VHacks: Inside the Vatican’s First-Ever Hackathon

This past weekend, as tourists milled around St. Peter’s Basilica, one of the holiest sites in the world, snapping selfies and experiencing Michelangelo’s art through their phone’s camera lens, 120 students sat in a 500-year-old palazzo a few hundred meters away, coding for 36 hours straight at the Vatican’s first-ever hackathon. This, it would seem, is the Holy See of the 21st century.

“When I heard about it, I thought it was a joke. Vatican, hackathon—it didn’t add up,” says John Franklin, a senior at Northwestern University who found out about last weekend’s VHacks while participating in another hackathon in 2017. It wasn’t until he saw the event’s themes—creating technological solutions for encouraging social inclusion, promoting interfaith dialogue, and providing resources to migrants and refugees—that he realized it was not only real, but something he wanted to take part in. “I thought, ‘This is unique,’” he says.

And, apart from [...]  read more

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Sam Nunberg’s Media Tour Tops This Week’s Internet News Roundup

Clocks move forward this weekend, which can only mean it’s time for the East Coast to struggle under feet of snow once again. Well, that or it’s time for Barack and Michelle Obama to team up with Netflix to produce shows to guide humanity into the future. While the world keeps turning, however, let’s answer this one very important question: What was the rest of the internet up to last week?

Sam Nunberg Does the Rounds

What Happened: In a move that surely delighted everyone who’d ever wanted to ignore all legal advice and do something stupid, one witness in the ongoing investigation into potential Russian interference in the 2016 election decided to do a media tour after receiving a subpoena for evidence. Whoops!

What Really Happened: Before last week, it’s probably fair to say that most people hadn’t heard of Sam Nunberg. Prior to Monday, he was pretty much known as a former Donald Trump campaign aide who didn’t like Trump. After this week, though? Well, now everyone knows who Sam Nunberg is.

 [...]  read more

Social Media Is Reshaping Sex Work—But Also Threatening It

One morning last May, Melody Kush discovered that someone was using her Twitter photos to catfish people into paying for a Snapchat premium account that didn’t even exist. Kush is a sex worker—an erotic model, to be precise—and for someone who does much of her work via social media, that kind of scam isn’t just an inconvenience. It’s an existential threat to her brand. She asked the imitator to stop; they refused, and blocked her. So she screenshotted the person’s snapcode and asked her 114,000-person Twitter following to report the account for her.

The next day, her Twitter account was permanently deleted—right before she was supposed to teach a social media seminar. “I lost all my content and my entire business,” she says.

To Kush, the only possible explanation is that someone (likely the catfisher) reported her for a non-nude but suggestive photo in her header. “I was the most vanilla person. I never pushed the limits of what was allowed,” Kush said. “But it’s a big fat terms-of-service gray area.”

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While some sex-work directory sites do still exist online, the 2014 federal takedown of popular web hub RedBook hastened a shift that was already in the offing: sex workers taking their marketing into their own hands via social media. “Sex workers have to be hyper, hyper social-media-literate,” [...]  read more

Don’t Do Drugs and Watch ‘Annihilation’

The new movie Annihilation is based on a novel by Jeff VanderMeer, but fans of the book may be startled by just how dramatically the film departs from its source material. But writer Andrew Willett thinks it does a fantastic job of capturing the book’s unsettling atmosphere even as it alters virtually every plot point.

“They definitely made changes that served the needs of a movie,” Willett says in Episode 298 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “Doing things that movies need and things that movies do well, as opposed to things that books do well.”

After the film performed poorly at a test screening last summer, writer-director Alex Garland was asked to make changes, which were rejected. In response the studio sold the foreign rights for the movie to Netflix, meaning that most of the world won’t be able to see the movie in theaters. That’s a real shame, according to Leah Schnelbach, who reviewed Annihilation for Tor.com.

“This is what you want to get out of a movie [...]  read more

A New Star Wars TV Show Is on the Way. Worried? You Shouldn’t Be

The best lightsaber fight in the entire Star Wars canon doesn’t happen in a movie. Hear me out, friends, hear me out. It’s in the 20th episode of the third season of the cartoon Star Wars: Rebels. Short version: the Sith-trained Darth Maul (you know the one, face like a hockey fan) confronts the Jedi master Obi-Wan Kenobi, hiding out on Tatooine to watch over a young Luke Skywalker. After some banter, the two longtime adversaries—Maul killed Obi-Wan’s master, is a thing you probably don’t remember from the prequels—draw their swords and stare at each other for what feels like days. Maul advances, and in three strokes the duel is over.

It’s every bit the samurai-Western kind of fight that the movies no longer do, instead chasing ever more action-packed dopamine-squirts. Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote or co-wrote a bunch of Star Wars movies, told me in an interview once that he saw Jedi like Obi-Wan as descending [...]  read more

Season 2 of ‘Jessica Jones’ Proves She’s Ahead of Her Time

It’s been a long time since the first season of Jessica Jones. Not like I thought this was the future, why do I have to wait six months for a new show? long, but actually long. More than two years long. Sure, Jones herself showed up in The Defenders, but in the time since she had her own show a lot has happened: the sexual misconduct allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein; the #MeToo movement; the Women’s Marches protesting the administration of President Trump. In other words, the show’s second season—which launches today, International Women’s Day—is arriving in a much different world than the one the first season entered.

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In November 2015, cultural conversation was dominated by  [...]  read more

Facebook Didn’t Kill Online Sketch Comedy—The Entire Internet Did

Early last winter, while browsing Manhattan’s Strand bookstore, roommates Carina Hsieh and Claudia Arisso came upon a keychain featuring a tiny version of the totemic, subway-friendly Strand tote bag. “Claudia said, ‘I wish there was a ‘Commuter Barbie’ who came with a Strand bag,’” Hsieh recently recalled. “And I was like, “Oh my God—we have to do that.”

The two women had never written together before, but they quickly devised a script for a “Commuter Barbie” sketch. Arisso, a packaging designer, created an array of Barbie-sized accessories, including a beanie—made out of a black-dyed baby sock—and a tiny pair of pink headphones (to help “tune out the creeps when you’re stuck in the middle seat”). After recruiting a pair of young actors, and hiring a jingle writer, Hsieh and Arisso used their Brooklyn living room to shoot the video, for which they spent around $1,600 of their own money. “The production value was a really big concern for us,” [...]  read more

MoviePass Customer Service Complaints Grow Along With Its Subscriber Base

Last August, MoviePass had 20,000 subscribers. As of February, it had two million. That explosive growth has given the company scale and leverage it hadn’t dreamed possible by this point. It’s also given scores of MoviePass customers a serious headache.

Every fast-expanding company has growing pains. But over the past six months, MoviePass has invited a broad range of complaints, ranging from long waits for membership cards and non-responsive customer service to specific theaters and movies being unexpectedly blacked out.

It’s one thing to tinker under the hood. It’s another to do so when you’re speeding down the highway. But MoviePass is at least aware of the issues, particularly around technical mishaps. “I kind of parachuted in folks to triage the situation, and they were contractors; we outsourced the solution,” says MoviePass CEO Mitch Lowe. “Despite the amount of time we gave it, we hadn’t made as much progress as I wanted.”

The company [...]  read more

The Vatican Hosts a Hackathon

In recent years, organizations have used hackathons to find code-enabled solutions for everything from the opioid crisis to gerrymandering. It’s hard to imagine a field where a hack day hasn’t been utilized to solve one problem or another. But tomorrow a group of budding entrepreneurs, developers, and technologists will be making hackathon history: participating in the first-ever codefest in Vatican City.

The event, VHacks, is bringing together 120 students for a 36-hour hackathon aimed at finding technological solutions for three global issues the Catholic Church hopes to address: social inclusion, interfaith dialogue, and assistance for migrants and refugees.

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Oscars 2018: Movies Always Reflect the World. So Did This Year’s Awards

When Frances McDormand took the stage to accept her Academy Award for Best Actress for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri at the 90th Oscars last night, she looked frazzled. She acknowledged as much. “I’m hyperventilating a little bit,” she said as she took the stage. “If I fall over, pick me up—because I’ve got some things to say.”

That she did. What followed was a highly cheered, trending-on-Twitter speech that distilled the gathering forces of this years’ entire awards ceremony—one that devoted as much of its time to the industry that makes movies as it did to the movies themselves. As McDormand finished thanking all of her Three Billboards colleagues, she implored every other female nominee in the room to rise to their feet. Meryl Streep was first, at McDormand’s urging; writer-director Greta Gerwig joined, as did cinematographer [...]  read more