Archive for January, 2008
Things points to the fascinating idea of the “virtual cable” for driving directions in cars. There’s been a lot of recent buzz about projecting data on car windshields. The virtual cable is a three-dimensional line drawn onto the road ahead showing you exactly where you’re going. Trippy, probably distracting, but nonetheless fascinating.
The new Radio Lab podcast is sublime. Honestly, they could just say “blah blah blah” — but apply their amazing production methods to it — and I’d be sold. (In this case they talk to a guy who was commissioned to create background music for… a morgue. Amazing.)
It’s the cadences that I love — musical, verbal, pure sonic. These people are geniuses.
Not his best speech ever, but I love the style and format Barack Obama’s state of the union rebuttal. So stark, so plain — all the dross of TV drained away. And then the lush, glowing animation at the end — just a couple seconds long — sort of seals the deal.
By now, the A.R.G. has had a long and storied history stretching from The Blair Witch Project to Cloverfield. The classical model of the A.R.G.: someone notices a name in a movie trailer, or a website on a television show; they look it up online, and they suddenly find themselves holding a piece in a narrative jigsaw puzzle. Others stumble into the puzzle, they form a community, and the game is afoot. Piece by piece, the players fit together a picture that helps them solve whatever mystery the game’s creators have spun.
One big drawback: if you stumble into one of these games late, catching up can be a chore. As far as I know, A.R.G.s haven’t exactly been a model of thematic coherence or narrative deftness; it’s not like catching up on a TV show or a comic book. The chase and the unfolding mystery are the fun. So unless you have worlds of time to devote to chasing obscure clues, the game might not hold much allure for you. These are the main reasons I haven’t been able to get into any A.R.G.s yet, despite my being an utter nerd.
But I find that idea — a fictional narrative kidnaps a piece of our reality and draws us into it — delicious. What I want is for a series to use the Internet in a way that fully blurs the edge between reality and the series.
Adrian, Wilson and co. have launched Everyblock, a mashup of several information sources down to the block level for different cities (currently Chicago, New York and San Francisco). The site is very pretty, especially the maps, and as you would expect, there’s fun data hidden beneath every click. But it’s otherwise hard for me to evaluate how cool it is, since I don’t live in any of the included cities. How about it, residents?
Update: One surprise … no RSS feeds? (Except this one.)
Clive Thompson remains the single journalist most perfectly calibrated to my interests, and his latest essay for Wired is no exception. It’s about science fiction:
If you want to read books that tackle profound philosophical questions, then the best — and perhaps only — place to turn these days is sci-fi. Science fiction is the last great literature of ideas.
From where I sit, traditional “literary fiction” has dropped the ball. I studied literature in college, and throughout my twenties I voraciously read contemporary fiction. Then, eight or nine years ago, I found myself getting — well — bored.
I had a friend in college who, upon hearing a science-fiction book recommendation that cited plot, characters, setting, etc., would reply: “Yes, yes, but what about the ideas? The ideas?”
(P.S. So yes, it’s probably me who is actually calibrated to Clive Thompson’s interests, given the nature of media. That’s fine, too.)
The Atlantic, favorite magazine of my middle youth, was kinda lame for a while there, but it’s been getting good again — a fact that had been bumming me out because, of course, I couldn’t link to the subscriber-only stories.
So let us celebrate the magazine’s resurgence and web-savvy with a couple of pointers:
- The new James Fallows piece on China is exactly what got me into the Atlantic in the first place: Themes of politics and economics, hugely abstract ideas, giant global actors and their dilemmas, etc. I love it that there’s none of the usual attempt to concrete-ize and personalize here: No narrative intro with a factory worker in China, for instance. The only narrative in the piece involves the voyage of a U.S. dollar to China and back. I could not love it more.
- Caitlin Flanagan’s piece about Katie Couric was the last one I read in this issue, and I almost didn’t read it at all. Thank goodness my train was slow, because it was a revelation, in large part because it’s as much about Caitlin Flanagan as it is about Katie Couric. Beautifully written, too: Flanagan is a great storyteller and has perfect “tone control,” if you know what I mean.
You know how sometimes you read something you said or wrote a couple of years ago and, echhh, you just can’t stand yourself? Well, I was surprised to see that I sort of still agree with 2004 Sloan:
“Choice and control are just too cool, too useful, and too satisfying to resist,” Sloan said. “Add distributed creation and collaborative filtering, and you can come up with systems that are so much more flexible and efficient than anything happening in a modern newsroom.”
“But unlike most newsrooms, these processes don’t come with values baked in,” Sloan added. The goal is that they are “executed by people who are dedicated to the notion of fairness, integrity, and truth-telling. On an individual level — especially insofar as we are bloggers and media-makers — we can decide we want to adopt those values for ourselves.”
Not long ago I met Sam Gustin, who wrote this most recent Googlezon retrospective, and found him a thoroughly modern reporter: trained in shoe-leather fundamentals (in part during a stint on the New York Post metro desk — yow) but also totally conversant in, and excited about, new formats (he writes for Portfolio.com now — everything from blog dispatches to reported essays like this one).
Also: In the comments over at Portfolio, the editor of The Issue chimes in, which reminded me that I was going to link over there. Worth a peek.
Brilliant photo mosaic of the English language. This is another one of those things that’s hard to describe — but see if you can guess where all the plant-related words are.