Friday, January 23rd, 2015


You Need Me on That Ball

Did the New England Patriots knowingly deflate footballs prior to a playoff game that they ultimately won by more than five touchdowns over the Indianapolis Colts? You don't want the truth. Actually, you don't care about the truth because you know it's pretty meaningless. And that, it turns out, is one of the elements that can take a story from a niche readership to a mainstream audience. DeflateGate has that and more. You've got the hoodie-wearing coach everyone loves to hate. You've got the handsome, talented, successful, above-reproach quarterback who absolutely no one believes. And you've got a story we can all joke about on social media at a time when we're desperate to be torn from our usual digitally driven, politically motivated, self-righteous silos of homogeneity. Add all that to the fact that everyone (aside from the Colts) wins. Sports journalists who have almost no access to players during the lead-up to the Super Bowl have a topic to write about and discuss on radio shows. The NFL gets to avoid the litany of think-pieces on concussions and domestic abuse that might have filled the news vacuum. The corporate brands geared up to begin their Super Bowl marketing no longer have to wait for game day. It's a combination too perfect to be invented, but still worth paying attention to. As media brands have less control over what becomes a big story, we all need to get a better handle on how some seem to get big all on their own.

+ I still think one of yesterday's press conferences provided a key clue in this case.

+ While I am intrigued by the appeal of this story, I do look forward to getting the focus back to what Super Bowl weekend is really all about. The consumption of 1.25 billion chicken wings. Hopefully, once it's all over, someone will deflate us too.


The New King

Saudi King Abdullah died and has been buried in an unmarked grave. As The New Yorker's Robin Wright explains, "the death was not unexpected -- his half-brother Prince Salman, the defense minister, assumed the throne almost immediately -- but it comes at a time of grim uncertainty in the Gulf."

+ Part of the uncertainty (this week) is based in Yemen. Here's PBS Newshour on why Yemen's political implosion is dangerous for the U.S

+ Buzzfeed: Meet the new King of Saudi Arabia.


Weekend Reads

"It wasn't long ago that the idea of a pre-IPO tech startup with a $1 billion market value was a fantasy. Google was never worth $1 billion as a private company. Neither was Amazon, nor any other alumnus of the original dotcom class. Today the technology industry is crowded with billion-dollar startups." From Fortune: The Age of Unicorns. (Either today's start-ups are really that much faster and better, or mobile is that powerful, or we should be worried.)

+ FastCo: How a forgotten company's 1970s technical breakthrough launched a billion-dollar business and helped spawn a new creative medium: The untold story of the invention of the game cartridge.

+ "Frighteningly, because no sensation of satiety tells them to stop eating or alerts their body to throw up, they can accidentally consume enough in a single binge to fatally rupture their stomach." Kim Tingley in the NYT Magazine: Food Is a Death Sentence to These Kids.

+ Olga Khazan in The Atlantic: "I drove from one of the healthiest counties in the country to the least-healthy, both in the same state. Here's what I learned about work, well-being, and happiness."



"Millions may have held their suspicions, but last month the Canadian e-reader company Kobo confirmed it: Most people who buy The Goldfinch don't actually finish it." Today, publishers know what you read, when you read it, and at what point you chose to stop reading a book. Joseph Bernstein takes a look at what that might mean for the future of books.


Stop Carrying On

Last year, the TSA seized a record 2,212 firearms from carry-on luggage. More than eighty percent of those weapons were loaded. And most of those caught explained that they simply forgot the loaded gun was in their bag. Next time the person in front of me reclines their seat a bit too far, I'm gonna just let it go.


We Always Need Another Hero

The record-setting box office performance of American Sniper has everyone talking about (and writing about) the movie. Here's a very interesting take from a vet who served in Iraq. "If we saw Iraqis as humans, we'd have to learn how to live in a world far, far more complicated and painful than the difficult, painful one we currently live in. Messy, trauma-filled, beautiful, and altogether human; all of us breathing the oxygen of our time."

+ And here's another piece, written before the movie came out, that will make you think about our need for heroes, the media's role in feeding that need, and how we decide what is true. Truth, Justice and the Curious Case of Chris Kyle: "People need to believe, because without that belief, whether it be in their heroes, their country, their church, their world view, their ideology, their political party, or their own goodness, they will crumble."


Darth Mall

"My parents didn't love each other anymore, so at 10-, 7-, and 2-years-old, we flew unaccompanied between Idaho and LA for visits. We may not have had chaperones or the security of an intact nuclear family, but we had one essential comfort: The SkyMall catalog." As the company files for bankruptcy protection, Wired's Emily Dreyfuss pens an Ode to Skymall.

+ 12 of the weirdest products on Skymall.

+ And Fusion thinks they found the most insane item on Skymall.


Life Among the Machines

In Aeon, David Deutsch explains what's taking us so long to achieve artificial intelligence: "Present-day software developers could straightforwardly program a computer to have ‘self-awareness' if they wanted to. But it is a fairly useless ability." (I've always felt it was a little overrated in humans too.)

+ Berkeley Professor Ken Goldberg argues that we should "ditch the 'Singularity' and focus instead on 'Multiplicity', a much more practical and useful model where diverse groups of humans ask important questions and work together with diverse groups of machines to answer them."

+ "We inadvertently built our own panic and short-sightedness into the very systems designed to protect us from our worst impulses." Colin Dickey on how technological progress could be making us more vulnerable.

+ Why can't robots understand sarcasm?


Maybe The Times Aren’t Changing

U2 took a lot of heat for giving away their last album, and putting it into your iTunes collection without asking. That isn't stopping Bob Dylan from giving away copies of his new album, although the delivery model is somewhat different. Fifty thousand copies of his new CD will be inserted into random copies of next month's issue of AARP Magazine.


The Bottom of the News

"When you sign up for the service, you can design a boyfriend (or girlfriend) to your specifications ... Then you swipe your credit card ... and the imaginary man of your dreams starts texting you." If this thing learns to write a newsletter, I'm history.

+ Sports Illustrated just laid off all its sports photographers.

+ The rise of the avocado.

+ Nearly 46 million American's received a Starbucks gift card over the holidays. (Starbucks is seriously huge, and you are a seriously terrible gift-giver.)

+ And finally, scientists say we haven't been this close to the apocalypse in a long time. Have a good weekend.