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Cecily Cecily

Writing Worth Reading

Public Displays Of Transaction

Old hat to you, no doubt, but new to me: Venmo is a social media app which combines, more or less, the functions of PayPal and Twitter. Other people can watch you making payments. “A lot of people seem unaware of the stories they’re telling in their transactions. This will likely change once it becomes more mainstream, but for now, it’s the Wild West of uninhibited, relatively public commerce” (784 words)

Weird Al Endures

Weird Al Yankovich had his biggest moment in 1984 with a middling success for his Michael Jackson parody, Eat It. But “the world turns over a new batch of dorky teens” every generation, and Al has outlasted the artists he parodies. “We get older but he stays the same age — goofy, juvenile, exuberant, and proudly uncool, a gawky guy with a perm and a nasally, insistent voice, whose tastes run toward geek humor and polka” (1,280 words)

What Happened To Malaysia Airlines Flight 17

If you were living in Russia, you’d get your news from state-controlled television and radio, and here’s what it would tell you: That MH17 is actually MH370, the Malaysian Airlines flight that disappeared in the Indian Ocean; it was secretly held at an American military base on Diego-Garcia for re-use. The plane was filled with corpses, not passengers, when it left Amsterdam; and flown on autopilot. Russia was framed (1,540 words)

On Joanna Rakoff’s “My Salinger Year”

The “sleeper success” of My Salinger Year, which has gone to a third printing and been sold as a film, probably owes much to a general nostalgia for the vanished world of genteel New York publishing. “When Rakoff arrives at Harold Ober in January 1996, the agency does not own a single computer. Agents still track submissions on little pink file cards and Rakoff spends much of her day behind an IBM Selectric” (2,080 words)

Marc Andreessen On Twitter

Twitter’s top new power user is venture capitalist Marc Andreessen. “During the first six months of 2014, Andreessen tweeted 21,783 times — an average of five tweets per hour, every hour”. Most days he tweets 50-200 times, for an average of 120 tweets per day. His penchant for sending multiple numbered tweets on a single topic has spawned “an entire Twitter genre”, the Tweetstorm (670 words)

How Pelicans Became Blue

The covers of the pioneering non-fiction Pelican imprint were as distinctive as the content. The series launched in 1937 with George Bernard Shaw’s The Intelligent Women’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism. The cover was a shade of blue “veering towards turquoise, which chemists will recognize instantly as a copper pigment of some kind” — copper phthalocyanine, sold as “monastral blue” (830 words)

For The Love Of Content Management …

… Paul Ford resolves to learn to use Kinja, Gawker’s new discussion platform. It does not go well. “it’s like that movie with kristin dunst where the world is upside down and two people fall in love and no one can reach out to each other between a code block and a blockquote there can be only a void so code paste (hardly a use case for gawker media, but still)(define (fib n) (if (<= n 2) 1 (+ (fib (- n 1)) (fib (- n 2)))))” (3,630 words)

How Are Apps Made?

“Enumerate the unknowns. Make a list. Making known the unknowns you now know will surface the other unknowns, the important unknowns, the truly devastating unknowns — you can’t scrape our content! you can’t monkey park here! a tiny antennae is not for rent! You want to unearth answers as quickly as possible. Nothing else matters if your question marks irrecoverably break you. Do not procrastinate in their excavation” (1,030 words)

For Email Newsletters, A Death Greatly Exaggerated

Email is “the cockroach of the Internet”. It survives all disruptions. Email newsletters are even enjoying something of a boom “because readers have grown tired of the endless stream of information on the Internet, and having something finite and recognisable show up in your inbox can impose order on all that chaos”. MailChimp, a big email newsletter platform, is adding 10,000 users a day (Metered paywall) (1,230 words)

Brick By Brick: The Bezos Post

Jeff Bezos makes his presence felt as owner of the Washington Post. “We’re clearly in Get Big Fast mode,” says one editor. “The logic of the current expansion is Amazonian. We’re going to get big and then figure out what to do with it”, says another. There’s a touch of the Huffington Post about two new features, Morning Mix and Post Everything. The target, apparently, is 100m digital readers worldwide (5,100 words)

Ebooks Versus Paper

Too much of the debate about screen versus printed page, and by extension about the future of books and reading, focuses on the physiology of reading to the exclusion of the psychology and the sociology. “When we sit on a train with a book open in front of us, how much has our choice of reading being influenced by our ideas of what a proper book should be like, and how a proper adult should appear in public?” (1,840 words)

Reading: The Struggle

How fiction will evolve in a distracted world. “The novel of conceptual delicacy and syntactical complexity will divide itself into shorter and shorter sections, offering more frequent pauses where we can take time out. The larger popular novel, or the novel of extensive narrative architecture, will be ever more laden with repetitive formulas, to make it easier, after breaks, to pick up, not a thread, but a sturdy cable” (1,745 words)

Jonah Peretti Goes Long

Big, meaty interview with Buzzfeed founder, viral content guru. “If the forest is dry and it’s been hot and the trees are close together, you can just drop a match and the whole thing will burn. There was a period between 2001 and 2003 when the dry forest was ready to burn. If you made something that was pretty funny and had qualities that caused people to want to share and talk and discuss, then things would spread pretty far” (23,000 words)

The Future Of “The Guardian”

It has money, credibility, ambitions. But does it have a plan? Good luck finding much out from the editor, Alan Rusbridger: “An hour with him is both unpleasant in the exertions required to penetrate his lack of transparency and fill the conversational void and, yet, at the same time, uplifting and restorative. The vacuum that surrounds him somehow seems to represent moral superiority and it draws you in” (3,830 words)

Obituaries For “The Economist”

Conversation with Ann Wroe, obituary editor at “The Economist”. The subject — one per week — is decided on Monday, and the piece is due by the end of Tuesday. “I just sort of feed it all in. Make a huge great collage in my mind. The hardest one was Ingmar Bergman. I had to spend the whole night watching the movies, and by the end I was suicidal … I absolutely dread it when the writers die. There’s such a lot to read!” (1,160 words)

Time Inc’s Anxious Spinoff

Hived off by Time Warner, Time Inc returns to what it was at foundation almost a century ago — a stand-alone magazine company. But is it “a revivified collection of brands newly primed for digital times”; or “a hapless, saddled-with-debt company just entering a new stage of decline”? Whatever the outcome, the business presents a severe and immediate managerial challenge, with 95 brands and no coherent strategy (1,900 words)

Nine Weeks To Launch Vox

Tech chief of Ezra Klein’s explainer website explains the speedy launch. “Vox took nine weeks to plan, design, build, test, and go live (six weeks from the time development began). It was an experiment for our team and our company, driven by our desire to get a product into users’ hands early, some constraints we could not change, and our enthusiasm for approaching a familiar problem in a new way” (3,675 words)

Foyles Builds Literary Temple

London gets a new flagship bookshop. Foyle’s moves down Charing Cross Road into the former Saint Martin’s School Of Art. The old shop was a rabbit-warren. The new one will be more like a temple. “People are not going to make the journey here unless they think it will be worthwhile. Why do people go to Harrods, Fortnum & Mason or Hamleys rather than the internet? Because they think it is going to be an experience” (1,098 words)

A Type House Divided

Intelligent, sympathetic portrait of type designers Tobias Frere-Jones and Jonathan Hoefler; the argument which broke up their company; and the sadness which the split has left in its wake. Frere-Jones designed Gotham, the typeface used for Barack Obama’s campaign posters. It used to be that he and Hoefler agreed about everything except the height of a lower-case “t”. Now Frere-Jones is suing for $20 million (5,440 words)

Angelina Jolie’s Perfect Game

Jolie “plays the celebrity game better than anyone else in the business”. Her image is “built on the infrastructure of the status quo — a straight, white, doting mother engaged in a long-term monogamous relationship”. Life with Brad Pitt is “just extraordinary enough to truly entice but never offend”. “Lots of celebrities had kids; others had adopted kids; some even had twins. But none had all of the above” (6,530 words)

The Economics Of Book Festivals

Britain’s big four book festivals — Oxford; Hay; Edinburgh; Cheltenham — put on more than 2,000 talks and sell more than half a million tickets. But authors are rarely paid more than £150 to talk there; at Hay the standard fee is six bottles of wine. Authors grumble. Organisers say the overheads and risks are high. “While a literary festival might run for 10 days, it may well have taken the best part of a year to put together” (2,500 words)

Medium Charms Writers

Everybody loves Ev Williams’s publishing project, Medium, even if nobody can quite pigeonhole it. It’s somewhere between a blogging platform and an online magazine. Some content is commissioned; but 95% of the 1,200 pieces per day are user-generated. “Mr Williams is putting good tools out into the world and letting the users decide what the product is. That strategy worked out OK for Twitter” (Metered paywall) (1,230 words)

The Inside Story Of Oculus Rift Pick of the day

Founded by a Californian teenager, bought by Facebook for $2bn, Oculus seems to have cracked the 30-year-old challenge of virtual reality. Its Rift headsets use 360-degree visuals and stereoscopic 3D to “hack your visual cortex … As far as your brain is concerned, there’s no difference between experiencing something on the Rift and experiencing it in the real world”. A game-changing technology; perhaps life-changing (5,200 words)

How YouTube Destroyed Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise’s early public profile was closely managed in the way that reputations still could be in the 1980s when the gossip media consisted mainly of eight big magazines. He was serious and self-effacing. Then the internet hit. Tom Cruise, movie star, became Tom Cruise, fruitcake and scientologist, jumping on Oprah’s couch (which he never did; that image is a YouTube artefact). “We gave him up for a gif” (5,040 words)

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