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News 11.23.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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News 11.23.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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In mid-January, Toby Ord, a philosopher and senior research fellow at Oxford University, was reviewing the final proofs for his first book, “The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity.” Ord works in the university’s Future of Humanity Institute, which specializes in considering our collective fate. He had noticed that a few of his colleagues—those who worked on “bio-risk”—were tracking a new virus in Asia. Occasionally, they e-mailed around projections, which Ord found intriguing, in a hypothetical way. Among other subjects, “The Precipice” deals with the risk posed to our species by pandemics both natural and engineered. He wondered if the coronavirus might make his book more topical.

In February, the U.S. leg of Ord’s book tour, which was scheduled for the spring and was to include stops at Stanford, M.I.T., and Princeton, was cancelled. “The Precipice” was published in the United Kingdom on March 5th; two weeks later, Ord was sheltering in place at home. His wife, Bernadette Young, an infectious-disease specialist at John Radcliffe Hospital, in Oxford, began working overtime, while he cared for their daughter, Rose, who was then five. “I’d already known that, during a crisis, the unthinkable can quickly become the inevitable,” Ord told me, earlier this year. “But, despite having this intellectual knowledge, it was still quite something to see such a thing unfold before my eyes.”

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

News 11.23.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

In June 2017, about 100 employees of Apple Inc gathered at the company’s headquarters at 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino, to hear a presentation designed to scare them witless.

Staffed by former members of the National Security Agency and the US military, Apple’s global security team played video messages from top executives warning attendees never to leak information.

“This has become a big deal for Tim,” Greg Joswiak, Apple’s vice president of marketing, said at the time. “I have faith deep in my soul that if we hire smart people they’re gonna think about this, they’re gonna understand this, and ultimately they’re gonna do the right thing, and that’s to keep their mouth shut.”

A secretive culture – bordering on paranoia – was first fostered by Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, and then by his successor Tim Cook, who took over in 2011.

Apple employees typically sign several non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) per year, use codenames to refer to projects, and are locked out of meetings if they fail to obtain the appropriate documentation, former workers told us.

“Secrecy is everything at Apple,” one ex staffer said. “Many employees don’t like Apple Park [the company’s new headquarters] because it has very few private offices. Confidentiality on projects and the ability to step behind a closed door is vital.”

Another recent ex-employee said that security was weaponised across the company, with internal blogs boasting about the number of employees caught leaking and NDAs required even for non-sensitive or mundane projects. The employee described how they were once asked to read a negative story about the company and then identify the Apple insider suspected of leaking information.

Since becoming chief executive, Cook has doubled down on security, catching 29 leakers in 2017 alone, according to an internal memo leaked to Bloomberg in 2018 (the company does not publicly disclose such figures).

Yet Cook has also radically shifted Apple’s priorities, sometimes in directions that his predecessor would not have understood or condoned. Understanding what has changed at the company in the 3,015 days since Jobs died of pancreatic cancer is arguably more critical to understanding Apple in 2020 than identifying what has remained the same.

Read the rest of this article at: Tortois

Collab day at Clubhouse Beverly Hills was scheduled to start at 2 p.m., but that time came and went and the mansion was still as sleepy as a college dorm on Saturday morning. In one of the house’s four living rooms, an enormous oil painting of George Washington loomed over a pale leather couch. A whiteboard listed ideas for future TikTok videos: shooting range, wine tasting, go-karts, Joshua Tree. Outside, by the sparkling pool, the lawn was studded with statues of Greek gods and human-size hamster balls.

In the kitchen, Casius Dean, an 18-year-old from Hawaii who moved to Los Angeles on his coronavirus stimulus check and is now a full-time photographer at the house, told me that the weekly collab days are an occasion for “people with different levels of social media to create together.” A videographer breezed through on his way to Starbucks. “The girls don’t even have their makeup on,” he said, rolling his eyes. The only one who appeared ready was Teala Dunn, the house’s oldest resident at 23, who was wandering around the mansion in a bright-turquoise bikini. As a child, Teala had played a kidnapped girl on Law & Order: SVU and voiced a bunny in a Disney movie. But those were the old ways to build a career in entertainment. Her TikToks, many of which are about how she has a lot of bikinis but can’t swim, have been viewed more than half a billion times. Teala enlisted Dean to take pictures of her by the pool, where she tossed her hair and tilted her chin at various angles. After a few minutes, she grabbed his phone and squinted at the images. “These are everything,” she said.

Read the rest of this article at: The Atlantic

News 11.23.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 11.23.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Six years ago, after I contacted David Fincher and told him I wanted to write an article about how he makes movies, he invited me to his office to present my case in person and, while I was there, watch him get some work done. On an April afternoon, I arrived at the Hollywood Art Deco building that has long served as Fincher’s base of operations, where he was about to look at footage from his 10th feature film, “Gone Girl,” then in postproduction. We headed upstairs and found the editor Kirk Baxter assembling a scene. Fincher watched it once through, then asked Baxter to replay a five-second stretch. It was a seemingly simple tracking shot, the camera traveling alongside Ben Affleck as he entered a living room in violent disarray: overturned ottoman, shattered glass. The camera moved at the same speed as Affleck, gliding with unvarying smoothness, which is exactly how Fincher likes his shots to behave. Except that three seconds in, something was off. “There’s a bump,” he said.

No living director surpasses Fincher’s reputation for exactitude. Any account of his methods invariably mentions how many takes he likes to shoot, which can annoy him, not because this is inaccurate but because it abets a vision of him as a dictatorially fussy artiste. Fincher, who is 58, argues that this caricature misses the point: If you want to build worlds as engrossing as those he seeks to construct, then you need actors to push their performances into zones of fecund uncertainty, to shed all traces of what he calls “presentation.” And then you need them to give you options, all while hitting the exact same marks (which goes for the camera operators too) to ensure there will be no continuity errors when you cut the scene together. Getting all these stars to align before, say, Take No. 9 is possible but unlikely. “I get, He’s a perfectionist,” Fincher volunteered. “No. There’s just a difference between mediocre and acceptable.”

Baxter played the sequence again, and this time I spotted a little artifact of the camera operator’s hand — a hiccup before the shot came to rest. Jeff Cronenweth, the cinematographer on “Gone Girl” and several other Fincher features, told me later that Fincher stays vigilant for any distractions onscreen that might pull audiences off “the ride” he’s constructing. “It could be unconscious — you could come out of a movie that had 10 soft shots, meaning they’re out of focus, and say, ‘That was pretty good.’ But David’s thought process is to eliminate all of that — to fight to make sure that there aren’t any of those mistakes.” Brad Pitt, who has starred in three Fincher films, recalled times when they would “be doing a shot, and there would be the slightest imperceptible wiggle from the camera, and you could see Finch literally tense up — like, it physically hurts him.”

Read the rest of this article at: The New York Times

News 11.23.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Peter Turchin, one of the world’s experts on pine beetles and possibly also on human beings, met me reluctantly this summer on the campus of the University of Connecticut at Storrs, where he teaches. Like many people during the pandemic, he preferred to limit his human contact. He also doubted whether human contact would have much value anyway, when his mathematical models could already tell me everything I needed to know.

But he had to leave his office sometime. (“One way you know I am Russian is that I cannot think sitting down,” he told me. “I have to go for a walk.”) Neither of us had seen much of anyone since the pandemic had closed the country several months before. The campus was quiet. “A week ago, it was even more like a neutron bomb hit,” Turchin said. Animals were timidly reclaiming the campus, he said: squirrels, woodchucks, deer, even an occasional red-tailed hawk. During our walk, groundskeepers and a few kids on skateboards were the only other representatives of the human population in sight.

The year 2020 has been kind to Turchin, for many of the same reasons it has been hell for the rest of us. Cities on fire, elected leaders endorsing violence, homicides surging—­­to a normal American, these are apocalyptic signs. To Turchin, they indicate that his models, which incorporate thousands of years of data about human history, are working. (“Not all of human history,” he corrected me once. “Just the last 10,000 years.”) He has been warning for a decade that a few key social and political trends portend an “age of discord,” civil unrest and carnage worse than most Americans have experienced. In 2010, he predicted that the unrest would get serious around 2020, and that it wouldn’t let up until those social and political trends reversed. Havoc at the level of the late 1960s and early ’70s is the best-case scenario; all-out civil war is the worst.

The fundamental problems, he says, are a dark triad of social maladies: a bloated elite class, with too few elite jobs to go around; declining living standards among the general population; and a government that can’t cover its financial positions. His models, which track these factors in other societies across history, are too complicated to explain in a nontechnical publication. But they’ve succeeded in impressing writers for nontechnical publications, and have won him comparisons to other authors of “megahistories,” such as Jared Diamond and Yuval Noah Harari. The New York Times columnist Ross Douthat had once found Turchin’s historical model­ing unpersuasive, but 2020 made him a believer: “At this point,” Douthat recently admitted on a podcast, “I feel like you have to pay a little more attention to him.”

Diamond and Harari aimed to describe the history of humanity. Turchin looks into a distant, science-fiction future for peers. In War and Peace and War (2006), his most accessible book, he likens himself to Hari Seldon, the “maverick mathematician” of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, who can foretell the rise and fall of empires. In those 10,000 years’ worth of data, Turchin believes he has found iron laws that dictate the fates of human societies.

The fate of our own society, he says, is not going to be pretty, at least in the near term. “It’s too late,” he told me as we passed Mirror Lake, which UConn’s website describes as a favorite place for students to “read, relax, or ride on the wooden swing.” The problems are deep and structural—not the type that the tedious process of demo­cratic change can fix in time to forestall mayhem. Turchin likens America to a huge ship headed directly for an iceberg: “If you have a discussion among the crew about which way to turn, you will not turn in time, and you hit the iceberg directly.” The past 10 years or so have been discussion. That sickening crunch you now hear—steel twisting, rivets popping—­­is the sound of the ship hitting the iceberg.

Read the rest of this article at: The Atlantic

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