We were throwing a house party in college, and some guy showed up in a unicorn onesie (before they were so widely available) and started saying “BEER? BEER FOR THE UNICORN? BEER?” in that sort of hear ye hear ye voice.
Hell yeah, we gave that unicorn a beer plus several more throughout the night.
Every now and then when our group of friends is out drinking you’ll hear someone repeat those hallowed lines. –FlakyParsley
On Tuesday, July 10, the DOJ announced a landmark settlement with Austin-based Defense Distributed, a controversial startup led by a young, charismatic anarchist whom Wired once named one of the 15 most dangerous people in the world.
Hyper-loquacious and media-savvy, Cody Wilson is fond of telling any reporter who’ll listen that Defense Distributed’s main product, a gun fabricator called the Ghost Gunner, represents the endgame for gun control, not just in the US but everywhere in the world. With nothing but the Ghost Gunner, an internet connection, and some raw materials, anyone, anywhere can make an unmarked, untraceable gun in their home or garage. Even if Wilson is wrong that the gun control wars are effectively over (and I believe he is), Tuesday’s ruling has fundamentally changed them.
At about the time the settlement announcement was going out over the wires, I was pulling into the parking lot of LMT Defense in Milan, IL.
LMT Defense, formerly known as Lewis Machine & Tool, is as much the opposite of Defense Distributed as its quiet, publicity-shy founder, Karl Lewis, is the opposite of Cody Wilson. But LMT Defense’s story can be usefully placed alongside that of Defense Distributed, because together they can reveal much about the past, present, and future of the tools and technologies that we humans use for the age-old practice of making war.
The legacy machine
Karl Lewis got started in gunmaking back in the 1970’s at Springfield Armory in Geneseo, IL, just a few exits up I-80 from the current LMT Defense headquarters. Lewis, who has a high school education but who now knows as much about the engineering behind firearms manufacturing as almost anyone alive, was working on the Springfield Armory shop floor when he hit upon a better way to make a critical and failure-prone part of the AR-15, the bolt. He first took his idea to Springfield Armory management, but they took a pass, so he rented out a small corner in a local auto repair ship in Milan, bought some equipment, and began making the bolts, himself.
Lewis worked in his rented space on nights and weekends, bringing the newly fabricated bolts home for heat treatment in his kitchen oven. Not long after he made his first batch, he landed a small contract with the US military to supply some of the bolts for the M4 carbine. On the back of this initial success with M4 bolts, Lewis Machine & Tool expanded its offerings to include complete guns. Over the course of the next three decades, LMT grew into one of the world’s top makers of AR-15-pattern rifles for the world’s militaries, and it’s now in a very small club of gunmakers, alongside a few old-world arms powerhouses like Germany’s Heckler & Koch and Belgium’s FN Herstal, that supplies rifles to US SOCOM’s most elite units.
The offices of LMT Defense, in Milan, Ill. (Image courtesy Jon Stokes)
LMT’s gun business is built on high-profile relationships, hard-to-win government contracts, and deep, almost monk-like know-how. The company lives or dies by the skill of its machinists and by the stuff of process engineering — tolerances and measurements and paper trails. Political connections are also key, as the largest weapons contracts require congressional approval and months of waiting for political winds to blow in this or that direction, as countries to fall in and out of favor with each other, and paperwork that was delayed due to a political spat over some unrelated point of trade or security finally gets put through so that funds can be transfered and production can begin.
Selling these guns is as old-school a process as making them is. Success in LMT’s world isn’t about media buys and PR hits, but about dinners in foreign capitals, range sessions with the world’s top special forces units, booths at trade shows most of us have never heard of, and secret delegations of high-ranking officials to a machine shop in a small town surrounded by corn fields on the western border of Illinois.
The civilian gun market, with all of its politics- and event-driven gyrations of supply and demand, is woven into this stable core of the global military small arms market the way vines weave through a trellis. Innovations in gunmaking flow in both directions, though nowadays they more often flow from the civilian market into the military and law enforcement markets than vice versa. For the most part, civilians buy guns that come off the same production lines that feed the government and law enforcement markets.
All of this is how small arms get made and sold in the present world, and anyone who lived through the heyday of IBM and Oracle, before the PC, the cloud, and the smartphone tore through and upended everything, will recognize every detail of the above picture, down to the clean-cut guys in polos with the company logo and fat purchase orders bearing signatures and stamps and big numbers.
The author with LMT Defense hardware.
Guns, drugs, and a million Karl Lewises
This is the part of the story where I build on the IBM PC analogy I hinted at above, and tell you that Defense Distributed’s Ghost Gunner, along with its inevitable clones and successors, will kill dinosaurs like LMT Defense the way the PC and the cloud laid waste to the mainframe and microcomputer businesses of yesteryear.
Except this isn’t what will happen.
Defense Distributed isn’t going to destroy gun control, and it’s certainly not going to decimate the gun industry. All of the legacy gun industry apparatus described above will still be there in the decades to come, mainly because governments will still buy their arms from established makers like LMT. But surrounding the government and civilian arms markets will be a brand new, homebrew, underground gun market where enthusiasts swap files on the dark web and test new firearms in their back yards.
The homebrew gun revolution won’t create a million untraceable guns so much as it’ll create a hundreds of thousands of Karl Lewises — solitary geniuses who had a good idea, prototyped it, began making it and selling it in small batches, and ended up supplying a global arms market with new technology and products.
In this respect, the future of guns looks a lot like the present of drugs. The dark web hasn’t hurt Big Pharma, much less destroyed it. Rather, it has expanded the reach of hobbyist drugmakers and small labs, and enabled a shadow world of pharmaceutical R&D that feeds transnational black and gray markets for everything from penis enlargement pills to synthetic opioids.
Gun control efforts in this new reality will initially focus more on ammunition. Background checks for ammo purchases will move to more states, as policy makers try to limit civilian access to weapons in a world where controlling the guns themselves is impossible.
Ammunition has long been the crack in the rampart that Wilson is building. Bullets and casings are easy to fabricate and will always be easy to obtain or manufacture in bulk, but powder and primers are another story. Gunpowder and primers are the explosive chemical components of modern ammo, and they are difficult and dangerous to make at home. So gun controllers will seize on this and attempt to pivot to “bullet control” in the near-term.
Ammunition control is unlikely to work, mainly because rounds of ammunition are fungible, and there are untold billions of rounds already in civilian hands.
In addition to controls on ammunition, some governments will also make an effort at trying to force the manufacturers of 3D printers and desktop milling machines (the Ghost Gunner is the latter) to refuse to print files for gun parts.
This will be impossible to enforce, for two reasons. First, it will be hard for these machines to reliably tell what’s a gun-related file and what isn’t, especially if distributors of these files keep changing them to defeat any sort of detection. But the bigger problem will be that open-source firmware will quickly become available for the most popular printing and milling machines, so that determined users can “jailbreak” them and use them however they like. This already happens with products like routers and even cars, so it will definitely happen with home fabrication machines should the need arise.
Ammo control and fabrication device restrictions having failed, governments will over the longer term employ a two-pronged approach that consists of possession permits and digital censorship.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images: Jeremy Saltzer / EyeEm
First, governments will look to gun control schemes that treat guns like controlled substances (i.e. drugs and alchohol). The focus will shift to vetting and permits for simple possession, much like the gun owner licensing scheme I outlined in Politico. We’ll give up on trying to trace guns and ammunition, and focus more on authorizing people to possess guns, and on catching and prosecuting unauthorized possession. You’ll get the firearm equivalent of a marijuana card from the state, and then it won’t matter if you bought your gun from an authorized dealer or made it yourself at home.
The second component of future gun control regimes will be online suppression, of the type that’s already taking place on most major tech platforms across the developed world. I don’t think DefCad.com is long for the open web, and it will ultimately have as hard a time staying online as extremist sites like stormfront.org.
Gun CAD files will join child porn and pirated movies on the list of content it’s nearly impossible to find on big tech platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and YouTube. If you want to trade these files, you’ll find yourself on sites with really intrusive advertising, where you worry a lot about viruses. Or, you’ll end up on the dark web, where you may end up paying for a hot new gun design with a cryptocurrency. This may be an ancap dream, but won’t be mainstream or user-friendly in any respect.
As for what comes after that, this is the same question as the question of what comes next for politically disfavored speech online. The gun control wars have now become a subset of the online free speech wars, so whatever happens with online speech in places like the US, UK, or China will happen with guns.
The field of trauma treatment is rapidly growing, which means that, as a trauma-informed strength coach, I spend a lot of time studying different clinical approaches. And as I do, I witness countless yoga teachers, therapists, somatic therapists, massage therapists, and physical therapists telling the stressed out to take a nice deep breath to get grounded.
To this I say: STOP! Please stop telling folks to “take a deep breath.”
On the surface, it makes a lot of sense to tell people to take a deep breath. We commonly think of deep breathing as a way to slow down time, our breath, and ultimately our autonomic nervous system.
But guess what ? Lots of people with chronic stress, post-traumatic stress disorder, or complex post-traumatic stress disorder will find this act at best, damn near impossible, and at worst, triggering.
If you live with chronic stress or trauma, there is a good chance that you experience constriction in your primary breathing muscle (the diaphragm).
The diaphragm is a muscle beneath your ribcage that contracts and flattens out to fill your lungs with air. As you exhale, it relaxes and expands upward. When we are breathing at rest, it should handle most of the work.
Working in conjunction with the diaphragm is a whole set of secondary breathing muscles — your intercostals, scalenes, sternocleidomastoids, pecs minor, and abs.
These muscles are of your neck, chest, and belly. And theoretically, when you are at rest, they are too. Even when you are working hard in a sympathetic state, they are only handling some of the load.
But if you live with chronic stress or trauma, these muscles are often overused, and your diaphragm does almost none of the work.
Imagine you are hiking and you see a bear or some other predator you find threatening. Sense into your body. What does it feel like? What are your muscles doing? It is likely your whole trunk is constricted. This is a life-or-death situation, and your limbic system has taken the reins and is going to do its damnedest to save you with some defensive mobilization or immobilization.
Now imagine that you are running late for a very important meeting, and you are stuck in traffic or on a stopped subway train without cell service. You are going to miss something very important and have no way to let the others know. Sense into your body. What is your breathing like, and where are you breathing from? Is any air making it into your belly? Probably not. Your whole trunk is constricted even though this is not a life-and-death situation — it is just very stressful.
In both cases — actual life or death and perceived life or death — you braced.
And even when the bear runs off and the train starts to move again, your diaphragm will probably still be constricted with the lingering stress. Many of us don’t realize that we have not relaxed our diaphragms and that we are always bracing our primary breathing muscle to some extent.
I work as a beginning strength coach with the general population in New York City, and I can tell you that for the most part, New Yorkers are a bunch of chest-breathers hustling and living in a very stimulating environment. It is common for people living with trauma, or simply with a lot of stress, to be stuck in a defensive state — fight or flight. Their trunks are always bracing just a little, and that diaphragm rarely gets the chance to move.
What happens to muscles that have not been moved? That’s right — they get stiff and eventually weak. It does not feel good when you become keenly aware that your muscles are stiff and weak.
Telling a constricted (stressed) person to take a deep breath invites them to realize just how tight everything is inside.
For some people that may be okay, but for others (like me!) it can feel terrifying. It can feel claustrophobic, suffocating, and absolutely triggering. Deep breaths are a goal for folks like us — not the starting place.
The good news is that there are countless alternatives to get grounded, present, and mindful of the body that don’t involve the breath. Here are a few to get you started:
1. Focus on a part of the body that feels neutral.
Put your attention there. Neutrality is often found in places like the hands or the seat. People might feel funny about the fact that it’s their butt that feels good, but it often does. Get grounded by feeling into a part of your body that feels supported and easy, rather than going straight for the center.
When I began to incorporate mindfulness meditation into my own treatment, I realized that the only place that felt safe to focus on was my hands. So that’s where I started.
2. Name five things.
For some folks, turning inward at all is dysregulating. Suddenly becoming aware of your state can be quite jarring at times. For clients who cannot ground by looking inward, I ask them to become situated and present by looking around and naming five blue things, five red things, and five yellow things. It gets people to closely look at their environment and keeps their prefrontal cortex turned on as opposed to triggering an emotionally reactive limbic response.
3. Listen to sounds near and far.
If I am encouraging someone to turn inward, I will ask the person to first listen for sounds far away — people talking outside, wind, cars — and then closer sounds like water running through the pipes or cooking sounds in the kitchen, and then even sounds from inside of that person’s own body. If I am trying to bring someone’s awareness back outside of the body, I encourage the same process but in reverse — starting nearby and opening up to sounds far away.
4. Follow the breath rather than trying to control it.
If breath is the main driver of your practice, like in yoga or certain mindfulness meditation practices, you can follow the breath without manipulation. By being behind the breath (following it), the constriction can feel less stifling than being on top of it (focusing on it). But please keep in mind that for some people, following or focusing on the breath is a goal to be worked toward, not a tool to be employed right in that moment.
Yes, after years of diaphragmatic breathing, I can take a deep breath without panicking. But it took work.
On behalf of the constricted breathers who panic when they notice their constriction, I am going to ask you to not start with the breath when working with trauma. Get creative or use the tools I listed above, but start somewhere safer, possibly outside of the body completely.
This story is excerpted from an article that originally appeared on Medium and is reprinted here with permission.
Every year National Geographic sweeps us off our feet with stunning nature shots, showcasing the beauty and the sublime of the animal kingdom. The Kennel Club Dog Photographer of the Year embraced the same concept, but chose a subject that’s closer to home – dogs.
Dog Photographer of the Year 2018 winners were announced on July 16th. The contest included 10 categories, e.g. “Assistance Dogs and Dog Charities”, “Dogs at Play”, “Dog Portrait”, etc. While most categories had to do with the content of the photograph, there was also a category called “Young Pup Photographer”, for photographers that are 11 years and younger. The photographs celebrate the canines in many of their aspects, from their goofiness to their sense of duty. Scroll down below to check out the winners and don’t forget to comment and vote for your favorites!
Title of image: ‘The lady of the mystery forest’ Dog: Noa, Great Dane ‘This picture was made in the early morning in the forest. I wanted to photograph her in a position where she was sitting relaxed next to a tree. When I wanted to make the shot she turned her head to the left to her owner and this was the moment where you could see her soul. Dogs come in all…
Title of image: ‘The lady of the mystery forest’ Dog: Noa, Great Dane ‘This picture was made in the early morning in the forest. I wanted to photograph her in a position where she was sitting relaxed next to a tree. When I wanted to make the shot she turned her head to the left to her owner and this was the moment where you could see her soul. Dogs come in all different shapes, sizes and colours. But their heart are all the same filled with love’ – Monica van der Maden
Title of image: ‘I’ll catch you’ Dog: Lili, Pomeranian ‘This particular photo was taken in the beach just before sunset. I shot 4 dogs on that day, Lili, and her 3 bigger brothers. Suddenly, Lili, the smallest bitch, began to jump with pleasure at the soap bubbles and play as if she were a puppy. It was a precious moment full of happiness and true freedom.’ – Elinor Roizman
Title of image: ‘Home’ Dog: Ruby Roo, Golden Retriever ‘This picture of Ruby was taken whilst she was resting with my friend Chris after playing with her daughter Nellie. My greatest passion is capturing dogs playing and having fun in their natural environment, the camera is a great way of recording what the naked eye would miss.’ – Cheryl Murphy
Title of Image: ‘Let’s call it Roly Poly Puppy’ Dog: Snickers, cross breed puppy photographed for Doodle Rock Rescue ‘In this image, I knew the moment Snickers began rolling around on the blanket that I had to embody his zest for life in a photo that would help him find the perfect playful home. I truly love working with dogs of all backgrounds to capture extraordinary photos worthy of even the most…
Title of Image: ‘Let’s call it Roly Poly Puppy’ Dog: Snickers, cross breed puppy photographed for Doodle Rock Rescue ‘In this image, I knew the moment Snickers began rolling around on the blanket that I had to embody his zest for life in a photo that would help him find the perfect playful home. I truly love working with dogs of all backgrounds to capture extraordinary photos worthy of even the most sophisticated pet parents and discerning commercial clientele. At home, we have six gentle giants of our own who serve as ambassadors on our 7-acre pet photography property and the ultimate creative muses.’ – Robyn Pope
Title of image: ‘Little Ceylin’ Dog: Ceylin, Italian Greyhound ‘Ceylin was the second dog of my friend Birguel. The photo means much too me since her first dog, also an Italian greyhound died at puppy age in a car accident. 13 weeks old Cylin has the whole life in front of her. You can see it in her expression.’ – Klaus Dyba
Title of image: ‘Flying Free’ Dog: Heidi, merle Chihuahua ‘This particular photo was taken in September at West wittering beach where we were on a large dog meet up and my two dogs were having a blast. I had my back to Heidi as I was photographing dogs playing in the water, I turned to check on my two and just managed to grab this shot in time. I’m so glad I…
Title of image: ‘Flying Free’ Dog: Heidi, merle Chihuahua ‘This particular photo was taken in September at West wittering beach where we were on a large dog meet up and my two dogs were having a blast. I had my back to Heidi as I was photographing dogs playing in the water, I turned to check on my two and just managed to grab this shot in time. I’m so glad I did, it’s my favourite photo of Heidi and it shows off her crazy energy perfectly!’ – Steffi Cousins
Title of image: ‘On a Rainy Day’ Dog: Nilo, cross breed and rescue dog ‘I took this photo on a rainy winter day. My best friend Nilo was a much traumatized rescue dog, but he felt very comfortable in the car. I love to observe him and I always feel very touched about his melancholic expression.’ – Rachele Z. Cecchini
Title of image: ‘A Winters Storm’ Dog: Hugo, Pomeranian ‘I photographed my dog at the window here in my tenement flat in Glasgow using available natural light during a winter’s storm of hailstones, wind and rain.’ – Michael Sweeney
Title of image: ‘One heart, one family’ Dogs: Dash, Royal, Harley, Ženka, Ryan, Ready, all border collies ‘I am Tamara Kedves, a 16 years old student living in Hungary. I started photography three years ago when I realized how much joy I find in taking photos of nature and animals. Since then I have photographed uncountable priceless moments, but my own dogs have stayed my biggest inspiration all along. For me, the…
Title of image: ‘One heart, one family’ Dogs: Dash, Royal, Harley, Ženka, Ryan, Ready, all border collies ‘I am Tamara Kedves, a 16 years old student living in Hungary. I started photography three years ago when I realized how much joy I find in taking photos of nature and animals. Since then I have photographed uncountable priceless moments, but my own dogs have stayed my biggest inspiration all along. For me, the purpose of photography is capturing a memory and make it last forever, as well as expressing my love for dogs through my pictures. My biggest goal is to make outdoor dog photography more popular with the creative use of lights and colours, while motivating other aspiring photographers. This family photo was taken in a sunny spring afternoon as the last shot of the session. It perfectly expresses what dogs and photographing them means to me: not only the deepest harmony and happiness, but spending time with whom and what I love the most: dogs!’ – Tamara Kedves
Title of image: ‘Reassurance’ Dog: Rocko, German Shepherd Dog ‘My thought process behind this picture is one that is close to my heart. My brother is ex-military as are some of my friends. I have seen first-hand some of the issues that war can have on even the strongest of men. The ex-soldier in the photo suffered great loss in Afghanistan and suffers from PTSD so that’s when Rocko came to his…
Title of image: ‘Reassurance’ Dog: Rocko, German Shepherd Dog ‘My thought process behind this picture is one that is close to my heart. My brother is ex-military as are some of my friends. I have seen first-hand some of the issues that war can have on even the strongest of men. The ex-soldier in the photo suffered great loss in Afghanistan and suffers from PTSD so that’s when Rocko came to his rescue. Rocko the German Shepherd has been trained by his handler to help combat the effects of PTSD, the skills of which help calm and reassure the soldier when times get hard. In my photograph I tried to capture not just how this dog aids this PTSD sufferer but also to capture the kind nature of the dog and how he enriches this man’s life. I have been following and admiring the work carried out by Service Dogs UK, the charity I am nominating for this category prize donation from the Kennel Club Charitable Trust. I am amazed by how affective dogs can be in assisting an individual with their recovery. So I decided to base my entry for this category on this issue and hope that in doing so will raise awareness of this worthy charity.’ – Dean Mortimer
Title of image: â€˜Dinner?â€™ Dog: Dallas, Whippet ‘My name is Sienna Wemyss, Iâ€™m 10 years old and Iâ€™m from England, UK. When I grow up, I want to be a fashion photographer and designer. I have loved dogs since I first encountered one! There are so many different kinds of dogs and they are all so unique. My dream came true in January this year when I became the proud owner of…
Title of image: â€˜Dinner?â€™ Dog: Dallas, Whippet ‘My name is Sienna Wemyss, Iâ€™m 10 years old and Iâ€™m from England, UK. When I grow up, I want to be a fashion photographer and designer. I have loved dogs since I first encountered one! There are so many different kinds of dogs and they are all so unique. My dream came true in January this year when I became the proud owner of Dallas, a pedigree Whippet puppy. I was overjoyed! I was relaxing on the sofa one day when Dallas crawled beside me. I put my arms out, expecting him to come and cuddle me. Instead, he gazed at the kitchen dreamily! If he could speak then, I bet he would have said, â€˜Dinner?â€™ He looked very curious, so I grabbed my mumâ€™s phone and captured the moment.’ – Sienna Wemyss
Title of image: â€˜Waiting Beautyâ€™ Dog: Thalia, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever ‘This photo was taken during session around Old Market Square in PoznaÅ„. Iâ€™m still amazed how Thalia was calm and focus despite the city noise.’ – Katarzyna Siminiak
Title of image: â€˜Black Velvetâ€™ Dog: Widgets Bonnie Lass aka Bonnie, English Working Cocker Spaniel ‘This image was taken whilst out on a walk with my Working Cocker Spaniel, Bonnie. I very rarely take my camera with my on dog walks, as this is my opportunity to clear my head and have some â€˜me timeâ€™. But the purple heather was just too beautiful to leave it behind. After all, who doesnâ€™t love…
Title of image: â€˜Black Velvetâ€™ Dog: Widgets Bonnie Lass aka Bonnie, English Working Cocker Spaniel ‘This image was taken whilst out on a walk with my Working Cocker Spaniel, Bonnie. I very rarely take my camera with my on dog walks, as this is my opportunity to clear my head and have some â€˜me timeâ€™. But the purple heather was just too beautiful to leave it behind. After all, who doesnâ€™t love black and purple? – Alice Loder
Title of image: â€˜Glenturret Autumn Goldâ€™ Dog: Crew, Darcie, Pagan (Glenturret) Flat Coated Retrievers ‘The photograph was taken on the last day of October 2016 in the UK as we had the best autumn for years for it colours for many years but this day there was a mist in the background to make the photo magical. The photo was taken at Ash Rangers where the dogs walk daily â€“ Crew,…
Title of image: â€˜Glenturret Autumn Goldâ€™ Dog: Crew, Darcie, Pagan (Glenturret) Flat Coated Retrievers ‘The photograph was taken on the last day of October 2016 in the UK as we had the best autumn for years for it colours for many years but this day there was a mist in the background to make the photo magical. The photo was taken at Ash Rangers where the dogs walk daily â€“ Crew, Darcie and Pagan. This photo is memorable due to Crewâ€™s short life cut short at 3 with IBD disease.’ – Carol Durrant
Title of image: â€˜Dolce far niente on a lovely afternoonâ€™ Dog: Godji, Portuguese Podengo crossbreed ‘I love this photo for many reasons: it was taken at my favourite beach, with my favourite man, with my favourite dog… and in the background there is an umbrella that belonged to my eternal love Nupi, an adventurous cocker spaniel who shared his life with me for almost 19 years. Godji, the beautiful dog in the…
Title of image: â€˜Dolce far niente on a lovely afternoonâ€™ Dog: Godji, Portuguese Podengo crossbreed ‘I love this photo for many reasons: it was taken at my favourite beach, with my favourite man, with my favourite dog… and in the background there is an umbrella that belonged to my eternal love Nupi, an adventurous cocker spaniel who shared his life with me for almost 19 years. Godji, the beautiful dog in the picture is a natural poser and sometimes people call her “supermodel of the world” and now she has become one!’ – Joana Matos
Title of image: â€˜Restingâ€™ Dog: Bentley, German Shorthaired Pointer ‘This particular photo was taken during an afternoon walk through a local woodland. The ferns were looking wonderful and provided a perfect natural avenue to draw the viewers’ eye in to my subject. I asked Bentley to lay down and he did so with the most beautiful, almost grave expression. They say that eyes are the windows to the soul, and looking at…
Title of image: â€˜Restingâ€™ Dog: Bentley, German Shorthaired Pointer ‘This particular photo was taken during an afternoon walk through a local woodland. The ferns were looking wonderful and provided a perfect natural avenue to draw the viewers’ eye in to my subject. I asked Bentley to lay down and he did so with the most beautiful, almost grave expression. They say that eyes are the windows to the soul, and looking at Bentley here I’d be inclined to agree.’ – Philip Wright
Title of image: â€˜Snowy Shenanigansâ€™ Dogs: Daffy, Taz, and Wile E. (left to right); Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers ‘We had just moved from one of the snowiest cities (Erie, PA) to the middle of nowhere USA (yes, I love you dear Indiana). I didnâ€™t expect much snow, but come on! It was nearly mid-February and not a flake! My boys were used to lots of snow having lived in Erie…
Title of image: â€˜Snowy Shenanigansâ€™ Dogs: Daffy, Taz, and Wile E. (left to right); Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers ‘We had just moved from one of the snowiest cities (Erie, PA) to the middle of nowhere USA (yes, I love you dear Indiana). I didnâ€™t expect much snow, but come on! It was nearly mid-February and not a flake! My boys were used to lots of snow having lived in Erie but Daffy hadnâ€™t a clue. And then, it happened: Old man winter arrived. Shame on him, while I was at work, no less! By the time 5 pm rolled around, I was in our backyard – Frisbee soaring and camera in hand. Meet Daffy, Taz, and Wile E. We LOVE frisbee!’ – Sarah Beeson
Title of image: â€˜Over the sea of fogâ€™ Pet name: Dania, Cross breed Portuguese Podengo, rescue dog ‘My name is Christina and I was born in Munich. I moved to a small village next to Innsbruck in Austria together with my husband 11 years ago. After having settled down, we adopted two rescue dogs from Spain, thrown away like garbage, found in a dustbin. It wasn’t possible to literally touch Dania for…
Title of image: â€˜Over the sea of fogâ€™ Pet name: Dania, Cross breed Portuguese Podengo, rescue dog ‘My name is Christina and I was born in Munich. I moved to a small village next to Innsbruck in Austria together with my husband 11 years ago. After having settled down, we adopted two rescue dogs from Spain, thrown away like garbage, found in a dustbin. It wasn’t possible to literally touch Dania for the first six month. Now we spend all the time together. The dogs accompany us to work and in our leisure time we explore the nature together. My wish was to fix the special mood of these moments, staying outside, enjoying nature together and acting as a team. For this reason, inspired by my husband, who is a landscape photographer, I got in touch with photography three years ago. On the picture you can see one of these very special moments. We hiked on Keipen on Senja [Norway] last year and stood speechless on top when the nature was bathed in golden light by the midnight sun. Everything was calm and peaceful. The dogs and us were completely on our own. This is one of my absolutely all-time favourite pictures from our trips.’ – Christina Roemmelt
mage title: â€˜Wayneâ€™s Teamâ€™ Dogs: (Back row) Skye age 13. Lemon Working Cocker. Wayneâ€™s soul mate. Loving, stubborn and wild when she was younger. (Front row) Jenny age 9. Liver Working Cocker. Daughter of Skye. Tough as old boots yet loves to be cuddled. The boss! Pippin – age 1. Yellow Retriever. Extremely intelligent and is always a thousand miles an hour. Milly – age 4. Black Retriever. Pippinâ€™s Mother. Grease…
mage title: â€˜Wayneâ€™s Teamâ€™ Dogs: (Back row) Skye age 13. Lemon Working Cocker. Wayneâ€™s soul mate. Loving, stubborn and wild when she was younger. (Front row) Jenny age 9. Liver Working Cocker. Daughter of Skye. Tough as old boots yet loves to be cuddled. The boss! Pippin – age 1. Yellow Retriever. Extremely intelligent and is always a thousand miles an hour. Milly – age 4. Black Retriever. Pippinâ€™s Mother. Grease Lightening and on fire, especially on Grouse. Bramble – age 6. Lemon / White Working Cocker. Hates to be told off. Always wants to please. Obsessed about checking scent. Loves a cuddle and very affectionate. Ember – age 3. Yellow Retriever. So laid back. Very independent and works on her own. Always picks up. Extremely eager. Bonnie – age 4. Yellow/White Working Cocker. Very loving however a little arrogant! Always has her nose to the ground but slow to retrieve. Always loves a cuddle. ‘I was in photographer’s heaven whilst out on the shoot with Wayneâ€™s Team of working dogs. It was a privilege to watch them, tails held high, nose to the ground and retrieving. All of them totally in tune with Wayne Green, hanging on every command and thoroughly enjoying their job. Its days like this and the reality of life that I am looking to capture in my images. To document life, as it is, with passion. I always promised myself at the age of forty I was going to follow my dream to and become the best photographer I could be. Now at forty eight, through passion, hard work and determination, I have a photography business I am very proud of.’ – Tracy Kidd
Title of Image: â€˜Water Workâ€™ Dog: Thoven, Golden Retriever ‘I am a photographer from Minneapolis, MN. I photograph products and people to fill my wallet, but I photograph dogs to fill my soul. I’ve always been a dog lover, but my true love of pet photography began when I adopted two rescue dogs as puppies and I photographed them playing and growing up together. I love how dogs never pose, and you…
Title of Image: â€˜Water Workâ€™ Dog: Thoven, Golden Retriever ‘I am a photographer from Minneapolis, MN. I photograph products and people to fill my wallet, but I photograph dogs to fill my soul. I’ve always been a dog lover, but my true love of pet photography began when I adopted two rescue dogs as puppies and I photographed them playing and growing up together. I love how dogs never pose, and you can always read their expressions — they aren’t hiding anything. This photo was taken the first time I ever attempted photographing anything under water. A friend opened up her pool to me, and we had the dog play fetch while I snapped photos beneath the surface. It was so challenging to get the focus quickly when the dog jumped in, but it was so much fun to try!’- Leslie Plesser
Title of image: â€˜A Veterans Best Friendâ€™ Dog: Delta, White Swiss Shepherd ‘I am an ambassador for the Kotuku Foundation for Assistance Animals Aotearoa, who source, train and place dogs with people who have any diagnosed condition that dogs are known to be capable of assisting with. This includes diabetes, head injuries, depression and PTSI and many more. Dion is a veteran who fought, and was injured, at the battle of Baghak…
Title of image: â€˜A Veterans Best Friendâ€™ Dog: Delta, White Swiss Shepherd ‘I am an ambassador for the Kotuku Foundation for Assistance Animals Aotearoa, who source, train and place dogs with people who have any diagnosed condition that dogs are known to be capable of assisting with. This includes diabetes, head injuries, depression and PTSI and many more. Dion is a veteran who fought, and was injured, at the battle of Baghak in 2012. He experienced PTSI and says that ever since Delta came into his life she has made a huge difference. Dogs assisting veterans are now common around the world, but Delta is the first of her kind here in New Zealand.’ – Craig Turner-Bullock
Title of image: â€˜Hide and Seekâ€™ Dog: Big City Borders Lad, Border Collie ‘I am an 18 year old girl from the Netherlands who loves agility, traveling and photography. The dog in the photo is Fenrir, my youngest dog. He is the perfect model, and the reason why I picked up the camera again. The camera that I normally use is the Nikon D500, but it needed to be repaired so I…
Title of image: â€˜Hide and Seekâ€™ Dog: Big City Borders Lad, Border Collie ‘I am an 18 year old girl from the Netherlands who loves agility, traveling and photography. The dog in the photo is Fenrir, my youngest dog. He is the perfect model, and the reason why I picked up the camera again. The camera that I normally use is the Nikon D500, but it needed to be repaired so I used my dadâ€™s D5200 for this photo. This photo was taken in the forest near my house. I went there with my Border Collie Lad Fenrir to test my dadâ€™s new camera.’ – Kirsten van Ravenhorst
Title of image: â€˜Small lady in the cloud of ginger hairâ€™ Dog: SMILAIN AMI DEZ ROUZEZ, Yorkshire Terrier ‘My favorite dog named Amy is on the photo. Amy is the real terrier and has the character of a true lady – knows her value and has an ability to put her best foot forward with the highest dignity.’ – Viktoria Baranova
Title of image: â€˜I’ve got your backâ€™ Dog: Nyx, German Shepherd Dog (bitch) ‘For me, the title sums up the image perfectly from both sides. This is a young trainee Police Dog undergoing some initial training. Taken on a miserable, damp day, it shows elements of the bond, trust and relationship that is vital for the partnership between Police Dog and handler.’ – Ian Squire
Title of image: â€˜Springer in the Mistâ€™ Dog: Tarly, English Springer Spaniel ‘These are the sort of conditions I dream about for photography! This morning it all came together perfectly great subject and fantastic dramatic natural light to work with.’ – Richard Lane
Title of image: â€˜Sticking Togetherâ€™ Dogs: Beagle mix puppies ‘Since early last year, my partner Raymond Janis and I have had the honour of supporting the Vanderpump Dogs Foundation in Los Angeles by photographing their adoptable dogs. In July 2017, we met these adorable beagle mix puppies. As Raymond tried to wrangle them, something magical happened and I was able to capture a perfect moment of a puppy family sticking together.’ -…
Title of image: â€˜Sticking Togetherâ€™ Dogs: Beagle mix puppies ‘Since early last year, my partner Raymond Janis and I have had the honour of supporting the Vanderpump Dogs Foundation in Los Angeles by photographing their adoptable dogs. In July 2017, we met these adorable beagle mix puppies. As Raymond tried to wrangle them, something magical happened and I was able to capture a perfect moment of a puppy family sticking together.’ – Charlie Nunn
Title of image: â€˜Reflective Dayâ€™ Dog: Maisie, Lab collie cross Euan is 8 years old and lives in the countryside in Aberdeenshire with his parents and 2 sisters. He loves all animals and as well as Maisie, has a cat, leopard geckos, fish and rats. His favourite thing is going for a family cycle with Maisie along the disused railway lines and stopping to find geocaches on the way. He loves walking…
Title of image: â€˜Reflective Dayâ€™ Dog: Maisie, Lab collie cross Euan is 8 years old and lives in the countryside in Aberdeenshire with his parents and 2 sisters. He loves all animals and as well as Maisie, has a cat, leopard geckos, fish and rats. His favourite thing is going for a family cycle with Maisie along the disused railway lines and stopping to find geocaches on the way. He loves walking Maisie and throwing the ball for her. He thinks she is the best dog ever! The photo was taken after a big rainstorm in the playpark while Euan was waiting for his little sister to finish her football training. Euan and Maisie like splashing in puddles together. (Words by Euan written by Euan’s mum)
Title of Image: â€˜Montyâ€™ Dog: Monty, German Shorthaired Pointer ‘I live in the North East of England with my Mum, Dad, Sister Millie and two dogs; Monty & Chester. I have always loved animals and I am constantly entertaining my dogs. I have my own lightweight camera which I carry with me most places and always photographing the dogs. Mum had given me her camera (which is really heavy) and set me a…
Title of Image: â€˜Montyâ€™ Dog: Monty, German Shorthaired Pointer ‘I live in the North East of England with my Mum, Dad, Sister Millie and two dogs; Monty & Chester. I have always loved animals and I am constantly entertaining my dogs. I have my own lightweight camera which I carry with me most places and always photographing the dogs. Mum had given me her camera (which is really heavy) and set me a challenge to photograph either Monty or Chester for this competition, Chester wasnâ€™t interested but Monty was willing and keen to please – lots of treats were involved!’ – Maisie Mitford
Title of Image: â€˜Found My Way Homeâ€™ Dog: Cooper, Labrador Retriever Mix and rescue dog ‘It was very clear that Cooper was the first child for this beautiful and loving couple. In this shot, they are holding hands behind Cooperâ€™s drowsing head. It was a scene of pure contentment and love.’ – Sonya Kolb
Title of Image: â€˜Happy Girl Rescuedâ€™ Dog: Rescue dog cross breed (Hungarian Vizsla and Labrador Retriever) named Magda ‘This particular image is of my own rescue dog, Magda. She was a bit hesitant and shy when my husband and I came home with our baby, but when the baby went off to nursery school, she would curl up on his rocking chair and roll her fur all over, settling in for a…
Title of Image: â€˜Happy Girl Rescuedâ€™ Dog: Rescue dog cross breed (Hungarian Vizsla and Labrador Retriever) named Magda ‘This particular image is of my own rescue dog, Magda. She was a bit hesitant and shy when my husband and I came home with our baby, but when the baby went off to nursery school, she would curl up on his rocking chair and roll her fur all over, settling in for a nice nap.’ – Leslie Plesser
Title of image: â€˜My Best Friend Roxyâ€™ Dog: Roxy, German Shepherd Dog ‘My Name is Mariah Mobley and I am 11 years old. I have lived in Oregon, USA my whole life. I used to live on a farm with horses and dogs, but now live in town with my family, and our three dogs, Hunter, Roxy and Koby. I have always loved animals, especially dogs. I started taking pictures when I…
Title of image: â€˜My Best Friend Roxyâ€™ Dog: Roxy, German Shepherd Dog ‘My Name is Mariah Mobley and I am 11 years old. I have lived in Oregon, USA my whole life. I used to live on a farm with horses and dogs, but now live in town with my family, and our three dogs, Hunter, Roxy and Koby. I have always loved animals, especially dogs. I started taking pictures when I was a very little girl, and have loved it ever since. I took this photo of Roxy, at about 9Pm, just before I went to bed. It was dark and she was sitting on our back porch waiting for mom to give her a treat. I used a modelling light and the porch light to put light on her pretty face. We adopted
Just kidding, I am writing this to myself, but feel free to join me if this is something you struggle with. I expect a lot. I have an idea in my mind of what I want and I hold on dearly to it. Maybe my imagination gets the best of me most days, but I really want a marriage that is full of romance and adventure. I want to be pursued and cherished and I want to be loved beyond all reason. Did you notice how many times the word “I” was used in those [last] few sentences?
Let’s get the most important and obvious thing out of the way first: I am loved beyond all reason by God, and have all I need in Him. Expecting that from my spouse is kind of asking a lot. Still, we all have a need to feel loved by those with skin on. But maybe it’s more about giving than receiving.
I was doing the dishes and listening to my music shuffling on the speakers in the kitchen. The song, “Unconditionally” came on, by Katy Perry. Now, far be it from me to attach biblical truths to pop songs on the radio, but this song sort of hit me hard. I know, that sounds kind of cheesy, but this is why. She wasn’t singing her heart out about being loved unconditionally. She was singing about loving unconditionally. I stood there with tears falling into the soapy sink and I swear I heard my selfish expectations clinking onto the floor.
I’ll take the bad days with your good, walk through the storm I would…I do it all because I love you…I love you…
I felt a thought settle softly into my mind as I scrubbed that plate. I can only control half of this equation. I can’t expect some specific kind display of affection that measures up to my wants, and then complain when it doesn’t happen. Maybe my husband has his own unspoken hopes of being loved in a certain way. Maybe I am a bit too self-focused. Maybe I expect more than I offer.
All your insecurities, all your dirty laundry, never made me blink one time…I will love you unconditionally…
Instead of looking at my needs, which are full of comparisons, expectations, and imaginations, I could stand to take a little bit of time and think of what my husband might appreciate. It’s easy to sulk because I am not being serenaded outside our bedroom window, but hey, I can sing too.
When you feel frustrated that things are not what you ever imagined them to be, try to remember that expecting too much will always leave longing for more. William Shakespeare told us, “Expectation is the root of all heartache.” He wasn’t kidding.
So here is an idea. Turn that heartache around and love without reserve. Love him with no strings attached. Love him for who he is today. Love him for who he was, and for who God is making him to be. Start saying “You” more than “I.”
I can love my husband unconditionally and freely, because I am already loved this way by my Lord. What I need, I have. So I give as best I can, be it only in my human strength. Whatever is lacking will be made up for and more.
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” —Matthew 7:12
The city owns the 22-acre plot, which pokes out of the East River between the South Bronx’s industrial coast and a notorious prison: Rikers Island Correctional Center.
It’s illegal for the public to set foot on North Brother Island and its smaller companion, South Brother Island. But even birds seem to avoid its crumbling, abandoned structures (and contrary to Broad City’s depiction of the island, there isn’t a package pick-up center).
In 2017, producers for the Science Channel obtained the city’s permission to visit North Brother Island — and the crew invited Business Insider to tag along.
Here’s what we saw and learned while romping around one of New York’s spookiest and most forgotten places.
North Brother Island is accessible only by boat. Leaving from Barretto Point Park in the South Bronx is one of the quickest ways to get there.
Watch your step — the boat ramp is covered in slippery algae at low tide.
This small aluminum boat was our ride.
The East River was crawling with police, probably because Rikers Island Correctional Institute is less than a mile away — and they are wary of anyone visiting North Brother Island.
No one is permitted to visit the island without permission from the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, which manages the site as a bird sanctuary. One of their escorts also has to tag along everywhere you go.
Pulling up to the island, we navigated around rotten dock supports. The ferry dock and its rusted derrick looked ready to collapse at any moment.
The island was first claimed in 1614 and inhabited in 1885, and its history is checkered with death, disease, and decay.
In June 1904, for instance, a steamship called the General Slocum burst into flames and sank in the East River. Though 321 people survived, the bodies of 1,021 passengers who died washed ashore for days.
The arc-shaped Hell Gate Bridge on the East River is visible from North Brother’s western shore.
The island’s buildings used to run on a coal-fired power plant. Workers loaded the bituminous fuel onto this dock — but now it’s sinking, covered in kelp, and totally submerged at high tide.
Sea levels could rise by as much as 2.5 feet in the next 35 years around New York City. If and when a large hurricane rolls through as the waters rise, the surges will swallow the island’s habitats, ecology, structures, and history.
After we arrived on shore, we stowed camera equipment, food, and other supplies inside this old transformer vault.
It was falling apart, like everything else on the island, but was one of the most stable structures with a functional roof — and rain clouds immediately began to threaten our day trip.
Streets and sidewalks are almost unrecognizable due to the overgrowth.
But there are signs of previous habitation everywhere, like this corroding trash can.
The island sub-canopy is covered in native plants both small and impressively large.
One of the first buildings I saw was the morgue (right). The fractured chimney of a coal-fired boiler room (left) is also visible from miles away.
At every turn, the decay is both eerie and beautiful.
You have to look where you’re going, or you’ll run into spider webs big enough to boggle the mind.
From the 1880s through 1943, the city quarantined people sick with highly contagious diseases on the island — including the infamous “Typhoid Mary” Mallon. Those who died were stored in the morgue.
Much of the equipment was left when inhabitants abandoned the island in 1963.
Some facilities are almost unrecognizable. Ivy has completely choked out this double tennis court.
Rather than take the ferry each day, some hospital workers opted to live in the Nurse’s Home. Bathtubs have fallen through the ceiling of the 40,000-square-foot Victorian-style mansion, which was built in 1905.
The Staff House is one of the oldest and most dilapidated structures. It was constructed in 1885.
It could collapse any day now.
Further down the main road is the Male Dormitory.
It was also built in 1885, and has trees growing through its roof.
The dormitory became a nursery school for veterans’ families who lived on the island during the post-World World II housing crisis, from 1946 through 1951.
After 1951 and until the island’s abandonment, the building was used as a drug rehabilitation center.
It feels like wandering around an post-apocalyptic playground at times.
Few animals seem to live here, and a Parks and Recreation official said that mammals are practically nonexistent — no rats, chipmunks, mice, and the like.
The largest building on the island was one of the last to be completed: The Tuberculosis Pavilion.
It is a sprawling four-story, 83,000-square-foot building that was designed to house people sick with tuberculosis, but then World War II broke out.
The $1.2 million facility was finished in 1943 and never treated a tuberculosis patient; instead, it housed World War II veterans.
It is a large, looming, and creepy building that we wanted to explore, but couldn’t. But like many structures, we were able to peek through broken or missing windows.
The south end of the tubercular ward had a kitchen.
The island is a place few people would dare spend a night on, but it seemed more sad than spooky to me the more I explored it.
The structures, like the Physician’s Home, built in 1926, are on the verge of collapse. But they were probably once beautiful, and might have even been useful today — had they been maintained.
The island struggled to find its purpose after a tuberculosis vaccine emerged in 1943, and soldiers found places to live on the mainland.
Owners of the island tried to reinvent it as a rehabilitation camp for troubled teens, from 1952 through 1963. But patients didn’t get the help they needed when returning home after three- to five-month stays. The program was considered a failure.
Everyone left in 1963, and then the city took custody of the island. A lack of close management made it a looting grounds for vandals. To this day, the city has yet to figure out if and how it will let the public set foot there again.
In this moment, there is only one thing I wish to know, and those are the words coming out of Sylvester Stallone’s mouth—if indeed they are words. I’m watching Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Incomprehensibly, Stallone has a small part in it, speaking, as he often does, incomprehensibly. But, gosh, he looks very important. Therefore he must be saying something important. Probably the whole of this film depends on it.
So I rewind Netflix, one of life’s more torturous little rituals. Then I squeeze my eyes shut—the better, I believe, to open my ears. Don’t anyone move, I mind-command the empty room. When Stallone speaks again, I’m prepared, my breath held tight. This is what I hear: “In Santo which is warmer but I ain’t got married and I said let me oh I know the girl.”
Stallone’s a special kind of mumbler, obviously. But this is not some rando-Rambo exception. I find myself rewinding constantly in the modern era, straining to hear. Auditory breakdowns repeat, loop, divide. Movies and TV are, it seems, simply harder to hear in general these days.
Part of it is relative: When you watch more TV, you miss more TV. This very second, in living rooms nationwide, innumerable couch-bound bingers are failing to synthesize a piece of dialog emanating from their new-age sound bars, and it pains them. Whether it’s Bernard in Westworld or Jon Snow in Game of Thrones, the lines are not cohering into meaningful English. “What did he say?”—already the most uttered (and annoying) question in the history of talking pictures—is by now a nightly interrogation, yanny/laurel times a million.
Some of it might be the happy result of ever-globalizing TV options. As the world shrinks, more people of every background are losing themselves, via the hottest new escapisms, in foreign dialects and cultures. Chewing Gum, the British comedy set on a council estate in East London, sparkles with slang that blows right past most Americans. Without the right context, we don’t hear it.
But that’s an issue of comprehension, of understanding. My concern here is more the failure of literal, physical hearing. (Bernard speaks very slowly in Westworld, yet I hear very little.) You sense it, don’t you? More “Huh?” in conversation, more “Say again?” and “Beg pardon?” What’s so frustrating at home, in front of the TV, is that actors won’t repeat themselves. The problem is more acute.
Maybe the problem is our ears. Maybe, jabbed and stuffed as they are with so much sleek contemporary accessory, they’re simply overburdened. Except mine, I dare say, are not. I protect them from the oontz-oontz of so-called music, along with any other unwelcome invasions; earbuds have been pressed into their softness maybe three times. (So pristine is my hearing, in fact, that I can count among my favorite sensory experiences the sound a semi-sautéed mushroom makes after it slips out of a French skillet and falls, by gravity’s good grace, to the kitchen floor. If the linoleum is just right and the room sensibly hushed, you’ll perceive a wet, perky slap—bpuhk!—as though some tiny winged creature with tinier hands has popped an interdimensional bubble. Hearing something so small enlarges your soul.)
Even aurally gifted as all that, however, I still find myself constantly asking of the television set: “Eh?”
Here’s what Stallone really says in Guardians 2: “After going around in circles with this woman I end up marrying. I said, ‘Aleta, I love you, girl.’” Of course, I only know that because I cheated. Clicked Menu, clicked Subtitles, clicked English CC. When I turn on those words, my body untenses. Not even the most inconsequential bit of throwaway dialog is safe from the rigorous, trustworthy pen of closed captioning. At last, I can hear everything.
Subtitles have been around since the early ’70s. (Julia Child was one of the first beneficiaries, her joyful warble rendered in sentences her audience of “servantless American cooks” could follow, both linguistically and culinarily, with ease.) Essential for deaf people and English language learners, and scientifically shown to promote reading comprehension and retention, subtitles have only recently become essential for many TV watchers, period. A smattering of online encomia tell you it’s the only way to watch. One Redditor asks in r/movies, “I like having subtitles with everything I watch. Anything wrong with this?” Almost everyone responds supportively, including this person: “I cannot fully enjoy any video without subtitles. At all.”
Many people I know IRL can relate, from bankers and meditators to jocks, UX designers, and writers. My anecdata turns up no gender preferences. Couples seem overrepresented, presumably because one influences the other. “Well, they insist on watching everything with subtitles,” one says of their partner. “But now I like doing it too.” Great, fine! But uh, why bother making excuses?
Because—there’s still something not quite right with the idea, is there? It doesn’t sit well, watching everything this way. Last year, Refinery29 ran a piece, “Get Over Your Fear Of Subtitles, Please,” in which the writer extols the benefits: you can appreciate the script, you know whose off-screen voice you’re hearing, you can chuckle at the poetic attempts by caption writers to convey background noises (“[bestial squall]”). To those others have added: you can watch at low volume, you can clean or eat or otherwise make general ruckus while watching. Inside the screen, diegetic minutiae—passerby conversations, a snippet of a TV news story—takes on new clarity, giving shape to the world of a story. The fuzziness solidifies, control overlaying chaos.
Thus the modern condition asserts itself. If there is something we can know, we do everything in our power to know it, regardless of our actual level of investment. When someone at the dinner table idly wonders, say, what Memorial Day memorializes, it’s a game of fastest Google-finger. Uncertainty causes gas; search is Tums. Now we can keep eating.
Except these are quick fixes. They provide only momentary relief. They also upset natural rhythms. The same is true of captions. They ruin anything dependent on timing, like jokes or moments of tension. (Imagine reading “Luke, I am your father” a half-second before hearing it.) We end up staring more at actors’ torsos than at their faces. As in life, we make less and less eye contact. Small bursts of text are how we comprehend the world now. We must see the printed words in order to believe them. Look, can you believe he said that? Yes, it’s right there!
Just as quickly, though, the words are gone, comprehensively forgotten. “After going around in circles with this woman I end up marrying. I said, ‘Aleta, I love you, girl.” What even is that? None of that filler matters to the Guardians 2 plot (such as it is). Half of those words are spoken off-camera. In a very real way we were not meant to know them, merely to register their hum. But like Google, closed captions are there, eminently accessible, ready to clarify the unclarities, and so, desperately, we, the paranoids and obsessive-compulsives and postmodern completists, click.
No, subtitles are not the solution. They flatten our perception. Sounds are more muted these days because there are too many of them, every utterance equally weighted and demanding of us total comprehension. Look at the words themselves. All too often they are meaningless. Yet we painstakingly rewind Netflix anyway, backward, backward, backward, stuck in a garbled loop. Bpuhk, pop—get me out.
Ice cream is one of the sweetest ways to cool down when it’s hot out, but you may have noticed that the prices of the artisanal kind are rising as fast as the temperature.
Sure, you can get your fix at the supermarket, where you’ll spend about $4 for a tub of Breyers, but if you head to a small-batch scoop shop, you’ll spend around the same amount for just one scoop ($4.10 per scoop at Portland, Oregon-based Salt & Straw and $5.50 at Brooklyn-based Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream). And you’ll pay double that for a pint ($9 at Salt & Straw, $10 at Van Leeuwen).
Even compared to higher-end commercial brands like Häagen-Dazs ($5.19/pint) and Ben & Jerry’s ($4.79/pint), artisanal ice cream is significantly more expensive.
We’re using the term “artisanal” to encompass small-batch producers like Salt & Straw (which makes all of its ice creams by hand in 5-gallon batches), unlike commercial companies that churn out hundreds of gallons at a time. Ben & Jerry’s, for example, mixes its ice cream bases in a 1,000-gallon stainless steel blending tank.
If you’ve ever wondered why you’re paying so much more for artisanal ice cream, it comes down to three major factors: ingredients, processes and distribution. And they’re legitimate ― you’re not just paying for fancy flavors and pretty labels. Let’s break it down.
Ingredients: From bases to blueberries, premium ingredients cost significantly more.
At its core, ice cream is made with milk, cream and sugar. Companies can play with the amounts of these base ingredients, plus the amounts of overrun (the amount of air incorporated into the mixture), emulsifiers, stabilizers and mix-ins.
However, to legally call a product ice cream, it must satisfy certain standards outlined by the United States Department of Agriculture. Most notably, ice cream must weigh at least 4.5 pounds/gallon and contain at least 10 percent fat from milk. Take a closer look at this carton of Breyers and you’ll see it’s labeled as a “frozen dairy dessert,” not ice cream.
Exact compositions vary, but when comparing standard brands to their premium counterparts, there are some consistent variances, which are outlined in an ice cream ebook by Professor H. Douglas Goff of the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. The most expensive brands have the highest amount of fat (15 to 18 percent) and the lowest amount of overrun (25 to 50 percent), while economical brands often go as low as legal requirements permit: 10 percent fat and around 120 percent overrun.
One hundred percent overrun means that 50 percent of the resulting ice cream is mixture (milk and cream) and the other 50 percent is air, explains Kimberly Bukowski, a dairy foods extension specialist at Cornell University. Anything over 100 percent overrun means that the ice cream is more air than mixture.
Fat, meanwhile, is central to the texture and taste of ice cream. “Fat is the No. 1 thing you’re paying for, and that’s something you can’t fake,” Tyler Malek, head ice cream maker and co-founder of Salt & Straw, told HuffPost.
More fat means more interaction between fat molecules as the ice cream is mixed, which destabilizes the molecules and creates a larger structure that gives ice cream a smooth texture. “It’s this inner structure in your ice cream that is so velvety and it’s got that chew to it,” Malek says. “Your teeth will push through it in this way you can’t even explain, and that’s what great ice cream does for you.“
But fat (cream) is expensive, so you see less of it in mass-market brands. With less fat present, emulsifiers and stabilizers are especially needed to help bring the mixture together and maintain an ideal texture.
If you’ve ever wondered why you’re paying so much more for artisanal ice cream, it comes down to three major factors: ingredients, processes and distribution.
Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream has a purist approach and only uses organic egg yolks as a natural stabilizer. Malek, on the other hand, sees value in using certain stabilizers like guar gum, xanthan gum and carrageenan at Salt & Straw ― but only when used appropriately. He draws the line when companies try to get away with using significantly less fat and compensating with stabilizers to “mimic all the fat texture with gums and enzymes that are stripping the fat in unnatural ways.”
Emulsifiers and stabilizers aren’t all bad, though, and Bukowski notes they are essential for ice creams that go through a distribution chain because they help maintain the product’s quality as temperatures change from the factory freezer to the truck and eventually the customer’s home.
Beyond the all-important ice cream base, working in small batches gives artisanal ice cream makers greater freedom to create unique flavors and use high-quality ingredients.
Van Leeuwen claims to use the best ingredients for every flavor, from Michel Cluizel chocolate from Normandy to pistachios grown on the slopes of a volcano in Sicily. Fresh ingredients like berries are sourced from Oregon, where they’re allowed to ripen completely and within hours of picking are processed into a puree and flash-frozen. All add-ins, such as honeycomb (broken by hand) and cookie dough (featuring uneven-sized chunks of bean-to-bar Askinosie chocolate made especially for Van Leeuwen) are made in-house, because it’s been a challenge to outsource production while still being able to incorporate these hand-selected ingredients.
“We’ll never compromise because we’re very sensitive to taste,” Ben Van Leeuwen told HuffPost. “We want things to be amazing.”
The Process: Different types of freezers affect how much ice cream you can make at a time.
Commercial producers make ice cream using continuous freezers, while artisanal makers use batch freezers. If you have no idea what those are, here’s the deal.
In continuous freezers, the ice cream mix is added to the machine, which can make an endless amount of batches as mixture goes in one end and ice cream comes out the other, Bukowski explains.
Batch freezers, on the other hand, can only make a set amount of ice cream at a time. Bukowski likens the batch freezer to a washing machine. Ingredients are added into the machine, which agitates and freezes the mix, and when the ice cream achieves the desired frozen state, it’s poured into containers.
Though the continuous freezer is more efficient, from a quality standpoint, it’s unclear which machine makes the better product.
“People have feelings on both, that you can get the best ice cream out of a continuous freezer and others feel you can get the best ice cream out of a batch freezer,” Bukowski says. She has experience working at a commercial ice cream company and later owned two ice cream shops, where she made her own product. “It just depends on what your preferences are. I think you can make great ice cream off of both.”
Distribution: Wholesome mom-and-pop service comes at a cost.
The brick-and-mortar method of selling ice cream by the scoop and the occasional pint comes with a set of inefficiencies and added costs (rent, employees to scoop ice cream, etc.) that are not present in the retail model, though shipping ice cream across long distances and managing large-scale distribution comes with its own costs and complications.
In terms of scaling up a business, however, it is a more straightforward process to increase wholesale than open more stores, Ben Van Leeuwen explained in an interview with The New Food Economy.
For companies like Van Leeuwen and Salt & Straw, the brick-and-mortar experience is central to brand identity. Salt & Straw releases a set of new flavors every four weeks, which follow a monthly theme and vary between stores.
“When you come into Salt & Straw, it’s going to be a completely different experience in Seattle versus Los Angeles,” Malek says. “It’s going to be this celebration of what’s going on at that moment in that one city and I think that’s really special.”
Considering all the elements that make artisanal ice cream more expensive, in the end, it all comes down to whether your taste buds can tell the difference to make it worth your money. And these artisanal brands are banking on the refinement of your taste buds.
Everyone who has seen The Social Network knows the story of Facebook’s founding. It was at Harvard in the spring semester of 2004. What people tend to forget, however, is that Facebook was only based in Cambridge for a few short months. Back then it was called TheFacebook.com, and it was a college-specific carbon copy of Friendster, a pioneering social network based in Silicon Valley.
Mark Zuckerberg’s knockoff site was a hit on campus, and so he and a few school chums decided to move to Silicon Valley after finals and spend the summer there rolling Facebook out to other colleges, nationwide. The Valley was where the internet action was. Or so they thought.
In Silicon Valley during the mid-aughts the conventional wisdom was that the internet gold rush was largely over. The land had been grabbed. The frontier had been settled. The web had been won. Hell, the boom had gone bust three years earlier. Yet nobody ever bothered to send the memo to Mark Zuckerberg—because at the time, Zuck was a nobody: an ambitious teenaged college student obsessed with the computer underground. He knew his way around computers, but other than that, he was pretty clueless—when he was still at Harvard someone had to explain to him that internet sites like Napster were actually businesses, built by corporations.
But Zuckerberg could hack, and that fateful summer he ended up meeting a few key Silicon Valley players who would end up radically changing the direction of what was, at the time, a company in name only. For this oral history of those critical months back in 2004 and 2005, I interviewed all the key players and talked to a few other figures who had insight into the founding era. What emerged, as you’ll see, is a portrait of a corporate proto-culture that continues to exert an influence on Facebook today. The whole enterprise began as something of a lark, it was an un-corporation, an excuse for a summer of beer pong and code sprints. Indeed, Zuckerberg’s first business cards read, “I’m CEO … bitch.” The brogrammer ’tude was a joke … or was it?
Sean Parker (cofounder of Napster and first president of Facebook): The dotcom era sort of ended with Napster, then there’s the dotcom bust, which leads to the social media era.
Steven Johnson (noted author and cultural commentator): At the time, the web was fundamentally a literary metaphor: “pages”—and then these hypertext links between pages. There was no concept of the user; that was not part of the metaphor at all.
Mark Pincus (co-owner of the fundamental social media patent): I mark Napster as the beginning of the social web—people, not pages. For me that was the breakthrough moment, because I saw that the internet could be this completely distributed peer-to-peer network. We could disintermediate those big media companies and all be connected to each other.
Steven Johnson: To me it really started with blogging in the early 2000s. You started to have these sites that were oriented around a single person’s point of view. It suddenly became possible to imagine, Oh, maybe there’s another element here that the web could also be organized around? Like I trust these five people, I’d like to see what they are suggesting. And that’s kind of what early blogging was like.
Ev Williams (founder of Blogger, Twitter, and Medium): Blogs then were link heavy and mostly about the internet. “We’re on the internet writing about the internet, and then linking to more of the internet, and isn’t that fun?”
Steven Johnson: You would pull together a bunch of different voices that would basically recommend links to you, and so there was a personal filter.
Mark Pincus: In 2002 Reid Hoffman and I started brainstorming: What if the web could be like a great cocktail party? Where you can walk away with these amazing leads, right? And what’s a good lead? A good lead is a job, an interview, a date, an apartment, a house, a couch.
And so Reid and I started saying, “Wow, this people web could actually generate something more valuable than Google, because you’re in this very, very highly vetted community that has some affinity to each other, and everyone is there for a reason, so you have trust.” The signal-to-noise ratio could be be very high. We called it Web 2.0, but nobody wanted to hear about it, because this was in the nuclear winter of the consumer internet.
Sean Parker: So during the period between 2000 and 2004, kind of leading up to Facebook, there is this feeling that everything that there was to be done with the internet has already been done. The absolute bottom is probably around 2002. PayPal goes public in 2002, and it’s the only consumer internet IPO. So there’s this weird interim period where there’s a total of only six companies funded or something like that. Plaxo was one of them. Plaxo was a proto–social network. It’s this in-between thing: some kind of weird fish with legs.
Aaron Sittig (graphic designer who invented the Facebook “like”): Plaxo is the missing link. Plaxo was the first viral growth company to really succeed intentionally. This is when we really started to understand viral growth.
Sean Parker: The most important thing I ever worked on was developing algorithms for optimizing virality at Plaxo.
Aaron Sittig: Viral growth is when people using the product spreads the product to other people—that’s it. It’s not people deciding to spread the product because they like it. It’s just people in the natural course of using the software to do what they want to do, naturally spreading it to other people.
Sean Parker: There was an evolution that took place from the sort of earliest proto–social network, which is probably Napster, to Plaxo, which only sort of resembled a social network but had many of the characteristics of one, then to LinkedIn, MySpace, and Friendster, then to this modern network which is Facebook.
Ezra Callahan (one of Facebook’s very first employees): In the early 2000s, Friendster gets all the early adopters, has a really dense network, has a lot of activity, and then just hits this breaking point.
Aaron Sittig: There was this big race going on and Friendster had really taken off, and it really seemed like Friendster had invented this new thing called “social networking,” and they were the winner, the clear winner. And it’s not entirely clear what happened, but the site just started getting slower and slower and at some point it just stopped working.
Ezra Callahan: And that opens the door for MySpace.
Ev Williams: MySpace was a big deal at the time.
Sean Parker: It was a complicated time. MySpace had very quickly taken over the world from Friendster. They’d seized the mantle. So Friendster was declining, MySpace was ascending.
Scott Marlette (programmer who put photo tagging on Facebook): MySpace was really popular, but then MySpace had scaling trouble, too.
Aaron Sittig: Then pretty much unheralded and not talked about much, Facebook launched in February of 2004.
Dustin Moskovitz (Zuckerberg’s original right-hand man): Back then there was a really common problem that now seems trivial. It was basically impossible to think of a person by name and go and look up their picture. All of the dorms at Harvard had individual directories called face books—some were printed, some were online, and most were only available to the students of that particular dorm. So we decided to create a unified version online and we dubbed it “The Facebook” to differentiate it from the individual ones.
Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook’s founder and current CEO): And within a couple weeks, a few thousand people had signed up. And we started getting emails from people at other colleges asking for us to launch it at their schools.
Ezra Callahan: Facebook launched at the Ivy Leagues originally, and it wasn’t because they were snooty, stuck-up kids who only wanted to give things to the Ivy Leagues. It was because they had this intuition that people who go to the Ivy Leagues are more likely to be friends with kids at other Ivy League schools.
Aaron Sittig: When Facebook launched at Berkeley, the rules of socializing just totally transformed. When I started at Berkeley, the way you found out about parties was you spent all week talking to people figuring out what was interesting, and then you’d have to constantly be in contact. With Facebook there, knowing what was going on on the weekend was trivial. It was just all laid out for you.
Facebook came to the Stanford campus—in the heart of Silicon Valley— quite early: March 2004.
Sean Parker: My roommates in Portola Valley were all going to Stanford.
Ezra Callahan: So I was a year out of Stanford, I graduated Stanford in 2003, and me and four of my college friends rented a house for that year just near the campus, and we had an extra bedroom available, and so we advertised around on a few Stanford email lists to find a roommate to move into that house with us. We got a reply from this guy named Sean Parker. He ended up moving in with us pretty randomly, and we discovered that while Napster had been a cultural phenomenon, it didn’t make him any money.
Sean Parker: And so the girlfriend of one of my roommates was using a product, and I was like, “You know, that looks a lot like Friendster or MySpace.” She’s like, “Oh yes, well, nobody in college uses MySpace.” There was something a little rough about MySpace.
Mark Zuckerberg: So MySpace had almost a third of their staff monitoring the pictures that got uploaded for pornography. We hardly ever have any pornography uploaded. The reason is that people use their real names on Facebook.
Adam D’Angelo (Zuckerberg’s high school hacking buddy): Real names are really important.
Aaron Sittig: We got this clear early on because of something that was established as a community principle at the Well: You own your own words. And we took it farther than the Well. We always had everything be traceable back to a specific real person.
Stewart Brand (founder of the Well, the first important social networking site): The Well could have gone that route, but we did not. That was one of the mistakes we made.
Mark Zuckerberg: And I think that that’s a really simple social solution to a possibly complex technical issue.
Ezra Callahan: In this early period, it’s a fairly hacked-together, simple website: just basic web forms, because that’s what Facebook profiles are.
Ruchi Sanghvi (coder who created Facebook’s Newsfeed): There was a little profile pic, and it said things like, “This is my profile” and “See my friends,” and there were three or four links and one or two other boxes below that.
Aaron Sittig: But I was really impressed by how focused and clear their product was. Small details—like when you went to your profile, it really clearly said, “This is you,” because social networking at the time was really, really hard to understand. So there was a maturity in the product that you don’t typically see until a product has been out there for a couple of years and been refined.
Sean Parker: So I see this thing, and I emailed some email address at Facebook, and I basically said, “I’ve been working with Friendster for a while, and I’d just like to meet you guys and see if maybe there’s anything to talk about.” And so we set up this meeting in New York—I have no idea why it was in New York—and Mark and I just started talking about product design and what I thought the product needed.
Aaron Sittig: I got a call from Sean Parker and he said, “Hey, I’m in New York. I just met with this kid Mark Zuckerberg, who is very smart, and he’s the guy building Facebook, and they say they have a ‘secret feature’ that’s going to launch that’s going to change everything! But he won’t tell me what it is. It’s driving me crazy. I can’t figure out what it is. Do you know anything about this? Can you figure it out? What do you think it could be?” And so we spent a little time talking about it, and we couldn’t really figure out what their “secret feature” that was going to change everything was. We got kind of obsessed about it.
Two months after meeting Sean Parker, Mark Zuckerberg moved to Silicon Valley with the idea of turning his dorm‐room project into a real business. Accompanying him were his cofounder and consigliere, Dustin Moskovitz, and a couple of interns.
Mark Zuckerberg: Palo Alto was kind of like this mythical place where all the tech used to come from. So I was like, I want to check that out.
Ruchi Sanghvi: I was pretty surprised when I heard Facebook moved to the Bay Area, I thought they were still at Harvard working out of the dorms.
Ezra Callahan: Summer of 2004 is when that fateful series of events took place: that legendary story of Sean running into the Facebook cofounders on the street, having met them a couple months earlier on the East Coast. That meeting happened a week after we all moved out of the house we had been living in together. Sean was crashing with his girlfriend’s parents.
Sean Parker: I was walking outside the house, and there was this group of kids walking toward me—they were all wearing hoodies and they looked like they were probably pot-smoking high-school kids just out making trouble, and I hear my name. I’m like, Oh, it’s coincidence, and I hear my name again and I turn around and it’s like, “Sean, what are you doing here?”
It took me about 30 seconds to figure out what was going on, and I finally realize that it’s Mark and Dustin and a couple of other people, too. So I’m like, “What are you guys doing here?” And they’re like, “We live right there.” And I’m like, “That’s really weird, I live right here!” This is just super weird.
Aaron Sittig: I get a call from Sean and he’s telling me, “Hey, you won’t believe what’s just happened.” And Sean said, “You’ve got to come over and meet these guys. Just leave right now. Just come over and meet them!”
Sean Parker: And so I don’t even know what happened from there, other than that it just became very convenient for me to go swing by the house. It wasn’t even a particularly formal relationship.
Aaron Sittig: So I went over and met them, and I was really impressed by how focused they were as a group. They’d occasionally relax and go do their thing, but for the most part they spent all their time sitting at a kitchen table with their laptops open. I would go visit their place a couple times a week, and that was always where I’d find them, just sitting around the kitchen table working, constantly, to keep their product growing.
All Mark wanted to do was either make the product better, or take a break and relax so that you could get enough energy to go work on the product more. That’s it. They never left that house except to go watch a movie.
Ezra Callahan: The early company culture was very, very loose. It felt like a project that’s gotten out of control and has this amazing business potential. Imagine your freshman dorm running a business, that’s really what it felt like.
Mark Zuckerberg: Most businesses aren’t like a bunch of kids living in a house, doing whatever they want, not waking up at a normal time, not going into an office, hiring people by, like, bringing them into your house and letting them chill with you for a while and party with you and smoke with you.
Ezra Callahan: The living room was the office with all these monitors and workstations set up everywhere and just whiteboards as far as the eye can see.
At the time Mark Zuckerberg was obsessed with file sharing, and the grand plan for his Silicon Valley summer was to resurrect Napster. It would rise again, but this time as a feature inside of Facebook. The name of Zuckerberg’s pet project? Wirehog.
Aaron Sittig: Wirehog was the secret feature that Mark had promised was going to change everything. Mark had gotten convinced that what would make Facebook really popular and just sort of cement its position at schools was a way to send files around to other people—mostly just to trade music.
Mark Pincus: They built in this little thing that looked like Napster—you could see what music files someone had on their computer.
Ezra Callahan: This is at a time when we have just watched Napster get completely terminated by the courts and the entertainment industry is starting to sue random individuals for sharing files. The days of the Wild West were clearly ending.
Aaron Sittig: It’s important to remember that Wirehog was happening at a time where you couldn’t even share photos on your Facebook page. Wirehog was going to be the solution for sharing photos with other people. You could have a box on your profile and people could go there to get access to all your photos that you were sharing—or whatever files you were sharing. It might be audio files, it might be video files, it might be photos of their vacation.
Ezra Callahan: But at the end of the day it’s just a file-sharing service. When I joined Facebook, most people had already kind of come around to the idea that unless some new use comes up for Wirehog that we haven’t thought of, it’s just a liability. “We’re going to get sued someday, so what’s the point?” That was the mentality.
Mark Pincus: I was kind of wondering why Sean wanted to go anywhere near music again.
Aaron Sittig: My understanding was that some of Facebook’s lawyers advised that it would be a bad idea. And that work on Wirehog was kind of abandoned just as Facebook user growth started to grow really quickly.
Ezra Callahan: They had this insane demand to join. It’s still only at a hundred schools, but everyone in college has already heard of this, at all schools across the country. The usage numbers were already insane. Everything on the whiteboards was just all stuff related to what schools were going to launch next. The problem was very singular. It was simply, “How do we scale?”
Aaron Sittig: Facebook would launch at a school, and within one day they would have 70 percent of undergrads signed up. At the time, nothing had ever grown as fast as Facebook.
Ezra Callahan: It did not seem inevitable that we were going to succeed, but the scope of what success looked like was becoming clear. Dustin was already talking about being a billion-dollar company. They had that ambition from the very beginning. They were very confident: two 19-year-old cocky kids.
Mark Zuckerberg: We just all kind of sat around one day and were like, “We’re not going back to school, are we?” Nahhhh.
Ezra Callahan: The hubris seemed pretty remarkable.
David Choe (noted graffiti artist): And Sean is a skinny, nerdy kid and he’s like, “I’m going to go raise money for Facebook. I’m going to bend these fuckers’ minds.” And I’m like, “How are you going to do that?” And he transformed himself into an alpha male. He got like a fucking super-sharp haircut. He started working out every day, got a tan, got a nice suit. And he goes in these meetings and he got the money!
Mark Pincus: So it’s probably like September or October of 2004, and I’m at Tribe’s offices in this dusty converted brick building in Potrero Hill—the idea of Tribe.net was like Friendster meets Craigslist—and we’re in our conference room, and Sean says he’s bringing the Facebook guy in. And he brings Zuck in, and Zuck is in a pair of sweatpants, and these Adidas flip-flops that he wore, and he’s so young looking and he’s sitting there with his feet up on the table, and Sean is talking really fast about all the things Facebook is going to do and grow and everything else, and I was mesmerized.
Because I’m doing Tribe, and we are not succeeding, we’ve plateaued and we’re hitting our head against the wall trying to figure out how to grow, and here’s this kid, who has this simple idea, and he’s just taking off! I was kind of in awe already of what they had accomplished, and maybe a little annoyed by it. Because they did something simpler and quicker and with less, and then I remember Sean got on the computer in my office, and he pulled up The Facebook, and he starts showing it to me, and I had never been able to be on it, because it’s college kids only, and it was amazing.
People are putting up their phone numbers and home addresses and everything about themselves and I was like, I can’t believe it! But it was because they had all this trust. And then Sean put together an investment round quickly, and he had advised Zuck to, I think, take $500,000 from Peter Thiel, and then $38,000 each from me and Reid Hoffman. Because we were basically the only other people doing anything in social networking. It was a very, very small little club at the time.
Ezra Callahan: By December it’s—I wouldn’t say it’s like a more professional atmosphere, but all the kids that Mark and Dustin were hanging out with are either back at school back East or back at Stanford, and work has gotten a little more serious for them. They are working more than they were that first summer. We don’t move into an office until February of 2005. And right as we were signing the lease, Sean just randomly starts saying, “Dude! I know this street artist guy. We’re going to come in and have him totally do it up.”
David Choe: I was like, “If you want me to paint the entire building it’s going to be $60,000.” Sean’s like, “Do you want cash or do you want stock?”
David Choe: I didn’t give a shit about Facebook or even know what it was. You had to have a college email to get on there. But I like to gamble, you know? I believed in Sean. I’m like, This kid knows something and I am going to bet my money on him.
Ezra Callahan: So then we move in, and when you first saw this graffiti it was like, “Holy shit, what did this guy do to the office?” The office was on the second floor, so as you walk in you immediately have to walk up some stairs, and on the big 10-foot-high wall facing you is just this huge buxom woman with enormous breasts wearing this Mad Max–style costume riding a bulldog.
It’s the most intimidating, totally inappropriate thing. “God damn it, Sean! What did you do?” It’s not so much that we set out to paint that, because that was the culture. It was more that Sean just did it, and that set a tone for us. A huge-breasted warrior woman riding a bulldog is the first thing you see as you come in the office, so like, get ready for that!
Ruchi Sanghvi: Yes, the graffiti was a little racy, but it was different, it was vibrant, it was alive. The energy was just so tangible.
Katie Geminder (project manager for early Facebook): I liked it, but it was really intense. There was certain imagery in there that was very sexually charged, which I didn’t really care about but that could be considered a little bit hostile, and I think we took care of some of the more provocative ones.
Ezra Callahan: I don’t think it was David Choe, I think it was Sean’s girlfriend who painted this explicit, intimate lesbian scene in the woman’s restroom of two completely naked women intertwined and cuddling with each other—not graphic, but certainly far more suggestive than what one would normally see in a women’s bathroom in an office. That one only actually lasted a few weeks.
Max Kelly (Facebook’s first cyber-security officer): There was a four-inch by four-inch drawing of someone getting fucked. One of the customer service people complained that it was “sexual in nature,” which, given what they were seeing every day, I’m not sure why they would complain about this. But I ended up going to a local store and buying a gold paint pen and defacing the graffiti—just a random design— so it didn’t show someone getting fucked.
Jeff Rothschild (investor turned Facebook employee): It was wild, but I thought that it was pretty cool. It looked a lot more like a college dorm or fraternity than it did a company.
Katie Geminder: There were blankets shoved in the corner and video games everywhere, and Nerf toys and Legos, and it was kind of a mess.
Jeff Rothschild: There’s a PlayStation. There’s a couple of old couches. It was clear people were sleeping there.
Karel Baloun (one of the earliest Facebook programmers): I’d probably stay there two or three nights a week. I won an award for “most likely to be found under your desk” at one of the employee gatherings.
Jeff Rothschild: They had a bar, a whole shelf with liquor, and after a long day people might have a drink.
Ezra Callahan: There’s a lot of drinking in the office. There would be mornings when I would walk in and hear beer cans move as I opened the door, and the office smells of stale beer and is just trashed.
Ruchi Sanghvi: They had a keg. There was some camera technology built on top of the keg. It basically detected presence and posted about who was present at the keg—so it would take your picture when you were at the keg, and post some sort of thing saying “so-and-so is at the keg.” The keg is patented.
Ezra Callahan: When we first moved in, the office door had this lock we couldn’t figure out, but the door would automatically unlock at 9 am every morning. I was the guy that had to get to the office by 9 to make sure nobody walked in and just stole everything, because no one else was going to get there before noon. All the Facebook guys are basically nocturnal.
Katie Geminder: These kids would come in—and I mean kids, literally they were kids—they’d come into work at 11 or 12.
Ruchi Sanghvi: Sometimes I would walk to work in my pajamas and that would be totally fine. It felt like an extension of college; all of us were going through the same life experiences at the same time. Work was fantastic. It was so interesting. It didn’t feel like work. It felt like we were having fun all the time.
Ezra Callahan: You’re hanging out. You’re drinking with your coworkers. People start dating within the office …
Ruchi Sanghvi: We found our significant others while we were at Facebook. All of us eventually got married. Now we’re in this phase where we’re having children.
Katie Geminder: If you look at the adults that worked at Facebook during those first few years—like, anyone over the age of 30 that was married—and you do a survey, I tell you that probably 75 percent of them are divorced.
Max Kelly: So, lunch would happen. The caterer we had was mentally unbalanced and you never knew what the fuck was going to show up in the food. There were worms in the fish one time. It was all terrible. Usually, I would work until about 3 in the afternoon and then I’d do a circuit through the office to try and figure out what the fuck was going to happen that night. Who was going to launch what? Who was ready? What rumors were going on? What was happening?
Steve Perlman (Silicon Valley veteran who started in the Atari era): We shared a break room with Facebook. We were building hardware: a facial capture technology. The Facebook guys were doing some HTML thing. They would come in late in the morning. They’d have a catered lunch. Then they leave usually by mid-afternoon. I’m like, man, that is the life! I need a startup like that. You know? And the only thing any of us could think about Facebook was: Really nice people but never going to go anywhere.
Max Kelly: Around 4 I’d have a meeting with my team, saying “here’s how we’re going to get fucked tonight.” And then we’d go to the bar. Between like 5 and 8-ish people would break off and go to different bars up and down University Avenue, have dinner, whatever.
Ruchi Sanghvi: And we would all sit together and have these intellectual conversations: “Hypothetically, if this network was a graph, how would you weight the relationship between two people? How would you weight the relationship between a person and a photo? What does that look like? What would this network eventually look like? What could we do with this network if we actually had it?”
Sean Parker: The “social graph” is a math concept from graph theory, but it was a way of trying to explain to people who were kind of academic and mathematically inclined that what we were building was not a product so much as it was a network composed of nodes with a lot of information flowing between those nodes. That’s graph theory. Therefore we’re building a social graph. It was never meant to be talked about publicly. It was a way of articulating to somebody with a math background what we were building.
Ruchi Sanghvi: In retrospect, I can’t believe we had those conversations back then. It seems like such a mature thing to be doing. We would sit around and have these conversations and they weren’t restricted to certain members of the team; they weren’t tied to any definite outcome. It was purely intellectual and was open to everyone.
Max Kelly: People were still drinking the whole time, like all night, but starting around 9, it really starts solidifying: “What are we going to release tonight? Who’s ready to go? Who’s not ready to go?” By about 11-ish we’d know what we were going to do that night.
Katie Geminder: There was an absence of process that was mind-blowing. There would be engineers working stealthily on something that they were passionate about. And then they’d ship it in the middle of the night. No testing—they would just ship it.
Ezra Callahan: Most websites have these very robust testing platforms so that they can test changes. That’s not how we did it.
Ruchi Sanghvi: With the push of a button you could push out code to the live site, because we truly believed in this philosophy of “move fast and break things.” So you shouldn’t have to wait to do it once a week, and you shouldn’t have to wait to do it once a day. If your code was ready you should be able to push it out live to users. And that was obviously a nightmare.
Katie Geminder: Can our servers stand up to something? Or security: How about testing a feature for security holes? It really was just shove it out there and see what happens.
Jeff Rothschild: That’s the hacker mentality: You just get it done. And it worked great when you had 10 people. By the time we got to 20, or 30, or 40, I was spending a lot of time trying to keep the site up. And so we had to develop some level of discipline.
Ruchi Sanghvi: So then we would only push out code in the middle of the night, and that’s because if we broke things it wouldn’t impact that many people. But it was terrible because we were up until like 3 or 4 am every night, because the act of pushing just took everybody who had committed any code to be present in case anything broke.
Max Kelly: Around 1 am, we’d know either we’re fucked or we’re good. If we were good, everyone would be like “whoopee” and might be able to sleep for a little while. If we were fucked then we were like, “OK, now we’ve got to try and claw this thing back or fix it.”
Katie Geminder: 2 am: That was when shit happened.
Ruchi Sanghvi: Then another push, and this would just go on and on and on and on and on until like 3 or 4 or 5 am in the night.
Max Kelly: If 4 am rolled around and we couldn’t fix it, I’d be like, “We’re going to try and revert it.” Which meant basically my team would be up till 6 am So, go to bed somewhere between 4 and 6, and then repeat every day for like nine months. It was crazy.
Jeff Rothschild: It was seven days a week. I was on all the time. I would drink a large glass of water before I went to sleep to assure that I’d wake up in two hours so I could go check everything and make sure that we hadn’t broken it in the meantime. It was all day, all night.
Katie Geminder: That was very challenging for someone who was trying to actually live an adult life with, like, a husband. There was definitely a feeling that because you were older and married and had a life outside of work that you weren’t committed.
Mark Zuckerberg: Why are most chess masters under 30? Young people just have simpler lives. We may not own a car. We may not have family … I only own a mattress.
Kate Geminder: Imagine being over 30 and hearing your boss say that!
Mark Zuckerberg: Young people are just smarter.
Ruchi Sanghvi: We were so young back then. We definitely had tons of energy and we could do it, but we weren’t necessarily the most efficient team by any means whatsoever. It was definitely frustrating for senior leadership, because a lot of the conversations happened at night when they weren’t around, and then the next morning they would come in to all of these changes that happened at night. But it was fun when we did it.
Ezra Callahan: For the first few hundred employees, almost all of them were already friends with someone working at the company, both within the engineering circle and also the user support people. It’s a lot of recent grads. When we move into the office was when the dorm room culture starts to really stick out and also starts to break a little bit. It has a dorm room feeling, but it’s not completely dominated by college kids. The adults are coming in.
Jeff Rothschild: I joined in May 2005. On the sidewalk outside the office was the menu board from a pizza parlor. It was a caricature of a chef with a blackboard below it, and the blackboard had a list of jobs. This was the recruiting effort.
Sean Parker: At the time there was a giant sucking sound in the universe, and it was called Google. All the great engineers were going to Google.
Kate Losse (early customer service rep): I don’t think I could have stood working at Google. To me Facebook seemed much cooler than Google, not because Facebook was necessarily like the coolest. It’s just that Google at that point already seemed nerdy in an uninteresting way, whereas like Facebook had a lot of people who didn’t actually want to come off as nerds. Facebook was a social network, so it has to have some social components that are like really normal American social activities—like beer pong.
Kate Geminder: There was a house down the street from the office where five or six of the engineers lived that was one ongoing beer pong party. It was like a boys’ club—although it wasn’t just boys.
Terry Winograd (noted Stanford computer-science professor): The way I would put it is that Facebook is more of an undergraduate culture and Google is more of a graduate student culture.
Jeff Rothschild: Before I walked in the door at Facebook, I thought these guys had created a dating site. It took me probably a week or two before I really understood what it was about. Mark, he used to tell us that we are not a social network. He would insist: “This is not a social network. We’re a social utility for people you actually know.”
MySpace was about building an online community among people who had similar interests. We might look the same because at some level it has the same shape, but what it accomplishes for the individual is solving a different problem. We were trying to improve the efficiency of communication among friends.
Max Kelly: Mark sat down with me and described to me what he saw Facebook being. He said, “It’s about connecting people and building a system where everyone who makes a connection to your life that has any value is preserved for as long as you want it to be preserved. And it doesn’t matter where you are, or who you’re with, or how your life changes: because you’re always in connection with the people that matter the most to you, and you’re always able to share with them.”
I heard that, and I thought, I want to be a part of this. I want to make this happen. Back in the ‘90s all of us were utopian about the internet. This was almost a harkening back to the beautiful internet where everyone would be connected and everyone could share and there was no friction to doing that. Facebook sounded to me like the same thing. Mark was too young to know that time, but I think he intrinsically understood what the internet was supposed to be in the ’80s and in the ’90s. And here I was hearing the same story again and conceivably having the ability to help pull it off. That was very attractive.
Aaron Sittig: So in the summer of 2005 Mark sat us all down and he said, “We’re going to do five things this summer.” He said, “We’re redesigning the site. We’re doing a thing called News Feed, which is going to tell you everything your friends are doing on the site. We’re going to launch Photos, we’re going to redo Parties and turn it into Events, and we’re going to do a local-businesses product.” And we got one of those things done, we redesigned the site. Photos was my next project.
Ezra Callahan: The product at Facebook at the time is dead simple: profiles. There is no News Feed, there was a very weak messaging system. They had a very rudimentary events product you could use to organize parties. And almost no other functions to speak of. There’s no photos on the website, other than your profile photo. There’s nothing that tells you when anything on the site has changed. You find out somebody changed their profile picture by obsessively going to their profile and noticing, Oh, the picture changed.
Aaron Sittig: We had some people that were changing their profile picture once an hour, just as a way of sharing photos of themselves.
Scott Marlette: At the time photos was the number-one most requested feature. So, Aaron and I go into a room and whiteboard up some wireframes for some pages and decide on what data needs to get stored. In a month we had a nearly fully functioning prototype internally to play with. It was very simple. It was: You post a photo, it goes in an album, you have a set of albums, and then you can tag people in the photos.
Jeff Rothschild: Aaron had the insight to do tagging, which was a tremendously valuable insight. It was really a game changer.
Aaron Sittig: We thought the key feature is going to be saying who is in the photo. We weren’t sure if this was really going to be that successful; we just felt good about it.
Facebook Photos went live in October 2005. There were about 5 million users, virtually all of them college students.
Scott Marlette: We launched it at Harvard and Stanford first, because that’s where our friends were.
Aaron Sittig: We had built this program that would fill up a TV screen and show us everything that was being uploaded to the service, and then we flicked it on and waited for photos to start coming in. And the first photos that came in were Windows wallpapers: Someone had just uploaded all their wallpaper files from their Windows directory, which was a big disappointment, like, Oh no, maybe people don’t get it? Maybe this is not going to work?
But the next photos were of a guy hanging out with his friends, and then the next photos after that were a bunch of girls in different arrangements: three girls together, these four girls together, two of them together, just photos of them hanging out at parties, and then it just didn’t stop.
Max Kelly: You were at every wedding, you were at every bar mitzvah, you were seeing all this awesome stuff, and then there’s a dick. So, it was kind of awesome and shitty at the same time.
Aaron Sittig: Within the first day someone had uploaded and tagged themselves in 700 photos, and it just sort of took off from there.
Jeff Rothschild: Inside of three months, we were delivering more photos than any other website on the internet. Now you have to ask yourself: Why? And the answer was tagging. There isn’t anyone who could get an email message that said, “Someone has uploaded a photo of you to the internet”—and not go take a look. It’s just human nature.
Ezra Callahan: The single greatest growth mechanism ever was photo tagging. It shaped all of the rest of the product decisions that got made. It was the first time that there was a real fundamental change to how people used Facebook, the pivotal moment when the mindset of Facebook changes and the idea for News Feed starts to germinate and there is now a reason to see how this expands beyond college.
Dustin Moskovitz: News Feed is the concept of viral distribution, incarnate.
Ezra Callahan: News Feed is what Facebook fundamentally is today.
Sean Parker: Originally it was called “What’s New,” and it was just a feed of all of the things that were happening in the network—really just a collection of status updates and profile changes that were occurring.
Katie Geminder: It was an aggregation, a collection of all those stories, with some logic built into it because we couldn’t show you everything that was going on. There were sort of two streams: things you were doing and things the rest of your network was doing.
Ezra Callahan: So News Feed is the first time where now your homepage, rather than being static and boring and useless, is now going to be this constantly updating “newspaper,” so to speak, of stuff happening on Facebook around you that we think you’ll care about.
Ruchi Sanghvi: And it was a fascinating idea, because normally when you think of newspapers, they have this editorialized content where they decide what they want to say, what they want to print, and they do it the previous night, and then they send these papers out to thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people. But in the case of Facebook, we were building 10 million different newspapers, because each person had a personalized version of it.
Ezra Callahan: It really was the first monumental product-engineering feat. The amount of data it had to deal with: all these changes and how to propagate that on an individual level.
Ruchi Sanghvi: We were working on it off and on for a year and a half.
Ezra Callahan: … and then the intelligence side of all this stuff: How do we surface the things that you’ll care about most? These are very hard problems engineering-wise.
Ruchi Sanghvi: Without realizing it, we ended up building one of the largest distributed systems in software at that point in time. It was pretty cutting-edge.
Ezra Callahan: We have it in-house and we play with it for weeks and weeks—which is really unusual.
Katie Geminder: So I remember being like, “OK, you guys, we have to do some level of user research,” and I finally convinced Zuck that we should bring users into a lab and sit behind the glass and watch our users using the product. And it took so much effort for me to get Dustin and Zuck and other people to go and actually watch this. They thought this was a waste of time. They were like, “No, our users are stupid.” Literally those words came out of somebody’s mouth.
Ezra Callahan: It’s the very first time we actually bring in outside people to test something for us, and their reaction, their initial reaction is clear. People are just like, “Holy shit, like, I shouldn’t be seeing this, like this doesn’t feel right,” because immediately you see this person changed their profile picture, this person did this, this person did that, and your first instinct is Oh my God! Everybody can see this about me! Everyone knows everything I’m doing on Facebook.
Max Kelly: But News Feed made perfect sense to all of us, internally. We all loved it.
Ezra Callahan: So in-house we have this idea that this isn’t going to go right: This is too jarring a change, it needs to be rolled out slowly, we need to warm people up to this—and Mark is just firmly committed. “We’re just going to do this. We’re just going to launch. It’s like ripping off a Band-Aid.”
Katie Geminder: We wrote a little letter, and at the bottom of it we put a button. And the button said, “Awesome!” Not like, “OK.” It was, “Awesome!” That’s just rude. I wish I had a screenshot of that. Oh man! And that was it. You landed on Facebook and you got the feature. We gave you no choice and not a great explanation and it scared people.
Jeff Rothschild: People were rattled because it just seemed like it was exposing information that hadn’t been visible before. In fact, that wasn’t the case. Everything shown in News Feed was something people put on the site that would have been visible to everyone if they had gone and visited that profile.
Ruchi Sanghvi: Users were revolting. They were threatening to boycott the product. They felt that they had been violated, and that their privacy had been violated. There were students organizing petitions. People had lined up outside the office. We hired a security guard.
Katie Geminder: There were camera crews outside. There were protests: “Bring back the old Facebook!” Everyone hated it.
Jeff Rothschild: There was such a violent reaction to it. We had people marching on the office. A Facebook group was organized protesting News Feed and inside of two days, a million people joined.
Ruchi Sanghvi: There was another group that was about how “Ruchi is the devil,” because I had written that blog post.
Max Kelly: The user base fought it every step of the way and would pound us, pound Customer Service, and say, “This is fucked up! This is terrible!”
Ezra Callahan: We’re getting emails from relatives and friends. They’re like, “What did you do? This is terrible! Change it back.”
Katie Geminder: We were sitting in the office and the protests were going on outside and it was, “Do we roll it back? Do we roll it back!?”
Ruchi Sanghvi: Now under usual circumstances if about 10 percent of your user base starts to boycott the product, you would shut it down. But we saw a very unusual pattern emerge.
Max Kelly: Even the same people who were telling us that this is terrible, we’d look at their user stream and be like: You’re fucking using it constantly! What are you talking about?
Ruchi Sanghvi: Despite the fact that there were these revolts and these petitions and people were lined up outside the office, they were digging the product. They were actually using it, and they were using it twice as much as before News Feed.
Ezra Callahan: It was just an emotionally devastating few days for everyone at the company. Especially for the set of people who had been waving their arms saying, “Don’t do this! Don’t do this!” because they feel like, “This is exactly what we told you was going to happen!”
Ruchi Sanghvi: Mark was on his very first press tour on the East Coast, and the rest of us were in the Palo Alto office dealing with this and looking at these logs and seeing the engagement and trying to communicate that “It’s actually working!,” and to just try a few things before we chose to shut it down.
Katie Geminder: We had to push some privacy features right away to quell the storm.
Ruchi Sanghvi: We asked everyone to give us 24 hours.
Katie Geminder: We built this janky privacy “audio mixer” with these little slider bars where you could turn things on and off. It was beautifully designed—it looked gorgeous—but it was irrelevant.
Jeff Rothschild: I don’t think anyone ever used it.
Ezra Callahan: But it gets added and eventually the immediate reaction subsides and people realize that the News Feed is exactly what they wanted, this feature is exactly right, this just made Facebook a thousand times more useful.
Katie Geminder: Like Photos, News Feed was just—boom!—a major change in the product and one of those sea changes that just leveled it up.
Jeff Rothschild: Our usage just skyrocketed on the launch of News Feed. About the same time we also opened the site up to people who didn’t have a .edu address.
Ezra Callahan: Once it opens to the public, it’s becoming clear that Facebook is on its way to becoming the directory of all the people in the world.
Jeff Rothschild: Those two things together—that was the inflection point where Facebook became a massively used product. Prior to that we were a niche product for high-school and college students.
Mark Zuckerberg: Domination!
Ruchi Sanghvi: “Domination” was a big mantra of Facebook back in the day.
Max Kelly: I remember company meetings where we were chanting “dominate.”
Ezra Callahan: We had company parties all the time, and for a period in 2005, all Mark’s toasts at the company parties would end with “Domination!”
Mark Pincus: In 2006 Yahoo offered Facebook $1.2 billion ,I think it was, and it seemed like a breathtaking offer at the time, and it was difficult to imagine them not taking it. Everyone had seen Napster flame out, Friendster flame out, MySpace flame out, so to be a company with no revenues, and a credible company offers a billion-two, and to say no to that? You have to have a lot of respect to founders that say no to these offers.
Dustin Moskovitz: I was sure the product would suffer in a big way if Yahoo bought us. And Sean was telling me that 90 percent of all mergers end in failure.
Mark Pincus: Luckily, for Zuck, and history, Yahoo’s stock went down, and they wouldn’t change the offer. They said that the offer is a fixed number of shares, and so the offer dropped to like $800 million, and I think probably emotionally Zuck didn’t want to do it and it gave him a clear out. If Yahoo had said, “No problem, we’ll back that up with cash or stock to make it $1.2 billion,” it might have been a lot harder for Zuck to say no, and maybe Facebook would be a little division of Yahoo today.
Max Kelly: We literally tore the Yahoo offer up and stomped on it as a company! We were like, “Fuck those guys, we are going to own them!” That was some malice-ass bullshit.
Mark Zuckerberg: Domination!!!
Kate Losse: He had kind of an ironic way of saying it. It wasn’t a totally flat, scary “domination.” It was funny. It’s only when you think about a much bigger scale of things that you’re like, Hmmmm: Are people aware that their interactions are being architected by a group of people who have a certain set of id