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.

'This Town': D.C. Awaits Book's Tales Of Big Shots And Ultimate Insiders
Jennifer Skalka Tulumello, The Christian Science Monitor | 'This Town': D.C. Awaits Book's Tales Of Big Shots And Ultimate Insiders | July 12, 2013

Summer is reading season for vacationers, and as the nation’s capital clears out next month for its annual August sabbatical, there’s no doubt that most Washingtonians will tuck one book in particular into their beach bags and backpacks. If they haven’t already snagged an advance copy, as notables are wont to do, and set out for a marathon read.

"This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral – Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking! – in America’s Gilded Capital," by New York Times Magazine chief national correspondent Mark Leibovich, skewers the inappropriately chummy, often insufferable incestuousness that is Washington today. It was a book so feared before publication that Politico, the city’s online chronicler of every tick and tock, did “some reporting on his reporting” several months ahead of its release, which is scheduled for next week...

The Unread: The Mystery Of The Voynich Manuscript
Reed Johnson, The New Yorker | The Unread: The Mystery Of The Voynich Manuscript | July 12, 2013

Stored away in the rare-book library at Yale University is a late-medieval manuscript written in a cramped but punctilious script and illustrated with lively line drawings that have been painted over, at times crudely, with washes of color. These illustrations range from the fanciful (legions of heavy-headed flowers that bear no relation to any earthly variety) to the bizarre (naked and possibly pregnant women, frolicking in what look like amusement-park waterslides from the fifteenth century). With their distended bellies, stick-like arms and legs, and earnest expressions, the naked figures have a whimsical quality, though their anatomy is frankly rendered—something unusual for the period. The manuscript’s botanical drawings are no less strange: the plants appear to be chimerical, combining incompatible parts from different species, even different kingdoms. (Click on the images to expand.) Tentacled balls of roots take the forms of animals, or of human organs—in one case, sprouting two disembodied heads with vexed expressions. But perhaps the oddest thing about this book is that no one has ever read it...

Cornell Scientist's Quest: Perfect Broccoli
Michael Moss, The New York Times | Cornell Scientist's Quest: Perfect Broccoli | July 10, 2013

There it sits, a deep-green beauty at the farmers’ market: that sweet, crisp nutritional dynamo we know as fresh local broccoli.

And then there’s this: a bitter, rubbery mass that’s starting to turn yellow around the tips, all bumped and bruised from its long trip from the field to the supermarket...

Telephone Companies To Abandon Land Lines
Associated Press | Telephone Companies To Abandon Land Lines | July 10, 2013

Robert Post misses his phone line.

Post, 85, has a pacemaker that needs to be checked once a month by phone. But the copper wiring that once connected his home to the rest of the world is gone, and the phone company refuses to restore it.

In October 2012, Superstorm Sandy pushed the sea over Post’s neighborhood in Mantoloking, N.J., leaving hundreds of homes wrecked, and one floating in the bay. The homes on this sandy spit of land along the Jersey Shore are being rebuilt, but Verizon doesn’t want to replace washed-away lines and waterlogged underground cables. Phone lines are outdated, the company says.

Mantoloking is one of the first places in the country where the traditional phone line is going dead...

Gahan Wilson: Born Dead, Still Weird
Steven Charles Jaffe | Gahan Wilson: Born Dead, Still Weird | July 10, 2013

For over 50 years cartoonist Gahan Wilson hgas seen monsters and irony in ordinary situations, turning them into explosive cartoons...

Douglas Engelbart, R.I.P.
Timothy B. Lee, The Washington Post | Douglas Engelbart, R.I.P. | July 3, 2013

The inventor of the mouse has died. Here's why his invention took 30 years to catch on...

Reddit, Mozilla, WordPress, And Others Plan July 4 Protest Against Surveillance
Grant Gross, IDG News Service, via PCWorld | Reddit, Mozilla, WordPress, And Others Plan July 4 Protest Against Surveillance | July 3, 2013

A large coalition of civil rights and privacy groups and potentially thousands of websites will stage protests on the Fourth of July to protest surveillance programs at the U.S. National Security Agency.

As part of the Restore the Fourth campaign, many website members of the 30,000-member Internet Defense League plan to display a protest of NSA surveillance and the text of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Websites participating include Reddit, where Restore the Fourth originated, WordPress, 4chan, Mozilla, Fark, and Cheezburger.com...

The Worst Marine Invasion Ever
Christie Wilcox, Slate | The Worst Marine Invasion Ever | July 2, 2013

"Do you know what this is?" James Morris looks at me, eyes twinkling, as he points to the guts of a dissected lionfish in his lab at the National Ocean Service’s Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research in Beaufort, N.C. I see some white chunky stuff. As a Ph.D. candidate at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, I should know basic fish biology literally inside and out. When I cut open a fish, I can tell you which gross-smelling gooey thing is the liver, which is the stomach, etc. 

He's testing me, I think to myself. Morris is National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's pre-eminent scientist studying the invasion of lionfish into U.S. coastal waters. He’s the lionfish guy, and we met in person for the first time just a few days earlier. We're processing lionfish speared by local divers, taking basic measurements, and removing their stomachs for ongoing diet analyses...

Jeffrey Toobin, The New Yorker | ADIEU, DOMA! | July 1, 2013

The Supreme Court’s embrace of gay rights last week had an almost serene majesty. The obvious correctness of the Court’s judgment, its curt dismissal of a monstrous injustice, had a grandeur that requires little elaboration. Yet the decision had its roots in something prosaic and largely forgotten: the midterm elections of 1986. Until that point in Ronald Reagan’s Presidency, the loyal opposition was more loyal than opposed to the genial Californian in the White House, but Democrats came roaring back, winning control of the Senate with eight new seats...

Innovation Watch: A Bucket Brigade
Nathan Hurst, Columbia Journalism Review | Innovation Watch: A Bucket Brigade | July 1, 2013

Last October, the day before Newsweek announced it would be shutting down its print edition, Peter Bilak launched a crowdfunding campaign for Works That Work, a new design magazine that is experimenting with a new, crowdsourced distribution strategy.

Based in The Hague, Works That Work has been “circulated” as far as San Francisco, Russia, and Brazil in the hands of readers, friends, and backers who pick up copies at half price from central hubs and sell them to friends, bookstores, and other outlets...