Discover more from Follow Friday
Mamma Mia!, Apple's AR Goggles, and Lego Crime
Plus: Nintendo vs. Sega, advice from Ira Glass, and letting kids be kids.
Welcome to Follow Friday! Last week at this time I was en route to a campground surrounded by trees, which is why there was no newsletter. No ragrets. Trees > tweets.
Also, some news for those of you who work in podcasting: This August, I’ll be moderating a panel at Podcast Movement 2023! The topic is "Pods of the Busy & Famous: Strategies for High-Profile Podcast Production." I have some really incredible panelists lined up for this, who I’ll be announcing as soon as everyone is 100% confirmed. Hope to see you in the audience.
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The single best thing I saw online this week: I am a corny person. I like Hamilton, and Ted Lasso (well, not all of Season 3, but that’s another story), and I am a sucker for these videos from the YouTube channel Choir! Choir! Choir! Daveed Goldman and Nobu Adilman get a bunch of people together and lead them in singing songs you probably know. Their latest is a rendition of “Mamma Mia!” by ABBA, and I was cracking up at the two people in the front row who were adding in extra choreography. What a couple of hams! I bet we’d get along.
The best podcasts I’ve heard recently
At networking events, I always ask for podcast recommendations, and I was recently told to listen to author Simon Sinek’s A Bit of Optimism. I haven’t read any of Sinek’s work, but I wound up enjoying his interviews so much that I binged several of them: Voice actor Bill Farmer, screenwriter Richard Curtis, Molly’s Game writer Molly Bloom, and my favorite so far: The Simpsons writer Mike Reiss. They’re positive, engaging, funny — perfect listening for doing chores around the house.
I met Acquired hosts Ben Gilbert and David Rosenthal years ago, when they came to Vox’s San Francisco office to interview Kara Swisher, and they were incredibly friendly and professional. It took me several years to finally try their (very popular) podcast, and now I see why so many people love it: It’s deeply researched, conversational, and super informative. I started with the “Nintendo’s Origins” episode and also greatly enjoyed the follow-up episodes “The Console Wars” and “The Death of Sega.”
Even though he’s one of my all-time favorite comedians, I haven’t listened to very much of Mike Birbiglia’s Working It Out. But I couldn’t resist the 100th episode that dropped this week featuring This American Life creator and frequent Birbiglia collaborator Ira Glass, which starts off as a fun hang-out, then becomes an audit of the many quotes attributed to Glass online, and concludes with a live edit of a story Birbiglia has been working on for years. The latter bit is a must-listen for anyone working in narrative nonfiction, particularly in audio.
am i obsessed with the vision pro?
I’ve been interested in augmented and virtual reality since 1996, when a VR arcade made a cameo appearance in the mediocre Disney movie First Kid. I reported on the industry for a couple years at Recode, and even bought an HTC Vive when it came out.
VR & AR didn’t take off as I expected they would. The Vive is currently gathering dust — its best apps required more open floor space than I can afford in San Francisco — but I’ve remained interested in the industry nonetheless, enough to block off two hours on my calendar on Monday to watch Apple’s live unveiling of the Vision Pro, a $3499 set of goggles that promise to offer both augmented and virtual reality experiences.
First, off the name and positioning are exactly right: In hindsight, I think one of the big mistakes of Oculus, HTC, and others who were early in VR was targeting the core gamer audience. The most memorable, magical experiences I’ve tried in VR were casual games, social experiences, and especially creative apps like Tilt Brush for the Vive.
Those early headsets couldn’t pursue professional users, however, because they struggled to display text at the level of crispness we’d expect; you’re basically just putting a screen right in front of your eyes and then looking at it through special lenses. I haven’t tried a new headset for years, so I don’t know how big of a leap this is, but Apple claims to have solved that. They also heavily emphasized the ability to watch movies on a virtual, giant screen.
All of that sounds good, but I’m wary of the Vision Pro for a couple reasons: It probably won’t launch with the apps that I personally need to work, like Adobe Audition; I’m skeptical of the idea that it would be comfortable to wear for more than an hour; and even with the uncanny virtual eyes that are displayed on the front of the headset, any sort of AR/VR goggles will continue to be isolating.
As David Chen points out in this reaction video, there’s a disturbing Minority Report-esque subtext to the “3D videos” feature:
Oh, and there’s the fact that it costs $3500. So there’d have to be a lot more there there for me to buy into this first generation of the hardware.
The latest from LightningPod
Here’s what I’ve been producing and editing this week:
On Lock and Code, David Ruiz was rejoined by his colleagues Mark Stockley and Anna Brading to talk about the implications of treating AI tools like ChatGPT and Bard as “arbiters of truth,” as many users have already done. Danger, Will Robinson! These AI tools and others reply in a human-like, confident-sounding way, which makes them seem trustworthy — even when they’re delivering misinformation.
And on Grit, Joubin Mirzadegan interviewed Navan CEO Ariel Cohen about leading a business travel-focused company through COVID, obsessing over failure, and the benefits of naivete. I especially loved how Ariel explained his “debriefing” process when something goes wrong: You ask multiple people to explain what happened, and each person is expected to also ask themselves, “What could I have done better?”
Please take nine minutes and watch this video
I was going to put this in the “Trust me and click this” section at the bottom, but it’s too important to relegate to a text link. It’s a moving, profound, deeply personal story about what it’s like to be a queer child in America and all the physical and emotional abuse that adults let happen — or outright encourage — and then rationalize away. This stuff is still happening, and for a lot of people it’s getting worse. As Don Martin says here, “Your kids hear every time that you say you ‘support gay people, but…’”
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The best thing I’ve read this week
My recent run of video game history podcasts has reminded me that I really need to read Masters of Doom by David Kushner, but in the meantime, I’ll settle for his always-stellar magazine writing. Case in point: This Insider piece about two French Lego influencers and a mysterious incident that drove them apart. It’s also a great window into the cult of Lego among adults, which has driven up prices and led to SO MUCH crime, my God:
In 2012, the police arrested a 47-year-old Silicon Valley executive for tricking stores into giving him a discount on Lego sets and then reselling them on eBay. In 2015, a 46-year-old Florida man and his mother were convicted of stealing an estimated $2 million worth of Lego from Toys R Us stores from Maine to California. In 2020, thieves blasted through the warehouse wall of Fairy Bricks, a charity in England that donates Lego sets to sick kids at hospitals around the world, and absconded with $800,000 worth of bricks. That same year, police arrested three Polish suspects accused of robbing Lego toy stores across France as part of an international crime ring. Counterfeiting is even more lucrative: In Shanghai, the police recently broke up a crime syndicate accused of making and selling nearly $50 million in bogus Lego.