How to Read The New Yorker, my new TV, and the Playdate

Issue 3 of my newsletter – subscribe here

The New Yorker is the most consistently well-written longform magazine I’ve read, and it’s been the source of so many of my ideas over the years. It’s also the one of the most unread magazines out there, gracing coffee tables across the world in artistic tsundokus.

For the first few years I was a subscriber, I read it from cover to cover (OK, not the NY city-specific bits, come on!) – even the bits I initially found confusing. Since I decided to spend more time reading books recently, I needed to be more judicious about my New Yorker reading habits lest I stop reading it completely. So here’s my tips on how to read The New Yorker!

  1. Start with the longform articles in the middle of the magazine – just the ones you’re interested in. Don’t try to slog through something you’re not into. If you read two or three of these articles, pat yourself on the back because you have conquered this issue!
  2. Next, tackle the arts and culture reviews at the back. Feel free to skip the ones entirely out of your wheelhouse, but it can be rewarding to broaden your horizons. Also, don’t read the movie reviews for anything you plan to see: Anthony Lane doesn’t understand the meaning of “spoiler”.
  3. Scan through The Talk of the Town at the front. The first article is usually political and ages poorly, and the rest are exceedingly twee and frequently parochial. My patience has grown thin for this section, lately.
  4. Don’t read Shouts and Murmurs, it’s dumb.
  5. Do you like short stories? Then read the short story. If not, continue with your life.

Lots of writers will introduce ideas in New Yorker articles which they later unnecessarily pad out into books (I’m looking at you, Malcolm Gladwell). Reading the longform articles are great way to get the core of the idea earlier, for extra dinner party conversation points. Some good articles from the most recent issues include The Art of Building Artificial Glaciers by Elizabeth Kolbert:

and If God Is Dead, Your Time Is Everything by James Wood, on Martin Hägglund’s new book This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom:

The great merit of Hägglund’s book is that he releases atheism from its ancient curse: its sticky intimacy with theism. Hägglund has no need for a parasitical relationship to the host (which, for instance, contaminates the so-called New Atheism), because he’s not interested in disproving the host’s existence. So, instead of being forced into, say, rationalist triumphalism (there is no God, and science is His prophet), he can expand the definition of the secular life so that it incorporates many of the elements traditionally thought of as religious. Hägglund’s argument here is aided by Hegel’s thinking about religion. For Hegel, as Hägglund reads him, a religious institution is really just a community that has come together to ennoble “a governing set of norms—a shared understanding of what counts as good and just.” The object of devotion is thus really the community itself. “God” is just the name we give “the self-legislated communal norms (the principles to which the congregation holds itself),” and “Christ” the name we give the beloved agent who animates these norms.

Last week, I got a new LG C8 55″ 4K OLED TV*. It has more glorious deep blacks than I could have possibly imagined and its WebOS interface is surprisingly fast and well-designed, especially coupled with its Nintendo Wii-like motion controller. My old Sony TV was powered by Android and its so-called apps were abysmally slow, so I hadn’t realised things could be better. The LG is so fast, in fact, that I’ve stopped using my Apple TV for anything but iTunes, Airplay, and the new Steam Link app.

Steam Link was also released just last week and it allows you to stream a game from your PC or Mac to your TV. It previously required the Steam Link box that would plug into your TV, which I bought and immediately regretted since it was barely beta-quality, but now the same functionality is available as an Android or iOS/Apple TV app. And you know what? It works pretty well – once you figure out the workarounds. When I first used it, it didn’t work with my equally-terrible Steam Controller, so I ended up pairing a spare PS4 controller with my Mac; it turns out the Bluetooth connection is strong enough to reach across the entire house.

The next problem was that a mouse cursor stubbornly remained in the centre of the TV, no matter what game I played. Even moving the mouse on my Mac didn’t budge it. Eventually I discovered I could manually move it with the PS4 controller while the Steam overlay was active. This required a tedious process of experimentation and I was on the brink of giving up several times, but the prospect of playing Steam games on the sofa gave me strength through those dark hours minutes.

Sure enough, playing Kentucky Route Zero on an OLED TV is a delight and worth all the nonsense. I’m looking forward to working my way through a fraction of the 1000 games in my library, collected largely thanks to being on the BAFTA games jury for several years.

One bonus from this experimentation is that I realised I could take a Bluetooth mouse downstairs so I could wake up my Mac when I wanted to stream from Plex simply by moving it around (“Wake on LAN” basically doesn’t work on Macs), thus saving me from having to walk upstairs. Small pleasures.

*I was considering waiting for this year’s LG C9 OLED model, which includes Airplay and full support for HDMI 2.1 features like variable refresh rate (VRR). But VRR isn’t going to be supported on anything until the next Xbox and PS5, and even then I probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. There’s always going to be something better (and much more expensive) around the corner, and the upgrade from my old 1080p Sony TV was big enough.

Panic, makers of fine Mac apps and publisher of Firewatch and Untitled Goose Game, announced their adorable new Playdate handheld console yesterday.

It costs $149, which many Professional Internet Commenters have declared is a “ripoff” when you can buy a Nintendo 2DS for much less, or indeed, just use the smartphone you already possess. Which is both true and also completely missing the point.

The Playdate is a fun toy. It is clearly not meant to compete with anything on price or raw specs, whether that’s Nintendo or Sony or Apple or Samsung. It’s not intended to sell millions of units, any more than a £400 Lego Death Star set is intended to sell millions. It’s meant to appeal to some people, but it turns out a lot of people have a problem distinguishing these two beliefs:

  1. This product is overpriced and few will buy it
  2. This product costs more than I am willing to pay

This conversation reminds me of people’s criticisms of Zombies, Run!’s price, which is now $35/year. Not a day goes by without me seeing some complaint about how subscriptions are terrible and it would be better if people could just buy our game outright.

But this is bogus. If Zombies, Run! cost $1/year, no-one would be complaining. The problem is not the subscription: it’s the price. And that’s OK! There are some things I would like to buy but cost more than I’m willing to spend. That doesn’t make their creators greedy or foolish, it just means it’s not for me – but it might be for people who want it more, or have more money to spend.

Speaking of Zombies, Run!, here’s an interview I did with Caroline Crampton on Hotpod, the podcast industry’s newsletter of note. I have wanted to get onto Hotpod for years and I’m very pleased with the result!

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