Monday, July 21st, 2014

The Borowitz Problem

There's a new New Yorker website on the internet today, but one problem still hasn't been fixed:

A good deal of that traffic can be credited to Andy Borowitz—the satirist and “Shouts & Murmurs” contributor whom The New Yorker hired in 2012 to anchor its newly introduced humor blog, and whose Boomer-liberal brand of humor regularly produces groans from younger, more web-native corners. According to Thompson, “The Borowitz Report” was responsible for six percent of all of’s traffic last year.

My goodness is it difficult for people to talk about the Borowitz situation! Which maybe explains how it has been allowed to persist for so long. The Borowitz Problem isn't that he isn't funny, or that he panders as a rule, or that "Boomer-liberal" humor (which is I guess is meant here as a euphemism for "unchallenging and smug?") is out of date. It's this:

"The news, reshuffled" is both the Borowitz Report's tagline and a literal description of its product (here is a bot that does the job better). In the narrow context of his section of the website, he can write in his trademark style—slightly zany aggregations of the news, in which conservatives say what they REALLY mean, or whatever—and get away with it. Or in the context of an email newsletter! But when you publish a fake headline that sounds almost real, place it on top of satire that's soft enough to skim without really reading, give it a URL, and promote it on Facebook, where basically every headline sounds like satire now, you know what you're really doing. READ MORE


Seriously, Fuck You, "Kindle Unlimited"

0y1FZ1pZjopvtctnlyX0BUDro1_1280Last 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 offer at least a couple): PDF, .mobi, Kindle or ePub (you'll need to download the Bluefire Reader—for free—in order to read ePub format on Kindle.) I currently have on loan Alan Moore's Watchmen, Original Sin by P.D. James, and The Dead Zone by Stephen King. READ MORE


An example of the insightful questions that some venture capitalists must ask before they decide to shower an app with money, so much money:

Robyn Exton, the founder and chief executive of Dattch, a location-based dating app aimed at lesbians, once pitched her product to a venture capitalist who asked a colleague, ">Do you think if I invest, people will think I’m gay?"

Obviously, the answer is super.


28 Years with Weird Al

weirdMy Bubby and Zaydee came to visit from Florida and I couldn’t wait to share my all-time favorite musician with them: Weird Al. I sang every single song from his first two albums. I showed them the video for “Eat It,” which we had taped off of MTV. “Why do his eyes turn yellow at the end of the video?” I asked, having never seen the Michael Jackson video for “Beat It.” They were slightly confused. “Because sometimes people eat bad food and then their livers don’t work and so their eyes turn yellow,” Bubby said. “Don’t you love it?” I asked. I decided she must because she understood things like why people’s eyes might turn yellow if they eat the wrong food.

My cousin Ben had introduced me to the music of Weird Al in 1986, when I was seven years old. I didn’t get the original references from his parodies, but I knew the music was brilliant and dove into his oeuvre until I figured out what every Polka Medley was referencing. Everyone else loved the New Kids on the Block, but I loved Weird Al. We rented “The Compleat Al” and our local video store, Home Video Plus, had to put in a special order just to get it to Glen Rock.

On the Rosh Hashanah before I turned my eight, my dad made a grand announcement at dinner. My dad does this thing where he settles in and shakes his shoulders back and forth when he has important news. “There’s a concert,” he said. “Weird Al is opening for the Monkees at Great Adventure. We’re going.” While Weird Al was my longterm favorite, I was recently obsessed with the Monkees. Due to pop cultural reasons beyond my childhood ken, the Monkees were experiencing a major renaissance around that time, and they were the only tapes we listened to on family car rides. I even had my first sexual fantasies about the Monkees—first Micky Dolenz and then Mike Nesmith.

It was our first family amusement park outing. We got to the arena early—it was right behind the Teepee that sold goods partially pertaining to the Indigenous Peoples that no longer exists because it’s totally offensive. We looked around. “Everyone else is here for the Monkees,” dad said. “But we’re a Weird Al family.”

Weird Al opened the show and danced with giant Mister Potato Heads while singing “Addicted to Spuds.” There were costume changes and props and accordions and medleys and songs we’d never heard before like, “It’s Still Billy Joel To Me.” We cheered for his drummer, Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz, since he was a Schwartz like us. Then the Monkees took the stage (minus Michael Nesmith, who was still being a Liquid Paper heir and refusing to join the band). They played all of their old hits and two of their newest songs: “Heart and Soul” and “That Was Then, This Is Now.” Davy Jones changed into a dress for a few numbers and pretended to be a woman, but Peter Tork wore a red shirt and white pants and was the coolest man I’d ever seen. READ MORE


New York City, July 17, 2014

★ Unbelievable breezes flowed though the clear, sparkling morning and in the open windows. The breeze blew down Lafayette in cool cloud shade, blew across Prince in the returning sunlight. Mothers wore jean shorts; men rolled trousers to show socks or ankles. Some gray gathered over Lower Manhattan, then–were there wet spots on the fire escape? If there were, they were gone soon enough, the whole interlude merely a reminder not to take this for granted. It would take more than that to ruin the day. It would take knives falling from the heavens. Now there was nothing in the sky but firm, well-spaced cumulus clouds. The downtown skyline shone. Uptown, the breeze yanked and shook shirttails, hemlines, pants cuffs. It flipped a necktie. Late sun passed right through banks of windows, bounced off other banks of windows. A concrete facade lit up like a lampshade. The breeze raised the river into dark blue ruffles, and the sun lit the stern of a boat cutting through those ruffles, leaving a smooth, brighter wake behind. 


The Airbnb Hole

It is not the fault of Airbnb that its new logo looks like an anatomical negative space, a hole, its chief technology officer, Nathan Blecharczyk, would like to everyone to know:

We wouldn’t want to design a logo that caters to the lowest common denominator. This was a yearlong undertaking for dozens of people, it’s something meaningful, and no one pauses to really understand that.

But when one gazes into the hole—for how can one not—the tumble begins almost immediately, through the hole, beyond the hole. The world and every possible concern, hope, fear, or dream dissolves completely, leaving just you and the hole—you are the hole, and the hole is you—so that it becomes impossible to fully contemplate the long and varied chain of circumstances that led to its emergence, but for the dull ache of a single thought: It would be nice to rent out my apartment to make some extra money. But who has the space?


The Most Expensive Meals We've Ever Paid For

steak houseMy first job out of college was fact-checking restaurant listings. Every day, I called 25 restaurants in New York City to see if any of their information had changed, asking if their curtains were still red, their bathrooms still adorned with lavender sprigs, if their salad was still served with strawberries, if their servers still donned bow ties. With time, I had a mental Rolodex of places I wanted to eat, and Peter Luger Steak House, a restaurant so fancy it has its own Wikipedia page, was at the top.

When given the chance to celebrate a two-and-a-half-year anniversary, I chose steak. My boyfriend was game. Happy steak-iversary to us.

If people judge the appeal of brunch places by the length of the assembled line, then I suppose we can judge dinner places by how far in advance one has to make a dinner reservation. Five weeks in advance, I called the steakhouse to get a table for a Sunday night dinner. Only two reservation times were left: 4:30 and 9:45. We took the latter.

I broke my "savings-are-to-be-saved" promise to myself and withdrew $140 dollars from my account. That night, decked out in our finest, we rode the B44 bus to Williamsburg (a cab would’ve cost too much).

Here is what we ate:

• Four slices of bacon: When people find out you’re going to Peter Luger’s, they tell you to order the bacon. They are right.

• One iceberg salad: This was my boyfriend’s decision, and a foolish one, because no one should order salad at a steakhouse. It did, however, come topped with more bacon, so it was a draw.

• The porterhouse for two: This is the story we tell people when they ask us what the food was like. While waiting, we yammered. We fawned over the bacon. We giggled at the old-school service. We held hands across the dark wood table and made eyes at each other. Then the steak arrived. We shut up. Our hands were never far from our plates, our eyes were rolled back in our heads, our brains could not process the immense pleasure that could come from a cut of meat. It is easily the best thing I have ever tasted.

• Creamed spinach, which was pretty good.

• An ice cream sundae, some cheesecake, and a beer.

We rolled ourselves home, bags full with leftovers (they make you take the rolls) and the little chocolate coins they give you after dinner. My share was $120, the same I’d pay for a loan payment, a month’s worth of groceries, or going home to see my parents three times. Still, it seems like a bargain. READ MORE


Brooklyn Residents Discover New Form of Entitlement

For a few months now, residents of Crown Heights, in Brooklyn, have been hearing about a new place called Berg'n. You couldn't focus-group a better teaser for the target clientele: "A beer hall from the creators of the Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg featuring the food of Asia Dog, Mighty Quinn's, Pizza Moto, and Ramen Burger." It's a big huge place with long tables with food truck food and a Recognizable Sensibility, situated on the middle of New York's most aggressively gentrifying neighborhood, brought to you by Goldman Sachs. It's going to be popular; the people for which it is intended look forward to the new leisure complex. They will use it to meet and discuss how much the neighborhood is changing.

But this place is opening late. A few months late or a few weeks, depending on when you started paying attention. Delays, whatever, something about the DOB: It's just taking a little while to open the doors to this bar. But that is just fucking UNACCEPTABLE for Brooklyn's Lifestyle Elite. They demand their beer hall NOW NOW NOW.

My apartment building materialized after capitalism lost control of a rogue algorithm six months ago, and also: Where is my beer hall? READ MORE


A Poem By Amit Majmudar

The Star-Spangled Turban

Hot pink frosting
on my chocolate-
cupcake noggin,

switched-on lightbulb-
yellow, tulip-
bulb topheavy

orange, sky-blue,
bruise-blue, navy
thought cloud, darkening:

Any towel,
any shawl will
serve as well to

bind this open
wound atop me,
mark me off as

not quite level-
headed, tops on
any watchlist.

It’s Old Glory
that I choose this
time: I pleat her,

sweep her, set her
on my head as
reverently as

any U.S.
M.C. honor
guard triangle

on a coffin. READ MORE


Sinkane, "How We Be"

Here is a new soul track from Ahmed Gallab, aka Sinkane, who has spent time with Yeasayer, Caribou and Of Montreal, to name a few, and whose solo work has been consistently excellent for years now. [Via]


"But let’s stop here and register the proper cautions and caveats: There has been no investigation, no conclusive proof. (And there won’t necessarily be a proper and convincing investigation, either, considering the deliberately chaotic and militarized state of eastern Ukraine these days, and Russia’s clear interests.) We shouldn’t pretend to know for certain what we don’t." —Here is the moment at which you can tell that you're reading the right piece, or at least not the wrong piece, about Ukraine, today. (Since publishing, the incriminating tapes mentioned have appeared online.)


Meanwhile, in the Void

As the Earth prepared for one more round of chaos, an astronaut stopped to smell the hydrocarbons.


New York City, July 16, 2014

weather review sky 071614★★★★★ It was cool, utterly cool, under the gray morning. Was it getting brighter? Someone's mirrored shades, approaching up the street, looked suddenly agleam. Downtown, a fresh wind was blowing down the subway steps. The puddle around the blocked drain on the landing, days old now, had dwindled by maybe half. There were white shoe prints in the black silt layer at the bottom. A cyclist pulled out into the bike lane on Lafayette without looking, forcing an oncoming rider on a Citi Bike to swerve and exclaim. The air felt nice on bare arms, in short sleeves. One's own skin was skin, after all, with live nerves in it, something more than a thermoregulating membrane or a layer of waterproofing. By afternoon, the sun was out and shining down. Different cloud types overlayered one another, and warm eddies chased after cool ones. People played music out their car windows at a sociopathically solipsistic volume, the beats forcing their way through the crowded sidewalks, carrying around the corner and up the block. The dining hubbub at open-air tables reached restaurant-interior levels. During the walk home, the colors in the west seemed unusually dull and ugly, gray and a bleached dead off-yellow. From the apartment window, though, the tinted monochrome clouds had something going on with them after all, a photographic-plate quality, a bright amber-white scribble along the top of an undulating row of connected dark gray puffs, with more of that hot white coming up on their lower edge. Subtly, the white burned into the gray, veining it and then shredding it, and an orange light started burning up from below. Even as this developed, the sky a few handspans higher up remained pure indifferent daytime blue, with a milk-white contrail stretching fat and persistent across it and white cirrus above that, a swath of some other sky altogether. Between the high and the low a gray veil darkened into view, like the smoke of something dirty burning. Then the sun got into the gray and raised bright ripples on it, while the lower clouds darkened to inky cutouts. The smoky veil turned brilliant pink. Below it, along the horizon, ran a whole field of fine parallel lines of magenta and orange, with still some sky-blue lines running among them. Abruptly, the veil went dark again. Hot-coal reds showed behind it, and the stripes on the sky were now pink and purple. Then the brightness was gone, yet in the dull afterlight, the blankly silhouetted clouds were three-dimensional again, shaded and textured by a barely luminous brown.


Man Vs. Word

pagesrainIn 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 a number of details but only six [of twenty-four] main points. She did not mention the most crucial point of all, namely that the heroine was having an affair.

There is not much point in even opening A Handful of Dust if you aren’t going to twig to the fact that Brenda Last has betrayed her husband. Surely, nobody who has failed to catch the central premise of a book can be said to have "read" it. Woody Allen has an old and much-quoted joke along these lines: "I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia."

On the other hand, though, even the slowest, most deliberate reading is no guarantee of comprehension, a point my friend Ron once made at a long-ago lunch. I’d asked him, "So what are you reading these days?"

Descartes, he replied, with an abstracted air; he’d just finished, he said.

"How did you like it?"

"I read each word."

Some weeks ago I was asked to try out a speed-reading phone app called Spritz: it's one of a number of new products from tech startups that are trying to Disrupt Reading in one way or another. The tech writer Jim Pagels of Slate wrote approvingly of the Spritz-like Spreeder app last year, which he'd been using for the better part of a year. He says he's been able to read a great deal more using it, and added, strikingly, "If only I’d known about [this] while in college, I may have actually gotten through all 1,000 pages of Tom Jones." The slogan of Spritz, Inc. is: "Reading, reimagined"; their product makes use of a technology called Rapid Serial Visual Presentation, or RSVP, which more or less boils down to showing you one word, or a few words, at a time. The company claims that their spin on the technique can enable us to read more, read faster and/or retain more of what we read.

RSVP was invented in 1970 by Kenneth I. Forster, a researcher at the University of Arizona. Aside from offering researchers a precisely controlled means of investigating language processing, the system has long suggested certain potential advantages over conventional reading: it requires a high level of attentiveness as the stream of words scrolls by, permitting less wandering of the mind, and it also requires far less eye movement on the reader’s part than does conventional reading.

In the case of Spritz, no eye movement at all is required of the reader; exactly one word is displayed at a time, and each word appears with its "optimum recognition point" in the same spot, and colored in red, in order to aid focus.

I find it quite relaxing to read using Spritz, in a way; because your eyes don’t move, the words just flow by, in a curiously unimpeded manner. You can change the speed from very slow—ordinary reading speed is around two hundred and fifty words per minute—all the way up to a thousand words a minute, which whizzes by at such a rate that I have trouble catching more than the barest gist of each sentence.



Body Language, "4 Real"

Maybe a little too exuberant to play when it's not sunny outside, or, at night, before your guests have gotten to their second drink. Context gives music life, and so context can TAKE IT AWAY. [Via]


10 More Truths About Dating a Bookworm

Previously: 10 Truths About Dating a Bookworm; Why Readers, Scientifically, Are The Best People To Fall In Love With.

1. Without lungs or other respiratory organs, we bookworms breathe through our skin. So we'll never hog the blankets!

2. Our skin exudes a lubricating fluid that makes it easier to move underground, as well as keeping our skin moist. But please, don't try to borrow our lubricating fluid: we need it in order to burrow beneath the earth and your Kiehl's is gonna be better for your T-zone anyways.

3. We bookworms really hate birds. And fishermen.

4. We are simultaneous hermaphrodites—so keep your cisgendered assumptions to yourself! That said, we do need others in order to sexually reproduce, just be prepared to be GGG in the bedroom.

5. We bookworms will consume about one-half to one times our body weight every day! So keep that fridge stocked. (Don't worry: we'll totally go in halfsies on groceries.)

6. We bookworms lack arms, legs or eyes. So a night at the movies? Probably not. A night in a pile of freshly tilled dirt? Yes, please!

7. We bookworms mainly thrive where there is food, a good level of moisture in the soil, oxygen and livable temperature. But the most important ingredient? Love.

8. It's true that bookworms are cold-blooded animals—we're the first to admit that. But view it as a positive: We need someone (maybe it's you?) to warm us up!

9. To help aid circulation through our elongated body, bookworms actually contain five hearts—which means we have five times the love to give!

10. There are nearly 2,700 different kinds of bookworms in the world, and we're all unique. Before you make any assumptions, try to get to know us—we may just end up surprising you! READ MORE


The Economics of My Hometown: Boothbay Harbor, Maine


It used to be a given that if you were gay and grew up in a small town and you didn’t want to stay in the closet, you left. You ran to the big city and never looked back. I ran to San Francisco — how original! I have often joked that I moved as far away from home as physically possible without leaving the continent. Of course, since both my hometowns are tourist destinations located at the very ends of their respective peninsulas, in many ways they are more similar than I’d always like to admit. For all the examples of things I fled, there are features just as strong to pull my heart back.

The first time my now husband visited my hometown with me, his reaction (considerably less than the love-at-first-sight-ish one I thought it deserved) was this: “It’s so… quaint. Like, really, really quaint.” It is. If you could map the spirit of a place, Boothbay Harbor, Maine[1] would be somewhere near the intersection of charming and twee, though there would have to be a cold, unforgiving landmark close by as well. Probably some kind of granite outcropping.

Fortunately for me and every other poor kid that grew up there, mild summer temperatures, lobsters, and wild, though nowadays somewhat leashed, scenery have managed to attract tens of thousands of visitors, tourists and “summer people”[2], every year between the end of mud season[3] and the weekends in October when half the trees in New England lose their inhibitions and shove glory right in your face. When driveways and dooryards firm up and dry out, and the breeze becomes a sexy warm whisper instead of a roaring gale, spring reveals itself in other ways not found in nature.

 Shopkeepers take down the plywood shutters from plate glass windows, hang signs and plants, and stack hoodies, t-shirts, bric-a-brac. A multitude of little shops and lobster roll stops come hesitantly back to life, first on weekends and then full-time as Memorial Day approaches. That’s when the teenagers go to work. The first paycheck-earning job I ever had was as a “Hobart Engineer” or dishwasher at a restaurant and bar when I was 15. The state of Maine allowed 15-year-olds to get a work permit with the permission of their parents — permission my mother would no doubt have never given if she’d caught wind of the rumors of massive cocaine use. I never saw any but I heard that what used to be openly horked behind the line was now confined to the locked office upstairs. While I was not inducted into the pleasures of Bolivian marching powder, I was tasked with sweeping and mopping the kitchen alone after closing a couple of times a week with a fully stocked bar only a swinging door away. The adults were all upstairs “gettin’ right hamma’d” and singing along to “Piano Man”[4] at the real bar upstairs. I was such a well-behaved, Bible-believing, church-going young man that it took until the final two weeks of my second season working there before I dove into a bottle of peppermint schnapps. It made swabbing the cement floors a lot more fun but it didn’t ease the task of wrestling the thick rubber mats into a sloppy pile while I mopped.



Conflict Apps

Red Alert: Israel is currently the second-most downloaded news app in the US, just below Yahoo. A selection of reviews from the App Store: Red Alert Review 2

Red Alert Review 3

Red Alert Review 1

And one from Congressman Jeff Duncan (R-SC):

Why do I want the App? So that I can pray for Israel as well as understand, as a policy maker, the magnanimity of the threats and the conflict.

Can you imagine living under this constant threat?…

This speaks to the existential threat that the people in Israel live with constantly.

Red Alert's creator is Kobi Snir, an Israeli developer who worked with the people behind Yo! to build an app that would send push notifications when rockets are launched into Israel. Initial press reports in American tech media focused on this angle in particular—how the useless-yet-VC-funded Yo! suddenly developed a very real and practical application.

The app is visually and functionally simple: When a rocket is fired, some sort of information pipeline between the Israeli military and Red Alert, which the app's creator declined to discuss in an interview with The Times of Israel, lights up, and a notification is sent. A sample alert might read "Rockets Attack: Kiryat Malakhi." You can narrow down the areas you want to monitor, or monitor them all. In theory (and in practice thus far), the notifications give an Israeli enough time to hurry into a bomb shelter.

For users of Red Alert here in the US, where it seems to be wildly popular, the app does something else: It simulates panic. READ MORE


"We are, absolutely, a page-view-driven site even though we don’t want to be," said Mr. Magnin of Thought Catalog. "Every writer wants to do well, and 'do well' means get more Twitter followers."

Imagine the day that the highly emotional new new internet completes its project to convert share metrics into the only acceptable form of currency. Go ahead, just revel in it. Renting this apartment requires forty thousand Twitter followers, with fewer than twenty-five percent of them being bots. The price for this dinner is a thousand Instagram followers and thirty-seven likes per photo. You can enter the Jeff Koons retrospective after sending Yos to six friends, three men and three women.

Money, which by 2023 becomes mostly used by tech companies to purchase other tech companies with different share metrics, wasn't all that great anyway.


New York City, July 15, 2014

★ Sweltering humidity at its purest, unboosted by any overt solar heat. For once, and briefly, it was worth stepping into the office air conditioning, after the airless stairwell. Then the monstrous chill regained its monstrousness. The outside darkened. Mobile phones whined en masse, if not in perfect synchrony, with arriving flash-flood warnings. Suddenly and quietly a solid downpour was falling–and then came a loud growl of thunder, then a sharp clap of it, then a long sustained boom. Another boom followed, sounding very specifically overhead. The street-side windows were white with rain. A roll and a crash; a roll that turned into a crash. Ten minutes went by, fifteen. The booming abated and the rain became an ordinary steady rain. The sky stayed dark, and it was noticeably cooler. The rain stopped long enough for the fire escape to dry out, then fell again on the evening commute. Once more it stopped, then, with three evenly spaced shell-bursts of thunder, returned for an indefinite soaking.