A potentially far more useful poll than any "best of," but I'm confused by the pizza category. Frank and Angie's seemed better than most other pizzas I've tried in Austin--most notably the absolute suckage of Double Dave's. Is there some specific incident, menu item or time period that made them incur the wrath of Austinites? I'd like to know.
This post reminded me of a scene in this book I'm reading where a building collapses and there's graffiti on a wall of the neighboring building that could only be read after the collapse. Then, today, I peel back some contact paper on an old bookshelf from my dad's house, and I find in pencil, under two layers of latex and on top of a layer of oil-based paint, my uncle's name, probably from when he was about five years old! Can you feel that old synchronicity kicking in?
This is sort of along the lines of what happens in the construction trade, where masons leave their mark in mortar that will later be covered by carpenters and carpenters seal up all manner of crap inside walls and crawlspaces. Heck, even the Apple guys signed the inside of the original Mac where you couldn't see it unless you had a special tool. The difference now is that, post-millennium, absolutely everything threatens to becomes a time capsule.
How About Some Conspicuous Consumption with Your Conspicuous Consumption?
As if the $39 dual-layer DVD burner and 15-cent DVD blanks weren't enough of a loss leader, Fry's today goes back to their roots (at least here in Austin) and offers up a hot dog and soda for 25 cents. And seriously, you and I both know the "limit three per customer" really implies "per times through the line."
While it's tempting to invoke the image of Ignatius Reilly and say that Fry's is enabling the stereotype of geek as overweight slob, I'll note that invariably and ironically the first item they run out of is Diet Coke. You know, "'cuz I'm tryin to watch my figure."
(The real irony being, and I think maybe Coca-Cola owes Jack Black some money over this, is he says "Now if you could take a Coca-Cola, and just go half Coca-Cola, half Diet Coke...'cuz I'm tryin to watch my figure...Tryin to loose some of the weight" and the Coca-Cola Corporation turns that into a product. This is just like when the Barenaked Ladies invented pre-wrapped bacon and then Hormel [et al] just ran with it! Forget MP3 downloads, these are the intellectual property rights songwriters should be pursuing.)
A: When you can put it anywhere. Man, Homeland Security (which now includes the cop in the doughnut shop, don't forget) is going to love this. Articulated hardshell pods cable locked to public infrastructure? Nah, that won't cause any problems. Clearly there were no Israelis on this design team. They've known far longer than us that anything unattended in a public space has to be treated like a bomb.
The scary thing is I know people who would think this is a great solution to the "Dude, I need to ditch my bag for a few hours" dilemma. But for every one of those people I'm sure there are 100 others who would dial 911.
Yeah, so I've been bad at blogging lately. Mostly this is because I haven't been reading blogs. There's a direct connection. Real life things don't make me particularly want to blog, but reading blogs does. Of course once the momentum kicks in then maybe I'll press on to blog about real-lifey stuff. But normally, if I'm not reading blogs, I'm not writing. This makes sense in a way since it's only when I'm reading really interesting things that I have any interest in writing.
The problem is, I'm in one of those moods right now where even when I have free time, I don't want to read blogs. It's not because I'm bored with them (hell, I'm watching Letterman, and how engaging is that?). The real problem is that I'm not able to keep up with my interests, and that bugs me. It's tempting to invoke Stephen Covey here and say that my sphere of interest has exceeded my sphere of influence, but truthfully there's no time in my life when that has not been the case. As far as I'm concerned, having your interests exceed your abilities is kind of the definition of being an interesting person. But I spend a lot of time even one step beyond this condition such that my interest in things exceeds even my interest in them. What I mean is there are a lot of things that I would potentially like to know more about, but I have a frustrating inability to actually take that next step and pursue the interest.
The web provides a really useful example and metaphor for this in the form of links. Blogs are ostensibly lists of links with a little extra, often pithy, meta data on why you should click on them. But how often do you read a blog and not click the links? That's where I'm at. I'd like to click the links. I'd like to read the books I've read reviews of. I'd like to follow every chain to its conclusion or at least some far-off exhaustion point, but there's too much interesting first-source material for me to go even one level down on everything that catches my interest.
Linking was the aspect of the web that caught my attention and made me think, yeah, this is the shit. Back in the late nineties there were days when I would literally spend eight hours starting from some topic and just drilling down through the links, consuming a huge amount of material, and more often than not actually learning about something new. I'm not sure what happened since then, but that doesn't happen any more. Maybe there's more noise in the channel, maybe I've developed a more discerning palate, maybe my attention span is shorter, maybe I just can't sit still for eight hours any more. For whatever reason, I almost never do the concentrated, focused drill down on a topic these days. I read blogs as digests, I use Google for research, usually looking only at top-level hit pages until I find what I need. Once in a while I'll get sucked into a compelling story (though it's often on a newspaper or magazine site, so there won't be outbound links). Sometimes I'll find a personality I like and read around in an author's article archive. But what I don't do is consciously consume linked articles with the intention of integrating them into my own internal semantic web. This leaves me feeling like I've absorbed less, learned less, not really gained anything from time spent using the Internet. I guess this shouldn't come as much of a surprise, since most people assume it's all a waste of time anyway. But I feel like I used to get something out of it.
I was just perusing my long-ignored Monster.com agents and saw that in the last seven days there have been about 10 jobs posted that I'm at least marginally qualified for. Not a single one am I actually interested in. To these companies I say, I would seriously rather go work at Walmart than work for you. One of them was so bad I almost sent an email to that effect. Here are the reasons:
You're cheap! Man are you cheap. You want to pay a "content management system developer" with 7 to 10 years experience $25-$30 and hour? First of all, web content management has barely been around that long. Second, anyone who has been doing it half that long (and I've been doing it twice half that long!) is worth twice that much. And for contract work you really need to take that and double it. Third, this is Austin where commutes and the price of downtown housing double every three years. Get a grip! It's not so much the money itself as how out of touch with reality this makes you seem as an employer. What you're basically saying is you want only under-qualified candidates and you want them to come in and have to lie through their teeth to get the job. The fact that they'll be living in a trailer and commuting two hours a day from Bumfuckville, Texas in a car with no a/c or muffler is just a bonus I guess, huh?
Your coporatespeak, it hurts my eyes! Hey, you want to talk about load-balanced server clustering, I'm fine. You start using terms like "leverage" and "business initiatives" and "market-leading" and you've lost me as a viewer. If you're using this kind of language on me, a technical person you are trying to bring into the inner sanctum, I can only imagine what kind of horseshit you're shoveling on your clients. Do you people really sit around a table and talk like this? How can you respect yourselves at the end of the day? I guess maybe the Audi and the McMansion help soothe the pain, huh?
You want me to work how much? Full time? Dude, that's a real buzz kill. Especially since what you really mean is you want me to sit in a small space with poor lighting and worse air circulation for at least 40 hours per week. When things are busy, you expect me to be there more. When things are not busy, you still expect me to be there, and what's worse you expect me to pretend to be busy! You people just suck, you know that?
You want me to build what? From reading your job description, and the cryptic sentence about your product, and your incredibly-sucky website* I still have no idea what you do, but I have determined that your primary goal is one of the following, or possibly both:
to totally suck
to be utterly evil
Either way it's pretty clear that your customers are going to get screwed in the deal. To tell you the truth, I can't remember the last time I ran across an ad for a company that was doing something interesting and non-evil. Probably these kinds of companies don't have to run ads on Monster.com. Hey wait! Evil... Monster... there could be something to this!
*Your web site sucks. There's really no excuse for this. My Monster agents only track web technologies. If you're trying to hire me, you're looking for a web developer. If you can't take the time to sit down and write a couple of pages of content to clearly articulate what it is your company does and if you further can't spend the $2000 to get a decent web designer to put a pretty and usable face on it, then frankly you're useless.
Okay, so I think those are the primary reasons. I suppose I could have been more succinct. So here's my "executive summary:" I won't work for you because you suck and I don't.
I wonder if anyone is tracking this. I wonder if somewhere, buried deep in a stack of governments reports, there's a "Breakdown of New Jobs by Industry Sector and Level of Suckage" report.
Someone has finally figured out the real goal over at Google: to create an omniscient AI. Interestingly, I was just thinking about a book I read back in the '70s called The Adolescence of P-1, the first book I encountered that said AI could happen right here, today, and almost accidentally. I wonder if this book actually inspired a generation of computer geeks. I wonder if they ended up as disillusioned as I when it didn't actually happen. I've said it before and I'll say it again: go Google, go!
Listen, I grew up on folders. I knew what ../ meant before you were born. I've created folders with the best of them. When you're paying me $100 an hour, I'll come up with a solution for you that's so folder-heavy you'll need to upgrade your server just to keep up. I know how to do it. I learned how to do it. I know the theories and techniques. I'm the most organized guy in the world if someone's paying me to do it. But in real life, in my day-to-day existence, I simply can't and won't do it. I subscribe to a much different metaphor than the filing cabinet: piles, boxes, heaps. I pile stuff up until it becomes an annoyance and then I sweep it into a bigger container. I have folders on my current hard drive that represent the last six computers I've owned. I have hundreds of folders marked "desktop cleanup" plus the date. Every year Hitachi puts out a new, faster, more reliable hard drive that for $200 can hold the combined contents of every computer I've ever used, so why not?
I've tried folders. I've tried Outlook rules. That shit just doesn't work for me. I can't put in the time. I own a box of manila folders too. It doesn't mean I actually employ them outside the period of April 1-15 each year. I don't think in terms of senders and topics; I think in terms of keywords, concepts, snippets. When I need to find something in Outlook, I search. When I need to find something on my hard drive, from somewhere deep in the 300 gigs of data from my last six computers, I search. And in Outlook and on Windows, search sucks. Since I started auto-forwarding every email I receive to gmail 6 months ago, I can find absolutely anything, no matter how obscure, in less than 15 seconds. Gmail thinks like I do. So does Google. Google Desktop search is a little less ready for prime time, a little to web-heavy, but it's still better than Windows Explorer search. When I heard that Microsoft was bailing on WinFS for Longhorn, I very nearly wept, and I very very nearly sold my Microsoft stock, because if they're not upgrading the file system, then it's all just more XP smoke and chrome. What the hell have they been doing for the last four years? Someone needs to tie Bill Gates to a chair and make him watch Star Trek on one of his projector-walls. Dude, nothing on my computer should take 30 seconds. 30 seconds in Pentium 4 time is my entire waking life.
So Google, keep going. Make my computer do the organizing for me. Better yet, make my computer do what it's supposed to do: work the way I do but a million times faster. Because even my dysfunctional "organization" system would work well at 1,000,000X speed.
It's Sub-Domain-of-the-Week Over at Google These Days
Somehow it took me until this weekend to run across Google Suggest. Today I discover Google Print. Where's my Google IM? That's what I really want. Screw the rest of these guys and their incredibly flaky clients. Oh, wait, too late.
This week's top "tool" on Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools list, basically a Magic 8 Ball (only in reverse--it asks the questions) for the 21st century, is barely interesting in itself. What is interesting is that it's based on a 17-year-old (dare we say, adolescent?) neural net, possibly the most generally and genuinely artificially intelligent thing on the planet. And what's really interesting is that when they slimmed it down to cram it into this toy, it actually got better at its primary task. To quote from KK:
Because it knows about fewer objects than the web version, it gets confused less often, so its success rate is ironically higher.
To put this in human terms, it basically says, the less you know, the less connections that exist in the brain, the better you focus and the better you are at doing the things you're good at. There's a word we have for knowing so much that it makes you bad at everything: neurotic. They lobotomized this thing and it became more functional. Taken as a metaphor, that's a scary comment on the human condition.
Not to keep beating the dead horse of Star Trek, but I stumbled on an article just now that does an amazing job of illustrating the difference between Star Trek and what I'll now label "conflict sci-fi" that we were talking about earlier.
This article does a great job of capturing, as it calls it, the soul of Star Trek, but what's particularly astounding to me about this article is the shocking synchronicity with a dream I had last night. The article talks about the fiction of the conscious versus the fiction of the unconscious, the story of the whale versus the story of the shark.
My dreams last night were all about conflict and anxiety and impending pain and loss. They culminated in one where I was swimming in shallow, rough, but also clear, tropical waters barely in sight of land. And I was surrounded by killer whales. They continually breached near me and seemed to be watching me, circling me. I was scared. Adding to the fear was the fact that waves were constantly breaking over me, pushing me under the water, sometimes down to the bottom (which was less than 20 feet down at any given time). So I was spending quite a bit of time under the water, where it felt like I was even more vulnerable to attack. During one of these struggles back to the surface, I finally found the courage to open my eyes. And there, not two feet from me, was the huge face of a killer whale. Immediately the apocryphal shark attack advice came to me--if you're attacked by a shark, punch it as hard as you can, in the nose if possible. But looking at this huge thing before me, that seemed absurd. It's mouth was closed, but all I could think about were its teeth and how it could so easily bite me in half at the waist. Of course I knew it wasn't a shark, but still it seemed aggressive, dangerous. Still, I reached out, maybe even intending to punch it. I closed my eyes again and imagined that the next (and last) thing I would feel were dozens of dagger-pointed teeth sinking into my arm. That was the scariest moment, expecting to feel those teeth.
But what my hand fell upon was not teeth. It was flesh. Not exactly soft, but smooth and warm and clearly alive. I opened my eyes and saw my hand laying perfectly on the animal's expansive black forehead. The whale turned slightly to the side and pushed past me and down. As my hand trailed almost lazily along its full length, I realized a connection: what I felt when I reached out and found smooth mammalian skin instead of predator's teeth, the whale felt something akin to that at my touch. This was not the dynamic of shark and man, predator versus predator, our only options to kill, be killed, or ignore--unconsciously. This was brotherhood, symbiosis, tolerance, conscious acknowledgement of sameness. This all took only seconds, and when I reached the surface again the sea was still rough and the killer whales were still there, but they looked very different to me and my fear was gone.
Okay, now I need to get back to making this blog "unreliable, libelous or just poorly written." Oh, wait, I never stopped! Then again, I never claimed to be a journalist. I've always been pretty comfortable with my media whoredom.
Finally an End to Wartime Lumber and Bauxite Shortages!
Yes folks, we're apparently fighting WWII all over again, because we're having to rape the National Parks System for lumber and minerals. It's been such a hardship paying these outrageous, environmental-protection inflated prices: 88 cents for a 2x4 at Home Depot, $2 for a twelve pack of soda in aluminum cans.
And before I start hearing any of this "bolstering local economies" crap vomited back from the press release, let me remind you, these are national parks! By definition they're in the middle of nowhere. They are the middle of nowhere. That's what they're for. There are no local economies (except maybe tourism, and logging is good for that right?). Plus, mining and logging are no longer local businesses anyway. According to Erik Reece's recent Harper's article, only nine men are required to shear off the top of a mountain and completely mine it of coal. Nine guys, and they ain't locals--they're itinerant specialists. They're staying in Motel 6 and eating at McDonald's, so unless you've got really expensive prostitutes in your town and they spend like there's no tomorrow, I'm not sure where even a trickle-down local economic boost is coming from. Strip mining (the only kind now regularly employed for bulk mineral extraction in this country) and clear-cut logging are, by definition, get-in-and-get-out operations. They're undertaken by highly-mobile, limited-liability shell companies tenuously owned (but wholly controlled) by giant corporations. They don't linger, they don't build infrastructure, and they don't contribute to the local tax base.
So yeah, I was being sarcastic there in the beginning. This isn't about shortages. It's not even about economics. It's about one of the more absurdist plays in the current administration's playbook: if it happened under Clinton, undo it. Clinton wanted to protect the national parks? Well hell, bubba, we gotta fix that!
So Google has now come out with a proxy service they call Web Accelerator. Basically what this means is you configure your browser to point to Google's servers and they attempt to serve you web pages and images faster than the actual sites you're viewing would have been able to. This isn't new; in fact it's very similar to the cache already employed by your browser. The trick is, now there's a new cache: on Google's servers. There are many potential problems with this, but the central one I can see people getting up-in-arms about is--as usual with Google--privacy.
Most people already use Google in lieu of typing URLs and maintaining "favorites" lists--it's just faster. So Google already pretty much knows where you're spending your time online. If you use gmail, then Google is also reading your mail. Now they're theoretically going to see every byte you surf, with a few exceptions. Can you feel that slippery slope starting to kick in yet? Yeah, I'm not sure either. I will say that the performance improvements will need to be significant--just as they have been with gmail--to justify using this service. Having used other proxy-like "web accelerators" in the past, I'm skeptical but maintaining an open mind. Especially since they're employing "pre-fetching" which is a truly great, and as I remember somewhat controversial, technology that pulls down web content you might never view just so you can have it show up on your screen super-fast when you do click it. Perhaps I'll be brave enough to try this thing at some point. If anyone else tries it, let me know what you think.
As a side note, from a web-developer perspective, there are some pretty good reasons to avoid proxy and cache altogether. Also, webmasters, let me know if the Google proxy starts turning up in your server logs and/or breaks your stats package. This could be like AOL all over again for us tech heads. Ugh.
Staying in the same vein as the last couple of posts, here's an oldy but goody. Hey, maybe the reason Card hates Star Trek so much is that they used up all the easy ideas and made sci-fi authors have to work for a living? Oh, wait, that was Arthur C. Clarke. In fact, I have no doubt that Clarke thought of truck-mounting a wide-field microwave array and pointing it at humans back around 1955.
In the previous post, I had consciously decided not to take on the task of arguing why Star Trek doesn't suck, but in responding to a comment I found I went there anyway. So here's the response that broke out of the little comment box to become a real post:
There is a point where my skepticism comes full circle and turns back into optimism. I think it would be foolish to believe this is the last we'll see of Star Trek. Roddenberry is dead, and the last three series have mostly been products of hacks who don't care for or about the franchise. But eventually Paramount will realize yet again they're squatting on exploitable intellectual property and be tempted to go back to the trough one... more... time.
It would be nice if such an effort could be driven by a Kaufman- or Whedon-level creative talent, but I'm not sure if the fans would accept it. Blandness is part of the appeal of Star Trek. The farther you try to go outside the box—DS9, Voyager, Enterprise—the more the fans (and the critics) hate you. Unlike some of the more fantastical works cited, the Star Trek world is supposed to be our world just a little farther down the road and somewhat improved. No ghosts, no mysterious forces. Remember, when Star Trek first arrived on the scene, we had an honest-to-goodness space program. We had guys walking around on another planet (yes, our binary sister, but it counts) all the damned time! This was not fantasy, it was projection. And yet, as we've seen, Enterprise has spent most of the season breaking out of that connection to "our" reality, with alternative-reality and -timeline stories, and I bet this has alienated the fans while elating the critics, who can finally pick out the shark-jumping moment. But from Card's argument and examples of "good" sci-fi TV this is what they should have been doing all along: creating real jeopardy, taking chances with big story arcs, getting jiggy with the frame of reference. So which is it to be? The bright, shiny, imaginable future that we can all hope for and work toward, or the gritty, complicated, sometimes-hallucinatory, dystopic fantasy that we think of as cutting-edge entertainment these days? What was it Bruce Sterling said at SXSW this year? We have two choices: the unimaginable or the unthinkable. The unthinkable is what you get if you don't work toward the unimaginable. The whole point of Star Trek is that it's utopian. It's supposed to show us there is a future waiting out there, a place that's better than what we have now but which can logically be projected from today. Because guess what, that was somewhat in doubt in the late 60s and it's even more in doubt in 2005. So what's wrong with a utopia that still manages to share our problems, and maybe even gets to solve them once in a while? It may be "bad" entertainment, but it's the best kind of propaganda. I think this was the real appeal of the Star Trek universe, and if anything we need this kind of reminder now more than ever.
So yeah, maybe it's sentimental and over-simplified. Maybe it fails on many levels to be "good" sci-fi or drama. But I don't think you can ignore the longevity and popularity, and yes even the rabidity, the fact that even when it's been produced by people who don't really give a shit and for all the wrong reasons, it's still managed to connect deeply with people across huge demographic gulfs. There's more to the story than production values. And you know what, bottom line, if Orson Scott Card hates it, I want to like it right there. The enemy of my enemy and all that.
I'm guessing that this page will require registration at some point, but Orson Scott Card has a piece in the L.A. Times about the (current) death of Star Trek. He seems even happier to see it go than Jolene Blalock.
To put this in perspective, Card is a homophobe and a right-wing religious nut...excuse me, Mormon...so perhaps the tolerant, secular universe of Star Trek makes him uncomfortable. Not perhaps--it would have to. Not that Star Trek ever managed to address homosexuality directly. Though I suppose it's implied that Phlox is bisexual. Then again he's also polygamous, which maybe gives him a pass in Card's book.
So why is Smallville better than Star Trek? Because no one ever manages to have sex, of course!
How To Make Yourself Unpopular in the Blogosphere in One Easy Step
Step 1: Poke fun at something you absolutely agree with and support on boingboing.
In the roughly four months since I turned on comments, I had never received a single outside comment on my blog until I posted this. And then the shit hit the fan. Well, I got two comments anyway. And they were valid ones. But it's the middle of the night still, so I have some concerns about what tomorrow may bring.
As someone who has witnessed and ultimately thwarted an attempted car theft in Canada, my first thought upon seeing this story of "smart car" tipping was to think "well, maybe this will teach the manufacturer to make the cars untippable." Believe me, I'm all for smart cars. Not every car can be a tank, and I don't think they should be. But how smart can they be if two people can do almost $10,000 worth of damage to one in five seconds by tipping it on its side? As a motorcyclist, I've lived with the possibility of random destruction of my vehicular property all my life. I've learned to be a little careful, a lot detached, and when possible heavily insured. As a driver of a 10-year-old pickup truck and a 20-year-old motorcycle I've also learned to not give much of a fuck. Sure, it sucks when someone randomly destroys or absconds with your property. I've been a victim of random property crime, and it hurt. But guess what: it's going to happen. And you learn. You learn to keep your garage clean enough to put your vehicle away at night--when most property crimes occur. You learn to care not quite so much about what your sheet metal looks like. You know, if the finish on your metallic powder-coat window pillar can't be restored outside the factory, maybe it wasn't so "smart" in the first place.
Motorcycles, being inherently unstable at rest, used to be designed to handle a fall pretty well. I say used to be because these days motorcycle design is heavily informed by automotive design, which means large expanses of fragile surfaces that we care a lot about because they account for about half the resale value. But in the old days if you dropped a bike you might bust a signal light and scuff some chrome, but the vehicle would be basically operable and intact after anything short of a high-speed collision (again, been there). So why not make the smart car a little smarter? If you assume the vehicle will be tipped, this is pretty easy to design toward. So why aren't the smart car folks doing this? Well, for one thing because they currently have a monopoly. There's nothing to prevent them from selling extreme fragility and a 9-month wait time for parts with every vehicle. Some tipping will be almost required to straighten this out.