When Instruments Are Replaced by Computer Software

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At Oxford American, writer and musician Ginger Dellenbaugh looks at how the steel guitar established itself as an American instrument, and why there may be so few people mastering it today:

Recently, I met a friend at his studio in East Nashville to listen to some of his new demos. The second track featured a beautiful pedal steel solo.

“Who played that?” I asked.

“No one,” he answered, pulling up a window on his computer. “It’s Wavelore.”

Wavelore is an online company that offers software for the replication of what, until now, were instruments that were difficult to convincingly reproduce digitally: dobro, pedal steel, theremin, zither. The Wavelore Pedal Steel Guitar is a software library that uses single note samples, instead of pre-recorded licks or patterns, to let you design custom pedal steel guitar sounds without ever getting near an actual instrument. If you play around with the pitch bender and add some reverb, it is difficult to distinguish the software from a real player when it’s set into a track. There is even a function that distinguishes between blocking (muting) a string with a pick or with the side of your palm. The sounds I had thought were played by a session player were, in fact, oblong black boxes on my friend’s monitor where the pedal steel line was represented by constantly morphing, nebulous green wisps. Technology has finally caught up with the complexities that had protected the pedal steel from digital replacement: one can now get an authentic pedal steel sound without using a real player.

Read the story.

Photo: Graham Hellewell

Darfur and a ‘Web of Lies’

The web of lies that various parts of the United Nations has woven about Darfur is vast. Orwellian doublespeak deliberately disguises reality and distorts words. U.N. reports on the region, for instance, typically and euphemistically use “air strikes” for indiscriminate bombing of civilians, “sporadic clashes” for continuous war, and “sexual and gender-based violence” for systematic rape. As for their references to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s “regular forces,” I often wondered how there could be anything “regular” about the hordes of fighters who operate lawlessly and jointly with the Janjaweed death squads. They make no distinction between civilians and combatants, bomb children and terrorize adults, rape women, and loot and burn everything they find to the ground.

-Former UN spokesperson Aicha Elbasri, in Foreign Policy, on the failure and corruption of the UN/African Union mission in Darfur. Read more on Darfur.

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

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Photo by Jessica Rinaldi / Boston Globe staff

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Below, our favorite stories of the week. Kindle and Readmill users, you can also get them as a Readlist.

Sign up to receive this list free every Friday in your inbox.

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This Book Is Now a Pulitzer Prize Winner: An Excerpt from ‘Toms River’ by Dan Fagin

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Dan Fagin | Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation | 2013 |  9 minutes (2,153 words)

This year’s Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction was awarded yesterday to Dan Fagin, an NYU science journalism professor, for Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation. According to the Pulitzer committee, Fagin’s book, which chronicles the effects of chemical waste dumping on a small New Jersey community, “deftly combines investigative reporting and historical research to probe a New Jersey seashore town’s cluster of childhood cancers linked to water and air pollution.” Thank you to Fagin and Bantam Books for allowing us to reprint the excerpt below.

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It is no small challenge to spend long days and longer nights in a place where children die, but Lisa Boornazian had the knack. She began working at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in 1991, during the summer of her senior year of nursing school at Villanova University. The following year she found a home in the cancer ward at CHOP. Back then she was Lisa Davenport, and not much older than some of her patients. “I loved working in oncology. I saw plenty of nurses who came to work at the unit and it wasn’t what they expected. They just couldn’t stay. But I loved it,” she remembered. The ward was a surprisingly lively place, where little kids dashed down the wide hallways with their wheeled intravenous stands clattering beside them. The older children, though, were much more difficult to deal with. “The teenagers had a grasp of death, and what the diagnosis meant,” Boornazian said. “The younger kids mostly had no idea.” Those with brain or bone cancers faced long odds. Survival rates were better for children with blood cancers, principally leukemia and lymphoma, but their treatments took many months and were brutal: chemotherapy, often followed by radiation and bone marrow transplants.

The work shifts on the oncology ward were organized in a way that made it impossible for the nurses to keep an emotional distance from their assigned patients, since the same three or four nurses would take care of a child for months on end. Their relationships with parents were equally intense. Many parents practically lived in the ward and went home only to shower and change clothes before rushing back. The nurses worked under the unforgiving gaze of mothers and fathers driven half-mad by lack of sleep and the sight of their children enduring a pitiless cycle of excruciating needle sticks, nausea attacks, and dressing changes. Parents would frequently take out their anger on the nurses, and the nurses who lasted on the ward learned to respond without rancor or condescension. The long shifts, especially the sleepless overnights, created an intimacy among nurse, parent, and child that no one else could share—certainly not the doctors and social workers, who were mere transients by comparison. The nurses were family. And when it was time for a funeral, the nurses did what family members do: They showed up, and they mourned.
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The $30 Million Clinkle Mystery

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Clinkle’s growth team proved effective at signing up more than 100,000 would-be users — this, despite being a little hazy about precisely what they were selling.

Says one former growth team member, “I never saw a direct demonstration of the product.”

The growth teams met ambitious goals by targeting the most influential students on campus, such as group presidents and fraternity and sorority leaders. The leaders were shown some images from the website, and the deal was sealed with a compelling prize: If the entire organization signed up for Clinkle’s waitlist, then all of them downloaded the app on the day it became available, the group could win a $500 party, spa visit or stereo-system package. None of the pitches included a demo of the actual app.

After July, Duplan had dictated that no one — including potential hires and even some employees — would be shown the app anymore.

-Alyson Shontell, in Business Insider, on the story of 21-year-old Stanford graduate Lucas Duplan, whose company Clinkle raised $30 million, but hasn’t yet released a product. Read more on startups.

The History of the Future: a Reading List

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Below is a guest reading list from Daniel A. Gross, journalist-in-residence at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. He also writes and produces radio about the lives of stuff and the stuff of life.

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Journalism has been called the first draft of history. Here are 5 technology stories that belong in the second draft. Like a lot of technology journalism, they’re each focused on an emerging future, which at times makes them a bit breathless with excitement. But unlike most technology journalism, these stories have only gotten better with age. They’re sprinkled with uncanny predictions and unexpected depth about the devices we’ve come to take for granted. (more…)

The 2014 Pulitzer Prize Winners

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This year’s Pulitzer Prize winners are outThe Washington Post and The Guardian shared a Pulitzer for public service for their reporting on the Edward Snowden leaks and widespread NSA surveillance, the Boston Globe was honored for its coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing, Chris Hamby of the Center for Public Integrity won for his black lung investigation, and Will Hobson and Michael LaForgia received a Pulitzer for the Tampa Bay Times’ investigation of a homeless housing program. (more…)

Spiraling Debt, Mortgages and the Two-Income Family

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Warren believes that the two-income family has contributed to the bankruptcy rate. “For middle-class families, the most important part of the safety net for generations has been the stay-at-home mother,” Warren and her daughter, Amelia Warren Tyagi, wrote in “The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke” (2003), a book aimed at a wider audience than Warren’s earlier, academic work. (“Mom, you are boring,” Tyagi told Warren. “Collaborating with my daughter is not for sissies,” Warren says.) It used to be that when a middle-class family was faced with a financial crisis the woman in the house could get a job, to tide things over, which is what happened when Warren’s father had a heart attack and her mother got a job at Sears. This cushion doesn’t exist in the two-income family, which, in its short history—it has its origins, as a middle-class phenomenon, in the nineteen-seventies—has also taken on a great deal more housing debt. The 1974 Equal Credit Opportunity Act required lenders to count a wife’s income when evaluating borrowers; the deregulation of the mortgage lending industry began in 1980. With two wage earners and low down payments, middle-class families took on bigger mortgages and contributed to an increase in the cost of housing, especially when families with children paid a premium for property in school districts with high test scores. Financial crisis, for a two-income family, usually means having to live, quite suddenly, on one income. In these straits, families with children tend to totter on the edge of ruin. “Having a child is now the single best predictor that a woman will end up in financial collapse,” Warren and Tyagi reported. Between 1981 and 2001, the number of women filing for bankruptcy rose more than six hundred percent.

-Jill Lepore, in The New Yorker, on the books of Elizabeth Warren. Read more on Warren in the Longreads Archive.

The Last Hand-Me-Down: Retracing My Brother’s Life Through His Clothes

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Tom MolanphyLoud Memories of a Quiet Life (OutPost 19) | May 2012 | 18 minutes (4,652 words)

Tom Molanphy earned his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Montana. He freelances for 10Best/Travel Media Group at USA Today and teaches creative writing, composition and journalism at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. This essay previously appeared in “Loud Memories Of A Quiet Life,” published by OutPost19, and our thanks to Molanphy for allowing us to reprint it here.

Many things conspired
To tell the whole story.
Not only did they touch me,
Or my hand touched them:
They were
So close
That they were a part
Of my being,
They were so alive with me
That they lived half my life
And will die half my death

- from “Ode to Things” by Pablo Neruda

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 for Paul

It’s dark and quiet in my brother’s closet. Brian, my other brother, rummages through bathroom drawers, rattling painkillers in their bottles. He’s checking for used razors, combs, brushes — anything with hair or skin or “part of Paul.” My Dad, on his knees in the living room, jimmies the lock on a long, black trunk, a keepsake of Paul’s from our Uncle Jack. He clears his throat in the deep, rumbling way he does before diving into a tough job. We’re each looking for what to take and what to leave. (more…)

The Business of Books: A Reading List

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1. At the small publishing company where I work, the pace these past few months has been chaotic. We send representatives to book festivals in L.A., Tucson, Philadelphia, the D.C. suburbs and New York City. We didn’t get to AWP in Seattle, though, so I was delighted by David W. Brown’s write-up for The Atlantic, “11,800 People Sharing in the Existential Agony of Writing.”

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