Posts by Rob Walker, Yahoo News

  • 14 last-minute gift ideas for the tech-loving weirdo in your life

    Rob Walker, Yahoo News at Yahoo News 11 mths ago

    Enjoy this holiday preview from the writers of Yahoo Tech, which opens for real in January! See all of our holiday articles here, and like us on Facebook for more.

    Our holiday gift guide has you covered if you're looking for the useful, the practical, and the helpful from the best giveable tech of 2013.

    But what if you're looking for something weird, joyous and irresistibly absurd?

    Well: This list ought to do the trick. In fact, it might even inspire you to blow of Christmas altogether and just get all this awesome stuff for yourself!

    Meanwhile, if you enjoy these gift-worthy collisions of tech culture with art, design and everything else, stop by the Procrastinaut Tumblr, why don’t you? The Xmas cheer over there is unstoppable.

    On to the list.

    1. Custom Video Game Covers

    3. Buy Nothing Day T-Shirt

     

    6. High-Tech Barcode Socks

  • Twitter's newest enemy: Netflix?

    Rob Walker, Yahoo News at Yahoo News 11 mths ago

    Think about the future of watching television.

    First, consider this quote, from a recent Fast Company article, channeling a Twitter executive to summarize the service’s relation to live television: “When viewers watch TV — their smartphone or tablet at their side — using Twitter to chat with their virtual friends about a program, it creates ‘the world’s biggest couch.’”

    In other words: Technology will transform TV viewership by drawing us together in real time, perhaps as we live-tweet, as I suggested in my piece from Monday.

    Then consider this quote, from a recent New Republic piece, which channeled an executive from Netflix to encapsulate that service’s relation to live television: “Human beings like control. To make all of America do the same thing at the same time is enormously inefficient, ridiculously expensive, and most of the time, not a very satisfying experience.”

  • What TV shows are we livetweeting?

    Rob Walker, Yahoo News at Yahoo News 11 mths ago

    If you weigh popularity in tweets – it sure was!

    For months, we’ve been hearing about the relationship between Twitter and television. Most of that chatter is about potential : sketches of Twitter’s “vision for a TV-powered, profitable future,” musings about how the service might “save TV,” and so on. Live television and Twitter, we are told, are inextricably linked; at some point, it will become clear how.

    Back in September, attempting to answer this question, Nielsen started releasing data on the most tweeted-about television programs, in the form of a new Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings top ten list. There wasn’t much to conclude from that chart’s debut. Now, however, we have a couple of months’ worth of data to eyeball and get some sense of what we tweet about when we tweet about the tube.

    It’ll be just like the 1970s. But with tweets.

     

     

     

  • Whistlehackers in the age of surveillance

    Rob Walker, Yahoo News at Year in Review 11 mths ago

    “We're going to have to make some choices as a society,”  Barack Obama observed back in June. That was not long after reports began appearing in the Guardian, the Washington Post, and elsewhere based on information actively and strategically leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, suggesting the startling sweep of surveillance activities conducted by the agency. "You can't have 100 percent security,” the president asserted, “and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience." The remarks sounded like the starting point for a vital national conversation. At the time it was already clear that Snowden would be among the most pivotal news figures to emerge in 2013. But the real significance of his story likely lies in our future.

    The birth of the whistlehacker

  • The greatest show on earth

    Rob Walker, Yahoo News at Yahoo News 11 mths ago

    That’s right. As you’ve no doubt heard by now, Amazon claims to be testing (in what correspondent Charlie Rose helpfully called the company’s “secret lab”) the use of drones (actually, octocopters) as its next-wave delivery mechanism. Click up your order, and these things will fly it to you, straight from the warehouse, in half an hour.

    There are, to put it mildly, some caveats. It’s “years away,” Bezos conceded. It will only work for (physically) small orders, weighing less than five pounds — not “kayaks,” as he said. Obviously not everybody lives within a 30-minute octocopter flight of an Amazon fulfillment center. And of course the Federal Aviation Administration has not issued rules on commercial drone use, so at the moment, the scheme isn’t actually legal.

     

     

  • Doctored Feelgood

    Rob Walker, Yahoo News at Yahoo News 1 yr ago

    It seems like mere days ago that the Internet was beaming a delighted smile upon the latest feel-good viral hit: A YouTube video celebrating today’s young girls as tomorrow’s tech-savvy engineers racked up millions of hits. “Girls to build the spaceship,” the accompanying song went, “Girls to code the new app. Girls to grow up knowing that they can engineer that. Girls. That’s all we really need is Girls.”

    Yay!

    ... Yay?

     

    Basically, there is something here to make everyone feel bad: It’s the latest case of today’s uplifting online phenomenon curdling into tomorrow’s depressing buzzkill squabble.

    For every silver lining, as George Carlin sagely observed, there’s a dark cloud.

    It might help, if you can recall it, to think back to the "Kony 2012" episode, which is perhaps the ultimate act of buzzkill virality.

    Act Two: Questions start popping up about the video and the charity behind it.

    ... And scene.

  • Kinecting the dots

    Rob Walker, Yahoo News at Yahoo News 1 yr ago

    PrimeSense, an Israeli firm that makes motion sensors, originally made its name in the tech world as a crucial contributor to Microsoft’s Kinect device — an Xbox add-on that enabled gesture control of the console, in games and on the television itself, and that eventually became the fastest-selling gadget of all time.

    Now PrimeSense is making headlines for a different reason: It’s being acquired by Apple, for about $350 million.

    There’s a general assumption that the acquisition must tie into the increasingly unicorn-ish Apple television set (or iTV) of the future; or that if it doesn’t, it’ll lead to some sort of “key technology” or, at the very least, something cool!

    For example:

  • In-flight cellphone calls about as good an idea as in-flight karaoke

    Rob Walker, Yahoo News at Yahoo News 1 yr ago

    You know the burning, burning rage you feel when you get stuck sitting on a train or bus next to someone blabbing away on a cellphone?

    Well, you could soon experience that rage at 30,000 feet!

    The FCC is thinking of allowing fliers to yap on cellphones at high altitudes. The details of whether to allow such behavior would be up to airlines — which are going to end up annoying a lot of people no matter what they decide. Let’s hope, for the love of the airplane lavatory, that Delta and Southwest and the others unite in opposition.

    That, I think, would be a monopoly we could all get behind.

    Giving these people free rein sounds about as appealing as encouraging in-flight karaoke.

    My worst fear here, actually, is that the airlines will figure out a way to make me pay extra to be free of cell chatter. Quiet planes at premium ticket prices? A cone of silence fee? A $15 surcharge to punch the guy next to me screaming about stock options?

  • JFK, in 140 characters

    Rob Walker, Yahoo News at Yahoo News 1 yr ago

    The biggest news story of the week seems to be the anniversary of a news story: An absolute blizzard of content and commentary and interactive timelines and documentary recaps have reminded us that John F. Kennedy was assassinated 50 years ago today.

    In general, anniversary “coverage” is a dubious category — a variation on the pseudo-event idea that Daniel Boorstin complained about even while Kennedy was alive. But I admit, I’ve gotten caught up in revisiting-JFK mania. This is not a nostalgia thing (JFK died before I was born) or even the result of history-buff interest in Kennedy’s brief, albeit dramatic, presidency.

    It’s the way the event was covered in real time that I’ve been fascinated to revisit — from the vantage point of today’s infinitely more real-time, technology-driven news cycle.

    In particular, the PBS documentary "JFK: One PM Central Standard Time" lasers in on this event as a pivotal moment in media-tech culture, by way of a detailed, second-by-second recounting of how the news broke.

  • I spent a day reading nothing but native advertising

    Rob Walker, Yahoo News at Yahoo News 1 yr ago

    The hottest topic in online media and marketing these days is the idea of “sponsored content,” or “native advertising”: basically, a paid advertisement that resembles an article that would run on that news website, with headline, photo and everything.

    While I have sympathy for the critics’ view in the long term, I’ve personally never had trouble telling at a glance what is sponsored and what isn’t — and I reflexively ignore sponsored content altogether, anyway. But recently it occurred to me that if the really good stuff really is as entertaining and informative as a given site’s genuine output, then I’m missing out.

    And so I decided to go on a sponsored-content binge — clicking through and reading every native advertisement I could find in one day. Here are the results.

     

     

    “Mom jeans are comfy. And wearing comfy pants is simply delightful — just like the delight you get with GEICO customer service.” Did I really just read that?

     

     

    This awkward and meaningless passage at least reassures me that nobody on Slate’s edit staff had a hand in it.