Reporter’s Notebook: A Dozen Digital Media Discoveries

4/15/11Follow @wroush

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like coffeehouse culture or you want to discover the next Voltaire or Sartre—do it because you enjoy the nuts and bolts of running a restaurant.

10. Cooking for Geeks

This O’Reilly Media title by Jeff Potter, which is available in both print and e-book form, is a fantastic hybrid of an actual cookbook, a manual on the physics and chemistry of food preparation, and a meditation on the similarities between cooking and software engineering. It’s the first cookbook I’ve actually wanted to read linearly, from cover to cover. Thanks to Potter, I now understand the difference between baking soda and baking powder, and why you put baking soda into the mix for buttermilk pancakes, but not for regular pancakes. (Maybe you learned that in home economics class, but I was clueless).

11. Inside the DNA of the Facebook Mafia

Reading TechCrunch is usually a nasty chore—I do it because I have to see what the competition is up to. But every once in a while, TC rises above the snark and gossip and publishes something useful. Sarah Lacy’s February article tracing the cultures of Silicon Valley startups like Quora, Cloudera, Path, Jumo, and Asana back to their founders’ experiences at Facebook was such a case. If you barrel past the thrice-mixed metaphors in the headline, you’ll find a piece that helps make sense of such seeming mysteries as why Path CEO Dave Morin turned down Google’s $120 million purchase offer, or why it’s far easier to answer a question on Quora than to ask one.

12. The Atavist

The Atavist is a boutique publishing venture in Brooklyn. As this profile in Fast Company explains, freelance journalist Evan Ratliff, Wired editor Nick Thompson, and designer Jeff Rabb are trying to create a new sort of platform for long-form storytelling. You can get the text versions of their articles in the form of Kindle Singles, but they’re best consumed via the company’s iPad or iPhone apps, which add in multimedia items such as videos, photos, maps, an interactive timeline, and optional audio narration. Right now I’m reading “Lifted,” a Tom Clancy-esque story about a brazen 2009 robbery at a cash distribution facility in Sweden. I’ll be honest—the piece feels more like an art project than an offering in a serious periodical, so I’m skeptical about whether The Atavist can survive as a business. But in the meantime, it’s a really fun experiment.

13. Da Vinci HD

Today (April 15, 2011) is the 559th birthday of Leonardo da Vinci. I suggest celebrating by buying yourself a $0.99 app for the iPad or iPhone called Da Vinci HD, from a prolific but mysterious iPhone/iPad developer called Overdamped. The app includes more than 150 high-resolution images of da Vinci paintings, sketches, and studies. While most of these images are available on the Web, it’s nice to have them all in one place on a touchscreen, and heck, you can’t go wrong for 99 cents. (Plus, the images make great iPad wallpapers.) Overdamped has put out several dozen similar apps covering artists from Botticelli to Cezanne.

Wade Roush is Chief Correspondent and Editor At Large at Xconomy. You can subscribe to his Google Group or e-mail him at wroush@xconomy.com. Follow @wroush

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  • JWilly48519

    So, which was this one…”cool”, or “perceptive”?

    > “Why should we change when what we have now works just fine? The problem is that it doesn’t work just fine. Ask anyone who is not a nerd or a computer hobbyist and they will tell you that they hate them with the same passion they love their iPhones and iPads. The answer is in the complexity of the computer vs. the simplicity of the touch interface.” <

    The sociopathology here is amusing…the writer categorizes himself and those like him as Normal, and relegates those not like him to Abnormal groups toward which his scorn is obvious.

    We're not all alike, we don't all perform the same tasks, and–to borrow an expression–vive la difference. It's great to celebrate improvements to tools and toys that are especially suited for particular tasks or user groups. It's not so great to show such disdain for those who don't need those improvements because they mostly perform text-oriented tasks, and/or don't regard the current paradigm as complex…particularly when the disdain is applied to what market studies show to be the majority.

    In my view, this piece was unperceptive, and definitely not cool.

  • http://dlw@alum.mit.edu Daniel L Weinreb

    I do not interpret Wade’s comments at all the way JWilly48519 does. I am in the “nerd or computer hobbyist” category (a professional software developer), and even I feel the way Wade says. He’s not being condescending; in fact, it’s exactly the opposite. It’s not the users who are at fault; it is the computer industry, which has made so much software that is unreliable and confusing to use.

  • http://www.xconomy.com/author/wroush/ Wade Roush

    I just want to clarify that the quote JWilly48519 is reacting to is from Jesus Diaz, writing at Gizmodo, not from me. That said, I agree with Jesus that for certain tasks — such as digital drawing and video editing — a touchscreen interface is a huge help, and can quickly come to feel more natural than a point-and-click interface. Maybe Jesus went a bit over the top in his enthusiasm. But I don’t think anyone is arguing that people who mostly perform text-oriented tasks should be forced to give up their desktop or laptop PCs for tablets.