Television show creators are peering into the geeky and moneyed world of computer programmers with a new comedy from HBO and a drama from AMC, both debuting this spring.
The networks each premiered their tech-centric programs at South by Southwest this week. One show — AMC's Halt and Catch Fire — is a drama that takes place at the dawn of the PC revolution, and the other — HBO's Silicon Valley — is a comedy that lampoons today's tech startups. But they both explore the folks who, for better or worse, are changing the way we live.
In AMC's fictional telling, the race to beat the IBM personal computer in the early 1980s is the stuff of a layered, character-driven story. The show seeks to do for Reagan-era engineers what Breaking Bad did for an erstwhile chemistry teacher. It debuts June 1, in Mad Men's time slot.
"I think if you want to tell a story about people at war with themselves ... trying to figure out what's important and how to order their priorities, at least for my money, the technology of it all is a perfect way to do that," says Jonathan Lisco, Halt and Catch Fire's executive producer.
In today's tech startup world, figuring out what's important sometimes puts young programmers at the heart of multimillion-dollar bidding wars. Or, it turns these socially awkward young people into sudden billionaires, which can make for great gags.
"I find it all really absurd and funny," says Mike Judge, the creator of Silicon Valley. "Engineers, programmers, are just odd people."
Alec Berg is an executive producer, with Judge.
"Socially awkward people with money is a very funny area. I don't think the rail barons were as nerdy and awkward as these guys are. But we live in an era where the Zuckerbergs of the world are king," Berg says.
Staggering sums, society-shifting ideas and weird people. It's all ripe for the imaginations of screenwriters.
"This is where the excitement is right now, so they've just been waiting to film it, and get it financed. I think we'll see even more versions of this," says Nitasha Tiku, co-editor of Valleywag, a site that covers the lives and lifestyles of people in tech.
"I think also people are really scared about technology or they're fascinated by it. They see how quickly it's permeated into their everyday lives. And here are the builders and the creators of that," Tiku said.
Today's creators and builders inform HBO's comedy, while their early personal computing predecessors inspire AMC's drama. Both are fictional tales, based on a similar subculture, and the powerful reality that technology changes the way we live.
"Right now, the way in which one could dramatize best an existential struggle and what is important to people, what sacrifices are you willing to make, is certainly through the portal of technology," Lisco says.
That tech and its programmers are getting their big TV moment could be a reflection of how the American dream is being recast as a startup dream. Or, as Judge suggests, everyone just got the idea at the same time.
"There were a bunch of asteroids-hitting-the-Earth movies all at once," Judge says.
You kind of have to admire headlines such as this:
That's the Mirror doing its best to scare folks into reading its report.
The story behind the scary headline, though, is interesting.
Ocearch, a nonprofit organization that studies "great white sharks and other large apex predators," last year affixed a tracking device to a great white it dubbed Lydia. She was found and tagged near Jacksonville, Fla.
In the year or so since she's been tracked, Lydia has traveled about 19,000 miles, the BBC writes. But it's where she's been in recent days that has really gotten the researchers' attention: She's on the eastern side of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. That makes Lydia the first great white that scientists have been able to track from one side of the Atlantic to the other and into colder waters of the North Atlantic where it was thought great whites might not wish to swim.
Anyone can follow her travels on Ocearch's website. In the past 24 hours, she appears to have turned even a little further east. She's about 1,000 miles from the coast of Ireland.
The part of the story about Lydia possibly being pregnant comes from Ocearch's founder, Chris Fischer. He tells the BBC he thinks she's been "out in the open ocean gestating her babies, and that this spring she will lead us to where those baby white sharks are born — the nursery."
Fischer goes on to say he doubts that shore-goers of the British Isles have to worry about Lydia delivering 2 to 12 pups in their swimming waters. "If you forced me to guess" where she'll give birth, Fischer says, "I'd say it was over in the Mediterranean, near Turkey. ... But that's longball I'm playing. She could turn around right now and head back to Florida."
Meanwhile, is Lydia having some fun with her trackers? We noticed, as did one of her fans, that on one part of her journey it looks as though she was drawing a picture of herself.
Israeli lawmakers have voted to end the practice of exempting ultra-Orthodox Jews, or Haredi, from national service, a move that opens them up to military conscription for the first time in the country's 65-year history.
The Knesset passed the measure 67-1 with the opposition boycotting it in the 120-member legislature.
Haredi Judaism is a branch of the religion that shuns modern secular culture. Adherents, including Hasidic Jews, are distinguished partly by their conservative and uniform attire.
"The law has been heavily criticized by leading experts on haredi society. Last week, a group of 30 leading experts and analysts of the haredi community said that the law, which will provides for the imprisonment of any yeshiva student refusing to serve, would lead to a halt in the integration of the haredi community into national service.
"They warned that the possibility exists that the arrest of yeshiva students could lead to civil rebellion against enlistment, violent protests and a decree from the leading haredi rabbis banning enlistment."
The newspaper says the Movement for Quality Government, which has opposed the bill, would appeal to the High Court.
"The change begins tomorrow morning and it is expected to transform the face of Israeli society unrecognizably," Yaakov Peri, from the Yesh Atid party, which has led the drive for draft reforms, was quoted by The Associated Press as saying.
The AP says:
"Since Israel's founding in 1948, the ultra-Orthodox, who make up about 8 percent of Israel's 8 million citizens, have largely been allowed to avoid military service in order to pursue religious studies. In contrast, most other Jewish men perform three years of compulsory service.
"The stark difference in the society continues well into adulthood. Older religious men often don't work and collect welfare stipends while continuing to study full time.
"The ultra-Orthodox insist their young men serve the nation through prayer and study, thus preserving Jewish learning and heritage. But the exemptions have enraged secular and modern Orthodox Israelis who say the ultra-Orthodox are not doing their fair share."
It's one of our guiltiest pleasures on the Internet, and though some of us may not like to admit it, chances are, we've done it. Some are even addicted. That's right, we're talking about the endless consumption and distribution of food porn.
Photos of fatty foods like grease-laced bacon and glistening donuts abound to satisfy our virtual cravings, yet their healthier counterparts — fruits and veggies - just haven't been getting as much love online.
But why should the junk food guys have all the fun?
That was the thinking behind Food Porn Index, an interactive website that highlights this unhealthy imbalance in social media. The index uses a custom algorithm to track how many times certain food hashtags are used on Twitter and Instagram, updating every 15 minutes.
Sure, the site is part of a marketing campaign from carrot and juice company Bolthouse Farms' — whose thing is to make healthy foods edgy — but it's also pretty interesting nonetheless.
On the index's front page, you'll find a grid of boxes featuring 24 different food hashtags and pictures - 12 healthy ones and 12 unhealthy ones - along with the number of times they've been mentioned. Depending on which box you click on, you'll be shuttled over to a different interactive experience — say, a fast-paced game of "guac-a-mole or a trippy "melon meditation," led by a soothing voice.
The goal is to sway the online conversation to be more about fruits and vegetables, and less about junk food, in a lighthearted way, says Todd Putman, Bolthouse's chief officer or marketing and innovation. He plans to showcase the success of the website at the Partnership for a Healthier America summit this week, where first lady Michelle Obama will be speaking.
"We're aiming for humor, to make guacamole fun, to really bring to life the juxtaposition of Brussels sprouts and having fun with them," he says. "Because people don't necessarily do that today and ... we think [that], to the extent that you can have fun with fruits and vegetables, it can accelerate the consumption. (For the record, we here at The Salt have always found guacamole fun.)
Bolthouse may be onto something. Over half of Americans who use social media agree that seeing photos of fruits and vegetables actually motivates them to eat healthier, according to a recent survey that market research company Harris Interactive conducted for Bolthouse. At the same time, about a third of respondents admitted that those glorified photos of cookies, pizza and cake also make them give into their unhealthy cravings.
"What better way than to have a little bit of a laugh around something that's quite serious, which is the way the people eat in this country," Putman says. "We all know [our eating habits are] out of whack, out of balance, and you can clearly see that mathematically."
To date, the website has collected nearly 200 million hashtags — 71 percent are for junk food, while only 29 percent are for healthy foods. That's actually a slight improvement from when the site was first launched back in February, when the numbers sat at 72.4 percent and 27.6 percent.
While junk food may be winning the hashtag war so far, the site is getting attention - attracting 42,000 unique visitors in under a month. Putman hopes that will encourage other marketers to get more playful with selling healthy foods.
"Marketing of healthy fruits and vegetables need to be more creative, needs to be more innovative, needs to be more relevant ... and more emotive versus rational," he says.
This week, All Things Considered is exploring a counterfactual history of World War I, and we invite you to participate. Use the form below to imagine how one aspect of the past 100 years would be different if Archduke Franz Ferdinand had not been killed in 1914. We will share some of the responses in a future segment.
This summer marks 100 years since the start of World War I. Many argue that the conflict was inevitable — but what if it wasn't?
Without the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, there would have been no need for rulers in Vienna to threaten Serbia, no need for Russia to come to Serbia's defense, no need for Germany to come to Austria's defense — and no call for France and Britain to honor their treaties with Russia.
What would be the ripples of this counter-history?
All Things Considered host Robert Siegel put the hypothetical question to three historians: Ned Lebow, author of Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives!, Margaret MacMillan, author of The War That Ended Peace, and Christopher Clark, author of The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War.
Some highlights from their counterfactual history:
- A multi-national successor to Austria-Hungary would have developed in Central Europe.
- Czarist Russia doesn't become completely undone, so the Bolshevik party's October Revolution fails. Vladimir Lenin moves to the United States where he becomes a professor of Russian history at Columbia University. Having maintained his left-wing connections, he comes in contact with the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and helps write the pro-union musical, Pins and Needles.
- The Germany of the 1920s is not bled by the victorious and vindictive allies so the Nazis never come power. Europe would have been a more German-speaking continent.
- Adolf Hitler — an aspiring artist and vegetarian — never goes to war and never enters politics. Instead, he becomes the manager of a company that produces alternative medicine.
- Jews continue to thrive, and there is no Holocaust. The small Jewish settlement in Palestine continues, but without a flood of refuges it remains a minority community there.
- Without World War I, there is no World War II and no Cold War. Science develops much slower — the U.S. doesn't put a man on the moon, there is no atomic bomb, and penicillin and antibiotics are slower to hit the market.