28 years later

Tron: 1982

  •  I am 7 years old.
  •  The dawn of personal computing. For the first time, individuals have computers.
  •  Computing is nerdy, specialised. Arcade Computer Games are new and cool.
  •  Life inside the computer is depicted as banal, office-like, yearning to be real.
  •  Clumsy special effects pretend to be too-expensive computer effects.
  •  Completely unique film stock is created to make the film effects possible.
  •  Huge solid sets are painstakingly built and painted to look surreal.
  •  Real actors are clad in suits to make them look unnatural.

Legacy: 2010

  • I am 35 years old.
  • The internet is an inextricable part of life for most of the world.
  • Computing is everywhere, in everything. It’s uncool to not be a nerd.
  • Life inside the computer is depicted as impossibly cool. It mocks the real world.
  • Computer effects are trivial and cheap.
  • No physical film is ever exposed.
  • Hardly any physical sets are even built.
  • The central villain is a flawless digital emulation of Jeff Bridges of 1982.

This is what it must feel like to live through epochal change.

A Response to Doctorow’s ‘Outquisition’

This is all about a particular BoingBoing post which I found particularly irritating. I would have posted something in the comments, or on the site itself, but in either case:

  1. I don’t fancy debating this with some of the more extreme foam-lipped loons who seem to inhabit either forum.
  2. The sheer volume of commentary in either forum would drown me out (yeah, I’m a selfish egoist; this is my blog.) and I shake with fear at the thought of the tsunami of follow-on emails.

So:

The Outquisition idea glosses over a lot of intractable real-world economic and social problems, and, as many, many commenters observed, is vastly arrogant in its assumptions about ‘knowing better’ than everyone else.

A more honest, somewhat less arrogant take would be to create a ‘technology evangelism movement’.
This leaves out the naive and pompous idea that new technology can solve everyone’s problems, or that blogging tech-groupies are somehow smarter than everyone else.

Instead, it focuses on the traditional role of the religious missionary: to take some dogma and shiny beads and go use the beads to spread the infectious memes, even (especially?) where they’re not currently wanted or needed. The engadget/BB-gadgets crowd already do this without really thinking about it.

Consider, if you will, a yuppie with a new iPhone, traveling out of his trendy urban home to visit his parents and their friends, trumpeting the virtues of his new toy from the rooftops at every opportunity. The yuppie can list a dozen reasons why an iPhone will change your life and solve all your problems, and he has the technological shiny-beads to dazzle his listeners with.

The dynamic is just the same: the new dogma brings with it a world of complication and ritual which ultimately costs the new converts more than it gives them, destroys their existing skill-sets, culture and traditions, and leaves the newcomers as second-class citizens in the promised land anyway. Those who refuse to adopt the new ways are abandoned, spurned.
The new community absorbs things like access to work and traditional support networks, leaving the outsiders to fend for themselves, often effectively driving them out of town.

To be fair, I would have to point out that I am a devout follower of the cult of tech. As a sysadmin I may even qualify as some kind of clergy. I draw the line, however, at gratuitous evangelism. I find the idea of missionary crusades downright offensive.

This kind of evangelism smacks of insecurity, a desperation to thrust ones own interests on the world and make them mainstream, thus avoiding the question of whether they have any merit.

Just because I’m into it doesn’t make it right.

A misbegotten meme?

I was about to post a follow on from Mododrum’s latest infectious meme, but I always like to adorn my blog posts with links, especially where making any categorical statement of an even semi-official nature. For example:

“The Big Read reckons that the average adult has only read 6 of the top 100 books they’ve printed.”

This particular statement seems to be repeated on a number of personal blogs, all without a link to any original statement to this effect (-that I can find… if you find one, please, comment, and I will update this post). Several people attribute this to the US-government National Endowment for the Arts The Big Read program, an obvious result from a Google search for “The Big Read”.

Not only does the NEA site make no mention of this choice statistic, it also lacks the associated reading list, or any vaguely similar list of 100 books.

The BBC Big Read, on the other hand, does have a similar but not identical list.

In fact, there are some very odd things wrong with the list which accompanies this meme:

  • As Mododrum observes, the list features Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
    and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis.
  • It lists both Complete Works of Shakespeare and Hamlet – William Shakespeare.

It appears that I’m not the only person to have noticed the oddness of this meme.

In the end, while I hate to be a wet-blanket on such a fun meme, I think I will decline to post my own response to it. Sawry. :(

Geocaching for Nokia Symbian phones!

This post has been a long long looooong (longcat) time in the making.

I tried a vast multitude of Symbian GPS tools. I found a plethora of mapping tools which don’t quite do the job. I found tools which do the caching part, but not the GPS part. I spent numerous futile dollars on tools which are actually long dead and utterly unsupported ‘ghost-town-projects’. I even began writing my own J2ME tool, with frequent pauses to despair at the grotesque complexities involved.

Compass Rose

Finally though, I came back to a tool I had seen before, and ogled from afar: It was only available for phones on US networks Sprint, SouthernLINC, Nextel and Boost Mobile, at the time. Now though, it is free for Series 60 – 3rd-edition Nokia phones, such as mine!

And lo, it is everything I could hope for: you put your details in, link it to your geocaching.com account, and say ‘show me the nearest ten geocaches’, and it does. :)

The only tiny hitch I would war of (so far) is for those who, like me, have a compatible phone with no GPS built in: the ‘download directly to phone’ mechanism won’t work for you; it will spuriously say ‘unsupported device’ or some such. You will need to download the app to your PC and install it to the phone from there.

It’s quiet because I’m on holidays

…and I typically can’t be bothered blogging, as it involves using a computer, using my brain, and giving a stuff.

Also, blogging is easier when your computer works. Mine has decided to become unbootable for the second time in as many weeks, and in the same way as last time, so I am ignoring it, as the process of diagnosing and fixing it reminds me uncomfortably of work.

I still have this laptop, but it’s uncomfortable, and it reminds me even more strongly of work, so I may not touch it much either.

I may blog again between now and 2008, but don’t count on it.

p.s. On a completely unrelated note, I just want to say that desperate, failed, elitist neurotics like Andrew Keen and statistically uninformed doom-criers like Doris Lessing can, how shall I put this most succinctly, go fuck themselves.

Prettified, Unified, Gnarlified

Those who check here with any regularity will notice that things have changed lately:

  • First, I updated WordPress MU to the latest version, thereby bringing a number of WordPress 2.0-isms into availability.
  • This broke about 2/3 of my existing themes for some reason, including the ‘grass roots‘ one I was using, so I failed back to the default WPMU theme for a few weeks.
  • As a result, my duplicator script, which makes this blog page appear in similar form on my homepage, broke.
  • I was already cranky about the ugliness of the code underlying my old homepage, so I duplicated all the sub-pages off it here, in WordPress, and put up a ‘nobody home!’ message on the old page.
  • I wasn’t totally happy with the default theme either, so I downloaded K2, and went a little bit mad playing with the infinite variety of customizable gadgets.

Now, as you can see, this page looks far more like a page where someone actually lives. :)

Next, I intend to diddle Apache into displaying the same page at /~thorin/ and /blog/thorin/ (just for me, although if other people turn out to want it, it can be copied).
O ye who have blogs here (or want a blog here), be advised that if you want the full scope of K2 magic for your own blog, ask me. It is not 100% automatic, owing to the nature of WPMU.

I do wibble, quietly to myself about the sheer colossal mass of code that now underlies this page, but hey, it doesn’t seem to have hurt performance. YMMV. Please complain if it’s bad for you…

Transhuman medicine

Follow-on from yesterday’s post led me to read today, at lunch-time, about Democratic Transhumanism, a disturbing name for a political label which I suspect I might actually like to adopt. The idea that we can just plain outsmart our own limitations is one very dear to me, one that seems self-evident to me from the shape of human technological history.

With this roiling about in my head, I take an end-of-day glance at ye-olde bucket-O-morons, Slashdot, and find a link to this article.

DNA vaccine could help MS sufferers: study

The cause (of Multiple Sclerosis) is unknown, but evidence suggests the immune system of MS patients attacks the myelin that covers and protects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.”

“(The Vaccine) incorporates the DNA sequence of myelin basic protein into cells, which then start to make the protein.

Say what?!? If I understand this correctly, there’s a disease where sub-part X of body-part Y breaks down and goes away… so we engineer a vaccine which introduces DNA into body-part Y which enables it to re-grow sub-part X. HOLY FARK!

Needless to say, this strikes me as pretty frickin’ “transhuman”.

Environmentalism, Space and The Spin-Doctor

I generally avoid environmentalism as an issue on my blog because I fear the power of fatigue and denial: Everyone in the world who hasn’t been living in a skinner box for the past thirty to sixty years is suffering from some kind of fatigue and living in some level of denial about sustainability, pollution, global warming and the mind-buggeringly vast array of potential issues that flock with them. You think you’re not fatigued by them or in denial about them? Convince me that your whole life really is zero-impact then, go on. Convince me that you still stop and read every piece of news you can get your hands on regarding global warming (to pick one single issue) and the political machinations that go with it. Then, having done that, tell me how your plans take into account the actions of the rest of humanity in order to guarantee a safe and happy future for yourself.

The fatigue and denial are natural things. It makes me a little sad to see people like Jeremy Clarkson becoming actively hostile in their denial, but it doesn’t surprise me, and I don’t hold it against him: This kind of reaction is inevitable.

I would usually like to think of myself as an environmentalist (to some extent) and a communist (likewise), but readers will note that this blog has a marked lack of references to The Revolution or The People (except in jest). This is because, while I think Communism is an archetype of the ideal government, I fail to see:

  • A practical way to get there from here, right now.
  • A complete or consistent model for how it’s going to be made practical.
  • A sufficiently large or urgent demand for radical change.

Instead, I have leanings: I like to encourage communal organizations and economic structures where they crop up. I am always careful to vote with socialist leanings in mind. I try to foster an interest in others in concepts like how industrialization makes the agrarian work-ethic increasingly inappropriate. I frequently tout Iain M Banks’ “Culture” novels (or Ursula Le Guin) to friends. :) I avoid even mentioning the strong left-wing papers or classic Communist writers for the same reason that sane modern Chrisitians don’t like to talk about Jack Chick or carry a bible for the purpose of quoting it. Why is it, do you think, that in a world where open-source software is a vast and growing industry, so fe people know or care about Richard Stallman and the FSF, who arguably started it all? People get tired. People especially get tired of being told that their hard work, their glories, their achievements and their luxuries, generally earned in good faith, are wrong and bad, and must be given up or undone. In fact, I think people get tired of being told that anything is bad and wrong in a generalised or dogmatic kind of way.

Wow! Long rant. Apologies for the fatigue, folks. :)

My point in all of this is that environmentalism, arguably one of the most important causes in human history, has really bad spin. I never really understood what spin was until I met my first expectation manager

Businesses that Sell something usually aim to achieve Customer Satisfaction. i.e. ensuring that the Quality of the Product meets The Customer’s Expectations. All the obvious parts (the parts any business wants us, the public to see) of said business are about ensuring the Quality of the Product. You know; making sure that the product lives up to expectations. The secret part is that this is a two-way process. Roles like Marketing and Sales are tinged with it, but only the role of Expectation Manager is really frank and honest about this part.

An Expectation Manager is someone who ensures that the buying public’s expectations are kept on a par with what the company actually makes. This is not about selling the product as the be-all and end all, but it’s not about negativity either. It’s about finding the strengths in what you have, and elaborating on them. The customer has never felt the need for a hard-drive in their pocket before, but having their own music collection to play wherever they go, that’s cool. How did they live without it?

So, how do we spin environmentalism? Same way you spin anything.
(warning: may contain traces of sarcasm)

  1. Environmentalism is not hard. It’s easy.
    (Marketing and Engineering can worry about making this true, or making it seem true).
  2. Environmentalism is not boring, sad, or angry. It’s fun.
    (State-of-mind stuff. Sell the whole package right, and it will be true).
  3. Environmentalism is not nerdy, fringe or elitist. It’s cool.
    (Say it loud enough, often enough and it becomes true. Brainwashing is your friend).

As long as Environmentalism takes the form of trying to punish the naughty consumers for buying stuff and using stuff, to berate the naughty companies for making a (profitable) mess, it will continue to have all the sex-appeal of a jail term. To sell it, it has to be a positive thing. It has to look easy, fun, and worthwhile. I’m not being defeatist or cynical about this: maybe mankind does possess enough wit to react intelligently to a threat like global warming, maybe it doesn’t. The odds are that such a reaction will be late, half-hearted, and involve euqal parts bitterness and suffering. For certain though, humanity knows how to follow trends and learn new tricks. We know how to rise to technical challenges, to manage impossibly expensive things like the space race. We know how to suddenly start using radios… and telephones… and TVs… and mobile phones… and eBay… and iPhones… and… and…

Environmentalism (maybe under an assumed name, the old one has cooties) just needs to be the next killer product, or products. How? That’s engineering’s problem. :)

For example, we could be Colonizing Planet Earth.

Oooh. I ranted. Sawry…

Mododrums’ meme

Update: Since I wrote this, I realised that Wiz had already sent me this quiz, well before I read Mododrums’ blog post. Blargh! Sorry Wiz!

Once upon a time there was a Mododrum, and I did read her blog (among others) on my extremely read-only PDA using plucker. This did not afford me much opportunity to reply to the Mododrum, as I would typically think of things to say when I had no means of submitting them, then forget all about blogs by the time I got home.

Today however, I had more time than usual at work to sit around in the mindless boredom of a data-center and read my PDA, and something stuck sufficiently for me to remember it now. :)

  1. WERE YOU NAMED AFTER ANYONE?
    Possibly this dude. Certainly not this dude. Actually, I doubt it:If I was, how do I account for my brother’s name?
  2. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU CRIED?
    Yesterday I would have had to give a long and needlessly gruesome self-excoriating answer, however I cried a little bit just this morning while listening to Dogs, the song referenced in my previous post.
  3. DO YOU LIKE YOUR HANDWRITING
    I once did, but then several years of technical-drawing happened to it, and the final nails were driven in by Palm (how very anti-stigmatic!). Now my handwriting is all but extinct. I fire up the printer just to leave notes for E. I still like to fiddle amateurishly with calligraphy.
  4. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE LUNCH MEAT?
    It’s a close-run race between good roast beef and good roast lamb. If it has to be mediocre, I will fall back to salami, as even bad salami is ok.
  5. DO YOU HAVE KIDS?
    No.
  6. IF YOU WERE ANOTHER PERSON WOULD YOU BE FRIENDS WITH YOU?
    I very much doubt it. I don’t like me very much as it is, and I am me. Then again, if I were someone else, I might not have such fine-tuned sensitivity to all my own worst traits. What a silly question! If I were impossible and imaginary, would I fly or just teleport? but I digress…
  7. DO YOU USE SARCASM ALOT?
    Not in a million years. Nor do I exaggerate, and I am further above hyperbole than God.
  8. DO YOU STILL HAVE YOUR TONSILS?
    Yes.
  9. WOULD YOU BUNGEE JUMP?
    Probably. Even this man‘s fervent warnings leave me undeterred.
  10. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE CEREAL?
    Porridge. I am, however, a great girly southern pansy: I not only like milk and cream in mine, and often eat instant porridge, I also like golden syrup on mine. This profoundly offends the sensibilities of many porridge eaters, so why would I ever stop? :)
  11. DO YOU UNTIE YOUR SHOES WHEN YOU TAKE THEM OFF?
    Yes, or else they get ruined. Whoever wrote this question has very different feet to mine… wow.
  12. DO YOU THINK YOU ARE STRONG?
    No. For my size, build and gender I am physically pathetic. Emotionally, I am much much worse. At best I suppose I can claim the kind of resiliency which is attributed to the willow tree: I bend freely but seem to remain unbroken in the face of much crazy poop.
  13. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE ICE CREAM?
    The stuff from the old gelateria in Lygon street. What flavour? Probably some kind of toffee-caramel-crunchy-gooey variety.
  14. WHAT IS THE FIRST THING YOU NOTICE ABOUT PEOPLE?
    To be brutally honest, I suspect my sensory filters would usually strive to gauge gender or height first.
  15. RED OR PINK?
    Red. Pink would be my favourite pastel, but generally I like primary colours vastly more than shades tones or pastels.
  16. WHAT IS THE LEAST FAVOURITE THING ABOUT YOURSELF?
    My inherited penchant for gratuitous melodrama.
  17. WHO DO YOU MISS THE MOST
    Right now, E. Her shifts are horrible for me, and must me indescribable diabolical torment for her.
  18. DO YOU WANT EVERYONE TO SEND THIS BACK TO YOU?
    No. That would make this a mailing lis, and it’s not, it’s a blog. Everyone can get their own dang blog and answer it there. :)
  19. WHAT COLOUR PANTS AND SHOES ARE YOU WEARING?
    Black and Black. Work and work. Then again, many of my casual shoes and pants are black too. Hmmm.
  20. WHAT WAS THE LAST THING YOU ATE?
    Warm plonky cake with custard. Before that it was midnight breakfast. See my earlier comment about E’s shifts.
  21. WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW?
    The faint hum of my little pooter.
  22. IF YOU WHERE A CRAYON, WHAT COLOUR WOULD YOU BE?
    Transparent like candle wax.
  23. FAVOURITE SMELLS?
    E. The smell of cooking lamb. The odd hot-metal smell that older Melbourne trams and trains often make.
  24. WHO WAS THE LAST PERSON YOU TALKED TO ON THE PHONE?
    A workmate in Adelaide.
  25. DO YOU LIKE THE PERSON WHO SENT THIS TO YOU?
    Mododrum are uber niftah, sometimes even when using her powers for evil. :)
  26. FAVOURITE SPORTS TO WATCH?
    Scrapheap challeng, or, if I can’t call that a sport, rally driving.
  27. HAIR COLOUR?
    Boring blondish brown, when I let it get long enough to have a colour distinct from my scalp.
  28. EYE COLOUR?
    Bloodshot unnatural blue (see Q#29).
  29. DO YOU WEAR CONTACTS?
    Yes, they make my normally blue eyes very blue, and permanently bloodshot. I do not wear them for vanity: rigid contact lenses are the only viable way to overcome my keratoconus well enough to drive.
  30. FAVOURITE FOOD?
    Spit-roast meat.
  31. SCARY MOVIES OR HAPPY ENDINGS?
    From these two, scary movies, although really I shuold be saying that I like sad, bleak endings best.
  32. LAST MOVIE YOU WATCHED?
    Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix
  33. WHAT COLOUR SHIRT ARE YOU WEARING?
    White, work. See shoes.
  34. SUMMER OR WINTER?
    Summer. O please let there be a long enough summer for me to adjust before it finishes.
  35. HUGS OR KISSES?
    Hugs.
  36. FAVOURITE DESSERT?
    Cream caramel.
  37. MOST LIKELY TO RESPOND?
    sabik.
  38. LEAST LIKELY TO RESPOND?
    My brother.
  39. WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING NOW?
    Currently between books, although I have been meaning to finish Authentic Happiness by Seligman one of these days.
  40. WHAT IS ON YOUR MOUSE PAD?
    My what? This is the twenty-first century, and my mouse is optical, thankyouverymuch. We don’ need no steenkin mousepads! I have a Kaz mousepad around here somewhere though…
  41. WHAT DID YOU WATCH ON T.V. LAST NIGHT?
    Last night? I didn’t turn the TV on last night, I had dinner with friends and got some sleep. Tonight I watched taped episodes of Top Gear and Enough Rope.
  42. FAVOURITE SOUND?
    This is obscure… The sound that the backpacks in the original Ghostbusters movie make as they power up. It’s a bit like the rapidly-rising squeal that capacitors make as they charge, only with this great dangerous-sounding crunchiness to it.
  43. ROLLING STONES OR BEATLES?
    Sargeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, of course. Lennon may have been the second coming.
  44. WHAT IS THE FURTHEST YOU HAVE BEEN FROM HOME?
    Portland, Oregon.
  45. DO YOU HAVE A SPECIAL TALENT?
    I like to think that I write well (in a sense which has absolutely nothing to do with handwriting).
  46. WHAT IRRITATES YOU MOST?
    Malicious misinformation, especially when it comes from people in positions of authority or power who have a responsibility to behave better. Doubly so if it is that person’s role to give out information, i.e. they are a teacher. It makes me so murderously angry I can barely contain myself.
  47. WHOSE ANSWERS ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO GETTING BACK?
    E‘s.