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The Brief, Wondrous Life of Zina Lahr

Remembering the life of a talented young artist who went missing on a trail in Colorado:

After she died, a five-minute video surfaced of Zina standing in her bedroom in her grandmother’s house, which had shelves crammed with robots she’d built and other art projects. In the video, she explains that she has “creative compulsive disorder” and can’t stop making things—especially robots. The video was the first hint at what Zina was: an impossibly innocent and gifted eccentric on the verge of breaking out in the world of animatronics and stop motion. It was an audition for a Los Angeles–based reality show called Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge, a SyFy channel program premiering March 25 that’s sort of like Project Runway for animatronics artists. She’d turned down a spot on the show in order to move home and care for her grandmother, who’d been diagnosed with lung cancer in September.

PUBLISHED: Feb. 14, 2014
LENGTH: 13 minutes (3251 words)

The Death Dealer

Self-help guru James Arthur Ray became famous after Oprah featured him on her show. He later led three people to their deaths in a sweat lodge while trying to help them reach "a higher level of consciousness." After less than two years of jail time, he's back:

One longtime Ray follower received severe burns after falling into the rocks used to heat the lodge. Another began screaming repeatedly, "I don’t want to die! I don’t want to die!" and calling out the names of his two children. Ray seated by the exit closest to the only source of oxygen, remained calm. One witness heard him mutter, "Buddy, you need to pull it together," before jubilantly saying "It’s a good day to die!" — apparently referencing his claim that followers would be "reborn" during the event. One participant testified that even as she passed out, her thoughts echoed James Arthur Ray: "It's a good day to die."

SOURCE:The Verge
PUBLISHED: Dec. 4, 2013
LENGTH: 25 minutes (6307 words)

Everpix Was Great. This Is How It Died.

When the math and business model don’t quite work out for a tech startup, even if the product is beloved:

While its talented team obsessed over the look and features of its product, user growth failed to keep pace. Starting in June, Latour tried to raise $5 million to give Everpix more time to become profitable. When those efforts faltered, he began pursuing an acquisition. Everpix had tentatively agreed last month to be acquired by Path, according to a source close to the social network. But Path’s executive team killed the deal at the last minute, leaving Everpix adrift.

SOURCE:The Verge
PUBLISHED: Nov. 5, 2013
LENGTH: 11 minutes (2861 words)

Cold Air. Then Heat. Then Terror.

A fire in Prince George's County in Maryland nearly kills two firefighters. An account of how it happened:

"With temperatures climbing past 1,000 degrees, the shield on his helmet curled, and the liner inside his protective coat melted. His protective mask was so badly damaged that an analysis later concluded that it was on the verge of 'immediate failure.'

"'Everything was hot, everything was burning,' O’Toole said. 'It got hotter and hotter and hotter until the point where you just didn’t want to breathe anymore.' Each breath he took 'felt like someone was cutting your throat.'

"Outside, Sorrell was crying for help, desperate to save his friend. 'Come on! Get that line in there!' he shrieked, a bloodcurdling sound captured on a helmet-mounted video camera worn by a Riverdale firefighter. 'My guy’s in there! Go!'"
PUBLISHED: Oct. 12, 2013
LENGTH: 19 minutes (4867 words)

Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Our picks this week include fiction from The New Yorker, plus FT Magazine, Texas Monthly, Washingtonian, The Verge and a guest pick by Margaret Ely.
PUBLISHED: June 7, 2013

Beyond Recognition: The Incredible Story of a Face Transplant

A disfigured woman is given a face transplant, which currently remains an experimental procedure:

"In the US, there are five institutions — Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the Cleveland Clinic, UCLA, the University of Maryland, and Johns Hopkins University — that are now either performing face transplants or actively recruiting their first patient. And for the surgeons leading these charges, the process has long been an all-consuming one. 'If you only knew how much work goes into every single one of these,' says Dr. Kodi Azari, chief of reconstructive transplantation at UCLA. 'You can’t even imagine.'"
SOURCE:The Verge
PUBLISHED: June 4, 2013
LENGTH: 16 minutes (4035 words)

Greed is Groupon: Can Anyone Save the Company from Itself?

Groupon's quick rise has been overshadowed poor management and shady accounting. Can the company repair its reputation?

"Everyone The Verge spoke with who has worked directly with Mason says he’s not the clown that became his persona in the media. 'He was an incredibly focused and hard-working guy,' says Sennett. But in crafting his image as a goofball, Mason painted himself into a corner. 'I don’t think Eric used Andrew, or that Andrew didn't go in with his eyes wide open. But yes, the cynical interpretation is that Eric saw how useful Andrew could be, first as the charming, boyish entrepreneur, then as the fall guy for Groupon’s public plunge.'"
AUTHOR:Ben Popper
SOURCE:The Verge
PUBLISHED: March 13, 2013
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3561 words)

Memory to Myth: Tracing Aaron Swartz Through the 21st Century

Remembering Aaron Swartz, the programmer and Internet activist who took his own life earlier this year, and what he was fighting for:

"Aaron didn’t play that game. After he sold Reddit, he couldn’t be bought. In fact, he was spending his own money, and his valuable time, on campaigns for the public good, and helping others to do the same. He was a realist about the government, media companies, and Silicon Valley. His experience with all of them made him grow up too soon. But he also never stopped being that not-even-teenager who believed in the utopian possibilities latent in the World Wide Web. He never stopped believing in the power of small groups of people who were willing to devote their attention to small problems and nagging details in order to create the greatest good for the greatest number. Aaron played in that space without resolving its tensions.

"It’s that collapsing telescope between the many and the few, the rational and the altruistic, the minute and the world-historical, the irreducibility of life as it is lived and the universality of the ideals that life should serve."
SOURCE:The Verge
PUBLISHED: Jan. 22, 2013
LENGTH: 26 minutes (6506 words)

The Dream and the Myth of the Paperless City

The city of Chicago is looking to go paperless, but digitizing won't be easy:

"'You can't move forward with technology in government if you’re redundantly moving around multiple copies of pieces of paper,' he says. 'To me, it’s shocking that we’re still talking about forms.'

"But Hillman also acknowledges that there are major roadblocks. Cost is less an issue, he surmises, than overcoming the governmental status quo.

"To make a paperless government work, 'you would need a paradigm shift,' Hillman says. 'You have entire departments — the fire department, the Department of Revenue — that run with their paper. This is how they do things. So when you shift to a paperless government, you have major staffing changes. You have people saying, ‘Well this is not how we do this.’ So that’s going to be the biggest hangup.'

"But it may be more than a mere hangup."
SOURCE:The Verge
PUBLISHED: Dec. 6, 2012
LENGTH: 16 minutes (4041 words)