In the Zora Zone

Last night, at the Philly Tech Week 2013 preview event, I got to meet Zora Ball. You might have heard of her — earlier this year she recently set a world record for being the youngest person ever to create a mobile video game app.

Zora is in first grade at the Harambee Institute in West Philly, one of Philadelphia’s first and most-successful charter schools. Using Bootstrap, she coded a basic video game: a character (in this case a girl in a ballet outfit) moves up and down around her bedroom, trying to avoid being hit by objects sliding left-to-right across the scene. We saw a demo; it’s nothing fancy, but collision avoidance is the basis of nearly every action game there is.

SONY DSC Continue reading In the Zora Zone

What Buying Twitter Followers Looks Like

It’s easy to buy Twitter followers — you can get them for as little as a penny each. We have friends who’ve done it. For brands, it can make a big difference in perceived credibility. But if you’re going to do it, don’t make it obvious.

We came across an account today (set up by someone we have met) that shows what it looks like when you pay to look cool, but end up coming off as a fool.

It’s clearly a new account. And yet it has a whopping 2,333 followers while following only 10 others. Unless you’re a movie star, pop star, sports star or robot rover on another planet, that’s a highly unlikely ratio for a just-started account to have. Continue reading What Buying Twitter Followers Looks Like

The Best Thing I Didn’t Eat Last Week

(Or, Never Let Photography Get in the Way of Tacos)

She flew all the way in from Salt Lake City just to make tacos. Not regular tacos — those can be found in various Tex and Mex styles all over the East Coast — but an entirely new kind. And I missed them.

Taco Continue reading The Best Thing I Didn’t Eat Last Week

How to Make the Perfect Cup of Coffee with an AeroPress

“Something no more miraculous than a cup of coffee is enough transcendence for one day.”
My Dinner with André

I’ve written before about the AeroPress as the pinnacle coffee-making method. One of its best features is how amazingly easy it is to use, but it can seem daunting at first. All the specifics—how much water to use, how to grind, how and when to pour and press—are left to personal choice.

As a starting point, I present below a step-by-step guide to my brewing process (which I act out every single morning). Tweak the measurements to your taste to create the best cups of coffee you’ve ever had.

Continue reading How to Make the Perfect Cup of Coffee with an AeroPress

Seven Way Venn, Colored

Came across a black and white seven way Venn diagram by way of Information is Beautiful and had the urge to see it in color. Though the numbers provide a hint at all the different overlays of the seven sets, I wanted more differentiation. I decided to created the colorful version in Illustrator. You can download a PDF here.

Continue reading Seven Way Venn, Colored

In Defense of Likes and Faves: Doodling in the Margins

What does it mean to like or favorite something on the internet today?

The Backstory

The above is a riff on a line from Robin Sloan’s recent coup d’app, Fish. His tap essay explores the difference between liking something online and actually loving something online. Robin posits that in the overwhelming stream of great posts, articles, pics and videos, something we love on the internet is something come back to, something we read or visit at least twice. Fish is a beautiful essay with a strong point; it’s innovative, well-designed and touching, and I am a big fan.

However, I don’t quite agree with the disparagement of liking, faving (and even +1-ing) that helps form the essay’s underlying thesis. According to Sloan, when you deign to spend a click on one of these actions, (emphasis his):

“You’re saying to your friends or followers: This is worth your time. (But me, I’m on to the next thing.)”

Continue reading In Defense of Likes and Faves: Doodling in the Margins

Romantic Plastic: The AeroPress – Best Coffee Ever

Not only does the AeroPress manage to look both futuristic and friendly at the same time, it makes the best (and easiest) cup of coffee I have ever had. And that’s saying a lot.

I started drinking coffee early on. Growing up in New York City, it was unavoidable. Starting around 9th grade, I would cop Anthora paper cups at the deli around the corner from my Upper West Side apartment. In 10th grade I officially became a regular at the diner down the street from my high school, where I’m sure the waitress loved when we piled in to a booth, six at a time, and ordered only cups of steaming, burnt swill, accompanied perhaps by a side of grilled corn muffin.

It wasn’t until sophomore year in college, when I met my future husband, that I actually tasted really great coffee. My caffeine addiction – by this point I couldn’t make it coffee-less past noon without a splitting headache – led me to spend an large amount of time in the many cafes of  Providence, RI. While Starbucks had already begun its march to nationwide dominance, the green mermaid had yet to reach this New England town. Continue reading Romantic Plastic: The AeroPress – Best Coffee Ever

Greatest Universe Ever Sold

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (presented by Pom Wonderful) is proof that we have beaten bin Laden. Or at least, provides hope for the future of the American way. Morgan Spurlock (who you might remember from fast-food takedown Super Size Me) faces commercialization and product placement head on, and in exposing it, finds positives. He finds sponsors that understand where he’s going with the film and are fully behind the idea. They’re in on the joke, and that‘s a great selling point. It’s also good for the consumer.

Greatest Movie examines the effects of self-awareness on advertising, and finds the two are not mutually exclusive. This is a good thing. Advertising is not going to disappear any time soon; it has become part of our global culture. And even if it could, would we really want it to? Marketing and advertising are effective methods of disseminating information. What we don’t need is false advertising. The more enlightened companies are – in terms of what goes into making their products and what their customers are looking for – the more progress we can make as a society.

One of the major goals of humanity – of existence, in general – should be to become more self-aware. To explore the boundaries of awareness, as beings in this universe (as part of this universe). How much can we realize about the “now,” the present? How far does our perception extend, and what factors are influencing it, in real time? Continue reading Greatest Universe Ever Sold

Double Eagles – from the Mint and Back

Note: This was originally written as a submission for Longshot Magazine, Issue 2: DEBT. Thanks are due to Andrew Nusca for editing.

In 1792, recognizing that a national currency would help establish the identity of a nascent country, four men — George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and David Rittenhouse — partnered to establish the First Mint of the United States. To build its coffers, the Mint solicited merchants’ private stocks of gold and silver and returned the metal to them as coin. This was accomplished with a very modest operation, comprising three small structures.

Striking coins at the First Mint of the United States was a laborious process (image from Daniel Diderot's Pictorial Encylopedia of Trades & Industry)

The first was a smelting furnace, to melt down raw bullion. The lumps of molten metal were then transferred to the second facility, where a rolling mill powered by a pair of yoked horses in the cellar made numerous passes to flatten the material into a sheet of appropriate thickness. It took three men to complete the last step in the process, which involved the operation of the hand-cranked machine that took circular planchets cut from the sheet and struck them, turning them into coins. Standard denominations were established, including dimes, quarters and half-dollars, all the way up to the gold eagle, a single piece worth $10.

In 1933, a series of $20 “double eagle” coins were struck, but never released to the public. The following year, president Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Gold Reserve Act, which outlawed possession of gold by the general population. Only two examples of 1933 double eagle series were allowed to remain, for posterity, with the rest destroyed. Or so the government thought.

Years later, several of the illicit coins turned up in the collections of well-off numismatics. Seven of them were recovered quickly, but others proved harder to get. In the 1950s, King Farouk of Egypt — a collector of Faberge Eggs and other small valuables — managed to obtain one of the last remaining double eagles not recovered by officials. His reign ended soon thereafter, and for a half-century, the coin floated around the numismatic black market. In a 2001 sting operation, the U.S. Treasury recovered the piece, and subsequently sold it at a Sotheby’s auction for $7.5 million.

But “last” is an elusive qualifier, and in 2004, Joan Switt Langboard discovered an additional 10 double eagle coins in a lock box that had been owned by her father, Philadelphia jeweler Israel Switt. In July 2011, after a seven-day examination of events from almost 70 years prior, a jury determined that the illicit gold coins had been stolen from the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia.

Federal prosecutors argued that Switt, most likely with the help of a corrupt Mint official, had illegally transferred them to his possession and subsequently made them available to collectors around the world, including King Farouk. “Israel Switt and some of his friends stole 1933 double eagles from the Philadelphia Mint,” assistant U.S. attorney Jacqueline Romero said in closing arguments.

The ruling allows the federal government to repossess the double eagles, clearing the way for the Treasury to sell the coins — all of which, of course, were originally destined for the smelting furnace. Now worth far more than the material they’re made of, the rare pieces will likely fetch a huge sum. A private merchant is again the enabler.

It’s a Longshot

A group of media folk will coalesce over New York City this weekend, landing in borrowed Manhattan offices for an intense, caffeine-fueled 48-hour session. For a full day, they’ll reach into the bottomless magician’s top hat that is the internet and tease forth original articles, stories, photographs, visualizations and videos from creative people around the world. After a frenzied period of sorting, editing, designing and coding, they will birth a magazine. And you can take part.

It’s the third go-round for Longshot Magazine (née 48 Hour Magazine), which launched in 2010 as the brainchild of Sarah RichMat Honan and Alexis Madrigal. If you follow these folks at all, or read their writing, you’ll recognize them as some of the brightest minds – and coolest personas – of the online community. It’s no wonder they garner over a thousand submissions for each call, even though contributors only have 24 hours to produce once the issue’s theme is announced.

It’s not an easy gig to score, with many nationally known contributors vying for a page, and when you look at the ratio of published vs. total submissions (last time it was near 50/1000), it’s hard not to appreciate the magazine’s new title. Formulating a good piece takes time, and the effort can feel futile and frustrating if it doesn’t emerge triumphant through the narrow selection process. But, that’s not at all the case if – as David Lang poignantly points out – the process is the best part. Groups of like-minded, smart people, working as teams, in conjunction with worldwide social networks, in real time, around a common theme? Sounds like an exercise society should be praticing as early and often as possible.

Added incentive to contend for placement: this time, Longshot set up a (very successful) Kickstarter campaign, and will actually be paying contributors. They’ve also just put out the carrot of a $2,000 windfall (“That’s rent money!”) for the author of a longform cover story – enough to get anyone’s mental motor revving.

We want to meet the other people here who are inspired by this project, so we’re setting up a Longshot satellite office  this weekend at Independents Hall, thanks to the generosity of the patron saint of coworking, Alex Hillman. While we won’t be riding on a sleep-deprived high like the good peeps in New York (though Gawker’s offices are probably riddled with champagne-spewing Jacuzzis, who are we kidding), we will be holding down a corner of IndyHall at the time of the theme announcement on 3 PM (EDT) Friday (and will be there until around 6 or 7 PM), and will be around again all day on Saturday, from 9 AM to 6 PM or later. We may or may not get our works published, but we will have fun doing it.

If you’re reading this, and you want to submit or get involved, you’re already ahead. Hit me up on G+ or email me to get in the loop (I see G+ as key; we can take advantage of the real-time communication tools to make this into a whole new kind of collab).

And, some last minute pre-gaming:

1/ Forbes scored some good tips from Sarah on what is likely to get play [last paragraph]:

“We’ve found a lot of good submissions are either direct reporting that’s been conducted during the 24-hour submission period (someone goes out into their city and explores and the reports on something), or some kind of investigation that draws on history or pop culture or news. We’ve had great photo essay submissions, excellent historical narratives. The things that tend to be weakest are the deeply personal, diary-style essays that lack a contextual framework for general interest.”

2/ The Moodbook has clues about what this year’s theme will be, give it a spin.