kottke.org posts about Alexis Madrigal

Do you have a reservation?Jul 24 2014

Alexis Madrigal wonders: when did the idea of the dinner reservation come about?

Reserving a table is not so much an "industrial age bolt-on" as it's a slippage from the older custom of reserving a ROOM in a restaurant. As my book explains, 18th-cy "caterers" [traiteurs] either served clients in their homes or in rooms at the traiteur's, the first self-styled restaurateurs borrowed from cafes in having lots of small tables in one big room. Throughout the nineteenth century, many big city restaurants continued to have both a (very) large public eating room with numerous, small (private) tables AND a number of smaller rooms that could be reserved for more private meals. (Much as some restaurants have special "banquet facilities" or "special occasion" rooms today.)

See also: the first NY Times restaurant review circa 1859.

Your most outdated gadgetMay 23 2013

Rob Walker asked some tech writers what their most outdated gadget was. Alexis Madrigal pretty much answers for me:

I think it's the sound system in our car 2003 Volkswagen Golf TDI," Madrigal says. "We have one of those magical devices that lets you play an iPod through the tape deck (how do those work?) -- but it makes a horrible screeching noise when it gets hot." That leaves the CD player and terrestrial radio: "We seem to rotate between the same three CDs we burned or borrowed some time ago, and the local NPR affiliate."

Madrigal hastens to add that what he really wants is a stereo with "an aux-in so that I can play Rdio throughout the vehicle." The problem? "I am scared of car audio guys," he says. "I knew a lot of them in high school. They are a kind of gadgethead that just kind of freaks me out. I loathe the idea of going in there and having to explain why we have this old-ass tape deck, and then -- because I don't know any better -- getting ripped off on a new stereo.

It's either that or our cable box/DVR...that thing records about 20 minutes of HD programming and is 20 years old now. Really should trade it in for something made since Clinton left office. See also Robin Sloan's dumbphone.

How Capote got Brando to spill his gutsNov 14 2012

One of my favorite magazine pieces is Truman Capote's long profile of Marlon Brando from the Nov 9, 1957 issue of the New Yorker.

He hung up, and said, "Nice guy. He wants to be a director-eventually. I was saying something, though. We were talking about friends. Do you know how I make a friend?" He leaned a little toward me, as though he had an amusing secret to impart. "I go about it very gently. I circle around and around. I circle. Then, gradually, I come nearer. Then I reach out and touch them -- ah, so gently..." His fingers stretched forward like insect feelers and grazed my arm. "Then," he said, one eye half shut, the other, à la Rasputin, mesmerically wide and shining, "I draw back. Wait awhile. Make them wonder. At just the right moment, I move in again. Touch them. Circle." Now his hand, broad and blunt-fingered, travelled in a rotating pattern, as though it held a rope with which he was binding an invisible presence. "They don't know what's happening. Before they realize it, they're all entangled, involved. I have them. And suddenly, sometimes, I'm all they have. A lot of them, you see, are people who don't fit anywhere; they're not accepted, they've been hurt, crippled one way or another. But I want to help them, and they can focus on me; I'm the duke. Sort of the duke of my domain."

In a piece for Columbia Journalism Review, Douglas McCollam details how Capote got access to the reclusive star when he was filming Sayonara in Japan.

Logan had no intention of subjecting his own cast and crew to the same withering scrutiny. In particular, he was concerned about what might happen if Capote gained access to his mercurial leading man. Though Brando was notoriously press-shy, and Logan doubted Capote's ability to crack the star's enigmatic exterior, he wasn't taking any chances. He and William Goetz, Sayonara's producer, had both written to The New Yorker stating that they would not cooperate for the piece and, furthermore, that if Capote did journey to Japan he would be barred from the set. Nevertheless, Capote had come.

As Logan later recounted, his reaction to Capote's sudden appearance was visceral. He came up behind Capote, and without saying a word, picked the writer up and transported him across the lobby, depositing him outside the front door of the hotel. "Now come on, Josh!" Capote cried. "I'm not going to write anything bad."

Logan went immediately upstairs to Brando's room to deliver a warning: "Don't let yourself be left alone with Truman. He's after you." His warning would go unheeded. Recalling his reaction to Capote, Logan later wrote, "I had a sickening feeling that what little Truman wanted, little Truman would get."

Alexis Madrigal wrote about Capote's Brando piece for the first installment of Nieman Storyboard's Why's This So Good series about classic pieces of narrative nonfiction.

How Google builds its mapsSep 07 2012

The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal gets an inside look at how Google builds its maps (and what that means for the future of everything). "If Google's mission is to organize all the world's information, the most important challenge -- far larger than indexing the web -- is to take the world's physical information and make it accessible and useful."

The Pixar of the iPad ageNov 07 2011

From Sarah Rich and Alexis Madrigal, a story on a company that might be "the Pixar of the iPad age", Moonbot Studios. Moonbot made a wonderfully inventive iPad book called The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.

Morris Lessmore may be the best iPad book in the world. In July, Morris Lessmore hit the number one spot on Apple's iPad app chart in the US. That is to say, Morris Lessmore wasn't just the bestselling book, but the bestselling *app* of any kind for a time. At one point or another, it has been the top book app in 21 countries. A New York Times reviewer called it "the best," "visually stunning," and "beautiful." Wired.com called it "game-changing." MSNBC said it was "the most stunning iPad app so far." And The Times UK made this prediction, "It is not inconceivable that, at some point in the future, a short children's story called 'The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore' will be regarded as one of the most influential titles of the early 21st century."

Apple as religious experienceJul 23 2010

At The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal has an interesting post about Apple as a religion and uses that lens to look at the so-called Antennagate** brouhaha. For example, Apple was built on four key myths:

1. a creation myth highlighting the counter-cultural origin and emergence of the Apple Mac as a transformative moment;
2. a hero myth presenting the Mac and its founder Jobs as saving its users from the corporate domination of the PC world;
3. a satanic myth that presents Bill Gates as the enemy of Mac loyalists;
4. and, finally, a resurrection myth of Jobs returning to save the failing company...

On Twitter, Tim Carmody adds that Apple's problems are increasingly theological in nature -- "Free will, problem of evil, Satanic rebellion" -- which is a really interesting way to look at the whole thing. (John Gruber the Baptist?)

** The Antennagate being, of course, the hotel where Apple Inc. is headquartered.

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