The Secret Life of Cities

Geoffrey West and Urban Withdrawal.

There’s a terrific article in today’s New York Times about theoretical physicist Geoffrey West’s attempt to build a general-purpose logical model of cities. The way West describes his motivations, “I’ve always wanted to find the rules that govern everything,” offers an elegant summation of why I find procedure a more compelling object of concern than process. These are the laws,… read more

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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

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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

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Snowpocalypse in Atlanta and The Walking Dead

How media prepares us for havoc, even catastrophe

Maura Neill was stranded for eight hours in the gridlocked, apocalyptic aftermath of a modest snowstorm that crippled Atlanta this week. “It was like a scene from The Walking Dead,” she told USA Today, a reference to the comic-book-made-television-show-made-video-game set in northern Georgia, in which a zombie apocalypse overtakes, as far as we know, the world. The sentiment was repeated… read more

Google Zombie: The Glass Wearers of Tomorrow

The best metaphor for Google Glass? Not jerks or junkies, but the living dead.

Since the unveiling of Google Glass, the tech giant’s new wearable computing device, a common nickname for its wearers has arisen among skeptics and critics: Glassholes. It’s a charming portmanteau that satisfies an immediate desire to shun this weird new contraption. And the term fits, to some extent. As a strangely popular trend in books on assholes has helped us… read more

PlayStation 4: A Videogame Console

Today, the most novel feature of new technology is ordinariness.

The logo for the Dutch videogame studio Guerrilla Games is an object lesson in mixed metaphor: an orange “G” contorted into the chevron shape of a military rank insignia. Guerrilla insurgencies are often organized and sometimes even state-based, but they are hardly represented by the formal emblem of command and control military structure. Guerrilla warfare is irregular, asymmetrical, and lithe.… read more

Proteus: A Trio of Artisanal Game Reviews

Three reviews as three lenses through which to approach and appreciate an unusual videogame.

Originally published at Gamasutra One: Nil Person Videogames are narcissistic. They are about you, even when they put you in someone else’s shoes. You are a space marine among hell spawn. You are a mafioso just released from prison. You are a bear with a bird in your backpack. You are a Tebowing Tim Tebow. We may think we play… read more

Inequality in American Education Will Not Be Solved Online

With funding tight, the state of California has turned to Udacity to provide MOOCs for students enrolled in remedial courses. But what is lost when public education is privatized?

One night recently, it was raining hard as I drove to pick my son up from an evening class at the Atlanta Ballet. Like many cities, Atlanta’s roads are in terrible condition after years of neglect. Lane divider paint is so worn as to become invisible in the wet darkness, potholes litter the pavement. But this time the danger was… read more

A Machine That Makes Cameras: The Aesthetics of the Lytro

An image taken with a Lytro camera is not really an image, but a machine capable of producing many possible renditions.

The Lytro Light Field Camera Let's think about photography as people live it. A posed family picture might be taken once, then again, and again until the right combination of open eyes, smiles, and light and shadow produce an acceptable portrait. An action, performance, or sports shot that could speed by too fast for human judgement partakes of a surrogate: the… read more

It soared, a bird, it held its flight, a swift pure cry, soar silver orb it leaped serene, speeding, sustained…

Reflections on Twittering Rocks

In 2007, Ian McCarthy and I launched Twittering Rocks, a live performance of the central “Wandering Rocks” chapter of James Joyce’s Ulysses, which we executed every Bloomsday (that’s today, June 16) from 2007 through 2011. Last year, due to a change in the Twitter API (the move to OAuth, which requires that all users authorize applications rather than applications passing… read more