Check out this neat error message I got from gmail today! Of course nothing had actually gone wrong on the page, as far as I could tell, and a click on "refresh" made the error go away, but still, interesting. Also interesting was the fact that the humor totally took the sting out of getting an error message. Though I probably wouldn't have been so Zen about it if I had actually lost something. But isn't a pirate snarl so much nicer than an icon of a stop sign or a bomb?
No wonder Italy has run out of mobile phone wiretaps... they used them all up chasing CIA agents! And I really like this "extraordinary rendition" concept. It's like a Tom Clancy novel. We go into an allied country without approval and extract a subject to a third country where fewer rules apply. Can you imagine how we'd feel if countries started doing stuff like this to us? I mean think about this. Imagine how we'd feel if teams of foreign agents were running around New York or Florida operating completely outside the law, planning to abduct or even kill people. Wait, didn't this happen about four years ago? I think it was around the second week of September.
I'm not saying there aren't bad guys out there. But we're clearly on a path to considering ourselves above the law anywhere on the planet we choose to go. I'm guessing many people will see Italy as the bad guy and the CIA as the victim in this situation. Our sense of universal moral entitlement has us going into friendly countries, European countries, countries responsible for quite a bit of our own cultural heritage, and doing "extractions" without any kind of respect for local sovereignty or rule of law. Is this really the example we want to set? Do we really want to put forth the impression that it's all just a global free-for-all? Because I believe there really is a non-trivial relationship between the words "civilization" and "civility."
How much longer can we pretend to inhabit the moral high ground when we continually violate the most basic laws of justice and humanity? And to put it in words even the far right ought to be able to understand, what ever happened to "do unto others?" In all of our global moralizing and selective attention to biblical literality, did we forget the second half of that basic tenet? Because it doesn't end, as we sometimes jokingly say, "before they can do unto you," nor even the less antagonistic but still cynical "as they do unto you." What we are most certainly not doing is what it actually does say: "do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
Do you want to get pulled into a white van and sent to another country for torture? Do you want to live with a complete absence of due process? Of course not. And if you want to this to happen to other people--even your enemies, even very bad guys--I'd say you have something seriously wrong with your morality. But guess what. This is what we're doing. This is what 51% of us voted in favor of in the last election. We're the people in the white van. We're the people in the black hoods holding the electrodes to someone's genitals. We're an entire country that has, to steal a phrase from the spy-thriller world, gone off the reservation. We've gone rogue, and the results aren't pretty. Where, in all our professed "morality," is our conscience?
Has anyone notice that every single thing they do to blogger makes it worse? Recently they changed the way Ctrl-I works from adding an "<em>" tag to some kind of style="font-style:italic" bullshit. That is just a step in the wrong direction. "<em>" is not deprecated, you morons!
Today I discover that they've broken the way image upload and insert works. It use to upload the raw image and give you an image tag. Now you get at least two copies of the image, an href, a bunch of style crap, and no clear way to control what size it's going to use. All undocumented, of course. Again, this is not an improvement.
I was already wondering how blogger could dare show its face at SXSW Interactive this year due to how badly they suck. They seem to have all kind of money to throw around and yet absolutely no talent for making a blogging system work. If things keep going as they are, I can only imagine that by the next SXSW they'll be the AOL of blogging, the shameful has-been that instantly marks its users as newbies and losers.
Here's my solution: Google (owner of Blogger), buy Wordpress (which has its own problems), keep everyone currently involved on purely as evangelists, hire new technical talent that understands things like standards and usability, and then treat it like an actual application. Then maybe we'll get what we've been waiting for ever since the IPO: a blogging system with the slickness and functionality of Gmail.
Everything's working against the photo quality--the age, the fact that they were probably slides (hey, it's the 70's, you know they were slides), the winter light, the 60s and 70s color palette, the fact that these are clearly just snapshots--but man does Robert Heinlein's house fail to inspire!
Apparently Travis County does. A big fat piece. I already had a Thursday morning hearing scheduled to protest a blanket 12% increase in the appraised value of my home (in an utterly flat to declining housing market, at least in this neighborhood). Then yesterday what do I receive? A Jury Summons!
I have to admit, I've spent the last 19.5 years successfully (and legally, as far as you know) dodging jury duty. For some reason I felt like it was one of the four or five worst things that could happen to you as an adult. I think this goes back to high school when I took some law classes in which all we seemed to do was take field trips to the county seat and tour government facilities. And though being locked in a cell for 15 minutes and getting "scared straight" by felons (though DWI was probably the most heinous crime represented, and the scariest thing about the prisoners was that they all had horrible dandruff) in the prison chapel were certainly formative experiences, it was probably the tour of the jury duty waiting room that most scarred me. All those poor people sitting there all day long with nothing to do! It seemed like some kind of nightmare trip to the DMV in which you were never even allowed to get into the endless, serpentine line. You just had to sit in a chair with nothing to do but watch talk shows for hours/days/years. You know, kind of like living in Louisiana.
Strangely, when I received this jury summons, it was almost a relief, akin to what I'm sure a bank robber on the run feels getting picked up at the border after living in Mexico with his reformed Tijuana donkey girl and doing nothing but drink beer and relax (well, and occasionally pretend he's a donkey, of course) for 20 years. So yeah, a bittersweet relief you might say. But seriously, I'm kind of looking forward to it. Of course for all the wrong reasons.
I should not be on a jury, especially in Texas. I'm an atheist and an anarchist. I want to stick it to the man so bad I can taste it. I don't even have a case yet and I'm envisioning hanging a jury on some minor possession case and then somehow parlaying that into a book deal and a tour of the talk show circuit. Where all those poor people waiting for jury duty can watch me! It's my civic duty, you know?
It's amazing to me how often technology concepts stall for years, long enough for everyone to forget how old they are and how close we were to implementing them way back when. Two recent (for me they both came up yesterday) examples of this are mobile web content and object-oriented programming.
I remember way back in 1998, WML became available, allowing web sites to format a subset of their content for mobile devices. I saw it work and was vaguely tempted to convert my web sites over to it, but it never seemed to go anywhere. Fast forward to 2005 and we now have XHTML allowing basically the same thing. But the adoption is still very low, especially considering how many Internet-enabled cell phones are out there. I think that's about to change, now that we have Google Mobile. So if I was seeing web sites on mobile devices in 1998 and have been carrying around a web-enabled cell phone since 2000, why is mobile HTML just now becoming the hot thing? Because it sure ain't new.
And OOP is even older. OOP was the hot, new thing back when I was in college. The simple explanation of object orientation is that programming "objects" bundle up all the aspects of a piece of data plus all the operations that can be performed with or upon that data into one portable, replicable, extensible data structure. Yeah, and that's the simple explanation.
And believe me, it was considered a pretty serious brain-baker at the time, but everyone agreed that someday in the bright, glorious future absolutely everything would be object-oriented. The main argument for this being that the real world was object-oriented; that is, there is a connection between things, the data that describes them and the actions you can logically perform with them. But man, was OOP a metaphor without a country! The first three or four books I read on the subject all used the same incredibly-lame examples--mostly fruit and cars. Sure, it's somewhat illustrative of the OO concept to say, "well, you can drive a car, but not a banana, so driving is a method of the object 'car'." It was literally years before you started seeing real-world examples in OO texts. Why did it take years to be able to say, "AccountBalance is a property of the object Customer, and GetCustomerBalance is the method to retrieve it?" I have no idea. Probably we were all just morons.
So anyway, when I saw "Ruby" jotted on a whiteboard in the company of things like PHP, Ajax and DHTML, how could I have known that is represented yet another attempt at the holy grail of 100% object orientation? But it is. And they're serious about it. How serious? How about "In Ruby, the number 1 is an instance of class Fixnum." Yeah, that's heart-attack serious. I mean really, does the number "1" need to be an instance of anything? Even setting aside the overhead (both mental and computational) of the abstraction, the threat is that given this level of flexibility there lies somewhere down the line the temptation to override what "1" or "addition" or something equally fundamental about a "FixNum" means. And while I can see the value of this as an exercise in abstraction, as a thought experiment in the inherent existentialism of computer code, I'm not sure this is a neighborhood I want to inhabit. Because you very quickly end up in situations where your neighbor believes "gallon of milk" should mean "gallon of bleach," and then you have to know who owns the grocery store this week before you make your shopping list. Because it's pretty likely your idiot neighbor in this hypothetical OO hell also directed all "poison control" calls to the "dial a joke" object interface.
Can you imagine the Mac OS running on Dell computers? That just sounds like an apocalyptically bad idea to me. I thought Dell laptops were already the worst crap imaginable. Apparently I need to limber up my imagination for the coming crap-fest. But hey, at least maybe the key labels will stay on.
But it seems to involve a wooden spaceship, a 20-foot-tall marionette and a giant, quite-possibly-steam-driven, 40-foot-tall, walking animatronic elephant. My non-existent French is rusty, but I think this has something to do with the 100-year anniversary of Jules Verne's death. Either that or Burning Man just happened to take over his home town.
Does it strike anyone as amazing that we can just whip up a giant, drivable, walking elephant these days and use it as a parade float? Does that seem a tad decadent? I mean we're used to special effects, especially those involving elephants. But I seem to remember something about making vehicles and robots that walk actually being a challenge. Did we just solve this problem while I wasn't looking, and then instantly scale it up to a point where one of these things can sashay through a crowd, no problem? Because if so, we really are living in the future, and Jules Verne would be proud.
update: On closer inspection I see that the elephant's legs are not load-bearing but are, in fact, suspended. The elephant is basically a giant puppet on an articulated tricycle chassis, complete with on-board puppeteers to control the appendages. Beautifully done.
Think We Live in the Heyday of Market-Driven Economics? Think Again.
I used to subscribe to Reason magazine, but recently let it lapse because they're a little too hard-line, a little to heartily chomping at the bit for free markets. I agree that the market is a powerful force and can accomplish a lot. I even enjoy the occasional thought experiment in just how far market economics could take us. But not every month, month after month.
But then I run across something that reminds me there was a time when the market was all, when things like political correctness and human decency had a different definition. For example, apparently the successful care of premature babies was pioneered (and financed) via a carnival sideshow on Coney Island. If making premies entertain the public to pay their own way isn't market economics at work, I don't know what is. And no matter how distasteful and offensive we find this today, we have to admit that it worked. Incubators and other technologies were developed that wouldn't normally have been, via willing, market-driven public contributions. In a way I guess this is no different from reality television, where people give up their privacy and self-respect for a chance at a million dollars. And frankly, in our current culture of baby-worship, this idea is a little refreshing. It makes me wonder if maybe we have other untapped markets to work with. For example, could cancer patients agree to have drug company (or insurance company, for that matter) logos painted on their bald heads in exchange for free chemotherapy drugs? Could really well-built people be encouraged to tattoo the 24-Hour Fitness logo on their biceps in exchange for a free membership?
Why not? Because this is the forgotten side of economics. In the new economy, we are all first and only consumers. We may, additionally, be cogs in a production machine. But we are not producers. And we are not products. It takes true entrepreneurs to make this connection, to personally produce and productize. And to be willing to break some taboos to do it. We've got porn, prostitution and reality TV, industries where people literally sell themselves. But I think there are more opportunities waiting out there. And it's not human nature that's keeping us from exploiting them, but merely social mores and conventions, and those change over time. Maybe it's time we shook off our delusions surrounding work. Time we stopped denying that we are selling ourselves, cheap, every time we show up at work on time and put in effort for a set salary. This used to be call "time selling" by the late-night TV self-help hucksters, who considered it the purview of chumps and suckers. That's a nice irony, but one of the central skills of the huckster is understanding and exploiting a fact that most of us ignore. Maybe we need to start thinking more like hucksters. Maybe it's time we stepped back and took a look at what we really need in life, what skills and assets we really have to offer, and thought about a disintermediated way to connect them. Because everything else is just helping out "the man."
In case the Times "archives" the referenced article, here's a PDF.
This is perhaps the best use of a whiteboard ever. Also on BoingBoing. It wasn't the intention, but this is a really nice summary of things you will simultaneously be incredibly tempted to say yet should probably never say in the presence of a whiteboard. Except number 21, which is almost always called for, in my conference-room experience. However, they left out one of the most important ones: dropping the F-bomb. Always drop the F-bomb. Fuckin' A.
And I'm really glad Sterling brought up whiteboards, because it's a really nice segue to/incidence of synchronicity with this screen cap from the Daily Show the other day (okay, two months ago, I'm a DVR addict, what can I say?). I have no idea what was going on, and I only just happened to press pause on the DVR at the right moment, but this is what I captured. What do you supposed this guy did to piss off his coworkers so much?
And because it deserves to be Googleable and saved for all time, here's the original whiteboard translated to text:
TOP 100 THINGS YOU SHOULD NOT SAY DURING (YOUR) REVIEW
1. Dunno 2. I was trying to think outside the box 3. I, kinda…sorta…wanted to… 4. You're a dumb dumb 5. I love you? 6. Ummm… 7. I'm really interested in hybrid forms and deconstruction. 8. I'm not sure I want to be here (even though that is how you really feel) 9. But I'm soooo cute 9a. Awww…. I am sorry u feel that way 10. I was going to make it better but then I didn't. 10b. The leprechaun told me it was good 11. I regret not going to (insert school name here) 12. But I like Avant Garde/Optima/Souvenir 13. What exactly do you mean by post modern? 13b. I'm going to kill you all! 14. I can't think of a response. 15. What? Huh? 16. I'm not really into type 17. Is it design? I don't know. 18. And what's wrong with the 90s????????? 19. You're not the boss of me. 19a. It was just a goofy piece! 20. Actually, I don't really know what I'm doing (even if you really don't know) 21. I call bullshit on that! 22. Whatever 23. Uh huh ok yeah. 24. Yeah right 25. I'm sorry, what was that? 26. Mom (whine) 26(2). (Because) I like it! Or Because I felt like it! 26b. My cat ate my printout. 27. My printer wasn't working 28. Chill out! It's only design 29. Yes I know I sound like a dumbass
Instead, read it here (all typos are ibid, of course!):
Want a Dollar a Day Self Administered WWWebsite?
It's like magic! There is nothing to download, nothing to install, no HTML coding, no FTP uploading; nothing you need do except surf your site's URL then input the correct password key. This is the virtual equivalent of opening a *Safety Deposit Box* at an old-fashioned money-type bank, except that all your valuable ideas, information and images are stored in our higly secure, always-open, *drive-thru* databank.
The name you choose for you website during the test-drive is only temporary, identical with what might be called a *username* or *account name*. Only you (or a trusted surrogate with whom you share your key) can work on content and styling in this special editable instance of your site, whereas anyone in the Wonderful World of the Web can visit it as soon as they know the URL.
Our sites contain 10 automatically navigable pages, all except the front page of which may be a standard page, a photo album that converts into a slideshow, or replaced with any external standalone page for which you have the HTML code and component images (if any); any of which excp invisible to everyone except you.
Start with something on the front page which will identify your site and indicate its contents. This is the page anyone will see when they visit your site, Keep most of your pages invisible as you work on the them; then, when YOU decide a page is ready for publication, simply click the *Show This Page* button and it is instantly made available on the 'Net.
As the author of 2001: A Space Odyssey Arthur C. Clarke proclaimed: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Synetions' Solution is just precisely sufficiently advanced technology.
Take our free test-drive offer today and start learning how it feels to be in the driver's seat of your very own website. You won't be disappointed. And if you do happen to crash anything, Solution comes with her own built-in *Repair Shop*.
If you're ready to take the next great leap forward ...
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I think I'm going to start using *air asterisks* in all my sentences. And join one of them old-fashioned, money-type banks.
And for the record, a dollar a day for a web site is what we in the business call a *bad deal*. But for a WWWebsite it might be okay.
And mark my words, I willbuild a teardrop trailer. Of course, as someone who has peeled off the skin of an RV trailer and crawled into the subfloor (15 years and 40 pounds ago) to fix a leak, I knew this was theoretically possible. There's no magic to the manufacturing process. But this gives me renewed inspiration to bend sheet aluminum to my will.
The question is, do I go hard-core and heavy-duty with a Canon Digital Rebel XT, or even better a Canon EOS 20D (insert Homer Simpson salivation sounds here)? Or do I go with something I'm likely to actually carry around with me like the Exilim? The thing is, I've been down the SLR road with Canon before. And while the pictures came out noticeably better than anything you'll take with a point-and-shoot, actually taking them becomes a radical commitment in terms of time and luggage. Dell had those big boys on sale last week, and I missed it, but that's put the idea in my head, so now I'm really wondering what my next step will be.
And hey, how come Canon never came up with a 35-mm, 400 ASA-equivalent digital capture replacement back for my A-1?
Hey, Professional Photographers of America, Go Fuck Yourselves!
Seriously, each and every one of you. Take a 1200mm lens and ram it right up your own ass, please. You can start with the camera end, but make sure you work it around real good while it's in there, because then you'll start to get an idea of how you're reaming the rest of us. And Walmart too--all you guys can just sit and spin.
I tried to let it go. I counted to ten. I even took a walk around the neighborhood. But this is really bugging me. Who are these guys that become professional photographers? Because they're a whole new level of prick than most of the cynical "professionals" I've had to deal with.
Hey, camera jerks! Remember when you used to have to get a talent release from the subject of a photograph, you parasitic fucks? Those sure were the bad old days, huh? Now you're riding this wave of intellectual property insanity right into the new millennium, aren't you, you money-grubbing bastards? You ever hear of "work for hire," you mental midgets? I was already never going to use one of you feckless morons again in my life, but now I'm going to make it my personal crusade to inform people about the need for a complete release of photographer's copyright attached to any contract for services, and to dissuade people from using the services of any photographer who doesn't offer this up front.
And just for the record, the very first thing I did when I got the CDs of my wedding pictures--which I had to fight and argue to get the photographer to agree to provide, of course--was copy them, and then copy them again onto one master CD, and then take that to Costco and have them run off two prints of each. I think I'll go do it again right now, just for the hell of it, just in case you can't feel me stabbing my middle fingers into both your eyes. So take that, you greedy shits.
Sure, there are a lot of them. In this case what I'm talking about is reading a book in one sitting, or in one period of awakeness which I think is what people really mean by this. I mean one sitting? How long can a person really be expected to go between breaks for bathroom, carbonated liquids and jumping in the swimming pool? In my case, I'd say an hour, max. Still, it's a luxury. And it's also a choice, choosing to give up most other forms of media (save music) and interaction and just read for a day. And I have to face it--I'm a slow reader, so it takes a day, or a good chunk of one. Maybe this is why summer is particularly good for reading: long days.
Anyway, I finished two books today, and both were surprisingly good. The first one was Camouflage by Joe Haldeman, which at the very least is going to win an award for the most Amazon SIPs involving the word "changeling." Even beyond that impressive accomplishment, I was pleasantly surprised. When I picked this thing up off the "recent" rack at the library, recognizing the venerable Haldeman name, I kind of assumed it would be a short, pointless read in the later-life Clarke model. You know, that thing that happens to old sci-fi writers when they attain a certain age and status and absolutely anything they can vomit into a Word document and email off to the publisher will garner a six-figure advance and library buys? Yeah, this is why I go to the library instead of buying books these day. And yet this book was actually pretty good. Yes there were a lot of reused tropes and outright cliches, but with a 24-hour sci-fi channel on every TV set in America, what do you expect? Sometimes you need to trot out dueling, shape-shifting aliensone more time. Oh, and don't forget enigmatic alien artifacts and a corrupt government with its finger on the panic button. And notice I've used only links to visual media to illustrate my point. That's how pervasive and mainstream "sci-fi" concepts like these have become. I don't think any of us would be too surprised if we suddenly found out we were in love with a deadly, immortal, shape-shifting alien with inscrutable intent. And yet, pretty good.
But that was read over the course of several days. The book I started this morning after finishing that one and still managed to finish today was the real surprise. Again, a recent-rack find, I'm not sure what drew me to Mick Foley's Tietam Brown. I'm not even sure what makes the Austin Public Library order a book like this. I guess I must have heard of it, or the author. Still, the jacket description of Foley as "wrestler-writer" was off-putting. And I'll borrow a little from an Amazon review here and say it was "dark, sad and sickening." Yes, I agree, wholeheartedly. I disagree with the argument that it received good reviews because "only wrestling fans read it." No, this book stands on its own. Wrestling doesn't even come in until two-thirds of the way through. It's mainly about abuse and evil and loss and deception--and above all, family--so yes it can be painful to read, even for a person who hasn't had a lot of first-hand experiences on the receiving end of those things. And yes, it plays the race card, and the sodomy card, and the misogyny card, and the dad-fucking-the-neighbor-woman card. But these are called "cards" for the simple reason that we can understand them and they can be played to us. Maybe this is Jerry Springer's or Chuck Paliniuk's influence, but maybe, also, it's our cultural heritage. I mean people do grab each others breasts and balls in inappropriate and inexplicable circumstance. People do put their tongues in other people's asses more or less willingly, and they enjoy it. It's just that not many writers can be honest about these things while incorporating them into a coherent narrative. And I'm not going to say it's ultimately redeeming, because in the universe of modern fiction that would just make it pat. But it is satisfying, and a good read.
What this has made me realize is that I'm having better luck lately with pseudo-random picks off the library shelf than with "professional" literary recommendations. I got burned badly by Michael Ventura and his recommendation to read The Sea Came in at Midnight. I'm willing to consider the failing my own. I may very will be of the wrong generation, or not smart enough, or simply not well educated enough in literature, and most likely all of the above, but I didn't get it. It never pulled me in, never struck me as something worth finishing. I did finish it, but I couldn't tell you what it was about. I might have tried after the first chapter, but beyond that it just faded into obscurity and irrelevance. For me, for this audience of one, it was just trying too hard. And ultimately I didn't care and still don't.
Foley tries hard, certainly, in Tietam, but he tries and succeeds. His characters at their most bizarre are at least comprehensible. You can see how people could be this fucked up, because people sometimes are. There's no magic. No falling back on the spirit in the sky. You can see how bad things happen to bad people, and later have it revealed to you that things just happen, without value being applied, to people who are at best ambivalent and who are often mislead, full of illusions and morally confused. Shit happens. And Foley, I think, captures and presents this more clearly and more honestly than Erickson. Don't write him off as a literary Jesse "The Body" Ventura.