Blog Posts by Virginia Heffernan, Yahoo News

  • Maker's mark: Why so many young techies are turning to tinkering

    It’s true: Some 70,000 people attended an arts-and-crafts fair in Manhattan this past weekend. They milled. They performed callous-building feats of manual creation. And they demoed soldering, sandblasting, quilting, farming, injection-molding and all manner of human endeavor that showcases the meeting of opposable thumbs with materials in space and time.

    It was the World Maker Faire, the roving “festival of invention, creativity and resourcefulness” that invites “tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, science clubs, authors, artists, students and commercial exhibitors” to show what they’ve made, and what they’ve been making. Even after seven years of these events, the exuberance of the Maker Faires is still discomfiting. Sure, this time things were a little less off-the-grid than in years past, despite all of the robots, drones and robots that make drones on display; but still, this year’s event was much more kid-friendly, with lots of neato colorful

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  • Are you an iPhone 5s person or an iPhone 5c person?

    As has become tradition in Apple kremlinology, techies have spent the past week trying to decipher what the “C” and the “S” stand for in Apple’s new smartphones, the iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s.

    Guesses both serious and sardonic for the proudly plastic, kaleidoscopic “C” include “cheap,” “color” and “Chinese”; common wisdom says the “S” stands for “sensor” or “scanner” or “security.”

    My editor, however, had a different idea.

    “Maybe C and S stand for ‘Class Struggle,’” he joked, after aggregating a list of dozens of Twitter users who had deemed the iPhone 5c “for poor people” after its unveiling.

    Maybe Jason is right.

    Sure as the iPhone 5 fades into obsolescence, Apple devotees know they’re going to need new phones: the iPhone 5s or the iPhone 5c. What’s less clear is which one. We could start retabulating the virtues of each one, but why bother? No one really needs help choosing between Apple’s “forward-looking” 5s and the “colorful” 5c, both of which go on sale Friday.

    Rather, put it this

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  • Titstare, Pax Dickinson and the sexist web

    Disruptive news in the he-man woman-hating space!

    First, over the weekend, at the increasingly creepy Silicon Valley conference TechCrunch Disrupt, an app was introduced that encourages the stagey ogling of women’s breasts. The app is called Titstare and hahahahahaha I still can barely contain myself long enough to explain it since it contains the word TIT.

    A presentation connected to the TechCrunch Disrupt 2013 show purported to show off the "TitStare" app, ultimately leading to an apology from the tech blog. (Via New Yorker)

    Then, not one day After Titstare (A.T.), some other exciting stuff went down in that same hatespace: the Chief Technology Officer of Business Insider, one Pax Dickinson, was forced to resign after devising several tweets that mocked Christians, gay people, poor people, Jews, African-Americans and people who have been raped. A sampling of Dickinson’s poetry:

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  • Jeff Bezos, Kindle Matchbook and the American literacy epidemic

    You might not immediately assume Jeff Bezos is, next to Oprah, the most important driver of continuing literacy, and literateness, America has. But as the introduction of the new Kindle Matchbook program, and the recent purchase of the Washington Post has reemphasized, the super-consumerist Amazon billionaire has been steadily taking his place as the literacy king of global capitalism.

    When speaking of his new Washington Post purchase, for example, Bezos has started saying “readers” instead of “customers.” As Bezos has observed at Amazon, when you “consume” non-perishables like books, newspapers, electronics and even the copy-dense megasite that is Amazon.com, you’re reading. You're not eating, not consuming. In fact, the signature of the American "consumer" may now be the mental act of “consuming” digital, symbolic data: watching, listening and above all reading.

    With media, books, texts and emails on mobile devices Americans in 2013 will now read anywhere — while they’re socializing,

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  • For college students, sex by smartphone

    The grandma of social networks, Facebook, was inspired by the freshman book of headshots that Harvard and many colleges offer first-year students. At my college, that freshman facebook looked innocuous, until you saw two or three of those booklets lying ravaged around the dorm, with sexy coeds circled and other faces defaced, hot-or-not-style.

    The printed facebook, though, was just a manual. In those days, you were on your own when it came to making college social life happen, in real time and in real space. With Facebook.com, Mark Zuckerberg brought about a transfiguration that has defined the digital revolution. He turned a crude and static map of social life into a living, breathing form of social life itself.

    Following Facebook’s lead, a host of new social services for the college set have appeared, and they sketch parameters for a brand new kind of social life. Facebook, you see, is now a site for actual grandmas and can’t meet the specific social cravings of the young and single.

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  • Forgotten Spaces: What will happen to the websites we abandon and leave to rot?

    This summer the high-design frozen-yogurt shops — those cute Chlorox-bright franchises, all zillion of them — are flourishing, with maybe just a hint of darkening around the edges, like an August leaf.

    But looking ahead, I can’t help but ask: What will become of all the Pinkberrys?

    This is not to suggest that the current appetite for cold, chemical non-cream consumed in acrylic décor isn’t insatiable. Perhaps it is, and all that will survive the apocalypse is styrofoam and 16 Handles.

    But if, just if,a small market contraction ever affects the numberless franchises of Pinkberry, Red Mango and Yogurtland that currently enliven American streetscapes—if that contraction happens, what will become of the machines, and the fake-Saarinen decor, and the rows and rows of toppings bins wherein now rest tepid kiwi and shards of offbrand Oreos?

    They will be trashed. Like Cybex machines at old Curves gyms and CD-listening stations at long-gone Tower Records. As municipalities awaken from

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  • "To be a great newspaper, you have to be profitable": On Jeff Bezos' purchase of the Washington Post

    "To be a great newspaper you have to be profitable.”

    This, from legendary Washington Post publisher Kay Graham, sounds simple, but it’s a radical idea. And it’s radical especially in this climate of deep, quavering, lump-in-throat sentimentality about newspapers, in which people express their love for newspapers in all the romantic ways except the American one: they won’t fork over any money. They won’t pay for broadsheets on the newsstand, however cool it still looks to carry one smartly under one’s arm; nor will they pay to get the papers to land, thwack, on their welcome mats.

    The only people conspicuously buying newspapers, in fact, are the sentimental super-rich. John Henry, of the Boston Red Sox, bought the Boston Globe last week in a blue-light special: $70 million. (In 1993, the New York Times had purchased the Globe for $1.1 billion.) And Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, ponied up a quarter of a billion dollars from his own account for the Post, and then became

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  • Yahoo said no: Cheers for Yahoo's lone protest against government snooping in the ongoing PRISM scandal

    The disclosures of former CIA contractor Edward Snowden, who this week was granted temporary refugee status in Russia, suggest that the government has spent years tapping the very thoughts of Internet users, as George Dyson puts it in a recent essay on Edge.org.

    It’s hard to believe that any citizen, apprised of his rights, would consent to having his mind regularly read by the government. So why did the Internet companies, through which we now externalize mental processes in the form of Web searches, e-commerce, and verbal and visual communication, so quickly sell us out? Why didn’t any one of the communication giants refuse, citing...well, citing anything, from the Bill of Rights to the Magna Carta to the law of the land to common sense?

    Well, it seems one company did.

    “There has been one instance. . .” writes Reggie B. Walton, presiding judge in the super-secret U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, in a letter this week.

    One instance. One lone instance in 2008 when an

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  • You have a friend request from Santa Claus: How Facebook covered its site in gift wrap

    Facebook is trying to turn everyone into a gift-giver. That proves they've figured out this public company thing.

    If you want to know how a digital enterprise is faring in this fluxy world, try an experiment.

    Don’t think about how visible a brand is, or how beloved of investors, or how exciting its management. Rather, ask your own darn self: Have you even thought about spending so much as one thin dime at that particular digital shop in the past month?

    If the answer is yep, 11 cents or $1500 or $12.50, the company is humming along just fine. Or maybe even soaring, as Facebook suddenly was, shooting up 30% on Thursday, and dipping only negligibly on Friday.

    “We were wrong,” admitted Richard Greenfield of BTIG Research, who’d been among those chanting sell-Facebook.

    This isn’t exact science. Much of the rocket surge of Facebook stock is credited to an increase in spending on mobile ads, the Holy Grail for all tech companies these days. But it’s also clear, just from a glance at the News Feed, that Facebook doesn’t just want those Madison Avenue dollars: It wants yours, too.

    Now, ask yourself: You

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  • Helen Thomas—a reporter who 'stood there' for those who couldn't

    “Pray for me, Helen,” President Richard Nixon said to the reporter Helen Thomas on August 8, 1974, as he went to resign from office.

    Did Thomas, who died on Saturday at 92, then bow her head to pray for the outgoing president? We’ll never know.

    But the “pray for me” anecdote comes from Thomas herself, which suggests she probably didn’t take the command as a presidential order, an entreaty or even an expression of intimacy.

    “Pray for me, Helen” would have struck her as nothing but a quote. A quote, to Thomas, was a commodity to be pocketed, framed and deployed—in her reports for 57 years to the United Press International or in her hit-or-miss late-life columns for Hearst Newspapers.

    Played right, a quote could become the real reporter’s ace: a scoop. Thomas piled up more of these during her hot streaks than most reporters get in a lifetime.

    Reporting is an odd job. People who talk to reporters aren’t talking to people, they’re talking to recording devices and pens and

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