Category: digital media

October Love List

Posted by – October 11, 2014

Amid travels over the past month, here’s what’s been rolling by in front of my face.


Digital Death

Digital Death A. David Lewis, one of the co-editors on this collection of essays, was kind enough to let me read through an advance copy a few weeks ago – and it really is an excellent piece of work. Its essays’ authors address a strong series of questions about how concepts of death have been altered by technology. These issues include how we memorialize loved ones, how we speak about death and how concepts within our daily lives and writing (especially online) may be evolving.

With Apple entering the smartwatch market soon and wearable tech pushing the Quantified Self movement into bigger, more mainstream places, a lot of what gets discussed in Digital Death challenges the reader to confront some ideas that are worth exploring. For instance, when you look back at the now Internet-famous story about a son racing his deceased father’s ghost in an Xbox game they used to enjoy playing, there’s a seed of something potentially a lot bigger going on. One of the essays in this book deals with where our data from social networks and other places goes when we die – and who should have the right to use it or own it when we do pass on.

The idea that we could soon be in a place technologically where people could preserve more complex digital ghosts of their loved ones and interact with them introduces all kinds of concerns and dilemmas. I mean, if a company like Google or Facebook has the data to render such a ghost, should it have to get legal permissions to do so? What does it do to the mourning process if such ghosts become crutches for bereaved people who don’t want to let go? (And who’s to say there’s any moral imperative or requirement that they should have to let go?)

Anyway, this is a great book, and I highly recommend checking it out.

Nixon and Mao

Nixon and Mao: The Week That Changed the World – This 2007 book by Margaret MacMillan was my companion for down time during the Iceland trip. I’m a sucker for Richard Nixon history – particularly when it involves vignettes like MacMillan dishes out. One of my favorites comes early on regarding an exchange between Nixon and Ford about Henry Kissinger:

“Henry is a genius,” Nixon told Gerald Ford as he was preparing to hand over the presidency, “but you don’t have to accept everything he recommends. He can be invaluable, and he’ll be very loyal but you can’t let him have a totally free hand.” He advised Ford to keep Kissinger on as his secretary of state but hoped, he told an aide, that the new president would be tough enough. “Ford has just got to realize that there are times when Henry has to be kicked in the nuts.”

Those moments of Nixonian candor alone are worth the price of admission for this book, but it’s also a trove of research and historical explanations that illuminate the world stage today – both with its explanation of Russo-Chinese relations and the culmination of events, factors and people that made Nixon’s trip to China possible.


Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I’m two episodes deep into the second season and can’t get enough of this one. Parts of the first season dragged a bit, but I’m constantly impressed with how many story elements the show can keep spinning in the air at once. Also, Lucy Lawless and Patton Oswalt have been a huge gust of wind in its sails. I’m glad I hung on through the end of the first season and even happier that it came back with an Absorbing Man story that was better than any I’ve ever read in the comics.



Slack – I’ve been using Slack recently in place of email for a lot of work things, and I’m pretty sold on it so far. At face value it seems like standard reinvention of chat rooms and instant messaging, but I love it as a group communication tool. Totally beats massive email threads – hands down.

August Love List

Posted by – August 3, 2014

I’ve run into a handful of people this summer who asked me what I’m reading lately. It seemed like a roundup might be in order. Here’s what I’ve been looking at and listening to lately.



Snowpiercer (2013) – Bong Joon-ho had a heck of a time getting this film to the U.S. market, but I’m glad it finally arrived. The story’s parallels with BioShock have been documented elsewhere, but it seems to have struck a chord with fans of that series (a group to which I belong). I was actually more entertained by parallels with The Truman Show (1998), and the graphic novel‘s now on my to-read list.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) – When this franchise got rebooted again in 2011, I honestly walked away pretty indifferent to the project. The new installment worked a lot better for me, though. Part of that was do to the much richer cast of characters – but Dawn also had a really rich sense of place and setting. Much like Snowpiercer, the locations in the story where the action was taking place added layers of history and drama what the actors were doing. This is the Bergman fan in me talking right now, but I really love when films can minimize the number of locations they’re set in make what does get used as memorable as possible.



Boris – I just saw this Japanese group at the 9:30 Club Saturday with The Atlas Moth and Sub Rosa, and it’s been a while since I’ve had the pleasure of getting hit with a wall of sound that deep. The band’s newest album’s called Noise, and it’s beautiful.


NPR One app

NPR One – The team behind this app deserves a lot of credit. The old NPR app on iPhone had become a huge mess for me over the past year or so. For some reason, it had problems resuming play with one given station and I’d have to start playing another station and stop it just to be able to begin playing the first station again (Don’t worry, it was just as confusing as it sounds). Then, there were really odd issues with advertisements playing repeatedly (Seriously, one time I walked to work and heard the same government contractor ad more than ten times amid quick excerpts of the WAMU broadcast I was trying to listen to).

This One app is the real deal, though. It streamlines the entire listening experience, personalizes content in a meaning way and does some really interesting things with interactive mic-enabled functions. (Just don’t be surprised when robo-voices in the ads start talking to you.

I really can’t adequately express what a breath of fresh air this has been (no pun intended). And it’s got a lot of potential.



Hearthstone (Mac/iPad) – I am super late to this one, but it’s my new unwinding habit at night before I go to bed – and I was never a serious CCG player. Still, I cannot for the life of me beat the spiders in the story mode yet.


The King in Yellow – After finishing the first season of True Detectives, I decided to dive into Robert W. Chambers’ world here. His writing is so incredibly fresh after more than a hundred years. Can’t recommend this one enough.

Weapons of Mass Diplomacy

Weapons of Mass Diplomacy – Here’s another one I was late to, but Christophe Blain and Edward Gauvin did an absolutely stunning job with this graphic novel. Its expressive, animated visual language and insights into the sausage factory behind diplomatic decision-making made it one of the best reads I’ve picked up recently.

A ‘consistent Twitter experience’ doesn’t include LinkedIn feeds

Posted by – July 1, 2012

Twitter and LinkedIn both offered blog explanations and spin on Friday about Twitter’s drive to deliver (in the words of Twitter Group Product Manager Michael Sippey) “a consistent set of products and tools.” As it turns out, that goal does not include allowing LinkedIn to populate users’ feeds with tweets that are being pulled from Twitter accounts.

As of Friday, LinkedIn no longer displays tweets. Many users may be grateful for one less redundancy in their daily social media diet. Others will likely be annoyed by the extra step they’re now faced with when they want to use a tweet to start a LinkedIn group discussion. What’s obvious, evident and relevant to everyone, however, is the fact that Twitter is tightening up the reins on how tweets can be displayed.

As Sippey puts it, Twitter wants “developers to be able to build applications that run within Tweets,” not applications for tweets to run in. And there’s an important distinction to be made there.

It’s easy to understand why Twitter would want their content to be displayed and accessed anywhere with a consistent user experience, but the question now becomes how far they will go to restrict feeds and API calls. For instance, how long will Facebook continue to be able to receive tweet updates to users’ statuses? That seems like the most obvious next battleground to me. Or is there some important difference there that I’m missing?

KakaoTalk has a Barack Obama audio alert

Posted by – May 13, 2012

Photo credit: White House YouTube account

If you aren’t from Korea or don’t have anyone close to you who is, it’s entirely likely that you don’t know about KakaoTalk.

It’s an app (available for the iPhone and Android) that acts as an SMS-alternative messaging system. As I learned over the weekend, however, it also has an out-of-the-box Barack Obama voice alert.

Apparently, it was a huge deal when Obama named-dropped the app in a speech earlier this year. The clip of him saying the name “KakaoTalk” has since been repurposed as an alert option on KT’s menu.

Out of context, it’s rather hilarious. I may not use Kakao as much more than a soundboard before eventually deleting it from my iPhone in a few weeks—but for time being, I will play it often and squeeze it for all the laughs that it’s worth.

Pinterest use, growth and copyright issues

Posted by – March 22, 2012

Any doubts about Pinterest being the social media break-out success of the first half of 2012 were further challenged by the ComScore numbers discussed today at Poynter. February saw site visits shoot up 52 percent, which is just astounding. Personally, I continue to see a faster adoption rate among my friends and colleagues than I saw with Path, FourSquare or even Tumblr. That has been surprising. The variety of ways people have come up with for using their accounts has been even more interesting.

Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman points to MindShift, where educational strategies get highlighted. He also links to a fine list of newspapers on Pinterest. Notable examples include:

The Chicago Tribune, who shares boards with aspects of Chicago culture depicted through snippets from their photo archives
The Columbia Missourian, who shares photos and inside-the-office glimpses of its staff
The Guardian, which is all over the place

This brings me to my larger point.

The strangest aspect of Pinterest to me has always been the murky official place that pins are supposed to inhabit between two key stipulations in the site’s Terms of Service and etiquette recommendations. Every user is first of all expected to be “the sole and exclusive owner of all Member Content that you make available through the Site, Application and Services or you have all rights, licenses, consents and releases that are necessary to grant to Cold Brew Labs the rights in such Member Content.” I read this and assume that, “OK, I just need to stick photos I have taken or have obtained permission to post.” (This is not a condition that seems to apply to most pins.)

Then there is the other side of the sandwich regarding the header “Avoid Self Promotion”: “Pinterest is designed to curate and share things you love. If there is a photo or project you’re proud of, pin away! However, try not to use Pinterest purely as a tool for self-promotion.” So don’t pin only things that are yours.

I know I’m not the only or first person to point this out, but they really need to find a better way to position themselves. Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann does seem to be keenly aware of this condition, though, and acknowledged as much to Fortune, offering assurance that a ToS update is incoming.

I’m anxious to see what the wording looks like when all is said and done.

5 technologies explored in Shteyngart’s ‘Super Sad True Love Story’

Posted by – February 28, 2012

After finishing Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story a few weeks ago, I was struck by how intimately he had thought through the impact of technology on human relationships. His book anticipates the evolution of Facebook, as well as the descendants of devices such as the iPhone and yet-to-be-released Google glasses. The novel also picks apart the nuances of shared information, how credit scores and health records could define us publicly, and even what those details would mean in a world where biological immortality is an achievable (if prohibitively expensive) dream.

For tech geeks, as well as story lovers, there is a lot to digest in Shteyngart’s complex brink-of-collapse society. I wouldn’t want to spoil the political speculation and Chinese lending consequences that he also explores, but if you haven’t read SSTLS yet, here are five technologies that are present in the book and why the author’s vision for them may be worth your time.

1. Äppäräti, the PC evolved — As phones and tablets become more and more like out laptops and desktop PCs, the question of how many devices the average consumer will own and what they will look like is a valid one. In SSTLS, Shteyngart envisions something along the lines of Google’s glasses. There is a line at one point where a character makes fun of an outdated äppärät model by comparing it to an iPhone, clearly poking fun at how quickly our personal devices become outdated, but also positioning the äppärät as a replacement for smartphones. The gizmo is a networked link to the world, which also broadcasts information about the owner, whether they are looking for a restaurant or sizing up other singles in a bar. It’s the gateway to augmented reality fully realized.

2. GlobalTeens, the all-purpose network and communication platform — It wasn’t all that long ago that Facebook was just a site for college students looking to check out pictures of their friends and talk about classes. Shteyngart pokes fun at this evolution with SSTLS‘s Facebook analogue, which is called GlobalTeens. Although the name implies a young, immature audience, “Teening” (the verb for communicating over the network) is an activity that replaces instant messaging and email. If you want to call someone or talk to them in person, it means you want to “verbal.” The vocabulary from the book is hilarious and thought-provoking in this regard.

3. Socialized credit scores and health records, info habits that make “oversharing” seem like a word that only stodgy people use — Of all the practices and gadgets that change how people understand themselves in SSTLS, none are more eye-opening than the standard profiles available to complete strangers. You can imagine that single people are quite a bit more conscious of prospective mates’ credit scores in a world where everyone in the U.S. is over their heads in debt, but beyond that, everyone in the room can have a look at your health status and size up your probable lifespan. Most of these things would be totally doable via a smartphone app right now if users were willing, which just makes SSTL all the more believable.

4. The state of online shopping — Hand in hand with the äppärät, shopping for people who have money is a universally accessible option that allows purchases to be made anywhere and everywhere. There was also a brief moment where Lenny showcased the ease of cash transfers. Not wanting to accept money from Eunice’s father, he quickly transfers dollars straight into the man’s bank account. Services like Square and Paypal are already on top of options like this (and banks in many countries know that this is a convenience people want).

5. Post-Human Services, info habits that make “oversharing” seem like a word that stodgy people use — Lenny, the main character in SSTL, works for a company called Staatling-Wapachung, and his job is to sell life extension services to the world’s super-wealthy. Appropriately, the possibility of living forever impacts numerous other dimensions of day-to-day living. Everyone (including Lenny) seems bent on one-upping everyone else, devising a calculus of nutritional and financial choices that will let them live long enough to save up enough to afford extreme and indefinite life spans.

CES 2012 highlights that matter

Posted by – January 10, 2012

Ubuntu TV

Unfortunately, my work did not take me to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this year. I’ve been forced instead to keep up with announcements and displays through CNET, GigaOM and the Chicago Tribune’s Wailin Wong on Twitter, as well as a few other places. As I touched on a few weeks back, the intersections of mobile, TV and identity recognition are places that I am paying close attention to this year. Thus far, the attention-getters at CES have largely corroborated those expectations.

Ubuntu TV was an interesting development, however. It’s true that I am forever going to associate mainstream awareness of Ubuntu with a shameful 2009 story out of Wisconsin that you may remember. (Basically, a girl dropped out of college and blamed the operating system.) This story will always make me cringe, but if the Ubuntu brand is lucky, attention for its TV endeavor will outgrow the attention it received for that bizarre tale.

• The Roku Streaming Stick seems like something completely logical that was a long time coming. True to the trend of digital content boxes getting smaller and smaller, this thing is basically a box that’s the size of a thumb drive.

• I am mostly uninterested in control peripherals for the iPhone and tablets. “Super Crate Box” on iPad has recently made be reconsider that stance, though. Ion’s iCade Mobile is a sort of solution to button needs, even if it does make your device look like an Atari Lynx.

• Elsewhere, Razer unveiled its Project Fiona tablet, which I’m not sure I entirely understand. But hey, it’s got an i7 processor.

• Samsung has their new 55-inch Super OLED TV, meanwhile. It’s a little hard to appreciate much more than the product design through pictures on the Internet, and few things interest me less that 3-D TV capabilities, but I think it is notable that we’re now at the point where we’re talking about real TV sets with quad-core processors.

What will Federated Media’s WordPress deal offer bloggers?

Posted by – October 21, 2011

As someone who designed his first website with little to no HTML knowledge and a copy of Dreamweaver that was required for an undergraduate class many years ago, WordPress had a profound impact on how I understood website architecture and what was possible without in-depth familiarity with databases and PHP. I knew how to fiddle with a theme on my Blogger account to change banners, colors and column widths, but WordPress caused me to see content in a much different way. I’ve never used Google AdWords or Amazon ads personally, but I’m aware of how they work, and I generally perceive them as having had a similar impact on rookie desktop publishers’ access to advertising dollars (even on a micro level).

A new deal between Federated Media and that was announced this week made me curious about what kind of potential there is to approach that ad space on a different level, as well as how their partnership could affect how casual-to-intermediate-level desktop writers and publishers understand themselves and the content they are providing. I’ve heard accounts from blogger acquaintances of Google revoking AdWords privileges because of clearly articulated in-content calls for advertisement clicking (the idea being that such urges artificially affect reader behavior). This new deal would create a line of communication between anyone blogging on (not bloggers like me who have their content hosted elsewhere) and Federated Media, allowing three distinct activities to take place:

1) Advertisers will be able to pool curated content from bloggers. If I understand this correctly, it would mean that essentially brands would be able to appropriate praise and reviews from WordPressers, just as Facebook funnels Likes and Share activity out to its own advertisers and FB Page occupiers. 2) Bloggers will be given the opportunity to contribute “sponsored” posts. I’m not sure what the incentives will be, but this basically sounds like advertorial-for-hire work. 3) Brands will be able to target conversations. I’m the least clear on what this means, but it sounds like will someone be letting advertisers view actionable opportunities in terms of context and tone of discussions taking place in their network.

I’ll be anxious to see how sponsored posts appear and are tagged, as well as how such content gets viewed by Google in its search rankings. I would assume that if sponsorship could be identified, sponsored posts would lose a little value juice, but this is all hypothetical until the new initiative unrolls. claims to have more than 25 million hosted sites, though. I don’t what their combined traffic numbers are, but I’d be eager to see those numbers as well.

The big difference here is the way advertisements and content will be related. Previously, AdWords and Skimlinks advertising provided relatively un-intrusive, fly-on-the-webpage-style placement to sifon clicks. Now, however, content-makers are going to have incentives to write on specific topics and cater to ad clients. Is there going to be scalable compensation that makes it worthwhile for bloggers to spend an extra 30 minutes cranking out an advertorial post? Are there going to be clear opt-in/opt-out agreements? The whole deal definitely seems like something that will be worth following.