ICYMI by Michael Epstein

Via Gizmodo

Welcome To The Block Party (The Awl, Medium)

iOS 9 comes out this week, and with it, access to an incoming wave of ad-blockers for mobile browsers. Casey Johnston laid out the pros and cons of blocking ads, leading a surge of iOS 9-related ad-blocking op-eds.

Yes, there are pros and cons to ad-blockers, but even some of the pros look like cons to me. Contrary to what some experts say, the solution to worst practices in advertising is boycotting bad sites. You should stop buying a company's products if you disapprove of their policies, but only a crazy person would think it would be ok to walk into the nearest Apple store and start stuffing iPod Shuffles down your pants because you hate how they've treated the people who build their products.

Needless to say, if you use an ad-blocker, we are not friends.

The Maze Runner: the Scorch Trials Take Franchise Filmmaking to a New Low (Flavorwire, Medium)

It's my first movie review. Ever. I'm pretty sure the review is better than the movie, which was terrible.

Image Credit: Irving PD via Slate

Image Credit: Irving PD via Slate

This is the clock that 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed brought to his school on Monday; the one that his teacher and the police thought was a bomb.

 

ICYMI by Michael Epstein

The Verge makes their case for casting Idris Elba the next James Bond with a hypothetical 007 title sequence.

Binge-Watching Killed The Syndication Star: Law and Order at 25 (Flavorwire, Mid-length)

Full Disclosure: This is one of mine. An essay discussing the legacy of Law and Order, which premiered 25 years ago as of Sunday, that nobody talked about; binge-watching. Before we had Netflix and a term for watching back-to-back-to-back episodes of TV, the only show we would, or even could, do that could engender such devotion was Law and Order because cable syndication ensured it was always on.

At Burning Man's Airport, There are Propeller People and Jet People (New York, short)

Burning Man, as you might imagine, has a special way of coaxing out the weird and extreme out of its people, place and things. The growing divide between the festival's "true believers" and the wealthy attendees who bring in air conditioned campers and other amenities to keep comfortable is a few years in the making.

On the outskirts of "the city" is Airport Camp, a small sub-community of people who like to fly and apparently will take on free plane rides. Airport is, as the name implies, also an airfield of sorts and is the festival's only runway: As more and more celebrities fly to the festival in helicopters and private jets, the pilots who come for fun have started clashing with the ones who are only there for a paycheck.

The Definitive NBA Logo Rankings (Grantland, Longish)

Football season may be closer, but that means it's prime time for preseason nonsense articles about basketball. A small panel of graphic designers deliberated and one basketball writer ignored them. It's pretty entertaining, and allows for 100-percent no-bullshit statements like this:

The bird is immediately identifiable as a pelican, and the menacing stare and blood-red beak provide appropriate aggressiveness for an attacking NBA mascot.
— Zach Lowe

How Pop Stars Make Money (Vulture, Short)

An interesting bit of leg work that compares how much a Fetty Wap-level breakout star and an industry vet like Taylor Swift make from all of their potential revenue streams. Example: a rising star can expect to make, at most, $2,000 from a sponsored tweet. A socially savvy superstar can make $10k.

It's no surprise that star musicians don't really earn money from writing and recording music, but from the celebrity status said music affords them. What might be surprising is how hard stars have to hustle, even at the highest levels in the field.

ICYMI by Michael Epstein

Mad Max: Fury Road, as told in Hieroglyphics (Takumi via i09, Image)

But then it is autumn, and with the color of the leaves my predicament changes. There is a season for everything, and fall is the season for fucking me.
— Jamie Lauren Keiles

Remember last week when I said that weird Gucci Mane/Linkedin post was the best blog post I'd read in a while? Well, this is even better.

 

ICYMI by Michael Epstein

After years of forcing photographers to think square, Instagram is finally letting users post portrait- and landscape-style photos. Image via Instagram

After years of forcing photographers to think square, Instagram is finally letting users post portrait- and landscape-style photos. Image via Instagram

Slender Man is Watching (New York, long)

An amazing recreation of how two tween girls conspired and attempted to murder their friend. And how Slender both did and did not legitimately factor into it.

Mortal Kombat: [The] Untold Story of The Movie That 'Kicked The Hell Out of Everyone' (The Hollywood Reporter, long)

This one's a little older than the rest, but I hope you'll indulge me since I haven't done one of these in a while. Our momentary fascination with oral histories has definitely come and gone, but I don't think there's a better way to tell a story like this.

The World's Leading LinkedIn Expert Advise Gucci Mane on His New Profile (Grantland, mid)

There some kinds of articles/stories that just can't exist in print because they wouldn't fit the editorial vision of any strong magazine, and/or because they would technically count as humor stories, but aren't necessarily yuk-yuk funny. I guess we should call them blog posts.

This is one of the funniest blog posts I've read in a long time.

College Student Refusing to Read a Lesbian Memoir Don't Deserve College (Quartz, short)

Bold words from SUNY Brockport's Lisa Miller:

If we don’t do the work, we fail. The Duke students who refused to read Fun Home have already failed. Willfully. Perhaps Duke should dismiss them, as they’re unwilling to take on college-level study. Let them reapply when they are ready to face the danger presented by a comic book.

She also gets bonus points for writing something concise. There are a LOT of recent articles about how terrible undergrads are these days and there isn't much more left to say on the matter.

Dude, It's Not a Hoverboard (Gizmodo, short)

You don't really need to read this one; just take note...

Remember how Wiz Khalifa got tackled by airport security at LAX this week? He apparently got tackled for riding one of these things...

Image Credit: Ben Schmanke (YouTube)

Note that it has wheels and does not hover. Do not refer to this as a "hoverboard." Do not equate it to Back to The Future 2 or the actual hoverboard Lexus made.

10 Worst Mega Man Bad Guys (Who Never Made it Into The Game) (Polygon, List)

Sometimes you just have to say "fuck it." 

Image Credit: Capcom via Polygon

Image Credit: Capcom via Polygon

Even though the list previews/regurgitates content from the upcoming Mega Man Collection, these outtakes from Mega Man II, an incredibly important video game, are still pretty funny.

A rising tide sinks all boats by Michael Epstein

While browsing at a bookstore yesterday, I picked up a book that brought back to mind an old argument I've been trying to keep away from. It was this book:

Source: Austin Kleon

Source: Austin Kleon

My conundrum centers around the question, "Is it better to be prolific or excellent?" Or rather, "Do you want the world to see you falter?" 

I've always erred on the side of quality. To most, you are only as good as your most recent work. If that's true, isn't it tremendously important that each piece of writing do a little to raise that value? On the other hand, that mindset sets up a lot of barriers to overcome: If every piece needs to be the best thing you've ever written, than it's easy to conjure up reasons to kill a project.

Later, I read a Vox article on the same topic that answered my question in a way I'm not sure I agree with.

...it was a world built almost entirely around voice — whether that voice came from a single person or from a carefully crafted editorial identity...

The future belongs to the fleet, to the fast, to the instantly assembled hot take.
— Todd VanDerWerff, "2015 is The Year The Old Internet Finally Died"

As of now, "Content" is more important than craft. One of the chapters in Show Your Work declared: "Show something small every day." The steady stream of content you give away will gather and lead an audience towards your big, important things. It's pretty much the strategy behind all content in 2015. 

After all, it doesn't matter whether your most recent work is any good if know one knows who you are. The content deluge has flooded over the point of no return. We must create constantly or risk drowning. 

So I've been worrying for nothing all this time. As it turns out, the measure of a writer is not the quality of their prose —their rhythm, their judgement, their capacity to convey emotion— but their ability to play fortune teller and guess exactly what's going to pop up in the back of your mind the time you scroll over a Facebook post about...

Strawberries!?

Did I guess right? Of course not. I was never cursed for running over a drifter's dog. Most writers haven't, I think?

"...making money on this new internet requires scale," VanDerWerff said, "and if you need to always keep scaling up... Thoughtfulness is almost beside the point, in many cases, if you can produce something enough people will want to associate with the curation of their core beings."

On the new internet, writing is no longer a craft; it's arts and crafts. Writers are making little candy charms to put on your bracelet to show your friends. That's fine, in theory. There's a certain vanity to be gained from being able to say that I'm the guy that made you look cool and interesting for a day, an hour. But writing is an inherently selfish act. I'm asking you to read my words; listen to what I have to say. Great writing comes from the writer trying to give the reader something. The most thoughtful gifts don't come off your Amazon wish list. They're a product of effort and thought.

Writing to appease readers' whims, rather than inform, educate or entertain their minds, is like trying to crack a password by guessing all of the combinations. Again, if the goal is to unlock a reader's interest, rather than engage their mind, than there's very little value in producing "great" writing. If writers don't need to develop a voice, than stringing words together is just another skill, to be mastered and slapped at the bottom of a resume alongside such valuable career assets as "PC proficient," "Social Media skills," or "southern accent." 

There are definitely more failures than successes, but it is possible to write with voice and succeed on the internet. VanDerWerff points to the fall of The Dissolve, a longform-heavy film criticism site, to suggest that quantity is the be-all, end-all for sustainable media enterprises. He does so, however, while ignoring the like of sites like The Atavist, which have managed to build a niche following based on a scarce stream of high-quality writing. Vox's sister site The Verge wrote a profile of The Awl, a blog too weird to excel through any metric other than quality. The common denominator between all of these sites, successes and failure, is scale. Good writing takes more time and costs more money than bulk writing. 

"If you were going to assemble a business plan for a web site," the late David Carr said of The Awl, you would look closely at everything The Awl did and then head in precisely the opposite direction."

From now on, instead of than asking whether or not it's better to write well or write a lot, you have to ask: How much are you willing to sacrifice to be proud of what you do? You don't want to be half-remembered as the rambling schmuck-blogger, do you?

Oops, too late.

Things I Assume My Sister Did: The Highlight Years by Michael Epstein

1. Emily likes singing in the bathroom, but she generally prefers to do her Taylor Swift impressions in the peace and quiet of her own lavatory, not in the unisex bathroom of a newly renovated theatre-district cabaret club.

"I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake" she crooned, trying to catch the gaze of a middle-aged woman as she moved from a stall to the sink. "Shake it off! Shake it off!"

After the show she would tell Gerald, her accompanist, she thought they did a great job that night. She also complained that they should have told her she would need to help carry the piano back to the stage because she "could have worn flats."

She did not get a call back.

2. New York is the only state in which you can't get drunk at a Target. Visiting a friend in Philly recently, Emily finally got her chance and it she was quite taken with it. She realized getting sauced while picking out cotton sheets and kitchenware might be the perfect stress release after getting yelled at by customers at her day job. Unfortunately, she couldn't actually buy any of her favorite things, so she settled for a tiny pink hat.

Somehow, nobody noticed the girl in the leather jacket with the comically large noggin stumble through an empty checkout lane and out the sliding doors into the night.

3. Emily has lost three iPhones in the past year. Two of them fell out of her purse during overzealous re-tellings of the time an eagle stole her hot dog at Coney Island.

"NO! I'M TELLING YOU IT WASN'T A SEAGULL!" [plop]

 

 

 

Things I Assume My Sister Did is a micro-fiction series in the style of I Call This Look or that Gawker thing I read one time... Except they're all about a real person, a singer/actress named Emily.

Remembering a Boy Named Mickey Mouse by Michael Epstein

The following is a short essay written in the style of The New York Times Magazine's backpage series, "Lives." Written according to series' pre-relaunch sensibility, it is a first-person account. The essay was written for "Personal Narrative," a nonfiction essay-writing course, in April, 2015.

 

There’s a story about me that my mom loves to tell. She’s told it to family friends and work acquaintances: She likes to bring it up when she’s feeling nostalgic or wants to make me blush. Over the years, I’ve formed a memory around it; not actual the chain of events, but the story I’ve heard a million times about a young boy also named Michael.

In the spring of 1989, when I was almost three, I had been brought next door to play with my neighbor, Lizzie, and some other kids from the neighborhood. It was sunny, but we were playing inside: The kids’ nannies —four or five twenty-somethings— set up shop around a table on a covered porch at the back of the house. The kids were out of sight, but the nannies weren’t worried. We were too small to reach a doorknob and thus deemed sufficiently wrangled. They didn’t consider that there had been contractors renovating Lizzie’s basement. Or that Lizzie’s parents normally stashed her toys down there, which must have been why I peeled away from the herd.

Once I made my way down and found plastic-wrapped walls instead of a playroom, the backyard beckoned. Sunlight shining through an open door drew me out from the dark basement.

From here I could only guess what happened, but I’m fairly certain I know the route I took: There was only one way for someone my size to safely reach my destination.

After climbing Lizzie’s steeply sloped driveway, I would have been halfway down the mild hill to the end of our street. I would’ve waddled down the sidewalk and hooked a left down the next block, a few hundred feet of open road, to reach a set of concrete stairs just off the street.

The steps would have been challenging. Each increment would have required a waist-high drop at least, without a railing in reach. I had never left home alone. Scaling stairs would have been an activity I took on with a partner: Someone who would have eased each leap from a free fall to a gravity-defying float. In the same position now, I doubt I would’ve risked it.

I didn’t shy away from it, though. I don’t know how, but I made it down without any tear inducing scrapes or bruises. From there, it was a straight shot across the parking lot to the Yonkers public library, where my parents had taken me many times.

Back at the top of the hill, the adults were about to panic.

Shortly after my departure, Mom returned home from shopping. When she came to check in and could not find me among the playing children, she found my au pair among the communing caregivers and asked the magic question:

“Where’s Michael?”

It didn’t take long for the young women to discover the open path outside. Upon finding they had built their confidence on false pretenses, the group fanned out to search the yards, front and back.

Before long, my Dad arrived home to join the search. Together my parents came up with a plan. Dad would drive around the neighborhood, while Mom called places where they’d escorted me on foot before: Nearby friends, my grandparents’ house.

As they searched, my parents feared the worst. In a time of “Stranger Danger,” hooded strangers pierced their thoughts each time they called my name.

It didn’t take long for them to find me; 20-30 minutes tops. The middle-aged woman picked up the phone at the library and, just like that, she alleviated their fears with a few words.

“There’s a boy here by himself in the children’s section,” the librarian said. “Yellow-checkered shirt, black pants, yellow sneakers?”

“He was walking around the library, telling people his name was Mickey Mouse.”

Mom cried with relief. She said, “I think that’s him,” but she knew. Even if she hadn’t dressed me that morning, she said it sounded like something I’d do: She imagined me marching around, recruiting a legion of quiet young readers into my personal choir.

“M-I-C! K-E-Y! M-O-U-S-E!”

When she got there, I wasn’t leading a parade. I sat in the children’s section, alone, drawing with crayons at a pint-sized table. I smiled. I had no idea my first field trip drove everyone in my life to the brink.

I don’t remember the version of myself my mother talks about in that story. The only one I’ve ever known feels meek and shy; I am and have always been worried about the world and what it thinks of me. The boy who dared to pursue his interests, whatever they were, and reveled in telling strangers his name was Mickey Mouse, is long gone. There are days I wish I could remember him.

ICYMI 2.27 by Michael Epstein

Sesame Street's House of Cards parody is way too insightful to be wasted on small children.

Hot Tub Time Machine 2: The Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Review (The Verge)

Nobody needs to read a review of Hot Tub Time Machine 2. It's highly doubtful — but not impossible— that critics could dream up the kind of scathing comments that would faze the likely audience for it; people who have no intention of watching the movie and fans of the original that read the review just to get mad. Rather than playing into the hands of fans and haters by condemning the film, The Verge asks readers to play a little game called; "What kind of person would watch this movie?" The answer is, of course, almost no one.

While the idea is hilarious in theory, the review's commentary, when combined with its interactive element, risks mirroring the offensive content it calls out in its subject. It took me three tries to find the path to where the review would recommend the movie, and it's hard to imagine that many people would come to it honestly because, as you get deeper to the pro-HTTM2 camp, the questions rapidly shift from joking to accusatory. While calling a film out for offensive humor is the purview of the critic, making the reader feel uncomfortable in their choice to disagree is not. By doing so, The Verge has turned criticism into the thing that triggers angry and, until now, generally unwarranted hate from online readers; it contends that the review is not only an assessment of the film, but of its fans as well.

Adi Shankar Presents a Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers Bootleg Film By Joseph Kahn. To Learn More About Why This Bootleg Exists Click Here: http://tinyurl.com/mw9qd79

Dropcam Keeps an Eye on The Network (NYT)

On that time the reporter caught a guy pooping on the sidewalk outside his house using a $200 camera that streams to his phone.

The Disappeared: Chicago Police Detain Americans at Abuse-Laden Black Site (The Guardian)

There are places where Chicago police take people they arrest when they don't want them to see a lawyer. Where they can remove people from the world for a day or two to "interrogate" harder than legally allowed. The Guardian's Spencer Ackerman blows the lid one such site, Homan Square, where the uncooperative, including protestors and suspects gang- or drug-related crimes, are brought to be beaten into submission.

Poison Pill (Pacific Standard)

The history of the modern Opioid painkiller OxyContin reveals how free-market pharma and a time-limited grab for cash flooded America with narcotics and fueled the illegal painkiller trade.

 

 

On Writing Loud and Badly by Michael Epstein

My magazine writing class had a visitor tonight: Jeff Ruby, a freelance writer and Chicago Magazine's lead restaurant critic. The man, who's been writing restaurant reviews for 17 years, told us he learned to write by keeping a journal. He wrote in it every day for seven years and, while he wasn't trying to, he figured out style and structure and everything one needs to write well in that time.

He quoted David Carr, who relayed the best journalism advice he ever got to the world in a 2013 Reddit AMA. "Keep typing until it turns into writing."

Turning a novice writer into his or her best self involves is a well-documented process. They say writing is a muscle. You have to write a lot to develop a voice on paper. You have to write even you don't want to if you want make something in a timely manner. Advice rarely endures long enough to get anointed as cliché without also ringing at least a little bit true.

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