In the dead of night, the hulks of four 372-ft. cooling towers and two high domed nuclear reactor container buildings were scarcely discernible above the gentle waters of the Susquehanna River, eleven miles southeast of Harrisburg, Pa. Inside the brightly lit control room of Metropolitan Edison’s Unit 2, technicians on the lobster shift one night last week faced a tranquil, even boring watch. Suddenly, at 4 a.m., alarm lights blinked red on their instrument panels. A siren whooped a warning. In the understated jargon of the nuclear power industry, an “event” had occurred. In plain English, it was the beginning of the worst accident in the history of U.S. nuclear power production, and of a long, often confused nightmare that threw the future of the nuclear industry into question.
Google’s Ads Preferences believes I’m a guy interested in politics, Asian food, perfume, celebrity gossip, animated movies and crime but who doesn’t care about “books & literature” or “people & society.” (So not true.) Yahoo! has me down as a 36-to-45-year-old male who uses a Mac computer and likes hockey, rap, rock, parenting, recipes, clothes and beauty products; it also thinks I live in New York, even though I moved to Los Angeles more than six years ago. Alliance Data, an enormous data-marketing firm in Texas, knows that I’m a 39-year-old college-educated Jewish male who takes in at least $125,000 a year, makes most of his purchases online and spends an average of only $25 per item. Specifically, it knows that on Jan. 24, 2004, I spent $46 on “low-ticket gifts and merchandise” and that on Oct. 10, 2010, I spent $180 on intimate apparel.
Within a half-hour of my first meeting Neil Melinkovich, a 59-year-old life coach, sometime writer and former model who has been in Sex Addicts Anonymous for more than 20 years, he told me about the time in 1987 that he made a quick detour from picking up his girlfriend at the Los Angeles airport so he could purchase a service from a prostitute. Afterward, he noticed what he thought was red lipstick on himself. It turned out to be blood from the woman’s mouth. He washed in a gas-station bathroom, met his girlfriend at the airport and then, in the grip of his insatiability, had unprotected sex with her as soon as they got home–in the same bed he said he had used to entertain three other women in the days before.
On Feb. 15, 1965, a diffident but self-possessed high school student named Raymond Kurzweil appeared as a guest on a game show called “I’ve Got a Secret.” He was introduced by the host, Steve Allen, then he played a short musical composition on a piano. The idea was that Kurzweil was hiding an unusual fact and the panelists — they included a comedian and a former Miss America — had to guess what it was. On the show (you can find the clip on YouTube), the beauty queen did a good job of grilling Kurzweil, but the comedian got the win: the music was composed by a computer. Kurzweil got $200.
Zuckerberg has often — possibly always — been described as remote and socially awkward, but that’s not quite right. True: holding a conversation with him can be challenging. He approaches conversation as a way of exchanging data as rapidly and efficiently as possible, rather than as a recreational activity undertaken for its own sake. He is formidably quick and talks rapidly and precisely, and if he has no data to transmit, he abruptly falls silent. (“I usually don’t like things that are too much about me” was how he began our first interview.) He cannot be relied on to throw the ball back or give you encouraging facial cues. His default expression is a direct and slightly wide-eyed stare that makes you wonder if you’ve got a spider on your forehead.
Zhou Chengliang is about 27 years old (he doesn’t know for sure), goes by the name Huang Jie, and is an entrepreneur based in the western Chinese city of Lanzhou. He suffers from memories of a lost past: he was one of countless young Chinese children kidnapped and sold to strangers to be raised as their own. Zhou’s story is a human tragedy, but it’s also emblematic of a country in the throes of rapid change, torn between tradition and modernity, challenge and opportunity, morality and corruption.
The chair is bolted to the floor near the back of a 12-ft. by 18-ft. room. You sit on a seat of cracked rubber secured by rows of copper tacks. Your ankles are strapped into half-moon-shaped foot cuffs lined with canvas. A 2-in.-wide greasy leather belt with 28 buckle holes and worn grooves where it has been pulled very tight many times is secured around your waist just above the hips. A cool metal cone encircles your head. You are now only moments away from death.