Wired Magazine

The December Wired had an interesting-looking cover story, and a few article referrals in the queue, so I took it on the plane. Summary: despite some good articles, a reminder of why I don’t read Wired anymore.
Wired had one superb piece by Gary Wolf about an emergency warning system in Portland, Oregon, where 911 alerts are fed back to schools, hospitals, and building managers, and community members can feed back into the system. This is a working model of decentralization and openness, ready to be adopted around the country.
There were a few other good bits sprinkled around the magazine, including a graphical one page summary of government spending to keep data secret.
But the bulk of the magazine was written on autopilot. The cover story about alternatives to oil was euphoric and shallow. The claims of providers, from ethanol to oil shale to hydrogen, were repeated uncritically, summarized in a table showing the plentiful riches that await slightly higher energy prices. No mention of the critique that ethanol requires more energy to produce than it generates, and hydrogen is interesting as an energy storage medium, not a fuel.
The alternative energy story in the Economist (the other bit of airplane reading) was much better in the level of detail and critical thinking. A regular diet of blogs like The Oil Drum and the Ergosphere provide an infinitely richer picture about the opportunities and risks of post-oil energy technologies.
One effusive story about homeland security vendors was downright creepy. An ex-athlete with government connections raises venture financing with the purpose of buying out a homeland security vendor — any vendor – and selling the product to the government. Reminds me a bit about this story that broke last week in the Washington Post. It would be a fine idea to take down the names in the article and watch to see if any of the players are bankrupt or indicted in the next few years.
And the articles about media — movies, games, video, music read like product placement. It’s Entertainment Tonight with a focus on special effects. The esthetic is anti-O’Reillly — the audience is a consumer not a producer. The section on personal DVR knocks Linux versions as being “too hard” — true, linux dvrs aren’t consumer products yet, but the Wired editors are making that decision for the readers, assuming assuming their readers don’t include hackers anymore. There’s not so much critical thinking about the role of broadband and copyright policy on creative innovation, except for Xeni Jardin’s interview of Steven Soderberg, where the movie director fantasizes about mashups he can’t legally make.
I can’t remember when I stopped reading Wired Magazine. At its best, it was a heady brew of technoeuphoria, exploration of new ideas sparked by new technology, tasty tech and media tips, and gizmo ad porn.
Wired does publish some excellent work. These days, the good articles already make their way to the link inbox via blogging. External links are a better way to find those good articles than separating the glossy ad pages. The tips about gadgets and games and tech stuff can all be found sooner by blog.
This isn’t about the net killing magazines. It’s about the need to have a better product. If the issue had five or ten strong articles instead of two or three, Wired would have a regular reader.

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