Sure, Slack is fun, but that’s not all that needs to be said

A screenshot from a Slack demo.

A screenshot from a Slack demo.

Do you Slack? I didn’t used to, but I do now. And I’m pretty sure I’m getting more done and having more fun because of it. I like Slack. (So does the Church of the SubGenius, but that’s different.) Slack is spreading. If you don’t know about Slack but you use computers and work with more than a handful of people, you probably should know about it. Continue reading

Passing glances: making news pay, making Jobs sing, making protest work

Copies of the Times emerge from a cutting and folding machine, September 1942

How the news was made: Copies of the Times emerge from a cutting and folding machine, September 1942. (Photo by Marjory Collins)

When the Internet was young(er), publications, like other businesses, began establishing outposts there. This now seems like something of a recap of the original frontier experience: the Internet was fresh ground, unexplored territory, ripe for shaping, settling, colonizing, conquering. It may be going too far to say the whole thing exemplifies Frederick Jackson Turner’s Frontier Thesis (which in any case is still contested), but the expansion into the online realm has certainly been critical for periodicals.

Curiously, while most other businesses went to the Internet to sell, periodicals didn’t. Continue reading

The Echo Look: help from Amazon for the style-disadvantaged?

The Amazon Echo, which came out in 2015, is a smart speaker that responds to voice input. Amazon just released an update, called Echo Look, which not only includes the Alexa voice-response system but also has a camera, so it can both listen to you and look at you. It’s designed to sit in your bedroom and serve as some kind of fashion aide. Here’s how Jessi Hempel of Backchannel described it at the start of a short discussion: “Speak to the white oblong assistant, and it will take selfies of your outfits and let you consult style experts to improve them.”

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Beyond bad news: There’s more to the story of Yahoo, Twitter, and Volkswagen

It’s the mid-90s, and I’m visiting a colleague’s house after work. He has an account with an Internet service provider; I don’t, and he has offered to show me what’s out there. So he fires up his computer, and we chat over the hiss, squawk, and chime of two modems flirting by phone. Once they’ve mated, they fall silent, and we turn our attention to the Netscape Navigator web browser. My pal has already discovered and bookmarked a number of sites on the World Wide Web that interest him. He shows me a few, and then I, impatient for a broader view, ask him if there’s a directory of some kind, like the ever-growing lists of computerized bulletin-board systems. How do you find a new place to go on the web, if you don’t know about it ahead of time? Simple, he says, taking us to a page with the excitable name “Yahoo!” at the top. The whole thing is simply a handcrafted list of other websites, organized into categories—just what we want.

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Going places: on location, VR sickness, and travel

Where are you? The question is both easy to answer and not; it depends on what you think I mean. Maybe, dear reader, you would tell me you’re in Scottsdale, Arizona, or maybe you’d say you’re at home, or maybe you feel yourself to be inside your body, inside your head in fact, somewhere behind your eyes and between your ears. All these things and more—such as “I’m in my 62nd year” or “I’m in a good place right now”—are ways of saying where we are. You might even think to yourself, I’m in the first paragraph of your essay, waiting to see where you’re going with this. (I’m with you on that.)

Where am I? Continue reading

Sunday miscellany: Spinoza, website ads, and a viral outbreak

A possible goal: non ridere, non lugere, neque detestari, sed intelligere (not to laugh, to cry, or to condemn, but to understand). From Baruch Spinoza, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus.


From something that happened earlier today: It’s funny but kind of stupid when a timed pop-up ad gets in the way of a timed display ad on a web page. If I were one of those clever smarty-pants web writers who’s always talking about things that happen on the web, I might try to work up an essay about this. Continue reading