Friday, August 29, 2008

New Favorite Website: Widexplorer


I'm not usually one for lolspeak, but OMG, this site is cool. Rather than having multiple tabs (or, heaven forbid, windows) open to visit different sites, now you can navigate them all on one page. Widexplorer aggregates content from dozens of the web's top sites, like digg, YouTube, TechCrunch, and more. You scroll horizontally to see more sites, and each site is also scrollable vertically. The awesomeness is overwhelming. Keep reading...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Facebook Friendship

It’s not news that Facebook has transformed the way we think of friendship. Essentially, it allows tenuous relationships to be revived, and survive once lethal obstacles to keeping in touch, such as moving away after high school or college. During the four years I have been on Facebook, numerous correspondences have sprung up with people I would otherwise have not been in touch with once our lives diverged. Geographical distance once made keeping up so-called “weak-tie” relationships quite difficult, as people generally did not take the time to call or write letters. People become busy with new relationships as they move through life, and the weaker ones of their past fall to the wayside.

Facebook, however, has made contacting old acquaintances easy—perhaps too easy. People (myself absolutely included) are notoriously bad at responding promptly to Facebook messages. Although they have largely taken the place of email for friend-to-friend communication, they still do not have the urgency that email can have. It seems people strike up conversations on a whim, and may not be ready when a short “What’s up” turns into a lengthy e-epistle.

My inbox is filled with conversations that started off strong, with myself and the other person trading messages regularly for days or even weeks, but which gradually dwindled away into nothing. One person fails to respond (likely forgetting, since many of us are deluged with countless messages each week), and the other person never follows up. I have experienced this with dozens of different people, but I don’t think either person is really to blame. Most of us do not have the time in our lives to devote to more than a handful of personal correspondences.

For some, this is where blogging comes in; it allows us to keep a mass audience informed of our activities, but saves the time of telling each person separately. Unfortunately, blogging is inherently not as personal as a message, so there is even less pressure for the intended audience to read it.

In the end, if everyone is on the same page regarding this issue, it doesn't really matter. True friendships will flourish, while ephemeral ones will fade away. Keep reading...

Monday, August 18, 2008

Sweet Surprise

I was reading an article on the New York Times website as I've done many times before, when I inadvertently clicked on a random word in the text. Some articles already have hyperlinked words (designated by their blue color), but most do not. However, when you double-click on ANY word in the article, a window pops up offering encyclopedic or linguistic information about that word (or phrase--clicking on the first word of "as well as" gives you a pop-up for that expression). Hovering your mouse or rolling over words provides no hint of this hidden capability. This seems to be almost an easter egg, available only to those who make a mistake.

This function is extremely exciting; no other website offers fully-clickable text. Wikipedia has perhaps only 5% hyperlinked words in its articles, which does not include common words, only encyclopedic ones. The New York Times is showing us the full potential of internet reading: the ability to instantly look up words or concepts we wish to learn more about, while never having to leave the page you're on.

Hats off once again to the Times. Keep reading...

The Last Days of Telephones

As technology progresses, obsolete objects begin to appear increasingly anachronistic when we encounter them. This is happening now with things like full-size cathode-ray tube computer monitors, VCRs, and portable CD players. But perhaps the most striking and life changing example is the slow disappearance of landline telephones. If you’re in the U.S. and less than 30 years old or so, it’s likely that you rarely, if ever, use a landline phone. What’s more, when my generation has children, the concept of a phone that remains in the house will be totally foreign to them.

The Baby Boomer generation, however, will never give up their familiar landline phones, no matter how redundant they become. There are tens of millions of people who continue to pay for regular phone service, in addition to their mobile plan. Having a stationary phone that is physically connected to their house seems to be comforting in some way; it’s always on, and it always rings loud and clear. Cell phones can be misplaced, get set on silent unintentionally, or run out of batteries. Many Boomers are not accustomed to charging their phones daily, and bring it with them each morning is not as instinctive as it is with younger users.

As landline phones cease to be of use, it will be interesting to see where they end up. Unlike cell phones, they are not desired for donation to third world countries, since these nations never set up a telephone infrastructure in the first place, instead skipping straight to mobile phones. Assuming approximately 100 million households in the United States, and at least two phones per household (not to mention answering machines), we’re looking at around 200,000 tons of electronic waste. I can only hope someone figures out a solution to this byproduct of progress. Keep reading...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Wanadoo City Wows Me

Check out Wanadoo City, a totally immersive role-playing experience for kids in Florida. It seems like the kind of thing that sounds cool in concept, but wouldn't actually work in real life. Lo an behold, it's extremely successful.

Website Keep reading...

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Sharing Music: A Situation Most Awkward

In one of the most memorable scenes of the movie Garden State, Natalie Portman’s character places her headphones around Zach Braff’s ears, inviting him to listen to a song that will “change [his] life.” Braff complies, and the first few notes of The Shins’ New Slang are heard diagetically by Braff and the audience alike. Most of us have been in Portman’s or Braff’s shoes in our lives, either eagerly sharing a beloved piece of music with a friend or being on the receiving end of such an invitation. In my experience, this exchange ranks highly on the list of most awkward social situations.

To start with, it’s two people, often of the same gender, listening silently to a song for 3-5 minutes. A little weird. But it gets worse. For the sharer, waiting pensively while the song works through the intro, ever so slowly building up to that bit that makes the song awesome, is a nerve-wracking 30-45 seconds. For the sharee, enduring that first third of the song, wondering what in the world makes it so great, is equally difficult. Making this process even more tricky is the pressure-packed nature of the situation, which makes enjoying the song—that is, really listening to it, finding beauty in the lyrics and the music itself—nearly impossible. The sharee can hardly say he doesn’t like it; he’s practically compelled to like it by the enthusiasm of his friend. And the sharer is dying for his friend to confirm his opinion—doubt about his musical taste swells with each second that passes.

I don’t know the solution to this dilemma. One can always recommend that a friend listen to a song on his own time, but there is no guarantee this will actually happen. It’s also possible to start the song and then leave the room, but this might also seem a little strange. Music can be totally social, or intensely personal. In the end, perhaps it’s best just to keep one’s treasured tunes to oneself. Keep reading...

Sunday Links

The New York Times has put together an interactive infographic showing the history of Olympic torch design, apparently reading my mind (two months ago I had searched for a book on just such a topic).

Wordle creates customizable word clouds of whatever text or website you choose. Keep reading...