Wednesday, May 20th, 2015


Sis Boom Bah Humbug

Has the Valley peaked? In his GQ piece Silicon Valley is a Big Fat Lie, Sam Biddle laments what he sees as the gradual intellectual decline of the tech industry in the Bay Area: "What was once a land of upstarts and rebels is now being led by the money-hungry and the unspirited. Which is why we have a start-up that mails your dog curated treats and an app that says 'Yo.' The brightest minds in tech just lately seem more concerned with silly business ideas and innocuous 'disruption,' all for the shot at an immense payday. And when our country's smartest people are working on the dumbest things, we all lose out." A couple thoughts. First, I worry less about my tech industry colleagues who are working on dumb ideas than those who think that because they can code a photo sharing app, they are also qualified to solve America's most entrenched problems. Second, Biddle should consider the possibility that not everyone out here fits into the category of "our country's smartest people." Showing up at a gold rush with a shovel and a pan doesn't make you a genius.

+ Farhad Manjoo in the NYT: A tech boom aimed at the few instead of the world.


The Customer is Always Ripe

Several of the world's largest banks were required to pay $5.6 billion in fines "for manipulation of the foreign exchange market." It was probably a sign when, back in 2007, those involved formed a group they called The Cartel.

+ "Many of these consumers learned of their PayPal Credit accounts for the first time when they received billing statements with accrued late fees and interest charges, or when they received debt-collection calls." From The Verge: PayPal stuck with $25 million in fines for signing users up to its credit program. (It's sad when companies feel compelled to continually punish you for being a customer.)


A Sociopath’s Nightstand

The White House has released a list of the books and other reading material recovered from the compound where Osama bin Laden was killed.

+ He read everything from Woodward to Chomsky, and even kept a few software manuals, including guides to using Photoshop and Dreamweaver. From Bloomberg: A look Inside Osama bin Laden's library in 8 clippings.


This Will Be Your Brain on Drugs

"We hope the minds of the future will be stronger than those of today. It's as much a personal hope as a hope for civilization: If we're already running at full capacity, we're stuck, but what if we're using only a small fraction of our potential? Well, then the sky's the limit." In The Atlantic, Maria Konnikova explains how we might try to make ourselves smarter in (the very near) future -- from personalized smart pills to pacemakers for your head. Hacking the Brain.


Whiskey Soar

"I found myself scaling a mountain in Nepal's Himalayan foothills to deliver a bottle of whiskey to an 80-year-old woman." The NYT's Ellen Barry on the moment her reporting in Nepal stopped being a reporting gig and got personal.


Musical Interlude

Spotify has announced plans to move beyond music. The updated service will include podcasts, video, and context-based listening. With the iPhone, we moved towards a future where everything happens on one device. With recent moves by Snapchat and Spotify, are we moving towards a future where everything can be found in one app? (I only ask because the next version of the NextDraft app is going to include Karaoke.)

+ Among the new features, Spotify will match music to your running pace. I better get used to slow jams.


Host to Host

Howard Stern on David Letterman: "He probably could have dumbed it down and done a long meaningless monologue that would have made for better ratings, but he stayed true to himself. That takes an unusual strength." Lots of great stories and quotes in John Koblin's NYT piece: David Letterman, Prickly Late-Night Innovator, Counts Down to His Exit.

+ Some of Letterman's best musical guests. As a younger man, I once sat in the NBC studio while Lou Reed rehearsed Dirty Boulevard with Paul and the band. That was a good day.


Exactly Like Oil and Water

A ruptured pipeline allowed thousands of gallons of oil to leak into the water along Santa Barbara's coastline. The spill currently covers about 9 miles. The firm that owns the pipeline ran an integrity check on the line two weeks ago, but results hadn't come back yet.


Chalk the Monkey

"As a toddler in 1981 and 1982, I attended a day care with monkeys. Or, perhaps more precisely, I was part of a study in the form of a day care that involved monkeys." In The Verge, Michelle Dean reflects on her early years growing up as a child research subject.

+ I've never subjected my kids to monkey daycare. But I came close last night when they met our family's third cat. Yeah, it's happening. I'm sharing a cat photo on the Internet. (Am I the first?)


Bottom of the News

"Men and women dissatisfied with their love lives are making pilgrimages to the Judaean Mountains near Jerusalem, where Alexander may prescribe them a Sqweel. The device, he explains in incrementally hushed volumes at a winery by his home in the Gush Etzion settlement, is a sex toy of rotating silicone." The rabbi who sells kosher vibrators. (I believe it was Reb Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof who first asked: "If you're married to a Jewish guy, who's got time for a vibrator?")

+ "There is such a thing as a useful narcissist." New research suggests what you've feared. It pays to be a jerk.

+ How Eddie Van Halen hacks a guitar.