29 Office Products That Will Make Your Workday So, So Much Easier.

Working 9-to-5 can be a draining way to make a living. The best thing you can do is pour yourself a cup of tea, breathe, and let these amazing office products do all the heavy lifting. Otherwise, you’ll be drowning in fluorescent lights and paper-jams.

1. This mini-vacuum plugs right into your USB port.

2. Relive childhood with this Gak-like keyboard cleaner.

3. Or just get a keyboard you can stick in the sink.

4. …Or get rid of the actual keyboard altogether!

5. While you’re at it, get rid of your annoying metal staples too with this staple-less stapler.

6. Feel like Sandra Bullock in Practical Magic with a self-stirring coffee mug.

7. And make sure to keep it toasty with this warmer.

8. Take an afternoon nap anywhere with this pillow.

9. Or, go all in on your nap game.

10. Stay relaxed with this under-the-desk foot hammock.

11. …Or burn some calories while you crunch the numbers.

12. Perfect for the very committed exercise enthusiast at work.

13. Find inner balance all day with this chair.

14. Stash your sodas and energy drinks in your own mini-mini fridge.

15. No need for coasters with these.

16. Leave your assistant alone and get rid of stress the healthy way.

17. Manage all your cords with your favorite color.

18. Give your family a makeover with this wooly-bully frame.

19. Keep your hands nice and toasty, literally.

20. Clear the air with an adorable mini-humidifier.

21. Take a peek at who’s at the front door of your office before you buzz them up.

22. Hide this under your desk and give it a tap with your foot to hide any non-work related items on your computer when you see the boss coming by.

23. Stay cool with this air conditioned shirt.

24. Work healthier and avoid disappointing your mom with this posture-reminding app.

25. Take notes in a donut scented notebook. Yum.

26. Keep your eye on the prize with this Christmas countdown calendar.

27. Solve boredom and dim office issues at the same time.

28. Buy this desk. JUST DO IT.

29. And get all the good scuttlebutt by this “water” cooler.

(via: BuzzFeed) Now all you have to worry about rush hour. Share the goodies with your friends using the link below!

Read more: http://viralnova.com/office-products/

18 Instagram Accounts That Will Inspire You To Live Your Best Life

Because 2015 is the year you’ll stick to your resolutions.

1. Nicole Warne – @garypeppergirl


Nicole runs the amazing Gary Pepper Girl blog and seems to have the coolest life ever. Though she originally hails from Australia, her Instagram will take you all over the world, inspiring your next adventure and showcasing the coolest travel spots from around the globe.

2. Jess Robinson – @lazygirlfit


Jess is a trainer who focuses on short and simple workouts that anyone can do with very basic equipment. Her Insta is filled with inspirational quotes, exercise demonstrations, and delicious-looking healthy food.

3. Jessica Stein – @tuulavintage


Named after the Finnish word for wind (‘tuula’), this Instagram is about wanderlust and wardrobe, and will inspire you to open your eyes to the beauty of the world we live in. Jessica is a style blogger who exudes effortless chic at all times.

4. Erica Domesek- @psimadethis


Literally everything on this Instagram is something that you can MAKE yourself. From bags to skirts and shoes to jewellery, P.S. I Made This is a perfect place for anyone who’s always dreamed of being crafty but has no idea how.

5. Loni Jane – @lonijane


Loni is possibly one of the healthiest people on Instagram, and is all about raw, vegan food without compromising taste. Her huge salad bowls will never fail to make your mouth water and her constant stream of photos will inspire you to embrace a wholesome diet.

6. National Geographic Travel – @natgeotravel


We all know about National Geographic, but did you know that they have a kick-ass travel Instagram account? Their photographers visit every corner of the globe, showing us some of the coolest places we wouldn’t ever know about otherwise.

7. Valerie – @biggalyoga


Valerie proves to us all that anyone can do yoga and look damn fine in the process. Her Instagram offers daily yoga challenges for beginners, and is all about having fun and loving yourself.

8. Hamish Blake – @hamishblakeshotz


If you like looking at photos of cute babies (and please, who doesn’t?), then Hamish is the guy to follow. This Aussie comedian will have you laughing with every pic he uploads, which isn’t only limited to his son’s adorable costumes.

9. Levo League – @levoleague


Levo League is a community of young professionals, and their Instagram account is all about inspiration and daily photos which will make you smile.

10. Jamie Milne and Greta Epstein – @cleaneatz


This Insta is just a huge amount of food porn which won’t leave you feeling guilty. It’ll have you craving a huge, fresh salad or a delicious sweet potato loaded up with veggies.

11. Jordan Ferney- @ohhappyday


This charming Instagram account is packed with amazing DIYs and cute home decorating ideas. It’ll have you itching to try out all of of the fun and colourful projects on offer.

12. David Frenkiel- @gkstories


Photos from this Instagram just make you want to move to a farm and eat delicious food for the rest of your life. Focusing on homely, nourishing meals, David and his family will take you on a food journey that you’ll never want to unfollow.

13. Beardoblack – @beardoblack


This man has the most glorious beard in the world, and can pull off a suit like no one else. His Insta is just a huge inspiration for pretty much every man ever.

14. Miann Scanlan – @miannscanlan


This Instagram is all about chilling out and finding your inner zen. A mix of peaceful beach shots and muted colours, Miann sends out peaceful vibes and happiness through her photos.

15. Chloe Morello- @chloemorello


This makeup vlogger from Sydney frequently updates her Instagram account with makeup tutorials, inspiration, and snaps of her daily life. Her detailed how-tos also include specific examples of makeup suggestions for different skin tones.

16. Teresa Cutter – @teresacutter_healthychef


This is the perfect selection of recipes and food inspo for anyone who has a sweet tooth but still wants to feel healthy. It is a delicious mix of beautiful food shots and inspired dishes using super fresh ingredients.

17. Manal – @naildecor


Nail polish grams are always awesome, but this particular artist uploads detailed video tutorials of all her colourful creations. They may look intricate and confronting, but most of the designs are actually a lot easier than they seem.

18. Apartment Therapy – @apartmenttherapy


Everyone goes through the phase of wanting to completely revamp your whole home, but sometimes it’s really not that easy to decide on what you want. Apartment Therapy provides heaps of awesome ideas for all different types of abodes.

Read more: http://www.buzzfeed.com/jemimaskelley/yoga-and-nails-and-acai-oh-my

Simone Biles wins floor exercise for record-tying 4th Olympic gold at Rio Olympics

U.S.’s Simone Biles put the finishing touches on one of the greatest Olympics by a gymnast, capturing her fourth gold of the games with an electric performance in the floor exercise on Tuesday. Th

Read more: http://www.thehindu.com/sport/other-sports/simone-biles-wins-floor-exercise-for-recordtying-4th-olympic-gold-at-rio-olympics/article8996131.ece?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication

Missing — And Finding — The Magic Of Haruki Murakami

The incredibly popular Japanese writer just released his latest book in English. It’s a departure for him, and for me. (Minor spoilers, insofar as a Murakami book can be spoiled.)

Chris Ritter for BuzzFeed

When I picked up my first book by Haruki Murakami, somewhere around the start of high school, I did not expect to like it. He writes the exact opposite of what I tend to read. I’m drawn to essays full of sharp observations and overflowing with feelings; I go for wry female writers and long, nonfictional sentences peppered with a lot of commas. Murakami writes fiction that is spare and mild. Rather than planting his feet firmly in reality, he lets talking cats and rifts in the space-time continuum brush up against his otherwise aggressively normal characters. I’ve read nearly all of his books over the past decade yet I can’t so much as recount their plots to anyone who asks — it’s too hazy, too personal, too much like trying to describe a dream once you’ve had your coffee. But at 14 I tore through the slim, strange volume that is After Dark and he’s been my favorite writer ever since.

What I was responding to was the remarkable-at-least-to-me idea that you could be alone without being lonely. I was a nerdy, obsessive teenager, and Murakami provided a template for introspection that felt downright revolutionary. His books are odysseys, most of which follow similar blueprints. A character, usually a quiet and solitary man, meets somebody or finds something or receives a strange phone call, and before they know it they’re tossed from their simple life into a winding, harrowing journey.

In the process, these characters tend to learn something about themselves; they solve long-dormant mysteries from their own pasts or open their hearts to deeply unexpected people. They’re not rich but they don’t lack for money, their apartments are tidy, and they enjoy jazz, Wild Turkey, and occasionally conversing with well-dressed prostitutes. There is a lot of sex and sometimes the descriptions thereof can make your skin crawl. But mostly there is a quietness and a strength to the way Murakami’s characters make their way through the world he’s drawn for them. They don’t question their missions for long — the philosophy being that if something’s in front of you then you may as well just do it.

I read those books so many times: Sputnik Sweetheart and A Wild Sheep Chase while I was finishing high school and figuring out where to head next; Norwegian Wood and The Elephant Vanishes during an especially lonely, relationship-less patch; Kafka on the Shore in the dining hall of the small college that became the only place for me. I read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle over the course of long train rides back and forth between home and school and New York City, and when I finally moved to an apartment after subletting and squatting for months after graduating, about half of the 20 or so books that I brought were by Murakami. Even alone, or searching, or uncertain, he was there with me.

What made him stick was this central thesis, crackling throughout all of his books, that your own inner life is something worth devoting time and energy to. This is true even if you are — as his characters near-uniformly seem to be — totally average, at least on the surface. These odd adventures they had were a way of making their emotions legible, and so they helped me start to name mine. Because that’s the real fantasy: What if you could revisit your old confusion, your sorrow, your trauma, and wend your way back through to its core? What if it could be made physical, the inward quest turned outward?

Chris Ritter for BuzzFeed

There were no parallel universes in my small Boston suburb, or on the campus of my not-quite-upstate New York college. There were no reclusive men dressed as sheep, nor were there abrupt phone calls that whisked me across the world. There was, though, uncertainty, and a burgeoning case of anxiety, and bouts of loneliness. There were fights with great friends and misunderstandings with family and a few deaths that came much too soon. Reading thousands of pages of characters making their way through not-dissimilar struggles, aided and hampered by an element of Murakami’s magical realism, buffered me and helped me see more clearly. Look, he seemed to be saying, here is how you mourn, here is how you sift back through what’s happened to you, and look again, there is still a small bit of wonder.

And so his latest book, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Many Years of Pilgrimage, came as something of a shock. (A quiet, slow shock, because that is how Murakami does everything.) There is no magic in it, no thresholds into alternate universes. His usual MO — rendering a character’s emotional journey as a physical, fantastical one — falls away here, leaving only ordinary Tsukuru Tazaki to muddle through his past on his own. On the first page, we learn that at the age of 20 he was dumped by an incredibly close-knit group of friends and that his life essentially stopped there. Two decades later he’s fine, with a decent job and a promising third date, but he’s never been able to shake exactly what went wrong in that friend circle.

The book catalogs his painful, halting attempts to find out, with no talking animals to guide him. There is one moment when Tsukuru recalls listening to a story told by a friend from the past, one that the friend’s father had recounted to him, that contains a hint of something otherworldly, but only there, shrouded beneath layers of recollection, is even so much as an occult glimmer. A friend, not-quite-jokingly on Twitter, described the book as “normcore.”

I know that Murakami is so much more than his magic. His memoir about ultramarathons, What We Talk About When We Talk About Running, is a spectacular sideways look into how we create and operate, and his collection of interviews from the aftermath of the Tokyo subway gas attacks (Underground) lingered with me for weeks after I read it. He can take any topic imaginable, it seems, and imbue it with both weightiness and wonder. But the lack of fancy in Colorless Tsukuru made reading it a tougher, darker experience than I’d bargained for. Lately the anxiety that reared up in college has been back with its claws out, ripping holes in nearly everything — my job, my relationship — that I love and identify with. It’s been hard to restrict my dry-heaving panic attacks to the inside of my apartment but it’s even harder to feel alone, to feel like my brain has seized control of my body without a warning or an exit. When I received the book in the mail, I tucked into it like I was starving.

Chris Ritter for BuzzFeed

I had wanted, I realize now, to slip back into Murakami’s familiar eccentric patterns, to get a little lost. To suspend a feeling or two of my own, and to trace myself in his characters’ journeys. I had wanted a cipher to show me that I too would-will-can get to the other side, and when I didn’t get that in the way I was expecting, I felt a lack. (What is the same in this book, as ever, is the soothing way Murakami describes his characters’ routines. He adores them, as do I; his renderings of what it’s like to come home to a clean apartment and make a healthy meal of vegetables while drinking half a can of beer can border on simplicity porn, and is the perfect balm for a fevered brain. I would read the man’s food diary, like, yesterday.)

But I am older now, and Murakami is too. And this book, with its roundabout construction and lack of definitive conclusions, looks a lot more like life than the fantastical tale I had been secretly, selfishly hoping for. It was exceedingly popular when it was released in Japan last April, selling over a million copies its first week. It fulfills a different need, I think, one that’s harder to define. More than any book I’ve read in the past few years, it documents exactly what it’s like to mourn for something you can’t quite name.

This book is not satisfying. There isn’t much neatness, nor is there a real conclusion to speak of, and that’s what gives it its power. I read it in a day (the opposite of its predecessor, the monstrously large and surpassingly odd 1Q84, which took me the better part of a year — at around 900 pages, the hardcover edition was not so much a subway read.) When I was done with Colorless Tsukuru, I missed it. I missed the breathtaking intimacy of watching someone process such loss and uncertainty and yet continue to go forward even without the scaffolding of magic, because what else is there to do?

“You can’t go back now?” Tsukuru’s almost-girlfriend Sarah asks him when he tells her what happened with his friends so many years before. “To that orderly, harmonious, intimate place?”

“That place doesn’t exist anymore,” he replies.

Chris Ritter for BuzzFeed

One summer in college, somewhere between Dance Dance Dance and South of the Border, West of the Sun, I interned at a magazine and spotted Murakami’s name on a contact sheet. Because I was deathly afraid of Getting in Troubleâ„¢ I hadn’t availed myself of that sort of resource before, but I copied his address down on the back of my paycheck envelope. I never did anything with it and lost the envelope shortly thereafter. And what would I have said? Thanks, man across the ocean three times my age, thank you for being odd and gentle and helping me figure out how to be a person in the world.

And it is not, I hope, just me. My sister is three years younger and in the midst of taking on some monsters of her own. When I last came home to Boston, she had raided my bookshelf, a pile of Murakami splayed on the kitchen table. I haven’t felt lately like I know how to speak to her, how to tell her how much I love her and that I see her even when I haven’t been exactly where she’s going right now. What I did know, though, was to point to the book she should start with. I am not a talking cat (to my knowledge), capable of guiding people through an enchanted landscape of their fears and limitations. But I know where she can find one.

Read more: http://www.buzzfeed.com/alannaokun/missing-and-finding-the-magic-of-haruki-murakami

This Is What Breakfast Looks Like In 22 Countries Around The World

The best meal of the day. Inspired by these Quora threads.

Jenny Chang / BuzzFeed

1. Eastern China

Flickr: seeminglee / Via Creative Commons

According to Quora user Zhu-Zixin, a typical breakfast in eastern China can include items like dumplings, rice in vegetable soup, fried sponge cake, steamed creamy custard bun, and porridge.

2. Guyana

Quora user Britt Smith explains that a typical breakfast in Guyana is bake and saltfish. Saltfish is whitefish preserved in salt, and bake is bread dough, fried.

3. Iran

Flickr: kamshots Creative Commons

Quora user Soheil Hassas Yeganeh writes that in Iran a typical breakfast consists of sweet black tea, bread, butter, feta cheese, and sometimes fresh fruit and nuts.

4. France

Quora user Sarah-Je notes that a French breakfast includes
tea, coffee, juice, or hot chocolate, with bread and butter or pastries.

“We only eat sweet food, nothing with salt (no meat, no eggs, unlike people from the UK or USA for example)”, she adds.

5. Japan

quora.com / Via Flickr: triplexpresso Creative Commons

According to Quora user Makiko Itoh, Japanese breakfasts fall into two categories: Wafuu (traditional) and youfuu (Western).

A typical Wafuu breakfast has rice, fish, miso soup, sticky soy beans, and nori seaweed. A typical youfuu breakfast has buttered toast, eggs, coffee, and potato salad.

6. Poland

Quora user Anat Penini writes that a traditional Polish breakfast is scrambled eggs topped with kielbasa (a sausage) and potato pancakes.

7. Southern India

Flickr: mynameisharsha / Via Creative Commons

Quora user Jared Zimmerman says that a common South Indian breakfast is idli and sambar, a vegetable stew served with steamed lentil and rice bread. Also popular is dosa, a thin crunchy crepe with a spicy potato filling.

8. Italy

Italian Quora user Eugenio Casagrande writes that a typical breakfast consists of a cup of coffee with milk and a slice of bread.

9. Central India

Flickr: pankaj / Via Creative Commons

According to Quora user Jared Zimmerman, a typical breakfast in central India is uttapam. Uttapam is a thick pancake with vegetables, served with chutney.

10. Colombia

Quora user Daniel Rojas explains that a typical Colombian breakfast depends on the region.

However, a mixture of leftovers from the night before is common, as is soup or cereal.

11. Turkey

Flickr: mulazimoglu Creative Commons

In Turkey, Quora user John Burgess says, breakfast consists of cheese, olives, honey, jam, bread, an omelette, and fruit.

12. Brazil

Brazilian Quora user Larissa Porto notes that Pão de Queijo (bread cheese) is a common breakfast dish served with coffee.

13. The Phillipines

Flickr: sjsharktank Creative Commons

According to Quora user Katherine Cortes, a typical Philippine breakfast consists of bread rolls and coffee. Tapsilog (rice with dried meat and a fried egg) is also common.

14. Nigeria

Quora user Oyinda Kosemani writes that breakfast varies from tribe to tribe, but a typical Yoruba breakfast includes Ogi and Akara (cornmeal and bean cakes) and well as yam and fried eggs, and fried plantain.

15. Venuzuela

http://ttps://Flickr: aj Creative Commons

In Venezuela, Quora user Rowan Vasquez writes, a typical breakfast is an arepa, a flat corn cake. Arepas are filled with various things like cheese, ham, chicken, or fish.

He adds: “On weekends, Venezuelans might have a larger breakfast, consisting of black beans, savory shredded beef cooked with vegetables, white cheese, perico (eggs scrambled with vegetables), avocado, and an arepa.”

16. Cambodia

Quora user Sarah Rose Jensen notes that a typical breakfast in Cambodia is Kuy Teav, a rice noodle soup with meat and vegetables.

17. Lebanon

Flickr: kake_pugh / Via Creative Commons

According to Quora user Ehab Dahdouli, a popular breakfast in Lebanon is Manakish, a flatbread flavoured with za’atar and sometimes cheese, served with tomatoes.

18. Indonesia

Flickr: craige / Via Creative Commons

In Indonesia, Quora user Aso Saputra, writes that breakfast could be rice and fried fish, or fried rice and a fried egg (Nasi Goreng, above), or chicken porridge.

19. Pakistan

Nihari is a typical breakfast dish in Pakistan, Quora user Ali Abbas explains. It’s a spicy meat curry, served with naan.

He adds, “Halwa Poori: This is considered as a classic “Sunday” breakfast and is very heavy. It generally consists of ‘poori’, halwa (sweet), and a curry (beans or potato). It is very common to see people in large number gathering at famous places for this Sunday morning breakfast. Often queues are formed outside shops an hour before they start serving.”

20. Morocco

Flickr: eryoni Creative Commons

According to Quora user Ahmed Bouchfaa, breakfast in Morocco is generally sweet, featuring bread, honey, olives, and dates, as well as Turkish coffee and mint tea.

21. Israel

Flickr: imnewtryme / Via Creative Commons

Shakshuka is a popular breakfast dish in Israel, according to Quora user Denise Aptekar. It consists of eggs poached in a tomato sauce.

She adds, “The classic Israeli breakfast (in cafes and hotels) comes with cheese, omelette, tuna, olives, bread and butter/jams, salad and spreads.”

22. UK

Flickr: garydenness / Via Creative Commons

A fry-up, whether it’s a full English, full Scottish, or an Ulster fry. For more full English facts, click here.

Bonus! A video of breakfasts around the world.

Read more: http://www.buzzfeed.com/ailbhemalone/breakfasts-around-the-world

A Rare Look Inside The Sausage Factory Of Media Consolidation

Modern media is dominated by a handful of giants, each with Byzantine internal structures. Here’s why.

Ursula Coyote / AMC

The media industry has been in a state of never-ending consolidation for decades, with conglomerates being swallowed by conglomerates, and others being chopped up and resold in a vast game of corporate Lego. As a result, the giants that now dominate the business are often incredibly complex: Take a look at the corporate maneuverings of John Malone’s Liberty Media empire, or the leviathan that is Comcast.

In late October, bankers at UBS tried to throw a couple more ingredients into the sausage grinder. In a pitch to film and TV giant Sony Entertainment, they proposed taking over AMC Networks, the owner of cable channels including AMC, Sundance, and IFC.

But this is media, so the deal couldn’t be that simple. Sony shouldn’t outright buy AMC, the bankers said in a presentation leaked alongside millions of others in a hacking attack late last year. Instead, the bankers said, Sony Pictures should be spun off from its Japanese parent company, into a new company, which would then be merged with AMC. Existing Sony shareholders would own 80% of the new business, and AMC would own 20%.

The convoluted exercise — never followed up on by Sony — is an example of how the complicated and sometimes baffling structure of the media industry leads to deals that are designed to satisfy needs beyond simple economic rationalism.

It’s also an example of the media consolidation arms race currently under way, as huge players look to get even bigger to remain in a similar weight class as Comcast, which is already the country’s largest cable company, and has agreed to buy Time Warner Cable, just a few years after swallowing up NBC/Universal. Telecom giant AT&T, has agreed to buy DirectTV, one of the nation’s biggest pay TV operators.

“Scale [is] becoming increasingly critical with recent wave of cable consolidation (Comcast / TWC / Charter, AT&T / DTV) and large scale content M&A expected to shortly follow,” the presentation says.

A Sony spokesperson declined to comment; AMC and UBS did not respond to requests for comment.

The presentation, which was included in a trove of Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton’s emails leaked by hackers last year, was prepared by UBS investment bankers. The rationale for the complex deal was Sony Pictures was “missing valuable U.S. cable network portfolio” that would turn Sony into a “leading television business with content production and distribution across all platforms and geographies.”

The proposal envisioned Sony purchasing AMC at a 30% premium to its then-price of $58.44 (the stock is now at $63), a $8.48 billion deal including AMC’s $2.8 billion in debt. A person close to Sony said that the presentation wasn’t solicited by Sony executives and wasn’t considered by Lynton, although such proposals are often prepared by investment bankers and presented to companies they have relationships with.

AMC Networks, which broadcasted the Sony-produced Breaking Bad on its flagship channel, has a “proven original programming model, secure distribution, valuable brand for advertisers and strong international channels,” the pitch said, and would, importantly, provide “significant cash flow generation for Sony.”

Many analysts consider companies with a library of high-quality original serialized content ready for broadcast — like Time Warner’s HBO and AMC Networks’ AMC — as increasingly valuable thanks to the ability to distribute shows like Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, and Game of Thrones more widely to devoted fans throughout the world.

Richard Greenfield, an analyst at BTIG, said he didn’t think AMC was a good buy, and wouldn’t be purchased by anyone in 2015 because two of its three must-watch shows, Breaking Bad and Mad Men, have ended or will end. On top of that, TV advertising is still under pressure, the cable TV “bundle” is being gradually picked apart, with only truly must-see “appointment” TV holding up pay TV’s expensive pricing. And if cable bundles shrink in size — like Dish Network’s new streaming Sling TV service — AMC could be left on the outside (it’s not included on Sling TV).

But with a cable network, Sony would also have a natural destination for the shows it produces, international distribution through Chellomedia, the overseas cable business AMC acquired from Liberty Media in 2013, and would get access to steady revenue from AMC’s payments from cable providers.

AMC has long been rumored to be an acquisition target, and its recent success with Don Draper and Walter White added to the sheen. Investors and analysts have also long pushed some kind of reorganization of Sony and making its entertainment and movie assets somewhat independent from the company.

Activist investor Dan Loeb advocated for listing a 20% stake of Sony’s entertainment business so that it could get its own stand-alone from investors. Sony executives have long said they don’t have any interest in splitting up the company. Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai told Variety last year, “I’m not entertaining even the notion of selling our entertainment assets.”

Like many deals dreamed up by finance types, the numbers behind the proposed tie-up are more complicated than just adding up all the cash the businesses generate on their own. UBS projected that the deal would generate $3 billion in value from the combined companies, just by taking a piece out of Sony — the assumption being that investors would pay more for a pure-play entertainment company than they would for one locked up inside a sprawling consumer electronics business. The bankers also projected some $100 million in “synergies” — essentially, money saved by getting rid of work that is duplicated — between the two.

UBS estimated Sony’s television and movie business had revenues of $8.4 billion, earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization of $752 million, and a multiple — meaning the ratio between a company’s per share earnings and its overall value and a measure of investor’s estimate of growth of future revenues — of 8X. The new company with AMC would have revenues of $10.7 billion, EBITDA of $1.47 billion and a new multiple of 10.5X.

Sony Pictures, the bankers estimate, is worth $10 billion, and the two companies together would have an enterprise value of $18.5 billion. The value of AMC’s stock when the presentation was given, however, was $5.6 billion. AMC today has a market capitalization of $4.45 billion.

An additional complication in the proposed deal was how to treat the Dolan family, which controls two-thirds of the shareholder votes at AMC through their ownership of the company’s class-B shares, which carry extra voting power.

An all-cash acquisition of AMC, the bankers said, would mean a hefty tax bill for the Dolans. If, however, Sony Pictures and AMC were combined into a new company, the Dolans would own 3.4% of its stock and pay less in taxes than if they received cash or Sony stock.

Odd structures to reduce taxes are common in this kind of dealmaking. In March, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway announced a deal to exchange 1.6 million shares of Graham Holdings for cash, Berkshire shares, and a TV station. The deal structure helped the companies avoid nearly all taxes.

And the diverse holdings of media tycoon John Malone, the Michael Jordan of media dealmaking, contain many complex corporate structures that have helped avoid hundreds of millions in taxes.

The leaked emails show that Sony executives, including Lynton and Sony Television chief Steve Mosko, have relationships with AMC CEO Josh Sapan and have discussed deals with the companies in the past. In June, Mosko emailed Sapan to inquire about a deal to acquire some Chellomedia assets, “Are you considering spinning off pieces of chello? If so …we may be interested,” Mosko wrote. Sapan responded, “We’re currently holding on to all of it” but added “If you ever identify opportunities for us to pursue together that are new, we would like to examine.”

The emails also indicate that UBS banker Sam Powers, who is the co-head of the bank’s technology, media, and telecommunications practice, met with Lynton in the middle of October. The presentation came back to Lynton on Oct. 30.

On the night of the Emmys, Lynton emailed Sapan congratulating him on the network’s wins, including Breaking Bad‘s five trophies, and asked if he could get a copy of Boyhood, the Richard Linklater film produced by AMC-owned IFC.

“If we could get a copy I would, for just a day, be a star around my house,” Lynton wrote. “See you soon I hope.”

Read more: http://www.buzzfeed.com/matthewzeitlin/a-rare-look-inside-the-sausage-factory-of-media-consolidatio

Is It Time For Us To Take Astrology Seriously?

In an April marked by angry eclipses portending unexpected change, the ancient, long-debunked practice of astrology and its preeminent ambassador might be weirdly suited for the 21st century.

Illustration by Justine Zwiebel for BuzzFeed

Every Tuesday and Thursday from noon until 7 p.m., Bart Lidofsky pins a small plastic name tag to his shirt (“Bart Lidofsky, Astrologer”) and receives customers at the Quest Bookshop on East 53rd Street in New York City. After I wander up to him and introduce myself — I am there to have my natal chart read — he leads me to a little table in the back of the store and pulls a gauzy green curtain closed behind us. “For privacy,” he says.

Quest specializes in spiritual, esoteric, and New Age literature, but also sells crystals, runes, incense, divination equipment, mala beads, essential oils, candles, pendulums, gemstones, and “altar supplies.” It smells like church in here. You can picture the clientele — people who are comfortable pontificating about auras, people who know how to hang wind chimes. Lidofsky has been performing astrological readings for 20 years, and his bio contains a long string of bona fides: He’s a member of the American Federation for Astrological Networking and the National Center for Geocosmic Research, and frequently delivers lectures for the New York Theosophical Society. Or, as he calls it, “the Lodge.”

After we sit down, Lidofsky asks for the precise date, time, and location of my birth, and spends the next 45 minutes determining, in his words, “how things fit together.”

Before I leave, Lidofsky — who wears a robust white goatee and small wire-frame glasses — hands me his business card. It is pale blue, and features a photograph of Saturn alongside all the pertinent contact information. “Feeling lost in a difficult world?” it wonders in extra-large type. “Help is available.”

Until recently, I thought of astrology, when I thought of it at all, as frivolous and nearly embarrassing — a pseudoscience unworthy of consideration by serious people. I’m sure I felt at least partially implicated via my age and gender: A short screed in an 1852 edition of the New York Times called astrology’s audience “women and girls who are compelled to struggle as a living,” and declared the practice more odious than “the dozen other species of street swindles for which our city is famous.” In the late 1980s, when a former chief of staff published a provocative memoir claiming Nancy Reagan relied on a San Francisco astrologer to, as Time magazine put it, “determine the timing of the President’s every public move,” Ronald Reagan had to publicly insist that “at no time did astrology determine policy.” It was a major humiliation. Even the celebrity astrologer Steven Forrest has acknowledged his field’s dubious image. “I am often embarrassed to say what I do… Astrology has a terrible public relations problem,” he wrote in an essay for Astrology News Service.

But then there was this sense — suddenly, on the street — that astrology had credence. A 2013 New York magazine story claimed that “plenty of New Yorkers wouldn’t buy an apartment or accept a new job without an astral okay.” An occult bookstore opened on a dusty corner of Bushwick and was rhapsodically covered by the Times (its name, Catland, referenced a song by the British experimental band Current 93; its location in Brooklyn indicated a certain kind of culturally conscious clientele). People were talking frankly about their aspects. They knew which planets are in retrograde; they were jittery about eclipses. And it turns out what I’ve been observing anecdotally in New York — among my undergraduate writing students at New York University, in the press, between the otherwise high-functioning attendees of Brooklyn dinner parties — is supportable, at least in part, by statistics. According to a report from the National Science Foundation published earlier this year, “In 2012, slightly more than half of Americans said that astrology was ‘not at all scientific,’ whereas nearly two-thirds gave this response in 2010. The comparable percentage has not been this low since 1983.” While this sort of acceptance isn’t unprecedented, it’s still a curious spike. Astrology is gaining believers, and has been for a while.

In some ways, these numbers jibe with some broader cultural shifts: Whereas an astrological dabbler may have previously glanced at his horoscope in the newspaper while swirling cream into his coffee, there is now a vast and endless expanse of websites featuring complex, customized forecasts, some further broken down into insane and arbitrary-seeming categories (on Astrology.com, for example, you can consult a “Daily Flirt,” “Daily Home and Garden,” “Daily Dog,” or “Daily Lesbian” horoscope, among other variations). There is more access to astrology, just as there is more access to everything: A person can shop around, compare their fortunes, wait to find what they need.

When I speak to a former student, now 22, about the increase — it seems likely it’s at least in part attributable to her and her peers — she describes astrology’s mysteriousness as its most alluring attribute. She reads her horoscope every month, faithfully. Its inherent fallibility, she says, is precisely what makes it fun. For her, astrology is about feeling the strange thrill of indulging something (vaguely) supernatural, but it’s also about getting what she is really after, what we are all really after now: actionable, interactive information. These days, there aren’t many problems Google can’t solve. Except the problem of what happens next.

While folks her age are hardly the first group to feel the draw of the unknown, it also makes sense that a generation that came of age with the whole of human knowledge in its pockets might find the ambiguity of astrology a little welcome sometimes. For people born with the web, information has always been instantly accessible, so astrology’s abstruseness — and, ironically, its promises of clarity regarding the only real unknowable: the future — becomes appealing. This generation’s predicament, as I understand it, has always felt Dickensian: “We have everything before us, we have nothing before us.”

But then I’m reminded, again, that inaccuracy, or, at least, a belief in the fluidity of truth, is at the heart of the present-day zeitgeist: Our news is often hasty and unverified, our photos are filtered and retouched, our songs are pitch-corrected, our unscripted television programs are storyboarded into oblivion, and most everyone shrugs it all off. Astrology might not offer the most accurate or verifiable information, but at least it offers information — arguably the only currency that makes sense in 2014.

In that way, astrology seems perfectly positioned to become the defining dogma of our time.

The earliest extant astrological text is a series of 70 clay tablets known collectively as Enuma Anu Enlil. The originals haven’t been recovered, but copies were found in the library of King Assurbanipal, a seventh-century B.C. Assyrian leader who reigned at Nineveh, in what’s presently northwestern Iraq. (Some of the tablets are now held by the British Museum in London.) The Enuma Anu Enlil contains various omens and interpretations of celestial phenomena, and accurately notes things like the rising and setting of Venus. According to the historian Benson Bobrick, the Assyrians at Nineveh had distinguished planets from fixed stars and figured out how to follow their courses, allowing them to predict eclipses; they also established the lunar month at 29 1/2 days.

By 700 B.C., the Chaldeans — tribes of Semitic migrants who settled in a marshy, southeastern corner of Mesopotamia — had discerned that the planets traveled on a set, narrow path called the ecliptic, and that constellations moved 30 degrees every two hours. In his book The Fated Sky, Bobrick explains how “the twelve [observed] constellations were eventually mapped and formed into a Zodiac round (about the sixth-century B.C.), and the signs in turn (as distinct from the constellations) were established as twelve 30 degree arcs over the course of the next 200 years.” As early as 410 B.C., astrologers had begun making natal charts, noting the exact alignment of the heavens at the moment of a baby’s birth.

Bobrick eventually suggests that astrology is, in fact, “the origin of science itself,” the practice from which “astronomy, calculation of time, mathematics, medicine, botany, mineralogy, and (by way of alchemy) modern chemistry” were eventually derived. “The idea at the heart of astrology is that the pattern of a person’s life — or character, or nature — corresponds to the planetary pattern at the moment of his birth,” Bobrick writes. “Such an idea is as old as the world is old — that all things bear the imprint of the moment they are born.”

It’s at least hard to untangle the development of astrology from the rise of astronomy, and for a long time, the two fields were essentially synonymous; the divide between the supernatural and the natural wasn’t always quite so entrenched. As Bobrick writes, the “occult and mystical yearnings” of Copernicus, Brahe, and Galileo helped to “inspire their scientific work,” and astronomy and astrology remained close bedfellows until almost the end of the 17th century.

Nick Popper, a historian and author who has studied the intersection of science and mysticism, explains the relationship this way: “In Europe before the Enlightenment, for example, most individuals recognized a distinction between the two. Astronomy was the knowledge of the map of the stars and their movements, while astrology was the interpretation of their effects. But knowledge of the movements of the stars was primarily useful for its service to astrology. On its own, astronomy was most valuable as a timepiece.”

For early modern Europeans, astrology was undeniable and ubiquitous, a guiding force in various essential fields, including medicine. “Every noble court worth its salt had an astrologer on consultation,” Popper tells me. “Typically a physician skilled in taking astrological readings. Many brought in numerous people to help interpret significant events. These figures were [frequently] charged with determining propitious dates, anticipating future transformations, and using horoscopes to assess the character of all sorts of figures. This predictive capacity was not deemed a ‘low’ knowledge, as now, but seen as an utterly vital political expertise.”

Johannes Kepler, one of the forefathers of modern astronomy (he determined the laws of planetary motion, which allowed Newton to determine his law of universal gravitation; Kant later called Kepler “the most acute thinker ever born”), wrote in 1603 that “philosophy, and therefore genuine astrology is a testimony of God’s works, and is therefore holy. It is by no means a frivolous thing.” Three years later, in 1606, he declared: “Somehow the images of celestial things are stamped upon the interior of the human being, by some hidden method of absorption … The character of the sky flowed into us at birth.”

“There are so many misconceptions about astrology, it boggles me.” Susan Miller, arguably the most broadly influential astrologer practicing in America right now, is sitting across from me at a white-tablecloth restaurant on New York’s Upper East Side wearing a dark blue sheath dress, black tights, black knee-high boots, and Hitchcock-red lips. “The biggest is that it’s for women. I have 45% male readers. People just assume that it’s all women. It’s not.”

She is petite and precisely assembled, but not in a grim, bloodless, Park Avenue way. There is something openhearted about her, a vulnerability that borders on guilelessness. I find her instantly kind. We will sit here together for over four hours.

Miller founded a website called Astrology Zone on Dec. 14, 1995; the site presently attracts 6.5 million unique readers and 20 million page views each month. She released a new version of her smartphone app (“Susan Miller’s AstrologyZone Daily Horoscope FREE!”) late last year; her old app was downloaded 3 million times. Miller is hip to the way astrology functions online, having embraced the web from the very start of her career. She is active across most social media platforms, and fluent in the quick rhythm of virtual interaction, often acting as a kind of kooky, round-the-clock therapist. Offline, she employs 30 people in one way or another, has written nine books, and is aggressively feted by the fashion industry, a community in which she functions as an omniscient, beloved oracle.

Miller was born in New York, still lives in the city, and doesn’t have a whiff of bohemian mysticism about her. Instead, she presents as intelligent and detail-oriented, with none of the candles-and-crystals whimsy endemic to New Age bookstores. (A minor concession: Her iPhone, which beckons her often, is set to the “Sci-Fi” ringtone.) She appears legitimately compelled to help people, and offers an extravagant amount of free services to her followers. Of course, “free services” can be a potentially devious vehicle for other, less altruistic pursuits — and Miller does sell her books and calendars on her website, and frequently pushes a premier version of her app featuring longer horoscopes — but it is very, very easy to read and follow Astrology Zone without ever making an explicit financial investment in it. (Miller insists she makes “pennies” from the non-pop-up advertisements on the site.) I believe her when she says she considers her readers friends.

It had started to feel like a colossal waste of energy, fretting over whether or not astrology is “real” — whether or not there are accurate indications of our collective or individual futures contained in the cosmos, whether or not those indications can be massaged into utility by trained interpreters — because the fact is, even beyond our present disinterest in objective truth, reasonable people believe in all sorts of unreasonable things. True love, the afterlife, karma, a soul. Even high-level cosmology, the study of the origin and evolution of the universe, hinges in part on tenuous scientific presumptions. When I considered astrology objectively — the notion that celestial movements might affect activity on Earth, and that people born around the same time of year share might certain characteristics based, in part, on a comparable environmental experience in utero — it didn’t seem nearly as dumb as, say, waving one’s hands around a crystal ball. Or calling someone your soulmate.

Still, astrology is often (rightly) equated with charlatanism: hucksters peddling snake oil, burglarizing the naïve. As with any unregulated business, there are practitioners who aren’t properly trained, who haven’t done the work and don’t know the math; they will snatch your $5 and spit back some vague platitude about the stars. It makes sense, then, that astrology is so routinely conflated with fortune-telling, mysticism. “People think it’s predestination. It has nothing to do with predestination,” Miller says, forking the salmon on her chopped salad. She is careful, always, to emphasize free will in her readings — when properly employed, astrology doesn’t dictate or predict our choices, it merely allows us to make better, more informed ones. As the astrologer Evangeline Adams wrote in 1929, “The horoscope does not pronounce sentence … it gives warning.” It’s the same idea — in theory, at least — as a body undergoing genetic testing to unmask certain proclivities or susceptibilities: to find out what it’s capable of, to preemptively protect the places where it is softest, most at risk.

Miller has written extensively about the debilitating, unnamable ailment she suffered as a child (“I had sudden, inexplicable attacks that felt like thick syrup was falling into my knee,” she wrote in her 2001 book, Planets and Possibilities), and over lunch, she tells me she was bedridden for weeks-long stretches, and endured bouts of extraordinary, life-halting pain. She describes the problem as a birth defect, but her doctors were mystified by her condition, and routinely accused her of total hysteria. Around her 14th birthday, Miller’s parents finally found a physician willing to further investigate her case, and she spent 11 months in the hospital that year, undergoing and recovering from various vascular operations.

“The other doctors were like, ‘You’re very clever, aren’t you? You don’t want to go to school, and you’ve hoodwinked all of us,’” she recalls. “And you know, my mother and father were on my side. But they were the only ones. I could feel how a prisoner would feel when unjustly accused. It was the most horrible thing. To be in so much pain and to be screamed at!”

To date, Miller has received more than 40 blood transfusions. Although she no longer endures attacks, if she were injured again in her left leg — in a way that suddenly exposed her veins — she could easily bleed to death. As of 2001, there were only 47 other documented cases of her particular affliction on record.

The pain kept her out of high school, but Miller studied from bed, passed the New York State Regents exams, and graduated at 16. Shortly thereafter, she enrolled in New York University, where she studied business. The whole arc is remarkable: a narrative of redemption. I can’t tell whether I find it incongruous or inevitable that a kid who was constantly told her pain was not real grew up to adopt a profession that gets ridiculed, nearly incessantly, for being its own kind of con. It speaks to Miller’s self-possession that she is charitable, always, to her skeptics.

“No astrologer believes in astrology before she starts studying it,” she says. “What I have a problem with are people who pontificate against astrology who’ve never studied it, never looked at a book, had no contact with it. And they criticize it without opening the lid and looking inside.” She pauses. “But I’m not an evangelist.”

Miller is famously available to her readers, particularly on Twitter. The medium suits her: Her dispatches are sympathetic, personable, chatty. Aggressively educated young women, especially, share them in a half-winking, half-sincere way, indulging in astrology’s prescribed femininity and wielding it in a manner that feels almost confrontational. It reminds me, sometimes, of the way women talk to each other about nail polish: as if it were a political act to not be embarrassed by it.

Miller, for her part, spends loads of time answering questions from her more than 177,000 followers, like, “I need to have oral surgery. when should I schedule? Aries w/Virgo rising.” (“Every Aries I know is having oral surgery,” Miller wrote back. “My daughter had it too. Go ahead and have it — think of it as repair work. Good time!”).

Advice like this would be troubling if Miller was not always exceedingly mindful of her influence (she says she would never tell someone not to have surgery or not to get married on a specific day), and it is, in fact, troubling regardless; her readers take her work seriously. She is pestered with inane questions like some sort of human Magic 8 Ball. If there is any delay in the appearance of an Astrology Zone forecast — they are posted, en masse, on the first of the month — people get agitated. The tweets accumulate, and range in timbre from bummed to slightly desperate: “Waking up the first day of the month to find that Susan won’t post for another 24 hours is the worst,” “It won’t officially be spring until Susan Miller posts her March horoscopes,” “This wait on @astrologyzone is killing me,” “Why is @astrologyzone always late? Every other astrology website posts on time but the best.”

Eventually, the forecasts always appear. Miller stays up very late — until 2 or 3 in the morning, most nights — and wakes up at 7 to exercise, screen several news broadcasts (she likes to compare them, to see how certain stories are prioritized), run errands, and, eventually, around 11 a.m., start writing. She generates at least 40,000 words every month for Astrology Zone, and produces detailed horoscopes for Elle, Neiman Marcus, and a slew of international publications, including Vogue Japan.

Anyone who’s ever interviewed Miller has observed that she’s a circuitous, digressive storyteller, and her monthly forecasts are far longer — they’re essays, really — than a typical newspaper or magazine horoscope, which usually contains just a sentence or two of fuzzy wisdom. Miller can be specific in her advice (“I suggest you do not accept a job now, not unless the offer emanates from a VIP from your past. In that case, you would be simply continuing your relationship, not starting a new relationship, and you therefore would be on safer ground during a Mercury retrograde phase,” she cautioned in February), and she calls her work “practical astrology,” which differs, she said, from “psychological astrology.” She wants to be service-oriented. She wants to give people information they can use.

“I can tell right away if you had a harsh father or a critical mother,” she says. “I might mention it. But I’m not going to delve into your childhood and growing up. I think that’s the work of a psychiatrist.” Instead, Miller finds out how certain astrological phenomena have affected a client in the past, and then, when those events are about to repeat, asks them to recall the state of their life at that prior moment. “When I do a chart the first time, there is so much information there. I have to watch your proclivities.”

Miller pulls out her MacBook and opens a program called Io Sprite. She plugs in my birth information, and a pie chart appears on the screen. It contains several concentric circles; the outermost circle is divided into 12 sections, one for each sign of the zodiac. Individual slices contain glyphs representing the sun, the moon, planets, nodes, trines. It is a snapshot of the sky at the moment of my deliverance, and it is the lynchpin of Western astrology.

Besides the placement of celestial bodies, astrologers also consider what they call “aspects” — the relative angles between planets — and use the natal chart to determine an ascendant or rising sign (the sign and degree that was ascending on the eastern horizon at the time of birth; astrologers think this signifies a person’s “awakening consciousness”). The planet closest to one’s ascendant is that person’s rising planet, and is believed to indicate how we approach or deal with other people. Every astrologer will interpret a natal chart slightly differently. Miller compares this to how various broadcasters report the same news, but emphasize or deemphasize certain narratives. She tells me it is important to find an astrologer that I like and trust.

“You have Uranus rising the same way I do,” Miller says, staring closely at my chart. “Your thought patterns are different from everybody else’s. You think they’re the same because you’re living inside of your body, but they’re different. That influences your personality. People will remember you. And at some point in your life you will form a path for people. You will expose something or teach them something that they didn’t know about.” I’m not sure how or if I’m supposed to respond, so I chew on the end of my pen and look up at her like a puppy dog. I want her to tell me everything. Maybe I don’t believe in astrology, or at least not entirely, but I’m also not immune to the lure of whispered prophecies.

Obviously, the personality attributes commonly associated with most signs (and repeated by astrologers) are positive, and if they’re not immediately complimentary, they’re at least forgivable (“secretive,” “stubborn”). In astrology, no one is “strangely shaped” or “sort of dense.” I am a Capricorn, like Joan of Arc and LeBron James, which means, according to Miller, that I’m rational, reliable, resilient, calm, competitive, trustworthy, determined, cautious, disciplined, and quite persevering. “Your underlings see you as a tower of strength,” she wrote of Capricorns in Planets and Possibilities. “And indeed you are.” Meanwhile, I have Scorpio rising at 19 degrees, which means I have “awesome sexual powers” and a set of “bedroom eyes” that, I’m told, will get me “just about anything I want.” Like many people, I find my astrological profile to be spot-on.

The most noteworthy scientific repudiation of astrology was conducted in the early 1980s by a UC-Berkeley physicist named Shawn Carlson. He tasked 28 astrologers with pairing more than 100 natal charts to psychological profiles generated by the California Personality Inventory, a 480-question true-false test that determines personality type. The idea was to figure out if a trained astrologer could accurately match a natal chart to a personality profile. “Astrology failed to perform at a level better than chance,” Carlson concluded in Nature in 1985. “We are now in a position to argue a surprisingly strong case against natal astrology as practiced by reputable astrologers.”

It is a surprisingly strong case, in that I’m legitimately surprised that the astrologers fared so poorly, and then further surprised by my own surprise. I wonder, for a moment, if astrology has become so omnipresent and accepted in America — nearly everyone, after all, knows their sign, and has since childhood — that we’re all unconsciously performing our attributes now. That we have assumed them. This seems bonkers.

I recall Wittgenstein: “We feel that when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched.”

These days, it’s not terribly easy to find a reputable scientist willing to go on the record about astrology. The practice is so heavily disregarded that folks don’t even want to expend the energy required to debunk it. The American Museum of Natural History tells me they do “not have anyone to talk about this.”

I eventually get in touch with Eugene Tracy, a chancellor professor of physics at the College of William and Mary, who studies plasma theory and nonlinear dynamics, and who recently co-authored a new book (Ray Tracing and Beyond: Phase Space Methods in Plasma Wave Theory) for the Cambridge University Press. Plasma theory — that’s heavy. It posits that plasmas and ionized gases play far more central roles in the physics of the universe than previously theorized. It’s also what’s known as a “non-standard cosmology,” meaning it essentially contradicts the Big Bang, and hypothesizes a universe with no beginning or end. I get a little bug-eyed just thinking about it.

Tracy, who has taught high-level graduate courses in physics and undergraduate seminars in things like “Time in Science and Science Fiction,” acknowledges that science and mysticism now sit in total opposition. “The separation between what we would now call science and religion, philosophy and art, is a very modern development,” Tracy says. “The [early] motivation for studying things in the sky was the belief that either these things were gods, or they were the places where the gods lived,” he says.

Tracy and I talk for a while about Kepler, the last great astronomer who maintained faith in astrology; I am interested in how Kepler juggled his confidences. “He believed that astrology wasn’t working, that it demonstrably wasn’t very predictive. But he believed that it was because they were doing it wrong, not because the field itself was misguided,” Tracy says. “He had that scientific attitude: I need good data to build my models on. But his motivation was mystical.”

I finally tell Tracy that what I really want is a succinct debunking of the entire enterprise: I want to know, definitively, that it can’t work, that it doesn’t make sense. He is gentle in his reply. “Newton’s theory of gravity says that everything in the universe gravitates toward everything else. So that means there is a force exerted upon you by the other planets, by the sun, and so forth,” he says. “Now if you ask, ‘Well, the person who is sitting next to me in the room also exerts gravitational influence on me. How close do they have to be to exert the same gravitational influence as Jupiter?’ I’d say depending on where the doctor stood in the room next to you when you were born, [he] exerted the same gravitational influence [as Jupiter]. So gravity isn’t gonna get you astrology. The argument is that there’s something else going on. And that’s where you get outside the realm of science.”

In the beginning — my beginning, your beginning — gravity was everywhere, and the planets were just planets.

When I ask him why he thought people continued to believe in astrology — to cling to a myth — he likens it to our ongoing interest in science fiction of all stripes. “We don’t want to think of the planets as being empty, that there aren’t stories out there. Just like here,” he answers. “We want to fill the world with stories.”

I have plans to meet my friend Michael in the West Village on a particularly frigid Friday night. Over email, I convince him we should go see an astrologer or clairvoyant of some sort — you know, just dip into one of those tapestried storefronts on Bleecker Street, slip some cash to a woman in a low-cut top. I anticipate resistance, so I tell him we can get a drink first. We meet at a quasi-dive called The Four-Faced Liar, and have 300 beers. I want to see for myself whether astrology — even when practiced in the most pedestrian, mercenary way — can distinguish itself from all your basic soothsaying rackets.

Sufficiently over-served, Michael and I stumble around the neighborhood. (It doesn’t even seem that cold out anymore!) (It is 11 degrees.) Walk-in astrologers in major cities tend to keep bar hours — they are often open until midnight or 1 a.m., at least in New York — and I suspect a decent chunk of their business is derived from rambunctious tavern patrons on the move and in search of one last thrill.

Street psychics obviously command a different clientele than high-end private astrologers (comprehensive natal readings tend to cost between $150 and $200, whereas most people can only stomach shelling out 10 or 20 bucks on a late-night whim), but the questions are often the same; all of our questions are always the same. Speaking on the telephone one afternoon, Miller tells me that people come to her for many kinds of personal advice: love, sex, marriage, friendship, health concerns, career counseling. “This is the most educated generation in history, and they’re reading me because they can’t get a job,” she says. “But they don’t read me just for solving problems. They read me to get a perspective on their life. That’s another misconception,” she sighs. “There is nothing but misconceptions.”

The promise of “perspective” is an interesting way to think about the basic appeal of astrology. It allows us to step back — way back — and get a broad-view portrait of our lives, to have someone say: “This is who you are.” A person could spend her entire life trying to figure that out (which is to say nothing of the subsequent quest — in the unlikely event of a successful self-definition — to have that identity validated). I wonder if part of astrology’s attractiveness doesn’t have to do with its rote assignment of signifiers. All the clues to how a person should be: rational, reliable, resilient, calm, competitive, trustworthy, determined, cautious, disciplined. It feels like a road map, in a way.

Of course, what people really want to know is the future. It’s supremely annoying, not knowing what’s going to happen to you.

Michael and I procure dollar slices on Sixth Avenue and wander over to Houston Street. We find a storefront with a neon PSYCHIC sign. The establishment is called Predictions, and is operated by a tiny Egyptian woman named Nicole, who immediately beckons us inside. Her card says “Horoscopes,” and I inquire about an astrological reading. She is dismissive of the idea. “They read your sign,” she says. “I tell your future.”

The best part of my 10-minute session with Nicole is when she asks Michael to leave, commands me to squeeze a clear quartz crystal in my left hand, and then announces, in succession, that my sex chakras are blocked, that someone bothered my mother while she was pregnant with me, that things other people find difficult I find easy, that I am destined to be with someone whose name begins with “J,” and that I am slightly psychic myself.

Back on the street, I find Michael deep in conversation with two young, dark-haired women who are both contemplating a consultation with Nicole. They say they are going to buy a scratch-off lottery ticket first, and that if they win, they’ll go in to see her. They do not win. I tell Michael how I am supposed to be with Jeorge Clooney.

We turn onto MacDougal and walk past a building with the zodiac painted on the window. The door is locked, but eventually an old woman — toothless, and wearing a pink bathrobe — appears and unlocks it. Despite the iconography decorating her building, she also denies us an astrological reading. “It’s too complicated,” she sighs. “You have to know what you’re doing.” Instead, she reads Michael’s tarot cards while I sit on a chair with a ripped cushion. The television remains on the entire time. “I don’t look at the past,” she says while he shuffles the cards. “That’s for you to deal with.” She proceeds to tell Michael a few things about his future — two to three kids! — but I’m not listening because I’m thinking really hard about nachos. Before we leave, he asks her if she has any ideas for a cool nickname. We discussed this question ahead of time, back at the bar. “Something with a T,” she says. “And an L.” He decides on “Talon” after a brief dalliance with “Toil.” The next morning, I text him the word “TOILET” repeatedly.

If there is a way to ascertain usable info about the future, I am not sure this is it.

The question of why astrology has endured — why, of all the outlier theosophies and esoteric theories, astrology is the one that’s remained in the public consciousness for thousands of years, the one with a presence in nearly every daily newspaper in America, the one that’s flourishing online — might just be attributable to the endless romance of the night sky. Find a field out in the country, wait until dark, look up: It is a fast and easy way to find yourself cowed. There is something seductive about the stars, about their beauty and their strangeness, about what they imply regarding the smallness of our existence here on Earth. In his book The Fourth Dimension, the mathematician Rudy Rucker wrote: “What entity, short of God, could be nobler or worthier of [our] attention than the cosmos itself?”

Eugene Tracy suggests something similar during our conversation. “I think for most of human history, the sky has been very important to people,” he says. “And now we live our lives without it. We’re surrounded by artificial light.”

Astrology is, in the end, a kind of mass apophenia: the seeing of patterns or connections in random data. Although it resembles a pantheism and sometimes gets slotted as such, astrology has never struck me as a useful stand-in for organized religion — it doesn’t proffer absolution or any promise of an afterlife, nor is it a practicable ethos — and many astrologers (including Susan Miller, who is a devout Catholic) nurture active spiritual lives that have nothing to do with the zodiac. Astrology, unlike religion, is a deeply personalized, nearly solipsistic practice.

When I ask Dr. Janet Bernstein, a psychiatrist who’s worked in all kinds of contexts (privately, in prisons, in hospitals, in New York, in Alaska), if she has a sense of why so many different types of people turn to astrology, she points out that it often only takes one win — one “right” horoscope — to convert a skeptic. “Humans seem to like certainty and predictability in many, but not all, situations,” she says. “Astrology is just one of many systems that promises some certainty and predictability. Medical research is another. Stock market analysis is yet another. What often happens when one prediction in a system is born out is that the entire system [is] accepted.”

Back at the Quest Bookshop, when I ask Lidofsky if his belief in astrology requires at least a temporary suspension of cynicism — a “there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”-type of open-mindedness toward wildly unquantifiable truths — he only shrugs. “I don’t see any logical reason why it works,” he replies. “It just does. Aspirin was the most prescribed drug in the world, and no one knew how it worked until the ‘70s.”

Ultimately, I understand astrology’s utility as a (faulty) predictive tool, even if most astrologers prefer that it not be used that way. I also understand its attractiveness as something to believe in: Here is an ancient art — rooted in the cosmos, the default home for everything divine and miraculous — that promises not only clarity regarding the future, but also a summation of the past. Humans have always been drawn to succinct markers of identity, to anything that tells us who we are.

There is also the assurance of change in astrology: The planets keep moving. The chart always shifts. The forecast refreshes on the first of the month.

One particular story has stuck with me: In July 1609, Galileo discovered that Dutch eyeglass makers had developed a simple telescope, and weeks later, he’d designed and forged his own (improved) version, which allowed him to define the Milky Way as a galaxy of clustered stars, to see that Jupiter had four large orbiting moons, and to reaffirm Copernicus’ heliocentric understanding of the universe. Still, several prominent philosophers, including Cesare Cremonini and Giulio Libri, refused to look through the telescope. Maybe they just didn’t want to see what he saw — didn’t want to challenge one worldview with another. In 1610, in a letter to Kepler, Galileo opined what he called “the extraordinary stupidity of the multitude,” but it’s impossible to say precisely what kept the philosophers away.

I like to think they chose to uphold a private sense of heaven. One that told them exactly what they needed to know.

Read more: http://www.buzzfeed.com/amandapetrusich/is-it-time-for-us-to-take-astrology-seriously

What This Guy Did Is Probably The Most Ridiculous Thing I’ve Ever Seen. But I Can’t Stop Laughing.

What you’re about to see is possibly the craziest and funniest thing you’ll see all year. Mr. Sebuyama, a blogger for a Japanese humor website called Omocoro, recently published these hilarious pictures of himself wearing nothing but a pink sweater. The pictures were a part of a satirical article/guide he wrote about an ingenious idea he had on how someone could keep warm and not spend any money on electricity simply by wearing nothing but a pink sweater-bodysuit. So with out further ado, here’s Sebuyama’s guide to staying warm in the winter:

Hello, I’m Sebuyama. Day after day this severe cold continues, so how can people cope? Take me for example: I don’t have money to buy any clothes, so even indoors I’m left shivering from the cold.

If you’re one of the millions like me who think, ‘I don’t want to rely on a heater, but all I have is a single pink sweater,’ then my investigative report will show you what to do.

1) Put your legs through the sleeves of the sweater.

2) Put your upper body through the large bottom hole of the sweater.

The trick is to fold your body into half so it will fit inside an article of clothing designed for half your body.

3) You’ll find your head is approaching the neck-hole of the sweater just as if you were putting it on normally.

4) Just keep pushing your head through until…You’re done!

Once fully inserted into the sweater, you’ll find your once shiver-inducing room has become your personal tropical cabana! The combination of curling your body up into a ball and the sweater provides an unprecedented level of warmth using a minimum of resources.

Now you needn’t worry about keeping up with your utility bills or whatever horrors global warming decides to unleash next. You can even continue with your work as usual, but now in warmth.

Sebuyama next took his invention out for a field test, because keeping warm indoors is all well and good but we’re busy people with lives to lead out in the world. Won’t curling ourselves up into a single sweater interfere with that?

Here he comes!

Clearly a bit of an unusual sight, but let’s not let that distract us from the field test.

The single sweater continued to keep him warm despite the chilling wind and damp asphalt.

Clearly, it was harder for him to walk in this way but that only burns more calories and keeps you warm by doing exercise.

Sebuyama buys a baked sweet potato (yakiimo) for 100 yen at a local produce shop for the next step in his test, to see how easy it is to eat while looking like a turkey-man.

This little square is a good enough place to relax and eat his yakiimo.

At first, Sebuyama found an issue in his new body-warming technique. He was unable to bend any further than he already had to pass the sweet potato to his mouth. To make matters worse, a pigeon started eyeing his snack.

Things were looking grim for the field test but then he remembered he still had fully functioning hands to eat his potato with. All was well again.

Sebuyama says he was both impressed with how warm he kept and how friendly everyone in town was to him. Some people even asked him for an autograph.

There you have it. If all you’ve got to wear is a single sweater, then you now have the tools to manage even the worst winter Mother Nature can throw at you.

And to think, during this unusually cold winter all I needed to stay warm and cosy was a pink sweater…well, and a whole lot of courage too. Source: Omocoro (Original Japanese article) / RocketNews24 (for English translations) Share Sebuyama’s winter warming guide with your friends below.

Read more: http://viralnova.com/sweater-guy/

23 Things We Can Learn From Our Super-Smart And Adorable Pets

Our pets have so much to teach us…

From how to love unconditionally to the right way to enjoy a walk and even some lessons on making new friends (read: everyone can be a new friend), they’re so wise. While some things are best left to their world — *ahem* like smelling butts to become acquainted — there are so many things we can learn from our furry companions.

Here are just a few!

1. We’ve been going down stairs the slowest way for decades.

2. And how about getting a good booty and ab workout going up them? This should do it!

3. We’ve also been using exercise balls all wrong…

4. Speaking of exercise — they really know how to get the most out of a hike.

5. When it comes to enjoying nature, go big or go home.

6. Because bottom line…you can nap anywhere if you get too tired.

7. Then again, a little hesitance is good to employ now and then. The world is pretty big and scary.

8. They know that a selfie is the best way to celebrate new beginnings.

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9. “Multitasking is key.” (Seen here: sleeping and hydrating.)

10. “Embrace your enemies. They can become your best friends!”

11. They know that deep down, we’re all the same (and deserve treats).

12. Patience is a virtue.

13. Something as simple as holding a friend’s hand can make your day 100% better.

14. When it comes to relaxation, they know what’s up.

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…To each his own?

15. “It’s the simple things in life, guys!”

16. Always embrace your weird.

17. We could all learn to listen a little more.

18. It’s never too late to show someone you love them.

19. Dance like no one is watching.

20. You can get away with almost anything if you flash a smile.

21. If you work together, you can get more done.

22. It’s best to face your fears head-on.

23. But above all, they can teach us everything about loyalty and devotion.

Go home tonight and give your pet a great big hug…they’ve probably taught you way more than you’ll ever realize!

Read more: http://www.viralnova.com/smart-pets/

Take BuzzFeed’s Get Fit Challenge, Then Take Over The World

This is a four-week exercise plan that doesn’t require a gym membership. And no workout is longer than 30 minutes.

Photos by Lauren Zaser for BuzzFeed / Design by Chris Ritter for BuzzFeed

2. This 28-day challenge will get you into the habit of working out for 30 minutes a day, five times per week.

“Getting in shape” is a popular New Year’s resolution, but it’s important to have structure when working toward it — otherwise it can be too vague, too confusing, and too intimidating to know where to begin. So we asked personal trainer Rob Sulaver, C.S.C.S., founder of Bandana Training, to create a realistic month-long exercise plan for us.

3. Here’s your calendar:

Design by Alice Mongkongllite for BuzzFeed

There are two kinds of workouts: strength-training workouts and running workouts. The strength-training workouts are all bodyweight workouts, meaning they are a series of moves that use only your body’s weight as resistance, like pushups and lunges — no equipment. Running is…running. Bodyweight workout days are in red. Running workout days are in orange. And rest days are in yellow.

5. Stick with the program and it’s going to make you feel like this:

TV Tokyo / Via dailymotion.com

6. 9 things you should know before you start the challenge:

1. The plan is designed so that anyone can do it, no matter their fitness level or workout experience. Just be sure to read this whole list for some safety tips, and make modifications to the workouts if you need to.

2. Each week you’ll have a combination of running workout days, strength-training workout days, and rest days. The exercise days will help you improve your cardiovascular fitness, endurance, and strength. The program will get more challenging as you progress and get fitter.

3. You can find a complete list of all the running workouts below. Click here for more detailed instructions on how to do the running workouts.

4. You can find a complete list of all the bodyweight workouts below, also. Click here for step-by-step instructions of each individual exercise move.

5. Rest is built into the program intentionally. It’s crucial for recovery and progress. If you’re too tired to complete a workout with good form, take additional rest. Light activity (like a gentle yoga class, a long walk, an easy swim, a leisurely bike ride, etc.) is always encouraged on rest days, but only if you’re up for it.

6. You can jump into the challenge anytime. If you start after Jan. 4, just take any workouts you missed to the end of the month.

7. You can follow the program to the letter, but you can also move things around. You can swap one bodyweight workout for another, or move a rest day earlier or later in the week depending on how you’re feeling.

8. If you’re brand new to working out, scale back workouts as needed — seriously. Running coach Janet Hamilton (who created some of the running workouts) says that you shouldn’t do hard running workouts until you already have a base of fitness (meaning, you’re running for at least 30 minutes at a time, three to five days a week — without any injuries). If you’re not there yet, definitely modify these workouts to make them easier (we give instructions for how to do that). Listen to your body and don’t push yourself to the point that you get hurt. If you’re just getting started, your goal should be to just get moving for 30 minutes at a time. If that means you need to walk for half (or more) of it, that’s totally fine. As for the bodyweight workouts, ease into them slowly, monitoring your pace, effort, and quality of movement. Reduce reps if you need to, or modify the moves to make them less intense.

9. After the challenge is over, you’ll want to keep going and it’s super easy to do it. Try it again with some different bodyweight workouts, mix and match your own, or repeat this challenge with the goal of moving faster or better, or doing the harder versions of the workouts. As Sulaver says, “Go back through it and kick even MORE ass. It’s like beating Super Mario Bros. and starting over on a harder setting.”

These workouts were created by New York City-based trainer Albert Matheny, C.S.C.S., founder of Soho Strength Lab. They are all examples of high-intensity circuit training, which means that you push yourself incredibly hard for a short amount of time for a super effective workout. The most important thing is that you do all the moves with perfect form for every rep — you shouldn’t be pushing yourself too hard that you can’t do the moves right.

9. Total-Body Workout:

Photos by Lauren Zaser for BuzzFeed / Design by Chris Ritter for BuzzFeed

Start the clock, and immediately do 10 pushups in perfect form. When you’re done with the pushups, go straight into jumping jacks until the clock reads 1:00. Then move on to the next move. Do each move 10 times perfectly starting at the top of the minute, and finish out the minute with jumping jacks until it’s time for the next move.

Yes, you are supposed to do that whole thing five times. See detailed instructions for how to do each exercise move correctly here.

Make it easier: If you can’t do all the movements (50 pushups in 20 minutes, anyone?), start out with reps that are more manageable for you, for instance — like four or five pushups per round, instead of 10. And do regular lunges without jumps, if the jumping lunges are too hard.

10. Strong Core Workout:

Photos by Lauren Zaser for BuzzFeed / Design by Chris Ritter for BuzzFeed

Think of this workout as broken into two parts: PART A is plank taps and jumping lunges, and PART B is spider lunges and reverse lunges.

For PART A, you do 10 plank taps, 10 jumping lunges… and then repeat that eight times. Then you rest two minutes, and move on to PART B: 10 spider lunges, 10 reverse lunges, and repeat that eight times. You can see detailed instructions for how to do each exercise correctly here.

Make it easier: Do regular lunges instead of jumping lunges (so no jumping). And reduce the number of reps per move if you need to (four or five per round, instead of 10).

11. Upper-Body Workout:

Photos by Lauren Zaser for BuzzFeed / Design by Chris Ritter for BuzzFeed

Start the clock, and do as many pushups as you can — while maintaining perfect form — for 30 seconds. Then rest for 10 seconds, and do as many plank taps as you can (again, with perfect form) for 30 seconds, and then rest for 10 seconds again. Finish up with 30 seconds of walkouts. Rest for a minute or two, and then start all over again.

You should do the whole circuit 10 times. See detailed instructions for how to do each exercise correctly here.

Make it easier: Add time to the rest periods (20 seconds instead of 10).

12. Lower-Body Workout:

Photos by Lauren Zaser for BuzzFeed / Design by Chris Ritter for BuzzFeed

For each move, do as many as you can as possible — while maintaining perfect form — for 30 seconds. Then you rest for 10 seconds, and move on to the next move. Once you’ve completed 30 seconds of each move, rest for a minute or two, and start over all over again. You should do the whole circuit 10 times.

Quick note about the single-leg deadlifts: Do 10 reps in a row on the same standing leg (so don’t alternate back and forth during your 10 reps). When you start the circuit over again, make sure to switch to the other leg for your next round of 10 single-leg deadlift reps. Every time you do the circuit over again, switch your standing leg (so one leg doesn’t get worked more than the other). See detailed instructions for how to do each exercise correctly here.

Make it easier: Add time to the rest periods (20 seconds instead of 10).

13. If you get bored with those four bodyweight workouts and want to change it up, there are five other bodyweight workouts you can swap in here.

These running workouts were created especially for BuzzFeed Life by two RRCA-certified professional coaches, Janet Hamilton and John Honerkamp, who have 45 years of coaching experience between them. Rather than tell you what treadmill setting to use, which would differ from person to person and doesn’t apply to outdoor running, these workouts use a measure of intensity called RPE (rate of perceived exertion), which Honerkamp adapted for us. RPE works on a 10-point scale, where 1 is barely moving, 10 is all-out sprinting as fast as you can go, and 5 is running but at a moderate intensity pace — you can still carry on a conversation easily. This is a much healthier and smarter way to calculate your intensity than dialing up the treadmill.

Design by Jenny Chang for BuzzFeed

17. Time Ladder:

Design by Jenny Chang for BuzzFeed

Make it harder: Add additional intervals. As many as you want. Start with an extra three sprint-rest intervals and see how that feels… add or subtract intervals based on what your body is telling you.

Make it easier: Simplify the whole thing — that means throughout the whole workout, alternate between two minutes hard (6 RPE) and one minute easy (2–3 RPE).

18. Intervals:

Design by Jenny Chang for BuzzFeed

Make it harder: Right now this workout has you doing 4 × 2.5-minute sprints, with 2.5 minutes of rest between them. Speed up your sprints (and rest periods), and do 8 × 1-minute sprints with only 30 seconds rest between them.

Make it easier: Do only 4 × 1-minute sprints (instead of 4 × 2.5-minute sprints), with 2 minutes rest in between. This will shorten the total duration of the workout, and also shorten how long you’re sprinting.

19. Tempo:

Design by Jenny Chang for BuzzFeed

Make it harder: Increase your RPE or the length of the tempo portion of the run.

Make it easier: Shorten the tempo and dial down your effort so you feel comfortable. You can also walk if you need to — listen to your body.

20. And that’s everything!

Good luck, go team, you got this!

Read more: http://www.buzzfeed.com/sallytamarkin/get-fit-challenge