Copyright ©1997-2011 Glenn Fleishman except as noted otherwise. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint, contact Glenn Fleishman at glenn at glennf.com. Photo © 2008 Laurence Chen; used with permission.
Turning technology from mumbo-jumbo into rich tasty gumbo
I’m having a virtual rummage sale as my fellow freelancers and I move to a new office space in Seattle. Are you looking for a used and funky LS-30 (CoolScan III) film/slide scanner with auto-APS/Advantix feed? Some cheap 10-port Ethernet switches? A rusty chain? Scratch that last one. Here are my current auctions on eBay, and I’ll post more items that are useful, cheap, and full of rich functional electronic goodness.
I remember reading about this in science books as a kid: ants milk aphids for honeydew which they return to the nest. I’m out in our garden where my fiancee is working hard pulling grass and cleaning up her plantings, and I’m avoiding some writing due next week. I look at the nascent flowers in one of the cardoons (artichoke relative) we have in the parking strip and I see a sight that makes me scream and recoil briefly: ants! ants! ants! and black dots! (I thought briefly I was in a Bu˝uel film.)
I recover. I’m not that squeamish, but I didn’t expect to see dozens of ants and hundreds of aphids four feet off the ground. The ants had their own farm going: they were pounding the hell out of the aphids using their antennae. The pounding causes the aphids to emit the processed material that the ants collect somehow (in their guts?) and return to the nests to disgorge. Super super cool. The linked article says the ants “encourage” the aphids, but it looked me like they were really whacking them with their antenna.
We have a good crop of ladybird beetles (ladybugs), but ants will apparently attack and disable ladybird beetles to keep their aphid-cows from being eaten!
No, not another blog entry on Worldcom, but rather a link to my review of ex-Amazon.com employee Mike Daisey’s book on his experience. Regular blog readers know that I admire Daisey’s transformation of a chaotic and insane experience into a hilarious one-man show (which I plan to see the off-Broadway version of during Macworld Expo in about three weeks). The book is quieter, but not gentler, and more wry and amusing than wrenchingly funny. There’s more insight in the book than the play: the play is written for farce, the book for some reflection.
The symbol of hubris? The Kingdome. Not yet paid for, following an $80 million renovation, we blew the thing up. I mean blew the thing in. (Opposite of an explosion’s boom? An implosion’s “mooooob.”) Daisey times the end of the book with watching the giant sucking sound from Amazon.com’s HQ using his defunct corporate ID.
A combination of an officemate’s new camera and a very very hot day led to this.
Worldcom’s revelation today that they invented $3.8 billion in earnings, according to various news reports, is the latest and worst in a series of business fraud and incompetence. Every time I hear one of these stories — Enron, Adelphia, Qwest, and so on — I think, well, the outrage is there, but will there be the follow-through? Congress has hearings, laws are proposed, but fundamental changes don’t show up. Does a CEO have to kill employees for sport and have accountants’ help in hiding the bodies for the balance of power to change?
Saying blogs are uninteresting is like saying people are uninteresting. You can’t say that all people are, just some (maybe a lot). I’ve met a fair number of dull, self-absorbed people, but most people have stories about themselves and the world, and most people have interesting, sometimes terrifying stories to tell. Mike Cassidy needs to stop monolithicizing.
Axiom No. 1: Everything new appears monolithic.
Axiom No. 2: Nothing is ever monolithic.
Axiom No. 3: Time doesn’t break monoliths down; understanding does.
Axiom No. 4: Journalists write about monoliths when they first appear, 2001-like, looming on the horizon because they lack the time to learn and the sophistication to understand, and predict their audiences won’t understand either.
Axiom No. 5: If it’s business or financial market related, Axioms 1 to 4 go out the window.
I’ve been troubled for years that fellow journalists tend towards writing about each new technology as if it’s first incomprehensible (picture the apes in 2001), then monolithic (ah, it’s a big rock), then, and only then - often much later - the subtletly emerges, much of which was there the day the rock started to glow.
In 1994 and into 1996, from when the commercial Internet began in earnest to when ecommerce became a commonplace word, I spoke to many, many journalists who couldn’t mentally break the Internet down into its constituent parts to better describe it. Rather, the Internet had a capital I: it was one being, one entity, one group of long-time users (academics), one group of new users (newbies), one group of sophisticated newer users building businesses (dotcommers).
Of course, it was much more complicated than that in 1994, and it took a couple years before mainstream journalists would stop making howlers like claiming 1,000,000 hits meant a million people visiting a site, or that DNS propagates (that last one still comes up…hmm).
Meanwhile, of course, the subtlest new business point gets analyzed, reanalyzed, reported on, synthesized, suggested, editorialized. Axiom No. 5 should probably read: Business news is always worth figuring out the technical details of, while technology news can be wallpapered over, no matter how lumpy the wall.
This monolithic reporting comes up all the time with blogging. There are a few, very few, journalists who, without becoming bloggers themselves, have managed to express the breadth of the communities that blog: individuals with no connection, groups, sparking points, pundits, technolgoists, egoists, etc. There is little connection between most bloggers in terms of what they do or why they do it; the connections between bloggers are social and business links, which don’t imply an actual relationship. (Take that, NPR!)
The reporters who get it right often focus on one aspect of blogging, like warbloggers or journalist bloggers, but they make it clear that they might be talking about a pool of tens or dozens of bloggers out of hundreds of thousands of blogs.
The ones who get it wrong see the monolith sending its scary signals into space, and they start smashing heads with thigh bones. You know the bones: Sullivan, Kaus, InstaPundit, etc.
Others see the monolith and become early rejecters: oh, yes, a monolith. Well, I’m sure it’s a fad, and I’m sure that serious newspapers and books are much more interesting than the real voices of a hundred thousand people talking about what’s important to them which tens of millions of people are reading. Yawn.
Lucas may have borrowed from Campbell in generating his Star Wars mythos, but The Force is still out here: the interlinkedness of all things on the Net, every day becoming more so, drawing us into a multilithic universe.
This is the letter I just sent to the station manager of my Seattle-based NPR affiliate, KUOW. I don’t even want to think about how much money I have contributed over the nine years I’ve lived in Seattle, and they have my records.
I am not intending to brush KUOW with the same tar that NPR is getting for its Web site linking policy, but as a long-time contributor to KUOW (check your records on me), and a long-time NPR listener, I’m afraid my leverage is all local, not global.
If NPR persists in their nonsensical policy of not allowing links to their Web site without approval (although I realize they cannot enforce this technically, really), then I will have to reconsider my contributions to KUOW, tailoring them to specifically support programs that are not underwritten or sold by NPR.
I hope you will convey to NPR the depth of dissatisfaction by this one listener, at least, and I hope other listener/members have written to you as well.
NPR is misguided, and their ombudsman doesn’t understand the issues. Linking to content at a site does not endorse the linking organization. No site on the Web, with the possible exception of Ticketmaster, has ever fought random links to their sites.
There are technological solutions to this problem, including using gateway pages which require a user coming from outside a site to listen to audio to view a page that describes NPR’s relation to the outside linker (none) and to the content that follows (owner or licensor).
Thank you very much, and I intend to continue to contribute to KUOW — just not to your NPR program funds (if that’s possible, even) unless they wise up and learn about the issues before taking a stand on them.
It started as a blog entry itself: a few items about cartoonists who wrote blogs on their Web sites, in their own voices. It grew into a story idea that I pitched to the New York Times, which was interested. It took many interviews and weeks of writing to get the fix on this topic, because individuals are, well, individuals. The result is here with a typically great NYT headline.
Cartoonists have a mass audience, even if that audience is thousands, but the ones I spoke to have a desire to talk more personally, and less through a distanced filter provided by their syndicate or by a no-nonsense Web site. Cartoonists are, in my experience, serious, thoughtful people. The four-panel punchline is an expressive tool that would take pages of intense prose in the best case.
This week, the computers are sick of me. What did I say? Last weekend, my fiancee and I came into the office to print something on our color printer. There are no drivers for OS X that work over the network with a shared Epson C80, so we used my officemate’s machine. We boot it into OS 9.2: it crashes. I reboot my machine into 9. It crashes. We reboot my officemate’s machine again; the mouse stops working. The machine to which the color printer is attached crashes. Reboot, reboot, reboot. Finally get it working.
But the computers talk to each other. In the wee hours this morning, the aging beeping (because of heat) box that runs isbn.nu gave up the ghost. It knew its time was coming: I’d bought a bigger, fancier case with five fans, and two AMD 1.6 GHz P5-like processors. Ah, yes, my pretty. So it gave up last night. All of today, since about 9 am, spent getting the new case to work (hadn’t solved that problem yet), discovering that one of the two CPUs won’t work with the current Linux installation I have, finding the backup tape wouldn’t restore, figuring out that I had to reboot then immediately restore from tape, and then finding out the first restore didn’t overwrite files that needed to be replaced.
I’d better buy the rest of the machines some candy. Was it the 90-degree days last week that caused all this mishegas?
When I was a kid growing up in Fremont, California, before my family moved to Eugene, Oregon, in 1979, I was a regular watcher of Pat McCormick’s kids show on KTVU. They had a game on one of the shows in which kids, picked by sending in postcards, would yell out “pow!” to trigger a video game to release an item that would hit another item. One day, I think March 1979, Pat called! I won!
I’d forgotten all about this until reading this article in today’s New York Times. If I remember this correctly — and my dad reads my blog, so he’ll advise me if the grey cells are misfiring — in spring 1979, my dad was living in Eugene, starting a life up there for us, where my mom, sister, and me would join him when school was out. One of his early jobs? Selling cable TV door to door. That’s what he did for us. Unfortunately, we moved to Oregon just as the recession was hitting and just before Silicon Valley hit in Fremont.
The day Pat called, I was in the right place: watching his show. They prepped me on the phone. I said “pow!” at the appropriate intervals and got a high score. I wasn’t yet an inveterate video game player (and never was, really), but I was a quick study and figured out how to say “pow!” just in advance to hit the targets.
What did I win? An automated Viewmaster that you could put those circular film-bearing cartridges in and have it project them! What advanced technology. I had no use for this thing and we sold it at a garage sale when I moved. Better, though, were free tickets to Marine World USA to which I took a friend. I think that the tickets might have been just for two kids, though, which is the way that kind of thing works: my mom (and dad?) had to pay for their own admission? (Help me out here, pa.)
It’s ironic that I’m remembering seeing dolphins and orcas in captivity tonight since I just saw them cavorting in the wild a few days ago. One of the nights on the cruise that Lynn and I took, we were standing on our balcony after midnight watching the remains of the day fade, and as our ship sailed rapidly along, we could see small pods of what I am sure were immature orcas. They had the right colors, and they swam rapidly alongside, leapt in the air, and were quickly lost to sight.
Brain Cells: Powww! My dad read the above and emailed me the following, which I post with his permission. I have no recollection of any of this, and neither does your mom. I know I didn’t go to Marine World, and she doesn’t recall it either. Someone must have taken you, and maybe it was your friend’s parent(s). Whatever you said on your blog stands unchallenged, since you’re the only one remembering it at all. Later, he added, Mom now seems to vaguely remember going to Marine World, and has a recollection of a small, stuffed whale that possibly you won or bought there (an orca, black/white one). We’re now in the same universe, as I’d forgotten until this latest email that I did have a stuffed orca (I think I bought it?) for several years until I accidentally grew up, I think, and ditched the animals.
I’m pretty peeved. I’m now Glenn No. 3 down from Glenn No. 2. Glenn Reynolds of InstaPundit is Glenn No. 2. (Glenn No. 1 is a thing not a person: the NASA Glenn Research Center, named for John Glenn. Not my namesake.)
What’s worse is that folks are now talking about that blogger, Glenn, and meaning Mr. Reynolds, not Mr. Fleishman. I see several alternatives: 1. A return to formality. “The right honorable Mr. Reynolds of Tennesse, states…” “The esteemed nitwit, Mr. Fleishman of Seattle, simpers…” 2. A feature called “You Might Be the Instapundit If…”. 3. Mr. Reynolds simply relinquishes his Christian name to me, foreswearing all rights to it. (Which makes it a Jewish name, nu?) 4. A quick checklist at the top of our respective sites indicating which one we are. “[ x ] Obsessed by wireless networking. [ ] Professor. [ ] Orbited the Earth.”
An item I wrote on my Wi-Fi blog supporting Robert X. Cringely’s position that Wi-Fi has some upcoming interference challenges was prominently linked from several well-known bloggers (Tomalak’s Realm, Scripting News, Doc Searls’s blog, Backup Brain), and yet resulted in just a few dozen clickthroughs to the article. In the old days, about one year ago, a mention on Scripting News was worth 1,000 clicks minimum, and similar but smaller amounts (at the very least) from the other sites even on topics like Wi-Fi networking.
American Journalism Review weighs in on blogging like so many other media publications: monolithic political blogging. Focuses on pundit blogs. Doesn’t mention other categories. Doesn’t mention political high-profile blogs are less than 1/100th of 1 percent of all bloggers. Doesn’t mention the backlash that people are sick to death of the popular bloggers. Doesn’t look for comparison traffic. So Kausfiles gets 6,000 to 9,000 “hits” per day (the reporter’s use of hits, hopefully incorrect, as hits don’t mean squat). My Wi-Fi blog gets about 2,000 requests a day; my personal blog gets well over 1,000. No mention of pacifi-bloggers, warbloggers, personal bloggers, cult of personality bloggers (Wil Wheaton), technical bloggers.
Blah blah blah blah blah blog article. Blogs ain’t monolithic. When will journalists research this field instead of dragging out a few limited usual subjects? Old tired numbers, like Kaus’s $300-odd he’s made before being bought by Slate. Hey, I’ve made more than Kaus on my Wi-Fi blog between voluntary contributions and affiliate commissions from sales of equipment linked off the site.
This morning, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) on behalf of myself and four other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against a group of media companies which had themselves sued Sonic Blue, Inc., and ReplayTV, Inc. The full information is here. This lawsuit is a stand against the erosion of fair use. As a ReplayTV 4000 series owner, I have joined the suit in the interests of all individuals’ fair use rights. “There really isn’t an opportunity for the consumers voice to be heard in these cases,” is what one of the attorneys, Robin Gross said this morning.
Some of the stories filed on today’s announcement in the major media:
New York Times (scroll down to the brief)
Washington Post (long analysis)
And in a lot of other interesting places as well:
The Wall Street Journal weighed in with a brief article, which I excerpt a couple of relevant grafs from:
The Electronic Frontier Foundation said it filed its lawsuit to ensure consumers’ voices were heard in the debate about digital-video recorders. Technology enthusiasts have been particularly incensed by recent public comments from television executives equating the skipping of television commercials to theft.
“The point we want to make here to Hollywood is, when it comes to television, we’re not in their movie theaters — they’re in our living rooms,” said Fred von Lohmann, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “I think this whole issue is about control not of intellectual-property rights, but control of my own personal habits,” said Seattle freelance journalist Glenn Fleishman, one of five plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “I joined because I think it’s time to take a stand.”
Hopefully not famous last words. I pledge my life, my freedom, and my sacred fast forward.
MacMania was a lot of fun and a great experience from many angles. I learned a lot, and made some great new friends, as well as had a chance to visit with old friends. I also gained insight into how a Famous Celebrity mingles with Net.Famous/Mac.Famous people and the hoi polloi.
High points of the cruise: the Indonesian crew show and the dog mushing. Low points: mild nausea and rough seas on the first full day at sea.
The ship’s complement is divided into staff and crew: the staff run the hotel operation (food, rooms, etc.); the crew runs the ship operations (navigation, engines, etc.). Holland-America has remarkable discipline for both staff and crew. Hotels could learn from them: HAL spends a lot of money strategically to present an air of elegance and actual elegance without making anything seem opulent or like a ten-dollar hooker offering 200-dollar airs.
The waiters and related staff were all Indonesian, trained, from what I could tell, at a HAL school over there. The crew show was drawn from the Indonesian staff, and they performed really interesting bits of Javanese and Balinese culture, including one of my favorite kinds of performance, the Cecak dance, a story about the monkey god. There was prerecorded gamelan music, and then a group of staff appeared and started singing the rhythmic song which involves syncopated fast call and response, a leader, etc. I’ve seen it on TV progams with hundreds of people.
The last bit of the performance involved a bamboo orchestra. Each member held a two piece item that was tuned bamboo, sort of like xylophone staves. By rattling the two pieces together, a pure tuned tone emerged. The conductor played the orchestra like a piano: the members together were chords. A remarkable sound.
Dog mushing, I talked about a few days ago.
The conference part of this conference was just fine, as far as I can tell: I was too woozy on Tuesday to attend sessions, and I spoke during most of the rest of the available time, so only attended part of one session. The conference part runs during times at sea to minimize interference with the vacation part, like shore excursions or glacier peeping. More on that as I organize photos.
One of the crew entered into our confidence, or us into his, and he told some very funny stories, including how to get a free cruise (a gentleman tried to entice him to get caught inflagrante delicto with the gentleman’s wife; he demurred, but another crew member accepted), and interesting questions asked by passengers, like, “What do you do with the ice sculptures after they’ve melted?” And, my pupil, what is the sound of one cruiseliner clapping?
After spending days on the almost impeccably run ship, which included magic cabin cleaning — we tipped our steward enormously, because we could turn around and the room would be cleaned, bed made, and every particle of dust removed — we got a bit giddy. We were looking at a dirty glacier, where it had picked up rock and dirt along its trip and Lynn said, “In keeping with the standards of excellence at Holland America, we will immediately be cleaning that glacier.” I howled and howled. It didn’t seem that unlikely.
The interaction among attendees, speakers, spouses/friends/significant others, and kids, was pretty tremendous. Being on a ship, you might think you need to escape that much company some times, and, in fact, we did! But much of the time, you could spend a few minutes or a few hours talking, looking at things, laughing. There are few opportunities in life to have that sort of group experience among such talented people.
The next MacMania, in 2003, is already announced. It will be on a bigger boat, cost somewhat more, and travel to Hawaii. Based on this one, anyone interested in filling gaps in their knowledge through comprehension exposure to veteran experts coupled with participating in the world’s largest floating Mac and Wi-Fi community, should figure out how to tweak their finances to attend: it’s a unique and worthwhile experience that goes beyond learning masking in Photoshop or how wireless networks send signals. That’s part of it, to be sure, but it’s the gestalt that made it great.
Alright, a few words on the Famous Celebrity who was part of this cruise. The Famous Celebrity is Famous for something he cares very little about now, even as it most likely continues to form a reasonable portion of his income through residuals and conventions. The Famous Celebrity would rather his fans never ask him about the thing that made him most Famous, and I understand that: he didn’t write the role, he just performed it.
The Famous Celebrity became peevish when asked questions not formulated to his specification, despite agreeing to have a Q and A session, and most animated when talking about projects unrelated to the basis of his fame. The Famous Celebrity was elaborately polite at times, always shook people’s hand, posed in photos, and accepted compliments. He was generous with his time.
The Famous Celebrity was downright hilarious when discussing aspects of his fame relating to conventions and random fans who confused his most famous character with him. The Famous Celebrity has an innate gift for controlling a room without exerting much effort.
The Famous Celebrity needed to get off the ship early to work in Vancouver early in the day, and in a large gathering expressed his desire in an unpleasant way that led to many Unfamous Participants to laugh about his over-the-top behavior for the remaining evening and morning of the cruise. (It made me vaguely nauseated, like the first full day at sea — and no anti-emetics to hand!)
The Famous Celebrity demonstrated one of the aspects of fame that can be difficult to witness: the single-minded expression of pure will that leads to one reaching the top of the heap. Usually, that expression is limited to private meetings, not public gatherings.
The notion of celebrity is a funny one. Why this individual, a well-known but not top-of-the-heap actor, conductor, librettist, and voice artist, should command the attention he did is probably nested in deep structures in our brain. Lynn reminded me of an article I’d read that said human beings use a different part of their brain to recognize celebrity faces from the part that lights up when we recognize people we know.
There must be an evolutionary advantage to charismatic leaders. When I’ve met Famous Celebrities in the past (Rick Moranis, Parker Posie, etc.), remarkable artists (Werner Herzog), and people who actually have changed the course of world events (Li Lu, one fo the Tianamen Square leaders), my reaction is often the same: a different mechanism engages in my interaction. I feel slightly embarassed afterwards, as if, on seeing a leader, I had sung out in praise and adulation, and then wondered why later.
In other words, it’s good to be the king.
Here on Geek Cruises, while we sail the wild (more anti-emetic, please) seas off the Inside Passage, we brave hunt-and-peck-and-gatherers huddle around the sole source of illumination: the power outlets. You find us clustered, like ancient warriors, at the nearest surge protector, warming ourselves for the next day’s efforts in culling bits and and atoms to sustain us yet again.
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