.

In this sense, to be "thirsty" is a natural state of being; to describe someone in this context as "thirsty" is not a value-judgement—or it is, but only in so far as the state of being "thirsty" is reflective of the bodily state of being dehydrated. But calling someone "dehydrated" doesn't roll off the tongue in quite the same way as calling someone "thirsty." "'Thirst' sounds gross as a word," one friend told me. "It slithers around in your mouth."

READ MORE

---
0

Windows 93.

---
0

E.R., "Feluha"

Endeguena Mulu, aka E.R., is one of a handful of musicians who make up the Ethiopiyawi Electronic movement, which lives mostly on a circuit between Addis Ababa and Washington DC. The song is a surreal and dizzying genre mash, with scurrying masenqo strings sliding under rich electronica shot through with cane flutes. (See previously: Mikael Seifu.)

---
0

A Reasonable Conversation About Taylor Swift's New Album, Which Is The Best Album Ever

tay swift
JEN VAFIDIS: HI JANE. There is a new Taylor Swift album out today, and it is already totally undeniable. The first single is a #1 hit, the second single was #1 on iTunes within 10 minutes of its release, and Taylor has been teasing us via Instagram about these new songs for what seems like years. It’s only been a few weeks, but still. I love her, you love her, let’s talk about her.

JANE HU: When I tell people that 1989 is going to get me through the rest of 2014, I’m 100% not exaggerating. Even though the three pre-releases have really sent some MIXED SIGNALS about the feel of the album, T-Swift has never let me down before. I adore this album, but the leading track actually had me a little worried for a moment! READ MORE

---
0

"At the end of the day, Brand Ebola may be too strong to counter. 'It’s got high awareness, it’s easy to understand, it’s got a fairy simple story,' said Calkins. 'It’s the ice bucket challenge, but bad.'"

---
7

The Internet's Invisible Sin-Eaters

In this month's Wired, Adrian Chen visits the Philippines to speak with professional content moderators—the people who scrub all the dick pics and beheadings from the world's biggest sites before they reach users' eyes. It's job that, he says, "might very well comprise as much as half the total workforce for social media sites." Sarah Roberts, a media studies scholar at the University of Western Ontario focusing on commercial content moderation, is quoted in the piece. They caught up over chat.

AC: One thing I would have liked to include in my piece was how you got interested in studying content moderation.

SR: Well, it's a pretty simple story. I was perusing the NYT one day and there was a very small story in the Tech section about workers in rural Iowa who were doing this content screening job. They were doing it for low wages, essentially as contractors in a call center in a place that, a couple generations ago, was populated by family farms. I call it "Farm Aid Country." I say this as a born and raised Wisconsinite, from right next door.

So this was a pretty small piece, but it really hit me. The workers at this call center, and others like it, were looking at very troubling user-generated content (UGC) day in and day out. It was taking a toll on them psychologically, in some cases. I should say that I've been online for a long time (over twenty years) and, at the time I read this, was working on my Ph.D. in digital information studies. I was surrounded at all times by really smart internet geeks and scholars. So I started asking my peers and professors, "Hey, have you ever heard of this practice?" To my surprise, no one—no one-had.

This was in the summer of 2010. Right there, I knew that it wasn't simple coincidence that no one had heard of it. It was clear to me that this was a very unglamorous and unpleasant aspect of the social media industries and no one involved was likely in a rush to discuss it. As I interrogated my colleagues, I realized that many of them, once they were given over to think about it at all, immediately assumed that moderation tasks of UGC must be automated. In other words, "Don't computers/machines/robots do that?"

Right. I actually thought that at least some of it would be done like that before doing this story. That was one of the most surprising things, how little is actually automated.

So that got me wondering about our propensity to collectively believe (I'd say it's more aspirational, actually—wishful thinking) that unpleasant work tasks are done by machines when so many of them are done by humans. As I'm sure you learned, and I did, too, content moderation of video and images is computationally very difficult. It's an extremely sophisticated series of judgments that are called upon to make content decisions.

READ MORE

---
0

New York City, October 26, 2014

weather review sky 102614★★★ The wind outside sounded like cars whooshing by, heard from the shoulder of the highway. Enough clouds moved in through the morning that the soap bubbles being blown at the community block fair failed to shimmer. Pedestrians were ambushed by a yellow vortex of honeylocust leaves, swirling a full story high, making them flinch and buckle. Sun took over for the three-year-old's naptime, then went away by the time he was awake for the block fair again. A five-piece jazz band played outside the bank, and a man in a checked cap danced quietly and extravagantly off to the side. Leftover balloons, black and orange, were being distributed to children and to the sky. "How come there's a huge wind?" the three-year-old asked, as he made the turn onto 70th into gusts. A portable boiler room trailer hummed by the curb, feeding thick hoses into an apartment building. The boy insisted on shedding his jacket as soon as he entered the playground, while parents or guardians thrust their hands into their pockets. The darkness lay heavily at four in the afternoon; there were still occasional thin patches of blue, but small ones and always somewhere else. The sun got under the clouds downriver at last and sent a coppery glare to flood the southern faces of the buildings. Magenta ruffles spread across the sky. By shortly after six, it was all over.

---