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

Gloom and doom...

3/27/18, 8:58 AM

We are all going to die.

But while we're here, let's make the best of it, shall we?

I've reduced my use of Facebook, mostly confined to visiting the Apple II Enthusiasts group; but I still check Twitter a lot. In terms of its toxicity, that is, the relentless exposure to other people's outrage, it's probably just as bad as Facebook. But since I don't have to follow people who are ostensibly my "friends," I don't have to struggle with the dissonance of people I supposedly "like" holding views I dislike, especially when they "share" those views in ignorant ways. And, in general, the signal-to-noise ratio is significantly better in Twitter.

And, for whatever difference it makes, I use Tweetbot as my Twitter client. I think that is better than using native Twitter.

Anyway, one of the people I follow on Twitter is a guy named Nigel Warburton (@philosphybites), a "freelance philosopher," who mostly tweets about, surprise, philosophy. He often links to interesting articles and they often cause me to think, and that's good mental exercise. Everyone should try it, I strongly encourage it.

I get the impression, and this may not be entirely accurate, that Mr. Warburton is not especially a fan of Steven Pinker. At least, I'd like to believe so, because I'm not a fan of Steven Pinker.

Pinker has a book out, ENLIGHTENMENT NOW The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, which is kind of about what its title suggests, and makes the case that things aren't as bad as many others, myself included, often make them out to be. Mr. Warburton has tweeted many critical reviews of Pinker's book, and I'm not going to link to them all now. I may return to this subject one day, but this is just sort of a quick post to keep up my practice, and the subject requires a great deal more time than I care to devote to it today. I have old Apple IIs to play with!

In a recent tweet, he linked to a review of Pinker's book in the NY Times, and he quoted this part: He cites one study of "negativity bias" that says a critic who pans a book "is perceived as more competent than a critic who praises it."

Negativity bias is another rabbit hole I don't wish to go down just now. That said, let's just stipulate that it exists and the effects are real, I'm not dismissing a human psychological bias toward negative information in terms of attention, or emotional weight; and it likely accounts for many, if not all, of the toxic posts on Facebook.

But what Pinker is doing is selling books, and in order to do that, he has to have a "hook," some way to compete for attention among all the other books out there by academics for a popular audience that might be read in large numbers. Since "negativity bias," often selects for books about why things are "bad," we're accustomed and perhaps inured to seeing them. A "contrarian" view is something different! It draws attention because it goes against the "conventional wisdom." And we see this a lot in our present hyper-competitive attention economy as well. And really, this is just a riff on negativity bias, perhaps a second-order derivative. It's viewing negativity bias with negativity bias, and sharing that view as a positive.

So I just wish to speak up for being "negative." Part of the reason why we have enjoyed the amount of "progress" that Pinker is able to chart and graph, is because people regarded the antecedent conditions as "negative." If there is some potential for human action to change conditions, it resides in the perceptual difference between present negative conditions and the opportunity for future, more positive, ones.

And there is a whole different argument to be made about what parts of "progress," truly represent positive changes, in what context and at what cost? So many rabbit holes, so little time.

And lest anyone think that Steven Pinker says we can all stop worrying and ignore all the "Debbie downers," human civilization is facing its greatest crisis in history, manifested in many dimensions, not the least of which is climate change. And yes, there have been many predictions of environmental or population doom in the past that failed to materialize because human ingenuity developed an intervention in time to forestall them. But they merely delayed, or worse, made possible the crisis we are now facing. Mobilizing the resources and policies necessary to confront it with the least amount of human suffering will be an undertaking of unprecedented scale; just at the time when technology has empowered malefactors, the ignorant, the selfish, and the hateful to oppose, disrupt and delay those efforts, also at unprecedented scale.

So, yeah, everything's great. Carry on.

Checking In...

3/24/18, 10:03 AM

Trying to keep up my "practice" here, I thought I'd write something that wasn't all doom and gloom for once. But, don't worry, there'll be more doom and gloom!

Yesterday I finally got around to finishing a little project I'd started many, many months ago. As a "retiree" (i.e. a person who doesn't have to work for a living, and therefore someone with a lot of time on his hands), it's important to have hobbies. I've discovered it's possible to have too many hobbies, and that even as a retiree, there isn't enough time (or money) to do all the things you think you'd like to do! So I've pared my ambitions quite a bit.

Nevertheless, one of the things I feel as though I do wish to continue exploring is "retro-computing," specifically on the Apple II platform. The II was my first computer, specifically a ][+ back in 1981, so I retain a great deal of affection for it; and being on that platform for about thirteen years, I do retain some residual knowledge of how it works and the software applications that run on it.

One of the less appealing aspects of working on these old computers is that the electronics are getting old. Apart from cumulative damage from static electricity, or the occasional mis-aligned cable, the solid state stuff works fine, lasts a long time. But the analog stuff, chiefly capacitors, can become problematic. In the Apple II, many of the power supplies included a couple of paper capacitors in the power supply that were high frequency line filters, intended to keep noise from the computer getting into your ac lines and from there into your television or radios. Not so much a problem anymore with digital signals everywhere.

Those paper capacitors have a chemical dielectric that eventually dries out, and when it loses its dielectric properties, current will arc across the electrodes and POOF! the power supply releases a stinky cloud of smoke. It doesn't affect the power supply, the computer will continue to keep working, but it's alarming and smelly and it takes a while for the odor to dissipate. The solution is to either remove or replace the capacitors.

There are two schools of thought. The first is to simply remove them, as their purpose is no longer necessary. The second is to replace them, because they were there for a reason. (There's a third school that's more expensive, which is to replace the whole power supply with a modern assembly.) I opted to replace mine, for a little experience playing around with a soldering iron in preparation for future adventures in hardware hacking.

I have three //e computers and a couple of working IIgs models. I have a third GS that's kind of a hangar queen, available for parts. I opened up the power supplies and they were all different. Two had no paper RIFA capacitors, which was a surprise. One had two, and another one had only one. I ordered the replacements, a soldering iron and the associated supplies and set everything aside to eventually do the replacement. That was several months ago. Yesterday, I figured if it was ever going to get done, I'd better do it now.

So, to make a long story short, I successfully replaced the caps. It did not go as smoothly as all the YouTube videos seem to do. I learned it's probably not wise to try to learn how to de-solder and solder after consuming 40 ounces of Diet Mountain Dew! Seems to call for a steady hand. My solder sucker didn't seem to suck as well as the ones on YouTube, and my solder wick didn't wick very much either. But, I did get it done, only lifting one trace a bit. Putting everything back in the enclosures proved a bit of a challenge, as I'd forgotten where I put all the screws! Knowing I'd saved them somewhere because I knew I'd need them, it was simply a matter of looking long enough, and I found them.

Everything is back together and I installed one in a //e and fired it up. It works fine. Not sure that tells me anything, because it'd work without the caps anyway. So for all I know, I have a cold solder joint in there, and it's just an inert component on the board. I guess I could have used a meter and tested it before I put it back together, but at that point in the project there was some urgency to just be done with it.

But, I'm pleased. Now I can get back to some the projects I was working on before I got too concerned about turning one of them on one day and filling the loft with a cloud of stinky "magic smoke."

Photograph of an Apple //e computer

Facebook

3/21/18, 6:22 AM

Some of us are not surprised about the current revelations regarding the (ab)use of Facebook users' data.

I will admit that I was somewhat startled that Facebook allowed third parties to access so much of their users' data. I thought that they would reserve that privilege for their own nefarious purposes. I didn't think they would just whore it out like that. I guess that policy has changed, and they don't whore it out like that anymore.

And the reason why the current Facebook revelations are so problematic is also unsurprising to some of us. Because someone likely used Facebook data to manipulate and influence people not merely to buy stupid consumer products, but to advance an individual's political interests, and those of a foreign nation. Shocking!

Not.

Someone I follow on Twitter mentioned that we could all just switch to email. Yeah, that could work. I guess.

Except Google reads all your email!

Ah, but someone is going to point out that they don't do that anymore! This article in the New York Times from June of last year says that Google says it won't read users' email anymore... for the purpose of serving personalized ads. They still read your email. To make sure it's not spam. And for whatever other reason they may have that they don't wish to share with you.

It's pretty simple. We regulate and audit banks, usually, except when the Republicans are in control of the government, in which case, anything goes. But, ideally, we regulate and control banks because they store and use other people's money.

So what's so hard about understanding that we should regulate and audit big data companies, because they store and use other people's data?

I'd say we should all just quit Facebook, and that would be the right thing to do. But now it's embedded like an invasive species. We could eradicate it, but it'd take a tremendous effort on everyone's part and there's no way we're all going to make that effort. Unless nearly everyone leaves, then nobody is going to leave. We should all use it less though.

I removed the Facebook app from my phone and use it from Safari over the web. It's inconvenient because Facebook makes it that way so that you'll install the app, but it also helps keep me off it because it's so inconvenient. And the app is just spyware on your phone, you should really just delete it. Messenger too. I haven't deleted that yet, but I think I will.

I like a few of the Groups on Facebook. And I like to hear from friends and family. But sometime's it's really all too much. Some of my friends use it to constantly stoke the outrage machine. I can't sustain that level of outrage. I don't know how they do. I get it, the world has gone to shit. I am outraged. I'm not sure I need to be reminded of it at every turn. Twitter is just as bad, except you only get 280 characters, and it's quicker to just scroll by.

So, we should regulate all the big data companies. Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Comcast, Netflix, Microsoft, probably a few we've never heard of, like the ad networks. They should all be regulated and audited, which means we're going to have to come up with some way of accounting data. It's probably going to be playing whack-a-mole; especially if they move the data offshore, like they do money.

Until then, you can pretty much expect that some smart people, in places that might surprise you, are studying how to push your buttons. We know a good deal about behavioral psychology. People are "predictably irrational." And we're lazy and disinclined and ill-equipped to perform introspection, so we're vulnerable to influence and manipulation. We're all going to be scammed.

It's going to get worse before it gets better.

But that's okay. Climate change will pretty much put an end to everything in about a century, probably less.

So we got that goin' for us.

Maintenance...

3/16/18, 10:06 AM

I'm still here. The slide show you may be seeing on the home page (it won't appear in the March archive) is here because I added it to the Sights page. Doing so, made it a new note gathered by the Main Page (home, or index) agent in Tinderbox. There's probably away to avoid that by editing the Actions in the Main Page agent, but it's not that big a deal.

I've edited the blogroll and deleted some dead links. Many of the blogs are like this one was, rather dormant. But I'll keep the links there in case they show signs of life again too.

There's more work to be done, but I wanted to drop by and post a brief update.

Black and white

3/14/18, 8:51 AM

Happy Pi day!

I walk to Publix every morning just to do some walking. It's only three quarters of a mile there, but I bring the camera along in case I see something. There wasn't much this morning, but I played with one of the Olympus PEN-F's monochrome modes. A bit breezy this very cold morning, so not much in the way of reflection, but I thought this was kind of cool.

Photograph of crescent moon over pond

Buggering on...

3/13/18, 11:54 AM

Mark Bernstein is the developer of the software I use to keep Nice Marmot going, Eastgate's Tinderbox.

As you would expect, Mark is also a blogger.

I dropped by Mark's blog and noted this entry regarding the novel A Wrinkle In Time, wherein Mark posits that it is "arguably the origin of the modern YA novel."

I don't know much about this genre of literature, the "young adult novel," but I will note that Robert A. Heinlein wrote a whole series of novels for Scribner's, beginning in 1947 with Rocket Ship Galileo, and ending in 1958 with Have Space Suit — Will Travel, that were called Scribner's Juveniles. The entry also notes that Heinlein's controversial Starship Troopers was originally written for Scribner's as a juvenile.

I read A Wrinkle In Time as a kid, though I don't recall exactly when. I liked it, and recall the idea of "making your feet light." I also recall learning about the tesseract, which I later encountered in Heinlein's short story, And He Built a Crooked House.

Mrs. Lupica, the librarian at Peterboro Street Elementary school introduced me to Heinlein, and Have Space Suit — Will Travel was the first science fiction novel I ever read, and only the second novel I'd ever read at the time. That was the 6th grade, and we'd just moved to Canastota New York about a year after my father retired from the Navy. We lived out in the country at my grandparents' place as our house was being built. I was the new kid in town, and lived five miles uphill (both ways!) from Canastota, so I had no friends nearby, though quite a few cousins. I recall reading HSS—WT cover to cover in one day and a night, going back to the library and finding everything else Heinlein had written and devouring that as well. Along with Clarke, Asimov, Sturgeon, Dickson, Norton, and a long list of others.

I will say that I believe that that one single act by Mrs. Lupica probably altered the course of my life, and for the better. Before that, I was a mediocre student with little interest in classroom work. Heinlein was often an education in science in engineering, and certainly made those subjects exciting and interesting. And certainly rewired my brain regarding reading comprehension, grammar and probably a lot of other things essential to doing well in school.

The first novel I ever read was also given to me by Mrs. Lupica, it was, I believe, called Henry Three (3?). I don't recall much about it except it was about a boy who'd moved to New York city, and there was a hurricane. I recall crying as I read it under the covers with a flashlight. Can't seem to find a listing of it anywhere now.

Just thought I'd share all that.

Uphill, in the snow, both ways...

3/13/18, 9:03 AM

Back in the "old days," when blogging... (Okay, Mitzi just told me Tillerson is out as Secretary of State. Let's see if I can actually write this now, instead of submerging myself in Twitter.) ...Where was I? Oh yes, when blogging first began, one of the cool features was visiting a blogger you followed ("Followed" by actually going to their web site on a periodic basis, either by using bookmarks in your browser, or a "blogroll" on either your own or a favorite blog. Later, Dave Winer invented RSS (Really Simple Syndication), and RSS "feed" aggregators created a reverse-chronological "feed" of blog posts. You could often read the full text of the post in RSS, or sometimes just a summary with a link to the full text.) and find them commenting on an interesting thing they'd read at someone else's blog, with a link to it. If it sounded interesting, and it often did, you followed that link and read a post on someone else's blog. If it was someone you followed already, you'd just gotten a "hot take" on a post that you likely would have read eventually anyway. If it was someone new, you'd probably peruse their other recent posts and decide if they were someone you wished to read regularly. Depending on how all that went, you might write up a blog post on your own blog about all or part of that.

It was fun. Kind of a primitive Facebook slow-jam, without all the bullshit advertising, suggested posts, cat pictures and crap-filled sidebars.

Anyway, my Facebook fast continues. I dip in briefly, try to check family stuff, and bail out before I get trapped.

Instead, I try to "browse" the web, the way we used to. As God and Tim Berners-Lee intended. Damn it!

This morning, which is the stimulus for this post, I checked in on Mike Johnston, The Online Photographer. Mike's been blogging since the early days and he's a good writer and very knowledgeable about cameras and photography. A good read, as they say. Mike just had a health scare over the weekend due to atrial fibrillation, but he seems to be doing okay. As one does, as a blogger that is, he linked to a post he'd read about the phrase "keep buggering on," and recommended it to his readers.

I followed the link, to a blog by an author named Michael Brown. I read the post and enjoyed it. Perhaps not as much as Mike did, but I was intrigued, so I clicked on a link to his most recent post, which sounded interesting, "Have you forgotten how to read, just like the rest of us?"

That post was prompted by an article in The Globe and Mail, but it could have easily been another blog. I read the article and found it very timely and resonant with my own experience. I have a big stack of books I've been intending to read for some years now, but I find it is much harder and that troubles me.

Which prompted me to share my experience on this, my blog. Like in the old days. And by "sharing" my experience, I mean writing this post. Which, you will note, contains more than 240 characters. Which, you will note, you can see all at once, without having to click on a link to "read more," because my post, on my blog, isn't competing with thousands of other things for your attention.

Is this "better?" I don't know. I think so, but as Michael Harris suggests in his piece, perhaps it's not. Perhaps it's just what I'm used to. Maybe it's unsurprising to feel a bit uncomfortable, straddling a divide with one foot in the "old media" and one in the new.

But I enjoyed the experience this morning, and I wanted to share it.

Social media is killing us...

3/11/18, 5:57 PM

Social media is killing us.

I know that's hyperbolic. I also happen to think it's very likely true.

That's one of the reasons I'm trying to make a go of it here.

I complained in a comment to one of my Facebook friends that the situation we have today with social media is akin to the situation we had in cities before the advent of public sanitation. People often threw the contents of their chamber pots out into the street, which is why men were supposed to walk on the street side of ladies when accompanying them. Perhaps that's apocryphal, I confess I haven't done my research.

In any event, what we have today with Facebook and Twitter and the like, is the social equivalent of too many people essentially tossing the contents of their psychological chamber pots into the public street.

Worse, these platforms have been highjacked by bad actors who wish to sow dissension and discord among various groups. They're ideal vectors for spreading disinformation, as we're learning more and more each day.

So why should we want to spend time there? Well, it's a rhetorical question, because we all love the cat pictures. And it's not just the cat pictures. If your normal interior state is one of perpetual hyper-vigilance, lingering resentment, anxiety, or craving attention, social media provides all the dopamine hits you can stand. Reinforcing toxic habituated behaviors, strictly for the purpose of capturing and maintaining users' attention in order to sell advertising.

I was making, in the very brief, sort of drive-by assertion, way that passes for discourse on these platforms, the case that we need a kind of "public health" for social media. Practices like people washing their hands after using the toilet; people maintaining public facilities adhering to certain standards for the preservation of public health. The former is a mental health education problem, the development of a practice of "social hygiene," akin to one of "personal hygiene"; the latter is a regulatory matter.

Right now, we don't have anything like that, and it's making us all sick. I'm not optimistic that something like that is going to happen anytime soon. I think it's possible, I just don't think it's urgent to anyone who can make a difference, chiefly, the platforms themselves.

We're not all going to start "rolling our own" here. The barriers to entry to traditional blogging, while lower than ever, are still vastly higher than the social media platforms. And the mechanisms for providing the instant gratification of receiving attention remain weak and problematic. (There are no comments here, because I learned long ago that they were more trouble than the effort to maintain them was worth. "Never read the comments.") Blogs are like home-brew beer. Social media are like crack cocaine, maybe meth, I don't know, I've never used either one.

Anyway, I don't have the answers.

Tilt

3/11/18, 9:07 AM

This is a small example of the problem of geometric distortion. We spent a day or so in Asheville, NC last October. Lovely city. Hipster vibe is a little too on the nose for my taste, "Austin of the east!" or something. But lovely city.

Anyway, there's a great story about civic construction in the early part of the 20th century, funded by bonds, which was immediately followed by the Great Depression. The city paid off all the bonds, eventually, but there was little interest in a lot of the new developments that took place in the 60s. I may not be exactly correct on that story, but that's what I recall. The upside is that Asheville has perhaps one of the best collections of Art Deco architecture in the country, and I love Art Deco.

I believe this is city all. First shot is straight out of the camera, the other is cropped and rotated a bit - I may have used PT Lens to try and fix it, but I can't recall - other than being very frustrated with PT Lens.

SOOC:

Photograph of Asheville, NC City Hall

Edited:

Photograph of Asheville, NC City Hall

The blue hour...

3/11/18, 8:37 AM

Since sunrise is an hour "later" this morning, I considered walking to the beach to get some sunrise shots. But once I got outside, I noticed there were no clouds. Now, there may have been some clouds low on the horizon at the beach, I'll never know. They can add a little interest, but probably not enough to walk to the beach. Since I already had the camera ready, I took a few of the pond.

Photograph of blue hour reflection

If you click on the image, you'll get a larger 3MP version, where the sky noise (also reflected in the pond) is readily visible. Part of this was laziness on my part. I bumped the ISO up because I was kind of hurrying. The E-M10 Mk2 has 5-axis image stabilization, and I probably could have shot this at ISO 200 if I cared to take my time.

I probably shouldn't point it out, because unless you're a photographer, or a hobbyist, you'd probably never notice it. And once someone points it out to you, you'll never not notice it.

But it's a technical point, and it doesn't overly detract from the image, unless the technical points are what you look for in an image.

When I first started shooting, someone pointed out to me that my horizons were always tilted. So I'd use iPhoto to straighten them. Jonathon Delacour, himself a skilled photographer, said I should never do that. He felt that the tilted horizon was part of how I framed the image in the viewfinder. So, for a while, I just posted tilted horizons. But I always noticed them, because someone once pointed them out to me.

Well, many cameras today come with the same gyroscopes and accelerometers that are in your phone. They can display the tilt of the camera, both horizontally and vertically. The vertical (pitch) tilt is important in order to avoid "converging verticals." Again, this was something I never noticed, or, at least, didn't think it was "wrong," until I read about it. In an image like this one, where you're trying to capture the reflections in the water as you see them, you need to have the camera sensor parallel to the image plane, otherwise the reflections will be distorted. Again, if you don't know to look for it, you probably would never notice it. But once you do...

So now I have the orientation indicators on more often than I have the histogram. I can kind of gauge exposure through the viewfinder or LCD, but my eye isn't good enough to know when the camera is "straight" without help. I can tell after the shot, on the computer, but not composing it through the viewfinder. So the indicators help.

I shot a lot of architecture on our wedding road trip. All the shots are distorted geometrically. Drives me nuts now. Some of them aren't fixable, really. And if you really want to get things straight from the disadvantaged ground level point of view most of us are stuck with, you have to use a tilt-shift lens and a tripod.

Anyway, I guess the point is, the more you know, the more frustrated you can be.

Trying to remember how to post pics...

3/10/18, 7:58 PM

Let's see if I can get this to work:

Photograph of sunset over pond

Oh! Hi there!

3/10/18, 10:08 AM

Well, I think I got this working. Time will tell.

For the past week or so, I've been doing a Facebook "fast." I popped in a couple of times to see what was going on, and found I wasn't really missing much. A couple of comments on a picture I posted, that was about it. I did experience a minor visceral reaction to the visual clutter in the page. There's too much stuff going on.

I really don't know how to correctly moderate my use of Facebook. The problems are many. One of them is too much stuff. A lot of the things I see, I really don't care about. I care about many of the people, but that kind of compels me to give attention to what they post. Some of what they post I do care about, but other things I don't care about at all. Some people post a LOT, some people don't post very often at all, and there's little correlation between the interest or quality of the posts and the frequency. The net effect is that there is too much "noise," and there aren't the kind of tools to tune that out.

I suspect everyone who uses Facebook on a daily basis struggles with the same issue.

I'm not going to leave FB. I am going to dial it back though. I deleted the FB app from my phone several months ago. I've used the browser version, which FB deliberately kind of hobbles to get you to install the app; but the upside is the unpleasantness of the experience tends to promote staying off it.

Instead, I'm going to try to focus my online "sharing" here. I can always post a link to this blog to Facebook from Safari. I'm also going to look into what's going on with RSS these days, and see if I can't find a decent reader app. Hopefully some of my old blogging friends that I've reconnected with on FB still blog with an RSS feed as well. I know Loren Webster and Garret Vreeland do.

There are likely things here that don't work. Dead links and so forth. I will be cleaning things up and moving things around in the days to come. I hope to make a regular practice of writing here. I know, I know, I've said that before. This time, maybe I mean it.

I've spent a couple of hours on my butt trying to get this thing working again. Now I need to go take a walk.

I'll be back.

Yet more bugs...

3/10/18, 10:04 AM

Okay, adding a new post to see if that stimulates the Agent to update.

No, it didn't. Because we failed to set Key Attribute HTMLDontExport to False (uncheck the damn box!).

Looks like things may be working. Try an export...

Still a few bugs in the system...

3/10/18, 9:45 AM

Rebooting...

I'm contemplating my departure from Facebook (again). I want to see if this still works, and if I remember how to make it go!

Seems to be coming back to me. The Agents that gather posts don't seem to be updating immediately. Not sure what's up with that. Maybe just the cobwebs.

Okay, let's try this...

Interesting... Selecting "Update Agents Now" from the File menu caused the RSS agent to update, but not Main Page. Main Page generates the Index file, the landing page for the blog. Kinda gotta have that one working...

Saved the file, changed the Priority for the Agent in Main Page to "Highest" and Main Page still hasn't updated. Frustrating.

Is this thing on?

3/10/18, 9:34 AM

Test post. Trying to remember how this thing works...

Okay, main page agent isn't updating...