Tagged: New York Times

MoviePass and The “Robin Hood” Economy

Kevin Roose wrote in the New York Times about something that I pointed out a while ago, albeit from the perspective of the consumer. It’s a good time to take advantage of companies swimming in venture capital money to subsidize your life.

Roose notes, albeit hyperbolically, that the “entire economy” works like MoviePass. In that model, you pay a small monthly fee and get to watch a movie at a movie theater, once a day. It’s a great deal if you’re a consumer. But what seems different about MoviePass than other companies is that seemingly everybody scrutinized that business model. “How are they going to make money?,” is a question that I often get whenever I try to refer people to MoviePass. (Sign up through this link, and MoviePass gets a little more unprofitable because you’ll get a free month of movies.)

Roose correctly tells us that simple arithmetic dictates that at one time, “in order to survive, businesses had to sell goods or services above cost.” MoviePass—or any other company—can’t survive much less thrive by selling products below cost forever. But what Roose misses is that this is not unique to our era. The price-over-cost model is not, as Roose writes, “so 20th century.” We saw companies giving things away in exchange for user growth in the dot-com era. I reminisced about the dot-com era when I was writing about the online wholesale vendor Boxed.

Back in the late 1990s, there were a bunch of dot-com companies that were basically giving away the store in order to show sales growth. [Boxed] seems like one of those: a startup outfit that’s trying to rack up sales, even at a loss, to show their investors that they should keep investing.

Indeed, Roose explains why so there are so many unprofitable companies. He explains:

The rise in unprofitable companies is partly the result of growth in the technology and biotech sectors, where companies tend to lose money for years as they spend on customer acquisition and research and development, Mr. Ritter said. But it also reflects the willingness of shareholders and deep-pocketed private investors to keep fast-growing upstarts afloat long enough to conquer a potential “winner-take-all” market. You should take advantage and stock up on toilet paper before the bubble bursts.

This is like Robin Hood giving us free stuff at the expense of rich venture capital firms. We as consumers should take advantage of that, and I’m sure millions of us have. Have you sign up for a meal kit service and had cheap meals delivered to your home? And after you burned through the sign-up credit, did you sign up with another meal kit service? Great. Keep that up, and don’t forget to get one for your dog, too.

Roose sounds alarmist about the impending doom that will befall an economy that is so heavily based on future user growth. He’s right. This can’t keep up forever. As we’ve seen multiple times in our lives, after all, bubbles like these burst. And the bigger it gets, the more spectacular the crash will be.

In the meantime, it’s a party for us consumers. Even Roose scored a deal through, Beepi, the defunct used car marketplace that shut down two years ago. He revels that the company lasted long enough for him to buy “a car through the service for thousands of dollars less than its market value. Thanks, venture capitalists!” I’m with him on this one. Let the rich VC douchebags fund our movies, our meals, our pet’s meals, and our bulk toilet paper purchases. This won’t last forever so stock up and sign up for every money losing service you can.

And don’t forget to sign up through your friends’ referral links. They deserve more free stuff, too!

Update: There is of course one glaring exception to this model. That is Uber and the “ridesharing” industry. Last year, Uber lost $4.5 billion dollars subsidizing cheap rides for users, but unlike other startups here, it also depressed the wages of its drivers. For those who depend on these wages for their livelihoods, it can lead to tragic outcomes.

Et Tu, Manjoo

It’s the Ides of March (BEWARE!), and over the last week, it’s come out that Farhad Manjoo’s two-months of only getting his news from print, which I discussed last week on this site, might not have quite the digital diet he led us to believe. In his column, Manjoo indicates that he “unplugged from Twitter,” but as Dan Mitchell and Joshua Benton reported since the column’s publishing, he was very active on Twitter.

Mitchell writing in the Columbia Journalism Review more or less deems Manjoo as a Twitter addict-in-denial:

It seems likely that Manjoo isn’t lying, and that he really believes he had unplugged, and really believes that his weak-sauce explanations don’t belie the point of his column. It could be that Manjoo’s column really does serve as a warning about the pernicious effects of social media. Just not in the way he meant it.

The Neiman Lab’s Joshua Benton digs into Manjoo’s activity on Twitter, using the Twitter API and with some hacky data visualization, as Benton himself admits, learns a few things:

  1. Manjoo did use Twitter less during his “diet” period, beginning in mid-January.
  2. During Manjoo’s two-month print news diet, Manjoo posts from Nuzzel, a news curation tool for Twitter. Nuzzel might have allowed Manjoo to “slow jam the news,” as he describes the purpose of his experiment. However, Benton describes Nuzzel as “a nicotine patch,” reinforcing the notion that Manjoo acts like an addict-in-denial.
  3. Benton notes that Manjoo didn’t just post and repost article from Twitter, but he also liked a lot of other people’s posts. This suggests that Manjoo was spending a lot of time scrolling through his Twitter feed.

In all, Benton concludes that “to say Manjoo ‘unplugged from Twitter’ really isn’t accurate.”

Bob Garfield, on WNYC’s On the Media, called out Manjoo’s claim that he “unplugged from Twitter.” In a special episode podcast episode released this week, Garfield says, “Farhad spent most of his 48-day diet sneaking into the fridge. In the time that he was supposedly “unplugged” from Twitter news, he had tweeted hundreds and hundreds of times. Not the crime of the century — but still, oops.”

Garfield interviews Manjoo, and it’s certainly awkward hearing Manjoo offer qualifications and exceptions to what he meant by being “unplugged.” Garfield appears unmoved, unconvinced, and even disappointed in Manjoo.

Of course, while using Twitter is not a crime and from what we know, he did really “slow jam the news” by subscribing to print newspapers and magazines, reading books, listening to podcasts and subscribing to newsletters, Manjoo undercut his credibility by continuing to use Twitter during this period. There was one line that really spoke to me and respect his noble experiment. At the end of his column, Manjoo reassures his readers that “you don’t have to read a print newspaper to get a better relationship with the news. But, for goodness’ sake, please stop getting your news mainly from Twitter and Facebook.”

Manjoo, who is well-educated and an experienced journalist, should have heeded his own advice… for at least for a couple of months.

Farhad Manjoo’s Junk-Free, Two-Month Print-News Cleanse

The tech columnist at the New York Times, Farhad Manjoo, spent the first two months of 2018 only getting his news from print sources. The experiment seems a bit counter intuitive to what a technology reporter should do. Why would someone surrounded by high-tech gadgets want to get his news in this low-tech, antiquated way?

The experiment seems to have yielded two conclusions. The first, which he readily acknowledges, is that it allowed him to get news at a slower rate, or “slow jam the news,” as he calls it. This allowed him to spend his time doing other things, rather than react to each news alert and post on social media. The results, he admits were quite dramatic: “I’m embarrassed about how much free time I have — in two months, I managed to read half a dozen books, took up pottery and (I think) became a more attentive husband and father.”

This is a common theme in the discourse of “being disconnected” from our digital devices. Disconnecting, the thinking goes, will allow us to live life at a more human (and humane?) pace, one more naturally attuned to our physiology and our psychology. Perhaps, there is a truth to that, but we humans are quite adaptable. These same arguments were made when newspapers were around: “how can anyone process so much news that fast?” Today, we make those same arguments to digital news.

The second conclusion he reaches is that he now gets higher-quality news. His new print-only news diet directed him to “looking to formats that prized depth and accuracy over speed.” He lists New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The San Francisco Chronicle, and the weekly newsmagazine, The Economist as the ones he chose to subscribe to and read regularly. The result was that he felt better informed.

I don’t doubt that Manjoo is getting better news through these sources, but it’s not their print-first format that makes them so reputable: it’s the professional journalists who write for them. Being a journalist is like being a physician in that both professions train intensively and are both committed to the truth. A journalist learns methods for investigating and adheres to practices to present information in a responsible way, not unlike the physician’s long program of study prepares her to follow a proper course of treatment and adhere to a patient’s well-being.

Perhaps, it’s no coincidence that the Internet and born-digital “news” outlets have brought us so much junk news (or “fake news,” in the parlance of our times) over the years, as well as the junk science that feeds the anti-vaxxers and the anti-medicine crowd. The barriers of entry to start propagandistic and fraudulent websites are pretty low. In a way, this is why digital news is so polluted. Those who start and write for these junk news and junk science sites are usually the same know-nothings that rail against professional journalism (derisively calling it “fake news” or the “mainstream media”) and also against medicine. And don’t get me started on the anti-scientific bozos who drink “raw water,” or where Louis Pasteur meets Charles Darwin.

Social media has only amplified and expanded the reach of these junk dealers. Manjoo concludes, “you don’t have to read a print newspaper to get a better relationship with the news. But, for goodness’ sake, please stop getting your news mainly from Twitter and Facebook.” That is because, as we have seen, social media treats all “news” the same, and that has helped spark the disinformation that we’ve seen over the last twenty years. But that is not to say that the news a print journalist reports can’t be shared responsibly online.

And vice-versa: print is not immune to disinformation. As early as the nineteenth century, we had all kinds of salacious news, hoaxes, and outright frauds printed in newspapers. It took newspaper publishers a lot of soul searching and the field of journalism to establish professional training programs to make print the gold-standard of news and information.

Update: Apparently Manjoo couldn’t lay off the Twitter, much in the same way I can’t lay off those buttery Tate’s cookies.

It Turns Out: Banana Peels Were Actually Dangerous

We’re all familiar with the old cartoons or old movies where a character slips on a banana peel and comes crashing down to the ground. But has anyone you know actually slipped on a banana peel and fallen? Probably not.

NewImage

But it turns out that banana peels were in fact dangerous, especially in the large cities of the East Coast at the turn of the twentieth century. Annie Correal, writing for the New York Times, profiles the secret life of the city banana and notes how their popularity over a hundred years ago also made them dangerous.

They were so plentiful that in some cities, peels became a hazard. Yes, seriously. People fell and were injured. At least one man actually died from slipping on a banana peel. A headline in The New York Times in 1896 declared a “War on the Banana Skin.”

The 1896 article recounts how, Theodore Roosevelt, then-president of the city’s police department, “explained the bad habits of the banana skin, dwelling particularly on its tendency to toss people into the air and bring them down with terrific force on the hard pavement.” Roosevelt charged the police precinct supervisors to crack down on fruit and vegetable dealers from dumping “banana peels, apple and potato skins, and similar articles” on the lower eastside streets where many markets were prevalent.

NewImage

Slipping on a banana peel was so common at these markets that it must have made an impression on Jewish immigrants who populated Manhattan’s Lower East Side. According to Correal, “the notion of slipping on a banana peel made its way into American culture, [Dan] Koeppel said, thanks to Yiddish theater, Vaudeville and, eventually, silent films.”1 From there, it was just a matter of time that it became a common trope in TV programs since then.

I knew I hated bananas for a reason.

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  1. Dan Koeppel is author of Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World (2008). 

New York City 2017 Bike Map Pays Tribute to Bill Cunningham

I finally had a chance to see the New York City 2017 Bike Map, and it took me a while to realize that the cover pays tribute to longtime New York Times fashion photographer and cultural icon Bill Cunningham. Cunningham was a well known bicycle enthusiast and was known to enjoy riding his bike to photograph New York street life in his weekly “On the Street” columns for the New York Times.

Film still from Bill Cunningham New York. First Thought Films/Zeitgeist Films.

There are a few giveaways that show the cover illustration depicts Cunningham:

  • it’s an older, white-haired man on cruiser,
  • he’s snapping a photo from his bike,
  • he’s wearing his trademark blue jacket and grey pants,
  • most obviously, the map indicates a credit of “Cover illustration of Bill Cunningham, used with permission of the Estate of William J. Cunningham.”

Bill Cunningham passed away at age 87 a year ago today. He was extensively covered in the 2010 documentary, Bill Cunningham New York, which as of today, is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.

NYC Bike Map 2017 Inset Pays Tribute to Bill Cunningham

Booze News You Can Use: How to Ease a Hangover

The NY Today morning newsletter, published each weekday by the New York Times, is filled with stories that of interest to readers in the local area. There are bulletins on local events, stories that connect to local history, and some profiles of area people in newsworthy situations, in addition the weather forecast and updated on local mass transit conditions. Yesterday, they published a guide on how to ease a hangover.

The advice they got from a local nutritionist and wellness manager runs counter to various commonsense remedies. When we crave food to soak up the alcohol, our bodies are really asking for carbohydrates to raise our blood sugar. When we go in search of a bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwich, it’s not the grease that is helping us recover but the salt that we’ve lost since taking the first drink. And, to get rid of that debilitating headache, drinking electrolytes, such as those founds in coconut water and energy drinks, should help. And as we’ve all figured out, your best friend when you’re hungover is water.

But conspicuously missing from these remedies is coffee. At no point does caffeine appear to help, other than curbing the headache you get from caffeine withdrawal, a sure sign that you’re an addict.

The Jobs Americans Do

Take some of the abundant leisure time that our post-industrial society has afforded you to read a series of nine portraits of working-class men and women in America, published last week in the New York Times Magazine. The article challenges the image of working-class jobs, which today are no longer in manufacturing as they were throughout most of the industrialized twentieth century.

The decline of the old working class has meant both an economic triumph for the nation and a personal tribulation for many of the workers. Technological progress has made American farms and factories more productive than ever, creating great wealth and cutting the cost of food and most other products. But the work no longer requires large numbers of workers.

But it’s not as if there are not any jobs. As we’ve known for decades, the working-class jobs of today are in services: health-care, education, hospitality, transportation, and customer service. Not only have the jobs changed, but they faces so have the faces of the American worker. “The emerging face of the American working class is,” as Binyamin Appelbaum succinctly summarized in the introduction to the article, “a Hispanic woman who has never set foot on a factory floor.”

A different author writes each of the stories. On a personal note, I was thrilled to see that a college chum and fellow KCSB alumnus, Eric Steuer, penned one of the stories, about a customer service representative at Zappos in Las Vegas named Sandi Dolan.

Is It Just Me, or Is It Hot (in) Here?

This past year, 2016, was the hottest recorded year on earth, according to a bunch of scientists. The previous record was set in 2015, which broke the record set it 2014. If one year is an anomaly, two might be a coincidence, and three might indicate a trend, right?


New York Times: How Much Warmer Was Your City in 2016?

The New York Times has compiled the data and made a fun tool that lets you search for how much warmer (or cooler) many cities were than their normal. As much fun as this tool was, the results were pretty chilling for some places that I searched. Not only were the temperatures all above normal, there were multiple records set. Here’s a sampling of some places I searched. (All temperatures are in Fahrenheit because I don’t speak Celsius.)

New York City
Average temperature of 57.2°, 2.2° above average. No wonder we played softball in early February.
Record highs in March at 79°, and in October at 85°, and record low in mid-February at -1°
Los Angeles
Average temperature of 67.1°, 1.6° above normal.
A bunch of record highs in February around 90° and another record high in July at 97°.
Santa Barbara
Average temperature of 60.8°, 1.7° above normal.
The always mild Santa Barbara set a few records in February, April, and July at 87°, 86°, and 94°, respectively.
Palmdale, Calif.
Average temperature of 65°, 0.5° above normal.
My parents town experienced some serious heat in February at 82° and tied a record at July at 108°.
Portland, Ore.
Average temperature of 56.5°, 2.1° above normal
Record highs abound with 62° in February, many days in the 80s in April, a couple of days at 98° in June, a whole lot of days between 90° and 99° in August, and days in the upper 60s in November.

Clearly, I have a coastal bias so I asked my friend for his hometown. It’s Detroit and despite its northern latitude, it was also considerably hotter than before, but it was still pretty darn cold.

Detroit
Average temperature of 52.9°, 2.5° above normal
Record highs set in February at 56°, in March at 71°, in November at 73°, in December at 53°, and tied a record at 98° in July. Note: don’t move to Detroit! Is it really that cold?!?

This is all something to think about as we enter a new age in US history, where climate change is something either a Chinese hoax intended to depress the American economy or something that is actually real but not something cause by humans.

LOL…it’s totally our fault!

Apple Pay Offers a Free Suburban New York Train Ride

Despite using Apple Pay since getting an iPhone 6 in 2014, I didn’t know until today that Apple maintained an offers page, or at least that they posted one for the holidays.

There’s some very compelling offers, such as…

That last one comes about a week too late for me. I did take an MTA Metro North train after Thanksgiving, returning from an short bike ride to Tarrytown, but this offer didn’t take effect until December 1.
Also, the offer expires on January 1, which is a shame. I would have appreciated a discount on the $36 round-trip fare to Greenport or Montauk when cycling season begins anew next year.

A Week Later

A week ago, it seemed like the US was on the cusp of having its first woman president of the United States. We had been preparing for this moment for a very long time, and as early as May, well before the party nominations were wrapped up, the New York Times published this map. They projected Clinton to carry these states.

It didn't work out this way.

It didn’t work out this way.

As you know, things didn’t turn out that way.

Were Clinton voters and democrats living in a filter bubble, similar to the one Mitt Romney supporters inhabited that made their candidate’s loss in 2012 unthinkable? Did the Democrats think that they could just run anyone against Trump and that the voters would reject an emotionally unstable, intellectually vacuous, and bigoted white man from New York?

The shock of a Trump presidency has been very difficult to process. It’s embarrassing that we as an electorate voted this way. A man who who has been a huckster and a charlatan will be a peer to the Roosevelts, John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson. A man who’s name signified tackiness enshrined in gold will be the chief executive of the country. A man whose companies have declared bankruptcy several times will be the one who will be negotiating treaties and passing budgets. (I wonder what will happen when the debt ceiling will need to be raised in the March 2017: my guess is draconian cuts to spending and an attendant economic recession.)

No matter how embarrassing it is to watch Americans install a caricature of a successful businessman in the White House, the prospect of who will be running the federal government is an even more chilling prospect. Are we setting up to live in an autocracy? It certainly seems feasible with a pliant and spineless Republican Congress who will choose party over country every time. Our only hope is that the petit bureaucrats in Washington do their thing and bring sensible inaction to their jobs, but when did they ever come through for us?

Around here, the election and the aftermath has been a lot like a death. Many of us are in mourning, knowing that a lot of the the progress we made in the last decade will almost certainly evaporate. Many us fear what will come in terms of deportations, anti-semitism, rampant racism, misogyny, science denial, and good old fashioned crony capitalism. And we are stung by the unthinkable reality of an uncertain future as a failed state. As in mourning, emotions overwhelm rational thought.

But once we start to think more clearly, weren’t we unsatisfied with Hillary Clinton as the standard bearer for not only the Democrats but also for American women. Back in the spring, I wondered whether the ascendance of Bernie Sanders as a viable candidate was partly due to women supporting him—not Hillary Clinton—because they were hoping for someone better to be the first woman president. Sanders was more aligned with their interests, despite being a man, than Clinton was simply for being a woman. It reminded me of the days when the Democrats would try to put forward someone like Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton as the first black presidential candidate of their party. We deserved better. And in time, we got Barack Obama. We deserve better than Hillary Clinton and someday we will know who that better candidate will be.

And after this mourning period, we start to move on and begin to see silver linings. One such bright spot Trump’s victory is that the Democrats and the nation have finally gotten rid of the Clintons and their moderate liberalism. They not pulled this country so far right that Richard Nixon could be a liberal Democrat today, as Lawrence Lessig pointed out last Wednesday morning, they unabashedly [sold the party out to Wall Street]. He published that piece hours after many of us awoke to realize that Trump would be the 45th president of the United States, and, at the time, it was cold comfort for what the future could hold. In time, we’ll excitedly move on.

And that is what must happen after the death of a loved one or a similarly stunning loss. We will move on. Things will never be the same again, but we will cope, and as a country, we will get through it.