Weekend Reads: The Greatest Macs, New Public Domain Works, Flash (RIP), James Doohan, Ted Lasso

Recommended weekend reading material for January 2, 2021.

Every week, I compile a list of interesting and thought-provoking articles to offer you some enjoyable weekend reading material.

Jason Snell spent 2020 writing about the 20 greatest Macs of all time, and his choice for the #1 Mac of all time should come as no surprise.

Steve Jobs’s belief in the value of a simple, streamlined all-in-one computer, Jony Ive’s eye-catching design, and a moment in time when people wanted to explore the Internet, was all wrapped together. It was the right product at the right time. And it was a hit.

Some of the other Macs featured in Snell’s list include the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh, the SE/30, and the Power Computing clones. (For the record, my first Mac was a Power Computing PowerBase 180 that I bought around 1997.)

For all things iMac G3-related, I highly recommend taking an hour or three and going through Stephen Hackett’s “iMac G3 Project.”

Thanks to the pandemic and the increasing prevalence of streaming platforms, it’s harder than ever to define if/when a song or movie becomes a “hit” — or what even a “hit” is.

As streaming has dominated charts and fan armies have increased their connectivity and organizing capability, the anatomy of a hit is an inverted shell of what it once was. Traditionally, songs would spread across culture slowly, the most dulcet of infections. While various chart formulations did yield seeming smashes on arrival (particularly in the early-to-mid ‘90s, when physical singles were all the rage, and during the iTunes store’s heyday in the aughts), now we’re more and more seeing the hit of diminishing returns, that which is destined to taper.

Here’s a list of all of the books, movies, and musical compositions that are entering the public domain in 2021. The works include F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Franz Kafka’s The Trial, Harold Lloyd’s The Freshman, Irving Berlin’s “Always,” and various works by Duke Ellington. In other words, if you’ve been waiting to make a movie based on The Great Gatsby that uses Duke Ellington as the soundtrack, your time has finally come. Via Open Culture.

The Polygon staff has published a list of their most anticipated video games for 2021. Scanning through their list, I’m most intrigued by Chorus, Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance, Elden Ring, Solar Ash, and of course, Halo: Infinite.

I miss the days when everyone had their own, individualized homepages as opposed to generic social media profiles.

Berners-Lee imagined that each person would have their own little space on the web. They could add whatever bookmarks or notes they wanted to their page. They could make it public or keep it private. When they opened their browsers, they would be met with their personal website. And using their browser they could quickly make updates and publish changes to their site. The web, in other words, was meant to go both ways. We were meant to be both participants and consumers.

The original vision for homepages was quite interesting, and would eventually give rise to what we now know as blogs.

On December 31, 2020, Adobe officially killed Flash, urging users to “immediately uninstall Flash Player to help protect their systems.” Nick Heer reflects on the technology’s legacy.

It is impossible to know if we would have ended up with rich typography, streaming video players, full web applications, and online games without Flash — and, in the case of the latter two, Java. Regardless of my ambivalence, the web that we have today is rich, universal, and accessible, and much of that groundwork was catalyzed by Flash.

There was a time, during the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, when I was fascinated by Flash and the promise of what it could do. (Remember 2Advanced, Gabocorp, or Tokyoplastic, anyone?) Those were heady days when the web’s potential seemed limitless. But eventually, Flash’s weaknesses (e.g., poor performance and mobile compatibility, security issues) became impossible to ignore, especially as HTML5, CSS, and JS gained support and capabilities.

In the end, I’m glad that Flash existed — and I’m very glad that it’s dead.

YouTube’s Content ID filter is intended to prevent copyright violations (which makes sense given the sheer amount of content uploaded to the site every day). But in reality, it’s killing video reviews and criticism.

The ability to use copyrighted material without permission or payment — especially short clips for purposes such as criticism, commentary, education, and so on — is protected by something called “fair use.” It’s easy to get into the weeds of fair use, but the important thing to note is that whether or not a use is fair depends on a lot of context. Context that Content ID simply can’t determine. All it does is determine is whether elements of a work match to its source, not what is actually being done with the material. For example, a movie review using a 14-second bit of a film to illustrate what is good or bad will trigger a Content ID match to the whole movie. As far as Content ID is concerned, those 14 seconds are no different from a complete copy of the film being uploaded. So while algorithms like this might be useful in flagging potential infringement, the fact that Content ID automatically applies penalties, with no human review involved at all, is a problem.

It was recently announced that legendary rapper MF DOOM died on October 31. The rapper (real name, Daniel Dumile) was known for performing while wearing a Doctor Doom mask. His 2004 collaboration with producer Madlib, titled Madvillainy, is widely considered one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time. Rolling Stone has a lengthy profile of MF DOOM’s career and Pitchfork has compiled tributes from El-P, Flying Lotus, Questlove, and many more.

Back in 2008, some of James Doohan’s ashes were smuggled on to the International Space Station at his family’s request. (Doohan is, of course, best known for playing chief engineer Montgomery Scott on Star Trek.)

Official requests to bring Doohan’s ashes on the ISS were denied, but Richard Garriott — one of the first private citizens to travel on the space station — managed to smuggle some of Doohan’s ashes into the space station’s Columbus module. Garriott says he took a laminated picture of Doohan and some of his ashes and put it under the floor of the Columbus. He didn’t tell anyone about the scheme — only he and Doohan’s family knew until now.

To date, Doohan’s ashes have traveled over 1.7 billion miles in space and have orbited Earth over 70,000 times.

From the Blog

My wife and I finally got around to seeing Ted Lasso, and it was as delightful and rewarding as we had hoped it would be.

It’s easy to write villains. It’s much harder to write truly good characters who radiate hope, conviction, integrity, and honor while at the same time, making them believable and three-dimensional rather merely wish fulfillment (or worse, caricatures). But miracle of miracles, Sudeikis and his Ted Lasso co-creators have done just that. Originally conceived for several promos for NBC Sports’ Premier League coverage — careful viewers will note that some of the promos’ jokes, like Ted’s confusion concerning offside, resurface in the series — Sudeikis et al. have parlayed the Ted Lasso character and premise into one of the brightest moments in 2020’s pop culture landscape.

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