Thursday, December 01, 2011

Hard Drive Replacement

Recently my computer hard drive went bad. Well, or at least that's what I think, I'm not at all sure how good my diagnosis was. In any case I ordered a new hard drive and installed it.

Computers are complicated and I don't know much about them. And what I know about using computers is what I've picked up on my own and listening to what other people say online. Many people get to watch other people use computers, but I've had few opportunities on that score.

Anyhow I feel dumb when it comes to computers.

Along with the hard drive I ordered a SATA/IDE to USB adapter. Using this cable allowed me to recover files from my "broken" hard drive. This also allowed me to look at the files on broken older computers I have. As I say, my grasp of technical aspects of computing is pretty feeble, but this whole undertaking made me reflect on my experience of discovering the Internet from circa 1998 or 1999.

The orange-colored logo is for Ubuntu, a flavor of the free and open source operating system called Linux. The current computer I'm using runs Ubuntu. Previously I had computers using various Microsoft operating systems. Were I still using a MS operating system, it's unlikely I would have attempted to change my hard drive.

We live on top of a hill and over the years lightening strikes have reeked havoc on electronic appliances and our telephones. My last computer didn't work after a lightening strike. As chance would have it, I was preoccupied with other matters and didn't really attempt to fix the computer. A friend lent me a Dell Mini netbook computer which happened to be running Ubuntu. After using it for about a month, I was convinced that I wanted a desktop computer running Linux.

The netbook seemed surprisingly capable to me, so I felt like I didn't need to go in for power when looking for a computer. In fact lower electricity usage seemed like a positive attribute. I've got expensive tastes and little money. That combination in my case often leads to muddled purchasing decisions. Sometimes I pay too much for too little. One of the first computers I looked at was System 76 Meerkat Ion NetTop. I looked at plenty of alternatives and debated the matter internally for a couple of weeks. I ended up getting a bare bones model of the Meerkat, half-way thinking the only reason was because I saw it first. As far as specs go, there were cheaper alternatives, but I've been very happy with it.

Using computers running Microsoft operating systems over the years had brought a bunch of problems and going about solving them always was frustrating. Oddly the memory of those frustrations kept me from adopting Linux earlier. I thought you had to know a lot about computers to use Linux. Any of you who tried to figure out Microsoft issues using their six-digit entitled articles are sure that knowing a lot about computers is a daunting undertaking. Some of the Linux articles are no less daunting, but there is also a rich ecosystem of peer to peer information sharing that comes with adopting Linux. I've found it's been much easier to find out stuff about Linux than Microsoft.

A friend of mine in an incredible act of generosity bought me a computer and an AOL Internet connection in November of 1998--it could have been 1999. I had used computers before that, but mostly as a sort of glorified typewriter. I had also read about the Internet, but nothing prepared me for my real encounter with the Internet. I recall having dinner around my birthday around this time and being bleary-eyed having stayed up late the night before wallowing down some rabbit hole online. I asked at the table if others had found the Internet so addicting. A friend told me at first yes, "but the novelty wears off." It didn't wear off in my case.

Everyone always says to "back up" your computer. It seems easier said than done. None of my multiple backups to CD using software that came with computers running Microsoft software ever worked. When I suspected the hard drive on my latest computer was going I tried to backup to online storage, but came up with errors which made those attempts failures too. I haven't gotten to the bottom of those issues yet, but with Linux I think I can. Anyhow I haven't had, and don't have now a system for doing back ups. Over the years I have put photographs onto CDs. So running my old hard drive.on the bench was a bit like opening time capsules.

Mostly what I've found on my hard drives are a digital version of disorderly shelves of papers and magazines which I have in my own room. I've got to learn to be better about throwing stuff out.

I was intrigued to look at my documents on my ten-year old computer. The first thing I noticed was several file folders of letters. I used to write a lot more letters than I do today; letters I would print and send in the mail. The second thing was the absence of a Photo file folder. I was sure that I had photos saved. I did, but discovered them in various files, for example among the saved correspondence in folders marked with friends' names. I was surprised to see how much my use of the computer then was premised on analogy to the world of paper, and it's astonishing to think about how many of the files there I actually printed out to read back then.

When lightening struck I took that computer around to repair shops. The thing weighs easily four times what my current computer weighs. The repair shops all told me it was better to think in terms of replacing the computer. The primary reason for that was upgrading to Windows XP as an operating system.

I went ahead and bought a new computer, opting for as much power as I could afford at the expense of installed software. I got a shop-built computer with only the Windows XP operating system installed. Within seconds of connecting the computer to the Internet to download Microsoft updates the computer was infected by the Blaster worm. Drat! I stayed up all night trying to fix that. There was some problem with the computer that showed up a month or so later. The technicians told me it was a virus, but it was not. I had it in the shop for a couple of week-long repairs, which apparently had only consisted of their running anti-virus software. The third time I returned to the shop they sent it away and whatever electrical problem was resolved. The whole repair sequence took over a month.

XP was a great improvement over Windows 98. And since I didn't have Microsoft Office I used Open Office instead. That was my first introduction to FOSS software. I used a proprietary email client software which doesn't seem to be around anymore, although Chaos Software is still around. The main selling-point to me was it kept the contact list in a document file so was very hard for malware designed for Microsoft's email client which send out emails from the address book .

The main impression from looking around the documents on that hard drive is how my thinking had shifted from the analogous world of paper and print to a digital view. My saved photos are all in a single file. I'd purchased a digital camera so there are lots of photos too. There's still a file of "Letters to the Editor" but most were sent online anyway. I no longer saved email in friend's files, just let the email software save them. There is music on this drive, mostly it's copies from my CDs, so there's nothing I've been missing, but I was using the computer for music listening whereas I hadn't been before.

The Internet has changed the way I attend to music quite a lot. It's strange that I haven't gotten the knack of making mixes to burn to CD as so many of my friends have. I still like to make mix tapes on cassette, but nobody is interested in those anymore. CDs seem a clunky way to share music, it's the lists that matter most in sharing nowadays. It just seems more natural to share online than with a CD.

While it's clear that this transition to a digital view happened before getting a DSL instead of dial-up Internet connection,the shift to faster Internet cemented it.

There are many good reasons that people might want a computer running Apple's OS X operating system or one of Microsoft's operating systems. The big reason, of course, is that they want to run a proprietary piece of software or service which requires one of those operating systems. But for many people almost everything they want a computer for doesn't require proprietary software installed on the computer. That's hard for many people to believe, but it's certainly been my experience.

The years of using Microsoft products certainly left a bad taste in my mouth, and I know I'm not alone in that feeling. Recently several of my friends have gone to Macs for precisely this reason. For one friend the Apple Store was a big factor in her decision, as she can make an appointment to have questions answered for a year. Apple products have always been too expensive for me to consider, but I don't lust after them. The walled garden makes me skittish. Even if I had lots of money I'd use Linux now. It's silly to think too much about what one would do with lots of money, I'm very happy with the computer I have.

When my operating system didn't boot, I simply plugged a flash drive with the operating system on it into a USB port. I was able to check out the hard drive that way. Even for people using MS or Mac having an Linux operating system on a flash drive can be handy. When I replaced the hard drive I simply plugged the flash drive back into the USB and installed the operating system. Once my computer was up and running, I attached the SATA/IDE to USB adapter to the old hard drive and was able to copy my home file to the new drive. It all was quite easy, and something I'd never attempted to do if I were running a computer with a Microsoft OS. I didn't have to worry about entering streams on numbers as a Microsoft ID. Or that one of Microsoft hidden rules would come into play, for example, since the hard drive was replaced Microsoft might decide I was trying to install the operating system on another computer. And I didn't have to worry about encountering an endless loop of Microsoft demanding I insert CDs--my computer doesn't even have an optical drive. I didn't have to worry about Microsoft breaking my stuff.

As I look back over the ten or so years I've been online, I feel very grateful for the many people and ideas the technology has has allowed me to connect with. Now that I like the Internet so much, it's easier to pay attention to threats to the whole ecosystem. A root problem is that so many people are dumb about computers like me. Using a Linux operating system on my home computer has not been a hardship, to the contrary it's been a relief. Open source software is a key reason for the Internet we have and key to protecting the Internet. There's little chance that I'll ever become computer smart. But in all likelihood I'll get smarter and I think most of the rest of us will too. Using Linux over the past year or so has made me smarter. It's a small step, but one many others can take too.

Saturday, November 05, 2011


soul music

Koowall is a new online site that I like. I'm in love with the idea of online collaboration. As it turns out reality is quite different from my imagination of it. For example I think wikis are wonderful for collaboration, but over the years I haven't been successful in convincing anyone or any group to contribute to a wiki I've made--I've made plenty. I'm not sure what creeps people out about wikis.

As sort of a negative example of how collaboration is hard to master, I'd point to my bad habit of "blogging" on other people's blogs in their comments. I'm not too hard on myself about that because I think we're all trying to figure out what sorts of customs make sense for online communication. And I'm surely not alone in wanting to collaborate online.

A friend asked me a while back what the easiest way was to put up some links and resources to a workshop she was presenting. I told her that Tumblr and Posterous were super easy. I was pretty sure that was true, but at the time I hadn't actually used either of them. So I tried them out just to make sure.

Tumblr uses a Dashboard, which is a little like the newsfeed at Facebook and a little like the Twitter feed. I thought to get a handle about what Tumblr was like I needed to have a Tumblr blog and subscribe to a few Tumblr blogs to see what it's about. Without thinking much I thought to post three links. Setting up a blog is incredibly easy, at least if you don't try to customize things. Honeslty in fifteen minutes I'd set up a blog and provided my first three links. Here's a link to my blog Three Good Links.

My blog is solo, but my experience of Tumblr is through the dashboard so the experience of Tumblr feels quite social and collaborative. Part of the success of it as a platform is how easy it is to control your space. I don't have to contend with jerks like me leaving long and ponderous comments on my blog. But another reason it's so successful is it provides easy ways to engage with other Tumblrs through the dashboard.

At Facebook, well, I'll use myself as an example, I put up some political stuff. As it turns out people disagree. It's funny how strongly I react when someone disagrees with me on my Facebook page: fiercely. There are lots of places online where fierce arguments are appropriate. For example arguments in Facebook groups might be quite acceptable, and arguments on Twitter seem so to. Of course everywhere arguments are acceptable only to a point. But I don't think I'm alone in not wanting arguments to go on too long on my Facebook page. Part of the reason for that is what I put up is something of a personal profile. People can look at my links, find them interesting or boring, still it's something of a profile of me that I want to maintain a higher degree of control than in other settings. Tumblr makes this sort of control pretty easy without shutting down channels for communication.

Koowall is more than a social bookmarking site, but it has that capacity. They call it a "Collective Jamming platform." I think it has that potential. When I first found the site I contributed to a few Koowalls and made a few Koowalls myself. I tried to choose subjects for the Koowalls I made that were of general interest so others might contribute to them. Musical genres seemed a safe bet. The first widget is Soul Music, I think you may be able to click the arrows to see more of the wall. (Update Yes indeed, you can scroll on the wall by clicking the arrows. And clicking on "Shout Here" will take you to the site.

I love soul music. While I have posted mostly older songs, I had it in mind that younger people would post Neo-Soul. At least that was what I was hoping. The trouble with the platform is that in most cases people seem to treat the Koowalls as the possession of someone--that the Soul Music Koowall is mine. The good manners was the opposite problem from what I expected. I expected the walls might be like certain telephone poles which get plastered with every damn thing and with a slight intention of vandalism.

The Koowalls that show collaboration from many people seem mostly ones from conferences. I've seen pictures where the Koowalls are being projected on to real walls in physical space where people are congregating. That's very cool.

I made a Koowall that seemed silly enough that I thought it would engage some collaborators. I named it Creative Hairstyles. It seems to have garnered so little attention to have disappeared. But it still can be found by searching "hairstyles."

creative hairstyles

My Monster Music Blog wall has had a couple of posts by others and is up front and easy to find. But I'm not sure what will spark mass collaboration there. Perhaps when more people sign up that will happen. I anticipate that when people do start posting on walls, when the spark light a fire, then there will be some epic battles of wills. I don't really look forward to that, but think the social rules for online sites mostly come about from an organic process where a few people testing the limits are important.

Tumblr isn't perfect. There's Spam, which I'll hasten to offer Tumblr does address. But it is impressive how the developers embedded a few technical barriers to keep bickering to a minimum.

The social aspects of online social networking sites are not simple. It's nice to see that various approaches to making online social engagement possible. I think Koowall has some kinks, but is a useful new tool.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Think Different

Sometimes I wonder why my thinking and writing always rambles so, and often tries to connect things that probably don't belong together. It's probably a symptom of undiagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder an my extremely undisciplined character. I like blogs because they don't matter very much. I can't feel too bad about rambling on and on here when with a click of the mouse or tap of a finger the post can disappear for the reader.

While I am writing this post and the previous post because some friends were talking about ideas and because I was invited in on the conversation online, the fact of the matter is I doubt my friends will read any of this.

The discussion focuses on a particular neighborhood in Pittsburgh, and so what they're interested in are specific responses. Meanwhile my thinking veers off to bigger picture concerns. And in my last post I mentioned other friends who don't live in the same neighborhood this conversation is about. Everyone involved in these distinct conversations knows one another, but I'm obscuring their names as posting on the blog is public.

René Dubos is an author of the popular Baby Boomer maxim:
Think globally, act locally.
Part of the reason for going off onto the subject of Occupy! is to think globally. From what I've been told the discussion about a neighborhood me is really about trying to respond to the very hard economic circumstances that are especially acute among young adults living there. Because nobody involved in these discussions is flush with money the attention turns to alternative economic schemes. Globally, at least so far as Occupy! is global, one of the messages of the movement is the current economic arrangements aren't working out so good.

Here are two links that probably don't belong together, and which are far afield from the neighborhood discussion, but about Occupy Wall Street: First Matt Taibbi Wall Street Isn't Winning – It's Cheating. And second Slavoj Žižek Nobody has to be vile. Taibbi nails the popular sentiment in the piece. Loads and loads of people are feed up with the cheating. Žižek's piece where he talks about "liberal communists" rubs more people the wrong way, even those down with the Occupy! movements.

Žižek reproduces Olivier Malnuit 's he liberal communist’s ten commandments. The slogan of Occupy! is "We are the 99%." "Liberal communists" are probably in the ranks of the 1% yet still enjoy broad support. Žižek singles out George Soros and Bill Gates as perfect exemplars of liberal communist. It would be easy to find many who'll praise their good works. Žižek will have none of that approbation. I'm not terribly consistent so am inclined to support good works, and less inclined to single Soros and Gates out as enemies. But I appreciate his caution about their views.

In my last post I suggested that bubbling up in conversations with my friends is a realization that we've not so much facing problems to be solved as faced with a predicament we somehow need to respond to.

I'm bemused in conversations that responses to me would seem to imply that my interlocutors think me a Marxist. I'm far too lazy to be a Marxist, or even an acknowledged leftist. My friends probably know that and are just arguing from a kind of template. Noam Chomsky is a leftist many Americans love to hate, of course many other Americans love him. Love him or hate him it's difficult not to pause with his observation:
Systemic risk in the financial system can be remedied by the taxpayer, but no one will come to the rescue if the environment is destroyed. That it must be destroyed is close to an institutional imperative. Business leaders who are conducting propaganda campaigns to convince the population that anthropogenic global warming is a liberal hoax understand full well how grave is the threat, but they must maximize short-term profit and market share. If they don’t, someone else will.
We're heading into an off-year election in early November. I hard watch TV or listen to the radio, but I feel beseiged by elections ads by Clean Coal urging citizens to resit "Obama's EPA (Environmental Protection Agency)." The ads want to protect antiquated electric power plants from necessary upgrades as well as to keep the depletion of Marcellus Shale gas fracking operations unfettered.

Take a musical interlude and watch John Prine perform Paradise if you care too.

I'm not really sure, but I suspect that my reaction to these ads is not so different from many. I know I'm complicit in exactly conundrum business leaders face: "If I don't someone else will." I'm sure anthropogenic global warming is no hoax and the consequences of it boggle my mind.

The trouble with Bill Gates and George Soros isn't them so much as their hubris that solutions to big problems are right around the corner. I'm also filled with righteous indignation about the cheating by financial titans, but I'm much less convinced by the prevalent consensus Taibbi suggests that everything would be alright without all the cheating.

Thinking about a particular neighborhood it's patently obvious that the solutions to big global problems are going to be found. Instead local responses can make things a little better rather than less. But thinking globally is necessary to figure out what sorts of responses are desirable and possible. And local actions can be and ought to be actively engaged with others acting locally in their own communities.

As usual I veered off with a bunch of useless words. Starting out, before setting anything down, I thought to juxtapose two links. One to a wiki page by Phil Jones on NetoCracy. Thinking about theories of networks is a sort of global thinking that's important and relevant. But I rather quickly find my thinking going around in circles about the subject, so it's not surprising not to get around to it this time. The other link is to the Ghana Think Tank. That one seems worth a few words.

The Ghana Think Tank may be a bit artsy, but it's not a joke. One reason I encourage my friends to try to make friends with Africans online and to pay attention to news happening in Africa is that I think there are ways people in the West can be of service to them. But the other side of collaborations is that African people are coming up with all sorts of innovative responses to living in these interesting times and there's so much to learn and copy from them. The Ghana Think Tank isn't limited to Ghana but rather is a world-wide network of think tanks.

It probably busts a hole in my harping about the distinction between problems and predicaments, but the way the Ghana Think Tank solicits Western problems for the think tanks to address is quite genius.

The participants that I know of engaged in the discussion about neighborhood responses are Boomers and GenXers. But central to the discussion is the condition of the GenY folks in the neighborhood. I notice that in responding to a question about accessibly and reading that the Think Tank of Incarcerated Boys weighed in. The conversation my friends are having would certainly be enhanced by finding out what the GenY neighbors think. Of course one way to go about it is to ask them. The Ghana Think Tank provides a model for soliciting concerns of a particular group--in this case affluent Westerners. But perhaps the better fit is to take the model of networks of think tanks as an example for collaboration. I'm not sure how to go about convincing groups to start think tanks. The conversation between my friends seems a spontaneous formation of a think tank--not that they know it yet.

I Know of a perfect spot to set up something like the Ghana Think Tank's custom trailer. I would suggest a duct taped hexayurt. I don't think it would be too difficult to connect with hexayurt enthusiasts to get one made. It would be nice to have as a way to engage with other neighborhood think tanks around the city. I'm sure there are discussions going on in every neighborhood, probably nobody's calling themselves a thinktank yet. But I suspect there's a good pattern involved in naming these discussion groups as such.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Community Thinking

I really haven't gotten the hang of Google+ Mostly the way I've been using it so far is to send links to individual people, an attempt to share links in a fairly innocuousness way. So there's hardly anything in my public stream. However the other day I reblogged a link from Howard Rheingold to spacebank. It was Howard Rheingold's tag that caught my attention:
Don't hate banks, become the bank.
A friend responded saying that he'd been talking with friends about his neighborhood community and the link was barking up the same tree.

He gave me just enough encouragement for me to try to put together a few thoughts and a few links. Of course I'm so spacey that's easier said than done!

I was having dinner with another group of friends the other day and the subject of Occupy Wall Street came up. I was very surprised how negative my three friends were. One of them was down on it because she thought it was turning off--scaring--somewhat liberal professionals like her brother. As chance would have it, I had an opportunity to spend some time with her brother planting spring bulbs in his mother's garden yesterday. I was curious about what he thought and got him talking about it. One of the reasons I was so interested to hear his views is there's about ten years difference between us. I'm firmly in the Baby Boomer generation, and he's in Gen X. While Occupy! is a multi-generation movement, Gen Y seems to be getting most of the credit or blame for it. The names for generations are a bit fishy, indeed the whole construct of generations seems suspect, but painting with a broad brush there's something to it.

My fellow Baby-Boomer discomfort over Occupy Wall Street seems more her own than what her brother thinks, although there's discomfort all around. In any case the issues of Social Security and Medicare are beginning to have great salience for us Boomers. Most of the plans to "reform" Social Security and Medicare are premised on a generational divide and conquer pretext: Boomers will get theirs and screw the rest. But most Boomers aren't so far removed from Gen X to think we don't care about them. And having lived through so many years, it's hard to escape that Gen X has been dealt a bad hand. Generation X Doesn’t Want to Hear It is an eloquent lament and has a epic comment thread. So if Boomers and Gen X can find common cause, the best hope for divide and conquer is to gang up on Gen Y. Alas, this seems all too prevalent and gets my knickers in a twist. Perhaps the more obvious coalition is between Gen X and Gen Y against us Boomers, and that's frightening.

I scared myself in my conversation with friends because I swore like a drunken sailor. One of the messages of Occupy! is that the economic system which only benefits the 1% isn't working out so well for the rest of the 99%. That seems glaringly obvious to me, and the tenor of the conversation seemed to be along the lines that protesting isn't going to do a damn thing. So I found myself saying the F-word or variations about every other word in polite company. I know that's no way to win hearts and minds! I managed not to say much at all to my friend's brother and listened. Strange that he found me convincing in our conversation about Occupy Wall Street!

Early in September I had been ranting to one of the other friends at dinner about the Keystone xl Pipeline protests. What had me wigged out that evening was the largest civil disobedience action in front of the White House since the Vietnam War protests had garnered practically no press. My friend hadn't heard about it and quipped that she was terribly out of touch with the news. But I've know my friend since college and knew that she buys both the New York Times and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and reads them every day. That seemed a winning point to make about the discouraging the absence of coverage. My friend also had not heard about the Alberta Tar Sands. I told her that if she did nothing else to do a Google Image search for Alberta Tar Sands.

Anyhow at the more recent dinner, between my profanity strewn ranting, my friend pointed out that she had done some research about oil sands. Another friend interjected that nothing is gonna make a big difference in our lifetimes. But in the context of other stuff we had been talking about at dinner, especially concerning some children he's close to, I think this line of argument seemed weak even to him.

Vinay Gupta got some pushback for his post Templars of Earth but there was something of the message of the Templars of Earth oath which came up in our dinner conversation when my friend mentioned the tar sands. Here's the oath:
I understand and accept fully that the human race is harming the natural world by driving species to extinction, releasing long-lived pollutants, changing the climate and poisoning nature.

I understand and accept fully that the human race makes many suffer horribly and die in war, famine, injustice, poverty and oppression, and that we are not choosing to provide a good life for all of humanity.

I understand and fully accept that my own efforts appear unequal to the task of changing these facts.

I swear by the bones of the earth, the roots of the mountains to always treat those who understand and accept fully these Three Truths with dignity and respect, myself included.
Out of habit, I'm tempted to add the coda: We're fucked. The problem with that is profanity is disrespectful. I've got to mind my words better.

John Micheal Greer makes a very useful distinction between Problems and Predicaments. It seems what happened in our dinner conversation with all the contentiousness about Occupy! was thinking in terms of problems, but once the subject of oil sands was broached we made a turn towards predicaments. Now most of my friends are proudly not slackers like me. They don't like to think about predicaments. They go to work to solve problems and do the best they can. It seems to feel as if that should be enough. A common taunt directed at the Occupiers is: Get a Job! Still, sometimes most of us grok there's a gap; Here's Greer:
The difference is that a problem calls for a solution; the only question is whether one can be found and made to work, and once this is done, the problem is solved. A predicament, by contrast, has no solution. Faced with a predicament, people come up with responses. Those responses may succeed, they may fail, or they may fall somewhere in between, but none of them “solves” the predicament, in the sense that none of them makes it go away.

My friend talking with his friends about their community are probably talking in some sort of hybrid mode between problems and predicaments. They all know it's a problem that so many young people not only can't find work, but have little chance to. It's a problem that so many dwellings in the neighborhood are abandoned and decrepit. There's even a sense there's a solution along the lines of putting the unemployed to work on the dilapidated structures. Alas, the devil is in the details. And it's when we begin tumbling around in those damned details that solutions begin to seem remote and alternative responses more promising. Indeed as community members the heart of the discussion isn't so much how to solve problems, but how to respond constructively in these dire circumstances we're facing.

Among the damned details--ha and I said I'd watch my mouth--is money. Besides the point, the Flying Lizard's rendition of Money is compelling. Yeah, money is such a strange topic. Bazungu Bucks was a lame attempt to create a special purpose alternative currency. While the experiment didn't work in any way, shape or form, it did pique my interests about alternative currencies. I do think that alternative currencies can be appropriate in many situations. As strange as alternative currencies may seem, good old money is seeming strange these days too.

Julian Assange says Wikileaks is starved for cash. Here's a link to a New York Times article about that. The article of course is subject to the Times's wimpy paywall. You can't give money to Wikileaks without having the banks do it for you and the banks refuse. Back with the legislative arguments about banking reform, Dick Durbin in a fit of candor said: Frankly, the banks own the place. Meaning the government is hamstrung to regulate them, but it rather holds for the Wikileaks financial woes too. People want to give Wikileaks money, but the banks tell them they may not. It's a bit obscure, and perhaps far afield, but Louisiana has made it essentially illegal to sell secondhand items in the state using cash. The law requires sellers accept payment only through banks. Old assumptions about legal tender are falling by the way. Increasingly in order to pay for some good or service or to give money away, we're being told that first we must ask a bank: "Mother may I?" Like they own the place!

Well, the sorts of responses my friends are imagining for their community are the sorts of things one can be reasonably sure that banks will say "No!" to. That negative answer stops thinking in terms of solving problems dead, but has the advantage of opening up a range of responses if instead we're trying to respond to a predicament.

I have more to say but I've blathered on too long as it is, so I'll put it to rest now and will write some more tomorrow or next.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Internet Identity

Sometimes it seems to me that "identity" is over-rated. At least when it comes to filling out those online forms which say, "Tell us about yourself" I'm at a loss to know what to put down. I rather admire young digital natives encountered online who seem to know what sort of performance online will say a little something true about them. It used to be that women and girls were the ones who knew what to do in front of a camera lens, that is, had a sense in advance what the picture would look like and what they could do to look good in it. Nowadays this sort of knowledge seems much more widespread. And it seems much more noticeable that I don't get it.

When commenting at blogs I often leave the address for this blog. The thought behind it is so a person could get a glimpse of my identity. I'm afraid the messages this blog leaves about me is an identity crisis, especially so because I update so infrequently these days.

I have meant to get around to posting here. One reason was to try out Blogger's new interface. Holy smokes! The first thing I notice is the blog stats, which I've managed to ignore over the course of blogging here. I was surprised to discover people land on the pages. I wonder why? I guess I'll have a look at that feature later.

Another reason I've wanted to post is because of Google+ and the new additions to Facebook. Both of these places are calling themselves "identity services." Apparently there's an algorithm to say what I have such a hard time saying: Who am I?

Algorithms are powerful, witness Google. Ha, Google has turned 13 which seems an impossibly short amount of time for something which seems so necessary I would have thought it's always been around. When I go to Youtube for a song, I always look for the suggestions because almost always find something remarkable. Still, I'm lacking enough imagination to think an algorithm will really do a good job telling others who I am.

Nowadays when first going to a new Website we're often encouraged to "Sign in with Facebook" or to sign up with an email. Whether or not Google or Facebook are good at serving up our identities, it's certainly true they hold the keys to lots of places online we'd like to hang out and participate. And if my imagination isn't so good about how well these services will do in re my identity online, it's not at all hard for me to worry about what would happen if Facebook and Google decide to "disappear" me. The consequence seems not limited to Google and Facebook, but rather extends to the many sites which they hold the keys for me.

For years I've been reading Dave Winer and other tech luminaries who warn about corporate silos online. I'm pretty ignorant when it comes to technology. I could see the point being made, but was pretty much unwilling to do anything about it, even too lazy to worry. I rather like walled gardens. Over the years I've put stuff up that's nowhere to be found anymore. It is true in a way that the Internet doesn't forget, that nothing which is put up is ever completely lost. The warning back in the old days in school, "That will go on your permanent record!" has got more weight these days with so much stored in digital files online. Still there's lots of writing of mine posted online which I wouldn't mind a copy of, but its retrieval beyond me now. So stuff does get lost, lots and lots of stuff. Mark Brown points out about Geocities:
Within months of announcing the site's closure Yahoo had evicted its tenants and bulldozed more than 38 million user-built homes.
Digital archaeology is a burgeoning field.

Barely computer literate, it still seems to me I ought to pay more attention to the ways to keep the Internet a distributed system. I like open source software, even though my contribution to it hasn't gone beyond using it. Likewise I haven't set up a node with Diaspora but I did sign up for it tonight. It will probably take me a long time to find some utility for it. Terry Handcock's article in Free Software Magazine, Why You Should Join Diaspora Now, Like Your Freedom Depends On It convinced me it was a good idea to sign up.

Meanwhile I've been busy putting my stuff up into silos. I've got a link-blog on Tumblr called Three Good Links. It really consists of me copying quotes and links I put on a neat service I was worried about disappearing one day. I figured that Tumblr probably had a greater likelihood of being around for a while. Tumblr's search function isn't anywhere as good as search on my bookmarking service Pinboard. I copied my bookmarks from Delicious when it leaked that Yahoo was trying to sell it. To my surprise Yahoo did manage to sell Delicious. Not only did they manage to sell it but Chad Hurley and Steve Chen the founders of Youtube bought it! I'm really happy that they saw the potential of Delicious. I'm so lazy that I haven't begun to save bookmarks on Delicious again. But I do check in to see where things are headed over there.

My bookmarks at Pinboard are a mess. I really am never quite sure what I will want to find again one of these days, so I liberally save bookmarks to the place thinking possibly one day I might want to find the page again. Wow, it's a big help to me. Pinboard's funny tagline is "social bookmarking for introverts." It really is a strong and fast service. But the extroverted bit about Delicious is a strength, at least a part of it that interests me. What my Tumblr blog experiment has shown me is that there really is something to the idea of online curation. Ideally I'd like to more or less dump bookmarks on Pinboard and then curate them at Delicious.

A friend recently started a Website where he talks about music called Musicasaurus. Every two weeks he puts up a playlist with great commentary. As an unauthorized activity I've been taking his playlists and matching them as best I can to videos at Youtube. You can see my playlists there if you're interested. I don't think my friend approves, but I've asked him point blank and he hasn't told me not to do it. Something I would do if he approved was to add the tag "Musicasaurus" but that seems his so I don't. Anyhow there's no worry because most of the playlists have exactly zero views. I started out doing this just as a way to hear my friend's playlists. But the addition of video to the music adds something and makes the list different. Even though nobody else is enjoying it, it still seems like a worthwhile activity, an activity that adds some little bit to the common good.

The photo is a screenshot of a wall at Koowall. That particular wall is the Monster Music Blog wall. I don't have any music blogs in my RSS feeds, but I do run across links to pieces at music blogs. And lately when I do I've put a link to the blog over on the Monster Music Blog wall. So far there are almost 150 links to a wide variety of music blogs. The idea of Koowall is people can add text, photos, and videos to walls. Each entry is tagged and there are buttons to send a link to the particular entry to Facebook or a notice via email. The idea is that people who've signed up for Koowall can add content to the various walls and support (like) various entries on the walls. It seems a pretty cool way of sharing and encouraging social production. So far I don't see much sharing, and it doesn't appear to me that unregistered users can see the walls. For all of that the sort of curation I do at Koowall seems worthwhile. I look forward to more people sharing. If anyone wants an invitation send me an message by email and I send you one.

The point of this long ramble is it appears those in the know think that online identity is the big thing. But it seems to me that people sharing, peer to peer production is what seems more important to me. Many of the online silos do facilitate P2P interactions and I use them enthusiastically. But the recent focus on identity over what people produce online is a pretty clear signal that my interests and the interest of large corporations aren't perfectly aligned. It's not that I don't think their algorithms capture a glimpse of my identity. Rather it's that I don't want, and can't really imagine, my identity limited to their algorithms. I guess that means I'll have to start paying a little to support more open and distributed platforms.

Monday, August 01, 2011

What Did You Listen to Today?

I was posting at an online forum on a thread "What did you listen to today?". I afraid it was something I did, like posting pictures like this, anyhow the account got suspended. So my online sand castles got washed away. I didn't save all the posts, but did save a few. I thought to post some of them here.

Aside from reformatting them into HTML from BB formatting, I'm a bit curious about what stuff I said about myself there I'm leery about saying here. Ha, these posts seem innocuous enough.

Let Me See Your ID (YouTube)

Gil Scott Heron passed away May 27th and so lots of people have been posting remembrances of him, but today saw this song posted from the Artist United Against Apartheid Sun City album. I've never been cool, my copy of this is on a cassette tape. The whole project never really caught fire with the national imagination. Steven Van Zandt founded Artists Against Apartheid and I think some people who listened to the record were looking for an E Street Band kind of vibe and then wondered what was up with all the Rap. I never really listened to this album with others much, but this track is one I listened to over and over.

I liked to make mix tapes for my own amusement and kept trying to fit this track in mixes and I don't think I really was ever successful, not the least of the reasons was I probably only ever had like 50 albums or something. This talk about cassettes makes me think about the time of music scarcity. It's very nice that music is so available today and it makes it hard to imagine what it was like when it was so much more scarce; like when there were only 3 TV channels. One of the cassette tapes I had though was Sun City and I think because of that, and maybe also because of hearing The Specials Free Nelson Mandela I very distinctly remember where I was the minute I heard the news that F.W. de Klerk had announced that Nelson Mandela was to be released from prison. It was one of those "pinch yourself" moments where the news was too hard to believe.

I had only heard of Gil Scott Heron from many years earlier with his piece The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. I can't place where I first heard that, my brain searches way back to 1970 when I was in high school, but I really wonder if that's right. I can't figure out how I would have heard it--you can be sure it wasn't on the radio in Charlotte, North Carolina at the time. Then my mind forwards to about 1974 when I was in college, which makes more sense cause that's when the version with a band behind it was released. Then zooming in to a bar in East Liberty, Pennsylvania in about 1976. It's possible it was on the Juke Box, but I'm suspicious of my memory. I know I'd heard The Revolution Will Not Be Televised but honestly don't remember when and figuring out where and how doesn't really add up to me.

What I take from my memory that I heard Gil Scott Heron is that obscurity doesn't mean no influence. Gil Scott Heron wasn't obscure, just not played in the mass media. Yet I heard The Revolution Won't Be Televised and noticed. Even if what we do is as small as a bee sting, a bee sting isn't nothing, a bee sting is noticed.

Trouble Everyday (YouTube)

My previous post made me think of mushy memories and subversive record albums. I don't remember when I first heard Freak Out! my mind places me in a particular location probably in 1969, but I'm not too sure. However I do have a distinct memory of when I first saw the Album. It was 1967 in the Woolworths in Greenville, South Carolina. I noticed it because it was hung high up along with other "blue" records. Here's a blog post I wrote about that album and my high school days back in 2006.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Social Media

Yikes! It's been a long time since I posted anything here. And you guessed it, what I have in mind is talking about that. Gad, blog posts about blogging have to be the worst, so fair warning.

The picture is of a local bridge over the Ohio River. I got it off Wikipedia (cc by 2.0). I also want to link to the photographer Rob Strover's photostream at Flickr because I love the area where I live and Strover has many great photos from around Pittsburgh up and they're really worth checking out.

I first started the blog thinking that Africans and Americans could benefit from Internet-enabled dialog. I still think so, but if anything the last years have proven to me is I have little authority in this regard.

Last time I was here I eliminated my blogroll, not because I stopped reading the blogs, but rather feeling embarrassed. I thought it would be better just to present myself as some guy who rambles on the Internet. It's all I've ever been anyhow.

I thought I'd feel more free about posting, but in fact haven't posted since then.

I post three links a day on a Tumblr blog, post links at Facebook and tweet at Twitter very occasionally. And to some extent this post comes about from trying to get my head around Google+ which doesn't seem to be happening very quickly for me.

None of these venues seem very well suited for rambling on as I'm wont to do, as if there is such a place. But if any place is this would seem to be it. Well, something like this place.

Dave Winer thinks that more of us should produce content on our own sites and then send it out to walled-garden services, like Facebook, Google, Twitter, Tumblr and the like, instead of making our stuff behind closed walls. He makes a good point, and his EC2 for Poets makes clear that's not out of reach. So far that's beyond me, however he keeps talking about his blorking tools and I think I want one.

Andrew Feldmar, a well-known Vancouver psychotherapist, rolled up to the Blaine border crossing last summer as he had hundreds of times in his career. At 66, his gray hair, neat beard, and rimless glasses give him the look of a seasoned intellectual. He handed his passport to the U.S. border guard and relaxed, thinking he would soon be with an old friend in Seattle. The border guard turned to his computer and googled "Andrew Feldmar,”

And on April 23. the same article went up on The Tyee’s website with this headline:

LSD as Therapy? Write about It, Get Barred from US

BC psychotherapist denied entry after border guard googled his work.Link
I haven't written any scholarly articles. But I am quite aware how the Internet is often used in a game of "Gotta." If blogging has taught me anything, it's that I need an editor, and without one I'm sure to loose that game.

Really I'm happy not many people see what's here, but it's more open than some places. Google+ is a nice tool for choosing who you want to share communications with. And it's a tool that will surely become quite useful, I just haven't figured out how it might be for me. As a method of pointing to my rambling prose, not so much.

I rather do like posting in somewhat out of the way places online. Sometimes even comments on other people's blog can seem "out of the way." Recently I've been enjoying posting on a board TheKeenOne. One of the threads on the board is based on the simple question: "What did you listen to today?"

This question is cool because almost everyone listens to something. I found myself bloviating on there, not because I'm particularly knowledgeable about music, I'm not, but because I thought somebody might be amused by my messy prose and some links.

There's a problem: very often what I find amusing few others do.

At root it's a Hip Hop board and one of the posts I did there had I done it here I would have entitled "Horowitz Weeps." Yes, that's right a post full of links to classical music on a Hip Hop board.

Of the many wonderful things I might say about TheKeenOne, what stands out to me is how supportive she is of the creativity of others. I think her idea for the thread was for people just to post one thing, but so far she's been quite tolerant of my posts.

The simple solution rather than spamming a discussion board would be to post here and then put links up at the board. Somethings give me pause. First is photographs. I've used publicity shots for musicians, album covers, and screen shots from YouTube videos with my posts. I think that all such uses are legitimate Fair Use, especially on a discussion board. The waters are slightly less clear on a blog. Still I hate to get involved with copyright craziness. Second, I feel free to cuss a little bit over there and not so comfortable doing so here. Third,is mention of various state of inebriation and other foolishness that mostly I've avoided here.

It seems silly to worry, but at least in part what Google+ is for is negotiating worries like this. Although, I suspect, all the sorting we do of people into circles and the like on a site that stores our email, that it isn't lost on us that Google's business is search. That is, Google is in a unique position to make all that we wouldn't like widely known about us readily available.

The insanity of recent American politics, where those very eager to use democratic means towards undemocratic ends seem ascendant, makes the search capacity of Google feel threatening.

I thought of the picture of the McKees Rocks Bridge because years ago some foolish young people would race their autos along Ohio River Boulevard. After turning onto the Mckees Rocks Bridge drivers would sometimes approach 100mph to finish first. The Mckees Rocks Bridge is actually two bridges in one. The first part is across the Ohio River and then an equally long part that crosses over McKees Rocks Bottoms. The road ends in a Tee, so drivers had to slow done before it. So the end of the river crossing bridge was the finish line.

If you're not from the area it maybe hard to fathom how dangerous all this was. If you're from around here the question that comes to mind is: What were they thinking? Both Ohio River Boulevard and the McKees Rocks Bridge--then four lanes now two--are impossibly narrow for high speeds.

I've heard many an old codger tell stories of their racing days. Such mischief is a heck of a lot worse in terms of potential harm to life and property than the sorts of things people worry about young people putting up online. The difference is that what gets put up online can be searched for and presumably has a permanence that can't be shook.

I figure we're all busted now. I'm plenty worried in general. So the worries that have made me not want to post here seem ridiculously small. Perhaps I'll start rambling on over here more often. I hope to anyhow.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Paul Theroux Loathes Blogs

Travel writer Paul Theroux in an interview at The Atlantic--pushing his new book--remarks:
I loathe blogs when I look at them. Blogs look to me illiterate, they look hasty, like someone babbling. To me writing is a considered act. It's something which is a great labor of thought and consideration. A blog doesn't seem to have any literary merit at all. It's a chatty account of things that have happened to that particular person.
Ha! That's my blog, although surely there are blogs which do have "literary merit." Still, I'm a bit puzzled as to why blogs as he defines them should provoke such loathing. I rather like babbling and chatty accounts and of course that's what I have in mind for this post.

Daisy's post about the Facebook era still has me thinking round in circles and want to attempt to write more about that.

The picture comes from a National Park Service page, Mississippi River Facts. In case you've missed it big news in the USA is flooding along the Mississippi River. If you look at the right hand side of the map you'll notice the Ohio River. I live about three miles from the Ohio River and about twenty miles from where the Ohio begins at Pittsburgh. The Ohio River is no small river. With the record flooding it's a reminder that the Ohio is just a portion of the great Mississippi River Watershed.

It's wet here. I've got my rubber boots on. The paper today tells us to expect another two months of unusually wet weather. Yikes! In May the grass grows so fast, grass along with everything else. What I can mow now determines what areas I'm able to keep mown the rest of the summer. And there's always a crush because May is also the time for planting. The grass can't be mown when it's too wet, and the rain only makes the grass grow faster. And the ground can't be turned when it's too wet and seeds planted. When I go out to work it starts to rain and by the time it's not raining I'm inside doing something else. I'm not getting much done. Wet weather is part of my personal story right now, but I sure have it better than so many of my fellow Americans, some of them with homes under the water.

Theroux is right that such chatty excursions are outside the boundaries of literature. I'm not sure that blogs are an existential threat to literature, but there's no question media is changing and we are changing along with it.

When I started writing this blog I used a pseudonym. I was also visiting and writing at a social network called Tribe. Tribe was a pretty free-wheeling place at the time, lots of nudity, profanity and the like. Because it was popular with younger folks I was a bit concerned that some of my younger relatives might happen upon my goings on there. But ultimately with all the linking I did at Tribe it became clear to me that because I hadn't organized myself from the beginning for online anonymity the pseudonyms I was using online did little to make anonymous. Web searches clearly associated with my real name brought up links to stuff I put up under screen names, especially at Tribe for some reason.

After using Tribe for a while I discovered the Omidyar Network (ONet), which was sort of an online social network for dogooders. The charitable foundation called the Omidyar Network is alive and well, the social network has been defunct since 2007. The culture at ONet was for people to use their true names. While it's not 100% that's also the norm at Facebook. Anyhow I figured the easiest thing was just to accept that I wasn't anonymous online. There are, however, many good reasons why people publish anonymously online, not the least of which is some people are creepy.

Nowadays I participate at a forum where the convention is for people to participate using screen names. I hesitate to link to that forum because it isn't clear to me what the ripple effects not just to me, but to the users of the forum, might be to linking my pseudonym with my real name. Over at that forum for the last few weeks there's been a long thread on misogyny. The title of the thread seemed pretty generic, but I wondered if using the title links to the forum thread would come up high in search results. Of course they do, and in that search I discovered blog posts, anonymous of course, which were a sort of back channel to the thread.

Certain topics can be quite incendiary and misogyny is one of them. The thread has meandered between talking about misogyny and examples of misogyny, even if providing examples of was not explicitly the intent. Some of the talk was pretty bad but my default reaction was don't feed the trolls because some of the talk seemed pretty good. The problem with that approach was getting called out on the thread for not calling out the BS. I knew that there was some private discussion going on between members, even posting a few private messages myself. What I hadn't known before today was the commenting about the thread and nasty stuff about some of the posters on blogs. Jeez, people can be such dicks!

The xkcd comic pane Duty Calls with the line "Someone is wrong on the Internet" is so often passed around because we human beings seem easily obsessed with being right to the detriment of online comity. Sometimes people anonymously post online because it is unsafe for them to be exposed.

Drima at The Sudanese Thinker probably had danger in the back of his head when he started the blog five years ago. Probably more prosaic reasons along the lines of my not wanting young relatives to stumble upon my Tribe postings seemed more important. Recently Drima exposed his real name at Twitter and at his blog. He didn't offer a long explanation for why he did so, writing:
I have numerous personal reasons for and that I cannot explain adequately in a simple short blog post. Let’s just say the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, and the changes sweeping the region now have inspired me and forced me to come to a simple conclusion.

Screw anonymity.
With the events in Tunisia late last fall I began following events at Twitter. Andy Carvin (@acarvin) of PBS was curating tweets, he sort of vetted Tweets. I hadn't been following @SudaneseThinker at Twitter, but had read his blog over time. His tweets came up in Carvin's retweets and I promptly followed him at Twitter. Even though Drima is a pseudonym, I knew enough to have some confidence in him and his tweets. When he retweeted people's tweets, especially in re Egypt, it added to the authority of those tweets.

Dave Kenner at Foreign Policy Magazine recently posted an article Here's your reading list, Mr. President which consists mostly of a list of blogs about the Middle East. The premise of the post is that it's possible to get a realistic picture of political conversations going on in the region. Of course it would be great if the President of the United States sought to hear these views and so as not just to hear the inside Washington policy debate, but the larger point is any of us can be privy to it too.

The impetus for this blog was quite a simple idea of explaining to some of my friends why I was taking an interest in the life of a young Ugandan man. Quickly it became obvious that most of my friends had little interest in blogs, but plenty of Americans were turning attention to Africa often from quite stereotypical frames of reference. As a white middle-aged American the topic of "privilege" come up in many different contexts. It rankles me when it does, but on the other hand turning my attention towards Africa has demonstrated time and time again that there's potency in the construct of privilege.

Offline and online I was being asked about Darfur. In Pittsburgh there are some refugees from the North-South civil war in the Sudan. As I was also trying to find out more about Uganda it was hard for me to discuss Darfur without first making the North-South conflict part of the context. Very often I was sharply criticized for doing so. I'm a fairly incompetent activist in any case so pointing that out comes as no surprise to me. While Darfur was awful by anybody's standards opinions outside Sudan as to what to do sharply differed. Among people I like an admire, my views about US policy towards Sudan were often anathema. Being basically needy, I want very much for people to like me so Darfur was posed something of a dilemma for me.

I read and still read Alex De Waal's blog Making Sense of Sudan. It's really excellent. As far as online discussions about Darfur activism went, De Waal's analysis of the situation was an unpopular. I'm hardly an expert so I didn't spend much time trying to argue from a perspective which was already disparaged. Just in ordinary face to face conversations the sorts of perspectives that The Sudanese Thinker provided were more helpful than the academic perspectives at Making Sense of Sudan.

People wanted to talk about basic information like: Who are the Sudanese in our area? How close is the Sudan to Uganda and what are the relationships? Are Sudan and Somalia the same place? Who are the Somali-Bantu's in our community? The Italians, in Africa, you're kidding me! The tenor of such conversation might seems a little daft. Nobody really likes to be thought of as ignorant, but let's face it I like most Americans are ignorant about Africa. Much of the activism here around Darfur seemed to demand political commitment and such a demand rather pointed up a common ignorance of a large and populous continent.

Here's a post by Drima from early February 2007 entitled Sudan Arab or African? It's the sort of post probably of marginal interest to political scientists and political activists, I guess from an assumption"everybody knows that," but just the sort of post helpful to most of us who didn't know what we were supposed to. I can't remember once Drima writing anything to make it seem that not knowing something was tantamount to being stupid.

I do remember Drima talking about being a college student, hanging out with friends, getting a new CD, eating good food, being exhausted from studying from exams, all of the boring stuff Paul Theroux thinks has no place in literature. Perhaps blogs aren't literature because the boring stuff is important for lots of blogs.

As the events in Egypt unfolded on Twitter, I noted who the Sudanese Thinker was following and often followed those people. People were arrested, people died, sadly Egyptians still are being arrested and are dying. It's hard to have a very detached view of events when following people who know the people arrested and killed, post pictures of them and link to blogs by them.

It's so far fetched to think of Drima, whose real name is Ahmad, as a friend. Ha an Internet-friend, but there's real value in Internet friendships. I was moved when I read the post at his blog giving his name, Amir Ahmad, especially because he connected it to the experience of the the political events in Northern Africa, events which in a way I followed on Twitter along with him and others. I know saying revealing his name comes with some danger attached. I respect that saying his name publicly is to trump fear with love.

Amir Ahmad is writing a book, Islam: A Love Story – How Fundamentalism Stole My Mind, Broke My Heart, and Blogging Freed My Mystic Soul. It's sure to be carefully considered writing,as Theroux maintains literature ought to be. The irony is the book is at least in part about blogs. Ahmad writes:
Set in Sudan, Qatar, Malaysia, the United States and the new frontiers of the Arab and American political blogospheres, Islam: A Love Story is ultimately about my journey of spiritual awakening and why and how the internet will not only help reform the political landscape of the Arab and Muslim worlds, but also significantly shape the future of Islam as well.
It's sure to be carefully considered writing,as Theroux maintains literature ought to be. The irony is the book is at least in part about blogs. Ahmad writes:
Set in Sudan, Qatar, Malaysia, the United States and the new frontiers of the Arab and American political blogospheres, Islam: A Love Story is ultimately about my journey of spiritual awakening and why and how the internet will not only help reform the political landscape of the Arab and Muslim worlds, but also significantly shape the future of Islam as well.
I've babbled on about the author Paul Theroux, about the wet spring where I live, about flooding in the American Midwest, about brutishness on Internet forums, and about a blogger named Ahmad, also known as Drima. Is there a thread that connects? I think there is, and imagining a thread is probably why unlike Theroux I rather love blogs instead of loathing them as he does. Love them or hate them, blogs and Internet communications in general are changing how we view and experience the world. Those changes are neither all good, nor all bad.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Riffing About Facebook

The image was lifted from here. If it's hard to read, it says:
Dear Senior,

Please be safe at the prom. I would like you to wear a condom when you are getting freaky.


Emma C.

P.S. Here is a picture for you!
One of my favorite bloggers, Daisy at Daisy's Dead Air has a post ruminating about our Facebook era.

It's definitely worth reading the post and while you're at it reading her wonderful remembrance of Ben Masel* posted earlier. Masel was an old friend of Daisy's and they'd reconnected recently on Facebook, so news of Masel's death seemed to feel different. Feeling a difference led her to write a bit about how Facebook changes us. Among the observations she makes is that she's glad that "the various addled twists and turns of my life are not available for public consumption." That's a luxury today's digital natives probably won't have. Daisy writes:
And then again, there is Gatsby, the quintessential American character. We re-create ourselves throughout our lives, in numerous ways, large and small. Is Facebook making Gatsby more or less possible and is that a good thing?
It's a pretty straightforward question, but the Internet is a big honking question and my mind started circling in various directions when thinking about it.

The way that Facebook makes us aware of friends of friends is something that makes a big difference. I saw the picture of second grader Emma C. that I posted here over at Tumblr. I didn't actually see it originally at the link I posted for it. At Tumblr it's easy to reblog posts that come up in your own feed of people you follow. By the time I saw it it had been reblogged over 8,500 times. I didn't scroll down the list of 8,500 plus names of people who'd reblogged it, but simply that such data is viewable provides an ordinary example of how social networking data makes friends of friends visible to us. The visibility of extended networks seems strange to an old guy like me, but a matter of course for young people today. What stood out to me about Emma's school work wasn't so much a seven or eight year old writing about "getting freaky" so much as teachers nowadays thinking that what a second-grader has to say would influence a senior in high school to behave at the prom. I doubt that back in my high school days teachers would have thought a second grader could have much if any impact on what an older teenager does, now we assume she does.

It's been wet here. I looked at the 10-day weather forecast and rain is forecast for every day. Spring has sprung in these parts and growth is exuberant. The problem with that is both keeping all the growth beat back, in particular trying to keep lawn areas mown without contemplating taking in hay, while at the same time trying to work the soil to plant seeds. Behind the eight ball in the best of years, I'm quite in a muddle with all the rain this year. Yesterday I went down to a Pittsburgh suburb to help a friend with a gardening project of his. Miraculously the rain held off and we managed a complete makeover of his front yard.

My friend was in the music business for more than forty years. He's got a curious mind and is a good writer. Recently he's been talking about a Web site he's beginning to make. I'm very eager for him to launch it. Talking about the site with him it's clear I'm coming to it from a different perspective. My friend isn't being critical so much as incredulous when he says "People must spend hours on the Internet." I do spend hours on the Internet daily and it seems the comments and questions I pose about his Web site are incomprehensible because he does not.

For many people my age that younger people have their Facebook open in a tab and and some sort of chat client open during work seems immoral. I say that, but also since I'm on the Internet a lot I also read what people basically my age write sometimes while at work, so I know this sort of "immorality" isn't solely among younger folk. Closely coupled with this disdain for the sort of news streams online denizens depend on is the lament: "Why can't they just pick up the phone?" A running joke about a good friend is that the best way to get in touch is to write her a letter. In business and life in general what's the right way to get in touch with people is in flux.

Ethan Zuckerman recently wrote a post about the dilemma of not know what's the best way to contact people nowadays. He points to an experimental site called which is a Web site and an email signature which lets people know the best ways to get in touch with you. It seems a good idea, although so far as I can tell nobody has trouble contacting me. Some people do complain that I don't have a cell phone or message machine. It probably would horrify some of my friends to say that Facebook is probably a pretty good option if they want to contact me during the day.

The friend for whom a paper letter isthe best way to reach her, likes to write everything in neat cursive handwriting. Everyone has preferences about writing and probably for most of us nothing seems quite perfect. QuiteWrite is an online text editor whose promise is to reduce the number of distractions. I can see it, but so far haven't actually used it. Right now I'm writing in the Blogger composer. I like to use it for blog posts because it's easy to handle links and certain formatting options. I asked my friend working to create a Web site how he writes. The question I posed really had to do with coping with HTML. His answer was that he writes using Word. It's been years since I've used Word, but I feel sure Word makes it easy to create an HTML document just like the LibreOffice Writer which I use. But he isn't thinking of HTML.

I looked at his Mac with the Safari Browser and wasn't smart enough to go to the View menu to show him the HTML of a Web page. He does get that there's something that has to happen to see a page on the Web, but so far that "what happens" is handled by sending copy to the guy making his Web site in the form of a Word Document. I don't think it's occurred to my friend yet that he's going to want to add links to his online text. As he gets online not only what makes for a comfortable writing will change but his ideas of what it means to write will change too.

All this is pretty far afield from Daisy's question about how Facebook may be altering our capacity for re-inventing ourselves. I'm not tech savvy, talking about things like HTML makes it sound as if I ought to know something technical. But when I talk with my friend about his Web site any technical matters seem so much less important than a shift in perspective which comes along with reading and writing on the Internet. Having Facebook open at work may seem immoral, but if it's a good way to contact people you need to at work, then how different is it from the phone on the desk? The point telling stories about pre-Internet folks like me is to show that the Internet makes a difference. The differences are both hard to see if you're not "swimming in it" and hard to see when you always are.

There's a sweet little YouTube video getting spread around It's Okay to Not Like Things. The punch line of the song is "But don't be a dick about it." It is embarrassing that not only are there pages online revealing me being a dick about things I don't like, but also that I know where to look for them. An example, perhaps not so much of being a dick but of being a total asshat, is that I used a picture of me wearing an Afro wig as my Blogger profile picture for a time. I have a thumbnail copy of the picture up now at Flickr with a link to The Jim Crow Museum. Once I had finally grokked how offensive the image is, it had been on the Internet for a while, and I felt it important to own up to my mistake by keeping it online in some form. I suppose that enough time has elapsed that it's probably alright now to delete the damn thing.

The fact that once something is on the Internet it's not easy to scrub it off has consequences. Everyone knows we ought to be careful and everyone whose been putting stuff on the Internet for any length of time knows some foolishness is inevitable. Often we can remember exactly where an example of our own foolishness lives online. It's not just about foolishness. The life of a thirteen year old seems eons away to the same person at sixteen. But that's only three years, and millions of sixteen year olds now can visit their thirteen year old selves online. Growing up really isn't quite the same as "reinventing" ourselves, it's just growing up. In a sense the Internet keeps a record of it all and that makes a difference.

I don't really know of a good way to go back an see my 2007 Facebook pages. It's quite possible that 13 year olds using Facebook now will still be using Facebook when they're 16. Facebook chronicles our lives, but it isn't so easy to go back and read from the beginning. Perhaps part of the current popularity of Tumblr has to do with blogs being much easier to travel backwards in than Facebook. But while it's hard for users to go back in time on Facebook, the Facebook corporation has been collecting data all along our use, for example keeping track of our "likes" over time.

I've already rambled on for too long, so in winding to a close will point to a much linked to quotation:
if you're not paying for something, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold
Most of us are content to Google, use Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, etc. without giving much thought to who owns the data. People haven't stopped growing up or stopped re-inventing themselves. As we live more and more connected online, I suspect that more people will see the value in asserting ownership over their own data. Dave Winer has advocated that for a long time. If you're interested in a short snapshot of what Winer is up to in that regard this post by Scott Gilbertson is quite helpful. Tantek Çelik is all over that too.

The difference the Internet makes is a big subject. I like that Daisy is asking questions about how the Internet, and Facebook in particular, is changing our interior landscapes. I've rambled here and there about it only to get nowhere. After reading Daisy's post I left a comment. Marshall McLuhan came to mind. There are many super cogent thinkers about the Internet nowadays, and they're worth paying attention to. But I think McLuhan is important especially for older folks like me. Lots of American Baby Boomers read Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man and many more with the gist of McLuhan's ideas about media.

The short version of the 1964 book is that media extends our senses and as a sense is extended the ratios among the different senses are altered. For example with the invention of printed books sight became more important and hearing so important attenuated. So as sight is extended a portion of our hearing amputated. Clearly people didn't loose their ability to hear as books rolled off the presses. What's important is the ways in which the interrelationships between our sense are changed with the development of new media. While these changes are happening to the many, those of us who lived long before the Internet notice the change. Well, and a surprising number of old folks like me feel that resiting such changes is virtuous. McLuhan provides something of an accessible theory for what we fear to loose; for every extension is an amputation. But on the other hand fear without understanding creates moral and ethical confusion which perhaps on a trivial level gets expressed in outbursts of "These kids today!" Old folks would do well to put more effort into understanding rather than leap to ethical judgement. The changes that networked computers and widespread access of people to those networks create require ethical and moral judgments; it's good not to be a dick about them.

* I checked and there doesn't seem to be a Wikipedia article for Ben Masel. A Google search yields dozens and dozens of remembrances. Reading some of those is fun if you're in the mood. It may be helpful for understanding who Ben Masel was to read the Wikipedia article Youth International Party (YIPPIE).

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Another Post About Blogging

Over the last week the leaves on the trees have begun to open and many blossoms burst forth. That has nothing to do with not posting here for months, except that my posts generally begin with an off topic remark and proceed to rambling from there.

This blog has been the place I've most consistently posted about what's happening in my day to day life.

I was surprised the other day looking for something I once posted that I've been posting here since 2005. Originally the idea for this blog was to encourage some of my friends to pay more attention to people in Africa along with a half-baked idea I had for alternative currency scheme to encourage that attention. Quickly it became apparent that very few of my friends pay any attention at all to blogs which exposed the premise of the blog as fairly useless. I posted anyway.

Generally when I comment other places I leave behind the URL for this blog, so it represents something of my online identity. Many who write online enjoy having a large following. I've been content being hardly visible knowing that my opinions tend to rub the wrong way and being fairly thin-skinned happy to have limited exposure. If the purpose of this blog is to somehow represent who I am online, it makes sense to make some changes here, but the revealing aspect about me is my voluminous capacity to shirk anything resembling work. So I just made a few easy changes now and will see what comes up as I go along.

Curious about Tumblr and knowing that the way learn best is to jump right in, I made a blog other there called Three Good Links. The idea was a simple link blog posting three short snippets from daily reading. The blog doesn't add much to the Internet ecology, but it's been enough to discover that Tumblr is fun. While a link blog reveals my interests to some extent, surely what I write offers more clue as to what I'm like than snippets of what others say.

Curious about Tumblr and knowing that the way learn best is to jump right in, I made a blog other there called Three Good Links. The idea was a simple link blog posting three short snippets from daily reading. The blog doesn't add much to the Internet ecology, but it's been enough to discover that Tumblr is fun. While a link blog reveals my interests to some extent my interests, surely why I write offers more clue as to what I'm like than snippets of what others say.

I do want to keep blogging here. Anyone whose read any of my posts knows they're rambling ones, mostly my stabs at trying to make sense of things. I hope that the changes made make the blog more transparent about what it's about.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Insert Caption

I saw this photo today and it made me laugh. Clearly it's been around for a long time, but it's a slice of Americana--like the Jackalope--that I hadn't run across before. Oh I had run across the Jackalope, even thinking they might exist when I was a kid, I had just never seen this big chicken. I put the obvious two-word caption into a Google image search and the photo was represented on dozens of Web sites. That's a pretty dodgy search term. There's a popular sporting goods store locally called Dick's. Hunting for their Web site is the stuff of legend around here. The key to a safe-search is to include the "sporting goods" along with Dick's.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011


‎"The pitcher cries for water to carry and a person for work that is real." ~Marge Piercy

Photo: Some rights reserved by Mickipedia Photo by Alex Johnson in New York City subway. Micki Krimmel's wonderful Mickipedia site. Okay the message of the photo is: "Use less." But I've been feeling awfully useless lately and that's what's been on my mind.

I live with my elderly father. In the USA women are disproportionately the care givers. There are probably a quite a few people who think that because that's the case, men must really suck at being care givers. Alas, that stereotype probably hold true for me, but it's not for lack of trying. It's not an easy thing when someone who has always been strong is now frail.

Anyhow something my father and I do together several times a year is to attend Pittsburgh Symphony concerts. Several years ago he passed out at one of the concerts and left in an ambulance. Every time we go I try to figure out how to make the whole excursion as easy on him as I can. There are probably ways of making it much easier than we do, for example there is an elevator, but getting my father to use it is a whole 'nother kettle of fish. So I pause on the stair landings and point to the architecture. My father always gives me a look that says, "What the heck are you doing?" but I never mention what I'm doing is to let him catch his breath. Being out of breath is exactly the sort of thing a once strong man never notices or wants to be noticed.

This Sunday's program was quite interesting. The program was Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68; Concerto No1 in C major for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 15; and Leonore Overture No. 3, Op 72A. What really interested me in reading the program was the performances were dedicated to the memory of Vince Calloway the long serving doorman at the performance hall who had died this past October.

The write-up in the program notes seemed understated. Towards the end of it I read:
Born on Nov. 21, 1924 in Roberta, GA, Calloway was one of five children. He received an honorable discharge from the Navy in 1946 and received his bachelor's degree from Carnegie (Tech) Mellon. He worked at Westinghouse in West Mifflin for 42 years before retiring in 1992. He married his wife Marie in August 1951. They had five children.
Westinghouse has a storied history in Pittsburgh and as a corporation. The mention of "Westinghouse in West Mifflin" has a particular meaning, the Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory. I turned to my father and read the paragraph to him, pointing out the guy was a nuclear engineer.

Vincent Calloway was a nuclear engineer for about as long as he was doorman at the Heinz Hall with a good many of the years overlapping. It's a nice thing he'll be long remembered by the Pittsburgh Symphony. But "nuclear engineer" seems on its face more prestigious than "doorman" and it's the latter he'll be most remembered for.

In 2001 the Pittsburgh Symphony gave Calloway a Customer Service Excellence Award, in fact they named the award after him. Here's a bio for one of the orchestra's violists. Her bio mentions that she received the Vince Calloway Award for her work using music with critically ill cancer patients. The Pittsburgh Symphony takes the award seriously.

I got the idea from the dedication of the program to him, and a little plaque the Pittsburgh Symphony unveiled this weekend, that they really loved the guy and miss him terribly. But the write-up left me a little unclear as to why he'd made such an impression: He will be remembered for "his good humor, kindness, independence, generosity and dedication" sounded a little bit canned, or just faint praise.

I had noticed Vincent Calloway at the door over the years. I'm afraid over the last few years when I saw him my mind was always racing trying to imagine if somehow I could convince my father to allow me to drop him off at the door while I parked the car. I wondered if that guy in the scarlet coat and cap could get my cranky father who doesn't want help from anybody through the door? I never tested it, but the Vince Calloway always had a nice smile on his face for us as he held the door for us, so I do remember smiling back at him. And the answer to my question was almost certainly, "Yes." Calloway was only a few years younger than my dad, and getting cranky old people through the door was exactly what he was especially good at. The vice president of the Symphony said:
He was someone patrons got to know and, as they got older, depended on him. He would always be there for them.
I was curious to see whether the newspaper had done a news obituary for him when he died. I didn't find one, but did see his online guestbook. He was known for giving away candy and food. One of the Heinz Hall ushers wrote that he probably didn't know it at the time but the food he gave her was so appreciated because it was a time she didn't have enough money to buy enough to eat. Another person remembered how she first met Calloway when she was in the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony and then how proud he was of her when she won a spot playing in the Pittsburgh Symphony. There were little vignettes about how he managed to make sure ushers found their way safely home after work. The picture emerges of a man who was kind to both grandees and humble workers alike.

We think that being kind is what we ought to be, so kindness often seems hardly noticed, or even an afterthought. What was so remarkable about Vincent Calloway was his kindness, but just saying he was kind doesn't quite capture the difference he made to quite a large number of people. Just as saying: "He was a real dignified gentleman." doesn't cut the mustard. But how else to describe someone exquisitely kind?

It's rare for the Pittsburgh Symphony to dedicate programs to people. Maybe I just haven't noticed, but in the many years of attending concerts I can only think of one other time the Pittsburgh Symphony has honored someone like this, and that was to honor one of the most generous patrons of the orchestra. Pittsburghers are very proud of our symphony. And I feel proud of the organization for honoring their long-time doorman.

I can only guess about the story from Calloway's perspective. Given the timing and knowing he had five kids, I suspect he started out just to earn a bit of cash to help out with the expenses of putting his kids through college. Somewhere along the line he made the job of doorman mean much more than anyone expected that job ought to mean. He made the job real by making sure others knew they were important. His job was to be kind and what a difference he made. Sometimes the most useful gestures are simple ones, a smile, a little treat, a sympathetic ear, or a ride home in the dark. Vincent Calloway's life is a lesson not so much about the dignity of work, but rather the importance of being of use. We all can be of use.