Friday, October 9, 2015

theGREATEST CATCH in NFL HISTORY by Odell Beckham Jr.

Odell Beckham makes catch of the year!

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham makes the greatest catch of 2014, and arguably of all time.

Odell Beckham Jr. w/ perhaps the Greatest Catch in NFL History

Odell Beckham makes THE CATCH

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. may have made the greatest catch. Take a look at the worldwide impact his catch really made.

In-depth analysis and close-up footage unveils — more or less a three-fingered catch by OBJ

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Best April Fool's Teacher Prank Ever?

Best April Fool's Teacher Prank Ever?

Aquinas College students play a prank on their hilarious Macroeconomics professor!

Over 46 Million Views!

Uncovering The Mystery Of Pizza & Toilet Rats

See How Easily a Rat Can Wriggle Up Your Toilet

A rat's ribs are hinged at the spine, enabling it to easily squeeze through the tightest spaces—like the pipes draining your toilet. And rats are great swimmers too; they can hold their breath for up to three minutes. See how quickly a rat can go from the city streets to your bathroom.

Illustration of the "infamous" Pizza Rat

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Happy 5th Birthday IG — Secret To Instagram's Success?

Happy 5th Birthday — Instagram!

5 Years Later, The Most Surprising Part About Instagram Is That No One’s Ruined It


Today, Instagram turns five years old.

Despite being purchased by Facebook (everyone’s love-to-hate social network), despite adding video, despite changing the filters, despite adding (some) ads, despite allowing direct messages, despite spinning off the apps Layout and Hyperlapse, despite double-backing on their whole "you can only photograph in a square" philosophy, despite building Search & Explore features, and despite acquiring 400 million users worldwide with vastly different opinions on how you should use the service, Instagram is still great—an unbested way to share a single moment of your life with your friends.

"I start the day saying, 'How do we not ruin the thing?'" says cofounder and CEO Kevin Systrom, with a laugh that sounds half sarcastic and half sincere. "[Other companies] lose sight of their mission. I’m not talking in business-school way. I’m talking a ‘Why did you start this company in the first place?’ way. The reason why we started this company in the first place was . . . we thought pictures and video, eventually, would become a dominant medium for communication. And we’ve never lost sight of that. There’s a reason you don’t have text posts in feeds, why we don’t support links. It’s not about link sharing, it’s not about rants. It’s about sharing the world around you."
It’s also, five years later, an app that’s almost indistinguishable from its version 1 release.
"We promise there’s lots of stuff going on!" laughs Ian Spalter, head of design, when I bring this up to his team later on.
"I show people the first shot of Instagram, and it’s like they wonder what we do here," adds design manager Ian Silber. "We stay close to the origins of Instagram, but we’ve changed everything—like adding a new engine and new parts while the car is still moving."

If you’re searching for a concrete reason why Instagram hasn’t changed much to the naked eye, it’s this: Instagram was designed for the iPhone, and five years later, we’re all still using more or less the same iPhone (or iPhone-inspired device). The first version of Instagram was itself born from self-editing. Instagram is a famously paired-down version of Burbn—Systrom’s failed do-it-all check-in/gaming/photo sharing/social media app. Ripped of most of those features, Instagram hit it big as with a spartan, photo-forward interface that epitomizes the old adage that "a picture is worth a thousand words."
To this day, "Do the simple thing first" is Instagram’s internal mantra. "When we’re looking at any given problem, we’ll go deep on the solution space. But when it comes to making a call and what we ship, that’s the question: ‘What’s the simplest way we can do this?’" explains Spalter. "‘It’s not about being simplistic. It’s about not over-designing or engineering your solution, so it meets the needs of 90% of the population."


Fringe use cases be damned, Instagram's video roll-out exemplifies the effectiveness of their appeal-to-90% philosophy. "We want to get video out there, we’re not going to build a video player with a scrubber and all those things," Spalter continues. "[We ask], 'How do you get video on Instagram in the most simple way?' and then iterate video over time."
As for the actual features Instagram pursues—which are few and far between—the design team often begins with their own observations, as they see real people interacting with the product every day. Whereas for many businesses, understanding user behavior is very difficult because it’s invisible or difficult to track, the design team can very literally see new trends pop up as images with new filters or text effects, right in the Instagram feed.
"It’s definitely something unique when you've got the community creating the content, you get this constant live feed of what people are doing with the product," Spalter explains. If the design team spots a trend, the data team can prove it out in hard numbers, to illustrate whether or not a new feature is worthy of full pursuit.
This sort of decision process drove the development of the Layout app, which allows users to create a montage of their photos, as well as the recent move to support vertical and horizontal images in addition to squares. In the latter case, the data team saw that 25% of all photos that appeared on Instagram had white bars added because they didn’t fit into the square mold.
"We were like, ‘It’s clear this is a trend that’s not going away, so let’s just make the best experience rather than fighting it,’" Systrom explains. "You actually do have to evolve your product significantly over time; otherwise, you get left behind."


Yet while Instagram has traditionally approached design updates with an almost lethargic confidence, Instagram's most aggressive updates have launched just in the last two months, with the aforementioned elimination of square photos, and the introduction of the Search and Explore section (which allow you to view a world's worth of hashtagged events in real time). Furthermore, the platform has still barely implemented ads—an inherently controversial topic on which Facebook's designers are collaborating with the team. It has ever-burgeoning competition from Snapchat, Twitter, Vine, and Periscope. And on top of all that, the 13-person design staff is relatively young. The most senior member has been at the company for just 2.5 years.
If Instagram were ever primed to fundamentally shift, now would be the time.

"You have a grace period of about a few years that have been successful, and you can keep doing everything you’ve been doing, and you’re fine. But then some disruption happens," Systrom cautions. "Take Facebook, for example. Facebook was really successful. Then the cellphone came along, and had they not made a giant transition to mobile, as boldly as they did, they'd be nowhere right now. You actually need to make pretty bold bets on your technology, the formats you support, etc."
Delving into new formats could prove to be a particularly tricky proposition for Instagram. Remember, again, that Instagram as a platform is designed particularly to work on a phone: It’s a scrollable feed with big pictures, where it's easy to share a quick snap. Instagram on the desktop, without that camera or touchscreen, is just another photo site. Instagram on a wearable like the Apple Watch is a bit of a novelty due to its postage-stamp images (and maybe the inherent silliness of looking at food porn on your wrist). The mismatches only compound when you consider what Instagram might look like in virtual reality—assuming that takes off, as many imagine. What happens to the simplicity of this feed as translated to 360-degree space with virtual hand controls?
But when I ask Systrom how Instagram will squeeze itself onto platforms of tomorrow, he simply points back to his original mission statement.
"Instagram is about capturing and sharing the world’s moments. Think about the scope of what we accomplish. If we can allow you to not only share the birthday photo with your friends, but imagine we get to the point where VR is a thing, and you experience a live event somewhere else in the world—a protest overseas, the World Cup, or a Taylor Swift concert. Those are the types of things you should be able to experience almost like you're time traveling. And Instagram will always be about that," he says.
"It just so happens that the best way to capture and share those moments now is the phone. But I’m not wedded to that at all in the long run." — Mark Wilson | Fast Company

How To Cook A Perfect Steak

How To Cook A Perfect Steak

For Porter House New York chef and managing partner Michael Lomonaco, preparing steak is a blend of art and science.

State-of-the-art cooking facilities at the restaurant's prime Manhattan location in the Time Warner Center include a broiler that can reach 1800º F (most consumer grills max out around 500-600° F) and a high quality dry aging locker for the meat.

The sophisticated set up allows Chef Lomonaco and his team to keep and cook their meat with exacting accuracy but that's only one half of the equation.

The art of proper steak preparation isn't just about the grill. It involves choosing the right cut for the right kind of meal, prepping the steak properly, and carefully attending to it as it cooks. Getting a steak to medium-rare or your preferred doneness isn't always an exact science (particularly if you aren't planning to use a meat thermometer) but there are some tricks to help you get it right.

Watch the video as Chef Lomonaco explains the properties of different cuts of meat and how to choose them, the best way to get your meat ready, and some tips on how to grill them to perfection.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Beneficial Health Benefits Of Tea

Health Benefits of Tea? Here’s What the Evidence Says

After my Upshot column on the potential health benefits of coffee, the No. 1 request I got was to look into the potential benefits — or harms — of tea.

Unlike coffee, tea does not seem to generate negative perceptions. I know many more people who think that tea is beneficial, much more so than coffee. (That is, until my coffee column, I hope.)

As with coffee, a fairly large number of studies have looked at associations between tea and health. Most of the studies don’t have the rigor of randomized control trials and don’t prove causality. But so many studies were available that I was able to focus on systematic reviews and meta-analyses, or “studies of studies.”

Shots of espresso. The potential health benefits of coffee have been found to be surprisingly large.

Nine prospective cohort studies, three retrospective cohort studies and four cross-sectional studies including more than 800,000 participants have looked at the association between tea and liver disease. Those who drank tea were less likely to have hepatocellular carcinoma, liver steatosis, liver cirrhosis and chronic liver disease. This confirmed the findings in a previous systematic review published in 2008.

Tea has been associated with a lower risk of depression. A 2015 meta-analysis of 11 studies with almost 23,000 participants found that for every three cups of tea consumed per day, the relative risk of depression decreased 37 percent.

Tea was also associated with a reduction in the risk of stroke, with those consuming at least three cups a day having a 21 percent lower risk than those consuming less than a cup a day. A more recent meta-analysis examined 22 prospective studies on more than 850,000 people and found that drinking an additional three cups of tea a day was associated with a reduction in coronary heart disease (27 percent), cardiac death (26 percent), stroke (18 percent), total mortality (24 percent), cerebral infarction (16 percent) and intracerebral hemorrhage (21 percent).

A 2014 meta-analysis of 15 published studies of more than 545,000 participants found, as with coffee, an inverse relationship between tea consumption and the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. For each additional two cups per day of tea consumed, the risk of developing diabetes dropped 4.6 percent.

What is tea not associated with? It does not seem to be linked with a reduced risk of fracture. And a systematic review from 2015 found that black tea was not linked to a reduced risk of endometrial cancer. But increasing green tea consumption by one cup a day could reduce the relative risk by 11 percent. A 2011 meta-analysis found that green tea, but not black tea, was associated with lower rates of prostate cancer. A 2013 meta-analysis could not find a significant association between tea consumption and the risk of glioma, a form of brain or spinal tumor.

The science is even more equivocal about cancer prevention. A Cochrane systematic review examined all the studies, regardless of type, that looked at associations between green tea and the risk of cancer incidence or mortality. They found 51 studies containing more than 1.6 million participants. Only one was a randomized control trial, however. Results were conflicting.

Moreover, most of the studies were done in Asia, where things might not be generalizable to the United States in terms of tea drinking. Regardless, the authors felt there was insufficient evidence to give any firm recommendations. A more recent study agrees.

Again, these are all mostly data from observational studies, and as such, they can’t prove causality and should be taken with a grain of salt. We’ve been burned many times before by assuming that what we see in associations in cohort studies will turn out to be truly causal when behavior changes, only to see that fall apart in randomized controlled trials.

The majority of studies have been done in Asian countries where tea drinking is much more common than in the United States. It’s possible that the people who don’t drink tea in those countries are different from those who do in a way that doesn’t translate to people in the United States. Finally, there seems to be less of a dose response than in the studies of coffee: Few of the studies could detect any response with less than three cups of tea a day.

There are some randomized studies, however, that don’t have most of these limitations. Green tea has been claimed to help people lose weight. Enough people believe this that 18 randomized controlled trials with 1,945 participants have been reviewed. Half of these trials took place in Japan, and only one in the United States. The evidence found that green tea produced a small weight loss in overweight and obese adults. But the difference was not significant. And green tea also didn’t help with the maintenance of weight loss previously achieved.

Green tea catechins, antioxidants found in the drink, had no effect on HDL cholesterol, triglyceride levels or C-reactive protein concentrations. Two more meta-analyses confirmed these findings.

But 11 trials that included 821 patients found that green tea and black tea can reduce other cardiovascular risk factors. Both were found to reduce low-density lipoprotein an average of 0.5 mmol/L, systolic blood pressure 2.3 mmHg, and diastolic blood pressure 2.8 mmHg. These results should be interpreted with caution, however, as they focus on risk factors and not necessarily outcomes. There were also few studies contributing to each of these findings, so the results may not stand up to further scrutiny or replication.

At the end of all of this, I’m a little less impressed with the body of evidence regarding tea than I was with that of coffee. I admit that this is an interpretation, and others may disagree. The lack of a dose response in many of these trials, coupled with the fact that so many were performed in countries with markedly different tea consumption from our own, makes these results less generalizable than those of coffee were.

But the conclusions I would make are similar. I wouldn’t strongly recommend that anyone take up tea based on these findings. But there seem to be some potential benefits, and there don’t seem to be harms. Drink it if you like it. It, too, seems to be a completely reasonable addition to a healthful diet.

Aaron E. Carroll is a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine. He blogs on health research and policy at The Incidental Economist, and you can follow him on Twitter at @aaronecarroll.

The Upshot provides news, analysis and graphics about politics, policy and everyday life. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Sign up for our newsletter.

Why The Oldest Person In The World Keeps Dying

UPDATE (Oct. 4, 10:43 a.m.): You’re reading a vintage FiveThirtyEight story. Since this article was first published in May, the world’s oldest living person has changed. It is now Susannah Mushatt Jones, a 116-year-old who lives in Brooklyn.

As the oldest person in the world, Gertrude Weaver was making the best of her time in the limelight. When I called the 116-year-old Arkansas resident two days into her reign on a Friday in early April, she was resting after a couple of television appearances and a half-dozen phone interviews. With the help of her 73-year-old granddaughter, she offered up theories about her longevity (“hard work, love God,” as her granddaughter put it) and even invited President Obama to her next birthday party.
Kathy Langley, the administrator at Silver Oaks Health & Rehabilitation Center, the Camden facility where Weaver was living, estimated that Weaver was getting more than 50 calls a day from media outlets wanting to speak to her. “It’s somewhat overwhelming,” she said, asking me to call back Monday. When I did, I learned that Weaver had died that morning.
Weaver was part of what is perhaps the world’s most wizened sorority, one open only to those who were once the oldest living person on Earth. When I looked into everyone who’d had that distinction, I found that more people than ever are clustering at the outer edge of human aging and that the tenure of the world’s oldest living person isn’t as long as it used to be. Better record-keeping and longer lifespans have helped lead to quite a crowd.
Weaver’s five-day run as the oldest person in the world was short, but it turns out that the oldest person in the world never holds that title for very long. Since records started being kept in the 1950s, the average tenure has been just around a year, according to the Gerontology Research Group; it has dipped to just seven months since the year 2000. Weaver’s incumbency isn’t the shortest in recent years; North Carolina’s Emma Tillman died four days after becoming the world’s oldest person in 2007.
When she died, Weaver was the seventh-oldest person in verified history. The woman who preceded her as the oldest living person in the world, Japan’s Misao Okawa, died a month after she turned 117 — older than all but four other people in verified history. (Okawa credited her longevity to lots of sleep and lots of sushi.) The current oldest living person in the world, Jeralean Talley, is one of 11 children of Georgian farmers and is the 12th-oldest verified person in history; Brooklyn resident Susannah Mushatt Jones is only 44 days younger than her.
No one in the past 15 years has gotten anywhere close to the longevity of Sarah Knauss and Jeanne Calment, however. Knauss lived to be 119 years old, while Calment, a chain-smoking Frenchwoman and our modern Methuselah, was 122 years old when she passed away in 1997. (She was the oldest living person in the world for more than nine years.) They are the only two people known to have lived past 118.
Supercentenarians — people who have lived past their 110th birthday — generally come from a heartier stock than most people. They tend to have few age-related health issues and are much physically and mentally sharper than their peers during their 80s and 90s. Weaver, for example, didn’t move into the rehabilitation home until she was 109. As we enter an age with less war and infection and fewer accidents, more and more people with these superior aging genes have been able to make it to a point in time when they can show them off. It’s getting crowded at the top.
Aside from Knauss and Calment, however, the cutoff for mortality has remained relatively firm. Robert Young, a guy with a remarkable name considering he’s the senior claims researcher for the Gerontology Research Group and the senior gerontology consultant for Guinness World Records, refers to this phenomenon as the “rectangularization of the mortality curve.” People are getting older on average, but the oldest are still dying around the same age as ever. Thus, when one of them does take over as the oldest, she doesn’t have much time left. The average age of the oldest-ever people has increased over the past 40 years from around 112 to around 114.
I keep saying “she” to refer to the oldest person in the world for good reason. Ninety percent of supercentenarians are women. Some scientists think the two X chromosomes that women have explain some of the gender imbalance among the world’s oldest people. “The second X is like a backup,” Young said. “Males only have one chance to make a mistake.”
Weaver almost didn’t become the oldest person in the world, at least as far as the Gerontology Research Group and Guinness World Records are concerned. That’s because the daughter of sharecroppers doesn’t seem to have been issued a birth certificate, something that didn’t become common practice in the United States until 1933. However, she does appear in the 1900 census as a 2-year-old, and her marriage license — issued 100 years ago this July — shows that she was 17 at the time. But Weaver herself wasn’t sure when her birthday was, according to Young. Although she suspected that she was born in April, she adopted the country’s birthday as her own and celebrated on July Fourth.
Young was satisfied that the available documents verified Weaver’s age, but only came across them recently. In 2014, he had the somewhat ignominious task of stripping Talley of her title of oldest living American and presenting it to Weaver. (Of course, Talley has it back now.) As more and more documents come online, though, researchers like Young are able to verify — and debunk1 — more and more claims, increasing the size of the data set in the process.
Young’s work is far from done. He points out that most verified supercentenarians come from Japan and the U.S. While much of that geographical specialization may come from what he terms “lifestyle differences” between those places and the rest of the world, he thinks that as data collection gets better, we’ll start to discover more and more supercentenarians in other countries, most of which only started systematically keeping records of their citizens in the mid-20th century.
In fact, although Talley is one of only three people left in the world who Young has verified to have been born before 1900, he believes there are perhaps five others scattered across China, India and Brazil. (Strangely, the 20th century is considered to have started Jan. 1, 1901, so there are a handful of other, verified women still alive who were also born in the 19th century.)
As the number of these super supercentenarians grows, we should expect even shorter reigns from the oldest of them all. Perhaps that’s not necessarily a sad thing. In one of her last interviews, Weaver said that after gaining the title, there was simply nothing left to check off of her earthly bucket list. — David Goldenberg | FiveThirtyEight


  1. Old-age fraud occurs for a variety of reasons: to bolster religious beliefs, get status in the community, sell miracle potions, etc. But the most common kind of fraud is pension fraud, and one Japanese family took it to the logical extreme by claiming a long-dead, mummified relative was actually a living but sick supercentenarian. ^

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

R.I.P. — Yogi Berra (May 12th, 1925 – September 22nd, 2015) — R.I.P.

Yogi Berra, Yankees Hall of Fame Catcher With a One-of-a-Kind Wit, Dies at 90 — The New York Times

Yogi Berra's legacy: Baseball and hilarious YogismsCNN

Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra dies at 90The Washington Post

Yogi Berra: 1925–2015Grantland

New York Yankees Legend Yogi Berra Dies at 90 — ABC News

Yogi Berra, Derek Jeter forged friendship across generationsESPN

Yogi Berra Was One Of A KindFive Thirthy Eight

R.I.P. — Yogi Berra (May 12th, 1925 – September 22nd, 2015) — R.I.P.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Coldest Story Ever Told: The Influence Of Kanye West's 808s & Heartbreak

The Coldest Story Ever Told

Kanye West arrived at Auckland’s Westin Hotel in December 2008 looking exhausted, at the end of every possible rope. He was in New Zealand to promote—or perhaps explain—808s & Heartbreak, the new album he recorded in an ungodly rush amidst his continent-hopping Glow in the Dark tour. Sporting Tom Ford shades so dark that they seemed to obscure half his face, he waded through a 40-minute press conference in seeming slow-motion. Still reeling from the death of his mother as well as a breakup with his fiancée, he explained how “808s came from suffering multitude losses at the same time—it’s like losing an arm and a leg and having to find a way to keep walking through it.” When a reporter asked what he planned to see during his visit to New Zealand, he replied dryly: “The back of my eyelids."

In the time leading up to the album’s November release, West gave the impression of a man running on fumes, flooring the pedal through the most nightmarish moment in his life. There was a manic quality to his promo tour: Just one week before his New Zealand press conference, he was in New York performing 808’s lead single, “Love Lockdown”, on “Letterman”. The song called for him to sing alone, and he botched the first take in front of the studio audience. On take two, he still sounded shaky, badly missing a note even with real-time pitch correction software. But his body was twanging with effort as he gripped the mic stand for balance while heaving himself into the music. Kanye West had always been audacious, but this was a new kind of wire-walk.

808s & Heartbreak was West’s great pivot: He had promised since 2005 that his fourth album would be called Good Ass Job, the capper to his premeditated hip-hop takeover. But then he evidently threw out this life script. “Hip-hop is over for me now,” he started saying, dismissively, in interviews. “From now on, I want to be seen alongside only the musicians you see in the old black-and-white photographs—Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles.”

This was the moment, just after his iconic shutter shades, when all of his vague ideas about fashion, design, and pop art streamlined with his sharper notions about pop music. The project was surprisingly elegant in presentation for something thrown together in less than a month, its minimalist artwork—a lone deflated heart surrounded by grey—acting as a perfect introduction to the bare sounds within. 808s might have been his most complete zeitgeist achievement to date, a crack in time when he was truly, as he once put it, “on the freeway in a fucking plane, in all lanes at all times.”

808s & Heartbreak artwork. Photo by Willy Vanderperre. Illustration by Kaws.

Kanye is performing the entirety of 808s this weekend at the Hollywood Bowl, perhaps as a well-timed reminder, after a somewhat flat year, of what his peculiar brand of bravery can accomplish at its best. Looking back, it’s easy to see how many point-of-no-return qualities the album had. He was required to stretch far, far beyond his abilities to make it. Technically, he was (and is) a bad singer, as he readily acknowledged. So he made his voice more palatable and melodic with Auto-Tune, a piece of software that was loathed at the time for its association with T-Pain, a true innovator who became seen, in hindsight, as a happy jester running a fad into the ground. But after collaborating with T-Pain on the Top 10 hit “Good Life”—and then experimenting with Auto-Tune while playing that song live—West recruited him to help with 808s, essentially making that sound cool again.

Tallahassee Pain was only one of the ghosts in Kanye’s machine: Kid CuDi, an art-student dropout, was also brought in to help with the chilly synths and mournful air West was chasing. And 808s marked the birth and flowering of West’s “creative CEO” method of album-making. Late Registration boasted four co-producers, while Graduation had eight, but on 808s, the liner notes exploded: There were at least five co-writers on nearly every song. To hear producer Jeff Bhasker tell it, there were eight writers in the room when West was turning mumbles into what would become “Love Lockdown” while zoning for hours on that simple, thump-thump-THUMP, boom pattern.

That boom is a bedrock sound of hip-hop, but West saw it as a way to propel himself beyond the genre’s walls. “I’m trying to put on those Phil Collins melodies,” West told Miss Info, naming the most elusive and least-explored influence on 808s. He was talking about Collins’ synth-like, proto-Auto-Tuned voice, but there’s also a sonic kinship between the hard, sharp, and dry drums that Collins popularized on his earliest solo records and the uncanny explosions in dead space that make up 808s’ beats. Collins first came upon this “gated reverb” drum sound while working on Peter Gabriel’s 1980 track “Intruder”, when the song’s engineer, Hugh Padgham, used a microphone normally used for in-studio communication—something closer to an intercom—and then trapped and snuffed out any overtones with a signal processor called a noise gate. It made the drum hits both vivid and lifeless, loud sounds that confused our sense of how loud sounds travel. The technique was famously employed on Collins’ signature hit “In the Air Tonight”, which Kanye has covered live.

West’s reinterpretation of this effect came from the Roland TR-808 drum machine. Created by Ikutaro Kakehashi and Don Lewis and meant to retail for a consumer-friendly price in the early ‘80s, this microwave-shaped piece of hardware made drum sounds that were laughably simple, at least to the professional drummers who feared that robots were going to replace them. Who would listen to this tinny little boomp and blish and not yearn for the presence of a real drummer? Compared to the much more expensive LinnDrum machine, which struck fear into the bones of session players everywhere, the 808 seemed merely cute.

And yet, because it could never replicate drums, it was free to serve other purposes. It made an elemental shudder when you turned it up loud, sending vibrations up and down packed city blocks. It provided a rough sound that was perfect for an enclosed space with lots of loose rattling parts, like a car. Its brute force and widespread availability in pawn shops helped the 808 to rewrite the rules of hip-hop from the ground up. It is rap’s bedrock boom, and West savvily turned to it the moment he seemed to turn his back on rap completely. He had one eye on the chilly European pop that had once dominated radio formats and MTV playlists as rap music languished on late-night programming blocks and local stations, but he kept the 808s hits: They were souvenirs from home as well as strewn pebbles that might lead him back. He was quick to point out the implications of these aesthetic choices, name-checking Gary Numan in interviews while observing that “even if I’m harmonizing, it’s still from a nigga perspective."
808s & Heartbreak artwork. Photo by Willy Vanderperre. Illustration by Kaws.

Rap music has since absorbed the importance of this distinction into its DNA. The 808s template has seeped into the street-rap groundwater—a realm that West’s music has always had an arms-length relationship to—as a new generation of local artists emerges. Listen to “Say You Will”, the two forlorn specs of sound positioned at either channel like the world’s loneliest game of Pong, and then listen to the late South Carolina rapper Speaker Knockerz’ “Lonely”, a street hit from 2014 that has racked up more than 37 million YouTube views based largely on his popularity with high school kids. Knockerz’ fan base couldn’t have been further from the New Zealand arenas West was courting with 808s, but in “Lonely”’s four piano notes you hear the youth taking West’s 808s template as gospel. Young Thug would not exist as we know him without this album; Future’s deserted-astronaut image would not exist without this album. It is impossible to close your eyes when listening to Dej Loaf’s “Try Me” and not hear Kanye’s piping vocal from “Heartless”. For Lil Durk, Chief Keef, Soulja Boy, and countless others, showing up on a track sounding like you are drowning in the sound of your own voice is now as natural as an introductory ad-lib.

Similarly, contemporary R&B would not glower at us from beneath a cloud of discontent and painkillers if not for 808s. The Weeknd made “I Can’t Feel My Face”, a song about the uneasy comfort of numbness, the biggest hit of the summer, and in doing so credited 808s as his spiritual guide, saying it is “one of the most important bodies of work of my generation.” It has also resonated in artier, post-graduate environs; How to Dress Well has said, "I can't fucking believe that that wasn't the most universally praised record of the decade.”

The only thing more influential than the album’s sound might be its tone: bitter, confused, self-pitying, defensive, and accusatory. West, then as now the most most fascinating, celebrated, and scrutinized egomaniac in pop culture, managed to perform emotional vulnerability without necessarily demonstrating it. In fact, the lyrical content of 808s remains the least forward-thinking, least transgressive element of the album: For all his talk in interviews about how the record broke down “the ABCs of relationships” and offered a male perspective on the devastation of breakups, it stands as West’s least introspective project. It is a seething mountain of hurt projected at a villainous “you” who has broken Our Hero. There is some self-loathing, but self-loathing, after all, is just egomania with heartburn.

In this way, 808s made sullen solitude fashionable again: Most male R&B stars want to be taken seriously as a misunderstood anti-hero now, and in this they are reenacting the public breakdown that West staged without a net. The bloodied mumbling that stumbled forth from the release of this record is unbroken—whenever a high-profile rapper suffers some sort of titanic emotional loss, we now expect them to respond with open wounds translated through warbling vocal filters. For example, after the public disgrace of his fallout with Ciara and the commercial disappointment of 2014’s Honest, Future revitalized his career with a three-mixtape series this year that felt like his own 808s. Like Kanye, he sounded dejected, but more angry than insular; his bad feelings were personal insults, career setbacks he didn’t deserve.

And of course, there is Drake, who emerged near-whole from 808s. There is a line to trace here, and it’s intriguingly irregular: Just as West stumbled upon the 808s sound palette during the long live breakdowns of “Good Life”, where he was called upon to sing T-Pain’s part, Drake hit on his own foggy aesthetic by rapping over 808s’ “Say You Will” on his breakout So Far Gone mixtape. Drake’s creative consigliere Noah “40” Shebib remembered being thunderstruck in the studio when that recording went down: “That shit was so impactful to hear him spilling his heart over that kind of production,” he told XXL. "I was like, 'Yo, fuck it, that shit crazy,' and I ran with that sound.”

In retrospect, going from relatively affable T-Pain, to convulsive Kanye, to polished Drake is like watching the evolution of one disruptive idea about what can happen to rappers’ voices when they pass through the center of the genre. The innovation has shuddered open new spaces, and now artists of all stripes live there. Kanye West has spent the duration of his career attempting to establish his brand as an exacting tastemaker, thought leader, and trendsetter, but it’s possible he made his most impactful statement the moment he fully let his guard down. — Jayson Greene | Pitchfork

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Death Spiral Of M. Night Shyamalan’s Career

The director M. Night Shyamalan is out on Friday with a new movie, “The Visit,” a film about two kids who have a lovely time hanging out with their grandparents.
In classic Shyamalan fashion, the movie may provide a pretty huge shock: It’s earning a good score on Rotten Tomatoes! Not a great score, but leagues ahead of what we’d expect based on the director’s recent work. How did one of the most promising directors of the early 2000s get to the point where we’re expecting schlock?
Incorporating data from Rotten Tomatoes and OpusData, let’s review the story of how Shyamalan tanked his directorial reputation, and the small-budget horror comedy that might redeem it.


“The Sixth Sense” is a really good movie. The film is about a troubled child learning how to cope with the help of a psychologist friend (Bruce Willis) who’s learning how to move on with his life. “The Sixth Sense” made an alarming amount of money — it was the second-highest grossing film of 1999 — and generally pulled the carpet out from under the feet of audiences, earning an 85 percent certified fresh Rotten Tomatoes rating from critics and an 89 percent favorable score from fans.
Shyamalan next directed “Unbreakable,” a movie about a superhero and his mentor also starring Willis, this time alongside Samuel L. Jackson. Shyamalan’s first post-“Sixth Sense” film was also very well received — a Rotten Tomatoes score of 68 percent — though less of a box office smash. Two years later, Shyamalan hit another one out of the park with the 74 percent-fresh “Signs,” a surprisingly deep film about aliens4 with enough thematic depth to fuel one of my favorite movie theories.
All are solid Shyamalan! They’re the kind of movies that if you’re bored and they’re running on TBS you’ll watch to the end. They’ve each got a legitimate emotional turn and take a crack at interesting themes, all while using the patented Shyamalan twist.
But this schtick got old really fast.


In 2004, “The Village” constituted a bit of a breaking point for Shyamalan. The film featured Bryce Dallas Howard, Joaquin Phoenix and Academy-Award-winner/future-“Dragon Blade”-star Adrien Brody as people mixed up in a deranged Colonial Williamsburg situation. Financially and critically, it was the worst of Shyamalan’s wide-release movies at the time. [Editor’s note: I disagree — the “The Village” was OK.]
The twist in “The Village” was nothing particularly new, and while the earlier three films had a solid emotional center (broken child bonds with surrogate father, broken man bonds with broken man, broken father connects with daughter), “The Village” just felt trite.
Once a director builds a brand, it’s difficult to bust out of it. If you see a Michael Bay movie, you’re going to get explosions. If you see a J.J. Abrams movie, you’re going to see lens flare. If you see a Steven Spielberg movie, you’re going to see a child of divorce learn self-reliance while being hurt by the world. And if you see a M. Night Shyamalan movie, you’re going to see a plot twist that attempts to shift the perspective of the viewer. By the time “The Village” came out, audiences had caught on. And while some directorial predilections are transferable and repeatable, Shyamalan’s became stale. He kind of became the Gallagher of film.
“The Village” garnered only 43 percent at Rotten Tomatoes, and while domestically it did about double its budget, the film was nonetheless a sign of things to come.


As exciting as Shyamalan’s 1999-2002 period was, that’s how disappointing his run since 2006 has been.
Shyamalan followed up “The Village” with “Lady in the Water,” a critical and box office flop about a man who finds a lady in a pool. “Lady in the Water” was innovative in one regard, at least, proving that it was possible for Paul Giamatti to be in a bad movie. This is a film that is literal self-insertion fan fiction by Shyamalan. Ever interested in hearing alternative viewpoints, I contacted a close friend of mine from college — the only person I ever met who loved this movie — to answer for its crimes. Then, this happened:
He later added “This movie is actually entertaining because he tries so hard to throw in a twist that it feels like a high school play,” a sentence I deeply wish I wrote.
Moving on, Shyamalan would go on to make “The Happening.” The twist in this movie is that Mark Wahlberg was cast to play a person qualified to teach children about science. Indeed, several years later at a press conference promoting “The Fighter,” Wahlberg would say:
We had actually had the luxury of having lunch before to talk about another movie, and it was a really bad movie that I did. She dodged the bullet. And then I was still able to…I don’t want to tell you what movie…all right, The Happening. F— it. It is what it is. F—ing trees, man. The plants. F— it. You can’t blame me for not wanting to try to play a science teacher. At least I wasn’t playing a cop or a crook.
That feeling you are having right now? That’s your respect for Mark Wahlberg, hamburger entrepreneur, swelling.
While 2010’s “The Last Airbender” would make comparatively more money than the other shit-tier Shyamalan films, it’s by far the most poorly-reviewed of any of the movies he’s directed. It is legitimately difficult to pull off a 6 percent Rotten Tomatoes score. The wide deviation from the beloved source material, the whitewashed casting for characters who were canonically Asian and — of course — incoherent plot twists combined to make a thoroughly unwatchable film. And while it’s always important to be skeptical of a crowd-sourced encyclopedia, “The Last Airbender” somehow made it through the editorial gauntlet to earn a spot onto my third-favorite Wikipedia list, “List of Films Considered The Worst.”
By the time “After Earth” (2013) came out— a film that takes its twist verbatim from “Planet of the Apes” — studios were actively avoiding mentioning the name “M. Night Shyamalan” in trailers. “After Earth” proved to be a financial and critical failure, pulling $60 million domestically and languishing with an 11 percent Rotten Tomatoes rating.
Having hit that particular rock bottom, there’s really nowhere to go but up. Maybe the director will finally pull of one of his famous twists.


Those final two films — a CGI-fueled fantasy film based on a beloved cartoon and a CGI-fueled Will Smith family vanity project — feel a little out of step with the director’s previous oeuvre. Given how technically coherent and visually compelling the films are, it’s not really fair to imply that Shyamalan was out of his depth here, but it does make this forthcoming return to horror all that more intriguing, even if it does seem like he bit the “handheld shaky cam” cinematography bait.
“The Visit” was made for a dirt-cheap $5 million, so it’s basically impossible for it to lose money unless something terrible happens. The movie is sporting a frankly shocking preliminary Rotten Tomatoes rating of 64 percent fresh (as of Friday morning).
While the trailer does save it for the end, the promotional materials are referring to him by name again, making a point to mention it’s “From the writer and director of The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, The Village and Signs.”
Take that however you will, but here’s hoping his time in the wilderness made M. Night Shyamalan a better director of the kind of movie that made him big in the first place: tense, tightly-written thrillers with a strong emotional core. Sure, there’s probably going to be gauzy convolutions of plot, but emotional heart can cover for that. Anyone who enjoyed his early work has to be rooting for a comeback. — Walt Hickey | FiveThirtyEight
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