The Software Canon

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1. Paul Ford proposes a software canon, and in the slot at the top, he places Microsoft Office

"What Office provides is a language for doing office things. You don’t go in front of an audience without a PowerPoint deck. Businesspeople “live” in Excel; its language (it actually is a crypto-programming language) has become the language of money and budgets. People who do work with symbols and language to make a living organize their thoughts into the containers and systems that Office provides. Office is not so much a software product as a dialect that we all speak as we proceed about our labors."


2. A gluten sensor for your smartphone.

"Every day, people are becoming more aware and more concerned about what hidden things are in the food they’re eating. Our Founders have long struggled with Celiac Disease and various food allergies, and we’re tired of repeatedly wondering if our food is safe to eat. Born out of MIT, our founding team decided to build a company to bring clarity and trust back to the dinner table. With our breakthrough technology, we’re creating a brand new product category that will enable anyone to quickly and discreetly detect minute traces of toxins in their food. Our first product is a portable gluten sensor, allowing you to test your food before you eat it. Anywhere. At any time."


3. The New Museum is building an art-tech incubator.

"Julia Kaganskiy, 27 years old, will be the director of the institution's new incubator for art, technology and design, a $2 million project to create a collaborative work space for young artists and entrepreneurs... 'These are projects that don't necessarily have a clear market proposition,' said Ms. Kaganskiy. 'They are driven from some sort of creative inquiry rather than from a desire to scale up.'


4. Neanderthals probably stewed meat in birch-bark bags, a paleontologist argues

"But based on evidence from ancient bones, spears, and porridge, Speth believes our Stone Age cousins likely boiled their food. He suggests that Neanderthals boiled using only a skin bag or a birch bark tray by relying on a trick of chemistry: Water will boil at a temperature below the ignition point of almost any container, even flammable bark or hides. 'You can boil in just about anything as long as you take it off the flame pretty quickly,' Speth says. His presentation included video of water boiling in a paper cup (the water keeps the paper from reaching its ignition temperature) and mention of scenes in Jean Auel's 1980 novel, Clan of the Cave Bear (later a movie), in which Neanderthals boiled stews in hide pouches."


5. What children do to and with language is miraculous.

"On the last day of National Poetry Month, our favorite poem we saw all month came from an unnamed first grader:

'We did the soft wind.
We danst slowly. We swrld
Aroned. We danst soft.
We lisin to the mozik.
We danst to the mozik. 
We made personal space.'"


Today's 1957 American English Usage Tip

belly is a good word now almost done to death by GENTEELISM. It lingers in proverbs & phrases, but even they are being amended into up-to-date delicacy, & the road to the heart lies less often through the belly than through the stomach or the tummy. The slaying of the slayer now in course of performance by tummy (esp. Brit) illustrates the vanity of genteel efforts; a perpetual succession of names, often ending in nursery ineptitudes, must be contrived. Stomach for belly is a specially bad case because the meaning of stomach has to be changed before it can take the place of belly in many contexts. The tendency, however, is perhaps irresistible.  


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We Did the Soft Wind

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of 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, 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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