After her sought-after, five-letter Instagram handle was stolen by an Iranian hacker, professor Negar Mottahedeh opened up the door to her former homeland, striking up an unlikely friendship with the thief to learn more about a man struggling to earn a living in an economy compromised by 35 years of U.S.-led sanctions. Read the story at Backchannel.
How good of a hacker was he, really? Who were his friends? What sorts of things did he enjoy? What were he and Negar like when they were together? Not knowing him unsettled me. So I was determined to find out.
Mohamad was curious about me, too. It was odd, considering that I was much older than him. It felt like he wanted a trusted friend—someone he could use as a sounding board. He chose me.
He needed money, but more than that, he wanted to find a way out of Iran. He asked me about student visas, tourist visas, work visas; he’d send me links or screenshots with sections circled in red ink, asking me to read through them for him. He discussed his marriage options. Could he find an American girl to marry so he could stay in the US after he got there? Or could I maybe adopt him?
But by robbing me of my online identity, my hacker had unshuttered a window to life in the country of my birth. While I had been barred from my home as a young child, my new setting was chock-full of luck. With my Instagram hacker in my life, my fortuitous situation stared me in the face. Looking at myself through his eyes, my life was abundant. I felt fortunate. I wasn’t about to give up the friendship I had forged with my hacker for anything.
Is it possible to make the internet a kinder place? Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom thinks so. In Wired, Nick Thompson reports on how Instagram has been working to clean up its photo sharing platform, creating tools for users to close comments on certain posts and ban offensive words—or, in one notable case, offensive emojis:
In mid July 2016, just after VidCon, Systrom was faced with just such an ophiological scourge. Somehow, in the course of one week, Taylor Swift had lost internet fights with Calvin Harris, Katy Perry, and Kim Kardashian. Swift was accused of treacherous perfidy, and her feed quickly began to look like the Reptile Discovery Center at the National Zoo. Her posts were followed almost entirely by snake emoji: snakes piled on snakes, snakes arranged numerically, snakes alternating with pigs. And then, suddenly, the snakes started to vanish. Soon Swift’s feed was back to the way she preferred it: filled with images of her and her beautiful friends in beautiful swimsuits, with commenters telling her how beautiful they all looked.
But Instagram can’t build that world with simple technical fixes like automated snake emoji deletion.
This was no accident. Over the previous weeks, Systrom and his team at Instagram had quietly built a filter that would automatically delete specific words and emoji from users’ feeds. Swift’s snakes became the first live test case. In September, Systrom announced the feature to the world. Users could click a button to “hide inappropriate comments,” which would block a list of words the company had selected, including racial slurs and words like whore. They could also add custom keywords or even custom emoji, like, say, snakes.
Few restaurants have taken photo-friendliness as seriously as Bellota, a Spanish restaurant that opened in San Francisco last year. The entryway is enclosed, creating a pleasing shadowbox effect as you look into the dining room. The kitchen is open, and encourages patrons to take 360-degree videos of the space. Many Instagram posts feature pictures of “the ham wall,” which is just what it sounds like: a window that looks into the temperature-controlled room where Bellota stores $50,000 worth of Spanish jamón ibérico.
The most striking thing about Bellota may be the custom lamps at its 25-seat bar, which let patrons adjust the lighting in order to get the perfect shot. “I’m probably the most avid Instagram user of the group, so I kept bringing it up,” says Ryan McIlwraith, Bellota’s chef. He wanted the lighting to do justice to the restaurant’s tapas plates and signature paellas. “It turned out these lamps we got were just perfect for it,” he says. The lamps can be tilted or turned 180 degrees, and the light’s intensity can be adjusted up and down. An “advanced feature” allows patrons to rest their phones on the lamp’s neck so as to take a selfie. (I did, and must admit the lighting was lovely.)
The first image posted by xychelsea87 was a pair of black, brand-new Chuck Taylors, shot from above on a plain wood floor like any good Instagram influencer who “has a thing with floors.” Next up, a slice of pepperoni pizza, a hand, and a sleeve of a black and white striped shirt. “So, im already enjoying my first hot, greasy pizza.” Next post, the same hand, the same striped shirt, with two glasses of champagne. “Here’s to freedom and a new beginning.” And on May 18, Manning turned the camera on herself for the first time. It’s a carefully-styled image—her Instagram has been a study in carefulness—as she reveals a portrait on her own terms for the first time since her release. The sun is on her face — she’s outside. “Okay, so here I am everyone!!”
Chelsea Manning didn’t get to chose the image that defined her for the seven years she was in prison, a blurry shot in a blond wig, smiling in a car while on leave in the US during her time in Iraq. The leave was essential to her decision to leak the files she had downloaded as an intelligence officer, she explains to the New York Times.
Gravy, curry, casserole, beef stew ─ some of humanity’s most comforting, aromatic foods are the least photogenic. At Serious Eats, Kat Kinsman analyzes America’s obsession with culinary appearances and makes the case for learning to measure food by other, non-visual standards.
I’ve been thinking about ugly food, and ugly things in general, for an awfully long time now. I still remember using my post as a high school yearbook editor to make sure the wallflower kids were just as well represented as the tall poppies in our class. Sure, they weren’t the prettiest of the bunch, but I felt a certain solidarity with them. I knew we had a special value all our own. As a girl who figured I’d never measure up as lovely enough (mostly because so many people flat-out told me so), I had always identified with the ugly and the overlooked—the teddy bear with the wonky eye, the holey thrift store dress. I understood these things. I celebrated them.
The foods that pleased me the most were the objectively ugly ones: the stews, gravies, gumbos, curries, goulashes, mashes, braises, and sauces that were cooked long and low until they slumped and thickened. Maybe I knew that these foods, like all the ugly ducklings in this world, had to work harder to get their proper due. It takes time and effort to transubstantiate flour and fat into cocoa-dark roux, a rough hunk of muscle into sumptuous brisket, and raw, tough leaves and tops into sweet, savory greens. Time, it seems, can make some foods taste like heaven, and look like hell.
Jeff Sharlet | Longreads | February 2015 | 24 minutes (5,994 words)
Mary Mazur, 61, set off near midnight to buy her Thanksgiving turkey. She took her plant with her. “He doesn’t like to be left alone,” she later explained. The plant rode in a white cart, Mary in her wheelchair. With only one hand to wheel herself, the other on the cart, she’d push the left wheel forward, switch hands, push the right. Left, right, cursing, until a sweet girl found her, and wheeled her into Crown Fried Chicken. “Do not forget my plant!” she shouted at the girl. I held the door. // “I have a problem with my foot,” she said—the left one, a scabbed stump, purple in the cold. Her slipper wouldn’t stay on. // Mary wore purple. Purple sweats, purple fleece. 30 degrees. “I bet you have a coat,” she said. Not asking, just observing. Measuring the distance. Between us. Between her and her turkey. Miles away. “You’ll freeze,” I said. “I’ll starve,” she said. I offered her chicken. “I have to have my turkey!” Also, a microwave. Her motel didn’t have one. // “Nobody will help you,” she said. “Not even if you’re bleeding from your two eyes.” // Two paramedics from the fire department. Two cops. An ambulance, two EMTs. “I didn’t call you!” she shouted. “I don’t care who called me,” said one of the cops. One of the paramedics put on blue latex gloves. “She won’t go without this—this friggin’ plant,” he said. “You’ll go,” said the cop. “You’re not my husband!” said Mary. The cop laughed. “Thank god,” he said. The whole gang laughed. One of them said maybe her plant was her husband. That made them laugh, too. “I’m not going!” said Mary. “Your plant is going,” said the cop. Mary caved. Stood on one foot. “Don’t touch me!” They lowered her onto the stretcher. “Let me hold it,” she said. “What?” said the EMT. “The plant,” said the cop. He lifted it out of the cart. “Be careful!” she shouted. He smirked but he was. “Thank you,” she rasped, her shouting all gone. Mary Mazur, 61, shrank into the blankets, muttering into the leaves, whispering to her only friend.
With over 100,000Instagram followers, photographer Ruddy Roye came of age in Jamaica, and has lived in New York City since 2001. He has photographeddancehall musicians and fans,sapeurs of the Congo, the Caribbean CarnivalJ’ouvert, recent protests inFerguson and inNew York, and the faces of the many people he meets and observes every day. Roye is perhaps best known for his portraits taken around his neighborhood in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn—pictures of the homeless, the disenfranchised, and those who Roye believes aren’t often fully seen.
In Roye’s Instagram profile, he describes himself as an “Instagram Humanist/Activist,” and when looking at his portraits, the phrase that comes to mind is “up close.” Roye is closer to his subjects—who he calls his “collaborators”—than is typical in street photography, in terms of actual proximity as well as identification. Each picture, he says, contains a piece of him. With this closeness, Roye creates images that can be harrowing, disturbing, joyful and striking. If they are sometimes difficult to look at, one has more trouble looking away.Read more…
Jeff Sharlet | Longreads | September 2014 | 12 minutes (2,802 words)
Dunkin Donuts, West Lebanon, New Hampshire
The night shift, for me, is a luxury, the freedom to indulge my insomnia by writing at a Dunkin Donuts, one of the only places up here open at midnight. But lately my insomnia doesn’t feel like such a gift. Too much to think about. So click, click, goes the camera—the phone—looking for other people’s stories. This is Mike’s: He’s 34, he’s been a night baker for a year, and tonight is his last shift. Come 6 a.m., “no more uniform.” He decided to start early. He’s going to be a painter. “What kind?” I ask. “Well, I’m painting a church…” He started that early, too. “So I’m working, like, eighty hour days.” He means weeks, but who cares? The man is tired. He doesn’t like baking. Rotten pay, rotten hours, rotten work. “You don’t think. It’s just repetition.” Painting, you pay attention. “You can’t be afraid up there.” He means the ladder, the roof. “I’m not afraid,” he says. He’s a carpenter’s helper. “I can do anything.” He says he could be a carpenter. “But it hasn’t happened.” Why bake? “Couldn’t get a job.” Work’s like that, he says, there are bad times. Everything’s like that, he says. There are bad times. “Who’s the tear for?” The tattoo by his right eye. “For my son,” he says. “Who died when he was two months old.” That’s all he’ll say about that. “This next job will be better,” he says. Read more…
Affiliate marketing is almost as old as the Internet; it developed back in 1994 thanks to pornography sites, and it was implemented by Jeff Bezos at Amazon shortly afterward. Here’s how it works: Say you search for flights on Priceline. The hyperlinked airfare results aren’t just any old links. They’re affiliate links. The act of clicking one saves a Priceline cookie to your browser before sending you on to the airline’s website. If you buy the ticket, the airline website will see Priceline’s cookie and will pay Priceline a commission. Affiliate marketing companies like Commission Junction and Linkshare, which created these trackable links, were aimed at developers. A company called Skimlinks made them easier to implement, but it didn’t focus on the fashion market. Baxter, who had interned at a tech start-up in San Francisco, saw an opportunity. If they could make it easy for bloggers to integrate affiliate links to retailers into their posts, everyone involved stood to profit. Retailers could make more sales. Bloggers could earn commissions. And a company that facilitated the transaction and negotiated the commission could take part of the proceeds. After all, many prominent bloggers were already including retail links in their #OOTD (“outfit of the day”) posts anyway.
Sitting at Starbucks, Amber could immediately envision the company. She decided it should be called rewardStyle, and while she was designing the logo on a napkin, Baxter used his iPhone to register the domain name. By February 2011, they had a test platform for the site. She reached out to a few blogger friends and asked them to try it out. “You don’t have to pay anything, you don’t have to sign any contracts, you just have to see if you start making money,” Amber said.