Jon Christian

Comfort the afflicted. Afflict the comfortable.

Trapped in a room with a zombie

I’ve got a new story in the Boston Globe with a self-explanatory headline: “A ticket puts you in a room with the living dead

In a rundown commercial building in Charlestown, 12 men and women are trapped in a room, trying desperately to evade the clutches of a snarling, grasping zombie who is chained to a wall.

They know the clues they need to unlock the door and escape are hidden in the room, so they’re flipping through books, scrutinizing postcards, and pulling entire drawers out of a dresser. But the pressure is on: Every five minutes the zombie’s chain extends another 12 inches with a mechanical clunk. By the end of the allotted hour, he will be able to reach everybody in the room.

Longform reading list, week of 7/14

Greg Hanlon: The Many Crimes of Mel Hall. SB Nation, July 2014.

“It was Mel Hall all the time,” she testified. “Any time he left [for a road trip], he would reprimand me and tell me not to see anybody, not to talk to anybody, not to go anywhere, not to do anything but to basically wait for his calls.”

Seth Mnookin: One of a Kind. The New Yorker, July 2014.

Later that evening, when Cristina was alone with Matt, she broke down in tears. “What have we done to our child?” she said. “How many things can we put him through?” As one obscure genetic condition after another was ruled out, the Mights began to wonder whether they would ever learn the cause of their son’s agony. What if Bertrand was suffering from a disorder that was not just extremely rare but entirely unknown to science?

Daniel Patterson: The Imaginary Dinner [not available online]. Lucky Peach, Fall 2013.

I was always in the kitchen then. It was all I knew, the thrum of rattling hoods and slamming doors, the fluorescent lights, the smell of roasting onions and just-cut herbs and long-simmered stocks. It wasn’t really much of a home, but it was mine, and when I was young I left it reluctantly.

Emma Rosenblum: Pitbull: Get Rich or Die Shilling. Business Week, July 2014.

Pitbull considers this and waves at the waitress for more water. The look on his face suggests he’s about to say something profound, and he delivers.

“Culture is generation. Generation is power.” 

“Explain that to me—because you use generators to make power, right?” Zulueta laughs with a loud bark.

Pitbull continues, straight-faced. “When you become a generation—say, the MTV generation—that’s where you create your power.” 

Zulueta purses his lips, trying to understand. 

“The content fed the culture, the culture fed the generation. Everyone says content is king. But culture is everything. Content creates a culture—the Kardashians created a culture.”  

“I got it,” says Zulueta, though it seems like he might not. 

Benjamin Wallace: Kara Swisher Is Silicon Valley’s Most Feared and Well-Liked Journalist. How Does That Work? New York Magazine, July 2014.

[I]t’s an event where Steve Jobs and Bill Gates came together onstage for a historic conversation, where Mark Zuckerberg broke out in such a sweat as he was pressed on privacy issues that he removed his ever-present hoodie

Here are all Weird Al’s new music videos in one place (updated)

A Parklet Rises In Boston

I’ve got a new story in the Boston Globe’s ‘g’ insert about how a coalition of educators, students and volunteers designed and built a tiny public park:

Back at the parklet site, the scorching afternoon drags on, but the group is clearly making progress. Rogers and Bolivar are assembling a frame for a solar panel on the grass next to the sidewalk when three pedestrians stop and quizzically look around at the project and the crew.

“What are you guys doing?” a woman asks.

“We are,’’ Rogers says with a tired smile, “building a parklet.”

Longform reading list, week of 7/7/14

Trent Dalton: Welcome To Utopia. The Weekend Australian Magazine, 2014.

Beyond those mountains is Steve’s utopia, an 800ha living ark that he has spent the past eight of his 79 years creating, investing his life’s fortune in the shipment of 300 tonnes of materials from around the world to the very edge of human existence. Paradise. Salvation. A new world for when the old one dies. He calls it Edenhope. Eden would have sufficed. “Soon you will meet Ona,” Steve says. Ona is a girl. Ona is a beginning.

Andrew Solomon: Gay, Jewish, Mentally Ill, and a Sponsor of Gypsies In Romania. The New Yorker, 2014.

In my teens, I asked my Great Aunt Rose where in Romania our family had come from. She claimed that she didn’t remember. I said, “Aunt Rose, you lived there until you were nineteen. What do you mean, you don’t remember?” She said, “It was a horrible place and we were lucky to get out of there. There’s no reason for anyone to go back.” I begged her to tell me at least the name of the place. She gave me an uncharacteristically steely glare and said again, “I don’t remember.” That was the end of the conversation.

Elizabeth Spiers: Speaking up every. Fucking. Time. Matter, 2014.

And, yes, Kane is capable of behaving like a jerk. I’ve profiled public company CEOs with armies of publicists who haven’t tried to manipulate a story as much as she has. But the only thing that really tells me is that she’s a flawed human being, just like everyone else. (And that maybe she knows quite a bit more about media and interacting with reporters than she’s indicating on Twitter.)

Greg Hum: The Beat Rolls On

I’ve got a new story in Scout about Greg Hum, the fellow who plays drums while he rides his bike.

If you’ve seen Hum around Boston, you probably remember him. He rides his bicycle while simultaneously pounding two drumsticks — often steering with just one palm — on a small Zildjian cymbal, a Latin Percussion jam block and a five-gallon bucket on which he has written “Hum Drum” in black tape, all of which is mounted to his handlebars.

Longform reading list, week of 6/30

Bertrand Russell: In Praise of Idleness. The Harpers Monthly, 1932.

Elizabeth Gilbert: The Last American Man. GQ, 1998.

Ruben Castaneda: I Was a Washington Post Reporter. And a Crack Addict. Politico, 2014.

Vanessa Grigoriadis: Justin Bieber: A Case Study In Growing Up Cosseted and Feral. Vulture, 2014.

Kathleen Hale: Prey. Hazlitt, 2014.

Brendan Koerner: Hard Target. WIRED, 2014.

Jon Lackman: Ghosts of War. WIRED, 2014.

Deanna Pan: Not One More. Inlander, 2014.

Longform reading list, week of 6/23

Nancy Andreasen: Secrets of the Creative Brain. The Atlantic, 2014.

As a psychiatrist and neuroscientist who studies creativity, I’ve had the pleasure of working with many gifted and high-profile subjects over the years, but Kurt Vonnegut—dear, funny, eccentric, lovable, tormented Kurt Vonnegut—will always be one of my favorites. 

Thomas Rogers: Heil Hipster: The young neo-Nazis trying to put a stylish face on hate. Rolling Stone, 2014.

This winter, the German media came up with a new term, “nipster,” to describe the trend of people dressing like Brooklyn hipsters at Nazi events. Experts have noted that the German neo-Nazi presence on Tumblr and other social networking sites has become sleeker and more sophisticated. Neo-Nazi clothing has become more stylish and difficult to recognize. There’s even a vegan Nazi cooking show.

 Alex Ross: Notes of Dissent. The New Yorker, 2014.

“Perhaps you should sit here,” he said to me, indicating a beanbag just behind the seats for two lead cellists. He speaks English with lyrical ease, his lightly accented voice skating up and down in pitch and lingering over words that he enjoys. “But, really, you can sit anywhere. You can lie under the piano, if you so want.” I followed his original suggestion. “Very good!” he exclaimed, his eyebrows leaping upward. “You will be embedded with the cellos.”

Katy Steinmetz: The Transgender Tipping Point. TIME, 2014.

About 1,100 people, many gleefully defying gender stereotypes, eventually pack the auditorium to hear the story of an unlikely icon. “I stand before you this evening,” Laverne Cox, who stars in the Netflix drama Orange Is the New Black, tells the crowd, “a proud, African-American transgender woman.”

Now, build apps using Firefox

I have a new story in VentureBeat, in which I chat with Mozilla’s Christian Heilmann about WebIDE, a development environment that will be built into future releases of the Firefox browser.

Firefox OS has been in development since 2011, but competing with the vast ecosystem of apps and developers associated with iOS and Android presents a nearly impossible challenge. The operating system has only gained a significant foothold in a handful of less developed markets, where low-cost devices running the system reportedly captured up to tenth of sales during 2013—one reason why Mozilla is keen to woo programmers in communities where hardware and software resources are limited.

“Many developers for Firefox OS are working in an environment where they cannot obtain new development resources,” Heilmann said. “We want to make sure that all the tools they need are inside Firefox itself. That was the original promise of the web.”

Dark Net Roasters

I have a new story in TechCrunch, about a seller on darknet marketplaces that’s branched out from drugs to coffee—that they roast themselves.

It may be lawful to sell caffeine, but the operation is still tied up in the sale of illegal drugs. The experiment started, in fact, as a promotion by an established seller of edible cannabis products: buy a brownie or a rice crispy treat laced with THC, get a complimentary six ounce bag of coffee. The reception was positive, the representative said, and they decided to spin Dark Net Roasters off as its own entity.

“Once we realized how much everyone was enjoying our coffee it was a natural progression to want to offer them to others,” said the representative, who told me that roasting coffee started out as a hobby that they shared with family and friends.

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