"Groupon was a huge huge success and potentially a huge huge failure. That neither made Chicago nor does it need to break Chicago."
If you're not from Chicago and you think, "Chicago startups," the company that probably comes to mind is Groupon. Groupon had a heralded IPO and, in recent months, an equally heralded decline. So, perhaps the question I was most interested in answering during our time in the city was, "How has Groupon's meteoric rise and fall changed the startup scene?"
For the answer to that question, I went to Terry Howerton, who has been around the Chicago startup scene since the mid-2000s. He founded the Illinois Technology Association seven years ago, and later, the community hub, TechNexus in 2007. He's met thousands of people in the city's tech scene and has watched more than a few trends rise and fall. In other words, if anyone can say how the Chicago startup scene has been changed by Groupon's story, it's him.
"Groupon was a flare that went up and lit up the ground below, and people looked around and said, 'Huh, there's a lot here.'" Howerton said. "The danger is once that flare starts to extinguish as maybe happened with Groupon -- as probably happened with Groupon -- are there any lights remaining?"
Traditionally, the thought has been that once a city has a company with a big IPO -- think PayPal or Microsoft or Google -- that pumps a lot of money into the place's startup ecosystem. You've got a bunch of youngish people walking around with huge bank accounts and substantial risk tolerance. While he acknowledged the venture capital firm, Lightbank, which was formed by Groupon co-founders Eric Lefkofsky and Brad Keywell, Howerton said that Groupon has not been a boon to Chicago's startup scene, at least not yet.
"I don't think there has been a lot of capital that has flooded into Chicago through the Groupon exit," Howerton said. "You think about the success of a company like Microsoft and the early days of Microsoft in Seattle. It was not that 10 guys got wealthy but hundreds and hundreds of people became millionaires. We haven't yet seen that from Groupon. In some ways, it's not a tech company. You just don't have hundreds of engineers who made a million dollars."
Even so, Howerton seems content with that reality. After all, he thinks Chicago shouldn't lionize business-to-consumer startups just because the media (like your loyal correspondent) like them more. In fact, Howerton is excited about a whole different class of companies and types of work.
"A lot of the technology that exists here today isn't B2C, it's B2B, it's industry transformative and it's incredibly important," he said. "It's companies like ArrowStream that do $100 million a year doing supply chain management for paper products for fast food restaurants. If they were doing $100 million a year in any B2C, they'd be written about as if they were the second coming."
It's actually amazing. If you look at ArrowStream's customer list -- IHOP, Wendy's, Cinnabon, Panda Express, KFC, Friendly's, etc. -- they're probably helping a restaurant on every street in America. But he's right: Who has ever heard of ArrowStream?
In fact, Howerton thinks that companies like that could be Chicago's tech scene bread and butter. There are already so many established large corporations in Chicago in logistics, finance, and healthcare that he sees the city as a place that could provide unique collaborations between startups and big business.
Howerton said that there are several macro trends driving corporations to work with new companies. For one, big businesses have unprecedented amounts of cash on their balance sheets. It's not just Apple that's sitting on money. Recent reports peg the amount of dollars on corporate balance sheets at nearly $2 trillion! Those companies, like State Farm Insurance or Walgreens, want to innovate and stay ahead of potential disruptive competitors, but they just don't know how.
"State Farm has 12,000 employees in IT in Bloomington," Howerton said. "I'm sure many of those employees are really smart people, but how innovative can you be with 12,000 IT workers in your bureaucratic corporate environment in an industry as historic as insurance?"
Or take Walgreens. They recently released an API for their "QuickPrint" feature, which allows you to send photos to Walgreen's and pick them up in a store. "They invited us to organize hackathons for them to bring dozens of technology teams to brainstorm business and app ideas that integrate QuickPrints," he said. The teams get access to the people who built the API and the winners of the competitions make some money. Meanwhile, Walgreens gets technologists building apps using their platform in a way that they probably wouldn't themselves.
With the right corporate friends and deep knowledge of the technology scene in Chicago, TechNexus isn't trying to be like it's flashy neighbor, 1871 Chicago. They're not trying to draw the latest web startup. What they want to do is create an environment where all kinds of technology startups -- especially those with hardcore engineering and computer science at their cores -- can find serious investors and partners.
All this to say: Howerton's idea of a real technology scene in Chicago doesn't end with a certain daily-deals company that happened to go public last year.
"Groupon was a huge huge success and potentially a huge huge failure," Howeton said. "That neither made Chicago nor does it need to break Chicago."
Thicker ink, fewer smudges, and more strained hands: an Object Lesson
Recently, Bic launched acampaign to “save handwriting.” Named “Fight for Your Write,” it includes a pledge to “encourage the act of handwriting” in the pledge-taker’s home and community, and emphasizes putting more of the company’s ballpoints into classrooms.
As a teacher, I couldn’t help but wonder how anyone could think there’s a shortage. I find ballpoint pens all over the place: on classroom floors, behind desks. Dozens of castaways collect in cups on every teacher’s desk. They’re so ubiquitous that the word “ballpoint” is rarely used; they’re just “pens.” But despite its popularity, the ballpoint pen is relatively new in the history of handwriting, and its influence on popular handwriting is more complicated than the Bic campaign would imply.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
The new drama series, which follows the Colombian kingpin’s rise to power, feels more like a well-researched documentary than the gripping saga it wants to be.
Netflix’s new series Narcos is possibly arriving at the wrong time: The doldrums of summer aren’t really the ideal moment for a narratively dense, documentary-like look at the rise and fall of the Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. Narrated in voiceover by DEA Agent Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook), the early hours of Narcos feel like a history lesson, though an visually sumptuous one.
As Netflix continues to expand its streaming empire, it’s making a concerted effort to appeal to worldwide audiences, and Narcos fits neatly into that plan, alongside last year’s expensive critical flop Marco Polo. Narcos was shot on location in Colombia and stars the acclaimed Brazilian actor Wagner Moura as Escobar. It takes full advantage of its setting, loaded with sweeping helicopter shots of the Colombian jungle where Escobar founded his cocaine empire, filling a power vacuum left by various political upheavals in late-’70s South America.
Wine snobs, string quartets, and the limits of intuition
Several months ago, this author sat at a classical music concert, trying to convince himself that wine is not bullshit.
That may seem like a strange thought to have while listening to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major. But Priceonomics had recently posted an article investigating The Price of Wine, part of which reviewed research that cast doubt on both consumers’ and wine experts’ ability to distinguish between quality wine and table wine or identify different wines and their flavors. It seemed a slippery slope to the conclusion that wine culture is nothing more than actors performing a snobbish play.
Listening to an accomplished musician while lacking any musical experience resulted in a feeling familiar to casual wine drinkers imbibing an expensive bottle: Feeling somewhat ambivalent and wondering whether you are convincing yourself that you enjoy it so as not to appear uncultured.
Dealing with misinformation, feeling powerless, and slowly getting better together
I thought the article would validate my husband’s experience. That’s why I emailed him the link to the decade-old New York magazine article about his alma mater, the American Boychoir School for vocal prodigies, where alumni from as late as the 1990s estimate that one in five boys were molested. Boys like Travis.
“It used to feel like an isolated incident that affected just me," Trav said.
It was the end of my workday on an October afternoon; I had just set my keys on the kitchen table. My coat was still buttoned.
“Now I know I spent nearly three years of my childhood at a boarding school not just with random pedophiles, but in a culture that allowed it.”
As his wife, how do I respond? That he survived? That he’s brave? That he’s a hero for letting me talk about it? That I will stand beside him with a personal mission and public vow that nobody will ever hurt him, physically or emotionally, again, the way they did during his 30 months as a choirboy from 1988 to 1990?.
On the desperation behind the migrant tragedy in Austria
On Thursday, as Krishnadev Calamur has been tracking in The Atlantic’s new Notes section, Austrian authorities made a ghastly discovery: a truck abandoned in the emergency lane of a highway near the Hungarian border, packed with the decomposing bodies of 59 men, eight women, and four children. They are thoughtto be the corpses of migrants who suffocated to death, perhaps two days earlier, in the bowels of a vehicle whose back door was locked shut and refrigeration and ventilation systems weren’t functional. Stray identity documents suggest that at least some of the victims were Syrian—refugees from that country’s brutal civil war. The truck featured an image of a chicken and a slogan from the Slovakian poultry company that the lorry once belonged to: “I taste so good because they feed me so well.”
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
A new study finds an algorithmic word analysis is flawless at determining whether a person will have a psychotic episode.
Although the language of thinking is deliberate—let me think, I have to do some thinking—the actual experience of having thoughts is often passive. Ideas pop up like dandelions; thoughts occur suddenly and escape without warning. People swim in and out of pools of thought in a way that can feel, paradoxically, mindless.
Most of the time, people don’t actively track the way one thought flows into the next. But in psychiatry, much attention is paid to such intricacies of thinking. For instance, disorganized thought, evidenced by disjointed patterns in speech, is considered a hallmark characteristic of schizophrenia. Several studies of at-risk youths have found that doctors are able to guess with impressive accuracy—the best predictive models hover around 79 percent—whether a person will develop psychosis based on tracking that person’s speech patterns in interviews.
The GOP frontrunner’s surprising staying power has inspired soul-searching and agony among party elites.
What is happening to the Republican Party? I put that question to Lindsey Graham, the senator from South Carolina and basement-dwelling presidential candidate, who was getting ready to hold a campaign event in Hooksett, New Hampshire. “Well, the front-runner is crazy,” Graham said.
He was referring, of course, to Donald Trump, the GOP’s seemingly unstoppable chart-topper, who has survived outrage after outrage that would have ruined a conventional candidate. He commands, on average, double the support, among potential Republican primary voters, of his nearest challenger. Graham—who is running in 15th place—calls him “a huckster billionaire whose political ideas are gibberish.” And while he expects voters eventually to come to their senses, he said, “I think a certain amount of damage has been done already.”
Every time you shrug, you don’t need to Google, then copy, then paste.
Updated, 2:20 p.m.
All hail ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
In its 11 strokes, the symbol encapsulates what it’s like to be an individual on the Internet. With raised arms and a half-turned smile, it exudes the melancholia, the malaise, the acceptance, and (finally) the embrace of knowing that something’s wrong on the Internet and you can’t do anything about it.
As Kyle Chayka writes in a new history of the symbol at The Awl, the meaning of the “the shruggie” is always two, if not three- or four-, fold. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ represents nihilism, “bemused resignation,” and “a Zen-like tool to accept the chaos of universe.” It is Sisyphus in unicode. I use it at least 10 times a day.
For a long time, however, I used it with some difficulty. Unlike better-known emoticons like :) or ;), ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ borrows characters from the Japanese syllabary called katakana. That makes it a kaomoji, a Japanese emoticon; it also makes it, on Western alphabetical keyboards at least, very hard to type. But then I found a solution, and it saves me having to google “smiley sideways shrug” every time I want to quickly rail at the world’s inherent lack of meaning.