5 Intriguing Things: Wednesday, 2/19

Videogames and the spirit of capitalism, e-cigarette modding, night markets, more tunnels, and media mixing.
Molle Industria

1. Videogames and the Spirit of Capitalism

"We are only learning to speak of immeasurable qualities through videogames. It’s a slow and collective process of hacking accounting machines into expressive machines. Computer games need to learn from their non-digital counterparts to be loose interfaces between people. A new game aesthetic has to be explored: one that revels in problem-making over problem-solving, that celebrates paradoxes and ruptures, that doesn’t eschew broken and dysfunctional systems because the broken and dysfunctional systems governing our lives need to be unpacked and not idealized.

Strategies are to be discovered: poetic wrenches have to be thrown in the works; gears and valves have to grow hair, start pulsing and breathing; algorithms must learn to tell stories and scream in pain."


2. Inside the strange world of e-cigarette modding.

"E-cigarettes are fascinating technological objects. Blow past the big names like NJoy and Tru and you’ll discover that e-cigarettes have spawned a 'vaping' subculture. The movement revolves around electronic devices that deliver nicotine but otherwise hardly resemble cigarettes at all.

Devoted users tweak existing e-cigs endlessly. They fiddle with atomizers to control the release of custom-blended juices. They adjust the heated coils to deliver cleaner nicotine 'hits' or maximum clouds of vapor (a practice sometimes called 'fogging'). And in some cases they go pro and produce gorgeous limited-edition objects that sell for hundreds of dollars.

E-cig 'modders' congregate online or at vape-store meetups, showing off their latest 'builds,' like hackers or hot-rod enthusiasts. But this is more than a geeky sideshow to the larger public health debate. These e-cig hackers may just influence how the emerging gadgets are thought of by politicians and policymakers in America."


3. The ephemeral night markets of Hong Kong.

"For the first three evenings of the Lunar New Year, the officers of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department get to enjoy a well-earned break from their duties—and the street hawkers of Hong Kong get down to business. From New Year’s Eve until the third day of the new year, various streets throughout the city are transformed into bustling, lively markets with hawkers selling everything from antiques to computers and DVDs and preparing a multitude of cooked snacks; but the festive atmosphere, the rich scents and the laughter in the air, are but a mayfly—dead after just a few short days.

The largest of these fleeting night markets congregates on Sham Shui Po’s Kweilin Street, and has become known as the Kweilin Night Market. This year, the annual phenomena sparked a wave of self-reflection in the local press and social media as to why the people of Hong Kong are denied these simple pleasures on every other day of the year, and what this says about our dwindling public space, our quality of life, and the indifference of our government."


4. You know what's awesome about tunnels? Everything, including the geology they reveal

"The dank, vast underground caverns carved by monstrous tunnel-boring machines reveal evidence of the land bridge that existed hundreds of millions of years ago, when New York adjoined what is now Morocco, before the continents ruptured, and of the faults and fractures wrought by vast physical upheavals.

'It gives us a small window to refine our maps and get a better understanding of regional geology and of the bedrock that formed in Pangea when the continents collided,' Mr. Jordan, the Parsons geologist, said. 'It gives us a chance to document the behavior of Manhattan’s bedrock while advancing tunnels, and to provide a history of tectonic events. Lastly, mapping provides a geological record for posterity and use by future generations.'"


5. The artists behind one of my favorite tools (Zeega) have launched a mobile media-mixing app called Pop. And it is awesome

"Much of our visual history now exists online. Pop makes this media accessible as short clips for anyone to use to express themselves. Social media has largely been about sharing what you see—taking a photo of what’s in front of you. By making it easy to combine your own recordings with any media on the web, Pop makes it possible to share what you see and how you feel about it.

With the widespread adoption of mobile technology, millions of people around the world have spurred the evolution of a new visual language. Photos, videos and GIFs convey emotions and ideas in a fundamentally different way than words alone. With Pop, this shared vocabulary is now available to everyone—you can express yourself in the moment by mixing the web’s best media with your own life story."


Today's 1957 American English Usage Tip:

apprehend, -ension, comprehend, -ension. So far as the words are liable to confusion, i.e. as synonyms of understand-(ing), the ap- forms denote the getting hold or grasping, & the com- forms the having hold or full possession, of what is understood. What is beyond my apprehension I have no cognizance of; what is beyond my comprehension I am merely incapable of fully understanding. To apprehend a thing imperfectly is to have not reached a clear notion of it; to comprehend it imperfectly is almost a contradiction in terms. I apprehend that A is B advances an admittedly fallible view; I comprehend that A is B states a presumably indisputable fact.


Thanks, Bill C


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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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