The Profile: YouTube’s first responders & the hacker who took down a country

Good morning, friends!

You may remember that I closed out 2018 with 11 practical lessons I learned after reading more than a thousand profiles. Many, many more profiles later, I decided to do something similar as we enter a new decade. 

Here’s a short list of ideas to take with you as we enter the 2020s. I hope you enjoy:

Don’t fall for false finish lines: As Mike Posner trudged 2,851 miles across America across America, he told his brain, “Just make it to Kansas, just make it to Kansas, just make it to Kansas.” As soon as he made it to Kansas, he started to fall apart. “My body, my mind, my spirit, they thought I was done because I had made it to Kansas,” he said. It was then he discovered the concept of false finish lines, or creating an imaginary end point that causes your body, mind, and spirit to react as if you’ve already reached your goals. During his walk, he learned two lessons: There are no real finish lines, just “checkpoints.” And always include a “no matter what” clause in the contract when you come up with a big goal. (Why Mike Posner Walked Across America)

Chase what you don’t know: Willem Dafoe, who has played a Spider-Man villain, Vincent van Gogh and Jesus, has 120 film credits to his name — and the number grows every year. So much of what we do, Dafoe says, is predicated on an idea of ourselves that we’re trying to protect. It’s part of the reason he enjoys playing such a range of characters. He’s always chasing after what he doesn’t know. “Do things that don’t let you decide definitively who you are and the way things are,” he says. (Willem Dafoe on The Lighthouse, Inspired Directors, and What He Cherishes in New York City)

Your darkest moments drive you forward: Dwayne Johnson is making movie after movie, hosting SNL, doing ads for Apple, working out at 3:30 a.m., and spending time with his family. But he hasn’t always been smiles and bear hugs. Johnson was arrested multiple times as a teen, failed to get drafted in the NFL, and battled with bouts of depression. But he managed to learn an important lesson: your most painful experiences can propel you forward. "You gotta keep that shit in the front of your mind. When shit goes bad or sideways, when you get booed out of the building, it should form you. It should drive you," he says. (The Pain and the Passion That Fuel the Rock)

Learn to tame the demons of your past: In 2017, actor Shia LaBeouf was stalked by Internet trolls, sued for $5 million after a shouting match in a bowling alley, and arrested for public intoxication. LaBeouf witnessed a traumatic event as a child that can still trigger his violent outbursts. To this day, he sleeps with a gun in his bed. His raw, unfiltered story explores how to tame the demons of our past that still haunt us in the present. The answer? Overcome your ego and seek help. (Shia LaBeouf Is Ready To Talk About It)

Remember that we were all children once, too: Mister Rogers was so powerful in connecting with everyone because he emphasized the importance of civility and kindness in the face of outrage and horror. “He wanted us to remember what it was like to be a child so that he could talk to us; he wanted to talk to us so that we could remember what it was like to be a child,” Tom Junod writes. In a time when we live in hyper-polarized neighborhoods, we yearn for community yet we isolate ourselves from people whose views don’t align with our own. So next time you’re in conversation with someone whose perspective differs wildly from your own, it’s useful to remember that they were a child once, too. (My Friend Mister Rogers)

Accept that life is just a series of weird coincidences: At 44 years old, Kansas City Chiefs running backs coach Deland McCullough went searching for his biological parents. What he found out will stop you in your tracks, and make you realize that you find exactly what you’re looking for in the places you least expect. (Runs In the Family

SURVEY: I know you guys read a lot of newsletters every day, so I want to make sure this one is worth your time. If you have a few minutes, take this very short end-of-year survey. As always, I appreciate you reading week after week, and your opinions mean a lot to me.

Here we go with this week’s profiles:

The freelancer on the front lines [**HIGHLY RECOMMEND**]
YouTube’s first responders
The hacker who took down a country
The college president building a conservative utopia
The Christmas movie empire
The deep-sea miners

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The freelancer on the front lines: Most media organizations now rely more on freelancers to gather international news. As budgets shrink and foreign bureaus close, it is often cheaper to commission a freelance journalist than it is to send a staff reporter. But freelance reporting has become a competitive career, and its low pay makes it even more dangerous. Here’s the dizzying account of one such freelancer named Chris Allen who risked it all to get a story. His tragic death demonstrates just how awfully broken the media industry is today. (The Huffington Post)

“We are all targets; a press badge can’t protect me from an explosion.”

YouTube’s first responders: YouTube’s content moderators are responsible for scrubbing the internet of violent and disturbing content, but in order to do that, they have to first watch it all. There’s a copyright queue, a hate and harassment queue, and an “adult” queue for porn. But the most disturbing one of all is the “VE queue,” which stands for violent extremism. It has had serious and long-lasting consequences for the people doing the work. Why? Because you never know when you’re going to see the thing you can’t unsee until you see it. (The Verge)

“Every day you watch someone beheading someone, or someone shooting his girlfriend. After that, you feel like wow, this world is really crazy. This makes you feel ill.”

The hacker who took down a country: Daniel Kaye, a hacker known as Spdrman, found regular jobs tough but corporate espionage easy. Then he unleashed a DDoS attack that paralyzed Liberia for days. Half the country was cut off from bank transactions, farmers couldn’t check crop prices, students couldn’t Google anything, and the largest hospital went offline for about a week. This one reads like a cybersecurity thriller. (Bloomberg)

“I have broken the Internet and am dead afraid but otherwise everything’s hunky dory.”

The college president building a conservative utopia: Liberty University is the largest nonprofit Christian university in the country. Prayer opens many classes and meetings. Casual conversation, even among strangers, is often peppered with evangelical slang. Behind it all is Jerry Falwell Jr., the controversial figure who serves as Liberty’s president. Here’s how he’s trying to marry theology, politics, and major college football. (The Ringer)

“As a Christian university, we should be holding leadership to a higher standard. But it feels like we’re not.”


The Christmas movie empire: This year, Hallmark Movies and its sister channel Hallmark Mysteries produced 103 original movies. Forty are about Christmas with the ever-so creative titles like “Murder, She Baked: A Peach Cobbler Mystery,” and “Sense, Sensibility, and Snowmen.” Last year, 72 million people tuned in. Although Hallmark wants to “reflect the broader population,” its idea of America is straight, often Christian, and, until recently, mostly white. Here’s how the greeting card company has come to dominate so many screens across the country. (The New Yorker)

“When something touches you, you can effect change.”

The deep-sea miners: Many of the largest mineral corporations in the world have launched underwater mining programs. One company has commissioned a ship that will scrape the bottom twice as quickly as any other vessel. Another company is working to shatter a field of underwater hot springs lined with precious metals. Regulations for ocean mining have never been formally established, so this begs the question: Who owns the ocean floor? (The Atlantic)

“We have a third of our ocean that we still can’t explore. It’s embarrassing. It’s pathetic.”

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