From Hickok Sports, a history of archery:

The modern sport of target archery originated in England during the 14th century, when the longbow became the English army's most important weapon, first at the Battle of Crecy (1346) and later at Poitiers and Agincourt. From 1330 to 1414, English kings banned all other sports because they diverted time from archery and a royal decree of 1363 required all Englishmen to practice archery on Sundays and holidays.

[...]

Roving, the predecessor of modern field archery, grew out of casual hunting with bow and arrow. Archers are presented with targets of various shapes and sizes, simulating small animals, and they shoot at unknown ranges over rough ground, not a prepared course.

Such "roving" sounds a lot like modern golf. What lead me to read about ancient archery was this little detail: at the end of a "roving" archery match, the archers would shoot an arrow back toward the location at which they began the course. This would be analogous to hitting a golf ball from the 18th hole back to the 1st tee. Depending on the geography of the course, this could be quite a distance, so often the shot was fired up rather high. It wasn't really part of the competition — just a traditional conclusion.

The upshot of this history lesson is that the concluding upwards shot became known as the "upshot," first in archery, and then as a common metaphor, as it is still used today.

 

Living in Iowa, it’s hard to avoid conversations about ethanol. And working for an advertising agency that previously represented the ethanol industry and continues to represent ethanol-related businesses causes the topic to come up in conversation for me more often than for the average Iowan even. I use ethanol in my car, as does most anyone who hasn’t put much thought into it. It’s commonly six cents cheaper. Who wouldn’t go with six cents cheaper?

Well, I’ve talked to a few people who wouldn’t go with six cents cheaper. Their logic comes down to efficiency. While ethanol is cheaper, it actually takes your car more ethanol to produce the same amount of energy, so you’re getting few miles-per-gallon with ethanol vs. standard unleaded gas. “Meh,” I told myself, “that’s a worthwhile tradeoff for a cleaner planet.” Then the ethanol dissenters typically suggest that the process of creating ethanol actually creates more pollution. After a few of these conversations, I decided to do some testing and find out the truth by the numbers.

82% of statistics are made up, so I set out to make up my own, in the only context that matters to me: my own car, a 1997 Buick LeSabre. Lacking the resources to test the pollution from my car (much less the processing plant at which my ethanol was produced), I decided to test what I could: the fuel efficiency of ethanol. Over the past couple months I’ve been recording all of my gas purchases, as well as my mileage between them.

The process of figuring out miles-per-gallon was actually a bit confusing to me at first, so I’ll explain it here. When I fill up my tank, I reset my trip odometer. On my next refill, I know how many miles I’ve gone while emptying my tank, and the amount I put in to refill the tank is equal to the amount of gas I must have used while traveling those miles, because a full tank is always the same size. So by dividing those miles by those gallons, I have a miles-per-gallon number.

This gets confusing when testing different types of gas, because the number of gallons on my current fill-up is actually the number of gallons used with the previous fill-up’s type of gas. I repeated this process several times, and attempted to get as close to a full tank as possible to avoid the previous tank skewing the efficiency of the current tank as I switched back and forth between 10% ethanol and 0% ethanol unleaded gas.

So that’s my methodology. Here are the numbers:

Ethanol % Gallons Miles Highway/City Miles-per-gallon
10% 15.056 393.7 Highway 26.149
0% 15.488 359.2 Highway 23.192
0% 14.571 257.0 City 17.637
0% 15.813 416.6 Highway 26.345
10% 14.923 370.3 Highway 24.814
0% 11.318 293.5 Highway 25.932
0% 16.497 371.0 City 22.488

Notice that I added a Highway/City driving variable to the data. I quickly noticed that my numbers weren’t nearly as steady as I was expecting, and I believe my hunch that this variance is primary due to highway vs. city driving is borne out by the numbers above. So the first conclusion is that any variance in efficiency between ethanol and non-ethanol gas is much smaller than the variance between city and highway driving. Those of us concerned about fuel-efficiency need to be working to make our cities more hospitable to walking and biking more than we need to be debating the merits of ethanol. Nonetheless, on to debating the merits of ethanol.

It’s clear to me from the numbers above that ethanol is indeed less fuel efficient than non-ethanol gas in my car. However, the difference is very slight, and it is more than offset by the standard price difference of six cents per gallon. Figuring that in, the average miles-per-dollar figures (for highway miles only, as I’m still finishing my tank of city-driving ethanol) are: 12.74 for ethanol and 12.21 for non-ethanol. So despite the lower fuel efficiency of ethanol, the price difference means that for every dollar I spend, I’m going more miles by using ethanol in my car. With this in mind, I intend to continue using ethanol.

But what about the pollution? Well, I’m not sure about the pollution. I haven’t seen any actual numbers on that, so all I have to go on is what other people say they heard somewhere. Some people say ethanol is better than non-ethanol gas for the environment overall (notably a former client of my employer says this quite often), while others say it’s worse. If anyone has any numbers on this, I’d be interested to see them. But lacking any testable numbers, it seems to me everyone is just arguing whatever reinforces their own beliefs.

And yes, I’m aware that dark forces (e.g. Archer Daniels Midland Company) are at work making corn an artificially prominent part of the American (and increasingly world) economy in everything from ethanol to high fructose corn syrup to construction materials. And maybe when I’ve finished reading Omnivore’s Dilemma this will be enough to convince me to act against my own immediate economic interests. But for now, I’m sticking with the six cents cheaper at the pump and the half a mile-per-dollar more on the road I get with ethanol. As the standard disclaimer says, your mileage may vary, and I’d encourage everyone to do their own testing in their own cars.

 

A few days ago, I got a new laptop from work. It’s a MacBook Pro, and I really like it. I’ve moved all of my old files and applications over from my old laptop, checked that everything is working okay, installed Parallels to use for testing in Internet Explorer, and played Minesweeper in Windows XP. With all of those important tasks out of the way, I started playing with a new application that came on the new laptop: Comic Life.

As the name suggests, Comic Life makes it easy to make comic strips. It’s a lot of fun to use, and my first completed comic, previously destined to be an article with far too many words and too few pictures, is below.

Comic: Protein: page 1 Comic: Protein: page 2

This was inspired by an article on Don to Earth (and many conversations I’ve had about protein). The photo is from pedrosimoes7 on Flickr.

 

This evening I heard the phrase “concentration camp” on NPR and starting thinking about what that phrase means. In common use, “concentrate” is both a noun and a verb. Juice comes in a concentrate, it's pushed together in a small space. Or students are told to concentrate, to focus on what they should be doing. Either of these are an incredible euphemism for Nazi death camps, but which euphemism have we adopted? Do concentration camps concentrate people? Do they force people to concentrate? Do they concentrate death? And why is there an English-language euphemism for an atrocity carried out by Germans anyway?

The answer to the latter question, from Wikipedia: the term “concentration camp” was first used to describe British internment camps in the Second Boer War. After gold was discovered Transvaal, British citizens flocked to the country, where they found the native population less than hospitable. To secure the rights of their own resource-exploiting citizens, the British entered a war against a Boer insurgency.

The conditions in the camps were very unhealthy and the food rations were meager. The wives and children of men who were still fighting were given smaller rations than others. The poor diet and inadequate hygiene led to endemic contagious diseases such as measles, typhoid and dysentery. Coupled with a shortage of medical facilities, this led to large numbers of deaths — a report after the war concluded that 27,927 Boers (of whom 22,074 were children under 16) and 14,154 black Africans had died of starvation, disease and exposure in the concentration camps

So when the Germans later rounded up a group of people they didn’t like and started killing them, the phrase “concentration camp” was used because it had already been used as a euphemism for similar British atrocities. On top of the story of a superpower invading another country to control its natural resources, the word “insurgency” particular caught my attention here, with thoughts of the insurgency in Iraq. Were concentration camps a standard means of fighting insurgencies?

Indeed they were. The list of concentration camps throughout history is full of attempts to contain insurgent populations during armed invasions. Most recently, in 2001 the Russian military gathered up twenty thousand men and boys in Chechnia. Over 80% died. More immediately, the US military continues to entertain the idea of registering and rationing food to Iraqi residents, in the interest of controlling the insurgent population.

Lieutenant Colonel James S. Corum of the US Army recently wrote about various strategies for dealing with insurgencies, in the context of possible application to America’s military activities in Iraq, in FIGHTING INSURGENTS--NO SHORTCUTS TO SUCCESS [PDF, 3kb]:

International law and the traditional rules of war allow for some very firm tactics employed to coerce and control populations. For example, to cut off support for rebels in pro-insurgent districts, Kitson advocated that government forces commandeer and carefully control all food stocks. Food was rationed by the police and army only to registered village residents, and whole villages would be cordoned off to prevent extra food from being brought in. If the villagers wanted to give food to the rebels, they could do so only if they starved themselves. The British also figured that, if the insurgents came in the night and took the peoples’ carefully rationed food, people would eventually inform on the insurgents rather than face hunger. Such tactics were not only effective, but also legal.

The good thing about Kitson’s approach to waging a counterinsurgency campaign strictly within the rule of law is that it generally works. The downside is that such an approach to counterinsurgency and intelligence takes a long time, and success is measured not in any dramatic terms but in small, local, and incremental victories. It should be no surprise that some of our intelligence personnel and leaders might instinctively opt for the Trinquier approach with its promise of quick and decisive results, when our military doctrine is filled with adjectives such as “rapid” and “decisive” to describe the American mode of warfare. Yet the traditionally successful counterinsurgency doctrines are peppered with adjectives such as “methodical,” “systematic,” and “long-term.”

Emphasis added. The downside of internment under threat of starvation, according to the US Army’s assessment, is not that it’s morally reprehensible; it just takes a long time to starve people to death. Our national unwillingness to concentrate on the “victory” some would imagine in Iraq has prevented us from establishing concentration camps. May our impatience save our souls.

 

I’m going to start reviewing books, mostly because doing so will require me to start reading books again. Before this week, I hadn’t read a book in at least a year. I read a lot, but not books. I spend much of my time reading articles online from a wide variety of sources. And I periodically listen to audio books. But there’s some small niche of media that only really works in a book. Articles can’t possibly develop ideas in the same depth, and audio books always leave less room for imagination with the reader’s tone heavily influencing interpretation.

So I’m going to start reading books again, and the first book was Kino No Tabi. This book was lent to me by my librarian friend Libby, who read it before me. It was a good transition from my previous all-article reading diet to a new book-inclusive meal plan because it’s both relatively short and broken up into small chapters that could easily be read as independent stories.

Kino No Tabi was originally Japanese, but I read the English translation. I took Japanese back in university, so I can tell you that the title means "Kino of Tabi." Kino is the name of the main character, and I’m not sure what "Tabi" means. It might be some conjugation of the word "eat." I’m not sure.

Anyway, the story is basically that Kino rides a motorcycle from city to city and has different adventures in each city. Also, the motorcycle talks. That’s the kind of thing that would be incredibly distracting in a movie or audio book, but doesn’t seem very strange in the book. Without going into too much detail the adventures in each city are the kind of simple stories that reflect some larger idea about life in general.

Basically, Kino No Tabi is The Little Prince, only not as long, nor as good. I was interested enough to read to the end, but I don’t expect to read the next in the series. Oh yeah, there’s a series, called The Beautiful World. I don’t know if the second book has been translated to English yet or not.

Since I last read a book over a year ago, I learned that I don’t need to finish everything I start reading. That’s common sense, of course, but I never really learned it until I had too many articles in my aggregator and too many other things I wanted to do. I finally started reading things until I was no longer interested and then closing them, without the feeling I once had that I was missing out on something important by not finishing what I’d started.

So now I’m ready to apply that lesson to books. And while I won’t given an especially positive review of Kino No Tabi, it should say something that I finished it. It was good enough to finish but not good enough to continue the series. Let’s call that five out of ten stars, as a reference point for my future book reviews. Next up: The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which I won in the first annual Weaver family Christmas-in-November book exchange bingo tournament. Everyone won a book — more peer pressure to read books.

 

I was just reading about Miranda warnings, looking for evidence that we don’t lose our rights if we’re arrested for murder, much less when we join a homeowners association. I’ve seen a surprising number of Americans suggesting otherwise today. But much more interesting than a “Satanic” peace wreath (I totally saw that coming) was this:

Ten years after the ruling in the case that bears his name, Miranda was killed in a knife fight at a Phoenix bar; his suspected killer was read the “Miranda warning” and declined to give a statement. He was released and promptly fled to Mexico. The Miranda murder case became a “closed file.”

That’s the problem with rights: everyone has them.

 

Yesterday I was listening to Dave Zobl’s “Thanksgiving Day” and thinking it would be nice to share it on the holiday. But then I thought it was probably not licensed for that kind of distribution (I couldn’t find anything to say for sure). Then I thought “well, all those kids over at YouTube seem to get away with that by putting song in video, so it would be more pain to extract it than it would be worth.

So I made a video of the song with images from Flickr licensed under Creative Commons attribution. But when I went to upload it to YouTube, it never finished. While I was waiting for it to finish, I decided I don't really want to start uploading videos to YouTube anyway. I have plenty of space on my own hosting accounts, so why give someone else control over my content? Sure the social aspect of YouTube is appealing, but I wasn’t really sure how to go about that, and it didn’t upload anyway.

So I was finally able to upload it here this morning, and here’s the video I made. I hope you enjoy it and get some more Dave Zobl music as a result:

This video requires Flash Player, which you can download free.

Note: Oops. Turns out his name is Zobl, not Zobi as I included in the video and this description. I’ve corrected the description, but I’m not going to re-render and re-convert the video right today. I found his website, and he has two songs for free download, so I’m assuming he’d be okay with this kind of re-use of his music.

 

My sister-in-law, the one who was recently re-married in the Catholic church, is pregnant. Does it count as a shotgun wedding if you’re already married with children? Anyway, after her re-wedding ceremony, at the party where Ward pondered deep questions of names and knowing, people were talking about names for the upcoming child. Several names were suggested, and most discarded. But all of the suggestions were first names. They hadn’t moved on to middle names yet.

Patrick, the soon-to-be older brother, is pretty sure the child is going to be a boy. His logic is that he already has two sisters, so a boy is required to even out the gender imbalance. This boy has a future in statistics. He doesn’t quite understand middle names though. His middle name is “Julius,” and when he’s in trouble, he’s “Patrick Julius,” so he’s familiar with his own middle name.

But as the first names were suggested at the party, Patrick tried them out by testing what he assumed would be the full name of this boy. “John” became “John Julius Namoff.” “Robert” became “Robert Julius Namoff.” It soon became clear that Patrick thought all boys in his family will have the same middle name.

When he was younger, Patrick’s cousin Alex apparently had a different confusion about middle names. He once thought he had two middle names, “Ander” and “Michael.” Because when he was in trouble, his mother would say what he heard as “Alex Ander Michael,” actually “Alexander Michael.” Silly kids.

But middle names are clearly counter-intuitive. Why do we have them? Wikipedia offers a few reasons, but none of them seem worth the trouble. I think if I have a child to name, I’ll lobby hard for no middle name. If they grow up and find they don’t have enough names, they can always add more later. But I don’t really need to establish a line of royal ancestry or anything, so I don’t see any reason to give a child a third name before they have a personality to attach it to.

My friend JJ recently gave me an additional name. A while back, I made the mistake of talking about my self-diagnosis of Asperger’s. Shortly after that, JJ introduced me to another friend of his, also named Scott. To differentiate between us, he has since referred to me and introduced me as his “autistic friend Scott.” So to JJ’s friends, my middle name is effectively “autistic.” Lucky for me, anyone who knows JJ just passes right over this as we meet.

I have a similar additional name for JJ, but mine is non-verbal. Whenever I talk about JJ with people who have met him, I make sure to clarify exactly who I’m discussing by moving my hands around where my hair would be if it were as large as JJ’s. So his middle name is effectively a hand motion about four inches from the head.

My "autistic" name has a small problem: I’m not actually autistic. And JJ’s hand-wavey name has a problem whenever he gets a haircut. But I think these ad hoc additions to our family and given names are far superior to middle names. I think that’s enough about names for now. On to faces?

 

In case you were wondering what I tend to write about here, I just made what the web geeks call a “tag cloud” for these articles. It’s weighted to recent writing because I only started adding tags to my articles recently.

I was actually a bit surprised that politics is the most common tag, but I suspect that’s more a reflection of my tagging style than my writing topics. I think I actually write more about technology than politics (though I no longer write about technology at all here since I started a separate site for that), but I tend to tag the technology articles with something more specific than “technology,” whereas the various political topics all just go under “politics.”

 

About a year after I met her, my friend Becca decided to change her name. I don’t think she ever had it legally changed or anything, but she started asking people to call her “Dora,” and we did. And suddenly she was “Dora,” and people would mention “Becca,” and I wouldn’t know who they were talking about, and then they’d say, “You know, Becca-Dora.”

I never heard an explanation of what brought about this desire to change her name. I think I asked her and she said something like “just because.” At the time, we were both studying existentialism, I as a casual student, and Becca-Dora as a philosophy major in the middle of writing a senior thesis on “Freedom and Facticity.” I couldn’t tell you what “Freedom and Facticity” means exactly, but at the time I suspected that had something to do with the name change. It seemed a sort of philosophy-in-action demonstration of how much we define our selves. If you want to be Dora, it turns out you can just start being Dora.

But at some point after we graduated, Dora decided she wanted to be Becca again, and so everyone called her Becca again. And now Dora is just a vague idea of … something. Whatever the reason was for Dora, I can only assume from the later reversal that it wasn’t a very good reason to change names.

My uncle, on the other hand, had what I think is a very good reason to change his name, but he never did. I didn’t hear this story until I was old enough to think it was odd that no one had told me earlier. But here it is: my grandparents’ first child was named “Kenneth Eugene.” This child died three days after birth. Then they had another child, and they named him … “Kenneth Eugene.” This second Kenneth Eugene is my uncle Ken.

So that’s weird, right? I’m pretty sure I would change my name if I found out I was named after my dead older brother. But I almost changed my name because it’s hard to spell, so I’m probably not the best person to judge what would be a good reason to change one’s name. Most people never change their names, but are there any social norms for those who do? I don’t see any. It’s name-changing anarchy out there. Anyone can do it, and no one does. Maybe that’s what “Freedom and Facticity” means.

 

A few weeks ago, my sister-in-law was re-married in the Catholic church. After the ceremony, we went to a party at the house of a friend of the re-couple. The friend had a child, named “Ward,” and my mother-in-law (I think it was her — my memory is poor) knew the family, so she said “Hi Ward” as we were entering the house. And Ward immediately asked “How do you know my name?” From his point of view, I suppose this was a complete stranger addressing him by name, so that was a reasonable question to ask.

My AIM login is “imnotscott”. Back in the day, I went to sign up for an AOL account to use instant messenger, and when asked to choose a login, I chose “scott”. There were maybe twenty million AOL accounts at the time, and apparently one of them claimed “scott” before me. Go figure. So defeated in my attempt to be “scott” on AIM, I went with “imnotscott” instead. If I can’t be myself, I’ll be not myself. Take that AOL!

So now I have my AIM login posted in various public locations around the web, and occassionally I’ll get a message from a complete stranger. They’ll often start the conversation with something like “Hi Scott.” And my first thought is generally “How do you know my name?” But I say “Hi” instead and then seek out a little context for the conversation.

I guess names mean more when we’re younger. Our names are more a representation of our selves when there’s less of us to represent. We know our parents really know us when they call us out with our middle names, because they know all three parts of us. But over time we become something that the names don’t fully describe. When someone says “Scott Michael Reynen,” are they talking about me or the guy I was ten years ago or the kid I was twenty years ago? My name is no longer equivalent to myself.

Some day Ward’s response when someone walks into his house and says ’Hi Ward” will be more like “Hi. What are you doing in my house?” But for now he just wants to know how we know his name.

 

My last name is “Reynen.” Chances are good that you just pronounced that incorrectly in your head as you read it. Chances are also good that if I spoke it aloud to you, you’d spell it wrong. And then you’d probably pronounce it wrong still. It’s a horrible name for someone like me who is interested in efficient communication. So I’ve thought a lot about changing it.

When I was younger (is 26 old enough to say that?), I thought about changing the whole thing: first, middle, and last name. My ideas for new names were awful. “Justin Case” is one I remember. I’m sure glad I didn’t follow through on that idea. I would have had to pull a Prince and try to undo the damage.

Later, I thought about just replacing my last namewith my middle name. “Scott Michael” sounds okay. But for a long time, I didn’t know how to spell “Michael,” so I worried that wouldn’t actually solve the spelling problem. (Turns out most people could spell my middle name better than I could.) Plus, it makes me think of George Michael, and I’m not really a fan.

After that, I didn’t seriously consider changing my name until I got married. Unfortunately, my wife’s last name is “Montgomerie,” which is not exactly a step up on the ease-of-spelling scale. So I kept my last name, and she kept hers, which leads to the question of what last name we might give to potential children. All I know is, it certainly will not be “Montgomerie-Reynen.” I wouldn’t inflict that kind of pain on my worst enemy, much less a child. So maybe a completely new last name would be good. Any proposals?

 

A while back I was thinking about my grandfathers. I believe I was listening to some radio program in which a man was sharing a memory of his grandfather. Both of my grandfathers are dead, and I remember very little about them. I know a lot more about them than I actually remember, from stories others have told me or pictures I’ve seen. But I think what I remember is more interesting. I remember two things about both of my grandfathers.

My mother’s father was Charles Weaver. The first thing I remember about him is puzzles. We did puzzles together. Big puzzles with small pieces. They took a long time, and being a kid, I did very little of the work. Usually the puzzles were completed by my grandfather late one night as I slept. But he’d always leave out one piece, so when I woke in the morning, I had that satisfaction of completing the puzzle, even though I didn’t do the work. So my grandfather Weaver taught me to be lazy.

The second thing I remember is that he wouldn’t repeat himself. He would say something when I wasn’t listening, and I would say “what?” and he just wouldn’t respond. I think he explained this once as an attempt to encourage listening. Or maybe that was just how I thought of it — I’m not sure. Either way, this taught me not to let my principles turn me into a jerk, a lesson I apply less consistantly than laziness.

My father’s father was Cornelius Reynen. He was a minister, but I don’t remember him ministering in any professional capacity. I think maybe he had retired by the time I was born. I do remember two things about him that revolved around his ministry. The first was the post-dinner Bible readings at his house. My brothers and I were expected to sit around the table after the meal while he read to us from the Bible.

I don’t think it was even the interesting stories either — just whatever happened to come next. Sometimes he would ask us questions at the end to make sure we were paying attention. It was a horrible experience for a child. But from it, I learned how to never be bored, by thinking.

My second memory of this grandfather was Rummikub, which my family would play with him in the evening. If you’re not familiar with Rummikub, it’s almost exactly like Rummy, only with tiles instead of cards. You might ask: why would anyone bother with tiles instead of cards? Well, because playing cards are evil, naturally.

Granted, there are some slight differences between Rummy and Rummikub that make playing with tiles a little easier. But Cornelius, my grandfather, wasn’t interested in those differences, as far as I could tell. He was interested in avoiding cards because he was raised with and maintained the idea that playing cards are evil. So from playing Rummikub I learned to keep faith bounded by reason.

That’s it. That’s all I remember. I wish there were more, but given the small amount of time I spent with my grandfathers, I think these are pretty good lessons to take away. They’ve served me well so far. When I die some day, I hope the lessons I unintentionally pass down will be so useful.

 

Most likely you arrived here thinking you were heading to weblog.randomchaos.com. I’m sorry to inform you that weblog.randomchaos.com no longer exists. On the bright side, typewriting.org, this site, is here as a replacement. And it comes with a shiny new design and shiny new functionality.

I’ve spent a lot of time moving everything over, redirecting all the old to the new, and trying to get it all looking pretty in the major browsers. Some things still look ugly in IE, but that’s the norm for IE users, so I’m going to stop fighting with it for now. Otherwise, I think it’s all pretty close to what I had in mind back when I said Surely muted earth tones will improve my writing.

So if you notice anything broken or confusing, please let me know with the fancy new comment form. Otherwise, it’s time for me to get back to writing.

 

On the off chance that someone stumbled upon this unaware that Nov. 7, 2006 is an election day, it is. And you should vote. Unless you’re not registered, in which case you should register. Unless you’re not old enough to register, in which case you should look forward to growing older. Unless you’re not American, in which case you should vote in your own country. Unless you don’t have elections in your own country, in which case you should watch in bitter resentment as Americans take our democracy for granted.

 

Finally, I’m done. A few people have commented to me that I’m putting a lot of work into my votes here. It probably shouldn’t take this much work to vote thoughtfully, as candidates would ideally be forthcoming with clear positions on issues. But voting thoughtfully also shouldn’t be exceptional enough that it’s worth a comment. Unfortunately, voting itself is still exceptional in America.

In my fantasy America, election day is a national holiday during which we celebrate living democracy. Businesses would shut down and we’d have nothing better to do than to vote thoughtfully. We’d all have election day parties, at which showing up without an "I voted" sticker would be like showing up at a Halloween party without a costume, or showing up at a birthday party without a gift.

But until that happens, this is the democracy we have, and these are the ovals I filled in on my ballot. Now who are you voting for? And why?

 

Between the Court of Appeals, District Court, and District Associate Judges, I am asked to decide if eleven different judges should keep their jobs. Prior to recieving my ballot, I knew nothing about any of them. I started looking for information on each of them, but I didn’t find much. But then I found the Iowa State Bar Association’s reviews of each judge. From a single document, I was able to see what dozens of lawyers thought about every judge in the state. The votes for retention are very high in general, so I set my bar at 90%. If more than 90% of the responding lawyers voted to retain a given judge, I did the same. If less than 90% of lawyers voted to retain, I voted against.

As a result, I voted for retention on Anuradha Vaitheswaran, Van D. Zimmer, John C. Miller, Eliza J. Ovrom, Artis I. Reis, Carol L. Coppola, Carol S. Egly, and Louise M. Jacobs. I voted against retention for Donna L. Paulsen, Gregory D. Brandt, and William A. Price. I expect all of these judges will be retained, but I hope the slightly lower percentages on election day might cause some judge to improve Punctuality for court proceedings or Clarity and quality of written opinions.

 

There are five candidates for the Polk County Agricultural Extension Council. My ballot instructs me to vote for no more than five. I found nothing online suggesting there is anything wrong with any of the candidates. So I voted for them all.

 

There are three candidates for Soil and Water Conservation District Commissioner: Donald Soutter, Jane Clark, and Shirley Danskin-White. I voted for Jane Clark, the only candidate who had any information I could find online.

 

There are thee candidates for Polk County Public Hospital Trustee. My ballot instructs me to choose two. It’s a refreshing change for such a local office to have actual competition. Unfortunately, the competitors don’t seem to care much about getting votes. Karen Ellis is the only candidate with a website I could find. So I voted for her first. But I couldn’t find any information two help me choose between the other two, Mary B. Fuller and David Harkness. As I said earlier, I think we need more women in government, so I voted for Fuller.

 

I believe deeply that the lesson of Marie Antoinette (the lesson omitted from Marie Antoinette) is the critical one: You can indulge, and enjoy, for now, it is true; but sooner or later an angry mob will come round smashing your chandeliers and disconnecting your body at the neck.

Ezra Kilty. It’s the first noble truth: an angry mob will come round smashing your chandeliers.

 

John P. Sarcone, running as a Democrat, is the only candidate for Polk County Attorney. He’s a sixteen year incumbent. Everything about him — from his too-much-teeth smile to his "I like puppies" position against methamphetamines — make him seem a little suspicious. But I voted for him.

 

There are three candidates for County Recorder. Tim Brien is the incumbent, but he lost the primary to Julie M. Haggerty. As I mentioned earlier, he intially blamed Michael Mauro, Commissioner of Elections, implying that he rigged the election. But then he dropped his challenge, saying he didn’t believe he could get a fair result.

Apparently he does think he can get a fair result in the general election, even though Michael Mauro is still Commissioner of Elections, because he’s running as an independent. So I don’t trust Tim Brien, and this distrust makes me like Michael Mauro and Julie M. Haggerty more.

The third candidate is Christopher D. Hagenow, running as a Republican. If you follow that link to his website, and the link from there to his blog, you’ notice he doesn’t talk about issues much, and he seems as interested in the Nussle for Governor campaign as his own. As I mentioned in my discussion of the Governor race, I don’t trust Nussle, so by association, I distrust Hagenow.

If it wasn’t already obvious, I voted for Julie M. Haggerty for County Recorder.

 
 

I don’t know what exactly the Board of Supervisors supervises, but this is another interesting race. The two candidates are John F. Mauro, running as a Democrat, and Gene Phillips, on the ballot by petition. This happens to be the fourth time these two candidates have run against each other. In the 1998 Democratic primary, Mauro won by less than three hundred votes. Then Phillips ran as an independent in the general election and won, also by less than three hundred votes. Then in 2002, Mauro ran against Phillips again and won, this time by a substantial margin.

So Mauro is the incumbent and he won last time. But he’s also on the CIETC board, and although he doesn’t have the direct connection to corruption that Abdul-Samad appears to have, it doesn’t really look good for anyone on that board. Mauro’s best response to the attention was Hopefully, they won't hold me responsible for something I didn't have any control over.

Well, I do hold him responsible for the lack of control. And it’s also Phillips’ turn to win. Oh yeah, and Mauro doesn’t live in the district. So I voted for Gene Phillips.

 

The Iowa State Representative election is probably the most interesting vote I made. This is the first race involving the CIETC scandal. Apparently a lot of money went into the Central Iowa Employment and Training Consortium, and not a lot of employment and training came out. Ako Abdul-Samad, running as a Democrat, was on the CIETC board, and didn’t convince me that he was innocent of the corruption charges being tossed at him. He lost my vote.

Jack Whitver, running as a Republican, successfully lost my vote by showing up at Abdul-Samad’s house after being told Abdul-Samad was unavailable due to family illness. Even assuming charitably that Abdul-Samad was lying about the family illness, that still makes Whitver a political moron.

Luckily I have two other candidates in this race. Brett Blanchfield, running as a Libertarian, gets points for being the only candidate to bother answering a candidate survey from the Iowa Prosperity Project. And he also gets points for living just a few houses down from me. But he’s campaigning on issues like repealing the mandatory seatbelt law. I can sympathize with the general libertarian desire to streamline government, but if seatbelts are the first (or second, or even twentieth) place a candidate identifies waste in government, he’s lost my vote.

That leaves only Jeff Johannsen. Lucky for me, Johannsen looks like a candidate for whom I can vote without reservation. He wants to help make health insurance more available and affordable to small businesses and neighborhoods [...] to increase availability of assisted living to those with low to moderate incomes [...] to promote the cleanup of neighborhoods and discourages urban sprawl, according to the Des Moines Register. That all sounds good to me, so I voted for Johannsen.

 

State Senator is yet another Iowa race with only one candidate. I was expecting more interesting politics from the host of the first primary in the nation. The candidate is Jack Hatch, running as a Democrat. Aside from his website, the first thing I found about him was a record that he introduced a bill allowing possession of marijuana for therapeutic purposes. That made me a little happier about voting for the only candidate.

 

There is only one candidate for Attorney General in Iowa. Apparently law is less important than agriculature in Iowa. The candidate, Tom Miller, is a Democrat, and looks good enough. He’s apparently cares enough about his stance against predatory lending to issue a statement on the issue. So I voted for Tom Miller.

 

Iowa has two candidates for Secretary of Agriculture. Agriculture is important in Iowa. The Democratic candidate is Denise O’Brien. The Republican candidate is Bill Northey. Browsing their respective websites, you’ll notice Northey talks about “vision” while O’Brien talks about “issues.” O’Brien wins round one. Northey is a board member of Ag Ventures Alliance. O’Brien and her husband Larry Harris have operated a family farm near Atlantic, Iowa since 1976 where they milked cows until 1995. They now raise poultry, apples, and strawberries using organic practices. O’Brien wins round two. No round three. I voted for O’Brien.

 

I’ve fallen a bit behind in my Election 2006 series because none of my previous theories about my laptop’s narcolepsy really worked. When it started falling asleep during work, I moved to a new (for me) laptop. That’s update number one.

Number two is that, contrary to my expectations of the plot of Battlestar Galactica season three, it appears the good guys have pretty much already won only three weeks in. I haven’t watched the week three show yet, but if the foreshadowing in the week two show and the title of Dave’s recent post (which I haven’t read yet for fear of spoiling week three) are any indication, what I thought was going to take the whole season is already over. So hopefully what comes next will have a little more moral ambiguity.

And I’ll get back to devaluing the privacy of our election process when I return from yet another weekend trip. Hopefully I’ll finish before election day.

 

There’s only one candidate for Treasurer of State in Iowa, and he is Michael Fitzgerald. He’s already Treasurer of State, hasn’t embarrassed himself, and he appears to be responsible for The Great Iowa Treasure Hunt, a pretty cool website that allows Iowa residents to search for abandoned property. Not that it matters when no one else is running, but I voted for him.

 

Iowa has two candidates for Secretary of State. Michael Mauro, the Democratic Party candidate, is currently the Polk County Auditor and Commissioner of Elections. In that role, he’s involved in dispute surrounding the primary election for County Recorder, but I’ll get into that later. This election was decided for me by Maruo’s opponent. It turns out Mary Ann Hanusa, the Republican Party candidate, doesn’t actually live in Iowa, according to Daily Kos. In an otherwise uninteresting race, that’s enough to lose my vote. I went with Mauro.

 

Before anyone starts to wonder why I didn’t just color in the party-line vote oval, I wanted to skip ahead to the State Auditor race, in which I voted for the Republican candidate David A. Vaudt. Now it’s true that Vaudt is the only candidate on the ballot in this race, and it’s also true that I searched for other write-in options.

But when I didn’t find any alternatives to Vaudt or skipping the race, I looked in depth at Vaudt’s website, and a few newspaper articles involving Vaudt, and I found no good reason not to vote for him. Like Boswell, Vaudt won my vote by not disqualifying himself. I’m not sure, but Vaudt may be the first Republican I’ve ever voted for.

 

There are three candidates for US Representative from the Third District of Iowa, where I live. Helen Meyers, of the Socialist Workers Party, has no website. I really don’t think a website is too much to ask of a candidate for US Representative. That leaves just two: Leonard L. Boswell, running as a Democrat and Jeff Lamberti, running as a Republican.

I don’t expect it will surprise anyone who read of my inclination to vote for a Green Party candidate for Governor that I voted for Boswell in this race. Both campaign websites include the same stock "I like puppies" kind of political rhetoric, void of specific positions on specific issues. But Lamberti scared me away by calling himself a conservative leader. I take that a euphemism for a willingness to have the government dictate who can and can not get married, and that’s a good way to lose my vote. Boswell won my vote by not disqualifying himself.

 

There are five candidates for Governor of Iowa, with Lieutenant Governor running on the same tickets so I chose them together. The first out of contention is Mary J. Martin, running in the Socialist Workers Party. She’s out because she has no website. There are some less important offices for which I’ll let a candidate get by without a website, but not Governor.

Next out is Kevin Litten, running in the Libertarian Party. His poorly designed website is lacking any information on specific issues, perhaps because he’s already given up, saying I may not win this election. Sorry Kevin, try a little harder next time. And then there were three.

I don’t trust Jim Nussle, the Republican candidate for Governor. Specifically I don’t like his ambiguous position on abortion, which apparently bothers people on the other side of the issue as well. I can understand the desire to ban all abortion. I think it’s mistaken, but an honest mistake. But Jim Nussle seems to be hiding his real position, and that’s why he lost my vote.

The remaining to candidates for Iowa Governor are Chet Culver, on the Democratic Party ticket, and Wendy S. Barth, on the Green Party ticket. Barth looks much better. She has clear positions on important issues, and in general I agree with those positions. Culver, on the other hand, takes vaguely agreeable positions on popular issues. If I was the only one voting in this election, I would have voted for Barth.

But I looked at the polls and saw that Culver and Nussle were in a statistical tie, so I filled in Culver’s oval as a strategic vote against Nussle. Sorry Green Party. The day after I filled in this oval, a new poll came out with Culver ahead by 7%. In retrospect, I should have waited until closer to the election to fill in my ballot at all. But it’s done now, and I voted for Culver for Governor.

 

I have referred to myself as “an independent voter” through many elections now, but this year was the first in which I actually took on the responsibility of idenpendent voting, and it turned out to be surprisingly tedious work. By “independent voter,” I mean that I will give any candidate an opportunity to earn my vote, regardless of party affiliation. This seems like the common sense basis of democracy to me, but I don’t know many people who do this.

In the past, I’ve asked a lot of a candidate wishing to earn my vote. Candidates had to somehow insert themselves into the various media I consume, e.g. radio, billboards, weblogs, showing up at my house, etc. If they failed to make themselves known to me, I voted based on what I knew of their opponent. If all candidates in a given race failed to do so, I voted based on a statistical correlation between party affiliation and my previous voting preferences. That is, I voted for Democrats because I tend to like Democrats.

This last part doesn’t make me feel very independent, especially when this actually happens a lot. Most elections I vote in are minor local and regional offices and I know nothing about the individual candidates. This year I voted absentee (which anyone can do in Iowa and many other states), so I could take my time to research these candidates and avoid resorting to party affiliation guesswork for any of my votes.

After many hours of researching, I’m happy to say I didn’t vote for anyone based on their party affiliation, but I did vote for a few based on something other than the information I was able to find. This is because I wasn’t able to find much information. So I applied my same criteria as before, only this time I was actively seeking out information.

If I couldn’t find anything about a candidate in a Google search, I voted based on what I knew about the opposing candidates. And if I couldn’t find any information about any candidates in a race, I voted based on gender. That’s admittedly not the best way to vote, and maybe I should have just not voted at all in those races, but I’m comfortable taking that gamble in the interest of getting more women in elected offices of government. In any case, I managed to vote without preference to party, which is important to me.

With that as my independent voting strategy, I will go through specifically who I voted for and why in the next few posts.

 

Last night I was chatting with my friend Josh about his new puppy when my computer suddenly went to sleep. At first I thought there was a power failure, but then I realized that my laptop has a battery, and then I noticed the sleep light was pulsing, so I pressed a key to wake it up.

This morning it happened again. And then again. It seemed to become more and more frequent until I restarted my computer, and then it was fine. Until it went to sleep again. And then it wouldn’t wake up. So I tried to do a restart with ctl-apple-power, and that didn't work. So I tried to shut it down by holding down the power button, and that didn’t work. So I tried to shut it down by removing the power cord and the battery.

That didn't even work. The sleep light continued to pulse despite the lack of any visible power source. I’m sure there’s a reserve battery in there somewhere, but I didn’t expect it to power the sleep pulse light. Eventually it died and I replaced the battery and the power cord and restarted and everything was fine. Until it happened again.

Quick learner that I am, I started to realize this problem wasn’t going to go away. I decided to try to figure out what was going on before tomorrow when the help desk guys at work could look at it, in case it was no longer running tomorrow. Somewhere in there I had run disk utility and found no apparent problems with the hard disk, so I figured at worst the hard disk would need to be moved to a different machine. No data loss, no problem. But you never know.

So I went searching online and found some information suggesting I should reset my Power Management Unit. So I followed the instructions from Apple, or at least I think I did. The process doesn’t include any indication of whether or not anything is actually happening. I might as well have been waving a crystal over my PowerBook for all I could tell I was doing.

No spontaneous insomnia yet in the time it took me to type this. Time to burn some backup CDs. Apparently it’s Backup Sunday anyway.

Update: about an hour later, it grew sleepy again. After reading more, I found a suggestion to delete /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/[SomethingToDoWithPowerManagement].plist. I’d tell you the actual file name, but it hasn’t reappeared yet. No sleepiness since, so I guess that’s okay. I hope.

 

Via a comment on MetaFilter, I just learned about the levels of tzedakah, which I'll copy here from Wikipedia because I found it interesting:

  1. Giving a poor person work (or loaning him money to start a business) so he will not have to depend on charity. This is because the person is now free from having to rely on charity. The giver has not just helped the recipient for the short while, but instead for the rest of their life. There are four sub-levels to this:
    1. Giving a poor person work.
    2. Making a partnership with them (this is lower than work, as the recipient might feel he doesn't put enough into the partnership).
    3. Giving a loan.
    4. Giving a gift.
  2. Giving charity anonymously to an unknown recipient.
  3. Giving charity anonymously to a known recipient.
  4. Giving charity publicly to an unknown recipient.
  5. Giving charity before being asked.
  6. Giving adequately after being asked.
  7. Giving willingly, but inadequately.
  8. Giving unwillingly.

Especially so in the context of the Grameen Bank, which just won the Nobel Peace Prize today. The Grameen bank is level 1.3 of tzedakah. Back in the day, the WPA was level 1.1. But I’m not sure level 1.1 can really be instutionalized outside the context of economic catastrophe. Even the WPA was criticized for promoting laziness. People don’t like to feel lazy, and sometimes it’s nice to have incentives to live up to our potential. The Grameen Bank provides those incentives, so I think on the levels of tzedakah, it’s about as good as a large organization can get.

 

A while back I was presented with the possibility that I might be moving to Carbondale at the end of the year, or I might not. I decided to take the copout and put off this decision as long as possible. Meanwhile I’ve been more actively seeking out contract work so that if I did end up moving to Carbondale, I’d at least have some sort of income.

Last week Jessica finished her first term of teaching (half a semester), and she’s relatively happy with her job in Carbondale. Last week I also made more money from contract work than I did at my full time job. So I made a decision to definitely move to Carbondale. I’m not moving immediately because I have a lot I want to do before moving. In addition to packing up my life in Des Moines, I also have a lot of projects at work I’d rather not leave without completing. So I’m moving around the end of the year.

But I’m probably not quitting my job at the end of the year. We haven’t worked out all the details, but I’ll likely be working remotely for a few months at least, doing pretty much what I do now in Des Moines, only doing it in Carbondale. On the down side, I expect it will be slightly more work for everyone involved to communicate strictly with no face to face contact. On the up side, I will no longer eat all the candy in the accounting department. And I can fold my laundry while I read my email. I do that anyway, but with personal email. Now I’ll get paid to do it.

I’ll be happy to continue working on familiar projects with familiar people, but I’m also enjoying the freelance work I’ve been doing. It’s a good way to prioritize my seemingly endless interest in web development. Things people are willing to pay me to do tend to be more interesting than updating my existing unpaid web services whenever someone wants something more out of them. I’m tempted to pay someone to answer the endless stream of comments on my original MySpace RSS post.

So this is all good. The problem, if it can be called a problem, is that I’m now facing a scenario of having too much paid work. I’ll definitely prioritize the steady work from my current employer, but I hate to entirely give up on the freelance stuff. I have a lot of stuff I’d like to do, and I often think it would be nice to pay someone else to do it. So that’s what I’m going to do.

I’m going to keep accepting as much freelance work as I can get doing projects that interest me, and I’m going to take the money I make from that and pay someone else to do other projects that interest me. So I’m looking to hire web developers (and less so designers) with interests similar to my own.

What are those interests? Probably the main disqualifier is that I’m willing to do interesting work for little pay. I make more money than I need, not because I make a lot, but because I don't need a lot. And I expect anyone I hire to have a similar prioritizing of, say, making data make sense over high income. Students would be good.

Beyond that, I’m looking for developers who use technologies I use or at least that I’m interesting in learning. The former include PHP, MySQL, JavaScript, CSS, semantic HTML, and a few other odds and ends. The latter include Ruby on Rails, Python, PostgreSQL, Flash, and maybe Perl. Basically, ASP, Java, and ColdFusion coders need not apply. It would be nice if one had an understanding of basic things like binary and HTTP, but I don’t really want to get too picky about specific knowledge. I’m more interested in curiosity.

So if you know anyone looking for some interesting web development work for reasonable but not extravagant income, please let me know.

 

I think I enjoyed the premiere of Battlestar Galactica season three more than Dave Rogers. I suspect that’s because I’m a less dedicated fan. Dave has a well-developed understanding of the motivations of each character, but I’m conceptualizing them much more generally, and especially so after the long summer break.

Some characters are generally good. Some characters are generally bad. Some characters are generally ambiguous. Some characters are civilians. Some characters are military. With the entire plot turned upside down, none of this has changed really. While Dave is expecting a more complex reason for Adama’s guilt, the thought hadn’t crossed my mind.

At the end of season two, I was rather annoyed at the plot twist. After watching the premiere of season three, I’m still annoyed at it, but not for the reasons I was before (the plot is broken), nor for the reasons Dave seems to be. I’m now going to spoil both the plot twist and the season three premiere, so if you haven’t seen those and don’t like spoilers, stop here.

Now then, up until the end of season two, the analogies between the Battlestar Galactica universe and modern events here in reality were pretty obvious. Cylons, like terrorists, do not observe the moral boundaries the rest of us enjoy. Yet they look and act just like normal people. What are we to do? Kill them all! Hmm, that didn’t work so well. We better put some more thought into this. And that’s where we are at the end of season two: putting more thought into how to live in a world where anyone could be walking around holding a fundamentally different world view that threatens everything we hold dear, and we have no way of knowing it until it’s too late.

At the end of season two, the cylon-terrorists suddenly win the war. They’re able to impose their world view on humanity, and everything changes. Now humanity is the terrorists, with suicide bombers to boot. New moral question: what would you do if you were an Iraqi? I don’t like this question because it’s not really that interesting. I don’t know exactly what I’d do, but I know I wouldn’t support suicide bombers. Maybe I’d feel differently if this wasn’t so entirely hypothetical, but it is. Iraqis are not watching Battlestar Galactica.

The cylons are now playing the part of America in this analogy, and I’d say it’s not really working so far. As a viewer, am I supposed to feel empathy for the cylons? I feel more empathy for Bush. At least he has some vague plan, detached from reality as it is. But despite the chilling "they have a plan" conclusion of the Battlestar Galactica intro, by all appearances they don’t really. It turns out the world view they’re finally able to impose on humanity isn’t a world view at all. It’s a mish-mash of completely contradictory world views.

Some of the cylons believe in peace; others want to destroy humanity. Some love humans; others hate them. It’s not so unbelievable that the cylons would contradict each other, but that any authoritarian regime would. I’m having a lot of trouble believing this mix of views was somehow able to come together to accomplish even the most mundane task, much less the subjugation of all of humanity. They’re voting! Genocidal maniacs don’t vote on exactly how much genocide to carry out. Suddenly I’ve lost my suspension of disbelief.

So I’m no longer interested in the moral questions of Battlestar Galactica and I no longer believe the basic plot makes any sense, even granting the questionable science of it all. Why do I say I liked it more than Dave? Because the plot is unresolved, and my shallow attention to the show makes that unresolved plot compelling despite these other failings.

I want the good guys to win. What began as a show appealing to my more refined philosophical side now appeals to my most basic interests. I won’t be very surprised if the cylons kill a puppy in the next episode just to dumb it down a little more for me and make me sympathize even with the suicide bombers in my desire for the good guys to win. And that’s not so bad, but I was expecting more.

Maybe the show will grow more complex again. Maybe I really will start to question the ethics of suicide bombing. Maybe I’ll gradually forget that the cylons destroyed humanity and start to care about the problems they face trying to come to terms with their status as the sole remaining superpower. But I think it’s more likely I’ll instead spend the rest of Battlestar Galactica season three waiting for the good guys to win.

 

Last weekend I attended a wedding. Somewhere between the readings and the rings, the officiator (judge? minister?) said something about how the ceremony was a public acknowledgment if a commitment long since made, or something to that effect. I thought this was an interesting reinterpretation of the wedding ceremony.

I know several couples who had weddings this year. It may be a skewed sample, as one of those weddings was my own, but all of them lived together for years prior to marriage, and they were all pretty much "married" long before the wedding. This is the kind of change that many fear as part of the gradual destruction of families in America.

But it’s a surprisingly subtle change in practice. The ceremony looks and feels just as it would if the wedding was actually the marriage. And I think the result is actually a gradual strengthening of marriage, by detaching it from what is ultimately an arbitrary wedding ceremony, generally scheduled more around the progression of the weather than the progression of the relationship. Now we just need to detach marriage from government.

 

I’m moving most of my tech geek posts to a new WordPress blog on my MakeDataMakeSense.com domain. No wait — not blog, log. A long time ago I had a blog. Here I have a weblog. Now I'm trying a log.

Anyway, for those of you interested in tech geekdom, find it over there now. And for those of you who have suffered through the tech talk in hopes I might get around to discussing what I'm eating or whatever (that's right, mom, I'm talking about you), suffer no more. I had cheese and crackers for dinner. The crackers were multi-grain, so that counts as a healthy dinner, right?

There's more exciting insight into the life of Scott where that came from! Stay tuned. Or retune. The choice is now up to you.

 

One of my pet peeves is the incorrect use of technical terminology in public. Sometimes I feel like I’m some sort of linguistic elitist when I point out that not everything interesting done in JavaScript is "AJAX." But unlike those who obstinately repeat “ain’t ain’t a word,” technically meaningless terminology actually affects people’s ability to communicate.

Case in point:

>> If I have a form element like
>> <input type="text" name="mydata">
>> Is there a way to select it in a similar manner to getElemntById()?
>
> var nameArray = document.getElementsByTagName('mydata');


I can' seem to get getElementsByTagName working. I am not sure what I am doing wrong.

This confused individual thought “TagName” referred to the “name” attribute. Why would anyone think the “name” attribute was a tag? Because hundreds of people go around referring to attributes and tags. Stop it. You’re confusing people. If you don’t know what a technical term means, don’t use it. Use plain English instead.

 

Two days later, I’m just now getting my life back to normal after BarCampMilwaukee. It was a great experience. I had a lot of fun, I learned a lot, and I think the session I led went relatively well. I posted my slideshow on Make Data Make Sense, mostly as a backup in case my laptop melted on the way to Milwaukee. I’ve never found slideshows very interesting without accompanying soundtracks or video, but I’ll leave it up there for future reference.

You can see photos of BarCampMilwaukee on Flickr or videos of BarCampMilwaukee on blip.tv. Just one video so far, from Pete Prodoehl. I have an almost frightening amount in common with Pete, which became clear early on as we both wore the same t-shirt on Saturday. The picture is me talking to Jordan Arentsen after his Ruby on Rails session, which was interesting, but I can’t say I was persuaded to start using Rails right now.

What I was persuaded to start using is Flash 9. I learned a lot about Flash 9 in an impromptu session led by Dustin DuPree, seen on Flickr just before giving his introduction, and just after I gave my own introduction, which apparently failed. (I thought I was all clever to note that the mic wasn’t working, only to discover I was the only person in the room who didn’t realize the mic was only for the video camera.) Not only is Flash 9 available as a free and unrestricted beta, but the new coding syntax is almost indistinguishable from Java, is tied into the open source Eclipse IDE, can be styled with a slight variant of CSS, and Flex interfaces look about as simple as XCode's drag and drop Interface Builder. I left the session feeling like I had to learn Flash 9, if only to understand what exactly I’m working against when I use open web standards.

I also enjoyed learning a bit about Drupal from Blake Hall, learning about robots from a guy whose name I’ve forgotten and can’t find on the wiki, learning about logo design from Mike Rohde, and learning about cell phones from an anonymous camper. But I think I enjoyed the less lecture-style sessions the most (despite my own being rather lecture-style).

I really enjoyed learning Werewolf from Tegan Dowling. It was also interesting talking about refuseniks with a group of tech heads who were surprisingly even less optimistic about the likely effects of technology on society than I am. And everything else was great too. I didn’t really go to any sessions that weren’t interesting. But I enjoyed the mash pit the most of all.

It was great to sit down with a group of geeks and flesh out a project without constraints like a business plan or any need to explain technical concepts or much of anything really. Except time. We didn’t actually get anything finished, but we got to a rough proof-of-concept (currently available at tenbytenbytime.org) by 3am (which made the 7am cell phone lessons very exciting). It was basically a few hours of what I dreamed my life as a web developer would be like back during the (first) bubble.

So BarCamp was generally fantastic, and I hope I will be able to attend another BarCamp within the next year. I don’t see any currenct planned very near where I live now, nor where I’m likely to live in the near future, so I might need to work on starting a new BarCamp. Meanwhile, next weekend Jessica and I are going to a wedding, and then two weeks after that I’m probably going to a re-wedding, so it will be a while before I really settle back into normal life, i.e. a weekend at home.

 

<rant>

Whoever is in charge of posting Daily Show and Colbert Report clips to comedycentral.com should be fired. I’m subscribed to these clips via my Comedy Central RSS Creator feeds, so I see the various permutations they go through between when they’re first posted and the final, correct versions. In the past, there have been several problems of links pointing to the wrong clips. Some of these get corrected and some are left broken forever.

But in the past few days, the problems have compounded. Clips are posted with titles like "Interview part 1" or "Headline part 2", then renamed hours later with actual descriptive titles. Daily Show clips are posted under the Colbert Report. And it’s Windows Media, so it frequently just doesn’t work at all. That last one isn’t really the responsibility of whoever is uploading the clips, but it’s part of what annoys me. Can it really be that difficult to post the clips with the correct title, the correct show, and the correct clip? I notice the ads never fail to load correctly.

</rant>

 

I wanted to record this from Newsweek International:

Losing the War...Losing the War...Losing the War...My Life in Picture

Via MetaFilter

 

I’m done with Deadwood. I didn’t read until I had finished watching season 3 that there won’t likely be a season 4, which is disappointing. But it sounds like there’s still some chance they’ll wrap up the plot with a few more longer episodes.

Until Battlestar Galactica starts up again, I am lacking my staple one television show. I’ve recently had three different people whose opinions on TV I trust recommend, if only implicitly by mentioning that they watch, Veronica Mars. The first was Peter, I think via email, as I’m not finding it in his blog. The second was Dave Rogers. And then there was Dan.

So I watched the first episode with high expectations. It did not meet those expectations. The characters aren’t particularly interesting, and the plot of the first episode was pretty standard high school drama. But I talked to Dan and his wife about it, and they suggested I give it a couple more shows before giving up on it. I just watched the third episode tonight and while my opinion hasn’t substantially changed, I expect I’ll keep watching.

The individual plots of the second and third episodes were slightly more interesting than the first, but more important to keep my attention, there’s a more developed but still unresolved over-arching plot. Unfortunately the characters are still rather boring. The good guys are always good and the bad guys are always bad. Also, the kids are unbelievably mature. So maybe I’ll stop watching Veronica Mars in a couple weeks when Battlestar Galactica starts up again, but for now, it seems to have become my time killer despite these deficiencies.

 

My plan for BarCamp was to follow up the session on microformats by showing something specific and cool you can do with microformats in the area of geohacking and online mapping. Specifically, you can combine Technorati's microformat search for finding hCard data, my new Auto Geo proxy for geocoding addressed hCards, Brian Suda's geo-to-KML service for creating KML documents from geocoded data, and Google Maps, for displaying the data in a nify map.

The whole thing was going to be pretty cool. You could search for "Bob" and get a map of people named Bob, and all Bob has to do is basically wrap his address in class="adr". That’s much easier than making your own Google Map, which is about as easy as it can be, or looking up your latitude and longitude, which is still needlessly cumbersome.

And I’m still working on making this whole process run a little more smoothly for Bob and his once and future friends who want to find him on a map. But I will no longer be talking about this in any depth at BarCampMilwaukee. The planned leader of the microformats session can no longer make it, which left me with a sort of microformats 201 session missing a microformats 101 session. So I’m now leading the microformats session.

That will be easy because I could explain microformats in my sleep, and there seems to be more interest in the general concept of microformats than the geo stuff. But I am a little disappointed I don’t get to demonstrate and explain something I find more interesting. For now, I’ll settle for showing you where I live on a map created by running a page with my street address through three different web services. That’s actually several houses down from where I live, but you get the idea.

 

Talk Like a Pirate Day is a yearly event in which many people talk like a pirate, especially online. But not nearly enough people talk like a pirate, so for tomorrow's Talk Like a Pirate Day, I wrote a Greasemonkey script to force the entire web to talk like a pirate. An example with Browse Like a Pirate enabled:

New York Times Browsed Like a Pirate

New York Times Browsed Like a Pirate

 

Dan points out that Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. I had no idea there was such a problemm among Buffalo buffalo.

 

I decided today to attend BarCampMilwaukee at the end of this month. Because BarCamp requires participation, and because I’m interested, I’ll be doing a session on "Online Maps, Mapping Tools & Geohacking." I had a project in mind that loosely falls under this title, which someone else had proposed as a session topic, so now I just need to make it and talk about it in the next couple weeks.

I’ve never attended, much less presented at, a technical conference before. I think BarCamp will be a good place to start. I have presented at and attended other conferences before on topics such as linguistics, gay rights, and general academic research, and I’ve read a lot about BarCamp and other tech conferences, so I think I have a pretty good idea of what I’m getting into.

I seem to have done something recently that landed me on a to-be-invited-to-conferences list. I’ve been working online for ten years and hadn’t been invited to a single tech conference until a couple weeks ago when I was personally invited to a more prestigious and expensive conference. Among other problems, the conference speakers list didn’t include a single woman (though I was assured it was not for lack of trying), which didn’t sound very interesting to me.

But then this morning Pete Prodoehl sent me a personal invitation to BarCampMilwaukee. I looked at it and it seemed interesting, it’s free, and it’s not too far away, so I’m going. I’ll flesh out my session in more detail after I’ve written the code on which it will be based, which hopefully won’t take long. But really with a word like "geohacking" in the title, how could it not be interesting?

 

Five years ago I was driving my car from my apartment to my university when I heard on the radio that a plane had struck the World Trade Center. I assumed it was an accident and didn’t think much of it until I walked by a room on my way to class or work (I don’t remember which) and saw a group of people watching the news. I watched throughout the morning until it became clear to me what was happening.

I had a few friends in New York, but I didn’t think first of them. My first thought was that this was Pearl Harbor and it was now the time to start preventing Hiroshima. I spent much of the next four years working to that end. I walked around campus in September 12 with the words "the other cheek" written on my face, in an effort to bring out the good in people and not the bad I feared was coming. I encouraged reconciliation and discouraged revenge. I helped organize multiple organizations focused on these goals.

I drew attention to the innocent civilians dying as we bombed Afghanistan. I loudly opposed our invasion of Iraq. I made the front page of newspapers. I made the TV news. I spoke on panels. I campaigned for politicians calling for peace. I campaigned against politicians calling for war. I compromised and voted for Kerry. I registered voters and served as an election judge to help others do the same.

None of this worked. I hope I made some small impact, but many more innocent people have died in the pursuit of vengence for the events of five years ago than died on that day. I didn’t hear they died on the radio. I didn’t see it on the TV. There is no moment of silence for these people. I don’t remember what I was doing when they died.

 

Buy Me an Ounce (MP3, lyrics) is my third song (one, two) with lyrics from a poem by e. e. cummings. I believe the poem is something about gender inequality, but I’m not as clear on the meaning as I have been with the previous two. In other music news, a couple weeks ago I uploaded a song to MetaFilter music, a cover of one of my favorite songs, XO by Elliott Smith, which was requested by someone I only know as "cortex" on MetaFilter. I was pretty happy with how it turned out.

Last weekend I had the pleasure of hearing Theodore play twice. I went to hear them play Thursday night because my friend JJ is in the band, but I went to hear them again Friday night because I really like their music. Unfortunately their recordings are only available on MySpace, an awful website, and those recordings are all rather old and don’t sound much like the current band. But if you get a chance to hear Theodore (from St. Louis), I recommend you take it. If I end up moving to Carbondale, I hope I might be able to perform with them. Meanwhile, I’m writing songs. I have two more on my to-record list.

 

Because I live in Iowa and work at an agency that does advertising for various ethanol-related organizations, I often find myself in conversations about ethanol. Ethanol is an exciting prospect for a sustainable fuel source, but most people I talk to know this already, so I generally spend most of these conversations pointing out potential problems with ethanol.

We tend to overlook potential problems when evaluating something new that promises to solve existing problems, and I get paid to promote ethanol, so I want to add some balance to my own small impact and these discussions by pointing out problems, e.g. ethanol is not polution-free, not all cars can run on ethanol-heavy fuel, and so on. But with all these problems in mind, ethanol is clearly much better than oil as a fuel source.

The biggest problem seems to be that there’s just not enough ethanol to really replace oil. Whenever I point this out, someone asks me how much ethanol there is, and I say "I don’t know." Today, I found out. Someone on NPR said there’s enough corn-based ethanol to produce 15 billion gallons of fuel a year. That’s a small dent in the 140 billion gallons of oil we current use yearly.

I also mention in these conversations that there might be ways of making ethanol other than corn. And then someone asks me more about those alternate ethanol sources, and I say "I don’t know." Today, I found out this too. An article in the Des Moines Register says distilleries that can make fuel alcohol from crop waste, prairie grasses or trees rather than corn should be in operation within five years.

Unfortunately, the article doesn’t say how much fuel we can expect those distilleries to produce. I expect it’s nowhere near the 125 billion gallons needed to entirely replace oil. But I’m a little more hopeful than I was yesterday that between ethanol, solar, other technologies, and reduced consumption, the transition to a post-oil economy need not be very painful.

 

I'm a 2nd Degree Decided, if I get kicked in the face by a yellow belt, that's my fault. Sympathy can be found in the dictionary between "shit" and "syphilis." So I got a bloody nose, and a reminder to pay attention.

Dave Rogers

 

I’ve added a simple math question to the comments. I don’t like inconveniencing innocent people to stop the guilty, just in principle, but I was getting really tired of deleting all the spam from my moderation queue. If you can’t figure out the correct answer to the math question, your comment doesn’t even make it into the queue now. But when you fail, it will tell you the correct answer, so it’s really more of a literacy test than a math test. If you’re able to read, you should have no trouble submitting a comment. And if you’re not able to read, well, you should go learn instead of submitting comments here.

 

Aaron Swartz, on Wikipedia:

When you put it all together, the story become clear: an outsider makes one edit to add a chunk of information, then insiders make several edits tweaking and reformatting it. In addition, insiders rack up thousands of edits doing things like changing the name of a category across the entire site -- the kind of thing only insiders deeply care about. As a result, insiders account for the vast majority of the edits. But it's the outsiders who provide nearly all of the content.

BoingBoing on Aaron Swartz:

Aaron Swartz, who is running for the WIkipedia executive, has done some data-crunching using a rented supercomputing cluster, against many Wikipedia entries to determine how Wikipedia entries get written.

Jaron Lanier on Wikipedia:

What makes a market work, for instance, is the marriage of collective and individual intelligence. A marketplace can't exist only on the basis of having prices determined by competition. It also needs entrepreneurs to come up with the products that are competing in the first place.

BoingBoing on Jaron Lanier:

It's an engaging essay to be sure, but much more thought-provoking to me are the responses … I have a hard time fearing that the participants of Wikipedia or even the call-in voters of American Idol will be in a position to remake the social order anytime, soon. … Claiming authorship is really just a matter of ego and royalties.

I find it interesting that two people saying pretty much the same thing met such drastically different reactions. I suspect the difference can be attributed primarily to framing. Jaron made the mistake of placing himself on the side of “experts,” in a culture that devalues expertise. Aaron was smart enough to place himself on the side of “the masses,” in a culture that values populism. But these are ultimately just different names for the same group of people.

In a follow-up after all the (deservedly) positive attention he’s received, Aaron writes:

Larry Sanger famously suggested that Wikipedia must jettison its anti-elitism so that experts could feel more comfortable contributing. I think the real solution is the opposite: Wikipedians must jettison their elitism and welcome the newbie masses as genuine contributors to the project, as people to respect, not filter out.

But Aaron’s opposite is just repeating the same argument with more appealing words. Replacing “experts” with “masses,” in the context of a project in which the masses are experts, is a meaningless distinction. But it’s very important nonetheless. Lesson: it matters how you frame an argument, and you can change framing without changing the argument. It would be nice if we could all recognize that Jaron and Larry and Aaron are all correct, but that’s just not how people work. We need our truth wrapped in a good story.

 

Seth Godin writes:

We're responsible for what we sell and how we sell it. We're responsible for the effects (and the side effects) of our actions.

It is our decision. Whatever the decision is, you need to own it. If you can't look that decision in the mirror, market something else.

I was surprised he wrote this because I gather Seth’s readership is primarily marketers, and he generally tells them, or I should say us, things we like to hear, e.g. from the same post: Marketing (the use of time and money to create a story and spread it) works. I guess that candy coating was added to sweeten a medicine that no one, in marketing or otherwise, really wants to swallow: you’re responsible for your own actions.

I was somewhat worried about this responsiblity when I accepted my current job at an advertising agency, but in the past year I haven’t really been asked to help sell anything I feel bad about. Helping sell beef is the closest I’ve come to an ethical compromise, as I’m vegetarian. But I’m the kind of vegetarian who finds this amusing:

MEAT IS MURDER. Tasty, tasty murder.

Photo source unknown

It seems I’m lucky to be working at an agency with pretty good clients, and most people who work in this industry are making a lot of ethical compromises they would rather not think about in terms of personal responsibility. So I don’t expect Seth’s post on this topic is going to sell many books. But I was pleasantly surprised to read it.

 

Flickr's new mapping feature is very cool. I’ve only eaten gellato once in my life, and it was bought from the same shop as the cone this boy is eating, and eaten while looking out the same window:

Photo by robbed on Flickr

It’s something I never would have found without the mapping feature, and I’m amazed at how much it makes me miss places I’ve been before. That gellato was really good.

 

Spam (unsolicited commercial email) is a major problem in general, attracting various people to suggest solutions of all sorts: technical, legal, social, etc.. But few of these solutions get to the root of the problem: spam remains profitable. Most of the purchases intiated via spam are done in anonymity, so unfortunately we can’t do much to prevent people from buying various products and services from spam peddlers.

Stock spam, emails encouraging people to invest in a specific worthless stock, is on the rise, and the BBC has a story on why. Short story: quick profit. I wonder if stock spam doesn’t offer unique opportunities to solve the problem at the root. First, can’t we track down the people buying these stocks through public financial records, and call them out for public shaming? And second, I don’t know much about stock trading, but couldn’t we short-sell these stocks, reduce their value, reduce the profit for stock spammers, and possibly even take a bit of profit in the process?

None of this will work for other types of spam, but am I missing some reason why these methods won’t work to combat stock spam?

 

My friend Dan wrote an interesting post on his experience leaving New Orleans during Katrina and starting a new life here in Des Moines, which I would quote, but it’s short enough that I’d be quoting the whole thing. So you should just go read it. I think it speaks well of Dan that he’s able to add some much-needed optimism to an awful situation.

 

Dave Rogers continues his effort at debunking the vacuous, though emotionally appealing, assertions as he puts it. And he even provides a better rebuttal to himself than I think anyone else could have:

Now, some sage will come along and point out something like, "all men are created equal," and suggest that it is also an emotionally appealing formulation that has no basis in reality. And despite its presence in the Declaration of Independence, we know the signers didn't, in fact, regard all men as being created "equal," and pretty much ignored women entirely. But, the virtue would supposedly be that it helped to create "a new world," where men were more equal than in the old one. A "flatter" one, if you will. But again, there were more processes at work in that period in history than are captured in that one document, and there was, and remains, plenty of suffering to come in the effort to live up to the notion that "all men are created equal." It doesn't come about because someone put it down on paper, nor is it necessary, but it helps certain other processes gain supporters and adherents. Marketing, in other words.

The first thought that came to my mind was Phil Ochs' song, also the title of his posthumous greatest hits album, The War is Over. I wasn’t alive when the song was written during the American invasion of Vietnam, but I know the war was not actually over, and I always wondered what kind of effect that had on the people, stating aspiration as fact. Surely the phrase "all men are created equal" has changed how we think about equality in America, and I think probably for the better.

So while the opportunity that anybody has to enjoy the same, or more. That’s what’s great about blogging doesn’t appear to be helping anyone much, I don’t think all aspirations stated as fact are harmful. I’m not sure where the distinction is, but here’s a rough guess at what it might be:

The signatories to the Declaration of Independence had something at stake (land claims) in bringing reality closer to their stated aspirations. The cheerleaders of weblogging, on the other hand, have something at stake (attention claims) in preventing reality from matching their stated aspirations. Today, there’s still no scarcity of land in America, but there is a scarcity of attention on the web.

That’s my theory today anyway.

 

I’ve recorded and posted an MP3 of 8th Grade Graduation as well as lyrics. As I said last week, it’s inspired by Barak Obama’s courageous stance against 8th grade graduations. I played it last Wednesday, and I think it went quite well. Afterward, a man at the bar said he liked it, but hadn’t heard it before. So I guess he thought it was a cover of some radio musician he might have heard. Maybe that’s just because it sounds more like a pop songs than my other music, but I prefer to think it’s because of my excellent songwriting abilities.

 

In the past week, I’ve received two separate notes of encouragement to continue writing my blog from complete strangers. The first was from mdhatter, who wrote:

So, I came across your blog, through 'jessicas'. which i got to by looking up an A Whitney Brown quote and seeing who wrote a funny comment. That's 3 degrees away from my original search, but it was time well spent. Nice place you've got.

And then someone else just sent me an email saying:

I haven't yet commented but I lost your blog for a while and only recently discovered it. Even though you usually dont receive very many comments, keep up the blogging. You do a great job of it and I like hearing your interesting opinions; chances are you'll have a regular commetor.

I wouldn’t find this so odd except that in the five years I’ve been writing a weblog (oh wow, almost exactly five - my first post was on August 22), this has never happened. Am I being too cynical in suspecting some cause for this beyond the simple kindness of strangers?

Have I been giving off the impression recently that I intend to shut down my weblog soon? (I don’t.) Is there some sort of coordinated “improve the atmosphere around here” effort afoot? (Maybe there should be.) Is this all part of a targetted spam campaign? (I get a dozen I love your blog!! spam comments daily, but none with references to specific content.) Or is it really just strangers going out of their way to be nice?

 

If last week’s album of the week was Mermaid Avenue by Billy Bragg and Wilco, this week’s is Her Majesty by the Decemberists. Here are my new songs:

That last one was written this week and I haven’t even recorded it yet. I think it sounds sort of like the Decemberists. It’s inspired by Senator Barack Obama’s appearance on Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me in August of 2005, during which he discussed his controversial position that 8th grade graduation should not exist. I attempted to explore the benefits of 8th grade graduation in song form, with a chorus of “Your 8th grade graduation is a day that you’ll remember for the rest of the night.”

As a reminder, I’m playing 9pm-12am at the Continental Lounge in Des Moines on Wednesday, August 16th, tomorrow.

 

Now, I was about to say that this is a bad thing because peacefully dealing with incompatible people is important to living in a society. But that's not true. No, peacefully dealing with people you can't stand is society. That's literally all it is. People with opposite tastes and conflicting personalities sharing space and cooperating, through gritted teeth sometimes.

David Wong, 7 Reasons the 21st Century is Making You Miserable.

 

New songs you would hear tonight if you were there:

I’m going to try to record live tonight, to quickly fill the numerous (one, and counting!) requests for CDs.

 

I’ll be playing at the Continental Lounge in Des Moines again this Wednesday, and then next Wednesday, and I suspect the Wednesday after that, but I didn’t want to push my luck. The owner of the Continental Lounge seems to like my music, so I expect to play there regularly, until I move. Which brings me to the other news:

Jessica has a job that starts in a few weeks teaching at Southern Illinois University. It’s not all finalized yet, but it seems likely she’ll be leaving for Carbondale in a couple weeks. “But Scott,” you say, “SIU is in Carbondale, and your job is in Des Moines. How is that working?” It’s not really. Not yet, anyway. For now, I’m staying here in Des Moines while Jessica starts work in Carbondale. Interesting honeymoon, I know, but I’m confident it will work out.

There’s a small chance Jessica will still find a good ESL teaching job in Des Moines, in which case I won’t move to Carbondale at all. There’s a slightly more likely scenario that I’ll find a job in Carbondale in the next few months and move there then. But neither job market seems very good for our respective vocations right now, so the most likely scenario seems to be that I’ll stay here until the end of the year, then join Jessica in Carbondale and be unemployed do freelance work.

So the next few months will double as both a stalling tactic in making a major transition and a chance to save up some money with both of us working full-time jobs at the same time before I no longer have steady income. It will also give me a chance to hone my musical skills if I am left with no choice but to become a world-famous musician for a living.

It’s all rather up in the air right now, but worst case scenario: Jessica works full-time, I try to make more than I spend online, and we adopt a lower-cost lifestyle than we’ve been living lately. I trust we can get by without the money fires.

Photo from slight clutter

 

I'll be playing again at the Continental Lounge in Des Moines this Wednesday night from 9pm to 12am. In addition to most of the songs I played previously, new additions will include:

This my attempt to be upbeat and start pontificating on relationships now that I’m married. Jessica assures me she likes the song.

 

Yesterday I was listening to a teleconference, and the local phone was muted. I started thinking about how speaking turns are negotiated in teleconferencing. Turn negotiation is increasingly an issue as less and less of our communication happens face-to-face anymore.

Different communications technologies allow for different styles of turn-taking. In iChat, for example, I can see when someone starts to type something, so I’ll wait for them to finish before going on with the conversation, or I’ll try to respond to their previous comment before they make another. It can be a little awkward at times, though, because the order we start speaking doesn’t always line up with the order of messages as they’re sent.

In email, this is less of an issue because there’s a longer gap between messages, but it can still be confusing on mailing lists when someone who doesn’t check their email obsessively is responding to a question that was asked yesterday and has already been answered several times and forgotten by the rest of the list.

I’m particularly interested in this issue because I’m pretty awful at turn taking in face-to-face conversation. Things should be easiest with all the context of visual cues and body language indicating who is about to speak, but I have a hard time taking what should be my turns in conversation. People tell me I don’t talk much. Hmm… I wonder if anyone ever tells someone they don’t listen much.

A long time ago I read that Ghandi, or maybe it was Buddha, would speak little so the few words had more impact. I remember thinking well of myself when I read that, but that’s entirely justification, not motivation, for my own speaking less. I failed my first driving test because I was too slow to pull out into traffic. If there were a conversation test, I’d fail that for the same reason.

So anyway, that’s what got me thinking about turn negotiation in teleconferencing, and in the process, I think I came up with a decent idea for a business. The elevator pitch: it would be the American Idol model of user-selected media applied to teleconferencing.

Phone Idol?

So rather than calling and voting on contestants you watch on TV, you would call to vote on contestants you hear on the phone. You and another random person listen to each other for a span of time, maybe a minute, and then you each press a button on your phone to vote on how interesting the other person’s speech/song/whatever was.

Then you move on and repeat this process for a few rounds until someone with something interesting to share has come out on top by social selection. Then everyone is patched in to hear the winning person do whatever they want to do on the teleconference for a minute or so. Rinse, and repeat.

The winning audio clips could be recorded and published as a podcast to increase the incentive to participate. Ads could run on the teleconference, or maybe it would work with a 1-900 number. I’m sure someone with an MBA could work out the business model, but I think there’s a business there waiting to be made.

Or maybe someone has already done something like this. I’ve never used one of those "party lines." Are they anything like this, or is that more of a dating thing? I don’t suppose there are many original ideas of things to do with phones any more, but I thought it was interesting enough to write up.

 

Here is a picture of a stem cell from the Biomedical Image Awards 2006:

stem cell

Here is a picture of me, taken a few weeks ago as I tried on my friend Phil’s glasses:

Scott Reynen wearing glasses

Phil’s glasses improved my vision slightly, but I don't wear glasses because the improvement isn’t consistent over time. I have juvenile diabeties, so my blood glucose levels don’t remain steady, and when they fluxuate, my vision blurs. Apparently the shape of our eyes is somewhat dependent on the amount of glucose in our blood.

Anyway, I present these two pictures here as an exercise for you, the reader. I don’t have perfect vision, so maybe you can see better than I can: which of these looks more like a person who could use help from the government?

 

Steve Rogne is a friend of mine from university days. We were apartment mates for about a year and a half. He recently became the Director of Zen Shiatsu Chicago. I’ve done a bit of revamping of their website for him, including giving Steve his own URL (because everyone should have a URL). I hope to get a blog set up for them soon (because everyone should have a blog). Speaking of blogs and new jobs, Dan has both (as everyone should).

Back to me. Last week I met with the bassist — let’s call him "Chris" (because that’s his name) — and we "jammed." Whenever anyone talks about "jamming," I think of it as some sort of improvisational music performance that I don’t know how to do. But really it’s just short hand for "playing music." At least that’s what we did. It went okay for the first time. It looks tentatively like the makings of a band (because everyone should have a band).

Speaking of bands, a week from now Jessica and I are having a wedding (because everyone should have a wedding). As far as the state of Iowa is concerned, we were actually married back in January, but the ceremony will be next weekend, and as far as our grandmothers are concerned, no ceremony means to marriage. We’ve attempted to plan it such that it will be more fun than stressful, so hopefully it will turn out that way.

If you’re interested in showcasing your home for a chance to win … looks like about $25,000 in prizes … Benjamin Moore’s current promotion began at 12am yesterday morning. I made the entry form. I also recently worked on the website for ICM, so if you need some work done on your ethanol refinery (because everyone should have an ethanol refinery), I recommend checking that out.

If you don’t yet have a URL, a blog, a new job, a band, a wedding, or an ethanol refinery, please let me know if I can be of any assistance. Because really, everyone should.

 

Dave Rogers follows up with, among other words:

Some people spend much of their lives building and moving into bigger and supposedly better boxes. I like being comfortable. Though I must say, I've learned most of the important things in my life by being very uncomfortable.

I think there are two types of comfort that have little to do with each other. Those of us who have the choice of whether or not to be comfortable in our current states tend to think of comfort as a choice people make. In an obese nation, for example, we can talk about whether or not we really need to lose or gain weight, or whether we should just learn to accept whatever weight we currently have.

But I think that’s the exception to common life experience. Most people really don’t have that choice. They really have a "box" constraining them. They either gain weight by finding the "bigger box," or they die. Or maybe the "box" is a lack of health care, or a civil war, or maybe they’re caught up in human trafficking, and it’s literally a box. There’s no shortage of real problems people can’t choose whether or not to face.

In America, and much of the developed world, we have no shortage of imaginary problems we can choose whether or not to face. We can decide when our boat is big enough because we aren’t drowning. But even for many Americans, that’s not the case, and it would be insulting to tell someone drowning that they’re just imagining their problems. I think most constraints on freedom are real and important, and that’s what I mean when I say "seriously, there is a box."

Probably at some point, there’s an inverse connection between the imagined constraints and the real ones, when building a large boat requires taking that last scrap of wood from the drowning victims. But I don’t think this is the norm, and in most cases, the two types of constraints, chosen and forced, have little in common. It seems to me that I’m focusing on the latter and Dave is focusing on the former and we’re not so much disagreeing about this being an elephant as we are focusing on different parts of it.

 

Dave Rogers said some things about what I said about what he said. I agree with his early sentiments. "Freedom" is a complicated concept, and I suspect it's not really worth unraveling, so let’s just work on whatever shared meaning we can squeeze out of that word.

We can know wrong things, and that’s just as — if not more — constraining as not knowing anything. But the only way to find out something we know is wrong is to come to know something right. Learning something wrong is the risk we take when learning. But in my experience, it’s not a very big risk.

Dave asks "how much knowledge you want to have before you think you have enough freedom. At what point does the desire for knowledge itself act as constraint?" I don't know what "enough freedom" would be in the general sense. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t seem to want more freedom.

But in specific contexts, I think "enough freedom" is an important question we all need to answer for ourselves. Some people find alcohol consumption increases their overall freedom, so they seek out knowledge to help increase their freedom to consume alcohol. Personally, I find alcohol consumption reduces my overall freedom, so I seek out other knowledge.

I think knowledge — like everything else, I suppose — acts as a constraint as soon as it becomes its own end. Let’s take an analogy: I’m trapped in a box. I want to get out of the box. You might respond with your transcendal wisdom that "there is no box," but seriously, there is. It’s made of wood, and I’m in it and I’m hungry. Not like "I could really go for a bowl of ice cream" hungry, but real "this hurts" hungry.

So my first step in getting out of the box (gaining freedom) is to learn about the box. I see that the box is nailed shut. This is useful knowledge. I see that there’s a crowbar inside the box. Also useful knowledge. I think to myself "knowledge is so great!" I look around the box for all the knowledge I can find. I inspect every grain in the wood, every curve in the crow bar, every nail in this box holding me in. I love knowledge! And I starve to death in the box, excited at my newfound knowledge of death.

I think that point where I notice the crowbar and start to value knowledge itself rather than the specific knowledge that enables me to increase freedom (using the crowbar to open the box) is where knowledge becomes constraining. Dave writes "Maybe we're all about as free as we're ever going to be." Maybe, but I doubt it, and I hope not. Such a flat world just doesn’t sound like much fun.

 

I guess I should have felt like a true fan, that my interest in them was “pure” and that he and I shared some sort of special musical connection. But mostly I wished the Apples in Stereo had more teenage girl fans so they could have played a better venue with decent sound.

Brad Sucks

 

Dave Rogers is reading a book called Heresies Against Progress and Other Illusions and writes The externally directed "knowing," the discovery and gathering of information, while empowering in other ways, does not make us more free. With that I think I agree. I agree, but I think this ignores an important point: knowledge does not make us free, but it enables freedom. Conversely, ignorance constrains us.

The problem is that knowledge has, for many of us, become the end rather than the means. When someone criticizes Wikipedia, too often the response is not an explanation of the benefits Wikipedia brings to real people, but instead a faith-based proposition that Wikipedia is inherently good by virtue of it being a large and growing collection of knowledge.

When knowledge is treated as a self-justifying goal, it can easily take precedence over more important things. When Wikipedia slanders someone, that’s hurting real people. That’s a problem that will only be recognized by those of us who maintain that people are more important than knowledge. Those who worship the all-knowing hive-mind as an eternal source of good are unable to see the problem of people getting hurt.

But I think disregarding the enabling aspect of knowledge is sort of like halting our consumption of water after someone drowns. Water doesn’t make us healthy, but it’s awfully hard to be healthy without water. On MakeDataMakeSense, I have a little diagram under the logo on every page, which looks like this:

DATA > INFORMATION > KNOWLEDGE > WISDOM

Knowledge and wisdom are greyed out because they’re outside the scope of the site. I’d probably go further and say they’re outside the scope of any programming project, because knowledge and wisdom are best handled by people, not machines. But they’re still there because they’re important.

I think "wisdom" to me is pretty much the same as Dave’s "interior knowledge." And I don’t think that can exist without "external knowledge." I think we get to know ourselves within our context. Some of us understand pain when we hit our finger with a hammer. Some of us understand pain when we lose a loved one. But we need to first understand a hammer, or understand death. No one understands pain without first understanding something else, some external knowledge that could most likely be found on Wikipedia.

 

Last night went reasonably well. I was mostly wrong about people paying attention. Other than people who knew me, only a few were actually listening. After I plugged in my guitar and the mic, I told someone who worked there that I was ready to start and she said “don’t you want to do a sound check?” and I said “well, I can hear myself play, and it’s just a guitar” and she said “but everyone does a sound check.” So it was obvious from the get-go that I didn’t know what I was doing. I wasn’t sure what else a sound check would involve, so I just started playing, and it seemed to work out okay.

I didn’t play exactly what I expected to. Earlier last night I remembered that I had intended to include Norah Jone’s “Don’t Know Why” in the list, so I sang that instead of Brad Sucks’ “You’re not Going Anywhere,” which stretches my vocal range when sung in two octaves, and is less interesting when sung in just one. Then I noticed I had “Carry Me Home” in my first set twice. I probably should have noticed that when practicing, but I blame you, the readers of my weblog, for not noticing that when I posted it.

Then at the end of the second set, as I was walking to sit down by Jessica, someone said “Scott?” And I said “yes” while thinking “how does this guy know my name?” Turns out he was a bass player I’ve been communicating with via email about possibly playing together. He seemed to like what he heard, but I wasn’t entirely sure what I had just played, so when I went back for the third set, I went straight to the songs that I thought were more representative of the type of music I’d like to play with a full band.

But then I got all confused about which songs I’d played and which I hadn’t. Luckily, I had too many songs in my set list anyway, so it all worked out. I ended on “With God on Our Side,” which has a final verse about leaving, so that worked out. I don’t suppose anyone really had any idea what words I was singing in the final verse (it didn’t arouse the spontaneous renunciation of war one might hope it would), but it seemed a good way to end the night.

I got paid what I was promised on the spot (which doesn’t always happen in my previous experience), and they even put out a tip jar for me, which was filled with five or six dollars from people who know me. The manager who paid me, Terra, told me that she liked my songs, but it’s more “Tuesday night” music. Then she said “we were saying ‘someone needs to get that guy a Red Bull’.” So I gather it was a bit too slow and depressing, but that’s sort of what I do, so maybe I just shouldn’t play on Friday nights.

She said the guy who arranges musicians was out of town for the week, but when he comes back, she’ll tell him I was good and should go into “the rotation.” I’m not sure how often that would be, but it sounds good. I might get together with the bass player next week and “see if we mesh,” as he put it. I’m not sure how to measure meshiness, but I guess I’ll find out.

Jessica’s friend Libby also picked up a business card from the woman who handles musicians at the local farmers’ market every Saturday morning, so I’m going to look into that. I would have gone this morning, but I’m surprisingly tired this morning. I guess singing was more work than it seemed at the time. I believe the farmers’ market is all tips, so it would require “crowd pleasers” to make any money. I’ve never been especially interested in pleasing crowds (I prefer to make them cry), but it would be good experience. As I wrote several years ago, and sang last night to the eager applause of an apparently drunk man, I heard stories are better than money.

 

The following is what I plan to play tomorrow night. I don’t record covers unless they are very dissimilar to the original (e.g. One More Time), but this should give you an idea of what kind of covers I play. It will also help me practice.

(LyricWiki.org seems to be down right now, so I’ll add the links to the lyrics for the covers later.)

Update: Looks like LyricWiki.org is dead. That’s too bad. I’ve added links to SongMeanings.net or something else instead, and crossed out the songs I didn’t actually play.

Hour 1, in which I channel e.e. cummings:

Hour 2, in which I pretend I’m in Radiohead:

Hour 3, in which I sing "goodnight" repeatedly:

 

This kind of thing -- publicly shaming a person for rude behavior by posting voice recordings, video, and photos on the Web -- is becoming very common -- sidekick thief, subway flasher, camera thief, subway puppy poo girl. Who needs law enforcement when you have a globally distributed mob ready to pounce on people who are accused of behaving badly?

Mark Frauenfelder, BoingBoing. I hope that’s sarcasm? Personally, I prefer laws to mobs.

 

Symbolic catalysts aren't all bad, but I think the real danger comes when we put too much stock in the symbol and ignore the underlying truth: Things got better because you were inspired to make them better.

Ethan Johnson, via Dave Rogers. Conversely, things got worse because you weren’t inspired to make them better.

 

Frank is a photographer from New Orleans. He graduated from Tulane University with degrees in Cognitive Science and Philosophy. Frank found photography on a lake in Maine; he lost it in the bright lights and darkrooms of New York, and rediscovered it in the curving columns of Coliseum Street.
Frank’s photographs have won some awards and he hopes they will win some more, because people like awards.

Frank Relle. Via Dan. Interesting photography, but I’ve mostly quoted because I found the "about" humorous: …because people like awards. I was sitting in a bar last night watching a White Sox game in overtime, and thinking about how some people really care about local sports teams, and other people just become interested out of sympathy for the true believers. Some people really care about awards, and Frank Relle has sympathy for those true believers. Some times it’s not enough to get your priorities in order, to stop caring about unimportant things. Sympathy is still important.

 

A couple weeks ago I responded to an ad on Craigslist seeking local musicians for Happy hour or late night set Monday - Thursday … acoustic guitarists or pianists to play low key jazz, blues, alternative pop for a three hour set. I am both an acoustic guitarist and a pianist. I responded thinking I could easily play low key blues piano for three hours some weeknight. I sent some MP3s of me playing guitar, because I don’t have any of me playing piano. And I was offered a spot on July 7, a Friday night, 9pm-12am.

I accepted the offer, but there are a few problem with it. First, they don’t have a piano at the Continental Lounge. I don’t know why they were advertising for pianists when they don’t have a piano. Did they think someone was going to bring in a piano? I have a keyboard, but it doesn’t sound enough like a piano that I can comfortably play low-key blues on it. So I think I’ll play guitar.

But the second problem is that I’m not sure that I have three hours worth of low-key guitar music. A lot of the songs I know involve yelling. I haven’t even been to the Continental Lounge before, so I have no idea what the atmosphere is, or if yelling might be inappropriate. The only other solo musician I know, JJ, suggested I play instrumental guitar music, which I’ll have to do to keep my voice during a three hour run, but I don’t normally play instrumental guitar music, so we’ll see how that goes.

The third problem is that it's not Monday - Thursday, as the ad said. It's Friday night. People ignore musicians Monday - Thurday, but they pay attention Friday night. I’m not sure I want people paying attention to my first show as a solo musician.

Basically, I have no idea what to expect right now, but I’m going to do it anyway. Even if it turns out to be a bad experience, it should be good experience. So if you’d like to hear what my music sounds like live, you’ll be able to do so — in one form or another — at the Continental Lounge (428 E. Locust St., Des Moines, IA) on July 7 9pm-12am.

 

In the spring of 2002 (if I remember correctly), I joined many of my university friends on a weekend trip to Luck, Wisconsin. We stayed on a farm with some kind folks who showed us how they use solar heating and electricity, convert their waste water to fertilizer, and generally remain self-sufficient.

According to DefenseTech (via BoingBoing), earlier this week, those same folks dressed up as clowns and broke into a nuclear missile silo. The FBI is involved in the case and federal charges are pending. I just wanted to point out to anyone paying attention amidst the cries of treason that I've met these people, and they are nice, normal people with whom you'd easily make friends. They just really dislike nuclear weapons.

 

As I move projects to MakeDataMakeSense.com, I’m giving everything a pretty icon and otherwise trying to make it look more "professional," under the theory that people are more likely to pay attention to something that looks like it might be for sale. And this is apparently working as evidenced by one project now listed in the Museum of Modern Betas as a "beta by inheritance." I guess I just need to tack a meaningless "beta" icon on everything to complete the sell-out process (without actually selling anything).

 

Yesterday I made a Greasemonkey script to detect telephone numbers in hCards and wrap them in callto: links to launch VOIP tools (e.g. Skype). This is the kind of thing I do to satisfy my own curiosity, assuming no one will ever use. Another such project was the Google hCalendar Greasemonkey script I did a while back, except I did that one in exchange for a free book. And it's now being used by Yahoo.

 

i hear that you don't change
how do you expect to keep up with the trends
you won't survive the information age
unless you plan to change the truth to accomodate the brilliance of man

Pedro the Lion, Letter From a Concerned Follower

 

Some people think email obfuscation is a good way to fight spam, that it's somehow more difficult for spammers to understand "account at domain dot com" or "account&64;domain.com" than "account@domain.com". These people are wrong. They will often readily admit that they don’t think email obfuscation will stop all spam, but it still makes them feel like they’re doing something in the war on drugs terrorism spam. Here's what they're doing: in addition to making email more difficult for legitimate uses, they're actually making it easier for spammers.

Google returns 27 million results for "* at * dot com". That's 27 million email addresses waiting to be spammed. Google doesn’t allow you to search for the "@" sign, so that’s 27 million email addresses that wouldn’t be available on Google if they were not obfuscated. Email obfuscation not only doesn’t hurt spammers — it actually helps them. Where it doesn’t make it easier, it acts as a placebo, making people feel more comfortable and complacent living in a world of spam. Like everything else, if you don’t want your email address publicly-available, don’t put it on the public web. But if we want to be able to publish email addresses on the web, we can’t continue this half-hearted war on spam, hiding under our beds of obfuscation and hoping they won’t find us.

 

Humanity i love you because you
are perpetually putting the secret of
life in your pants and forgetting
it's there and sitting down

e. e. cummings. I’m still reading through cummings’ poems looking for music. I’m not sure I have a melody for this one, but I really like it.

 

next to of course god america i (MP3, lyrics) is the second song I’ve recorded with lyrics from e. e. cummings. (The first was anyone lived in a pretty how town, which I need to re-record.) So far I've written four songs. I expect I'll eventually have a whole album's worth. I like e. e. cummings’ poems, and I find the songs are easy to write. It’s also more fun to listen to songs with lyrics someone else wrote. I don’t generally like listening to my own music, but I don’t mind with these e. e. cummings songs.

 

Oh, the absurdity of it all: putting all that effort into making memories they won't remember of good times they never had.

Life in Suburbia by Aaron Swartz.

 

In the end, if 70% of the people will give their password for a chocolate bar, why not at least help them do it from multiple computers? Thanks Google Browser Sync.

Elias Torres. I don’t have much faith in the accuracy of that chocolate bar password survey, but still …

 

Two songs in one day! This one, Wishful Thinkers (MP3, lyrics) is brand new. Freshly written today, I’ve only played it a few times. And if the freshness alone isn’t enough to interest you, it has not one, but two literary references. The first is to Amy Tan’s Saving Fish from Drowning, which I haven’t read, but Jessica has and she told me the story from which the title comes. The idea is that there are fishermen who are trying to save fish from drowning, but they’re always just a little too late, as the fish die shortly after being saved. I thought it was a funny story and a good analogy for solving problems that don’t exist and confusing hurting with helping, two forms of wishful thinking.

The second is the myth of Daedalus and Icarus, which I don’t think I’ve ever read either, but it’s a common enough story that I have a rough idea of how it goes. It’s a desperate failed attempt to overcome problems by cleverness alone, another form of wishful thinking. This one killed a person instead of fish.

I don’t think wishful thinking is a bad thing. I like to imagine myself a wishful thinker (hence the lyrics of "We’re wishful thinkers," not "You’re wishful thinkers"). But I’m increasingly noticing wishful thinking going too far in situations where "it’s not gonna’ help this time." For example: A man shouting that God would keep him safe was mauled to death by a lioness in Kiev zoo after he crept into the animal's enclosure. Wishful thinking can be dangerous.

 

Three Words (MP3, lyrics) is a new song, about language falling short. An interesting part of working in a buzzword-heavy industry is watching as words become meaningless, by "too many people, saying too much, saying nothing at all." The term "AJAX," for example, meant something more than "DHTML" for maybe a week before it was thrown carelessly into so many sentences that it lost all meaning in common use. I think the same thing happens with all words (e.g.), though not often as quickly.

 

The Western Iowa Advantage website went "live" (no longer a placeholder) yesterday. I’ve been working on it, along with other people and among other projects, for the past month or so. Everyone at work seems pretty excited about the result. I suspect the enthusiasm is largely due to the visual look of the site. It’s pretty. People like pretty.

But what I find most interesting about the site is something no one else will ever notice: it’s very semantic. The markup describes the data. The news is all hatom, the events are all hcalendar, and the personal and organization information is all hcard. You can run my greasemonkey script and import the events into Google Calendar. You can run the hcards through Brian Suda's X2V and get them into your address book. You can use Chris Casciano's NetNewsWire script to subscribe to the news without bothering with a separate feed (although there is a separate feed too).

And who is going to do these things? I expect absolutely no one. Certainly no one I know of using the site. So why do I bother? I don’t know. I don’t know why I like data so much. I don’t know why people like pretty things so much. Maybe some day I’ll figure it all out. Meanwhile, I make websites.

 

If you’re going to adopt a false identity, I think it should have the same first name as your own. First of all, no one would believe that Scott Johnson is really just Scott Reynen's false identity. We expect more of our conspirators. Also, if you should ever happen to get your real and false identities confused, it would be much less noticeable and much easier to explain if your first name was the same. "What’s this letter to … 'Scott'?" Why, it's just a letter to me. Nothing at all suspicious about that!

I realize this flies in the face of conventional wisdom on false identity name choice. I recently heard someone (I can’t remember who) say that the only funny line ever on the Family Guy was Peter Griffin trying to pretend he was someone else and when someone asked him what his name was, he said "Pe...ter.......Grif....fin..." That’s a terrible false identity, of course, but I’m suggesting that it’s only terrible because it isn’t false. After meeting the falsity requirement of false identities, I think the goal should be to keep it simple, and the best way to keep it simple is to keep the same first name.

The exception to this rule is unusual names like "Icarus." If your real first name is Icarus, your false first name should definitely not be Icarus. This is my advice to people adopting false identities. I wish you best of luck in your life of lies.

 

Dave Rogers points to Jarod Lanier, who has better ideas than me regarding the tendancy of the web to ignore individuals. He writes:

The illusion that what we already have is close to good enough, or that it is alive and will fix itself, is the most dangerous illusion of all. By avoiding that nonsense, it ought to be possible to find a humanistic and practical way to maximize value of the collective on the Web without turning ourselves into idiots. The best guiding principle is to always cherish individuals first.

That’s exactly the illusion I’ve been working under on the web for the past decade. I thought if I just threw good ideas into the web long enough, it would improve itself. It wears me out. "Always cherish individuals first" sounds like pretty good advice. I think I haven’t been doing enough of that because I don’t trust individuals very much. Individuals can be mean. The collective, at worst, is just careless. And therein lies the appeal of the illusion: it’s relatively safe.

But I’ve had enough with the relative safety of the idiot hive mind. It’s time for me to get back to mess and the riskiness of smart individuals. So … anyone want to start a website with me? I have a lot of good ideas.

 

Yesterday, Technorati released Microformats Search. My first thought was something like "finally..." It's been six months since Google released Google Base. At that time many people were pointing out that submission-based search isn't going to work in the long-term because it takes more work than crawl-based search, and all other things being equal, laziness wins. The advantage of Google Base over traditional search was that it used structured data, so the obvious solution was to make the web more structured.

Microformats make the web more structured, so I thought it would be interesting to see how much structured data a big search company like Google could hope to find by crawling instead of asking for submissions. I made Microformat Base, and before long, the microformats community, the broader semantic web community, and the entire world were ... completely ignoring it. No one used it. No one talked about it. No one copied the open source.

Well, that's not entirely true. A few people on the microformats discussion list said some nice things about it. But the conversation there quickly went back to what would later become hAtom. I went on with my life, playing with other technologies in my spare time. I hoped maybe in another year or two, someone with some venture capital would pick up the idea and make the web a more interesting place.

Then yesterday, as I said, Technorati released Microformats Search, and I thought "finally..." I think I have a pretty good track record for predicting where technologies are headed, and I continue to be annoyed by how long it takes the rest of the world to catch up to my imagined future. I didn't expect Technorati to act as quickly as it did, but I made Microformat Base in a day, so it really shouldn't have taken them six months.

I was happy Technorati had caught up, but then I started reading what Technorati was writing about it. The first thing I read was on the blog of Tantek Çelik. I subscribe to his blog because he talks about interesting technology, and I like to pay attention to where things are heading. Tantek wrote I invite you to come take a look at this first of a kind realtime microformats search engine At that point, I thought "Hmm...that's an odd way of phrasing that. It almost sounds like he has no idea that I ever made Microformat Base..." Then Tantek sent an email to the microformats discussion list writing There are some indexers of specific microformats right now (e.g. Reevoo and Kritx both index hReviews), but no general microformats search engine. At that point, I realized that Tantek really did have no idea I had made Microformat Base, which was surprising because I knew he had previously commented on it.

I wrote a response, saying Hmm... I'm pretty sure I was indexing contacts, events, and reviews several months ago...I'd assume you missed that, except that you commented on it. And Kevin Marks, who also works at Technorati, responded to that with Great stuff Scott, do you want to get pings relayed? At this point, I was trying to be charitable with my take on what was going on here, but it really looked to me like Technorati was intentionally ignoring what I had done, except where they realized that I could be feeding them data.

So I wrote that in response:

What I didn't expect was this feeling that microformats are increasingly just another product owned and sold by Technorati. I'm disappointed that Technorati has apparently developed selective amnesia here regarding others' work. Tantek says "Technorati believes in the voice of the individual," but here I am, an individual, and everyone from Technorati is pretending like I don't exist except where I could contribute more data toward Technorati's profit. I have no doubt that if I had done the same work at a corporation, I wouldn't be seeing phrases like "no general microformats search engine" and "first of a kind" coming out of Technorati. And I'm certainly not the only individual who has worked on this. Dozens of individuals helped lay the groundwork for Technorati's newest product, but not a single one is acknowledged in Technorati's discussion of the Microformats Search - only corporations. This will certainly make me think twice before experimenting further with microformats in my free time.

And I sent it off and thought "bridges: burninated!" I'm not working at one of Technorati's partners, so if microformats really are a product Technorati intends to claim or imply ownership of, I have little to lose by criticizing this trend. I was content to do so in the pseudo-privacy of the microformats email list, but then Tantek responded on his public blog.

He wrote a long post, starting with Mea culpa, including my name nine times, linking to me five times, and going on about how great it is that web workers of the world are uniting under the microformats flag of data freedom or something like that. And I guess I'm happy that Tantek is now reaffirming my romantic notion of what the web could be. The only problem is, I don't really believe it any more.

As I pointed out yesterday, a microformat search engine isn't the first project I've done a proof-of-concept for that later became a successful part of the web. In fact, nearly everything I've ever done online has followed this pattern, going back ten years to when I edited the raw compiled source of a browser plugin (a simpler task back then) to allow users to add any search engine they wanted to a field in their browser and released it for free as "AnySearch Extras". It's now ten years later, and FireFox is the most popular browser to have this same functionality built in. So about 10% of the world has caught up to what I was waiting for ten years ago.

I'm tired of waiting for the web to pay attention. The web is awful at paying attention. One might think Technorati would be a little better at paying attention than others, given what it does and its ownership of a trademark on the phrase "attention index." But experience suggests Technorati is just like the rest of the web. Interesting technology doesn't get the web's attention. Open source and open data don't get the web's attention. I've been doing both for several years. The web hasn't noticed. As Christian Montoya recently observed, money is what gets the web's attention.

It's not just that Tantek originally gave thanks only to corporations with money and ignored all the individuals working on microformats. Tantek's a busy guy, so he forgets things. But the whole web today gave notice to Technorati, with money, and ignored an individual who did the same thing, without money. Tantek wrote:

Companies take note - on the internet, there will always be smarter, more clever people building on each other's work than your secret internal committees, your architecture councils, your internal discussion forums -- no matter how many supergeniuses you think you may have hired away and locked up with golden shackles in your labs.

This has long been a popular mythology on the web, but I no longer believe it. I am the prototypical clever person building on others' work and encouraging others to build on mine. Companies can safely ignore me.

 

For a long time now, I've applied the "release early, release often" principle, only to have someone else "release later, release better."

Well I've finally learned my lesson and I'm done releasing early and often. From now on, I'm releasing later and better.

 

I have a rough plan to split this website, randomchaos.com into three different sites. A while back I bought typewriting.org, and I think I'll put my weblog, music, and other types of writings there. It will look simple and artsy like Oblivio or Letters to an Unknown Audience. Surely muted earth tones will improve my writing. I'll probably put the music at music.typewriting.org, write more about it, and have comments on it. I expect I'll stop hosting music for other people. The other people have never seemed very interested in my hosting their music. I think maybe I had a fantasy of starting a record label or something, but that's clearly not going to happen.

Today I bought MakeDataMakeSense.com, which I think is a nice description of what I like to do with technology. I plan to move my more tech-oriented projects there. The microformat aggregator, the graphing widget, the Greasemonkey scripts, the regular expression debugger, it all tries to make data make sense. So that site will focus on those projects. It will look like a software company's website, maybe Panic or Ranchero, but still free. Surely fancy icons will improve my software.

With everything else moved to the other two sites, I'll make randomchaos.com a games site. It will include fastr and other games I've been playing with and need to finish. It will look like kurnik or Yahoo games. Surely extensive white space will improve my games.

There are random projects throughout randomchaos right now that don't clearly belong on any of the three sites: typewriting.org, MakeDataMakeSense.com, or a new games-focused randomchaos.com. The photos? I'll either just stop keeping a separate photo gallery, or write more about photos and put it on photo.typewriting.org. The computer-generated poetry? That could probably fit in on either typewriting.org or MakeDataMakeSense.com. I'll pick one. Anything I can't find a home for is probably not worth keeping.

I expect one such thing will be the source code viewer. I don't think I'm going to make any of these three sites open source, though I will continue to make specific projects open source. I've been running randomchaos.com as an open source website for a few years now, and I think it's been a wasted effort. No one has suggested a single improvement on any of the code I've written. And the only people who have actually used the code elsewhere have first asked me if they could despite the license clearly granting them this permission. If I'm going to be interacting with people using my code, I might as well just email them the files and not have to worry about maintaining an automated open-source website system that no one ever uses.

I'll post notes and redirect everything as I move or remove it, but that's my plan so far: out with the old, split up the new, stop trying to boil the ocean, and drink more tea.

 

"I like them alive. I don't like them when they're dead," she said. I felt the same way.

Ezra Kilty

 

Two days ago, flickr was updated. The update slightly changed the formatting of pages on flickr. For almost everything on fastr, that doesn't matter because it's using the flickr API. But the flickr API doesn't provide a way to get a list of tags used by a group, so that part is taken straight from the HTML on flickr. When that HTML changed, fastr groups broke. It didn't break right away because the tags are only updated once a day. But eventually, none of the group games were working. I just fixed that. Thanks to 'j/gimmeacookie' for pointing out this bug. Or at least I think that's the bug that was pointed out. Maybe that was a different bug?

If you see something wrong with fastr, please report it either by emailing me or by posting a comment on any relevant blog post, and provide as much detail as you can, e.g. which browser you're using, which game you're playing, what exactly happened. As much as I'd like to, I can't play fastr 24/7 on a wide variety of browsers, so these reports are very useful in finding and fixing problems. Thanks, and sorry about the brokenness.

 

It's been a long time since I've posted a new recording. In the meantime, I've acquired a new mic and audio input box. I've also been teaching myself how to do multi-track recording: playing with a click track, re-recording specific sections without redoing the whole song, adding filters, fades, etc.

I have a lot left to learn, but I think I'm comfortable enough now that I can sit down for a couple hours and end up with something that doesn't sound altogether awful and could be easily improved in the future. For example, a song I did today called "Better Bye," in MP3 and lyrics. I wrote it in the car after listening to a song by Jackie Greene. I think the original recording was on my cell phone. This is version one hundred and something. I have a fantasy that someday I'll record and post songs the day I write them. I'm not there quite yet.

 

I have trouble mustering the anger at marketing pundits that Dave Rogers so often can. Not only would it be incredibly awkward, as I work at an advertising agency, but I just don't think marketing is the problem. I'm not sure what exactly the problem is, but I think marketing is just a symptom. And punditry about marketing is further a symptom of a symptom. Marketing pundits are no more marketers than political pundits are politicians.

That said, when I read Seth Godin saying Marketing, at its core, is about teaching somebody something that they didn't know, I can't help but get a bit upset. He's either blatantly lying or he has no idea what he's talking about. Let's just call it malcomptence.

Marketing, at its core, is about selling something. That it occasionally teaches in the process is a nice unintended consequence, but how anyone could really believe education is the core of marketing long enough to type the sentence is beyond me. Back when he was actually a marketer, Seth Godin wrote Marketing is a contest for people's attention. That at least has some relation to reality. Education also involves getting people's attention. But so does electroshock therapy. No one makes a living saying nonsense like "Marketing, at it's core, is electroshock therapy."

 

In these days of widespread corruption and bribery, it is important to remember that no, this is not how our great democracy is supposed to work. The bribery is supposed to be much more subtle -- not to mention legal.

Aaron Swartz

 

A group of my friends from university have been sharing an email list for a few years now. We recently started a blog at radiofreepirate.org. It's currently pseudonymous, which is new for me (though I suppose that's exactly what I'd say if it wasn't), and it's multi-author, which is also new to me. It's been interesting so far, but I'm not sure we've really determined what it is just yet.

 

That's what I dissent from, and I dissent from it as a Christian. I dissent from the political pollution of sincere, personal faith. I dissent most strongly from the attempt to argue that one party represents God and that the other doesn't. I dissent from having my faith co-opted and wielded by people whose politics I do not share and whose intolerance I abhor. The word Christian belongs to no political party. It's time the quiet majority of believers took it back.

Andrew Sullivan in Time Magazine

I have a problem with trying to redefine what words mean when you don't like the group you've placed yourself in (Sullivan's been unsuccessfully taking back "Republican" for several years now), but it's certainly better than just ignoring the corruption.

 

Dave Rogers writes:

Making the mini-series free on the iTMS lowers a barrier to entry for new, mainstream audience members, draws attention to the series and the SciFi channel, and gives potential new fans the foundation the story requires and promotes purchases of the Season 1 and Season 2 episodes either on DVD or at the iTMS.

He's right. Battlestar Galactica is a good show, and many people who saw the mini-series would want to keep watching enough to pay.

I was going to say BSG is one of the few shows I watch, thinking that a discriminating viewer like me watching it would indicate how good it is. But then I started listing the shows I watch, and it turns out I'm not as selective as I'd imagined. I subscribe to both the Daily Show and the Colbert Report (despite Comedy Centrals craptacular website). I watch the IT crowd when it's available to download (which it hasn't been recently - what happened to it?). I just started watching Ze Frank's the Show, but that doesn't really count, does it?

I once had my calendar remind me to watch both Arrested Development and the Simpsons, but then Arrested Development was cancelled, and I started watching the West Wing after, and then instead of, the Simpsons. The West Wing is ending soon, and I don't expect I'll go back to watching the Simpsons regularly, so my calendar shows are over.

Jessica was bringing home Monk DVDs from the library, and that's the only show I like to watch, but would not claim is quality television. It has completely unbelievable characters and plots, but I like it anyway. I won't be watching that, though, until the library gets the next season on DVD. I'll watch CSI or Law and Order if they're on the TV when I'm in the room, but I won't go out of my way to find them.

And then there's BSG. So though I'll soon be able to say that BSG is one of only three shows I watch, and the only one not available as a free download, my viewing is not so refined just yet. Still, as someone who will be a discriminating viewer, I give BSG my seal of approval, for whatever that's worth. You should watch it if you haven't.

 

Since I made an entrance page for fastr, I've been thinking about making some sort of mini-game that could be played immediately to give people a taste of the full game. I suspect there are a lot of people going to the entrance page, not seeing the game they were promised, and leaving. I'd like those people to play the game. It's been a bit quiet lately, and it's not nearly as much fun to play alone.

So last night I was thinking about how to do this mini-game, and I realized I could do it all via a JavaScript include, and then other people could put the mini game on their own sites. So I'm testing that now. Once it's working okay, I'll put it up on the entrance page, and then write up instructions on how to add it to your own site.

Testing... seems to be working okay. Here are the instructions for putting it on your own site.

 

'The snail! The snail!', they cry. 'How can we possibly escape!?. The problem being that the snail's been moving closer for the last twenty years one way or another and they just weren't paying attention. Because if we're honest, if you don't want or need to be first and you don't need to own the platform, it can't be hard to see roughly where this environment is going.

Tom Coates

 

On the suggestion of Phillip Torrone from MAKE, I've spent much of the past week adding groups to fastr. Previously, fastr only showed photos with certain pre-selected tags. This was a necessary restriction because so many tags are nearly impossible to guess. Using flickr groups makes otherwise difficult tags more guessable by adding some context.

I'm excited about groups because they make fastr more like what I originally had in mind, more open-ended. Because you can play fastr with any flickr group, there's no limit to what kind of game you might play. If you like birds, you can play the birds game. If you like cats, you can play the cats game. And of course, the reason Phillip was interested in suggesting this, if you like MAKE, you can play the MAKE game. The possibilities are endless.

In the process of creating the group version of fastr, I completely rewrote the whole thing. Most of the changes are in the background, making it easier for me to make changes in the future. But one major change you can see when playing is that you have to sign in now to play. You don't have to register (though you can), but you do have to choose a name first, which is checked for anyone already using it. This prevents name conflict and makes it more difficult to cheat, both of which I think improve the game. I don't like that you can't jump right in to a game now, but I think it's a worthwhile sacrifice.

After working out the new bugs I've introduced (I'm sure there are many), and upgrading the non-group version, I plan to add chat. I've avoided this previously because I didn't want to deal with the problems chat introduces, e.g. mean people. But now I can add chat only for registered users, and if someone causes a problem, I'll just delete their registration.

If you play the fastr groups and have any problems, I'd appreciate a note. If you play and don't have any problems, enjoy.

 

The Des Moines Register today published what must be their twentieth report on Iowa Governor and Democrats Looking Conservative chair Tom Vilsack's surprise Easter trip to Iraq:

The whirlwind trip with three other governors also gave the Midwestern Democrat, who is working to establish a command of world affairs, a key line on his resume as he looks at running for president.

I can see that resume already:

Foreign Policy Experience

  • Spent a day in Iraq posing for pictures and doing conference calls with press back in America.

"Almost subliminally, the governor is saying to activists, 'I have foreign policy experience,' " Sabato said. "There will be people out there who, without realizing it, check a box in their own mind that he understands something about the critical hot spot on the globe."

I know which box I've checked in my mind.

exploits war for personal gain

He hasn't even announced his candidacy yet, and I already want to vote against Tom Vilsack for President.

 

I typically refer to the man who lives next door as "the crazy guy." When I was moving in, the landlord said something like "the guy who lives next door is kind of crazy, but he's harmless." In my eleven months here, I haven't seen him harm anything living, but I suspect he's doing some damage to his apartment. I base this suspicion on the clothing I occasionally see hanging among the window blinds. I imagine the clothing is there because the closet is full of dinnerware, which had to be moved so the kitchen cabinets could be used to store hundreds of jars of peanut butter. Everything beyond the blinds is just speculation, but I know that's what I would do if I were crazy.

Maybe I shouldn't call him "crazy." He seems nice enough. Sometimes when he sees Jessica or I coming in or out, he'll interrupt his ongoing conversation with himself to offer some commentary on the state of our neighborhood. "You go in and out a lot," he'll call out. I generally just smile and think to myself that he's surprisingly perceptive for a man who never wears a shirt. Jessica sometimes engages in idle chit-chat. I think this is probably a mistake on her part, but I don't much care for idle chit-chat with sane people.

Today I rode my bike up and down the street several times while twiddling with what I believe is called the "shifter." I'm not familiar with bicycle terminology, but it's the thing that makes the chain move from one gear to another. It wouldn't previously move the chain from gear one to gear two, so I'd have to move it from one to three and then back to two when I reached the top of a hill.

When I bought the bike, they told me I would probably only ever use gear two, but they were wrong. Gear three is for when you're going really fast and want to go even faster, which is a situation I never face in my commute to work. Gear one is for when you're going really slow, but it's still too much work. I use gear one. They probably thought anyone buying a fancy expensive bike would be strong enough to bypass gear one, but they were wrong. I am weak.

My commute to and from work is roughly shaped like a half pipe. I start each trip going down and end it going up. I use gear one as I'm going up the hill at the end, and then I go to gear three and back to gear two at the top. Then I get off my bike and rest while my laptop starts up, forgetting that I need to twiddle with the shifter so I can avoid the one-three-two transition in the next trip. I remembered today, so I rode up and down my street several times twiddling.

A few of my neighbors were outside and watched me ride past several times. I didn't say anything to any of them because I don't much care for idle chit-chat. The crazy guy wasn't out wandering around in front the yard, so he didn't see me. On my fourth or fifth ride past the same neighbors, I wonder if any of them thought "he's a surprisingly capable bike rider for a crazy guy." I sure hope so.

 

Google hCalendar is a Firefox Greasemonkey script I made. It looks for pages with vevents and inserts a button to add each found event to Google Calendar. I'm still working out some time zone oddities Apparently many of the sites using hCalendar have improper time zone markup (e.g. every event is marked as UTC-7 at Upcoming.org), but it otherwise seems to work fine. Now I'm looking forward to my free book. Oddly enough, I'm actually working on another project right now in exchange for free magazines. You can keep your attention economy; I'm going back to bartering. Will code for interesting reading.

 

There once was an X from place B
That satisfied predicate P
He or she did thing A
In an adjective way
Resulting in circumstance C

Steve R. White, Generic Literature

 

For anyone a bit confused about the difference between concurrence and causation, I'm pleased to report that I took a bike ride this evening and did not almost die, reducing my near-death bike ride percentage to fifty for the year. I hope to have my N-DBRP (pronounced "nod burp") down to about two by fall, solidly debunking theories that bike rides significantly increase likelihood of death.

 

Your car alarm is ridiculous. Years of trigger-happy alarms have trained the public to ignore them, and nobody would care if your tastelessly noisy car got stolen anyway. If someone had driven off in it last night as the alarm was blaring, I would have applauded him! THIS IS WHAT YOU'VE DONE TO MY SENSE OF CIVIC RESPONSIBILITY.

Dinosaur Comics

 

Actually, here is the analogy that came to me by way of good old Sesame Street. They once had a story about the King and the picnic, where the King kept telling everyone to bring the same item. After lots of samey instances where the entire kingdom brought potato salad (usually at the urging of the King, who said "you can't have a picnic without potato salad!"), the King learns how to delegate and a good time was had by all.

That, in a nutshell, is my problem with sweeping declarations like "markets are conversations" or "all marketers are liars" or "go Pinko". It's not a picnic without potato salad, but it's not a picnic with ONLY potato salad.

Ethan, on Burningbird

Mmm.... moderate amounts of potato salad. What a useful analogy.

 

Happy Daylight Savings! (M3U, via CD Baby) Okay, maybe not happy, but certainly the best Daylight Savings song I've ever heard.

 

Dave Rogers wrote:

But here's the thing, I kind of knew all this stuff before, it didn't really matter, did it? I think you could reasonably say I believed it, don't you think? I didn't disbelieve it. But it didn't matter, because even though I knew it and believed it, I still couldn't do the pose. If we say something doesn't matter, that's another way of saying it's meaningless, is it not? Look at a fixed point, focus on your center, that's just information. Believe it, disbelieve it, it's just information. It only mattered when I did it. It only mattered when I lived it.

After reading my Reminder: You Will Die post, my dad asked me something like "so if death helps you remember what's important in life, what's important in life?" I knew what I thought, but had trouble putting it into words. I think I said something like "living is important," which I think probably sounds like a hand-wavy zen statement after talking about the importance of death. I like how Dave phrases it, but even his "bring meaning to life" seems a bit vague.

And maybe a little wrong, too. I think life already has meaning — we just have to recognize it. It's like the difference between hearing to a song, and listening to a song. Anyone can hear whether life has a pleasant melody and go humming along to "You are My Sunshine," but you have to listen to catch the meaning. I'm sure "we have to listen for the meaning of life" sounds really trite, but I think that's because listening sounds so much easier than it is. I'd explain how to listen, but I'm not very good at it myself.

I think listening for meaning is what people are generally doing when they pray or meditate, but I'm hesitant to suggest anyone do those things. I've had too many people ask me if I pray when it's obvious they don't. They're asking if I sit with my hands folded and recite the same meaningless words they do. In that sense, I quit praying several years ago. And I've had the same experience with meditation. Though it does seem to be more difficult, I've encountered enough meditation evangelists — certain that if I only go to their meditation class with them, all my problems will be solved — to believe it's possible to meditate without listening.

And then I've met people who neither pray nor meditate, but are clearly practiced in listening for meaning in life. Some find it in music, some in words, some in photos, some in other people, some in themselves. We're not at all short on places to find meaning in life. We just need to listen for it.

 

I do know that you can't do it if all you get is negative reinforcement telling you the task is cosmically fated to never reach completion. So go, team, go, that's what I have to say.

In the meantime, do me a favor and try to avoid killing each other, okay?

Jeff Dorchen

 

This is how much of a web geek I am: when I read the headline Atom Breaks Rules, Beats Friction, I assumed it was regarding RFC4287. Turns out it's just about an actual atom breaking the rules of physics.

 

I've removed the PayPal donation link from fastr and replaced it with an AdBrite "zone," which is what they call their ads, I'm guessing because "Adbrite ad" sounds redundant. So if you want to give a donation for fastr, you have to buy an ad now.

If it works out, I'll probably remove the Google ads also. The thing I've liked about Google ads is their ability to add value to web content. I don't like ads that distract from content, but I do like ads that contribute something useful to the content.

The problem is that Google ads don't fulfill their promise consistantly. For the first day of fastr, Google was advertising spyware removal. Google uses its own search algorithms to figure out what a page is about and serve relevant ads, but that search algorithm can easily fall short. Google eventually figured out that fastr is a game, and now serves game ads mostly, but it could still be better.

AdBrite seems to be better. It doesn't wait for a computer to figure out what my site's about — it lets me describe my site. Would-be advertisers can search descriptions, find a relevant site on which to advertise within a budget, and buy ads. As a publisher, I can reject ads at my whimsy. And I will; I won't run ads on fastr that I don't expect will be of any interest to people playing the game. I don't know a lot about those people, but I know they are interested in games and flickr.

Someone already bought an ad through AdBrite, and it seems to confirm my high expectations for the service. It's a game related to flickr, TagMan. It's just like hangman, only it pulls words from tags on sites like flickr, and then points back to the sites' tag page after each round. So I think moving to AdBrite is a win-win-win. Players will get more interesting ads, advertisers will get an audience of people interested in what they're selling, and I think I'll make more money.

 

Feed Rinse appears to do what my RSS filter has done for about two years, only better, prettier, and for money. This seems to be a recurring theme with my projects. I continue to be surprised by what people will pay for. But maybe that's a good thing.

 

The thing is, even though I know how much more difficult Jason's routine is and how skilled he is, the very ease of his delivery makes it less likely an audience would give him that same ovation. Interesting how important effort seems to be.

Seth Godin

In university, I was involved in "Jugglers Against Homophobia" (which I gather has since become the less interesting "Jugglers Against Oppression"). I taught a lot of people how to juggle. I learned to give different advice to people learning how to juggle and people learning how to perform juggling. I would tell jugglers how to avoid dropping a ball (throw the next ball when the ball in the air is at maximum height, giving yourself the most time to react to the falling ball).

I would tell juggling performers the same thing, but then I would also tell them to start any segment of a juggling routine by dropping something. This establishes the difficulty of the activity and makes success more impressive. It seems a bit deceptive at first glance, but juggling really is hard.

 

It's often difficult to convince someone that meaningful URLs are important. "No one will be typing it anyway. They'll just be clicking on a link." is a common response to suggestions that http://somewebsite.com/avenue/pennsylvania/number/1600/ is a better address than http://somewebsite.com/?id=21376

Today I was looking at some PHP code snippets at http://www.bigbold.com/snippets/tag/php and I decided to subscribe to the feed. So I clicked on the feed button (because there are no autodiscovery tags), and was taken to http://www.bigbold.com/snippets/rss/tags, which isn't an actual feed. The link is broken. (I already sent an email.) I noticed that the URL doesn't describe the content of the feed I was looking for.

So I typed in what I thought would be a descriptive URL for a feed of items tagged with 'php': http://www.bigbold.com/snippets/rss/tag/php. And sure enough, that's where the feed was. In a world full of perfect people and perfect markup with no links to the wrong URLs, meaningful URLs don't matter as much. In the real world, they can make the difference between someone using your website and not.

 

The bad part about being diabetic is, like any terminal illness, the constant increased risk of death. But the bright side is the constant increased awareness of death. Everyone is going to die at some point, but few of us are actively aware of it. At times I've forgotten, but in general, since I was five years old, I've had an active awareness of death.

Earlier today I decided to take advantage of the nice weather to take my bike down to the gas station on the corner and use the free compressed air to fill up the tires. As soon as I got outside I realized the weather wasn't quite as nice as it looked, but by then I'd already committed to the project, so I foolishly continued. The gas station is about four blocks away, down a hill.

The front tire on my bike was too deflated to ride on, so I walked down the hill. I ran the pump three times as I struggled to position the nozzle in such a way that it would actually pump the air into the tire and marveled at how complicated such a seemingly simple task could be. Then I started to ride back home, at which point I realized my chain and front brakes were both detached. So I fixed those and realized the front tire was still too deflated. So I ran the pump yet again, and then started riding back home.

What I could have reasonably determined was too cold to ride became much too cold with the wind chill as I rode. My breathing became strained as I went back up the hill. After a four block ride, I arrived back home exhausted. I sat down on the couch and rested for a while. I was more tired than I should have been, I figured because I've long been less active than I should have been. I thought I might take a nap, but then I thought I should probably check my blood sugar first.

29

Oops. Jessica's at work today, so I could have easily gone to sleep for a nap and never woken up. I don't mean to be melodramatic here — much the opposite. The first time something like that happens, it's scary. I'm sure it still scares people who know me. But after it happens a couple dozen times, you get used to it. Death isn't so scary after a while.

You can see this in people who live in areas of poverty and/or war. They see death all the time, and they get used to it. Their friends and family die, and they go on living. For those of us who don't see death all the time, this is a familiarity we'd rather not have. We want to live forever and have everyone we know live forever also.

But it doesn't work that way. Reality refuses to cooperate with our illusions. Death happens. We don't need to celebrate it, but I think we need to get over it. We need to stop pretending that death is an aberration from the norm and realize that death is the norm. Death is a vital part of life.

Last year Steve Jobs gave the commencement speech at Stanford. In his speech, he said:

Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important thing I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life, because almost everything--all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure--these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

That's the nice part about being diabetic. I don't have to try so hard to remember what's important because I have a little machine that tells me three times a day how close I am to death. I just need to act on what's important. They haven't made a machine for that yet.

 

If you're an angry driver, you'll flip someone the bird or ride their bumper or cause an accident. You can tell yourself that those other drivers are assholes, but it's just fear. If you're a multi-millionaire, you'll hire a lawyer to intimidate someone to give you what you want when you want it, so they won't do something that you can't control. You'll tell yourself it's just business, but it's really just fear. If you're a country with an anxiety problem, you'll attack another country. You'll tell yourself it's a matter of national security, but it's just fear. None of which ever solves the problem. All of which create bigger problems of their own.

Dave Rogers, Getting Back to Normal

 

Sometimes, as we gasp for air amid the fog of their 98-percent-content-free talk, we wonder if extroverts even bother to listen to themselves.

Caring for Your Introvert by Jonathan Rauch.

 

I gather from this weblog post that Amy Jo Kim made a presentation at ETech and used fastr to demonstrate that games should have points. That reminded me to make a page of daily high scores for fastr (English only currently). It's only counting the top five scores for each round (because that's all I'm saving) and adding them up by player name (which are not necessarily unique). If you're into points, enjoy. If you're not, ignore.

In other game news, I've spent too long playing matchr. It looks easier than it is, which makes it addictive (despite the lack of points).

 

Thanks to Christoph Wagner's translation, there is a new German version of fastr. Having translated the tags into three languages now, I can say with some experience that flickr desperately needs to improve language support. The entire system assumes everyone is using the same language, but they obviously are not. So when you search tags for strand, you don't get pictures of strands; you get pictures of beaches, because "strand" is German for beach. And "boot" is a mixture of boots and boats, because "boot" is German (and Dutch?) for boat.

This isn't really that much of a problem for English speakers because the English tags tend to dominate any overlap with another language, but all those people using flickr with non-English tags are getting a semi-broken service. And at two years old, flickr doesn't have much excuse for not dealing with this problem. Anyway, there's a German version of fastr now, but it's missing a bunch of tags because of substantial language overlap with English tags.

 

If you're interested in seeing new tags on fastr, I've added a suggest-a-tag page for the English version (the only version getting much play), which will check if the tag is already in use, and point you to the related flickr page to verify the tag is guess-able form the photos. The suggested tags will be reviewed by Jessica or I periodically and added if deemed appropriate.

 

Completely Idiotic is a Firefox Greasemonkey script to automate Stavros the Wonderchicken's "Completely Idiotic" game. Example screen capture from foxnews.com:

 

We're using electronic media to spread this benchmarking message far and wide. Because there's always a company offering a better or cheaper or faster product, or a person who's more clever than Oprah or cuter than Tyra, it's easy to shop around, to demand more, to be constantly dissatisfied.

Seth Godin

Dissatisfaction is the natural result when everything you don't have is very important. I'm not convinced "relationships" is the solution, though. Seems a bit trite.

 

Stop The Funny#8482; writes My personal view is that branding and marketing are, strategically, value free. What counts are the questions and answers you feed into the machine. I think this wrongly assumes the machine will accept any questions and answers. In reality, you can only market for something's increasing importance. There's no way to market the unimportance of something.

So we have marketing for the importance of Coke and marketing for the importance of Pepsi, but there's no marketing for the (true) idea that neither are important. There's no one advertising against anything. In many cases, it's even illegal to do so. I couldn't possibly run marketing saying "Coke is crap. It's just a bunch of chemicals that are rotting your body and some drugs that make you want to keep drinking it. And Pepsi is the same thing in a different package. Neither are important to your happiness or well-being, so stop buying them."

 

After what seems like approximately three hundred requests that I stop the cheating on fastr, I've finally relented and done something about it. The answer is now sent encrypted, and then your guess is encrypted before comparing with the answer. At the end of the set, if you didn't guess it, the browser sends a "give up" signal back to the server, which gives you the answer in plain text, and sets your score to zero, so you can't "give up" and then submit an answer.

You can still cheat, of course. You can open a second window that's slightly ahead in time, and see pictures before guessing in your first window. Or you can refresh your browser after you know it and get ten points. Or you can "give up" under one name and then submit an answer under a different name. But those are all manual cheats, and I expect you'd get tired of doing that eventually. What you can't do any more (as far as I know, at least) is set up a script to automatically cheat for you.

You also can't make long names with no spaces so that they go outside the designated name box. No one asked for that, but it was annoying me, so I fixed it. And the rounds are now six minutes now, which allows for exactly ten sets of photos, plus a ten second break to look at who won. The last set of your first round might get cut off in the middle, but that shouldn't happen after it gets synched up at the end of a round.

I also pulled all the text into localization files, which will make it much easier to create versions in new languages. But I haven't seen many people playing the other languages, so I'm not sure that's even worth the trouble. I'll let the translation volunteers decide that.

In any case, between these last few fixes and the API, I've managed to delegate (that's the verb form of lazy) most of the future work onto other people. So I don't expect to be spending a lot of time working on fastr now. I think it's about time to call it done and move on to another project.

 

Last week, Shelley Powers wrote about web browsers in terms of "Cane and Able," which was strikingly similar to the old tale of Cain and Abel. Today Danny Ayers wrote about the upper- and lower-case semantic webs in terms of the Garden of Eden, and added a disclaimer at the end ...if anyone feels uncomfortable with my use of Judaic mythology here...

In both cases, I think discussing technology in terms of a shared mythology makes for much more interesting — and thus easier — reading. It's too bad we don't have more shared mythology from which to draw. Certainly we have more mythology than we ever have before, but it's less and less shared. I can discuss complex issues in terms of Battlestar Galactica, but how many people will understand the references? How many people even understand the Biblical references today?

I know many people who are worried about the loss of "morals" (which more often than not means "the right to be comfortable among homogeneous people" — but that's another post) in society, but I think more troubling is the loss of shared stories. Even if someone were able to write a modern epic, commonly accessible by a wide variety of cultures throughout the world, I think there's a modern intolerance for believable fiction that would kill the story before it spread.

In the past, we could weave a lie in with the truth, and make a new truth from it. I think that's how most religions have begun. But I'm not sure we can do that today.

 

A couple weeks back, Jessica and I had some people over, and half the people played poker, while the other half played Scrabble. Ian and I were talking about this later and came up with the idea of mixing the two games. Jessica and I just tried out this idea, and found it quite fun, possibly even more fun than both poker and Scrabble. So if you like both games, you may want to try combining them.

A quick web search found that there's already a similar game for mobile phones called WordKing Poker. That games has various rules, but it's all human vs. computer, which I don't think would be very fun. Here's the game we played:

It's basically like Texas Hold'em, replacing playing cards with Scrabble tiles, best word wins. After ante, each player draws two tiles. Then there's a round of betting. Then three tiles are laid on the table, face up. Then betting, then another tile on the table, then betting, then another tile, and a final round of betting.

Words can be from one to seven letters long, and must include at least one letter from the player's hand. Points from each letter are added to bonuses for long words. We ended up with two points for a six-letter word, and eight for a seven-letter word.

We only played for about a half hour, so I suspect the rules could use some more tweaking, but it was a lot of fun. And I suspect it would be even more fun with more players. I might actually make a web version if I ever get done fixing bugs with fastr.

 

I was looking at Gullible.info, trying to figure out if all of the interesting trivia facts there are false, or just some of them, and thinking about how these are the kind of untruths that get propogated because they sound just close enough to what we know to be true that we don't question them, sort of like "markets are conversations."

And that prompted me to look at the Cluetrain.com#8482; website, where I noticed for the first time that there's a fourth author's name on the cover of the book, someone I'd never previously heard anything about. Rick Levine has a page just like the other "ringleaders", but it's not linked from the front page, unlike all the others.

Turns out Rick Levine runs hatfactory.com with his brother, and that's about the extent of his life on the web. Unlike the other three, he doesn't have a Wikipedia entry discussing his authorship of the Manifesto. An astrologer of his namesake has a higher rank in both Google and Technorati.

I wonder if there isn't more story here. At the very least it's high irony that among the authors of the "markets are conversations" Cluetrain Manifesto, the only one who actually makes a living marketing a product on the web (as opposed to telling others how to market on the web, or just marketing the web as a market), is so entirely absent from the conversation.

 

I took a stab at adding hAtom markup to the Microformat Base (and prettied it up a bit). I'm not sure if it's valid hAtom, because there's not yet anything to validate hAtom. But it's valid XHTML and it's structured information, so it can be parsed to syndicate this data.

For example, someone could (and should) subscribe to all Microformat Base events for 2006, and run each new page through lifelint to generate RDF or iCal files, which can then be combined to create a yearly calendar. Different calendars could be generated from different searches, and you could even pull tags out of the pages, lookup the tags on flickr, and use the related photos as monthly calendar images for printable calendars.

All the data is there, structured, waiting to be parsed and used for something interesting.

 

I've built in two function calls for anyone interested in making any changes to fastr. They're filters on the scores and the photos, which take HTML fragments as input and should give back edited HTML fragments as output. Both are called before the HTML is inserted into the page. You could use this, for example, to highlight certain names in the scores (as FastrFriends does) or make the photos larger, such as I've done in the sample bookmarklet here:

For Firefox: biggr — for other browsers: biggr

If you drag that into your bookmarks toolbar and then click it while playing fastr, future sets of photos will be bigger. This is a common request that I haven't implemented because I didn't want to increase the minimum system requirements for players (i.e. bigger screen and faster connection.) But now it's possible for only people who want bigger photos to get them.

The JavaScript function names are scoreFilter and photoFilter. If you have any questions, or make anything you'd like to share with everyone else, please leave a comment here.

 

I'm offended. Those people, by their actions, have demonstrated the essentially corrupt nature of their society and culture. Their behaviour, which all right-minded people should be offended by, should be universally condemned. If anything shows that we are right and they are wrong, this is it.

Chris Bertram

 

I am motioning at the stereo, making a clicking motion. I am trying to rate the track so that my liking it will be remembered.

Ezra Kilty

I had a similar experience when I first started using my iPod. I would do key commands on my laptop to rate the song, not realizing that it wasn't playing on my computer any more.

 

I have an idea for a service that I think would be neat, but I don't have the resources to make it. So I submit this into the ether for someone else to make. The idea is anonymous ad-hoc email groups, sort of like wikis for email groups.

It would be sort of like mailinator, where email addresses are created on the fly. Only instead of those emails just sitting on the server, they would go out to anyone subscribed to the group, which could be done as simply as sending an email to the group's address or typing the name of the group into a simple text box.

Such a service could be used to facilitate ad-hoc discussion groups around any topic. In this post, for example, I could encourage readers to send an email to anonymous.public.ad-hoc.email.groups@wiki4email.com (available) if they'd like to talk about this idea. If they already had an account under the email address they sent from, they would be automatically added to that group. If not, they'd get a response with a password they could use to login to a website, where they could type any number of email addresses into a list and subscribe to any group they wanted.

I'm currently working on dynamic email addresses at work (e.g. department or location-based email groups that auto-update based on our employee database), so that's what got me thinking about it. I only have a few vague ideas for use cases, but that's part of why I like the idea so much. It's such an open-ended platform that it would encourage others to experiment and find innovative new ways to use ad-hoc email groups.

Like any communications system, the big worry would be spam. But I think a simple registration process and no one really knowing how many people are subscribed nor what the groups even are, would cut that down significantly. The service would require a custom-built email server, though, and one that could process a lot of email very quickly. So I think one of the bigwig web players should do it. Or at least quickly buy up someone else who does it. In any case, I'd like to play with it, so I hope someone will make it.

 

A few people have suggested that I should make a memory-style game based on flickr images. As I have told these people, this game was already made a long time ago. It's called Flick-a-Pair. As chance would have it, the person who made this game, Shelley Powers, was also the first to play fastr (from outside my house).

I don't have any plans to make another version of Flick-a-Pair, nor any other flickr-based game. It's fun to be famous on the internet for a day or two, but it just doesn't pay well enough to be worth all the time involved. I'm willing to waste my time on fastr, because I'd just be otherwise wasting my time playing some other game (most likely at Kurnik). But fastr is just not the business opportunity many have mistaken it for. It's just a fun little game.

 

I just rememberd when i was in fourth grade, deciding that I had to stay skinny because I wanted to grow up to be a feminist and if I were fat everyone would think I was just angry cuz I was fat.

— a friend, via email

 

Some bright fastr players have pointed out (by exploiting) two bugs that allowed impossible scores. One involved sending a non-number as the score (which I fixed by only accepting numbers as scores). The other involved sending a negative score (which I fixed by not allowing negative scores). Both were simple enough to fix, just problems I hadn't considered previously.

I know at least one, and possibly both, were discovered by a player named "cheatrs nevr prospr," which I must say is a clever (clevr?) name. While I would appreciate more if people mentioned these bugs to me directly, it's still nice that someone is going to the trouble to poke around the edges of the game where I never thought to.

 

I've been telling everyone who asked about the timing on fastr that each photo set lasted 35 seconds, and there was no way to get more than 90 points in a round because only 9 (parts of) 35 second sets can fit in one 5 minute round. But I did more testing tonight, and it turned out photo sets weren't 35 seconds at all. In fact, there was no consistent length to a photo set, which meant those who refreshed their browsers more often could get more photo sets, and higher scores.

I've fixed this now, so photo sets are actually 35 seconds, and no matter how often you refresh within that 35 seconds, you'll still get the same photo set. And because you can only submit a score for each photo set once, I believe the maximum score is now 90 points. Of course, I believed that before, and it turned out I was wrong, so let me know if you see a score higher than 90.

The problem was that I was using two different clocks, one of which wasn't keeping consistent time. Now I'm only keeping time on one clock, so the timing is more stable now. In addition to varying scores, this should also solve the issue of photo sets randomly repeating.

I'll try to update the Spanish and French versions tomorrow. If you notice any problems with fastr, please let me know.

 

Thanks to Steve Rioux's translation help, I put up a French version of fastr today. I also updated the Spanish version with the changes I've made recently. And I removed the remote mirrors, for now at least. I'll see what the traffic looks like tomorrow and maybe remove the mirror page altogether. For today, at least, it was calm enough to handle on one server. If anyone wants to do translations for other languages (or fix my errors on the existing translations), let me know.

 

Aaron Barker made a JavaScript bookmarklet to track other players on fastr, called FastrFriends. It's a cool idea. Basically you click on a player's name, and it will keep the name highlighted in the score list. So if you're playing against people you know, you can easily watch their scores.

In my testing, it didn't work in Safari for some reason, but it worked fine in Firefox. I didn't try it in IE.

 

I want to find one that is good for searching but which also isn't in the business of turning this into this.

reynir, on Ask MetaFilter

This whole Google censorship thing was less disturbing as an abstract concept. Looking at the pictures, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that Google is exchanging principles for money.

 

One of the most common requests for fastr has been to link the photos to their flickr pages. At first I thought this wouldn't work because then you could click on the link and see the tags, and you wouldn't have much reason to guess the tag. And it's already too easy to cheat. But several people pointed out that it could just add the links after the answer is shown, so this is what the game does now, satisfying both players' desire to have links and my desire to discourage cheating.

Speaking of cheating, there is now — I believe — only one way to cheat. I've fixed every other method known to me. (If you know of another, I'd like to hear it.) I'll go ahead and explain the one remaining in hopes that doing so will make it a less interesting challenge. Basically, the answer is always available in the source of page; it's just hidden until you guess it or the time runs out — then it's shown. It's pretty trivial to add JavaScript to the page, either through a bookmarklet or a greasemonkey script, which makes the answer visible at all times.

What you get out of this is a perfect score. The other methods of cheating, which I fixed today, would allow more than a perfect score. Because it's trivial and you don't get much for it, it's not interesting, and no one is impressed by those who do it, as they might have been when someone had a million points by another cheat.

But even that was pretty boring, and I never saw anyone cheat for more than one round. Basically someone would spend five minutes figuring out how to cheat, and then get bored and go back to playing the game. Luckily the game is more fun than the cheating, or I would have had more trouble with cheating before fixing it today.

So why am I not fixing the last cheat? Because doing so would slow down the game, and I don't think it's a worthwhile sacrifice. To make it impossible to cheat, I'd have to remove the answer from the source of the page. Then when you typed in a guess, it would send the guess back to the server, which would respond saying it was correct or not correct. It's that constant querying of the server that would slow everything down, probably enough to cause the server to die (again). So I have no intent to do that.

Now, back to links. There are also links allowed in player names now. This wasn't formally requested, but I saw people setting their player names to things like myblog.blogspot.com, so I figured I'd make their lives easier. This also gave me a new way to do tech support, by putting a link to my AIM address around "Questions?" as my player name. I answered three or four questions today, all of which were basically "how do I play this game?"

I'm somewhat afraid this will just devolve into a link farm. There is currently someone named "cheap domains" playing fastr. (The domains aren't actually cheap — I checked.) For now, though, low scoring players scroll off the page, so someone has to keep playing to keep their sales link visible. And hopefully while they're doing that, they aren't sending us all emails advertising their "cheap" domains.

If I decide the player names are becoming too full of advertising, I'll just remove the links. But I've seen a few people linking to their flickr pages or personal websites, and it's nice to get a better idea of who exactly I am defeating with my superior tag-guessing skills. (Not to mention my knowledge of all the tags I chose.) For now anyway, fastr is full of links.

 

This is a great country, built on the backs of the poor. And there's a whole lot more room to pile on.

Rep. Richard Martin

 

Doh

So first the database locked up from too much activity, and then the web server itself died. Apologies to anyone else being hosted on the same machine. My brother Kevin (who doesn't update his website enough) kindly offered backup hosting, which will hopefully hold until I make a page to split up the traffic and/or the traffic dies down a bit.

It's been a crazy couple of days. And it's not over yet.

 

At one point today there were 250 people playing fastr at the same time. It's currently down to about 120. I'm not sure exactly where the avalanche of traffic began (do that many people really read MeFi projects?), but it definitely picked up the pace significantly when fastr landed on del.icio.us/popular, where it currently sits both third and twenty-eigth (twice because I made the mistake I previously cautioned against by pointing to both randomchaos.com and www.randomchaos.com in different places).

I've had a few notes about bugs, most of which I've managed to fix today. One problem that isn't entirely solved yet is that there are few enough tags being used that some people have memorized them and are winning simply because they've been playing the longest. I just started using my new Flickr API key, which allows the game to show a random ten out of a hundred photos instead of the ten out of twenty it was showing before. That will hopefully level the playing field a bit, but I really need to add more tags.

Some people have suggested the tags should be random, but that's how it was when I first made the game (when just Jessica and I were playing), and it really didn't work. The problem is that people use tags that you could never guess from the pictures, like 500v50f or interesting or sarah. So I have to restrict it to certain tags to make it any fun at all. I just need to add more tags to make it more fun.

Other problems: people clearly want to be able to include links with their names, which was possible for most of today, until someone pointed out that it was also possible to insert malicious JavaScript in the name field (by doing so). So now it strips all tags. Eventually I hope to allow only link tags, but I need to remove most attributes (e.g. onload) to filter out problems.

People have been testing the limits of the name field all day, and I need to force the names to be a bit smaller to conserve space, but that's not a high priority. I added highlighting for your own name, so that should make it quicker to see where you fall in the list. But the list is too long, and I'm still not sure what to do about this.

Finally, the Google ads are awful. I don't want to just remove them because that would drop my pay for this project from the current $0.30 or so per hour to nothing, but Google continues to send various general technology ads rather than game ads. I was hoping maybe other people were seeing better ads until I saw a player named "spilt testing is obsolete," which made me laugh.

Later I saw a player named "split testing is NOT obsolete." I've toyed with the idea of adding chat to the game, but I'm pretty sure I won't, for a variety of reasons. It would be hard to chat and play at the same time. Also, there are enough people already using their player names as flame bait that I don't really want to know what chat would look like. And I also kind of like how the limitations of a username forces people to be more creative in expressing themselves.

I expect the numbers will die down eventually, but I hope today's surge of traffic will result in a steady stream of users over time. Despite all the problems I've discovered today, fastr is definitely more fun when more people are playing.

 

After making some improvements and posting to MeFi projects, there were just 72 people playing fastr at the same time. Surprisingly enough, it's still working. The first website I saw pointing to it was Tecnicalia, a Spanish tech blog. That made me think maybe it was worthwhile making a Spanish version. I thought it would be a fun way to practice a second language, and also let Spanish speakers play in their first language. But I haven't seen anyone playing it yet.

 

When you're a law student, they tell you if say that if you can't argue the law, argue the facts. They also tell you if you can't argue the facts, argue the law. If you can't argue either, apparently, the solution is to go on a public relations offensive and make it a political issue... to say over and over again "it's lawful", and to think that the American people will somehow come to believe this if we say it often enough.

David Cole, Georgetown University Law Professor

 

Any motion, anyone who moves in the zone, even if it’s a three-year-old, should be killed. Over.

Israeli Company Commander

Wow.

 

I made a game today.

Fastr is a game that uses flickr images. It loads ten images that all share a common tag, one by one, and you guess what the tag is. When you guess right, the tag will turn blue. Then you can watch the pictures until the next set begins. The faster you guess, the more points you get.

It's basically win, lose, or draw without the drawing, and more interesting pictures. I still have a few kinks to work out, but I think it's ready for some testing beyond Jessica and I. If you play it and notice any problems or room for improvement, please leave a comment here.

 

I believe I just discovered my Canadian double. He has brown hair, is interested in web development, specifically PHP, and his name is ... Scott Reynen. If only I had thought to patent myself, I'd be collecting sweet royalties now.

 

Danny Ayers does a quote of the day, mostly for semantic web stuff and I've decided to steal the format. Here's today's:

Basically, if you want to be gung-ho about it, the entire web is a copyright violation.

Roger Benningfield

 

Boing Boing has been going on about iTune's new mini store for two days now, and it was interesting at first, but now it's starting to get a little silly. Some facts not mentioned on Boing Boing:

  1. The mini store doesn't show up at all until after you've purchased songs via the iTunes music store. So it is off by default. It's just few of those worried about it are still in the default state.
  2. The site receiving the data from iTunes, 2o7.net, collects similar data from hundreds of popular websites, including Comedy Central. For example, when you're watching the Daily Show, much celebrated on Boing Boing, 2o7.net is tracking every video clip you watch.
 

Dave Rogers writes:

And let's return to this romantic notion of "subverting hierarchy." Where did that come from? It sounds like a good thing, right? Being "subversive" sounds kind of edgy and cool. The hierarchy is the stale, old "establishment." Hyperlinks "stick it to the man," I guess. Except subverting hierarchy is merely a form of competition, and competition determines its success or failure through measuring changes in rank in a hierarchy. How else can you tell if you're being "subversive" unless you're paying attention to rank? I mean it's implicit in the whole idea!

Good point. This is why I'm wary of Green Party enthusiasts. It's easy for the Green Party to push good ideas from the outside, but I have little faith that they would continue to do so were they to achieve any real control of the government. I watch as the Green Party gains acceptance in America, and I see the candidates quietly morph from people with ideas to push to people with themselves to push.

The Green Party is pushing ideas I like, but the success of those ideas is tied to the success of candidates, and I don't trust those candidates to hold to their principles once in power any more than I trust Democrats or Republicans to do so. Power breeds corruption; Green Party power breeds Green Party corruption.

This mistrust won't prevent me from voting Green on occasion. If I only voted for politicians I trusted, I wouldn't vote at all. But don't feed me this line about voting only for Green Party candidates because any other vote will be an acceptance of the status quo. The status quo in American politics is blind party allegiance, even when the parties change.

 

I think music training generally makes musicians worse, not better. I know a few good trained musicians, but I think their talent is in spite of their training. Once you've taken the time to learn about scales and chord progressions and so on, you can't help but think about those things when you're making music. And then you're not thinking about whatever you were thinking about before the training, back when music was fun.

That's my theory anyway: music training takes the passion out of music. A friend of mine has his own music training theory, which I suspect is more accurate than mine. He's not entirely opposed to training, but he does minimal training. If someone wants to know how to play piano, he tells them to play just the black keys or just the white keys.

By making the instrument simpler, it becomes difficult to create bad music, without really causing the musician to do any thinking that might get in the way of the soul of the music. But I'm not sure this strategy scales. Eventually we'll all get bored with playing only the black keys, and I don't know what comes next. At some point, most of us need to start thinking about the music to avoid getting bored. So I fall back on my strategy, which is to avoid training and start thinking about the music less consciously.

I know a lot of guitar chords I couldn't name. I learned them by putting my fingers into new shapes and listening to the sounds. When I liked them, I played them again and again until I knew the chords. If I don't like them, I never play them again. This is still music education, as I'm still learning, but it's not music training. I have no course to follow, and no next step I feel compelled to do even as it sucks away the fun of music.

So I don't like music training, and this is the first thing that came to mind when I read Kathy Sierra's recent post on learning and passion: Learning music changes music...The more you help your users learn and improve, the greater the chance that they'll become passionate. Note that this is the opposite of the experience I've just described with music.

I was getting ready to leave a comment to that effect when I got to Kathy's own comment explaining my position better than I could:

...for a lot of us, our products aren't the ultimate *destination*, but a means to doing something else that we ARE (or can be) passionate about. 37signals creates products that let users spend more time in flow -- using 37signals software to do something ELSE, which could be the thing they ARE passionate about. Some of the products people are most passionate about are simply the tools that enable and then get the hell out of the way so that the REAL thing they're passionate about can happen. But through "misattribution of arousal" (as the psychologists call it), some of that passion spills onto the product/tool that allowed you to experience that optimal experience or "flow state".

I'm passionate about skiing, not my skis...

Exactly. By analogy then, I guess I'm not passionate about music, but something else music allows. What is that something though? I'm not sure. It's some subset of communication that is intentionally ambiguous. It's sort of like poetry, I think, where poets choose each word carefully with an eye toward how it will be read. Only music isn't as demanding, because the melody can mask the difference between words with flexible meaning and words with no meaning.

So I guess that's my second theory of music: musicians are poets with a crutch. It's a crutch that allows new forms of expression though. I like Nirvana and Radiohead, but their lyrics don't often mean anything — to me anyway, your mileage may vary. Scratch that — your mileage will vary. And that variance is what I like. Music, more than poetry I think, creates meaning. Anyone can string together random words, and if they are set to a good melody, people will assume a meaning where none was before.

That assumed, created meaning will be a little different for everyone listening to a song. And different people will talk about their own meanings with each other, and agree on shared meanings. Good music eventually makes new ideas. There, that's my third theory. So I guess I'm passionate about new ideas, not music. Good to learn.