How to Play Video Games as a 30-Year-Old Non-Gamer

Temple Run DeathStep 1: Read New Yorker article about Canabalt and the long-lost “endless runner” genre of video games and think for a moment that since they don’t require headsets and 10-button control pads, you might actually be able to play and enjoy a smart phone game.

Step 2: Realize that $2.99 for Canabalt is $2.99 more than you’re willing to spend on a game and settle for the free Temple Run which was described in the article as also good.

Step 3: Get killed by band of crazy monkeys in 10 seconds.

Step 4: Get killed by band of crazy monkey in 15 seconds.

Step 5: Turn off smart phone and go back to reading the New Yorker while lamenting the passing of Sega Genesis and complaining that video games these days just aren’t as good as they were when you were a child.

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2012 Year in Review – List of Lists!

So I’ve compiled a list of my favorite lists that I have seen over the past couple of weeks or so, chronicling the year that was in all its glory and pathos.

From Wired: Best Memes of 2012

Memes exploded into the mainstream in 2012. And given how quickly they take shape and get rendered obsolete, this means that anyone can be smug and make people feel stupid for not knowing about the latest greatest. Some are great, some are meh, but they are very 2012. God bless Hillary and her steadfast texting.

From The Atlantic Wire: The 50 worst columns of 2012

This sounds like a daunting task. Most folks probably can’t recall 50 columns at all, let alone the 50 worst ones from the last year. Hats off to the Wire team for highlighting the insane, ridiculous and often silly opinion pieces from writers such as Thomas Friedman, George Will and David Brooks. If anything I’m surprised those guys don’t have more entries on the list. It should be noted that the New York Times appears on the list ten times – such an honor!

From Quartz: The five most disruptive technologies of 2012

Remember when you were young (it doesn’t matter how old you are because it applies to anyone born after the Depression) when everyone thought that in their lifetime, there would be flying cars and humanoid robots in the house? Well 2012 actually introduced some breakthrough technologies concerning self-driving cars (still not flying) and augmented reality.

From Foreign Policy: Five Weapons to Watch in 2013

OK fine this is not about 2012, but it’s still fascinating. In case you’re not permitted to read the article, the weapons mentioned are (1) 3D printed guns, (2) killer drone boats, (3) stealth drones (the flying kind), (4) killer robot cars and (5) electricity blackout causing flying drones. So there you have it, 2013 will be all about death robots – nothing to be scared about.

From Forbes: 10 Greatest Industry-Disrupting Startups of 2012

The overwhelming trend among new companies has been to organize data to introduce buyers and sellers to new sellers and buyers. By now most of you know about Kickstarter’s work in crowdsourcing. But what about Farmingo, a company that connects consumers with local food producers? Recyclebank incentivizes recycling by partnering with traditional retailers. Noodle sounds like a Craigslist for K-12 education.

From National Geographic: Traveler Photo Contest 2012

Nothing fancy or avant-garde, just pretty pictures. The winners are shown on the link above but take a look at the In Focus section of the Atlantic where they’ve combed through the submissions and put together their own top 50. And then they put up another 50.

From the Huffington Post: 10 funniest awkward family holiday photos

HuffPo’s favorites from the trove of images available at Awkward Family Photos. I’m not even sure if this qualifies to be on the list as there’s nothing really specific to 2012 about it, but who cares. It’s a list, it was made in 2012, and it’s hilarious. Merry Christmas to all!

The Smartest/Creepiest Car Insurance Idea (For Now)

It even looks like R2D2
The man is watching. But don’t worry, he wants to save you money.

We all hate insurance companies – about as much as we hate banks, airlines and cell phone service providers. Car insurance companies, however, have a new way to save you money, but it takes us one step closer to 1984.

Progressive offers its customers a device called Snapshot that monitors the number of miles driven, and how fast the car is driven. The reason is simple – people who drive more, and people who drive faster are involved in more accidents. These folks are the reason that everyone else’s insurance premiums are higher than they would otherwise be.

Insurance companies already gather mountains of information on our age, gender, geography, marital status, income and credit score (and probably a lot of things we aren’t aware of) in order to determine who is a greater risk and thereby deserving of a higher premium. But these call into questions issues of sexism, ageism and classism. Charging more to those who drive more makes a lot more sense morally and financially.

Check out this graph from The Atlantic showing the relationship between miles driven and crashes/damages/injuries.

It doesn’t get much clearer than that.

And sure, Progressive, and its competitors who offer similar but less advanced products, have intentionally left out a GPS tracking systems in the monitoring device. They rightly assumed customers would not use the product with Big Brother knowing so much. But it’s only a matter of time before we cross that line. Once the system is in place, it will only be a matter of adding (or merely activating) one feature.

Surely there are lives and money to be saved if companies could track our every motion. Certainly there are some roads that are more dangerous than others; people who drive on the safe ones who want to save. How about breathalyzers as standard equipment in order to save money on insurance?

What other information can we use to draw correlations? Level of education? Criminal record? Gun ownership? Body mass index? Religion? Race? That last one is prohibited under the Constitution, but when you make a list of all the factors, you see how ridiculous it might seem to (1) exclude it, or (2) even consider all the other bits of information in the first place.

As technology improves we are going to be confronted with more of these dilemmas over privacy and common sense approaches to saving money and lives. I’m not sure where to draw the line. In fact, I would install such a device in my car. The way I see it, the war with the machines/robots/cyborgs/mutants/whatever is coming one way or another. The only question is whether it will be my grandchildren or their grandchildren who will wage that battle.

Retraction: TED Is Awesome

I liked TED and then convinced myself that I didn’t. I was a hater. Please don’t be one too. 

Urban Dictionary defines a hater as: “A person that simply cannot be happy for another person’s success. So rather than be happy they make a point of exposing a flaw in that person”. An example follows:

Susan: You know, Kevin from accounting is doing very well. He just bought a house in a very nice part of town.

Jane (hater): If he is doing so well why does he drive that ’89 Taurus?

My post from two weeks ago, Is TED Watering Down Our Minds?, is a prime example of hatertude, and for that I am sorry. I had explained how my initial love for TED had given way to boredom with the increasingly repetitive lectures. I cited Salman Khan’s education project as the last time I was genuinely impressed by a TED talk. What I failed to mention was that before Khan, there was Theo Jansen’s kinetic creatures that roam the coastline of Holland. Before that was Eric Whitacre’s virtual choir of over 2,000 voices from around the world. And Pranav Mistry’s 6th Sense technology that will revolutionize the way we interact with computers. And Hans Rosling’s data presentation that are so simple and so informative. The list goes on.

Although TED isn’t perfect, it has probably blown my mind away more than just about any other internet site. It will not save the world, but that’s OK. TED is an introduction and inspiration. TED is not comprehensive, but it’s not supposed to be. Most importantly, it is not watering down our minds.

TED may have faults with self righteousness and elitism (I’m beginning to doubt even those), but to suggest that it is watering down our minds is a red herring and a sad attempt to take a swipe at something because it enjoys mass appeal. If an organization can convince tens of millions of people to commit nearly 20 minutes of their day to sit down and think about something new, then they have succeeded and I applaud them. By today’s standards 20 minutes is quite a bit – especially on the internet.  There are so many things that are watering down our minds (stupid cat videos anyone?) and turning to a fast food approach to learning (cable news anyone?). TED is not one of them.

Is TED Watering Down Our Minds?

TED takes big ideas and makes them plain, but does it also dumb them down?

=IMPORTANT: SEE HERE FOR FOLLOW-UP POST AND RETRACTION=

When I discovered TED, I was thrilled. The idea of 18-minute lectures on technology, entertainment and design wasn’t sexy in and of itself, but the conferences had the type of swagger that only confident nerds could pull off. I would frequently forward links to talks that I found interesting and felt good about myself. Before long the conferences and events were being held all over the world and the videos had attracted over 500 million views online.

Earlier this week in the Atlantic, Megan Garber points out that TED, like the Chautauqua movement before it, is seen as either intellectual discourse for the common man or self-congratulating elites peddling watered down ideas. TED is decried for reinforcing elitism (conference admission is $6,000), but the most scathing criticism is that is takes big ideas and makes them too small – fast food for the mind. TED is where you go to listen to buzz words and feel good – Khan Academy is where you go to actually learn something.  

It wasn’t until I started receiving recommendations myself that I started to grow a little tired of TED. Was I upset that my little secret had gotten out? That it had gone mainstream? Maybe, but I would have grown tired of it eventually. Whenever something transitions from niche to mainstream popularity, the original fans complain that the masses have corrupted what was once pure and noble.

In truth, I am rarely impressed with TED talks anymore (Salman Khan of Khan Academy fame was pretty awesome), mainly because it has developed into a parody of repeating management Newspeak of empowerment, synergy and thinking outside the box to save the world. But TED still serves a purpose – the gathering of intelligent and powerful people to discuss ideas and ways to make the world a better place is generally a good thing. What remains to be seen is if that gathering will be a genuine meeting of the minds or an exercise in mental masturbation and branding.

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Update: A comment below makes me feel compelled to add something. If TED is capable of sharing just a bit of knowledge with everyone, then it is a wonderful thing and I support it. If it’s aim is to change the world and look at problems in truly original ways, then it occasionally succeeds, but mostly repeats itself. I still don’t oppose it – God knows we have a problem in the US with the cult of anti-intellectualism. The very fact that more than half a billion people have viewed TED talks is a testament to its power. But my gut still tells me that with the exception of a few gems, it’s all one big light and sound show.