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One of a Kind

Seth Mnookin reports the story of how one couple, Matt Might and Cristina Casanova, worked with researchers to diagnose their son's disease and connect with other families whose children also had the same genetic disorder. Mnookin's story also exposes some of the problems within the cloistered research community. We featured Might's story about his search to diagnose his son's disease in 2012.
PUBLISHED: July 17, 2014
LENGTH: 24 minutes (6198 words)

Synanon's Sober Utopia

How a drug rehab program became a violent cult:

In 1970, George Lucas needed dozens of actors with shaved heads for his sci-fi dystopian movie THX 1138. He had trouble filling the roles at first, since so few actresses wanted to cut their locks, but Lucas eventually found the extras he needed in a strange utopian community where everyone worshipped sobriety and expressed solidarity by shaving their heads. It was called Synanon, and over the course of three decades it would become one of the weirdest and most vindictive cults of the 20th century.

AUTHOR:Matt Novak
PUBLISHED: April 17, 2014
LENGTH: 15 minutes (3900 words)

Beat By Dre: The Exclusive Inside Story of How Monster Lost the World

How a maker of expensive HDMI cables bungled a deal with Interscope's Jimmy Iovine when it agreed to produce "Beats by Dre":

"Young Lee faced financial and familial self-destruction if he couldn't seal the deal. So he sealed whatever he could—what he says was 'the most complicated contract [Interscope] had ever seen.' And he faced it by himself, with his BA, against a phalanx of corporate lawyers who wake each day to do nothing but negotiate contracts that favor interscope."

"There can't be two winners. Monster solidified an agreement that got Beats Electronics alive and shipping headphones, but not without gigantic forfeit: Jimmy and Dre's side of Beats would retain permanent ownership of everything that Monster developed. Every headphone, every headband, every cup, every driver, every remote control—if there was a piece of metal or plastic associated with Beats By Dre, Noel and Kevin Lee surrendered it to Jimmy and Dre. Monster would also be entirely responsible for manufacturing the products—a hugely expensive corner of the deal—as well as distributing them. The heavy lifting. "I was a little intimidated by Dr. Dre," Kevin Lee admits over a child-sized portion of chicken noodle soup. Noel sits beside him without a word."
AUTHOR:Sam Biddle
PUBLISHED: Feb. 7, 2013
LENGTH: 11 minutes (2876 words)

Indentured Servitude, Money Laundering, and Piles of Money: The Crazy Secrets of Internet Cam Girls (NSFW)

A look at the women who work as "Internet cam girls," and the criminal activity that may be occurring behind some of the cam networks:

"'Cam sites are ideal for laundering. The studios are being used to have girls online accepting a financed hand that uses 'dirty' money to buy the private time. The studio gets paid for the private session, the girl gets her (very small) part and so the money comes back clean,' Mila says. As a result, 'most Russian and Romanian studios are Mafia owned,' a claim she extends to the wider developing world. The picture becomes clearer when you remember how scattered and obfuscated these networks' financial structures are—it'd be easier to confusingly launder money through a company that's somehow simultaneously based in both Hungary and Portugal.

"The Eastern Bloc countries that so many cam girls call home are repeatedly mentioned in sex trafficking reports as both sources and conduits of illicit sex work—MyFreeCams has gone as far as banning all models from the Philippines, where conditions are said to be the most brutal.

"The reasoning isn't mentioned, but is easy to surmise. Moving the exploitation online, where girls are under 'contract' to stay in a room for half a day at a time with dubious legal recourse, makes criminal sense."
AUTHOR:Sam Biddle
PUBLISHED: Sept. 18, 2012
LENGTH: 19 minutes (4903 words)

Hunting Down My Son's Killer

A father recounts his family's quest to diagnose a rare disease in their son:

"We discovered that my son inherited two different (thus-far-unique) mutations in the same gene—the NGLY1 gene—which encodes the enzyme N-glycanase 1. Consequently, he cannot make this enzyme.

"My son is the only human being known to lack this enzyme. Below, I'm documenting our journey to the unlikeliest of diagnoses. This is a story about the kind of hope that only science can provide. (An open access article in The Journal of Medical Genetics contains the detailed results from ground-breaking experiment that diagnosed him.)"
AUTHOR:Matt Might
PUBLISHED: May 31, 2012
LENGTH: 20 minutes (5140 words)

How Yahoo Killed Flickr and Lost the Internet

Why do startups struggle after being acquired by giant companies like Yahoo? They're forced to focus on integration instead of innovation:

"When a new startup comes into an established company, the first wall it typically hits is CorpDev, or corporate development: the group within a business that manages change. CorpDev is usually charged with planning corporate strategy—where a business will grow or shrink, the markets it will enter or exit, and what kind of contracts and deals it may strike with other companies. It often oversees acquisitions. It plans them. Approves them. And then it sets the terms.

"When a big company gobbles up a smaller one, only a fraction of the money is handed over up front. The rest comes later, based on the acquisition hitting a series of deliverables down the road. It's similar to how incentives are built into the contracts of professional athletes, except with engineering benchmarks instead of home runs."
AUTHOR:Mat Honan
PUBLISHED: May 15, 2012
LENGTH: 21 minutes (5347 words)

The Case Against Google

An explainer on Google's challenges with privacy, its competition with Facebook and Twitter, and two big questions: Is search no longer central to its mission? And are Google's recent moves "evil" by its early company standards?

"It's hard to understand how Google could screw up its core product like that. But there's a remarkably simple explanation: Search is no longer Google's core product.

"One Googler authorized to speak for the company on background (meaning I could use the information he gave me, but not directly quote or attribute it) told me something that I found shocking. Google isn't primarily about search anymore. Sure, search is still a core product, but it's no longer the core product. The core product, he said, is simply Google."
AUTHOR:Mat Honan
PUBLISHED: March 22, 2012
LENGTH: 16 minutes (4021 words)

Unlocking the Mystery of Paris' Secret Underground Society

On August 23, 2004, they discovered a cinema 60 feet beneath Paris. The sun was shining on the Trocadéro, the Eiffel Tower gleamed across the Seine, and deep belowground, police came across a sign. The officers were on a training mission, exploring the 4.3 miles of catacombs that twist beneath the 16 th arrondissement. The former quarries are centuries-old, illegal to enter, and the sign at the mouth of the tunnel read, "No public entry." Police are not the public; they entered. ... They found 3,000 square feet of subterranean galleries, strung with lights, wired for phones, live with pirated electricity. The officers uncovered a bar, lounge, workshop, dining corner and small screening area. The cinema's seats had been carved into the stone itself, with room for 20 people to sit in the cool and chomp on popcorn.
PUBLISHED: April 25, 2011
LENGTH: 32 minutes (8194 words)

The Hunt For the Perfect Screen

PUBLISHED: Dec. 28, 2009
LENGTH: 13 minutes (3441 words)