Tag Archives: Farhad Manjoo

This Really Annoys People. Yes it Does. Oh Yes, It Does.

Farhad Manjoo at Slate:

Last month, Gawker published a series of messages that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange had once written to a 19-year-old girl he’d become infatuated with. Gawker called the e-mails “creepy,” “lovesick,” and “stalkery”; I’d add overwrought, self-important, and dorky. (“Our intimacy seems like the memory of a strange dream to me,” went a typical line.) Still, given all we’ve heard about Assange’s puffed-up personality, the substance of his e-mail was pretty unsurprising. What really surprised me was his typography.

Here’s a fellow who’s been using computers since at least the mid-1980s, a guy whose globetrotting tech-wizardry has come to symbolize all that’s revolutionary about the digital age. Yet when he sits down to type, Julian Assange reverts to an antiquated habit that would not have been out of place in the secretarial pools of the 1950s: He uses two spaces after every period. Which—for the record—is totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong.

Oh, Assange is by no means alone. Two-spacers are everywhere, their ugly error crossing every social boundary of class, education, and taste. You’d expect, for instance, that anyone savvy enough to read Slate would know the proper rules of typing, but you’d be wrong; every third e-mail I get from readers includes the two-space error. (In editing letters for “Dear Farhad,” my occasional tech-advice column, I’ve removed enough extra spaces to fill my forthcoming volume of melancholy epic poetry, The Emptiness Within.) The public relations profession is similarly ignorant; I’ve received press releases and correspondence from the biggest companies in the world that are riddled with extra spaces. Some of my best friends are irredeemable two spacers, too, and even my wife has been known to use an unnecessary extra space every now and then (though she points out that she does so only when writing to other two-spacers, just to make them happy).

What galls me about two-spacers isn’t just their numbers. It’s their certainty that they’re right. Over Thanksgiving dinner last year, I asked people what they considered to be the “correct” number of spaces between sentences. The diners included doctors, computer programmers, and other highly accomplished professionals. Everyone—everyone!—said it was proper to use two spaces. Some people admitted to slipping sometimes and using a single space—but when writing something formal, they were always careful to use two. Others explained they mostly used a single space but felt guilty for violating the two-space “rule.” Still others said they used two spaces all the time, and they were thrilled to be so proper. When I pointed out that they were doing it wrong—that, in fact, the correct way to end a sentence is with a period followed by a single, proud, beautiful space—the table balked. “Who says two spaces is wrong?” they wanted to know.

Typographers, that’s who. The people who study and design the typewritten word decided long ago that we should use one space, not two, between sentences. That convention was not arrived at casually. James Felici, author of the The Complete Manual of Typography, points out that the early history of type is one of inconsistent spacing. Hundreds of years ago some typesetters would end sentences with a double space, others would use a single space, and a few renegades would use three or four spaces. Inconsistency reigned in all facets of written communication; there were few conventions regarding spelling, punctuation, character design, and ways to add emphasis to type. But as typesetting became more widespread, its practitioners began to adopt best practices. Felici writes that typesetters in Europe began to settle on a single space around the early 20th century. America followed soon after.

Tom Lee:

I’m sorry, but no. It’s a lousy polemic. Here’s its structure:

  1. SEO-friendly statement of controversy
  2. Presentation of opinion A. Assertion that people who hold it are rubes.
  3. Presentation of opinion B. Invocation of authority.
  4. History lesson! Discussion of old technology; no mention of enforcement of author’s preferred orthodoxy by newer technology (e.g. HTML rendering multiple spaces as one)
  5. Rumination on beauty. Grecian urns, etc.

For now let’s ignore the ignore the bullying nature of this argument (it should be obvious to anyone that those of us who believe in two spaces are a minority that’s relentlessly and mercilessly persecuted by the bloodthirsty masses, both through jeremiads like Manjoo’s and through the technological eradication of our ability to express our beliefs). Which of the points in the above argument are rhetorically meaningful?

Only point 3 really carries any weight with me. I’ll take Manjoo’s word that all typographers like a single space between sentences. I’m actually pretty sympathetic to arguments from authority, being the big-state-loving paternalist that I am. But, with apologies to friends and colleagues of mine who care passionately about this stuff, I lost my patience with the typographically-obsessed community when they started trying to get me to pay attention to which sans-serif fonts were being used anachronistically on Mad Men.

I love you guys, but you’re crazy. On questions of aesthetic preference there’s no particular reason that normal people should listen to a bunch of geeky obsessives who spend orders of magnitude more time on these issues than average. It’s like how you probably shouldn’t listen to me when I tell you not to use .doc files or that you might want to consider a digital audio player with Ogg Vorbis support. I strongly believe those things, but even I know they’re pointless and arbitrary for everyone who doesn’t consider “Save As…” an opportunity for political action.

Nor should we assume that just because typographers believe earnestly in the single space that their belief is held entirely in good faith. They’re drunk on the awesome power of their proportional fonts, and sure of the cosmic import of the minuscule kerning decisions that it is their lonely duty to make. Of course they don’t want lowly typists exercising their opinions about letter spacing. Those people aren’t qualified to have opinions!

Shani O. Hilton:

I thought Manjoo’s argument was weak, for many of the reasons Tom mentions, but that doesn’t change facts. Here’s a little-known law of graphic design:

The number of people wishing to fit a document onto the same or fewer number of pages as a previous edition of said document, despite the new draft being longer than the previous edition, is directly proportional to the number of people who turn in said document to their graphic designer with double spaces after every period.

Okay, maybe I made that up. But real talk: Double spaces are bad.

Megan McArdle:

Let me just add: if you’re spending time worrying over whether my emails contain one or two spaces, you need to ask them to let you out of the asylum more often so you can pursue a more interesting hobby.  I double space after sentences because I learned to type on a manual typewriter, and it’s not worth the effort to retrain myself.  Even if typographers groan every time they open one of my missives.

Nicholas Jackson at The Atlantic

Paul Waldman at Tapped:

As Manjoo explains, there are still teachers out there infecting students’ minds with the idea that they should put two spaces after a period. Why? Because that’s the way they learned. And I did too, when I took a typing class in 1985. But now we have computers, and fonts that use proportional spacing, which makes two spaces after a period look wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

We’re never going to maintain our global dominance if people keep doing this. You think that 10-year-old kid in Shanghai is being taught to put two spaces after a period? No way.

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Four Bars, Three Bars, Two Bars, One Bar

Apple:

Dear iPhone 4 Users,

The iPhone 4 has been the most successful product launch in Apple’s history. It has been judged by reviewers around the world to be the best smartphone ever, and users have told us that they love it. So we were surprised when we read reports of reception problems, and we immediately began investigating them. Here is what we have learned.

To start with, gripping almost any mobile phone in certain ways will reduce its reception by 1 or more bars. This is true of iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, as well as many Droid, Nokia and RIM phones. But some users have reported that iPhone 4 can drop 4 or 5 bars when tightly held in a way which covers the black strip in the lower left corner of the metal band. This is a far bigger drop than normal, and as a result some have accused the iPhone 4 of having a faulty antenna design.

At the same time, we continue to read articles and receive hundreds of emails from users saying that iPhone 4 reception is better than the iPhone 3GS. They are delighted. This matches our own experience and testing. What can explain all of this?

We have discovered the cause of this dramatic drop in bars, and it is both simple and surprising.

Upon investigation, we were stunned to find that the formula we use to calculate how many bars of signal strength to display is totally wrong. Our formula, in many instances, mistakenly displays 2 more bars than it should for a given signal strength. For example, we sometimes display 4 bars when we should be displaying as few as 2 bars. Users observing a drop of several bars when they grip their iPhone in a certain way are most likely in an area with very weak signal strength, but they don’t know it because we are erroneously displaying 4 or 5 bars. Their big drop in bars is because their high bars were never real in the first place.

To fix this, we are adopting AT&T’s recently recommended formula for calculating how many bars to display for a given signal strength. The real signal strength remains the same, but the iPhone’s bars will report it far more accurately, providing users a much better indication of the reception they will get in a given area. We are also making bars 1, 2 and 3 a bit taller so they will be easier to see.

Clive Crook:

Don’t say I didn’t warn you about the new iPhone. (I just had a hunch.) Interesting to see how Apple switched today from, “it’s not an issue, you’re just holding it wrong,” to, “it’s not a reception issue, it’s just that the signal strength indicator tells you you’ve much better reception than you have–and by the way previous iPhones have the same defect.” So after all that fuss, the answer is really very simple. And you all thought there was a problem!

Richi Jennings at Computerworld:

The upcoming firmware patch will make the bars display differently. Perhaps in a way more consistent with the way other phones do it.

The patch will not fix the actual problem. It should be clear to anyone who has a little understanding of RF, that allowing users to touch an antenna in such a way as to change its impedance will have a significant effect on signal strength and quality — possibly improving it, but usually making it worse.

Yes, holding older iPhones also caused reduced signal, but to nowhere near this extent. The more scientific tests — such as those performed by Brian Klug and Anand Lal Shimpi — show that actual signal strength as measured by the UMTS hardware is reduced by 10 or 20 dB more on an iPhone 4 than on an iPhone 3G.

Don’t forget, this is a logarithmic scale: a 10 dB reduction is a 90% loss of signal. 20 dB is a 99% loss: basically catastrophic, unless you’re really close to the cell tower and not in an environment with too much RF noise.

The iPhone 4 antenna design is certainly innovative, but as I said last week, those of us with a little understanding of RF knew that a bare metal antenna was going to be trouble, as soon as we saw the pre-production unit lost in a bar. The natural assumption was that Apple would cover it with a transparent film; I can only speculate as to why they didn’t.

Still, from early indications, it looks like the Apple fanbois are lapping up the explanation. The famous reality distortion field strikes again: it’s not a design flaw, just a firmware bug.

Jesus Diaz at Gizmodo:

Michael Anderson, who used to work at Motorola’s FCC testing lab, points out that “it’s a fundamental flaw that can only be fixed through a redesign. If that is redone, all the FCC will have to be completed again. This may be a long slow process to fix.”

In his reply to Apple’s letter, Richard Gaywood—PhD on wireless network design from Cardiff University—thinks the signal display fix is a good step to fix user perception, but it won’t fix the antenna interference problem that exists in the iPhone 4:

But if there is no design issue at work here, why did Anandtech and I both show significantly different attenuation when holding an iPhone 4 in a bare hand compared to holding it in a case? And why did Apple themselves recommend “using a case” as a possible solution to the problem?

The antenna interference problem

According to wireless experts consulted by Gizmodo, the iPhone 4 antenna interference problem happens to everyone, and it’s not a matter of signal bars displayed in the phone. However, some people are not noticing it. Why?

Scientific tests conducted by Anandtech, there’s always up to a 19.8dB signal loss when you grab the iPhone naturally with your hand, with your skin touching the deadly spot. That’s losing signal by a factor of almost 100.

This technical measuring has been demonstrated empirically in both voice calls and internet access by thousands of users around the world, independently of their network.

Robin Wauters at TechCrunch:

I trust by now you’ve read Apple’s letter claiming that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the antennae on the iPhone 4, and that any real reception issues are inexistent and merely a result of faulty displaying on Apple’s part, which it intends to fix in the coming weeks.

Unimpressed by that statement? You’re not alone.

Mason LLP, one of the multiple firms that have filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of customers who recently purchased the iPhone 4 alleging that the antenna on the phone is in fact defective by design, isn’t terribly impressed either.

The firm, which filed the lawsuit seeking an order requiring Apple to ship a protective case for the iPhone 4 to all consumers who purchased one as well as monetary damages, provides us with the following statement after reading and analyzing Apple’s letter:

Our investigation revealed that users lost reception when gripping the phone in a conventional manner. We believe that the problem is not merely how the signal strength is displayed but involves a physical blocking of the antennae which cuts off calls.

In other words, don’t expect those lawsuits to go away now that you’ve written up your version of the truth, Apple.

UPDATE: Farhad Manjoo in Slate

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Broadband Across America

Grant Gross at PC World:

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission will seek to take back 120MHz of spectrum from U.S. television stations in the next five years and reallocate it to wireless broadband providers in a voluntary program that would allow the stations to share or keep spectrum auction revenues, under a national broadband plan that will be officially released Tuesday.

The FCC would seek approval from Congress to conduct “incentive auctions” of unused spectrum, including TV spectrum, and the agency could either act as a third-party auctioneer of the spectrum or share the auction proceeds with the sellers, according to the broadband plan, which the FCC released to reporters Monday.

The TV spectrum auctions are part of a goal to free up 500MHz of spectrum for wireless broadband over the next decade, one of the major goals of the 400-page broadband plan. If, however, the FCC doesn’t get enough volunteers to free up spectrum, it will look for other ways to take back the spectrum, but FCC officials said Monday they expect to get enough TV stations to give up their extra spectrum in exchange for auction proceeds.

Ryan Singel at Wired:

The FCC is set to share the nation’s first official broadband plan with Congress Tuesday, a sort of Declaration of the Internet which seeks to ensure that a fast broadband connection is just as much an unalienable right as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

That’s pretty ambitious, but the FCC is as unambiguous about its intentions as the Colonists were about throwing off the yoke another form of oppression. For example, goal number three states that “Every American should have affordable access to robust broadband service, and the means and skills to subscribe if they so choose.”

Still the plan, put together by the FCC after months of hearings and public comment periods, turns out, in details, to be pragmatic and reformist, rather than revolutionary. That is, at least according to a summary (.pdf) released Monday.

The FCC is calling for more competition among broadband providers, more spectrum for wireless data services, subsidies for rural and poor citizens, and education for the digitally challenged. There’s a little bit for every constituency, from those who worry most about the digital divide to those who see a future where all health records are digital and networked.

There’s not much for those who dreamed of a drastic call for an all-fiber network to be built and subsidized by the government. There is, in fact, no government building of public networks at all. Nor is there much in the way of support for municipalities and states.

And for those itching for a confrontation between users and the big telecoms, the plan will disappoint since it steers clear of controversial topics such whether the wireless industry has to follow the same open requirements now applied to DSL and cable companies, and whether those who own the infrastructure connecting people to the net have to rent their lines to competing services at a fair price.

Though we don’t have full details of the plan yet, the insight we gain from the executive summary shows that Washington may have finally reached a “we get it” moment when it comes to technology. Broadband access isn’t just about rural America checking out YouTube videos. This is also about creating the broadband infrastructure that can drive future innovation on the homefront, update public safety, education, health care and energy to improve efficiency and grow jobs by fueling competition.

And it’s also not a policy that can be set in stone. Ten years seems like an eternity in Internet years, but it’s smart for the government to look at a long-term plan. There’s no way such ambitious goals can be rolled out in a year or two, There are a lot of moving parts and if the timeline – which we should see next – is a good one, hopefully some short-term advancements will offer a peek of what’s still to come.

Nancy Scola at Tapped:

The absence of creative thinking in this new plan is particularly worrisome because the small crew within the FCC that produced it had the chance to stir passions about what our broadband future might look like. The National Broadband Plan isn’t a set of regulations. It’s not a piece of legislation. It was meant to be an aspirational plan, but it’s not that aspirational. Blair Levin, the seemingly autonomous point-person appointed by Chairman Genachowski, talks about the FCC like Alaskans talk about the United States. It’s not clear if recommendations in the plan made to the FCC will actually be regulations made by the FCC. In other words, is the FCC prepared to actually enact the policies, like form new public-private partnerships or re-purpose the Universal Service Fund from telephones to broadband? I was told the FCC commissioners — the people with the power to turn the plan into action — had seen the report as early as a full month ago and had access to the broadband team’s staff.

Nicholas Deleon at Crunch Gear:

Up until a moment ago, this was going to be a standard “newsy” post: the FCC will announce its National Broadband Plan on Tuesday, here’s what it’s all about. Then I read the comments of a PC World article discussing that very same plan—many people are outraged that the government would muscle its way into the free market! If Americans wanted fast broadband then the market would provide it on its own terms. That, of course, is complete nonsense: plenty of Americans live in one-ISP towns, and if said ISP provides terrible service, well, though cookies, chico. This is America! Love it or leave it~!

And really, the FCC isn’t doing anything particularly controversial, at least I don’t think it’s controversial. All it’s doing is saying, by 2020, we’d like to see 100 million homes (out of an estimated 130 million homes come 2020) have access to broadband with speeds of up to 100 mbps. Some people already have access to that type of Internet connection, myself included. Other ISPs, including universally loathed Comcast, plans to roll out 100 mbps service in the coming months. So it’s not like the FCC is making some sort of unreasonable demand: the market has already decided that it’s worth its while to deploy 100 mbps service all over the country. A cynic might say that the FCC knows this, that 100 mbps service is closer than you might otherwise think, and is merely latching itself onto the ISPs so that it can be all, “See, FCC = leadership.” But don’t be cynical, don’t hold grudges: while you’re holding a grudge, the other guy is dancing.

I don’t know, I suppose it makes sense to get into this a bit more when the FCC actually makes the Plan public on Tuesday. But for now, all I have to say is: chill out. Not everything the government announces is tantamount to quartering British soldiers in your house without permission. I suppose I’m talking to people right now who actually believe, and understand, that a wired country is truly in the best interests of everyone.

So on Tuesday, Grant Gross at PC World:

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission officially released the country’s first national broadband plan Tuesday, and one of its major goals is to bring broadband service to all U.S. residents.

The FCC meeting Tuesday was a bit anticlimactic, because commission officials had conducted briefings on the major proposals in the 360-page plan in recent weeks. The FCC on Tuesday voted unanimously to approve a two-page joint statement on broadband, but did not vote on the broadband plan in its entirety.

The approximately 200 recommendations in the broadband plan will need to be approved separately, FCC officials said. The agency is planning a series of about 40 notices of proposed rulemaking (NPRMs) in coming months, and some recommendations in the plan will need action from the U.S. Congress. The FCC also makes a series of recommendations to other U.S. government agencies.

Jared Newman at PC World:

The actual implementation of the plan could change lawmakers get their hands on it, but here’s an early look at who gains and who loses from the national broadband plan:

Winner: 100 Million Patient Homes, Plus Communities

One major long-term goal of the plan is to provide 100 million homes with 100 Mbps broadband, and to install 1 Gbps broadband at community sites such as schools and government buildings, all by 2020. That’s an eternity in Internet time, but it’ll ultimately mean that most homes and communities could have blazing-fast connections.

Winner: People Who Can’t Afford or Access the Internet

Another major goal is the availability of free or cheap wireless broadband, coming from wireless spectrum that the FCC will identify for auction. The point is to provide basic Internet nationwide for people who otherwise can’t afford it.

Winner: Wireless Carriers

Companies like Verizon Wireless and AT&T are dying for more wireless spectrum to feed a growing number of data-hungry smartphones. The FCC plans to throw them a bone with 500 MHz of spectrum. Wireless industry group CTIA is thrilled.

Loser: Broadcast Television

The government is largely relying on broadcasters to voluntarily give up some of their spectrum so it can be used for broadband. Broadcasters like having the choice, but worry that the government might force them to give up spectrum if they don’t play along. Things could get ugly if broadcasters have to start sharing spectrum or use low-power cellular transmitters to broadcast. People who rely on broadcast TV may find that service is merely surviving, rather than improving.

Loser: Lawmakers

Members of Congress were the ones who mandated a national broadband plan, but now they’ve got the unenviable task of figuring out what to do with it. The total cost of the plan could range from $12 billion to $25 billion, and though the FCC hopes those costs can be recouped by auctioning spectrum, it might be a hard sell to taxpayers.

Unknown: Internet Service Providers

Companies such as Comcast are getting a hand from the FCC to build their infrastructure and offer better service to more people. But government help raises questions of how much regulation those companies will face, and whether they should continue to rely on private investment. Service providers seem happy about the proposal for now, but things could change as lawmakers and the FCC delve deeper into the issue of national broadband.

UPDATE: Farhad Manjoo in Slate

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Big Amazon Is Watching You!

1984playset

Amazon deleting Orwell books from people’s Kindles? Isn’t that a lyric in an Alanis Morissette song?

Several posts from Educated Guesswork

Here:

Of course, this is just a generalization of what digital rights management software has always done: outsourced control of some of the functions of your computer to whoever (allegedly) has copyright over the contents you’re displaying. With a typical DRM scheme this just extends to stopping you from making copies, maybe exporting to untrusted devices, etc., but you still generally have control of your own computer, and the terms don’t suddenly change in unexpected ways after you’ve bought the thing. In principle, of course, Microsoft or Apple or whatever could force new updates on you, but in practice they always seem to ask you whether you want to install an update. But in the case of a Kindle, Amazon controls it more or less completely. As you’ve just seen, we don’t have any real idea of what Amazon can do at the moment and as I said they can change the terms at any time.

Here, they link to Peter N. Glaskowsky at CNET. Glaskowsky:

From stories posted on other sites, and from my own research on Amazon.com, it’s clear the books in question had been published illegally–and not by the publisher with U.S. rights for these books, which are still under copyright protection in this country.

The listing for the illegal copy of “1984” is still present on Amazon, though it can no longer be purchased. The page for “Animal Farm” from the same publisher still appears in Google’s listings, but is no longer available on Amazon–though another pirated copy is still listed but not purchasable. (I’m not sure these are exactly the same copies at issue in this case, but at least that copy of “1984” was yanked in the same way, according to an Amazon customer discussion.)

Note the caveat placed on the 1984 page by the publisher:

“This work is in the public domain in Canada, Australia, and other countries. It may still be copyrighted in some countries. The user should determine whether the work is in the public domain in their own country before using it.”

But of course, verifying the copyright status of a book isn’t just the user’s responsibility. It’s the publisher’s, too, and Amazon’s.

When Amazon discovered these unauthorized sales, it did the right thing: it reversed them.

The police would do the same thing if they discovered a stolen car in your driveway: just take it away. You never owned it.

Educated Guesswork:

First, this argument elides the difference between actual theft and copyright infringement. You’d hardly think this would need to be pointed out, but if I steal your car, that pretty much precludes your driving it. If I violate copyright on a book you wrote, at most I’ve deprived you of whatever revenue you would have made had I bought it instead. That’s a pretty significant difference.

Even if we ignore that, this is a pretty tendentious analogy: Amazon is not the police. Say that the original vendor had stolen a box of copies of 1984 and was selling them on Amazon marketplace. If I bought one and then Amazon later determined that they were stolen, it’s not like they would be allowed to break into my house and repossess it, even if they gave me my money back. The original owner might be able to call the police and arrange for return of the property, but that’s a pretty different story.

Allah Pundit:

The counterargument, per Instapundit’s wife, is that Amazon’s actually protecting property rights by yanking stuff that violates copyright out of people’s hands. Technically true, but commercial law has traditionally let purchasers of stolen goods keep them so long as they made the purchase in “good faith.” Click here and scroll down for a legal explanation of the term or see, e.g., sections 1-201(9) and 2-403 of the Uniform Commercial Code. If the holder of the Orwell copyright wants justice, by all means let him sue Amazon and the unlicensed publisher of the digital books for damages. That’s the surest way to get Bezos and company to more closely police the copyright status of books being sold in their Kindle store. Why they’re not already doing that is frankly unfathomable to me, but doubly unfathomable is them reaching into your virtual bookshelf to forcibly repurchase a book you’ve already bought. Exit question: Is this a dealbreaker for would-be Kindle purchasers?

Derek Thompson at The Atlantic:

First, Amazon promises that you keep what you buy on their devices, permanently. Second, it deletes two George Orwell books. Third, it promises it will “not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances” ever again. That sequence should not instill confidence in Kindle readers that their downloads are guaranteed to be permanent.

Of course, we should expect more media piracy in books, just as illegal downloads have impacted movies and music downloads. As Jack Shafer wrote in Slate, there’s no reason why the book industry won’t face it’s own Napster conundrum — that is, the launching of an illegal e-book channel that customers use in lieu of Amazon’s platform.

Richard Waters at the Financial Times:

The idea that you can “own” digital data, in the same sense that you can own a book, was always suspect. But at least some forms of digital media have conveyed many of the attributes of ownership. With local storage, the bits have been delivered onto a device that you can unplug and put in your pocket. The information, at that point, is “yours”.

Unless the device in question is a Kindle. Once connected to Sprint’s Whispernet (now that’s a name George Orwell would have appreciated) Amazon can (and did) reach in and delete it.

Laura Northrup at The Consumerist

At Tech Crunch, MG Siegler and Devin Coldewey

Peter Kafka

UPDATE: Farhad Manjoo in Slate

Rod Dreher

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