Since When Does the Government Shy Away from Acronyms?
According to this Wired article, to solve the controversy over putting RFID tags in U.S. passports, we're just going to rename RFID tags to "contactless chips." So we lose the acronym but get a made up word and the technology remains the same. Awesome! Does anyone recall that Newspeak was actually bad? Apparently not. Hey, maybe Orwell meant 1984 as a how-to.
I've had a couple of SXSW-inspired posts so far, but this says it all. All you really need is that comic, but there's a decent post too. That's a nice mirror of the SXSW experience, actually, because it's utterly lacking in context and has more interconnections than you can comfortably digest in one sitting.
While looking at William Golding's The Spire on Amazon, I noticed a tiny link right below the title and author that said SIPs: corkscrew stair. That's enigmatic enough for me, so I clicked. It turns out that Amazon is now displaying SIPs—Statistically Improbable Phrases—based on their "Search Inside the Book" feature. There's an explanation, but basically SIPs are phrases that appear a lot in a particular book and hardly at all in other books. Pretty cool.
That's right, it wouldn't be a holy week if I didn't use my blog to mock religion. This installment made possible by Walmart, where you can get the Jesus at Gethsemane Porcelain Figurine in two different fashion colors for the bargain price of $19.86.
Alternately, if you want something a little more durable and posable, while still honoring your racial and idolatrous preferences, how about a Jesus action figure?
In any case, during this holy season, take a minute and ask yourself, WCWJB? (What Color Would Jesus Be?)
So, according to this Center for American Progress report, we're now running trade deficits across the board in high-tech while the dollar continues in free-fall (for an interestingly-annotated version of the story, without the charts and graphs, check Sterling's blog). Like a lot that goes on these days, this goes completely against classic economic theory. When your currency is worthless (or even just worth less), other countries with strong currencies (pretty much every developed country on Earth right now) should want to buy things from you. And yet they're not, at least not as fast as we want to buy things from them.
Another article I read recently indicated that we have been running an agriculture trade deficit since 1996. The USDA seems to agree. Wow, as late as 1985, I remember hearing in school that we were the world's breadbasket. Without us, the rest of the world would starve! What happened? We've been running steel deficits even longer. The current issue of Consumer Reports (sorry, the article is not online) indicates that certain "American-made" automobiles are being assembled in the United States (or Canada or Mexico, for that matter) of 99% imported parts. And I'm not talking about the total trade deficit, which will pretty much always exist due to our dependence on foreign oil, but specific-industry deficits, industries where at one time, in the very recent past, we were quantitatively the world leader.
Anyway, my intention here is not to get into a free trade discussion or a debate about off-shoring of jobs or assets. The real question to me is, what the hell is America making these days? I mean we have fairly low unemployment right now, so all these people are going to work and doing something all week long. So what is it? Of course we know, and this was predicted as far back at the late 80's. It's all service industry. We're all busy sending each other spam and cutting each other's lawns. And of course we're doing it with imported computers and lawn mowers.
Wired had an article last month that basically says that we need to move on. The Information Age is already over, not because it's been outsourced or offshored per se, but simply because the rest of the world has caught up. As the speed of the cycle of "ages" has increased, so has the speed of adoption globally. It took us almost 100 years to get from Industrial Age to Information Age; it took China half that; Singapore did it in half that again. The wired article claims our next boom, and our next big export (no matter how you feel about globalism, they're inexorably linked from now on) will be creativity. Sounds ridiculous, but so would have the idea of importing and exporting "information services" in 1980. Whether you buy this argument or not, if you still believe in the "American way" (what we used to mean by this, anyway) of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, of growing past your problems, of being the world leader in everything (but especially innovation), you really have to hope that something is next, because right now we're looking pretty irrelevant. I mean if we're just another country with a depressed currency, shaky credit, across-the-board trade deficits, huge national debt, hinky elections, and a questionable human rights record—basically another Brazil, without the tropical climate and scenery—then what do we have that makes us special? Okay, maybe Hollywood, the last great exporters (literally, we have really good trade numbers for entertainment) of the American way, the accidental patriots. And guess what business they're in: creativity.
It occurred to me last week—and I mentioned this to a friend of mine—that the topics and environs of SXSW Interactive had permeated and overwhelmed me in such a way that I had felt the need to recede into myself in consideration and also in self-defense. I began referring to the overall tone of the event as a cocktail—a potent mix of culture, politics, technology, philosophy, humor, and both political correctness and incorrectness. Overlaying this was an at-times contradictory overall mood, exuberant and geeky as you'd expect at a conference like this, but with a dark side of thoughtfulness and fear. This is what happens when you follow a panel about How to Trick Out Your Blog with Spam, Trolls, Stalkers: The Pandora's Box of Community. In other words, it's all fun and games until somebody figures out your home address from your domain registration. And this is just in the blogging track! If you took an excursion to the political side of things—as nearly everyone seemed to gauging by the attendance at events featuring Ana Marie Cox, Dan Gillmor, and Al Franken—things got significantly darker.
Just now, in a bit of synchronicity, yet with no actual connectivity that I know of, reading Michael Ventura's most recent "Letter at 3am" column from the Austin Chronicle, I began to reconsider my perception that I had been turned inward by the event. I now believe that what in fact happened was that I was turned outward to such an unaccustomed extent that I, for a time, was thinking completely outside myself.
For someone as narcissistic and self-absorbed as I usually am, this is such a rare experience that it's easy to see how I could misinterpret it. I'm used to all of my considerations and pains being internal or at least confined to a very narrow sphere of interest that may (or may not, depending on the day) include my family, friends, work and hobbies. Even when I take the time to consider the state of the world—and talk about painful!—I tend to frame it in such a way as to still make it about me. Yet this week, I think something else was going on.
I've been looking for a hook on which to hang several things I've been considering since SXSW. On the one hand you have blogging and journalism and the mainstream media and the more general subject of information-sharing on a global scale, which also ties into intellectual property and truth and perception and memes and publicity. On the other hand you have the reality that all these media are attempting to describe: the environment and politics and technology and globalization and the economy. Though I think calling politics and economics "reality" might be a bit of a stretch since they are in actuality meta-realities laid over actual reality that have become so powerful and pervasive as to seem real (wait, you thought The Matrix was about machines taking over? No, see, that would have required a lack of metaphor that only James Cameron could have put forth with a straight face and a $100 million budget).
But the Matrix metaphor is too big and overextended to be my hook. It needs to be something more basic than that: a single hook, not the whole armoire. How about "distraction?" Distraction works because it's half of what the media does, and we accept this because the state of reality and our part in it is such that we want a distraction far more than we want the truth. This last bit occurred to me directly during the Bruce Sterling/Alex Steffen keynote at SXSW and was confirmed when I re-read the ad hoc transcript and comments following it. My complaint, and it seems to be a common one, is that this is all so depressing, we're in such incredibly deep shit, that it really doesn't seem realistic that driving a Prius or buying a solar backpack is going to get us out of the world's problems. Just how bad are thing? Check out the footnotes, especially what they refer to as The Great Wager (though if you don't want to read that whole thing, I'll sum it up here: we've bet that we as a species can innovate faster than we populate, that is that we can get smarter faster than we get bigger, though so far we haven't, and the gamble is the ecosystem of the entire planet).
There were a lot of dire predictions at this conference. Gillmor is worried that the First Amendment is dead, Franken is worried that democracy is dead, and Sterling is worried that we're all dead. They all warn us that politicians and corporations (including media corporations) are playing games with us and messing with our heads. They all believe, and I tend to agree, that we're all so misinformed, confused, conflicted, and yes, distracted, that we're are no longer capable of seeing the world as it really is, even if we wanted to, which we most likely do not. What's really weird is that all of these people received a forum at a conference which is ostensibly about doing cool stuff with computers. What's cool and "interactive" about keeping speech free, combating partisan, populist jingoism and saving the planet? Hard to figure! Yet somehow, in the midst of of an event that was ostensibly about new and innovative forms of distraction, I managed, for a time, to become un-distracted by the concerns of my own life and entertainment and personal gratification and get a glimpse at the bigger picture. Good thing there was free beer every night.
Today was an odd weather day, which is to say on the boring side of normal for Texas. This morning was very spring-like, complete with the sounds and smells and feeling in the air that I associate with spring growing up on Long Island. Then about 1pm it cleared up and the temperature got up to at least 80. This is really the perfect kind of day here. So perfect that I sat in the sun for an hour and actually got hot enough to go in the pool (water temperature currently around 62, and that's being generous). Apparently I had forgotten how to swim since last year because I ended up sucking up a bunch of highly-chlorinated (5.0ppm free chlorine, so still technically swimmable, barely) water through my nose and then swallowing it. Invigorating! It was cold too, but I had to clean out the sprayer heads of the self-cleaning mechanism—an annual, ironic task—so I put on the mask and snorkel and got to work. Given that distraction, it really wasn't too bad, and it was still warm enough when I got out, even with the sun behind the back hedge, that I didn't feel much of a need to dry off. Only in Texas do you get the first day of spring and the first day of summer on the same day. Hard to complain about it though.
You're probably getting sick of my "Google Does..." posts, and if so you're really going to be sick of them after this, because there are probably about five people in the world who care about Google Code and none of them read this blog. Basically this is a new portal for all the sanctioned open-source and open-API coding projects related to Google. If you don't know what I'm talking about, that's okayjust trust me, this is a good thing.
I have to admit, though, I was a little disappointed when I reached this page after reading the description on the Google Options page (which is actually interesting to a wider audience, so check it out). I wanted to believe that Google had produced a portal/search engine for all open-source coding projects. Granted this would duplicate the work of Sourceforge somewhat, but then there are some frustrating aspects of Sourceforge that could use some Googlicious refactoring.
So the Interactive portion of SXSW ended officially Tuesday night at Bruce Sterling's party. I'm still digesting. Not the food (okay, mostly beer) but the experience. I've been left with that physiological guilt complex that I get when I've participated in something more or less wholeheartedly that I knew all along I didn't feel quite right about. I know that's going to require some explanation. I'm working on that too.
Just Because I'm Not Paranoid Doesn't Mean They're Not Out to Get Me!
For those of you (and it's probably all of you) who thought I was hyperbolizing or just being paranoid when I related to you my fear of ever driving through the state of Louisiana again because I get pulled over and searched down to the frame welds every damned time, there's now a court case in Florida (where else?) that proves this is a real issue for those who "fit the profile."
For the record, the "a drug dog is on the way" line has always been part of the experience for me as well. And I have always consented to the search as a means of "beating" a ticket that would probably never have been issued in the first place. This beating the ticket enticement isn't mentioned, but I have to think it's a big part of people consenting to a search. Keeping the cop standing on the side of the road not writing a ticket is classic "how to beat a ticket" advice from all the sources I've consulted on the matter.
There's a lot I could say about SXSW so far, but one of the most interesting things I've seen was in the panel How to Build Your Brand with Blogs. The five panelists had a very sparseand this is not a bad thingPowerPoint presentation (or perhaps the Mac equivalent), so what one of them did, and I presume it was Robert Scoble (a.k.a. The Microsoft Guy), but I could be wrong, was interesting. When one of the other panelists was talking "off slide" and didn't have something important going on on their own laptopand I have to say this is one of the few things SXSW got right: giving the panel a video switcher that actually works so they could show any of their laptops at willhe would take summarizing phrases from what the panelist was saying and type them into Google. In this way, he very effectively allowed Google to create PowerPoint slides for the panel on the fly. What's really interesting is that Google provided more interesting, more entertaining and possibly even more relevant slides than could have been produced by a human, even if the scope and topics were known and scripted in advance, which they weren't. The point is, for any phrase uttered, we instantly got to see the top six or so contextually similar things in the world. Makes me wish they had captured the browser history from that guy's laptop from the session.
This also dovetailed nicely with the panelists' assertions that authority and authenticity (as well as passion, but I'll come back to these as a trio in a separate post at some point) are critical for bloggers. What's more authentic or authoritative then showing your audience what Google has to say on your topic in real time? Effectively you're self-fact checking on the fly. If you say something and any of the top six Google hits contradict you or go in a different direction, the audience is instantly going to have access to this information and is going to act on it. This is what some of the more geeky audience members would already have been doing with their laptops. Incorporating it into the session itself shows courage and insight into the processes of blogging and talking about blogging that I found refreshing and unexpected.
Be sure to schedule your conference choices to maximize the requisition of information!
I'm sure there's a game show in here somewhere, and if it was going to be played anywhere in the world it would be at SXSW. Let me just take a phrase or sentence pretty much at random from each of the four scheduled speakers for the Saturday Digital Convergence Panel, mash them together (I call this "convergence"), and see what happens.
Food for thought as we bridge the landscape of devices, which confront the content developers. Specific examples are possible synergistic benefits; common needs can be realized that can be enhanced by the group working together. Is this something unique to what we are currently calling “digital convergence” or is it something that has happened within other transitional periods? Or even the guys that soldered RCA outputs to their Atari 2600’s (I still have one in the attic I think) or the guys that decide the best use of the computer was to play space invaders.
Fortunately someone managed to do it. And he's an Austinite to boot! Forgive me in advance if I now turn my blog over to SXSW for the next week. I paid good money to attend this thing so the least I can get out of it is some content for my stinking blog.
Though I have to give SXSW some credit. They finally managed to get out an email to paid attendees today:
Dear SXSW Interactive or Gold Registrant,
The 2005 South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival is just a few days away. We're extremely excited about all the incredible stuff we have lined up for this year's event -- and we hope that you are as well!
The purpose of this brief note is to go over a little-bit of last-minute news about SXSW Interactive.
REGISTRATION / BADGE PICK-UP
You can pick up your badge on the top floor of the Austin Convention Center beginning at noon on Friday, March 11. The first hour of registration is often busy and somewhat chaotic -- so, it may be best to wait until early afternoon to collect your credentials. Please be sure to bring a photo ID.
The Austin Convention Center is located at 500 E. Cesar Chavez -- for SXSW, you should enter at the northwest corner of the building (near i.e., Fourth & Trinity), then head up the escalators to the top floor of the building. Once you get to the top floor, the SXSW registration kiosks will be very visible.
Hours for registration / badge pick-up during SXSW Interactive are as follows:
Fri, March 11 noon to 8:00 pm Sat, March 12 9:30 am to 8:00 pm Sun, March 13 10 am to 7:00 pm Mon, March 14 10 am to 6:00 pm Tues, March 15 10 am to 8:00 pm
FRIDAY NIGHT, MARCH 11: FREE TOM FULP PRESENTATION
Be sure to attend the Tom Fulp presentation at 7:30 pm on Friday evening. Titled "Ducking Bullets and Blowing Up Barriers: The Indie Development of Alien Hominid," this session will cover the unlikely journey of a game which started as a free Flash download and ended up on the console market. Fulp's presentation is FREE FREE FREE, so please bring along all your friend's who have not yet purchased a SXSW badge.
SATURDAY MORNING, MARCH 12: COOL CONTENT & FREE FOOD
Panel programming for the 2005 SXSW Interactive Festival starts at 10:00 am on Saturday morning with a session titled "The Imagination Challenge." Led by Alexander Manu of the Ontario College of Art and Design, this presentation focuses on stretching the boundaries of human creativity in developing new art and technology. Then, at 11:30 am, Chipp Walters (Altuit) and Michael McGar (LocoMotion Studios) lead a session exploring some of the design tools used in the past and how tools tend to affect current design trends.
Otherwise, be sure to stop by Brush Square Park for some morning munchies, Tex-Mex style. Beginning at 11:00 am, we will have breakfast tacos, hot coffee and cold orange juice. This food is FREE for all SXSW Interactive, Gold and Platinum registrants. No worries if you haven't picked up your badge yet -- if you are pre-registered for the event, your name will be on the list at the entrance to the park. Brush Square Park is located at just west of the Hilton Hotel, directly across the street from the Austin Convention Center.
Whether or not you are able to attend the Saturday morning panels or the breakfast festivities, be sure to make it to the Austin Convention Center by 2:00 pm for Jeffrey Zeldman's Opening Remarks. The author of "Designing with Web Standards" and "Taking Your Talent to the Web: Making the Transition from Graphic Design to Web Design," Zeldman is creator of some of the web's best-known brands. His Opening Remarks are humorously titled "Will the Last Blogger Out Please Turn Off the Lights?" After the talk, he will be signing copies of this book.
SXSW Interactive heads into full gear at 3:30 pm, with six different panel sessions covering everything from CSS to Digital Convergence. Panels continue through 6:00 pm, then head over to Lucky Lounge (209 A W 5th Street) for the annual Handshake Happy Hour. At 8:00 pm, go to 804 Congress for the Official SXSW Interactive Festival Opening Party, co-presented by Playlist Magazine and frog design. You must be a SXSW Interactive, Gold or Platinum badgeholder to attend the Opening Party and the Handshake Happy Hour.
For more information on the 2005 SXSW Interactive Festival, please refer the links below. We look forward to seeing you at the Austin Convention Center later this week!
Hugh Forrest SXSW Interactive Festival March 11-15, 2005 Austin, TX http://www.sxsw.com/interactive
ULTRA-HELPFUL SXSW INTERACTIVE FESTIVAL LINKS
SXSW Interactive Festival Community Blog http://blog.sxsw.com
You may notice that the advertising links to the right are now provided by Google's AdSense program. They may be irrelevant or even hilarious until Google re-spiders my site due to some ancient keywords and other search engine trickery that I recently removed. So bear with me.
I'd been manually cycling out those book/movie/CD links and images for a long time, ostensibly because they were links to Amazon which could earn me money. Guess what: they never did. And yet they were probably more aesthetically pleasing than the AdSense ads (especially when Google throws in a graphical skyscraper ad from time to time, which I see they're doing now). I may try to go back and automate the book/movie/CD links at some point, because they did at least represent products I was recommending, but for now you're stuck with "Ads by Goooooogle." By the way, if you come over to my house and use one of my computers, please don't click on any of these ads, because that's a violation of the terms of service and will get me booted. Thanks!
I've been bitching for several weeks, though not here, that weather.com's recent redesign makes the site unusable by burying the local three-day forecast behind yet more clicks (on top of having to type in a zip and click past pop-up advertising). Not being a total weather junkie quite yet, I've been unable to make the jump to Weather Underground. Fortunately, Google has yet again saved me the trouble by offering current conditions and a four-day forecast simply by typing "weather, city, state" into the search field. For example, "weather, austin, texas." It's instantaneous, lightweight, concise, and you can save it as a favorite. Like everything else Google, this rocks in a totally understated and obvious way. How are they doing it, who is providing the information, how is it getting paid for? Who cares.
But I think you can see where this is going. Between maps, gmail, picasa, google desktop search, google calculator, and now weather, it's pretty clear what Google is shooting for: universal mind. I think Google wants to blow right past the application/operating system paradigm and come up with a system that acts pretty much like the computer on the starship Enterprise (TNG and later). That is, you speak into the air and the air spits back accurate if not quite intelligent answers. Prepare for Google Air, gAir, 1-800-ASKGOOG. Will you put up with unobtrusive text ads, and eventually subliminal advertising whispered in your ear, for omniscience? You know you will.
And I have to learn this from Bruce Sterling? Somehow this manages to sum up my existence at this moment in time. Well that and Bruce actually writing something for the local Austin paper, now that he doesn't live here anymore, now that he'll be a tourist in his own town and a visiting dignitary at a conference that basically grew up around him. In the post-modern world is "irony" still even a word, or is it just implied? Thus begins the countdown to SXSW. And speaking of Sterling, The Chronicle and SXSW, check out this gem from back when Bruce (and the rest of us) still had a sense of humor.
Okay, yes, consider the source. But this does serve to somewhat reinforce the notion that I've had since the few candid (one assumes) conversations I've had with Muslim Turks living in the U.S.that is, that Turkey is like an abused and unpredictable rottweiler chained up in Europe's back yard which is slowly pacing in circles and unscrewing its tie-out stake. Proudly sexually-repressed teetotalers who drink coffee that strong could be capable of anything. Just ask Cypress. And guess what, they were profoundly ambivalent about the U.S even before we had our most recent couple of wars in their backyard. Aljazeera weighs in too. And before anyone squawks anti-American bias, I'll just say that it's not America's take on something like this that particularly concerns me.
The evil side of Pure Austin Fitness is starting to poke its ugly head out from behind the façade of copious water fountains polished back to virginity every five minutes and free Q-tips. What is the dark side of this otherwise seemingly perfect gym? Food. Here, let me explain by first telling you the story of my workout…
I did a full workout yesterday: a warm up, close to an hour of resistance training and then 45 minutes on the elliptical. This was a tough one. I hit a wall right at the 30 minute mark where I felt like I just couldn't go on. I took a break, refilled my water bottle, and got back on the machine before the pause timer expired and reset the unit. I mused for a while on what my problem was, thinking about carb starvation and trying to remember my high school biochemistry regarding stuff like ATP and ADP and aerobic versus anaerobic metabolism. Unfortunately there's a gap in my knowledge between the science of sub-glucose cellular energy utilization and the lore of low-carb dieting, so I didn't get very far. Eventually what I came up with is that I just have a 30-minute attention span these days for just about everything. I need to work on that. Can anyone suggest a good yogi?
In any case, there was an exacerbating factor: for some reason the food bar at this gym bakes a fresh batch of brownies every 11 minutes! Why on earth would they do this? I haven't actually witnessed a brownie being pulled from an oven or consumed, but from the smell this is what must be happening. I know it's every 11 minutes because I have a damned timer running whenever I'm on the elliptical machine. The cardio machines are in the loft above the snack bar, so presumably warm smells waft up, and I'm telling you, they're making brownies. Cruel. Just as hawks can see the body heat of a field mouse from a thousand feet up, I, as a skilled low-carb dieter, can detect the radioactive glow of sucrose and fructose from great distances. Hence I avoid even looking at the snack bar as I walk by. But just from my peripheral vision and the continuous whir of blenders I can tell you they make smoothies and have an inventory of approximately one million nutrition bars. I refuse, however, to look at the menu or behind the counter to satisfy my curiosity about the brownie smell for fear of what I might findworst case being actual brownies, piping hot from the oven.
Believe it or not, the food situation gets worse from here. As I'm struggling through my last 15 minutes of elliptical hell, to my right is a personal trainer talking to his client while she does a different kind of elliptical machine. This must have been a cool down for her, because they were just chatting back and forth. The trainer was talking about the 67-mile bike race he was in the previous weekend, which is impressive I admit. But then he starts talking about the celebratory dinner that night for all the racers. He's talking about all-you-can-eat salad and pasta, all-you-can-drink beer, all-you-can-eat cookies and ice cream. Can anyone see the problem here? Should rail-thin personal trainers who are capable of riding 67 miles in a row ("but only 4 miles of steep hill climbing, so no big deal," the bastard says) be allowed to use the phrase "all you can eat" within earshot of normal people struggling through a cardio program? I think not. And pasta for fecksake!
This is probably why I ate four meals, a bar and a low-carb dessert yesterday. I should sue.
I also had the joy of the peeping tom sign guy again. Two of the three times I've been to that gym there's been a guy in a cherry picker working on a sign right outside the windows in the men's locker room. It's not a huge deal, but it is a little disconcerting. I noticed last night, though, that they did get the sign working, so presumably that's over with.