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Tag Archives: instapaper

  • Man’s journey from LA to Real Madrid Good Luck Charm
    You can think of this as a made-for-movies story about a guy who volunteered his vacation working for Real Madrid and having those hours pay off for him, or you can think of it as a guy who is just really lucky.

    And so he did. On the morning of Feb. 28, Rodríguez arrived in Madrid and showed up unannounced at Real Madrid’s Valdebebas training complex. He didn’t have a ticket for the game. He didn’t even have a hotel reservation. And when the security guy at the guards’ shack refused to let him in, Rodríguez was forced to sit on the side of the road. It had snowed the night before, and the conditions were frigid.

    “I haven’t done anything about that,” Rodríguez said. “My priority was to see you guys and then make my arrangements. If I didn’t see you guys, I’d go to the stadium and try to get a ticket. And if that didn’t work, I’d fly back home.”

  • Seeing at the Speed of Sound
    What is it really like to be a lip reader (and deaf)?
  • About Face
    One of the tenets of psychology is that humans facially express emotions in the same way. This is being challenged by some other research. My gut feeling on this is that humans define specific emotions in different ways (i.e., your angry != other culture’s angry) which is why they are expressed and understood differently in some cases.
  • Dear Leader Dreams of Sushi
    There have been lots of stories about defectors from North Korea, but here’s a story about a Japanese sushi chef who keeps leaving but also returning to North Korea. There must be a reason right?

    “The kids were playing with a kite,” Fujimoto recalled. “It was a Japanese kite with a Kabuki picture. But the kite did not have a tail. So I immediately asked for paper, glue, and scissors and made one. I handed the kite to Kim Jong-un, who stared at me. I said, Hold this and let go when I send you a sign.”

    No members of Kim’s entourage had helped the boys with their failed project. Assisting was simply too dangerous—would aid be construed as a commentary on the boys’ ineptitude or the Dear Leader’s poor parenting? Would a helpful executive then be blamed if the kite didn’t fly? What if the boys rejected the help? Survival necessitated such considerations, and Fujimoto was special because he never made them.

    As a nervous cadre of executives looked on, the tail righted the kite, which rose into the sky. A week later, Shogun-sama called Fujimoto and informed him that the nannies had been fired: Fujimoto would be the boys’ new playmate, a position he would hold until Kim Jong-un was 18. Fujimoto introduced them to video games, remote-control cars, and most important, basketball. Fujimoto’s sister in Japan sent him VHS tapes of Bulls playoff games, so Kim Jong-un’s first taste of Western hoops came from watching Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman—men who became his heroes.

  • The Poorest Rich Kids In The World
    For some reason, I didn’t find reading about two trust fund kids who have horrible parents that interesting.

    Though many of the painful details of their childhoods are backed up by sworn affidavits from family employees and other records, other stories the twins tell about their lives have a surreal, if not downright implausible, tinge. They talk of their stepmother encouraging them to read a satanic bible, holding Georgia down to inject her with drugs, and serving them meat crawling with maggots, which Patterson can’t discuss without dry-heaving. They tell me that while visiting Japan, they witnessed a yakuza torture session; that in Wyoming, they once hid in the trees while drug dealers opened fire on their house; and that during a road trip through Nebraska, their father shot dead a posse of would-be carjackers, after which Walker slid back into the driver’s seat, bloodied, lit a cigarette and muttered, “Don’t talk.”

I’ve been using Instapaper for a long time (33 blogs worth of links) but recently decided to switch to Pocket. There’s a couple of reasons for that:

  1. There’s no good, free app for Instapaper on Android. I tried Everpaper when I first moved to Android and the UI/design just didn’t appeal to me. And I don’t want to spend a couple of bucks buying the official app. Pocket has a free app.
  2. Pocket has Kobo integration so I can push my saved articles onto my Kobo (looks like it doesn’t support my Touch though). I tried doing this with my Kindle and Instapaper and I didn’t like how it was formatted (a bunch of articles in a PDF). Hopefully once I get my Aura, this integration will be better

This post took a long time in the making (so some of the links may be stale already!)

  • Ross Andersen & Humanity’s Deep Future
    Is AI the most risk to the future of humanity? Here’s an argument that it is. Of course, it’s quite difficult to prevent human progression into AI development…

    ‘The basic problem is that the strong realisation of most motivations is incompatible with human existence,’ Dewey told me. ‘An AI might want to do certain things with matter in order to achieve a goal, things like building giant computers, or other large-scale engineering projects. Those things might involve intermediary steps, like tearing apart the Earth to make huge solar panels. A superintelligence might not take our interests into consideration in those situations, just like we don’t take root systems or ant colonies into account when we go to construct a building.’

  • The Touch-Screen Generation
    The iPad/tablet is the TV of our parents generation. Is it healthy for kids to be occupied with an iPad instead of a TV? This article takes a look at it.

    I fell into conversation with a woman who had helped develop Montessori Letter Sounds, an app that teaches preschoolers the Montessori methods of spelling.

    She was a former Montessori teacher and a mother of four. I myself have three children who are all fans of the touch screen. What games did her kids like to play?, I asked, hoping for suggestions I could take home.

    “They don’t play all that much.”

    Really? Why not?

    “Because I don’t allow it. We have a rule of no screen time during the week,” unless it’s clearly educational.

    No screen time? None at all? That seems at the outer edge of restrictive, even by the standards of my overcontrolling parenting set.

    “On the weekends, they can play. I give them a limit of half an hour and then stop. Enough. It can be too addictive, too stimulating for the brain.”

  • Why Redfin, Zillow, and Trulia haven’t killed of Real Estate Brokers
    The internet hasn’t really transformed the Real Estate industry at all, broker fees are still just as expensive. Here’s a look at why.

    Economists have long been perplexed by the resilience of the real estate agent. Theory suggests that the relationship between agent and buyer or seller is far from optimal, and that conflict is often borne out in practice. At the root of the difficulty is what economists call the Principal-Agent Problem, which describes the diverging, often conflicting, interests of the principal (the customer) and the agent representing him or her. (Since agents bear much of the costs of selling a house, in the time they spend hosting open houses and touring with clients and the money they spend advertising property, they’re rewarded for pressuring clients into selling quickly and accepting suboptimal offers, or, in the case of a buyer’s agent, for allowing the client to pay too much.)

  • The Mind of a Con Man
    Another con man article, but this one is about a scientific researcher in psychology who decided to just fabricate his results. He fooled everyone for a long time, even becoming dean.

    At the end of November, the universities unveiled their final report at a joint news conference: Stapel had committed fraud in at least 55 of his papers, as well as in 10 Ph.D. dissertations written by his students. The students were not culpable, even though their work was now tarnished. The field of psychology was indicted, too, with a finding that Stapel’s fraud went undetected for so long because of “a general culture of careless, selective and uncritical handling of research and data.” If Stapel was solely to blame for making stuff up, the report stated, his peers, journal editors and reviewers of the field’s top journals were to blame for letting him get away with it. The committees identified several practices as “sloppy science” — misuse of statistics, ignoring of data that do not conform to a desired hypothesis and the pursuit of a compelling story no matter how scientifically unsupported it may be.

  • Clawback
    Apparently the price of a pound of lobster has fallen from $6 in 2005 to $2.20. With a cost of only 30% the value in 2005, why aren’t restaurant prices for lobster any cheaper?

    Studies dating back to the nineteen-forties show that when people can’t objectively evaluate a product before they buy it (as is the case with a meal) they often assume a correlation between price and quality. Since most customers don’t know what’s been happening to the wholesale price of lobster, cutting the price could send the wrong signal: people might think your lobster is inferior to that of your competitors.

  • Airline baggage tags: How their brilliant design gets bags from Point A to Point B
    The history of the airline tag

    In the interconnected, automated, all-weather world of modern aviation, tags must be resistant to cold, heat, sunlight, ice, oil, and especially moisture. Tags also can’t tear—and crucially, if they’re nicked, they must not tear further—as the bag lurches through mechanized airport baggage systems. And the tag must be flexible, inexpensive, and disposable. Plain old paper can’t begin to meet all these requirements. The winning combination is what IATA’s spokesperson described as a “complex composite” of silicon and plastic; the only paper in it is in the adhesive backing.

  • How Companies Learn Your Secrets
    There truly is a reason to not use your credit cards (or coupons) at umbrella retailers if you care about your privacy.

    Take a fictional Target shopper named Jenny Ward, who is 23, lives in Atlanta and in March bought cocoa-butter lotion, a purse large enough to double as a diaper bag, zinc and magnesium supplements and a bright blue rug. There’s, say, an 87 percent chance that she’s pregnant and that her delivery date is sometime in late August. What’s more, because of the data attached to her Guest ID number, Target knows how to trigger Jenny’s habits. They know that if she receives a coupon via e-mail, it will most likely cue her to buy online. They know that if she receives an ad in the mail on Friday, she frequently uses it on a weekend trip to the store. And they know that if they reward her with a printed receipt that entitles her to a free cup of Starbucks coffee, she’ll use it when she comes back again.

  • Making The World’s Largest Airline Fly
    You might be surprised that the merger of United and Continental is taking a long, long time. That’s because even the simplest thing to merge ends up being complicated and time-consuming.

    By mid-2011 there was a front-runner: a lighter roast Fresh Brew blend called Journeys. It was cheaper than the old United’s Starbucks, and it did better in the taste tests. When colleagues outside the beverage committee were asked to weigh in, they concurred. The new United’s chief executive officer, Jeff Smisek, dropped by the food services floor for a cup and signed off on it. Journeys was served at a meeting of the company officers to general approval. Just to be sure, food services took the new blend on the road, to Washington Dulles, Chicago O’Hare, Denver, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, asking flight attendants to try it. Out of the 1,100 who did, all but eight approved. “We thought this was a home run,” says Pineau-Boddison.

    On July 1 the new United introduced its new coffee. Fliers on the “legacy United” fleet, accustomed to Starbucks, let out a collective yowl of protest. Pineau-Boddison had expected some resistance—Starbucks, after all, is a popular brand—but this was something else. Flight attendants reported a barrage of complaints. Pineau-Boddison received angry e-mails from customers, as did Smisek. The coffee, fliers complained, was watery.

  • Do We Really Want To Live With the Post Office?
    Like the US government, the US Postal Service is having a lot of financial problems. Here’s a look at why and what the interested parties are trying to do to keep the USPS alive and functioning.

    In the early days of Amazon, the postal service held top-level meetings with Jeff Bezos to see if they could corner Amazon’s shipping business. But according to Robert Reisner, former vice-president for strategic planning, they soon realized they couldn’t compete. UPS could break ground on a shipping center across from an Amazon warehouse in days, which the bureaucratic postal service could never do. And because the postal service is supposed to serve all without prejudice, even if it offered Amazon a better rate arrangement than UPS, it would then have to offer similar rates to Amazon’s competitors. Those special rates would then go before the Postal Regulatory Commission for public approval, which would offer UPS or FedEx the opportunity to undercut them.

  • Lionel Messi, Here & Gone
    A profile of Messi through an outsider’s visit to his hometown and discussions with local folk.

  • The Cold Hard Facts Of Freezing To Death

    You’ve now crossed the boundary into profound hypothermia. By the time your core temperature has fallen to 88 degrees, your body has abandoned the urge to warm itself by shivering. Your blood is thickening like crankcase oil in a cold engine. Your oxygen consumption, a measure of your metabolic rate, has fallen by more than a quarter. Your kidneys, however, work overtime to process the fluid overload that occurred when the blood vessels in your extremities constricted and squeezed fluids toward your center. You feel a powerful urge to urinate, the only thing you feel at all.

  • For Amusement Only: the life and death of the American arcade

    In March of 1991, Capcom released Street Fighter II into arcades, setting off a renaissance in the business. A massive success, Street Fighter II sold more than 60,000 cabinets worldwide, which was unheard of by the early ‘90s. Japanese fighting games weren’t new, but its combination of novel characters, hand-to-hand combat, and secret moves formed the foundation of fighting games as we still know them. It also brought a new wave of enthusiastic players out of their houses and into arcades. It was important that, while home versions were typically available the next year, they were simplified: arcade technology was simply better than what the SNES or home computer versions could offer.

  • What is Actually Going On In Iceland
    Some ramblings on why the Iceland economy is still messed up. I learned that loans in Iceland are really weird – you could pay for years on your mortgage and then suddenly your amount owning is greater than your original principal!

    In normal economies, 4% inflation underlying 2.6% growth doesn’t result in everybody’s loan principal increasing 4% over the year. But that’s exactly what happens in Iceland. So you have to bring inflation into every discussion on growth in Iceland.

  • Meet Amancio Ortega: The third-richest man in the world
    If you haven’t heard his name before (not surprisingly), he is the founder of….Zara
  • The Rules of the Game
    A look at the history and evolution of Hollywood’s publicity game, from when there was none to today’s social, organic approach.

    In today’s terms, media outlets report that George Clooney, whose picture personality is that of a handsome, charismatic, yet hesitant to commit man-about-town, replicates those characteristics in his “real” life, gallivanting about Lake Como, switching beautiful girlfriends every few years. The extra-textual information ratifies and authenticates his overarching image; the “real” Clooney is in fact all of the things he is in, say, Ocean’s Eleven. Whether we’re conscious of it or not, that coherency is at once pleasurable and reassuring.

  • The Bookstore Strikes Back
    A feel good story about how a new local bookstore was created after the big box book stores left Nashville.

    Imagine a group of highly paid consultants crowded into the offices of my publisher, HarperCollins. Their job is to figure out how to get a picture of a literary novelist (me, say) on the front page of The Times. “She could kill someone,” one consultant suggests. The other consultants shake their heads. “It would have to be someone very famous,” another says. “Could she hijack a busload of schoolchildren, or maybe restructure the New York public-school system?” They sigh. It would not be enough. They run down a list of crimes, stunts, and heroically good deeds, but none of them are A-1 material. I can promise you this: kept in that room for all eternity, they would never land on the idea that opening a 2,500-square-foot bookstore in Nashville would do the trick.

  • Lottery Winner Jack Whittaker’s Losing Ticket
    How a 55-year-old winner of a $315 million Powerball lottery actually made out worse after winning than if he hadn’t won at all.
  • A Million First Dates
    A look at online dating, but this time from a fresh (at least to me) perspective – how online dating is affecting divorce & commitment (not from a cheating POV)

    In the past, Jacob had always been the kind of guy who didn’t break up well. His relationships tended to drag on. His desire to be with someone, to not have to go looking again, had always trumped whatever doubts he’d had about the person he was with. But something was different this time. “I feel like I underwent a fairly radical change thanks to online dating,” Jacob says. “I went from being someone who thought of finding someone as this monumental challenge, to being much more relaxed and confident about it. Rachel was young and beautiful, and I’d found her after signing up on a couple dating sites and dating just a few people.” Having met Rachel so easily online, he felt confident that, if he became single again, he could always meet someone else.

  • A Pickpocket’s Tale
    The story of someone else named Apollo, this Apollo’s a magician whose claim to fame is pickpocketing. But it’s not as simple as theft, he’s dabbing in psychology and being called upon by the government for research purposes.

    When Robbins hits his stride, it starts to seem as if the only possible explanation is an ability to start and stop time. At the Rio, a man’s cell phone disappeared from his jacket and was replaced by a piece of fried chicken; the cigarettes from a pack in one man’s breast pocket materialized loose in the side pocket of another; a woman’s engagement ring vanished and reappeared attached to a key ring in her husband’s pants; a man’s driver’s license disappeared from his wallet and turned up inside a sealed bag of M&M’s in his wife’s purse.

  • John McAfee’s Last Stand
    John McAfee has been weird for awhile, but he has been even more weird the last little while since he has been accused of murder. Here’s a look at his recent exploits.

  • Last Call
    Here is an article whose headline predicts that American society will become drunkards like the British one, but in disguise is actually a description of how the beer industry came to be ruled by two brands.

    And so, for eighty years, the kind of vertical integration seen in pre-Prohibition America has not existed in the U.S. But now, that’s beginning to change. The careful balance that has governed liquor laws in the U.S. since the repeal of Prohibition is under assault in ways few Americans are remotely aware of. Over the last few years, two giant companies—Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors, which together control 80 percent of beer sales in the United States—have been working, along with giant retailers, led by Costco, to undermine the existing system in the name of efficiency and low prices. If they succeed, America’s alcohol market will begin to look a lot more like England’s: a vertically integrated pipeline for cheap drink, flooding the gutters of our own Gin Lane.

    Although, I don’t really see this horizontal integration as as big of a problem as they say; the soda industry only has two players too.

  • Monopoly Is Theft
    After looking at Scrabble recently, here’s an article about Monopoly players and the making of Monopoly.

    The widows of Eugene and Jesse Raiford testified, as did seven other witnesses who claimed to have played monopoly as many as twenty years before Darrow marketed his game. Anspach even put Robert Barton, the former president of Parker Brothers, on the stand. Barton, who was pivotal in helping Darrow secure a patent for his “invention,” admitted under oath that he was fully aware of the game’s history and that he knew Darrow had not in fact invented it. The judge was unmoved. He dismissed Anspach’s complaint, ordering all unsold copies of Anti-Monopoly to be “deliver[ed] up for destruction.”

  • Making Gangnam
    A look at Harmonix’ new cash cow and how the process to bring Gangnam Style to Dance Central 3 for Xbox Kinect worked.

    Dixon will dance the routines herself. Near her standing desk is a dance pad and a Kinect. The entire Harmonix office is full of these dance stations, in fact. Easy to overlook amidst the general sprawl of equipment and mess, but they are there. Like the state-of-the-art motion-capture studio hidden in the basement and the various other pieces of NASA-grade tech left lying around.

  • The Myth of American Meritocracy
    A very good and very long article about how Asians are under-represented in the Ivy League, how Jews are way over-represented and how Harvard admission policies could be improved.

    The statistical trend for the Science Talent Search finalists, numbering many thousands of top science students, has been the clearest: Asians constituted 22 percent of the total in the 1980s, 29 percent in the 1990s, 36 percent in the 2000s, and 64 percent in the 2010s. In particular science subjects, the Physics Olympiad winners follow a similar trajectory, with Asians accounting for 23 percent of the winners during the 1980s, 25 percent during the 1990s, 46 percent during the 2000s, and a remarkable 81 percent since 2010. The 2003–2012 Biology Olympiad winners were 68 percent Asian and Asians took an astonishing 90 percent of the top spots in the recent Chemistry Olympiads. Some 61 percent of the Siemens AP Awards from 2002–2011 went to Asians, including thirteen of the fourteen top national prizes.

    Yet even while all these specific Asian-American academic achievement trends were rising at such an impressive pace, the relative enrollment of Asians at Harvard was plummeting, dropping by over half during the last twenty years, with a range of similar declines also occurring at Yale, Cornell, and most other Ivy League universities. Columbia, in the heart of heavily Asian New York City, showed the steepest decline of all.

  • Operation Delirium
    A look inside the chemical warfare testing that the US military performed on its own soldiers in the last century.

    To demonstrate the effects of VX, he was known to dip his finger in a beaker containing the lethal agent, then rub it on the back of a shaved rabbit; as the animal convulsed and died, he would casually walk across the room and bathe his finger in a Martini to wash off the VX. “I thought they were crazy,” a doctor who served under him told me. “I was going to New York, and Colonel Lindsey tells me, ‘How about taking a vial of nerve gas to New York to make a demonstration.’ And I am looking at the guy and thinking, If I have an accident on the Thruway, I could kill thousands of people—thousands of people. I said, ‘No. It’s that simple.’ ”

  • Hacking the President’s DNA
    A long article about the potential dangers of synthetic biology and the increased ease of crafting biological weapons that target specific characteristics.

    Some party drug—all she got, it seemed, was the flu. Later that night, Samantha had a slight fever and was shedding billions of virus particles. These particles would spread around campus in an exponentially growing chain reaction that was—other than the mild fever and some sneezing—absolutely harmless. This would change when the virus crossed paths with cells containing a very specific DNA sequence, a sequence that would act as a molecular key to unlock secondary functions that were not so benign. This secondary sequence would trigger a fast-acting neuro-destructive disease that produced memory loss and, eventually, death. The only person in the world with this DNA sequence was the president of the United States, who was scheduled to speak at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government later that week. Sure, thousands of people on campus would be sniffling, but the Secret Service probably wouldn’t think anything was amiss.

  • Spellbinder
    Another story of a con-man. Who knows if these stories are even real?

    One day about six years ago, Rubie was in his Manhattan office, working out a major deal for one of his new clients, Mitchell Gross. After his fantasy trilogy, Gross, under his pen name Mitchell Graham, had moved on to legal thrillers. A wise move: The manuscript for his first thriller, Majestic Descending, had already caught the eye of Bruce Willis’s production company, Cherokee Productions, which wanted to buy the film rights. Rubie learned this from Gross himself, who had left his last agent and wanted Rubie to represent him in negotiations.

    Majestic was going to be “Die Hard on a cruise ship,” Rubie says. As due diligence, Rubie called actress Sondra Locke, who Gross said would vouch for him. It may sound unusual for a book by a little-known writer to be incorporated into an existing movie franchise, but Rubie remembered that Die Hard 2 had been based on a book that had nothing to do with the original Die Hard. “Hollywood does all kinds of crazy things,” he says.

  • The Patent Problem
    Yet another patent article this time by Steven Levy of Freakonomics fame, and focusing on patent trolls. If you think Apple vs Samsung or HTC paying hundreds of millions to Apple is bad, then this is the ugly:

    That labyrinthine process, combined with the intricacies of the court system, have made trolls more powerful than ever. NPEs have nothing to lose. Because they don’t create anything, they can’t infringe on anyone else’s patents, no matter how overblown. That means they can’t be countersued. This isn’t mutually assured destruction; it’s asymmetric warfare.

  • How I Learned A Language in 22 Hours
    I’m a bit annoyed about this article because it reads like a thinly veiled advertisement for a site called Memrise. Basically the entire article is saying if you use Spaced Retention Software, you only need to spend a couple of minutes per day to learn something. And if you add those couple of minutes up, it’ll only add up to 22 hours! Hardly worth an article…
  • They Cracked this 250-Year-Old Code, and found a Secret Society Inside
    A secret codex revealed a secret society of a secret society from the 1700s! Maybe they’ll make a movie out of this

  • Bikini Atoll: Site of One of History’s Most Infamous Science Experiments
    A beautiful look at what happened to Bikini Atoll and its people after the atomic bomb tests that the US military performed on the islands. The story is sad for the original inhabitants, although very few of the original residents are still alive. The next generation(s) don’t have much of a connection, so now all that is left is a relic that nature is reclaiming.

    From there we board an open aluminum boat for the last eight miles to Bikini Island. As we head out into the atoll’s protected lagoon, we pass buoys that mark the sites of some of the warships sunk during the bomb tests, now moldering, their cannons still intact, under 180 feet of water. Down there is the Nagato, the flagship of the Imperial Japanese Navy, from whose bridge Admiral Yamamoto launched the attack on Pearl Harbor. Finally, we land at the island’s only dock and are greeted by some of the men who live on Bikini, part of a five-person skeletal force paid by the Bikini council to look after the remaining infrastructure.

  • The Battle for Best Buy, the Incredible Shrinking Big Box
    Best Buy is in a trouble and the recently ousted founder is hoping to buy back in and help it recover. Sounds like Apple’s story, but the result will probably not be the same?

    The battle for Best Buy is more than a Lear-like attempt to regain control. It’s also about the future of stores in the age of digital goods, same-day delivery, and apps that’ll tell you in an instant whether the 80-inch TV you covet is cheaper somewhere else, turning stores like Best Buy into “showrooms” for online competitors. It’s an expensive way to go out of business: Best Buy pays for the building, salespeople, and cash registers, and (AMZN) rings up the sale. Showrooming hurt Borders bookstores, and chains that sell hardware, toys, clothing, sporting goods, and groceries are vulnerable too.

  • How a Videogame God Inspired a Twitter Doppelgänger — and Resurrected His Career
    The story of respected game designer Peter Molyneux and where he has taken his career after leaving Microsoft

    But while the games were funny and some even fun, most weren’t exactly revolutionary. They tended to wrap rote mechanics—catching objects, dodging enemies, beating a timer—in an eccentric skin. Capone estimates that in the end only about 15 games were “really interesting.” That’s not a bad ratio, especially when you consider that the purpose of Molyjam wasn’t to produce a bunch of great games but to celebrate the creative act itself. Still, in a game jam inspired by Molyneux, the most Molyneuxian touch may have been the sense that when the fog lifted, the results fell somewhat short of all the impossibly overblown rhetoric.

  • The Island Where People Forget To Die
    On a Greek island, people live a long, long time. If you like fast forwarding to the end of things, the reason is because they have a varied & healthy diet, their society promotes inclusiveness and they forget over estimate how old they actually are.

    The data collection had to be rigorous. Earlier claims about long-lived people in places like Ecuador’s Vilcabamba Valley, Pakistan’s Hunza Valley or the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia had all been debunked after researchers discovered that many residents didn’t actually know their ages. For villagers born without birth certificates, it was easy to lose track. One year they were 80; a few months later they were 82. Pretty soon they claimed to be 100. And when a town discovers that a reputation for centenarians draws tourists, who’s going to question it? Even in Ikaria, the truth has been sometimes difficult to nail down. Stories like the one about Moraitis’s miraculous recovery become instant folklore, told and retold and changed and misattributed. (Stories about Moraitis have appeared on Greek TV.) In fact, when I was doing research there in 2009, I met a different man who told me virtually the exact same story about himself.

  • Boss Rail
    It is well known to Chinese people that the Chinese government is corrupt, but there seemingly was not a cause to rally around to complain until a Chinese high-speed rail accident. It took me 3 days to read this article because I got distracted, but it is good throughout.

    China’s most famous public-works project was an ecosystem almost perfectly hospitable to corruption—opaque, unsupervised, and overflowing with cash, especially after the government announced a stimulus to mitigate the effects of the 2008 global financial crisis. It boosted funding for railway projects to more than a hundred billion dollars in 2010. In some cases, the bidding period was truncated from five days to thirteen hours. In others, the bids were mere theatre, because construction had already begun. Cash was known to vanish: in one instance, seventy-eight million dollars that had been set aside to compensate people whose homes had been demolished to make way for railroad tracks disappeared. Middlemen expected cuts of between one and six per cent. “If a project is four and a half billion, the middleman is taking home two hundred million,” Wang said. “And, of course, nobody says a word.”

  • Glass Works: How Corning Created the Ultrathin, Ultrastrong Material of the Future
    This is a story about R&D at Corning and how Gorilla Glass was made, and general practices around making glass. Neat and interesting throughout.

    The interplay between compression and tension is best demonstrated by something called a Prince Rupert’s drop. Formed by dripping globs of molten glass into ice water, the quickly cooled and compressed heads of these tadpole-shaped droplets can withstand massive amounts of punishment, including repeated hammer blows. The thin glass at the end of the tail is more vulnerable, however, and if you break it the fracture will propagate through the drop at 2,000 miles per hour, releasing the inner tension. Violently. In some cases, a Prince Rupert’s drop can explode with such force that it will actually emit a flash of light.

  • Branded for Life
    Like being a KPop artist, being a brand actor (one of those actors that appear in commercials for a particular product) requires a lot of discipline and sacrifice in your lifestyle – you might never be cast in another role because your face is too recognizable! Although, I think that is being pessimistic from an actor’s point of view; because I’m not an actor, I wouldn’t mind being a brand actor!

    But much of his public silence over the years, Marcarelli explained, had largely been self-imposed in deference to the brand character he played and the sizable income that came with it. Once, he had even decided not to file a police report about teenagers yelling homophobic slurs outside his home out of concern about how it would be perceived publicly if news got out that the actor who played the Test Man was, in fact, gay.

  • What It’s Like To Be On Jeopardy
    Because I don’t have enough arcane knowledge in my head, I’ll never be on Jeopardy, but I do enjoy watching the show from time to time. I think going to the show, or being on the show would be fun and an experience (we can’t all live like Rick Mercer); but since I can’t do that reading about it is the next best thing.

    The show wasn’t and isn’t looking solely for smart people who test well. Rather, they want people with a combination of traits: a deep knowledge well, the ability to retrieve an answer quickly, unflappability, a decent personal presentation and personability. The 21 people in my audition slot in Seattle (including an old friend I ran into who had auditioned before) for the most part had those characteristics.

  • The Patent, Used As A Sword
    The NY Times on how patents don’t work in the software industry. Another article that summarizes the current issues and some of the attempts at fixing the solution
  • From North Korea’s Oz to its Forgotten Cities
    A short article on North Korea that looks at the dichotomy between its cities and its capital, Pyongyang.

    Today, the Pyongyang rich, spending their dollars, euros and Chinese yuan, can buy everything from high heels to imported watches. They have bought enough cars in the past couple years to cause the occasional traffic jam.

  • Can Hospital Chains Improve the Medical Industry?
    A long but interesting article about how the medical industry can benefit from adopting practices form the food industries. It’s also interesting because they talk a lot about how the Cheesecake Factory works!

    I brought up the hibachi-steak recipe on the screen. There were instructions to season the steak, sauté the onions, grill some mushrooms, slice the meat, place it on the bed of onions, pile the mushrooms on top, garnish with parsley and sesame seeds, heap a stack of asparagus tempura next to it, shape a tower of mashed potatoes alongside, drop a pat of wasabi butter on top, and serve.

    Two things struck me. First, the instructions were precise about the ingredients and the objectives (the steak slices were to be a quarter of an inch thick, the presentation just so), but not about how to get there. The cook has to decide how much to salt and baste, how to sequence the onions and mushrooms and meat so they’re done at the same time, how to swivel from grill to countertop and back, sprinkling a pinch of salt here, flipping a burger there, sending word to the fry cook for the asparagus tempura, all the while keeping an eye on the steak. In producing complicated food, there might be recipes, but there was also a substantial amount of what’s called “tacit knowledge”—knowledge that has not been reduced to instructions.

  • Everywhere At Once: Chef Geoff Tracy’s Data-Driven Empire
    The last article was about how the medical industry can learn from the food industry, and this article is the reverse. How the food industry can improve by using a scientific approach.

    Did Elizabeth bring your Pinot Gris within three minutes of the time you ordered it? Were your appetizers delivered within seven minutes, entrées within ten, desserts within seven? Were these plates described at the table before they were set in front of you? Were napkins refolded when you went to the restroom? Was non-bottled water referred to as “ice water” (correct) or “water” (incorrect)?

    That couple sitting across from you picking at a plate of hummus might be catching a light bite before a movie, or they might be working secretly for Tracy. Once a month, he brings in anonymous reviewers from an agency in New York to undertake a comprehensive evaluation of each of his restaurants. One recent assessment noted ten small errors: A dessert recommendation was offered only when the customer asked, and the plate took ten minutes to arrive instead of seven; the sink in the women’s room needed cleaning; bottled water wasn’t offered. Still, the restaurant scored 93 out of 100 points.

  • Your Words Against Mine
    This is a Sports Illustrated article about…scrabble. Yes, just like chess, Scrabble is now a sport worthy of SI’s attention. Actually, this article was written in 1995, well before the Words with Friends craze and describes several of the eccentrics at the top of the Scrabble world.

    For at this level, Scrabble’s dirty little secret is that it is a word game in which words mean nothing. The dabbler comes to the board thinking definitions and word knowledge, and he gets swallowed up in showing that off; but the experts care for words only for their point value. The newest Scrabble dictionary expurgated some 100 offensive terms, but they’re all usable—no, welcomed—in tournaments. Black players don’t flinch when they see “nigger” or “darky”; women congratulate any smart play of sexual slang; and Joel Sherman, who is Jewish, didn’t blink when Gibson opened their second game with “yid,” because no one cares. “They’re nothing but scoring tools,” Sherman says. “One of my opponents used [a synonym for sexual intercourse] at the end of the game. He got 26 points. It was the right thing to do.” Understanding English isn’t even necessary; a group of top Thai players do quite well at major North American tournaments, and they barely speak the language.

  • Microsoft’s Lost Decade
    This is an unfair and one-sided article against Microsoft that cherry picks examples how it wasn’t as successful as it could be under Ballmer’s leadership. It almost smells vindicitive.
  • Teen Titan
    A New Yorker article on the man behind Justin Bieber, The Wanted, and Carly Rae Jepsen.

    Braun uses Bieber’s fame as a P.R. platform for his other clients as well. He makes it worth Bieber’s while: when Braun signed Carly Rae Jepsen, he gave Bieber a fifty-per-cent cut. Braun told him, “We’ll be partners. But you’re going to do your part, being a loudspeaker: put her on your tour, sing a song with her.” And Bieber obeyed. The homemade video of him horsing around to Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” got forty-eight million views and made the song catch fire. Last month, he tweeted to introduce the world to Braun’s newest client, Madison Beer, a thirteen-year-old singer who resembles a baby Megan Fox. Within minutes, her name was trending worldwide.

  • The Mysterious Disapperance of Peter Winston
    A promising US chess player disappears in the 70s, and this is the story about it, or at least it promises to be; but since they don’t know what really happened, the story is incomplete and a letdown.
  • Schmidt and Thiel Smackdown
    This is the transcript between the CEO of Google and Peter Thiel, an entrepreneur and investor. It’s an interesting read, although they don’t go into much detail or talk about tech that much.

    PETER THIEL: And I think that ‑‑ and I agree with you that technology is critical. It is the only way that things get better in the developed world. And I think we should distinguish the developed and emerging markets very sharply. In places like China, India, Africa, Latin America, there’s zero need for innovation. All they need to do is copy things that work.

    But the part of the world where technology is really necessary for things to get better is the developed world, U.S., Western Europe, Japan. And the part that I would challenge you a little bit on is just how healthy the state of technology generally is. There are obviously individual companies that do quite sell, especially if they have world-class monopolies like Google has in search.

  • Brian Shaw, the Strongest Man in the World
    New Yorker takes a look at the being the strongest man in the world; not the body building or Olympic weight lifting variety, but actually being the strongest. Promising and interesting idea, but I didn’t find that the topic reached its potential

    Earlier that day, Ortmayer and the others had completed two more rounds. First came an event called the Austrian Oak, in honor of Schwarzenegger’s nickname as a bodybuilder. This involved lifting a ten-foot log from a stand at close to shoulder height, then pressing it overhead repeatedly. Banded with steel and coiled with thick rope at the ends, the Oak weighed four hundred and fifty-nine pounds—it took five large men to carry it onstage. Four of the strongmen declined to try to lift it at all, and four tried and failed. That left Savickas, who managed one lift, and Jenkins, who did two. Shaw, his left arm in obvious pain, was among those who had to settle for a lighter Oak, of three hundred and ninety-three pounds. But in a display of incredible grit he lifted it seven times in a row—screaming himself hoarse on the sixth try—putting him in fourth place over all.

  • End Game
    Curt Schilling went from a brilliant pitching career to the business of making a MMO, and bombed massively. He lost a bunch of taxpayer money and his own money; here’s how he did it:

    Schilling knew he’d been treated well during his baseball career, and wanted his staff at 38 Studios to feel the same. That meant gold-plated healthcare, for which employees had no paycheck deductions, and top-notch 401(k)s, with the company matching to the legal limit. As 38 Studios grew from 20 employees in 2006 to 42 in 2007 to 65 in 2008, there were plenty of other goodies along the way: free gym memberships, two homes the company rented to temporarily house new out-of-state hires (though that perk was short-lived), and, one year at Christmas, new laptop computers for every employee. Gifts like the computers came out of Schilling’s pocket — he says he spent as much as $2.5 million on that sort of largesse over the years.

  • A man walks Into a Bank
    A teaser on how a man cashed a fake cheque for $90k+ and then his battle with the banks. There’s no conclusion, he wants you to go see his stage act to find out the ending!

    Knowing I had $95,093.35 locked in a safe deposit box that I’d obtained from a junk-mail cheque but which was, by three laws, legally mine, the San Jose Mercury newspaper ran the headline: “Man 1, Bank 0.”

    Of course, everyone knew that the bank wasn’t just going to forfeit the fight. Everyone sensed they’d come out swinging. The newscaster Diane Sawyer perhaps stated the public perception about banks best when she commented on my expressed desire for a pleasant resolve with the bank over lunch. She said, to all who were watching the evening news that night: “I wouldn’t count on that lunch, Patrick.”

  • Inside Minority Report’s ‘Idea Summit’, Visionaries Saw the Future
    When Steven Spielberg started working on Minority Report, he called together a group of thinkers to help him envision what the future would look like. Here’s a discussion from a couple of people who were there 10 years ago.
  • Cheap, Chic, and Made For All
    A look at the success of Uniqlo, who is, surprisingly, the fourth largest clothing retailer behind Zara, H&M, and Gap. Although I’ve been to a couple of Uniqlo and prefer their style over H&M, Gap, etc; reading this article didn’t make me feel excited about the company.
  • From Beach to Bunker
    Although this article leads with a neat story of combining brain waves and image recognition to look for terrorist hideouts, the underlying theme seems to be that the US government should fund more scientific research, even though the results may not be readily apparent, because they may cause long term breakthroughs.

    With the introduction of computers, however, researchers could look not just at the continuous EEG over long periods of time but also at the changes that occurred around specific events by averaging the data from a large number of painstakingly timed trials. Most researchers began using this newfound capability to study sensory responses—placing electrodes over the visual cortex at the back of the head, for example, and analyzing how the EEG signal changed when flashes of light of different durations were presented to subjects. Chapman was one of the first to apply that approach to cognitive tasks.

    What Chapman found in his study immediately excited him: When subjects viewed any stimulus, there was a quick change in brain activity, the size of which depended on how bright the stimulus was. But when subjects were shown a number, crucial to performing the task before them, the EEG registered a huge spike in brain activity about 300 milliseconds after the stimulus appeared.

  • Beat Boutique
    A look at the world of library music, which is easily-licensed music that you might find in commercials or TV shows (although TV shows seem to want to feature up-and-coming artists now).

    “I felt like I did have a lot of carte blanche with what I was doing,” Stanton says of her subsequent library work. “But the deadlines were very tight so I’d work in ‘crank it out’ mode. It wasn’t [always] heartfelt.” What most turned Stanton off from writing production-library music, though, was when she felt pressure from her director to compose blatant imitations of other popular artists. “In that era, everyone just wanted you to sound like the Chemical Brothers,” she recalls.

    Tim Lee, who currently works with KPM and is also the founder of the Brooklyn-based Tummy Touch Records, expresses similar disdain for “soundalikes”; he also thinks their proliferation has been the biggest change between (what he does not object to me calling) the Golden Age of Library Music and what is produced now. “If Katy Perry is popular, people will knock out a Katy Perry soundalike CD,” he observes. “There didn’t seem to be so much of that back in the ’60s and ’70s.”

  • Sponge-Fraud
    The guy behind the visual design of the SpongeBob SquarePants character has apparently made it big as a (conventional) artist. But here’s a weird tale about how he had to become a ninja to control counterfeits of his work.

    Convinced Howell was faking his works, White hired a private investigator, Dave Hance, to try to buy a bogus print. Wearing a wire, Hance showed up at Gallery HB and recorded himself buying a print of Playing Around for $2,000. Howell told Hance she’d send it to White for embellishment, and call him when it returned. Two weeks later, the private eye received a voice mail from Howell telling him his giclée was ready. “I look forward to seeing you and the expression on your face,” Howell trilled, “when you see your new embellished Todd White, Playing Around.”

    When Hance told White about his purchase from Howell, the artist was crushed. He says he hadn’t heard from Howell about the giclée at all and hadn’t signed a thing. “I felt stabbed in the heart,” he recalls. But he says he worried that if he reported the fraud to the police, the legal maneuvering could give Howell time to unload his works on the Internet. White says he also worried that making Howell’s malfeasance a matter of public record could contaminate his hard-earned market and depreciate the value of his work. Instead, he’d settle the matter on his own.

  • The Perfect Milk Machine
    This article is about how Big Data has transformed the dairy industry in a short 50 years. Using a couple of simple metrics (not even genome sequencing) across a large number of bulls and cows, dairy farmers are able to unequivocally determine which bulls can father the best milk-bearing cows.

    No matter how you apportion the praise or blame, the net effect is the same. Thousands of years of qualitative breeding on family-run farms begat cows producing a few thousand pounds of milk in their lifetimes; a mere 70 years of quantitative breeding optimized to suit corporate imperatives quadrupled what all previous civilization had accomplished. And the crazy thing is, we’re at the cusp of a new era in which genomic data starts to compress the cycle of trait improvement, accelerating our path towards the perfect milk-production machine, also known as the Holstein dairy cow.

  • With Friends Like These
    Excerpts from a new book about how Friends came to be. Not sure if it’s entirely true or whether those that are involved are just painting a picture that makes the show look good.

    LORI OPENDEN: Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry were technically not available. We had second position [on both]—we were taking a gamble that the show in first position wasn’t going forward.

    We auditioned other actors for Jennifer’s part, but nobody else was good enough. It was a pretty big risk. Her show was a comedy for CBS. They’d shot 10 episodes and had them on the shelf for six months. They still had the rights to air it.

    JAMIE TARSES: Then we had Jennifer Aniston crying to Les Moonves [then president of Warner Bros. Television, which produced Friends] to let her out of the CBS show she was on.

    WARREN LITTLEFIELD: I remember watching Muddling Through, Jennifer’s show. It was bad. I thought, They won’t pick up this horrible show just to fuck us, will they?

    PRESTON BECKMAN (former executive vice president of program planning, NBC): I put Danielle Steele movies on opposite the Jennifer Aniston show on CBS. I killed it.

  • Oh My God — We’re In Bed With The Vampire Squid!
    The tale of how Goldman Sachs lost the lead position on the Facebook IPO
  • How The Chicken Conquered The World
    More about farm animals, this time the chicken. This article’s a look at how the chicken became the common denominator of meat in the world.

    Chickens arrived in Egypt some 250 years later, as fighting birds and additions to exotic menageries. Artistic depictions of the bird adorned royal tombs. Yet it would be another 1,000 years before the bird became a popular commodity among ordinary Egyptians. It was in that era that Egyptians mastered the technique of artificial incubation, which freed hens to put their time to better use by laying more eggs. This was no easy matter. Most chicken eggs will hatch in three weeks, but only if the temperature is kept constant at around 99 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit and the relative humidity stays close to 55 percent, increasing in the last few days of incubation. The eggs must also be turned three to five times a day, lest physical deformities result.

    The Egyptians constructed vast incubation complexes made up of hundreds of “ovens.” Each oven was a large chamber, which was connected to a series of corridors and vents that allowed attendants to regulate the heat from fires fueled by straw and camel dung. The egg attendants kept their methods a secret from outsiders for centuries.

  • The Devils in the Details
    I posted a quick Whitney Houston article shortly after when she died, but that was from an old magazine issue that someone dug up. Here’s a more complete and researched look at Whitney.

    He met her in her home in Alpharetta, in the final days of her marriage. Her image was shot, her career was in the toilet, and Gary and Pat Houston, her brother and sister-in-law, were hovering around like nurses in an emergency ward. “My voice is stuck in my throat,” Whitney told Catona. “I try to sing, and nothing comes out.”

    “She looked thin. Her hair was a little messy,” he says. “She looked like someone who had gone through some kind of emotional trauma.”

    Yet, there was a spark. Singing was in her bloodline. The great Aretha had told her, “I’m passing the baton on to you.” Catona continues: “Everyone was relying on her to make a comeback, not just for financial reasons but for her well-being.”

    Catona demanded her full commitment, and she agreed. “She wasn’t a crooner,” he explains. “She had to sing at the very top of the capacity of the human voice. She was also an alpha female, domineering, commanding, and people were scared of her.”

    After a few months of Catona’s daily exercises, Whitney rented a house in Orange County, California, determined to live with her daughter and without her husband. “She blossomed,” says Catona. “She was the most devoted student I ever had.”

    She focused on her health and tried her best to quit smoking. “Once, I forgot my keyboard, and she thought I had left,” says Catona. “I went back in, and she started coming to the door with a cigarette in her hand. She hugged me, and I saw her flick the cigarette over her shoulder.”

  • On Tipping in Cuba
    This writer waxes on about how memorable his trip into rural Cuba (i.e., outside of the resorts) is and how the insignificant amount of currency that he tips is embarrassing given the cultural value it is buying him. Of course, I’d imagine that the hard currency (even though it’s a small number) would buy the Cuban citizens a great deal.

    He served us a variation on the mojito, using basil leaves instead of mint. He called it an alto del mar — “above the sea,” also the name of his paladar — and it was the best drink I had in Cuba. Dinner was whole fried fish garnished with the only red pepper we saw in Santiago, and a delicate creole sauce that was several steps above the licensed paladares’ offerings in its refinement. When I asked for the bill, he brought me a scrap of paper with “$14.00” written on it. I gave him CUC $20, under-tipping for one of the most memorable meals I’ve eaten anywhere.

  • The Forty-Year Itch
    This article posits that “retro” is a 40-year cycle by cherry picking some examples from the last century. I don’t buy the argument, because we’ve seen a 20-year “retro” cycle in the last few years (i.e., Transformers, GI Joe, etc).
  • An American (working) in Paris
    I’ve been reading this writer since he started writing on The Morning News. I like his writing as his style is interesting and fun to read and this article is a great example of his writing. Apparently he has now written a book about a period where he stayed and worked in Paris – it seems interesting, maybe I’ll read the book.

    Honestly, I had no idea how it worked. There was one woman, an Italian down the hall, who visited us at ten-fifteen each morning, making loud smooching sounds even before she entered the room; then she’d deliver long-drawn, suction-fueled bises all around: on Julie’s cheeks, Françoise’s cheeks, Tomaso’s cheeks, Olivier’s cheeks. Even my cheeks, once we were introduced. But it wasn’t always done. Maybe four days out of five, but that fifth day . . .

    September found me frequently biseing inappropriately. Male clients, IT support workers, freelance temps. Any female who came within ten feet. They’d return my weird kisses reluctantly, or else back away and attempt to ignore the gaffe. I asked Pierre how he knew whom to kiss, whom not. Pierre said there was no way of knowing this unless you’d grown up in France, then you just knew. He himself preferred to shake hands.

    André overheard Pierre saying this and suggested, in that case, Pierre should move “the fuck” back to New York.

  • The Man Who Hacked Hollywood
    This article is the story of the guy who hacked into a bunch of celebrities emails and sold their photos off to the internet, and you know the rest of that story.

    One night, he finally gave in to the temptation to talk. “I let my curiosity—and I think my marijuana—get the best of me,” he recalls. A well-known actor had sent a wish-you-were-here photo of a European mountainside to an actress. Stoned and feeling uninhibited, Chaney logged in to the actress’s e-mail against his better judgment and sent a reply saying how fantastic the view looked. He shuddered the moment he hit send. “I was like, ‘You’re a fucking idiot for doing this,’ ” he says.

  • Can an Algorithm Write a Better News Story Than a Reporter?
    The article title promises the rise of the machines, but the reality is that the state of the art can only translate statistics into more interesting words. It will be quite a long time before AI can do the indepth reporting that a feature article contains.

  • How One Response to a Reddit Query Became a Big-Budget Flick
    I remember reading the original thread on Reddit about this, and this Wired article elaborates how the guy who posted on the thread is now a Hollywood script writer.

    It took him just 10 minutes to write 350 words about the marines’ first day in ancient Rome. He clicked save. A few moments later, he refreshed his browser and saw that he had gotten a couple of upvotes. Then he thought about what to write next.

    Erwin needed to invent a good reason for the two armies to fight. Unsurprisingly, he happened to have read a lot of Roman history, and he knew that around 23 BC, some senators had attempted a coup on emperor Augustus. What if, just as the senators were plotting, a small army appeared out of nowhere “with a vast array of what appears to be bizarre siege machinery”?

  • Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?
    The Atlantic argues that advancing technology keeps us more connected (not just now, but also telephones), but we become more lonely because the quality of the contact is poorer.

    If you use Facebook to communicate directly with other individuals—by using the “like” button, commenting on friends’ posts, and so on—it can increase your social capital. Personalized messages, or what Burke calls “composed communication,” are more satisfying than “one-click communication”—the lazy click of a like. “People who received composed communication became less lonely, while people who received one-click communication experienced no change in loneliness,” Burke tells me. So, you should inform your friend in writing how charming her son looks with Harry Potter cake smeared all over his face, and how interesting her sepia-toned photograph of that tree-framed bit of skyline is, and how cool it is that she’s at whatever concert she happens to be at. That’s what we all want to hear. Even better than sending a private Facebook message is the semi-public conversation, the kind of back-and-forth in which you half ignore the other people who may be listening in. “People whose friends write to them semi-publicly on Facebook experience decreases in loneliness,” Burke says.

  • Leading Mannequins
    All the red carpet shows where the hosts talk about a celebrity’s dashing dress or stunning suit is, like most of Hollywood, manufactured. The celebrity has a publicist who contracts stylists who run around town to various high end designers and picks out the clothing for them. So if you’re on a best-dressed list, then your stylist sucks!

    Most of Ilaria’s business comes not from single clients but from studios, where the pay rate is much higher—$10,000 or $20,000 for a press tour, say. In the case of a press tour, Ilaria will pack individual outfits together, mark each one for its event (“Letterman Appearance”), and include detailed instructions for her client to execute. (“Tuck the shirt and roll the sleeves.”) Socks are included; everything is labeled. It’s like a mother packing her kid’s duffel for summer camp with his name sewn in all the underwear.

  • American Mozart
    For a feature on Kanye West, I was hoping for a in-depth look at why he is so off-the-wall, unfortunately, this article goes more into how his tour with Jay-Z drifts away from his awkward presence, and shows him becoming more like a conventional performing artist.
  • How tiny Estonia stepped out of USSR’s shadow to become an internet titan
    I didn’t notice how connected Estonia was in my day trip there last summer; that’s too bad – I would have been able to check-in on foursquare more often! In any case, I’d love to live in a society like this.

    By 1997, thanks to a campaign led in part by Ilves, a staggering 97% of Estonian schools already had internet. Now 42 Estonian services are now managed mainly through the internet. Last year, 94% of tax returns were made online, usually within five minutes. You can vote on your laptop (at the last election, Ilves did it from Macedonia) and sign legal documents on a smartphone. Cabinet meetings have been paperless since 2000.

    Doctors only issue prescriptions electronically, while in the main cities you can pay by text for bus tickets, parking, and – in some cases – a pint of beer. Not bad for country where, two decades ago, half the population had no phone line.

  • Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy
    One student in a fraternity at Dartmouth blows the whistle on the hazing activities that took place there, but the result is not exactly what he had hoped. In fact, the article throws into question whether he did it for other nefarious reasons.

    According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the conventional definition of a “binge” is five drinks in a two-hour period for men. Dartmouth frat boys pride themselves on being able to drink six cups of beer in less than 30 seconds – it’s called a “quick six,” and requires a person to literally open their gullet and pour the liquid down. There is a YouTube video in which a Dartmouth student does this in less than 10 seconds, but even this feat may not be a record.

  • Are Walmart’s Chinese Factories as Bad as Apple’s
    This article uses Apple in the headline to bring in the hits, but it’s really only about Walmart and their lackadasical approach to being green. Actually, they talk a lot about being green, but they’re not actually doing too much.

    Martin brought up a major Walmart supplier, a network of factories making name-brand products. (He asked that I not reveal the brand, but it’s a household name.) Like Mr. Ou once did, this supplier submitted scorecards on energy and water use to Walmart. The retailer’s response: silence. Martin said the supplier admitted to him that the data was “total crap,” but it never heard from Walmart one way or another. Martin summed up the supplier’s attitude toward Walmart scorecards like this: “Walmart sets a new target, everybody gets all excited, runs around for six months, and then everything kind of slows down and the wheels fall off.”

  • Antiviral Drugs Could Blast the Common Cold – Should We Use Them?
    This article talks about 3 new approaches to develop a counteragent to virus in general.
  • Just One More Game…
    This article on gaming has been making the rounds – it talks about how we’re spending more time playing stupid games (like Angry Birds etc). But I don’t really know how much more intelligent playing a game like Modern Warfare is. It’s like you’re trying to solve cancer.
  • The God of Gamblers
    Would it surprise you that Macau sees five times more money than Las Vegas? Well it does, and at least some of it may not be legal. That hasn’t stopped American companies from opening casinos there, all in the goal of making money while gambling in the US is slumping.

    While the junket industry has many law-abiding members, it has, for decades, been susceptible to the involvement of organized crime. Triads, which grew out of nineteenth-century Chinese political societies, had always been involved in loan-sharking and prostitution, and had made their presence felt on the edges of Macau’s casinos, but in recent years triads had become more business-oriented. Triad violence in Macau and Hong Kong has declined over the past decade, because triads have increasingly set aside squabbles over drugs and petty crime in order to pursue the range of new criminal opportunities associated with a more prosperous China, including money laundering, financial fraud, and gambling.

  • The Grandmaster Experiment
    This is the story of three sisters from (and who are famous in) Hungry who are all grandmasters, one of which is the eight ranked player worldwide. It’s a bit about how women have it tough in the male-dominated world of chess, and a bit about how their parents raised them to be such a powerhouse.

    There exist some downsides to being a female chess player that Kasparov may not be aware of. “There were many times when I felt faint at matches because of menstrual cramps,” Susan says. “When I was about 16, I did faint. I fell off the chair.” A room filled with older male adversaries is a horrible place for a girl to experience Judy Blume-esque moments. Tournament games are often six hours long, and extra time for trips to the ladies’ room is not allotted. In a game where every point is precious, even one minute of discomfort could jeopardize a woman’s score

  • How One Man Escaped From a North Korean Prison Camp
    I’m a sucker for articles on North Korea, and although what is described in this article is not new, it’s still a fun read.

    Single men and women slept in dormitories segregated by sex. The eighth rule of Camp 14 said, “Should sexual physical contact occur without prior approval, the perpetrators will be shot immediately.” A reward marriage was the only safe way around the no-sex rule. Guards announced marriages four times a year. If one partner found his or her chosen mate to be unacceptably old, cruel or ugly, guards would sometimes cancel a marriage. If they did, neither the man nor the woman would be allowed to marry again. Shin’s father, Shin Gyung Sub, told Shin that the guards gave him Jang as payment for his skill in operating a metal lathe.

  • When Did Young People Start Spending 25% of their Paychecks on Pickled Lamb’s Tongues?
    This article summaries the culture of foodie-ism gone indie, whereby eating at the hippest restaurants is the cool thing to do. While I jest, I’ve participated in this hobby in the last few years too so I can’t make fun of it too much.

    Food’s transformation from a fusty hobby to a youth-culture phenomenon has happened remarkably fast. The simultaneous rise of social networks and camera phones deserves part of the credit (eating, like sex, is among the most easily chronicled of pursuits), but none of this would have happened without the grassroots revolution in fine dining. “You can now eat just as quality food with a great environment without the fuss and the feeling of sitting at the grown-up table,” says Chang’s friend Amy, who is, incidentally, a cook at the very grown-up Jean Georges.

  • How The Daily Mail Conquered England
    This article from the New Yorker is about the popularity of the paper, Daily Mail, in England; both the paper and online editions. I’ve never really visited the Mail Online aside from a few random articles, but it seems to have made itself quite popular by being filled with articles that the normal person would want to read.

    The Mail is the most powerful newspaper in Great Britain. A middle-market tabloid, with a daily readership of four and a half million, it reaches four times as many people as the Guardian, while being taken more seriously than the one paper that outsells it, the Sun. In January, its Web arm, Mail Online, surpassed that of the New York Times as the most visited newspaper site in the world, drawing fifty-two million unique visitors a month. The Mail’s closest analogue in the American media is perhaps Fox News. In Britain, unlike in the United States, television tends to be a dignified affair, while print is berserk and shouty. The Mail is like Fox in the sense that it speaks to, and for, the married, car-driving, homeowning, conservative-voting suburbanite

  • The Problem with buying Sports “experiences”
    It is worthwhile to pay a lot for a “better” sports experience? I’ve taken the approach of buying cheap tickets, so maybe I have already learned this lesson.

    A fan scans the upcoming schedule of his local (lousy) NBA team and has to pick an upcoming game — so naturally he goes for one featuring a star team or a star player. (Our editor-in-chief has been known to do exactly that when, say, the Thunder come into town to play the Clippers.) But more often than not, an unbalanced game results, one with little drama and that sees the star play only 27 minutes, much of it at half-speed. You expect a ticket agency to point that out before you shell out hundreds of dollars? Yeah. We thought not.

  • The Lost Party
    Talks a bit about the Republican nomination in advance of the Michigan primary (which Romney eventually won). Since I haven’t been paying attention, this was a good primer on the other candidates (Gingrich, Santorium) and the problems the Republican party has been having this go-around.
  • I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave
    Every time you order something online, your product is being picked and shipped from some warehouse; but what is it like to be one of those pickers?

    The gal conducting our training reminds us again that we cannot miss any days our first week. There are NO exceptions to this policy. She says to take Brian, for example, who’s here with us in training today. Brian already went through this training, but then during his first week his lady had a baby, so he missed a day and he had to be fired. Having to start the application process over could cost a brand-new dad like Brian a couple of weeks’ worth of work and pay. Okay? Everybody turn around and look at Brian. Welcome back, Brian. Don’t end up like Brian.

  • Those Fabulous Confabs
    The story of the TED conference and the general popularity of “Big Idea” conferences.
  • On The Market
    While the title is a bit ambiguous, this article is unintuitively about working at the Sotheby’s auction house in New York. Another great article looking in on a lifestyle and career that I’m not familiar with.

    These girls seemed immune to New York’s damning seasons, which always threaten to expose one’s tax bracket, especially if it is low. The summer sun didn’t melt their makeup, and the winter wind didn’t mar their manes. They were driven in cars and cabs that were kept at a constant 68 degrees. At night and on weekends, they attended galas, museum openings, and brunches in East Hampton. But during business hours, they went on client visits, consulted on prices, and tirelessly secured property. They were friendly on the phone, enthusiastic about the art, and harder working than people who look and talk like that usually need to be.

  • The Man Who Broke Atlantic City
    When you hear a gambling story with a title like this, you immediately think a con or the MIT card counting team. Not this one though, this is a story of a guy who strategically won over $10 million using his smarts and declining economic conditions for the casinos.

    But two years ago, Johnson says, the casinos started getting desperate. With their table-game revenues tanking and the number of whales diminishing, casino marketers began to compete more aggressively for the big spenders. After all, one high roller who has a bad night can determine whether a casino’s table games finish a month in the red or in the black. Inside the casinos, this heightened the natural tension between the marketers, who are always pushing to sweeten the discounts, and the gaming managers, who want to maximize the house’s statistical edge. But month after month of declining revenues strengthened the marketers’ position. By late 2010, the discounts at some of the strapped Atlantic City casinos began creeping upward, as high as 20 percent.

  • Manifest Destiny
    I was a fair ways through this article about the Poincaré Conjecture when I realized that I had read this article before! The part that tipped me off was reading about how a Chinese mathematician was greedy and wanted to grab the spotlight for “solving” the Poincaré Conjecture. Seems like a very Chinese thing to do.
  • The Making of Whitney Houston’s Debut Album
    An article from 1986 that’s poorly written, but adequate in conveying how Whitney was discovered in 1982 and what went into her highly successful debut. Even back then, there was a team manufacturing her success.
  • The Montauk Grifter
    A story about an individual who pretended they were in the food ownership and publishing industry. Always interested in reading about how con men pulled off their scams.

    On their next scheduled date, she proposed a test: Why don’t you go shopping and cook me dinner? Dan bought porterhouse steaks, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms. Leong paid for the groceries. They went back to his apartment. “It was like a frat boy cooking dinner,” she said. The former Rainbow Room chef and two-time James Beard nominee served her an oven-baked porterhouse steaks that he hadn’t bothered to sear and raw Brussels sprouts, thrown haphazardly on a plate. “He didn’t have any professional cooking gear, and his pantry was all canned food,” she says.

  • The Collector
    This story is about another coon man, but his cons are strictly to collect US presidents’ memorabilia!
  • The Arab world’s first ladies
    Discusses the duality between the controlled image of modern and pro-women first ladies and the actions of their husbands, especially during the Arab Spring.

I’ve been reading so much that I had to break my last queue update into two posts! Here’s the rest:

  • What would the End of Football Look Like?
    An economist’s take on how society might reasonably change such that Football will fall from its dominant position as America’s favorite past time, much like boxing and horse racing has in the past. It’s very technical but understandable and believable.

    Precollegiate football is already sustaining 90,000 or more concussions each year. If ex-players start winning judgments, insurance companies might cease to insure colleges and high schools against football-related lawsuits. Coaches, team physicians, and referees would become increasingly nervous about their financial exposure in our litigious society. If you are coaching a high school football team, or refereeing a game as a volunteer, it is sobering to think that you could be hit with a $2 million lawsuit at any point in time. A lot of people will see it as easier to just stay away. More and more modern parents will keep their kids out of playing football, and there tends to be a “contagion effect” with such decisions; once some parents have second thoughts, many others follow suit. We have seen such domino effects with the risks of smoking or driving without seatbelts, two unsafe practices that were common in the 1960s but are much rarer today.

  • The Super Power of Franz List
    Franz List doesn’t get a lot of attention from casual music lovers, but his bicentennial is approaching and this article neatly explains why he is great.

    On one occasion, Chopin was so outraged at the freedom of Liszt’s playing of one of his nocturnes in a salon that he stormed over to the piano and played it himself. The next day Chopin was asked to play it again, and he said he would do so if they put out the lights. When the lamps were lit again afterward, it was Liszt who had played exactly as Chopin had done the evening before.

  • Why the Clean Tech Boom Went Bust
    Short summary: economic conditions warranted investment into clean tech, but then the economic conditions changed.
  • The Greatest Running Shoe Never Sold
    I approached this article as an exposé about how a big company is keeping a little man down, but it turns out that anti-social habits and greed caused the expected outcome.

    Three weeks later, Hann traveled to Portland, Ore., for a hastily scheduled meeting with Adidas. Executives there were encouraging, but they didn’t want a bidding war with Under Armour. That very afternoon, Under Armour sent an apologetic e-mail with the much-anticipated licensing agreement. (Hann doesn’t know whether this was somehow triggered by the Adidas trip.) It included a royalty rate of 1.5 percent for the first stage of sales, and 1 percent thereafter. Through his attorney, Hann countered with 5.75 percent and 4.25 percent. Hann’s lawyer says Under Armour took the soaring rates like a jab in the eye; Under Armour would not comment on the specifics of the negotiations.

  • Steve Ballmer Reboots
    Bill Gates usually gets the spotlight, but Steve Ballmer has been leading Microsoft for quite a long time. It’s not very often that he gets a feature, but here is one.

    If there’s anything unsettling about Ballmer, it’s his powers of fact retention. Maybe the third iced tea is kicking in, but at one point, Ballmer recites in descending order the exact market capitalization figures of all technology companies valued at more than $20 billion. Then he slices down to $10 billion. And then $5 billion. “Now, do you want to include Chinese companies?” he asks. He poses strategy questions about companies, hears your retort, then instantly counters with his own. About Microsoft, he’s quietly confident—as if he no longer has to convince you that Microsoft has a plan and is executing on it. While Ballmer has been CEO of Microsoft for 12 years, there’s a strong case to be made that his imprint on the company has only now become clearly visible.

I haven’t been blogging much but I’ve been reading many more articles lately online. Here’s what I’ve been queueing up on Instapaper (a mixture of some older articles and some newer ones):

  • What I Lost In Libya
    One reporters account of what happened when he and several other reporters were captured during the Arab Spring
  • The Turnaround Men
    The story of a con men and how he milked a number of investors (a la Madoff) in order to support his lifestyle and “companies”. Although Tom Petters is not a household name, some of his companies are known such as
  • Steve Jobs and the Portal to the Invisible
    This article has been making headlines again recently, with its claim to fame being that it talked about Jobs’ forthcoming death in 2008. I haven’t read (and don’t plan to read) the his recent biography from Isaacson, but I found this article to be interesting and well written, revealing some insights into the motivations and personality of Jobs. It’s certainly a much shorter read and well written to boot.
  • Trust Issues
    This article talks about compound interest and a hobby amongst rich people in the 19th century to donate their fortune to a perpetual trust lasting centuries.

    Beginning in 1936, he sluiced $2.8 million into a series of five-hundred- and thousand-year trusts—just one of which, allocated to the Unitarian Church, would be worth $2.5 quadrillion upon its maturation in the twenty-fifth century. A thousand-year fund dedicated to the state of Pennsylvania would yield $424 trillion; the money was to be applied to abolishing the state’s taxes. Holden didn’t even live in Pennsylvania—he’d picked the state as an homage to Franklin.

  • What You Don’t Know Can Kill You
    This is an interesting article from Discover Magazine which discusses how humans are not very good at estimating risk; generally over-estimating risks that they can visualize.

    But it is heuristics—the subtle mental strategies that often give rise to such biases—that do much of the heavy lifting in risk perception. The “availability” heuristic says that the easier a scenario is to conjure, the more common it must be. It is easy to imagine a tornado ripping through a house; that is a scene we see every spring on the news, and all the time on reality TV and in movies. Now try imagining someone dying of heart disease. You probably cannot conjure many breaking-news images for that one, and the drawn-out process of athero­sclerosis will most likely never be the subject of a summer thriller. The effect? Twisters feel like an immediate threat, although we have only a 1-in-46,000 chance of being killed by a cataclysmic storm. Even a terrible tornado season like the one last spring typically yields fewer than 500 tornado fatalities. Heart disease, on the other hand, which eventually kills 1 in every 6 people in this country, and 800,000 annually, hardly even rates with our gut.

I read a little bit over the last little while:

  • The Prince Who Blew Through Billions
    The specifics don’t really matter in this story too much because the numbers are too big and the situations unbelievable, but it’s not every day that you’ll get a look into the life of a billionaire playboy. It’s like a movie, but even more unbelievable.
  • Looking for Someone
    A story in the New Yorker about online dating. Not so much the stigma or acceptance, but there’s also a lot of information about how the various dating services work.
  • How to Land Your Kid in Therapy
    An article about overparenting. A lot of it is common sense and a survey of recent themes; but randomly, I thought that the structure of this article was well done.
  • Polaroid’s SX-70: The Art and Science of the Nearly Impossible
    The story behind Polaroid’s revolutionary camera, and how the company fell apart afterwards. The author likens Polaroid’s founder, Edwin Land, to Steve Jobs. But I can’t really tell whether there is hyperbole to make a good story, or whether he was truly like that. However, I can imagine that the product was thought of as a miracle device like a smartphone.
  • The Joy of Stats
    I can’t really tell what this article is about. It’s a little bit about stats, a little about Jewish people, a little bit about Mark Cuban, and a little bit of a report on a MIT stats conference.

Dubai on Empty
A short but entertaining article packed with colorful descriptions of Dubai.

No one dreamed of this. Twenty years ago, none of this was here. No Narnia. No seven-star hotels. No tallest prick buildings. Just a home of pastoralist tented families herding goats, racing camels, shooting one another. And a handful of greasy, armed empire mechanics in khaki shorts, drilling for oil. In just one life span, Dubai has gone from sitting on a rug to swiveling on a fake Eames chair 100 stories up. And not a single local has had to lift a finger to make it happen. That’s not quite fair—of course they’ve lifted a finger; to call the waiter, berate the busboy. The money seeped out of the ground and they spent it. Pretty much all of it. You look at this place and you realize not a single thing is indigenous, not one of this culture’s goods and chattels originated here. Even the goats have gone. This was a civilization that was bought wholesale. The Gulf is the proof of Carnegie’s warning about wealth: “There is no class so pitiably wretched as that which possesses money and nothing else.” Emiratis are born retired. They waft through this city in their white dishdashas and headscarves and their obsessively tapered humorless faces. They’re out of place in their own country. They have imported and built a city, a fortress of extravagance, that excludes themselves. They have become duplicitous, schizophrenic. They don’t allow their own national dress in the clubs and bars that serve alcohol, the restaurants with the hungry girls sipping champagne. So they slip into Western clothes to go out.

Lot 800: The Bainbridge Vase
The story of the most expensive antique Chinese piece (for now) that sold for 43 million…pounds! That’s like $80 million then. Of course, with a piece that expensive, it’s never simple.

That is because the future of the vase is nothing like resolved. Within days of the sale, there was speculation on the internet that the bidding had been rigged by Chinese agents, seeking to bump up prices ahead of the big sales in Beijing two weeks later. Then, in December, a respected American dealer expressed doubts about the vase’s authenticity. Since February, there has been a drip-drip of stories in the British press, mostly unsourced, questioning whether the anonymous buyer—a mysterious “businessman in Beijing”—is going to pay, or pondering the possibility of a conspiracy involving the Chinese state.

President Trump? ‘I’m Very Serious’
A look at Trump’s potential entry into the 2012 election. Sounds like he is ready:

In the deposition given by Trump in the suit he filed against O’Brien, Trump was asked whether he has ever “not been truthful” in his public representations of his properties: “My net worth fluctuates, and it goes up and down with markets and with attitudes and with feelings, even my own feelings, but I try,” he responded. When lawyers asked him whether he had ever exaggerated when describing what he owned and was worth to the press, Trump said: “I think everybody does. Who wouldn’t?” When a lawyer asked, “Have you ever lied in public statements about your properties?” Trump replied: “When you’re making a public statement, you want to put the most positive—you want to say it the most positive way possible. I’m no different from a politician running for office.”

The Lords of Rikers
A look inside Juvenile detention in NYC:

Among the kids that Robinson hung around with in Brooklyn, Rikers is a kind of finishing school. A rough streetwise kid from the projects expects to be sent there, hears the stories, learns the jail’s rituals from older boys. And for Robinson, Rikers ran in the family. Israel Rivera, his father, spent time there on the way upstate for a murder he’d committed at age 15, two months after Christopher was born.

“When I was growing up, when a dude went to jail, it was the thing to do,” Rivera tells me. “You was a somebody. To be a man, you had to go to prison.”

Dan Rather: Inside Mark Cuban’s Gilded Cage
Dan Rather is no longer with CBS but at age 79 he is still reporting “for the love of the game art” at a small cable outlet owned by Mark Cuban. This article looks a bit at Cuban and a bit at Rather.

Where Have the Good Men Gone?
This one is about the “Knocked Up” generation – not pregnant women, but the immature man-child who just bums around with a couple of other single friends and never grows up.

Flash Fish
If you have a lot of money and a guy then your next monetary arms race might be in building an aquarium.

Why You Should Care About Cricket
Although this article is published on ESPN and is ostensibly about cricket, it is also a lot about India and how both are changing. A good read.

“The aggression, the brashness,” says Bhattacharya, the cricket writer turned novelist. “It’s now something which Indians see that this is what we have to do to assert our place in the world. We’ve been f—ed over for thousands of years. Everyone has conquered us. Now we’re finding our voice. We’re the fastest-growing economy in the world. We are going to buy your companies. Our cricket team is like going to f—ing abuse you back, and we’re going to win and we’re going to shout in your face after we win. People love that.”

The Assassin in the Vineyard
The story of how a celebrated vineyard in Burgundy very easily came under attack from a blackmailer.

Can Rob Kalin Scale Etsy?
Rob Kalin was one of the founders of Etsy, and has grown it into a business pretty well. But can he grow it into an empire?