For Amusement Only? Growing up with Technology

Over the Christmas holiday, my son and I were talking about video game arcades. I spent so much time in them during junior high. That and at the roller rink, where I first played Pong, Missile Command, and Space Invaders. Good times, mostly with my brother. My son hasn’t been to one and really wants to go.

Last week Laura June at the Verge published a great piece on the rise and fall of the video arcade. It is a long and richly detailed piece that is worth every minute you’ll spend with it. It is full of excellent social history, but these bits really struck me:

Like shopping malls and roller skating rinks, they were safe, isolated areas where kids and teenagers could hang out, and, with a reasonable amount of money, spend hours without their parents. Bill Disney, a pinball enthusiast and owner of The Pinball Gallery in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, says of his younger years that “most parents, they basically didn’t know what their kids were doing any time of the day. They were on their bikes, out the whole day,” and “they didn’t care where they were.” This laid-back attitude varied by family, as well as by geography, but the relative autonomy of older children in the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and early 1980s, was much greater than it would be moving into the ‘90s. Films of the early ‘80s such as E.T. and The Wizard show typical, American kids, left to their own devices, playing video games and capturing aliens with their friends while their parents are at work…


Another Cool Christmas Gift: Give to Child’s Play (& Maybe Receive, too)

Still looking for something nice to do this Christmas? Consider donating to the cool organization Childs Play. As their website puts it:

Child’s Play seeks to improve the lives of children in hospitals around the world through the kindness and generosity of the video game industry and the power of play. When gamers give back, it makes a difference!

By facilitating donations of cash and stuff (hospitals set have “wish lists” for the kids they serve), Child’s Play helps make the lives of ill kids better by giving them ways to play. Laughter may not be the only medicine, but it is a potent one. They’ve raised about $ 3.7 million so far this year.

As an added bonus, the excellent tech news and commentary site Ars Technica is running a raffle with prizes like a Surface tablet, a Chromebook, a limited edition Skylander, and tons of video game collectables.

Just grab a digital copy of your receipt (a screenshot, or simply a cut and paste of the text) and send it to by Friday, January 4, 2013.

For more info, go to 2012 Ars Child’s Play Drive.

The One World Futbol for Christmas

Looking for a last minute Christmas gift? Maybe something that others might enjoy, too. Check out the One World Futbol (or soccer ball, for those of us in the US) project. (via Ken Belson at the New York Times.)

Tim Jahnigen has always followed his heart, whether as a carpenter, a chef, a lyricist or now as an entrepreneur. So in 2006, when he saw a documentary about children in Darfur who found solace playing soccer with balls made out of garbage and string, he was inspired to do something about it.

The children, he learned, used trash because the balls donated by relief agencies and sporting goods companies quickly ripped or deflated on the rocky dirt that doubled as soccer fields. Kicking a ball around provided such joy in otherwise stressful and trying conditions that the children would play with practically anything that approximated a ball.

Something that I never would have thought of. So Jahnigen figured out how to make a soccer ball that plays well but doesn’t deflate. Super cool. Now I won’t have to find one of those needles somewhere in the utility drawer, or was it the garage, in the spring when the ball will be flat.

But more importantly, kids who don’t have much but a soccer ball can keep on playing.

They have a “buy one, give one” program where they “give a second ball to a community in need through organizations working in disadvantaged communities such as refugee camps, war zones, disaster areas and inner cities.” Or you can just give one if you’d like. Check out One World Futbol Project .

Peak, Permanence, and the Precision Bass: On What Lasts

The myth out there is that college teachers have the summer off. I wish. I don’t have to be in my office, but summer is a time to regroup, kill off lingering committee work, get new classes set up, and try to get ready for the next semester. As part of that, my computer was replaced. I now have a nice iMac in place of my MacPro, which exceeds what I need these days.

Of course, the complicated part of the upgrade was getting all the stuff that I use on the new machine: apps, fonts, bookmarks, etc.  Lots of reinstalling and updating. Sadly, as I was doing this, I found out that my favorite 2 track audio editing app—BIAS’s Peak—is no more. As Peter Kirn at put it:


Vogue’s Human Move

The New York Times’ Eric Wilson recently reported that Vogue magazine will institute a new policy in which it agrees to stop using models under 16 years of age and models “who, from the viewpoint of the editors, appear to have an eating disorder.”  The change, which will apply to all of its 19 international editions, is being done, according to Jonathan Newhouse (Chairman of parent company Condé Nast International) to “reflect their commitment to the health of the models who appear on the pages and the well-being of their readers.”


Innovation and Failing the Customer

One of the key problems with innovating is that you frequently run into problems that were totally unforeseen. That’s why engineering practice—driven my robust professional ethics commitments—require that systems be tested and reevaluated both during the creation phase and after deployment in order to catch problems as they arise. This process drives companies to do physical product recalls and software updates. Innovation requires thoughtful consideration of possibilities, good and bad. It also requires a boatload of humility, because you will make mistakes.

Failing to account adequately for unforeseen consequences is one thing. Failing to account for known negative consequences is something altogether different.


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