Monday, September 29th, 2014

That audience-measuring company Chartbeat has "gained accreditation from the Media Rating Council for attention-based measurement of both content and advertising" is important to advertisers and therefore to all the people whose work and internet time-wasting activities depend on them. This metric, the apparent next metric, after page views and "uniques," is perhaps harder to trick but still easy to optimize for, especially if you're one of the new formless internet publishers—a relatively straightforward video, a quiz, or some as-of-yet unknown demanding media object that can hold you still, if not keep you truly engaged, will, in time terms, usually beat out a written story that takes a long time to produce and read. People are already hashing this part out.

What they're not yet hashing out what this means for another type of company: The read-later apps. So let's start: Instapaper, Pocket, Readability, Longform—the apps that take links and make them into clean little ad-free phone pamphlets that you can read on a plane—have been criticized, celebrated, but mostly tolerated. They help people read your work, which is encouraging; they also, at some point in the copy/clean process, at least give you a click, which is what you, or your editor, or your publisher, ultimately needs. Now, imagine a world in which "attention minutes" or some such measurement is how your employers measure the success of your work—a world in which its measurable value is connected to the time people spend with it. In that world, read-later apps, as they function now—giving you a click, but siphoning all of your time—are theft. Well?


My Summer As a Housekeeper

8109773442_037bb4723a_zThe summer I was 18, I worked at an amusement park hotel as a housekeeper. The system worked something like this: every morning, we picked up our clipboards from the front desk with our list of rooms for the day, color-coded by what kind of service they needed. Pink was for occupied rooms that just needed a little spiffing, or “makes,” and green for just-vacated rooms that had to be cleaned for guests the following day, or “turnovers."

I liked to see a nice long sheet of green—a turnover meant that everyone’s crap was gone and I could haul out soaking wet towels and twisted-up sheets and vacuum and dust and start fresh. Makes were awkward; if the guests weren’t in the room, I had to tiptoe around their piles of toys and shoes and hilariously inappropriate lingerie while trying to make the bed and fluff the pillows. If the guests were in the room, I sometimes had to make small talk with them, the worst torture possible for my 18-year-old self.

We were paid $9/hour, an amount that seemed enormous to me then (and still does—it remains the highest hourly wage I’ve ever been paid). Yet you’re not going to go very far with $9/hour if you’re not a student whose basic needs (housing, food, orthodonture) are already paid for, especially since hours fluctuated based on occupancy. Because the hotel was attached to the amusement park and the amusement park was seasonal, a lot of high schoolers and college students did work there. But there was also a mother-daughter team who cleaned rooms with the efficiency of German train conductors. There was an older woman whose daughter was incapacitated by a Lyme disease infection that had spread to her nervous system; this woman was always the first one offered extra shifts, though it made little difference in the face of her gargantuan medical bills. A lot of the other hotel employees were teachers, working during their summers off to supplement their salaries. Point being: we weren’t all just students working to pay for our beer and gas. A lot of people needed the money.

After we cleaned a room and signed off on it being ready for habitation, we filled out a card with the name of the amusement park printed at the top in blue ink. HI, the card read, WELCOME TO DARIEN LAKE THEME PARK RESORT. MY NAME IS _______ AND I WILL BE YOUR HOUSEKEEPER. READ MORE


The Useless Crap You Find When You Move

People drop things on the Internet and run all the time. So we have to ask. In this edition, BuzzFeeᴅ Executive Editor Doree Shafrir tells us more about the pitfalls of packing and unpacking and constantly moving from one apartment to the next.

Doree! So what happened here?

When I moved out of the apartment I shared with my then-boyfriend in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, in 2009, I got rid of my huge file cabinet and threw everything that had been in there into two storage boxes. They sat in the back of the closet TB and I shared in Carroll Gardens; when TB and I broke up, they moved into a closet in a different apartment in Fort Greene; when New York and I broke up, they found a home in the back of a closet in my new apartment in Los Angeles. It wasn't until last week, when I was packing up my apartment to move in with my current boyfriend, that I decided it was time to excavate whatever was in those boxes. READ MORE


Stars, "No One Is Lost"

If you told me that this song was by Stars I would say, oh yeah, obviously, that voice, yeah, I hear it. But if you didn't, I would hesitate to assume. If you told me it wasn't, I would absolutely believe you. Anyway: This is not a new song by some new band from LA or Berlin or The Playa. This is a new song by Stars.


Publishing's Best Worst Friends

The leaders of American "literary culture" are worrying, gathering and organizing:

The Wylie Agency has about a thousand clients. Many have not yet responded to Mr. Wylie’s query about Authors United, because they are traveling or are inattentive to email. But about 300 Wylie writers have signed on, as well as the estates of Saul Bellow, Roberto Bolaño, Joseph Brodsky, William Burroughs, John Cheever, Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, Arthur Miller and Hunter S. Thompson.

“Every single response without exception has been positive,” Mr. Wylie said.

There is no reason to doubt that the responses experienced by Andrew Wylie, an extremely powerful agent, have been uniformly positive: His fight on behalf of the publishing industry, against an obviously imperious Amazon, is one that his peers and clients, living and undead, have been itching for. In the process of mounting it, he will likely provide an easy target for Amazon's defenders, who claim that the old publishing world is stale and elitist and unadaptable, and that it overestimates its own value.

Neither of these parties will reach the most valuable readers, who generally appear to be sympathetic to Amazon in their use of e-readers but who are probably mostly concerned with two things: The impossibly daunting number of books that they haven't yet read (to enjoy reading is to always feel literally one million books behind); and the price and availability, on dirt-cheap e-readers, of way more than enough of these books to keep them buried and happy. To put it another way: The point at which the death of Wylie's vision of literary culture becomes an effective cudgel is the moment that an avid-but-otherwise-unaware reader picks up an e-reader, browses the selection, and realizes that, among the thousands and thousands of could-reads and should-reads and what's-thats, something has gone missing. Not a single book, or a well-known writer, but some beloved tier of work that was previously allowed to exist by an industry that, at this uselessly distant future time, is long gone. Wylie's famous authors are more than worthy foes for Amazon. They're also probably better advocates than their industry, which will misapply their talents on dead-end antitrust cases and dissonant pro-publisher crusades, deserves.

Image by Hope for Gorilla.


'SNL' Review: A New Hope with Chris Pratt

The seasons have certainly changed at Saturday Night Live. The show's 40th season began with an episode that hardly resembled a season premiere, with little pomp or circumstance over SNL's impressive four-decade lifespan, and in its place a straightforward night of comedy that reflected a show well adjusted to its new lineup. Nerves did occasionally get the better of the performers—especially first-time host Chris Pratt, who coasted on his signature goofy charm, flashing that Andy Dwyer "oops" face a few times—but overall the episode charged forward with a leaner (and more colorful) cast, and a greater confidence in its sense of humor.

We aren't out of the woods just yet, though. SNL's live sketches suffer from the same issues that plagued them last season: those low-hanging fruit gags, punchlines overwhelming the premise, the tendency for characters to randomly walk out of a scene without the sketch actually ending, etc. Also, the show has yet to reclaim its satirical edge, and with John Oliver so thoroughly setting us straight on Sunday nights, it's doubtful progressive America will look to SNL for its comedy any time soon.

But for the first time in a while, we have reasons to look forward to the future. Pete Davidson's masterful Weekend Update set gave SNL the newcomer starpower it seemed unable to locate last season. Michael Che and Leslie Jones' frequent on-camera appearances suggest the show might actually try to embrace its diversity, rather than use it as a quota. And a few clever sketch setups found their way into the set list, giving us hope that SNL can still do comedy outside of the format of a talk show parody.

If those little "40"s in the opening credits and interstitials become the only on-air milestone celebrations we see on the show over the next months, Season 40 may be a year SNL steps proudly into the next generation, rather than again be overshadowed by its glorious past. READ MORE


The Ads We Deserve

Facebook has made a great many terrible promises to a great many terrible people about all of the terrible ways that those terrible people—and Facebook!—can make a lot of money using the incredibly personal data extracted from users to sell them terrible products. Not all of those promises have panned out. But one can get an approximate sense of how genuinely anxious one should be, as a Facebook user, by how genuinely excited the terrible people become at the prospect of one of these promises. (It's a roughly inverse relationship: The more excited they are, the more unnerved one can choose to feel. It's like when somebody guffaws loudly on CNBC, the appropriate response is a deep, guttural sensation of sickness. Anyway.) Here's what some terrible people saying Facebook's new advertising platform, Atlas, which will let them track users and display ads based on their Facebook data not just on Facebook, but e v e r y w h e r e:

"Mobile has been a very hard thing for us to do,” said Jonathan Nelson, chief executive of Omnicom Digital. “This Atlas solution is a huge step forward in making mobile marketing more effective."

"Nobody else besides Facebook has the depth of data about individuals," said Debra Aho Williamson, a principal analyst at the research firm eMarketer.

"Facebook has deep, deep data on its users. You can slice and dice markets, like women 25 to 35 who live in the Southeast and are fans of 'Breaking Bad,' " said Rebecca Lieb, a digital advertising and media analyst at the Altimeter Group, a research firm. The new Atlas platform, she said, "can track people across devices, weave together online and offline."

They seem quite excited. How do you feel?

Photo by Florida Fish and Wildlife


"We rarely fight, but when we do, we’re forced to choose our battlegrounds carefully. My place is usually out and the dumpster doesn’t work either–it’s impossible to take anything seriously in a one-room box that doesn’t even have a proper door. If a fight needs to be had, we usually end up hashing it out in the relative privacy of a car in a parking lot. I’ve cried my fair share of tears parked between two yellow lines." —The world's most performative dater (previously) on cohabiting in a dumpster.


New York City, September 25, 2014

weather review sky 092514★ Morning arrived in dimness, with a soaking rain, perfect for not having to send anyone off to school in. The rain went away and came back and went away; the sky brightened a little and more drops streaked the windows. Clouds blew along from north to south. Late in the day, blue and white appeared in the west, just above the buildings. It was warm and close inside the elevator, getting more warm and more close as the doors refused to open, minute after minute. Outside, after too long, the avenue was still gray as ever, but clear light was up on the tops of buildings. In the time it took to realize the nearest parsley wasn't worth buying, the gray had become blue. Bright pink clouds raced by underneath it, and yet another lurid sunlight bloomed.


A Cat-Sized Chinchilla Objects to Media Narrative

crat"'Extinct' cat-sized Chinchilla found alive in shadows of Machu Pichu" — Jeremy Hance for Mongabay, part of the Guardian Environment Network

"This Guardian piece is pure clickbait!"
cries the cat-sized chinchilla.
“How dare they suggest our birth rate
is but a scintilla."

"How droll, Guardian, putting 'extinct' in quotes,"
calls the cat-sized chinchilla,
"when my family alone would fill boats,
A whole 'extinct' flotilla."

"We’re 'found alive' from Peru to Katmandu,"
chides the cat-sized chinchilla.
"So why does the Guardian willfully eschew
my many cousins in Anguilla?"

"And 'cat-sized?' Really? That's the best you can do?"
concludes the cat-sized chinchilla,
"Well then, Mr. Hance, here's my headline for you:
'Succinct writer' is man-sized Gorilla.'"



This Week in Lines

1:12 PM Thursday, September 25 — Shake Shack
Location: Madison Square Park
Length: Forty-one people, thirty-one umbrellas
Weather: 63 and rainy
Crowd: Unflappable fry fans
Mood: Soggy on the outside, crispy on the inside
Wait time: Eighteen minutes
Lingering question: How much rain does it take to stop the Shack? READ MORE


Expert Pit Master Rod Gray Talks BBQ


The Chosen Vegetables


The cuisine of the Ashkenazic Jews is kind of awful. This is not the fault of my people; they tried their best, they really did. But the climate, socioeconomic struggles, and raw materials they had to work with left them with some pretty rough dishes. Worst, in my mind, is that there are a few big Jewish feasts in the late summer and early fall—the best time of year for produce—and Ashkenazic Jewish food doesn’t take advantage of that. So I would like to propose a way to make the feasts of early fall—Rosh Hashanah and the breaking of the fast after Yom Kippur—a little more vegetable-friendly: We must unite the cuisines of the Jews.

First, some history: Amidst lots of wars, large waves of Jews left Israel around the fourth century A.D., settling mostly in the Mediterranean climates of Italy, France, Spain, and Morocco. Over the next thousand years or so, they experienced varying degrees of hostility in these places at various times, and most were eventually booted to the cold lands of the Russian Empire. Some did okay in the cities, but others were stuck in ghettoes, which were occasionally burned down; sometimes they were imprisoned or chased around or killed. Their food options, to say the least, were limited.

The Jews were used to some of the most fertile land in the world; eastern Europe must have been a brutal shock for them. Now called Ashkenazim, they created the best cuisine they could for cold weather, given the garbage they had to work with: starches, soups, fatty cuts of meat, and boiled root vegetables, largely adopted from Polish and Russian cuisine. When they finally made it out, mostly to North America in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, they brought this stuff with them, where some of the dishes got so popular they assimilated into the general umbrella of American food: Bagels, challah, latkes, and matzoh ball soup are as American as pizza, tacos, and pork fried rice.

People who aren’t into meat and fat will find that the centerpiece dishes of Ashkenazic Jewish cuisine tend to be very fatty and very meaty, like braised beef brisket, cholent (a slow-cooked stew of beef, potatoes, and barley) or kishke (an often-bland sausage made of beef intestine stuffed with flour or matzoh meal and chicken fat). They also often have a sweet element that can be cloying, since Jews worldwide love to put honey and apples and dried fruit in savory dishes. The sides are typically bland filler, made of noodles or breads or various permutations of matzoh. Spices are exceedingly limited; herbs pretty much non-existent. The vegetables used are of the root-y variety, like beets, carrots, potatoes, and turnips, all of which are cooked in pretty much the same way (boiled). The only Jewish vegetable dish I can really remember growing up with is called tzimmes, a dish of carrots boiled in water and honey and sometimes sprinkled with raisins. It is an awful, awful dish; it reduces the carrot to baby food and it is disgustingly sweet, as are many Ashkenazic Jewish desserts.

The fact that we eat this sort of food is especially galling during the High Holidays because late summer and early fall has some amazing produce—at least in the Northeast where I and, according to census data, several other Jews, live. It seems a shame to cook as if we’re in the dead of winter in a shtetl in Białystok when in fact we’re surrounded by amazing fruits and vegetables: The early fall produce, from apples to kale to chard to squash, join—for a mere few weeks—the end-of-summer peaches, okra, green beans, tomatoes, and cucumbers on farmers’ market tables. We could make the argument (and I will!) that Jewish food, like most poor-people cuisines, is about using what you can find. And what I can find in Brooklyn today is a hell of a lot better than what my great-grandparents could find in Grodno.



Dev Hynes, "Everything Is Embarrassing"

Lost in the slightly tense but mostly tepid feud between songwriter Dev Hynes (aka Blood Orange) and Sky Ferreira over artistic ownership of "Everything Is Embarrassing" is the document itself. Ferreira's version, the enormous hit, is slick and perfect and instantly imprints itself on your brain, where it is stored as just one or two repeating stanzas. Hynes's version, a functional and unpolished demo, feels small and tentative—it sounds embarrassed.


A Poem by Lo Kwa Mei-en

Passion with an Operating Theater Underneath It


The Economics of Internet Comedy Videos

ucbcomedyFunny videos on the internet come from a plethora of sources, from established internet studios to TV networks to independent comedians. But how do comedy production studios fund their internet comedy videos? There’s no simple answer. In fact, one of the first answers I heard was “Our funding comes from everywhere.”

However, as I talked to representatives from CollegeHumor, Funny or Die, Jash, Above Average, UCB Comedy, and Comedy Central, a lot of common themes came forward. Branded content funds more than you think. YouTube revenue funds less than you think. Comedy studios, like everyone else, earn money so they can fund passion projects. Incubating new talent is also a huge part of comedy work, and that adds an extra line to the budget.

So let’s take a closer look at how some of the major comedy production studios fund their internet comedy videos, as well as how a few indie comedy teams gets work done. READ MORE


Brian Morris, a spokesman for the zoo, said officials were in the process of revisiting animal protocols, and it was "more than likely" that new rules would keep mayors and groundhogs from coming into contact every February.

"It’ll protect our animals," he said, "and it’ll also protect whoever the mayor is."

Keeping large rodents out of the hands of towering New York City mayors will no doubt save their lives, given the recent events that led to the death of Charlotte, aka Chuck, the mystical groundhog—but what grave harm, exactly, must the mayor be shielded from? The conspiracy is real, folks.


New York City, September 24, 2014

weather review sky 092414★ Thin clouds moved over the morning sky. The air was cool and humid; the sun hung around for awhile, making shadows fade in and out. The clouds thickened and rumpled. By afternoon it was chilly up on the roof. A young man held onto a walk/don't walk sign and dangled from it for a photographer. His ankles were bare but he wore a knit hat. A couple of actors walked down Prince Street, hand in hand, with a camera and a crew retreating before them, undeterred by the lack of autumnal brilliance. The grays in the clouds, darker under lighter, gave way at sunset to an unexpected flood of pink.


The Drivers Must Roll

Here is some totally unhelpful but still fascinating background decoration for Uber's incredibly rapid recruitment, containment and domination of its drivers, who, if they work in New York, just found out that their recently and suddenly reduced rates are now permanent, despite protests. It's a passage from Robert Heinlein's 1940 short story, "The Roads Must Roll," in which cars have been replaced by enormous conveyors operated by a largely invisible network of technicians:

The speaker pressed his advantage, his words tumbling out in a rasping torrent. He leaned toward the crowd, his eyes picking out individuals at whom to fling his words. "What makes business? The roads! How do they move the food they eat? The roads! How do they get to work? The roads! How do they get home to their wives? The roads!" He paused for effect, then lowered his voice. "Where would the public be if you boys didn't keep them roads rolling? Behind the eight ball, and everybody knows it. But do they appreciate it? Pfui! Did we ask for too much? Were our demands unreasonable? 'The right to resign whenever we want to.' Every working stiff in any other job has that. 'The same Pay as the engineers.' Why not? Who are the real engineers around here? D'yuh have to be a cadet in a funny little hat before you can learn to wipe a bearing, or jack down a rotor? Who earns his keep: The gentlemen in the control offices, or the boys down inside? What else do we ask? "The right to elect our own engineers.' Why the hell not? Who's competent to pick engineers? The technicians–or some damn dumb examining board that's never been down inside, and couldn't tell a rotor bearing from a field coil?"

He changed his pace with natural art, and lowered his voice still further. "I tell you, brother, it's time we quit fiddlin' around with petitions to the Transport Commission, and use a little direct action. Let 'em yammer about democracy; that's a lot of eyewash–we've got the power, and we're the men that count!"

It's a strange story with some great lines:

[Automobiles] contained the seeds of their own destruction. Seventy million steel juggernauts, operated by imperfect human beings at high speed, are more destructive than war.

It's also a work of adventurous and pulpy speculative fiction, in which the world is powered by a "Sun-power screen" and road workers the country over have been seduced by a radical "Functionalist" philosophy that says—and this is all we ever really get to find out about it—that it is "right and proper for a man to exercise over his fellows whatever power was inherent in his function."

In the story, the power "inherent" in the road-workers' function is dangerously great, in part because of the design of the road and in part because they are formally organized; in real life, in our actual budding dystopia, the prospect of an effective labor movement for Uber drivers does not seem plausible at all.



The Internet Has a Problem(atic)

aaaaaaaProblemProblemProblemProblemProblemProblemProblemProblemProblemProblem. Problem!!!!!!!

The word "problematic" is a firehose for—what, exactly? I know it's loud and sprays everywhere, but I can't locate its target. It is common knowledge in certain corners of the internet that "problematic" is codependent with the think piece, that short, poorly researched form of essay that exists to criticize recent cultural phenomena on usually disingenuous political or moral grounds.

Fifty years ago, "problematic" was modest, mousy and rare, maybe akin to "thole" or "vellicate"—nice for a dinner party, but far from a buzzword. Today, you can't go online without bumping into a "problematic" or two: "Hip-hop videos featuring bling and babes" are "problematic"; "The Promising…Future of Ultra-Fast Internet" is problematic; "psychological process—which underpins racism, extreme nationalism, and prejudice of all sorts" is problematic; "resolutions, as Oscar Wilde knew," are problematic; "videogames" are problematic; Miley, Katy, and Iggy (not Pop) are problematic. In the academe, "the modern Chinese self…caught between tradition and modernity" is problematic, as are the "Fictions of Poe, James and Hawthorne" and "Ordering in French Renaissance Literature."

Although vacuous, "problematic" has become shorthand for self-serious identity politics for several reasons, starting with its historically mechanical and apolitical connotations. To borrow a tagline from another failed experiment in seriousness, let's Look Closer.

Imported from France some time around 1600, earlier iterations of "problematic" favor the word's mechanical usage. From a review in the Royal Society's Philosophical Transactions in 1686, for example, you will find the statement, "I have inquired into Dr Papins [sic] problematic engine for raising water." Or The British Cyclopaedia of the Arts and Sciences(1838), "Whether steam artillery will ever be employed for land warfare is somewhat problematic, as the weight of a steam gun is such as to preclude any degree of rapid locomotion…" It was also political back then, but not to the point of satire, as it is today. Here is the word's older political usage, from the New York Times in 1854: "The axiom, that good may come from evil, may be true in some respects, but this good result is by far too problematic and uncertain to give any one the right to count on the life-blood, tears and sufferings of thousands as an invested fund of martyrdom…"

The word remained unpopular in English until 1960, when its ngram begins to resemble a hockey stick. There are at least four interrelated traditions responsible for the morphing of "problematic" from throwaway to political buzzword in the late-middle twentieth century: 1) the emergence of identity politics beginning in 1968, 2) the rise of the think piece in the nineteen seventies, with a second, ongoing spike that began around 2006, 3) the development of post-structuralism in the seventies, and 4) changes in syntactical patterns of academic English around the turn of the century.

One reason "problematic" lends itself so well to identity politics (and therefore, the think piece and certain flavors of post-structuralism) is because even before "problematic" became overwhelmingly political, many uses of "problematic" alluded to difficulty in representation. The Oxford English Dictionary motions to, but does not outright state this, with its parsing of "problematic" as "difficult to decide."

Take, for example, this early use of "problematic" in The London Intelligencer, on Signior Dominica, former Valet de Chambre to King James II:

His Religion was very Problematical, for sometimes he discursed like a Roman Catholick, sometimes like a Protestant, at others he shewd such Respect for Rabbinical Learning, as might have created a Suspicion of his being a Jew; but then he was deeply read in the Koran, and might as well have been taken for a Mahometan. (1-3 October 1751)

Same goes for this entry on Napoleon's army, from The London Sun, 7 July 1800:

All that the Paris Papers state to have been brought by the Chief Consul, is the Ratification of the Armistice. Even this appears to us more than problematical, for, if it had been true, it cannot be doubted that BONAPARTE would have mentioned the fact among the numerous speeches which the Paris Journalists ascribe to him, who appear greedily to collect all his conversation, we know not, in fact, whether with a view to excite our admiration or our ridicule.

Not only are both entries about difficulty in detection, but both are about representation in classically conceived mediums—in the first example, religion as mediated through speech; the second, the details of an armistice as represented in Napoleon's oration and press.