Ritual and Fashion

Žižek on "radical" academics

This excerpt from a 2008 article by Slavoj Žižek has been sitting in my notebook for a while, and I thought I’d post it. My personal experience is that practically all of the “radical” academics silently count on the long-term stability of the American capitalist model, with the secure tenured position as their ultimate professional goal (a surprising number of… read more

Top 10 Ways Bartenders Screw Up My Old Fashioneds

Plus, how to make one properly.

The Old Fashioned is one of a few common cocktails for me, both when I’m at home and when I’m out. However, when ordering one at a bar, the likelihood of something going mildly to terribly wrong is disturbingly high. That in mind, I present the Top 10 Ways Bartenders Screw Up My Old Fashioneds, followed by instructions for how… read more

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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

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FYI, See Below

The purpose (and the sorrow) of the worst kind of email—the passive-aggressive forward

Email is the worst, but some emails are worse than others. The worst emails are forwards. And the worst forwards? Not the jokes your uncle sends you from his AOL account, but the ones your boss or your coworkers send along from some obscure corner of Administrivistan. Most work emails are purely defensive missives. They seek to shift effort, hide… read more

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My Phone is Dying

On elderly iPhones

Everyone knows that iPhones are manufactured with planned obsolescence built in: processors and RAM allocations that can’t keep up with operating system upgrades purposely designed not to account for earlier models. Apple makes too much of its profits from hardware sales, so handsets have become akin to fashion seasons. Hardware upgrades entail power and capacity. The new activities made possible… read more

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You Are Mountain

A strange video game from the Her animator bests Spike Jonze's film at depicting what a relationship with an alien really would be like.

Near the start of his relationship with a computer operating system in Spike Jonze’s Academy Award-winning film Her, Samantha the OS (Scarlett Johansson) helps Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) play a videogame. Called “Alien Child” by the filmmakers, the game seems familiar enough to be plausible to viewers, yet foreign enough to induce estrangement. The same could be said of the film’s high-waisted… read more

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Google Car for Sale: Slightly Underequipped

Google will have to contend with the West's unique understanding of cuteness for its autonomous car to be accepted.

The Google Car prototype sure is cute. And as Megan Garber already explained on these pages, it’s cute because it hopes to convey familiarity and comfort while eschewing “creepiness,” that scourge of technology that arises when it seems out of place, over the line. Garber rightly connects the Google Car’s cuteness to Japanese kawaii culture. Japanese cuteness produces a sense of protection and innocence that appeals… read more

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Kinect 2 brings the era of physical interfaces for active play to a definitive end

from my Difficulty Switch column in Edge Magazine

Morning television is the freight train of fitness trends. These breakfast shows introduce families to lightweight takes on current events and fashions. The first morning show aired in 1952, and its audience was primarily stay-at-home mothers. While much has changed, US morning shows such as Today and Sunrise still sell traditionalism, including the latest health trends or fitness gizmos, topics… read more

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What Are Game Developers? A View From the Future

Centuries hence, a citizen reads up on a bygone industry.

I squinted at the discolored reading pad I’d borrowed from the archives. The material was as dry as the title—“Taxonomy of Extinct Terrestrial Tribes”—but these ancient practices had long fascinated me. Take “games,” for example. They were played by adults and children alike, without shame—even in public! I had once scoffed at the idea that beings of my genetic lineage… read more

“Science”

Response to the 2014 Edge Question: What Scientific Idea is ready for retirement?

“No topic is left unexplored,” reads the jacket blurb of The Science of Orgasm, a 2006 book by an endocrinologist, a neuroscientist, and a “sexologist.” A list of topics covered includes the genital-brain connection and how the brain produces orgasms. The result, promises the jacket blurb, “illuminates the hows, whats, and wherefores of orgasm.” Its virtues or faults notwithstanding, The… read more