"Well, that's just, like, your opinion, man."

Same As It Ever Was

3/26/14, 9:43 AM

I enjoyed my day of web fasting. I read several chapters of two books, and started learning Objective C (from an e-book, Objective C Programming by Aaron Hillegas). I didn't feel as though I was missing anything, the "fear of missing out" or FOMO theory of social networking notwithstanding. It wasn't until later in the evening when I felt as though I didn't want to read anymore, or do any more exercises in Xcode, that I found myself kind of reflexively reaching for the phone to check Twitter.

I ended up watching a movie on Netflix instead. It was an HD version of a Morgan Freeman/Antonio Banderas throw-away, The Code; not horrible but what was most interesting was the quality of the video stream. There were a lot of dark scenes and there is usually a great deal of posterization in Netflix streams, especially in dark scenes, but not this time. It was as good as anything I get from iTunes, which is pretty good.

Hmmm... Maybe Comcast is trying to polish up its dismal reputation ahead of the regulatory review of its merger with Time-Warner. I don't know.

I've been reading David Foster Wallace's Everything and More, A Compact History of ∞. I've had this book for several years, mine is the 2004 paperback edition from the Great Discoveries Series, where ∞ is used in the title, both on the cover and the title page. I had purchased it before I knew anything about DFW, back during a period when I was fascinated by the history of math. Those periods were often (always) overtaken by something else, usually from the web. I'm trying to take a more disciplined approach to my time now. I'm also reading An Introduction to Information Theory, Symbols, Signals and Noise by John R. Pierce, another book I've had for many years.

I picked both of these books from my bookshelf a couple of weeks ago when a friend of mine dropped by to borrow a book. We had just come from seeing A Beautiful Mind at Movie Night, a thing I do every Thursday at the condo clubhouse. (We have a very nice little theater.) I had never seen A Beautiful Mind, again despite the fact that I'd had the DVD for about six years and hadn't even removed the shrink wrap! Before the movie started, I ran some of the special features and saw a deleted scene where Nash invented a game called Hex. My friend came home with me and borrowed Everything and More, along with Wallace's biography Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story. (She ended up returning Everything right away, and borrowed The Pale King instead. I think she was a bit intimidated by the notation in Everything, but it's quite accessible.) I had pulled the Pierce book off the shelf because Neil Young and the Pono thing was all in the news, and somebody had recently called my attention to the Mastered for iTunes effort, so I wanted to finally sit down and read the Pierce book. As I began to read it, I had one of those serendipitous, sort of synchronicity experiences where on page 10, Pierce is illustrating the ideas of theorem and proof by using "a game called hex, or Nash."

It's the little things.

Anyway, as always, I've wandered far from where I'd intended to go.

One of the reasons why I've been feeling as though I need to spend less time on the web is because it's a pretty negative experience. Much of what I seem to encounter is depressing, and seems to diminish all of us. Now, is this purely my own "fault"? Perhaps I choose to follow negative people. Or maybe I choose to click on negative links, unconsciously perhaps? Maybe, but I don't think so.

There are a lot of "bad" things happening in the world. Missing airplanes, mudslides, global climate change, twenty-first century nations seeking to revive nineteenth century empires, animal abuse, the list is endless. You can add me railing against Google's massive surveillance effort to that list as well. I mean, it's exhausting. Who can summon the necessary outrage all the time?

Well, we can't. So we grow inured to it, to a great degree I think, apart from the negative emotional valence.

And thus we are diminished, and our regard for and faith in our fellow human being is slowly extinguished.

I really don't care for it anymore. I don't need to be reminded dozens of times a day of the latest outrage. There's nothing I can do about it! I think most people believe tweeting a link, or writing a blog post is "doing something about it." I don't think so. It's just farting into the wind. Actually "doing" something about it would require writing a letter to an elected official, perhaps organizing a demonstration or raising money or something more than just tweeting how miserably backward your state government is. As if nobody knew already! I mean if they could be "shamed" into cleaning up their act, it would have happened long ago.

This is to say nothing of all the nonsense that is little more than gossip, sniping, back-stabbing, and character assassination.

But lying on my couch, with a cat on my stomach, holding a dead tree analog product, reading David Foster Wallace describe with wit and vigor the shaky foundations our notions of reality are built on; and how brilliant minds struggled mightily, often at great personal cost, with complex ideas and abstractions that yielded profound insights that have vastly enriched our understanding of the world...

Well, it does much to ameliorate the impoverished view of humanity one gets from the web.

Do not tarry long here. The price is high and the rewards few.

Your dopamine receptors are not to be trusted.

Intermittent Web Fasting

3/23/14, 7:47 PM

I've been having some success with the intermittent fasting diet. One of the interesting effects seems to be either shrinking my stomach or otherwise re-sensitizing my endocrine system to ghrehlin and leptin. I find myself eating smaller portions and feeling full; and if I eat what was formerly a "normal" (albeit "large") portion, because I really enjoy it (Publix carrot cake slices), I feel uncomfortable. On fasting days, I find myself obsessing about food less, which suggests eating was, and perhaps still is to some extent, an habituated behavior instead of a natural response to a signal from my body that I was hungry. I'm beginning to reset my relationship to food.

When I signed off from all social media services except Twitter, I found myself discovering odd moments when I was wondering what to do. These were moments I formerly would have filled in Facebook or Instagram or Tumblr. Now I just have Twitter and Nice Marmot, and the latter has more "friction" than the highly refined user interfaces of the social media sites.

At first, I was pleased with the discovery that I seemed to be reclaiming a great deal of my time from Facebook and Instagram and Tumblr. What I've found, however, is that I've merely replaced those behaviors with more time in Twitter, greater numbers of RSS subscriptions, and general, mindless "grazing" on the web. Some of this behavior is the intended result of many of the sites I visit ("Recommended for you!")

What I've found is that my dopamine receptors that used to enjoy getting little "rewards" from, for lack of a better term, "novel" experiences on social media, are equally content to get their jollies from The Atlantic, or Ars Technica, or DP Review or any of hundreds of other sites that people link to and I visit. Though I'm not necessarily helping an online advertiser build a comprehensive behavioral profile to deliver more "personalized" marketing messages to me; nor am I contributing to keeping my network of friends and acquaintances trapped in what is little more than an advertising laboratory cage; I am still wasting far too much of my life on what is essentially "junk food."

So I'm going to try and to approach the web the way I now approach food. I "consume" both products, and the pattern of my consumption is resulting in undesirable effects, so perhaps the approach to modifying and managing one problematic behavior may be applied to another. I'm going to try doing intermittent web fasting.

Just exactly how I'm going to go about it isn't entirely clear. For the moment, I have the thought that I'll simply forego consuming any content in a web browser or a mobile app that relies on an internet connection for its content. That means that I'll still read my e-mail (Which is really easy, since it mostly just consists of skinning subject lines and hitting "Delete".), and I'll still respond to iMessages and texts. But no RSS, no Twitter, no NY Times on the iPhone, etc. I'll also watch movies on Netflix or iTunes, or read books in either iBooks or Kindle.

How often should I fast? I don't know what the "right" amount is. At first I'm going to try two days a week, and I think I'll align them with my food fasting days. I think that may be somewhat beneficial in terms of keeping me focused on doing something deliberate to change my behavior and improve my life. We'll see how that goes.

I've also wondered if it might be beneficial to have one day a week where I never touch a keyboard or a screen. Nothing electronic. Again, I suppose I'd answer my phone and any immediate messages, but I wouldn't play any games, read digital books. Perhaps I'd allow music, since I don't really have any other music source at the moment; but no movies or TV shows.

That's not definite just yet, but the idea does appeal to me. I have this stack of books I've been meaning to work my way through, and if I don't change something, that's simply never going to happen.

So tomorrow, I'll start. We'll see how it goes. I'll keep you posted.

In the Matter of Willful Ignorance

3/17/14, 1:29 PM

This is an animated (ahem) discussion between Steven Pinker (I'm not a huge fan) and Rebecca Newberger Goldstein on the power of reason to drive human progress. I love the discussion, not too thrilled with the format. I'm in agreement with the conclusion with a significant caveat.

Because technology expands what we do in space, and compresses it in time, the power of reason to recognize and check our destructive tendencies is severely challenged. Too often, we require disaster before we engage the faculty of reason in our actions.

Bullshit and Willful Ignorance

3/17/14, 9:04 AM

Happy St. Patrick's Day! It's a miserable day here in the Sunshine State, so instead of wandering around with my camera, I figure I'll just scratch an itch here and ignore the liquid sunshine falling all around me.

So we'll begin with a disclaimer, and then you can sort of decide whether you want to stick around or not. Blinding glimpse of the obvious: This is my blog. These are my opinions. I like to think they're informed opinions. I'm not trying to prove anything here, because those standards woud be impossibly high. I'm not trying to change your mind. I don't have the power to do that. At the most, I hope I'm giving you something to think about, perhaps look into some more on your own. The only person who has a prayer of changing your mind is you, and the odds are against you doing that anyway. Seriously.

As always, I'm an authority on nothing, I make all this shit up. You're encouraged to do your own thinking.

When last we spoke, we were debunking the notion that the internet is some unique artifact that has some special utility for sharing "knowledge," or that that utility is in some way especially virtuous in terms of enabling the advancement of human values. It's not. It's merely another artifact; a bigger megaphone, if you will. When everyone has access to the same megaphone, and nobody is really listening anyway, it doesn't matter. Worse, if people are listening and the person with the megaphone is wrong, or willfully misleading the listeners, well, it's worse, isn't it?

Technology changes how we do things, it doesn't change what we do. Chiefly, it expands our activities in space (in both directions, bigger and smaller) and compresses them in time. Our problems, in the main, lie in the realm of the what far more than the how.

What we do is often not strictly rational. Our cognitive abilities are vastly overstated. We've evolved a sophisticated central nervous system that allows us to function in a complex technological society without really doing much thinking. Much of this behavior is governed by what we would probably call the emotional center of our brain. Kind of "our gut." If you want to read some fascinating things about why this may be so, look up Dr. Antonio Damasio. I'm pretty sure he'd disagree with how I choose to characterize his work, but basically, we reason backward from our feelings.

That is to say, we have a feeling about something, and we use some small part of our cognitive ability to fashion a narrative around that feeling. This is what mostly passes for "thinking" these days. And, mostly, it's harmless, indeed often useful.

Together with a limited and somewhat compromised cognitive faculty, we have intellectual blind spots. I suspect these are a consequence of relying on the more emotional centers of our minds to do much of the heavy lifting. If something "feels" right, ("sounds" right, same thing), we don't "feel" the need to question it. Because we're social creatures, attuned to some degree to each other's emotional state, these blind spots are often shared, and only become apparent when an unwanted result occurs. Experience then encodes the data in the emotional processing centers, and we often don't repeat those mistakes. It seems that, most often, it's the truly novel experiences where we have these intellectual blindspots. In hindsight, the data was all before us, showing that the unwanted outcome was possible or even likely, but because there was no emotional valence to the data, it didn't trigger any warning for a closer examination. Or, if it did in some, they were unable to overcome the feeling of the group that the data bore further study.

Some famous examples are probably in order.

The Apollo 1 fire. A group of really smart scientists and engineers, (Rocket scientists fer chrissakes!) are trying to get man to the moon. They built an incredible machine to do that, but there were, as there always are, design constraints dictated by physics and the state of technology. The result was a choice to test the spacecraft in a pure oxygen environment in a sealed capsule pressurized above ambient pressure. The resulting fire, which killed three astronauts, was foreseeable. But they didn't foresee it. Really smart people, with the safety of the flight crew always uppermost in their minds, didn't foresee an accident that was, in fact, foreseeable. Hindsight is 20/20. We have blind spots.

The loss of the space shuttle Challenger. Rocket scientists, again! The failure of the o-ring seals on the solid rocket boosters in cold weather launches had been observed before. Engineers were aware of the possibility of failure and catastrophic loss of the orbiter. In this case, the blind spots weren't as much technical as programmatic, and managers choosing to ignore the advice and warnings of engineers with knowledge of the potential risk. Again, these are intelligent, able people.

The loss of the space shuttle Columbia. Sensing a pattern here? Rocket scientists! Again, we had the data. We knew there could be a problem. We knew the results would be catastrophic. We went on. We didn't change until the catastrophe happened.

Rocket scientists, engineers, are smart people. They're good people. They don't go out of their way to be willfully ignorant; but they are people, and therefore fallible. And bad things happen when smart, good people ignore the data.

Smart people often disagree. The rest of us, who aren't so smart, have to kind of try and figure out which ones we want to believe. That's a choice. Much like the choices made by rocket scientists, they're often flawed by the process we use to assess risks, options and potential outcomes. That process is chiefly an emotional one. It varies by individual, and it often depends on what you're invested in, emotionally. George B. Hardy, the solid rocket booster manager at NASA was invested in getting shuttles launched on time. He didn't want a disaster, but his emotional investment in success impaired his ability to hear and process the information the manufacturer was giving him. We are not rational beings, we are emotional ones.

So about this climate change thing. I'm not a climate scientist. Chances are, you aren't one either. We have to kind of listen and choose to believe one side or the other. There are people who know what the data say, and what the implications may be for our world, and they're trying to be heard. Most of the people, climate scientists, who know about these things seem to agree. Earth's climate is getting warmer, and it's not because of "natural variability" or any other "natural" phenomena. It's because we're altering the content of Earth's atmosphere, increasing the concentration of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, through the combustion of fossil fuels.

But, there are many, many people, most of whom are not climate scientists, who are absolutely certain this is wrong. They used to say the climate wasn't changing, the atmosphere wasn't warming. Some of them are still saying that now, because of the way they choose to regard the data. But even if they acknowledge the atmosphere is warming, they deny that its human activity that's causing it. Economic human activity. Changing that activity will impose costs or losses on some people, inconvenience them at the least. They're emotionally invested in denying climate change, or the human basis for it.

They get to use the internet too. They get to shout just as loud as the people who are suggesting we're in trouble and we should probably be doing something about it. And the sad truth is, they're winning.

They're more skilled at crafting emotional narratives, since that's the chief way we use to sell anything in this culture. Scientists are emotional beings, but their skill isn't in manipulating the emotions of others, so they're naturally disadvantaged.

The people who are denying climate change, or its human basis, aren't bad people. They're willfully ignorant though. They can see that there is nearly universal agreement that we are altering our atmosphere and our climate. They're making an emotional choice to ignore the data. They're just like George B. Hardy, the NASA SRB manager who told Thiokol, "I am appalled. I am appalled by your recommendation," when they recommended delaying the launch of Challenger. Smart guy making strong statements that were just wrong. He wasn't a bad man, he just couldn't see what was before his eyes because the emotional filters, the emotional processing system we rely on to orient ourselves in the world, and place our choices in context wouldn't let him. He was blind.

Didn't make him a bad person. But to the extent we choose to believe that we are rational creatures and responsible for our choices, he was willfully ignorant. And we have many such people today, on any number of matters, not just climate change. People are willfully ignorant about their personal health, their mental health, the state of their personal relationships. It's a challenge we all have to grapple with if we wish to bring about meaningful change in our lives.

How do we open people's eyes? I don't know. Seems like the only thing that's 100% effective is a disaster.

So we're going to get one.

Howard Beale, Once More

3/12/14, 8:54 PM

This time, imagine as he says "tube" or "television" he's saying "web" or "internet."

You people.

Howard Beale on Bullshit

3/12/14, 8:07 PM

Portlandia: Social Bankruptcy

3/12/14, 7:42 AM

Speaking of commercializing our social lives, this is funny and it ought to be a little disturbing.

You should watch it.


3/12/14, 7:06 AM

"Will the Internet make it possible for our entire civilization to collapse together, in one big awful heap? Possibly," admitted Harvard's Doc Searls. "But the Internet has already made it possible for us to use one of our unique graces — the ability to share knowledge — for good, and to a degree never before possible."

Sorry for the salty sailor-talk, but there's no better word for bullshit than bullshit.

Bullshit is stuff that isn't true, but we like to say it and we like to hear it because it makes us feel good. Now, it may not just be the content of the bullshit that makes us feel good, though it often is, but also the attention the bullshit garners for us. I suspect it's mostly the latter for the "Leading experts on the Internet, technology and policy," who "have chimed in on what we can expect in the next decade when it comes to connectivity and its effects on society."

I'd like a browser plug-in that replaced the word "expert" with the word "bullshitter" everywhere it appeared in a popular media post.

Seriously. We'd all be better off.

Doc Searls, of that finest kind bit of bullshit, "Markets are conversations," (Making everyone's social lives a commercial opportunity for over fifteen years!) is a bullshitter. Nothing wrong with that, most of us are. Just don't get confused.

Let's take this vacuous assertion and examine it a bit, shall we?

"One of our unique graces" is apparently "the ability to share knowledge."

Perhaps that's true. But knowledge is a rare and precious thing. Bullshit is ubiquitous.

So the internet allows us to share "knowledge" to a degree "never before possible."

So that's it! We're saved! There's a kid behind a plow in China who knows how to reset the world's thermostat! We just need to get him a smartphone! Woo-hoo! Feels good, don't it? That's the thing about bullshit. It feels good.

Let's see, with the wonderful internet, the new shiny (Though it's 25 years old now, pretty soon it'll be too old for a start-up! Careful kiddies!), allows us to share "knowledge" to a degree "never before possible."

There was a time once, when we "knew" a high fat diet caused heart disease. And even though we didn't have the wonderful internet, we shared that "knowledge" throughout the land, using the old and busted technology of mass media and business regulations. The result: Skyrocketing rates of obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome!

Score one for sharing "knowledge!" Woo-hoo!

Wait, what?

Oh, and by the way, we've got all this new shiny now, and nearly all of the real "experts" about this thing called "climate change" believe it has something to do with the amount of greenhouse gas we're dumping into the atmosphere. But somehow, that "knowledge" isn't getting "shared." Why is that?

Could be all the bullshit coming from people who don't want to be inconvenienced by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

See, bullshit makes the world go round. And the internet facilitates the transmission of bullshit just as much as it facilitates the transmission of knowledge, if not more so. And, for better or worse, bullshit often trumps knowledge until something really bad happens and it makes all the bullshitters look stupid. And nobody likes to look stupid, except Rob Enderle, a career bullshitter.

Bullshit is exciting, entertaining, it attracts attention, and in a world where we believe "competition" in a "free market" yields the best outcomes, bullshit out-competes everything! Which is why, being a good bullshitter will often lead you to Harvard, where NBC will quote you as an "expert."

You know who's not a bullshitter? Horace Dediu. I mean, listen to his podcasts! Read his blog! If you can, which I suspect you won't because it's pretty dry and analytical.

Doc's a bullshitter. The internet is an artifact. It's not some transformational ideology that's going to liberate us all from the chains of bondage and ignorance. The only thing that's going to do that is learning to discern "knowledge" from "bullshit," and good luck with that because it's in no one's competitive interest for you to be able to do so. So you're on your own, and you better get to work.

And that's no bullshit.

This has been a Public Service Announcement from Nice Marmot!

Accountability and Transparency

3/10/14, 12:53 PM

We believe people, and corporations, are responsible for the things they do. When they break the law, hurt people or the environment, we believe in holding them accountable.

In order to hold people and corporations accountable, we have to be able to observe what they're doing.

Apple was held accountable for Foxconn's working conditions because people were able to observe what was going on and report on it. Conditions changed. They improved. Whether they've improved enough is perhaps debatable. But the fact is that without observation, without some level of transparency, there can be no accountability.

Edward Snowden provided transparency into what was going on within the NSA, at some cost to his liberty. The NSA is now being held accountable, at least to some degree. Whether it's enough is perhaps debatable.

What is Google doing in its data centers?

Who is Google's Edward Snowden?

Why does Google deserve more "privacy" than you do?

There is no accountability without transparency.

What is Google doing in its data centers?

Can Google subvert democracy with the information it is amassing on everyone?

Can Google influence what bills make it out of committee?

How is Google different than the most massive opposition research organization ever conceived?

Can Google influence which candidates choose to run?

Can Google influence which representatives choose to retire?

Can Google influence how legislators vote on legislation?

What is Google doing in its data centers?

What does Google know about your representatives?

What does Google know about government regulators?

What does Google know about federal prosecutors?

What is Google doing in its data centers?

Deconstructing God

3/10/14, 10:43 AM

This is a wonderful interview in the New York Times.

One of the regrettable aspects of human existence is our propensity to make distinctions, as I am doing here. (See: Irony, Fifth Fundamental Force of the Universe.) These distinctions are sometimes useful, but too often they are meaningless and lead to misunderstanding, disagreement, violence and suffering. I would offer that a more correct assertion of my first sentence is that of all aspects of human existence, none is truly regrettable unless we're saying that human existence is as well. And there may be a case for that. But that wouldn't help point you in the direction (yet another distinction) I'd like you to see. So let's tiptoe through the minefield a bit and see how far we can go.

Many of the people I follow on Twitter are educated people, and their education has inculcated in them a set of what they believe are "rational" beliefs. Based on their confidence in their rational beliefs, they are often eager to mock or ridicule the beliefs of others that they regard as "irrational." Chiefly, these involve mockery of religion or people's expression of religious beliefs, and in general they mock two aspects of religion, the specific beliefs, and the contradictions between the tenets of a religion ("Love thy neighbor.") and the conduct of religious people (war and persecution).

The beliefs are mocked because they are not derived from what they perceive as a superior source, rigorous intellectual inquiry requiring repeatable observations and evidence (science). Religious belief is regarded as being a form of "received wisdom" from prophets or other figures of authority. Many are unaware, and worse, uninterested, in the kinds of rigorous intellectual inquiry that often takes place within a given religious tradition. They dispense with the requirement to make any such inquiry on their part because they reject a fundamental premise of many religions, the existence of God.

Now, I have some sympathy for this. I haven't spent a great deal of time looking into things like Scientology or astrology, because I think they're fundamentally whack. (Again, a distinction. But one must make some distinctions, if only to choose how to spend one's time. In my defense, I don't often spend much time mocking Scientology or astrology. I'm a Gemini, by the way.) I'm not sure it's fair to dismiss thousands of years of religious thought and practice with quite the same prejudice. Yet, this fundamental contradiction between their behavior, and the purported basis of the superiority of their theory of knowledge often seems to elude them; though contradictions in religious thought and conduct are perceived in bold relief.

It's human nature. We like to feel good about ourselves. Which often means making distinctions between ourselves and others. Pot, meet kettle.

Anyway, I enjoyed the interview because John Caputo seems to be discussing my own views with respect to faith.

I think that both "religious" people and "rational" people have a great deal in common, and really little basis for making the kinds of distinctions that either feels justifies mocking the other.

Worse, though, I'm afraid that supreme confidence in one's chosen, cherished set of beliefs precludes a deeper inquiry into the matter of faith. I think that happens out of fear, which is the binding opposite of faith. Fear causes us to cling to some sense of certainty, else we're ungrounded, lost, adrift in a world that seems to make little sense without some rigid belief system to orient ourselves within it.

It kind of works, but we can see the problems all around us. And mostly all we do is make marginal changes. But I guess that's okay. Some day it won't work, and either we'll make ourselves extinct, or perhaps we'll begin to do the real work.

This Morning at the Pond

3/10/14, 9:51 AM

The time change is interesting. We didn't run this morning because I didn't feel like getting up at what would feel like 4:00 a.m. We'll go Wednesday, when it'll feel, well, different. So I slept "late" and got up and the sun was just up. The light wasn't great at the back pond, but there were some visitors.

An Egret:

Photo of Egret at pond.

A Cormorant:

Photo of Cormorant in the pond.

A bit of a surprise, a Kingfisher. Noisy bird too. As Bodhi and I prepared to leave, he began screeching and dove out of the tree toward the pond. As I stopped and turned back, he flew back up into the pine and remained there, apparently waiting for Bodhi and I to leave.

Photo of a Kingfisher in a pine tree.

Later, as we came around from our walk, I stopped by the back pond again and noticed a Snowy Egret. The Egret and the Cormorant were still there too. No sign of the Kingfisher. I tried to get close to the Snowy Egret, but Golden Retrievers are not especially known for their stealth.

Photo of Snowy Egret at the pond.

And so, the inevitable happened...

Photo of Snowy Egret taking off from pond.

A nice morning for birds.

Why I blog

3/9/14, 12:01 PM

Ah, the annual ordeal of the switch to Daylight Savings Time! It wouldn't have been so bad except for yet another inconsiderate neighbor who, wisely perhaps, took a cab home at 2:30 or 3:30 in the morning (depending on how you look at it). For some reason, apparently it was a good time for conversation, and it was the lady cab driver with the loud voice who woke me up, as they went on and on out there beneath my window.

Once awakened, I have difficulty going back to sleep; and when I finally did, I didn't wake up until 8:30 or 9:30 in the morning. In terms of how much time was left in the day, it was 9:30, so I'm off to a slow start.

The good news is, sunrise is later now, and I have a little more time to get up and be fully conscious before I go outside with a camera. So I got that goin' for me.

Blogging! Let's talk about blogging!

Dave Winer, who got me into this whole blogging thing back in 1999, offered a brief post a little over a week ago called Why blog? I'm a little behind, I guess. Back in the day, I would have been all over that shit. Getting old, maybe. But it's interesting because I often encounter friends and acquaintances who say they miss me on Facebook. They miss the photographs, or they miss the links to articles I recommend. But I don't miss Facebook. It was a major timesuck. And I do have Nice Marmot! I'm also still on Twitter, as it hasn't quite crossed the creepy threshold yet.

Why blog? Because I don't wish to be consumed by "social media."

It's become the axiom of our age, "If it's "free," you aren't the customer, you're the product." I blame Doc Searls and the Cluetrain™ gang. They facilitated the commercialization of our social lives through their inartful, pernicious yet ever-so-smug construction that "Markets are conversations," thus creating the business model for social media. We went from being consumers (as if that wasn't bad enough), to being the consumed. What is being consumed? Our time and our attention. If you're on Facebook, or Tumblr, or LinkedIn, or Instagram, even Twitter (though they haven't quite figured out how to get rich off you yet), you think you're giving your attention to your friends. You're not. You're giving your attention to Facebook, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Instagram or whatever social media platform you choose to use, oh yeah, and Google+. They have you. ("The Matrix has you, Neo.")

While your friends' activities may be what you think you're viewing and interacting with, it's all presented in a format and a context created by the platform; done so in a fashion to further their ends, and the ends of their customers, and you don't always know who those customers are. Your interests are not necessarily aligned with those of their customers; in fact, they're likely completely orthogonal. Corporations are not people, no matter what failed presidential candidates claim.

I tried explaining this the other night to someone who was again asking me to come back to Facebook, and I guess I wasn't doing a good job. She thought I was saying that I was worried about being manipulated by Facebook. Actually, that doesn't trouble me too much because I think I'm aware of the game. But I didn't realize just how much time I was giving them until I got off Facebook and found myself at many odd moments thinking about Facebook and wondering what to do instead! (Fortunately, there are many wonderful things to do instead!)

Even that's not my reason for abandoning social media, it's just that I don't want to be a part of it. I don't want my photographs, my links to interesting stuff, my thoughts and opinions to be something that helps Facebook hold my friends captive.

I love my friends too much to do that to them, even if I can't free them.

So I blog.

It's not as easy or convenient as a social media platform, built by skilled, naive, misguided and brilliant people in the employ of large corporations with shareholders and venture capitalists, all hoping to get rich. I have to do all the heavy lifting around here, and I don't have a mobile platform, so I can't just fire off a quick post from my iPhone. (I plan to work on that, it should be do-able.) But I do like to think I have a voice, however small. I don't get instant gratification in the form of "Likes" or "Favorites" or comments. I have no idea how many people ever read what I write here. I'm not into "analytics." But I admit, I do miss the dopamine rush of a bunch of likes, or someone on Tumblr re-blogging a photograph. But that's how they take advantage of you. Don't take the bait.

I'm still here, ranting into the void to no discernible effect. And happy to do it.

Anyway Dave, that's why I blog.

Later That Same Afternoon...

3/8/14, 7:43 PM

As I came back around the property, there was an Anhinga at the small pond, drying its wings and tolerating my presence. Again, not a bad lens for a stationary subject.

Photo of an Anhinga drying its wings.

Cormorants and Anhingas are very similar birds. Anhingas have straight beaks, Cormorants are hooked at the end.

Surprised by a Cormorant

3/8/14, 7:24 PM

It was sunny and warm for the first time in several days, so I wanted to take some pictures. I grabbed my E-30 which had the 70-300mm zoom mounted. It's not the sharpest lens in my collection, but it's not bad. It's chief liability is it's very slow to focus. It's fine for things standing still, moving targets are another story altogether. My intention was to shoot flowers or bugs, wasn't planning on birds.

To my surprise, there was a Blue Heron and a Cormorant at the pond this afternoon. Usually they turn up later, if at all. I've been seeing a lot of Cormorants or Anhingas in the ponds the last few days, but the weather has been so overcast it was pointless to try to shoot them.

I got as near as I could to the Cormorant and began to shoot when it suddenly decided to take off. I was set up all wrong, single focus point, drive mode off, but I tried to get what I could. Well, they're not great by any means, but they're better than I had any right to expect.

Photo of Cormorant taking off from pond. Photo of Cormorant banking over pond. Photo of Cormorant in flight.

Really not too bad under the circumstances.

PFM: Toshiba FlashAir II WiFi SD Card (now working)

3/8/14, 10:38 AM


I'd like to say it was due to my razor-sharp analytical ability, but no, it's just persistence and luck. I really have no idea what's going on, but I know how to get my iOS devices to connect to the card's network now. It really is PFM (Pure Frickin' Magic).

I did go through the firmware update process again, but testing the card with my iOS devices following that resulted in no change in observed behavior. I kept getting kicked off the network because I couldn't get past the Log In screen in the Wi-Fi Settings app.

As I was testing the iPod (4g, running iOS 7.1 developer preview), I saw some small text appear briefly at the top of the page as the directory page loaded once again. (Same behavior as before.) So I clicked Cancel and it kicked me out of the network and back over to my home network. I joined the FlashAir network again, this time hoping to see what the text was, in case it offered a clue. Text did appear, but it seemed different, and again, too briefly to really register. (I think it said "Think Different" - really.) Anyway, disappointed I didn't catch the text, I just browsed the directory structure, clicking on all the folders and files, which were all just images and one text file. Seeing nothing new or revelatory, I touched Cancel and something different happened!

I got an alert from iOS!

A little dialog appeared at the bottom of the screen saying, "The Wi-Fi network "XZ-10" is not connected to the internet." And there were two choices: Use Without Internet in red, and Use Other Network below it in blue. I touched Use Without Internet.


It closed the Log In screen, dumped me to Wi-Fi in Settings, and I hit the Home button and launched Safari. I entered the flashair URL and was able to browse the directory and save images as designed.

So, what happened? What was different? I had browsed the directory, touched all the files in it, did that do something? It didn't seem likely, so I guessed it might have simply been time.

I left the FlashAir network (SSID is XZ-10, in my case), and tried to rejoin again. If I touched "Cancel" right away, it kicked me out. If I waited about 30 seconds or so (I didn't time it), it gave me the alert about the internet, and the choice to pick another network or use it without internet.

On one attempt, I observed a new behavior, the directory loaded as before, and as I was waiting I saw it reload again. There seemed to be some kind of automatic refresh or something. I waited some additional seconds following the refresh before touching Cancel, thinking perhaps it had restarted whatever process that was delaying my ability to simply cancel out of Log In and use the network.

Next step was to try the iPhone 5s, since it had different behavior from the iPod.

As before, Log In appeared, only without the directory structure, just a blank page with a blue gradient banner at the top. I waited about 30 seconds, touched Cancel, and got the alert! I touched Use Without Internet, backed out of Settings and tested Safari, Olympus' OIShare app, and Toshiba's FlashAir app. All worked.

So, something is going on somewhere, either in iOS or Toshiba's software on the card, that's leaving things in an undesired state for the first 30 seconds or so following joining the network. It seems to sort itself out eventually, but even so, this is not the designed performance as described in the user guide. I don't think I should ever see the Log In screen, it's not in the documentation, but it happens on all my iOS 7 devices. If I wait long enough, I can Cancel out of Log In and use the network. If I don't, I get kicked off the network.

So if you've got a Toshiba FlashAir II card (Class 10), and you're having problems connecting your iOS devices, this may be a solution that works for you. Hopefully Toshiba will do another firmware revision, and we can get a more straightforward process.

Until then, I'm pleased I can make the card work.

PFM: Toshiba FlashAir II WiFi SD Card

3/7/14, 1:38 PM

This is a bit of a mystery to me, and so I'm just going to share it here and hope I'm able to garner some feedback that may solve my dilemma.

I've got an 8GB Toshiba FlashAir v.1 Wireless SD card that I use in my Olympus Pen E-PM2. It comes in handy when I'm out with the camera in a social setting and someone may want a picture I've just taken. I can use the FlashAir card to create a web page with the images on it, and someone can browse the images and save the ones that they want to their phone or tablet.

When I first got the FlashAir I, I had a hell of a time getting it set up and working. But once I got it working, it's been far more reliable, and useful, than the EyeFi card I had.

Well, Toshiba upgraded the FlashAir to version 2, which is a faster SD card (Class 10), and it was available in 16GB and 32GB capacity. 16 gigs is about all I ever need. This version also includes some kind of wifi pass-through feature, such that if you're on a known wifi network already, you can log into the FlashAir card and maintain connectivity with the internet, forwarding that traffic to your router. As a practical matter, it's only useful for your home or office, or someplace where you'll regularly want internet access through wifi on your phone. You have to configure the card with the SSD and password of the access point you're using, and you have to do that from a computer, so you're not going to pull into McDonald's and do all that with your phone. But, I digress...

I inserted the card into my Oly Stylus XZ-10, and it's already configured to recognize a FlashAir card, and it requires you to do an initial setup by creating an SSID, and a password. So I did that, started up a Private Connection and then opened Settings on my iPhone 5s running iOS 7.1, er, make that 7.0.6.

Settings in iOS sees the Toshiba network, and prompts you to enter the password. I enter the correct password, and you get the checkmark that you're connected to the network. But then, Settings kicks you to a Log In screen, much like the kind you get when you join a wireless network at the airport or a hotel. But the page is blank! There's nothing on it except a blueish gradient banner at the top, and a Cancel button. If you touch the Cancel button, it kicks you out of the network.

Okay, I downloaded the firmware updater from Toshiba and installed the latest firmware in the device, and tried again. Exact same experience.

Tried creating a "one-time connection," which involves a different SSID and password, and got the same result.

So then I tried using my iPod (4g), also running iOS 7.1. (Developer pre-release.) This time, after logging into the network, Settings also then kicks to a Log In screen, only this time it's different:

iPod Screenshot

I can browse the folders, and I can view any images, but I can't save them. I can only copy them. If I duck out to Safari, it kicks me off the network and reverts to my home network.

I next tried the same thing with my iPad 3G. It behaves the same as the iPhone 5s, kicks to the Log In screen with the blue banner and no actual log-in function.

Next I tried connecting a Mac mini running Snow Leopard and not on my wired LAN. The mini saw the network, Wireless settings let me log into it. I launched Safari and entered the usual URL for accessing images, "flashair", but this time Safari behaved largely the same way as the iPhone and iPad, a blue banner and nothing else, no folders.

I did a View Source for the page and captured the page source, but casual inspection by my uninformed eyes yielded no clear insights.

Searching the web, I haven't found any reports of difficulty connecting with this device. On Twitter, most of the tweets are in Japanese, so I can't tell if people are happy or having problems. The device is relatively new to the market, and I don't think it's gotten much traction in the U.S. The first version was a bear to set up, but once I got it working, it's been great. I'd like to get this one working as well. Clearly, the rf and routing portion of the device works, it's some kind of configuration issue, I think.

I'm going to go back and do a firmware update again. There's a separate set-up application for this version of the device as well. I've used that already to revert to factory settings and tried again. I'll do all that again too, alas.

While I'm screwing around with that, I figured I'd toss this out into the ether and see what comes back.

Any thoughts? dave underscore rogers at mac dot com.

Many thanks.

The Fast Diet: Week Six

3/7/14, 8:43 AM

This morning marked the end of my sixth week on The Fast Diet, and I weighed 193 pounds. That's seven pounds lost in six weeks. Color me happy.

Something I've been noticing a bit, and trying to make more of an effort to observe, is that on the morning after a fast I feel pretty damn good, which is to say, better than I normally do. I don't wake up hungry, let alone starving, but even more interesting is that I don't seem to have the "normal" aches and pains I wake up with most other mornings.

And my tinnitus seems a lot better. Which is remarkable.

I have a nice case of tinnitus, which I would normally ascribe to too many years of proximity to naval guns, firearms, gas turbines, aircraft and shipboard machinery. I would say it's been getting worse in the last few years. It's especially noticeable first thing in the morning as I'm waking up. If I've been drinking the night before, it's even worse. Once I'm up and moving, and my attention is elsewhere, it recedes into the background where I don't notice it as much. If I check for it though, it's there, loud and clear.

On Tuesday, following the Monday fast, I was out walking Bodhi in the morning and it occurred to me that I couldn't really recall "hearing" my tinnitus that morning. And if I listened for it, it didn't seem as loud. I wondered if the fast had anything to do with it, so I made a mental note to kind of pay attention this morning and see if I was imagining things.

I didn't recall it first thing in the morning, so I'm not sure about what it was like as I was waking up, except I usually notice it and I don't recall doing so this morning. As I was out walking Bodhi, I recalled the previous walk and "listened" for my tinnitus. It was there, but I kind of had to listen hard. As I'm typing this now, I can hear it, but it's not as "loud" as it normally is. It really is a pleasant discovery. For a long time, I thought it was just something I was going to have to live with; but now it seems like it's at least somewhat responsive to a change in my diet. It's not "cured" by any means, but it's a very pleasing discovery.

I don't know what the connection might be between tinnitus and fasting, but I suspect there is one and it may be related to inflammation and oxidative stress. Bear in mind, I'm not a physician, biochemist or nutritionist. I'm just speculating because it's kind of fun to do.

But there's another pleasant little surprise, and that is the absence of a lot of little aches and pains the morning following a fast. The usual inventory includes the soles of my feet, my ankles, my knees, my spine, my left shoulder and my left elbow. I've had plantar fasciitis in both feet before, and achilles tendonitis as well. Every morning, not following a fast, it's like a little case of plantar fasciitis and achilles tendonitis. My ankles ache a bit near the top. My knees often ache on the outer part of the joint. My left shoulder often gets too uncomfortable to lay on at night. These all seem to kind of clear up as I get up and moving, but the first few steps of the morning are almost always a litany of complaints. My left elbow has something going on that I don't understand, and I'll have to get that looked at. If I'm out walking Bodhi with the leash in my right and and my left hand just at my side, the elbow will often stiffen up, such that if I go to raise my hand to wave to someone, or shift the leash, I have to make a significant effort to move my arm, and there is a great deal of discomfort. Maybe it's arthritis, I don't know. Possibly related to some wear and tear when I was training in martial arts regularly. Apart from the elbow, on the morning following a fast, I don't seem to notice anywhere near the usual litany of complaints.

Because all of these complaints, I think, are at least somewhat due to inflammation (from age and overuse), I suspect that fasting does something to reduce the amount of inflammation going on everywhere in my body.

Week six was pretty easy. I've maintained a practice of eating one "large" meal (less than 600 calories, mostly protein and fat — I need to work on some vegetable items) between 11:00 and noon. Thursday nights I show a movie at the clubhouse and I'll have a small bag of popcorn, which is cheating, I know. I don't suffer from hunger pangs, though I do find I seem inclined to obsessive thinking about food. I will say that it seemed somewhat diminished this week. I didn't have to change activities as frequently to distract myself.

The weight loss is the biggest benefit. It's faster than any other method I've tried. As an ongoing lifestyle choice, it seems achievable. I'm single and not in a relationship so I have a great deal of control over my schedule. I don't have to place myself in social situations that involve eating and drinking. I love the fact that I really don't have to pay attention to what I'm eating on the non-fast days; and it's probably too early to be certain, but I do think I'm beginning to detect a change in my approach to food. I went out Wednesday night to Bonefish Grill to celebrate a friend's birthday. I ordered the Bang-Bang Shrimp (now up to $6.00!), as I usually do. I almost always eat the whole thing, but I had little interest in doing so yesterday. I even shared with someone at the table and I still didn't finish it. So that's new, and a little encouraging.

Anyway, I'm happy. I don't want to live forever, I'd just like to maintain as much health and functionality as I can going forward, and still enjoy life. This seems like a good approach.