TIME NextDraft

All About Supertaskers and Other Fascinating News on the Web

March 24, 2014

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1. The Task Masters

If you are talking on a cellphone, your driving is impaired. If you are trying to finish a project for work, its quality won’t be nearly as good if you allow yourself to be distracted by incoming tweets and Facebook status updates. Allowing your mind to shift back and forth between tasks means that each individual task will suffer. You can’t multitask. Unless you can. Researchers have found that a small percentage of us can actually be effective while doing several things at once. And that’s in part because of a “unique blend of attention, memory, and resistance to distractions.” Meet the Supertaskers.

+ The rest of us ordinary-taskers are busy with our tasks; one of which is telling people how busy we are. (That’s my favorite multitask: doing something and complaining about it at the same time.)

2. Liquified

“Tiny amounts, whether ingested or absorbed through the skin, can cause vomiting and seizures and even be lethal. A teaspoon of even highly diluted e-liquid can kill a small child.” That’s how the NYT’s Matt Richtel describes the flavorful and colorful chemical cocktails that are used to fill e-cigarettes. How dangerous are these liquid blends? We don’t really know. So far, e-cigarettes and e-liquids are excluded from federal regulation.

3. The Mystery

“Malaysian Airlines deeply regrets that we have to assume beyond any reasonable doubt that MH370 has been lost and none of those on board survived.” That was the opening line of a text message sent to the relatives of passengers who boarded the still missing plane more than two weeks ago. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak held a press conference to announce that the plane almost certainly went down “in the middle of the Indian Ocean west of Perth.”

+ Last night, CNN’s Don Lemon and his latest cast of “experts” spent about ten minutes explaining a theory that suggests the plane could have flown for many miles in the shadow of another plane to avoid radar detection. They then spent the next twenty minutes debunking that ridiculous theory. And on and on their coverage goes. (Thankfully, Lemon did not reintroduce his question about the possibility of the plane being sucked into a black hole). This nonstop (and often absurd) coverage brings up an interesting question: Will CNN ever stop covering Flight MH370?

+ CNN keeps covering this story because the ratings are good. Why do people keep watching? Slate’s Emily Yoffe takes a crack at explaining why our brains just cannot let this mystery go.

4. Paper Trail

“Behind the door, a room opens up as big as a supermarket, full of five-drawer file cabinets and people in business casual. About 230 feet below the surface, there is easy-listening music playing at somebody’s desk. This is one of the weirdest workplaces in the U.S. government — both for where it is and for what it does.” Representative Gladys Noon Spellman of Maryland once remarked: “It is not conceivable to me that all of this is not automated.” Thirty-four years and more than $100 million later, the work done in “the cave” is still done by hand. WaPo takes you underground and into the weird world of the Office of Personnel Management: A sinkhole of bureaucracy.

5. Old Man and the C Plus Plus

“‘You must be the token graybeard,’ said the CEO, who was in his late twenties or early thirties. “‘I looked at him and said, ‘No, I’m the token grown-up.” New Republic’s Noam Scheiber on: The Brutal Ageism of Tech. (I’ve found the key is to keep your avatar looking young.)

6. Rush to Judgement

After only two sessions (including one when defense lawyers were barred from entering the courtroom), an Egyptian court sentenced more than 500 people to death.

+ In Ohio, officials refused a killer’s request to donate organs to his family members because he wouldn’t be able to recuperate in time for his execution.

7. The Baristocrats

Over the weekend, my friend Rob went to a cupping event. That’s when a bunch of folks get together to slurp, smell, and describe coffee. Coffee has become the thing. And now, a group of tech investors hope they can turn Blue Bottle into the Apple of coffee. (Full-cup disclosure: I know the folks involved in Blue Bottle and I’m wired out of my friggin’ mind right now.)

8. Gutter Guards

The great ones used to make twice as much as NFL players. You knew their names and they appeared in Sports Illustrated spreads. That was back in the day. Here’s Priceconomics on the rise and fall of professional bowling. (There’s no doubt that the fall of bowling — and the fall of parenting — can be traced back to the advent of the gutter guard.)

9. Reality Check

“What they don’t tell you about reality shows is that the people are real, but the situations are totally not.” From XOJane: I work as a writer for reality shows — here’s the deal. (Who’s gonna believe something written by someone who writes reality shows?)

10. The Bottom of the News

A single quote “inspired no fewer than five op-eds, several think pieces and take-downs on various local blogs, hundreds of tweets and Instagram photos.” What was the quote? “New Orleans is not cosmopolitan. There’s no kale here.”

+ BBC: What medieval Europe did with its teenagers.

+ Extreme Badminton.

+ I guess everyone likes a good mystery.

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