Blog Posts by Virginia Heffernan, Yahoo News

  • I’m dreaming of a Spotify Christmas

    Making playlists is an amazing, intimate way to discover new holiday music

    By Virginia Heffernan

    This Christmas, I’m not going to wreck the holiday like a petulant teenager. I’m not going to build up weird expectations and then explode in disappointment. I’m not going to drive everyone nuts.

    I’ll admit it: I’ve been a Christmas-ruiner in my time. But I’ve seen the Ghost of Christmas Future—I’m a batty, carping grandma in unwashed tartans, alone under dusty Ikea mistletoe—and I must change my ways.

    My method is music. On the subway and at my desk, music is the swiftest way out of grudges and anxiety for me. Maybe music is this year’s channel to a perfectly imperfect Christmas in my household.

    As Pope Benedict XVI puts it: “Whether it is Bach or Mozart that we hear in church, we have a sense in either case of what Gloria Dei, the glory of God, means. The mystery of infinite beauty is there and enables us to experience the presence of God more truly and vividly than in many sermons.”

    Wow, it feels super Christmas-y to quote the POPE!

    But music in 2012

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  • Sweet and Lowe: How a captivating Twitter feed sealed Rob Lowe’s comeback

    By Virginia Heffernan

    @RobLowe follows 135 people on Twitter. Among them is not @HilaryASwank, the Oscar-winning ex-wife of his brother, @ichadlowe.

    @RobLowe does, however, follow @ikimlowe, the new wife of his brother, who helpfully identifies herself on the site as “wife of @ichadlowe.” Would @HilaryASwank, a formidable actor who does not use Twitter very often, have consented to live in her lesser-known husband’s Twitter shadow? Perhaps not. Perhaps that’s why they div—

    But what am I doing? This is where Twitter can lead a person: to deranged, speculative pointless nosiness. To mindlessly customizing a version of Us Weekly magazine by reading between the Twitter lines of who follows whom, who tags whom, who seeks whose attention with tags and hashtags.

    So forget that. I’m just going to keep following @RobLowe. His Twitter feed is one for the ages, and he’s on a tear, having just hit half a million followers. And I swear I follow Rob Lowe for the epigrams and jokes—why

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  • Apptitude: Deck your iPhone with the Christmas List app

    By Virginia Heffernan

    It’s Hanukkah. This is the stretch of the calendar known as “the holidays,” famous these days mostly for being a Source of Tremendous Anguish to all who encounter it.

    Once, long ago, maybe in the days of the Maccabees or Jesus, the winter holidays brought childlike joy; we’d light some candles against the darkness. But in the past century some Grinchy preachers and op-ed columnists decided to stake out Christmastime as serotonin-deprivation time, and family dysfunction time, and bankruptcy-alcoholism-airport-snafu time. Since then, plain Christmas joy—the easy-won kind—has been in short supply. Ah, well.

    Wistfulness: That’s still OK in December, isn’t it?

    Which brings me to the Christmas List. In 2012, a Christmas list is not something transcribed from the Sears catalog onto 17 pages of lined notebook paper. The Christmas List is an app. An app for making Christmas lists—and planning to fulfill them. It’s for wishing and half-granting wishes then using the

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  • Microsoft is back: Why the dorky Apple rival is suddenly cool

    By Virginia Heffernan

    Oh man that new commercial for Internet Explorer 10 has me dorkily cackling at every pixel in it, and then replaying the ad to laugh again, and harder. OK, maybe you’re too cool for it. But I am not.

    Here’s what happens: A trolly commenter dude—he looks like the old groovy Apple kid turned puffier, more caffeinated and housebound—keeps trying to tweet and post about how IE sucks until he’s overwhelmed with the realization that Microsoft’s new browser might be kind of good. The way the brilliant actor’s pupils register his increasing coffee intake and his excitement at his holy mission (typing “IE sucks” at every opportunity) is lovely—a great new archetype for the Internet 2013.

    It’s been a long time since a commercial worked so well. The promo does true magic: It sends up IE’s critics, by exposing the OCD fury of the smug hacker pose. The anti-Microsoft type as no longer that neato Apple guy standing with the middle-aged PC nerd, but a shut-in maniac who has

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  • The new YouTube app: way better than the one Apple kicked off the iPhone

    By Virginia Heffernan

    I love YouTube—everything about it. So I am bound to praise the YouTube app for iPhone and iPad, which was updated last month. And I will praise it without reservation. The YouTube app looks nifty, steers like a BMW, has swift navigation and lavish sharing features. But most of all I’ll praise it because the YouTube app is YouTube.

    YouTube is a Fort Knox of digital video: It seems clear by now that no company will match YouTube’s staggeringly successful combo of invaluable content and impeccable code. It’s a massive public service—and ad-supported, so free to users. Seventy-two hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. Every month, people watch more than four billion hours of video on YouTube. YouTube just is video, the way Amazon is books. If you like video or film—and if you ever even once need or want to see a news clip, a comedy clip, a music video or just about any moving picture—you will turn to YouTube. Chances are good that, maybe without

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  • Don't fight, 'recalculate': What we can learn from our GPS robots

    By Virginia Heffernan

    It’s the holidays, so suit up: it’s time to get in a car and fight!

    Just like table-setting and side-taking after divorces, every family does car fights in its own way. Your clan might have the silent seething kind, where passengers meanly don isolating headphones and turn up Ke$ha. Or maybe yours prefers a hissed quarrel—yes I KNOW the joint is on Jive Street because I GREW UP HERE—or the truly mutinous life-changer where someone demands to be let out on the highway shoulder.

    Pricey kids’ carseats with sanity-eroding “restraint systems” may be involved. Gung-ho seniors who have nothing but blindspots. Beans in Corningware. Too much wind or too little, or heat, or Gangnam Style on Spotify. Someone has overpacked; someone can’t get cell service; someone backed the rented Dodge into a Porsche Cayenne.
    But as sure as tryptophan stupefies and holidays eventually satisfy, a fight will erupt. Best to prepare. For that we need but one word, courtesy of our loyal robot

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  • A mash note to mashups: I love Vjay!

    By Virginia Heffernan

    Like the best and most enchanting apps, Vjay, a new app for iPhone that lets you make mashups and music videos, answers an emotional need I didn’t know I had. I’ve had it three days. It’s turned me into a video-making fool.

    I don’t know what I used to do with my time, but today all I want to do is set moving images to music, and then mash the images up with other images, and then—what the hay, apparently I got nothing but time—mash the music up with other music. And then, like Paula Deen before she lightened up her cooking, I like to lard in some random audio and frost that with some other video and finally create a pixilated dump cake that...that... I don’t know… that looks cool? That makes me feel like Michel Gondry or Spike Jonze or some other bigshot music-video producer?

    Or maybe the experience is just *so deeply satisfying* that I don’t care if anyone but me ever watches my masterpiece?!

    Yeah, that’s it.

    Vjay lets me grab trippy film of outer space and

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  • Fifty shades of email: How electronic text seduced David Petraeus

    By Virginia Heffernan

    Once again, the tabloids are ablaze with the story of intemperate love affairs conducted over email. We’re still using the world’s best digital technology to do what goofy humans do: Exchange sweet nothings, nudie photos and goo-goo gaga love notes.

    Look at them: a 60-year-old general, a 58-year-old general, a 40-year-old biographer, a 37-year-old gadfly and a 52-year-old "Sesame Street" puppeteer. A kooky cast of fallible characters who just can’t get enough of electronic mail.

    None of them—not former CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus; not Marine Corps Gen. John Allen; not Petraeus’ biographer Paula Broadwell; not the Tampa, Fla., hostess Jill Kelley who led the FBI to discover Petraeus’ affair; and not Kevin Clash, the voice of Elmo, who was accused of having sex with a minor—grew up with the Internet. Like many in their demos, then, they still get a little rabid around email. They love it, not wisely, but too well. For email, evidently, they’ll risk everything:

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  • Hurricane Sandy and the Airbnb revolution

    The lo-fi service helps out in the storm

    By Virginia Heffernan

    Someone should do an exposé of Airbnb, the shadowy “vacation rental service” that’s giving away free rooms to refugees of superstorm Sandy. Point out it’s illegal for people to convert their studies into hotel rooms. Lament the blow that Airbnb might yet deal to the hospitality industry. Opine that sleeping on a stranger’s couch is plain creepy.

    Someone should write that piece. Just not me.

    Because even though I live in cold-hearted New York City, I’m a sucker for the groovy Airbnb fantasy—even though I learned the hard way (actually using Airbnb) that that fantasy doesn’t work for me.

    On Airbnb, you list any sleepable place to happen to have jurisdiction over—anything from a spare bed in a room to a spare room in a house to a spare seaside palace on 40 acres. You also post dates it’s free. The lovely, searchable site then suggests—based on your area—what you might charge per night for what you’re offering.

    In my imagination, Airbnb is home to a steampunk

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  • Voting machines: Why we’ll never trust them

    By Virginia Heffernan

    A voter’s moment of solitude at the polls may be the greatest intimacy she ever experiences with her government. The macro abstractions of the campaign—the economy, demographics, the country’s future—suddenly contract to a dot. Voting turns micro. And it’s hard to be blasé about it. You enter a sheltered booth, like a peep show; you graze a screen, heave a lever or blacken a circle. Red or blue. Experience or change. Obama or Romney. Or other. Or none.

    The defining civic procedure of American democracy is cloaked in secrecy—secrecy that’s meant to be liberating. But secrecy breeds both conspiracy theories and legitimate investigations. You’d think by now we’d be well past hand-wringing over hanging chads—the famous card fragments generated by the half-punched Votomatic ballots in the contested presidential election of 2000. But distrust of voting machines is alive and well on this Election Day, 2012.

    It seems, it fact, that we may never fully trust the

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