Daily Briefing

Deep buzz for the content-deprived

Every weekday, while you get showered and dressed, we pluck these dewy- fresh, breaking stories from the info-clogged byways of the datasphere. Pour yourself a cup of coffee and stoke up on everything you need to know, or at least enough to fake it.

The Pentagon As Silicon Valley's Incubator
Somini Sengupta, The New York Times | The Pentagon As Silicon Valley's Incubator | August 23, 2013

In the ranks of technology incubator programs, there is AngelPad here in San Francisco and Y Combinator about 40 miles south in Mountain View. And then there is the Pentagon.

In the last year, former Department of Defense and intelligence agency operatives have headed to Silicon Valley to create technology start-ups specializing in tools aimed at thwarting online threats. Frequent reports of cyberattacks have expanded the demand for security tools, in both the public and private sectors, and venture capital money has followed. In 2012, more than $1 billion in venture financing poured into security start-ups, more than double the amount in 2010, according to the National Venture Capital Association...

Kentucky Health Workers Pitch Obamacare At State Fair Alongside Corn Dogs, Fried Kool-Aid

A middle-aged man in a red golf shirt shuffles up to a small folding table with gold trim, in a booth adorned with a flotilla of helium balloons, where government workers at the Kentucky State Fair are hawking the virtues of Kynect, the state’s health benefit exchange established by Obamacare.

The man is impressed. "This beats Obamacare I hope," he mutters to one of the workers.

“Do I burst his bubble?” wonders Reina Diaz-Dempsey, overseeing the operation. She doesn't. If he signs up, it's a win-win, whether he knows he's been ensnared by Obamacare or not...

The God of 'SNL' Will See You Now
Dave Itzkoff, The New York Times | The God of 'SNL' Will See You Now | August 22, 2013

For nearly 40 years, “Saturday Night Live” has been a reliable engine for generating new comedic talent, and a springboard for stars like Dana Carvey, Will Ferrell, Jimmy Fallon and Kristen Wiig.

Though new cast members come from many different avenues, there’s ultimately only one way to get on this NBC late-night franchise: impress Lorne Michaels, the “SNL” creator and executive producer who has run the show for 33 of its 38 seasons and is known for his cryptic, sphinxlike presence over the show.

This year he and his team have their work cut out for them as they try to replace the veteran “SNL” players Bill Hader, Fred Armisen and Jason Sudeikis and prepare for the departure of Seth Meyers early next year. These losses will test a tradition that has evolved through decades...

Marian McPartland, 'Piano Jazz' Host, Has Died
Morning Edition, NPR | Marian McPartland, 'Piano Jazz' Host, Has Died | August 22, 2013

For more than 40 years, she brought conversations with jazz greats to an audience of millions... Listen here.

LSD And Other Psychedelics Not Linked With Mental Health Problems, Analysis Suggests

The use of LSD, magic mushrooms, or peyote does not increase a person's risk of developing mental health problems, according to an analysis of information from more than 130,000 randomly chosen people, including 22,000 people who had used psychedelics at least once.

Researcher Teri Krebs and clinical psychologist Pål-Ørjan Johansen, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's (NTNU) Department of Neuroscience, used data from a US national health survey to see what association there was, if any, between psychedelic drug use and mental health problems.

The authors found no link between the use of psychedelic drugs and a range of mental health problems. Instead they found some significant associations between the use of psychedelic drugs and fewer mental health problems...

How Four Years Can (And Should) Transform You
Michael S. Roth, The New York Times | How Four Years Can (And Should) Transform You | August 21, 2013

When young people starting their college careers ask me what they should look for when they get to campus, I tell them: find out who the great teachers are. It doesn’t matter much what the subject is. Find a real teacher, and you may open yourself to transformation — to discovering whom you might become. This can be the great gift of a liberal education.

Yes, I sometimes get puzzled looks. Or eye rolls.

If I meet any students heading to the University of Virginia, I will tell them to seek out Mark Edmundson, an English professor and the author of a new collection of essays called “Why Teach?” For Mr. Edmundson, teaching is a calling, an urgent endeavor in which the lives — he says the souls — of students are at stake...

Easy On The Adverbs, Exclamation Points And Especially Hooptedoodle
Elmore Leonard, The New York Times | Easy On The Adverbs, Exclamation Points And Especially Hooptedoodle | August 20, 2013

These are rules I've picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I'm writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what's taking place in the story. If you have a facility for language and imagery and the sound of your voice pleases you, invisibility is not what you are after, and you can skip the rules. Still, you might look them over...

How Laura Poitras Helped Snowden Spill His Secret
Peter Maass, The New York Times Magazine | How Laura Poitras Helped Snowden Spill His Secret | August 19, 2013

This past January, Laura Poitras received a curious e-mail from an anonymous stranger requesting her public encryption key. For almost two years, Poitras had been working on a documentary about surveillance, and she occasionally received queries from strangers. She replied to this one and sent her public key — allowing him or her to send an encrypted e-mail that only Poitras could open, with her private key — but she didn’t think much would come of it...

How Does All Your Stuff Get To You? Inside The Shipping Industry
Rose George, The Daily Beast | How Does All Your Stuff Get To You? Inside The Shipping Industry | August 19, 2013

Let’s play a game. I’m sitting at my desk, drinking mint tea and eating toffees. In front of me is my laptop. Around me are files, folders, books, office chaos. And as I chew, I begin to play a game: I count the ships. I count the ships behind the laptop and its components; and the one behind the toffees, made in Germany, sent by ship. The bottom of my coffee mug says it was fired in Northamptonshire, England, but still, behind the pretty patterned roses I see the ships that fetched the ink that painted them. I see the Grete Maersk coming from Bremerhaven with my toffee; the Cscl Africa arriving from Guangdong with my logic board; the MV Bravery leaving Russia, forcing itself through the awful, nauseating Barents Sea in winter with the Murmansk timber that became my books. The only thing I can't play the game with is the mint tea: the water came from Yorkshire and the mint came out of my garden. Everything else probably came by ship because nearly everything does. Ninety percent of world trade travels by sea even now when we travel mostly by car or plane, so that the sea—the working sea—is a blue blank on a moving inflight map, or somewhere to sail yachts on or to swim in.

An Afghan Poet Shapes Metal And Hard Words
Azam Ahmed, The New York Times | An Afghan Poet Shapes Metal And Hard Words | August 19, 2013

The poet guided a strip of sheet metal into the ancient steel clippers, cutting shimmering triangles that fell with a dull clang on the shop floor.

In the background, a workman’s chorus filled the yard: a handsaw planing a log beam; a generator humming and catching; the groan of a giant diesel truck idling.

The harsh music of the workday welled up around Matiullah Turab, one of Afghanistan’s most famous Pashtun poets, in the garage where he earns a living repairing the colorful Pakistani caravan trucks that transport goods around the countryside.

The cadence of his nights, though, is his own: shaping poetry as hard and piercing as the tools he uses by day. Nature and romance carry no interest for him.

“A poet’s job is not to write about love,” he growled, his booming voice blending with the ambient noise of the workshop. “A poet’s job is not to write about flowers. A poet must write about the plight and pain of the people.”...