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Radio days of the revolution: Goodbye Soviet Russia, hello North Korea

March 25, 2011
Vintage radio representing BBC Russia

After 65 years, BBC Russia shut down its radio service this week, with all the attendant “end of an era” sighing. That era ended 20 years ago, but hey, who doesn’t appreciate an opportunity to wax nostalgic. If you read anything at all about dissidence in the Soviet days, tuning into illegal radio broadcasts is…

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The digital afterlife and the lies we’ll leave behind

February 24, 2011
Salem Cemetery for digital afterlife post

Alison Garwood-Jones wrote a lovely piece a while ago on her blog about the wisps of life we leave behind on the internet. To add to the unmade bed, the book half-read, the phone call never returned and conversation never finished, is now the digital alter-ego, never finished. And, somehow lacking the poignancy of finding…

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Twitter revolution? Sorry, the revolution is not being tweeted

February 23, 2011
Twitter Revolution: Gadhafi Tweet

Hanging out on Twitter makes for an odd perspective on world events. Like Revolution 2011 World Tour. There’s an expectation to comment on these major upheavals. And at the same time, an expectation that seeing lunch tweets interspersed with desperate pleas from protesters is meant to make us uncomfortable. It does. (But then, we’re also…

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Teaching history through games: Are some things off-limits?

February 1, 2011
Monopoly ship piece representing teaching history through games

In my last post, I talked about a new Monopoly game in Poland, which is being used to teach children about communism. I also talked about a role-playing game I participated in at summer camp, just before the collapse of the Soviet Union, where we played Soviet Jews trying to escape the country. Come to…

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Summer camp is for history games (mud optional)

January 31, 2011
Monopoly board for educational history games

Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance (an Orwellian-sounding name if there ever was one) has just launched a communist-style variation of Monopoly, to help teach kids about life under communist rule. Lots of waiting in lines, lots of squabbling over basic necessities, lots of random shortages—”Go to end of line. Do not pass Go. Do not…

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A good old US penny

November 9, 2010
Inventions

If you close your eyes and think about what a child imagines when they hear the word inventor—the house full of strange objects with mysterious purposes, the stacks of notebooks filled with drawing and diagrams, the patent certificates—you might get something close to Brent Farley. But we’re not children and Farley is very real and…

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On technology and activism, and the rest of the world

October 28, 2010
On technology and activism - businessman on phone while waiting for train

There’s a funny blindness that sets in when you live in technology, where updates from the CEO of a computer company become as central to your news sense of the world as the fate of 33 miners in Chile. Are the release of a colour Nook, or the ups and downs of a white iPhone,…

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Retro research: Squinting, scanning, scrolling

September 20, 2010
Microfiche, or microfilm, reels from the New York Times, 1973

I spent a few afternoons at the Toronto Reference Library recently, scouring the January 1977 issues of the New York Times on microfilm and emerged with that satisfying sense of accomplishment that seems so elusive when working online. While I was busy squinting away at the screen, somewhere out in the modern world the publisher…

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Twitter highlights the banal in food

August 27, 2010
food writers on Twitter, here with mini-donuts

Are you a food writer? Do you tweet? Josh Ozersky, Time food writer, has something to say to you. You’re boring. Your tweets suck. Food writers on Twitter suck. There. Phew, done. Said. Finally. It’s refreshing to hear a food writer say this aloud. Ozersky has essentially highlighted all the absurdity of a culture saturated…

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Holocaust meets social media

April 30, 2010
Anne Frank on Facebook: Collage of Holocaust Facebook profiles

I don’t know why this surprised me, but it did—Anne Frank is now on Facebook. And I’m sure she’d be thrilled to know that a boy named Ricky hates the Nazis because they deprived the world of her long legs. I suppose we can chalk one up on the win column that, thanks to the…

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