Friday, October 31st, 2014 at 11:31 am
I’ve somehow ended up with a new column for McSweeney’s called Facepalm Pilot, in which I’ll fiddle around with “the intersections of technology and stupidity.” There are many of these! So, data-driven satire, I guess?
First up, an interactive graphic exploring scientific and ethical conclusions based on zombie sociology.
Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014 at 3:05 pm
Monday, September 22nd, 2014 at 12:29 pm
My goal here was ostensibly to put together an essay for the Village Voice about the new Aphex Twin album, but it’s actually more about the absence of the new Aphex Twin album, and how I got highly attached to an amazing leaked track in the interim.
Not only has James never released another album like Selected Ambient Works 85-92 — worse yet, these days he just doesn’t really release albums at all. It’s been 22 years since that debut, and for more than half that time he has existed only as a beloved ghost. The last thing he released before disappearing was 2001′s Drukqs — twisted, knotty, and in places totally incomprehensible. Frankly, it has proven exhausting to be a fan of a musician who was first brilliant, and then difficult, and finally just totally absent.
Tuesday, September 16th, 2014 at 12:59 pm
I wrote a very opinionated post for Wired about Apple’s recent decision to force downloads of the new U2 album on all iTunes users.
There’s a very simple reason why this is unprecedented, and that is because it doesn’t make any sense. Never before has such a major technology company also operated as publicist for a creative artist. The whole endeavor yearns desperately to be a landmark new innovation for the music industry, perhaps something along the lines of Radiohead’s legitimately earth-moving In Rainbows, which was self-released with variable pricing in 2007 and remains the gold standard against which music industry innovation is measured. But this is not In Rainbows, and as such should instead be remembered primarily as a monumental blunder by the tech industry.
Update: At 1:30pm today I’m going to be a guest on CHQR AM 770 in Calgary to discuss this fiasco; listen here.
Sunday, August 31st, 2014 at 2:00 pm
Saturday, August 30th, 2014 at 10:24 am
Just dug up a terrifically stupid project I did a while back – a submission to the CSS Zen Garden design gallery which formats the usual page content to look like a fake REST API response in JSON format. It’s totally useless, but all the same, live demo + GitHub.
Friday, August 1st, 2014 at 1:00 am
I’ll mostly be working on secret internal tools in my new role at the New York Times, but I also recently built a neat public-facing data visualization for Scratch Magazine, a digital magazine about the financial and logistical realities of working as a professional writer. I created an interactive graphic which reflects the demographics of the leadership in journalism. They are almost entirely white and male. Surprise?
This data visualization actually fails in an interesting way. The color scheme was conceived such that one parameter (hue) would map to gender (pink vs blue) and another parameter (brightness) would map to race (light for white people and darker for people of color). This doesn’t actually work, though, because in the entire corpus of publications and editors surveyed there isn’t a single female editor of color. As a result, one entire quadrant is empty and there’s no need for dark pink. It therefore might have made more sense to give the box mapped to the lone black male editor much flashier and more salient treatment, but there’s also something poignant about the industry’s intrinsic racial bias being strong enough to prevent us from using, you know, actual colors.
I’ve shared the source code for this data visualization on GitHub and have generalized it a bit so it can be easily reused to set up similar audits of other industries. Please get in touch if you’d like some help in doing so.
Tuesday, July 8th, 2014 at 10:30 am
Extremely exciting news:
I’ve started working at the New York Times as a data visualization engineer on the data science team.
Tuesday, February 18th, 2014 at 2:02 pm
A few nights ago I stayed up late to start watching season 2 of House of Cards as soon as it premiered, and as you might expect, I freaked out when Frank Underwood immediately kills Zoe Barnes in the first episode, so I wrote an essay for Wired about the odd sensation of sharing a cultural experience like that via the internet despite the availability of video-on-demand services like Netflix.
Even in the middle of the night, I wasn’t alone. Both Netflix binges and traditional broadcast television are increasingly subject to an internet-based social halo surrounding fandom, and nobody wants to be the one who misses the party.
Monday, February 17th, 2014 at 1:34 pm
Slashdot again, this time on the curious recent sale of the audio metadata firm Gracenote. Also crossposted to the discussion site.
The merger is an unusual one: Gracenote owns a massive library of media metadata, and the Tribune Company is best known as the publisher of print newspapers and tabloids, most notably its flagship paper in Chicago. Five years ago, Tribune Company filed for bankruptcy as advertising revenues declined, the result of the global recession; at the time, Gracenote had just been acquired by Sony for almost $100 million more than its most recent price.
Thursday, January 30th, 2014 at 4:13 am
My article for Slashdot about the importance of an accessory market to the success of Google Glass. This time, a relatively civil discussion!
Each iPhone accessory and app is both a potential selling point as well as a tether for existing users—if you need to re-buy your cables, apps, docks, mounts, and speakers, even a free phone starts to look a lot less compelling. Google Glass isn’t a phone and doesn’t have any direct competitors running iOS, but it is still the closest thing there is to a market leader in the emerging world of wearable computing. As such, it currently faces similar strategy questions which could prove just as influential in defining its success.
Saturday, December 28th, 2013 at 9:00 pm
I’ve completely neglected to post my recent projects for The New Yorker:
Saturday, September 7th, 2013 at 10:27 pm
An update: I’ve started working at The New Yorker doing a mix of writing and programming – tech projects for the editorial division, basically. I’m still not quite sure which dog I’d be in this scenario.
Friday, August 16th, 2013 at 12:15 pm
The much-hyped Steve Jobs biopic starring Ashton Kutcher comes out today, and over at Slashdot I have an interview with Daniel Kottke and Bill Fernandez, two of the earliest Apple employees, about the creative liberties taken by the filmmakers.
Vijith Assar: Let’s talk about that pivotal scene at the the West Coast Computer Faire.
Daniel Kottke: It’s really kind of the really big scene in the movie. They spent several days shooting it, but they did an unbelievable job recreating the West Coast Computer Faire. There’s fifty different booths selling stuff relating to computers. Huge room. They did an unbelievable job reproducing it based on photographs that had been taken. It really blew me away. But anyway, that speech that Ashton does: “Ladies and gentlemen, I am Steve Jobs, and I’m going to introduce you to the Apple II, blah blah blah.” That speech that he gives never happened, for sure. [laughs] It was just a booth at a computer show.
Bill Fernandez: There’s a whole other aspect that wasn’t even touched: the personal computing environment. The Commodore PET computer came out, and we were concerned that we might lose to them. And the Radio Shack TRS-80 came out. And from what I gathered, there’s nothing in the movie that sets the context; a lot of people were doing personal computing at the same time.
Thursday, August 8th, 2013 at 2:19 pm
I wrote an article for the New Yorker about the popular collaborative coding platform GitHub:
GitHub allowed coders to collaborate easily over the Internet, providing messaging and social features that would feel familiar to current users of social networks—for example, the ability to follow particular chunks of code in projects the way one might follow people on Twitter. The primary difference is that on GitHub the users share code, not photos and LOLcats.
Monday, August 5th, 2013 at 10:49 am
I wrote a feature for the BBC’s culture division about the various groups in New York who enjoy watching bad movies together.
Sharknado is just the latest in a string of terrifically silly releases by The Asylum, a production studio that specialises in low-budget ‘mockbuster’ spoofs tied to major theatrical releases (Transmorphers, Snakes On A Train) and absurdist camp flicks that aren’t readily connected to reality at all (Nazis at the Center of the Earth). Some of their movies have coasted to wild popularity on Netflix with audiences looking for ironic late-night giggles, but in New York, groups, events and screenings have emerged to share the experience of watching and mocking bad films – because misery loves company.
Wednesday, July 17th, 2013 at 1:19 pm
Last year I interviewed Mark Johnson of Playing For Change for the Village Voice. It was a companion piece of sorts to my field recording column Cast In Concrete, and as such we really connected when it came to discussing and complaining about the logistics. We kept in touch, and this has culminated in a technical interview in issue #96 of the audio production magazine Tape Op, which came out today. If you do not already have a subscription, you should pick one up now, because they’re free.
As the head of Playing For Change, Mark Johnson travels the world with a small crew, a high-end mobile recording rig, and video cameras, to capture buskers and other undiscovered musicians — perhaps a drummer deep in the Congo, a guitarist on a New Orleans street corner, or a choir in South America. But this isn’t just an anthropological expedition — after a little coaching, johnson has them all play the same song, along with the same metronome and/or backing track, stacking overdubs to create a “virtual collaboration” between musicians who otherwise would likely have never met. The resulting videos and albums have turned his project into a viral sensation. The humanitarian spirit of peace and unity at the root of all this makes the goals lofty and the logistics difficult; yet, somehow, Johnson cuts no corners, even in the wildest destinations.
Vijith Assar: One could argue that fidelity is not the point of a project like this.
Mark Johnson: With a lot of music documentaries, whenever you would hear street musicians it was always some camera mic picking them up. I always felt like they never got a fair shake. We realized if we brought good microphones, used different windscreens, a nice clock, good mic pres, and recorded it at a higher quality, we could give these things a chance to actually be represented properly to an audience. So, that’s why we wanted to bring the studio to the street.
Wednesday, July 10th, 2013 at 3:02 pm
For Slashdot, a complaint cheekily titled “How DRM Won” which explains why current business practices at streaming media companies like Spotify are culturally destructive:
In 2009, when Apple dropped the Digital Rights Management (DRM) restrictions from songs sold through the iTunes Store, it seemed like a huge victory for consumers, one that would usher in a more customer-friendly economy for digital media. But four years later, DRM is still alive and well—it just lives in the cloud now.
Thursday, June 27th, 2013 at 1:09 pm
I love Wired, The Verge, and Ars Technica as much as anybody, but there’s really no debate that Slashdot is easily the nerdiest of the various tech industry news sites. In fact, it’s primarily how I learned about technology and programming myself. That’s why I am thrilled to have started writing for them.
Saturday, May 11th, 2013 at 12:00 am
I wrote an article for the New Yorker about the evolution of web browsers, the impending demise of , and Google Chrome’s new HTML rendering engine.
Chrome’s recent move to Blink undercuts the primary olive branch it promised to Web developers upon Chrome’s release in 2008; those developers now need to test their Web sites in an additional rendering engine. But there is an argument in favor of the change: WebKit is now very widely used, especially in mobile devices, in much the same way that Internet Explorer 6 dominated the market and brought a near-halt to real innovation in the look and feel of the Web a decade ago.