Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Underlying Message: Stay in School

Aw, man, sometimes you're just so busy livin' the life, you know, bein' your hard-rockin'-est that you just can't take the time to pay attention to little details.

In any other context, we'd spell out the "3" and the ampersand, but this Twitter. With a 140-character space constraint, sure, we can allow certain shortcuts. Still, this is only 120 characters: Sierra would've had plenty of room to write these out or even decide how she wants to format her en-dash/em-dash.

The glaring error here is "definetly." Sierra may believe this is the adverbial form of "definet." Who knows? If "definitely" were the name of a low-end vodka, she'd never get it wrong.

But now I really have to question she knows the meaning of the word advice: "A proposal for an appropriate course of action." What kind of "advice" is skipping school? In what context is it appropriate to miss out on an opportunity to learn something? If you're in high school, you're breaking the law and will screw yourself over. If you're in college, you're either wasting hundreds of your own dollars or that of your parents. If you're that intent on screwing your parents over, why don't you just adopt Sierra's hard-rockin', life-advisin' course of action? I'm sure lots of sober people are probably very proud of her.

If the person giving you advice, especially as pertains to education, is functionally illiterate and uses large words (or, sadly, small to medium words) whose meaning elude their facility, you would go safest by doing pretty much the opposite of what they suggest.

But seriously...

I have no idea who this is. This just came up as a random sample as I was logging into Twitter. People who argue against education infuriate me, as do people who advocate doing stupid things for the sake of "coolness." From what I've seen, the pursuit of "cool" is a course of self-defeat: it makes you eat terrible things, wear ugly clothes (that you replace in less than a year), and surrender your free will to marketing in general.

A quick Wikipedia search reveals that Sierra is the 20y.o. lead singer of a band, VersaEmerge. Evidently the page was written by one of their fans: "...current vocalist Sierra Kusterbeck auditioned for the vocal position by sending a tape online." Hope they quickly e-mailed them a tape player, too, since few people have those anymore.

Oh, but it gets better. "They chose the name "VersaEmerge" from the terms (vice-versa) meaning opposite, and "emerge" meaning to rise up." Actually, no, versa doesn't mean anything. It's a brand and a query language, but in English it is not a word. The term vice versa is a singular object, it is not a "terms," and it means "in order reversed," not "opposite." The icing on the cake is their framing of one term in parenthesis and another in quotation marks. If English really were the unending struggle this person seems to find it, I should be a lot thinner from the caloric expenditure of my discipline.

Yes, I know I'm old, but that doesn't stop me from judging this to be stupidity piled upon stupidity. The one might even facilitate the other.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Having a Hard Time with Socializing

So I was all excited because I love the Internet, which led to loving podcasts, which led to loving The Nerdist. And all was well and good, until I overheard (overread?) my friend Molly on Twitter, talking about a new online forum/hangout joint for nerds called The Node. I'm all, That's awesome, but it's invite-only and I'll never get invited. But then I did!

This means more to me than to a lot of people because of this reason: I'm looking for another online community with which to integrate. I've been on the same BBS for 18 years, following its transition from dial-up to Web-based, and it's great, I love it, but I still feel an urge to be a part of other online communities. It's not unrelated to my yet-unsatisfied need to be a regular at a bar. The problem with both of these problems is this: I'm kind of stuck up. It's not that I think I'm better than other people, it's that I find great many other people insufferable. People think I'm boasting or being purposely insulting when I say something like that, but they never stop to ask why someone would ever confess such a horrible thing and expect other people to interpret it as a point of pride.

I'm being honest. This is a problem I wrestle with, my intolerance. I know that if I were more... well, anything from "open-minded" to "standardless," I would be a lot happier. I used to believe that it was acceptable for me to be very in-touch with what I like and what I don't like, but now I know that's false and it doesn't work. But saying that doesn't make it so: I can't walk into a nice bar full of douchebags and hipsters and still enjoy the bar. I don't blame the bar for its patronage, but the patronage can ruin my experience because I'm not open-minded enough to accept hipsters and douchebags.

So it is with online communities. I was all excited about getting into The Node, thinking I'd find some people to converse with, geek out with, all that good stuff. Oh, of course there would be Twilight fetishists, excitable youth who haven't moved past Monty Python recitations, but aside from that I thought I could find interesting new people to socialize with.

I found some jackass who wanted to talk about a musical genre called "dubstep." I didn't know it but posted a link to a fun dub-generation interactive game I've always enjoyed, and people I introduced it to seemed to think it was cool. Instead, this guy was immediately insulting and ungracious. His profile features of picture of him shirtless in his bedroom. Why is he on The Node? Why would he want to be? If he's just an insulting jackass, why would he want to hang out with a group of nerds?

But even among the nerds, I encounter problems. In a discussion about the possibility of encountering extraterrestrial life, there are exactly three posts.

The first:
"I think that if Stephen Hawkings says so we need to stay away from Aliens. I mean they dude is basiclly a computer on wheels, fyi someone really needs to get him on the Node!"

The second (mine):
"I heard a long lecture on the unlikelihood of alien contact, and how bad it could mean if it happened.

"Right off the bat: if they contact us, either we benefit in ways we can't predict, they bring some new disease that wipes us all out, or nothing results.

"However, there is nothing to be had on Earth that cannot be had much more easily on planets/asteroids much closer to other civilizations, in all likelihood. It would be an unnecessary expenditure of resources to reach us and pass up all the other sources along the way, not to mention to transport them back to the home world (unless, of course, they treat Earth like the vikings did Iceland, stripping it of materials to rebuild their ships on their way to somewhere else, which is also extremely unlikely). It would also be impractical to send out mortal beings on trans-universal flights, so if we did make contact it would be more likely to be with a robotic drone, which in no way guarantees reciprocal communication.

"However, there is one motivation that drives otherwise sentient beings out from their homeland into the unknown without forethought or a plan to return, and that is religion. If some alien civilization is bent on proselytization, they will find us and kill/subjugate everyone they can't convert, just as most orthodox religions have done on Earth.

"Then again, all those theories are based on human metric, and we have absolutely no way of predicting or even guessing at alien logic."

And I thought that was a thoughtful response. I thought it addressed the topic and looked at various possibilities. I thought I was providing useful, topical information to contribute to a conversation.

The third (quoting the first post):
"Yea. That man is smarter than I can ever hope to be. If he thinks it will be all badness who am I to disagree. Also i can't imagine anyone spending that much time and energy to find out little backwater rock and just wanting to hang out."
That's... pretty much how it goes. I think I'm contributing, I'm trying to add content, trying to build on others' conversations, and it's one person without a clue agreeing with an illiterate person in debt of one clue.

And anyone would say I just need to give it some time, but I'm already seeing some patterns emerge. There's a group of attention whores who just post and post and post, regardless of topic or content, so that they can stay high on a list of top contributors. That was a huge problem with Open Salon and it carries over here.

This is just like when I try to go out to an event and I'm unable to appreciate what's going on because I'm too frustrated and affronted by the people around me. Saying it aloud, it sounds like a serious mental problem, further reinforced by how often I have to apologize to my wife for my poor attitude. Quite frequently I also apologize to her for having become saddled to a man who's no longer capable of having fun (at least the type that involves other people). I don't imagine she could relish a long lifetime with someone like me. And so I try to fix my face into a smile and I can't think of anything nice to say but I can hold back everything that's going on inside my head and lie and say I'm having a great time. All other women should be aware of what a bullet they dodged, in not getting involved with me. Life has shown me that marriage is like a dance, in that the most valuable men are those that make the women look their best. More grounds for me to apologize to Rebecca.

So, if The Node was created for nerds who don't fit in other places, where do I go when I don't fit in with the misfits, when I have out-nerded the nerds?

Friday, August 20, 2010

XN Grapples with Net Neutrality

All right, today I'm going to try and understand net neutrality. I have a vague concept of it but that is never sufficient. There are enough respectable authorities and wiser minds than mine weighing in on the topic that there's no reason not to have a better-informed opinion on the matter.

I'll start by stating what I understand about the issue. Net neutrality means that everyone has equal access to every website, and that Internet providers must provide equal access to every website. When Google/Verizon teamed up and the FCC lost jurisdiction to govern the Internet, it was projected that the scales would tip in favor of commodifying Internet service to the extent that websites who could pay impending service fees would necessarily receive better service than those that couldn't. This is a form of preferential treatment that would swiftly become exaggeratedly biased in a really unhelpful direction. Large corporations could facilitate undue attention to themselves, and independent sites would fall to the wayside. Information would no longer stand on its own merit and power would, as in all other human contexts, be distributed according to money as opposed to worth.

Now I'll read up on various sources and see how badly off the mark my aim has struck.

The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) posted their own very helpful review of Verizon and Google's net neutrality proposal. In short:

  1. The prior concern was that FCC regulation would somehow enable corporations, Hollywood, and morality police with greater online influence. (I'll have to study that later.)
  2. Google/Verizon proposed "a narrow grant of power to the FCC to enforce neutrality within carefully specified parameters."
  3. Limiting the FCC to "case-by-case enforcement of consumer protection" is good, as it would inhibit the FCC's capacity as morality police.
  4. This would also "[exempt] software applications, content and services from FCC jurisdiction." (I'll have to study that later.)
  5. Establishing "standard-setting bodies" by an "independent, widely recognized Internet community governance initiative" is interesting but requires absolute transparency and accountability.
  6. Too much of the proposal's language was vague, like "reasonable network management" and "additional online services." Determining these likewise requires transparency.
  7. Differentiating standards between wired and wireless Internet service is an intellectual train wreck.
  8. Loophole: enabling "lawful" content without strictly defining what "lawful" means or connotes.
People I respect, respect the EFF so therefore I'm inclined to use their opinion as a kind of baseline, pending further information.

This particularly naive and reactionary commentary doesn't really assist the debate, but I'm reading it to see whether it contains anything of use. It suggests the premise that Google teamed up with Verizon simply to allow Google's content to load faster than anyone else's. That's a pretty slanted and simplistic summary of what sounds like, from most other perspectives, a complex issue. The columnist reverse-engineers a kind of Jack the Ripper theory of motivation and identity to arrive at the conclusion of a minor anti-trust infraction, as well as bemoan the FCC losing control of the Internet. He does not have the same understanding of the FCC or its interests that the EFF does, he is a strong proponent of federal government owning absolute control over the Internet (and much of the government has demonstrated a range of attitudes from nescience to obliviousness regarding the workings of the 'Net), yet he is an associate professor of Media Studies and Law. Huh.

This New York Times article reacts to the Google/Verizon proposal shortly after it was revealed and says it claims 1) ISPs would be prevented from providing advantages to Web content producers with money, and 2) the FCC "should have the authority to stop or fine any rule-breakers." Obviously, those rules need to be established first, but Google/Verizon have proposed themselves as advisors to regulators and lawmakers in this matter. The proposal also exempts wireless access (such as the Verizon Android) from the strictures of net neutrality, so that any online media partner with the company would likely receive preferential treatment, a concern common among all commenters on this development.
“I also recognize that there may be benefits to innovation and investment of broadband providers offering managed services in limited circumstances,” [chairman of FCC] said, adding that such services “can supplement — but must not supplant — free and open Internet access.”

Rebecca Arbogast, a telecommunications analyst at Stifel Nicolaus, predicted that the F.C.C. would probably demand that any net neutrality rules cover wireless, and that the details of any exceptions for specialized online services be made clear.
Sounds hopeful but ultimately vague.

The staff attorney at PublicKnowledge.org also wrote an insightful breakdown of the Google/Verizon proposal. He pointed out where Google/Verizon tried to differentiate broadband separate from wireless, underscoring the FCC's assertion that "the Internet is the Internet," regardless of access to it. And once again, what does "additional online services" mean? It is once again identified as a loophole through which may drive the large and heavy trucks of paid online prioritization. But the EFF thinks the FCC handling infractions on a case-by-case basis is a reasonable solution, while this attorney believes that relegates it to "a common law court" or "rubber-stamping industry-crafted settlements." He too seems to believe the FCC should total and exclusive power over the Internet.

So that's two legal authorities who differ from the EFF's opinion on this point. Interesting. How do we explain this: that the EFF lacks perspective, or that these legal offices have a vested interest in the FCC retaining control? I know too little about the matter currently--the former sounds wrong and the latter sounds like conspiracy theory.

Further down this rocky and briar-strewn path, Ars Technica iterates the worst of what the G/V proposal means and highlights the most negative reviews and critiques of it. They are likewise panicked that the FCC would lose control of the Internet. It increasingly appears EFF is alone in their view that this could be a good thing. Ars Technica also underscores the importance of protecting wireless Internet access as well as the gaping loopholes indicated in the other articles.

They also ran an article on Senator Al Franken and FCC Commissioner Michael Copps criticizing the G/V proposal. Franken took a shot at the FCC for dragging their heels on reclassifying ISPs as "telecommunications," rather than viewing them as "information" as they have for nearly a decade, and the commissioner accepted that, agreed, and resolved to correct this. That was interesting to read in a feel-good kind of way, though it didn't impart any actionable information or even distinctly point at a path the future might take.

Right now the net neutrality "debate" is a lot of vented frustration. People are stepping up to loudly seethe over what they dislike and what they condemn, but not even the most moderated voices have suggested anything concrete. It's all, "Watch out for this, watch out for that, but I have no idea where to go." Elements of the FCC seem willing to get their hands dirty, but how much of that is lip service? How much is, "God, I hope my subordinates understand what the hell's going on, because this is all way over my head"? It is significant to me that the Electronic Frontier Foundation seems to be unique among G/V's critics in that they see reduced FCC jurisdiction a potentially promising venture. I'm frankly stunned at how many critics actually believe the federal government should incontrovertibly possess Internet regulation, how they cannot conceive of how badly that could go (and I use "could" in the same sense they've prefaced all their "could" statements that wind up in an apocalypse).

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

How Very Useful!

OH MY GODS, I've never seen this before.

I was working in a Word document (Mac) and wanted to create a Table of Contents. I've done it before, I just couldn't recall how. The Help tab opened up what looked like a search bar (upper right) and, rather than a paragraph full of hit results, Word just opened up its own dropdown menus and highlighted my destination.

You see that little blue arrow next to Table of Contents? That actually hovers in place, rotating in a small circle to catch your eye better than a stationary marker.

I was so blown away by the helpfulness of this tool, I had to post about it. Thunderation, this is awesome.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

XN in Review

Just downloaded the latest version of Picasa (3.8). It features a new toy which tracks your face in all your photos (as long as you've tagged it) and assembles them into a rapid collage.

Immediately, I had to play with it and see what it's like, and fortunately I do have a large pool of photos of myself so it made for an interesting effect.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

You've Been Facebook-Rolled!

People like to hype up the threat that Facebook poses. Is it an invasion of privacy? Only if you hand over a silver platter of all your personal information, which most people do. Do they retain your user data indefinitely? They seem to, though there's a community on FB that's supposedly dedicated to spreading the word of how to permanently delete your account and all attached or stored information.

It doesn't work, of course. On Thursday, August 12, I set my own account to delete. I was just tired of it--people use it as a crutch to disseminate personal updates with none of the personal attention of directing it to a specific person. You just upload photos of what you did that weekend, then act all offended when your 400 friends didn't logon to seek you out and appraise themselves of your doings.

My feelings are, if you want someone to know, then you engage them in conversation and tell them about it, but apparently this is quite unreasonable: any time I talk about the dozens of concerns other people have written about Facebook, I've been accosted by small groups of friends who deride my opinions and argue that I should just stay where I am and quit worrying about things.

Wow, if there's any one statement that induces my paranoia, it's something along that line. So I gave all my friends and family ample notice and means by which to stay in touch with me--largely ignored--and terminated my FB account. FB says that your account will be purged if you do not login for 14 days, so I set up a calendar reminder to check it out 16 days later.
That's what I saw two weeks and two days after attempting to delete my account, a renewed promise to delete my account in an additional two weeks. I logged in to see if it had been deleted, expecting to be blocked or to pull up the online equivalent of a blank expression, but received an ambivalent "welcome back" instead.

Facebook has no interest in deleting anyone's account. It's a free service so they have no contractual obligation to its users (you wouldn't know that from the astronomical sense of entitlement its users express on a regular basis, as pertains to online games or periodic rumors of FB becoming a paid service). Anything they promise to do, or flippantly suggest they might do, is a favor at best. In practice, it's just noise.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Iran: Sanctions, Fuel Swap, Weapons

Location: Tehran, Iran
I'm just reading about this story in the news. None of these articles iterate proof to support the U.S.' conviction that Iran is building nuclear arms, though one is very clear that Iran has supplied money and weapons to terrorist organizations. We're losing ground with China, with its trade relations with Iran and North Korea. October '09, Iran backed out of a fuel swap deal that would have supplied medical reactor uranium for Tehran. May '10, Iran attempted to discuss a fuel swap with Turkey and Brazil, but the U.N., U.S., and E.U. imposed greater sanctions, on the grounds that the particulars of the plan didn't sufficiently address certain concerns. Now Ahmadinejad wants to discuss a fuel swap with the U.S., talks to happen in Sept. '10.

It sounds like when it's one side's idea, the other side rejects it, then suggests the same thing on its own terms, only to be in turn rejected.

US sanctions Iranians said to support terrorism
The U.S. "Treasury targeted two officers in the Qods force, an elite arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, for providing money and weapons to militant groups the U.S. has designated as terrorist organizations: Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad," and 21 Iranian businesses in its new sanctions against Iran. This is supposed to show the Obama administration "ratcheting up economic and political pressure on Iran to limit its support for Islamic extremism in the Mideast. A parallel goal is to coax Iran into international negotiations over its nuclear program." Iran continues to insist its nuclear program is solely to provide electricity for its increasingly robust nation, but the US continues to insist it's ramping up to build nuclear arms.

U.S. urges China not to take advantage of Iran sanctions
China disapproves of U.S. sanctions on Iran and "welcomed Tehran's offer to return to negotiations on a nuclear fuel swap without conditions." The U.S. says it wants China to show some international responsibility, but China says the U.S. had no right to impose sanctions outside of the UN ruling.

Ahmadinejad urges US to join nuclear swap talks
On the other hand, Iran has repeatedly invited the U.S. to participate in fuel swap talks, as though they're not even listening to anything the U.S. is saying. "[Obama] missed the opportunity last year for a fuel swap; today this opportunity is on the table again," Ahmadinejad said in a televised speech in the city of Hamedan in western Iran. "We are ready for talks based on respect, justice and Iran's proposals after mid-Ramadan (late August) and we advise him not to miss this opportunity."

"The May 17 proposal by Iran, Turkey and Brazil, known as the Tehran Declaration, stipulates that Iran send 1,200 kilogrammes (2,645 pounds) of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey in return for 20 percent high-enriched uranium to be supplied by Russia and France at a later date."

Iran ready to reconsider 20% enrichment
Why the fuel swap? Iran says it is exhausting its uranium supply and needed to refine even more, which could easily be used for nuclear arms as for energy, but it would forego this enrichment process if the Vienna group (U.S., Russia, France) would reconsider a fuel swap.

US urges Japan to get tough on Iran
"Japan imposed sanctions against Iran on Tuesday in line with a UN resolution and said it plans to announce additional punitive measures later this month," but "Robert Einhorn, State Department special adviser for non-proliferation and arms control, called for tough measures from Tokyo, which has long been on relatively good terms with Tehran." This article also points out that Russia and China have protested these new sanctions as they are heavily invested in energy production in Iran. In fact, Iran claims to have obtained 300 surface-to-air missiles from Russia (a 2007 sale), but Russia claims sanctions against Iran prevent their delivery. Israel has reason to sweat this purchase.