Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Time for Magazines

One of the side effects of having an iPad permanently by my side is that I’ve started reading magazines again. And yes, it’s wonderful to be able to read a magazine without having to carry bulky pieces of paper and without having to wait, sometimes months, for it them arrive at my post box (all wrinkled and folded).
As previously discussed, there are several ways to skin a cat and also several ways to read magazines on an iPad. I ended up going through Zinio for two reasons: they have more of the magazines I’m actually interested in, and their prices are OK. As in, they frequently offer various sorts of discounts that can make one’s magazines consumption feel like a bargain.
I thought I’d dedicate the rest of this post to reviewing the magazines I’ve been reading. There’s a simple reason for that, aside of my built in tendency to review stuff: the magazines I am now reading are basically the same as those I have been reading during decades gone by but have stopped, through reaching one stage of life or another. In effect, the iPad gave me an opportunity to revisit my past for little effort or dollars. So here goes.

For a couple of years, around the break of the new millennium, I used to regard Time as the epitome of magazine creation. It gave me everything I wanted in current affairs, and as part of its achievements it introduced me to the world of Harry Potter and the music of Air. I recall how excited I was when Time picked Einstein to be the person of the 20th century; I also recall how touched I was to read Time’s 9/11 coverage, with its photos of people jumping off the burning building to their death.
Nowadays I see things differently. Today I regard Time as a cog in the well oiled consumerists’ machine that is American capitalism. Today I read it and I cannot avoid that feeling of nausea that comes from reading that institutional American world view of affairs. Nowadays I’m angry at the ass licking that had the Pope selected as Man of the Year over Edward Snowden.
But I can live with that. I can read between the lines. I am no longer reliant on one magazine the way I used to be; now I consume my updates from dozens of sources. Some are distinctly better sources, such as The Guardian. None of these good or better sources drips my news feed into my veins in that right mix of variety and quantity, as seen through the eyes of the world’s current dominant culture, like Time does.
I’d say Time is well worth the $20 yearly admission price I had paid.

Through the heydays of my years as an audiophile, Stereophile was there for me. I passionately read it cover to cover, pondering every word and evaluating this over that. I even took an active part in the discussion, writing letters that resulted in my position compared against that of Dolby’s chief engineer in the magazine’s editorials. But then real life happened: I had responsibilities to look after, while at the same time I could no longer afford the significant portion of my income that matters of audiophilia required.
Revisiting Stereophile, I can see that not much have changed. It is interesting to see how the audiophile community has embraced advanced digital technology, but it is also interesting to see how the audiophile culture still manages to keep itself on the wrong side of relevancy. Yet between the six monthly listings of recommended components and the regular monthly reviews of music releases, as heard from an audiophile’s point of view, I don’t mind the $5 yearly subscription fee at all. It was well worth spending just for the sake of this high quality recording of Beethoven’s symphonies.

New Scientist:
My only new magazine in this post, New Scientists represents my way of revisiting the genre of science magazines from the point of view of a disappointed Scientific American reader. I have been a subscriber of the latter for more than a decade, but I quit relatively recently due to “personal issues”: on one hand, I no longer had the time to properly read the hard science Scientific American had to offer; on the other, its regular columns seem to have deteriorated in quality (or at least offer me nothing I could not find online). Further, Scientific American has a weird online policy: if one wants to be able to read the magazine digitally, one has to subscribe to the paper edition first. That’s so 20th century of them.
So I looked for alternatives, of which New Scientist seemed the most promising. Alas, the promise comes at a price: a digital subscription to this weekly magazine costs around $200 for Australians. I did what I usually do in these cases: I put on an American hat and subscribed for half the price (nowadays I would have waited for a Zinio offer to get a discount on that).
The question remains, is New Scientist worth the admission price? I would argue that it probably doesn’t. Sure, there is good reading to be had there, but there is also a lot that I wouldn’t classify as scientific writing but rather more like fluff. The level of discussion isn’t that great, either, with most articles easily summarised into two sentences. It wouldn’t have been bad for $20 a year, but for $200? Or even half that? No.
Not when the likes of Ars Technica or The Richard Dawkins Foundation can keep me up to date with the latest in science for free.

Motorcyclist and Cycle World:
Cycle was the first then-foreign language motorcycle magazine I got into back when two wheels were the main subjects of my dreams. It was by far my favourite, too. Motorcyclist joined its ranks shortly after just because I couldn’t read enough about motorcycles; it helped that I liked it, too. Then disaster struck, and Cycle’s publisher decided to kill the magazine and keep some of its leftovers under another magazine called Cycle World. I never forgot Cycle World for its crime, even if it did keep my favourite two wheels author, Kevin Cameron, doing what he did best.
Through this and that, my interest in motorcycles waned. What remained is the passion for good motorcycle writing. You see, although I’m not planning on ever riding a motorbike again, I enjoy reading about them from an engineering point of view. I find it marvellous how slight changes of angle there and timing here can create a totally different beast of a bike. Which is why I have decided to revisit the genre.
Last I visited Motorcyclist, more than a decade ago, I was disappointed with its editors knee jerk reaction to 9/11, mocking people that refer to their continent as Amrica. They probably forgot their America is a twist on an Italian dude’s name to begin with. The few recent magazines I read of Motorcyclist did not stoop that low, but they also did not rise to previous heights of detail in the reviews. Those insights on motorcycle engineering I used to like so much, the bits that would tell me why a 600cc bike from Kawasaki is so different to a 600cc bike from Suzuki that is quite different to a 600cc bike from Yamaha and is definitely a separate beast altogether to a 600cc bike from Honda. I cancelled my subscription to get the remainder of my money back.
I took on Cycle World because of a “get two years subscription for the price of one” offer. In turn, it took me by surprise: everything I liked about motorcycle writing was in there. The magazine I used to love to hate was oozing with quality!
No, I don’t read it as passionately or as regularly as I used to. But from time to time I enjoy having a go. Given this is the closest I am going to get to motorcycling, we are talking supreme bang for the buck here.

Magazine images used under assumption of fair use

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