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A writer for publications including The New York Times and Wired, Clive Thompson is used to defending the latest trends in digital technology from naysayers and skeptics. In 2008, he was one of the first to describe how sites like Twitter were about more than sharing what you had for breakfast. Now he’s written his first book, Smarter Than You Think, an investigation of how technology is helping us to learn more and retain information longer. Clive took some time to talk with us about the new book, distraction, MOOCs, and how he uses technology with his kids.

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Bryan Bishop

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David Kwong got his first taste of magic as a young boy in upstate New York. The trick was simple: the magician placed a red sponge ball into the boy’s hand, produced a second one, and then made it vanish. When Kwong opened his hand, there were two balls resting inside.

“I remember turning to my father and saying ‘How did this work?,’” he tells me over coffee in Los Angeles. “And he just gave me that patented sheepish grin and said ‘I have no idea.’”

“And that’s when I knew I had to learn magic.”

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A look at how a game's mechanics can inform the overall aesthetic of playing the game, even and especially if they are 'imperfect'. RPG systems are explored in-depth, but the theory within is broadly applicable to all genres.

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silicon valley class action

It’s been a year since we’ve heard any news aboout the allegations of widespread no-hire “gentleman’s agreements” between Silicon Valley’s top companies. Twelve months and nearly 200 legal filings later, the case is moving forward, and Judge Lucy Koh is saying that internal emails reveal executives believed the agreement would bring real financial benefits to their companies, reports Reuters. At a hearing in San Jose, the judge also ordered a four-hour deposition of Apple CEO Tim Cook, over the opposition of Apple’s attorneys, who claimed that as COO of the company he had nothing to do with the no-hire agreements.

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A few people have asked me whether I think programming is a necessary skill for entrepreneurs (or anyone) to have in the future.

When I was 14 years old, taking guitar lessons from Tom Pecora, he gave me that this-is-important-so-listen-well look, and told me something that stuck with me for life:

“You need to learn to sing. Because if you don’t, you’re always going to be at the mercy of some asshole singer.”

His point of view was from a rock guitarist in the Chicago music scene, trying to put together a band, and all that. I really took it to heart, and learned to sing.

But ever since then I’ve applied that point to other areas.

When I first started CD Baby, I didn’t know any programming, only basic HTML, and quickly had to cry for someone to help me. Davor Cengija in Croatia was a big help, but one day he disappeared. (Turned out he broke his foot skiing.) For weeks I was helpless, as my site had problems, and I didn’t know how to fix them. That pain got me motivated to learn this stuff myself. (Necessity is the best motivator.) I’ve loved programming ever since.

Later, when I needed a new computer, my friend Tony Benjamin taught me how to build my own from parts. This was so empowering because this box that I depended on so much was no longer a mystery. As CD Baby grew, I loved building all the computers for the employees, and even the webservers that ran the site.

In the independent musician scene, the DIY ethic is strong, by necessity. When it comes to doing all those non-musical things like booking gigs, promoting, publishing, and all of the organizational things, the norm is to do it yourself until it makes more sense to get someone better to help you. (And even then, maybe choosing to do it yourself just because you want to.)

The benefit of doing this yourself at first is that you learn enough about it so when you can afford to hire someone, you’re in a much better position to know if they’re good or not. Also it gives you the confidence to know that if anyone else flakes, you can step in and do enough to keep going. The deep joy of self-reliance.

So... back to programming:

The most common thing I hear from aspiring entrepreneurs is, “I have this idea for an app or site. But I’m not technical, so I need to find someone who can make it for me.”

I point them to my advice about how to hire a programmer, but as most of the good ones are already booked solid, it’s a pretty helpless position to be in.

If you heard someone say, “I have this idea for a song. But I’m not musical, so I need to find someone who will write, perform, and record it for me.” - you’d probably advise them to just take some time to sit down with a guitar or piano and learn enough to turn their ideas into reality.

And so comes my advice:

Yes, learn some programming basics. Just some HTML, CSS, and JavaScript should be enough to start.

I recommend Head First HTML and CSS first, then Head First HTML5 Programming.

Get those basics under your belt. Make an HTML site respond to things the user is doing. Save some information in a database, and use it to generate a web page.

You could go through those books in a couple weeks of evenings, and you’d already know as much as 50% of the people out there calling themselves webdesigners or web programmers!

It’s a REALLY amazing feeling. The mystery is lifted. You’ll look at all websites in a new way. You’ll understand what’s going on behind the scenes. You’ll know how to do it yourself. It’s really empowering.

Once you’ve done that, you’ll know enough to know what you need next. Maybe you want to get deeper into web development with Ruby, JavaScript, Python, Rails, or Node.js. But don’t get overwhelmed. When you’re ready, look at the book reviews on Amazon to see which books people are raving about. Go to Stack Overflow to ask questions or recommendations.

This will give you a good foundation if you want to go on to make iPhone or Android apps, or just know enough to hire someone better.

You don’t need to become an expert, just know the basics, so you’re not helpless. You can do all of this in less hours than it takes to watch “The Wire”, and it’s much more rewarding.

(It’s definitely been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever learned.)

NOW READ: Why I Always Assume I'm Below Average

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trent ces essay

Trent Wolbe will be publishing daily photo essays from CES. This is the latest in the series.



It was 2:57PM which meant Danny DeVito was 27 minutes late for his scheduled appearance at the Panasonic stage. That would have been OK if there hadn’t been two executives there in his place, talking alternately in sweepingly generic terms about the future of entertainment and confusingly specific details about year-over-year advancements in display manufacturing technology. The horde of photographers armed with heavy zoom lenses were getting visibly pissed off, and everyone else was playing Angry Birds. At 2:59 a comically horrid wave of probably-chili-induced flatulence entered my smell zone; a split second before I ran away forever the...

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John McAfee

Former tech mogul John McAfee, who is wanted for questioning in a murder case in Belize and is currently hiding inside his compound in that country, spoke to CNBC's Brian Sullivan via the telephone today in one of the craziest interviews of all time. 

It was intense.

At one point, anchor Brian Sullivan asked McAfee is he's prepared to die.  

We've included some of the best excerpts from the official transcript as well as the video below:  

Here McAfee talks about how he's fearful of his life if he goes in for questioning.  He also explains what the live five days have been like hiding out on his compound. 

FRANK: BUT JOHN, WHY NOT, IF YOU HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS MURDER, WHY NOT JUST TURN YOURSELF IN? HAVE A LAWYER, YOU CAN GET YOUR OWN SECURITY GUYS. THE POLICE HAVE TOLD ME YOU CAN GO IN WITH SECURITY GUYS, YOU CAN GO IN WITH CAMERAS. IF YOU ARE FEARING FOR YOUR SAFETY, WHY NOT JUST GO IN AND TELL THEM WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW ABOUT THIS MURDER?

MCAFEE: BECAUSE IT IS FINE TO GO IN WITH SECURITY. IT IS FINE TO GO IN WITH CAMERAS BUT WHEN I AM DETAINED YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO GO INTO THE JAIL CELL WITH ME. AND THIS IS WHERE PEOPLE ARE FREQUENTLY-- THEY JUST SIMPLY DISAPPEAR. THEY CHOKE ON THEIR OWN VOMIT OR HANG THEMSELVES OR ARE BEATEN TO DEATH BY FELLOW PRISONERS. IF YOU FOUND ANY RESEARCH ON BELIZE AND THE LEGAL AND POLICE SYSTEM YOU WOULD HAVE DISCOVERED THIS FACT YOURSELF.

FRANK: DO YOU REALLY THINK THEY WOULD KILL YOU?

MCAFEE: ABSOLUTELY, I DO, SIR.

SULLIVAN: JOHN, IT IS BRIAN SULLIVAN, WHAT HAVE THE LAST FIVE DAYS BEEN LIKE?

MCAFEE: THEY’VE BEEN OK. YOU KNOW, I DON’T HAVE A LOT OF FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT. THE FOOD IS NOT THE BEST. I HAVE NO TELEVISION, I WOULD LIKE A TELEVISION.

McAfee then defends himself for having photos of him shirtless with his tattoos exposed holding guns.

FRANK: JOHN, YOU’RE AN UNUSUAL GUY. YOU KNOW, WE SEE PICTURES OF YOU WITH A LOT OF GUNS, THE SPIKEY HAIR, THE TATTOOS. A LOT MADE RECENTLY ABOUT THE YOUNG GIRLFRIENDS YOU’VE HAD THERE. YOU KNOW, A REPORT NOW THAT YOU’VE EVEN PLAYED RUSSIAN ROULETTE WITH A BULLET. IS THAT REPORT TRUE.

MCAFEE: OK, WELL FIRST OF ALL, LET’S ADDRESS THE PHOTOS. WHEN WIRED MAGAZINE SENT THE PHOTOGRAPHER DOWN, YOU’VE BEEN IN THE PRESS LONG ENOUGH TO KNOW THAT WHEN A PHOTOGRAPHER SAYS WELL LET’S TAKE YOUR SHIRT OFF, WHY DON’T HOLD THE SHOTGUN, WELL YOU SIMPLY DO IT, YOU HAVE NO CLUE WHAT’S HAPPENING. THAT’S WHAT I DID. DO YOU THINK I RUN AROUND SHIRTLESS CARRYING A SHOTGUN ON MY PROPERTY? THAT’S UTTERLY ABSURD. AS FOR THE RUSSIAN ROULETTE, ABSOLUTELY. BUT IT WAS NOT TRUE RUSSIAN ROULETTE, IF YOU READ THE STORY, PUT A BULLET IN THE CHAMBER, PUT IT TO MY HEAD, CLICKED IT DOZENS OF TIMES, WALKED OUTSIDE FIRED INTO THE SAND, THE BULLET FIRED. MY POINT WAS, LIFE IS NOT EXACTLY WHAT YOU SEE.

However, this is probably the most intense question an anchor has ever asked a guest on a show... 

SULLIVAN: HOW FAR ARE YOU WILLING TO GO WITH THIS JOHN?

MCAFEE: ALL THE WAY, SIR.

SULLIVAN: WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

MCAFEE: I WILL CONTINUE TO FIGHT THIS UNTIL I AM—AS LONG AS I’M STILL BREATHING.

SULLIVAN: ARE YOU PREPARED TO DIE?

MCAFEE: WELL OBVIOUSLY THAT’S WHAT I THINK WILL HAPPEN IF I AM DETAINED AND THAT IS CERTAINLY A POSSIBILITY.

Watch the full interview below: 

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vrg_fav_lead

The Verge staffers aren't just people who love technology. They're people who love stuff. We spend as much time talking and thinking about our favorite books, music, and movies as we do debating the best smartphone to buy or what point-and-shoot has the tightest macro. We thought it would make sense to share our latest obsessions with Verge readers, and we hope you're encouraged to share your favorites with us. Thus a long, healthy debate will ensue where we all end up with new things to read, listen to, or try on.

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4 L

The professional Nikon camera bodies can see in the dark. They’re practically indestructible, and they can shoot like gatling guns. But they can’t use Canon’s finest glass, the...

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