I find it endlessly fascinating how much amazingly cheap real estate there is if you look outside the major centres in North America. I would have assumed by now that the Internet would have enabled enough people to live anywhere and that house prices would have evened out, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Look at some of the prices for these amazing homes on Old House Dreams:

  • A 1910 home in Winfield, Kansas — four bedrooms and 2,700 square feet. Cost? $35,000. Does it need a little work? Sure. But still, you can’t even buy a half-decent car for $35,000

 

  • A six-bedroom Queen Anne-style home with over 4,000 square feet of space, in beautiful shape, in Altmar, New York. Cost? Just $107,000.

 

 

  • A five-bedroom, four-bathroom Civil War-era house with over 2,500 square feet of space on a four-acre piece of land in York, Pennsylvania. Cost? Only $195,000

 

  • Five bedrooms and almost 3,800 square feet of space in this extensively renovated 1903 Victorian beauty in Boykins, VA. Cost? Just $179,000

 

The list goes on and on. It’s sad to see people paying massive sums to live in tiny little houses in major cities when they could have a beautiful home like this on a huge piece of land out in the country. Admittedly, not everyone likes living in small towns, but how bad could it be? There are lots of health and personal benefits to living outside of major cities that would probably be worth the tradeoff. Obviously not everyone can work from anywhere, but with more and more jobs being done on the Internet, it’s probably getting more common.

I love a good Internet rabbit hole as much as the next person (probably more), and I came across a great one recently while searching for information on the island of Capri in Italy. Since some friends and I were planning a trip there, I was looking up some of the sights to see, including the Villa San Michele, which was built by the Swedish doctor (at one time physician to Queen Victoria) and author Axel Munthe in the early 1900s.

The Wikipedia entry mentioned in passing that when he ran short of money, Munthe had to rent the villa “unwillingly” to the Marchesa Luisa Casati. Why unwillingly? So I looked up the Marchesa, who was described as “a muse and patron of the arts” and a legendary figure. According to her entry in Wikipedia, the Marchesa was known for “eccentricities that delighted European society for three decades” including her penchant for parading around with two cheetahs on a leash and “wearing live snakes as jewellery.”

From there, a Google search found an excerpt from a book that mentions her dispute with Axel Munthe over the villa. He apparently decided not to rent to her after learning about her behavior, but she came anyway and stayed for several months and drove him mad with her requests. Munthe designed the villa to be as open to the air as possible, but the Marchesa — who “was dressing herself entirely in black that summer” — ordered black curtains for every window. Guests often arrived to find her reclining naked on a black rug.

She also invited a wide range of guests to the villa, including some of the gay and lesbian artists who hung out on Capri at that time, and people like the Baron Jacques d’Adelsward-Fersen, described as a “self-styled diabolist” who liked to smoke opium with the Marchesa. A separate entry from the book describes her later setting up residence in Paris with her cheetah Anaxagoras and a pet cobra named Agamemnon, and mentions that after Anaxagoras passed away she had him replaced with a stuffed black panther that had a clockwork mechanism inside that made its eyes flash and the tail swing back and forth.

Not a happy ending to this story, unfortunately — Wikipedia says the Marchesa built up debts of more than $20 million (equal to $200 million today) and had to sell her possessions. She moved to one-bedroom flat in London and later died there of a heart attack in 1957, at the age of 76. According to Wikipedia, she was buried “wearing her black and leopard skin finery and a pair of false eyelashes,” along with one of her stuffed Pekinese dogs.

The Ingram Family — A Year in Review

I would like to start off by apologizing to all the devoted readers of the annual Ingram Family Christmas Letter (you know who you are) who may have noticed that they didn’t get one this year. That’s because I — as the sole editor and publisher of said letter — decided to hold the presses for some breaking news: Namely, the New Year’s Eve wedding of our oldest daughter, Caitlin Lee. If you have any complaints about this decision, please forward them to this address: youredeadtome@mathewingram.com.

Describing Caitlin’s wedding as breaking news might be a bit of an exaggeration — after all, we knew that it was coming ever since they got engaged last November. We were all overjoyed at this news, because her fiance turned husband Wade is a terrific guy, a fellow nurse who fits Caitlin to a T and is also a great co-parent to my favourite grandson, a Border Collie named Kip who joined their family in 2017. The three of them took some amazing engagement photos in the fall.

Caitlin and Wade met after a mutual friend introduced them, and we all knew they were fated to be together when Caitlin started a quote from Lord of the Rings about potatoes, and Wade completed it with “boil ’em, mash ’em, stick ’em in a stew.”

The couple planned the entire wedding themselves (with some valuable and much-appreciated advice from their parents, of course) and it went off without a hitch. It was held at a historic paper mill turned boutique hotel in St. Catherines, Ontario called the Stone Mill Inn that has a big sweeping staircase where they took most of their pictures. Also, by a weird twist of fate, Caitlin’s dress came from the Rebecca Ingram line, because that’s the designer’s daughter’s name.

It was a great party, and a great way to ring in the new year, with friends and family all gathered in a cozy hotel away from the polar vortex outside. Zoe and Meaghan were gorgeous as bridesmaids, Becky looked fantastic and made a great speech that included some of her mother Edie’s memories of when she first met Caitlin as an baby, and Caitlin and I danced to a recording of me playing and singing Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird,” which was a real treat. I even managed to make it through without crying like a baby.

I also managed to make it through the night in a standing position despite having about nine shots of Don Julio tequila with a variety of friends and family members, something that may come as a surprise to those of you who know that I rarely drink!

As I said in my speech, Becky and I are delighted to have added Wade to our family because he is clearly head-over-heels in love with Caitlin and they make such a great couple. I like him so much that I’m prepared to overlook minor flaws in his personality, such as the fact that he drinks tea instead of coffee, occasionally pronounces the word “milk” as “malk,” and likes musicals and country music, both of which I have an aversion to.

Even if you exclude the wedding, we had a pretty great year, all things considered. We started as we almost always do, with great food and winter-type festivities with friends in Buckhorn, including an unusual sport called Snow Frisbee, which I think Barb and Lori invented. In early February, I made a quick trip to Paris and stayed in a lovely little hotel near the Boulevard St. Germain, where I indulged in two of my favorite Parisian things: A coffee at Les Deux Magots Cafe (where philosophers like Sartre used to hang out) and a “croque monsieur” — basically a ham and cheese sandwich made of French toast — near the Louvre.

We also made our usual trip to Ottawa to skate on the canal for Winterlude, but there was a heat wave and the ice was almost unusable, it was so slushy. So we just walked around and got Beaver Tails and hot chocolate and poutine and tried to pretend that it was winter.

In March, Becky and I joined her brother Dave and his wife Jenn and some friends on a cruise to San Juan, St. Maarten and St. Kitts. It was a great ship with lots of features and great food, and we did a bunch of trips including a hike around the old fort in San Juan, a catamaran snorkel tour in St. Maarten and a glass-bottom kayak trip in St. Kitts. Unfortunately, many of the places we saw were later destroyed by Hurricane Maria.

In April, we made our annual trip to Italy for the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, and this time after the conference we took a few days and went to Turin, which is in the north. I was invited by my friend Anna Masera, who runs the journalism school at the university there, to speak to her class and then she took us on a tour of the city — including a trip to the famous Cafe Bicerin, where they invented the delicious coffee and chocolate drink of the same name.

From Turin we took the train to Cinque Terre, a string of five picturesque old fishing villages that cling to the hillside in what’s called the Italian Riviera. We stayed in a tiny room at the top of a staircase that had about a hundred steps, a room with a balcony from which we could see the whole coastline.

In addition to some great restaurants — we ate one night on the parapet of an old fort from the Middle Ages looking out over the sea — there are hiking trails between each of the villages. Normally you can hike the entire route, but several of the trails were closed due to rock slides when we were there, so we hiked from Vernazza (the second village) west to Monterosso, which took about two hours but was ridiculously picturesque.

Then we took a train to the far eastern village of Riomaggiore, walked around there a bit, took the train back west to the next village of Manarola and did some sightseeing, then took the train to Corniglia and had a bite to eat before hiking the hillside trail back to Vernazza, which took another two hours or so. We got in just in time to see the sun set.

We got back home just in time for torrential rains to cause widespread flooding in Ontario, which brought the level of the lake at our cottage up about four feet higher than normal. We were okay because the cottage is elevated, but others were not so fortunate. I took a trip around in my kayak and paddled right up to the doors of some cottages. I also rented a kayak and paddled over to the Toronto Islands, most of which were closed due to flooding.

June brought with it the first Ingram-family wedding: The marriage of my niece Lindsay to her husband Keenan Viau, which took place at a nature reserve north of Toronto, where they were married under a wooden bower in the forest by Keenan’s father. It was a lovely wedding, and much fun was had by all.

The summer brought with it some good news — lovely sunsets and many coffee-cruise boat rides with my mom and Becky, as well as plenty of beach and kayaking and bonfire time. But it also brought some bad news, as I was laid off from my job with Fortune magazine. On the upside, I had the summer off, so I bought five tons of river rock and spent a couple of months using it to build up the bank that got washed away by the flood.

We also rented the same cottage on Lake Muskoka we did last year with Becky’s family, and spent a great week near Bala swimming and playing board games and just generally laying around in the sun and water. One night it was so clear and warm that I paddled my kayak over to the legendary Kee to Bala concert hall, which is right on the water.

Then we visited our friends on Go Home Lake, where we had our annual French toast breakfast on the dock, among other things. We also went for a great canoe trip, which I had pictures of until I rolled my kayak in the rapids and lost my phone :-)

In August, Becky and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary by spending the weekend at Bartlett Lodge, a quaint little resort in Algonquin Park that is reachable only by boat. We rented a lovely little suite in a cabin on the property and went for an epic four-hour hike on one of the nearby trails — one that involved a lot of sliding around in mud, unfortunately, since it poured rain after we started out. We decided it was a metaphor for marriage! On the upside, once we got back tired and muddy and cold from our hike, we had a nice hot shower and an amazing gourmet meal waiting for us in the lodge, so it wasn’t all bad.

As if we hadn’t had enough of a workout, we then went on a three-day canoe trip with our friends Marc and Kris and Sandra, with two 350-metre or so portages from lake to lake. Along the way, we took some time to watch the total eclipse of the sun from our canoes and kayak, which seemed like a very Canadian thing to do. It rained one day, but the other days were beautiful and we did some great star-watching from the rock face near our campsite.

September was unusually warm for some reason — close to 30 degrees Celsius — which made for some great beach time after a cool and wet summer. Luckily, our friend Anna Masera chose that time to come for a visit from Italy, so we had a beautiful few days of kayaking and hiking and sunsets. She saw a bald eagle up close, and had a loon pop up right beside her kayak, so I feel like she is part Canadian now.

In October I made a quick trip to Munich for a web conference, where I saw as much of the city as I could in a few days, and was quite impressed. From there it was down to New York to meet the editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, where I accepted a job as chief digital writer, which I was pretty excited about. Columbia has a great journalism school, and CJR is a great magazine all about the issues that interest me most about the evolution of media.

On my first day, I took the train from New York to Washington to sit in on the Senate and Congressional hearings into Facebook, Google and Twitter and how the platforms were used by Russian troll factories to spread misinformation during the U.S. election.

After that it was pretty much just a countdown to the wedding of the century. Becky and I went to Kingston to see Elton John with Becky’s brother and sister-in-law, which was hugely fun. And we saw Zoe perform in a play called Concord Floral at the University of Kingston, where she is now in her second year taking psychology and drama.

We did some other fun things too, like going for a Beaver Tail and a skate down by Ontario Place one December night, and visiting the Christmas market at the Distillery District. We even got some skating in on the pond at The Farm between Christmas and New Years, because the temperature went down to around minus 20 Celsius — so it turned out to be a short skate. And I got to play with my Christmas present, an awesome “vacuum syphon” coffee maker just like the ones they used to use back in the 1800s. I love it because it looks like something Jules Verne would have used.

And then we had the nuptials of Caitlin and Wade to cap off a great year, and now we are into 2018! Hope you and yours had a great 2017 as well, and that 2018 will be even better. You can reach me at mathew@mathewingram.com and Becky is rebecca@theingrams.ca, we are both on Facebook and you can see all of these photos as a Flickr slideshow if you want to. Happy New Year from the Ingrams!

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A Little Personal News…

by Mathew on October 16, 2017 · 97 comments

I’m excited to to announce that I’m joining the Columbia Journalism Review as chief digital writer, focusing primarily on the power of platforms like Facebook and Google (and Twitter and Snapchat) and what that means for media.

Digital and social networks have become the central distribution system for news for hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people. And that power — much of which is hidden from view, fuelled by mysterious algorithms — has profound implications for both media and society as a whole.

I’ve been a fan of the CJR ever since I was a young journalism student in Toronto — which was longer ago than I care to remember — and I’ve been impressed with what Kyle Pope has done in his time as editor of the magazine and the site, including a renewed focus on the web and the impact of digital media.

I’m also a huge fan of what my friend Emily Bell is doing with the Tow Center at Columbia, and I hope that we can find ways to work together to explore and understand what is happening to journalism and media. Or at least maybe get a cup of tea and commiserate :-)

All joking aside, this is a dark time for journalism in many ways — but it is also a fascinating time, as the ground continues to shift beneath us, and even some of the bedrock assumptions underlying the industry are being questioned.

Journalism has arguably never been more important than it is right now, but the media landscape has also never been more fractured, more volatile and more under pressure — both financially and otherwise — than it is now, and much of the pressure is coming from Facebook and Google.

I hope to explore the impact of those forces in a variety of ways at CJR, and I hope that you will come with me on that journey and help me to explore and understand it.

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You can tell how much a specific issue has gotten under Mark Zuckerberg’s skin by the amount of effort he puts into his response. Some things get just a small mention, some get a press release, some get a 6,000-word blog post — and some get the Facebook equivalent of a full-court press. Zuckerberg’s video address on Thursday afternoon, in which he tried to address concerns about Russian election interference via Facebook ads, definitely falls into the latter category.

The Facebook CEO is clearly trying to get out in front of this issue, in a way he hasn’t with anything other than maybe the fake news brouhaha, and for the same reason: Because he’s afraid of what Congress might do if he doesn’t pre-empt their actions with his own remedies.

To that end, his video address offered what Zuckerberg described as transparency around the so-called “dark ads” that political operatives (including those working for Donald Trump during his campaign, using tools like Cambridge Analytica) love to use in an attempt to target specific groups and individuals on the platform.

In a nutshell, advertisers will have to disclose all of their ads on their Facebook pages so anyone can see them, and Facebook is turning over details of Russian involvement to the intelligence committees looking into that country’s attempts to influence the election.

“I care deeply about the democratic process and protecting its integrity [and] I don’t want anyone to use our tools to undermine democracy. That’s not what we stand for,” said Zuckerberg, who also posted the text of his remarks to Facebook. “It is a new challenge for internet communities to deal with nation states attempting to subvert elections. But if that’s what we must do, we are committed to rising to the occasion.”

The moves announced by Zuckerberg seem like admirable steps aimed at bringing shadowy political advertising into the light, and an offering that many Facebook critics have been calling for. Some congratulated Zuckerberg for finally listening to their demands for more clarity and transparency.

There’s a catch to Facebook’s offering though, and it’s contained in the term “political ads.” How exactly does Zuckerberg plan to define that term? Some ads might be obvious because they include political topics or personalities. But one of the key aspects of Facebook’s business is that almost anything can function as an ad, including news stories (fake or otherwise). And Russian operatives likely made use of all of these tools and more.

In fact, in a recent report, Facebook’s own security team spelled out some of the many ways in which it suspects government actors of various kinds manipulated the platform to try and influence the outcome of the US election.

“We identified malicious actors on Facebook who, via inauthentic accounts, actively engaged across the political spectrum, with the apparent intent of increasing tensions between supporters of these groups and fracturing their supportive base.”

Zuckerberg may be hoping that his newfound interest in transparency will assuage those who are looking to regulate Facebook’s behavior, but if so his hope is likely to be in vain.

Matt Stoller is an influential political analyst who works for a group called Open Markets Institute (the group was formerly part of the New America Foundation, but left after what its founder alleges was pressure from Google). Stoller clearly believes that Facebook should be subject to government regulatory oversight on a number of fronts — including areas related to political advertising.

Stoller isn’t alone. Brianna Wu, who gained a high profile online after being targeted for harassment during the “Gamergate” uproar, is running for Congress in Massachusetts, and says she is in favor of regulation for Facebook as well. “Facebook has far too much power to not be regulated the way traditional media is. It’s anticompetitive to give them a legal out,” she said on Twitter. And sociologist Zeynep Tufekci, who has been asking for more transparency from Facebook for some time, said: “I’d been calling for this for many years—but key point here is that Facebook, actually one person, can arbitrarily decide to do this or not.”

So where does this leave Zuckerberg and Facebook? Running hard to try and catch a ship that may already have sailed — a ship whose ultimate destination is regulatory oversight of the network in some form or another. And political advertising is likely just the tip of a very large iceberg.

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