Video Games Are Better Without Characters

The real legacy of SimCity is its attempt—and failure—to make complex systems the protagonists instead of people.

In the mid-1980s, the easiest way to check out the latest computer games was to go to a bookstore in the mall. Past the John Grisham and the bargain history books in the B. Dalton Bookseller, you’d find Software Etc., a small island of boxes amidst bound volumes, and a few computers on which to play the latest releases. It… read more


The Cathedral of Computation

We’re not living in an algorithmic culture so much as a computational theocracy.

Algorithms are everywhere, supposedly. We are living in an “algorithmic culture,” to use the author and communication scholar Ted Striphas’s name for it. Google’s search algorithms determine how we access information. Facebook’s News Feed algorithms determine how we socialize. Netflix’s and Amazon’s collaborative filtering algorithms choose products and media for us. You hear it everywhere. “Google announced a change to… read more


Shaka, When the Walls Fell

In one fascinating episode, Star Trek: The Next Generation traced the limits of human communication as we know it—and suggested a new, truer way of talking about the universe.

On stardate 45047.2, Jean-Luc Picard leads the crew of the Enterprise in pursuit of a transmission beacon from the El-Adrel system, where a Tamarian vessel has been broadcasting a mathematical signal for weeks. The aliens, also known as the Children of Tama, are an apparently peaceable and technologically advanced race with which the Federation nevertheless has failed to forge diplomatic relations.… read more


The Future of Luxury: Avoiding People

Services like Silvercar, Uber, and pay-to-play airline VIP programs help keep the new aristocracy away from the rabble

When I power on my phone upon landing at LAX, a text message is already waiting for me: “Hi Ian, Silvercar here! We have your res at 1:00pm today. Let’s roll!” Silvercar rents a fleet of silver Audi A4s at airports in Austin, Dallas, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. A slogan speaks plainly on the company’s behalf: “car rental that doesn’t… read more


Reading to Have Read

Spritz doesn't strive to fix speed reading's flaws, but to transcend reading entirely.

If you’re a person who reads, you may have read about Spritz, a startup that hopes to “reimagine” reading. Like most tech startups, reimagining entails making more efficient. Spritz promises to speed up reading by flashing individual words in a fixed position on a digital display. Readers can alter the speed of presentation, ratcheting it up to 600 words per… read more

Talk of 10 PRINT

Reviews, Links, Code, and Discussion

Some links to discussion about 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10. One of the common ways to interact with the idea seems to be writing and posting re-implementations of the program in other languages and environments. Geeta Dayal’s review of the book in Slate. Discussion on Reddit r/Programming, including a hilarious Enterprise Java version. A discussion at Stack Overflow stemming… read more

Christmas Bytes

Get A Slow Year and Racing the Beam when you support this indie film about videogames in 1982 on Kickstarter

A few months ago Brett Neveu sent me a script for a movie he is producing, about a group of teenagers hoping to get an Atari VCS for Christmas 1982. The script is fun and charming, sitting somewhere just between Dazed and Confused and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. There’s now a Kickstarter for the film, Christmas Bytes, meant to cover… read more

The Future Was Here

Jimmy Maher's Platform Study of the Commodore Amiga

I’m very happy to announce the publication of the latest book in the Platform Studies series, Jimmy Maher’s The Future Was Here: The Commodore Amiga. It’s a terrific book about this influential multimedia microcomputer. As someone who never had an Amiga in the 80s and 90s, but who was often surrounded by them, I can vouch for the effectiveness of… read more

The New Aesthetic Needs to Get Weirder

From the New Aesthetic to Alien Aesthetics, at the Atlantic

You know that art has changed when a new aesthetic movement announces itself not with a manifesto, but with a tumblr. Manifestos offer their grievances and demands plainly, all at once, on a single page—not in many hundred entries. “Literature has up to now magnified pensive immobility, ecstasy, and slumber,” wrote Filippo Marinetti in his 1909 Futurist Manifesto. “We want… read more

A Tip of the Cow

Facebook likes Cow Clicker

While they’ve never said so in public, it seems Facebook has always been a silent fan of Cow Clicker. I’ve been tipped off about it several times, including via this shot of a Cow Clicker doodle on the whiteboard “wall” at Facebook HQ. A wider view of the wall cow included, later appeared in an issue of Wired. But given… read more