If you're new here, welcome! This previous issue says a bit more about what this is all about.
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The Real Reason Fans Hate the Last Season of Game of Thrones / Scientific American
This article is brilliant; I nearly gave it four stars. And I say this having not watched a single episode of Game of Thrones. (For GoT fans who aren't caught up, beware of spoilers.)
The show did indeed take a turn for the worse, but the reasons for that downturn goes way deeper than the usual suspects that have been identified (new and inferior writers, shortened season, too many plot holes). It’s not that these are incorrect, but they’re just superficial shifts. In fact, the souring of Game of Thrones exposes a fundamental shortcoming of our storytelling culture in general: we don’t really know how to tell sociological stories. At its best, GOT was a beast as rare as a friendly dragon in King’s Landing: it was sociological and institutional storytelling in a medium dominated by the psychological and the individual. [...] Benioff and Weiss steer the narrative lane away from the sociological and shifted to the psychological. That’s the main, and often only, way Hollywood and most television writers tell stories. [...] One clue is clearly the show’s willingness to kill off major characters, early and often, without losing the thread of the story. TV shows that travel in the psychological lane rarely do that because they depend on viewers identifying with the characters and becoming invested in them to carry the story, rather than looking at the bigger picture of the society, institutions and norms that we interact with and which shape us. They can’t just kill major characters because those are the key tools with which they’re building the story and using as hooks to hold viewers. [...] In sociological storytelling, the characters have personal stories and agency, of course, but those are also greatly shaped by institutions and events around them. The incentives for characters’ behavior come noticeably from these external forces, too, and even strongly influence their inner life. People then fit their internal narrative to align with their incentives, justifying and rationalizing their behavior along the way. (Thus the famous Upton Sinclair quip: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”) The overly personal mode of storytelling or analysis leaves us bereft of deeper comprehension of events and history. [...] We also have a bias for the individual as the locus of agency in interpreting our own everyday life and the behavior of others. We tend to seek internal, psychological explanations for the behavior of those around us while making situational excuses for our own. This is such a common way of looking at the world that social psychologists have a word for it: the fundamental attribution error. When someone wrongs us, we tend to think they are evil, misguided or selfish: a personalized explanation. But when we misbehave, we are better at recognizing the external pressures on us that shape our actions: a situational understanding. If you snap at a coworker, for example, you may rationalize your behavior by remembering that you had difficulty sleeping last night and had financial struggles this month. You’re not evil, just stressed! The coworker who snaps at you, however, is more likely to be interpreted as a jerk, without going through the same kind of rationalization. [...] That tension between internal stories and desires, psychology and external pressures, institutions, norms and events was exactly what Game of Thrones showed us for many of its characters, creating rich tapestries of psychology but also behavior that was neither saintly nor fully evil at any one point. It was something more than that: you could understand why even the characters undertaking evil acts were doing what they did, how their good intentions got subverted, and how incentives structured behavior. The complexity made it much richer than a simplistic morality tale, where unadulterated good fights with evil.
The Night The Lights Went Out / Deadspin
I am the least reliable narrator when it comes to the story of my brain exploding. This is because, from the time right before I suffered a freakish brain hemorrhage last year to the time I regained full consciousness roughly two weeks later, I remember nothing. My mind is an absolute blank. It’s like the fabled pause in the Nixon Tapes. I was not here. That time of my life may as well not exist. Oh, but it did. I remember hosting the Deadspin Awards in New York the night of Dec. 5 and then heading over to a karaoke bar for a staff after-party, where I ate some pizza, drank a beer, sang one song (Tom Petty’s “You Got Lucky,” which would soon prove either fitting or ironic, depending upon your perspective), and that’s it. After that comes a great void. I don’t remember inexplicably collapsing in a hallway, fracturing my skull because I had no way to brace myself for the impact. I don’t remember sitting up after that, my co-workers alarmed at the sight of blood trickling out of the back of my head. I don’t remember puking all over Barry Petchesky’s pants, vomit being one of many fun side effects of your brain exploding, as he held my head upright to keep me from choking on my own barf. I don’t remember Kiran Chitanvis quickly calling 911 to get me help. I don’t remember getting into an ambulance with Victor Jeffreys and riding to an uptown hospital, with Victor begging me for the passcode to my phone so that he could call my wife. He says I made an honest effort to help, but my circuits had already shorted out and I ended up giving him sequences of four digits that had NOTHING to do with the code. Flustered, he asked me for my wife’s phone number outright. Instead, I unwittingly gave him a series of 10 digits unrelated to the number he sought. I don’t remember that. I don’t remember bosswoman Megan Greenwell trailing behind the ambulance in a cab with her husband and staying at the hospital ALL NIGHT to plead with them to give me a closer look (at first, the staff thought I was simply inebriated; my injury had left me incoherent enough to pass as loaded) because she suspected, rightly, that something was very wrong with me. I don’t remember doctors finally determining that I had suffered a subdural hematoma, or a severe brain bleed: A pool of blood had collected in my brain and was pressing against my brain stem. I was then rushed to another hospital for surgery, where doctors removed a piece of my skull, drained the rogue blood, implanted a small galaxy in my brain to make sure my opinions remain suitably vast, put the hunk of skull back in, and also drilled a hole in the TOP of my head to relieve the pressure. They also pried my eyes open and peeled the contact lenses off my eyeballs. They then put me into a medically-induced coma (SO METAL) so that my brain could rest and heal without Awake Drew barging in and fucking everything up. I don’t remember any of that. I told you I wouldn’t be a very reliable narrator.
The house the robots built / BBC
Why are walls always straight? Why does it cost so much to build them? And why do big construction projects so often run late? Construction has always been a conservative industry, used to doing things how they have always been done. But a new wave of innovation is coming, which will change what buildings look like, how they are made, and who wins in the new era of the construction industry. Architects have always been limited by what their builders can actually make. But if robots were doing the building, all sorts of new possibilities open up. Straight walls partly exist for the convenience of builders and architects - but for a robot, a curved wall is almost as easy. So at the DFAB House, a small test building in the suburbs of Zurich, Switzerland, the main wall follows an elegant, irregular curve. It’s built around a steel frame, welded by robots, which humans would have found almost impossible to construct unaided. Even stranger, the roof consists of a series of flowing, organic ridges, which look as if they were secreted by a giant insect. Awkward to dust, perhaps, but designed by computer and made with 3D printing to achieve the same strength as a conventional, straight roof, yet with half the weight.
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How a cheap, brutally efficient grocery chain is upending America's supermarkets / CNN Business
Running a supermarket in America has never been harder. Profits are razor thin. Online shopping and home delivery are changing the way people buy their food. Dollar stores and drugstores are selling more groceries. Pressures are so intense that regional chains like Southeastern Grocers, the owner of Winn-Dixie and Bi-Lo, filed for bankruptcy. Large companies increasingly control the industry, which had long operated as a dispersed network of smaller, local grocers. And even Walmart — the largest player of all — faces new competition from Amazon, which bought Whole Foods in 2017 for almost $14 billion. But when Walmart’s US CEO Greg Foran invokes words like “fierce,” “good” and “clever” in speaking almost admiringly about one of his competitors, he’s not referring to Amazon. He isn’t pointing to large chains like Kroger or Albertsons, dollar stores like Dollar General or online entrants like FreshDirect and Instacart. Foran is describing Aldi, the no-frills German discount grocery chain that’s growing aggressively in the United States and reshaping the industry along the way. New customers may be jolted at first by the experience of shopping at an Aldi, which expects its customers to endure a number of minor inconveniences not typical at other American grocery stores. Shoppers need a quarter to rent a shopping cart. Plastic and paper bags are available only for a fee. And at checkout, cashiers hurry shoppers away, expecting them to bag their own groceries in a separate location away from the cash register. But Aldi has built a cult-like following. [...] Aldi displays products in their original cardboard shipping boxes, rather than stacking them individually, to save employees time stocking shelves. Most stores don’t list their phone numbers publicly because Aldi doesn’t want its workers to spend time answering calls. The result: A single Aldi might have only three to five employees in the store at any given time, and only 15 to 20 on the entire payroll. The company claims to pay its workers above the industry average, but still saves on overall labor costs simply by having fewer people. All of these cost savings add up and are passed on to customers. Aldi claims its prices are up to 50% cheaper than traditional supermarkets, and independent analysis by Wolfe Research shows its prices are around 15% cheaper than Walmart in markets like Houston and Chicago.
Inside the Pampered and Personalized World of DC’s VIP Diners / Washingtonian
Sometimes maître d’ Michael Arnaud has to play bad cop. Granted, he wears a wide smile above his green bow tie and greets every customer of Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab with the cheerily booming voice of a game-show host giving away a brand-new jet ski. But as a gatekeeper at a bustling restaurant on the same block as the White House, Arnaud must enforce certain rules. Namely, you can’t sit until your entire party has arrived. No matter how much he’d love to, unfortunately, he’s terribly sorry but he doesn’t have a choice. Unless, you know, you happen to be the Nats big shot who needs a last-minute table on this particular evening. “Tonight at 7:30. 3 people. Can you handle?” one of the owners of the baseball team texts Arnaud’s colleague, fellow maître d’ Billy Carter. “Yes. All set,” Carter texts back. For regulars like this, a different rule book applies. And were Arnaud or Carter ever to forget, the sports exec’s profile in the restaurant’s reservation system is explicit about the particulars: “Seat partial party. Do Not Make Wait.” [...] On a separate occasion, another prominent Democrat and Republican had reservations on the same night, and their favorite tables happened to be right next to each other. Paul Reosti, another Joe’s maître d’, tried to get the Republican to agree to another spot. “No, I want my usual table,” the Republican said. “Well, just to let you know, this gentleman has made a reservation, too, and his favorite table is the one right next to yours,” Reosti told him. “Okay, where else can we go?” the Republican said before he quickly thought better of it and added, “Well, where else can you put him?” Reosti went for the ultimate Washington sleight of hand. “I could try to talk him into doing it, but you’re a lot more diplomatic, a lot less stubborn than this gentleman is.” The sycophancy worked.
Laziness Does Not Exist / Medium
I’ve been a psychology professor since 2012. In the past six years, I’ve witnessed students of all ages procrastinate on papers, skip presentation days, miss assignments, and let due dates fly by. I’ve seen promising prospective grad students fail to get applications in on time; I’ve watched PhD candidates take months or years revising a single dissertation draft; I once had a student who enrolled in the same class of mine two semesters in a row, and never turned in anything either time. I don’t think laziness was ever at fault. Ever. In fact, I don’t believe that laziness exists. [...] I’m a social psychologist, so I’m interested primarily in the situational and contextual factors that drive human behavior. When you’re seeking to predict or explain a person’s actions, looking at the social norms, and the person’s context, is usually a pretty safe bet. Situational constraints typically predict behavior far better than personality, intelligence, or other individual-level traits.
'You're strong, you're brave, you need to do it' / Daily Mail
I always cringe when I link to the Daily Mail, but here you go anyway:
On Saturday, in a heart-stopping adaptation of a new book by a US journalist who reported on 9/11, we revealed the final moments of the innocent passengers on board the two hijacked planes that crashed into the World Trade Center in 2001. In this final, electrifying extract, we return to the last hijacker airliner - and the heroic passengers determined not to let the terrorists achieve their barbaric aim.
Inside the relationship that unleashed Steph Curry's greatness / ESPN
"Do you remember Timmy Timlin?" Steph Curry's college coach asks. We're sitting in a bar in Davidson, North Carolina, Bob McKillop and I, each of us working on an afternoon beer. "Of course," I say. "He was a god." Timmy Timlin was the senior starting quarterback when I was a junior third-stringer at Holy Trinity High School in Hicksville, New York. He also pitched for the baseball team and went on to play Division I football and baseball in college. "Well," McKillop says, with a wince and a head shake, "I'm the reason he didn't play basketball." It's February, and McKillop is about to complete his 30th season as the basketball coach at Davidson College. I have come to speak with him because Curry has said McKillop is a reason he did play D1 basketball, and also a reason he has been able to revolutionize the sport. Although a stickler for discipline and a guardian of tradition, McKillop decided to let Curry shoot at Davidson with an abandon that he has never relinquished and that an emerging generation has now taken as its birthright. But he doesn't want to talk about Steph's shot. "He had the shot when he came here," McKillop says. "I had nothing to do with it." He talks instead about something that happened 45 years ago, something that happened at the Catholic high school on Long Island where he was not just Tim Timlin's coach but also my history teacher.
How the Hell Has Danielle Steel Managed to Write 179 Books? / Glamour
There's a sign in Danielle Steel's office that reads, "There are no miracles. There is only discipline." It's a dutiful message, and yet the sheer amount that Steel has accomplished in her five-decade career does seem like the stuff of dreams. Let's look at the numbers, shall we? The author has written 179 books, which have been translated into 43 languages. Twenty-two of them have been adapted for television, and two of those adaptations have received Golden Globe nominations. Steel releases seven new novels a year—her latest, Blessing in Disguise, is out this week—and she's at work on five to six new titles at all times. In 1989 Steel was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for having a book on the New York Times best-seller list for the most consecutive weeks of any author—381, to be exact. To pull it off, she works 20 to 22 hours a day. (A couple times a month, when she feels the crunch, she spends a full 24 hours at her desk.) Steel writes in her home office. Most of the time, that's in Paris, but sometimes she's at her home in San Francisco, where she writes on her 1946 Olympia standard typewriter, which she's nicknamed Olly. "Olly's a big, heavy machine and it's older than I am," Steel tells Glamour. "It has a very smooth flow to it . I have anywhere between 12 to 15 of them that I've bought over the years, but they're not good enough to work on. I keep them for parts in case there's ever a problem, because this is a very endangered species!"
One way out: Pastors in Brazil converting gang members on YouTube / Washington Post
As the sound of gunshots grew closer, Janderson Viera knew that the rival gang that had taken over his neighborhood was coming for him. Running to his bedroom, he called the only lifeline he had left: the Rev. Arnaldo Barros. “I want to convert,” he said. As gang wars drive Brazil’s homicide rate to historic highs, evangelical pastors — long revered in the nation’s slums and prisons — have come up with a new way to protect members looking for a way out. Gang leaders say the only way to leave the business alive is to convert to Christianity. So Barros, a televangelist popular here in western Brazil, memorializes a gang member’s embrace of the ancient articles of faith using the most modern of tools: He records the conversion on his smartphone and posts the videos on YouTube, Facebook and WhatsApp. The converts gain immunity against retribution by rival gangs and their own. Gang leaders and law enforcement officials say it works. “We aren’t going to go against the will of God,” a local leader of the powerful Comando Vermelho, the gang that was pursuing Viera, told The Washington Post. “God comes first, above everything.” [...] Of course, conversion by video is no guarantee that a gang member will stay straight. But converts who return to their gangs face serious danger. Lucas Cunha, 18, was at work when a rival gang broke into his house. Worried they would eventually find and kill him, he called Barros and asked him to record a video. When his attackers saw it, they dropped their pursuit. But they monitored him for months, checking to see if he was going to church or had contact with his former leaders. “If I do anything wrong, they will kill me,” Cunha said. “I have to take the video seriously. They don’t tolerate regressions.”
The mess that is elite college admissions, explained by a former dean / Vox
When people find out I used to work as a dean of admissions at an elite liberal arts university, they want to gab about the wealthy and famous, bribes and scandal, the boogeyman of affirmative action. People want soap opera storylines. Rarely do they ask about why the admissions process exists as it does, the ideals and values that shape these processes and why they might be worthy of contemplation. They simultaneously want the job to be more and less interesting than it is. They want it to be fantastical without being complex. Here is what I wish they knew about what it’s really like to do this job. [...] The mechanisms of affirmative action for wealthy white people are so well-oiled that few would know to name it. [...] For instance, “early decision” — an admissions process occurring months earlier than general admissions in which students agree to attend if admitted — did many favors for wealthy white students, more than any unofficial affirmative action ever helped students of color or first-generation college students. [...] Universities benefit from early decision because it guarantees the base of their yield rate; the regular decision process is more unpredictable. They like to keep the rate high because selectivity conveys status in some popular rankings (which, themselves, are not as meaningful as they look). I hated early decision. Most students we accepted were not exceptional in the context of the regular pool, and they got in at a much higher rate. Early decision applicants tend to have savvy private high school counselors who understand this. These students also tend to be from wealthier families who got a head start on the college search: They could afford campus visits the previous summer; financial aid isn’t an issue, so they don’t have to wait for offers of assistance.
Why the Government Pays Billions to People Who Claim Injury by Vaccines / The Atlantic
“Vaccines are safe,” says Narayan Nair. “That’s the message we need to get out there.” Nair is a physician. He is also the head of the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program—the system through which the U.S. government has, over the past three decades, paid more than $4 billion to people who claim to have been harmed by vaccines. According to its public record, from 2013 to 2017 alone, the program paid out an average of $229 million a year to patients and their families. The average payment was about $430,000. As America enters the worst measles outbreak since the disease was declared eradicated two decades ago, it is worth examining this rarely talked about element of vaccination requirements. The Vaccine Injury Compensation Program has long percolated at the heart of misinformation and misunderstanding. It also raises questions about where large sums of tax money are flowing. [...] The fact that the government pays hundreds of millions of dollars every year to people who claim they’ve been injured by vaccines could be an alarming thing to see in your Facebook News Feed, especially if you’re a parent whose pediatrician assured you that vaccination is nothing to worry about. In one case, a viral article called “Flu Vaccine Is the Most Dangerous Vaccine in the U.S. Based on Settled Cases for Injuries” points to these payments as evidence of vaccines’ danger. The post was published on a site called Health Impact News: News That Impacts Your Health That Other Media Sources May Try to Censor! and appears to have 210,000 likes on Facebook.
The Myth of 'Learning Styles' / The Atlantic
A popular theory that some people learn better visually or aurally keeps getting debunked. [...] Experts aren’t sure how the concept spread, but it might have had something to do with the self-esteem movement of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Everyone was special—so everyone must have a special learning style, too. Teachers told students about it in grade school. “Teachers like to think that they can reach every student, even struggling students, just by tailoring their instruction to match each student’s preferred learning format,” said Central Michigan University’s Abby Knoll, a PhD student who has studied learning styles. (Students, meanwhile, like to blame their scholastic failures on their teacher’s failure to align their teaching style with their learning style.) Either way, “by the time we get students at college,” said Indiana University professor Polly Husmann, “they’ve already been told ‘You’re a visual learner.’” Or aural, or what have you. The thing is, they’re not. Or at least, a lot of evidence suggests that people aren’t really one certain kind of learner or another.
The Tinder Hacker / The Cut
After a couple hours of swiping on Bumble not so very long ago, I had exactly one decent match, a programmer in San Francisco. He had an honest face slung on two good cheekbones, and he posed with acceptable-enough props (guitar, martini, ’90s-era Macintosh). Naturally, I messaged him about the computer. After a back-and-forth about the game Crystal Quest, he suggested we hang out. [...] I asked him if he had hobbies — a dreadful question, I know. Like his idols, he said, he liked to experiment and code. Code what? I asked. Well, for instance, a Tinder hack. It all started when Sean recruited his close friend and roommate Haley to create a Tinder profile. Haley, in the words of a Tinder user who would soon encounter her, was a “tall, dark, younger, better-looking version of Kim Kardashian.” Together Sean and Haley selected her profile photos — Haley lounging in a tube with a serving of side boob, Haley in shorts leaning on a baseball bat. Sean wanted her to appear seductive but approachable. Once finished, Sean ran two rather mischievous programs. The first program had her dummy account indiscriminately swipe right on some 800 men. The second program was one that Sean had spent months coding. It paired men who matched with Haley with one another, in the order that they contacted her. A man would send a message thinking he was talking to Haley — he saw her pictures and profile — and instead another dude would receive the message, which, again, would appear to be coming from Haley. When the first dude addressed Haley by name, Sean’s code subbed in the name of the man receiving the message. As soon as they ran this code, it was off to the races. Conversations streamed in, around 400 of them unfurling between the most unlikely people, the effect something like same-sex Tinder chat roulette. “There was a certain breed of guy that this really worked on,” Sean told me. “It wasn’t the kind of guy looking for a girlfriend or looking to talk or be casual. It was the guy looking for a hookup.” And those guys cut to the chase, thrilled at how down “Haley” was to sext, thrusting their way through any miscommunication. (Remember, both dudes think the other is Haley.)
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Scenes of daily life in Paris' "Belle Epoque" 1890-1900 (Colorized, sound added, and speed restored) / YouTube
A collection of high quality remastered prints from the dawn of film taken in Belle Époque-era Paris, France from 1896-1900. Slowed down footage to a natural rate, added in ambiance sound, and colorized. These films were taken by the Lumière company.
After men in Spain got paternity leave, they wanted fewer kids / Quartz
In March 2007, Spain introduced a national policy granting most new fathers two weeks of fully paid paternity leave. The policy proved exceptionally popular, with 55% of men eligible in the first year opting to take the paid time. The amount of leave covered by the program was doubled in 2017 and expanded to five weeks in 2018, with additional increases expected between now and 2021. [...] Unexpectedly, though, the researchers also found that families who were eligible for the paternity leave were less likely to have kids in the future.
The Motorbikes of Taiwan / Kottke
From Hiroshi Kondo, a mesmerizing short film called Multiverse of the motorbike-jammed streets of Taiwan. Right around the 50 second mark, Kondo starts to use a clever time lapse technique to highlight individuality within the bustling mass of traffic.
U.S. regulators approve new Silicon Valley stock exchange / Reuters
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission approved the creation of the Long-Term Stock Exchange, or LTSE, a Silicon Valley-based national securities exchange promoting what it says is a unique approach to governance and voting rights, while reducing short-term pressures on public companies. [...] The new exchange would have extra rules designed to encourage companies to focus on long-term innovation rather than the grind of quarterly earnings reports by asking companies to limit executive bonuses that award short-term accomplishments. It would also require more disclosure to investors about meeting key milestones and plans, and reward long-term shareholders by giving them more voting power the longer they hold the stock.
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