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Articles | Lists, Questions and Culinary Delights

The History Channel

Over the past few months I’ve transitioned from active management of the History Here mobile app’s coverage, and have instead been writing short, delicious nuggets for the History Channel’s website, History.com. Here are a few links to my recent work there:

Listicles

Culinary History

Short-form Q&A

Essays | We’re All Makers Now

My friend Andy Crouch tapped me to write this piece on 3D printers as an out-of-left-field addition to the multiyear “This is Our City” series he’s overseen for Christianity Today.

In a storefront in Manhattan’s NoHo neighborhood, a row of matte-black, LED-lit machines are tracing out the future from spools of colored filament. The machines are 3-D printing what appear to be plastic bracelets, but which could be anything you can dream up or download, as long as it’s small and plastic. This is the Makerbot Store, one part temple, one part learning center. It’s designed to sell people the idea that the promise of the computer and Internet revolutions lies in physical goods as much as digital ones. On the wall, an enlarged cover from Wired magazine shows Makerbot co-founder Bre Pettis. He’s proudly holding the just-announced Replicator 2, under the headline, “This Machine Will Change the World.”

Read more at Christianity Today

City Silhouettes by Jasper James

Beijing-based photographer Jasper James has a wonderful series of portraits of people reflected against cityscapes. The images are all composed in camera—no compositing or Photoshopping beyond simple contrast adjustments. The result—giant humans superimposed on tiny buildings—inverts the usual urban experience, where the buildings dwarf each individual.

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from “City Silhouettes,” by Jasper James, 2010 :: via Feature Shoot and Petapixel

Originally published at culture-making.com.

Dinner with strangers

The author of How Proust Can Change Your Life discovers that religion can too.

Religions, he thinks, have the buttons and know how to use them. His book considers the Catholic mass, early Christianitiy’s ritual of agape or love feasts, and Jewish Passover rituals to explore how religions encouraged us to overcome fear of strangers and create communities. He then tentatively imagines a so-called “agape restaurant” where, instead of dining with like-minded friends, you would be invited to eat with strangers. It would be the antithesis of Facebook.


from “Alain de Botton: a life in writing,” by Stuart Jeffries, The Guardian, 20 January 2012 :: via more than 95 theses

Originally published at culture-making.com.

Forever Bicycles, by Ai Weiwei

Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei has an exhibition running through the end of this month at the Taipei Fine Art Museum—his first large-scale solo show, apparently, in the Chinese world. The show features a wide range of works in the border zone between sculpture and found object assembly. The knockout piece is undoubtedly this one, a layered vertical labyrinth of 1200 bicycles (sans seats and handlebars). The exhibition, incidentally, is titled Absent because Ai remains under a travel ban in China and won’t be able to attend.

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from “Forever Bicycles,” by Ai Weiwei, Taipei Art Museum, 2011 :: via Co.Design

Originally published at culture-making.com.

fictional landscape, by Kyle Kirkpatrick

I’m pondering why this example of book-carving seems more attractive than the standard version. I think it’s because the books wind up resembling not just a landscape, but also an architect’s model of a landscape, with its stairstep topographical-map layers.

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Originally published at culture-making.com.

The right to a horse

One of the key figures in the creation of the Internet suggests we should be careful about enshrining any technology as a human right. That it is tempting to do so says a lot about many technologies' ability to enable incredible (and deeply humanizing) things, but also about their tendency to seem more irresistible and permanent than they really are.

[T]echnology is an enabler of rights, not a right itself. There is a high bar for something to be considered a human right. Loosely put, it must be among the things we as humans need in order to lead healthy, meaningful lives, like freedom from torture or freedom of conscience. It is a mistake to place any particular technology in this exalted category, since over time we will end up valuing the wrong things. For example, at one time if you didn’t have a horse it was hard to make a living. But the important right in that case was the right to make a living, not the right to a horse. Today, if I were granted a right to have a horse, I’m not sure where I would put it.


from “Internet Access Is Not a Human Right,” by Vint Cerf, The New York Times, 4 January 2012 :: via Wired.com

Originally published at culture-making.com.

New Years Rulin’s

From a list of folk singer Woody Guthrie's 1942 New Year's resolutions: a collection of low and high goals. The second page gets more metaphorical and far-seeing ("19. KEEP HOPING MACHINE RUNNING"; "31. LOVE EVERYBODY"). The item before "PLAY AND SING GOOD" strikes a pang: "SEND MARY AND KIDS MONEY", a reminder of the family he'd left behind for the rambling' lifestyle. Culture-making, however great, always comes at a cost. This July will mark the 100th anniversary of Woody's birth.

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from "New Year's Rulin's," by Woody Guthrie, 31 January1942, from the archives of the Woody Guthrie Foundation :: via Lists of Note

Originally published at culture-making.com.

Rethinking one’s own position as a creator

Is a composer like an architect, directing every detail of the music, from its structure to its finish? That, says Brian Eno, is the traditional view (never mind my architect friends’ complaints about the impossibility of getting builders to fully follow the blueprints). As you might guess, Eno prefers another approach, less about wresting control than laying a groundwork and then seeing what grows.

And essentially the idea there is that one is making a kind of music in the way that one might make a garden.  One is carefully constructing seeds, or finding seeds, carefully planting them and then letting them have their life.  And that life isn’t necessarily exactly what you’d envisaged for them.  It’s characteristic of the kind of work that I do that I’m really not aware of how the final result is going to look or sound.  So in fact, I’m deliberately constructing systems that will put me in the same position as any other member of the audience.  I want to be surprised by it as well.  And indeed, I often am.

What this means, really, is a rethinking of one’s own position as a creator.  You stop thinking of yourself as me, the controller, you the audience, and you start thinking of all of us as the audience, all of us as people enjoying the garden together.  Gardener included.  So there’s something in the notes to this thing that says something about the difference between order and disorder.


from “Composers As Gardeners,” by Brian Eno, Edge, 10 November 2011 :: via The Browser

Originally published at culture-making.com.

Six or more glasses daily!

Ephemera from the radium craze of the mid 1920s. A friend of mine wrote his doctoral dissertation on this stuff. In the first years after radium was discovered, the initial reaction on the part of both laypeople and scientists was basically, Wow this is amazing and powerful. It must be the stuff of life! Sure, a plant will die if you put it next to some of it, but that’s just because it can’t handle all the LIFE radiating out from it. There’s a sobering lesson in this, but I can’t quite decide if it’s that wishful thinking (or perhaps duplicitousness) will conspire to foist all manner of perils upon the unsuspecting, or simply that even those of us who know better, don’t always.

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from “vintage_ads: Today’s radium WTF,” vintage_ads, 9 December 2011 :: via boingboing.net

Originally published at culture-making.com.