Slate Plus

Haunted McMansions, Evil Clowns, Victorian Time Machines

The Slate Plus Digest for Oct. 7.


Photo illustration by Slate. Images by Witthaya/Thinkstock, kobzev3179/Thinkstock, and Jeffrey Thompson/Thinkstock.

Saluton, Skribtabulo Plus!

Are you normal? Is it your greatest ambition, if you’re really honest with yourself, to be normal? Are you afraid you might be too normal, or not normal enough, or too precisely the right amount of normal? I know, me too. It’s OK. We made a blog about it, to help.

From Slate

• Bill Clinton had to pander to racists; things have changed.
• The phrase “June Thomas on A Very English Scandal” is an insta-click for me.
• Why are McMansions always haunted?
• How do you explain how machines work now that the way machines work is totally invisible?
• “If you were to travel back in time to, say, London in the early 1890s, and you informed everyone you encountered there that you were a time traveler from the 21st century who had journeyed to their era by means of a time machine, the good people of late Victorian England would have no idea what you were on about.”
• Don’t worry about all the evil clown sightings!

Not from Slate

• At the Intercept, Jamie Kalven exposes a drug gang in the Chicago Police Department—and the astonishing cover-up.
• It has been a long time since I’ve read an artistic takedown as complete as Vinson Cunningham on The Birth of a Nation.
• I really liked Jess Row’s New Republic essay on fiction and appropriation, “What Are White Writers For?
• Another one from the New Republic, on the foolishness of voting for a third-party candidate to “send a message.”
• Arguments about Donald Trump are tearing NFL teams apart.

Contest update

A few weeks ago, we asked you to answer some questions. The winner of an invitation to Slate’s 20th anniversary party was Anne Dailey, who posted some pictures and a kind report on Twitter. Great to meet you, Anne!

Very Short Q-and-A

This week’s personal question is addressed to Tom Marchioro, a former Microsoft contractor.

Slate Plus: Tom! I understand you made a small but important contribution to Slate in the early days. What happened?

Tom Marchioro: In late 1998 I was a contractor with Microsoft’s MSN Search, supplying search engine support services to Microsoft websites. This was the Stone Age for search—Google was barely a blip on the map. Microsoft had more web properties than I can remember, and my managers had instructed me to focus on the revenue-generating sites, such as MSNBC, Carpoint and HomeAdvisor, as well as One group I did not work with was Slate. Slate URLs had a “query string” like, and in those days search engines couldn’t or wouldn’t crawl such content. As a result, none of Slate’s articles—except the ones that had been pirated—showed up in search results. Several times I was told that Bill Gates had complained that if he came to MSN Search and searched on “Slate” not only did no links to Slate show up, but Salon was the top result.

A program manager at Slate reached out to me to see if we could do something about it but I was repeatedly told by my managers, “That’s not a priority for us.” But I’d already become a regular reader of Slate, so one day I met with the PM and one of his engineers, and over a few days we came up with a workaround. Within a week Slate content started showing up in AltaVista, Inktomi, and MSN Search. Traffic to Slate jumped immediately, with search referrals running about 10–15 percent of total visits. (That figure was up to about a third when I left MSN in late 1999.)

When I listed this as an accomplishment at our next staff meeting, the manager almost yelled, “Slate? You’re wasting time with Slate?”

When I told him how much traffic had gone up he shrugged his shoulders and said something to the effect of, “OK, as long as it was a one-time effort.”

Thanks, Tom! We wouldn’t be here without you, probably.

And thank you for your Slate Plus membership, which makes our journalism possible. See you next week!

Gabriel Roth
Editorial director, Slate Plus

P.S. Lots of good stuff in the members-only section lately: Pop, Race, and the ’60s! The First 20! Crosswords! Check it out.