Friday, 28 February, 2014
Damien Walter, The Guardian
Science fiction's most radical vision of the future, with humanity redundant, is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Thursday, 27 February, 2014
Stefan Collini, Prospect
Why are books about English grammar and correct usage so popular?
Nilay Patel, The Verge
Here’s a simple truth: the internet has radically changed the world. Over the course of the past 20 years, the idea of networking all the world’s computers has gone from a research science pipe dream to a necessary condition of economic and social development, from government and university labs to kitchen tables and city streets. We are all travelers now, desperate souls searching for a signal to connect us all. It is awesome.
And we’re fucking everything up.
Wednesday, 26 February, 2014
De Gustibus, New York Times
Are there really foods that we don’t like, or just foods that we haven’t liked yet? And are we cheating ourselves as we ceaselessly expand our culinary horizons with new tastes by not circling back to old ones? I increasingly suspect that the greatest pleasures-in-waiting aren’t in some foreign land or fringe neighborhood. They’re right in front of us, if only we’d be adventurous enough to give the ingredients we’ve exiled a chance to return to our plates.
Noah Berlatsky, Salon
Big publications ignore romance partly because it's largely written and read by women. It's time to end the bias.
Daniel D'Addario, Salon
In Moore's first collection in 16 years, it's not just people who are damaged -- it's our country.
Emily Mendell, The Huffington Post
Forty-five is the eye of life's storm. The emotional drama of growing up is behind you, the physical perils of aging are still to come. In these years of quiet, it is easier to be grateful... and fearful. You are an expert on more things than you care to be, and you realize that most of your life has been of your own making. Yes, you are dealt cards that are both good and bad, but you are the one who plays them. With that realization comes a feeling of late great responsibility. You come to terms with how many moments, days, months have been squandered. You vow to do better; you know that you won't.
Ashlee Vance, Bloomberg
At a time when the chip industry was focused on making bigger, faster products, ARM went the opposite direction and became the low-cost, low-power specialist. “It was really a happy accident,” he says.
Tuesday, 25 February, 2014
Heller McAlpin, Washington Post
Warning: “Bark,” Lorrie Moore’s new collection of short stories, is not something you’d want to give to the newly engaged — unless your intent is subversive and your humor, like Moore’s, is mordant. When the subject is marriage, her bite is right up there with her bark.
Tony Gambino, Slate
I searched for my adoptive mother and learned two things: She’d recently died. And she’d been desperately searching for me.
Emily Gould, Medium
It’s hard to write about being broke because brokeness is so relative; “broke” people run the gamut from the trust-funded jerk whose drinks you buy because she’s “so broke right now” to the people who sleep outside the bar where she’s whining. But by summer 2012 I was broke, and in debt, and it was no one’s fault but mine. Besides a couple of freelance writing assignments, my only source of income for more than a year had come from teaching yoga, for which I got paid $40 a class. In 2011 I made $17,000.
Lisa Schwarzbaum, New York Times
In the closing chapter of “Mad as Hell” — informatively subtitled “The Making of ‘Network’ and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Movies” — Dave Itzkoff lays out how the American media has become even more Chayefskyian in the decades since Paddy Chayefsky, the angry man in question, wrote his crazed, perceptive, unwieldy, galvanizing satiric fantasia set in the world of network television news.
Yet Mr. Itzkoff, a culture reporter for The New York Times, doesn’t go far enough. How could he? Between the time the covers were glued on his lively and terrifically detailed account and this very minute, the media world has become more Chayefskyian still.
Alex Baldwin, as told to Joe Hagan, Vulture
I haven’t changed, but public life has.
Monday, 24 February, 2014
James Surowiecki, New Yorker
“Like many people, we thought mobility would have declined,” Raj Chetty, one of the researchers on the project, told me. “But what we found was that kids born in the early nineteen-nineties had the same chances of climbing up the income ladder as kids born in the seventies.” Even more striking, when the researchers looked at studies tracking economic mobility going back to the fifties, they concluded that it had remained relatively stable over the entire second half of the twentieth century.
That sounds like good news, but there’s a catch: there wasn’t that much mobility to begin with.
Rachel Edidin, Wired
Literary publishing’s uneasy relationship with fan fiction has been complicated by the realization that fandom is a huge potential market—one stocked with both prolific authors and enthusiastic readers. But tapping that market is a dilemma few publishers seem quite prepared to engage.
Sunday, 23 February, 2014
Joel Achenbach, Smithsonian Magazine
No one will ever match his talent as the “gatekeeper of scientific credibility”.
Joshua Rothman, New Yorker
Academics may write for large audiences on their blogs or as journalists. But when it comes to their academic writing, and to the research that underpins it—to the main activities, in other words, of academic life—they have no choice but to aim for very small targets. Writing a first book, you may have in mind particular professors on a tenure committee; miss that mark and you may not have a job. Academics know which audiences—and, sometimes, which audience members—matter.
Saturday, 22 February, 2014
Jen Hadfield, The Guardian
Ron Charles, Washington Post
In high school, being able to type very fast was the closest I came to athletic prowess. (Even at band camp, this was not considered particularly noteworthy.) I typed for hours every day on my mom’s black Royal, which weighed as much as a Dodge Colt. Today, when my Canon printer suddenly runs out of ink, it’s game over, but the tough ribbon on the Royal just got fainter and fainter. Like Elisha with the cruse of oil, you could always, miraculously, fill one more page.
Ann Douglas, New York Times
William S. Burroughs “didn’t say anything for shock value,” his student Sam Kashner once observed. “His life had shock value.”
Craig Morgan Teicher, NPR
It always feels good to see a poet rescued from oblivion. Michael Benedikt (1935-2007), a prominent figure in the poetry scene of the 1960s and 70s, was not exactly an important poet, but he was — and in his work, he remains — a deeply enjoyable one.
Christian Wiman, Wall Street Journal
St. Augustine wished for a special section of hell for people who wondered what God was doing before he created the world and thus time. (The concept of "before," of course, has no meaning without the concept of time.) I'd like to save a little corner for the dodos out there still wondering if a bad man can create good art.
Julia Turner, Slate
Notes from a Schindler’s List viewing party.
Friday, 21 February, 2014
Parmy Olson, Forbes
Jan Koum picked a meaningful spot to sign the $19 billion deal to sell his company WhatsApp to Facebook earlier today. Koum, cofounder Brian Acton and venture capitalist Jim Goetz of Sequoia drove a few blocks from WhatsApp’s discreet headquarters in Mountain View to a disused white building across the railroad tracks, the former North County Social Services office where Koum, 37, once stood in line to collect food stamps. That’s where the three of them inked the agreement to sell their messaging phenom –which brought in a miniscule $20 million in revenue last year — to the world’s largest social network.
Dean Burnett, The Guardian
In almost any science-fiction scenario involving time-travel, the default action is to kill Hitler. As terrible a human being as he was, there are many reasons why this probably isn’t a good idea.
Adam Alter, New Yorker
There’s nothing wrong with getting lost in fantasy, as long as you aren’t ultimately hoping to indulge in the real thing.
Thursday, 20 February, 2014
Freeman Dyson, The New York Review Of Books
Science consists of facts and theories. Facts and theories are born in different ways and are judged by different standards. Facts are supposed to be true or false. They are discovered by observers or experimenters. A scientist who claims to have discovered a fact that turns out to be wrong is judged harshly. One wrong fact is enough to ruin a career.
Helen Thompson, Smithsonian Magazine
By figuring out the timing and rate of the world's most massive extinction 252 million years ago, scientists hope to figure out how such lethal events work.
Wednesday, 19 February, 2014
David Lukudu, The Guardian
Tuesday, 18 February, 2014
Megan Garber, The Atlantic
Long-distance digits long ago shed their monetary worth, but they gained something else in its place: cultural value.
Gregory Cowles, New York Times
David Stuart MacLean’s first book, “The Answer to the Riddle Is Me,” opens with a scene out of Robert Ludlum: The protagonist wakes from a blackout to find himself on a crowded train platform in India, with no idea who he is or what he’s doing in a foreign country.
The catch is that the protagonist is Mr. MacLean himself, and his book isn’t an international thriller but a “memoir of amnesia,” as his agreeably paradoxical subtitle puts it — the true story of how his memory was wiped clean and how that condition has subsequently affected his life. It is all the more thrilling for that.
Monday, 17 February, 2014
Joanna Moorhead, The Guardian
For more than two decades, Tai Altman knew exactly how his parents' lives would end. When the moment came to say goodbye, knowing they were about to kill themselves, he felt surprisingly calm. They had prepared him in every possible way, he says: he knew only that he respected their decision and didn't want their last memory of him to be tears streaming down his face. "They were in their bedroom," he says. "Dad was in his chair, Mum was sitting on the end of the bed. I said: 'I love you. Goodbye.' Then I went out of the room, down the stairs and left."
Chris Arnade, The Guardian
When you are poor, you make what others view as irrational decisions not because of "stupidity" but because of limited options. Rationality has to be viewed in the context of the situation.
Sunday, 16 February, 2014
I thought you were sleeping. It seems silly now, but you must understand, when one sees a person slumped over inside a parked car, the most reasonable conclusion is rarely that the person slumped over is dead. It was the lights from the dashboard that caught my eye. If it weren’t for the lights, I would have missed you completely, and – who knows? – you may still be lying out there, unknowing of the legions of addicts drawn to the verifiable Mecca of caffeine. You’d remain oblivious to the following day’s massive local windstorm and the city’s collective anxiety, followed by elation, when our beloved Seahawks won the big game. You might still be slumped awkwardly over your console, and I suppose your car would be run dry of gas by then, but folks would not be any more observant.
Krissah Thompson, Washington Post
In the annals of American employment discrimination, “quiet” and “hardworking” may not seem like the worst way to be characterized, Wan acknowledges. But such seemingly benign stereotypes, much like the term “model minority,” mask a less benign truth backed by reams of research: Members of the country’s most highly educated racial group are among the least likely to make it to the top in corporate America.
Henry Grabar, Salon
Urban planners are in the throes of an ideological struggle that could fundamentally change the way cities look.
Tiffany Atkinson, The Guardian
Bonnie Tsui, New York Times
There’s nothing to look at, once the goggles fog over. Sound? The sloshing of water pretty much cancels out everything else. Taste and smell are largely of the chlorine and salt variety (though, at my old pool, I used to smell burgers cooking from the cafe downstairs). Despite all the tech advances of the last few years, you won’t see many swimmers wearing earphones or bone-conduction music devices: They just don’t work that well.
We enter the meditative state induced by counting laps, and observe the subtle play of light as the sun moves across the lanes. We sing songs, or make to-do lists, or fantasize about what we’re going to eat for breakfast. Submersion creates the space to be free, to stretch, without having to contend with constant external chatter. It creates internal quiet, too. Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of them all, was found to have A.D.H.D. when he was a child; he has called the pool his “safe haven,” in part because “being in the pool slowed down my mind.”
Jonathan E. Chen
The perils of loneliness shouldn’t be overlooked in an increasingly hyperconnected world that often tells another story through rose-tinted lenses. Rather, the gravity of loneliness should be addressed and brought to light as a multifaceted problem, one often muted and stigmatized in our society.
Saturday, 15 February, 2014
Doug Most’s meticulously researched history reveals that getting the subways built was more a collaborative than a competitive effort. It helped that two brothers from an old, rich and influential family were early proponents of subways. Henry Whitney in Boston and William Whitney in New York suppressed their sibling rivalry to work together to discover and recruit the country’s best engineers for their various transport ventures.
Laura Landro, Wall Street Journal
In "Extreme Medicine," physician Kevin Fong reminds us that virtually everything we take for granted in lifesaving medical intervention was once unthinkable. Over the past century, as technology has allowed man to conquer hostile environments and modernize warfare, medical pioneers have been on a parallel journey, confronting what had once been fatal in man's boldest pursuits and making it survivable.
Sean O'Brien, The Guardian
It takes a certain decidedness to set aside the furnishings of realism and its overweening stylisation of everyday life in order to hold out for something else. In her debut, This Is Yarrow, the Irish poet Tara Bergin does not so much steer away from the familiar as seem not to have encountered it except as a rumour.
Edward Frenkel, New York Times
He asks a question that philosophers and scientists have debated for centuries: Why is mathematics so effective in describing the world? The answer is not as simple as it might seem.
Friday, 14 February, 2014
Morgan Meis, The Smart Set
Considering the tension between concentration and self-awareness.
Thursday, 13 February, 2014
Matthew R. Francis, Slate
Celebrity science can be weirder than quantum mechanics.
Avery Trufelman, Slate
Magazine covers are a challenge to design, since they have to be both ever-changing and also consistently recognizable. For this reason, most publications stick to a standard set of practices.
This is the anatomy of a magazine cover, starting from the top. Literally.
Joshua Prager, Vanity Fair
Joe Gould’s Secret, Joe Mitchell’s classic portrait of an astute but deluded bohemian in postwar Greenwich Village, has been picked over for half a century by literary critics, fact-checkers, college professors, and ordinary readers. One abiding mystery has long been the identity of the anonymous heiress who kept the down-and-out Gould housed and fed throughout the late 1940s. That mystery has now been solved.
Farhad Manjoo, New York Times
By following a simple strategy, you can get the most out of the digital world while reducing the chance you’ll be burned by a single wrong move. The point is to minimize the danger of getting locked in to any one company’s ecosystem. The strategy also ensures that you can easily move from device to device without much hassle.
The key is promiscuity. When you decide what to use, you’ve got to play every tech giant against the other, to make every tech decision as if you were a cad — sample every firm’s best features and never overcommit to any one.
Megan Mcardle, The Atlantic
Lots of people procrastinate, of course, but for writers it is a peculiarly common occupational hazard.
Wednesday, 12 February, 2014
Jonathan Evison, Washington Post
Beneath the intrigue, mystery and historical window dressings of “The Swan Gondola” beats the heart of a complicated love story.
Meg Favreau, The Smart Set
A little chocolate can cure many ills. But melancholy, fatigue, and infertility? The history of chocolate as medicine.
Paul Maliszewski, n+1
The subject line worried me. “The Wilson Quarterly’s Final Happy Hour,” it said. Even the rosiest interpretation—that they’d decided, say, to discontinue their occasional get-togethers—was troubling. A link to an online invitation appeared below. The editors had completed the winter 2014 issue, a best-of collection drawn from “four decades of classic essays.” A few particulars followed and then the bad news, withheld for a bit, the way people do: “This will be our final quarterly issue,” they said.
Tuesday, 11 February, 2014
Ali Wyne, Wall Street Journal
China can't change its history as a regional hegemon. It can't change its size and population. And it can't change its location.
David Graeber, The Baffler
Despite all this, those who do look into the matter are invariably forced to the conclusion that play does exist across the animal universe. And exists not just among such notoriously frivolous creatures as monkeys, dolphins, or puppies, but among such unlikely species as frogs, minnows, salamanders, fiddler crabs, and yes, even ants—which not only engage in frivolous activities as individuals, but also have been observed since the nineteenth century to arrange mock-wars, apparently just for the fun of it.
Why do animals play? Well, why shouldn’t they? The real question is: Why does the existence of action carried out for the sheer pleasure of acting, the exertion of powers for the sheer pleasure of exerting them, strike us as mysterious? What does it tell us about ourselves that we instinctively assume that it is?
Curtis Brainard, New York Times
Traditionally, astronomers study the early universe by looking back in time — peering deeper and deeper into space for vestiges of light from billions of years ago. But in the last decade, Dr. Frebel and others have used powerful telescopes and high-resolution spectroscopes to study the chemical composition of very old stars closer to home, in the Milky Way’s halo, producing a wealth of information about the creation of elements and the formation of the first stars and galaxies.
Monday, 10 February, 2014
Derek Thompson, The Atlantic
What's the right way to measure an audience online—clicks, readers, time-spent, or shares?
George Packer, New Yorker
Amazon is good for customers. But is it good for books?
Laura Miller, Salon
We all need to learn to think more deeply about chance, luck, randomness, the odds and all the other probability-related factors in our public and private lives, and if that isn’t always easy, there’s certainly no reason why it has to hurt.
Sunday, 9 February, 2014
Peter Preston, The Guardian
The anxious question journalists ask themselves every morning seems simple enough, but is often devilishly difficult: What is newsworthy? (And where the hell can I find enough of it to fill page one?) Alain de Botton, staging yet another of his philosophical firework displays, asks a rather different question. Here is a construct he calls The News. What is it, and does obsessing over it do us any good?
Olivia Rosenman, South China Morning Post
Macau's gaming revenue is almost four times that of the entire state of Nevada, home to Las Vegas and the United States' gaming industry. In Nevada, slot machines bring in almost twice as much money as do table games. In Macau the slots account for a paltry 4 per cent of takings.
Aidan Lewis, BBC
Chinatowns are a feature of many US cities, but some of the best known are succumbing to gentrification, campaigners say. Even one of the largest and most vibrant, in Manhattan, is slowly being invaded by luxury shops and apartment buildings.
Michael K. Bohn, Washington Post
Young military officers in dress uniforms and formal aiguillettes have been fixtures at presidential parties for more than a century. Their role is to manage the thousands of guests who attend social events throughout the year in the Executive Mansion. The social aides will be out in force Tuesday when President Obama hosts a state dinner for French President François Hollande.
But social aides are to be seen, not heard. So few people beyond White House guests appreciate the challenges these officers face in this glamorous yet demanding job. Even fewer people know that social aides are volunteers who have day jobs.
Saturday, 8 February, 2014
Alison Brackenbury, The Guardian
David Mason, Wall Street Journal
E.E. Cummings's was always experimental, occasionally sentimental, but endlessly surprising.
Mark O'Connell, Slate
Essays by W.G. Sebald on writers, art, and the abyss.
Amy Wallace, New York Times
Baz Luhrmann likes to say that his life is “a circus run like an army,” and to step into his boudoir is to begin to understand what he means. After noon on a Friday, the 51-year-old auteur is sitting up in bed, his lower half under the covers, silver hair and black T-shirt rumpled from sleep. His wife and frequent creative collaborator, Catherine Martin, known to everyone as C. M., lies curled beside him atop a flax-colored linen duvet. Four assistants occupy chairs around them, all holding laptops. Each of the young people who gather under Luhrmann’s big top has a fantastical back story, at least in his telling. One went to Eton and speaks perfect Chinese; another has a “grandpappy who created a little firm called the C.I.A.” All have areas of concentration — communications, for example, or “moving Baz through time and geography” — and all have been trained in “the Bazmark way,” which means that they carry portable tape recorders to capture his directives and strive always to anticipate his needs. Judging by their alert posture at this moment, something momentous is about to happen. The impish ringmaster is having a vision.
Roxane Gay, New York Times
Jenny Offill’s second novel, “Dept. of Speculation,” charts the course of a marriage through curious, often shimmering fragments of prose.
Jonathan Glick, Re/code
What should we call a publisher — like Gawker — that provides a tech platform on which anybody, not just its staff, can create content? What should we call a tech platform — like Medium — that has a team of editors and pays some contributors to create content?
Friday, 7 February, 2014
Marisa Bellack, Washington Post
“The very purest form of birth control ever devised.” That’s how one UCLA researcher described his study documenting the day-to-day lives of 32 middle-class families through video footage that captured all the fights between couples, all the negotiations between parents and their kids.
The same could be said for parts of Jennifer Senior’s new book. Like the 2010 New York magazine article it grew out of, “All Joy and No Fun” explores how children affect their parents and why decades of social science show that parents aren’t any happier, and in some cases are less happy, than people without kids.
Laura Miller, Salon
What readers who take offense at unfamiliar words and challenging books are telling us about our culture.
Fred Kaplan, Slate
What was so important about the Beatles’ appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show?
Thursday, 6 February, 2014
Josh Cohen, Prospect
Will the search for self-knowledge through numbers bring greater self-awareness or drive us to ultimate distraction?
Su Meck, Salon
Thanks to a freak occurrence, I remember nothing of my first 22 years. The person I had been is lost and gone.
Dahlia Lithwick, Slate
The Court of Public Opinion is a wonderful place to be heard, to test new ideas, and an even more gratifying place to tear apart those whose opinions offend us. It rarely brings about justice for the parties in a lawsuit, however, because the Court of Public Opinion is usually more about us than them.
Wednesday, 5 February, 2014
Dennis Oberbye, New York Times
This is what happens when you mess with infinity.
Moby, The Guardian
New York is about success. Maybe that's why it's no longer the world's cultural capital.
Cody Delistraty, Pacific Standard
As artificial intelligence advances and our toys become more and more like us, we must consider the ethics of extracting pleasure from the machines.
Tuesday, 4 February, 2014
Aileen Gallagher, Slate
The everyday miseries of child-centered parenting.
Monday, 3 February, 2014
Matthew O'Brien, The Atlantic
Inequality has exploded the past 30 years, because of the usual suspects: technology, Wall Street, Harry, and Sally.
Okay, it probably isn't fair to blame Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan for our widening income gap. But it is fair to say that When Harry Met Sally tells us something about why the rich have been getting so much richer than everyone else. That's high-earning college grads marrying each other—which a new paper estimates has increased inequality by 25 percent.
Wilton Barnhardt, Slate
Elizabeth Spencer, at 92, is still writing essential stories of life in the South. But she’s not (only) a Southern writer.
Sunday, 2 February, 2014
Mark Bosworth, BBC
During the years of Nokia's decline, culminating in the sale of its mobile phone division to Microsoft in September, thousands of workers were made redundant. But the ex-Nokians have now created hundreds of new companies - thanks partly to a very Finnish level of support from the employer to its departing staff.
Diane Johnson, New York Times
When I was 19, I went to New York City, my first trip East. I’d won a Mademoiselle contest and would be one of 20 young women working at the magazine for a month in the summer. It was 1953, and I was excited but also frightened and daunted; I hadn’t been on an airliner before, and no one I knew had been to New York except my Sioux Falls uncle, Bill, a buyer for a department store. In case of difficulties, I was to call my Uncle Bill’s New York friend, Mr. Herbert Solomon.
Paul Brownfield, New York Times
Even as Page Six and the like continue to report dutifully on the spirited mingling of Miley Cyrus or Lindsay Lohan, the truth is the “S.N.L.” after-party, now almost four decades into its run and much of that time with the reputation as the coolest party in town, has always been a little ersatz: a conception of an exclusive showbiz bacchanal based on the lore of the good old wild days, when the only thing that would break up this party was the coming of dawn or the depletion of the night’s supply of mind-altering substances.
Saturday, 1 February, 2014
Max Watman, Wall Street Journal
Jeannie Marshall's memoir about cooking food and raising a son in Italy seems like the sort of work sure to recount another set piece of al fresco tables and graceful aperitifs, while the bambini eat olives and grapes and someone's grandmother teaches the author how to make pasta—but it doesn't, or at least that's not the whole story. "The Lost Art of Feeding Kids" may have a title designed to squeeze the last drop of juice from the "Fast Food Nation" orange, but Ms. Marshall has produced a surprise of a book.
Helen Tookey, The Guardian
Jiayang Fan, New York Times
Peter Huang, the worshiped son in a family of daughters, has just one wish: to be a girl. His father, a Chinese immigrant, has another: to erase completely, and by force if necessary, evidence of his Asian heritage. Father and son have almost nothing in common except for the belief that self-acceptance is anathema.