Tag Archives: technology

help in 140 characters

28 Nov

A while back, my friend Brian told me about Underheard in New York, a project where a group of three ad interns gave four homeless men a prepaid phone and a Twitter account in order to “include them in our global community.”

From the home page of Underheard in New York

What’s fascinating, which Brian also pointed out, is just how different the writing and linguistic styles are. When I first heard about it, I intended to post a sampling of all four, but two of them aren’t active and their Twitter accounts no longer exist. Here are tweets from the other two, Albert and Danny, who have 3,000 and 4,000 followers, respectively.

@albert814, June 23

.ok once again another reson to be smyling acording to a blod test i am clear of any critical dezis i ges the hair falen is stres doctor say. 

@putodanny, July 26

Today i found out that someone has stold my back pack.i had a bible in it and theytake everything else.

one year after the fall

18 Oct


At work, my mind wanders and brings a memory of The Fall. I’d forgotten about it. It shocks me when something incredible can be buried so quickly, like an important email lost to those bolded messages stacking on top of it. The Fall was released on Christmas Day last year, the Gorillaz’s gift to the world as well as a triumph of technology: it was the first album ever recorded strictly on an iPad. Steve Jobs was around to see that one; he’ll miss all the firsts that come after it.

I go to the website my browser remembers from nine months earlier. It’s still streaming. This odd record, embedded in a random Web page. It hasn’t moved since December. I push play with the excitement of a boy finding his favorite book on a basement shelf.  Continue reading

biophilia: a brief

11 Oct

Over at Alarm, Biophilia is one of This Week's Best Albums

It would be a shame if people forgot that beneath the chatter is an album. Biophilia may be unique because of its multiplatform release, but that’s not what makes it good.

I was fortunate to be able to pen a few words on Björk’s latest release, the much-hyped Biophilia, out today on Nonesuch. Head to Alarm to read the review and listen to “Crystalline.”

The record’s been making waves for a month or so now due to its extramusical material, which includes an allegedly revolutionary app. I have neither an iPhone nor an iPad, so I’m taking more tech-savvy folks’ word on that. But I will say the concept for this album, including the vision she shared with NPR a week ago, resonates strongly with me.

It helps that the music is really cool, and that she uses one of my favorite instruments, the hang, prominently in “Virus.” Couldn’t help smiling at that. The track is gorgeous too. One of the best things she’s ever written.

Overall, it’s an album that won’t disappoint Björk fans but is surprisingly accessible too—if you’ve been just a bit too weirded out in the past, give “Crystalline” a listen and see how you feel.

More at Alarm. Album via Björk’s universe.

UPDATE: Listening to the bonus track, “Nattura,” for the first time right now, and my heart rate just doubled. Might just be the drummer in me, but this track is probably worth getting on its own if you’re not picking up the whole album.

Gonna go start the song over now.

the man who changed daily life

6 Oct

In the office today, on our Macs, listening to iPods, checking iPhones for updates, we’ve been pondering how much Steve Jobs actually affected our day-to-day activities.

Apparently in Tokyo there was a candlelight vigil—with candles pulled up on iPads.

Typically, I’m a rather grumpy old codger when it comes to technology, but today is no day to hold grudges. I think Jason Kottke said it best:

“Well, fuck. My condolences to his family.”

ground control to colonel ron

17 Aug

If there’s one nice thing about cameras that no longer require a tripod and copper plates and Chevalier lenses (see: daguerreotype), it’s that an astronaut from Chicago can snap a quick photo of his home as he zooms past on the International Space Station.

[Thanks to Gapers Block for posting Colonel Ron Garan’s photos yesterday.]

rare languages = the new slang

12 Jul

Via Kottke:

Young people in Chile, the Phillipines, and Mexico are using endangered regional languages to communicate and express themselves online and via text messaging.


Samuel Herrera, who runs the linguistics laboratory at the Institute of Anthropological Research in Mexico City, found young people in southern Chile producing hip-hop videos and posting them on YouTube using Huilliche, a language on the brink of extinction. Herrera also discovered teens in the Phillippines and Mexico who think it’s “cool” to send text messages in regional endangered languages like Kapampangan and Huave.

man as industrial palace

22 Jun

You’re Part of Technology, Too

I use Radiolab as an escape while I work out. As a radio show, it can be fascinating, funny, cute, and gruesome in a single episode. It’s the perfect distraction while I lift weights or bike—things that don’t come naturally to me.

I was at the gym when an episode stopped me in my tracks. I felt the wind go out of me, and I ceased moving. Robert Krulwich, one of the hosts, was interviewing Kevin Kelly, author of What Technology Wants, and something Kelly said was chilling. Going back to it now, I can’t recreate the poignancy of the moment, but it was a haunting realization for someone who avoids technological gadgets and fancies himself “set apart” from the fast-paced world of technology.

Let me set the scene. Krulwich has been talking to Kelly for nearly 20 minutes, and Krulwich has repeatedly made known his discomfort with several of Kelly’s ideas. At this juncture, Krulwich reads someone else’s summary of the book, and asks Kelly if he too is not at least a little creeped out by these notions.

Robert Krulwich (quoting): “‘Humans cannot direct or prevent technology’s course. Like water contained behind a dam, relentlessly seeking escape, technology will eventually find its own way.’ Now doesn’t that creep you out a little?”

Kevin Kelly: “No, no—”

RK: “Oh, you’re just you.”

KK: “No, no, no. Seriously. If you said the same thing about life, would that creep you out?”

RK: “No, I’m part of life; I’m just worried about the things—”

KK: “No, you’re part of technology too. Don’t you understand? We humans have invented ourselves. We have this external stomach we call cooking, that has changed our diets, that has changed our teeth, our jaws. We remade ourselves when we became literate; our brains are rewired, we think differently. We’re not the same people that left Africa. We have domesticated ourselves. And we’re going to continue doing that.”

Now, I’ve read about technological devices as extensions of human ability. The telephone was an extension of our mouths; it projected our voices across impossible distances. But this was an eye-opening way to see myself: An invention. Not readily separable from technology.

I found myself the next morning trying to imagine life with no technology, not just without our MacBook or Civic, but without the building systems that were used to create our apartment building 80-some years ago. Without the pipes and pumps that bring water up three stories and into our tub. And, yes, even more basically: without the books on our shelves or a simple pencil or written language at all.

If technology is not just gadgetry but the whole invented world—every machine, no matter how simple—then I can’t distinguish myself from that world any easier than I can pretend I’m not part of the natural system of sun, water, and air.

:: :: ::

Right up there with Swaziland

No matter how you run the data, you get a correlation between technology—whether you buy the above definition or not—and a change in the way we work. Faster, everyone says. And they’re right. In college, we learned it by rote: “Technology may mean that things get done faster, but you’re now expected to do ten times as much.” They were trying to prepare us for the real world. Except, what we didn’t learn was that this real world wasn’t everywhere.

Americans now put in an average of 122 more hours per year than Brits, and 378 hours (nearly 10 weeks!) more than Germans. The differential isn’t solely accounted for by longer hours, of course—worldwide, almost everyone except us has, at least on paper, a right to weekends off, paid vacation time, and paid maternity leave. The only other countries that don’t mandate paid time off for new moms are Papua New Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Samoa, and Swaziland.

Now, certain economic systems that sound great don’t always live up the hype. Greece, for instance. It probably offers weekends off, paid vacation time, and paid maternity leave. But it also has zero accountability, which means government officials there make about three times as much as a private-sector employee and collect bribes to boot. One IMF official put it this way:

“The way they were keeping track of their finances—they knew how much they had agreed to spend, but no one was keeping track of what he had actually spent. It wasn’t even what you would call an emerging economy. It was a Third World country.”

So we don’t want to always call the European grass greener, but I must admit that my views on work don’t necessarily align with American culture’s, and yet from within such a powerful system, it’s difficult to see a way out. Not to say I’ll quit trying. Just like I won’t quit creating ways to limit—or at least remain in control of—my relationship with technology.

:: :: ::

Man as Industrial Palace

I didn’t initially see the connection, but I ran across something today that well symbolizes these complex thoughts on human evolution and industry. It doesn’t answer any of the questions, but it does provide a little room to breathe. It’s an animated installation of Fritz Kahn’s 1927 lithograph, “Der Mensch als Industriepalast,” or “Man as Industrial Palace.”

on the 50th anniversary of human space flight

12 Apr

Timothy Schuler to Derek, Sean

Subject: Love the Google homepage today


Derek Hamm to me

haha, me too. i’m trying to figure out how it only animates when you mouse over.


Derek Hamm to me

This is the code just for the banner. I like it even more.


Sean Conner to me, Derek


think quarterly

8 Apr

One of the best designed publications on the planet right now isn’t even for sale.

Photo 1: Cover of Think Quarterly.

Photo 2: Color-coded neuron map of mouse hippocampus.

Photo 3: Contributor page, with graphical representations.

Photo 4: Life expectancy / fertility rate by country.


17 Mar

A structured writing exercise


Most are in English, more than three-and-a-half million. Nine other languages get front-page treatment. Only two are so foreign you don’t know what they are, though you can guess. Русский requires a Google search, which just takes you back, tells you it’s Russian in Russian. Quit trying to pronounce it with that phonetic gibberish you never learned to read. Russkiy yazyk is as close as you get—some Anglicized version that doesn’t help.

Scroll down, back on the main page, and you find illustrated bookshelves that correspond with the number of articles each language has, starting with one-hundred-thousand-plus. Ten-thousand-plus starts with Afrikaans and ends with Žemaitėška, another you don’t know but don’t take time for. Under the ten-thousand bloc, the type shrinks, to make room for the increasing number of languages on the fringe of this free encyclopedia, and a few don’t even show up, represented only by the little boxes you get when Word can’t even fathom a Wingding.

Vanishing books as some coded metaphor, above a list of those languages in which exist only 100 or so. Wonder: where is the bulk of their knowledge stored? ‪Xitsonga’s communal memory fades away; is it cognizant of its disappearance, or ways to prevent it? You think maybe you’re wrong, maybe you’re asking the wrong questions, but still. Zeêuws, on the other side of the world: does it feel the tug of extinction, bound to a fate shared by Xitsonga and Inuktitut and ᏣᎳᎩ?

Along the way, you discover ᏣᎳᎩ = Cherokee and that Cherokee is actually a wholly unique 85-character syllabary. Before this you didn’t know the word syllabary, much less the Cherokee anomaly. Continue on this path, or choose another—the perpetual forks we come to here. Depth versus breadth, as if you’ll ever have either. Even the thought is enough to paralyze. Fork #1: choose the former. Go to “Possible influence on Liberian Vai syllabary,” even though you don’t know what that means. Hunt for reason to go on, for clues to the puzzle you know will elude you, no matter how many forks are reached, or how many links are followed.

Instead, become lost, lose yourself in the white space between choices, between the innumerable doors that copy themselves and lead into one another, like an unsolvable mythological maze. Just as it began, it ends; and you know power again. Know that it is only a game, asking such questions. Loosen your grip; choose neither path.