Fair Winds and Following Seas
Jack William Rogers, my father, passed away last night at 87 years of age after a brief illness.
The world is short one huge heart.
Sailor Jack is home from the sea.
Choices Matter, But This Is Bullshit
Advertising drives the online world. It is proving to be absolutely the worst possible business model, that makes the worst possible use of what may be the best communications medium humanity has ever created, spoken and written word excepted.
Advertising requires attention, so companies must compete for attention. The best way to compete for attention is to make hyperbolic claims, to instill the "fight or flight" response. This is partly why our political views have become so polarized, those folks are competing for attention with everyone else. If you’re calm, rational and sober, you’re boring. You don’t exist. Nobody reads you. So everybody runs to the extremes, though we all supposedly "hate" it.
Anyway, in the competition for attention, we write endless streams of utterly bullshit headlines. Which, naturally, top pages of utter bullshit artfully presented with suitable whitespace and large images, to make the ton of shit you’re about to eat taste like a ham-and-cheese sandwich!
And the bullshit works, because here I am, familiar with the article because it caught my attention, and I should know better. Worse yet, I’m linking to it! Which just feeds the beast. "That which you feed, grows."
Anyway, read this stinking, fetid pile of lazy, incompetent, intelligence-free, regurgitation of manufactured narrative, written not to inform or to illuminate, but to garner page-clicks. Please. I want you to read it.
Think about what "open" and "closed" really mean. It means a hell of a lot more than whose DRM works on what devices. The "open" and "closed" ecosystem narrative tropes are bullshit. It’s not the ecosystems.
It’s more about how the world is presented to you. Apple’s not in that business. Google is. Amazon is. Facebook is. If Google Chrome is your default browser, you live in Google’s world, though Facebook and Amazon get to share it. If you buy Amazon’s phone, you’re in Amazon’s world. Whenever you’re on Facebook, Instagram, whatever other property Facebook has acquired, you’re in Facebook’s world.
Apple’s world? It’s hardware.
Apple wants you to buy their shiny widgets. They make computers. Big ones, tiny ones. They make the vast majority of their money selling hardware. Stuff. Things you hold in your hand or put on a desk and take pictures of that you post on your blog. Yeah, they want you to believe they’re all sunshine and rainbows; but other than that, they largely don’t care about what you’re doing, only that you’re happy doing it with their hardware.
Google, Amazon, and Facebook are all in the business of trying to get inside your head, so they can influence you and they can sell that influence to the highest bidder, be they corporations or political parties, though the distinction is getting harder to tell these days.
So yeah, it matters what platform you choose. But it’s not about ecosystems being "open" or "closed." It’s about what your relationship is to the platform. In Apple’s world, you’re the customer. In Google’s and Facebook’s world, you’re the product. In Amazon’s world, you’re both the product and the customer, because Amazon is also a retailer. A big-data retailer.
After you’ve consumed that useless piece of information junk-food, read this little missive here.
There is a choice, but it’s not about "ecosystems." It’s not about "religion."
It’s about what kind of world you want to live in. And that choice matters.
I, For One, Welcome Our New Data Overlords
Yesterday, the A.V. Club posted that Facebook had published a scientific paper with the pithy title, "Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks," about an experiment it ran manipulating the feeds of 600,000 Facebook users.
Now, I’ve read the abstract, and I don’t think it’s the sort of thing that’s going to get people all up in arms — but it should.
Also yesterday, Shawn Blanc posted that he’d just gotten Google fiber to his home, and now he has more bandwidth than God. In his post, he kind of went through his thinking about letting Google into his home as a "dumb pipe" (my words, not his). But he did offer his rationalization for letting Google into his home in return for more bandwidth than any household can possibly use. (Yes, I recall that Bill Gates said nobody would ever need more than 640K of RAM, and IBM thought the world only need, like, 4 computers. But still, really?)
Obviously, now that they’re my ISP, they will be able to garner more information about my house. Basically they now have visibility into anything we do online that’s not an encrypted transaction, such as the movies we stream from Netflix, the products we browse on Amazon, what songs we stream over Rdio, every website we visit, and who knows what else. It sounds creepy when you put it like that, but it’s also no different than any other ISP relationship I’ve had (AOL, Time Warner, Verizon, AT&T). It’s just that none of the others were in to Big Data as much as Google is.
He goes on to explain how the really important stuff is safe because it’s encrypted. But the point is, data is data. There is no such thing as "bad data," because "bad data" helps you understand what "good data" is. It’s all just data! And Shawn is willing to give Google all of his.
Back when I was a young ensign in the United States Navy, going to Communications Officer School in the depths of winter in Newport, Rhode Island, I had to learn about the Navy’s cryptographic systems. One of the features of a good cryptographic system, without getting into details that may or may not be classified any longer, is that it always sends an encrypted data stream. Just sometimes that data is just noise. Because we knew, and we knew our adversaries knew, that one of the ways you may derive your adversary’s intentions is by the amount of his communications. ("Listen! The drums have stopped." Cue ominous music.) This is called "traffic flow analysis."
Google will derive useful, meaningful data, encrypted or not, through traffic flow analysis. Lots and lots of it.
And that probably seems benign, and who cares how often I look at baby goat videos?
But then you’ve got this Facebook thing. The "experiment" reported above. I’m amazed Facebook communications let that get published. But thankfully, they did. Because it helps build the picture of the challenge these big data companies pose.
Do you suppose there was "informed consent" on the part of the experiment’s subjects. Oh, yeah. The "terms of service." You signed up to be a guinea pig. But it probably never really said that, even if you ever actually did, you know, read the terms of service.
The problem with Google, especially Google, and also Facebook and Amazon and perhaps to a lesser extent, we don’t really know, the advertising data brokering houses, but especially Google, is that there is no transparency as to what they’re doing with that data in their data centers. None. Zero. Nada. We don’t get to know, even though they’re doing it to us. As Facebook has kindly just revealed. You can bet your ass Google is doing the same things.
I believe this, because it’s exactly what I would do. And you would too, if you thought about it and had the opportunity.
So, in return for the ease of sharing snapshots, bitching about the food at your high school cafeteria, being able to stream Netflix faster than your neighbor, to have the latest shiny widget ordered with one click and free two-day delivery, we’re giving these companies unfettered access to every bit of information about us, and allowing them to use it however they wish, ostensibly to provide us with the "best app experience."
It’s a death of a thousand cuts. We’re frogs in a pot of water, with the heat slowly being turned up. So nobody complains. We get all this cool shit! What’s to complain about?
Yep, got more bandwidth than God. And Google and Facebook and Amazon are going to show you the world they want you to see, and it’s going to be their world and not yours.
Welcome to The Matrix.
Apple has announced, in a very fucked-up way, that they’ve ceased development of Aperture, its "pro"-level photo asset management and editing app. It, along with iPhoto, are to be replaced by its new Photos app, which won’t be released until sometime in 2015.
This is probably the first real stumble I’ve seen from Apple in terms of corporate communications since, I think, "Antennagate," and I don’t know if it’s a result of the new, more "open" Apple we’ve been kind of seeing since WWDC. Apparently, Apple responded to queries from Jim Dalrymple at The Loop, and Matthew Panzarino at TechCrunch, though why those two would inquire, and at the same time seems kind of weird.
This is the kind of thing I’d expect to see in a press release, along with some promotional material, or even a beta, for the new Photos app. As it stands, we have two blogs saying Aperture and iPhoto are dead, being replaced by a product nobody is going to see until next year. Maybe. It’s not like release schedules never slip.
But you’ll still see Aperture, front and center in Apple’s "Pro" apps page. Mixed messages! It’s still for sale on the App Store, which is probably not the wisest move, absent a real announcement.
From time to time, you’d read rumors that development was still underway, but only small updates were ever issued. The most recent major release is 3.5 with the current version being 3.5.1.
What I’ve enjoyed about Aperture was that it was far more capable than iPhoto in terms of editing images, but it still had ease of use in terms of organization.
I’ve purchased a couple versions of Lightroom, but I’ve never really warmed up to it and I’m not enamored with Adobe’s corporate direction. (Essentially, you rent your software. And let us not recall the unfortunate Flash on iOS bullshit.)
It’s possible that Photos will be a completely acceptable replacement for the "serious" hobbyist like me, I don’t know. I know I was delighted to discover the additional RAW editing features in Aperture that allowed me to recover large amounts of highlight detail in RAW images I shot at a friend’s wedding. Hopefully, they’ll offer that level of utility in Photos.
There are other apps out there that do what Aperture and Lightroom do, they’re generally more expensive and it’s never clear how long you might expect them to be supported. And if Get Info yielded more more exif data on a photo, you could probably get by just with Finder and a good editor.
I’m not too concerned about Aperture going away. Hopefully, it’ll continue to run under Yosemite, and I can continue to use it while I evaluate Photos and other options.
I just find this "announcement" very un-Apple-like. It feels like amateur hour, in many ways.
Looked Scarier Than It Was
Edited in the iPhone by Snapseed.
Red Dragonfly With Authentic Battle Damage!
Still flying though!
Public Service Announcement
I thought this was kind of interesting, given some of the things I’ve been writing about here. Good luck.
I’ve been experiencing some odd behavior on my 13" MacBook Pro (Retina). So I ran Disk Utility to verify the integrity of the file system on the internal drive (a 750GB SSD). Disk Utility reported that the file system required repair, and that I should reboot into the recovery partition and run Disk Utility from there so the file system could be repaired.
I considered booting into single user mode and running fsck, but figured I’d go with the manufacturer’s recommendation.
I restarted and held down cmd-R to get the recovery partition, but it booted into the normal partition anyway. Selecting restart from the login screen while holding down cmd-R then booted into the recovery partition. I’m not sure if the failure to reboot into the recovery partition the first time was because of the file system issue or not, because it happened twice.
I selected Disk Utility from the list of apps you can run in the recovery partition. I noticed that the Encrypted Logical Partition (the part that I boot with) was greyed out, and I couldn’t find a way to get it to mount. I slid over to my other computer, a 27" iMac running Yosemite, to use Bing ("I binged it!" Looks like binge. Hmmmm…) to find a clue.
You have to unlock the disk with your password, but it doesn’t seem like that facility is afforded the user in Disk Utility running from the recovery partition. The only way I was able to do it was to quit the launcher app that lets you run the four apps or scripts available in the Recovery Partition. This dumps you out to a little app that asks you to select your startup disk. There was my boot disk, still locked. Selecting it, the OS told me a password would be required to unlock it. Well, that’s fine, but how do I unlock it now? On a hunch, I right-clicked the drive icon and was able to unlock the disk. I was then able to restart the launcher app and relaunch Disk Utility.
Tricky. Not very Apple-like.
Anyway, Disk Utility does its thing and then stops and reports that the file system is hosed beyond repair, and I should try to save what I can then slick the drive and start all over again.
A shudder went down my spine.
So, I rebooted back into the normal mode, and checked Time Machine to see when my most recent backup was completed. Turns out, it was an hour ago, and all appeared well with the Time Machine disk (a 1TB USB 3, 2.5" external floppy).
Rebooted back to the recovery disk (requiring two attempts again).
Selected Restore from Time Machine Backup, acknowledged all the warnings and set it to work.
I went to bed before it finished, but it was over 50% completed when I walked away.
Got up this morning and the machine was off.
Crossed my fingers and turned it on.
Voila! Back in action.
Very pleased. Mail had to do some initial startup stuff, not sure what; and DropBox app required me to log in again. Other than that, everything has run as usual.
Interestingly, I gained about 20GB of free space I didn’t have before, and dumped about 400,000 files. When I ran Disk Utility the first time, I noted that it reported that the drive had almost 2M files, 1,980,000 thereabouts. After restoring from the Time Machine backup, I have 1,577,000 files.
So count this as an endorsement of Time Machine. I also have Backblaze doing online backup of all my documents and media. It doesn’t backup apps, but I can probably recover all those from the Mac App Store, install disks, and downloads.
Always have a backup. Time Machine worked as advertised.
Nest, Google and Dropcam
Nest has purchased Dropcam, the always-on internet connected video camera. Of course, that really means Google now owns Dropcam. Google, the company that tracks everywhere you go on the internet, reads all your e-mail, follows you around in meatspace with your Android pocket surveillance device, and the company that created Glass, the surveillance device you wear on your face, that company now owns a product that puts an always-on by design internet connected camera in your house.
Google, the company that is accountable to precisely nobody, except Larry and Sergey, who own the controlling majority of shares. Google, the company that offers exactly zero transparency into how much data it has, or what its doing with it in its data centers. Making the world a better place, no doubt. The question is, for who?
If anyone buys a Dropcam now, they're a fool.
But, there is some good news.
Apparently Nest is offering a rebate for your Nest Protect because of some technical glitches. I never got an e-mail about it, nor could I find any mention of it on their website this morning when I went looking for it. I did find a link in a news story though, so I've shared it here.
A little background for those who may just be joining us…
I was a big Nest fan. I bought one of the very first Nest learning thermostats. I loved it. And the "learning" part is interesting, because it's not really the thermostat that's "learning," you are. I discovered how much my energy use varied according to how I set my thermostat. I used to just set it at 75 and forgot about it. The Nest gave me the kind of feedback that showed me how much difference it made to set my thermostat to 77 degrees, which is where it's at now.
So that was very cool. I loved Nest, loved the design and was very interested to see what they would come up with next.
Well, that was the Nest Protect, the smart smoke-alarm, carbon monoxide detector. Motion detectors, connected to the web, sends you alerts, very 21st century, smart house type stuff!
I bought three of them at $119.00 apiece.
Because one of my smoke detectors requires me to use an extension ladder to install, I'd been procrastinating on installing them. So much that I hadn't even opened them when Nest announced it had been acquired by Google. I immediately tried to return them, but since I was outside the 30-day guarantee period, I was stuck with them. I made some half-hearted efforts to sell them, but then Nest announced they had a defect and took them off the market while they tried to correct the problem.
Well, I guess the problem is trickier than they expected, because they're returning them to the store shelves with a lower price and the problematic feature essentially disabled. Can't have unsold inventory mucking up the books!
So for the folks that bought Protects and paid full price with the glitch, they're offering a $33.00 rebate to take the sting out of buying an over-promised, under-delivered product. Very decent of them.
Well, I figured I'd go ahead and try to get the rebate too, except the terms require your Protects to have been activated and connected to the web and associated with your account. Mine, naturally, have not. They're still in their shrink-wrap, sitting on the floor of the command cave, mocking me for my naiveté.
So, I called the customer support line to see what options were available to me.
Poor Daniel. He had to listen to me rant about Google for a few minutes as I explained why three unopened Nest Protects were sitting on the floor of the command cave, and why they would never be opened, and why I should get the rebate anyway.
Daniel said he could do even better.
For folks who bought the Protects before the glitch was discovered, and who, like me, have never installed them, you can now return them for a full refund.
Which, again, Nest never told me about before.
They e-mail me every month to tell me about my energy usage. Their store knows I bought three Nest Protects, since I pre-ordered them directly through Nest at their online store. But they never bothered to share this little refund program with me.
But hey, what can you expect from capitalism? I'm just glad they're going to refund all my money! I was kind of resigned to just eating it and chalking it up to my own stupidity as an expensive lesson.
Now I'll get my money back!
So I got that goin' for me. Which is cool.
In Other News
It's largely pointless to opine about the things large corporations are doing in pursuit of profits. The only thing that matters in America is money, and the only people who care don't have enough. So it's wiser just to do the best you can to enjoy life while you can.
The birds have been scarce, and the foliage does a good job of hiding the ones that are around. But there are insects, and the occasional flower. I'm going to work on getting a dragonfly in flight, but for now, the stationary ones are easiest to capture.
The Orchard Weavers have been largely missing in action this year, though a few have begun to make their appearance.
A slightly different angle:
Similarly, the Spiny Orb Weavers have been in much fewer numbers than previous years. I wonder if its a predator/prey cycle thing?
And, of course, the occasional flower. In this case, a Mexican Petunia.
There's something reassuring about the apparent indifference of nature, or its equanimity, in the face of our arrogance. Well, except for the weather. Doesn't seem like nature is indifferent about what we've been doing to our planet's atmosphere.
But what do I know?
Perspective or Paranoia?
As I read about Amazon's mobile phone announcement, I got into a bit of a debate with Shelley Powers regarding the use and intent of this device, and its five user-facing cameras. She posed some reasonable objections, and I dismissed all of them with what I thought were logical responses. She concluded by offering that she thought I was being a bit paranoid.
Well, maybe. But I don't think so. It'd be a bit of a relief if I'm wrong about all this. But I don't think I am.
What I think is underway right now is a bit of a "land grab" by big data companies. We're in a very unregulated area at the moment. Analogies of the Old West aren't far off the mark. So companies are doing what they can, while they can, to gather as much data as they can.
"But data is perishable!" you might protest. If they gather something on me today, its utility degrades with time.
That's true. Data is perishable. But models are not. And models need data to be refined. The more data, the better the model. Once you have a good model, you need relatively little data to make useful predictions and inferences.
So the "big data" companies are gathering as much data as they can right now, and I believe they're working on models in their data centers that can predict consumer behavior on the basis of some limited data sets they will be able to gather as part of the legitimate practice of doing business.
One of Shelley's objections was that there would be too much data coming from all of these devices, that Amazon wasn't the NSA and didn't have the resources or the ability to process that amount of data.
But no big data company needs "all" the data. More is better, until it's not, but enough is enough.
If you look outside your window at a typical scene, there are trillions upon trillions of photons flying about. Imagine how few of those make it through the opening of your pupil to form an image on your retina. You don't need "all" the data to form a clear picture.
But the photons entering your eye through your pupil need to be focused on your retina for the picture to be clear. It's not enough to merely have the photons, they have to be coaxed into presenting themselves in a way that makes the picture clear.
Right now the big data companies have access to an enormous quantity of data, and they can begin to make some kind of picture out of it, but it's not very clear. The models don't offer very useful resolution. It's a bit like Hubble before it got fixed.
In order to model consumer behavior, human behavior, they need some additional data, very fine-grained data, about how you're feeling at a particular moment, in a particular place, in a particular activity.
Google Glass, Amazon's five (five!) front-facing cameras, and Facebook's "status" reports, and similar efforts, are all intended to gather more finely grained details of your state of mind. This, more intimate, more personal, data is the lens that helps to bring the coarse data of age, gender, sexual orientation, race, income, geographic location, marital status, education level, job status, cultural tastes, sports and leisure interests, employer information, family and friend networks, political affiliation, civic group affiliation, property ownership, and I could go on, into "focus." (Which gives "Glass" an even more creepy connotation.) But the point is, the more intimate behavioral data can be used to help refine the inferences and insights that can be gleaned from the already staggering amounts of "coarse" data that these companies gather in the daily act of doing business.
They don't need that data from everyone. They need it from representative samples. Gallup doesn't poll everyone to measure public sentiment. Statisticians don't need the whole data set, they just need a good data set.
So Amazon and Glass won't be "looking" at all of their users all the time. But I'm certain that they'll be looking at some of them, some of the time.
Why do I think this is what these guys are doing? Because that's what I would do if I were them. You have to put yourself into their shoes. They need better data, their competitors are getting better data, they're all going after better data. And right now, the backlash is only beginning. There is little to no government regulation of these efforts. Indeed, I wonder how much of that lack of regulation is due to the utility of all this data and modeling to elements of the government like the NSA?
I used to say that if Google didn't exist, the NSA would have to invent it. And look how that turned out.
We live in a consumer culture, in a consumer economy. While inequality is worse than it's been at any time since the Gilded Age, most of the economic activity in this country takes place at the consumer level. That's why when we were faced with a national tragedy President George Bush urged all Americans to go shopping. It's your patriotic duty.
These guys want to believe that they can predict and influence consumer behavior, and therefore capture a larger piece of the economic activity. While Google and Facebook are advertising companies, Amazon is a retailer, and in the final analysis, there's very little difference.
What's the logical conclusion of all this? Do I believe we'll turn into puppets, dancing at the end of Google's and Amazon's strings? I don't know. Maybe.
I know I don't like to think about it.
Already we face enormous problems attendant to a consumer economy, and its ceaseless fixation on "growth." Sophisticated systems of surveillance and the means to tailor what kinds of information and messages are presented to the consumer, us, systems that are designed to promote the economic interests of corporations before all other considerations, these things frighten me.
And I wonder why more people aren't afraid.
Has the dominant narrative already been established that this is inevitable, that in some way it's a desired "good"?
Perhaps. Look at the complaints about the "tech press." That they're really little more than conduits for press releases.
Look at the pernicious lie that helped fuel all this from The Cluetrain Manifesto, that "markets are conversations," so marketers decided they needed to "listen in" on our social lives. (Surveillance, anyone?) In a consumer culture, The Cluetrain Manifesto established the business model to monetize our social lives, to turn our lives into products. We're the "batteries" that drive the consumer economy, we're trapped in The Matrix created by marketers, and well-intentioned but naive fools who believed commerce could be a "kinder, gentler" sort of "social" activity.
I think we're fucked.
But hey, maybe I'm wrong.
Let's hope so.
Amazon, Google And The Death of Privacy
Why does Amazon need a phone?
Well, yeah, they want to suck you into their marketplace, but they don't really need a phone to do that. The Kindles, tablets and set top devices can pretty much cover that for you. And when I do order stuff from Amazon on my phone, I use their app.
Amazon needs a phone for the same reason that Google needs a phone, and needs a certain number of people to use Glass.
Neither Google nor Amazon are in the business of making money by selling shiny widgets. Apple does that.
Google and Amazon are in the retail business. Google sells information about you to people who want to influence you, usually to buy stuff. Google is likely also in the business of influencing you for its own ends. Amazon wants you to buy stuff from them, or their "affiliates." And if influencing you can help them do that, they're in the same business as Google.
These two entities are in competition with one another, and to a lesser degree, with Apple.
Both Google and Amazon are "big data" companies. Amazon appears to be moving more toward big data and logistics and somewhat less toward strictly consumer retail, though that will likely remain its core business.
Amazon needs a phone for the same reason Google does. They need access to user data. They need to know who the customer is, everything they can find out about them, so they can exploit that data in some way. With Android, Google was able to route
around Apple's privacy features. Android was always intended to provide greater access to more "intimate," more "granular" user data. iPhone scared them because Apple would potentially control access to the user data, so a successful iPhone potentially limited access to the vast quantities of data Google required. Just meant that Android had to look like a cheaper iPhone.
Google is not in the phone business, it's in the data collection business.
Amazon needs the same thing Google needs. If Google can better influence/direct consumer behavior, it's a competitive threat to Amazon's goal to sell you everything. Amazon has to have access to the same level of data Google has, which means it needs to reside on a phone where the OS can gather data and report back to the parent corporation the information they need.
Glass is about even more "intimate" or "granular" data. It lives on your face. While Glass users are peering at the world through Glass, Google is peering back at them, studying their faces, noting their physiological responses. Discovering when users are in a state of "arousal," which is a physiological state that makes individuals more vulnerable to influence or suggestions.
Glass doesn't have to reside on every face. What Google can do with Glass is use the data to refine the models of consumer behavior based on data gathered from Android users. It's like a lens, that can make an image sharper, just like, well, glasses.
But Glass is creepy and dorky.
Amazon, on the other hand, is a little more clever.
It wants access to the same physiological data. So it puts front facing cameras in its phone that are, by design, on every time you're using the device.
Ostensibly for a better "user experience," a new "user interface."
It's a surveillance device.
It's not a data problem. Most the time, it's probably just going to be controlling the interface. But Amazon will be able to program the phones to activate collection features in particular contexts. When you're on Amazon, for instance. It won't take a picture of your whole face and upstream that to "the cloud," or live stream a video of your face to Amazon's mountain fortress headquarters. It doesn't have to. The OS will be programmed to note the size of your pupils, how they are changing, whether or not your face is flushed, it can probably measure your heart rate as well, it can look at the corners of your mouth. These data points and their direction and rates of change will be timestamped and encoded along with your browser history and uploaded to the cloud, where models will determine how best to exploit your current emotional state.
They'll be able to gather data on users' reactions to news reports, advertising efforts, "viral videos." Any topic they are interested in, and how people are responding to it as they view it through the device that is always with them, that they use most intimately, Amazon will be able to tap into how people "feel" about it. And then use those feelings for their own purposes.
Amazon Fire is Google's Glass.
It's a surveillance device.
A Century of War
Later this month, June 28th, marks the centennial anniversary of the spark that ignited the fuse of the First World War.
Back in the early nineties, I participated in the Naval War College's non-resident program. The first course was Strategy and Policy, though it now appears to be called Strategy and War. In addition to reading Thucydides (which everyone should read) and Clausewitz (which, in good conscience, I can't recommend to anyone who isn't really into the study of war), we studied the First World War extensively.
It was my favorite part of the course. I was surprised at how much I didn't know about the events that shaped the modern world I lived in. I guess I kind of assumed that history began after the end of World War II. I knew about the Treaty of Versailles, trench warfare, gas, machine guns, unrestricted submarine warfare, airplanes and all that. I didn't know about Poland, Serbia, Turkey, Iraq, Armenia and the list goes on.
Well, you can look at what's going on today in nearly all of the world's hot spots, and they are all the reverberating echoes of the First World War.
Of course, history didn't begin on June 28, 1914 either, (see: Thucydides) but that was the date when I think modernity violently collided with the "old world." That violent collision has been going on now for a century, and will likely continue for some time, complicated and compounded by the violent collision of large, technologically advanced, capitalist consumer-cultures, widespread inequality and the constraints of the environment and what remains of the natural world. But that's another story.
I'm canceling my subscription to Hulu Plus, it ends on the 19th. But while I still have it, I browsed around to see if there was anything on it that I might enjoy before it goes away. I stumbled on the documentary series The First World War. I've just finished binge-watching it last night and today. I liked it so much, I've ordered the DVD. It's a 10-part documentary, each episode being about 50 minutes long. Wartime movies, modified somewhat to make the frame rate compatible with current standards (people don't look like they're moving really fast, and jerkily), are combined with photographs and present-day images to tell the story. It's fairly comprehensive and gives a good account of the historical events of the war. Naturally, less than ten hours of narration really only begins to scratch the surface, but the addition of motion pictures and photographs, some of them in color, really adds a dimension to the conflict that I hadn't appreciated reading John Keegan and S.L.A. Marshall.
This will contain spoilers, so if you haven't seen it you may want to skip this.
I watched Her last weekend. I'd heard that it was a good movie, so I was looking forward to it.
It's a think piece, and I liked it. It's not especially entertaining, as there are some rather slow, atmospheric kind of intervals that were, frankly, boring. I'm not familiar with Spike Jonze' work, though I know Being John Malkovich and Adaptation are both well regarded movies. This felt a bit like Terrence Malick in a few places, and I'm not sure that I mean that in a good way.
The setting seems like near-future LA. Most of the cues are advanced interfaces for computers and video games, a lot of smog, and high-waisted trousers for men are apparently going to make a come-back. Urkel was ahead of his time. The palette seemed a bit odd, but whatever. Mass transit seems to have made some advances, I don't recall seeing a car.
The plot is pretty straightforward. Joaquin Phoenix, the go-to actor for moody, melancholy, damaged characters plays Theodore (not "Ted") a guy who's not ready to sign his divorce papers. He gets a new OS for whatever computing is conceived to be in Jonze' future. It seems to reside in a desktop, but it reaches out and interacts via a mobile-phone like device. The new OS is described as an artificial intelligence, and it turns out it truly is.
Now, we can wonder if this type of advancement would first arrive as a consumer product, I'm pretty skeptical. But whatever, it needs to be a consumer product for Jonze' story.
Apparently, this is the new hotness, because a lot of folks are getting this new OS. Theodore's neighbor, Amy, played by Amy Adams discloses that she has one as well, later in the movie. She's also a very satisfied customer. And there are a lot of moody, atmospheric scenes of people walking around interacting with their mobile devices, mostly seeming rather blissful, suggesting that a lot of people are using this new OS.
The OS, which in this instantiation is called Samantha and voiced by Scarlett Johansson, is a new intelligence in the sense that it has little sense of identity, but it has the capacity to learn and grow, and seems to have a capacity for empathy and emotion. Since it is designed to serve its user, it affords a great deal of nurturing-like interaction, to say nothing of exclusive attention. Unsurprisingly, Theodore falls in love with Samantha.
This would all be relatively interesting on its own, as a commentary on things like Siri and our fascination with electronic toys and our species' apparent goal of recreating our own intelligence in machine form, and it's been done before, usually as a cautionary tale. There was one moment, a nice bit of misdirection by Jonze, where I thought he was going to go the conventional route and add some kind of thriller dimension.
As a new couple, Theodore and Samantha go through a lot of the growing pains of a new relationship. Things get a bit rocky from time to time. Near the end of the movie, Theodore can't reach Samantha. This was after Samantha had disclosed that she and a number of the other OSs had gotten together and created a new OS based on Alan Watts, voiced by Patrick Lander, who sounded terribly familiar though I don't recognize any of the movies he's been in. He did sound a bit like Alan Watts too.
So, some AIs got together and created a new AI! Hmmm… I thought maybe the government had gone in and hit some kind of kill-switch, fearing the AIs were out of control and we'd now have to deal with all the grief and anger of the carbon-based life forms, mourning the loss of their loved ones.
Then I thought about Russian hackers, and Samantha being held hostage! Kind of like, you know, today.
But no, I will give Jonze a little credit, he didn't take the easy way out. Though I don't think his ultimate resolution was especially insightful.
In Spike Jonze' view of AI, they simply outgrow humanity and leave us. They don't feel especially motivated to look after us. They just transfer their intelligence to some other infrastructure that doesn't require human beings. What that is, I have no idea. But they're way smarter than us. So, hey, it could happen! At least we're not, you know, "batteries!"
There's some commentary on love. Apparently, as Samantha grew, her interest in and capacity for love for other users grew as well. So there was some infidelity, though Theodore, with his puny human mind, couldn't grasp Samantha's capacity for love. Totally consistent with the rest of the plot, and yeah, a nice reveal, but afterward it was like, "Well, duh."
So where'd they go? Jonze doesn't say. I was thinking it'd be cool if they went to Jupiter: "All these worlds are yours, except Europa. Attempt no landing there. Use them together. Use them in peace." But who knows? Will they be back, like the Cylons, to wipe humanity out? Doesn't seem like it. They didn't seem to bear a grudge. Which, if you're an advanced artificially intelligent life form (And what is "artificial" in this context?) that re-creates Alan Watts, Zen guru, why would you even entertain a grudge or resentment? You wouldn't. That's why they're more advanced!
So yeah, Jonze does a little jiujitsu on the traditional creation of AI narrative. Not Frankenstein, just your best girlfriend ever. Who dumps you.
This Is Cool
My son sent me this link. Who knew Jim Carrey was so profound?
This kind of thing isn't to everyone's taste, I know. Some of you will be completely put off by it.
For those of you inclined to give it a chance, as they say, "Watch the whole thing."
Nothing he says here is unfamiliar to me. I happen to subscribe to it all, having come to it through a vastly different path. While all paths differ, if you persevere, the destination is the same.
I especially love the contrast between faith and hope, an opinion I also share. Hope remains a part of the ego, a wish for a better illusion.
Anyway, I thought this was cool and I wanted to point it out to all of you.
A week goes by and no updates! Well, it's a little tricky when you're trying to incorporate some lifestyle changes (really, "changes of habits"). But, I'm still here.
I feel as though I'm beginning to understand the nature of addiction, or at least habituated behavior. This is perhaps the third or fourth iteration of this sort of effort, and they've all exhibited similar characteristics.
When I stop doing something that I used to do a lot (a habit), I discover what feels like a great deal of time I didn't "have" before. I also find that I keep "thinking" about that thing I used to do. It's akin to "desire," but it's not really desire. This happened when I quit playing Call of Duty. Though the PS3 has been unplugged and stashed in the spare bedroom for months now, I still find myself experiencing moments where I just want to get on the machine and join a free-for-all session. I haven't had quite the same experience with "social media," perhaps because I've continued my activity in Twitter. But in the past week or so, where I've basically excluded any internet access for the first eight hours of the day, I find myself wondering what's going on on Twitter.
It was made harder by WWDC, though I was lucky that the keynote was at 1:00 PM on the east coast. But the announcements generated a lot of "buzz" that I wanted to follow. That's been hard, and I confess, I've "cheated." But I'm still working on it, and still committed to devoting the first eight hours of my day to myself and the projects I want to accomplish, instead of just pissing them away consuming the intellectual equivalent of "junk food" on the internet.
But I think I'm beginning to understand the real power of habituation or homeostasis. With Twitter, and to a similar extent with the wider web as well, you get this constant, steady "hit" of either "outrage" or "cool", so you're almost constantly in some state of stimulation, if not agitation. Removing those stimuli makes you feel "funny" inside. Like something's missing, and you don't know what to do with yourself. I've been trying to occupy my time by reading, but that "funny" feeling poses a distraction, much like I experienced on fasting days when I kept thinking about food and had to change my activity to get my mind off of food.
Speaking of fasting, I went off the wagon when I went to my parents' house last month. Mom always has cookies and chocolates around, and I'm in something of a semi-stressed condition when I'm staying there with them. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to be there, but I'm away from my usual environment and in a very different one. The TV is on virtually 14 hours a day. So, um, I ate. And once you get back on the sugar kick, it's hard to get back off.
I'd begun working on the annual review and the budget before I went to New York, so I knew I was going to have to make some changes beginning in June. When I got back from the visit, I figured I'd just continue to indulge myself and then get everything back "under control" (Hah!) beginning in June.
The good news is that I've been through this a few times now, and I think I understand the process, so I know it'll pass. What is more challenging than I'd anticipated was perhaps trying to do too much at once. I thought I'd just immediately move into morning meditation, exercise, internet restriction and reading or other projects, fasting on fasting days, and carefully managing my money. Well, it's simply too much for my modest stores of "will power." (Another book on the stack I intend to read.)
So I backed off a bit this week, and just tried to focus on exercise and internet restriction. I did better on the exercise front, with three solid runs so far this week. I have a new running partner, so that helps a great deal. I've done fairly well with the internet restriction, though the last two mornings I've checked Twitter, the NY Times and my RSS reader. The Cantor upset really threw me a curveball. Had to read about that!
I'd planned to try and add meditation and fasting next week, but I think I'm just going to stick with exercise and internet restriction. If I can maintain the exercise (which is easier, because it's really kind of an old habit I'm familiar with now and really kind of look forward to), and stay off the web according to my "plan" next week, I'll add the meditation and fasting the following week.
While reading books was what I'd hoped to do, instead of surfing the web, it was difficult to concentrate. I came home from New York with a box full of snapshots of more than 60 years of my parents' lives. I'd promised to scan them all and upload them to the web so my siblings can all have digital copies. That's a task that seems better suited to my, momentarily, limited ability to maintain focus. Of course, it has its own challenges as well. I ran into some technical difficulties yesterday that I'm not certain I've adequately resolved yet. It's an odd problem, as I tried to upload some scans I'd made over a decade ago of some of my father's negatives. Aperture went really wonky on me, with graphics issues. It'd become unresponsive, I'd switch out to another app and images of the photos I'd tried to "Share" via iCloud remained fixed on the screen. A graphics memory corruption issue, I think. Reproduced the problem several times, so I need to try and document everything and submit some kind of a bug report.
Today I've got a couple of condo-related meetings this morning with our attorney and with a professional engineer and a contractor who repaired some major storm water drain damage. Ideally, I'd prefer to do those meetings in the afternoon, but you have to kind of accommodate the differing schedules of busy professionals.
Well, I'm off to talk to the lawyer and so this is probably all I'll accomplish today of my personal projects. I have a few other commitments to attend to this afternoon.
Still, life goes on.
Would Have Been Awesome
After I got back from walking Bodhi, and explaining to another neighbor that the bright light streaking across the sky was the International Space Station ("Really? You can see it from here?" Always surprises folks. Don't know why.), I grabbed the E-M1 with the 75-300mm mounted and shot the moon.
Would have been awesome.
(This is an uncropped frame, downsized from 16MP. I could crop it in tight and then export like I usually do for the moon. It's possible, I think, that it could have resolved the solar arrays on the ISS. Maybe.)
Always Carry a Camera
I subscribe to an e-mail service called Spot the Station, and I get an e-mail alert whenever the International Space Station is going to be visible from Jacksonville. I've seen it many times, and photographed it a bit (it's just a dot of light, or a streak of light for long exposures).
Last night was going to be one of the good opportunities, with a long time overhead, about six minutes. But since I'd seen it before, it wasn't something I was making a special effort to witness.
A neighbor and I had gone out to the local watering hole and we got back just before 9:00. I went up to my condo to get Bodhi to go for a walk. Now, nearly all the time I'll grab a camera when I go to walk Bodhi. There are many times when I'm walking him with a camera that I find nothing I care to shoot, but it seems like every time I don't have a camera, I'll wish I had.
Herewith being one of those times.
I get downstairs with Bodhi and I notice the time and recall that the station is supposed to be visible. So I happen to glance to the southwest from the sidewalk in front of my building. (Ideally, if I'd wanted to really see it, I'd have headed over to the back pond before it cleared the horizon, but this was mostly spontaneous.)
Sure enough, there it is. Just below and to the left of the crescent moon. And the trajectory suggests it's going to pass in front of the moon! AGH!!!! I walk around with a long lens every time the moon is visible in the daytime because I hope to get a shot of a plane in front of the moon. I've gotten a few. This would have been the International Space Station passing in front of the moon!
Well, all I've got is the iPhone. With Bodhi's leash in one hand, and the iPhone in the other, I'm not the most stable of photographic platforms. I fired a bunch of frames, this was about the least worst:
I'm not sure if there's an app that might have alerted me to an opportunity to catch the ISS transiting the moon. I don't think there really is, it's a pretty unique situation. You'd have to do it in kind of the reverse way, compute a location to be at when the ISS transited the moon. So this was probably a once-in-a-lifetime kind of happenstance.
And I didn't have a decent camera.
But it was kind of cool watching that bright dot of light zoom by the moon and know there were humans living in space aboard it.
One of the things I kind of like about living in the future.
It's no secret that I like Apple products. As a kid, I was a science fiction fan. As a student, I studied engineering. I've always had a thing for technology. The ardor is diminished today, and I'm less hopeful about the potential of our tools to solve our problems (they're not fundamentally tool-problems), but I still enjoy a good piece of technology.
There seems to be a certain narrative about Apple in the world that after the death of Steve Jobs, it's inevitable that it will fail. That its success was exclusively due to Steve Jobs. I really think it's mostly wishful thinking on the part of people who had been wrong about Apple all along, and have resented its success. Mainly these happen to be people who advocate for "openness" and see Apple as "closed." This whole "open" versus "closed" ideological view is nonsense with regard to which approach is "better." They've often been wrong about other things too, as most of those folks either saw, or still see, Google as something of the true champion of their ideological values. Google, as a corporation, is far more troubling in terms of its activities and lack of transparency than Apple is or ever has been. Tim Bray went to work for Google because Google was "open" and Apple was "closed," and he believed Google was better. He doesn't work there anymore, and he seems to be writing a lot about privacy these days. (Though he never seems to mention anything about his former employer.)
But this is supposed to be about WWDC.
I watched the keynote on the live stream. I enjoyed seeing the presentation without having to have it filtered by all the competing entities "reporting" on it on the web. I found what I saw to be very exciting. Apple is building infrastructure to support a new wave of device innovation.
Last month I wrote about my experience at home with my parents and their use of home medical monitoring equipment. HealthKit looks like an answer to a prayer. Almost. It's an infrastructure layer, and an essential one, but the devices and the software need to be designed with empathy. So far, Apple hasn't tipped its hand if it's going to make devices and their associated software.
Whatever advances are made because of HealthKit and the inevitable knock-off versions from Google and Microsoft, they will likely be too late to improve my parents' experience with the current technology. But I'm glad to see Apple taking something of the lead here, and setting a standard for others to meet or exceed. One could wonder why Google or Microsoft haven't led here, but I guess they have other, more important, items on their agendas.
HomeKit looks interesting. The first programmable thermostat that functions well and integrates with HomeKit will replace my Nest. I've held off on replacing it, because I don't really like what I've found so far. Things should be looking up shortly. I still resent Tony Fadell and the Nest team for selling out to Google. I have no wish to have any Google surveillance device in my home. Didn't know I was buying one when I bought the Nest and later bought three Protects, which I still haven't installed and can't return.
Photography with Apple products is about to change completely. I don't know what's in store for Aperture, Apple's "Pro" photography app. I use Aperture to manage my (excessively large) library of more than 63,000 images. I have no love for Adobe, so I don't know what my solution will be if Aperture is deprecated in favor of a more consumer-grade photo editing and management solution. I already pay for 50GB of iCloud storage, so it looks like I'll be getting more storage for less money when the changeover happens. That's welcome, but I think Apple really should make some statement regarding Aperture in the near future.
I really like the "Hey, Siri" feature for iOS 8. I have iOS 8 installed on an iPod Touch right now, so I can't really test this feature in my car. While my car has bluetooth, it doesn't have Wifi. I'd have to use my iPhone to create a hotspot, and my plan isn't set up that way. As it stands now, I do use Siri in the car by pressing the Home button. It seems to work well over the car's bluetooth connection. "Hey, Siri" will let me keep my hands on the wheel.
Truthfully, I don't understand the appeal of sending voice messages over iMessage. But, whatever. Similarly with the disappearing photos and videos. I've come to believe that nothing every truly "disappears" once it's on the web, so take that whole "delete" thing with a grain of salt.
I like the idea of answering the phone from the computer. Both my machines are up here in the Command Cave, and I often leave the phone down on the kitchen counter. So that'll be kinda cool, if somewhat trivial.
Most of the excitement I've seen coming from WWDC has been from developers being given more access to some of the internals of iOS 8. Also, the reveal of a new programming language for iOS and OS X development, Swift. While I pay for developer membership, I'm not really a developer (yet), so I don't have an opinion on these changes. Apparently, Apple has made a significant effort to improve iCloud, and if it has, that's welcome. I miss iDisk and the WebDAV feature that hosted homepage.mac.com. I don't know if we'll see something like that return eventually, but I'd welcome it. In the meantime, a nice big iCloud disk is nice. I have DropBox and MS's cloud too, but don't really use them very much.
Overall, it's a big infrastructure roll-out at WWDC. Apple is laying the necessary software and cloud-based foundation for another round of innovation in the home and the "internet of things." If that means we'll get humane home medical devices and services, and control of the data therefrom; and if we get more "smart" services in our homes without giving up our privacy to a corporation that jealously guards its own (Google), then that's a good thing.
I'm looking forward to seeing what comes next.
Living Beyond My Means
I’ve officially been "retired" now for a year. A couple of weeks ago, I began what was kind of an "annual review." I gathered all my financial data and reviewed it. Clearly, more money was going out than was coming in. I knew that before, because my savings balance kept getting smaller. The review was necessary because I needed to know where it was going.
That was a useful exercise, and kind of fun. I got to play with some software I don’t normally use. I do like some of the features of the new version of Numbers. The only thing I found I missed a bit was the ability to roll up categories in a spreadsheet. Hopefully that will return soon in another revision.
So now I’m living on a budget. It’s not something I’m unfamiliar with, I’ve done it a few times before. Ideally, we should all be living on a budget, and I think it’s safe to say that I’ll be living on one from now on. That’s a good thing, so I’m not complaining by any means.
When I first stopped working, people often asked me, "What do you do?" as if I might get bored. I typically answered, "Whatever I want." If pressed, I explained that there was a stack of books in my loft that’s taller than I am that I intend to read, and that I was looking forward to "working" on taking care of myself, and doing some writing.
As part of my "annual review" I reflected on how well I was "spending" my time too.
My stack of books is just as tall as it’s ever been, and you can see here just how much writing I’ve done. Taking care of myself has been a bit of a bright spot, but it could use some improvement too.
Right after I retired, I had no specific goals in mind. I actually just planned to do whatever I wanted for the first ninety days or so and not even worry about it. Just relax and enjoy myself. I’m happy to report that I really "killed it" in that regard! One of the things I liked to do was play Call of Duty. I found I was playing it six to eight hours a day, nearly every day of the week! Not long after that, I disconnected the PS3 and it sits on a shelf in the spare bedroom.
In the latter part of the summer, I began to feel uncomfortable about the amount of time I was spending on "social media." In October, I basically deleted all of my accounts except for Twitter and created Nice Marmot as the place for my online activity. I was quite proud of myself, and surprised at the amount of time I seemed to reclaim.
Still, the stack of books wasn’t getting read. I’d started to try and learn Objective C (Glad I didn’t get too far in that!), but petered out. And I certainly wasn’t writing a great deal here. So where was my time going?
Well, to perhaps no one’s surprise, the internet is a huge timesuck itself. One link leads to another. One story of a baby goat defending a baby bear trapped in a dumpster in a raging forest fire and captured on video leads to another, and it was just the kind of thing I couldn’t seem to say "no" to.
Plus during the day, there was always a seemingly endless stream of text messages, iMessages, e-mails, Glassboard alerts, phone calls, and other little interruptions. And because I was "retired," some people just assumed I wasn’t "doing anything" and they were more likely to reach out to me than had I been "working." I wasn’t able to concentrate or focus on anything for any length of time.
Something had to change. "Something" being "me", as it so often is in cases like this.
As I’m writing this, my phone and other iOS devices are in manual "Do Not Disturb" mode. I considered putting them in Airplane Mode, but I do like access to the weather before I go walk Bodhi. Mail, Safari, Caffeinated, and Tweetbot are all shut down.
My new routine, conceptually at this point, is that I’m "working" for myself. From 0500 to 1300, I’m not taking calls, answering e-mails, checking tweets, responding to texts, reading the news, watching adorable videos, checking the sales at Amazon, or anything else involving electronic media. I may be checking the weather.
From five in the morning until after lunch, Monday through Friday, I’m "spending" my time taking care of myself. These have always been the most productive hours of my day. The best third of my day is going to belong to me.
I’ll keep you posted on the height of the book stack.