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

Portfolio | Andy-Crouch.com

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Essays | The Cell Phone Gospel

Books and Culture‘s legendary editor John Wilson reached out to me to review this academic study of mobile phones in India. It was a great chance to combine my varied interests, from my travel-guide editing days for Let’s Go: India and Nepal to my long-ago academic work on the history of technology.

The most touching moment in Assa Doron and Robin Jeffrey’s book on the mind-boggling spread of mobile phone technology in India comes in a quote from an email by one of the authors’ Delhi-based Australian informants, describing an impoverished laborer he’d encountered at the edge of an urban construction zone:

He had one of those large Samsung smart phones; it was so uncanny and out of place. There amongst the dust, pillars and rubble of a building site was this person, dressed very poorly, holding and obviously enjoying his smart phone. He was using one of its applications, but I’m not sure which.

Whenever a modern technology leaps the barriers and takes root in places that had never been kind to its precursors, things can seem uncanny indeed, at least to those on the outside.

Read more at Books and Culture: The Cell Phone Gospel

Essays | John Muir’s Steampunk Years

My investigation of a surprising side of a pioneering environmetnalist.

You know him, if at all, as the bearded sage of the California upcountry, the co-founder and first president of the Sierra Club, guiding spirit of the National Park Service. He’s the man who said, “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness,” and who claimed he never saw a discontented tree. But in 1850s Wisconsin, John Muir was just a weird kid with a Scottish accent and a genius for inventing improved sawmills and clockwork labor-saving devices — mechanisms for controlling nature, not extolling it.

Read more: John Muir, the Inventor | Flashback | OZY

Articles | European History for History.com

The History Channel

I had quite a bit of fun writing these pieces on European topics for History.com — who wouldn’t like to summarize the Enlightenment in 800 words?

Henry V, Henry VIII, Mary I, John Locke, Frederick II, Otto von Bismarck, Galileo, The Reformation, and of course The Enlightenment.

Essays | Shadow Banking

My first foray into financial journalism.

The financial news has been abuzz about JPMorgan Chase’s record $13 billion penalty agreement over the bank’s lending practices leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. And rightly so — it’s refreshing to see at least a little responsibility being taken for the train wreck of subprime mortgages, exotic securitizations and suddenly frozen cash flows. The official response to the financial crisis has often focused less on justice than on the simple goal of never letting this happen again, with bailouts trumping just deserts for the good of the system at large. By 2010, legislation like the Dodd-Frank Act and the international Third Basel Accord added new regulations for bank behavior, limiting the amount of risk they could take on and implementing stress tests to keep better checks on the institutions’ health.

But the new regulations go only so far — and, in some ways, might be making things even riskier.

Read more: Breaking the Banks | Fast forward | OZY

Essays | The Rise of the Milibands

In which I write about, naturally, Labour Party Politics. A big shout-out to my fiancee Jeannie Rose, who reviewed tons of YouTube videos to help me nail just the right body language descriptions of the brothers Miliband.

When brothers vie for the same prize, the metaphors just about write themselves: Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Romulus and Remus, Prospero and Antonio, Peyton and Eli. Such was, is and ever shall be the case for Ed and David Miliband, who were — until 2010 — the twin leading lights of the Labour Party, heirs apparent to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. They served together on Brown’s last cabinet, but David, the older brother, outshone the younger until 2010, when Ed challenged and beat his brother in Labour’s leadership election.

End of story? Don’t bet on it.

Read more: Shakespeare in Government | Rising Stars | OZY

Portfolio | Red Bull

Animated presentation elements for a national gathering of the Red Bull sales team.

Articles | American topics for History.com

The History Channel

My American coverage for History.com’s online encyclopedia has provided an interesting range of big topics and interesting minor figures.

Topics include the Revolutionary battles of Princeton and Trenton, the likely-mythical Betsy Ross, Tocqueville, inventors Guglielmo Marconi and Nikola Tesla, black groundbreakers Barbara Jordan and Jesse Jackson, gangster Lucky Luciano, WWII pilot James Doolittle, and the cities of Las Vegas, New Orleans, and San Francisco.

Oh, and I wrote one more article that, while it certainly isn’t American, would be alone and isolated in its own regional post: ladies and gentlemen, Robert Mugabe.

Essays | Isabele Ealet

Even among the alpha-male, aggressive stereotypes at elite financial institutions, the world of commodity trading has a reputation of being rough-and-tumble. So, in 2007, when French trader Isabelle Ealet was promoted to the head of Goldman Sachs’ commodities unit, it created a lot of positive notice. Goldman’s CEO, Lloyd C. Blankfein, and president, Gary D. Cohn, have both served as head of the best commodities unit in the world.

Read more: Read more: Isabelle Ealet | Rising Stars | OZY