A visit to Iceland and CCP Games, the company behind the sci-fi video game Eve Online. The game has grown to 500,000 users and $65 million in revenue:
"Economists have written dozens of papers celebrating the sophistication of Eve’s economy and the amazing level of industry among the players, who basically create everything within the game from scratch. 'It feels like a real economy instead of one rigged by a gaming company,' says Vili Lehdonvirta, a researcher at the London School of Economics who’s studied virtual games since 2004. 'Since there’s no legal system, the economy resembles that of a developing nation where people trade based on trust and social relations.'
"The thought of Eve advancing economic teaching provides some measure of comfort for Icelanders who’ve grown to detest the presumed economic whizzes in the real world. Just down the road from the CCP headquarters, the Harpa, a giant glass opera house, glows in different colors at night. It symbolized Iceland’s banking boom. Now it may have to be torn down, because it’s too expensive for the country to maintain. CCP held its most recent Christmas party there."
PUBLISHED: April 19, 2013
LENGTH: 11 minutes (2872 words)
In 1983, three whitewater guides attempted a record-breaking speed run down the Colorado River in dangerous waters. Their story is adapted from The Emerald Mile
, which will be published in May:
"For Grua, Petschek, and Wren, getting tossed was brutal and blunt. 'The flip was instantaneous—there was nothing rhythmic or graceful or easy about it at all—it was just boom
,' said Petschek, who was summarily dumped into the river.
"Grua was holding his oars as tight as he could. As the boat toppled, they flew from his hands, and he followed Petschek into the current. But the worst punishment was reserved for Wren."
PUBLISHED: April 8, 2013
LENGTH: 24 minutes (6159 words)
On the future of drones in America:
"But the drone industry is ramping up for a big landgrab the moment the regulatory environment starts to relax. At last year's Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) trade show in Las Vegas, more than 500 companies pitched drones for filming crowds and tornados and surveying agricultural fields, power lines, coalfields, construction sites, gas spills and archaeological digs. A Palo Alto, Calif., start-up called Matternet wants to establish a network of drones that will transport small, urgent packages, like those for medicine.
"In other countries civilian drone populations are already booming. Aerial video is a major application. A U.K. company called Skypower makes the eight-rotored Cinipro drone, which can carry a cinema-quality movie camera. In Costa Rica they're used to study volcanoes. In Japan drones dust crops and track schools of tuna; emergency workers used one to survey the damage at Fukushima. A nature preserve in Kenya ran a crowdsourced fundraising drive to buy drones to watch over the last few northern white rhinos. Ironically, while the U.S. has been the leader in sending drones overseas, it's lagging behind when it comes to deploying them on its own turf."
PUBLISHED: Feb. 2, 2013
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4623 words)
Why are violent crime rates still dropping, even during the recession? The latest evidence suggests lead—in the air, in our gasoline, in our paint—was responsible for the rise in crime in the 1960s & '70s, and the drop in the 1990s:
"And with that we have our molecule: tetraethyl lead, the gasoline additive invented by General Motors in the 1920s to prevent knocking and pinging in high-performance engines. As auto sales boomed after World War II, and drivers in powerful new cars increasingly asked service station attendants to 'fill 'er up with ethyl,' they were unwittingly creating a crime wave two decades later.
"It was an exciting conjecture, and it prompted an immediate wave of...nothing. Nevin's paper was almost completely ignored, and in one sense it's easy to see why—Nevin is an economist, not a criminologist, and his paper was published in Environmental Research, not a journal with a big readership in the criminology community. What's more, a single correlation between two curves isn't all that impressive, econometrically speaking. Sales of vinyl LPs rose in the postwar period too, and then declined in the '80s and '90s. Lots of things follow a pattern like that. So no matter how good the fit, if you only have a single correlation it might just be a coincidence. You need to do something more to establish causality."
PUBLISHED: Jan. 3, 2013
LENGTH: 21 minutes (5326 words)
On the life and career of writer Nelson Algren, one of the most prolific—yet underappreciated—writers of the last century:
"For my money, no book more elegantly describes the world of men and women whom the boom years were designed to pass by. In the decades after Golden Arm, the country obsessed over the behaviors and fates of women and men like Algren’s characters—and dedicated millions to altering them through wars on poverty and drugs—but in 1949 Algren was nearly alone in reminding the country that having an upper class requires having a lower class. For the skill and elegance of its prose, its compassion, and its prescience, I’d rank Golden Arm among the very best books written in the twentieth century. Before Algren’s fall from favor and the onset of his obscurity, many people agreed with that assessment. The book received glowing reviews from Time, the New York Times Book Review, the Chicago Sun-Times and Tribune, even the New Yorker. Doubleday nominated it for the Pulitzer, and Hemingway, who had declared Algren the second-best American writer (after Faulkner) when Never Come Morning was published, wrote a promotional quote that went too far for Doubleday’s taste but pleased Algren so much he taped it to his fridge:
"Into a world of letters where we have the fading Faulkner and that overgrown Lil Abner Thomas Wolfe casts a shorter shadow every day, Algren comes like a corvette or even a big destroyer… Mr. Algren can hit with both hands and move around and he will kill you if you are not awfully careful… Mr. Algren, boy, are you good."
PUBLISHED: Jan. 1, 2013
LENGTH: 35 minutes (8997 words)
(To become a Longreads Member, sign up here.
This week, we have a Longreads Member Exclusive recommended by one of our members, Boston Review
Web Editor David V. Johnson. His pick is Richard White's
"Deconstructing Mare Island: Reconnaissance in the Ruins," published in Boom: A Journal of California
. Here's an intro from David:
"Eureka! Boom: A Journal of California
launched in the Spring of 2011. The quality of writing and artwork has been absolutely superb. There are so many articles I could recommend, including one by the aforementioned Solnit, but I was especially captivated recently by 'Deconstructing Mare Island: Reconnaissance in the Ruins,' a piece on the Carquinez Strait by American West historian and MacArthur 'Genius' Grant recipient Richard White. Before reading the story, I had experienced the Strait exactly the way White says most Californians do: by driving over it. Little did I know that in that body of water and its environs you can trace the rise and fall of California and the nation."
PUBLISHED: Dec. 6, 2012
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4455 words)
The writer's nephew, a star linebacker in college, struggles for a shot at the pros:
"Mike Nolan, a former defensive coordinator for the New York Giants, Jets and five other N.F.L. teams before being hired by Atlanta last winter, had just signaled for the 'Threes,' with Pat at middle linebacker or 'Mike,' to execute a 'Dallas freeze,' a package featuring two blitzing linebackers. As one of the scheme’s designated blitzers, Pat shot toward the quarterback then deftly swerved inside a blocking fullback to get at his target. Another head-turning display, although in this instance for entirely the wrong reasons. Coaches love speed. They love schemes even more, and in that one Pat was designated to be the 'contain man.' His responsibility was to go outside the blocking back to prevent the play from developing wide.
"'Give me two good reasons,' Nolan’s voice boomed, 'why you went inside.'
"Pat went slack beneath a bowed helmet, then shrugged.
"'That’s right!' Nolan replied. 'Because there aren’t any!'
PUBLISHED: Nov. 21, 2012
LENGTH: 38 minutes (9521 words)
A writer debates his dad about the legacy of Baby Boomers: Do they deserve blame for our current economic situation?
"You could call this anecdote Exhibit A in my father’s defense of the boomers, which he offered over coffee on the first day of our weeklong dispute. It boils down to a claim that he didn’t exactly inherit a great deal, either. Tom Tankersley’s argument breaks into two categories. First, he deflects blame for all of the bad stuff of the past several decades to previous generations and myopic politicians. Second, he builds a case that the boomers did far more good than harm.
"The Greatest Generation, his parents’ cohort, paid a lot less into Social Security and Medicare than it took out of it, he says. (This is true.) It did nothing to reduce pollution, conserve natural resources, or halt the nation’s growing and dangerous addiction to fossil fuels. 'Previous generations did not have a Clean Air Act or a Clean Water Act,' he says. His enacted both. (Also true.)
PUBLISHED: Oct. 7, 2012
LENGTH: 16 minutes (4230 words)
The takeover of San Francisco by tech companies prompts some soul-searching by Talbot, a longtime resident and veteran of the first dotcom boom as founder of Salon.com:
"One recent Friday evening, a single mother named Fufkin Vollmayer found herself at a Shabbat service started by two young Jews who work in the tech sector. The service, known as the Mission Minyan, is held each week at the Women’s Building, in the heart of San Francisco’s hottest neighborhood. The fortysomething Vollmayer, who was raised in the Haight-Ashbury by an activist mother, is the kind of vibrant, idiosyncratic personality that defines San Francisco (she took her first name from the band manager in Spinal Tap, for reasons that made sense at the time).
"The night she attended the Mission Minyan service, most of her fellow worshippers were successful digital wizards, and all were products of elite schools and seemed single-mindedly focused on the business of tech. As the startup chatter droned on, Vollmayer finally blurted out, 'What about giving something back?' A deep silence fell over the room. No one responded. After the embarrassment faded, the conversation returned to business as usual.
"'Maybe it’s youth—the folly of youth,' Vollmayer mused to me later. 'The group that night was clearly about 15 years younger than me. If you’re young and rich, do you really think much about the implications of the work you do and the money you make?'"
PUBLISHED: Sept. 20, 2012
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4504 words)