News apps developer with @TexasTribune. Campaign finance, mapping, etc. UT Austin graduate. I like watching people react to things.
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List: Pessimistic Hair Band Anthems by Carmen Petaccio

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“Stop Believin’”

“Get That Fucking Sugar Away from Me”

“Why Can’t This Be Love (Because Love is a Societal Construct)”

“Late January Rain”

“Here I Go Again (Shame Eating Alone While Watching Reruns of Full House, House, On My Own)”

“All Right Already, We’ll Take It… Christ”

“Every Rose Has Its Thorn”

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3830 days ago
Austin, TX
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October 24, 2013

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3833 days ago
Austin, TX
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3834 days ago
For future reference
3834 days ago
Teaching kids math through hands-on experimentation.
Peoria, Illinois
3834 days ago
Arlington, VA
3834 days ago

TechCrunch: Journalists Or Startup Shills? You Decide

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by Brendan O'Connor and Choire Sicha

In late July, we ran a piece looking at a website called Elite Daily. Around the office, we'd been calling the story "Who Is Eddie Cuffin?" That's because one thing that had captivated our attention was the bylines of Elite Daily's writers, which, the more we looked, turned out not to be real people. So Eddie Cuffin is not "the most interesting man in the office," as per his Elite Daily bio, because he does not exist.

The more we looked, the more we disliked the site. We talked about this in the piece, and that whole fake writer thing, and that the site itself glamorized a grotesque version of "eliteness," and that the content was often disgusting and rude, engineered to incite or troll to encourage sharing. The story was harsh!

Another thing that initially got us turned on to Elite Daily was that in June, the site had "re-launched," and it got a nice simple by-the-numbers write-up on TechCrunch.

This week, TechCrunch deleted that story entirely—and then published a new story, "Elite Daily, Content Farm Or Groundbreaking Site For Upwardly Mobile Youngsters? You Decide." This was weird. There was nothing wrong with Jordan Crook's original story on TechCrunch. It was a drive-by press release, essentially, but there were no obvious errors of fact.

In the new TechCrunch story, Elite Daily founder or co-founder David Arabov, who would not speak with us, did speak with TechCrunch. And he provided an opportunity for both to now introduce errors of fact and, honestly, errors of opinion.

TechCrunch wrote that their takeaway about our story was this:

That Elite Daily was called out to such an extreme degree by The Awl smacks of someone’s sour grapes and little else. We are, because of our legacy, pro-entrepreneur—but not at the expense of the truth. My initial post glossed over Elite Daily at best.

This is bullshit, and cagey bullshit. "Someone's sour grapes and little else" is a school-yard slam rendered weaker because it refuses to name names. Is it The Awl's sour grapes? The writer's sour grapes? Why are the grapes sour? (And "little else"? Oh my.) It's also defensive bullshit. TechCrunch's writer called us, before writing this piece, though not for interviewing purposes. Crook wanted to express that we made TechCrunch look stupid. We had no such interest, and don't think we even did. We hadn't even criticized the TechCrunch story!

In any event, TechCrunch couldn't even stand by this hostile and crazy dig at a fellow editorial startup; that paragraph was subject to a revision post-publication. This is how it read originally.

Apparently TechCrunch did not like the way that sounded—that their mission is to "support the startup." And as for all the rest… well, let's do this in order. There's lots.

TechCrunch helpfully provides audio of their interview with Arabov, who has many complaints.

• David Arabov: [1:19] "He wouldn’t say which publication he was reporting from… [1:44] We kept asking what publication he was from and he finally answered The Awl."

Not true. Here is a screenshot of our correspondence. "David Scott" is David Arabo's name on Facebook. (Why?)

• David: [ 4:00 ] "He used all assumptions, there’s no fact in there that’s true." David: [ 4:49 ] "He reached out to everybody here personally, like, for a statement, while he was writing this article… He was kinda harassing people… He started emailing our partners, like, without telling us or anything like that."

At no time has Elite Daily asked us for any corrections, odd given that there is "no fact" in the article "that's true." We also don't find it remarkable that a reporter would reach out to people for a story. We wanted people to talk to us, so we asked them, openly, to talk to us. This is an incredibly silly complaint to be carried by an editorial publication coming from the founder of an editorial publication.

• David: [ 5:17 ] "He comes out with this article, 5000-word article"

It is 3,300 words.

• Jordan: [ 5:39 ] "I do want to understand why he was coming after you, especially if none of this is true, what was going on there, I can look into that as a story."

This is a hot technique. "Oh, this entire article is false? Let me help you." But the implications of a reporter "coming after" the subject of the reporting are bizarre and betrays a misunderstanding of what reporting is.

• Jordan: [ 6:00 ] "What is your father’s name?" David: "My father’s name? Jacob Arabo, who is also Jacob the Jeweler."

Great, this is a question we wanted to ask. We were forced, in the absence of interviews, to write that "although there is almost no mention of it anywhere, he is surely the son of Jacob 'the Jeweler' Arabo." We wanted to be very careful with matters of fact. Apart from one lone picture caption on the Internet, there was almost nothing conclusively linking David and his father online. We were also cognizant that this period was likely a difficult experience for the family and didn't want to harp on it.

• David: [ 6:08 ] "Here’s the part that’s not true: he said that this company is financed by drug money… If you look at the article it says that Jacob the Jeweler is involved in this whole drug dealing scheme… then it uses that assumption to say that the money is used to fund this thing."

This is not even remotely a thing that our article says. It is not remotely a thing that we have implied.

• David: [ 6:56 ] "He [Jacob] did not go to jail for money laundering."

Correct. We did not say he went to jail for money laundering. We wrote that he "served two-and-a-half years in prison as part of his plea deal to get out from under accusations of conspiracy to launder $270 million in drug money for the early-90s Detroit-based "Black Mafia Family."

• David: [ 7:11 ] "He proved himself against that."

That is not actually what a plea deal means either.

• David: [ 8:22 ] "My brother" [Benjamin, who works at Elite SEM, a “search engine marketing” firm] "works in the building next door."

Yes, Elite SEM is now in the building next door. Elite Daily and Elite SEM formerly occupied the same building. Before they moved into their current location next door, Elite Daily operated out of Black Ocean’s offices, which at the time were two floors above Elite SEM’s.

• David: [ 9:58 ] "I actually have the breakdown of how much they [Black Ocean] invested in us… so, if you look right here Black Ocean comes in with $31,000 and Gerard Adams comes in with $31,000."

TechCrunch was forced to issue a post-publication revision on this actually. It sounds like David was pointing to some documents breaking down the finances of the early days of Elite Daily. Apparently some of those documents are wrong. Investor Gerard Adams was kind enough to inform Jordan of the mistake; there were another $20K in "operating expenses" (that could be rent paid or value given, etc.).

• David: [ 10:20 ] "We had $62,000."

It sounds like you had approximately $81,000. No bigs.

• This:

Jordan: [ 11:23 ] Is it true that the people who work for Elite Daily, the writers, um, have worn Jacob and Co jewelry before, and watches?

David: Jacob jewelry and watches?

Jordan: Yeah.

David: I mean…

Jordan: Were they given those as gifts?

David: No, they were not given those as gifts.

Jordan: Some of them do or do not wear them?

David: They wear them if I give it off my wrist, like, to go hang out, like but they don’t wear them as gifts. I mean, I don’t give anybody gifts that expensive.

Jordan: [ 11:49 ] So do some of them buy them on their own, maybe, and own them?

David: Nobody has them.

Jordan: Nobody has them?

David: I mean, two girls have them. I gave them a little necklace for Christmas, a little [inaudible] necklace for Christmas. It’s literally nothing. Silver necklace.

Jordan: [ 12:03 ] Which girls?

David: [ 12:04 ] They no longer work here.

Jordan: They no longer work here, OK.

Reproducing this just because it's enjoyable, and good reporting!

• David: [18:05]: Lots of sites have misogynist content, but "nobody says anything to them, why is that something that they call us out on?"

We are absolutely certain that Elite Daily is not the only site on the Internet being called out for sexism. But then, also, Elite Daily is the only site on the Internet publishing The 21 Signs She's Expired. ("17. She has a box of condoms at her apartment." "15. 3 fingers can fit.")

• David: [ 13:27 ] "There’s 40 Jacob and Co articles out of 4,792 in our Luxury section… He’s my father, I’m going to put articles in there when there’s something good going on, why not?" [ 14:37 ] "That’s bullshit. That’s bullshit… There’s only 40 articles of Jacob and Co that live on the site. There’s more than 40,000… between 40 and 50 thousand articles that live on the site."


• David: [ 25:53 ] "None of our writers are fake people. They’re real people. They’re just aliases… We’ve done a great job at building up the character. People actually know them pretty well… They’re real people, but they’re aliases."

Crook takes up this banner as well, regarding the large number of bylines on Elite Daily that aren't real people: "Other writers, like Kaitlyn Cawley, simply don’t want the excessive profanity from their 20-something Elite Daily years to haunt them in their later years. (Or disappoint their parents.)" What's to even say about this? "This Website Is Staffed By People Without The Courage Of Their Convictions"?

• David: [ 34:45 ] "They say our content’s misogynistic, it’s very materialistic and everything? And here you have an article, 20 Mistakes You Don’t Want To Make In Your 20s that has 201,000 shares on it. Then you go down the list: Why Men Aren’t Really Men Anymore. This is actually against men. And it has 141,000 shares on it."

Number 6 on that 20 Mistakes list is “Spending your money on women who aren’t escorts." Number 3 is “Mistaking safe sex for anything besides anal." Number 2 is “Dating unstable women with mommy and daddy issues."

• David claims at [ 41:52 ] that a former employee source who spoke to us left “a long time ago, pretty sure it was last summer.”

It was not that employee, and we don’t know who he is thinking of.

• David Arabov also calls The Awl "third tier."

That is incorrect. We are second tier.

• TechCrunch writes: "O’Connor also implied that David’s brother Benjamin may be involved with Elite Daily."

No, we wrote that Benjamin works at Elite SEM, which is now next door, and that he has contributed to Elite Daily in the past, which he has.

• TechCrunch writes: "Arabov believes that for every misogynist article, there is a feminist counter article."

We believe that some day free kittens will fall from the sky and the earth will be a paradise.

• David: [36:37] "The numbers speak for themselves."

TechCrunch has a long section discussing Elite Daily's traffic. In our piece, we presented Elite Daily's comScore numbers with Elite Daily's internal numbers. All sites, particularly smaller sites, show a great discrepancy between these sorts of numbers. comScore undercounts The Awl's numbers by a factor of 3 or 4 at times. The comScore numbers for Elite Daily differ by a factor of 8 or 9.

• In an interview with Elite Daily Editor-in-Chief Kaitlyn Cawley, Cawley refers to Elite Daily as a "platform." Kaitlyn: [51:48] "It's mean to be sort of a platform for people to speak, whether or not you agree with that is your own choice… The idea is that not a single writer, or, a single writer isn't representative of Elite Daily. It's the massive amounts of contributors and the massive amounts of writers we have here, the different voices and different understandings and different things."

It's reasonable for a publication to have authors who disagree and conflict. We do! But "platform" is a buzzword now for publications. Medium, for instance, really is a platform: it has no dedicated writing staff, though it has assigning editors. BuzzFeed is sometimes a platform, such as when it throws up its hands at its inability to keep contributing "authors" such as The Heritage Foundation from publishing lies on its website. These publications have open publication technology. Elite Daily does not. It is a traditional publication where writers send stories which are published by an editor. Using the descriptor of "platform" is common now because it makes media companies sound more valuable and more like a technology startup. The phrase has the useful byproduct of distancing both the owners and the editorial staff from its most objectionable content, which remains, in the end, objectionable.

• TechCrunch writes: "From Arabov’s perspective, he has the right to push stories about his father’s company without mentioning his relationship to it. This isn’t necessarily above-board. But we, the media, creep ever closer to that grey line between promoted, paid-for content and unbiased journalism."

"We, the media" is an incredible thing to write. But also: no, we don't creep ever closer to that "grey line."

• TechCrunch wrote this: "Like all start-ups Elite Daily is a mix of hustle, fibbing (or outright lying), and mismanagement."

Both in the specific—even we, in our condemnation of Elite Daily, never called them liars—but in the general, this is distressing. We reject the notion, as all should, that all startups are mismanaged by hustling liars.

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The post TechCrunch: Journalists Or Startup Shills? You Decide appeared first on The Awl.

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3882 days ago
Austin, TX
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This Deer Won’t Look Both Ways by Sam Shelstad

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That sign you sometimes pass on the highway, with the painted silhouette of the deer? That’s me. I won’t look both ways. It’s true, I won’t. I’ll just walk right into the road, suddenly, while it’s dark. My friends will too, so be warned. Not that it matters—you’ll hit us anyway. We want to get hit.

I’m not stupid. I can hear a car coming from miles away, and I’ve been run down nine times since Christmas. Obviously, I try to avoid full-on collisions—I don’t want to die or anything. Just a good hit to the hindquarters, something that will throw me into the culvert. One time I got smacked in the face with a side-view mirror. God, that was good.

My cousin, Aaron? He likes to watch from the bushes while we get struck. That’s his thrill. Not me—I crave that rush you can only get when four-thousand pounds of metal knocks you into a spin; that wild screech of rubber on pavement; the sudden panic that this might be the one that finally cripples you for life. I dream about this every night.

The thing I really fantasize about is that one night a driver will stop and reverse slowly over my tail. And then maybe they get out, and slam one of my legs in the car door. Oh god. Maybe they tie me up like they’re going to mount me on the roof rack, but instead they just douse me in windshield washer fluid. Yes.

Because what else is there, for me and my friends? Do you know what we do all day? Picture one of those deer-hunting arcade games they have in sports bars, with the plastic guns: You wander around a boring forest, looking at trees or nothing, until you see a stag—and then you shoot it. Kind of entertaining, right? Now imagine that instead of shooting the deer, you just look at it for a second, nod, and then continue wandering around until you see another one. And then you nod again. That’s it—that’s my life! I just want to feel something, other than the slow digestion of the cud I chew. So we go out at night and look for release in a pair of headlights.

See this scar, on my back? A few months ago, I ran out in front of this pickup and the guy who came to check on me dropped a lit cigar. I knew I had to seize this golden opportunity and I wiggled my way over to it, salivating. The driver jumped back into his truck, probably thinking I was rabid or something, but I wiggled my way over and rolled onto the stogie. Jesus. It was like a blinding white light from heaven. Smoke rose in the retreating lights of the pickup, and the smell was like grilled venison. My cousin Aaron was in the bushes the whole time, watching, and chewing on his foreleg. People see these bald patches on our legs and think it’s because of ticks or something, but no. We do this to ourselves because we can.

You know what those signs along the highway should say? This Deer Won’t Mind If You Swerve Into Him.

Or: This Deer Would Be Delighted If You Were To Pull Over, Grab Him By The Antlers, And Bash His Head Into The Hood Of Your Car Until He Loses Consciousness.

Or, wait: This Deer Wants You To Run Over His Hind Legs So He Can’t Move Away, Watch Him Writhe There In The Middle Of The Road While You Drink A Fifth Of Scotch, And Then Proceed To Piss On Him, Right On His Face, While His Pervert Cousin Watches From The Bushes And Feverishly Bites Into His Own Leg, Thus Humiliating The Struck Deer Until He Finally Reaches The Carrot That Has Been Dangling In Front Of Him His Entire Adult Life, And He Experiences Pure, Unbridled Ecstasy.

But, whatever. The current signage is better than the usual, bland DEER CROSSING. And I understand if you’d rather obey the warning and drive with caution, because hitting us is a danger to you guys, too. You’ve got sports bars, malls, and water parks—things to really live for. Just promise me you won’t feel too bad if you do happen to run us down. You’ll notice, as the headlights of your vehicle bear down on me, that this deer won’t look both ways. This deer will look directly into your own eyes. This is not fear; this is not a plea to your humanity. I am looking into the eyes of my master. Dominate me. Humble me with your awesome power, driver. Oh yes.

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3891 days ago
Austin, TX
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Nate Silver’s genius isn’t math. It’s journalism.


The news that Nate Silver is leaving the New York Times for a role at ESPN and ABC News (corporate synergies! They’re a thing!) has occasioned some interesting posts on what he got right during the election.

Nate Silver (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Nate Silver (Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press)

The typical answer to this is, well, “the election.” But getting the election right was no great feat. The betting markets got the election right. The pollsters got the election right. The polling aggregators, like Real Clear Politics, got the election right. The modelers — which included Silver, but also included Sam Wang and Drew Linzer, among others — got the election right.Wonkblog’s election model called the election right — and it did it in June.

The truth is that 2012 just wasn’t a very hard election to call. The polling data all pointed in the same direction, even if many pundits refused to believe what it told them. The secret of the modelers — and it’s not much of a secret — is that they listened to the polling data. Silver et al got the credit for calling the election right, but the bulk of that credit should really go to the pollsters, without whom none of the modelers could have made any calls at all.

Indeed, one of Silver’s incorrect calls came in the North Dakota race, which Wang called correctly. Why did Wang get it right and Silver get it wrong? Because Wang’s model stuck even closer to the polls than Silver’s model did.

So if all Silver did was build a polling-aggregation model that could call the election correctly on Nov. 1, that wouldn’t be much of a trick. Anyone with access to the polls could’ve done that.

But Silver had two other innovations, both of which are, I think, more important in explaining the appeal — and potential scalability — of his work. The first is that his model begins many, many months before the election, and long before the polls become particularly predictive or frequent. At that point, Silver’s model doesn’t mainly run on polls (it becomes poll heavy as the election nears and the polls become more predictive). It uses ideology and incumbency and economic growth.

I think of that model as a journalistic innovation more than a statistical one. It gave Silver a way to cover the election at a time when everyone knows the polls aren’t worth much but people want to read about the election anyway. It wasn’t, however, a very good model. If you look at Silver’s November 2011 New York Times magazine story, “Is Obama Toast?“, you see a model that’s way too pessimistic on Obama’s chances.

It concludes, basically, that so long as Mitt Romney is the nominee, “the odds tilt slightly toward Obama joining the list of one-termers.” Even in a scenario where GDP growth was an amazing 4 percent in 2012, it gave Obama only a 60-40 shot over Romney. As it was, GDP growth was 2.2 percent in 2012, and yet Obama never fell behind Romney in the battleground states. I think a fair read of the election suggests that Obama’s chances were much more robust than Silver’s early model indicated.

But if that early model didn’t work to predict the election, it served Silver’s other, and most important, journalistic strength: narrativizing the data.

The core challenge of covering elections is that pretty much nothing important happens on any given day. That’s particularly true 12 months before the election, which is when Silver wrote his magazine story, but it’s even true in the days just before an election.

The way a lot of horserace coverage deals with this problem is by blowing up unimportant news — gaffes and ads and the like — into stories that makes the readers feel like they’re learning urgent new facts about the campaign even as nothing changed that day and whatever gaffe or ad or speech got made stands almost no chance of influencing the campaign.

There’ve been election models before Silver’s. But their proprietors proudly stood in opposition to this trend. They pointed to their models and said, “See? Most of this stuff doesn’t matter, and there’s no reason to be covering it.” Analytically, they might well have been right about that. But people still wanted to read about the election.

What Silver figured out how to make data-driven election journalism into a daily product that could satisfy political obsessives.

do is tell a story each day about what was on his spreadsheet.

On any given day, you could head to FiveThirtyEight and get a new forecast and an engaging and clear explanation from Silver on what had changed in the forecast. Rather than covering the slow days of the election through the incremental news of the campaign trail, he covered it through the incremental changes on his spreadsheet. He made his data into a daily story, and he used it to tell the story of the presidential campaign, and to shed light on all kinds of smaller stories in the 2012 campaign.

So on Oct. 1, Silver’s post was, “New Polls Raise Chance of Electoral College Tie.” They didn’t raise it that much, of course — it went from 0.3 percent to 0.6 percent, and would fall again in the days to come — but it was a fascinating look at how the electoral data had changed that day. On Sept. 26, he looked at new polls that suggested that Obama might overperform in battleground states.

Every day, the data told a new and interesting story. Sometimes it was It often wasn’t a story about something in the news, but more often, it anything in the news that day, of course. It was just a story about the election, and the news peg, so far as there was one, was some bit of movement in Silver’s forecast, or in the polls he was watching. And so election obsessives could go to Silver every single day and read something new, even though nothing had really happened.

Silver’s reputation as a math wizard often obscures his innovations as a journalist. But it’s the latter that makes him such a valuable hire for ESPN and ABC News. Lots of people can run the numbers. But Silver can use those numbers to tell readers an engaging, fast-paced and constantly changing story about subjects they care about. That’s a rare talent.

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3927 days ago
Austin, TX
3927 days ago
Boston, MA
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Opera Next 16

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Yesterday we pushed a candidate for Opera Next 16. I’m not surprised that many of you have figured it out already yesterday :)

Features that we’ve added for this build are
  • support for W3C Geolocation API,
  • form auto-filler,
  • support for jump-lists on Windows 7/8,
  • presentation mode is now available also on Mac,
  • opera:flags – you can play with experimental features there. Please remember that this game might be dangerous (and bite),
  • Opera 16 is based on Chromium 29.

Please feel free to test and leave us comments – if you are not on the Next stream yet, go ahead and download it from attached links.

Opera and Opera Next run as separate installs so you can still use Opera 15 while running Opera Next 16 side by side to try out the new things. Opera Next 16 will also automatically update itself so you'll always have the latest build.

Usually, the first few comments are about the roadmap, so here are the features we’re currently working on: bookmarks, synchronization (Opera Link), enhancements in tabs handling (ie pinning and visual tabs) and themes. Our new rapid release cycle means that you should see the first cut of some of these in a few weeks’ time.


Known issues:
DNA-8133 - On Windows XP opera_autoupdate.exe throws an error with credui.dll library.
DNA-8270 - Most of HTTP sites don't load with off-road mode enabled.

Full changelog
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3931 days ago
Opera finally has geolocation! Again!
Austin, TX
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