Creative Process


by Christoph Niemann

Sunday 11.16.2014 New York Times Digest


1. The Death of the Private Eye

“In an age when GPS tracking, oversharing and 8 Signs Your Man Is Cheating listicles make their services unnecessary, the old-school gumshoe feels as irrelevant as Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple felt a generation before. All P.I. stories are now period pieces.”

2. More Federal Agencies Are Using Undercover Operations

“Undercover work has become common enough that undercover agents sometimes find themselves investigating a supposed criminal who turns out to be someone from a different agency.”

3. No. 1 With a Bullet: ‘Nadeshot’ Becomes a Call of Duty Star

“Three years ago, he was flipping burgers at McDonald’s. Today Mr. Haag, 22, skinny and blindingly pale, makes his living playing Call of Duty, a popular series of war games where players run around trying to shoot one another.”

4. Applications by the Dozen, as Anxious Seniors Hedge College Bets

“10 applications is now commonplace; 20 is taking on a familiar ring; even 30 is not beyond imagining.”

5. How Can Community Colleges Get a Piece of the Billions That Donors Give to Higher Education?

“Educational institutions and services remain the second biggest beneficiaries of philanthropy in the country, after religious organizations, but little of the money flows to community colleges, the mostly public institutions that now enroll 45 percent of the country’s undergraduates, most of them poor or working-class and many of them requiring extensive remedial learning.”

6. Living Out Knicks Dream, Complete With Nightmares

“I think there’s a metaphor between what’s happening with the team and what’s happening in my own life.”

7. Another Widening Gap: The Haves vs. the Have-Mores

“The wealthy now have a wealth gap of their own, as economic gains become more highly concentrated at the very top. As the top one-hundredth of the 1 percent pulls away from the rest of that group, the superrich are leaving the merely very rich behind. That has created two markets in the upper reaches of the economy: one for the haves and one for the have-mores.”

8. Mishandling Rape

“Our strategy for dealing with rape on college campuses has failed abysmally.”

9. When Whites Just Don’t Get It, Part 4

“Centuries of racial subjugation still shape inequity in the 21st century.”

10. The Civil War’s Environmental Impact

“This was an environmental catastrophe of the first magnitude, with effects that endured long after the guns were silenced. It could be argued that they have never ended.”

11. On Smushing Bugs

“It’s impossible even to live and move through this world without killing something.”

12. On Elite Campuses, an Arts Race

“Elite campuses across the country have emerged from the recession riding a multibillion-dollar wave of architecturally ambitious arts facilities, even as community arts programs struggle against public indifference.”

13. Claire Prentice’s ‘Lost Tribe of Coney Island’

“Prentice brings to life a shocking story of exploitation and degradation that should not be forgotten.”

14. ‘Thrown,’ by Kerry Howley

Thrown is compulsively readable, informative, hilarious and partly true. It is also a ferocious dissection of the essence of the spectator.”

15. The Internet and the Mind

“Why do we turn to digital devices to alleviate time pressure and yet blame them for driving it?”

16. What an Uncensored Letter to M.L.K. Reveals

“Today it is almost impossible to imagine the press refusing a juicy story. To a scandal-hungry media, the bedroom practices of our public officials and moral leaders are usually fair game. And a sex scandal is often — though not always — a cheap one-way ticket out of public life. Faced with today’s political environment, perhaps King would have made different decisions in his personal affairs. Perhaps, though, he never would have had the chance to emerge as the public leader he ultimately became.”

17. The Ice-Bucket Racket

“We hate being asked for money, yet we give generously when we are.”

18. Welcome to the Failure Age!

“An age of constant invention naturally begets one of constant failure. The life span of an innovation, in fact, has never been shorter. An African hand ax from 285,000 years ago, for instance, was essentially identical to those made some 250,000 years later. The Sumerians believed that the hoe was invented by a godlike figure named Enlil a few thousand years before Jesus, but a similar tool was being used a thousand years after his death. During the Middle Ages, amid major advances in agriculture, warfare and building technology, the failure loop closed to less than a century. During the Enlightenment and early Industrial Revolution, it was reduced to about a lifetime. By the 20th century, it could be measured in decades. Today, it is best measured in years and, for some products, even less.”

19. Virtual Reality Fails Its Way to Success

“All hail: the Oculus Rift doesn’t make you vomit.”

20. In Defense of Technology

“To believe in progress is not only to believe in the future: It is also to usher in the possibility that the past wasn’t all that. I now feel — and this is a revelation — that my past was an interesting and quite fallow period spent waiting for the Internet. At home, I’ll continue to cause a festival of eye-rolling with my notion that some values were preserved by the low-tech environment, but, more generally speaking, life has just gotten better and better.”

21. Old Books, New Thoughts

“The novel had me lost the entire process. The beginning only revealed itself at the end. Very frustrating to find yourself having to start at the beginning again, but that’s how this writing game is. Rarely anything linear about it. In the end I handed the book to my editor convinced that what I had written was a colossal failure. I spent the next eight months demoralized about the 11 years I had wasted on the book.”

Law of Two

The Towering Inferno (1974) was made by two studios, has two stars, was lensed by two cinematographers, was based on two separate books (one of which was written by two people), and directed by two directors.


Sunday 11.9.2014 New York Times Digest


1. Living Life Secondhand

“Will cyberspace sidetrack us from not only outdoor but direct experience?”

2. Paternity Leave: The Rewards and the Remaining Stigma

“Taking time off for family obligations, including paternity leave, could have long-term negative effects on a man’s career — like lower pay or being passed over for promotions.”

3. Wearing Your Failures on Your Sleeve

“Failure is emerging as a badge of honor among some Silicon Valley start-ups, as entrepreneurs publicly trumpet how they have faced adversity head-on.”

4. On LinkedIn, a Reference List You Didn’t Write

“The legislators who enacted the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970 did not anticipate social media. They were concerned about protecting consumers who might be unfairly denied a mortgage, a rental apartment or a job because of incorrect credit histories. Among other things, the law requires companies called consumer reporting agencies — which compile and share consumers’ information with third parties for pre-employment background screening — to make sure that their reports are as accurate as possible. Customers of those agencies must also inform a consumer if he or she is being denied a job based on information in those reports. Today, it is standard practice for employers and job recruiters themselves to scour social media to identify job candidates. But the situation becomes more complicated when they hire outside firms to compile reports on potential employees.”

5. Republicans and the Puzzle of Uber

“In practice, it’s not clear Republicans are any more pro-market than Democrats when it comes to business regulation.”

6. Prehistory’s Brilliant Future

“Here we are, in the age of the microchip and the Mars explorer, and yet some of our most exciting and extraordinary scientific discoveries are extinct species in Earth’s fossil record.”

7. For Millennials, the End of the TV Viewing Party

“The television set has started to look at best like a luxury, if not an irrelevance, in the eyes of many members of the wired generation, who have moved past the ‘cord-cutter’ stage, in which they get rid of cable, to getting rid of their TV sets entirely.”

8. The Life of a Pot Critic: Clean, With Citrus Notes

“We have a restaurant critic and wine reviewers. We have an award-winning craft beer blog. From that logic you do need a pot critic — and maybe a few of them.”

9. On Twitter and Instagram, Hiding in Plain E-Sight

“Even though we know that posting a comment to the Internet is akin to broadcasting it publicly, we don’t take into consideration each and every person who may be seeing our hastily thumb-typed communication. Almost any action we take on social media, even tapping a screen twice to form a thumbs-up or heart, is a time-stamped signpost that we were paying attention to at least some of our smartphone communication.”

10. With Some Dating Apps: Less Casual Sex Than Casual Text

“More and more technophilic and commitment-phobic millennials are shying away from physical encounters and supplanting them with the emotional gratification of virtual quasi relationships, flirting via their phones and computers with no intention of ever meeting their romantic quarry: less casual sex than casual text.”

11. ‘The Glass Cage,’ by Nicholas Carr

“For all its ­miraculous-seeming benefits, automation also can and often does impair our mental and physical skills, cause dreadful mistakes and accidents, particularly in medicine and aviation, and threaten to turn the algorithms we create as servants into our mindless masters — what sci-fi movies have been warning us about for at least two or three decades now.”

12. Naomi Klein’s ‘This Changes Everything’

“Klein, Monbiot and Bill McKibben all insist that we cannot avert the ecological disaster that confronts us without loosening the grip of that superannuated zombie ideology. That philosophy — ­neoliberalism — promotes a high-consumption, ­carbon-hungry system. Neoliberalism has encouraged mega-mergers, trade agreements hostile to environmental and labor regulations, and global hypermobility, enabling a corporation like Exxon to make, as McKibben has noted, ‘more money last year than any company in the history of money.’”

13. Atul Gawande’s ‘Being Mortal’

“Medical professionals are the ones who are largely in control of how we spend our ‘waning days,’ he writes, yet they are focused on disease, not on living.”

14. ‘Empire of Sin,’ by Gary Krist

“The first American metropolis to build an opera house, New Orleans was, Krist writes, ‘the last to build a sewerage system.’”

15. Losing Our Way,’ by Bob Herbert

“The simple truth is that bridges fall down because of an unwillingness to spend the money that is necessary to build them properly and keep them in good repair.”

16. ‘Censors at Work,’ by Robert Darnton

“There are two possible ways of looking at censorship, he says: a narrow one, concentrating exclusively on the censors’ strategies, and another, more generous one that considers literature ‘as a cultural system embedded in a social order.’”

17. A Manual for Life

“The Handbook for Boys expresses the best of the American ethos as it was at the middle of the 20th century, unparalleled for its brilliance of pedagogy and its uncompromising declaration of democratic ideals.”

18. As a Writer, What Influences You Other Than Books?

“From my fellow bakers, those yeasty intellectuals, I learned about industry and cohesion and the moral obligation to be cheerful. The last lesson was the most important, and extended out of the bakery and into life. If you’re depressed, maimed, crocked in some way, fair enough — let us know. But if not, then in the name of humanity stop moaning. Keep a lightness about you, a readiness. Preserve the digestions of your co-workers; spare them your mutterings and vibings. It’s highly nonliterary, but there we are: Be nice.”

19. How One Lawyer’s Crusade Could Change Football Forever

“What if the template for football’s future is not the fate of boxing but rather that of the tobacco industry? The parallels, of course, are not perfect. But tobacco, like football, was once deeply embedded in the American economy, culture and mythology. Its history, in fact, is inseparable from that of the nation itself. The first crop was planted by an early settler in Jamestown, John Rolfe (also known as the husband of Pocahontas), and it quickly became Virginia’s largest export and a primary impetus for the growth of slavery through much of the South. Cigarette smoking surged at the beginning of the 20th century, and into the mid-1970s, about 40 percent of American adults were smokers, and they could smoke everywhere they wanted — in restaurants, on buses and airplanes, in workplaces and college classrooms, in their cars with the windows up and their children in the passenger seats.”

20. The Unbelievable Skepticism of the Amazing Randi

“For almost 60 years, he has been offering up a cash reward to anyone who could demonstrate scientific evidence of paranormal activity, and no one had ever received a single penny.”

Sunday 11.2.2014 New York Times Digest


1. A Natural Fix for A.D.H.D.

“People with A.D.H.D. may not have a disease, so much as a set of behavioral traits that don’t match the expectations of our contemporary culture.”

2. Even Brutes Can Learn to Cry

“I think it went pretty well considering that these things were new to me. I did not have experience with acting, and I did not have experience with crushing a man’s face with my hands.”

3. That Devil on Your Shoulder Likes to Sleep In

“A person’s ability to self-regulate declines as the day wears on, increasing the likelihood of cheating, lying or committing fraud.”

4. There Is No ‘Healthy’ Microbiome

“We cling to the desire for simple panaceas that will bestow good health with minimal effort. But biology is rarely that charitable. So we need to learn how tweaking our diets, lifestyles and environments can nudge and shape the ecosystems in our bodies. And we need ways of regularly monitoring a person’s microbiome to understand how its members flicker over time, and whether certain communities are more steadfast than others.”

5. The ‘Kind of, Sort of’ Era

“Our language is reflecting modern life.”

6. How Uber Is Changing Night Life in Los Angeles

“Mr. O’Connell is part of a growing contingent of urbanites who have made Ubering (it’s as much a verb as ‘Googling’) an indispensable part of their day and especially their night life. Untethered from their vehicles, Angelenos are suddenly free to drink, party and walk places. Even as their business models are evolving, these ride-sharing services, which include Lyft, Sidecar and others, have upended the social habits of the area, and rallied its residents to be more peripatetic.”

7. The Political Power Watch Stops Ticking

“Most office holders, in the United States anyway, seem unwilling to risk C.E.O.-level timepieces that were once the birthright of the ruling class.”

8. Bruce Springsteen: By the Book

“I just finished Moby-Dick, which scared me off for a long time due to the hype of its difficulty. I found it to be a beautiful boy’s adventure story and not that difficult to read. Warning: You will learn more about whales than you have ever wished to know. On the other hand, I never wanted it to end.”

9. The Nazis Next Door

“We welcomed approximately 10,000 Nazis, some of whom had played pivotal roles in the genocide.”

10. Take Notes From the Pros

“The real value of note-taking is not so much in the taking as in the having.”

11. A Conversation With Goucher’s New President

“Universities were created at a time when knowledge was scarce. Now knowledge is available everywhere. So If what faculty do is profess to students, their relative value has diminished. If we’re going to stay in business, we’re going to have to offer something of value that people will pay for, something that no one else does. The most important thing is that students are actively learning in your class, that they have a reason to go. If they can get the same experience online for free, we’re all going to be out of business.”

12. Demystifying the MOOC

“The average student in a MOOC is not a Turkish villager with no other access to higher education but a young white American man with a bachelor’s degree and a full-time job.”

13. The Astonishing Weaponry of Dung Beetles

“Chance mutations lead to increasingly grotesque or extreme armaments, which beat opponents with smaller weapons. And in doing so, these beetles secure opportunities to breed. Their progeny, as impressive in their weapons as their parents, quickly replace earlier forms and advance the population another notch in weapon size. As this process repeats itself, it pushes the population still further on the path to the extreme.”

14. Bernard Hopkins, Boxing’s Oldest – and Most Cunning – Champion

“Unlike most other boxers, who train down to their fighting weight only when they have a bout coming up, Hopkins keeps himself right around the 175-pound light-heavyweight limit. Fight people marvel at the ascetic rigor that has kept him perpetually in superb shape for almost three decades, his habit of returning to the gym first thing Monday morning after a Saturday-night fight, the list of pleasurable things he won’t eat, drink or do. But to fetishize the no-nonsense perfection of his body, which displays none of the extraneous defined muscular bulk that impresses fans but doesn’t help win fights, is to miss what makes Hopkins an exemplar of sustaining and extending powers that are supposed to be in natural decline. He has no peer in the ability to strategize both the round-by-round conduct of a fight and also the shifts and adjustments entailed by an astonishingly long career in the hurt business. He has kept his body supple and fit enough to obey his fighting mind, but it’s the continuing suppleness of that mind, as he strategizes, that has always constituted his principal advantage. Opponents don’t worry about facing his speed or power. They fear what’s going on in his head.”

15. The Exacting, Expansive Mind of Christopher Nolan

“Nolan’s own look accords with his strict regimen of optimal resource allocation and flexibility: He long ago decided it was a waste of energy to choose anew what to wear each day, and the clubbable but muted uniform on which he settled splits the difference between the demands of an executive suite and a tundra. The ensemble is smart with a hint of frowzy, a dark, narrow-lapeled jacket over a blue dress shirt with a lightly fraying collar, plus durable black trousers over scuffed, sensible shoes. In colder weather, Nolan outfits himself with a fitted herringbone waistcoat, the bottom button left open. A pair of woven periwinkle cuff links and rather garish striped socks represent his only concessions to whimsy or sentimentality; they have about them the sweet, gestural, last-minute air of Father’s Day presents.”

16. A Hotel Room of One’s Own

“In a perfect world, everybody would have a hotel room of one’s own. It could be treated, in the Virginia Woolf mode, as a matter of personal freedom. It needs to be somewhere you can call your own, a place that appeals to an idealized version of yourself.”


Fast & Furious 7

Sunday 10.26.2014 New York Times Digest


1. What Are You So Afraid Of?

“Fear, real fear, deep fear, the kind that changes our habits and actions, is not something on which we are likely to follow sensible instruction.”

2. The Horror Before the Beheadings

“The story of what happened in the Islamic State’s underground network of prisons in Syria is one of excruciating suffering.”

3. Law Lets I.R.S. Seize Accounts on Suspicion, No Crime Required

“Using a law designed to catch drug traffickers, racketeers and terrorists by tracking their cash, the government has gone after run-of-the-mill business owners and wage earners without so much as an allegation that they have committed serious crimes. The government can take the money without ever filing a criminal complaint, and the owners are left to prove they are innocent. Many give up.”

4. The President Attends the World Series

“Angry spectators booed the president and shouted at him — knowing that Hoover backed Prohibition, which was still the law of the land — ‘We want beer!’”

5. Dividing and Conquering the Trash

“Rubicon also studies its clients’ waste for novel recycling opportunities, connecting businesses with the recyclers who see hidden value in their junk. For a national pizza chain, Rubicon determined that much of its leftover dough could be processed into ethanol. For a regional supermarket, Rubicon discovered that 400,000 old company uniforms could be shredded and resold as a stuffing for pet beds. Insulated containers that carried seafood for one business were repurposed to transport bull semen for another.”

6. Can Video Games Survive?

It’s the players who enjoy this culture, even as they distinguish themselves from the worst of the GamerGate trolls, who truly worry me. If all the recent experimentation and progress in video games — they’re in the permanent collection at MoMA now — turns out to be just a plaster on an ugly sore, then the medium’s long journey into the mainstream could be halted or even reversed.

7. The Meaning of Fulfillment

“Fulfillment is a dubious gift because you receive it only when you’re approaching the end. You can’t consider your life fulfilled until you’re fairly sure of its temporal shape, and you can’t get a view of that until you’re well past its midpoint. The realization that one’s life has been fulfilled is a good thing, but freighted with the weight of many days and the apprehension of death. It’s also quite useless, truly a white elephant. It can never be exchanged or redeemed, because everything has been exchanged or redeemed to make its purchase possible.”

8. Do Black People Have Equal Gun Rights?

“Until around 1970, the aims of America’s firearms restrictionists and the aims of America’s racists were practically inextricable. In both the colonial and immediate post-Revolutionary periods, the first laws regulating gun ownership were aimed squarely at blacks and Native Americans. In both the Massachusetts and Plymouth colonies, it was illegal for the colonists to sell guns to natives, while Virginia and Tennessee banned gun ownership by free blacks.”

9. The Dangers of Eating Late at Night

“For my patients, eating late is often accompanied by overeating, because many skip breakfast and eat only a sandwich at lunch. Thus the evening meal becomes the largest meal of the day. After that heavy meal, it’s off to the sofa to watch television. After eating, it’s important to stay upright because gravity helps keep the contents in the stomach. Reflux is the result of acid spilling out of the stomach, and lying down with a full stomach makes reflux much more likely.”

10. The Problem With Positive Thinking

“The truth is that positive thinking often hinders us.”

11. Museums Morph Digitally

“Museums are being redefined for a digital age. The transformation, museum officials say, promises to touch every aspect of what museums do, from how art and objects are presented and experienced to what is defined as art.”

12. Lonesome George, Immortalized

“That’s always the great unknown, how long the animal will take to dry.”

13. A Writing Retreat by Rail, From Paris to the Côte d’Azur

“Cultural history is full of moments when writers and artists resolved intellectual problems by musing on the rails. At the lowest point in his career, facing a business disaster, Walt Disney doodled his first Mickey Mouse on a train from New York to Hollywood. Stuck on a stalled line, between Manchester and London, J. K. Rowling dreamed up Harry Potter.”

14. Atul Gawande: By the Book

“I don’t think there is a single all-time best self-help book. But I organize my life by David Allen’s Getting Things Done. Literally. It provides a system for dealing with your email inbox, the pieces of paper accumulating in your bag and all those to-do lists you never get through, and I follow it religiously — which is to say, imperfectly. I have read and reread Tim Gallwey’s The Inner Game of Tennis for almost four decades. At its root, it’s about closing the mental gap between potential and performance. When I played junior tennis, I followed its advice to put my attention on how the ball is spinning rather than worrying about whether I’m swinging the racket right or wrong. Now I read it to remind myself how not to think, just do, when I have to, whatever the situation. Then there are my clinical textbooks, which are, when you think about it, all self-help books, too. My favorite self-help book may be The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, for Franklin’s unrelenting, very American drive for self-improvement and similarly unrelenting, very American optimism that the effort will make him happy. I have the same delusion.”

15. James Risen’s ‘Pay Any Price’

“The tragedy is that, however implausible, it all appears to be true.”

16. Lucy Worsley’s ‘Art of the English Murder’

“Her goal isn’t to provide a history of crime or crime writing, but to show how ‘the British enjoyed and consumed the idea of murder.’

17. The Advanced 7-Minute Workout

“A new, more technically demanding regimen, one that requires a couple of dumbbells but still takes only seven minutes.”

18. Old Masters

“It is in the effort to close the distance between the work imagined and the work achieved wherein it is to be found that the ceaseless labor is the freedom of play, that what’s at stake isn’t a reflection in the mirror of fame but the escape from the prison of the self.”

19. What if Age Is Nothing but a Mind-Set?

“Placebo effects are a striking phenomenon and still not all that well understood. Entire fields like psychoneuroimmunology and psychoendocrinology have emerged to investigate the relationship between psychological and physiological processes. Neuroscientists are charting what’s going on in the brain when expectations alone reduce pain or relieve Parkinson’s symptoms. More traditionally minded health researchers acknowledge the role of placebo effects and account for them in their experiments. But Langer goes well beyond that. She thinks they’re huge — so huge that in many cases they may actually be the main factor producing the results.”