News 08.12.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 08.12.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
Playlist 07.21.19 : Five Songs for the Weekend
News 08.12.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

The Economics Of Bubbles

Last year, Ross Gerber, a corporate investment manager, Tweeted a warning about Tesla. Gerber wanted investors to know that Tesla’s success would put other industries ‘at risk’. Which ones? Just oil, internal combustion engine automobiles, car dealers, railroads, auto parts, automobile services, and gas stations. ‘Did I forget some?’ he asked, implying yes, he did. Gerber included hashtags referencing Uber and Netflix as comparable ‘disruptors’. This is why, Gerber implied, there was so much ‘FUD’ (fear, uncertainty and doubt) in the media about Tesla. Gerber suggests a compelling storyline: the underdog hero, Tesla, is up against the evil incumbent forces that will play dirty to defeat it, but Tesla will overcome – just as Netflix and, presumptively, Uber have done.

The Tweet does not substantiate any of this. It doesn’t say why Tesla’s business case is like Netflix’s or Uber’s. It doesn’t say why all the purportedly threatened industries share the same interests here. It doesn’t have to – the human brain does that on its own without any help. As the US literary scholar Jonathan Gottschall has shown in his book The Storytelling Animal (2012), even the faintest sketch of a plotline is enough to prompt our minds to fill in the details. Gerber’s story outline is a familiar enough sketch of David taking on not just one but several Goliaths. It’s a good story outline. But it also ignores many important parts that do not fit with the plucky underdog narrative. It implies that all these alleged Goliaths have the same interest. It’s fiction, fantastically so.

Read the rest of this article at: aeon

News 08.12.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

The Lonely Work of Moderating Hacker News

News 08.12.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Open-plan offices offer few pleasures; one of them is snooping on other people’s browsing habits. When, years ago, I began working for tech companies in San Francisco, I noticed that my co-workers were always scrolling through a beige, text-only Web site that resembled a nineteen-nineties Internet forum. They were reading Hacker News—a link aggregator and message board that is something of a Silicon Valley institution. Technologists in Silicon Valley assume familiarity with Hacker News, just as New Yorkers do with the New York Post and the New York Times. For some, it’s the first Web site they pull up in the morning; it captures the mix of technical obsession, business ambition, and aspirational curiosity that’s typical of the Valley. On any given day, its top links might include a Medium post about technical hiring; a 1997 article from Outside magazine about freezing to death; an open-source virtual private network hosted on GitHub; an academic paper, from 2006, about compiler construction; an announcement from Facebook’s corporate communications team; a personal blog post about Linux kernels, and another about selling Vidalia onions on the Internet. Nearly all the software engineers I know check it religiously. Not one of them has a neutral opinion about it.

Like many of the software products that have shaped the Valley, Hacker News began as a side project. In 2007, the venture capitalist Paul Graham, who was then the president of the startup accelerator Y Combinator—an early investor in Dropbox, Stripe, Reddit, Twitch, and other companies—built the site as a way to experiment with Arc, a new programming language that he was co-authoring. Originally, Graham named the site Startup News. He hoped that it would serve as a new home for the startup founders and “would-be founders” who had once gathered on Reddit, before that site grew too popular to feel like a community. Among other benefits, he imagined that Startup News might help him find worthy entrepreneurs. (“There are a number of Reddit users that I know only by their usernames, but I know must be smart from the things they’ve written,” he explained, in his launch announcement. “We’re counting on the same phenomenon to help us decide who to fund.”) Within a few months, though, Graham found that startup-centric conversation had its limits. He renamed the site Hacker News, and expanded its focus to include “anything that good hackers would find interesting . . . anything that gratifies one’s intellectual curiosity.” (Hacker News is still owned by Y Combinator.)

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

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Inside The Hidden World Of Elevator Phone Phreaking

The first time I called into an elevator, I picked up my iPhone and dialed the number—labeled on my list as the Crown Plaza Hotel in Chicago—and immediately heard two beeps, then a recording of a woman’s voice, who told me to press one to talk. When I did, I was suddenly in aural space filled with the hum of motors and the muffled twanging of steel cables under tension. “Hello, can anyone hear me?” I asked the void. The void did not respond.

I hung up and tried another number on my list: A Hilton hotel in Grand Rapids, Michigan. After just one ring I heard a series of four tones and was immediately listening to the inside of another elevator. I heard a chime, perhaps a signal that it had reached a floor, followed by the rumble of what might have been a door opening. “Hi, is anyone in here?” I asked. This time I heard a few muffled voices, then a woman answered: “There are people in here, yes.”

Read the rest of this article at: Wired

News 08.12.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 08.12.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Last year, I had a strange dream. My father and I were wading in an industrial canal, reminiscent of a subway, as thousands of hatchery-raised fish were being released into it. The fish crowded, slimy, around our legs, and I knew (in the way that one knows in a dream) that they thought, as they hit the water, that they were drowning—that they had to experience death before entering adulthood. The next day, I told my father about the dream. He revealed that, when I was three, when we were living in Pittsburgh, he took me to see a truckful of catfish being pumped into an artificial pond. I was too young to remember this. But somewhere in my mind the vision of fish being spewed into water had lodged itself, resurfacing more than twenty-five years later.

These days, it’s common to find an image emerging, unbeckoned, from the reservoir of the past. We spend hours wading through streams of photos, many of which document, in unprecedented ways, our daily lives. Facebook was invented in 2004. By 2015, Kate Eichhorn writes in “The End of Forgetting: Growing Up with Social Media,” people were sharing thirty million images an hour on Snapchat, and British parents “posted, on average, nearly two hundred photographs of their child online each year.” For those who have grown up with social media—a group that includes pretty much everyone under twenty-five—childhood, an era that was fruitfully mysterious for the rest of us, is surprisingly accessible. According to Eichhorn, a media historian at the New School, this is certain to have some kind of profound effect on the development of identity. What that effect will be we’re not quite sure.

Eichhorn sees both sides of the coin. On the one hand, she says, children and teen-agers have gained a level of control that they didn’t have before. In the past, adults refused to acknowledge children’s agency, or imposed on them an idealized notion of innocence and purity. Adults were the ones writing books, taking photos with expensive cameras, and commissioning paintings, all of which tended to commemorate childhood—to look back at it—rather than participate in it. The arrival of cheaply made instant photos, in the nineteen-sixties, allowed children to seize a means of production, and the arrival of the Internet gave them an unprecedented degree of self-determination. “If childhood was once constructed and recorded by adults and mirrored back to children (e.g., in a carefully curated family photo album or a series of home video clips), this is no longer the case,” Eichhorn writes. “Today, young people create images and put them into circulation without the interference of adults.”

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

One Is Chinese. One Is American. How A Journalist Discovered And Reunited Identical Twins

News 08.12.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

On a cold afternoon in 2017, I was fighting off the urge for a nap when a message popped up on Facebook:

Ms. Demick. You contacted me a long time ago? Are you still interested in talking with me? If so, my family and I are interested.

I was the New York correspondent for the Los Angeles Times and was exhausted from covering the aftermath of the presidential inauguration. I tapped out a curt reply, saying I didn’t know who he was.

My mom adopted a little Chinese girl years ago … and it appears like she has a twin sister still in China.

I bolted upright. Of course I hadn’t forgotten.

In 2009, as a Beijing-based correspondent, I traveled the backwaters of central China to learn more about the origins of the more than 80,000 girls who had been adopted in the United States.

The prevailing wisdom was that rural Chinese had essentially thrown away their female babies because the law limited them to one child and they preferred boys. No doubt that was often the case. But reports were surfacing that government officials were snatching babies to satisfy a lucrative adoption market.

I went to investigate, traveling to remote mountain villages, sometimes leaving the car to hike because the roads were impassable.

One of the families I met in a village wedged between rice paddies in Hunan province had lost one of their twin daughters. Twins are normally permitted, but this family already had two older daughters.

The mother had given birth in a bamboo grove, trying to avoid detection by the government. She and her husband then fled to another province with one twin while leaving the other with an uncle and aunt. But one day when the girls were almost 2 years old, five men working for family planning stormed the house, restrained the aunt and took away the screaming toddler.

I met the twin who stayed with her parents when she was 9 years old. Her name was Shuangjie — “double purity,” in recognition of her status as a twin. She had a heart-shaped face and a pouting mouth, lips turned downward to mark her discontent. She sat next to her mother on a plastic stool outside a wooden shack.

Her mother, Yuan Zanhua, told me her daughter still grieved for her missing twin. “‘She’s always asking me, ‘When will you get my sister back? Where is she?’”

In 2002, a 2-year-old girl was confiscated by Chinese officials because her family had violated the one-child policy. In February, during Lunar New Year, she traveled from Texas, where she had been adopted, to meet her birth family and her twin sister.

Zanhua thought her daughter might have been adopted overseas, but she’d also heard rumors that babies were taken for organ donations. (I never found evidence to support such claims. In fact, parents from the U.S., Netherlands, Spain and Great Britain were flocking to China to adopt.)

“She could be anywhere in the world,” Zanhua told me. “I wouldn’t know where to look.”

As I got ready to leave, she brightened up for a final farewell.

“Come visit again, and next time bring our daughter.”

My story on officials abducting babies ran in September 2009 along with a story about the stolen twin. I moved on to other news, but Zanhua had laid down a challenge that would be hard to resist. I began to search.

Eventually, I found a Yahoo chat group for parents who had adopted from the Shaoyang Social Welfare Institute, the orphanage where I was certain the twin had been taken. Along with the concerned moderator, who let me join the group, we flipped through photos and descriptions. One girl looked like a possibility. The parents were evangelical Christians who had two adopted girls. They were an older couple, both previously married with children.

On Adopt the World, a website she created to help families adopt, the mother explained how their faith guided them: “When God births His passion in you, it doesn’t matter what the obstacles are.… It had to be because it was and is His will. God loves the orphan. God defends the orphan. God is a Father to the orphan, and is just waiting for us to care for them the way He does.”

Read the rest of this article at: The Los Angeles Times

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