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 POP LOSER No. 87

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All the Good They Meant To


I’m back from vacation. It was lovely, thanks for asking.

In the last PL I linked to an article about the best Kurt Vonnegut books for our times: Jailbird and Man Without A Country. So I read those (and most of DFW’s Consider the Lobster collection and Cannery Row because it’s the best).

The first thing is that I can’t believe we don’t talk more about Jailbird. Slaughterhouse-Five (rightfully) gets most of the attention (though Cat’s Cradle has always been my favourite), but Jailbird is really great and doesn’t get nearly enough love. It’s got elements of SH5 and Breakfast Of Champions and Player Piano, and it’s absolutely suited to 2017. (Man Without a Country was less great, but the two make an interesting pair because it occasionally reads like a director’s commentary for Jailbird.)

Two quotes:

She believed, and was entitled to believe, I must say, that all human beings were evil by nature, whether tormentors or victims, or idle standers-by. They could only create meaningless tragedies, she said, since they weren’t nearly intelligent enough to accomplish all the good they meant to.

and:

I had a whimsical idea: I thought of calling the secretary of the treasury, Kermit Winkler, a man who had graduated from Harvard two years after me, and saying this to him: “I just tried out two of your dimes on Times Square, and they worked like a dream. It looks like another great day for the coinage!”

Bonus: The 1952 New York Times review of Player Piano.


Housekeeping: We are going back to weekly newsletters, so this should be the last overstuffed one for awhile. I’m also thinking of tweaking the formatting a bit because I know y’all aren’t getting to the bottom of this thing.
 

CONFUSIONS

I don’t adhere to any particular styleguide because who has the time, right? (Editors. Editors have the time, I’m told.) I do, however, keep a few good reference books on my desk just in case.

From the 17th edition of The CP Stylebook:

Internet Terms
Capitalize specific proper names.
World Wide Web, Internet, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Adobe Acrobat, Internet Explorer

Lowercase descriptive or generic terms.
chat room, cyberspace, domain name, email, home page, intranet, tweet, web, web browser, webcam, webcast, webmaster, website

But now, this:

Millennials, rejoice: Canadian Press style is now lowercase internet, except of course at the start of a sentence.

Henceforth, PL will use “internet” instead of “Internet,” but let me be clear: this is a bunch of bullshit.


The ambitious and failed relaunch of MTV News.

The editorial ethos that Hopper and Fierman sought to build was ultimately not particularly unique to MTV News, or even to their previous endeavors. Longform journalism is an established brand now, and it has a certain, if cynical, function to executives who aim to make money off of it. Longform is a tasteful, and almost always safe, product which can be paired with advertisements that share those qualities—the belief goes that advertisers will pay premium prices for “premium” readers reading “premium” writing. But when MTV News’ longform threatened other, presumably larger amounts of money for the network—see: the Chance the Rapper fiasco—Viacom decided that the site was no longer providing a merely safe and inoffensive product. As such, executives who have loyalty only to dollar signs moved quickly to erase those articles from memory, and the editors who published them did not—or could not—stop them. And when a new executive decided that longform journalism had no marketing value to his company, he discarded it along with the employees who produced it.

And: Some more thoughts on MTV News from The New Yorker.

Late last month, MTV announced that it was dismantling its online news team to concentrate on less spiritually demanding material—or, as the company put it in an exquisitely demoralizing press release, “shifting resources into short-form video content more in line with young people’s media consumption habits.” For writers and readers of journalism—particularly for writers and readers of criticism—the phrase “pivot to video” has now become tragicomic shorthand for the continuing degradation of the form. Critics slump deeper atop their barstools, increasingly inconsolable: “What happened to Tom?” “Pivot to video.” So tolls our death knell.


Sexual behaviour and Pornhub’s data.

On the internet, there is a maxim known as Rule 34, which states: If you can imagine it, there is porn of it. No exceptions. And now that we are solidly into the age of internet pornography, I believe we are ready for another maxim: If there is porn of it, people will try it. (Maybe we can call it Rule 35.) And if people are trying that thing, then inevitably some of them will make videos of that thing and upload those to the internet. The result: an infinitely iterating feedback loop of sexual trial and error.


Uber vs. cabs, and the soul of London.

The vote to leave the European Union, known here as Brexit, exposed a deep rift between those who have profited from globalization, sometimes spectacularly, and those who feel threatened by immigration and automation. Six out of 10 Londoners, including Mrs. Bakkali, voted against Brexit. But Mr. Walsh and most black-cab drivers interviewed for this article voted in favor.

Also: The rideshares are going after public transit. After public libraries, public transit is probably the thing we got the most right, so this is probably bad news.

Suggested pickups are just another step toward broader public transit goals. Uber and Lyft made their names by disrupting private taxi rides, but to truly make inroads with local transportation systems, the companies need to retrain their customers to value efficiency and convenience for a group of people over efficiency and convenience for just themselves. That, after all, is what public transportation is about. It is relatively convenient, and relatively efficient, for a large number of people, but it is not always the most convenient and the most efficient option for every individual person. The more Uber and Lyft can acclimate their riders now to small inconveniences like “suggested pickups,” the better poised they’ll be to convince governments that ride-hailing is the best solution to their public transit needs.


Inbox Twenty is the new Inbox Zero.

The general principle remains the same: file away (archive, not delete) anything that doesn’t require your action. Keep in your inbox only what you need to accomplish (for me: mostly edits, some replies), and sweep the rest under the rug. There, doesn’t your workspace feel neater and more manageable? But I forgot the main principle of work, is that it’s there the next day. You work on it as much as you can, you go home, and you come back, and it’s never finished. Lord knows we will all—each and every one of us—die as we lived: with emails in our inbox.


McSweeneys: An oral history of the iPhone, as told by my mom trying to take family photos.

iPhone 5S (2013)
“Why can’t I unlock it? I did put my fingerprint in! Yes, with my thumb! I have to use the same thumb?! I can’t just use any finger? Okay fine. Here we go, ready? Smile! … It says ‘slow mo,’ what’s that? It says ‘recording slow mo.’ Why would I want to do that? It’s still going, how do I stop it? Okay. Now it’s playing a video on the YouTube. Oh, Uncle Greg have you seen this? The video with the cat? Here let me email it to you.”


People who live in northern Canada pay stupid high prices for things like food and diapers. Amazon Prime is doing more to help at least one community that the government is. So that’s probably fine.

In the first five months of 2017, the post office delivered 88,500 parcels.

That’s an increase of 27 per cent over last year and averages out to around 12 packages per person in Iqaluit.

While those numbers aren’t specific to Amazon orders, Marineau-Plante, peeking behind the post office counter, estimates 80 to 90 per cent of the parcels bear the Amazon logo.


The many ways to game Spotify, including how Spotify games itself.

Even Spotify is reportedly gaming the system by paying producers to produce songs that are then placed on the service’s massively popular playlists under the names of unknown, nonexistent artists. This upfront payment saves the company from writing fat streaming checks that come with that plum playlist placement, but tricks listeners into thinking the artists actually exist and limits the opportunities for real music-makers to make money.

(I stumbled into the happy birthday thing a couple months ago. It’s crazy.)

More: A dig into the Spotify scam-that-isn’t-really-a-scam.

So here’s what we know: the majority of the artists listed by MBW are legitimate artists, writers, and session musicians using pseudonyms for a variety of personal and business reasons. Many of them use seemingly legitimate publishing companies — including Universal Music Group’s publishing arm — to primarily publish instrumental piano songs that have a higher chance to make it onto piano playlists. Some of them use library music company Epidemic Sound, which has a royalty agreement with Spotify.

We also know that Spotify asks labels for songs to fill out certain playlists in these genres, and that labels will also offer Spotify tracks it may think will fit on the playlist. We know that legitimate publishing companies like Firefly Entertainment AB are also behind some of these artists. Spotify says that it does not own in whole or in part any music publishing companies that would allow it to save money on the backend.

Also: SoundCloud is in trouble.

Music streaming platform SoundCloud has announced significant cuts to its staff in a bid to ensure profitability. The decision cost 173 employees their jobs. The company also announced that it will close its London and San Francisco offices, leaving only its Berlin and New York branches open.

This is bad for music listening. So dire is the SoundCloud situation, the Archive Team is working on it.

Also: Pandora is in trouble.

This passive listening model might have worked, except that Pandora couldn’t grow its catalog fast enough. The reliance on human musicologists meant Pandora still had fewer than 2 million songs in its repertoire as other streaming services boasted more than 30 million. Pandora’s user growth slowed, but even more users wouldn’t have helped as the company’s costs increased just as quickly as its revenue.

Also: HypeMachine is in trouble.

Back then, even a smaller site could sustain itself through advertising (Hype Machine is ranked 16,757th largest website in the world by traffic, according to Alexa. Its highest ranking was 4,951th, in mid–2010). The economics soon changed. Advertisers started to shift toward programmatic advertising, where buying and selling is done by algorithms on an automated market as opposed to being negotiated by sales teams. That meant Hype Machine’s ad partners no longer had success pitching it to brands as a small but engaged, specialized audience. Programmatic advertising also brings in substantially less revenue.

Also: The Jambox is done. (I have probably got more value out of the Jambox I bought six years ago than anything else I’ve ever owned.)

Jawbone’s fall after raising more than $900 million provides a stark example of how the flood of cash pouring into Silicon Valley can have the perverse effect of sustaining companies that have no future, technology executives and financiers say.

The irony is Jawbone could have been a suitable acquisition target some years ago, these people say, had it just kept its valuation lower by raising less money from venture capital and sovereign wealth funds.

Previously and Sort-Of Related: Revisiting a five-year-old piece about the 15-year anniversary of Winamp.

Winamp’s 15-year anniversary is now upon us, with little fanfare. It’s almost as if the Internet has forgotten about the upstart with the odd slogan that looked at one time like it would be the company to revolutionize digital music. It certainly had the opportunity.


How “tech” companies used “content” to get into your life.

The big tech platform companies rolled into these industries and changed everything, but then moved on to bigger things. Sometimes they left a business unit behind, but books and recorded music aren’t part of their strategic thinking anymore: Amazon has a big ebooks business, but Prime and perhaps Alexa are the strategic levers. Tech needed content to make their devices viable, but having got the content (by any means necessary), and with it of course completely resetting the dynamics of the industry, tech outgrew music and books and moved on to bigger opportunities.


The Pakistani government is in trouble over a forged document spotted because they used the wrong font.

According to reports by the BBC and International Business Times, a property deed that recently came to light is dated 2006, but appears to be typed in Microsoft’s Calibri font, which wasn’t widely released until 2007.


A history of encyclopedias on CD-ROM.

While Microsoft Encarta probably would have been a better work with the contents of the best encyclopedia, what they got instead—a deal with Funk & Wagnalls, the Coldplay of encyclopedias—was good enough.

A 1994 piece published on the Knight-Ridder News Service noted that Encarta quickly usurped the competition, and was also starting to affect sales of printed encyclopedias. It’s easy to understand why: For the price of a high-end encyclopedia set, you could get a computer that could run an encyclopedia app and basically everything else under the sun.
 

INTERPLAYS

Obits: Martin Landau, George Romero, Michael Bond and Christopher Wong Won. Apps: White Spots, Gudak and Dude Calendar. Trailers: California Typewriter, A Wrinkle In Time and The Disaster Artist. Videos: Advertising and OK Soda and “The Scream” animated with Pink Floyd. Collected: Galaxy Magazine on the Internet Archive and 100 greatest movie props. Design: Evolution of the LEGO logo and YouTube. Website: Purrli. Photos: New York Times 1942.

PROPAGANDA

The Reality-TV Star Spencer Pratt on America’s Addiction to Drama // The New Yorker
How the former villain of “The Hills” became a commentator on fame culture in the age of Trump.

How Checkers Was Solved // The Atlantic
The story of a duel between two men, one who dies, and the nature of the quest to build artificial intelligence.

A Team of Their Own // Bleacher Report
Meet the players on this all-girls travel squad who have bigger dreams than youth baseball—they want to become MLB stars.

Serena Williams’s Love Match // Vanity Fair
Last January, on the eve of the Australian Open, Serena Williams handed her fiancé, Alexis Ohanian, a paper bag containing six positive pregnancy tests. It was just the latest surprise in an unlikely pairing: the world’s greatest tennis player and the geek co-founder of Reddit. From their first date—a magical six hours in Paris—to their plans for the baby’s arrival, this is the full love story.

Welcome to Moonlight Rollerway, Where Nothing Has Changed Since 1956 // Narratively
This California roller rink has held an Organ Night every Tuesday since Eisenhower. And the diehards are determined to keep waltzing and rexing until their legs won’t carry them any longer.

The Worst Waiter in History // Priceonomics
San Francisco in the late 1960s was a place for lovers, poets, and peace-makers. Positivity and goodwill were as omnipresent as the fog, and people were greeted with open arms and rosy cheeks. Unless, of course, you were on the second story of Sam Wo Restaurant in the heart of Chinatown.

The Short, Unhappy Life of a Libertarian Paradise // Politico
The residents of Colorado Springs undertook a radical experiment in government. Here’s what they got.

How Ayn Rand Got Into the White House // Public Books
Even though the Trump administration seems to be conducting policy by Twitter, texts longer than 140 characters are rumored to be central to its worldview. These texts contain hundreds of thousands of characters, and we know them as books. The influence of books on the thinking of Trump’s lieutenants is perhaps surprising, given that the President himself has struggled in interviews to name the last book he read. The search for a source code to this administration’s ideology has led critical observers back to books.

20 Years On: The Prodigy’s The Fat Of The Land // The Quietus
In the summer of Britpop and Blair, The Prodigy were the irritant ants crawling over the celebratory picnic table. Angus Batey recalls an encounter with the reluctant biggest band in the land, and examines their nonconformist legacy.

“She believed, and was entitled to believe, I must say, that all human beings were evil by nature, whether tormentors or victims, or idle standers-by. They could only create meaningless tragedies, she said, since they weren’t nearly intelligent enough to accomplish all the good they meant to.”
Kurt Vonnegut


Pop Loser is a weekly newsletter of innumerable confusions collected and written by Tyler Hellard.

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