When I reviewed Questlove's Mo Meta Blues, my main complaint was that the parts
I really enjoyed — in-depth looks at musical history from his deep record-diving
perspective — were too few and far between. So while I'm late reposting it, I have to
say I really enjoyed this six-part series of
articles for Vulture on "How Hip-Hop Failed Black America."
Marijn Haverbeke, author of the CodeMirror editor, Tern parser, and any number of other
detail on the browser and NodeJS. If this had existed two years ago, I probably wouldn't
have written my own textbook.
I'm a middling-good fighting game fan, so I knew much of the material, but I really
enjoyed Patrick Miller's free
guide to fighting games. For all that they appeal to button-mashing, there's a lot that
goes into high-level gameplay, and Miller does a good job of covering the progression.
If you're in journalism and like what I've done at the Times so far (what little of it
has gone public), you may want to check out my new project: a repository of tutorials for
Angular, but I'll be following up with information on web scraping, canvas, browser
performance, and more.
Finally, development on Caret has basically slowed to — if not a halt — a
slow drip of updates. However, thanks to some setup work and a
helpful overseas coder, it's now available in both English and Russian. I feel so
international now. If you'd like to contribute another language, you don't have to know very
existing English text.
Obviously I've been a little obsessed with RSS the past couple of weeks (get used to it:
it'll be everyone else's turn come July 1). Along the way, I've been trimming my
subscription list: I've been blogging for more than nine years now (!), and collecting feeds
for nearly as long. A lot of those URLs are now broken, which is a little sad. In a
precursor to the whole Google Reader situation, if you were on Feedburner, there's a pretty
good chance I'm not reading you anymore.
Speaking of things that people don't really do in a post-Twitter world, I was reminded this
week that I need to post another set of links--not so much because anyone else is
interested, but because between the dismal searchability of social media and the death of
bookmark services like Delicious, it's the only way I can be sure to find anything more than
three months from now. And so:
A lot of people linked to Jeremy Keith's defense of RSS-as-API this week. Indeed, when I
was at CQ, getting RSS running for our various services and reports was one of my constant
campaigns. In many ways, it's one of the purest expressions of the web: a machine-readable
format of human-centric information.
What reminded me of link-blogging in the first place was this study of privacy and
de-anonymization, which I knew I'd posted to one service or another but could not for
the life of me locate when I wanted it. It's a fascinating case of matching health records
to individuals through obscured metadata and demographics--food for thought in light of the
NSA metadata hubbub.
Earlier than expected, and all too soon, Iain Banks died last week. Ken Macleod has a
passionate remembrance in the Guardian.
I have always been skeptical of WebGL, but it looks like it'll graduate to legitimate
technology with a rumored inclusion in IE11. I still think it's a terrible API. That said,
article by Greg Tavares (one of the Chrome coders on WebGL) got me more excited about it
than any other tutorial has ever done. Tavares points out that it's not actually a 3D API,
but a 2D drawing API with decent tools for projection math. In that light, and given my love
for 2D, I've actually started screwing around with WebGL a little.
If you are interested in using WebGL for 3D, though, this
presentation does a great job of presenting both the what and the why of the math
involved. It almost made me care about matrices again.
Why I was looking for the details of the NES Game Genie, I really
couldn't tell you. But here's how it
works, which is pretty much what I figured. I'm amused by the way
that they obfuscated the codes in order to keep people from figuring
them out. It would be fun to do something similar with URLs.
Twitter recently released a guide called Twitter for Newsrooms.
And while the jokes practically write themselves (we should all take a
crack at it in the comments), what they've written is less a guide to
Twitter specifically, and more an introduction to "how people interact
on The Internets." It's all about leveraging scale, writing
feed-friendly copy, and linking out to other writers/sources. So while I
don't actually think it's bad advice for journalists who are newcomers
to the web, I wish it weren't identified so strongly with a single
brand--especially one that the Innovation Editors of the world are
already overhyping like crazy.
If you're in the DC area tomorrow, Thursday the 30th, you should
come by the National Mall for the Smithsonian's Soul
Train music and dance event. The artistic directors of Urban
Artistry (the dance company I joined about six months back) will be
performing, and Questlove from the Roots will be on the ones and twos.
That reminds me, by the way, of one of my favorite video clips from
this week: Talib Kweli on the Colbert Report.
The Soul Train show tomorrow is part of the Smithsonian's Folklife
Festival, and one of Kweli's points during his conversation with Colbert
is that hip-hop is folk music. As one of my friends once said,
even if you don't care for hip-hop, you have to remember that it not
only spoke to parts of America that were ignored by mainstream music,
but it was also something that ordinary people could do with nothing
more than a beat and a rhyme. Even though I haven't been listening to
the genre very long, that definition really resonates with me, and with
I started b-boying in the first place.
Last week was the budget. This week is the leftovers.
I've developed an interest in correction tracking for new media
lately, and there are two interesting developments on that front. Kurt
at Ars Technica has debuted Copypasta, a tool for adding
collaborative editing to any site. Mediabugs, on the other hand, is more
of a centralized database of errors, and they just introduced a WordPress plugin for
Know how we used to post corrections to blogs in the old days? The
comments. Uphill, both ways. Now get off my lawn.
There are two novels that can change a bookish
fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas
Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong
obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally
stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real
world. The other, of course, involves orcs.
Yeah, so maybe buying
a Robocop statue for Detroit is not the best use of $50,000. But on
the other hand, if you needed a great example of the ways that the
Internet tends to privilege frivolous gestures over useful action, it's
the best thing since OLPC.
I complain a lot about the current state of rich HTML graphics:
<canvas>, for example, is in the running for the worst API I've
seen since the original DOM. If you're used to Flash's excellent display
tree API, you may want to look into AS3 guru Grant Skinner's Easel.js
library. Myself, I think it's still unclear that browser performance is
Android 2.3 ("Gingerbread") was just pushed out to my Nexus One.
Right off the bat, the new power off
animation cracks me up--it's basically the "shrink to a white dot"
from very old CRT television sets. Of course, that effect was caused by
the physical movement of the cathode ray gun inside the set, which has
no equivalent in the LCD/OLED screens we use for almost everything
today. It's like a comedy record-scratch: cultural artifacts that
everyone recognizes more for semantic meaning than through any direct
physical experience with the original. There ought to be a name for
I switched my laptop to a solid-state drive this week (an Intel
X25, after a Corsair drive flaked out during sleep mode). I'm not
getting the full use out of it, because my BIOS doesn't support full
SATA2 speeds without a hack that I'm a little scared to install, but the
improvement I have seen is impressive--games, especially, load almost
instantly, which has done a lot to move my spare time from the XBox to
the PC. Given that CPU speeds have topped out, if you're looking to
rejuvenate an aging laptop, this is probably the way to go.
This is a slow month for dance jams, but my teachers at Urban
Artistry put together some videos as introductions to the different
types of urban dance, and I think they're really well-done. Check out
breaking with Emily and Russ:
And popping with Ryan:
As a journalist, I'm generally pro-Wikileaks (although not
necessarily pro-Assange--the distinction is important). More interesting
than the releases, I think, are the reactions to them, and the questions
that they raise: are activists endangered by a mostly profit-driven
Should we consider denial-of-service attacks a kind of civil
Were the actions of Anonymous legitimate protest, then? (Good
question.) When it comes to the organizations I lump under "New
Protest," Wikileaks and Anonymous rank prominently due to their
effectiveness, not to mention their eccentric, decentralized, and
anarchist tendencies. Having them acting in concert (such as it is) is
It turns out that if you examine Ray Kurzweil's claims, he's
usually wrong--or at least, right in a way so vague as to be
meaningless. Perhaps he should enter the business of political
Wheat linked the other day to
on using Mobius and Ableton together for live looping, by bassist Russ
Sargeant. I had almost forgotten how awesome the combination--it is no
small endorsement that a free plugin is better than Ableton itself for
this kind of live instrumental performance.
It may be hard for non-musicians--or even non-loopers--to understand how
big a deal Mobius can be. You have to understand that, much more than
other effects (and I've tried my share), looping is like learning a
whole new instrument, and each looper brings its own set of constraints
to the table that you have to learn to work around. For years, the gold
standard was the Gibson EDP, but it was A) expensive, and B)
discontinued. Then along comes some guy with a complete software emulation
that anyone with a decent soundcard can use for free. Oh, and
it's scriptable, so you can rewire the ins and outs to your heart's
content (I made mine control
like my beloved Line 6 DL-4). That's no small matter. Every now and
then, I almost talk myself into picking up a netbook just to run Mobius
and a few pedal VSTs again, it's that good.
Jay Rosen argues that Wikileaks
is a "stateless" news organization, by which he means "decentralized."
It's an interesting parallel to my own thinking on information-age
activism. Of any group in existence today, Wikileaks probably best
embodies what it would mean to do decentralized advocacy, for better or
I love scripting languages, and I especially love this
the original GameBoy. It's kind of an amazing learning tool, if you
think about it. Someone should do this for X86.
While it's true that b-boys
and b-girls love correcting people who call it breakdancing, I
actually think it's more depressing that most people think the dance is
entirely about acrobatics--flares, windmills, and backspins--to the
exclusion of toprock and footwork. That's not their fault, of course:
that's how the dance has been sold in mainstream culture since the
eighties. But check out this video by Zeshen of Havokoro, and consider
how much people are missing. He starts out with some pretty standard
stuff, and then about a minute in starts going off on impressive
combinations of strength, flexibility, and creative movement. It's one
of the coolest footwork displays I've seen.
part of an infinite series titled "Innovative, Magical, and Stupid."
Long story short: an iPhone developer wants to make a service for doing
enhanced copy-paste functionality, but you're not allowed to do that on
the iPhone. So instead, they have to play music (or an .mp3 of silence)
the entire time that they're backgrounded in order to pass muster. They
refer to this "a very elegant solution," but let's call it what it
really is: an awkward hack required by a patronizing, artificial
Finally, this Washington
Monthly story is a fascinating read on how Google Maps has touched
off a new generation of border disputes--especially interesting for the
crisis-mapping crowd. People in developed countries, and particularly
urban areas in developed countries, tend to forget how political and
contentious seemingly-neutral documents like maps can be. But of course,
this is only the start. In a world where our surroundings are tagged
with metadata by a combination of community processes and automated
spiders, we're going to see these kinds of scuffles a lot more often.
I actually don't like programming--I like solving problems. It just
happens that every good application usually has at least one
brain-teasing problem inside. Here's a cool one: BK
trees are a method for organizing words to find close dictionary
matches, as in a spellcheck or a keyboard auto-correct. I was wondering
the other day how to do this, and now I know.
Flotilla is my
latest indie game acquisition, and it fits in well with the release of
Sins of a Solar Empire: Diplomacy. While fleet combat in
Sins relies on upgrade trees and swarm composition,
Flotilla actually models small-scale, 3D space tactics--it's all
about positioning, orientation, and group coordination. It gives me
flashbacks to the great Kirk vs. Khan space battle in Star Trek
II. Also includes a surreal, darkly-funny campaign mode played out
around a randomly-generated galaxy.
Strife.tv put up footage of the battles at Unbreakable 3 a couple
of weeks ago. It took place at my old alma mater, George Mason
University, and I had a great time there. I especially love the exhibition
between Iron Man and Meen187, who are both really musical dancers:
When the camera dips down behind someone's head and you can't see
anything for a moment, that's basically what it was like to actually be
there. As I told someone later, I'm glad I went, but I'm also glad we
I committed a new version of Underground to its Google Code
repository the other day, adding support for Home app replacements
like OpenHome, as well as Android 2.1 devices with new launchers like
the Nexus One. I'll push a new version out to market as soon as I've
tested it a bit. This is long overdue--hardcoding the launcher Intent was
always a hack, but it was relatively low-priority until the Nexus broke
Speaking of Android, remember how it's supposed to be fragmenting
all over the place? Turns out that even for game developers, who are
relatively "down to the metal," that's
not true at all. I look forward to retractions.
Some Foursquare badges I'd like to see. Personally, instead of joining Foursquare, I'm just going to constantly post snarky commentary about my location on Twitter. Pretty much the same thing I do now, in other words.
The Berkman Center hosted a lunch to discuss piracy research from the perspective of developing nations. They'll probably have a video and audio soon, but David Weinberger has a good liveblog summary. The most interesting note was that piracy is bad for open software advocates: it lets closed, for-pay software propagate as long as the software developers turn a blind eye. To what degree are grey markets (here and elsewhere) becoming a legitimate business strategy?
Microsoft is making their own 2D data tag, in competition with QR codes and datagrid codes. You may have seen these already without knowing it: they use these on some XBox games, largely for cross-promotional and inventory purposes. I believe them when they say that these are better than QR codes, but they'll never take off for the same reason that Ogg Vorbis hasn't beat out MP3: a good-enough de-facto standard can practically live forever, and the other 2D barcode formats have all the momentum.
A little story to go with that last item: last time I ordered business cards for myself, a couple of years ago, I integrated a QR code into the graphic design of the front, and stuck one containing my v-card on the back. I thought of it as a demonstration for potential employers: who's got two thumbs (the card symbolically asks) and can navigate between the world of print and online journalism in innovative ways? This guy. But I never really thought that it'd be usable, since this was before I had a smartphone, much less anyone else I knew. I made it with a chunk of badly-translated Taiwanese freeware, and tested it with a webcam at work.
The other day after a breaking class, someone asked for my contact information, and I noticed that they had an Android phone. So I showed them how it worked, told them to grab Barcode Scanner from the market ("But I've got a different phone." "Doesn't matter, it's all Android."), and passed them a spare card. Pretty much instantly, they were able to import my card to their contact list. It was pretty cool for me, but it was even better to see the enormous grin on their face when my friend realized they had basically just pulled information out of thin air, like magic. Sometimes, technology's okay.
In anticipation of future FCC policies, I'd like to state up front that
I was not paid or bribed in any way for these links, which seems like an
awful shame, as well as a real opportunity for anyone with some extra
bribe money lying around.
There's video from local b-boy battle-slash-arts-fair Crafty
(check the related section for more). I caught the first round of this
last week, and if I can find a partner, I'm entering next year.
MobileActive has an overview of different setups for SMS
activism. Lots of good links there, including an SMS server/analysis
tool that runs on Android.
This is your planet on climate change: Theatre of Inconveniences
drought in photos as part of a series on the impact of global
warming on wildlife.
Ethan Zuckerman got eye surgery and somehow still managed to blog a
ton of incredibly insightful stuff. One of my favorite entries is The
Cloud and Useful Illusions, which discusses the ways that the
"cloud" metaphor invites us to ignore the underlying infrastructure and
politics, in both good ways and bad.
RECAP is a Firefox extension that sends public documents behind a
for-pay firewall to the Internet Archive as users browse the original
Morozov has more. Effectively, they're crowdsourcing the process of
creating a site mirror. It may have implications for getting around
censorship, but it's more interesting to me in the way that it creates
something valuable by piggybacking on the user's actions, much the same
way that ReCAPTCHA leverages site verification to improve OCR for
At Arthur Magazine, Douglas
Rushkoff argues that "movements" are dead, because they now play a
role that's more social than actively political. I disagree, personally:
I would say that he's picked some stunningly poor movements, then. The
goal of the New Dissent, just as with traditional social and protest
movements, is to put feet on the ground, albeit in a new way. A movement
that doesn't put feet on the ground is a failure, no matter whether it's
Rushkoff's strawman of "a top-down, passionately executed, and highly
branded movement" or a decentralized, flash mob of demonstrators.
Ironically, the very health protest astroturf that's made Rushkoff so
dejected is a prime example of this kind of action. It's not necessarily
seeing results--but that's because it's badly run. People show up, and
then act like either loons or idiots, which convinces no-one. But that
doesn't mean the organizing principles are unsound.
Google video, Nils Gilman of the Global Business Network discusses
"the global illicit economy"--basically the globalized black market in
guns, drugs, sex, and malware. Some interesting observations inside: for
example, says Gilman, attempting to control drug trade via border
control is counterproductive because it raises the profit margins for
As someone who's done his share of public speaking and video
editing, even to a teetotaler this
Johnnie Walker ad is unbelievable. It's a single, six-minute
steadicam shot of Robert Carlyle walking through Scotland, telling the
brand's history as he walks by carefully-placed props or visual aids.
Apparently it took 40 takes. I find it fascinating for two reasons:
first, because the craftsmanship of it is striking. But second, because
it breaks the commonly-accepted rule of thumb for video
journalism--"keep it short," because people won't watch long-form web
video. As I've said before, I think that's a fallacy. People will
certainly watch long-form productions, if it's interesting. What they
won't watch is a lengthy imitation of "local news"-style coverage.
Hall and Oates, Carlos Santana, U2: what do these artists have in
common, besides a soporific effect rivalling prescription drugs? Satan.