Published in Online Spin, July 5 2013
Studies are wonderful things. Take, for example, studies that show children whose homes have more books do better at school than children who don’t have books at home. In particular, take the detail of that study that shows this to be true whether or not the children read. Interpret. Arrive at obvious conclusion: all children need books in their homes.
Back in 2004, studies such as these led to then-Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich trying to institute a program to get books sent to every child in the state. The program never went through -- which is probably appropriate, suggested Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner in “Freakonomics,” as chances are the presence of books in the home is merely correlative of good school performance rather than being causative of it. “Here’s a likely theory: most parents who buy a lot of children’s books tend to be smart and well educated to begin with. (And they pass on their smarts and work ethic to their kids.) Or perhaps they care a great deal about education, and about their children in general. (Which means they
Published in Online Spin, June 28 2013
It’s hard work to stand up for what you think is right. The darkly satirical UK miniseries “Black Mirror” has an episode called “15 Million Merits,” set in a not-so-futuristic world reminiscent of Gattaca or The Island, where identically dressed residents live a gamified existence, exercising on stationary bikes to earn “merits” while being continually distracted by game and reality shows.
Protagonist Bing Madsen, furious at the system, tries to make a statement by working his way onto the “ X-Factor”-esque show “Hot Shots,” where he interrupts his own audition by threatening to commit suicide with a shard of glass he’s snuck in with him. Instead of taking him seriously, the judges commend his performance and give
Published in Online Spin, June 20 2013
Last week, in Christchurch, New Zealand, Google launched a world-changing initiative: Project Loon, balloon-powered Internet for everyone.
“Sometimes,” the cute kid narrating the launch video said, “everyone doesn’t mean everyone.” Like when we say “everyone’s” online, despite the fact that two thirds of the world’s population doesn’t have access to the Internet.
Depending where they are, these people aren’t just missing out on cute cats and porn; they could also be missing out on education, medical care, and access to markets. It’s a major problem that affects billions, and an effective solution could, quite literally, transform the world we live in.
In short, it’s the perfect situation for a Google moonshot: the magical conjunction of a huge problem, a radical solution, and a breakthrough technology.
Those who have tried to tackle
Published in Online Spin, June 14 2013
Did you really think it was? Did you really think the government could access none of it, that the miracle of an effectively free Internet was just a gift from the universe? Did you really think the companies that make their money by selling our body parts -- eyeballs, mostly -- could never be compelled, as telecommunications companies and banks can be compelled, to hand over that data to the government?
Did you think that sharing anything with your 300 closest friends left that thing imbued with even the smallest shred of privacy?
Did you think their systems are so magical that, even if they did in fact have the world’s most benign intentions, they could never suffer a breach? Did you think the system originally born from the government would somehow morph into being off-limits to its
Published in Online Spin, June 7 2013
It's a lucky thing that websites are not babies. Either that, or it’s a lucky thing I’m not a mother. By the time my websites are born, I hate them.
I am tired of the design. I see only flaws. I realize all my paper prototyping and use-case modeling and beta testing failed to account for the 500 unanticipated ways in which our needs would change and our organization would evolve. Often, by the time we go live, I feel stupid: How could I have not thought of that? Why couldn’t I have seen that far ahead?
Sometimes I feel envious of industries in which you can be “done.” When you sell a pair of shoes, you don’t get to go back and change the lacing system. But when your offering is online, it must be continually updated: to fix bugs, improve the service, keep yourselves up to date. And since the Internet ages in dog years, those updates have to happen all the time.
Every tech start-up worth even half its salt knows this; it’s built into the
Published in Online Spin, May 31 2013
I used to be obsessed with Bejeweled.
Like, obsessed. I played when I woke up. I played at work. I played at night, staying up until the wee hours of the morning, unable to resist the tantalizing, just-one-more-minute lure of Bejeweled Blitz, going to sleep only to dream up more boards, ones that never ran out of combinations.
I played until I made myself sick. Not horribly sick, not hospitalized or institutionalized, but nauseous, unable to look at the sparkly screen without feeling an overwhelming sense of revulsion. At that point, as you can imagine, I stopped playing.
The same thing happened to me with Scramble, and
Published in Online Spin, May 24th 2013
Sometimes I do not know how to live.
I recycle -- and drive to work. I buy the cardboard milk carton instead of the plastic one -- and emit tons of carbon flying around the world. I pay my staff a fair wage -- and talk on a phone made by people who are earning anything but.
I live a physically comfortable lifestyle in a first-world country, disconnected, complicit, and confused. Do I give away all my belongings except for the hemp cargo pants (note: I don’t actually own any hemp cargo pants) and go live in the bush? Do I not bother with the milk carton since just one international flight destroys years of lactose-inspired conscientiousness? Or do I continue to walk the hypocritical line of sustainability-only-when-it-suits?
The phone thing, in particular, really bothers me, as I sit here connected to the Internet through my phone. After learning about appalling working conditions at the Foxconn factory in China -- where iPhones are made -- I was even more appalled
Published in Online Spin, May 17 2013
Most of us have been there: you’re sitting with a friend, maybe enjoying a nice meal or a glass of wine, and you get the urge to check your phone. Has someone called, texted, emailed or tweeted? Is there a Facebook update you need to know about?
A battle ensues: between Compulsive You, who is addicted to being connected, and Civilized You, who knows it is
Published in Online Spin, May 10th 2013
“He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata! He tangata! He tangata! What is the most important thing in the world? It is people! It is people! It is people!” - Maori proverb
In other news you already knew, pretty much everything is now available online.
Want to learn about quantum physics, substitute your own text into a 20th Century Fox intro sequence, or study with MIT and Stanford professors? Done, for free. Next.
Want to enjoy TV shows, movies,
Published in Online Spin, May 3 2013
From this column and hundreds like it, you would be forgiven for having ingested the mantra that journalism as we know it is over and print is dead. Social dominates, but we haven’t yet figured out how to monetize digital. It’s not uncommon to hear the word “dinosaur” in discussions of the Fourth Estate.
Which is why the presentation I attended earlier this week, by Joanna Norris, editor of local Christchurch, New Zealand newspaper The Press, was so interesting. Yes, the news industry has been turned upside down and is going through a transition more replete with confusion than any teenage boy’s puberty. But the fascinating thing about this particular transition is that the people experiencing it have access to more information than ever before. They are moving from a place of dominance through ignorance -- and what they can move toward is a place of strength through understanding