There are graphic designers who would tell you that what they do is every bit as important as the content they're presenting - a tough proposition to accept.
But the new Wired might help make their case.
The June issue unveils a redesign of the 10-year-old technology and culture periodical, and it is one of the most interesting magazines I've read in a while.
Much of the best stuff comes at the front of the book. Editors have traditionally used this section to serve a few appetizers on the way to meatier fare, but these days they are devoting more space and effort to it. Wired's short bites, for example, take up roughly two-thirds of this issue; together they make a feast.
The neatest of them describes Japan's Sapporo Dome, which has an artificial surface for baseball but keeps an 8,300-ton soccer field growing in the backyard. When needed, as it will be this summer for the World Cup soccer tournament, it can be rolled into place.
* A Minnesota company is deploying ATM-like prescription-drug vending machines in hospital emergency and waiting rooms, with corner-store locations on its horizon.
* The DVD, the most successful electronics-product launch ever, is on the edge of transformation; by using a more focused laser, the new technology will fit 13 hours of video on a disc, which will accept high-definition TV data and be recordable. Don't worry; your old discs will work in the new machines.
* New strategies that address a rise in auto accidents at night include adding infrared and ultraviolet sensors to cars. Their read outs, projected onto the windshield, would illuminate what headlamps don't.
* A Pennsylvania academician has devised a ranking of the most creative cities, and we're No. 4. (That's also where Yahoo! Internet Life put Boston in its ranking of the 50 most wired cities last month; San Francisco and Austin, Texas, placed higher in both.)
Even in this day of expanding appetizers, it would be hard to get too excited about a magazine if its only attributes were up front. But Wired has main courses worth saving room for, most notably Steven Levy's report on Stephen Wolfram, who might be this generation's Einstein, a comparison Wolfram probably wouldn't object to.
He's just released "A New Kind of Science," a 1,280-page tome 10 years in the writing that suggests that all complexity in the world can be explained with a brief algorithm that will become the basis for new directions in every field of scientific study. Wolfram's next challenge: discovering it. Levy, a senior editor at Newsweek, raises more than a few questions. To start with: Why is such a major effort running in a competing magazine? And just what is an algorithm, anyway? But he's known Wolfram almost 20 years and goes beyond the scientist to flesh out a man who could be one very influential fellow.
Meanwhile, what of Wired's redesign? The difference is hard to see because the most significant change is what's not there: the shouting, blaring style that sometimes hindered comprehension.
Is it possible that Wired's been this good all along?
Credit where it's due
A magazine that definitely is undervalued is the aforementioned Yahoo! Internet Life. Month after month it illuminates regions of the Internet, whose vast and mutating terrain requires a know ledgeable guide.
Its strong suit is also its short takes, plus its unique feature: a study guide for each issue. Printed on sturdier stock and perforated for easy separation, the guide lists many - though, maddeningly, not all - of the Web sites discussed, so readers can check off the sites that interest them and then use it at the computer to explore.
But the June issue backs up the short stuff with a creepy feature on "cam whores," girls, often underage, who post lists of goods, such as Britney Spears CDs and sneakers, that they'd like admirers to buy for them. They're wedding registries, "but without the wedding," writer Mark Frauenfelder aptly suggests. But if not matrimony, then what? The girls are offering illicit little peeks of themselves on their Web sites, of course.
Frauenfelder interviews a few of the girls, who reveal a sickening mixture of cynicism, savvy, and naivete. He doesn't interview any parents, though, because, not surprisingly, none of the girls would allow him to. So he leaves it to theorists to try to explain the growing phenomenon.
A surefire seller
Magazines have been known from time to time to put headlines on their covers that don't match stories inside, simply because they believe them to be irresistible. One that works for me is atop the June Men's Journal: "Where Women Chase Men: the Single Man's Guide to Brazil." There's even a story to go with it.
Writer Jason Harper tells of chucking his job as a magazine editor and moving to Rio with a friend, lured by the promise of adventure, knowledge, and "a country that stands the basic dating principle on its head." Women stare at him, fight over him, occasionally paw him. And he loves it.
Presumably, he'll one day tire of such treatment; his friend decided to come back after four months. I can see how it would get old eventually. But there's no use in projecting into the future; for today, I've started saving for my new vacation.