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Pinterest has created a database of "things in the world that matter to human beings," says Alexis Madrigal. ( Pinterest)

Can Pinterest Compete With Google's Search?

by Alexis Madrigal
Jul 30, 2014 (Fresh Air)

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The Pinterest interface is simple: Just click a button, and any Web page gets broken down into its constituent images. Any of those can be added to your own set of images, known on Pinterest as a board. Other people can find those boards, and copy what they like — or simply search through all the photos on the site.

Pinterest didn't take off among tech-loving men in California. Rather, it was young women away from the coasts who initially flocked to the site to plan everything from simple dinners to weddings. Now, it has tens of millions of users who have copied billions of pictures onto boards about everything from macrame to sports cars.

Pinterest is mostly known as a place people go to find things to buy or make. The company likes to say that Pinterest is about planning your future, but it's also just about seeing — visually — a bunch of interesting stuff on a theme, all in one place. So there are boards for wedding planning and child rearing and men's linen suits, but also for kittens and model airplanes and mountains. Some boards are just a mood like "monumental" or "cute" or "adventurous."

Despite this popularity, Pinterest has never attracted the same kind of press or adulation as the companies that grew up around the same time — businesses like Instagram, Uber or even Dropbox. Pinterest just isn't seen as a hardcore technology company that will follow the path of Google and Facebook. To some people, it doesn't feel like a world-shaping product. "It's just a digital scrapbook," people say.

But Internet companies are valuable in large part because of the kind of data that they possess. And Pinterest possesses some really, really interesting data. The first part of it is that they are a repository of things that people would like to have or do. They're a database of intentions. And that has got to be valuable to marketers and advertisers.

But it goes deeper than that. What Pinterest has created — almost unintentionally — is a database of things in the world that matter to human beings. While Google crunches numbers to figure out what's relevant, Pinterest's human users define what is relevant for a given topic. And because of that, they could become a legitimate competitor to Google, the world's most valuable Internet company.

That idea crystallized for me when I saw a heavy user of Pinterest playing with the service. She looked up nature photography. Then she started adding descriptors: winter, ocean, African. Each of these adjectives brought up an entirely different set of pictures, each with its own collection of moods and aesthetics. If what you're looking for is a thing or a type of thing out there in the world, Pinterest is more likely to serve it up to you than even Google. Frogs, sneakers, cloud formations, volcanoes, subway graffiti, footie pajamas — Google will deliver Web pages about these things, but Pinterest will show you a photo of the thing itself, and increasingly, the opportunity to buy it or get to it or experience it.

By letting people copy and label images, Pinterest created this rich database of persons, places and things. And it is just beginning to use that data to help people find stuff. With a programming team that's largely been hired away from Google, Pinterest has begun offering what it calls "guided search."

Pinterest co-founder Evan Sharp told me that guided search helps you find things you didn't know that you were looking for. If Google is great when you know exactly what you want, Pinterest can help you figure out what you want. As you search, Pinterest will suggest tags that you could add to help narrow your query. Search for hats on Pinterest and you might get "fedora" or "baseball" or "church lady" as suggestions.

The lesson here is that the simplest things we do on the Internet, when you multiply them by millions of people, create troves of data that were inconceivable at any other time in human history. And in many cases, the companies that possess the data we've created over the past five years are still learning exactly how to harness it to do new things, whether that's making more money for themselves, or delivering you up exactly the hat or photograph that you were looking for.

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of The Atlantic.com, where he also oversees the technology channel, and a visiting scholar at Berkeley's Center for Science, Technology, Medicine and Society.

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A remix of "Tough Love" by Jessie Ware is featured on this week's show. (Courtesy of the artist)

Metropolis: 7/26/14

Jul 30, 2014 (KCRW-FM)

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  • London Grammar, "Hey Now (Arty Remix)" (Columbia)
  • Porter Robinson, "Lionhearted feat. Urban Cone (Arty Mix)" (Astralwerks)
  • Gabriel & Dresden, "New Ground" (Organized Nature)
  • Basement Jaxx, "Never Say Never (Mark Knight Remix)" ([PIAS] America)
  • Example, "10 Million People (Static Revenger Mix)" (Promo)
  • SBTRKT, "New Dorp New York feat. Ezra Koenig" (Young Turks)
  • Talking Heads, "Once in a Lifetime (Doc Martin Remix)" (White)
  • Kraak & Smaak, "Mountain Top" (Spinnin' Deep)
  • Zero 7, "Take Me Away feat. Only Girl" (Make)
  • Claude Von Stroke, "Califuture feat. Barry Drift" (Dirty Bird)
  • Duke Dumont, "Won't Look Back" (Blase Boys Club)
  • Spada feat. Hosie Neal, "Feels Like Home (Bakermat Remix)"
  • Jessie Ware, "Tough Love (Cyril Hahn Remix)" (Cherrytree/Interscope)
  • Just Kiddin, "Thinking About It" (Win)
  • Netsky, "Running Low feat. Beth Ditto (Todd Edwards Mix)" (Epic)
  • Pharrell feat. Jay-Z, "Frontin' (Disclosure Re-Work)"
  • Hudson Mohawke, "Chimes" (Warp)
Copyright 2014 KCRW-FM. To see more, visit http://www.kcrw.com.

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Kari Wuhrer as Ellen Brody, Courtney Baxter as Mora Brody, and Sandra "Pepa" Denton as a character even the captioners don't know the name of. I'm not sure she had one. (Syfy)

'Sharknado 2': Winner And Still Chomp

Jul 30, 2014 (KCRW-FM)

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I personally was responsible for emotionally bullying at least two of my critic friends into attending the poolside screening of Sharknado 2 that took place at the hotel where press tour happened a couple weeks ago. I make this confession because we must establish the basic understanding that I am merciless when it comes to attempting to con people into watching extraordinarily silly movies. In fact, I tried, when the first Sharknado was on, to goad the NPR morning news meeting into caring about it ("There's this movie tonight! It is called Sharknado!"), and nobody fell for it. The next morning after Twitter exploded, I strolled into that meeting, boy howdy, and I said, "Now you see." And, of course, I reviewed it in full, because that is the job and I undertake it gladly.*

The first and most important principle for today is that there would be absolutely no point in watching Sharknado 2 on Wednesday night in seclusion. That would be like trying to play racquetball in space. You need to either gather with friends or take to social media in order to get the full effect, because if you don't, you will be distracted somewhere around the subway sequence by a feeling of "What I am I ... doing?" On the other hand, provided you remain focused on making it a social occasion, you will be distracted instead by one of your friends asking you, in gleeful setup-punchline form, what you think the sharks are going to do when they get to the baseball game. I will not tell you exactly which of my critic friends did this.** I will also not tell you the punchline he had in mind.***

The good news is that even if you did not see the original Sharknado, you can probably figure out the plot of Sharknado 2. There's not too much in terms of complex plotting that will confuse you, and thematically, it's not too hard to figure out that the primary motif is bleeding to death.

The facts in brief: Fin (Ian Ziering) and April (Tara Reid) have become minor celebrities after saving California from the last sharknado, but (spoiler alert) it is possible that they are about to encounter another sharknado ... or 2. After an opening set piece that removes a couple of famous CGI'd heads, the situation continues to deteriorate. And despite the fact that most of this happens during the day and is on opposite a Mets game, the NBC coverage is anchored throughout by Matt Lauer and Al Roker, who appear to be working with a skeletal production staff.

Along the way, yes, there's some biting, and there's some fighting, and there are appearances by a surprisingly large number of famous people in surprisingly witty cameos. (The best moment of the poolside viewing I attended was when someone commented on Twitter with some bafflement that Judd Hirsch had crashed the Sharknado 2 screening, only to be informed that this happened because Judd Hirsch is in fact in Sharknado 2. If you see a list of cameos ahead of time, do not read it. It's much better to let them arrive upon your doorstep.)

The best reason to watch Sharknado 2 is that if you gather with enough people, someone will say something outrageous about what's going to happen next — partly in jest — and it will happen exactly that way. This happened twice with my buddy Alan Sepinwall. He not only predicted the major medical intervention of the film, but also called its emotionally climactic beat way ahead of time.

Surprisingly enough, I found that the novelty had not worn off. By which I mean the novelty of watching a movie about weather systems with deadly, bitey, apparently vengeful sharks in them. (They have a taste for blood ... and irony.) Sharknado 2 is not a movie, really; it's an interactive videogame called Make The Stupidest Joke First. And because they put the pedal to the metal and go full, screaming, bedazzled monkeypants crazy from beginning to end, it sort of works.

And by "works," I mean "is terrible and yet, in its way, divine," and I could tell you more about what that means, but I would ruin the moment where you will get to yell ... well, again, I really can't ruin it for you. I wouldn't dare.

*Please see all the comments about yesterday's Bachelorette post for the dissenting view that I should be ashamed. I do not rule it out.

**Erik Adams of The A.V. Club.

***"Eat the Mets! Eat the Mets! Step right up and —"

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Earlier this month, Fed Chair Janet Yellen told Congress that the economy is improving but hasn't bounced back all the way (AP)

Fed Continues To Ease Up On Economic Stimulus

by Alan Greenblatt
Jul 30, 2014 (KCRW-FM)

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The Federal Reserve announced Wednesday it will ease up slightly on its efforts to stimulate the economy.

Fed officials said that there is still room for improvement in the labor market, but with the economy growing, they expressed concern that inflation might start ticking up.

Continuing its own recent trend, the Fed announced it will be buying fewer up fewer financial assets. It's on track to end its bond-buying program in October.

Starting in August, the Fed will buy $10 billion worth of mortgage-backed securities a month, which is a cut from $15 billion. The bank will also buy $15 billion worth of long-term Treasuries every month, down from $20 billion.

"Fed officials led by Chair Janet Yellen are stepping up a debate over when to raise interest rates for the first time since 2006 as unemployment falls faster than expected and inflation picks up toward their 2 percent goal," reports Bloomberg News.

Earlier Wednesday, the Commerce Department announced that the economy grew by 4 percent in the spring, rebounding from a disappointing first quarter earlier in the year.

But the Fed said it will wait to raise interest rates, which would have a dampening effect on the economy. Earlier this month, Yellen testified before Congress that although the economy is improving, its recovery is not complete.

Today's announcement states that the Fed will keep short-term interest rates low "for a considerable time" after its bond-buying program ends, especially if inflation remains under 2 percent.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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Earlier this month, Fed Chair Janet Yellen told Congress that the economy is improving but hasn't bounced back all the way (AP)

Women Defy Turkey's Deputy PM, Who Said Women Shouldn't Laugh In Public

by Eyder Peralta
Jul 30, 2014 (KCRW-FM)

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Reported by

Eyder Peralta

Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Ar?nç stirred some controversy on Monday, when during an Eid el-Fitr speech, he said chaste women should not laugh in public.

"Chastity is so important," Ar?nç said, according to the Hurriyet Daily News. "It is not only a name. It is an ornament for both women and men. [She] will have chasteness. Man will have it, too. He will not be a womanizer. He will be bound to his wife. He will love his children. [The woman] will know what is haram and not haram. She will not laugh in public. She will not be inviting in her attitudes and will protect her chasteness."

Women all over the world reacted. We'll let them speak for themselves:

Hurriyet reports that Ar?nç defended his words, saying he was not criticizing natural laughter.

"There are some artists who now laugh artificially and send me their photos. Real laughs relieve a person, but these are artificial ones. Those who go for a vacation with their lovers while leaving their husbands behind and can't wait to climb poles when they see one," Ar?nç said, according to Hurriyet.

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