athelind: (Eye: RCA Magic Eye)
It's funny; when people first started talking about ebooks, there was a feeling that they'd catch on more for reference books than casual reading, that it woulkd take a long time for newfangled gadgetry to make inroads on the comfortable, traditional feel of curling up with a good book.

The thing is, you read a novel in a linear mode, and need to skip back and forth in a reference book. That makes it more practical to keep reference materials (including game manuals, for instance) in a random-access format like a book, while you can curl up comfortably with a Kindle or a Nook and read a novel without much change in your reading habits.

Half of the reason that digital reference books aren't quite ready for prime time is that nobody's properly formatting them with e-reading in mind. They need copious hyperlinks, at minimum. Better chapter division -- the things should have tabs down the right side, like a big dictionary does. Bookmarks need to be enhanced.

On the flip side, e-readers need a redesign to be MORE reference-friendly. Multiple windowing capability would really cut down on the flipping-back-and-forth issue.

There have been a couple of designs with two tablet-like screens that clamshell together like an actual BOOK, and they were specifically intended for textbooks and the like. Alas, the KNO never went into production, and the eDGe (tablet on one side, e-Ink book reader on the other) just tanked.

There's no real point or conclusion here; I'm just pondering.

Addendum, 06 MAR 2014:

[ profile] the_gneech asked a great question:
"What is Wikipedia if not an electronic reference book?"

And that got me started toward the beginnings of a thesis. I put enough thought into this that I figured it belonged in the main body of the post:

[Wikipedia is] the exception that proves the rule! It's extensively (exhaustively) hyperlinked; it operates in a browser, allowing for multiple tabs and windows (at least on a proper computer; not so much on tablets/phones); incorporates media and graphics smoothly and dynamically ... in short, it's what a digital reference book SHOULD be.

(Unfortunately, it requires a continuous internet connection, and if you've got an e-paper style ebook reader, you're SOL.)

I will note that I never bothered to pick up the 3.5 edition of D&D. I found The Hypertext d20 SRD to be far MORE usable than physical books. It's also available for full download, so you don't need a continuous internet connection to use it -- I think you're still out of luck with e-paper readers, but it's a situation where laptops are really more convenient than a tablet-shaped device.

Again, though, it's an exception that proves the rule. It's a fan-created work taking advantage of the Open Game License. When RPG companies release "digital editions", they're invariably PDFs, formatted for printing: entirely static, rarely taking advantage of the PDF format's ability to create sections and bookmarks, and, worst of all: they're laid out in portrait mode, often in two or even three columns, making it difficult to see an entire page on-screen, and requiring constant scrolling back and forth to read through a section.

I realized at some point that my vague desires for a tablet are largely because I want to be able to read portrait-formatted PDFs comfortably -- but the font sizes used for most game books make them difficult to read at full-page size even on large tablet screens.

I think the take-home message is that if you're really looking to REPLACE reference books, you have to do something more than just dump the print version into a file.

I should note that the online hypertext versions of the Pathfinder SRD and the Mutants & Masterminds SRD don't have quite so nice a layout or the clean, simple code of the The Hypertext d20 SRD. They're useful SUPPLEMENTS to the physical books, but they're just enough ... off ... that I can't quite see using them as my main resource like I did with the last.

athelind: (Eye: RCA Magic Eye)
Yes, My Esteemed Audience, Your Obedient Serpent finally has a Twitter account.

@athelind, of course.

athelind: (ewd3)
When I was six years old, my father, a newspaper publisher, took me into work to show off the brand-new, state-of-the-art layout and compositioning system that had replaced the gigantic, '40s-vintage printing presses that we'd had heretofore. Even at that age, my fondness for technology and science was evident; it was 1970, after all, and I had followed each and every Apollo flight with rapt, unwavering attention.

Glowing words were on the screen. A little blinking box was at the end of the line, and every time my father pressed a key, a letter appeared. It was ... well, I was a product of my era. It wasn't "like magic", but it most certainly was Sufficiently Advanced.

And then ... the blinking box vanished. And my father could not recover it. This led to a stream of the profane invective for which he was infamous ... and that, in turn, led to my response:

"That must be why they call them 'cursers'."

This was no innocent comment, no fodder for Mr. Linkletter's program. Oh, no. This was a clear and present pun, delivered in full knowledge of the depth of my crime.

And he had only himself to blame.

You see, my MOTHER raised me on the Apollo Program.

My FATHER raised me on Rocky and Bullwinkle.

athelind: (Tiananmen Rebel)
Originally posted by [ profile] paka at More signal boosting for Internet Privacy.
Originally posted by [ profile] lupagreenwolf at More signal boosting for Internet Privacy.
Originally posted by [ profile] evieeros at More signal boosting for Internet Privacy.
Originally posted by [ profile] keladry_lupin at More signal boosting for Internet Privacy.
Originally posted by [ profile] why_me_why_not at More signal boosting for Internet Privacy.
Originally posted by [ profile] apiphile at More signal boosting for Internet Privacy.
Originally posted by [ profile] alizarin_nyc at More signal boosting for Internet Privacy.
Originally posted by [ profile] dameruth at It Never Ends...
Originally posted by [ profile] jjpor at It Never Ends...
Originally posted by [ profile] abbyromanaat Signal Boost
Originally posted by [ profile] clocketpatchat Signal Boost
Originally posted by [ profile] calliopes_penat CISPA is the new SOPA
Originally posted by [personal profile] spikedluv at CISPA is the new SOPA
Originally posted by [personal profile] velvetwhip at CISPA is the new SOPA

Here's their next move: The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA, would obliterate any semblance of online privacy in the United States.

And CISPA would provide a victory for content owners who were shell-shocked by the unprecedented outpouring of activism in opposition to SOPA and Internet censorship.

The House of Representatives is planning to take up CISPA later this month. Click here to ask your lawmakers to oppose it.

SOPA was pushed as a remedy to the supposed economic threat of online piracy -- but economic fear-mongering didn't quite do the trick.

So those concerned about copyright are engaging in sleight of hand, appending their legislation to a bill that most Americans will assume is about keeping them safe from bad guys.

This so-called cyber security bill aims to prevent theft of "government information" and "intellectual property" and could let ISPs block your access to websites -- or the whole Internet.

Don't let them push this back-door SOPA. Click here to demand that your lawmakers oppose CISPA.

CISPA also encourages companies to share information about you with the government and other corporations.

That data could then be used for just about anything -- from prosecuting crimes to ad placements.

And perhaps worst of all, CISPA supercedes all other online privacy protections.

Please click here to urge your lawmakers to oppose CISPA when it comes up for a vote this month.

Thanks for fighting for the Internet.

-Demand Progress

athelind: (facepalm)
The local radio station just did a phone quiz about "frauds and hoaxes", and after questions about Milli Vanilli and the balloon-law-chair kid, the grand finale was a question about the Y2K Bug.

So here's the take-home lesson: if you identify something that might be a problem well in advance, and spend huge amounts of money and effort trying to fix it before it becomes a problem, then, when it doesn't become a problem, it's obvious to everyone that it never was a problem!

Does anyone else have a problem with that?

You didn't succeed, code monkeys of the world: you defrauded everyone. Thanks for all your hard work!

This is a radio station in Silicon Valley, mind. I guess the classic rock isn't aimed at the code monkey demographic.

Parallels between this and the effectiveness of environmental regulations are left as an exercise for the class.
athelind: (Constitution)

I will allow the possibility that corporations might be considered people as soon as I see one marched to the guillotine.

Parading its head on a pike is optional.
athelind: (defiance)
I've added the following to the top of that post, and reprinted it here because it shouldn't just get lost in everyone's already-read backlog:

I am, in fact, keenly aware of the miscarriage of justice visited upon the creator of the Ghost Rider by the courts. In short: they've bankrupted a sick old man by ordering him to pay damages to Marvel/Disney, one of the largest multinational combines in the world.

I thought long and hard about seeing the movie after hearing about this, but finally came to a compromise:

I donated several times more than the ticket price directly to Mr. Friedrich.

That's a whole hell of a lot more effective than a boycott, by my assessment.

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the show?

athelind: (Eye in the Pyramid)
The biggest supporters of the Stop Online Piracy Act are also the biggest distributors of torrent software, DRM removal software, and other "piracy" tools -- and their sites clearly show step-by-step how to access copyrighted material using these warez.

They've created the download culture and the "piracy problem" themselves, and are using it as a lever to take control of the internet and eviscerate its dangerous ability to enable populism om political, material and creative levels.

They have deliberately encouraged behavior that they are simultaneously trying to criminalize.

Yes, this is every bit as dangerous to your civil liberties as the NDAA's provisions to require the military to indefinitely detain anyone the government deems a terrorist, without council or due process ... especially when you consider the inflamed rhetoric that insists that "online piracy supports terrorism".

If the last three or four decades have taught us anything, it's that today's inflamed rhetoric is tomorrow's mainstream party platform.

athelind: (tell it like it IS)
In a response to my post about the Doctrine of "Real" Names, [ profile] araquan provided the following insight from a Charlie Rose interview with Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg:

Facebook COO Sandberg talked about the power of relationship-based networks, contrasting "the wisdom of crowds to the wisdom of friends."

"So that's Google versus Facebook right there," Rose replied.

Sandberg didn't agree. She thinks the entire first phase of the Web's development -- which led to "a lot of wonderful things" -- was largely based on "anonymity and links between crowds."

The next stage of development, the one Facebook has spearheaded, is built around identity. "The social Web can't exist until you are your real self online," Sandberg said. "I have to be me, you have to be Charlie Rose."

The logical fallacy, of course, is the conflation of "real self" with "legal name". You can't be your "real self" if you're always wondering, "what would my family think of this? What if my boss Googles me?"

I am my "real self" online, and my "social Web" is woven among those who know me as "Athelind" and "Your Obedient Serpent".

That other name?

That's not my "real self", Ms. Sandberg.

That's my banking information, and I know why you want it.

athelind: (number six)
It is a classic trope of science fiction that In the Future, We Will Have Numbers Instead Of Names.

In almost every instance of this trope more recent than Ralph 124C 41+, this is a sure sign that you live in a dystopia. It suggests a world in which human concerns are devalued, and society itself is engineered to make it easier for a large, impersonal bureaucracy to track and monitor its citizens subjects.

Over the last few centuries, as Nation-States have arisen and consolidated their power, there has emerged a doctrine that everyone should have one and only one name, used in any and every context; that this is your only "real" name; and that the only possible reasons to use nicknames, pseudonyms, or any alternative to the name recorded in your governmental and financial records are to conceal unsavory practices, or perpetrate outright fraud.

A name that falls outside a limited range of acceptance criteria may not be accepted as a "real" name, and will certainly engender harsh feelings from governmental and corporate bureaucrats inconvenienced by the nonconformity.

As so many things have, this memetic push has accelerated across the close of the 20th Century and the dawn of the 21st.

Be advised, and be aware:

The only difference between this doctrine of "real" names and the dystopian trope of numbers that replace names is the number of bits in your designation.

The intent is to make you easier to track. The intent is to make you a product.

Vernor Vinge warned us, thirty years ago: when someone knows your True Name, they have power over you.

Government watchlists aside, Google and Facebook aren't making money providing you with free email and search and "social networking". They're making money by selling your easily-monitored habits and interests to other corporations. If you operate under more than one name, if you compartmentalize your life and your purchasing power amongst multiple identities, you are diluting their product by making it more difficult to thoroughly profile you—and they consider that intolerable.

Enlightening References:

(I have noticed, and not without irony, that the same kind of people who once ranted about Social Security Numbers as "the Mark of the Beast" tend to automatically and reflexively agree with the idea that people only have one "real name".)
athelind: (outrage)
Originally posted by [ profile] gabrielleabelle at Mississippi Personhood Amendment
Okay, so I don't usually do this, but this is an issue near and dear to me and this is getting very little no attention in the mainstream media.

Mississippi is voting on November 8th on whether to pass Amendment 26, the "Personhood Amendment". This amendment would grant fertilized eggs and fetuses personhood status.

Putting aside the contentious issue of abortion, this would effectively outlaw birth control and criminalize women who have miscarriages. This is not a good thing.

Jackson Women's Health Organization is the only place women can get abortions in the entire state, and they are trying to launch a grassroots movement against this amendment. This doesn't just apply to Mississippi, though, as Personhood USA, the group that introduced this amendment, is trying to introduce identical amendments in all 50 states.

What's more, in Mississippi, this amendment is expected to pass. It even has Mississippi Democrats, including the Attorney General, Jim Hood, backing it.

The reason I'm posting this here is because I made a meager donation to the Jackson Women's Health Organization this morning, and I received a personal email back hours later - on a Sunday - thanking me and noting that I'm one of the first "outside" people to contribute.

So if you sometimes pass on political action because you figure that enough other people will do something to make a difference, make an exception on this one. My RSS reader is near silent on this amendment. I only found out about it through a feminist blog. The mainstream media is not reporting on it.

If there is ever a time to donate or send a letter in protest, this would be it.

What to do?

- Read up on it. Wake Up, Mississippi is the home of the grassroots effort to fight this amendment. Daily Kos also has a thorough story on it.

- If you can afford it, you can donate at the site's link.

- You can contact the Democratic National Committee to see why more of our representatives aren't speaking out against this.

- Like this Facebook page to help spread awareness.

athelind: (Eye: RCA Magic Eye)
He changed the world with good design.

Who could aspire to a better epitaph?

athelind: (cue howard)
Last year, I posted an LJ entry that said that the defining moment for our generation wasn't when man set foot on the Moon, but when we turned away.

Most of my commentators, bless their literal souls, thought I was just talking about the space program, and at that stage in my recovery, I wasn't quite up to clarifying the symbolic and metaphorical dimensions of the statement.

I picked up a copy of Fight Club last week, and [ profile] thoughtsdriftby and I plugged it in on Friday night. This is the quintessential movie of my generation.

It comes closer than anything else to explaining exactly what I meant.

Preach it, Tyler:
I see all this potential, and I see it squandered. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables — slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars, but we won't. We're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off.

You are keeping tabs on the Occupy Wall Street protests, aren't you? If not, check out, and, as the Good Book said, consult your pineal gland.


EDIT: The first comment on the post has forced an addendum, hopefully early enough in the morning to catch most my Loyal Audience on their first read-through:

I really do appear to only be able to communicate half of what's going on in my brain at any one point.

I said Fight Club was "the quintessential movie of my generation". I didn't say "Tyler Durden is a Divine Prophet."

[ profile] notthebuddha was close -- Tyler's rant is HALF the truth. Pahulnik, in this speech, succinctly describes the malaise afflicting Generation X. We came into a world of progress and potential—we were literally promised the Moon—only to have it ripped away from us.

"Ah, never mind that. Here, have a crappy job and an apartment full of cheap furniture. Oh, wait. We're shipping the crappy jobs overseas. Why aren't you paying for your cheap furniture anymore?"

Fight Club is, in many ways, a cautionary tale. Sometimes, we all find ourselves in Tyler Durden's headspace, entertaining fantasies of just randomly beating the crap out of someone, or blackmailing your pissant boss, or taking your hands off the wheel as you ram the accelerator into the floorboards just to see what happens.

You can deny that and repress it and end up like the Narrator, or you can face it head on and channel it.

When you subtract the explosives, the beating the crap out of each other in basements, and the long-term goal of hunting moose in the vine-covered towers of the city, Tyler's idea of "zeroing out the credit system" sounds a hell of a lot more rational and productive than bailing out the banks for using fraud and doubletalk to rope thousands of people into mortgages they couldn't afford. The banks wound up with the houses and the money; if the bailouts had gone to the swamped homeowners themselves, the banks would have still gotten their money, and we'd still have an economy instead of a shattered, broken population.

At some point, you've got to take a stand. You've got to get angry.

You don't have to go mad and tear everything down. I brought Occupy Wall Street into the end of the post to say, "this is Project: Mayhem done right." It's not a riot. It's not terrorism. It's taking a stand. It's an ever-increasing circle of people gathering together and saying, "We've had enough. No more."

Take a look at the icon I used for this post. I know exactly how things ended for that guy, too. But sometimes, things reach a point where you've got to listen to all the Mad Prophets, all the Tyler Durdens and the Howard Beales, so you can see what drove them mad and make it stop.

You don't have to go mad to say you're not gonna take it anymore.


athelind: (Eye - VK)

... I so need an MP3 of this.

It needs to play under the opening credits of the Next Big Cyberpunk Movie.

I would make a reference to VR.5, but only two people ever cared about that show, and I'm one of them.
athelind: (Eye - VK)
I'm looking at registering a domain or two, and I'm wondering if any of the registrars out there still offer multi-year registration for a discount. I got spoiled by the luxury of knowing that we didn't have to worry about renewing our domains for a full decade.

athelind: (Captain America 01)

[ profile] forthright looks for some silver linings in the election results.

Everything I know about Canadian politics, I learned from LiveJournal; I confess I'm only grasping a fraction of what's going on up there.* I do know that I read (and am read) by a lot of people in the GWNE who don't read each OTHER, so one thing I CAN contribute is CONNECTION.

*Here's the fraction I do grasp, as well as I grasp it: new Lefty party caused a split in the votes, and some weird distortion of proportional Parliamentary procedure called "first past the post" has turned that into a Conservative majority. A "Canadian Politics For Unitistatians and Other Dummies" would be greatly appreciated.
athelind: (Tiananmen Rebel)
One of the tags in my list is "The Revolution Will Be DIGITIZED". It's a play, of course, on the title of the song "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. I first used the phrase as the title of a PoliSci paper I wrote around '92 or '93, concerning the role of new communications technologies in the fall of the Soviet Union and the sociopolitical implications of the then-emerging internet.

I've used the tag for a variety of reasons since I introduced it a couple of years ago, some overtly political and some ... less than revolutionary. Yesterday's Writer's Block post was the first time I really felt that I was using it in the sense I originally intended, back when I first wrote that paper.

Yes. The Internet, the cell phone, GPS/GIS, desktop publishing and 3D printing ... this is world-changing technology. It has changed the world. If you're reading this, it has changed your everyday life, the things that you consider "normal" and "routine".

And it is poised to change it even more. It's facilitating real revolution, producing "regime change" more deep-seated than invasion, occupation, and installation of "reliable" puppets ever could.

Mightier than the sword indeed, my friends.

Cross-posted to [ profile] unitarian_jihad.
athelind: (cronkite)
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Should websites like Wikileaks be defended for sharing confidential corporate and government information with the public, and why?

Secrecy is the keystone of all tyranny. Not force, but secrecy ... censorship. When any government, or any church for that matter, undertakes to say to its subjects, "This you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know," the end result is tyranny and oppression, no matter how holy the motives. Mighty little force is needed to control a man whose mind has been hoodwinked; contrariwise, no amount of force can control a free man, a man whose mind is free. No, not the rack, not fission bombs, not anything—you can't conquer a free man; the most you can do is kill him.
—Robert A. Heinlein, If This Goes On— (Emphasis mine.)

Since the Internet first became available to the general public, I've heard people who defend the government prying into one's online activities on the basis that "if you're not doing anything wrong, then you have nothing to hide."

These same people are the ones who argue, in turn, that Wikileaks is revealing things that should best be kept secret, that the internal workings of business and government are best left under lock and key "for our own good".

This is exactly backwards.

Yes, we should know these things. We must know these things. We are not disinterested parties. What the banks and megacorps do, they do to us, their customers, their employees. What the government does, it does in our name.

There are things that I would not have done in my name.

If those I have elected to serve the machinery of government seek to tell me that I am forbidden to know of them, I would name them tyrant, and would remind them with whose consent they govern.

Wikileaks is performing a function vital and necessary to democracy and to the governance of free human beings. The wealthy and powerful must be called to account, they must know that their actions run the risk of being brought to light.

Once upon a time, this function was called journalism, and it was practiced by such diverse outlets as the Washington Post that backed Woodward and Bernstein, and CBS News under the auspices of Walter Cronkite, who earned and deserved the title of "The Most Trusted Man in America". Investigative journalism is a thing of the past, though, smothered in favor of gossip and Official Press Releases by budget-slashing corporate masters who see no profit in baring secrets to the rank and file.

Wikileaks has picked up the fallen torch of the Fourth Estate, and shoved it square in the face of the banksters and the Shadow Cabinet. Do they "deserve" protection? By the laws of the United States of America, they have it. They are entitled to the same legal precedents that have protected journalists and their sources for most of the 20th century ... and if those protections do not extend into the One-and-Twenty, then we have abdicated any claims we might have had to freedom.

athelind: (Eye - VK)
There's been a bit of a kerfluffle about a recent study about students who fell for a hoax website about the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus.

Frankly, the article linked above is a shoddy piece of science journalism. As [ profile] eggshellhammer pointed out, it doesn't link to the original study. Even worse, in Your Obedient Serpent's eyes: it didn't specify the age level of the students. That's an important factor: a study about the critical thinking ability of kindergarten students has entirely different implications than the same study about a group of college undergraduates.

That in itself is an indication of a failure of critical thinking ability in would-be science journalists.

As it transpires, this study involved seventh-graders. The conclusion can thus be summarized as, "wow, you can con a 12-year-old into believing some crazy shit", which is hardly earth-shattering news. I'd say three-quarters of the contents of is stuff that was repeated as gospel truth on the Bicentennial schoolyards of my twelfth year.

(I find the datum that students ignore search engines in favor of to be much more startling, personally. Seriously, WTF?)

The other study mentioned in the University of Connecticut article suggests that this, in large measure, just reflects a need for improved emphasis on Internet search and access skills, and not some Terrible Crisis in Education. That's how the researchers seem to interpret it; the DANGER WILL ROBINSON! reactions were mostly imposed by the secondary sources. For my part, I was intrigued and, on some level, amused at the revelation that students who had difficulties with traditional literacy showed superior online reading facilities.

As for the details of the first study ... I'm going to be generous and completely ignore the implications of drawing broad conclusions from a sample group of twenty-five students in a single class. Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that this specific class is representative of the entire population of students in Connecticut. Let's take a look at two of the sited conclusions:

• All but one of the 25 rated the site as "very credible" ...

Let us, just for a moment, step out of the role of of the Know-It-All Grown-Up Who Knows This Site Is Patently Absurd Because There's No Such Thing. Let us remember that those reading this journal are likely to have at least five more years of formal education than the subjects of this study.

Yes, is "very credible".

"Credible" doesn't mean "true" or "accurate". It means "able to be believed", or "capable of persuading". The website has a professional presentation and a serious, convincing tone. The only obvious joke on the main page (aside from a deadpan link to sasquatch) is a reference to the organization "Greenpeas". The FAQ gets increasingly flippant and absurdist, but they avoid an overtly humorous tone for the main body.

Given that aquarium octopuses are well-known for getting out of their tanks and taking walks, and that there is at least one species of land-dwelling, arboreal hermit crabs, the idea of a "tree octopus" is just plausible enough to someone who knows just how weird and wacky life on Earth can get.

In science, "credibility" also means "reproducibility", and in this context, that extends to being able to find other corroborating sources.

This leads us to the second conclusion I want to examine:

• Most struggled when asked to produce proof - or even clues - that the web site was false ...

Hey, it's an exercise for the class! Let's check our own research and critical thinking abilities, shall we?

I'm curious to see what proofs (or even clues!) the folks reading this can come up with, above and beyond the flippant tone of the FAQ that I mentioned above. The Sasquatch link leads to an equally-deadpan page, of course.

Needless to say, "I just know there's no such thing" isn't a valid "proof"; in fact, it doesn't even rate as a "clue".

Answers will be graded!

Thanks ... and apologies ... to [ profile] pseudomanitou for drawing my attention to this study and the reactions which followed. Please don't think I'm being an asshole for deconstructing this.
Update: [ profile] eggshellhammer contacted the original author and scored a link to the original document. Yes, the sample group was larger than 25.
athelind: (cronkite)
Due to recent events, I haven't been as politically vocal in this forum as I once was. So It Goes.

We've got an election coming up in this country next week, though, and The Big Picture matters, especially with Big Media so happily wedded to Big Stupidity these days.

Let's lead off with Senator Al "won by 312 votes" Franken's reminder that every vote counts. Even yours. That's right, you. He also opines:

The month Barack Obama was sworn in we lost 750,000 jobs in this country. With all due respect to the President, I think his analogy that the economy was a car in a ditch when he took office is just a little too static. Here's my analogy, which, in my opinion, is both more kinetic and, frankly, far more accurate.

When the President took office, not only had the car gone into a ditch, the car had flipped over and was rolling down a steep embankment. We, the American people, were in the back seat, and the Bush Administration had removed all the seat belts, so we were all flying around the interior of this car as it was rolling and flipping and careening down this steep embankment, headed to a 2,000 foot cliff. And at the bottom of that cliff were jagged rocks. And alligators.

Now, at noon on January 20th, 2009, as the car was careening toward the cliff, George W. Bush jumped out of the car.

President Obama somehow managed to dive in through the window, take the wheel and get control of the thing just inches before it went over the precipice. Then, he and Congress starting pushing this wreck back up the embankment. Now you can't push a car up an embankment as fast as it careens down the embankment, especially if some people are trying to push against you. But we got it going in the right direction. And slowly we've gotten ourselves up the embankment, out of the ditch and onto the shoulder of the road.

[Italics mine ... and I confess I'm not quite as optimistic as Sen. Franken that we're quite "up the embankment" yet. Then again, I count things like "war without end" and "condoning torture" as part of the mud on the slippery slope.]

To expand the "every vote counts" theme into one of Solidarity, [ profile] velvetpage gives a concrete example from this week's Canadian elections:

Toronto: the vote on the left was split several ways, while the vote on the right was concentrated on one right-wing ideologue who got the ear of the suburbs by promising an end to corruption and a drastic reduction in social services that the suburbs use less anyway. Want to know how it is that a country where most people lean to the left of centre manages to keep electing these clowns? Here's how: there are so many good ideas and decent people on the left that people can't settle on just one, and with a first-past-the-post system, it means the right-wing guy with less than a majority often comes up from behind.

And with the preliminaries out of the way, some Quick Links:

Thanks to Mark Evanier, [ profile] velvetpage, and most especially [ profile] pseudomanitou for links and leads. Seriously, folks, [ profile] pseudomanitou's LJ is the best Progressive News Aggregator I've encountered. I have a lot of news feeds, but PM's news posts put all the best stuff in one place.
athelind: (loop)
Trying to grok microblogging and social networking just makes me feel old.

I feel the need to make the effort, though—in no small part because it does make me feel old. I look on in baffled incomprehension at a vast swath of online life, wholly Out Of the Loop, and I realize that I'm nearly as disconnected from the Bleeding Edge of the One-And-Twenty as someone with no Internet access at all.

The Unkind Curmudgeon, the part of me that tries to reduce the world into a series of Pithy Epigrams, keeps coming back to "these are ways for people to TALK when they don't have anything to SAY."

Of course, Pithy Epigrams are exactly what microblogging services like Twitter are all about; the Unkind Curmudgeon would thrive there.

I'm not sure I want the Unkind Curmudgeon to thrive.

Nevertheless, I can see the utility and appeal of the Twitters and Qaikus and Status.nets of the online world. Sometimes, you just want to say something quickly and efficiently, without wrapping a well-thought-out blog entry (or stream of consciousness blather) around it. The first sentence of this entry would have been an ideal Tweet, but here, on LJ, I feel I have to elaborate.1

I also appreciate the idea of an ongoing, persistent conversation that's faster than a newsgroup but slower than IRCs or MUCKs. IM conversations have that quality on a one-to-one level: you can say something to someone, and they can respond at their leisure. 2

It's the Facebooks and MySpaces that I don't get. I'm on LinkedIn, the most professionally-oriented of the social network services, and I don't get it. There's no content on LinkedIn. Nothing happens. It's static. Even if you recognize former co-workers floating around on the service, it's just "hey, I know you [LINK]". It's another place to post my resume to get ignored.3

As I understand it, Facebook and the more "social" social nets have Other Stuff: microblog-style "Status Updates"; tedious mind-numbing timesinks "games" like Farmville; the exchange of pointless tchotchkes virtual tokens like the llamas of DeviantArt and the weird little icons that LiveJournal has tacked on in imitation.

I still don't quite grasp what you do on these networks, though. I don't grok how you interact with them. LiveJournal has the eminently-useful (if unfortunately-named) "Friends" list, which is an entirely useful means of monitoring those individuals who provide interesting content; I peruse mine regularly, and it irks me that there's not an equally-elegant way of following the Blogspot blogs I read.

I'm clueless about the SpaceBooks and MyFaces, though. honestly, I don't even know what such sites look like, since most of them are, in my experience, inaccessible to those who don't already have an account.

Given the well-publicized privacy issues and the impossibility of deleting accounts, I am extremely leery of registering just to see if I want to register.

Some contracts, you just don't want to sign.4

Why, you might ask, am I concerned about this at all?

It's not just because "all my friends are doing it."

Any number of recent articles in the blogosphere suggest that my mortal alter-ego's nigh-complete absence from the virtual sphere has had a negative impact on my career aspirations.[citation needed] A Google search on my mundane name yields my 2003 capstone thesis, a few sparse credits in a handful of published RPGs, and a lengthy discourse in an etymology blog about the plural of "octopus".

It's bad enough that my professional experience is so sparse, but, as far as any potential employer can determine, I have no personal interests whatsoever.

Nevertheless, I'm hesitant to establish overt connections between my Mundane Alter-Ego, the Earnest Environmental Scientist and Cartographer, and Your Obedient Serpent, who may be an Eloquent Commentator of Comics and Popular Culture, but also has some ... eccentric ... search results attached to his most-used nom de guerre.

1 Endlessly.

2 I do miss ICQ, which would let you drop someone a note even if they weren't online at the time; I described that more than once as "leaving a Post-It on their monitor".

3 But I'm not bitter!

4 I say to you againe, doe not call up Any that you can not put downe; by the Which I meane, Any that can in Turne call up somewhat against you, whereby your Powerfullest Devices may not be of use. Ask of the Lesser, lest the Greater shall not wish to Answer, and shall commande more than you. —H.P. Lovecraft, "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward".

athelind: (Default)

The Kno: A giant double-screen tablet to replace giant textbooks.

Kno Movie from Kno, Inc. on Vimeo.

I'm not much of a tech-fiend or an early adopter. My usual reaction at the Shiny Tech Toy of the Minute is, "huh, that's kinda cool", but it's seldom if ever "OMG I GOTTA HAVE IT".

Even now, as I'm looking at the Kno, my reaction is, "Yes, this is finally getting to what I want in the elusive 'electronic book' -- something that retains the utility of a hardcopy book while simultaneously taking advantage of the new medium."

Up until now, the ebook readers I've seen haven't done either. They've been the Worst of Both Worlds: a static page without any of the convenient features that let the spine-bound book render the continuous scroll obsolete. That's fine for a novel, but for any kind of reference work at all, it's useless. If I'm, say, playing an RPG, and trying to run combat, even the best-organized rulebooks I've seen have me flipping back and forth between three or more widely-separated sections at once.

A reader-tablet that's set up to properly display two-page spreads, to let me jot notes, to let me flip back and forth casually between sections? One that's ALSO set up to hyperlink and cross-reference? And, of course, to have animated illustrations and even embedded video? To have two books open at once, or a full-on web browser on one screen with a textbook on the other?

This is the frakkin' Diamond Age, boys and girls. Or the first real stab at it, anyway.

[ profile] halfelf is holding out for a tablet that has both a capacitive and a resistive screen, so you can do both the Cool iPhone Multi-Touch Tricks and the Pressure-sensitive Drawing Tablet Tricks. Call it the "fingerpaint interface".

It would be NICE to be able to use something like the Kno as a full-fledged graphics tablet, but it's not a deal-breaker for me. I can live without that. After all, I can't use my laptop as one, either.

In short: WANT. If this thing isn't just vaporware, I'll be eagerly awaiting announcements of price points.

Even if it is ... this is the interface of the future. This is what an "ebook reader" will have to look like to be as useful as a spine-bound book. It doesn't have to be this large, but it's going to have to be this flexible.

Take a good look, people. This could be the printkiller.
athelind: (Eye: RCA Magic Eye)
I just realized this morning that I have always and consistently been a technological iconoclast, as far as my choice of computing environment.

My systems have always run AMD processors, with the exception of the 8088 I had for less than a week before upgrading it to an AMD 286.

That machine also ran DR-DOS instead of MS-DOS; after a year or two, I installed an advanced, multi-tasking, multi-threading GUI with an office suite: GeoWorks Ensemble.

(That one was dubbed "Oracle", after an omniscient AI from my old Champions campaign; the character not only preceded the comic book character, but the software company. So nyaah.)

The 486 that followed ("Oracle II") continued with DR-DOS and GeoWorks.

My next system was a 686, since AMD continued with the "x86" numbering scheme after Intel started calling their CPUS "Pentiums". The need to establish software compatibility with campus systems necessitated a switch to Windows 3.1. The sheer physical size of the machine (Very Large CPU Tower, and a hitherto-unheard of seventeen inch monitor), combined with the stubborn determination of the operating system to make me do what it wanted, rather than vice-versa, earned it the name "Colossus" (and a Forbin Project desktop theme to match).

Colossus was succeeded by Rocinante, whose name, of course, was a multi-level reference to Cervantes, Steinbeck, Rush, and ... the EtherShip my character piloted in Mage: The Ascension. Rocinante began life as an AMD Athlon running Windows 98, I believe—only to slip further into iconoclasm when I installed the much-reviled Windows ME on the poor thing.

And that's where it gets odd. WinME was notoriously unstable, particularly if you just used the upgrade path instead of reformatting your drive and doing a clean installation—on every machine except this one. I ran ME for years with no trouble, right up until a power surge fried her original motherboard. Apparently, WinME liked that specific mobo, and not the computer; after a few weeks, I realized that suddenly, Rocinante was exhibiting every single reported misbehavior I'd ever heard about in an ME box.

That resulted in an upgrade to Windows XP.

Rocinante is George Washington's Axe, now: new motherboard, new case, new almost everything. She's got a modem that may not even work anymore, from one of her earlier incarnations, and her old 80 Gb hard drive is now strictly a back-up drive that I mostly leave unmounted. She's still running off that old mobo that I installed back in 2003; currently, she's running Ubuntu.

The closest I've come to a mainstream "Wintel" system was my IBM Transnote, with the crazy hybrid digitizing pen-and-ink notepad, purchased at a ridiculous discount from TigerDirect after they got remaindered. As off-beat as that model is, mine was even moreso: unlike the photographs in the linked article, I had a left-handed model, with the notepad on the port side and the computer to starboard.

My primary system now is my laptop, Dancing Star, named after the vessel in my Unwritten Magnum Opus, which in turn takes her name from a Nietzsche quote referenced in the Principia Discordia. Yes, once again, it's an AMD processor, and it's running Ubuntu. Like the TransNote, it's More Nonstandard Than Nonstandard: inside, it's effectively a netbook, with the almost-universal 2009 Netbook Standard Array: 1.6 GHz processor, 2GB memory, blah blah blah. However, it's got a 15.6" widescreen monitor, a number pad alongside the keyboard, and a DVD drive.

That's right, she's got the power of a netbook and the portability of a widescreen laptop. One would almost say it's the worst of both worlds, but you know what?

She works, and works very well indeed. Other than the graphics, in fact, she's faster and more powerful than Rocinante.

But still. An oddball machine, like all of my computers.

And that's the way I like'em.

athelind: (Sci Fi)
For years, I've been calling Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination/Tiger! Tiger!* "a forgotten cyberpunk classic from the '50s" and "more cyberpunk than cyberpunk".

I was even more correct than I thought: William Gibson, one of the progenitors of the Cyberpunk Movement, has just cited it as one of his favorite novels, going so far as to say "I doubt I’d have written without having read it."

Hunt it down, people.

It's still high on my list for Books That Oughta Be Movies.

*Tiger! Tiger! was the title of the first book publication, but it was originally serialized as the Stars My Destination, and, frankly, that's a far better title.

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