Boston

On Slashdot: a discussion of reporting and social media in the wake of the tragedy at the Boston marathon. In essence, the debate over the media coverage of the Boston situation is a continuation of a very old argument, between publications insisting the public must be informed and critics arguing that such coverage is tantamount to exploitation. The current state of media, in which publications have become more blatant about their hunt for pageviews and advertising dollars, plays into those critics’ arguments.

NPR, Part Deux

NPR’s All Things Considered blog was kind enough to quote from my Slashdot article about Yahoo’s acquisition of Summly, and whether a major tech firm shelling out $30 million for a news-aggregation app is yet another sign that a tech bubble is well and truly upon us. As I mention in the original piece, a lot of companies (Apple, Google, Facebook, etc.) have been spending quite a bit of coin on apps with relatively limited functionality, but that doesn’t mean we’re back in the heady days of the dot-com bubble; indeed, a lot of these buys are intended to scoop up promising talent, or keep an asset out of a rival’s hands.

SXSW, Scientology, and More

Your humble correspondent spent the past few days in Austin, Texas, eating his weight in grilled meats and listening to the tech luminaries at this year’s South by Southwest opine about everything from spaceflight to super-computers. For your reading pleasure: Elon Musk talking about SpaceX (including recent experiments in reusable rockets) and why he still thinks a certain New York Times reporter is a lying liar who lies; the one and only Nate Silver gets a little bitter about fame; Al Gore ends up a little hot under the collar about spider goats and genetic engineering; and Stephen Wolfram, a.k.a. the walking supercomputer, has a unified theory of Pretty Much Everything.

And because I was basically unable to stop writing, thanks to my continuous ingestion of caffeine and animal protein, I also covered the spread of mobile phones in Africa and how emotions figured into the design of Google Android (just two of several interesting SXSW panels). It’s all over on Slashdot.

In non-tech writing, The Washington Independent Review of Books (just redesigned!) has my review of Lawrence Wright’s “Going Clear,” while Circuit Gallery posted my short essay about Alejandro Cartagena’s Car Poolers series. Now someone please pry this espresso cup from my hand.

A Book Review (and More)

In this month’s The Washington Independent Review of Books: my review of Gavin Newsom’s “Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government.” California’s lieutenant governor talks about how technology can help citizens sidestep government bureaucracy and improve their communities.

From Slashdot: stories on Tesla Motors and Apple’s rumored “iWatch” timepiece, IBM’s Watson supercomputer adapted for cancer research, and much, much, much more; we need to feed the bottomless maw of the Internet with fresh material, after all.

How to Win an Election with Code Jockeys

Last year, a couple dozen software developers and engineers worked on a startup that lasted for eighteen months, one that involved shipping a whole lot of code under the most stressful conditions imaginable, and at the end of the whole process they had to shut down all the apps and wonderful data toys they’d spent so much time and money developing. The “startup” in question was Obama’s re-election campaign, and I had the chance to hear those developers and engineers tell the whole story. “The Billion-Dollar Startup: Inside Obama’s Campaign Tech” is over at SlashBI.

I also made an appearance earlier this week on HuffPo Live, participating in a roundtable about the FTC’s decision to not pursue an antitrust case against Google. The link to that segment is here. (Warning: I wave my hands quite a bit when I talk.)

Fresh Meat

Carrier Pigeon #8 is out, featuring my short story “They Go Boom” (illustrated by Kirsten Flaherty). It’s a heartwarming tale of Rust Belt decay, deer hunting, meth, and murder.

Meanwhile, from the various Slashdot Websites: articles on Apple manufacturing possibly headed back to the U.S., Microsoft’s unusual stab at a homegrown social network, and (not written by me) another in our series of interviews with data-center operators who endured through hurricane Sandy.

We’re Still Here

Hurricane Sandy came and went. There was flooding along the coast, and the power went out, and we had to siphon some gasoline to keep the cars running for yet another record-breaking day, but we’re all digging out. An image from Rockaway Beach, snapped a couple weeks back:

Being and Nothingness and Zombies

The Man sits in the café, smoking, transfixed by the concept of Being. He is conscious of his consciousness as he stares at his cigarette burning to ash, and conscious of the cigarette as a property in the world, and conscious of his attempt to recognize both his inner life and the external object. However, his consciousness does not extend to the window behind him, where a horde of zombies is feasting on the delicious brains of passersby.

The café waiter, Pierre, is not an inkwell. The latter is an object in itself, whereas the “waiter” is actually a living soul restricted by society to performing, between the hours of five and midnight, a limited set of actions such as sweeping the floors, making coffee, delivering croques-monsieur to the Man’s table in a timely fashion, and so on. Unless people realize their existence is separate from the image they project to the world, they will allow their work and social class to define them. But if Pierre is bitten by a zombie while taking his cigarette break, and transformed from a slightly snooty server into an undead automaton with a blind craving for the flesh of innocent victims, is he still capable of transcending his societal role and becoming a true human being? Such questions are foremost on the Man’s mind as he barricades himself in the café stockroom by shoving several cases of beer against the door, which Pierre is attempting to claw open.

When you come down to it, human beings have two choices: they can continue to seek fulfillment within the constraints of daily routine, or they can view themselves as absolutely free to do anything. That freedom only comes with the awareness that all obstacles to the unrestrained life exist only in our minds—unless you’re trapped in a small space by a swarm of ravenous revenants, in which case freedom is also a matter of how many sharp and/or heavy objects exist within easy reach. It’s unfortunate that your average café owner never feels the urge to embrace the Absurd in the form of a large chainsaw stocked beside the sugar and coffee. The Man settles on a cast-iron skillet as the surest means of metamorphosing the abstract idea of survival into existence. The door bursts apart to reveal shambling Pierre and his new friends, ready for an intense discussion of Negation and Nothingness.