Twitter and Television

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014 at 2:02 pm

zoe-barnes

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.

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Gracenote

Monday, February 17th, 2014 at 1:34 pm

gracenote

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.

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Google Glass accessories

Thursday, January 30th, 2014 at 4:13 am

glasses

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.

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New Yorker Projects

Saturday, December 28th, 2013 at 9:00 pm

lolcat-monocle

I’ve completely neglected to post my recent projects for The New Yorker:

New Yorker

Saturday, September 7th, 2013 at 10:27 pm

new-yorker-dogs-internet

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.

Apple Employees on Steve Jobs Film

Friday, August 16th, 2013 at 12:15 pm

steve-jobs

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.
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GitHub

Thursday, August 8th, 2013 at 2:19 pm

github-logo

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.

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Bad Movies

Monday, August 5th, 2013 at 10:49 am

gigli

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.

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The Technology Of Playing For Change

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013 at 1:19 pm

playing-for-change-nepal

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.

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Get Off My Lawn

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013 at 3:02 pm

stream

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.

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Full Stack Javascript

Thursday, June 27th, 2013 at 1:09 pm

marshall-stack

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.

My first article, for their Business Intelligence section, is about JavaScript, specifically how software packages like Node.js and MongoDB are using it in new contexts and turning it into a full-stack language that works at every stage of the development process.

It’s effectively impossible to launch a sophisticated Web project without making extensive use of JavaScript and AJAX dynamic loading. That’s precisely why recent projects that move JavaScript beyond its usual boring domain of defining in-browser interactivity are so interesting—because it’s already dominant, and growing even more so.

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Blink Blink Blink

Saturday, May 11th, 2013 at 12:00 am

blink

I wrote an article for the New Yorker about the evolution of web browsers, the impending demise of the infamous blink element, 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.

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Sniders

Friday, May 10th, 2013 at 3:49 am

pretzels

It is very hard for me to bring myself to say this very silly phrase, but: I wrote a very short piece of fiction about pretzels for McSweeney’s. It’s part of their snarky reviews of new food series, to which I also contributed a Grape Nuts feature a few years ago.

When I bite into a Snyder’s of Hanover York Peppermint Pretzel Sandwich Dip, I get the sensation that I’m about to die in a ditch and my rotting corpse will be picked apart by raccoons before anybody finds me.
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Dosi.io

Monday, April 29th, 2013 at 1:04 am

target

I spent the past few days at the weekend-long competitive coding marathon that kicked off the 2013 edition of TechCrunch‘s annual Disrupt NY conference. Thanks to the mighty Niles Brooks and Kenneth Chen, we now have Dosi.io, an extension for Google Chrome which automatically adds additional tech industry intel to the professional networking profiles on LinkedIn — repositories on GitHub, history on AngelList, etc.

I think it’s pretty cool! But it’s not just me: TechCrunch wrote it up, and CrunchBase awarded it their big prize — they’ll be flying us out to Berlin in October to compete in the Disrupt Berlin hackathon. I can’t wait!

A Man, A Plan, Canal Street, Panamah

Monday, April 22nd, 2013 at 1:13 am

panamah

Head on over to Spin for a quick look at Panamah, an electronic pop trio who sound quite a lot like The xx.

Even fans of the xx would have to concede that there’s a strict formula in play in their music — sparse percussion, simple chord progressions implied more than stated, and most importantly the hypersexual whispered interplay between dueling vocalists. “Børn Af Natten” proceeds along at a tempo that’s just a hair too fast for the xx, and this has the effect of tempering the depressing sinking feeling that emerges from the spaces between the beats.

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Keep Sailing

Thursday, April 18th, 2013 at 6:45 pm

monica-juliet

Who’s up for a little time travel? I’ve been a little under the weather so this time we dig into the archives for my my busker recording project with the Village Voice — I recorded Monica Bethelwood and Juliet Biemiller ages ago but the segment never ran, and I’ve always felt guilty about letting such an excellent song get buried by our hassles on the editorial end.

Bethelwood told me she’d just returned from California, and given the hobo-folk vibe I was quite content to just assume that she hitched a ride on a rusty freight train. (One of her songs was called “Hubba Hubba Hobo,” actually.) She has since set up shop in North Carolina; “I moved to Asheville with 20 dollars in my pocket,” she told me recently, so I like to think she now travels between her gigs doing tarot card readings riding atop a rickety old mule.

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How To Destroy How To Destroy Angels

Thursday, March 7th, 2013 at 4:15 pm

how-to-destroy-angels

I reviewed the new album by Trent Reznor’s new band for Spin.

The aspirations here are lofty, as always, if less reflective than your average NIN lament; the songs swell, bobble, and even leak from the seams under the pressure. It’s not just that Maandig’s petite vocals always feel incidental; Reznor himself and his signature tortured whispering are dwarfed as well, because the real star is his production expertise, which reaches new heights of maturity here even when all else fails.

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Sail Away

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013 at 12:39 pm

stefan-fink

Another round of my busker recording project with the Village Voice, this time featuring the delightful Stefan Fink:

He’s surprisingly young. This is a natural consequence, of course, of singing old-soul Appalachian folk; the MTA has up-to-the-minute arrival times posted on the LED signs overhead, and finally now also delivered via a new iPhone app, but songs like this emerged at a time when we were still dreaming up the concept of time zones to help with scheduling trains, none of which were underground at the time. Also, he is sporting a mean beard.

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When That Sandwich Slides Out Of You In A Week, Look At It

Friday, February 1st, 2013 at 1:28 pm

Last night NBC aired the final episode of 30 Rock. The Awl and I would like to hit you with every spoiler in one efficient listicle.

Maura Magazine

Monday, January 28th, 2013 at 11:02 pm

Goodness, I can’t believe I’ve neglected to mention this for so long. We’re already four issues in, but I’m the main geek behind the web presence for Maura Magazine, a new digital weekly for iOS devices helmed by the amazing writer and editor Maura Johnston. She fielded my pitches at the Village Voice for a while, and you may have also read her work at a number of other wonderful publications.

This is her new experiment in small-scale direct journalism. Using an infrastructure provided by my fellow geeks at 29th Street Publishing, she publishes a handful of long-form stories each week which are pushed to a custom app loaded on the iPads and iPhones of her eager subscribers, each of whom pays a buck or less per issue, with payments automated via iTunes. Writers get paid, readers don’t have to deal with ads, everybody wins.

There’s been more coverage of this than I’d care to outdo here, so let me just refer you to some of the other guys:

As for the site, a lot of the heavy lifting is being effortlessly handled by WordPress, but I’m still really excited about a lot of the things happening in the custom functions I wrote — these are among the coolest WordPress ideas I’ve ever come up with. I don’t want to go into too much detail since we’re not openly sharing the plugins yet, but in a nutshell, the paywalls are dynamic, and you will start to see them move and react as we continue to charge along here. For example, this past weekend one of the articles was temporarily unlocked to match the HBO schedule.

And, as with my last attempt to merge tech with editorial, a hearty shout out to my good friend Buster Bylander, who jumped in with his amazing visual design sense once I was done fiddling around with the code for generating the content loops. We are both very proud of this. Please subscribe!