Sunday 5.22.2016 New York Times Digest


1. To Write Better Code, Read Virginia Woolf

“We had been paralyzed. The minute we tweaked one bit of logic, we realized we’d fouled up another. But our music major moved freely. Instead of freezing up over the logical permutations behind each A and S, she found that these symbols put her in the mind of musical notes. As notes, they could be made to work in concert. They could be orchestrated.”

2. How a Push to Advance Bathroom Rights for Transgender Americans Reached the White House

“How a clash over bathrooms, an issue that appeared atop no national polls, became the next frontier in America’s fast-moving culture wars — and ultimately landed on the desk of the president — involves an array of players, some with law degrees, others still in high school.”

3. What Makes ‘Redskins’ a Slur?

“A word can be offensive simply because of its history.”

4. Are You Successful? If So, You’ve Already Won the Lottery

“Chance events play a much larger role in life than many people once imagined.”

5. For Workplace Creativity, Find the Right Dose of Competition

“When many qualified people are competing for a prize, it becomes hard to stand out, and people tend to stop exerting creative effort.”

6. Unplugging the Colorado River

“When Glen Canyon Dam was built in the middle of the last century, giant dam projects promised to elevate the American West above its greatest handicap — a perennial shortage of water. These monolithic wonders of engineering would bring wild rivers to heel, produce cheap, clean power and stockpile water necessary to grow a thriving economy in the desert. And because they were often remotely located, they were rarely questioned. But today, there are signs that the promise of this great dam and others has run its course.”

7. How Facebook Warps Our Worlds

“The Internet isn’t rigged to give us right or left, conservative or liberal — at least not until we rig it that way. It’s designed to give us more of the same, whatever that same is: one sustained note from the vast and varied music that it holds, one redundant fragrance from a garden of infinite possibility.”

8. Facebook’s Subtle Empire

“Because so many people effectively live inside its architecture while online, there’s a power in a social network’s subtlety that no newspaper or news broadcast could ever match.”

9. ‘Roots,’ Remade for a New Era

“The revival aims to deliver a visceral punch of the past to a younger demographic, consumed anew by questions of race, inequality and heritage.”

10. The Superhero Franchise: Where Traditional Movie Stardom Goes to Die

“When the character is more famous than the actor playing it, how does anybody develop the trademarks of a star? The prerogatives of the comic book are warping the properties of movie stardom. One feels at permanent odds with the other.”

11. It’s a Long Story: O.J.: Made in America Seeks Your Time

“This is a big American studies paper. This touches on everything in our culture. I wanted to tell that.”

12. The Age of Consignment

“As the life spans of your things grow ever shorter, and you are increasingly overwhelmed, to paraphrase a Kate Atkinson character, by ‘the relentless culling and resolution that the material world demands,’ selling your stuff without having to leave home would seem to be an enchanting innovation and do much to dull the sting of an object’s obsolescence.”

13. The Remarkable Shelf Life of the Offhand Comment

“Sometimes a seemingly trivial comment will lodge in our brain and start to fester, ultimately exhibiting a shelf life equal to that of pemmican or granite.”

14. How to See Prince’s Minneapolis

“New tours make it easy to follow the Prince trail around town.”

15. Unforbidden Pleasures, by Adam Phillips

“Forbidden pleasures — taboos and prohibitions and shameful desires — tend to obscure the meaningfulness to our lives of unforbidden ones.”

16. Paper, by Mark Kurlansky

“Paper holds the world together. It wipes our foreheads, cleans up our spills, bags our groceries and disposes of our waste products. It floods into our mailboxes at home and across our desks at work. And it’s not going away anytime soon. From the late 1970s, futurologists predicted that we would soon work in paperless offices. Though paper use in offices is decreasing, the average American in white or pink collar still generates two pounds of paper and paper products a day. That in turn is only part of the more than 700 pounds of paper that the average American uses in a year.”

17. Programmed Obsolescence

“Silicon Valley-era fiction writers are in a bind. To ignore the latest quotidian technology today (at least when concerning the middle and upper classes of developed nations, as most published fiction here tends to be) is to imagine some screenless 19th-century world in which people may as well still be riding in horse-drawn buggies instead of hailing Ubers and Lyfts and, not long from now, self-driving cars. Incorporating up-to-date devices and applications, on the other hand, risks mayfly ephemerality by the time the book has been printed (or, indeed, sent to Kindles). Consider how preposterous a novel composed in 2003 would look today — or even by 2005 — if a character logged in to the now-defunct social media site Friendster to check whether he had any new ‘testimonials.’”

18. Letter of Recommendation: Movies Alone

“Whatever antisocial stigma remains attached to solo moviegoing is slowly dissolving. The porn theaters have all closed, and ‘grindhouse’ is an aesthetic sensibility. Hanging around lobbies has lost its lurid or malevolent connotations, though it’s still seen as faintly sad, something to be avoided if possible.”

19. In Defense of the Imperfect Holiday

“In the digital age, everyone’s a critic of the everyday, turning the promise of our best life into a research binge and fetishizing the small differences that separate essentially similar experiences. Nowhere is the pursuit of bestness as urgent as when it comes to travel. The threat is not just that you might waste money, but precious, priceless time. If you eat crappy pizza tonight, you can eat better pizza tomorrow. But when’s the next time you’ll make it to Jakarta? Travel already involves planning — purchasing tickets, making reservations — and endless choices, big and small. Once you start researching, it can be hard to stop. It’s like we’re all grad students and it’s always exam season. What’s the best beach getaway? The best tapas in Madrid?”

20. A Writer’s Room: Irvine Welsh

“As much as I like this place, I try not to get too attached to it, and I therefore do a lot of work in coffee shops and on public transit. It’s important for me to be able to write anywhere and not get too precious about trying to chase the fool’s gold of optimum conditions.”

21. Where the Swedes Go to Be (Really) Alone

“To live year-round in a place like this you must be very good at being with others and then very good at being alone.”

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