MoMA Says: Video Games are Art

The Museum of Modern Art in New York City recently acquired 14 video games to their permanent collection. From their blog post, and perhaps much to the chagrin of Roger Ebert:

Are video games art? They sure are, but they are also design, and a design approach is what we chose for this new foray into this universe. The games are selected as outstanding examples of interaction design—a field that MoMA has already explored and collected extensively, and one of the most important and oft-discussed expressions of contemporary design creativity. Our criteria, therefore, emphasize not only the visual quality and aesthetic experience of each game, but also the many other aspects—from the elegance of the code to the design of the player’s behavior—that pertain to interaction design. In order to develop an even stronger curatorial stance, over the past year and a half we have sought the advice of scholars, digital conservation and legal experts, historians, and critics, all of whom helped us refine not only the criteria and the wish list, but also the issues of acquisition, display, and conservation of digital artifacts that are made even more complex by the games’ interactive nature. This acquisition allows the Museum to study, preserve, and exhibit video games as part of its Architecture and Design collection.

The list of games in MoMA’s permanent collection:

 Pac-Man (1980)
• Tetris (1984)
• Another World (1991)
• Myst (1993)
• SimCity 2000 (1994)
• vib-ribbon (1999)
• The Sims (2000)
• Katamari Damacy (2004)
• EVE Online (2003)
• Dwarf Fortress (2006)
• Portal (2007)
• flOw (2006)
• Passage (2008)
• Canabalt (2009)

Of those games, I’ve played Pac-Man, Tetris, Myst, SimCity2000, The Sims, Portal, and Canabalt (this was a surprise addition to the collection, I think). How about you?

Read the rest of MoMA’s post to discover the criteria for admission of these video games into their permanent collection.

Another Reason of DRM Stupidity

Another day, another story makes the news on why Digital Rights Management (DRM) is bad. The Consumerist reports of B&N denying access to a purchased e-book because the purchaser’s credit card has expired:

Yesterday, I tried to download an ebook I paid for, and previously put on my Nook, a few months ago. When I tried, I got an error message stating I could not download the book because the credit card on file had expired. But, I already paid for it. Who cares if the credit card is expired? It has long since been paid for, so the status of the card on file has nothing to do with my ability to download said book. I didn’t see anything in the terms of service about this either, but it’s possible I missed it.

There’s a good discussion of this DRM stupidity at TechDirt.

From earlier this year, you might want to check out this Lifehacker article explaining how to strip DRM from your ebooks.

On Albert Einstein’s Unusual, but Average-Sized, Brain

After Albert Einstein died in 1955, a pathologist named Thomas Harvey removed Einstein’s brain, photographed it with great care, cut it up into 240 blocks, sliced some of those blocks into slides, and prepared a roadmap to help future scientists navigate the pieces. Slides and photographs were distributed to researchers, but many have since been lost.

Dean Falk, a senior scholar at Santa Fe’s School for Advanced Research, has spent years studying the photographs of Einstein’s brain and is the lead author of a new study, published in the journal Brain, that relies on a collection of rarely seen photographs to analyze it.

Falk’s team compared Einstein’s brain with those of 85 other humans already described in the scientific literature and found that the great physicist did indeed have something special between his ears. Although the brain, weighing 1230 grams, is only average in size, several regions feature additional convolutions and folds rarely seen in other subjects. For example, the regions on the left side of the brain that facilitate sensory inputs into, and motor control of, the face and tongue are much larger than normal; and his prefrontal cortex—linked to planning, focused attention, and perseverance in the face of challenges—is also greatly expanded.

The key takeaway: Einstein’s brain was normal sized, but had a lot more convolutions than that of the average human brain (on record).

Photographs of Einstein’s brain.

The link to the full paper is here.

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(via Washington Post)

Alan Sepinwall on the Origins of LOST

Alan Sepinwall, writing for Grantland, recounts the origins of the hit TV show LOST, as told by the people who made it, in an exclusive first serial excerpt from The Revolution Was Televised:

On vacation with his family in Hawaii, Braun watched his network’s broadcast of the Tom Hanks movie Cast Away, then went down to the beach to watch the sunset and meet up with his wife and kids. As he waited, he began pondering the idea of doing Cast Awayas a TV show, but couldn’t figure out how to make it work with only one actor and one volleyball.

“And then the notion of Survivor popped into my head,” recalls Braun. “I don’t know why. And I put it all together: What if there was a plane that crashed and a dozen people survived, and nobody knew each other. Your past was almost irrelevant. You could reinvent who you were. You had to figure out — how do you survive? What do you use for shelter, for water? Is it like Lord of the Flies? How do we get off the island, how do you get home? And I start to get very excited about the idea, and I start thinking about the title Lost.”

Also interesting and surprising was how one of the writers of LOST, Damon Lindelof, reacted to the show’s premiere:

Lindelof, on the other hand? He describes his response to those huge premiere ratings as “Terror, depression, anxiety, anxiety attacks. I’m not exaggerating. Everybody who was around me at the time knows I pretty much wanted to die, and knowing that wasn’t going to happen unless I took matters into my hands, I just wanted to quit. But there was literally no one to quit to.”

Cuse says, “I remember [Lindelof] coming in with the ratings after the opening episode, and he looked completely miserable. He said, ‘Does this mean we have to keep fucking doing this?’ If you’re a producer in television, this is like getting a winning lottery ticket: having a show that’s not only critically acclaimed but gets big ratings. But it was daunting to have to sustain this thing.”

I’ve placed Alan Sepinwall’s The Revolution was Televised on my Christmas wish-list.

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As some of you may know, LOST is my favorite TV show (to this day). Here was my reflection six months after the show ended.

(hat tip: Longreads)

Warren Buffett on a Minimum Tax

Warren Buffett is in the news again, this time stirring up some controversy with his op-ed in The New York Times, where he argues the ultra-rich need to pay a minimum tax:

Additionally, we need Congress, right now, to enact a minimum tax on high incomes. I would suggest 30 percent of taxable income between $1 million and $10 million, and 35 percent on amounts above that. A plain and simple rule like that will block the efforts of lobbyists, lawyers and contribution-hungry legislators to keep the ultrarich paying rates well below those incurred by people with income just a tiny fraction of ours. Only a minimum tax on very high incomes will prevent the stated tax rate from being eviscerated by these warriors for the wealthy.

Above all, we should not postpone these changes in the name of “reforming” the tax code. True, changes are badly needed. We need to get rid of arrangements like “carried interest” that enable income from labor to be magically converted into capital gains. And it’s sickening that a Cayman Islands mail drop can be central to tax maneuvering by wealthy individuals and corporations.

He cites some hard numbers:

A huge tail wind from tax cuts has pushed us along. In 1992, the tax paid by the 400 highest incomes in the United States (a different universe from the Forbes list) averaged 26.4 percent of adjusted gross income. In 2009, the most recent year reported, the rate was 19.9 percent. It’s nice to have friends in high places.

The group’s average income in 2009 was $202 million — which works out to a “wage” of $97,000 per hour, based on a 40-hour workweek. (I’m assuming they’re paid during lunch hours.) Yet more than a quarter of these ultrawealthy paid less than 15 percent of their take in combined federal income and payroll taxes. Half of this crew paid less than 20 percent. And — brace yourself — a few actually paid nothing.

For the rest of you: how to reduce your taxes in 2012.

The New York Times Book Review’s 100 Notable Books of 2012

The New York Times Book Review just unveiled their list of 100 notable books of 2012. It’s well worth perusing. Here is their list of the best 2012 fiction/poetry:

ALIF THE UNSEEN. By G. Willow Wilson. (Grove, $25.) A young hacker on the run in the Mideast is the protagonist of this imaginative first novel.

ALMOST NEVER. By Daniel Sada. Translated by Katherine Silver. (Graywolf, paper, $16.) In this glorious satire of machismo, a Mexican agronomist simultaneously pursues a prostitute and an upright woman.

AN AMERICAN SPY. By Olen Steinhauer. (Minotaur, $25.99.) In a novel vividly evoking the multilayered world of espionage, Steinhauer’s hero fights back when his C.I.A. unit is nearly destroyed.

ARCADIA. By Lauren Groff. (Voice/Hyperion, $25.99.) Groff’s lush and visual second novel begins at a rural commune, and links that utopian past to a dystopian, post-global-warming future.

AT LAST. By Edward St. Aubyn. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25.) The final and most meditative of St. Aubyn’s brilliant Patrick Melrose novels is full of precise observations and glistening turns of phrase.

BEAUTIFUL RUINS. By Jess Walter. (Harper/HarperCollins, $25.99.) Walter’s witty sixth novel, set largely in Hollywood, reveals an American landscape of vice, addiction, loss and disappointed hopes.

BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK. By Ben Fountain. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $25.99.) The survivors of a fierce firefight in Iraq are whisked stateside for a brief victory tour in this satirical novel.

BLASPHEMY. By Sherman Alexie. (Grove, $27.) The best stories in Alexie’s collection of new and selected works are moving and funny, bringing together the embittered critic and the yearning dreamer.

THE BOOK OF MISCHIEF: New and Selected Stories. By Steve Stern. (Graywolf, $26.) Jewish immigrant lives observed with effusive nostalgia.

BRING UP THE BODIES. By Hilary Mantel. (Macrae/Holt, $28.) Mantel’s sequel to “Wolf Hall” traces the fall of Anne Boleyn, and makes the familiar story fascinating and suspenseful again.

BUILDING STORIES. By Chris Ware. (Pantheon, $50.) A big, sturdy box containing hard-bound volumes, pamphlets and a tabloid houses Ware’s demanding, melancholy and magnificent graphic novel about the inhabitants of a Chicago building.

BY BLOOD. By Ellen Ullman. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27.) This smart, slippery novel is a narrative striptease, as a professor listens in on the sessions between the therapist next door and her patients.

CANADA. By Richard Ford. (Ecco/Har­perCollins, $27.99.) A boy whose parents rob a bank in Montana in 1960 takes refuge across the border in this mesmerizing novel, driven by fully realized characters and an accomplished prose style.

CARRY THE ONE. By Carol Anshaw. (Simon & Schuster, $25.) Anshaw pays close attention to the lives of a group of friends bound together by a fatal accident in this wry, humane novel, her fourth.

CITY OF BOHANE. By Kevin Barry. (Graywolf, $25.) Somewhere in Ireland in 2053, people are haunted by a “lost time,” when something calamitous happened, and hope to reclaim the past. Barry’s extraordinary, exuberant first novel is full of inventive language.

COLLECTED POEMS. By Jack Gilbert. (Knopf, $35.) In orderly free verse constructions, Gilbert deals plainly with grief, love, marriage, betrayal and lust.

DEAR LIFE: Stories. By Alice Munro. (Knopf, $26.95.) This volume offers further proof of Munro’s mastery, and shows her striking out in the direction of a new, late style that sums up her whole career.

THE DEVIL IN SILVER. By Victor LaValle. (Spiegel & Grau, $27.) LaValle’s culturally observant third novel is set in a shabby urban mental hospital.

ENCHANTMENTS. By Kathryn Harrison. (Random House, $27.) Harrison’s splendid and surprising novel of late imperial Russia centers on Rasputin’s daughter Masha and the hemophiliac ­czarevitch Alyosha.

FLIGHT BEHAVIOR. By Barbara Kingsolver. (Harper/HarperCollins, $28.99.) An Appalachian woman becomes involved in an effort to save monarch butterflies in this brave and majestic novel.

FOBBIT. By David Abrams. (Black Cat/Grove/Atlantic, paper, $15.) Clerks, cooks and lawyers at a forward operating base in Iraq populate this first novel.

THE FORGETTING TREE. By Tatjana Soli. (St. Martin’s, $25.99.) In Soli’s haunting second novel, a mysterious Caribbean woman cares for a cancer patient on an isolated California ranch.

GATHERING OF WATERS. By Bernice L. McFadden. (Akashic, $24.95.) Three generations of black women confront floods and murder in Mississippi.

GODS WITHOUT MEN. By Hari Kunzru. (Knopf, $26.95.) Related stories, spanning centuries and continents, and all tethered to a desert rock formation, emphasize interconnectivity across time and space in Kunzru’s relentlessly modern fourth novel.

HHhH. By Laurent Binet. Translated by Sam Taylor. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26.)This gripping novel examines both the killing of an SS general in Prague in 1942 and Binet’s experience in writing about it.

A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING. By Dave Eggers. (McSweeney’s, $25.) Eg­gers’s novel is a haunting and supremely readable parable of America in the global economy, a nostalgic lament for a time when life had stakes and people worked with their hands.

HOME. By Toni Morrison. (Knopf, $24.) A black Korean War veteran, discharged from an integrated Army into a segregated homeland, makes a reluctant journey back to Georgia in a novel engaged with themes that have long haunted Morrison.

HOPE: A TRAGEDY. By Shalom Auslander. (Riverhead, $26.95.) Hilarity alternates with pain in this novel about a Jewish man seeking peace in upstate New York who discovers Anne Frank in his ­attic.

HOW SHOULD A PERSON BE? By Sheila Heti. (Holt, $25.) The narrator (also named Sheila) and her friends try to answer the question in this novel’s title.

IN ONE PERSON. By John Irving. (Simon & Schuster, $28.) Irving’s funny, risky new novel about an aspiring writer struggling with his sexuality examines what happens when we face our desires honestly.

A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME. By Wiley Cash. (Morrow/HarperCollins, $24.99.) An evil pastor dominates Cash’s mesmerizing first novel.

MARRIED LOVE: And Other Stories. By Tessa Hadley. (Harper Perennial, paper, $14.99.) Hadley’s understatedly beautiful collection is filled with exquisitely calibrated gradations and expressions of class.

NW. By Zadie Smith. (Penguin Press, $26.95.) The lives of two friends who grew up in a northwest London housing project diverge, illuminating questions of race, class, sexual identity and personal choice, in Smith’s energetic modernist novel.

ON THE SPECTRUM OF POSSIBLE DEATHS. By Lucia Perillo. (Copper Canyon, $22.) Taut, lucid poems filled with complex emotional reflection.

PURE. By Julianna Baggott. (Grand Central, $25.99.) Children battle for the planet’s redemption in this precisely written postapocalyptic adventure story.

THE RIGHT-HAND SHORE. By Christopher Tilghman. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27.) A dark, magisterial novel set on a Chesapeake Bay estate.

THE ROUND HOUSE. By Louise Erdrich. (Harper/HarperCollins, $27.99.) In this novel, an American Indian family faces the ramifications of a vicious crime.

SALVAGE THE BONES. By Jesmyn Ward. (Bloomsbury, $24.) A pregnant 15-year-old and her family await Hurricane Katrina in this lushly written novel.

SAN MIGUEL. By T. Coraghessan Boyle. (Viking, $27.95.) Two utopians from different eras establish private idylls on California’s desolate Channel Islands; this novel preserves their tantalizing dreams.

SHINE SHINE SHINE. By Lydia Netzer. (St. Martin’s, $24.99.) This thought-provoking debut novel presents a geeky astronaut and his pregnant wife.

SHOUT HER LOVELY NAME. By Natalie Serber. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24.)The stories in Serber’s first collection are smart and nuanced.

SILENT HOUSE. By Orhan Pamuk. Translated by Robert Finn. (Knopf, $26.95.) A family is a microcosm of a country on the verge of a coup in this intense, foreboding novel, first published in Turkey in 1983.

THE STARBOARD SEA. By Amber Dermont. (St. Martin’s, $24.99.) Dermont’s captivating debut novel, whose narrator is a boarding school student and a sailor, takes pleasure in the sea and in the exhilarating freedom of being young.

SWEET TOOTH. By Ian McEwan. (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, $26.95.) The true subject of this smart and tricky novel, set inside a cold war espionage operation, is the border between make-believe and reality.

SWIMMING HOME. By Deborah Levy. (Bloomsbury, paper, $14.) In this spare, disturbing and frequently funny novel, a troubled young woman tests the marriages of two couples.

TELEGRAPH AVENUE. By Michael Chabon. (Harper/HarperCollins, $27.99.)Chabon’s rich comic novel about fathers and sons in Berkeley and Oakland, Calif., juggles multiple plots and mounds of pop culture references in astonishing prose.

THE TESTAMENT OF MARY. By Colm Toibin. (Scribner, $19.99.) This beautiful work takes power from the surprises of its language and its almost shocking characterization of Mary, mother of Jesus.

THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE HER. By Junot Díaz. (Riverhead, $26.95.) The stories in this collection are about love, but they’re also about the undertow of family history and cultural mores, presented in Díaz’s exciting, irresistible and entertaining prose.

THREE STRONG WOMEN. By Marie NDiaye. Translated by John Fletcher. (Knopf, $25.95.) In loosely linked narratives, three women from Senegal struggle with fathers and husbands in France. This subtle, hypnotic novel won the Prix Goncourt in 2009.

TOBY’S ROOM. By Pat Barker. (Doubleday, $25.95.) This novel, a sequel to “Life Class,” delves further into the lives of an English family torn apart by World War I.

WATERGATE. By Thomas Mallon. (Pantheon, $26.95.) This novelistic re­imagining of the “third-rate burglary” proposes surprising motives for the break-in and the 18-minute gap, and has a sympathetic Nixon.

WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT ANNE FRANK: Stories.By Nathan Englander. (Knopf, $24.95.) Englander tackles large questions of morality and history in a masterly collection that manages to be both insightful and ­uproarious.

THE YELLOW BIRDS. By Kevin Powers. (Little, Brown, $24.99.) A young private and his platoon struggle through the war in Iraq but find no peace at home in this powerful and moving first novel about the frailty of man and the brutality of war.

Click through to see the non-fiction list.

How the Nerds Helped Obama Win the 2012 Election

The 2012 Presidential Election may be three weeks behind us, but I wanted to highlight this excellent piece by Alexis Madrigal in The Atlantic titled “When The Nerds Go Marching In.” Alexis goes behind the scenes to get the scoop on the top caliber technology team that was behind Obama’s campaign. Led by campaign technology officer Harper Reed,

The team had elite and, for tech, senior talent — by which I mean that most of them were in their 30s — from Twitter, Google, Facebook, Craigslist, Quora, and some of Chicago’s own software companies such as Orbitz and Threadless, where Reed had been CTO. But even these people, maybe *especially* these people, knew enough about technology not to trust it. “I think the Republicans fucked up in the hubris department,” Reed told me. “I know we had the best technology team I’ve ever worked with, but we didn’t know if it would work. I was incredibly confident it would work. I was betting a lot on it. We had time. We had resources. We had done what we thought would work, and it still could have broken. Something could have happened.”

Moreover,

Reed’s team came in as outsiders to the campaign and by most accounts, remained that way. The divisions among the tech, digital, and analytics team never quite got resolved, even if the end product has salved the sore spots that developed over the stressful months. At their worst, in early 2012, the cultural differences between tech and everybody else threatened to derail the whole grand experiment.

By the end, the campaign produced exactly what it should have: a hybrid of the desires of everyone on Obama’s team. They raised hundreds of millions of dollars online, made unprecedented progress in voter targeting, and built everything atop the most stable technical infrastructure of any presidential campaign. To go a step further, I’d even say that this clash of cultures was a good thing: The nerds shook up an ossifying Democratic tech structure and the politicos taught the nerds a thing or two about stress, small-p politics, and the significance of elections.

Above all, Alexis goes behind the scenes to bring the face of the team closer to us, the read. It’s a deeply human story:

If you’re a nerd, Harper Reed is an easy guy to like. He’s brash and funny and smart. He gets you and where you came from. He, too, played with computers when they weren’t cool, and learned to code because he just could not help himself. You could call out nouns, phenomena, and he’d be right there with you: BBS, warez, self-organizing systems, Rails, the quantified self, Singularity. He wrote his first programs at age seven, games that his mom typed into their Apple IIC. He, too, has a memory that all nerds share: Late at night, light from a chunky monitor illuminating his face, fingers flying across a keyboard, he figured something out. 

It’s one of the best pieces I’ve read since the election. Highly, highly recommended.