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In the News 26.10.15 : Today’s Articles of Interest from around the Internets

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HOW AN F STUDENT BECAME AMERICA’S MOST PROLIFIC INVENTOR

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Wood insists that if he’s smart, he didn’t start out that way. Growing up in Southern California, he says, “I didn’t do well in any classes.” He often failed or received the lowest score on the first exam given in a particular course and improved his marks through repetition and intense effort. The strategy worked. He skipped a couple of grades and enrolled at UCLA at 16, where he tested into an honors-level calculus class. The worst score on the first exam—once again—was his. “I’d gotten into the class on the basis of aptitude, not knowledge, which is a ruinous sort of thing,” he says. “It’s like being told I understand the theory of swimming, and so here I am tossed into a high-speed river.”

The score horrified Wood, and he tried to make up for it with a very hard extra-credit problem. “You had to figure out how to cover an area with tiles in a specified fashion,” he says. “This is back in 1958, and it was a famous math problem. It was hopeless, and everyone worked on it for a while and then threw it away.”

Read the rest of this article at Bloomberg Business

The Mostly True Adventures Of Standup Comedy’s Legendary Frat House

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The house juts its chest out of the Hollywood Hills, flexing more bravado than actual confidence, looking a little unsteady as if one more misstep, one more bad night, could send it tumbling onto Sunset Boulevard. Sure, it’s got flair — the Spanish tile roof, the massive double balconies lording over West Hollywood — but, really, this house is peacocking, begging you to pay attention to it.

Stand on one of those back balconies, look down on the Comedy Store, the Sunset Strip, the Los Angeles Basin, and, on a clear day, maybe even out to the Pacific, and you’ll succumb to the illusion that this town is just out there waiting for you, that it wants you, even needs you. But this house was built on the hopes and dreams of the people who forgot that. It nurtured them — with shelter, camaraderie, laughs, sex, drugs — until it didn’t.

Stand-up comedy has been born and died a thousand times within a few hundred yards of 8420 Cresthill Road. Some of these deaths have been literal: In 1979, Steve Lubetkin, a struggling stand-up, dove off the roof of the Continental Hyatt House hotel and landed in the Comedy Store parking lot. Three years later, John Belushi died in Bungalow 3 of the Chateau Marmont, just up the road, after capping off a night of partying with a toxic speedball. Many more births and deaths have been figurative, onstage at the Store: Comics like David Letterman, Jay Leno, Sam Kinison, Andrew Dice Clay, Jim Carrey, Roseanne Barr, and Marc Maron found their voices here; many more, whose names have been mostly lost to history, shouted into the darkness of the Original Room and heard no reply.

In 1976, when Mitzi Shore, the Comedy Store’s owner and enigmatic doyen (and mother of Pauly), bought the club, Cresthill, as it came to be known, was rolled into the deal. From the front, the house looks kind of small, almost humble. The two largest bedrooms are on the street level, and it isn’t until you descend the staircase and walk toward the back of the house that the three-story, nearly 5,000-square-foot abode begins to reveal itself. The space widens and draws you toward its oddly placed alcoves, its nooks and crannies, toward those sweeping balconies, toward its secrets. Built in the 1920s, the place has a shadowy history dating to the days when the mob and the Rat Pack prowled the Strip. At the time when Mitzi bought it, the house — which sits on a cul-de-sac of pretty, older homes elbowing each other for space — was vacant, and at first, Mitzi did little with it. Then, around the time of Lubetkin’s suicide, she essentially gave the place over to the comedians who worked at the Store.

For about a decade, comics inhabited Cresthill. Inhabit is the best way to put it, really: Some had their own rooms, some of those actually paid some token rent, but many, many more were just kind of there — to hang out, to drink, to do drugs, to talk shit, to crash on a couch, or a floor, wherever. There were three bedrooms, maybe four, depending on what you’d call a bedroom, but that had little relation to how many people might be sleeping there at any given moment. No one can remember ever signing a lease.

Read the rest of this article at Buzzfeed

Bruce Davidson on His Photographs of Los Angeles

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Bruce Davidson lives in a big, bright apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, with tall windows that light pours through, even on a rainy morning. Framed prints of his photographs are hanging on walls, stacked on couches, leaning against furniture on the floor. The eyes of Davidson’s subjects peer out from behind glass panes. Here, a New York City subway rider in 1980. There, a Brooklyn gang member in 1959. The faces, caught in everyday, anonymous moments, command a visitor’s gaze. They command the gaze of Davidson, too, who, on the way to give this visitor a tour of his workspace, stops before each image to make an introduction, as though we were all guests at a party.

“This is a self-portrait I made in ’54, ’55,” Davidson says, pointing to a black-and-white image of himself, taken in the reflection of an ornate mirror. “This is Bobby,” he says, motioning to a print of Bobby Powers, the leader of the Brooklyn street gang the Jokers. “This is the nature of Paris,” he says, pausing before a black-and-white photograph of a plant. He then stops in front of an arresting, poster-size print of a woman riding a train in 1980, wearing an uncertain expression and a red carnation in her hair. “This is from the ‘Subway’ series,” Davidson says. “It’s a dye-transfer color print.”

Read the rest of this article at Vogue

Raiders of the Lost Web

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The web, as it appears at any one moment, is a phantasmagoria. It’s not a place in any reliable sense of the word. It is not a repository. It is not a library. It is a constantly changing patchwork of perpetual nowness.

You can’t count on the web, okay? It’s unstable. You have to know this.

Digital information itself has all kinds of advantages. It can be read by machines, sorted and analyzed in massive quantities, and disseminated instantaneously. “Except when it goes, it really goes,” said Jason Scott, an archivist and historian for the Internet Archive. “It’s gone gone. A piece of paper can burn and you can still kind of get something from it. With a hard drive or a URL, when it’s gone, there is just zero recourse.”

There are exceptions. The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine has a trove of cached web pages going back to 1996. Scott and his colleagues are saving tens of petabytes of data, chasing an ideal that doubles as their motto: Universal Access to All Knowledge. The trove they’ve built is extraordinary, but it’s far from comprehensive. Today’s web is more dynamic than ever and therefore more at-risk than it sometimes seems.

Read the rest of this article at The Atlantic

Terry Gross and the Art of Opening Up

The “Fresh Air” host’s 40­year, 13,000­interview master class in conversation.

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On a late­summer morning, Terry Gross sat before a computer in her office — a boxy, glass­fronted room at WHYY in Philadelphia — composing interview questions. Gross, who wore a leopard­print scarf knotted at her neck, was typing rapidly, occasionally pausing to refer to a memoir open beside her. She swiveled in her chair to face me. ‘‘It’s interesting that she never had an orgasm,’’ Gross began. ‘‘I mean, not never, but not until later. I’d like to ask her about that, but it’s tricky.’’ Gross often talks about sex on her NPR show, ‘‘Fresh Air.’’ She frames it politically and socially, but she also comes at the subject with disarming specificity, uncovering details that seem not raw but quotidian. When she asked Lena Dunham about what it was like for her sexual partners to see her children’s­book tattoos, she elicited an answer that was almost poetic — Dunham described the tattoos as ‘‘wearing a sleeve when you are naked.’’ The exchange was also, in its way, just as boundary­pushing as the sex on ‘‘Girls,’’ Dunham’s HBO show. It’s daring to talk about sex on public radio in the middle of the day, and ‘‘tricky’’ because Gross is mindful of the needs of more conservative stations. ‘‘Sometimes in social media people act like I must be this prude,” Gross said, ‘‘and they think it’s hilarious that I’ve used a certain word.’’ But Gross talks about sexuality on the air ‘‘not because I want to be prurient’’ but because there is value in speaking honestly about something that is both essential and hidden. She uses the very public space of the interview to access tenderly personal places.

This fall, Gross marks her 40th anniversary hosting ‘‘Fresh Air.’’ At 64, she is ‘‘the most effective and beautiful interviewer of people on the planet,’’ as Marc Maron said recently, while introducing an episode of his podcast, ‘‘WTF,’’ that featured a conversation with Gross. She’s deft on news and subtle on history, sixth­sensey in probing personal biography and expert at examining the intricacies of artistic process. She is acutely attuned to the twin pulls of disclosure and privacy. ‘‘You started writing memoirs before our culture got as confessional as it’s become, before the word ‘oversharing’ was coined,’’ Gross said to the writer Mary Karr last month. ‘‘So has that affected your standards of what is meant to be written about and what is meant to maintain silence about?’’ (‘‘That’s such a smart question,’’ Karr responded. ‘‘Damn it, now I’m going to have to think.’’) Gross says very little about her own life on the air. ‘‘I try not to make it about me,’’ Gross told me. ‘‘I try to use my experiences to help me understand my guests’ experiences, but not to take anything away from them.’’ Early in her career, she realized that remaining somewhat unknown allows ‘‘radio listeners to do what they like to do, which is to create you.’’ She added, ‘‘Whatever you need me to be, I’ll be that.’

Read the rest of this article at The New York Times

P.S. previous articles & more by P.F.M.