Life Without a Laptop
Published on February 4, 2013 by guest author: Dan Schneider

"Because I can!" might be as good an answer I could give to the question "Why write on an iPad?" But my real answer would be because my seven-year-old poured juice on my laptop last weekend and fried the logic board.

I could say that the last few days without a computer have been a blissful return to a simpler life with fewer distractions, but that is not true. I miss it. I miss knowing that I can get back to the work I started a week or three years ago. I miss seeing my kids' faces in the photos fading up on the screen saver. It makes me realize just how much of my life depends on my computer working well.

OK, that's a bit of an overstatement. My life as a stay-at-home dad doesn't depend on the computer all that much per se, but there’s something about not having my computer which makes me feel cut adrift.

Perhaps the predictions of how people will outsource their memories and thought processes to computers and smart phones are really coming true and I am starting to see the symptoms with the removal of my digital memory. I could recreate some of what’s on my computer, but there’s work dating back from college, which, although probably not useful in any real way, I want to keep around. From time to time I find myself going back to it just to see how I wrote a poem or story then or how I thought about the courses I studied.


Saying "I Miss You" on a Moron Phone
Published on November 5, 2012 by guest author: Margaret Hartley

Since our teen daughter graduated and moved away from home, we’ve been mailing postcards and packages, sending emails and making phone calls. And we’ve resorted to low-tech forms of high-tech communication, which generally means an inept mom attempting to send a text message on a little pay-as-you-go cell phone — the kind you can buy for under $10 and then add minute-units by buying a card at the supermarket.

I’ve had that little phone for years, primarily to prevent my husband from panicking when I’m heading home from work on a snowy or icy night. In the past I rarely remembered to use it — or to charge it, or buy time for it, or to take it with me. On a snowy night I’d rather stop at a convenience store to use the pay phone, and maybe get a cup of coffee, too, and take the time to walk around a little and scrape the ice off my windshield.

That was then. Now I take the phone with me wherever I go in case I happen to be in a place that has cell service, which is pretty much anywhere on Earth except where I live. Because my daughter might need to get a hold of me.

I approached texting slowly, only after I figured out I couldn’t hear anyone talking through the little phone if I happened to be in a noisy place, such as anywhere but the top of a mountain. I’d be in New York City, taking the daughter to ballet auditions, and the phone would ring. I’d panic first, unable to get it out of the pocket of my backpack before it stopped ringing, or unable to figure out what button to press to find out who was calling. But even after I finally figured out how to answer it, it didn’t matter.

“What?” I’d yell. “I can’t hear anything!”

How could I? Generally there was a subway rumbling under ground, a helicopter flying overhead and a couple of guys jackhammering through the sidewalk right next to me.


Tetris and PTSD
Published on April 26, 2012 by Sara Foss

When my friend Kori committed suicide, I spent a lot of time playing Tetris. It helped me relax. Which made me think that maybe Tetris was good for the soul.

Anyway, new research suggests that playing Tetris might help people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.

Based on my own Tetris experiences, I believe it.

Click here to learn more.

Do We Really Need Cars That Drive Themselves?
Published on January 26, 2012 by Sara Foss

From Wired comes a story about efforts to develop cars that drive themselves. Such vehicles would presumably allow their owners to do stuff like read, surf the web and play cars on long trips. I like driving, so I have mixed feelings about the whole concept of a car that can drive itself.

But there are other reasons to feel conflicted about cars that drive themselves. A friend of mine rolled her eyes when I mentioned cars that drive themselves. In her mind, some of the money being used to develop cars that drive themselves would be better spent on public transportation, particularly high speed rail. And she's right! I really like taking the train. I'd do it more if it were more available, as well as affordable. (Amtrak doesn't cut it, sorry).

Blogger Amanda Marcotte has similar thoughts on the matter, writing:

"These companies are spending a lot of money on researching self-driving cars to address the desire of people to be able to commute without having to drive. But there's already a superior solution to that problem, one that addresses both the desire to not drive and it's better for the environment: public transportation. People don't need self-driving cars! They need better trains and buses, and more accessible trains and buses. Imagine if the resources being devoted to self-driving cars were instead aimed at expanding the public transportation infrastructure and making in more comfortable. For instance, Vanderbilt is right that people's desire to surf the net instead of watch the road could incline them to want to avoid driving to work, if that were an option. Well, why not put high-speed wi-fi internet on all public transportation, and then advertise the shit out of it? Instead of spending money on developing self-driving cars, what about high-speed trains? What about more subway systems? There's a serious 'reinventing the wheel' problem here."

Marcotte is right, but it doesn't matter. Driverless cars might sound like something out of a science-fiction movie, but the will to develop them actually exists. High speed rail, on the other hand, is just one of those weird luxuries they have in Europe. There's no glamor in bringing high speed rail to the U.S. But driverless cars! That's another story. Driverless cars, you see, are cool. And that's why we're much more likely to have driverless cars than high speed rail.

Published on January 18, 2012 by Sara Foss

Wondering why you couldn't get on Wikipedia or Craigslist today?

Gawker provides a handy primer. Click here to read it.

Annoying Ringtone Halts Philharmonic
Published on January 12, 2012 by Sara Foss

This is why I keep my phone on vibrate.

And why everybody else should, too!

Steve Jobs and LSD
Published on October 9, 2011 by Sara Foss

There's a lot to say about Steve Jobs, but some of the more interesting pieces written in the wake of his death have focused on a lesser-known facet of his life: his use of hallucinogenic drugs. Apparently, Jobs described taking acid as one of the most important experiences of his life, and credited the drug for his success. A piece in Time magazine titled "Steve Jobs Had LSD. We Have the iPhone" explains:

"Days before Apple founder Steve Jobs died, the New York Times ran an op-ed proclaiming that 'You Love Your iPhone. Literally.' Our infatuation with our iPhones is not mere addiction, but genuine love, the piece asserted, because brain scans proved it. There's no doubt that Jobs' computers were the first of their kind to engender such widespread and ardent passion. So why did 45 neuroscientists write an angry letter to the Times disputing the science behind the contention?

The paradoxes of love have perhaps never been clearer than in our relationships with Apple products — the warm, fleshy desire we feel for such cold, hard, glassy objects. But Jobs knew how to inspire material lust. He knew that consumers want something that not only sparkles and awes, but also feels accessible, easy to use, an object with which we want to merge and to feel one and the same.


Too Much Email?
Published on September 29, 2011 by Sara Foss

Chris Anderson has an interesting piece in the Washington Post about the "problem" of email overload.

I put the word problem in quotes, because while I'm sure email overload is a problem for a somewhat famous media figure, I doubt it's a huge concern for the average joe. For instance, Anderson writes, "One afternoon, after yet another tiring sparring session with the 200-plus messages in my inbox, my colleague Jane Wulf and I made a list of the most burdensome e-mails we’d encountered that day." I get a fair amount of email, but not 200-plus messages a day. And if a message seems particularly burdensome, I delete it. Or ignore it. Most of my contacts seem to have the same attitude.

Anyway, Anderson and Wulf created something called the Email Charter, to help people deal with the vexing problem of too much email.


Game Over Used to Mean Something
Published on August 23, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at Kotaku, Maria Bustillos writes a fairly thought-provoking and philosophical piece about video game deaths, and how they help us experience "not only the thrill of danger and survival, but the ecstasy of reincarnation."

In her piece, titled "How Video Game Deaths Help Us Live," Bustillos makes an observation I've made before: It's much harder to die in a video game than it used to be. I'm sure there are people out there who think this is a good thing, but I'm not one of them. I rarely play video games now, but when I do, it never feels like the stakes are as high, or like I'm doing anything that really matters. Whereas Super Mario Brothers often felt like a matter of life and death, as well as a major challenge. My goal was to beat Super Mario without jumping any levels, and so I strove to earn as many extra lives as I could; I didn't want to run out of lives and have to start all over again.

Over the weekend, I played a skydiving game on the Wii with a small boy, and I couldn't for the life of me figure out what the point of it was, because death was never a threat. I earned some points, and tried to figure out how to control my skydiver character, but my heart just wasn't in it. Give me a fire-breathing dragon and a princess to rescue, and I might find it in myself to care.

Why Super Mario Rules
Published on August 4, 2011 by Sara Foss

I hardly ever play video games, but if I did, I'd be a retro-gamer - someone primarily interested in the games of yesteryear. I used to think I was just a technological luddite, but I've since learned that there are lots of people like me - people who think Super Mario 1 and 3 are among the best video games ever made, regardless of how much the graphics and overall complexity of video games have improved. I still have my old Nintendo, and if could figure out how to hook it up to my flat-screen TV, I'd probably still be playing Mario, Tetris and Megaman.

If you love Super Mario as much as I do, check out this interview with Jeff Ryan, author of "Super Mario: How Nintendo conquered America."