The word “essay” comes from the French verb “essayer,” which means “to try.” An essay, in the original sense, is come thing you write to try to figure something out.

  • Paul Graham Hackers and Painters
August 13th, 2014   Tags:

Vacationland

Biological Boot Loader

Elon Musk wrote this earlier this week after mentioning Nick Bostrom’s new book.

I’ve often wondered the same thing, but never summed it up so cleverly. I need to read Superintelligence.

I’m not sure if Neil deGrasse Tyson’s tweet today is related, but I sure hope he’s right.

August 9th, 2014   Tags: , , ,

Warp Records have signed Nozinja, the father of Shangaan Electro. ‘Tsekeleke‘ is his first single. Totally awesome.

August 3rd, 2014   Tags: , ,

Sasha Frere-Jones profiles Brian Eno for The New Yorker:

“I have a trick that I used in my studio, because I have these twenty-eight-hundred-odd pieces of unreleased music, and I have them all stored in iTunes,” Eno said during his talk at Red Bull. “When I’m cleaning up the studio, which I do quite often—and it’s quite a big studio—I just have it playing on random shuffle. And so, suddenly, I hear something and often I can’t even remember doing it. Or I have a very vague memory of it, because a lot of these pieces, they’re just something I started at half past eight one evening and then finished at quarter past ten, gave some kind of funny name to that doesn’t describe anything, and then completely forgot about, and then, years later, on the random shuffle, this thing comes up, and I think, Wow, I didn’t hear it when I was doing it. And I think that often happens—we don’t actually hear what we’re doing. . . . I often find pieces and I think, This is genius. Which me did that? Who was the me that did that?”

July 16th, 2014   Tags:

In this new, online-exclusive video for Criterion, Wes Anderson, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, and Willem Dafoe reminisce about the challenging conditions under which they made The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

Man I love The Life Aquatic. See check out Criterion’s behind the scenes photos from the set.

June 2nd, 2014   Tags:

Kevin Kelly for Wired:

A massively surveilled world is not a world I would design (or even desire), but massive surveillance is coming either way because that is the bias of digital technology and we might as well surveil well and civilly.

And then it gets really interesting.

But if today’s social media has taught us anything about ourselves as a species it is that the human impulse to share trumps the human impulse for privacy. So far, at every juncture that offers a technological choice between privacy or sharing, we’ve tilted, on average, towards more sharing, more disclosure. We shouldn’t be surprised by this bias because transparency is truly ancient. For eons humans have lived in tribes and clans where every act was open and visible and there were no secrets. We evolved with constant co-monitoring. Contrary to our modern suspicions, there wouldn’t be a backlash against a circular world where we constantly spy on each other because we lived like this for a million years, and — if truly equitable and symmetrical — it can feel comfortable.

There is no question that a “massively surveilled” world is coming. I would argue it’s already here. I too am nervous about it. KK giving it (ancient) historical context is both fascinating and oddly reassuring.

May 14th, 2014   Tags: ,

Someday World” is collaborative record between Brian Eno and Underworld’s Karl Hyde. Warp records is releasing it on May 5th, but in the meantime you can stream it on NPR.

I’ve listening to it twice so far. While I like it, I much prefer the harder, more krautrock instrumental jams that they feature in this studio film.

May 3rd, 2014   Tags: ,

If you can get past the cringe-worthy introduction, “Vibe: Like you’re a few hours into a Ritalin high”, there are some interesting tidbits about the origins of Raster Noton in this VICE interview with Olaf Bender.

Also check out the two albums they picked tracks from. Both are excellent.

Super.Trigger by Frank Bretchneider
Recur by Emptyset

April 24th, 2014   Tags: ,

Sotheby’s interviews British artist Michael Taylor who painted Boy with Apple for The Grand Budapest Hotel.

March 29th, 2014   Tags:

Of the twenty I have only read parts of one, A Pattern Language. I guess I have some reading to do.

Read more about Long Now’s Manual for Civilization and see Stewart Brand’s list.

March 5th, 2014   Tags: ,

My Favorite Albums of 2013

2013 was a weird year in music for me. The last albums by My Bloody Valentine, The Knife, and Zomby are some of my all time favorites. I was super excited that they all released new work this year, but the followups were kind of meh, pretty much unlistenable, and just not very good, respectively.

Luckily some really amazing records were released this year. I’m not a music critic, so I’m linking to the review that best summarizes each album for me as well as a representative (not necessarily my favorite) song.

R Plus Seven

Oneohtrix Point Never – R Plus Seven

I’ve really liked everything Daniel Lopatin has released as Oneohtrix Point Never, but R Plus Seven is the first album I have loved. Absolutely incredible.

Review: XLR8R
Listen to: Boring Angel


Immunity

Jon Hopkins – Immunity

When I first heard Immunity I thought it sounded too “techno-y”. Then I listened again, and again, and again. Immunity is a beautiful, mesmerizing album.

Review: XLR8R
Listen to: Collider


Rival Dealer

Burial – Rival Dealer

A long term favorite of mine who snuck in an EP right at the end of the year. There are more of the dark, sparse cityscapes he is known for, but Rival Dealer adds a surprisingly heartfelt and deeply personal narrative this time.

Review: Stereo Gum
Listen to: Rival Dealer


Exai

Autechre – Exai

Autechre is my jam band. I can never get enough. I would pay a lot of money for high quality recordings of their shows. I love them. So when they released Exai, a double album, last February I was elated. It is incredible. I’ll be listening to this record for the next 30 years.

Review: ResidentAdvisor
Listen to: prac-f


Virgins

Time Hecker – Virgins

Tim Hecker turns in a more acoustic direction and the result is an album of incredible depth and space. He keeps getting better with age. I love this record.

Review: Spin
Listen to: Amps, Drugs, Harmonium


Nothing Was The Same

Drake – Nothing Was The Same

There’s some garbage on this album, there’s some funny stuff on this album, and then there is “Hold On, We’re Going Home”. I’ve listened to it multiple times daily since I heard it this summer. It is absolutely brilliant. The best song of the year without question.

Review: Time Yeah I just linked to a hip hop review on Time.
Listen to: Hold On, We’re Going Home

Warning: Whatever you do don’t watch the official video. It’s beyond horrible.

January 10th, 2014   Tags:

Excellent interview with Autechre, including a track by track breakdown of their new EP L-event.

December 8th, 2013   Tags:

Baxter

I got to try Baxter, the first robot from Rodney Brooks’s new company Rethink Robotics, yesterday at my warehouse.

Baxter is an amazing price of machinery. He’s easy to program (the movement in the video took only a few minutes to program), safe to be around, and really fun to interact with.

While he wasn’t a great match for my current project, I was blown away by his capabilities and will hopefully be purchasing one soon.

This is the future.

November 9th, 2013   Tags: , ,

Buckminster Fuller Time Magazine 1964

buckminster_fuller_time

I bought this copy of Time from January 10, 1964 on eBay about ten years ago. I am finally going to clean it up and print a larger version for my office.

Here is an exerpt of the article “The Dymaxion American”.

This might be my all time favorite illustration.

September 15th, 2013   Tags:

What I Would Do With Nintendo

Wii-U-GamePadThe recent uproar about the 2DS and specifically John Gruber’s post that they should give in and start making iOS games has a lot of people speculating on what Nintendo needs to do to stay alive. While I read a lot of ideas, this post is mostly in response to John Gruber’s “Nintendo in Motion”, John Siracusa’s “Nintendo in Crisis”, and Marco Arment’s “Mutex Nintendo”.

Up until Gruber revisited his admittedly terse blurb with a longer post, all the arguments I read suggested Nintendo become a software only company, or hunker down and continue along the same path. His suggestion that they do both was a revelation and really got me thinking.

Many people want Nintendo to just dump hardware, but lumping both hardware platforms together is foolish. The Wii U is a miserable failure in a long series of disappointments, while the 3DS is a profitable and popular device in a growing sector. I see a very logical divide between the two. On the software side Nintendo has made a unique differentiation between old games (sold on the Virtual Console) and new games. In this article I’m proposing a way to take advantage of those divisions to develop a presence on iOS/Android and other consoles without totally “selling the farm” and quiting the hardware business.

If I were to take over for Iwata tomorrow, this is what I would do:

  1. Kill the Wii U
  2. Make the Virtual Console available on iOS and other consoles
  3. Double down on the 3DS / future portable

1. KILL THE WII U

Blurry Vision

Every single selling point of the Wii U has been a failure. It was initially pitched as a half generational step above the current Xbox and PS3. While opinions differ, the Wii U is at best of similar power to the current generation. The revolutionary GamePad and extra graphics power were going to make it the perfect home for Xbox and PS3 ports in addition to Nintendo’s always successful first party games. Thinking that gamers would pay a premium for old ports when the originals are in dollar bins was nuts. Third party developers are moving away from the platform fast. Oh, and the GamePad? You can only use one at a time and the batteries last three hours.

To make matters worse Nintendo employed the kitchen sink approach to the Wii U controller options. There’s a GamePad that’s like a tablet only crappier, and you can use your WiiMote (but only the Wii plus versions!) and there is an Xbox style “pro controller” as well! No one knows what the hell is going on with this thing. Even people who own them have a difficult time explaining the system. Which games work with which control schemes? I don’t know, and your average soccer Mom sure as hell doesn’t either. Remember the halcyon days of seeing a woman bowling with a WiiMote in a TV commercial and completely understanding Nintendo’s vision? That’s over now.

But worst of all is the name. Possibly knowing they had a turd on deck, Nintendo tried to piggyback off the Wii’s success and named it the Wii U (because it’s at college?). The problem is tons of people think the GamePad is an accessory for the original Wii. Iwata says the name has been disastrous for their marketing.

Wii U Development Time is Killing Them

Miyamoto admits Nintendo completely underestimated the switch from SD on the Wii to HD on the Wii U. That explains why it’s been out for nearly a year with no blockbuster software. No major Mario game, no new Zelda, no Smash Brothers, no Mario Cart – Nintendo has made these games dozens of times yet has failed to get a single one out in the first year.

The broken development cycle means that going into this Fall’s new console market, Nintendo’s tent pole games are Pikmin 3 (3rd version of a cult hit RTS), and Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD (HD remake of a 10 year old Zelda game). That’s not going to cut it.

Xbox One and PS4

The video game news cycle has already passed Nintendo by. This Fall there will be two new consoles that will destroy the Wii U in technical ability, software library, non-game entertainment options, and online capabilities. If Nintendo hasn’t captured significant mind share by now, doing so will be much more difficult once the new Sony and Microsoft machines are out.

With the exception of the Wii, Nintendo has been losing ground on consoles since the launch of the Nintendo 64 in 1996. As much as I hate to say it, I would stop throwing good money after bad and kill the Wii U immediately.

2. MAKE THE VIRTUAL CONSOLE AVAILABLE ON IOS AND OTHER CONSOLES

Virtual Console as Guinea Pig

Microsoft and Sony also sell ports of their older games on modern systems. Their older games are sold alongside modern digital releases in the same e-shops. From the beginning Nintendo chose to sell older ports under the Virtual Console brand that has now spanned two generations and six years. Sites report “What’s out on the Virtual Console” instead of just listing virtual releases.

If I were running Nintendo I would take advantage of the Virtual Console braaaaand, immediately release a Nintendo Virtual Console app for iOS, and start porting as many old NES, SNES, Game Boy, and GBA games as possible. The controls for the older games would be less difficult on touch screens. The cheap cost of porting (relative to new development) plus the the power of nostalgia should make Nintendo a TON of money even in the $3-7 price range.

Gruber may be right that new iOS games could be released at a higher price point. iOS sales charts suggest otherwise, and other popular developers (namely Square Enix) have failed to sell well above $10. I would experiment with the Virtual Console first. Nintendo would certainly get an awful lot of data very quickly.

I would also consider moving the console version of the Virtual Console to Xbox and PS3 in the exact same way. The Wii U Virtual Console games are already running in HD.

Low Risk

If for some reason this fails then let the Virtual Console brand take the fall. If it succeeds (I think it will) then Nintendo could use it to push people towards its hardware based flagship titles, and / or start developing new games from the ground up for these platforms like Gruber suggests.

3. DOUBLE DOWN ON THE 3DS

Advantage Nintendo

Like Apple, developing hardware and software has always been integral to Nintendo’s culture. I agree with John Siracusa and Marco Arment that they should remain a hardware company. And there is no question that physical controls allow for much deeper game play. Not to mention the fact that Nintendo commonly makes 30+ hour mobile games that have to carry a $30-$40 price point.

As the explosion of smartphones and tablets has shown, computing is moving toward mobile. This is a huge advantage to Nintendo over their gaming rivals Sony (strong console, mediocre handheld), Microsoft (Windows mobile isn’t working), and Valve (zero mobile).

Unlike their consoles, Nintendo’s handhelds have always been popular, and are trending up rather than down. The original DS is the 2nd highest selling video game system of all time, second only to the Sony PlayStation 2. The original Game Boy sold more than the NES and SNES combined, and the Game Boy Advance (the weakest Game Boy ever) sold more than either the Xbox or PS3. These are very popular systems that move a ton of software.

Nintendo needs to take advantage of their aptitude for crafting fun and unique mobile experiences and refocus their resources on improving mobile hardware.

Weak Points

Siracusa is right that Nintendo absolutely needs to improve the usability of its e-commerce experience. It is terrible. They also need to either find a way to make their version of social gaming work better (even though as a father I applaud their dedication to security) or give up on playing cop and open it up.

And Gruber is right that the current screen resolution on the 3DS is horrible. Even free mobile phones have Retina screens now. That has to change fast.

Get back into the living room?

Without a TV based console Nintendo should develop a cheap piece of TV connected hardware that will enable the future DS to push games to the TV and use the handheld as a WII U style GamePad. Airplay has been out for years. The Wii U does this today in reverse. This capability should be well within Nintendo’s skill set.

But…

I highly doubt Nintendo will kill the Wii U anytime soon. Even though the 3DS is doing quite well today it launched (with a lousy lineup) to extremely bad sales. A price drop and loyalty program gave it the jolt it needed to become competitive. Maybe the Wii U price cut announced last week with be the catalyst Nintendo needs to get moving.

But with the Xbox One and PS4 crushing them on the high end, and iOS and Android absolutely dominating mobile gaming, Nintendo’s famously patient approach may end up serving them very, very poorly. I really worry that by spreading themselves too thin they will lose on all fronts. I certainly hope they figure out how to stay relevant.

September 3rd, 2013   Tags: , , ,

The Neem Karoli Baba Ashram Chai Recipe

Chai Recipe

In the late summer of 2000 I moved to Taos, New Mexico to build Earthships for a couple of months.

When I got there I found an awesome little apartment in a converted barn on the north end of town. I didn’t know anyone in NM going into it, and once there all the people I met lived in the Earthship community about 20 minutes away. So on the weekends I would wander around town and often ended up hanging out at the ashram there. The Neem Karoli Baba Ashram.

I didn’t know much about ashrams or Hinduism, but the people were friendly and interesting, and the food was delicious. I knew so little that I was really surprised when the place went nuts one day when a guy in a wheelchair rolled in. Turns out it was Ram Daas.

There was always an enormous kettle of chai on the stove filling the air with with most delicious spicy smell. I can’t remember who gave me the recipe, but I wrote it down on half an index card and then lost it for nearly 10 years. A few months ago I took an old suitcase to Salvation Army and luckily checked the front pocket before dropping it off. I was elated to find my stained and now yellowed recipe.

While I would rather lose a finger than give up my iPhone it’s kind of sad that I’m not creating notes like this to lose and then joyously find anymore.

If you like chai, or are chai curious, make this recipe. It’s awesome.

Neem Karoli Baba Ashram Chai

Ingredients:

  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorns
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole ginger
  • 10 ounces milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon loose black tea

Directions:

Put in pan, heat to boil. Let simmer 20 minutes.

August 2nd, 2013   Tags: , ,

From Media Temple to Digital Ocean

I just moved this site (exact same WordPress install) from Media Temple’s $20/month GRID hosting to Digital Ocean’s smallest $5/mo VPS. The speed difference in insane.

Media Temple – 10.2 sec avg load time
Digital Ocean – ~300ms avg load time

That’s roughly 30 times faster.

June 18th, 2013   Tags:

Daniel Dennett on Evolution

Evolution is one of the central themes of this book, as of all my books, for the simple reason that it is the central, enabling process not only of life but also of knowledge and learning and understanding. If you attempt to make sense of the world of ideas and meanings, free will and morality, art and science and even philosophy itself without a sound and quite detailed knowledge of evolution, you have one hand tied behind your back.

May 23rd, 2013   Tags: , ,

A Dead Simple Website Controlled Light

An interesting project to control a light with a webserer by Rodrigo Neri popped up on Hacker News recently. While I liked his solution I did basically the same thing in under an hour for $50 three weeks ago. I thought I should share.

The Goal
I work at an e-commerce company where we fulfill the orders ourselves. The guys who pick orders generally do so in large batches, then work on other projects during the day. The warehouse manager requested a light that would turn on when the order queue hit a certain threshold to let the guys know it was worth stopping other jobs to pick orders. The manager wouldn’t have to bark orders at them, and they wouldn’t have to keep checking the status screen of our picking station.

The Magic
I was behind the idea and started thinking about using some type of Arduino controlled device. Then I remembered IFTTT.

I first heard about IFTTT (If This Then That) from Merlin Mann a while ago and signed up for an account. I remembered that they had a hook for the newish Belkin WeMo home control devices. I picked up one of the basic switches at my local Best Buy on the way home for $50.

The Steps
This is literally it.

  1. I plugged in the switch and set it up via my iPhone.
  2. I registered the switch with IFTTT (took about 30 seconds).
  3. I added my own if statement to the top of my order status code.
  4. I added a function to send an email with subject “#on” to my IFTTT address when the threshold is hit and #off when the queue hits zero.
  5. I created two recipes, one for on, and one for off on IFTTT.
  6. I pushed it to production.
  7. Done.

I couldn’t believe how simple it was. Less than and hour start to finish. The system has been running for a three weeks with zero problems.

Email?
My original plan was to have an rss feed of the order count for IFTTT to read but their feed widget only updates every 15 minutes whereas the email widget is immediate.

The downside is I’m emailing IFTTT quite often during the day. They don’t seem to mind.

Hue?
The guys like the light so much there have been requests for additional colors or lights to convey additional info. I was tempted to mess around with the Phillips Hue which has an official API. Instead I have decided to use Panic’s new awesome Status Board app to display the order light as well as a lot of other stuff.

May 1st, 2013   Tags: , , ,
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