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Whining Past now live!

Whining Past now live!

A project I’ve been working on for much of the past year is finally complete—well, partially. What is Whining Past?

Whining Past is an experiment in historical documentation. It is the transcription of a journal kept by Captain Raymond Earl Hill of the U.S. 365th Infantry Regiment during his service in World War I. The journal recounts Captain Hill’s entire experience in France—from his arrival in June 1918, through the armistice of November 1918, to his return to the States in January 1919.

For much of the past year, I’ve been transcribing this fragile, century-old document so that friends, family, and general history geeks can read, first-hand, the experience of Capt. Hill, my great-grandfather.

Cap, as he was known to my family, died in 1981—six years before I was born. Despite the ripe age of 90, Cap’s official cause of death was listed as a lung infection stemming from an injury suffered during the war. On November 11, 1918—the last day of fighting in Europe—Cap was exposed to a near-lethal volume of mustard gas. The poisonous chemical temporarily blinded him, left him hospitalized for days, and permanently riddled his lungs with emphysema.

Despite this horror, Cap belied not a whit of the physical or emotional toll such an experience musthave taken—not to my grandfather, not to my mother, and most of all not to the journal that was his record.

Out of respect for such a life, and for the countless service members who never had the privilege, my family and I have decided to publish this journal. It is my intent to contextualize the journal with dates, locations, references, and photographs. The result, I hope, will be a thorough record of just one experience in a war that claimed more than 37 million lives, and a testament of admiration for a man I never knew, but with whom I can share the ghostly remains of the written word.

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$85,000 is the Going Price on a Microwave Stephen Colbert Stole from Bill O’Reilly

$85,000 is the Going Price on a Microwave Stephen Colbert Stole from Bill O’Reilly


Here’s the proper way to spend $85,000: on a stolen microwave. Not just any microwave. A microwave that was stolen from Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly by none other than Stephen Colbert.

Back in 2007, when Colbert was rapidly becoming a household name, the character comedian appeared on O’Reilly’s show, the O’Reilly Factor. Soon after the appearance it was revealed that Colbert had stolen a microwave from the green room at the show’s studio. The 1.85 KW GE JES16565SJ01 countertop microwave has been collecting dust on the set of the Colbert Report ever since.

Recently, however—perhaps aware of his fans’ diehard devotion—Colbert put the microwave up for auction on eBay. Within the past 24 hours, the bids have skyrocketedfrom $43 to $85,000… and counting. There are still nine days left in the auction (it ends February 22).

Read more at…

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Yes, MIT is Building Autonomous Collaborating Robot Herds

Yes, MIT is Building Autonomous Collaborating Robot Herds

I had a mild existential crisis when I sat down to write this post, and it had nothing to do with the usual response to a news story about artificially intelligent robots (insert stale quip about The Terminator or The Matrix). It had to do with snark.

Each morning, I sit down here at my desk in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and begin looking for story ideas. When I find one—let’s say, a story about a beer fridge that can only be opened by Canadians—I scoop out the most essential news elements, make sure I understand all the details, and then brainstorm some humorous angles (i.e.,“Oh Canada, with your… with your… maple leaves… and your… gravy fries”). You know: snark.

You see, snark is the low-hanging fruit of web journalism. It’s the sardonic dialect of needy millennials competing for the attention of an attention-deficient generation. And I am as guilty as the next writer in using it.

But then this happened—this story—and my usual response hit a brick wall. I felt like Gob (for all you Arrested Development fans), spiraling into a helpless, panicky fit of insecure blather: Should, should, should, should I, should I, should I just, should I just?

Read the rest on…

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Smartwatches: Function, fashion or fad?

Smartwatches: Function, fashion or fad?

If you ask someone what they think about smartwatches, you’re likely to get one of two answers: Either they’re the next big thing in consumer tech, or they’re a ridiculous ploy by big tech companies to “connect” yet another analog holdout.

Smartwatches are exactly what they sound like: wristwatches with enhanced, connected functionality. You can browse notifications, receive e-mails or even talk on the phone. Basically, it’s a Dick Tracy watch.

But unlike smartphones or tablets, smartwatches are “wearable tech,” meaning they must aspire to a degree of style and comfort not required of other gadgets.

Read more at USA Today…

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What will your camera look like in 2020?

What will your camera look like in 2020?

Imagine the year 2020: Augmented reality glasses like Google Glass are everywhere. Cars are connected and, in some cases, driverless. Your smartphone is less a phone than a command center uniting the various nodes of your technological self — watch, glasses, wallet and car alike.

But what about your personal camera? What will it look like in 2020? Will you even own one? In recent years, we’ve seen smartphones stomp out nearly every reason to own a traditional point-and-shoot camera. You can expect that transition to run its course over the next few years. And the outlook for mobile technology is nothing if not ominous for dedicated consumer shooters.

Even some high-end DSLRs and mirrorless system cameras may be supplanted by mobile devices with ever-improving image quality.

Read more at USA Today…

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New USAT column: “Mobile communications improve disaster relief”

Mobile communications improve disaster relief

Natural disasters are on the rise. Reported incidents have more than doubled since 1980, and in 2010 alone, the combined impact of earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and other calamities forced 42 million people to flee their homes.

Thankfully, advances in mobile communications have spread to all corners of the globe, providing the victims of disasters much easier contact with relief workers, and each other.

“Mobile technologies can be used for all aspects of disaster relief operations,” says Lalana Kagal, a research scientist at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab.

Read more at USA Today…

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Occupy Boston: The Glory And Imperfection Of Democracy

Occupy Boston: The Glory And Imperfection Of Democracy

I published this almost two years ago, but given the anniversary of the OWS protests, I thought it a good time for a repost.

Occupy Boston: The Glory And Imperfection Of Democracy

It was three hours into Friday night’s General Assembly meeting at Occupy Boston. One hundred or so protesters were seated on a grassy knoll in Dewey Square, well within the forbidding shadow of the city’s 32-story Federal Reserve Bank. The night had started cool but clear—grazing 50 degrees with a few stars dotting the twilight sky—but the temperature had gotten noticeably colder. I could see my breath, and the financial district’s rush-hour hubbub had long since passed. For the past three hours the crowd had been debating the creation of a new working group called Urban Youth. The process was laborious: While the facilitator had a microphone, it didn’t carry far, and each comment had to be repeated through Occupy’s elaborate Human Microphone system. The process was reminiscent of New England bureaucracy and legislative officialdom, procedures I’ve often panned as a local. Things were said like: “We need to see everyone’s hands in the air, because if we don’t have a quorum of people voting it won’t be considered consensus.”

Read more at The Awl…