Suburban bliss.

Not to complain, but the children have been obnoxious, I’m not sleeping enough, car alarms keep going off in the neighborhood, the track workers have been jackhammering all morning, and the house is its usual mess. Sometimes it’s not all sunshine and roses here in the suburbs.

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Suburban bliss.

Bay Parade Swim Report

Today’s Bay Parade swim went super well. It was a beautiful day on the Bay, the water wasn’t too cold (maybe 58 degrees near the Gate, 62-plus in McCovey Cove), and we had a fun bunch of swimmers aboard our boat, comprising two teams: “Flood Tide” (my team) and “Frijoles Frios.”

There was some initial panic over whether we would actually make it to the starting line, as Capt. Mike’s diesel wouldn’t start — the fuel line had worked loose and the engine was full of air. But twenty minutes or so later Mike returned in a borrowed boat, a two-engine trawler much faster than his own sailboat, and we all piled onboard and sped off to the Golden Gate Bridge.

Fifteen or twenty minutes later we were floating under the bridge with twenty or so other boats, waiting for our swim to start.

One of the highlights for me was hanging out with Bob Roper, who set a still-unbroken record for swimming across the Golden Gate decades ago (he did it in slightly more than 17 minutes).

I wore my horn-enhanced swim cap for the final parade leg into the marina, and based on what people were hollering at me, the jury is roughly split on whether I was a unicorn or a narwhal. No photos of that yet, but I promise I’ll share when I have them, along with any photos of me swimming that I’m able to find. In all, my friends helped me raise over $500 for Baykeeper, which will go to help ensuring that the Bay stays clean enough for many future swims like this. Plus, I got this cool insulated swim cap from PBear Caps.

Bay Parade Swim Report

How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds — from a Magician and Google’s Design Ethicist

“The problem is, maximizing interruptions in the name of business creates a tragedy of the commons, ruining global attention spans and causing billions of unnecessary interruptions each day.”

Tristan Harris, in an illuminating essay on how the techniques of attentional misdirection deployed by tech companies parallel the techniques used by magicians

How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds — from a Magician and Google’s Design Ethicist

When a clickbait headline leads to national outrage.

So let’s see if I’ve got this right:

Gizmodo publishes a story whose headline reads “Former Facebook Workers: We Routinely Suppressed Conservative News.”

The Internet goes apeshit, especially the conservative part of it, without reading the whole story, in which it becomes clear that…

Although the headline says plural “workers,” there’s really only one worker, an anonymous one, who is making this allegation, and…

That worker doesn’t allege that conservative news is being suppressed everywhere on Facebook, just in the tiny “Trending News” box, which accounts for a vanishingly small percentage of Facebook’s clicks.

Not only that, another worker (also anonymous) says that there was no effort to suppress conservative news at all. The real problem, that worker says, is that the news staff were treated like crap.

Still, people continue to go ape. The U.S. Senate expresses outrage and initiates a probe into the allegations.

Mark Zuckerberg invites an array of conservative pundits, including Glenn Beck, to a summit at Facebook HQ to hear their concerns.

Glenn Beck comes away from the meeting saying “I heard the complaints, I listened to the perspectives, and not a single person in the room shared evidence of any wrongdoing.”

What’s more, Beck says, the conservatives in that room sounded, well, pretty whiny and entitled. “It was like affirmative action for conservatives. When did conservatives start demanding quotas AND diversity training AND less people from Ivy League Colleges.”

Through it all, Facebook has maintained that there is no conscious effort to suppress news from any point of view.

In short, all this was a huge uproar over nothing. Senate inquiries, conservative outrage, talking points for more than a week, and an enormous amount of static directed at Facebook — the story had all the so-called impact any journalist could hope for.

And yet that uproar was caused by taking one anonymous source’s comments, and, in a headline, highlighting the most extreme interpretation of those comments while pretending that one source was multiple people.

You can see why Gizmodo did this: The headline is catchy, and catchy headlines lead to pageviews, and — since most consumers of news are stubbornly unwilling to pay even pennies for their daily dose of information — pageviews that support advertising impressions are necessary for organizations like Gizmodo to survive.

The problem is that headline is flat wrong, and since apparently even Senators can’t be bothered to read beyond the headline, it kicked off a two-week cycle of ridiculously misinformed and ultimately meaningless furor.

The news business is fucked.

When a clickbait headline leads to national outrage.

Breaststroke.

The breaststroke has a faint sense of femininity attached to it these days. There’s the name, of course: Anything beginning with “breast” seems inevitably female, at least a little bit. But it’s also a slower stroke than the crawl, otherwise known as freestyle. You could use the breaststroke in a freestyle race—theoretically, you’re free to use any style you want—but no one would, because it’s so much slower. It’s also the stroke favored by people who want to savor things, to watch what’s going on, to keep their heads and their hair out of the water. It’s a grandmotherly stroke.

I’ve always liked the breaststroke because it’s so easy for me to breathe and to make forward progress while seeing where I’m going. When doing the breaststroke, I feel like I could swim all day. That’s never been true for the crawl. So I usually use it as a recovery stroke, to rest a bit, and I use it for looking around and getting my bearings. But I don’t generally use it that often, because, well: Slow. And grandmotherly.

But at one time it was the only stroke. When Capt. Matthew Webb made the first successful crossing of the English Channel in 1875, he used the breaststroke. The “American crawl” was known at the time, but it was considered too splashy and undignified. As a self-taught English swimmer he may not have known the crawl anyway. The breaststroke it was. And his was quite powerful, with wide, sweeping, powerful arm strokes, and a kick that somehow caused the soles of his feet to emerge from the water. He used it for a zigzaggy, tide-driven course across the Channel, covering about 39 water miles in 21 hours, 45 minutes, making history and turning himself into an instant celebrity.

Saturday I was on a much less ambitious swim, a three mile course from the Bay Bridge back to Aquatic Park with about 50 other members of the South End Rowing Club, accompanied by kayaks and zodiacs. We had a bit of an ebb current pushing us along, but it wasn’t exactly a powerful tide. You had to keep swimming, we’d been warned, if you wanted to get back to the cove of Aquatic Park before the tide turned and started pushing against you. And with water at 56 degrees Fahrenheit, you didn’t want to stop swimming anyway, or you’d get chilled.

About twenty minutes into the swim I’d gone comfortably past the Ferry Building, and the Disneyland-like buildings of Pier 39 were in sight, when the water started getting lumpier. It wasn’t exactly rough or choppy: There were maybe one-foot waves rolling directly toward us from the other side of Pier 39. They were big enough and spaced out in such a way that they were really annoying to swim into: They kept slapping the top of my head and making it hard to breathe. I couldn’t find a good rhythm that fit into this water, so I kept having to stop, breaststroke, and look around.

Eventually I just switched to breaststroke full time, swimming directly into the little waves. It turned out this worked very well: I could lift my head up high to see and to breathe between each wave, then I would put my head down and pull through the next wave, the water breaking over my back smoothly and easily. Lift, breathe, look. Duck, pull through, glide.

I kept thinking about Matthew Webb: If he could cross the Channel this way, I could easily manage a mile or more. So I said to myself with each push, “Matthew Webb.” Pull. “Matthew Webb.” Pull. Matthew Webb.

It worked: I made progress, and I found I was able to keep pace with another swimmer, a tattooed guy who I later learned was named Dave, who was taking more traditional freestyle approach to the water. We swam alongside each other for twenty or thirty minutes, and when we were finally even with the breakwater that protects Aquatic Park and Fisherman’s Wharf, the water calmed down enough that I could switch back to the crawl.

I made it in to the beach just fine, one hour and 10 minutes after jumping into the Bay at the bridge. Of course I used the freestyle to swim the last hundred yards or so. With all those people looking on, you wouldn’t really want to use the breaststroke for your glorious finish, now, would you?

Postscript: Other notable breaststrokers include Lord Byron and Roger Deakin, the incredibly observant poet of Britain’s swimmable waterways.

Maybe for my next post I’ll write about the virtues of the sidestroke, which serious swimmers really despise.

 

 

Breaststroke.