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“What Teachers Make” Sequence of Assignments

Every year I rewatch Taylor Mali’s passionate defense of “What Teachers Make.” As part of a sequence of assignments designed to help students write a more engaging personal literacy narrative, I use Mali’s speech. Yes, it’s my job to teach composition, but composition is a term that applies to music, photography, choreography, athletics, etc. Students already have an intuitive sense of what makes a good Vine, what makes a good…

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World Trade Center Literary and Cultural Reflections (first posted September 11, 2001)

Not knowing what else to do, in the numb hours after the towers fell, I made a web page that explored the World Trade Center in literature and culture, as well as urban technology in general. I updated it a bit over the next few weeks or months, but have mostly left it as an historical record.    As journalists improvised to meet the public’s demand for online updates (in…

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The End of Headphone Jacks, the Rise of DRM

When you plug an audio cable into a smartphone, it just works. It doesn’t matter whether the headphones were made by the same manufacturer as the phone. It doesn’t even matter what you’re trying to do with the audio signal—it works whether the cable is going into a speaker, a mixing board, or a recording device. With the headphone jack gone, every other option is controlled by the iPhone’s software. With…

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Crowther’s Adventure: Tough Memes to Squash

Will Crowther, an RPG-er, created the first text-based adventure game for computers Colossal Cave Adventure in 1975.6 When Don Woods developed it into Adventure in 1976-1977 he added the Tolkienian elements of trolls and elves. —Helen Young, Journal of Tolkien Research Well, yes, but Crowther had already started with the Tolkenian elements of underground dwarves, magic, and a call-and-response interface that invokes the spirit of riddles in the dark. The…

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Facebook does not care about truth. Facebook wants to sell your attention to the highest bidder. 

  Don’t trust your Facebook feed. All Facebook wants is for you to spend time on Facebook, so that they can sell your attention to the highest bidder. Facebook recently fired 18 employees whose job was to write headlines for and monitor the “Trending Topics” list. When that list fell under scrutiny for an alleged anti-conservative bias, Facebook conducted an internal review, and reported that it found no evidence of…

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Meet octobot, a soft-bodied robot that looks like the future

Our future robot overlords never looked so squishy. A team of Harvard University scientists has built an entirely soft robot — one that’s inspired by an octopus. The octobot, described this week in the journal Nature, could pave the way toward more effective soft robots that could be used in search and rescue, exploration and to more safely interact with humans. “The octobot is a minimal system designed to demonstrate…