IBM

We've Got Stripes

Stripes are having a cultural moment. Our critic takes a look.

What do a new American Airlines liver and a 7-11 brand overhaul have in common?

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The Scientology advertorial that ran on Atlantic.com was embarrassing and sloppy, but was it unethical?

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North Carolina's Research Triangle Park was a cutting edge workplace, in the 1950s. Now, people don't even want to show up for work. Can it be fixed?

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What does “deep blue” mean in this film, or in the Terence Rattigan play that has prompted a movie from Terrence Davies sixty years later? Deep blue is no small matter; it’s not just Miles Davis doing “Kind of Blue,” William Gass’s book On Being Blue, a nickname for IBM, or Lucian Freud’s painting, “Man in a Blue Scarf.” Four out of ten people name blue as their favorite color. So I have always wanted more from The Deep Blue Sea than it ever delivers. Rattigan was the leading English playwright during the war and into the early 1950s, before the disruptions of John Osborne and Harold Pinter.

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Form and Fortune

Steve Jobs By Walter Isaacson (Simon & Schuster, 627 pp., $35) I. In 2010, Der Spiegel published a glowing profile of Steve Jobs, then at the helm of Apple. Jobs’s products are venerated in Germany, especially by young bohemian types. Recently, the Museum of Arts and Crafts in Hamburg presented an exhibition of Apple’s products, with the grandiloquent subtitle “On Electro-Design that Makes History”—a good indication of the country’s infatuation with the company.

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Don't Be Evil

In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives By Steven Levy (Simon & Schuster, 423 pp., $26)  The Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry) By Siva Vaidhyanathan (University of California Press, 265 pp., $26.95)  I. For cyber-optimists and cyber-pessimists alike, the advent of Google marks off two very distinct periods in Internet history. The optimists remember the age before Google as chaotic, inefficient, and disorganized.

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Ok, Computer

In a series of three televised events starting tonight, an IBM supercomputer named Watson is set to compete against two human champions on the game show “Jeopardy!” If the computer wins—and in test matches that IBM has held, Watson has been dominating the humans—it will inspire comparisons to Deep Blue, the chess computer that shocked the world and prompted existential hand-wringing about the nature of human consciousness by beating Garry Kasparov in 1997. But here’s the rub: “Jeopardy!”is actually a terrible way of proving that Watson is more intelligent than its opponents.

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Game Changer

I confess that I’m torn. I had the same cranky reaction to Time’s Person of the Year choice as pretty much the entire Internet: It’s hard to see the calculation that makes Mark Zuckerberg more influential than Julian Assange in 2010. Still, there’s something about this conventional wisdom that’s annoying in its own right. When people riff about the impact of Wikileaks, you typically hear how it’s forever changed diplomacy or intelligence-gathering. The more ambitious accounts will mention the implications for journalism, too. All of that’s true and vaguely relevant.

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In late July the Washington Post published an ambitious report on U.S. national security intelligence that we are told had taken the Post’s staff two years to complete. The project was led by two competent and experienced reporters, Dana Priest and William Arkin, and the report has received an enthusiastic press. Having written about national security intelligence in books like Countering Terrorism: Blurred Focus, Halting Steps (2007), I was looking forward to reading the Post’s report. The report is, in fact, a disappointment.

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It's difficult to find a precise estimate, but the world produces somewhere around 300 billion pounds of plastic waste each year. I can't summon up a good mental picture of what that entails, but the fact that there's a whole island of plastic garbage at least the size of Texas swirling in the Pacific may give a rough idea. Worse, many plastics take forever to degrade—and when they do, they end up as minuscule particles that get absorbed into the food chain. So that's not ideal. But what can be done?

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