Subscribe to The Atlantic and get 2 free issues

'Your Feeling of Autonomy Is a Fantasy'

A remarkable inside look at the hope, desperation, and financial realities for startups and founders working in San Francisco and Silicon Valley:

All the while, Martino’s ultimate warning—that they might someday regret actually getting the money they wanted—would still hang over these two young men, inherent to a system designed to turn strivers into subcontractors. Instead of what you want to build—the consumer-facing, world-remaking thing—almost invariably you are pushed to build a small piece of technology that somebody with a lot of money wants built cheaply. As the engineer and writer Alex Payne put it, these startups represent “the field offices of a large distributed workforce assembled by venture capitalists and their associate institutions,” doing low-overhead, low-risk R&D for five corporate giants. In such a system, the real disillusionment isn’t the discovery that you’re unlikely to become a billionaire; it’s the realization that your feeling of autonomy is a fantasy, and that the vast majority of you have been set up to fail by design.

SOURCE:Wired
PUBLISHED: April 23, 2014
LENGTH: 42 minutes (10559 words)

The Complete, Complicated History of San Francisco Housing: Tech, Rent Control and Prop 13

Cutler investigates the complete history of the Bay Area’s housing crisis—from technology and rent control to California’s Proposition 13:

Earlier in the summer of 1978, a cantankerous former small-town newspaper publisher named Howard Jarvis led a “taxpayer revolt” as property prices were soaring, threatening to throw home owners out of their homes because of rising tax bills. Jarvis’ idea was to cap property taxes at 1 percent of their assessed value and to prevent them from rising by more than 2 percent each year until the property was sold again and its taxes were reset at a new market value.

Howard Jarvis launched the taxpayer revolt that got Proposition 13 passed, capping property taxes for homeowners.

One argument that Jarvis used to rally tenant support for Proposition 13, was that he promised that landlords would pass on their tax savings to renters.

They didn’t. They pocketed the savings for themselves.

SOURCE:TechCrunch
PUBLISHED: April 20, 2014
LENGTH: 51 minutes (12893 words)

High Tech

On the science and tech companies hoping to cash in on cannabis, which has been legalized for recreational use in two states and decriminalized in some form in many others:

For the science and technology set, it’s a classic opportunity to disrupt an industry historically run by hippies and gangsters. And the entire tech-industrial complex is getting in on the action: investors, entrepreneurs, biotechnologists, scientists, industrial designers, electrical engineers, data analysts, software developers. Industry types with experience at Apple and Juniper and Silicon Valley Bank and Zynga and all manner of other companies are flocking to cannabis with the hopes of creating a breakout product for a burgeoning legitimate industry. Maybe it’s the Firefly. Maybe it’s something still being developed in someone’s living room. There’s a truism about the gold rush days of San Francisco: It wasn’t the miners who got rich; it was the people selling picks and shovels. As the legalization trend picks up steam, Silicon Valley thinks it can make a better shovel.

AUTHOR:Mat Honan
SOURCE:Wired
PUBLISHED: April 18, 2014
LENGTH: 20 minutes (5177 words)

The History of the Future: A Reading List

A new technology reading list by Daniel A. Gross, featuring Wired, The Atlantic and Esquire.
SOURCE:Longreads
PUBLISHED: April 15, 2014

The Truth About Google X

Space elevators, teleportation, hoverboards, and driverless cars: The top-secret Google X innovation lab opens up about what it does—and how it thinks.

If there's a master plan behind X, it's that a frictional arrangement of ragtag intellects is the best hope for creating products that can solve the world's most intractable issues. Yet Google X, as Teller describes it, is an experiment in itself--an effort to reconfigure the process by which a corporate lab functions, in this case by taking incredible risks across a wide variety of technological domains, and by not hesitating to stray far from its parent company's business. We don't yet know if this will prove to be genius or folly. There's actually no historical model, no ­precedent, for what these people are doing.

PUBLISHED: April 15, 2014
LENGTH: 24 minutes (6150 words)

The Most Insane Truck Ever Built and the 4-Year-Old Who Commands It

Bran Ferren has spent four years and millions of dollars constructing the most audacious exploration vehicle ever built. Its mission: Take his 4-year-old daughter camping.

It’s a late-summer afternoon, and Ferren—celebrated inventor, technologist, former head of research and development for Disney’s Imagineering department—is sitting inside a guesthouse-slash-storage facility on his ample East Hampton, New York, spread, drinking his third or fourth Diet Coke of the day. He’s 61 years old and towering, with a wily-looking red-gray beard and dressed in his everyday uniform of khaki pants, sneakers, and a billowy polo shirt. Ferren is the cofounder and chief creative officer of Applied Minds, a world-renowned tech and design firm whose on-the-record customer list includes General Motors, Intel, and the US Air Force; before that he worked on everything from Broadway shows to theme park rides.

SOURCE:Wired
PUBLISHED: April 7, 2014
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4546 words)

Colten Moore Returns to the Mountaintop

The story of Caleb and Colten Moore—two talented brothers who competed in the X Games doing tricks on snowmobiles. After Caleb died in a competition, Colten had to learn to move on without his older brother, whom he looked up to all his life:

Wade was not enthusiastic about their desire to ride freestyle. They’d already spent so much time and money on racing and some of those stunts seemed so crazy. But soon Caleb had an agent who wanted to pay him to perform in arenas all over the world. The shows were full of pyrotechnics and heavy metal and, on occasion, monster trucks. And at every opportunity, Caleb would tell his agent about his little brother and all the fantastic tricks he could do. When he finally convinced someone to give Colten a shot, he then had to convince Colten that he could do it. Colten actually crashed in his first show, but Caleb was relentless with both his little brother and the promoters, and Colten eventually got another shot. Every time her sons left home, Michele would remind them to take care of each other.

SOURCE:D Magazine
PUBLISHED: April 1, 2014
LENGTH: 21 minutes (5417 words)

The Wolf Hunters of Wall Street

An adaptation from Michael Lewis's new book, Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, about high-frequency trading and the rigging of Wall Street:

“As the market problem got worse,” [Brad Katsuyama] says, “I started to just assume my real problem was with how bad their technology was.”

But as he talked to Wall Street investors, he came to realize that they were dealing with the same problem. He had a good friend who traded stocks at a big-time hedge fund in Stamford, Conn., called SAC Capital, which was famous (and soon to be infamous) for being one step ahead of the U.S. stock market. If anyone was going to know something about the market that Katsuyama didn’t know, he figured, it would be someone there. One spring morning, he took the train up to Stamford and spent the day watching his friend trade. Right away he saw that, even though his friend was using software supplied to him by Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley and the other big firms, he was experiencing exactly the same problem as RBC: He would hit a button to buy or sell a stock, and the market would move away from him. “When I see this guy trading, and he was getting screwed — I now see that it isn’t just me. My frustration is the market’s frustration. And I was like, ‘Whoa, this is serious.’ ”

PUBLISHED: March 31, 2014
LENGTH: 43 minutes (10876 words)

Watching Team Upworthy Work Is Enough to Make You a Cynic. Or Lose Your Cynicism. Or Both. Or Neither.

Abebe goes inside the viral site Upworthy to discover their motivations and their formula for reaching a huge audience:

Its choices are the ones you’d normally associate with a race to the bottom—the manipulative techniques of ads, tabloids, direct-mail fund-raising, local TV news (“Think This Common Household Object Won’t Kill Your Children? You’d Be Wrong”). It’s just that Upworthy assumes the existence of a “lowest common denominator” that consists of a human craving for righteousness, or at least the satisfaction that comes from watching someone we disagree with get their rhetorical comeuppance. They’ve harnessed craven techniques in the service of unobjectionable goals—“evergreen standards like ‘Human rights are a good thing’ and ‘Children should be taken care of’ ”—on the logic that “good” things deserve ads as potent as the “bad” ones have. “I think marketing in a traditional sense, for commercialism—marketing to get you to buy ­McDonald’s or something—is crass,” says Sara Critchfield, the site’s editorial director. “But marketing to get people’s attention onto really important topics is a noble pursuit. So you take something that in one context is very crass and you put it in another. People will say, ‘That’s very crass,’ but in the service of doing something good for humanity, I think it’s pretty great.”

PUBLISHED: March 24, 2014
LENGTH: 16 minutes (4081 words)