Free Things

The Beach: A Bargain or A Bummer?

In this weekend’s New York Times, Roxane Gay gives a litany of reasons to hate the beach.

In Haiti, beach bodies are simply bodies, and beach reads are simply books, because the beach is all around you. … But for the rest of us, the beach exerts a different kind of gravitational pull. Sixty-one percent of Americans don’t live anywhere near a beach. We spend a surprising amount of time hearing about this place we will hardly ever see. We watch commercials, TV shows and movies in which nubile young women and their strapping male counterparts frolic on sand, their hair golden and sun-streaked. Long walks on the beach are the supposed holy grail of a romantic evening. The beach becomes a kind of utopia — the place where all our dreams come true.

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Tear Down This Paywall: The New Yorker Opens Its Archives

Yesterday, in addition to launching a redesign of the New Yorker “Web site” — that’s how they say website in exalted magazine-speak – the famed, august, taste-making institution also threw open the gates to its archives. Well, sort of, and for a limited time:

the New Yorker announced plans to massively overhaul its website and to significantly alter its digital model, at a time when the Guardian and the New York Times are also implementing changes to their online presence. The prestige magazine, owned by Condé Nast, will move to a metered paywall system. It is is also making all of its articles since 2007* available for free for a three-month period, in a bid to entice new subscribers. After that, a limited number of articles will be available for free, before readers are required to subscribe. The current print circulation for the magazine is about 1 million, with 12 million unique visitors to its website.

In a “letter to readers” introducing the new website, the New Yorker joked that “editorial and tech teams have been sardined into a boiler room, subsisting only on stale cheese sandwiches and a rationed supply of tap water” in a bid to get the new site up and running.

Gather your rosebuds while ye may! This profile of Janet Yellen from the most recent issue is available in full for free. So are lots of features by two of my favorite contributors, Elif Batuman and Burkhard Bilger, as well as others. Before you know it, the new metered paywall will descend and we’ll all have to figure out whether or how to pay for our fix. My method, as I’ve mentioned, is to subscribe to public radio at the $120/year level and get a subscription as my thank you gift. But everyone has their ways.

The article originally said the archives went back to 1997, but that was a mistake on their part, and we have both now corrected it. 

Image via the New Yorker and Beyond The Times

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New “Harry Potter” Content Released, Free

The good news is, as of today you can read a new short story about Harry Potter on Pottermore, the obsessive fan fiction site. The bad news is, you have to jump through a series of hoops as long as a Quidditch field to get there. (Sign up required.) The good news is, it’s free! The bad news is, the story is written in the voice of Rita Skeeter. Here’s a snippet from the Vulture write-up:

… [Harry] Potter took his young songs James and Albus to visit the players’ compound, where he introduced them to Bulgarian Seeker Viktor Krum.

About to turn 34, there are a couple of threads of silver in the famous Auror’s black hair, but he continues to wear the distinctive round glasses that some might say are better suited to a style-deficient twelve-year-old. The famous lightning scar has company: Potter is sporting a nasty cut over his right cheekbone. Requests for information as to its provenance merely produced the usual response from the Ministry of Magic: ‘We do not comment on the top secret work of the Auror department, as we have told you no less than 514 times, Ms. Skeeter.’

I never bought that Harry would name one of his sons “Albus Severus,” if only because it sounds godawful, and I wished Hermione would have stayed single, become some kind of holy terror of a lawyer and brought lots of suits against the Ministry of Magic while having hot sex with Victor Krum and maybe also Ginny on the side. But I am a bit skeptical about this story, even as I dive into it. From Scarlet to Cosette, these kinds of things have a foul track record, though at least this extension was written by the brilliant, kindhearted quadrillionaire JK Rowling herself, who could have charged money for even a little wispy bit of whatever thrown to her masses of fans and didn’t. Bless her heart.

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Let Google Send You To Tech School, Because Otherwise You’ll Starve

Noting a paucity of women and POC among their engineers, Uncle Google has decided to give us a boost.

Google is paying for three free months for any women and minorities interested in tech to expand their skills. While Google is also offering the same vouchers to the women in attendance at its annual I/O developers conference this week, the search giant has released an online application that’s available to women everywhere. Google says its available vouchers for women number in the “thousands.”

So, better odds than the #AmtrakResidency! Go ahead, ‘folders, apply and let us know what happens. Goodness knows, if you’re a woman or a POC, you’ll do better studying #STEM than moving to NYC to try to be an artist, according to the rabid attention paid to writers like Emily Gould, who have the temerity to publish books, and this sad, sobering analysis in HyperAllergic.

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Measure Your Life in Birth Control

My life divides neatly into AD — years of delightful innocence about the realities of life — and BC — when I had to dedicate a part of brain to thinking about obtaining, using, and paying for birth control so that my womb wouldn’t get any ideas about its outsized importance of my life and start throwing its weight around, dictating terms. Here is my life in birth control.

At first I used condoms, and though I bought them occasionally at less than $10 a box, my male partner almost always came prepared. (ba dum CHING!) Soon, though, I realized I wanted to own the control part of birth control. Besides, I hated the way latex smelled. I might have gotten the pill from my doctor at home, but when I tentatively broached the subject of sex with him, he told him dismissively that I was too young and ended the conversation. So I talked through my options with the thankfully less judgmental gyno at the college health center.

First I paid about $10/month for a subsidized patch. Its adhesive sides collected masses of fuzz from my flannel sheets, which meant what should have been a subtle flesh-toned square swiftly turned a garish violet. Then I got sick. Very sick. After a dizzying week, I ended up in the clinic overnight for Valentine’s Day with a fever of 103.5 and had to get an extension for my seminar paper on the American steel industry. I hate not being on time.

Finally, tired of trying to tough out the patch, I ripped it off. The college gyno next tried me on the ring, also sold subsidized at $10/month. It gave me staggering headaches from the hormone shifts and the opportunity to come to grips with myself — specifically my cervix — twice a month. The ring didn’t kill me within the week or render me invisible to all but Sauron, so I dealt with the side effects for the next decade.

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The Burrower, Part II

With your sleeping bag, travel-sized pillow and airplane blankets, you now have a bedroom that can be assembled in less than five minutes and stored away in your bottom desk drawer.

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The Cost of Things: Supporting Podcasts, Radio, & Friends

Mike: “I don’t want your money! Keep your money!” Ester. I can’t get that song out of my head—it’s stuck. It’s from 21 Chump Street, from the This American Life musical that just went up earlier this week.

Ester: That’s hilarious, MD. I haven’t listened to it yet but I’m highly susceptible to earworms so I’m sure that once I do I too will suffer from your malady.

Mike: So, it’s from their live show, and they have a video you can download if you want, and yes, I wanted it. The cost of it was $5, but they said that since the show was so expensive to make it’d be great if you could pay more. So I paid $20.

Ester: That’s great of you! Did you consider waiting to see how much you enjoyed the content before deciding how much to give them in exchange for it? I just signed up for Slate Plus, where you pay the site $50 a year or $5 a month to get upgraded content — podcasts without ads, for example — but that was after years and years of reading and listening to Slate content gratis. Their value had already been demonstrated.

Mike: I decided that $20 was a fair price to pay for something I listen to on a weekly basis and want to continue to support, so I paid it without waiting to see if I liked the video itself.

Ester: Right, that makes sense. You’re not paying for the video, after all; you’re rewarding them for their track record. I have done that too for TAL specifically. (I’m a radio dork.) But do you have other podcasts that you listen to and like and haven’t contributed to, even though they’ve asked? What’s your criteria for deciding which listening experiences to support?

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A Pick-Your-Brain Fee?

Ever asked someone you admire in your field to meet you for coffee? Would you pay if that person decided you charge you for the meeting? From the New York Post:

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An Interview with Leanne Brown, Author of the (Free) $4 a Day SNAP Cookbook

Leanne Brown is a Canadian-born NYU food studies graduate whose masters’ project was Good and Cheap, a free PDF cookbook for food stamp budgets ($4/day). She posted the PDF on her website, and it was downloaded over 100,000 times after being discovered by Reddit. Now, she’s launched a Kickstarter to print the book so she can get copies to people in need, and she’s already well past its initial $10,000 goal. I recently talked to her about cooking on limited incomes, food studies, her experience with Kickstarter, and more.

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What Correlates To Productivity in Kids And Nations Alike?

Surprise, surprise: Kids whose time is less structured are better able to meet their own goals, and the most productive nation, for the fifth year in a row, is Switzerland, where employees enjoy 28 days of federally mandated vacation time. What can we learn from these two news items, especially together?

1) Take your vacation days. That’s what they’re for, if you’re lucky enough to get them at all. Obvious? Not to most Americans:

Because America leaves firms to their own devices on break policy, the amount of PTO (paid time off) Americans get varies vastly between socioeconomic classes. Only half of low-wage workers (bottom one-fourth of earners) have any paid vacation, the study found. Compare that to 90% of high-wage workers (top one-fourth of earners): The 77% of Americans who do get paid vacation time get an average of 13 days. … working too hard is making us stressed, sick and disengaged from our jobs, says Brigid Schulte in the Washington Post. We rank in the bottom section of the work-life balance scale from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. But part of the blame can be placed on the American workforce itself: Only 56% of Americans take the vacation time that’s given to them, according to a study by the employment firm Hudson.

That’s maddening. If you’re not using your days, give them to me! I’m still only on episode 3 of the new season of “Orange is the New Black.”

2) Let your kids roam free and everyone wins. Less driving for you, more being driven — in an organic, internal way — for them.

Children who spend more time in less structured activities—from playing outside to reading books to visiting the zoo—are better able to set their own goals and take actions to meet those goals without prodding from adults, according to a new study by the University of Colorado Boulder. The study, published online in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, also found that children who participate in more structured activities—including soccer practice, piano lessons and homework—had poorer “self-directed executive function,” a measure of the ability to set and reach goals independently.

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My No-Bullshit Hiring History: Kitchens, Concert Halls, Banks and More

In addition to handing out programs, I scheduled the other ushers and occasionally ran the sound booth. Perks included choice hours and the ability to wear colors. The highlight of this job was meeting Aretha Franklin backstage. She called me Stewart and asked me to bring her a hamburger.

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Flickr Makes It Just A Bit Harder To Find Creative Commons Images (UPDATED)

UPDATE: See the comments, this is a Flickr UI issue that has since been resolved. 

If you’re a freelance writer or otherwise part of the Giant Internet Content Machine, you probably spend a lot of time on Flickr.

After all, it’s where the vast majority of Creative Commons images are located.

But be careful: Flickr just changed its UI to make it slightly harder to find what you’re looking for.

In “the old days,” which is to say “last Wednesday,” Flickr let you search CC photos directly through its Explore Creative Commons section.

Now, searching through that link dumps you back out into Flickr’s global search results. That is to say: searching through Explore Creative Commons returns results that are not Creative Commons. Instead, you have to go to a drop-down menu in the top left corner and re-select that you only want CC pictures — and you can’t select the specific license you want anymore, either.

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