Thursday, January 31, 2008

Social Media Minute: Schneier MIA from TSA and More

Two items from today's topic slushpile:
  • GovBlogging at the TSA: Saw in Wired's Threat Level this morning that the Transportation Security Agency now has a blog: Evolution of Security. (The story has since been picked up at BoingBoing.)

    Taking a quick look:

    - Platform: I was surprised to see that they're using Blogger (presumably, too many foreign ownership issues with LiveJournal). Since the blog is hosted on TSA servers, they won't have the full set of Blogger widgets and features (this is the problem I'm facing), though if it meets their needs, that's fine.

    - Comments: They're moderating comments (see their comment policy), though allowing anonymous comments. I don't see anonymous comments lasting too long (unless they're hoping to encourage participation from TSA whistleblowers -- shyeah), in which case the installed Blogger user base and Google account and OpenID support for commenters is nice.

    - Naming Names: I'm not thrilled by the lack of full names on their Meet Our Bloggers page (and they seem to be missing some folks) -- at the very least, there should be the editor's full name (presumable this Neil guy -- he seems most active).

    After the fake FEMA press conference debacle, this type of government transparency is kind of important.

    - Hey, Where'd Bruce Schneier Go? Well, this is new. I'm positive they had a link to security guru Bruce Schneier's blog in the sidebar (among others), but it's not there anymore. I was about to give them a brownie point for that -- I wonder when and why they removed it.

    As to the impact of the blog as a whole? Openness and dialog are great, but the true test of the matter is the ability to redress problems and affect change. Just as with a corporate blog, you can only apologize so many times without actually fixing things before it hollows out your message.

  • Social Media in Ethnic Conflicts: Christian Science Monitor talks about the impact of cellphones and the Internet on the coverage of the ethnic conflict in Kenya.

    A lot of the unalloyed social media utopians only look at the positive benefits of social communication, and I think many still think that the Internet has a self-correcting bias towards objective truths.

    I think that's crap -- when all we had was word-of-mouth, there was plenty of room for rumor, hysteria, panic, and mob madness. Social media doesn't change that, and we shouldn't forget the ability of media, both citizen and old-school, to inflame passions, spread misinformation, disinformation and propaganda, and be manipulated by interested groups.

    Plus, any given online community normally faces issues with drama, trolls, and flamewars -- throw in factors like ethnic discord and a possibility (or even propensity) for violence, and you can see how online behaviors can influence offline behaviors (and vice versa).

Trivially Intelligent at the Jimmy's Tavern JOTTeopardy Finals

Tuesday night, I played in the Championship Final (Q4 2007 edition) of JOTTeopardy (not JOTTpardy, as I'd been calling it), the Jimmy's Old Town Tavern not-Jeopardy! trivia game where crowd participation is encouraged:

Jimmy Cirrito, your host.

Here are all of the night's photos: JOTTeopardy Championships, 1/29/08.

As it turns out, I was probably a little bit further down on the overall winners list that I'd previously thought (hey, showing up is, like, 90% of the battle, right?), and then only two of us finalists showed up. So they had to draft my opponent's wife. That meant I was facing a husband-wife team, who had 8 or so previous championship wins between them. It was not looking good for me:

Anyway, the game was fun. I'm slightly concerned that people actually believed that I didn't know who was playing in Super Bowl (when asked during the intro who I was rooting for, I said "the Wizards"), and my performance in the Super Bowls category did nothing to dissuade them.

Other than screwing the pooch on the bowling category -- I forgot the number of strikes in a perfect game (12, not 13), and I kept mixing up Kingpin and The Big Lebowski (having seen neither); I did OK in the superheroes category (including stealing the max 50 point question, though there's probably still some controversy about the original members of the Justice League), and wasn't fast enough in the "Superb Owls" category.

Somehow, I made it into Final JOTTeopardy with 210 points, only 10 under my opponents, who each had 220 points (making it 440 to 210 in my book).

The category was Actors, so I was feeling pretty confident. Overconfident, as it turned out -- the question was which '80s TV detective had been the original choice to play Indiana Jones, and I could only think of Stacy Keach (of the much-shorter-lived Mike Hammer), instead of the correct answer, Tom Selleck (Mr. Magnum himself).

As it turns out, I'd employed sound strategy (I'd wagered 205 points, leaving 5), but was in a no-win situation, as both my opponents had bet it all and gotten it right. So they got to split the first and second place prizes:
JOTTeopardy Finalists post-game with Jimmy.

Third place was good for $25 bucks and a certificate (slightly corrected), so it all worked out:
Note the Sharpied correction.

Some of my support team pose with certificate.

We hung out for a while longer -- there was the trading of caps and glasses:

DSCF3994 DSCF3998
Me wearing Eric's Redskins cap (sideways, like he does); DeAnna leans on Eric wearing my glasses.

You can see the rest of the night's photos here.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Dumb People on Planes on Conveyor Belts: A Question of Psychology, Not Physics

Mythbusters finally aired their "Plane on a Conveyor Belt" (a.k.a. Plane on a Treadmill) episode.

Here is the result -- it's not a spoiler, because anyone who truly understands the basic physics involved, will not be surprised to hear that the goddamn plane takes off.

However, I've since come to the conclusion that Plane on a Treadmill looks like a physics question, but it's actually a psychology question.

If you're one of those people who thought the plane in the Mythbusters setup wouldn't take off, the answer is simple:
  • Your understanding of physics isn't quite as strong as you thought
  • You can't wrap your head around the fact that people and cars behave differently from planes
  • You should probably pay more attention to the nice demo and animation they did
On the other hand, if you believe that the Mythbusters experiment itself had to be flawed, because the plane shouldn't take off, you've shown that:
  • You're being stubborn (or deliberately obtuse), because you're sticking to an interpretation of the problem that doesn't make sense and that requires magic
  • You're probably never going to change your mind, because the Mythbusters folks basically demonstrated it as good as you can get, and by sticking to your opinion in the face of proof, you're taking it out of the realm of fact and science and officially joining the realm of the 9/11 Truthers and Moon landing hoax conspiracy theorists and Creationists.
Looking at the relevant Mythbusters message board, there seem to be a lot of both types of people, as well as folks who generally just don't get it.

The main, physics part of the problem is that people hear "treadmill," and they think back to their experience running on a treadmill or driving on a dynamometer, and try to apply that to an airplane on a treadmill, which is superficially similar but actually completely different.

The other, psychological part of the problem is that the wording of the original question that most people saw isn't very good. In fact, the original wording stinks on ice.

This is because it allows an interpretation of the question that is self-negating -- the "speed" bit can be read as stating right off the bat that the plane can't move forward (relative to a fixed point to the ground), no matter what. Which means it won't take off. Period.

(I held this interpretation for about 5 minutes -- I originally thought the plane wouldn't take off. I came around shortly after.)

The problem with the "doesn't move forward, no matter what" interpretation of the question is twofold:
  1. It's not a question anymore. It's pointless -- you've taken a moderately interesting thought experiment and turned it into a reading comprehension exercise.
  2. It requires a magical treadmill.
Obviously, if you can keep the plane from moving forward (relative to a fixed point on the ground, and leaving wind out of it), you won't get any airflow over the wings and the plane won't take off. You can do this by using a rope to tether the plane a fixed point off the treadmill, like a pole or a wall. Which would be silly -- if you're going to tie the plane down, why bother with a treadmill at all?

However, if skip the rope and rely solely on the treadmill -- you can keep a person or a car from moving forward, but you can't do it with a plane (or a rocket car, or a rollerblader with a Wile E. Coyote jetpack), unless the treadmill itself is magical.

The only forces holding the plane back are the friction of the wheels against the treadmill; inertia; and friction in the bearings and with the air: All of which are real, but vastly overwhelmed by the forward thrust of the engine.

If you insist on sticking with this "things don't move forward, for anything (even planes)" treadmill, it has to move fast enough so that the relatively tiny, tiny friction forces are magnified enough to overcome the thrust of the engines. Almost infinitely fast, in fact. Which is fine: You've now got an impossible, magical treadmill.

What you don't have is a real world physics problem anymore, the kind they test on Mythbusters. At best, it becomes a metaphysics question, like "Can God microwave a burrito so hot He can't eat it?"

So here's the psychology question -- pick the statement which best describes you:
  1. I would do anything to be right, even if it means picking an arcane interpretation of a self-defeating question that requires magic and keeps things completely in the realm of theory, precluding any possibility of doing something cool
  2. I would rather have something you can actually build, like a big-ass treadmill, scaled-up to handle a plane and match the speed of the wheels (which is just an engineering problem -- merely impractical, not impossible)
  3. Shut up, I don't like physics, engineering, psychology, or you.
A loaded question, I know. For me, the real-world scenario is the most interesting one, and this is what the Mythbusters folks did. And as they showed, for any treadmill that we can actually build:
  • The plane will move forward (relative to a fixed point on the ground).
  • The plane will take off.
  • People will keep complaining and keep arguing.

Book Review: Empire -- Orson Scott Cardboard Cutout Coup

I woke up at about 5:30am and couldn't get back to sleep, so I decided to read. I'd just started Fast Food Nation yesterday, but was in the mood for some fiction, so I picked up Orson Scott Card's Empire, fresh from the library.

It's about a new American Civil War, set along the Red State/Blue State ideological divide. I just finished it. It's really bad; so much so that I had to make a determined effort to finish it (I have no problem not starting books, but I didn't want to abandon yet another one.)

The Real World = Walking Robot Tanks

Empire is basically set in the here and now, which is why it's particularly jarring when the 14-foot-tall bipedal tank mechs take over New York. Not to mention the later chase scene in Great Falls Park (Maryland side), featuring a PT Cruiser and rebels on rocket-armed hoverbikes.

[Since Empire stems from a video game treatment, it is perhaps not his fault, but it's still pretty wacky.]

Of course, this is only after the al Qaeda suicide scuba commandos swim up the Potomac, into the Tidal Basin and launch a rocket attack on the White House, killing the President, Vice President, Secretary of Defense, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

Oh, and al Qaeda is only a pawn, used by leftist elements in the U.S. Army (?!) as a pretext for a coup by the Progressive Restoration, which is masterminded and funded by billionaire Aldo Verus (a very, very thinly-disguised George Soros), who has his own secret underground lair beneath a mountain lake -- complete with robot army.

Card: Fair and Balanced

Now, in his afterword, Card says he's a moderate, decrying extremism on both sides (he probably believes this), and at points in the book, his characters say the rebellion could just as easily been started by the Right.

But it's fairly obvious where Card stands in his fair-mindedness: All the bad guys are lefties, and all the good guys are right-wingers who watch Fox News (in fact, an appearance on the O'Reilly Factor becomes a key element), save for a few tame, pet progressives.

There's also a lot of Mary Sue-ism in the book, particularly in the early chapters, where there's a lot of unsubtle breast-beating about liberals in the media and academia, as well as throwaway cheap shots at the left and reverence for Bush from the mouths of his protagonists.

You can also see some Mary Sue-ish wish-fulfillment towards the end, where (spoiler alert) a quintessential moderate, who may or may not be pulling all the strings (including those of the Soros-arch-villain, reducing him to the ultimate useful idiot), using only the power of his ideas, becomes president by acclamation after being nominated by both the Republicans and Democrats.

Influences: You, Sir, Are No Jack Bauer

There are many shades of Card's previous works -- particularly the post-Ender's Game Shadow books (including: geniuses, evil and not, orchestrating events; family discussions that turn into graduate-level policy roundtables; a Hegemon-like President relying on a small team ["jeesh"] of hypercompetent Special Forces; portraying those soldiers with fanboy reverence; etc.)

Because it's set in the "real" world, this unmasks some of the shortcomings we'd be more inclined to forgive in the futuristic, military supergenius-soaked setting of the 100-years-from-now Shadow books -- particularly the cardboard-cutout characters and their dialog, which at times devolves to action movie buddy-banter that rings completely false.

Card, in the afterword, also credits watching 24 to help set the action-thriller "rhythms and energy," which may explain the origins of a finger-cutting scene and why they have to break both arms of a prisoner instead of, say, binding and gagging him. Though it doesn't explain why the climactic infiltration of the villain's secret underground lair is so tedious.

He also acknowledges Google Maps for the turn-by-turn descriptions of the chase scenes, which likewise end up being pretty tedious. Though we do see some references to local flavor like Hain's Point, the Borders in Tyson's Corner, and even the Rio Grande in Reston Town Center.

Moderate: You Keep Using That Word

Regarding the politics of the book -- I wouldn't mind so much if it were just a straight-out conservative rant (his characters are definitely two-dimensional enough for it -- "Orson Scott Cardboard" is admittedly juvenile name-calling, but it seems to fit here).

What I don't like is that Card keeps going on and on about how reasonable and fair-minded he is, and that he's a moderate railing against extremism on both sides, whereas it's pretty obvious that he's a right-wing conservative in denial; just because he doesn't buy into the entire traditional conservative package, or that he takes extremist positions from both sides, doesn't make him a moderate -- it just makes him a MINO: Moderate in Name Only.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Tactical Ninja Takes on the Drive-Through ATM

In retrospect, briefly mentioning going to deposit my final, ginormous severance check was probably not the most tactically sound decision I'd ever made.

Fortunately, I survived my trip to the bank without getting jacked, which would have been especially ludicrous, because, as it turned out, my severance had already been direct-deposited to my account -- what I'd put in the slot was actually the deposit notification (though, in my defense, it looked exactly like a check, had a neat temperature-sensitive watermark on the back and, to my recollection, did not have "NOT A CHECK -- DO NOT DEPOSIT, DUMBASS" printed on it.

Sadly, depositing the not-check was probably still the most productive thing I'd done yesterday.

The Tactical Ninja, Revisited

This brings up a topic I've been meaning to take on for a while: How the tactical ninja protects himself at the drive-thru ATM.

As you might recall, the tactical ninja is all about figuring out how to defend himself, in everything from outlandish fantasy scenarios (Katrina-squared hordes gone wild, illegal alien zoot-suit riots, Invasion U.S.A. 2: al Qaeda Boogaloo, etc.), to more mundane situations like tactical bathroom use and what to do when a black person looks at you.

It's when an otherwise rational, personally responsible, self-defense-aware person goes off the rails and starts taking "Be polite, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet" waaaay too seriously.

Enter the Drive-Through ATM

People are generally (and rightfully) pretty wary at ATMs, even without pages-long warning notices).

At the drive-through ATM (or any drive-through), you're already behind the wheel of a weapon, but you're probably hemmed in by curbs and cars. And even though you're mostly enclosed, window glass isn't much of a barrier to the hypothetical gun-wielding attacker.

So what does the tactical ninja counsel at the drive-through? Be continually and fully aware of your surroundings (which is good advice in any circumstance), and leave the car in gear (drive) with your foot on the brake.

The scenario they're picturing? That scene from Ronin, where two bad guys are doing a deal inside a Jeep Cherokee, and the passenger pulls a gun on the driver (Gregor) to rip him off. The driver is able to turn the tables by stepping on the gas and making the car lurch forward, which he can do because he left it in gear (although he didn't -- it's actually a movie goof).

Since the tactical ninja empathizes with the former-KGB assassin with the lightning reflexes and tricked-out Glock, he leaves the car in drive, instead of putting it in park.

Herein lies the judgment -- which is more likely?
  • An ATM carjacking, where you'll be severely disadvantaged by not having the car in drive, or
  • An accident, where your foot slips off the gas and the car moves forward (which can also have fatal consequences, as demonstrated at this apartment complex card reader and car wash keypad.)
(Incidentally, both of those fatal accidents happened to women, who, like us short guys, sometimes have to unbuckle and open the car door, or otherwise stretch and lean way over to reach. Something for short tactical ninjas to consider.)

This is the problem I have with the tactical ninja mindset overall: It overemphasizes the more fantastical, scarier, sensationalized crime scenarios over more mundane, much more common risks (falls, accidents, heart attacks, etc.).

People as a whole are not good judges of risk, and the tactical ninjas tend to focus on violent crime -- especially crime scenarios where violent self-defense is the only viable solution (can't get away, can't acquiesce, must fight back).

Monday, January 28, 2008

Meet the Black Giant With Valiant Temperament

I don't normally make fun of Engrish because it's too easy. (Well, there was that one time, but it wasn't Engrish, just a translation open to immature interpretation.)

Plus no matter how egregious the error, their English is still better than my Chinese (or Japanese, etc.).

So, I'll just take a higher road and riff on the All Things Considered story from the Detroit Auto Show a few weeks ago) and say that the product listing for their SUV, the Liebao CFA2030C/D(Black Giant) with the valiant temperament, shows how far Chinese automakers, and Chang Feng Motors in particular, need to go before they can crack the U.S. market. [link via a redlit TotalFark submission]

Besides some standard English conventions that are annoying in their absence (spaces after commas, that sort of thing), it's clear that they need a native or otherwise fluent English copy editor:
"...The automobile appearance is more mighty and more intrepid ! With the powerful engine,the design of environmental protection and energy-conservation.All these present to your perfect driving and experience,seem more majestic-looking even more!"
Among the listed features, we have:
  • ABS anti-explode device
  • Anticollision pole
  • Axes: 2
  • Imposing manner
  • Double safe gasbag
  • Genuine leather sofa
  • Pillow
  • Semiconductor refrigerator
And much more.

Now, this is far from the worst Engrish you'll ever see, since you can pretty much see where the translations took a left turn.

Though I'm not sure about the semiconductor refrigerator.

You, With the Blog: You Are Irrelevant. Also, Mahalo Multiprofiles and More

Surefire way to get buckets of virtual ink -- tell bloggers that they aren't worth the bother, just like Target did, following that silly little dust-up about the ad photo with the broad's crotch in the bulls-eye. (Oh, noes! The center of a splayed human figure is the naval/crotchal area! Why didn't someone tell us this before?! )

Of course, this is not to say that Target isn't being stupid and shortsighted here in its broad-brushed dismissal (almost typed "dismal," heh) of blogs. They are, and I sense a upcoming press release with a new social engagement strategy. But I always get amused at the self-interested, self-important, navel-gazing, breast-beating of the PR-o-sphere when someone does not chug the entire tub of social media kool aid. (Note: Other than a quick peek at TechMeme, I am just making assumptions based on past behaviors. Actual breast-beating content may vary.)

Can we fast-forward to social media as a mature technology already, so people can focus on doing stuff, instead of hearing people talk about it?

Actually, most people are already focusing on doing stuff, even if it's just adding annoying blinky sparkly things to their MySpace pages, so I wonder just who it is that the influencers are influencing.

Mahalo Social Multiprofiles: Possibly Un-useless?

Spiritually related to my previous post seeking a social profile status aggregator (at Greggie's suggestion, I'm trying TwitterSync, which addresses two of the bigger parts of the problem -- Facebook and Twitter), Jason Calacanis posts today about multiprofiles in Mahalo Social, which tries to aggregate the viewing and management of your many and evermultiplying social profiles and pages using proven Web 2.0 HTML 3.x technology: Frames.

Now, there are already profile mashup services out there -- I have a profile on Profilactic that pulls from my blog RSS, Flickr, and a few other sources. But this is a technology I can really understand. None of this mashed-up, APIed, Open this or that. Just... Frames. It's simple enough that it may actually work (barring any frame-breakout stuff, but what I've seen seems to work) -- I will have to give it a try.

(Also, I see that the blog's comments, which require an e-mail validation, appear to publish a placeholder comment ["An e-mail has been sent to confirm your e-mail address. Click on the link within the e-mail to activate your comment!"] to the comment thread, instead of just relying on a confirmation message. That's actually pretty clever, as a very visible way to get people to realize that they need to do one more thing -- it was a problem I saw in the AIM Social Media Blog, which was also powered by Blogsmith, but didn't have that feature at that time. Edit: Hrm, it may be an artifact created by wiseacre or idiot commenters -- I can't tell. It would still be a useful prompt if you require e-mail validation.)

Another Bloggy Bit

Brief blog bit in passing -- I cruise by the DC page as part of my local links, mostly out of habit. I can't remember the last time I heard anyone talk about them, but their continued existence speaks to... continued existence.

Anyway, the DC page seems to be bloggier than it was before. I'm not sure if it's a recently updated design or something that's been around for a while that I never noticed. I didn't see any notes of it in the sparse comments or forum posts, so I will ping the maintainer, just to see if I am losing what remains of my mind.

Enough of all that Cal

Anyway, now, I should go deposit my final severance check (which is probably the most fruitful thing I will do all day), buy a vernier caliper, and get a cup of coffee. Then, bowling, which means I will miss Social Matchbox, though bowling in this league is another form of networking (no shit).

Joelogon Is: Wondering About Social Profile Status Aggregators

I got invited to join Pulse (Plaxo's social networking play) last week, so I signed up and created Yet Another Social Profile. Haven't played with it much yet, but I saw that it had Yet Another Status Update field, which means that Pulse joins the ever-growing list of status messages that gets updated sporadically, if at all:

I think I'm wondering about social profile status aggregators.

The composite screenshot above shows the social profiles whose updates I use the most regularly (Twitter and Facebook), as well as MySpace, Pulse, and AIM/Adium (I don't have an active profile on any of the messaging services).

Having just sent five identical status updates to five separate services (each ditches the unchangeable leading "is"), this raises the obvious question:
Is there a service or app, current or planned, that lets people manage their different social networking/profile status messages -- a profile status aggregator?
The ability to choose which services you update with what status messages would be a nice plus. As would the ability to receive status updates from your friends. Oh wait -- that would pretty much be the social network version of a multi-IM client, and a hobbled one at that.

Well, that's the minimum of what I'm looking for: A one-way, multi-network status updater widget. Anything like that exist out there?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Day's Mood Swing, in Fark Links

I started the day feeling pretty bad for yelling at my mom in a dream. That, and the hangover.

I felt better after making breakfast: turkey and cheese omelet, hash browns, english muffin, and coffee. No bacon, though.

Then I started reading the paper and going through my usual news sites, including Fark. I could feel my mood shifting with some of the stories:

* 5 Killed in Airport Runway Car Crash [Mood: Despair -- Edit: also, Irritation for the autoplaying musical slide show that they added]: This is a terrible story, though it wasn't really the reason why I felt bad. It only warranted a small blurb in the print Post, but the Fark link had more details: An 18-year-old driver, with four passengers, post-party, alcohol-enhanced judgment, and a 500-hp BMW M5, went off the end of a private, 7,500 foot runway, flew 200 feet through the air and into a tree, splitting the car in half, ejecting 3 of the occupants, and killing all 5.

There's also a social media angle to this: The driver, Joshua Ammirato, had posted the night before to an M5 community Web board, wanting to know about rough gearshifting at speeds over 140. There's a thread with the community reaction, and the media have picked up on it, too.

Like I said, the story, though tragic and stupid, wasn't what gave me a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. It was seeing pictures of John Travolta's house and the off-runway, fly-in parking for his private Boeing 707.

I'm not sure why. I've never considered myself particularly ambitious, at least when it comes to money. I don't aspire to having plane money (though, I wouldn't turn it down). But seeing that just made me feel like I've been missing something.

I think it has to do with the fact that Travolta has enough multi-engine flying experience that he could be a commercial pilot if he wanted to. Not bad for a fallback career. Meanwhile, I dabble in a lot of things, but I can't think of anything that I'm really passionate about, or accomplished in.

* Allentown Man Charged in Two Homicides [Mood: Amusement]: No, I'm not a sociopath. Look at the picture:


Yes, he's doing his perp walk in fuzzy lion slippers. Looks comfy, though. Prison footwear is often flip-flops, though, so maybe he's just preparing himself. (Related Fark thread.)

* New Craigslist Personals Category: Women Seeking Hitmen [Mood: Despair]: Another social media-tinged story -- a Michigan woman posted on Craigslist looking for a hitman to whack (sorry, "eradicate") the wife of the man she'd been having an affair with (which had also started online).

To her credit, she didn't come right out in the ad and say "I'll pay you $5,000 to kill someone" (that was for the followup e-mails), but if you're relying on Craigslist to find a hitman, you deserve whatever you get.

Especially for denying us the chance to see grainy surveillance video of the arrest from the inevitable hotel room sting. (Fark discussion thread.)

I'm still feeling a little low, but I think I'm through with the rapid cycling for now.

Until I get to the next batch of links, of course.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Web Content Mavens Meetup: Tony Byrne on CMS

On Wednesday, I went to the Web Content Mavens Meetup at RFD in DC: Tony Bryne of CMS Watch was the featured speaker, talking about Web Content Management and Web 2.0.

Organizer Jasmine Sante and speaker Tony Byrne.

The presentation was very informative, and provided a lot of framing around what we expect from Content Management Systems, Web Content Management, and the whole concept of "management" and Web 2.0 in general.

A few bullets that stuck out for me:
  • Web 2.0 in a nutshell: It's a quest for simplicity, with an ethos of participation

  • Simplicity is doing only what's necessary. At its core, Google is (or was) a single-dimensional app -- searching Web documents.

  • Enterprise 2.0 (whatever that is) is about rebalancing user enablement vs. control, as well as adaptability and flexibility vs. control and standardization.

  • When choosing social media applications, there's a distinction between socializing software (taking a core offering and adding social features -- blogs, wikis, etc) vs. social software (that's designed first and foremost as a social application)

  • Related to that: When adding social features (such as a wiki), there's always a tradeoff between the convenience of sticking with your existing vendor's implementation vs. the capability of a standalone purpose-built app.

  • Usability = Suitability to purpose ("Useability doesn't necessarily make a program more usable.")

  • Only by doing scenario and task analysis (not building huge checklists of requirements), and by doing bake-offs, will you be able to determine what suits your needs.
It was a very accessible and down-to-earth way of looking at things, even if I don't get the intricacies of the actual architecture. Contact Tony Byrne if you want his presentation slides.

Other Events:

* The next Web Content Mavens meetup will be a comparison of open source Web CMSes on February 27th, again at RFD (we were in the back room -- I hadn't been there before).

* I didn't manage to make it to the DC New Media Technology - Web 2.0 & Video 2.0 Happy Hour on Thursday. I keep saying, "Next time...."

* Also on tap is Social Matchbox DC, Monday, January 28 in McLean.

As always, check out Ross's DC Tech Events listing to see what else is going on.

5 Minutes of Dumb

Let's see how many dumb things from today I can highlight in just 5 minutes:

* This Is Why Indie Musicians Do Not Stage Dive: British Sea Power
keyboardist takes a header off a stack of amps, hits the floor with predictable results.

* Lesson: Steal From a More Obscure Sex Columnist: Claudia Lonow, sex columnist for free alterna-weekly New York Press, gets fired after her inaugural column after getting caught by Jezebel stealing a question from Dan Savage.

According to the editor's note on the matter, she didn't realize that was a no-no, coming from the fast and loose world of television writing.

I don't think this helps the cause of the striking writers any.

* Dumb Hair: Former cow-orker Jeff Simmermon is again featured from BoingBoing for his observations and forensic sketch recreation of a haircut (see previous: karaoke robot zombie and others).

Okay, that was a little more than 5 minutes.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

What Is, Stumbling My Way Into the Championships?

Back in September, I blogged about winning at Jeopardy night (sorry, "JOTTpardy" night) at Jimmy's Old Town Tavern (primarily because the frontrunner forgot to answer Final Jeopardy in the form of a question).

I got a call this week from Jimmy's saying, "Congratulations, you're in the finals." I replied, "Huh?"

I knew the three best scorers from all the weekly winners would get to play in a championship game, but I figured that my point total was low enough to keep me out of the Top 3, so I pretty much forgot about it.

I was sort of right -- apparently, one of the top 3 finishers had been an out-of-towner and wasn't going to be available, so I moved up into the championship game. (Kind of how Maverick and Goose made it to Top Gun after Cougar turned in his wings.)

Anyway, since crowd participation is allowed (and even encouraged -- you can shout out the answers), if you're going to be around next Tuesday night (January 29), stop by Jimmy's Tavern in Herndon about 8:30 pm or so and give me some help, and I'll buy you a beer out of my (presumed) winnings.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Plenty of Snow Day Self-Righteousness to Go Around

Here's a superficially simple, social media-enhanced incident that turns out to be kind of a litmus test, depending what angle you want to take:
  • A high school senior wants to know why the COO of Fairfax County Public Schools didn't declare a snow day over last Thursday's 3 inches of snow.
  • He calls the COO's publicly-listed phone number and leaves a message.
  • The COO's wife calls him back, leaving a rather foamy voicemail message to him.
  • The senior posts the audio and links to the phone number to Facebook.
  • Hilarity ensues, and we read about it in today's Washington Post.
I tend to side with the folks who say the student's action was kind of self-indulgent and inappropriate, but that the wife's was even more so, and she just happened to get caught out by social media.

There are some very prominent generational differences here, and it would be easy to fall into some generational stereotypes. I've been having a hard time trying to stay neutral and not let any personal feelings about "spoiled snot-nosed Generation Y punks -- wait until they see what it's like in the real world" get into this. Some of the angles include:

* Accountability: Assuming the administrator, as a public servant, is accountable for his actions, is he accountable to the group as a whole, or does he also have to justify his actions to individuals? If so, at what point is it acceptable to buck any processes and end-run to the top -- is it like escaping a company's helpline phone tree by calling the president's office?

On the student's part, how accountable is he for perceived harassment (in the form of phone calls, some late night) after he posted the info to the Facebook group?

* Accessibility: The COO's home phone was publicly listed. The student asserts that he tried other methods of reaching the administrator -- was he justified in calling the guy at home?

The student says that the cell phone generation is used to being reachable at all times (though I suspect he would feel differently after working at a job that required him to be on-call).

Some of his critics counter by invoking a civility gap, saying that crossing contexts (trying him at home) crossed a line -- that he shouldn't be called on a whim, just because he has a listed phone number.

* Self-Righteousness: The fuel for any fire like this -- there are plenty of ways for interested parties to be self-righteous: Bratty, self-entitled kids vs. cranky, condescending adults; concerned citizens vs. indifferent public servants; students who invoke the spectre of icy, firey road accidents vs. snow snobs who scoff at the notion of a three inch snow day.

I don't think anyone really comes out of this looking particularly good. (The student also has a little more control over the story, since his audio wasn't posted.)

It does reinforce the point: Don't post (or leave voicemails) while you're angry.

Because All You of Earth Are Idiots!

Plan 9 From Outer Space is pretty rich with quotes. Here are some others:

"You see? You see? Your stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!"

"In my land, women are for advancing the race, not for fighting man's battles."

And that's just from the second half of the movie, since I got to Dr. Dremo's way late for the last screening there of the Washington Psychotronic Film Society.

Incidentally, it was jam-packed, with people sitting on the floor.

Also, Jenny won yet another door prize: A numbered print of former porn star/actress Traci Lords. You can clearly see how thrilled she is:

Jenny poses with her prize. Score.

WPFS was a good fit for Dr. Dremo's, so it'll be interesting to see where movie nights will end up moving to.

Get Your Bids in to the AOL Reston Asset Auction

The liquidation auction of the former assets of the AOL Reston offices that I mentioned last week started at 10am and is going on right now.

All the kitchen & cafeteria stuff is sold, but you still have a little time to get at some of the office fixtures if you like.

I'm not going to be bidding on anything -- the few things I was looking priced out of my range quickly. Though I did go to the preview yesterday to take a look, and got a few pictures -- here's the set: AOL Reston Asset Auction Preview, 1/22/08.

I'd only been to the Reston building once or twice, so I didn't really know it. The guy who let us in said that over 100 people had been by looking over stuff, and sources inside AOL say that lots of folks (who used to work in that office) were following online. (Though looking over the sold items now, the same high bidders keep popping up -- most likely not interested individuals, but probably resellers, or property owners.)

The photos of the fixtures aren't much different from in the catalog, so I was mostly just looking for remnants of the AOL presence:
Empty Infrastructure Services cubicle.

Empty Mail Ops Bulletin board -- bid on it here (ends 12:15pm).

Personal Information Data Systems whiteboard. Didn't see it on the auction list.

Turnstile. Not for sale, I just thought the LEDs looked cool.

So that's about it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Fark You, You Farking Farks. (Fark)

Maybe I can scoop the danah boyds of the world and do a monograph on the culture, community, and conventions of the popular (and pageview-driving) and its premium counterpart,

For now, though, here's a slightly amusing (unless you're familiar with the community, in which case it's slightly less non-amusing) screenshot of the TotalFark main page, which displays all links submitted by Fark users (only a very small fraction of those links are selected for display on the Fark main page):

Glitch in the TotalFark matrix.

This was taken about 11:40am ET -- there was apparently a glitch where the "Urban Legend" source icon was showing for just about every submitted link, whereas the icon should be specific to the Web site it's linking to, as with the CNBC icon. (If a site doesn't have an approved icon, a user-populated text link shows instead.)

According to my Fark profile, I'm up to 14 greenlit links (which is nothing -- the supersubmitters in the Top Submitters list have thousands of approved links, so I would guess I'm in the transitional area of the subby long tail).

Two of those greenlights were submitted late last night, when I was conducting a non-rigorous, non-scientific mini-experiment of sorts, using headlines that conformed to different Fark conventions (e.g. soliciting commenter participation ["voting enabled"], deliberate flamebait, good news/bad news construction, zombie reference, etc.).

Of the two that were approved, neither made it to the main page, going instead to the lower-trafficked Geek and Sports category pages. So if you're a Farker who wants to inflate your approved links count (this is important to some people), submit links to the category pages and you'll have a better chance.

Anyway, I do want to talk more about the Fark and TotalFark communities in the future -- it's very interesting how the communities have adapted and developed conventions around some of the inherent limitations of the platform.

Restating the Obvious: Link Your Relevant Blog Entries From Your Photos

Man, that last entry was just terrible. Didn't say anything and still managed to be horribly long.

Here's a much more pithy observation: Lots of times, I drop any pretense towards the photo community features and just use Flickr as a glorified photo hosting service. No shame in that -- it's good as a straight up photo host.

Since the embedded photo links to its Flickr page (as per Flickr community guidelines), it's easy for people to click through from the blog to see my other crappy photos.

For the people on the Flickr side, I usually include a hyperlink in the photo's description ("for a blog entry") that links back to the relevant blog entry.

Doing a Flickr-wide search on the phrase "blog entry" shows lots of folks doing the same thing. However, a distressing number of people just say the photo is for a blog entry, and don't link to the actual entry, which is the worst kind of tease.

(If I'm using a bunch of photos from one set in a particular entry, I may just link to the entry from the set's description page, which is admittedly lazy. Or I might forget entirely. "Do as I say..." and all that.)

Granted, the traffic you drive to your blog from your photos may only be marginal and incremental. Still, you should do it because:
  1. It's symmetrical.
  2. It's useful.
  3. It shows that you care about what you've done and the theoretical people who are seeing it.
I should probably go back and check my photos now to make sure I've done this. Though it'll probably take a back seat to some major re-engineering I have to do to this blog.

Monday, January 21, 2008

I Am Incubating My Brains Out

Of all the Dilbert characters, the one I've least associated myself with is Wally. Until today yesterday:

Wally: "To the observer, it looks as if I am doing nothing, but on the inside, I am incubating my brains out."

To that end, I'm trying to think big thoughts about online community and social media, and talking big talk whenever I get the chance. More on that as it happens.

Meanwhile, a few interesting items from yesterday's NYT (culled from my slushpile of topics on

* Battlefield: Second Life? - EA announced that their Battlefield: Heroes game will be a free download, with users having the option to buy virtual goods (like customizable uniform bits or weapons) and power-ups. Furthermore, it'll be a "fun cartoon-style shooter which caters to players of all skill levels."

From my outsider perspective, it looks like it's taking a page from Team Fortress 2, and not just because of the cartoony graphics that forgo strict photorealism -- but to make it more accessible to people who aren't amped-up 14-year-olds with twitch reflexes, allowing them to still play meaningful roles.

The virtual goods angle is also interesting -- someone can probably tell me where this is already happening, but we seem to be headed to a convergence, through the introduction of persistent, purchasable (or unlockable) virtual goods in traditional shoot-em-up games, and the introduction of competitive or goal-directed behaviors in virtual worlds (like Second Life, where one criticism is that it's kind of... pointless, outside of socialization or acquiring virtual goods for their own sake).

Being somewhere in the middle, MMOs should be already be there, but something still seems lacking. I guess I don't have a strong enough grasp of what's happening in the games space to really articulate what I'm trying to get at. Hence the whole incubation thing.

* Twitter Campaign Reporting: Also from the Times, this is a roundup piece talking about the influence of Twitter on politics and microjournalism. I still haven't drunk fully from the Twitter kool-aid, so I'm still trying to decide what I think. As with other forms of media, we're seeing how the early adopters and first movers are having a disproportionate impact on right now -- as the technology diffuses, its impact will become broader, yet shallower (barring co-opting or concentration by older brands and media).

* Newspaper Survival Strategy: Pander to Boomers: -- It seems a little hard to believe (and I'm not sure that I do), but this Business section article credits an uptick in's readership, in part, to a crappy flash "Born to Be Wild" song parody about baby boomers.

I like cartoonist's Walt Handelsman's editorial cartoons (seen in print and also on that blog), but this is a horrible, horrible animation. But baby boomers are famously self-important, so maybe it did go viral. I wouldn't know -- I'm outside of their intended audience (who knows, maybe it's a Smothers Brothers flashback or something).

Since pandering to Baby Boomers isn't a long-term solution, is the lesson for newspapers to find more key audiences to pander to -- say, the folks who actually forward the e-mails that are featured on My Right-Wing Dad, or people who think Larry the Cable Guy (or Dane Cook, for that matter) are funny?

Perhaps there are fates worse than death for a newspaper.

John Scalzi Killed Me

I'd known this was coming for some time, and I'd managed not to think about it, but I finally have to acknowledge my shocking, inescapable fate:

John Scalzi killed me.

Adding insult to homicide, he had my carcass butchered, essentially turning me into a pile of steaks.

All this (including a hinted-at love triangle) happens between pages 131 and 139 of the third book in his Colonial Union trilogy (as good a name for it as any), The Last Colony:

Me, engrossed in pages 131-139 of John Scalzi's The Last Colony

I finally got around to reading it (it came out spring of 2007) -- I'd started it over the weekend and just finished it now.

I'd known he was going to kill me (or at least a character who shared my name), and as a matter of fact, he had even asked me for permission before doing it. Which I of course granted gladly.

Why did he kill me? I guess you can say it's my own fault. I can even point to the exact date: July 11, 2006. In my capacity as AOL Journals Editor, I'd had the pleasure of working with Scalzi (one does not manage Scalzi -- one can only hope to contain him), a contract blogger for some Journals-related programming.

I'd made a joke about the opening sentence of his prior novel (second in the trilogy), The Ghost Brigades, and this was his way of responding. It's right there in the comments:
"That's it. I'm naming a character after you in the book I'm writing now. And then I'm going to have him eaten by nefarious aliens. Just you WAIT."
He also thanks me in the acknowledgments (page 319). Yay.

As to the book itself -- if I were the type of person to call something "a cracking good read," I would. Scalzi does have a tendency in his works to give his protagonists enormous influence in shaping events and outcomes, ultimately remolding the worlds (and even universes) in which they live. In the hands of a less-capable writer, it might drift into Mary Sue territory, but he makes it work.

Also, as other critics have noted, the subplot that kills me kind of vanishes after it occurs. To be fair, it's overtaken by larger plot elements, such as the looming extermination of the human race. Though, if I were less charitable and significantly more egocentric, I might think that John, spent after sating his bloodlust by killing me off, dropped it to move on to more interesting things.

(I can say this as an accomplished writer, myself. Though I tend towards essays and even shorter-form works [like captions and promo blurbs]. And I'm pretty weak in character development. And I have no experience trying to maintain a story arc or coherent plot. And I'm not so good at crafting realistic dialog. And I've never actually published anything. Nor tried to. But other than that I'm a fully qualified book critic.)

Anyway, if you want to see me get eviscerated and served up like a subprime cut of beef, go buy The Last Colony.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Accidental, Homemade Refrigerator Raisins on the Vine

Sure, you can take your fancy cheese cloths and baking trays and "sunlight" to make your own raisins. Or, you can use the Joelogon method:

  1. Wash a bunch of grapes and put them in a container.
  2. Put the container in the back of the refrigerator.
  3. Forget about it for a couple of months.
  4. Find the container, then put it back.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4.
  6. Success!
Honestly, I have no idea how long they've been in there. But they're still edible.

On the plus side, my way is easier, plus the raisins stay on the vine, which is kind of neat.

On the minus side, it takes a lot longer, and you might have to pick out the moldy ones every once in a while.

(See more photos in the Flickr set. Though they all look pretty much the same.)

Friday, January 18, 2008

Cuffs, Hummus and Batteries at Wednesday's DC Blogger Meetup

The first Washington Blogger Meetup of 2008 went off well. (Even though several of us got bitched at by the hostess for not having reservations. Point taken.)

About 20 folks attended, including some first-timers and some DC Twitterers.

I only took two pictures, though I think Nahum will have us more than covered on that front, if and when he posts his.

Grateful Jamy
had very long cuffs. I couldn't look away:


There was a tasty appetizer of pita, hummus, and batteries:


I was drinking mostly Magic Hat No. 9s throughout. And again, a twenty-percent tip was thoughtfully applied to each check.

On the Metro back, I saw a former cow-orker through the closing doors. I also stopped in at Galaxy Hut for a bit, to finish working on the Express crossword puzzle -- I was stumped, which troubled me, since I can usually finish it in during the ride, but the guy sitting next to me helped me get out of the slump.

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AOL Goes on the Auction Block

Rasmus Auctioneers does asset liquidations when companies move or go bankrupt. I check out their site pretty regularly, though I've never bid in one of their auctions.

This time, however, I may need to make an exception:
URGENT SHORT NOTICE! Inspect Tuesday! Former AOL Offices - 3 Day Auction
Internet Only Auction Bidding Starts Closing 10 AM Wednesday January 23rd.
AOL closed its Reston office and data center a few months ago, so they're liquidating some of the office furniture and cafeteria fixtures:


"URGENT! Super short notice liquidation of 120 offices. Former AOL Reston offices. Designer offices, admin offices, executive seating, modular workstations, conference rooms, break rooms.... Online Monday."


"URGENT! Super short notice liquidation of complete corporate cafeteria. Former AOL building. Super high end equipment. Full compliment of equipment. SHORT NOTICE opportunity!"

A sad-looking cubicle.

Even though Rasmus says they "conducted the majority of dot com liquidations resulting from the “Dot Bomb” in the mid-Atlantic region," I'm not going to draw any larger inferences from this.

Since they're basically down the street from me, I will take a look and see if I can score a chair or something.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Just in Time for the January DC Blogger Meetup: My New Cards

Reminder: the January Washington Blogger Meetup is tomorrow, Wednesday, January 16, 7pm at RFD, across the street from the Verizon Center (come earlier if you want to load up on happy hour drink specials).

Early attendance estimates look strong -- must be New Year's resolutions. Please join us -- all are welcome.

Just in time, too, I'll have a fresh batch of business personal calling cards:

You wouldn't believe how hard it was to get that phone number.

I'd been working on the design for a while (such as it is -- as you can see, even when it comes to graphics, I work in text), but I only got around to ordering them after I got a VistaPrint coupon in a recent Amazon order.

I ordered 500 cards, plus a self-inking address stamper, and some Joelogon post-its that I don't need (except as filler to get to $25 and free shipping).

It was mostly in the nature of an experiment and I was expecting the worst (which is why I didn't spring for the premium card stock), but I have to tell you: I was pleasantly surprised by the results. The very first card was miscut (there was a white border showing on one edge), but the rest look fine.

I'd ordered them on January 10th, they shipped on the 12th, and got here today (the 15th). I was pleased, which shows that it's all about managing expectations, since the note on free ("Slow") shipping said up to 21 days.

As to the design (such as it is):

* The ASCII face is not, strictly speaking, a logo -- it's just something I've been using in my mail .sig since the 90s. Nor is it really supposed to be me, I guess. Though it has glasses and looked slightly more like me when my hair was short and spiky.

* The blue is just... blue. It's a web-safe blue, though. (It's also not as spotty as the photo suggests.)

* This came to me late in the game, but I tried to put the viewable stuff next to the eyeglasses, and the ways you could "speak" to me next to the mouth. Though I didn't want to load up the card with too many Web 2.0 companies (especially since I try to sign up as joelogon whenever I can -- hence the "etc." I probably should have listed Twitter, though. Facebook, too.)

I probably should have tried harder to line up each facial element with its associated info, but I wanted to keep the spacing even to make it more readable. Which was more important than a metaphor of dubious utility.

* I stayed with a matte finish, and kept the back side's background plain white. Mostly because it was cheaper that way, but I like being able to write notes on people's business cards ("knows so-and-so," "hound mercilessly," "avoid at all costs," etc.), so I wanted to make it easy to do this.

I've already given one to a former cow-orker I ran into this afternoon at the coffee shop; we'll see how long it takes to get rid of the other 499. Come to tomorrow's meetup and I'll give you one.

I Have Boring Teeth and Gums

At least, that's what my dentist and dental hygienist both said at my checkup today.

Other notes from in and around the dentist's chair:

* Things Are Looking Up: Some thoughtful pharmaceutical reps had apparently positioned an ad for antibiotics on the ceiling:


The ad is for minocycline, which is also used in treating anthrax, cholera, bubonic plague, gonhorrea, and syphillis. So it took them a while to get to periodontal infection.

The drug ad is addition to the normal, placid scenic vistas (mountain lakes and such), though I prefer watching in the laminated reflection as the hygienist works.

* Speaking of Vistas: The office features shiny new Dell laptops in each of the work spaces, replacing the desktop machines that they'd previously used to chart notes and enter charges and such in their dental practice management software.

Apparently, the system had hosed itself yesterday and they were just getting it back up -- they couldn't schedule new appointments and were also going to have to re-enter a lot of data.

The operating system? Vista.

Not knowing the intricacies of their system, I will just point out the obvious scapegoat.

* Your Groove, I Do Deeply Dig: Since they were a little stacked up, I had to wait longer than normal, so I got to hear more of WASH FM than I usually do. Groove Is in the Heart was playing when I was in the waiting room, and while I was in the chair, there was Sweet Caroline (oh oh oh).

* Swish and Spit, or Suction? Lastly, when it comes to rinsing, I still prefer the "swish and spit" setup, with the swirly bowl drain next to the chair, instead of the suction tube that everyone uses today. I guess I'm a traditionalist, but it was a cleaner rinse, and you didn't have a suction tube sticking to your tongue or threatening to suck your breath out.

Monday, January 14, 2008

William Gibson's Thing for Damaged Experts and Ninjas

It was apparently a weekend for wakeup dreams -- Saturday morning's jolted me awake at the precise moment when I'd realized that someone had burglarized my (dream) house -- an idealized version of my parents' house. (The dream's tipoffs: It was far too tidy and had a Miata in the garage.)

I attribute the dream to some It Takes a Thief reruns I saw on Discovery last week.

Anyway, despite the fact that it was 5am-ish, I couldn't get back to sleep. So I finished reading William Gibson's Spook Country, which I had just borrowed and started.

I enjoy all of Gibson's works.* This one was a little unsettling because one of the protagonist arcs -- primarily Tito's -- doesn't reveal who the "good guys" are until very nearly the end. In fact, for a while it seems possible that Tito is helping terrorists set up a nuclear device or dirty bomb. It's that Le Carre novel-ish, morally ambiguous kind of thing.

Gibson's recurring themes are really prominent here. They include:

Mysterious, Wealthy, Oddly-Named String-Pulling Savants: Hubertus Bigend (also featured in Pattern Recognition) takes a more benign but essentially similar role to Cody Harwood in All Tomorrow's Parties and Josef Virek in Count Zero.

You can see the root of this in Neuromancer's Wintermute AI (though Julius Deane handles a bit of this in the early going).

Ninjas: While Neuromancer's Hideo is the only actual ninja (outside of the short stories), you can see the ninja qualities in the effortlessly efficient, ruthlessly competent others who dance elegantly through the world with catlike grace -- usually while killing people: Most notably, Molly (and the Panther Moderns) in the Sprawl Trilogy and Konrad the Taoist knifeman in ATP.

In Count Zero, Beauvoir represents part of this, though it's mostly Turner, a rougher, Westernized, more everyman version. Idoru's tomahawk-wielding ex-toecutter Blackwell is on the edge of this, as an even more brutal, not-quite-reformed-criminal variation. And I exclude Virtual Light's Loveless, as he's a bit too psychotic (and too easily beaten).

Alternately, in Spook Country's less fantastical world, we see the ninja manifest in Tito and his extended family of Russian-speaking Chinese Cuban spies, whose focus is espionage tradecraft, not assassination.

Damaged Experts: In Neuromancer, all the primary characters are damaged experts in some way -- Case, drug-addicted hacker; Armitage, insane Special Forces; Molly, ex-meat puppet assassin, though we can also see it to a lesser-extent in the supporting characters: Finn, agoraphobic fixer; Peter Riviera, speedball-addicted holographic artist; and Maelcum, ganja-addled space pilot.

However, the prime example in Neuromancer of the damaged expert is the Dixie Flatline ROM construct -- a dead man's expertise and personality hardwired into a cassette.

In Count Zero, the damaged experts are smaller roles (the Finn; Pye, the rarely-sober vet who sews up Bobby), until the appearance of Turner's reclusive backwoods tech genius brother Rudy), the brain-implanted Angie Mitchell, crazy space hacker Wigan Ludgate, the robotic boxmaking artist itself.

In Mona Lisa Overdrive, though we can see bits and pieces in other characters (AI guide Colin, hacker Tick, nurse Cherry), the primary role falls to Slick Henry, the memory-impaired robot builder, and his drug-abusing, former console cowboy patron Gentry. (Though the Finn has a cameo as a ROM personality construct playing oracle in a laser-armed, armored housing.)

It's been a while since I read the Bridge Trilogy books, but Virtual Light's Skinner sort of fulfills this role, though he's more of an oracle. We see damaged experts in Zona (and some of the other computer-dwelling otaku) in Idoru. And the prime example would be ATP's Silencio, the quasi-autistic boy, drawn out by his watch fixation, as well as Colin Laney, who's introduced with his nodal point fixation in Idoru, but who becomes truly damaged (and ultimately dies for his obsession) in ATP.

As to Pattern Recognition -- I'm not nearly as familiar with it as I am with the other books, though Hobbs Baranov, the former government cryptographer who provides information probably qualifies, as does brain-damaged Russian twin who is behind the footage (though she is also the mystery being solved).

In Spook Country, the damaged experts are very clearly Milgrim, the psychoactive drug-addicted translator of idiomatic Russian, and Bobby Chombo, the obsessive-reclusive GPS-hacker who doesn't sleep in the same square twice. (Art expert Odile Richard is not damaged -- she's just French.)

Stay tuned for Part 2, where I talk about Gibson's tendencies towards the Nancy Drew aspect, as well as his peculiar manifestation of techno-fetishism.

*Note: I'm less familiar with his Bridge Trilogy and post-9/11 books (which presumable form the first 2 books of a trilogy to be named later) -- I couldn't even find my copies of Virtual Light and Idoru, which were at the bottom of a box until today. Why yes, I am procrastinating. Very badly.

What's Worse, Reston or Kansas?

I'd seen the report that Sprint Nextel is looking at layoffs, but Silicon Alley Insider also reports that the new CEO is also looking at relocating their executive HQ from Reston (right off Reston Parkway) back to Overland Park, Kansas.

Gee, where have I heard something like that before?

Actually, since their operational and engineering HQ is in Kansas (according to the Wikipedia entry), it would be different from the AOL corporate HQ move and might make more sense, though I doubt that Northern Virginia technology advocates would see it that way.

I've only been to Kansas once (and for barely a weekend at that -- most of it was in the car, since we drove out over July 4th weekend), so I don't really have a basis for comparison. Other than the cost of living is presumably a lot lower out there. Though we have fewer tornados.

(To DCites who might scoff that the suburbs is the suburbs -- I trot out my canned response: Once you're outside of New York, it's all suburbs.)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

I Don't Need Help Crashing Firefox

Firefox has typically been a little crashy for me, but it's gotten worse with some of the newer versions, especially now with

And, I admit, I flog it pretty hard -- I usually have several windows open at once, each with lots and lots of tabs going. (Right now, it's 2 windows with a total of 16 tabs, which is nothing. I still prefer this to using a feedreader, though this may change, since I just installed the now-free full NetNewswire.)

Anyway, crashing out is generally only a slight inconvenience, thanks to Blogger's draft autosave, and the window and tab restoring features of the invaluable extensions Tab Mix Plus and Session Saver (currently in the sandbox -- I haven't tried Session Manager yet).

I find, though, that there's one thing I can do to consistently cause Firefox to crash: If I've already got an overburdened browser session going, when I mouse over the Firefox Help menu (with the integrated search box), the browser will freeze up, then crash out.

I'm assuming that I just need more RAM, but it reminds me of some of my past Macs. Many, many Mac OSes ago, I had a work machine (I forget if it was the Quadra or the Powerbook 5300) that would crash when I hit the Help key on the extended keyboard.

Since I only hit the Help key by accident, I ended up prying it off the keyboard. Problem solved. I may still have it somewhere.

Likewise, on one of the compact desktops with the external volume buttons -- when I hit them, the machine would freeze up. I ended up covering them with tape.

Then as now, I never aspired to be a true Mac power user and actually figure out the root cause (e.g. I had MacsBugs and ResEdit but it was like giving a graphing calculator to a caveman), so I just tried to avoid the symptoms.