Happy birthday to me
Happy birthday to me
Two years ’til I'm forty
Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.
Happy birthday to me
Back in 1998, network news administrator Russ Albery wrote an inspiring rant in reply to a spammer who was invoking “free speech” to defend his dumping of thousands of job advertisements on local newsgroups.
I still go back to it on occasion to remind myself that when you’re writing network software, even when on the surface that software is about sharing code, or tracking bug reports, or answering support queries, or publishing blogs, or producing documentation… you’re writing software about people.
…because the thing that Usenet did, the important thing that Usenet did that put everything else to shame, was that it provided a way for all of the cool people in the world to actually meet each other.
Sure, I've been involved in Usenet politics for years now, involved in newsgroup creation, and I enjoy that sort of thing. If I didn't, I wouldn't be doing it. But I've walked through the countryside of Maine in the snow and seen branches bent to the ground under the weight of it because of Usenet, I've been in a room with fifty people screaming the chorus of "March of Cambreadth" at a Heather Alexander concert in Seattle because of Usenet, I've written some of the best damn stuff I've ever written in my life because of Usenet, I started writing because of Usenet, I understand my life and my purpose and my center because of Usenet, and you know 80% of what Usenet has given me has fuck all to do with computers and everything to do with people. Because none of that was in a post. I didn't read any of that in a newsgroup. And yet it all came out of posts, and the people behind them, and the interaction with them, and the conversations that came later, and the plane trips across the country to meet people I otherwise never would have known existed.
That's what this is all about. That's why I do what I do.
[a few paragraphs…]
And you can talk to me about free speech and applications and the future of communication and the use to which people put such things until you're blue in the face, and when you ask me if there's really such a thing as good speech and bad speech, I'll still say yes. Because there are people talking to other people and there are machines talking to no one as loud as they can to try to make people listen, and damn it, there is a difference, and the first one does deserve to be here more than the second one. And I don't know how to tell the difference reliably either, but that has jack to do with the way I feel about it.And to all of the spammers and database dumpers and multiposters out there, I say this: You want to read that stuff, fine. You want to create a network for such things, fine. You want to explore the theoretical boundaries of free speech, fine. But when it starts impacting people trying to communicate, then that is where I draw the line. This is not a negotiation and this is not a threat; this is simply a fact. I've been through pain and joy with this network, I've seen communities form and wither and reform, I've met friends and lost friends here, I've learned things and discovered things and created things. I've seen people make a home here when they didn't have any other, not on a newsgroup, not with a bunch of electrons, but with people that they've met and communities that they've found and support that they've received from people who had just the words they needed to hear and would never have known they existed, and by God I KNOW what this network is for, and you can't have it.
With the recent announcement of the (probably forced) retirement of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, respectable publications are rolling out another series of “Where Did Microsoft Go Wrong?” pieces that almost all trace the same narrative arc:
In 2000, Ballmer inherited a software juggernaut so powerful that it was known to many as the “Evil Empire”. How could he possibly have mismanaged it to the point that, despite its continuing record of raking in cash, it is now almost the industry’s comedic afterthought?
We like our classic tragedies, where one man’s hubris brings down everyone around him. We like stories where there’s someone we can point at and blame, especially when that villain is easy to dislike. And by all accounts Ballmer wasn’t a good leader for Microsoft; neither great himself, nor the kind of person to inspire those under him to greatness.
Blaming Ballmer for the woes of Microsoft, though, misses the fact that every problem the company is experiencing today was written into its DNA in the 1980s.
What should I do for lunch?
That’s why I’m the architect.I come up with the general solution, it’s up to you to decide how to implement it.
On the surface, Quantum Immortality is an attractive thought.
Under the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, every chance event leads to the creation of multiple parallel universes. When you roll the die, it doesn't come up 5. It comes up six different universes, and your personal thread of causation just happens to be looking backwards from the perspective of the '5' branch.
As a corollary, if you are ever in a life-threatening situation and there is a possibility you might survive, in at least one universe, you will.
Sheldon: Penny, while I subscribe to the "Many Worlds" theory which posits the existence of an infinite number of Sheldons in an infinite number of universes, I assure you that in none of them am I dancing.
Penny: Are you fun in any of them?
Sheldon: The math would suggest that in a few of them I'm a clown made of candy, but I don't dance.
– Big Bang Theory: S3. Ep3. The Gothowitz Deviation
This leads to the superficially awesome thought that, at least subjectively, you can't die. Your subjective consciousness will always be looking back through that path of causality in which you survived.
This would be great if existence was a binary state between being dead, and being perfectly healthy and able.
Except It's far more likely that as time increases, the number of universes in which you are not a brain in a jar, screaming your insanity into an eternity of nothingness, approaches zero.
Contains Game of Thrones spoilers.
Just after the infamous “Red Wedding” made its way from the pages of his novels onto the HBO TV series Game of Thrones, author George R. R. Martin was interviewed by Entertainment Weekly:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How early in the process of writing the book series did you know you were gonna kill off Robb and Catelyn?
George R.R. Martin: I knew it almost from the beginning. Not the first day, but very soon. I've said in many interviews that I like my fiction to be unpredictable. I like there to be considerable suspense. I killed Ned in the first book and it shocked a lot of people. I killed Ned because everybody thinks he's the hero and that, sure, he's going to get into trouble, but then he'll somehow get out of it. The next predictable thing is to think his eldest son is going to rise up and avenge his father. And everybody is going to expect that. So immediately [killing Robb] became the next thing I had to do.
There are a lot of very good reasons to kill a character. Maybe the death of the character is necessary to take the plot in a particular direction. Maybe you want to explore how other characters deal with the death, how it changes them or how the character's absence opens up new possibilities for them. Maybe the character's arc is fundamentally tragic and can only end in death.
“I wanted to surprise the readers” strikes me as a really bad reason. It's soap opera writing: start with how you want your audience to react then work backwards, poking the characters with sharp sticks until they fill in the details.
I’ll be the first to admit that fantasy writing is terribly formulaic, and so laden with predictable plot lines and character archetypes that you can tell from the first page exactly what will happen on the last. David Eddings made a very successful career out of writing exactly the same story over and over again, so well so that over the years he got more and more efficient: condensing the One True Plot from five books down to three, then finally being able to knock the whole thing over in one volume.
This leaves a lot of room for authors to take a machete to the genre's thick undergrowth of tropes, but subverting a trope is a means, not an end. It should be a way to say something new, or at least something newer than “Ha! You weren’t expecting that!”
Also, leaning on your subversion too often can put you in the uncomfortable position where you’re as predictable as Eddings:
So Martin kills off beloved characters in order to subvert reader expectations. But after the first two times, what does the reader actually expect? What if you’ve read Wild Cards and find Martin’s debasement and slaughter of protagonists not only not surprising, but pretty much Martin’s stock in trade? Are reader expectations still being subverted then?
I’m sure Martin has a lot of other reasons to do what he does to his characters. Killing Ned Stark created a power-vacuum that was very important to the plot, and both isolated his children and forced them to learn to live without their father and protector. It’s just telling that when put on the spot, the author picked this reason out of all possible reasons to explain it.
Which is why I think I'll stick to watching it on TV instead of catching up with the novels. If you're going to follow a soap it may as well be a TV soap.
(And it may as well have frequent nudity.)
This is Dr. Martin Cooper, the man generally credited with inventing the cellular telephone. He is holding a prototype of the Motorola DynaTAC, the first handheld mobile phone. The DynaTAC cost $3995 (in 1983 dollars!), was the size of a brick, and weighed one and three-quarter pounds. A full charge would give you 30 minutes talk time or about eight hours standby.
You also looked like a bit of an idiot carrying one around or making a call on it.
For at least a decade after the DynaTAC’s release, mobile phones were stereotypically cast as toys of the wealthy and self-important. Growing up in Australia at the time, it was not uncommon to refer to them as “wankerphones”.
This is a phone stack. Some bright spark came up with an idea where everyone at dinner stacks their phones together on the table, and the first person to grab their phone back from the stack, even if it is ringing, has to cover the bill.
Even thirty years after the release of the DynaTAC, we’re still working out new social mores and tricks to deal with its intrusion into our lives.
I'm pretty bad at predicting the success or failure of new technologies, I just think it's a little too early to write off something as potentially game-changing as Google Glass base on how it looks today, what it costs today, or based on the fact that we're currently entrusting one of society’s most socially tone-deaf groups (nerds) with the question of when it's appropriate to wear them.
The photograph of Dr Cooper was retreived from Wikipedia, copyright Rico Shen and made available under a Creative Commons Attribution, Share-Alike licence. The phone stack photograph was retrieved from Flickr, copyright Roo Reynolds and made available under a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-Commercial licence.
If you look at the widely-retweeted code.org campaign, or the recent petition to add programming to the official Australian curriculum, you see a common theme.
The core of the petition:
The Digital Technologies section of the draft Curriculum for Technologies is a massive step in the right direction. If enacted, it will equip Australian students with the skills they need; not just to become competent consumers of technology, but to design and create our shared technological future.
Or, amongst the quotes from luminaries on code.org, President Bill Clinton:
At a time when people are saying "I want a good job - I got out of college and I couldnt find one," every single year in America there is a standing demand for 120,000 people who are training in computer science.
There just aren't enough people who are trained and have these skills today.
If we want to spur job growth in the US we have to educate ourselves in the disciplines where jobs are available and where economic growth is feasible.
This theme, that we should teach coding because it will lead our children to IT jobs and help our growing software industry, comes across far too strongly from both campaigns, and it's the wrong message.
Sure it might be the right message for bureaucrats, industry insiders and parents worried that their child's grade seven teacher isn't properly preparing them for a lifelong career as a sysadmin, but it's a really bad reason to set educational policy. General childhood education isn't, and shouldn't be vocational training.
Luckily, code.org has some more redeeming things to say.
Learning to write programs stretches your mind, and helps you think better, creates a way of thinking about things that I think is helpful in all domains. — Bill Gates.
I think everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think. — Steve Jobs
Programming is probably the greatest, and most criminally untapped teaching tool we have developed in the last century. At its heart, programming is applied logic, a discipline that requires you:
- to break a problem into its component parts
- to construct those parts from a set of logical building-blocks
- to combine those solved parts into a greater whole
These are powerful, fundamental skills that are worth teaching to anyone. They're not only the building-blocks of a career in computing, they're building-blocks for critical thinking, for scientific thinking, even for creative thinking. Programming teaches all of this in an environment where you can keep students interested by having them use the skills they are learning to build tools, toys and games.
Programming even provides an answer to that question every school kid asks, “What the hell am I learning maths for?” I'm pretty sure my high school trig and calculus would have stuck a whole lot better if I had been asked to build a game with them instead of just solving equations on a piece of paper, or being assessed on my ability to draw a curve neatly on the provided graph paper.
Sadly, though, I suspect the problem with programming at school is far more practical than intellectual. All the willingness to add programming to the curriculum isn't worth anything if we don't also have enough teachers qualified to deliver those lessons. And so long as we as a society continue to devalue teachers and teaching, that's a much bigger challenge.
Shanley, I Wish I Knew — About Work.
There are also people in [the tech industry] who are dishonest, manipulative, abusive, bullying, mean-spirited, harassing and destructive. Early in my career I was very paranoid about maintaining amicable relationships with these individuals or staying quiet despite my moral qualms about their actions, because I was always told I’d have to work with them again, and that someday they might be on the other side of a hiring board or committee or collective I needed something from. I’ve since realized that these very fears ensure these assholes will have long prosperous careers, where we’re all forced to see them again.
When we moved into the new office a few months ago, Atlassian handed out adjustable standing desks to people who wanted them. Numbers were limited, but they were given out in order of tenure and, well, sticking with the same employer for nine years has its privileges.
I'm totally unqualified to comment on the medical benefits of standing desks. My light reading on the subject suggests that sitting down all day is bad for you, but at the same time (and after years of working eight-hour retail shifts I can attest to this) standing up all day isn't all that good either. So you naturally glide (or in the case of an electronically adjustable desk, buzz loudly) between one position and the next based on what your body tells you to do.
So on Monday morning, tired from one of my regular bouts of insomnia and my body still aching from a weekend game of squash, the first thing I did was return my desk to its natural, sitting position. Being the Internet junkie that I am, I celebrated this action with a tweet.
And there it would have ended, but for the Social Media Expert. The Social Media Expert, hired to increase his employer's exposure on The Social Media, decides that the perfect thing to do is butt his product into into my life. Seeing that The Social Media Expert is living in a different timezone, this happens fifteen hours later, after I have raised my desk again, lowered it again, spent the late afternoon lying on an office couch, gone home, worked some more then gone to bed.
Which meant I woke up on Tuesday to this.
Quoted from a network security mailing-list I am subscribed to:
Last time [we] sent out a warning email along the lines of:We never ask for your username and password. If you get an email that looks like:50 people replied with their usernames and passwords.
"There is an issue with your account. Please reply with your username and password and we will rectify it"You should never reply to these messages with your details.
Something I wrote ten years ago about prank phone calls, suddenly relevant again today: “Cruelty."
The prank phone-call, at its essence, relies on the generosity of the person on the other end of the line. It preys on someone's willingness to do their job to the best of their ability, or it preys on the victim's willingness to give the perpetrator the benefit of the doubt. So in essence, what it's trying to say is “People who take strangers at face value are funny, and it's fine to laugh at someone whose job it is to be nice to you whatever you say.” That, to me, is not funny.
Happy birthday to me
Happy birthday to me
Three years ’til I’m 40
Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.
There’s no reason Nintendo’s ad agency couldn’t show a girl playing Mario, they just didn’t. Apparently girls are too busy taking photos of themselves and playing Style Savvy Trendsetters to play a real game.
In response to criticism, Nintendo removed the words “Boys” and “Girls” from the advertisements’ respective titles.
• • •
#1reasonwhy is the Twitter hashtag women in the computer gaming industry used to provide far more than one reason why there aren’t more women in the gaming industry.
• • •
Meanwhile, if there’s a complementary version of this Sunsuper billboard somewhere in Sydney where the girl dreams of being an astronaut, it’s not in any train station I’ve been through.
A year or two ago, I created a Facebook account for my mother’s cat.
(a) It was funny at the time. (b) My mother could use it to follow me and my brother’s goings-on without the embarrassment of having a Facebook account of her own. (c ) Donna and I may have been drunk.
By the time I got around to handing it over, my mother had sensibly decided that she’d probably rather not know what Nick and I were up to on Facebook after all.
Not long after that I forgot the account password. I also forgot the date of birth I used to register the account, which is necessary to recover the password.
As a result of this, every week or so, Facebook sends me a helpful email suggesting other cats I may be interested in pursuing an Internet friendship with.
Troll: v.i. to fish by trailing a lure or baited hook from a moving boat. — The Merrriam-Webster Dictionary
Around twenty years ago when I first set foot on Usenet, trolling had a much gentler meaning than it does today. Trolling was the art of saying something wrong, but in such a way that everybody except the target of your trolling could tell you were being deliberately obtuse.
Trolls ranged from the throwaway jokes like the deliberately typo-ridden spelling correction, to elaborate long-term performance art; for example the jokers who completely derailed the Star Trek newsgroups by dragging half the readers into a choreographed argument about whether sound (and, when that got too boring, light) could travel in a vacuum.
On one hand this kind of trolling was elitist and exclusionary, often a way for forum regulars to one-up newbies who didn't know the pecking order. On the other hand it served to discourage the very common nerd trait of wanting to one-up the world by leaping in to correct the most trivial of errors, a defence against the kind of knee-jerk pedantry that can clog otherwise interesting discussion.
“Don’t feed the trolls” was a warning as much as anything else. Don’t jump into a newsgroup discussion before you’ve read enough to know who is who; don’t make it your job to correct every trivial, irrelevant misteak. Learn the ropes first, and you might just avoid being the butt of everyone’s in-joke.
Some people claim that the troll (sense 1) is properly a narrower category than flame bait, that a troll is categorized by containing some assertion that is wrong but not overtly controversial. — The Jargon File
As the early 90s drifted on, the definition of trolling broadened to encompass anyone who acts like an asshole on the Internet just to get attention. By the end of the decade, few people even remembered the original definition.
The reason for the sudden shift? The rise of the consumer Internet and with it, easy anonymity.
Anonymity on the old-school Internet of shell-accounts granted by universities or employers was a rare currency, mostly limited to “anonymous remailers” like anon.penet.fi, addresses that made it obvious that the author was making a deliberate effort to hide their identity. In the 90s, with the rise of dial-up Internet and subscriber online services, throw-away anonymity became the norm rather than the exception. And with anonymity came the ability for anyone to be an asshole without fear of repercussions.
America Online, with its “feature” of granting all users an infinite supply of screen-names, caught a lot of blame at the time.
The accepted wisdom was that the best way to react to the influx of assholes was “don’t feed the trolls”. Starve them of attention and they would get bored and go away.
Looking back from 2012, I can’t see any evidence of that tactic having worked. What happened was the opposite. By propagating the notion that the only way to deal with assholes is to pretend they aren’t there, we made the Internet a safe space for sociopaths.
This is a problem, because anonymity is also an indispensible component of free speech. Without guaranteed anonymity, the oppressed can't speak up, minorities can't find a voice, and unpopular opinions are suppressed. Stifling this vital freedom is unacceptable.
“Don’t feed the trolls” is the wrong approach.
(To be continued…)
I have 178 people in my Google+ circles, most of them co-workers, techies and early adopters. Four of them have posted something in the last day. I have 203 Facebook friends, a mixture of co-workers, techies, family and friends. Six of them have posted something in the last hour. Obviously, at least amongst my circles, something isn’t working out.
On the other hand, I’m seeing a slowly growing use of Hangouts, Google+’s teleconferencing feature, which at least in my office is beginning to supplant Skype.
Long a “how cool is THAT?” staple of science fiction and 1980s future technology TV shows, the "video phone" is one of those places where the future happened, and when it did we barely blinked.
It was one of those office Hangout sessions that prompted me to install the Google+ iPad app. I don't know quite what I was expecting, probably something very Google and utilitarian and “we spent all our time on the Android version”. What I didn't expect was for it to be slick, responsive, and pretty damn gorgeous, right down to the way new entries sweep into place as you swipe into the past.
And yet I'm still not going to use Google+ any time soon. As beautiful as the app was, a first impression that inspired me to blog about it, I’m unlikely to launch it very often. Social networks live or die on the content being published to them keeping people interested.
On the other hand, there’s Path. It’s another gorgeous-looking app (this time on my phone) that posts to a social networking service. It has a built in photo app with sub-Instagram quality filters. It has a neat hook in to a song recognition service. It can be pretty slow on my iPhone 4 and it used to crash all the time. I don’t care in the slightest about their built-in social network, but still I launch this application regularly and post to Path.
Because it also lets me cross-post my thoughts, pictures, and location check-ins to Facebook and Twitter.
Path has a Foursquare button as well, and it is just as easy to select that option as it is not to. Now, after months of mostly ignoring the stand-alone Foursquare app, I’m mayor of my apartment building.
While there are third-party solutions for cross-posting G+ content to Twitter and Facebook, they’re generally quirky, unreliable Rube Goldberg-style contraptions that lose important things like photos along the way. Which is a pity, because Google+ could have me posting to their service in an instant if there was a G+ button in Path. And from what I've seen of the new G+ mobile apps, Google+ could have me ditch Path in an instant if there were Twitter and Facebook buttons in the G+ app.
Google has its ongoing fights with both Twitter and Facebook, but I can't see either being able to dig up reasonable grounds to object to Google allowing people to throw more stuff into their walled gardens using published APIs. And from Google’s point of view, people are already sharing things using Facebook and Twitter, so who cares if it means they are also seeding Google+ with valuable content?
edit: The above paragraph previously assumed that YouTube and Reader also lack functions to crosspost to Facebook/Twitter. It turned out they both do, although both are a little bumpy (Reader requires you to share with each site separately, for example, and while I can make the YouTube Like button crosspost the video automatically to Facebook and Twitter… Google+ is still a separate button!)
When Google came out with their search engine, they famously didn’t care about making the site “sticky”. That worked pretty well for them.
Starting next week, we will begin taking into account a new signal in our rankings: the number of valid copyright removal notices we receive for any given site. Sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results. This ranking change should help users find legitimate, quality sources of content more easily—whether it’s a song previewed on NPR’s music website, a TV show on Hulu or new music streamed from Spotify.
Previously, when it received a notice of copyright infringement, Google would remove the specific infringing content from its search results (and leave behind a notice linking to details of the removal). Now, they're extending that policy to down-ranking content from entire websites.
On the face of it, this seems like a pretty good idea. Especially from the point of view of a blogger, it's great that Google will start taking action against the thousands of sites that exist purely to appropriate search-friendly content written by other people in order to boost search rankings and sell advertisements.
Except, that kind of abuse isn't mentioned in Google’s blog post. Instead, Google focuses on the stealing of TV shows (from Hulu), and music (from Spotify and NPR).
Where is the first place you go if you're looking for a particular song, or a particular bit from a TV show or movie? If you're anything like me and pretty much everybody I know, the answer to that question is YouTube.
Obviously, Google receives a metric tonne of takedown requests for YouTube. Presumably Google is not going to give YouTube the Google Death Penalty, because it can honestly say that those takedowns are already dealt with through other avenues. The same goes for any Google-owned site that hosts user-contributed content.
But what about anyone doing user-contributed content who wants to compete with Google? For anyone working in that space, dealing with copyright takedowns are part of the business. Google now have a perfectly legitimate, nay automated reason to down-rank these competitors in its search results.
Imagine a site that is a direct copy of YouTube, owned by some company other than Google. Google will receive a constant stream of takedown notices for that site, and its presumably no-human-intervention-required algorithm will take that into account when ranking that content next to YouTube’s. If the policy is not applied universally, any user-contributed content service attempting to compete with Google will be at an automatic disadvantage in its comparative search ranking.
What’s more, copyright holders will know that sending takedown notices to Google gives them extra leverage against sites publishing user-contributed content, to twist their arms into putting policies into place to restrict publishing and sharing that the copyright holders want, but that are not required by law.
tl;dr: Unless Google makes it clear that it will be applied just as much to their own sites as it does to others, a policy of downranking sites in search results based on copyright notices is dangerously anti-competitive.
I've long believed that website URLs are a piece of Internet plumbing: the sort of thing that web practitioners care a lot about, but that the rest of the world ignores, often leading to results that are hard for us plumbers to comprehend.
This is the location bar of Google Chrome. The URL scheme (http://, https:// and so on) is omitted, and everything past the hostname slightly greyed out:
Opera 12 goes further, taking everything that isn't the domain name and dimming it even more than Chrome.
As of the release of Mountain Lion, Safari 6.0 adopts the same style as Chrome, but applies possibly even more contrast than Opera to the “unimportant” bits of the URL.
Internet Explorer has apparently taken the same approach as Opera since IE8, but it does so on this strange planet called Windows that I rarely visit.
I give the location bar two (maybe one, maybe three) “browser generations” until it is merely an optional power-user feature. Browsers will still need a way to enter URLs and search terms, still need a way to copy the browser’s current location into other apps, but neither of these functions demands such a huge chunk of toolbar real-estate and user attention as the location bar now occupies.
Removing the URL from full-time display in favour of showcasing just the domain-name and SSL padlock might even save one or two of those poor souls who previously didn't notice that they were visiting www.paypal.com.hacker.ru.