Sunday, May 4, 2014

Poor Twitter, Always Doomed, Never as Good as Used to Be

Poor Twitter, Always Doomed, Never as Good as Used to Be

Poor Twitter, Always Doomed, Never as Good as Used to Be

Posted: 04 May 2014 10:38 AM PDT

So help me, I love my fellow technology writers, but as a group, we have a bizarre and morbid tick: We love to declare that things are dead when what really mean is that we think it’s possible they’ve peaked. I wrote about the habit back in 2010, and linked to stories about the deaths of the web, Macs, Microsoft Office, email, Firefox and other stuff which is still with us and, in some cases, thriving.

The latest alarmists are the Atlantic’s Adrienne LaFrance and Robinson Meyer, who have published “A Eulogy for Twitter“–which is, of course, just a fancy way of saying that Twitter is dead.

In this case, the signs of rigor mortis are even more tenuous than usual. About the only non-anecdotal symptom that LaFrance and Meyer provide is the fact that the service’s user growth is slowing. Mostly, their theory that “Twitter is entering its twilight” is based on them and their friends finding the conversation there less engaging than they once did.

The case that Twitter isn’t moribund, and probably won’t become so in the near future, doesn’t really need to be made. But Slate’s Will Oremus, a Twitter optimist, does so anyway, in a post which makes a good case that the service is healthy in ways that can’t be completely measured using the typical vital statistics which people–especially Wall Street people–fixate on.

Personally, I have at least as much fun on Twitter as I ever did: I use it in much the same way, with much the same happy results. But I’m careful not to extrapolate from my own positive experiences that it’s in great shape, period.

Except for the brevity imposed by the 140-character limit, Twitter, even more than most social networks, can be almost anything, depending on how you use it and who you follow. Like a piece of blank paper, it’s an empty vessel which we all fill up in different ways, which makes generalizations of any kind dangerous.

This I do know for sure: There’s something about Twitter which causes people to underestimate it to the point of believing that it’s dead meat. In March 2007–less than a year after Jack Dorsey sent the first tweet–Mat Balez wrote an obituary:

I make no bones about my disdain for Twitter. I've commented far and wide about the inanity and potential danger of the tool, and even discussed some of the associated social repercussions on this blog. But I'd like to now go one step further, and predict its imminent supernova-like implosion.

A few months later, my friend Lance Ulanoff also predicted Twitter’s death, though he gave it a few years:

Twitter’s demise will certainly come before we hit 2011. It’s the perfect example of Internet flash paper, and I suspect it will shine as brightly and briefly as this favorite magician’s gimmick.

For just about Twitter’s entire history, people have been doing what LaFrance and Meyer do: Saying that Twitter isn’t as much fun as it used to be, that newer services are cooler, that they see ominous signs in their own Twitter streams that the whole thing is on the verge of collapse. And they’ve been doing it on Twitter.

A selection of gloom-and-doom tweets, beginning in 2006, the year of Twitter’s founding:

Of course, it’s possible that the warning signs which LaFrance and Meyer have detected are more serious than the ones which cropped up in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010. If it’s clear within a year or two that Twitter is a goner, they’ll look prescient. If not, they’ll just have been the latest in a long line of overexcited pundits.

Al Franken, John Oliver Talk Politics And Comedy

Posted: 04 May 2014 10:26 AM PDT

SNL star-turned-U.S.-senator Al Franken tells ABC’s This Week the transition from comedy to Congress was smoother than it might seem, while new HBO host John Oliver thinks politicians provide great material.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2‘s Box Office Won’t Amaze Marvel

Posted: 04 May 2014 10:18 AM PDT

The webbed wonder is back, in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. The second in a proposed four Marvel Entertainment movies about Peter Parker, the teen blessed or cursed with arachnid DNA, ASM2 earned $92 million at the North American box office, according to preliminary estimates from Sony Pictures. It reaped a B-plus from the CinemaScore polling of early attendees (an A-minus from those younger than 25), attracting a mostly male crowd (61%) and a big share of families (33%). As the front-man for the big summer movie season, Spidey is soaring again.

But how high? $92 million sounds like a nice starting number; and it is, even for a movie that cost at least $250 million to produce and nearly $200 million more on marketing. But amid its lofty competition — previous Marvel epics that opened this weekend — ASM2 is only so-so.

A rebooting, and often a retelling, of the Spider-Man trilogy starring Tobey Maguire and directed by Sam Raimi, which ran from 2002 to 2007, the new series features Brit actor Andrew Garfield as Peter and luscious Emma Stone as his girlfriend Gwen Stacy, under the direction of Marc Webb. The first film in the new series, which opened two years ago on the week of July 4, earned $75 million the first three days (Tuesday to Thursday) and another $62 million that weekend. So comparisons of ASM and ASM2 don’t really apply. The true standard for the new picture is its brethren in the Marvel movie family: the superhero movies of early May.

(SEE: Andrew Garfield gushing over Emma Stone’s rap mastery with Jimmy Fallon)

Marvel, the world’s canniest entertainment company, definitively altered the Hollywood calendar a dozen years ago. Before then, the summer movie period began in earnest the weekend before Memorial Day, as it had for a quarter-century, ever since the May 25, 1977, opening of Star Wars. But on May 3, 2002, the original Spider-Man made its debut and earned $114.8 million; it was the first picture to gross more than $100 million in its opening three days, and did so at on a weekend with no holiday and when kids were still in school. Suddenly, the first week in May was the ideal time to launch both an action film and the summer blockbuster season.

The following year, Marvel opened the second X-Men movie, X2: X-Men United, to a robust $85.6 million weekend. And from 2007, every first May weekend has boasted a Marvel movie: Spider-Man 3 ($151.1 million), Iron Man ($98.6 million), X-Men Origins: Wolverine ($85.1 million), Iron Man 2 ($128 million), Thor ($65.7 million), The Avengers ($207.4 million) and, last year, Iron Man Three ($174,1 million).

So, in the Marvel early-May cosmology, ASM2 falls below the almighty Avengers, which still accounts for the biggest opening weekend for any movie, the three Iron Man films and the two Spider-Man episodes released on this date. (Spider-Man 2 opened June 20, 2004, and earned $88.2 million.) The movie’s opening gross also didn’t quite match the $95 million taken in four weeks ago by Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which established the all-time record for a movie in the normally cruelest month of April.

(READ: Corliss’s review of Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

Ticket prices have risen by nearly a third since 2002, both because of inflation and for surcharges for 3-D and IMAX screenings. So the more exact comparison is in “real dollars.” And in that category, ASM2 is near the bottom of Marvel’s previous openings for this weekend: it beat only the two franchise-starters, Wolverine and Thor, and sequels are supposed to open stronger than the films that birthed them.

Here are the real-dollar domestic grosses, in millions, for Marvel movies opening the first weekend of May:

The Avengers, 5/4/12, $207.4m (original gross) = $211.5m (real dollars)
Iron Man Three, 5/3/13, $174.1m = $183.3m
Spider-Man 3, 5/4/07, $151.1m = $174.8m
Spider-Man, 5/3/02, $114.8m = $157.3m
Iron Man 2, 5/7/10, $128.1m = $129.7m
X2: X-Men United, 5/2/03, $85.6m = $113.0m
Iron Man, 5/2/08, $98.6m = $109.3m
The Amazing Spider-Man 2, $92m = $92m
X-Men Origins: Wolverine, 5/1/09, $85.1m = $90.8m
Thor, 5/6/11, $65.7m = $66.7m

The opening-weekend gross, even for a widely promoted action film with a familiar title and a dedicated fan base, can’t accurately predict the final revenue. Spider-Man, Iron Man and The Avengers all eventually earned at least three times the amount they took in on the first weekend, while Marvel’s Hulk, directed by Ang Lee and released in 2003, earned more money its first three days ($62.1 million) than in the rest of its domestic run ($60.05 million). Deciding they had gone wrong, the Marvel execs ordered up a reboot, The Incredible Hulk, five years later — and it earned almost exactly the same as its disgraced predecessor. But both Hulk movies were released in mid-June, by which time action-film fatigue sets in with audiences deluged for six weeks by movies about muscular guys saving the world.

Make no mistake: in the movie business, it’s the worldwide box office that counts much more than the domestic figures. And in the early global stats, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is doing fine. In its third week of release it has earned $277 million abroad, including a record-breaking opening in India, a nation long resistant to Hollywood films. ASM2 opened in China today (a work day) and earned a record $10.4 million — a terrific start for this huge and growing market. Last summer the sci-fi saga Pacific Rim did bigger business in China ($111.9 million) than in North America ($101.8 million). Marvel must hope that Peter Parker can pick the People’s Republic’s pockets clean.

(READ: Corliss’s review of The Amazing Spider-Man 2)

The company’s other entries took a while to realize their international potential. For the first two films in the original series, the foreign revenue share was just over 50%. With Spider-Man 3 it jumped to 62%, and the Amazing reboot amassed 65% of its $752.2-million total take from overseas markets. The biggest blockbusters, like the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings and Hobbit franchises, typically earn about two-thirds of their worldwide gross from abroad, and so have Marvel’s recent Thor, Wolverine and Captain America sequels.

With its gaudy early foreign numbers — currently 75% of the total gross — ASM2 looks to do boffo business abroad. Now the movie just has to convince tens of millions of Americans that it is more than just a minor Marvel.


Google Doodle Pays Tribute to Audrey Hepburn

Posted: 04 May 2014 09:52 AM PDT

Audrey Hepburn died of cancer in 1993, but her stunning visage lives on, primarily through posters in college dorm rooms. But today, on what would have been her 85th birthday, it lives on through a Google Doodle.

Screen Shot 2014-05-04 at 12.27.43 PM

The image was adapted from a 1956 black and white photograph taken by Yousuf Karsh, artist Jennifer Hom explains in a Google blog post. The Doodle team rotated through several options (which you can see here) but ultimately settled on the above image because it showcases the actress’s beauty and grace along with her passion for humanitarian work.

“Finding the right solution for someone as timeless as Audrey proved a tricky task,” Hom writes. “Not only was she a classically beautiful actress, she also dedicated her life to philanthropy. I wanted to show both sides of her life’s work.”

Sinn Fein Leader Gerry Adams to Be Freed from Police Custody

Posted: 04 May 2014 09:50 AM PDT

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams is expected to be released from police custody on Sunday, a Northern Ireland police officer said.

The Associated Press, citing an anonymous police source, reported that the 65-year-old Irish republican politician would very likely not face charges over a 1972 killing, but that police would send prosecutors a file of potential evidence against him. Multiple media sources also reported the release.

Adams was arrested on Wednesday following allegations that he ordered the 1972 killing of a mother of 10 while serving as the Belfast commander in the Irish Republican Army. He has denied the accusations.

Adams’ detention period was due to expire Sunday. Police would have had to charge him or seek permission from a judge to extend his time in custody, as they did Friday.

According to the BBC, Sinn Fein politician and Northern Ireland deputy First Minister Martin McGuiness said his party may no longer be able to support the Police Service of Northern Ireland following Adams’ time in custody.

In response, Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, accused Sinn Fein of trying to blackmail the police with “republican bullyboy tactics.”


Tough Mudder Racers Caught Stomach Bug After Ingesting Muddy Water

Posted: 04 May 2014 09:14 AM PDT

Falling face-first into the mud during an extreme endurance event like the Tough Mudder race could solidify your status as a hardcore adventurer, but a team of unlucky participants discovered it could also send you to the hospital with a severe stomach bug.

In Oct. 2012, three active-duty military members went to an air force hospital with fever, vomiting and hemorrhagic diarrhea, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Friday. Doctors determined that all three patients had competed in a Tough Mudder race in Beatty, Nev., just a few days before, and all had either plunged their heads into some sloppy earth or been partially submerged under water.

A subsequent investigation found evidence of 22 cases, 4 confirmed and 18 probable, of Campylobacter coli, or C.Coli, which likely found its way into the muddy water by way of fecal matter from cows and pigs.

Lt. Col. Chad Claar, who lead the research, told the Washington Post he suspected there were likely more people who suffered from the outbreak but either sought private medical care or didn’t fall ill enough to seek treatment.

Libya’s Parliament Names New Prime Minister

Posted: 04 May 2014 08:43 AM PDT

(TRIPOLI, Libya) — Libya’s parliament swore in a new prime minister Sunday despite a disputed vote and walkouts from a largely secular bloc, lawmakers and a Libyan television reported.

Despite the protest from a number of non-Islamist parliamentarians, the interim parliament swore in 42-year-old businessman Ahmed Matiq in a televised session headed by the second deputy of parliament, Saleh al-Makhzoum, and member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party.

“I swear I will carry out my duties honestly and in devotion,” Matiq told parliament as several seats appeared empty. “Thank you for your confidence.”

Al-Makhzoum asked Matiq to form the new government within two weeks or sooner.

“The country can’t bear any more delays,” al-Makhzoum said. “We need a government to handle the budget.”

Initially, only 113 lawmakers voted for Matiq, falling short of the 120 votes necessary to secure his win. After the session was adjourned, Libyan TV station Al-Ahrar reported that voting resumed and Matiq secured eight new votes.

Lawmaker Mohammed Samoud confirmed Matiq, from Misrata, won.

Lawmaker Fatma al-Majbari told Al-Ahrar the new votes came after the session was adjourned and after absent lawmakers were asked to vote after the session was terminated. She and another lawmaker who refused to be named said they will contest the decision.

“There are violations in today’s session,” al-Majbari told the TV station.

Omar al-Hassi, a political science professor from the country’s second-largest city of Benghazi, ran against Matiq. He is backed by the hard-line Islamist bloc in parliament.

The vote had already been postponed last week after a shooting broke out outside the main entrance of the parliament.

Interim Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni had declined last month to form a new government, amid intensified divisions and rising unrest in the oil-rich country. The earlier Western-backed prime minister, Ali Zidan, was pushed out of office in March in a no-confidence vote following a standoff between the central government and powerful militias, and a power struggle between Islamists and non-Islamist factions.

Libya has seen a severe deterioration in security over the past two years following the ouster and the killing of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in an eight-month civil war.

SNL Shows What Happens If You Disrespect Beyoncé

Posted: 04 May 2014 08:37 AM PDT

In one of the best SNL sketches we’ve seen in a while, Andrew Garfield played a man who foolishly decided to critique Beyoncé. “She is so good,” he says. “I’m not a huge fan of that of one ‘Drunk In Love’ song though.”

Within seconds, the mock movie trailer takes a dark turn. Garfield’s character finds himself on the run from the Beygency, the group tasked with eliminating anyone who even slightly disses Beyoncé. Along the way, he encounters some fellow celebrity fugitives, one of whom made the fatal mistake of getting a tattoo declaring Rihanna #1.

The only thing that would have made this sketch better if SNL cast member Sasheer Zamata had gotten a little screen time as Beyoncé. She’s already proved she can play that role:

Now you’ll definitely think twice before calling Beyoncé anything other than the supreme, perfect, wonderful, amazing, legendary, beautiful queen that she is.

Study: Fewer Than 1 in 5 Public School Teachers Are Nonwhite

Posted: 04 May 2014 08:24 AM PDT

New research on the “diversity gap” in U.S. public schools has revealed that a mere 18 percent of teachers are nonwhite, while roughly half of all students are minorities.

New studies from the National Education Association and the Center for American Progress focus on the racial breakdown of staff and pupils at the elementary and high school level, the Associated Press reports.

Of the approximately 3.3. million teachers working in 2012, according to the National Center for Education statistics, roughly 82 percent were white, 8 percent were Hispanic, 7 percent were black and 2 percent were Asian.

Meanwhile, 48 percent of public school students are nonwhite, according to the Center for American Progress: 23 percent Hispanic, 16 percent black and 5 percent Asian. The number of minority students has grown steadily. In 1993, they made up 31 percent of public school students. In 2003, that figure was 41 percent. The numbers are expected to continue to grow.

Education groups want action at the political level to attract more African American, Hispanic and Asian teachers. “Nothing can help motivate our students more than to see success standing right in front of them,” says Kevin Gilbert of the NEA’s executive committee.


May the 4th Be With You: A Brief History of Star Wars Day

Posted: 04 May 2014 08:07 AM PDT

Today is not a regular day. Today is Star Wars Day!

Well, unofficially it is. Fans of the franchise adopted May 4 as the day to celebrate all things Star Wars simply because “May the 4th” sounds a lot like “May the force be with you.”

Apparently, we might have former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher to thank for this tradition. She was elected on May 4, 1979 — two years after Star Wars was released. Entertainment Weekly reports that an ad in the London Evening News read, “May The Fourth Be With You, Maggie. Congratulations.”

But it wasn’t until years later (you know, because of the Internet) that the phrase truly took off. In 2011, the Toronto Underground Cinema in Canada put together an organized celebration with a costume contest and a film festival.

Now, businesses have caught on to this unofficial holiday by offering special deals and discounts on Star Wars-related merchandise. If you want to keep corporations from co-opting the day, then bust out your Princess Leia costume and let yourself get a little weird today. May the 4th be with all of you.


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