Six Ideas That Made Us Think

1. Another Urban Myth

Sorry New York, LA, and San Francisco. The U.S. is not becoming more urban.  FiveThirtyEight.com has the facts: 

The fastest growth in the U.S. is in lower-density suburbs. Those counties grew by 1.3 percent in 2016, the fastest rate since 2008, when the housing bust put an end to rapid homebuilding in these areas…Those figures run counter to the “urban revival” narrative that has been widely discussed in recent years. That revival is real, but it has mostly been for rich, educated people in particular hyperurban neighborhoods rather than a broad-based return to city living. To be sure, college-educated millennials — at least those without school-age kids — took to the city, and better-paying jobs have shifted there, too. But other groups — older adults, families with kids in school, and people of all ages with lower incomes — either can’t afford or don’t want an urban address.

2. Clear Legal Writing: Breaking the Rules

On this, both Democrats and Republicans can agree: Judge Neil Gorsuch is one of the best prose stylists on the bench. At The Federalist, Ed Good points out that Gorsuch’s lively, easy-to-follow legal opinions are so good because he ignores many of the rigid, traditional, legal-writing imperatives (“never start a sentence is a conjunction,” or “never use contractions in formal writing”):

In [one opinion] Judge Gorsuch started 12 sentences with “And,” 13 with “But,” and 4 with “So.” A sampling: “And that is enough to call an end to this litigation as a matter of law.” “But even more troubling is the doctrine’s breadth.” “So in this respect the difference between truth and falsity is not just immaterial—it doesn’t exist.” Case closed.

3. Do Bad Movies Deserve Bad Scores on Rotten Tomatoes?

Boo hoo. Director/producer honcho Brett Ratner goes to Sun Valley Film Festival and decries the impact of Rotten Tomatoes on his movie, Batman v Superman. This film, despite its 27% score on the site, still managed to gross $900 million worldwide. Here is Ratner looking for sympathy:

When I was growing up film criticism was a real art. And there was intellect that went into that. And you would read Pauline’s Kael’s reviews, or some others, and that doesn’t exist anymore. Now it’s about a number. A compounded number of how many positives vs. negatives. Now it’s about, “What’s your Rotten Tomatoes score?”

In fairness, Rotten Tomatoes has links to hundreds of reviews of Batman v Superman. For example, this one from NPR:  “What a ponderous, smothering, over-pixelated zeppelin crash of a movie scored by a choir that sounds like it's being drowned in lava.”

4. When the Professor's Kids Stormed the Interview: Scene-By-Scene Analysis

Few things have charmed the internet more this month than the moment during the BBC interview with Korean policy expert Robert Kelley, when his two children burst into his home office, on camera, before being dragged out by a frantic mother. While the interview clip merits repeated viewings, the post-event analysis has proven to be just as good. Ben Thompson does a complete psychological and cultural analysis:

Kelly is fulfilling his self-selected destiny: he is appearing as an expert across the world on the BBC. But it’s not going well! His daughter has appeared, and while he certainly loves her, he must, MUST, keep up appearances.

5. Can You Hear Me Now? Voice is the Next Technology Frontier

New research estimates that, by the end of the year, 33 million voice-first devices will be part of people’s daily routines . Others studies suggest that, by 2020, half of all online searches will be performed by voice. One major stumbling block: accents. Backchannel offers a fascinating look into how the world of artificial intelligence and data troves are used to recognize different voices: 

Apple’s Siri is now customized for 36 countries and supports 21 languages, language variants, and accents. Yet the Chinese are already ahead on this front: The Chinese search engine company Baidu says its deep learning approach to speech recognition achieves accuracy in English and Mandarin better than humans, and it’s developing a “deep speech” algorithm that will recognize a range of dialects and accents.

One other peculiarity: “Oftentimes the software does a better job with Indian accents than deep Southern, Shenandoah Valley accents.”

6. When Your Website Gets Hacked

Jordan Reid shares a true-crime thriller about how her lifestyle blog, RamshackleGlam.com, was hijacked and held for ransom:

I learned that my site was stolen on a Saturday. Three days later I had it back, but only after the involvement of fifty or so employees of six different companies, middle-of-the-night conferences with lawyers, FBI intervention, and what amounted to a sting operation that probably should have starred Sandra Bullock instead of…well…me.

Cautionary tale worth reading.


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