Oh Blogger, How You Suck

Has anyone else noticed that Blogger is broken about half the time lately? Today it’s out of memory!

type Exception report


description The server encountered an internal error () that prevented it from fulfilling this request.


javax.servlet.ServletException: Servlet execution threw an exception

root cause

java.lang.OutOfMemoryError: unable to create new native thread


Oh yeah, it also doesn’t archive any articles off my front page anymore.

Statistically Improbable Phrases

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.

Color Me Jesus!

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.

Caucasian Heritage and African Heritage Jesus at Gethsemane Porcelain Figurines at Walmart, $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?)

America at the End of the Information Age

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.

Inside Out

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.

First Day of Spring, First Day of Swim

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.

Google Does (Google) Code

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 okay—just 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.