Category Archives: Articles

Top 25 Favorite Pieces of 2012

I wrote a lot of words this year, for a lot of different publications. I haven’t actually counted up the number of pieces I wrote, but it’s somewhere in the triple digits. In the spirit of all the end-of-the-year lists that are circulating at the moment, here’s an end-of-the-year list of my own.

The Top 25 Favorite Articles I Wrote This Year, in No Particular Order

BASIC: Inside a Single Line of Code, a Labyrinth. Slate

A sprawling essay I wrote for Slate about an excellent and very odd book, which inspired me to think widely and strangely about art, vintage technology, the Commodore 64, my teenage years with BASIC, and more. Props to my editors at Slate for encouraging me to use my imagination in this nearly 2000-word piece.

William Gibson: The Wired Interview. Wired / Wired UK

Part 1: William Gibson on Why Sci-Fi Writers are Almost Always Wrong.
Part 2: William Gibson on Twitter, Antique Watches and Internet Obsessions.
Part 3: William Gibson on Punk Rock, Internet Memes, and ‘Gangnam Style’.

When I was working at, I would read old issues of Wired from the ’90s and think how great it would be if tried to engage as deeply and thoughtfully with culture as the magazine did back then. To this end, I sought out William Gibson, one of my favorite people, and did a 7,000-word interview with him. The trick: to talk with him about the history of recorded sound, punk rock, Internet memes, mechanical watches, etc., and not bore him with dull, predictable questions about when the Neuromancer movie was coming out.

The response to the three-part piece was tremendous. I got letters from people around the world thanking me for “bringing it back” to the old days of Wired. I saw the interview cited everywhere. Bill was apparently quoted by South Korean political candidates, in part thanks to his comments in the third segment about ‘Gangnam Style.’ Boing Boing picked up the interview twice, excerpting it heavily, and Wired UK reprinted all three parts in full, further siphoning the page views from Love you guys.

Lost Cause: Beck’s Song Reader. Slate

A nearly 2000-word piece I wrote about Beck for Slate, which also folds in Bing Crosby, the histories of sampling, remixing, recorded sound, tape machines, and more. Another piece which took a lot of hard thinking. It got a nice mention at NPR.

Music To Sleep To: Brian Eno’s Lux, Reviewed. Slate

Brian Eno wrote to me shortly after this 1500-word Slate piece came out, saying it was his favorite out of the pieces on Lux that had been published so far. “It made me right proud, it did,” Eno told me, and said he was sending the link to the piece to his friends.

Conny Plank. Frieze

I interviewed Eno, and many other famous people, for this piece on the life and work of the legendary producer and engineer Conny Plank. As far as I know, it’s the first article of length to be written about Plank since the 1980s. It’s also the first time that Eno has spoken on record about his memories of Plank in detail. This article was a real labor of love for me; I worked on it at night, after working all day in the Wired trenches. Props to Frieze for believing in this article and giving it a beautiful color spread in the summer issue. The article is now getting translated into German, and will run prominently in a German magazine this coming year.

The Algorithmic Copyright Cops: Streaming Video’s Robotic Overlords. Wired

One of the nice things about working at Wired was occasionally getting to write for Threat Level, one of the best sections of This is probably one of the most important feature stories I did this year, in terms of raising awareness and connecting the dots about an emerging copyright issue. This piece helped set off a wave of discussions at the EFF, Slashdot, Boing Boing, and other sites; articles on the subject in the New York Times, the Telegraph, and other newspapers soon followed.

Man Orders TV Through Amazon, Gets Assault Rifle. Wired

Another feature story I wrote for Threat Level, based on an insane fluke I found out about via a chance Facebook connection at 11 p.m. One of the craziest and most widely-read articles I wrote this year.

An Interview with Laurie Spiegel. Frieze

A 3000-word feature story I wrote on Laurie Spiegel for Frieze, based on an interview I did with her in her loft in New York City this past summer. It’s a continuation, in spirit, of the massive Max Mathews interview I did for Frieze in 2011.

Deep in the Woods, A Reclusive Toymaker Builds His Robot Army. Wired / Wired UK

For this story, I traveled across the country, got lost in the deep Vermont woods, hiked up the side of a steep hill on an unmarked trail, and interviewed a guy in his four-story-high hand-built geodesic dome for several hours. Was it worth it? Sure.

Why Polaroid Was the Apple of Its Time. Wired / Wired Taiwan / Wired Japan

An interview piece I did for Wired Design on Polaroid, based on a recent book about Polaroid’s fascinating, odd history.

Researchers Hack Brainwaves to Reveal PINs, Other Personal Data. Wired

A fun feature for Threat Level where I finally got to use my neuroscience degree for something. Before you neuroscience pedants complain about accuracy of the headline, note that I didn’t choose the headline (I almost never do.)

Legends of Electronic Music: Tod Dockstader. Wired

To do this article, I flew cross-country to Massachusetts on my own dime and jumped through considerable hoops to land this very rare interview with the extraordinary Tod Dockstader, who is now well into his 80s. Wired did not understand why I did this, but they didn’t need to understand. Those who know, know why this is important.

It’s in the Cards. Cabinet, Issue #45 (Games)

An essay I wrote for the great mag Cabinet about Brian Eno, the Oblique Strategies cards, Erik Satie, and Satie’s performance indications. I read this essay on stage in San Francisco, at an event called “Writers with Drinks,” and it went over incredibly well–people were laughing hysterically at Satie’s performance indications, and I hadn’t realized what great comic value still exists in them.

Ben Burtt on Star Wars, Forbidden Planet and the Sound of Sci-Fi. Wired

I interviewed the legendary sound designer Ben Burtt about Forbidden Planet at Skywalker Ranch. then tried to shoehorn the interview into a Star Wars 35th anniversary package. Which is, you know, whatever. This 2000-word interview is worth reading for all the insights Burtt gives on the potent mysteries of Forbidden Planet and Louis and Bebe Barron. And the Star Wars tidbits are great too. Expect more on this in the not-too-distant future.

For Stelarc, Extreme Body Mods Hint at Humans’ Possible Future. Wired / io9

Stelarc is a legend. When I found out that he was visiting San Francisco, I knew I had to interview him. The Wired piece I wrote was reprinted in the wonderful sci-fi website io9.

Meet Kraftwerk’s Original 3-D Animator, Rebecca Allen. Wired / Wired UK / Wired Japan

With all of the renewed press attention for Kraftwerk this year, I felt that writing this article–about a woman designer and animator–was a way to get a new, and different, story. Allen’s contributions to Kraftwerk’s visual aesthetic, and her vision for the classic music video “Musique Non Stop,” tell an important story about the history of computer graphics and 3-D animation in the 1980s.

‘Pussy Riot’ Becomes a Rallying Cry for Russian Expats. Wired

I interviewed a lot of people for this piece–a lot of unlikely sources, all of them of Russian descent–to try to get a different angle on this story.

From Transistors to Telstar, Idea Factory Traces Bell Labs’ Legacy. Wired

One of the long-form book reviews I wrote this year that took a lot of thinking. I was glad to write it.

Rare ’70s Electronic Music is Hidden in The Hunger Games. Wired

This piece I wrote on Laurie Spiegel–the scoop that her music was “hidden” in the Hollywood mega-blockbuster The Hunger Games–went off the charts, page-views-wise, and also helped kick off a wave of attention, including a follow-up article in Slate.

New Video Shows Japanese Speech-Jamming Gun in Action. Wired / Wired UK / Wired Japan
Japanese Speech-Jamming Gun Designers Reveal Details, Inspiration.

These pieces also got a ton of hits, but what I thought was more important were the references I buried into pieces like these to give them more depth–Stockhausen, Muzak, J.G. Ballard, etc. I always tried to inject a bit of weirdness into my articles, even the goofy shorter ones, to make them worth reading.

Interview: Dieter Moebius. Frieze

The only interview with the fascinating, enigmatic Dieter Moebius of Cluster that has been done at this length (it’s 3000 words). I met up with Moebius on a subway platform in Berlin after visiting Conrad Schnitzler’s house on the outskirts of the city, and did the interview with him in a Berlin cafe. Happily, this also helped lead to Moebius’ appearance at the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival some months later.

Embracing 3-D Printers, Manufacturer Tells Customers to Print Their Own Parts. Wired / Wired UK / Wired Taiwan / Wired Japan

A piece I wrote for Wired Design about 3-D printing and synthesizers, documenting the first instance of a company telling customers to print their own parts.

Essay: Looking Back. Frieze

An essay I wrote (scroll down to the second half of the page) looking back on music, politics, etc of the year before.

Ravi Shankar (obituary). Slate

I wish I had more time to write this obituary–I slammed it out in three hours–but I hope to write a longer article on Ravi Shankar at some point. This is a start.

Remembering Maurice Sendak. Wired / Wired UK

One of my favorites out of the several obits I wrote this year. Again written in under three hours, but I tried to pack as much research and thoughtfulness in there as I could on a very tight deadline.

A few other pieces I wrote this year

Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer: Geekdom’s Power Couple on Sandman Prequel and Kickstarter Success. Wired
Control a Giant Modular Synthesizer From the Comfort of Your Home. Wired / Gizmodo
How the Artist Who Built the ‘Chuck Close Filter’ Got Slammed by Chuck Close. Wired
Got a Moment? Listen to a 744-Hour-Long Radio Show. Wired
Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express Draws Stars to MoMA. Wired
Blaming Pop Culture for Gun Violence is Just a Distraction. Slate
David Byrne Breaks Down How Music Works in New Book. Wired
Chris Marker, French Filmmaker Who Inspired Modern Sci-Fi, Dies at 91. Wired
Music: Frank Ocean’s Coming Out. Frieze
3-D For Your Ears: Building the Dolby Atmos System for Brave. Wired
Jonathan Lethem Riffs on Talking Heads in Fear of Music. Wired
Orbital Talks Vintage Synths, Throwing Up and New Album. Wired
Artist Makes Drawing ‘Bot Out of Hacked Turntables. Wired
Idle Screenings Chops Hollywood Movies Into Sea of Animated GIFs. Wired
The Long History of a Little Gadget: MP3. Frieze d/e
Remembering Disco Queen Donna Summer, the Voice of ‘I Feel Love’. Wired
Recovered 1927 Metropolis Film Program Goes Behind the Scenes of a Sci-Fi Masterpiece. Wired / Wired UK

How secure?

I went to Berlin in December for the Chaos Communications Congress, Europe’s biggest hacker con.  At the conference, a pair of wily German researchers showed how they reverse-engineered the chip backing some of the world’s most-used subway cards and access keys. In the tech magazine Computerworld today, I explained some of the details of their work.

Check it out here:

How They Hacked It: The MiFare RFID Crack Explained