Category Archives: geekery

The Testosteronic Phallacy of Dominance and Control

Mud Time creates some bleak mindspaces, and Stephen Downes’ posting of yesterday afternoon Why the Semantic Web Will Fail can perhaps be read in this light. A few trenchant bits:

The Semantic Web will never work because it depends on businesses working together, on them cooperating.
We are talking about the most conservative bunch of people in the world, people who believe in greed and cut-throat business ethics. People who would steal one another’s property if it weren’t nailed down. People like, well, Conrad Black and Rupert Murdoch.
And they’re all going to play nice and create one seamless Semantic Web that will work between companies – competing entities choreographic their responses so they can work together to grant you a seamless experience?
Not a chance.

…The future is not in the Semantic Web (or in Java, or in enterprise computing – all for the same reason). Careers based on that premise will founder. Because the people saying all the semantic-webbish things – speak the same language, standardize your work, orchestrate the services – are the people who will shut down the pipes, change the standards, and look out for their own interests (at the expense of yours).

…The future of the web will be based on personal computing.
Not because everybody in the world is some sort of Ayn-Rand-close [?clone?] backstabbing money-grubbing leech.
But because there’s just enough of them – and they’re the one’s who tend to rise in business. And when they say “give me your data” (or “let me manage your money” or “base your career on my advice”) it’s merely a prelude to their attempting to take you to the cleaners.
If my online world depends on them – and in the Semantic Web, it would – then my online world will fail. Will be a house of cards that will eventually collapse.

I extract these pieces not as a substitute for Stephen’s whole argument, but to challenge you to read and consider the whole thing, with the wish that you’ll come up with something hopeful as an anodyne. But I’m afraid he’s right –and I’d been blithely thinking that it was government meddling that would end the Idyll, but no, it’s those Adamic Market Forces that are the real danger, underlain by their besetting sins of greed and venality, in the service of Interests. It’s a Guy Thing.

Of Twitteration

In 23 years of entanglement with microcomputers (and 45 with computing in general) I’ve often been at the point of wondering “now what’s this going to do for/to me? How’s it going to fit into/transform what I do?”, and I’m there again, thinking about where Twitter fits in my digital evolution.

Twitter seems to assume that its users enjoy pervasive computing (with an extension to mobile appliances that I have no truck with), and a gaggle of like-minded friends. It also assumes (as does IM) that one can tolerate being “interrupt-driven”…

For me, Twitter offers a welcome level of granularity/resolution that fits into my use of the blogworld by offering instantaneous whazzup?, where blog postings are usually more carefully constructed –sort of a bitbucket, into which to tuck the passing thought or interest that I might want to be able to get back to, or eventually fit into an emerging chronotope.

Like Tagging, the primary use for me is as a tool to manage my OWN infoverse, and it’s only secondarily Social. It’s interesting to be able to look back at whatwhens (and I’ve experimented with a variety of them, currently including an autolog.txt Notepad doc on my desktop), to manage one’s own process, and perhaps to build, gradually, a Legacy …though for whom I’m not sure. All this seems a bit solopsistic: it’s for me, for my own appreciation and shifting purposes. If others happen to find it, or think it interesting to follow because they know/knew me in some sense, and have some interest in what I’m up to, so much the better.

There aren’t a lot of people I’m aware of being interested in following the microactivities of, and indeed one can only sustain such attention for a small number. Ron and Bryan are two I’m tracking now, but others might be added, just as I’ve added blogs to my RSS stable (and shed blogs too, of course).

In a few days I’ll be offline for a week-long yoga retreat, and it’ll be interesting to see if Twitter still seems to have resonance for me when I return.

In a deeper or maybe broader sense, as a Phenomenon and an act in the unfolding of Social Computing, danah boyd sees it more clearly than anybody else I’ve read so far:

You write whatever you damn well please and it spams all of the people who agreed to be your friends. The biggest strength AND weakness of Twitter is that it works through your IM client (or Twitterrific) as well as your phone. This means that all of the tech people who spend far too much time bored on their laptops are spamming people at a constant rate. Ah, procrastination devices. If you follow all of your friends on your mobile, you’re in for a hellish (and very expensive) experience.

…I think it’s funny to watch my tech geek friends adopt a social tech. They can’t imagine life without their fingers attached to a keyboard or where they didn’t have all-you-can-eat phone plans. More importantly, the vast majority of their friends are tech geeks too. And their social world is relatively structurally continuous. For most 20/30-somethings, this isn’t so. Work and social are generally separated and there are different friend groups that must be balanced in different ways.

…Like with bulletins, it’s pretty ostentatious to think that your notes are worth pushing to others en masse. It takes a certain kind of personality to think that this kind of spamming is socially appropriate and desirable. Sure, we all love to have a sense of what’s going on, but this is push technology at its most extreme. You’re pushing your views into the attention of others (until they turn it or you off).

(from apophenia)

Addendum: Kathy Sierra’s graph and TwitterVision are essential extensions of the discussion…

Wozniak interview

Over at Jason Scott’s ASCII weblog there’s a transcript of a Coast to Coast radio interview with Steve Wozniak from April 2006. It’s an interesting read on several grounds, but especially for some things it says about Education, and the contexts of family support and teachers and one’s own activities. A few juicy snippets:

Woz: …I lived with a bunch of kids that had engineers for parents. So they had electronic parts around the house. They had parents that could teach us how things worked and how to hook up some of the parts to get some interesting things to happen

…Actually, my whole technical evolution was very much accidents. It was not planned by myself. There were no classes, there were no books, it was all accidental. I would stumble into journals. I would stumble into magazines. I found that was what my interest was. You know what your interest is, and not everybody comes up with the same. And it’s accidentally inspired maybe by the fun I had with my electronics friends I had in the neighborhood… I was one of the math/science stars of the school and we would get the awards and all that, but I was also in electronics class. We had a great electronics class in our high school and the teacher realized that I knew it all and I was just playing pranks and wiring other people’s radios to blow up if they asked me for help…

…So, the teacher said, “You know you’re good at giving pranks.” So he arranged for some help. This is very unusual when a teacher sees a student that could be helped with a lot of stuff that’s not in the school. A lot of teachers will say, “You know what, the education is here in this school and these books and my class,” and that’s all we take responsibility for…

…what I would do is drive up with a friend of mine, Alan Baum, up to Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. And we’d go there on a Sunday. And the reason we’d go there is there’s a lot of smart people that work at Stanford Linear Accelerator Center and wherever smart people work there’s open doors. So, we would actually drive to the main building and we’d walk up some stairs and try some doors and eventually we’d find a door open from the outside, and we’d go in. And they had a computer library in there, a technical library. I found computer manuals and there were little cards where you could fill out your name and address and they would send you a computer manual. Sylvania sent me manuals to their computers, …Hewlett Packard would send me manuals to their computers. Digital Equipment would send me theirs. A company started up called Data General and they sent me theirs.

…Fill out the cards, and we’ll send you a manual describing our computer because to get this magazine, back in those days, you were probably an engineer. You are the sort of person who might buy our expensive computers. And I would sit down at home, whenever I had a free weekend. I would sit down and pull out blank paper and just start designing that computer. And if I’d already designed that computer, I would design it again using the latest, newest chips. My dad would get me the chip manuals of the newest, latest chips, and I would design it with fewer parts as a goal. I started making a game out of this, and the game was: how few of chips can I do it in? And I started coming up with tricks in my head as a young high school kid, that I knew that nobody else in the world was doing with chips…

[at University of Colorado] …I wanted to write every program that I could think of. Programs to calculate mathematical tables of numbers, things like Fibonacci numbers, powers of two, these great tables that you’d find in the tables of the books that engineers have to use to do their jobs. And I wrote so many programs, and I could run them three times a day. It was back when you had to type out punch cards, submit them, come back later to the computer to get your printouts and see that it’s done. I would run them three times a day, seven programs each, 60 pages each time, piling up reams and reams of output in my dorm room. And they cut me off. I didn’t realize they had a class budget. I thought, “You take a computer class, you get to write programs.” No. I ran our class five times over budget, which is more than twice the tuition of the second highest out of state tuition university in the country, and I was so scared that my parents would find out that I could never afford to pay that money back. They made it sound like they were going to bill me. So I didn’t try to go back there my second year.

The Eloquence of Alan Kay

Over at if: book there’s a pointer to an interview with Alan Kay (“The PC Must Be Revamped—Now”) that speaks some inconvenient truths. A few outtakes (bolded here and there, for emphasis) that might inspire you to read the whole thing:

Computers are mostly used for static media, basically text, pictures, movies, music and so forth. The Internet is used as a distribution network, so computers are essentially players for this media. This is incredibly useful, but it tends to overwhelm uses that require a much longer learning curve.

When I started in computing in the early sixties, people realized that while the computer could simulate things we understood very well, one of its greatest uses was simulating things that we didn’t understand as well as we needed to. This has happened in the sciences; physicists, chemists, biologists and other scientists could not do what they’ve been doing if they didn’t have powerful computer simulations to go beyond what classical mathematics could do. But it’s the rare person who quests for knowledge and understanding….

[Doug] Engelbart, right from his very first proposal to ARPA [Advanced Research Projects Agency], said that when adults accomplish something that’s important, they almost always do it through some sort of group activity. If computing was going to amount to anything, it should be an amplifier of the collective intelligence of groups.

…the computing profession acts as if there isn’t anything to learn from the past, so most people haven’t gone back and referenced what Engelbart thought.

The things that are wrong with the Web today are due to this lack of curiosity in the computing profession. And it’s very characteristic of a pop culture. Pop culture lives in the present; it doesn’t really live in the future or want to know about great ideas from the past. I’m saying there’s a lot of useful knowledge and wisdom out there for anybody who is curious, and who takes the time to do something other than just executing on some current plan.

…the dominant operating system architectures that we have are all from the sixties. Basically, the people who do operating systems got used to this kind of layered architecture in an operating system, and they tend to keep on feeding it, even though layered systems don’t scale very well. This is an example of the invisibility of normality. We’re not even aware that we’re accepting most things we accept. Any creative person has to try and force their brain to reconsider things that are accepted so widely they seem like laws of the universe. Very often they aren’t laws of the universe; they’re just conventions.

…The spreadsheet, for example, with a few changes in it, would be thought of as being a highly parallel simulation engine. If you think of the purpose of the spreadsheet being not only to tabulate what did happen, but to give you an idea of what could happen, you would immediately redesign the spreadsheet and integrate it with graphical displays or visualization in a very different way. You would be on the road to a different kind of computer literacy.

(the last point is in the same ballpark with Dan Bricklin’s recent posting)

Cautionary Tales?

Things connect. Sometimes the linkages are obscure, or tolerably tendentious, or simply risible, or maybe they’re just co-incidental. And I suppose sometimes their Moment hasn’t come, and the nascent dots aren’t connected. The last few days have brought onto the stage several threads for which I’m seeking the Nexus. A prize to the reader who can construct it from these bits, each of which can be read as a sort of Cautionary Tale

Digression: Hillaire Belloc was not, perhaps, a very nice fellow, but his Bad Child’s Book of Beasts and Cautionary Tales for Children were staples of my own youth. Consider:

The Dromedary

The Dromedary is a cheerful bird:
I cannot say the same about the Kurd.

The Frog

Be kind and tender to the Frog,
And do not call him names,
As “Slimy skin,” or “Polly-wog,”
Or likewise “Ugly James,”
Or “Gap-a-grin,” or “Toad-gone-wrong,”
Or “Bill Bandy-knees”:
The Frog is justly sensitive
To epithets like these.

No animal will more repay
A treatment kind and fair;
At least so lonely people say
Who keep a frog (and, by the way,
They are extremely rare).

(end Digression)

The candidates for interconnection: Amédé Ardoin, Thomas Midgely, and Harlan Ellison. Not exactly household words, but all have re-crossed my path lately, so I’m sporting with their possible interlinkage.

Amédé Ardoin came up this morning via Old Blue Bus, one of the music blogs I follow. The link to Two Step de Eunice will probably disappear in a few days, so listen while you can. The specific point of interest of the moment is the Tale of his death, which seems to have several variants:

Ardoin’s death remains shrouded in mystery. One report has him being brutally beaten after wiping his brow with a handkerchief handed to him by the daughter of a white farm owner. According to McGee, Ardoin was poisoned by a jealous fiddler. More recent studies have concluded that Ardoin died of venereal disease at the Pineville Mental Institution.
Craig Harris, All Music Guide)

A cousin of renowned black Creole accordionist Alphonse “Bois Sec” Ardoin, he crossed racial boundaries by performing with noted Cajun fiddler Dennis McGee. However, he stepped too far when at a dance around 1941 he wiped away sweat with a handkerchief offered by a white female. Suffering a terrible beating after the dance, he eventually died of his wounds, emotional and physical, at Pineville on November 3, 1942.

Thomas Midgley, inventor of (1) tetraethyl lead AND (2) freon, came up in an answer to a friend’s email question about global warming. Both inventions transformed the technologies they were developed for (the internal combustion engine, and refrigeration) in the short run, and both of which turned out to be really really really BAD things in the long run. Bits of the story are available here and here and here and here. The story of Midgley’s death (strangled in a device of his own cleverness, contrived to solve the problem of his own physical limitations) makes the karmic point more obvious, if karmic points ever really work that way. But the other spin on Midgley’s work is that our civilization owes a very great deal to the efficiency of the gasoline engine (said efficiency absolutely based upon the high compression engine design that tetraethyl lead enabled) and to the possibility of cooling buildings and refrigerating food –indeed, our civilization is simply unthinkable without those two elements (the same story could be told with any number of other essential technologies). To be sure, our cleverness has found substitutes for both tetraethyl lead and freon, but not exactly “just in time”, and the substitutes themselves are iffy too (e.g., MTBE which succeeded tetraethyl lead as an antiknock compound, and is now being replaced by something else because of its toxicities).

And the third came up because I’ve been reading in Harlan Ellison’s anthologies Dangerous Visions (1967) and Again, Dangerous Visions (1972) and exploring who Harlan Ellison was/is and what he’s done. The two anthologies enjoy a reputation as ground-breaking collections –see James Schellenberg’s review as an example. The missing third anthology is the subject of a long-running soap opera which (among other things) provoked Christopher Priest’s The Book on the Edge of Forever –see Amazon reviewers’ comments for more on “a fascinating account of one of the most famous non-books ever not-published”, and note that “Ellison has been severely criticized for neither publishing the volume nor returning control of the stories to their authors, some of whom have since died.”

I’ve spent a lot of time in various corners of the realm of “speculative fiction” (see Wikipedia and a Wikipedia portal, and explore The Internet Speculative Fiction Database and ISFDB Wiki).

On Blogging in Academia: Bloglines citations

Alan Levine has a nice piece on using blog citations, from which this is an excerpt:

There is a lot to be said by looking at the patterns of communication on the Web- seeing who responds to a specific posting is a neat way of taking the highway of serendipity to finding new blog voices, of taking a pulse on the sphere, of increasing our connectedness.

Here’s the format of the Bloglines search:[insert URL here]&submit=Search

And another example, which finds 56 linkers to a story on the destinations of Katrina refugees.

Point is, this feature/capability allows us to make the echoes of an article or a posting into a subject for analysis, and offers a constructive answer to the question ?Why would I want to mess with blogging? Alan Levine addresses this in terms that should appeal to faculty members dubious about the medium:

What new ideas emerge? What modes of argument are used? Abused? There are all kinds of social learning activities nestled in this one thin slice of web activity.

Sebastian Paquet, bless him, created a Bloglines linkbacks bookmarklet to do this back in June 2004… and following one of the links to Seb’s original posting, I discover a followup from Lilia Efimova from October 2004, pointing to a Movable Type plugin created by Riccardo Cambiassi.

Drawing cats

I don’t usually remember dreams, or accord them much significance. This morning I awoke around 4:30 with one pretty clearly in mind. The dream had to do with drawing, which is something I’ve never done and feel that I have no talent for, though I greatly admire it in others. I was drawing cats, but via drawing pieces: a paw, a shoulder, the catenary (!) curve of a tail. Somehow these pieces (and there were many) were arrayed in 3-space so that one could walk around them, and from different perspectives on the collection one could derive a sense of CAT that was more complete and compelling than if one had seen a single complete drawing of a cat. So an aggregation of gestures (the single bits) allows the observer to construct a whole in a novel and hologrammatical way.
As I gradually transitioned to waking reality, the Cat morphed into an assemblage of the Web 2.x bits I’ve been messing with, and became a collage of my own watching, listening, reading, writing, searching… seen as a temporally ordered kaleidoscope which stands for and manages to communicate the flow of my attention. The rudimentary form of the default stylesheet for my page is the barest beginning of the imagined cyberproduct, but it is a beginning. Like all such imaginings, the practicalities of execution are pretty elusive, and/or would tie me up in technicalities that are beyond my powers, and keep me from the pleasures of the hunt that I so enjoy.
I’m still searching for effective ways to verbalize my sense that personal connectivism is the direction I need to follow –that it’s the essence of lifelong learning to articulate the learning process in communications …but to whom, and for what, is still pretty problematic. And there’s still the problem of the requisite management and composition and delivery tools…

OPML at last

I’ve been resistant to OPML, feeling that “outlining” wasn’t a comfortable format for things I do. Fact is, I think I didn’t quite get it, but I’m perhaps a bit closer now thanks to a problem I wanted to solve.
I have spent a lot of time forwarding stuff to other people, and indeed I think finding-and-forwarding is probably a pretty good summary of my specialty as a librarian. This morning I started hand-coding a table of things I’ve sent to people in the last couple of weeks. How very Web 1.0. And then OPML Manager fortuitously crossed my path, and I decided to give it a whirl as a more grownup way of solving the problem. I’m pretty pleased with what resulted, at least for starters.
I’m not sure just where this leads, but it’s been a couple of months since last I was so involved in emerging technologies, and it feels pretty good to be at it again.