Wishful Thinking (the dislike club part IV)

December 9, 2014

In 2007 writer, programmer, and horse trainer Kathy Sierra quit the internet because of misogynist hate trolling. She stayed off the social web for 7 years but last year she came back to see what Twitter was like. She tells us why she only lasted a few weeks and her theory about why so many women are targets online. Plus Danielle Keats Citron explains how we could use the law to drain the cesspool.

If you dislike like, then you will… (the dislike club part III)

December 3, 2014

Our mini-series about the internet continues. This week Anthropologist Gabriella Coleman tells us about the internet’s original Dislike Club. Anonymous. Biella has spent the last eight years hanging out with Anons both on the IRC and in IRL. Her new book “Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: the many faces of Anonymous” is the definitive book on the topic, nothing else comes close. Biella also gets me to watch V for Vendetta, something I have refused to do out of my fanboy respect for writer Alan Moore (who refused to watch it or put his name on the movie). I wish I could un-see it already. Also: Commodify your dislike!

Paying For It (the dislike club part II)

November 25, 2014

Our mini-series about the internet continues. This week we take a close look at the fundamental business model of the web – advertising. In 1993 your host was a founding member of an international monkey wrench gang that fought billboards in outer space. He recently ran into one of his old comrades in Midtown-South (Manhattan’s tech district) and discovered that his side actually lost the war. Ethan Zuckerman, the man who invented the pop up ad, admits that we must rethink the fundamentals of the web, and activist, writer, and filmmaker Astra Taylor questions whether the internet actually benefits independent creators.

Backspace to the Future (the dislike club part I)

November 14, 2014

Paul Ford is a technologist and a writer, sometimes these two things blur. For example, he’s currently working on a book about webpages, but he’s also building a content management system for webpages – because you know it could help with the writing. (yeah his book is late) Its not like he’s trying to procrastinate, this is just what life is like when you are Paul Ford. A couple of Monday night’s ago he was sitting on his couch drinking some rye whisky and chatting with his friends on twitter and he accidentally a brand new webpage community. This is the true origin story of his tilde.club. Yours truly also started a new thing it is called dislike.club. We also check in with Librarian and community manager Jessamyn West for advice on how to start an online community that doesn’t suck.

The Dislike Club is a story-in-progress, it will play out on the podcast over the next few weeks and then culminate December 21 on Radiotonic, from ABC RN’s Creative Audio Unit.

Making it Happen

November 4, 2014

We tour Bold Machines with Makerbot co-founder Bre Pettis to learn about the future of Maker culture. Plus we visit China to learn what the next generation of Chinese makers have planned for the future.

Radiotopia LIVE (preview of the dislike.club)

October 28, 2014

The theory of everything is a founding member of Radiotopia, the world’s best podcast network. And we are midway through our Kickstarter. We made our 250,000 goal in one week! But our work is not done. We want to change radio forever. We want to create more shows and a viable ecosystem so that we can all thrive. We need to make a ton of noise, so we can make headlines. To do this we need you: we need 20,000 of you to back Radiotopia. If you have already done this THANK YOU really it means so much. If you can get a family member or a friend to do the same (1 dollar is more than enough) now that would be amazing. Like I said we are not going to get to 20,000 without your help. And Hover.com, the same folks who got me dislike.club, and the same folks who have been sponsoring the podcast over the past few weeks – they have thrown down a 25k challenge. So if we get to 20,000 we get even more money. I have been dreaming of Radiotopia for ten years – I want more than anything for this to work. At our party I performed a preview of my upcoming series – the dislike.club – it will begin in a few weeks. You will enjoy it and it will be weekly! Yes, WEEKLY!

Help Kickstart the future of Radiotopia (plus a visit from ToE’s Chris)

October 15, 2014

“[A] kind of Justice League for smart documentarians and sound artists.” –Bill McKibben

Enchanting by Numbers

October 6, 2014

When I was in Beijing last summer I dropped by the Microsoft research campus to talk with Dr. Yu Zheng. He studies the air pollution in his city, and the noise pollution in mine. Using algorithms he is able to predict what kinds of noises New Yorkers are most likely to hear in their neighborhoods. His algorithms could one day help city planners curb air pollution and noise or as Christian Sandvig notes they could be used by the GPS apps on our mobile devices to keep us from walking through neighborhoods perceived to have loud people hanging around outside.

Christian Sandvig studies algorithms which is hard to do, most companies like Facebook and Google don’t make their algorithms public. In a recent study he asked Facebook users to explain how they imagine the Edgerank algorithm works (this is the algorithm that powers Facebook’s news feed). Sandvig discovered that most of his subjects had no idea there even was an algorithm at work. When they learned the truth, it was like a moment out of the Matrix. But none of the participants remained angry for long. Six months later they mostly reported satisfaction with the algorithms that determine what the can and can’t see. Sandvig finds this problematic, because our needs and desires often don’t match with the needs and desires of the companies who build the algorithms.

“Ada’s algorithm” is the title of James Essinger’s new book. It tells the remarkable story about Ada Lovelace the woman who wrote the first computer program (or as James puts it – Algorithm) in 1843. He believes Ada’s insights came from her “poetical” scientific brain. Suw Charman-Anderson, the founder of Ada Lovelace day, tells us more about this remarkable woman who was known as the Enchantress of numbers.

It will always be hard

September 16, 2014

Man Without a Country (2 of 3)

August 8, 2014

What happens when you curse your own country? In this version of the classic Americana tale your host is sentenced to live out the rest of his days in a hot air balloon. In part two of the story your host has his first human interaction in ten years. Plus radio host Glynn Washington tells us what it was like to grow up black in a white-supremacist Christian cult.

Man Without a Country (3 of 3)

August 8, 2014

What happens when you curse your own country? In this version of the classic Americana tale your host is sentanced to live out the rest of his days in a hot air balloon. Our story concludes(?) when your host attempts to turn bread into wine. Plus learn about the origins of the tale of the Man without a Country and the various versions that have been produced over the last hundred years.

The American writer Edward Everett Hale first published his story The Man Without a Country in the pages of the Atlantic in December 1863. It is the story of an army lieutenant named Philip Nolan, who in his youth cursed America. The judge sentenced him to live out the rest of his life consigned to a US navy ship – never to set foot or eyes on his native land, and this sentence was carried out to the letter. In this version your host curses America and is sentenced to live out the rest of his days on a hot air balloon.

This is the definitive version of a story I have been working on for many years. It includes a historical examination of various versions of the tale that have been produced over the last hundred years as well as audio from a conversation I had with Howard Zinn in 2005, and the one and only Glynn Washington (host of the radio show Snap Judgement) shares his own story of growing up black in a Christian white-supremacist cult.

Man Without a Country (1 of 3)

August 8, 2014

What happens when you curse your own country? In this version of the classic Americana tale your host is sentenced to live out the rest of his days in a hot air balloon. In part one we hear the story of what happened when he fought the “three strikes you are out forever” law and lost. Plus Howard Zinn on the myth of American Exceptionalism.

The American writer Edward Everett Hale first published his story The Man Without a Country in the pages of the Atlantic in December 1863. It is the story of an army lieutenant named Philip Nolan, who in his youth cursed America. The judge sentenced him to live out the rest of his life consigned to a US navy ship – never to set foot or eyes on his native land, and this sentence was carried out to the letter. In this version your host curses America and is sentenced to live out the rest of his days on a hot air balloon.

This is the definitive version of a story I have been working on for many years. It includes a historical examination of various versions of the tale that have been produced over the last hundred years as well as audio from a conversation I had with Howard Zinn in 2005, and the one and only Glynn Washington (host of the radio show Snap Judgement) shares his own story of growing up black in a Christian white-supremacist cult.

Recent, Relevant, Random

July 25, 2014

We don’t have metrics to measure what happens when we read something that changes our life. So this episode is an attempt to deal with that. We begin with writer Rob Walker who tells us about his “New Old Thing,” a regular feature he produces for Yahoo Tech. Rob is one of the most thoughtful writers I know and if anyone can wean us from our addiction to the now it will be him. I also get to talk to one of my heros this week: Edwin Frank who is the editor in chief of the NYRB classics imprint. About 10 years ago I read a collection of Platonov stories, a book that definitely changed my life, and I became a life-long devotee of the series. I have always wanted to ask Edwin about his editorial sensibilities and what exactly binds all the books with the well designed colored spines together. Phyllis Rose is the author of The Shelf. She “randomly” chose a shelf at the library near her house and read every book on it – then she wrote about the experience. It is a deep funny philosophical treatise on the act of reading itself. I will be gifting this book to my friends for years.

Guided By Voices

June 30, 2014

Philosopher Daniel Heller-Roazen tells us the story of Pythagoras and the fifth hammer and how Kant and Kepler both tried(and failed)to record the universal harmonies Pythagoras once heard. Your host sets out to make some money doing experimental medical testing, and gets the chance to record the voice in his head.

Stages On Life’s Way

June 13, 2014

A few years ago your host took a pilgrimage to Copenhagen to walk the streets the great Dane Søren Kierkegaard once walked. He wanted to understand the meaning of Kierkegaard’s religious stage so he decided to ask the experts at the Kierkegaard research center. Also Photographer Dina Litovksy tells us about the history and some of the secrets of the modern bachelorette party. And Michael Holmes tells us about life’s final stage – death.

A Better Tomorrow

May 17, 2014

This week we examine the legacy of The Work of Art in the Age of Technological Reproducibility by Walter Benjamin. Media Theorist and Benjamin scholar (and translator) Thomas Levin explains why this essay resonates today and what Benjamin has to tell us about the utopian power of new media. Also Russell Meyer tells us about the Wu-Tang clan’s plan to release a sole copy of their new album and why he has turned to Kickstarter so he can buy it and release it to the world. And your host shares an imaginary story about Hitler and Goebbels encountering Benjamin’s essay during their final days in the bunker.

The Bootlickers

April 25, 2014

Andrew Rubin opens up his Archives of Authority to tell us the story of how George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 became global phenomenons. Melissa Gira Grant tells us about her new book Playing the Whore and the complicated relationship between sex workers, Feminists, Journalists, and the Police. And your host turns to ToE correspondent Peter Choyce for advice on how to fight his bike ticket in traffic court.

1984 (the year not the book)

April 4, 2014

In 1984 your host was twelve years old and like George Orwell’s protagonist Winston Smith, he kept a diary for the citizens of the future. For this special installment of Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything we travel back in time and give this diary a soundtrack. TV commercials, radio spots, movie clips – all sound from 1984 (the year not the book). Along with personal memories of making the transition to middle school, the show focuses on four of the most important people of year: Ronald Reagan, Michael Jackson, Steve Jobs and Clara Peller. Find out what totalitarianism really sounds like.

Prêt-à-Portable

March 24, 2014

This week we freak out about the future of wearable technology! (http://bit.ly/1hg4h7Q)

Technology consultant Sarah Slocum loves social media and her Google Glass, she wears them everywhere. But when she walked into Molotov’s, a bar on Haight Street in San Francisco, she discovered that not everyone shares her love for wearable tech.

Also, your host makes his annual pilgrimage to SXSWi and ends up designing wearables at a surreal Hack Day. We also hear from Shingy, AOL’s Digital Prophet. He believes wearables will allow us to have it both ways: we can be both digital and human.

**This episode features elements that were recorded binaurally. If you listen with a pair of headphones or a LiveAudio enabled device, you will experience three dimensional sound – it will be like you are there.**

Music from this episode:

“Billy (Starsky Instrumental)” — Tha Silent Partner (http://bit.ly/1fUCZTA)

“big” “big (2)” “big (5)” — klimperei, from the album “big & bang” (http://klimperei.bandcamp.com) You really should buy some records from this genius!

“Food of the Range” — Electric Sound of Joy, from the “Food of the Range EP”

When you’re lonely, life is very long

March 3, 2014

Writer Olivia Laing didn’t plan on moving to New York alone, but after a few lonely months in the city she discovered the truth about loneliness. She says it is a gift. Laing wrote an essay on loneliness for Aeon magazine. She is also the author of The Trip to Echo Spring, which is one of the best books of the year — no contest.

Eric Klinenberg says more and more people are choosing to live alone and that cities like New York must invest in housing stock that single people not only can afford but actually want to live in, the type of housing they have in Scandinavian countries. He is a sociologist at New York University and the author of Going Solo, a book about the extraordinary rise and surprising appeal of living alone.

In Denmark when someone dies alone, and no-one claims the body, the authorities put an ad in the newspaper calling for Possible Relatives. This is also the title of a photo-book by Danish photographer Tina Enghoff. She took pictures of some of these apartments after the bodies were removed, often the bodies go undiscovered for weeks. My friend Pejk Malinovski, who is also a Dane (and a radio producer) met up with Tina on a recent trip home to Copenhagen.