Many articles about "the internet" are very wrong, and the flaws generally stem from a common source: implying, if not explicitly stating, that the internet does something. It doesn’t. It’s not sentient. It only allows people to do things.

As an example of this, Dan recently bookmarked an article from the Boston Globe subtitled "The turn to online research is narrowing the range of modern scholarship, a new study suggests". There's something interesting going on here, but this article completely misses it. It’s not that the turn to online research is narrowing the range of modern scholarship; it’s that people are narrowing the range of modern scholarship, and the internet is passively letting them do this.

By recognizing the actual actors here, we can ask much more useful questions. Did people always tend toward narrowing research, and only now are able? If so, why do people tend that way? And why weren’t they able before the internet? The answers to these questions might lead to improving the world, whereas assigning responsibility for what happens online to "the internet" is inherently defeatist. We can’t change what the internet does, because it doesn’t actually do anything.

 

One of my pet peeves is the phrase “just semantics,” often used to dismiss the importance of something. “Sure it’s more auburn than red,” they’ll say, “but that’s just semantics.” The implication is that it doesn’t matter so much what words mean. But I think it matters a great deal.

We think in words, so if our words are sloppy, that’s a pretty good indication our thoughts themselves are sloppy. And sloppy thinking leads to all manner of big problems. I came across an example of a semantics problem today that prompted me to write this. It’s so astoundingly awful I just can’t believe someone actually wrote it and thought they were saying something intelligent. Here it is, a paragraph from TechCrunch: The other half of Yahoo’s YOS strategy centers on an open strategy, particularly around search - see our update from April where some of those features were discussed and released.

The catastrophe is in the first part: Yahoo’s YOS strategy centers on an open strategy. It’s problematic enough as-is, with the redundant “strategy.” But when you expand the YOS acronym, you get this: Yahoo’s Yahoo Open Strategy strategy centers on an open strategy. Wow. Two words repeated twice and one repeated three times, all in one sentence. That’s “just semantics,” but it’s also just so fundamentally bad that I seriously question the author’s ability to form coherent thoughts.

Don’t let this happen to you, kids. Remember: words mean things.

 

People like to debate the phenomenon of global climate change as if it were an academic issue. People who don't live in the path of the huang-sa dust storms that sweep in out of China to blanket Korea every spring, and get worse with each passing year, people who aren't in Central British Columbia watching 85% of the pine trees die off, and with the trees, the futures of their children. People whose health or livelihood isn't directly affected.

Stavros the Wonder Chicken, My Home Is Dying

 

On this 4th of July, I found myself in need of antibiotics. I knew I needed antibiotics because I’d had the exact same symptoms a week prior, and an antibiotic, Cipro, had cured what ailed me. I suppose there’s a chance I could have developed the same symptoms for a completely different ailment within a week, but that seemed unlikely.

The 4th of July being a holiday in America, my doctor was not available to prescribe antibiotics again. And the 4th of July being a Friday this year, my doctor would not be available for 3 days. Faced with a decision between waiting it out or going to an urgent care facility, I sought help from the interwebs. A search for “over the counter antibiotic” soon lead me to an article titled OVER THE GROCERY COUNTER ANTIBIOTIC - WILL ALLICIN REPLACE SOME COMMON ANTIBIOTICS? Allicin is found in garlic, and after reading the article, and determining it to be sufficiently science-y to trust, I decided that yes, it will replace some common antibiotics, for me anyway. So I ate a lot of garlic on the 4th of July.

Garlic

photo by Zanastardust

When I took Cipro, I had a prescription for 3 days, to prevent super bacteria. Apparently whatever doesn’t kill them makes them stronger? But I felt better within a few minutes of taking the first Cipro pill. The first bite of garlic did not offer such immediate relief, but I kept eating.

I ate a large clove of garlic throughout the day, raw because cooked garlic doesn’t contain allicin. Not tasty, but toward the end of the day I was feeling better. Thanks internet! Thanks science!

Most pages discussing the antibiotic effects of garlic make some disclaimer about talking to your doctor first, but as I said, the whole reason I even started looking at garlic is that my doctor wasn’t available. If you find yourself in a similar situation, I recommend just eating some raw garlic. If it doesn’t help, you’ll just get bad breath and then you can do whatever you would have done without the garlic. But when it does help, it’s much simpler than a prescription for Cipro.

 

This morning The Consumerist kindly pointed us to a search on Amazon that returns quite a few free MP3s. The Consumerist says No guarantee that they'll be any good, but hey, they're free! I’ll go one further here and reduce the free MP3 list to songs I guarantee are good.

If you’re not satisfied by this musical selection, I’ll give you a full refund.

 

Back in university I had a lot of artsy friends. One of these friends, Sabrina Chapadjiev, got a bunch of artsy people together in a group to make some art. I played music and had long hair, but I’ve never really considered myself very artsy. When my theatre friends needed help with a play, I ran the audio equipment. But when Sabrina wrote a play, I somehow ended up in it. It wasn’t a major part, but I was on stage, which was uncomfortable. The play, called Perhaps Merely Quiet, became even more uncomfortable a couple days before it opened, when I discovered that it was largely autobiographical. That probably surprised me more than everyone else, since it was really kind of foolish of me to not have assumed from the beginning it was at least somewhat related to the writer’s life.

I gather from Sabrina’s website that the play has changed a bit since the initial production, but the key theme of madness has remained. So amidst the chaos that always exists around a theatre production, to find out the director is to some extent using the play to recreate her own past madness, well, I found the experience somewhat disturbing. I really didn’t want to be responsible for helping someone self-destruct, and I had no idea if that’s what was happening. So after the play was done, I tried to stay away from that whole scene, which meant mostly staying away from Sabrina.

I still have friends who have maintained contact with Sabrina, though, so I’ve heard a little of what she’s been doing. She seems to have become a somewhat successful artist, notwithstanding my earlier concerns. And now she has a book, called Live Through This, available to pre-order via Amazon. The subtitle of the book is “On Creativity and Self-Destruction,” exactly what I was worried about back then. Somehow binding it up in a book makes it seem less scary and more impressive, though. I don’t have any of the same worries that this book will have some sort of harmful effect on anyone.

It doesn’t hurt that the book includes a list of prestigious contributors. Remember when I wrote about bell hooks? She’s one of the contributors to Sabrina’s book. So in my small world this makes Sabrina successful. Of course she was probably successful long ago, back when I knew her even, but I just realized it. And I guess my point here is just to say that I knew her when, that I was once a friend (albeit fair weather) of that author now on a book tour with somewhat famous people.

 

Ezra Kilty wrote a pretty good summary of why I’m vegetarian, which has little to do with the stereotypical “animals are people too” philosophy most people assign to me when they hear I don’t eat meat. I often half-jokingly say that I don’t like animals and I’m vegetarian because I want to eat their food source and starve them to death. This is only half-joking because starvation would be a natural, reasonable way for animals to die. Industrial meat farming, on the other hand, just doesn’t make any sense. There are a lot of things I still eat that also don’t make sense, but industrial meat is an extreme. It’s a clear aberration in the history of food, and I want nothing to do with it.

I part with Ezra here:

… As living things, [animals] deserve not to be managed strictly as food items. They deserve to eat a diet that their digestion is adapted for, rather than one that fattens them up. (If they are meat-eaters, they deserve to eat other living things, rather than the ground bones of other industrially-farmed animals, which is commonly used as feed.) They deserve to roam, to graze—to follow their behaviors. The industrial system puts the animals in an extremely tight cycle of birth, feeding, waste removal, and slaughter, which is not a life.

My own vegetarianism is more selfish. I don’t think animals deserve any of this, but I do think I deserve to live in a world where animals are treated like, well, the animals they are. The industrial meat industry (and the meat-rich diet that sustain it) upsets me in the same way someone claiming that 2 + 2 = 5 upsets me. It obviously doesn’t work, and I want my world to work.

Nature will acquiesce to most of our modern attempts to bypass it. Our highways through mountains, our televised realities, our internets all infringe on the way the world has optimized itself to work. But industrialized meat goes too far, rearranging the way life itself works. This can’t last. Nature will not adapt to this; it will give us mad cow diseases until we adapt. That doesn’t mean everyone has to be vegetarian, but we will have to eat much less meat. My vegetarianism is a proof-of-concept that this is still possible, that we can still back out of the broken food cycle we’ve created.

 

We bought a house today, off Craigslist, without a realtor. Yeah, I know, that sounds really stupid. And maybe it was, but it still feels like a good deal. In a previous post, you’ll recall I said We’ll know soon if we’re buying that or continuing to look. We found out soon after that the house was being sold to someone else. And I was all ready to give up on buying a house and start looking at rental options when Jackie (my sister-in-law) found this house on Craigslist.

That was about a month ago; today we bought it. We won’t move for another month or so, but then my new address will be 460 S. Grant, Denver CO 80209. Here it is on Google Maps (street view). One thing that came up in the inspection: despite what Google Maps shows, it’s not consistently sunny on the property. But it is sunny sometimes. Today was sunny.

 

In “Daily caffeine 'protects brain',” the BBC offers another explanation for my abnormal brain. It’s too bad I’m so queasy around blood and organs; on a purely abstract level I find this kind of biology really interesting. You’ll recall I had previously suggested my brain started acting a little more like the brain of someone with Alzheimer's, a damaged hippocampus, roughly ten years ago. The BBC says:

"Caffeine appears to block several of the disruptive effects of cholesterol that make the blood-brain barrier leaky," said Dr Jonathan Geiger, who led the study.

"High levels of cholesterol are a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease, perhaps by compromising the protective nature of the blood brain barrier.

This caught my attention. I never drank coffee, but I did stop drinking soft drinks about ten years ago, at the same time I stopped eating meat. In addition to saving money, I always thought this was an obviously healthy thing to do. It would be a sad irony if it actually broke my brain.

On the other hand, Wikipedia’s caffeine article (within an entire section on caffeine and memory) specifically says Researchers have found that long-term consumption of low dose caffeine (0.3 g/L) slowed hippocampus-dependent learning and impaired long-term memory. So the problem could actually be that I still consume too much caffeine, not too little (I eat a lot of chocolate). Sigh. Brains are complicated. Stay tuned for the next episode of “What’s Wrong with Scott’s Brain?”

 

I believe my hippocampus was damaged at some point within the past ten years. Most people who know me say I have bad memory, but I found out today I don’t. I only have bad episodic memory. My semantic memory is just fine, perhaps even exceptionally good. According to some scientists referenced on Wikipedia, the hippocampus is a section of the brain that handles episodic memory, and does not handle semantic memory.

My hippocampus also handles my sense direction. I don’re remember having better episodic memory ten years ago, but I do remember having a better sense of direction. And I also don’t remember my bad memory being a defining trait ten years ago, so I’m assuming it was okay at some point and then it went bad. Damage to my hippocampus would explain this.

Episodic memory is the kind of memory your friends notice you not having. You forget that time you went on that trip together, or what they told you yesterday, or some other episode that defines your friendship. You’re still a nice guy, just kind of insensitive. This is me. Except I’m not insensitive (I swear!); these things just don’t stick in my brain.

I think semantic memory, on the other hand, is commonly misunderstood as intelligence. People who know me tend to think I’m “smart,” but I really just have good semantic memory. I pick up programming concepts or games quickly because they are inherently semantic. Every part has a defined meaning. But I don’t remember the episode of learning the concepts. They just become part of my mental model of the world, my semantic memory.

So assuming I’m correct that my hippocampus was damaged, what might have caused that? Other scientists referenced on Wikipedia say it might have something to do with autism and/or maybe Alzheimer’s. You’ll recall I once diagnosed myself as having Asperger’s, a mild form of autism. And Alzheimer’s increasingly seems to be a kind of diabeties in the brain, interesting here because I am diabetic.

For a less scientific-sounding explanation, there was that one time I jumped into a doorway and hit my head so hard I had to be taken to the emergency room. I don’t actual remember that episode, but the story of that episode is essentially the meaning of the scar on my forehead. (See the distinction there?) That happened within the timeframe I suspect my hippocampus was damaged. But the location of the hippocampus (near the center of the brain) makes that seem less plausible.

Or maybe my hippocampus wasn’t damaged at all. Maybe I always had bad episodic memory and just don’t remember it when I was younger. That would, of course, make sense. In any case, it’s nice to have an explanation for why I remember some things and not others. I can now stop telling people I have bad memory only to have them later discover I remember some things very well. Now I can say, more correctly I think, that I have semantic memory.

 

I saw the geese again on my way to work today, ambling across the otherwise busy street. And I laughed out loud just like I do each time I see them. I don't think it's the geese themselves that delight me. It's not even their effect on traffic, forcing us all to slow to their pace, knowing the horns and gestures we'd typically send to a person moving so slow would be useless here. I think it's the absurdity of the situation that makes me laugh. It wouldn't amuse me so in the country. But here we are in the middle of a city, surrounded by modernity, buildings full of people who create nothing but ideas, and the best we can do here is stop our cars and wait for these geese to walk.

 

I didn’t realize I hadn’t written anything here since September until I read it in a post by my brother Kevin. I would have responded earlier, but I’ve been kind of busy lately, as Kevin well knows, since he’s been making me busy. Specifically, I’ve been buying a house, starting a company, and trying to hire a coworker while doing the excess work I need a coworker to share at my day job. Before explaining why I think Kevin is only half-right about his theory that bloggers are looking for better jobs, I should probably explain some of that.

Let’s start with the house. Kevin and Jackie came to Denver last November and stayed with Jessica and I for a couple weeks while they looked for, and until they could get into, their new apartment. While walking their dog around the block, they noticed the triplex just behind our current rental duplex is for sale. I think Jackie jokingly said something like “we could all buy that and move there.” After talking about it a bit more, it didn’t seem so ridiculous. So we started looking at different multi-unit housing for sale around Denver.

I don’t even know how many places we’ve looked at by now, but it’s a lot. We just made our first offer on a place yesterday, and we should get a counter-offer in another hour or two today. The specific house we’re offering to buy is… wait for it… the one just behind our current rental. We’ll know soon if we’re buying that or continuing to look.

So now the company. While Kevin and Jackie were between jobs, and to a lesser extent since they’ve both found jobs around Denver, they’ve spent a lot of time helping out with Playing Here. As a result, the site is crazy busy now, which means it takes even more work to maintain. So now we need more people to do this work, and — lacking volunteers — we need to pay these people. To do that, we need an actual company with a tax ID and limited liability and a business bank account and whatnot. So now we have all that as Make Data Make Sense, LLC, as well as a vague business plan for sustaining and growing the site. We should know in the next six months or so whether or not this plan will work out.

So I’ve been looking at houses and working on Playing Here most nights and weekends. By day, I continue to work as a web developer at The Integer Group, which I can’t link to without disclaiming that I didn’t make the website. Since I last wrote here, I’ve lost two part-time coworkers, which sucked because I’d only been less than six months and suddenly I was responsible for everything web related. But I’ve been working on some fun projects and it looks like I’ll have another co-worker or two soon. This will be my first experience as the senior member of a team, so that should be interesting.

So back to Kevin’s suggestion that bloggers are looking for better jobs. I think that’s only true to the extent that people looking for better jobs have time to write, either because they’re unemployed or because they don’t have enough interest in their current jobs to spend any more time than necessary on that. Bloggers are just people who have time to write. I wrote about this about 4 years ago (back when I didn’t bother with capitalization) in because i have ample free time. Specifically, I said:

what makes bloggers more elite? having computers for one. and having free time to read and write. heck, having electricity. what doesn't make bloggers more elite? doc's suggestion that "it doesn't take ample free time" is simply not true. it does take ample free time.

I still think that’s true. And while people looking for jobs is one group that has ample free time, other groups include professional writers (e.g. Doc Searls) and students. I started blogging as a student, but I continued blogging through my first several jobs out of college, up until this one. And while I do like my current job more than any previous job, I also liked my previous job more than any before that. I wasn’t really looking for this job when it appeared, so that’s not why I kept writing.

But why did I keep writing then and stop just recently? I think there are several factors, but the main one is that I wasn’t as busy when I was writing as I am now. But with everything making me busy promising to come to some resolution relatively soon, it looks likely I’ll be less busy soon, so maybe I’ll start writing more again, even though I still won’t be looking for a better job.