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: Ironically, I Spent Longer Writing This Than I Meant To: So Adam Parrish and I have different readings of a recent essaylet by Aaron Swartz. Look, I've never read any of this Steven Johnson stuff, so I can't speak to Swartz's* criticism there. But when he says "need to stop pretending that this is automatically a good thing," I think it's clear he's not saying "Steven Johnson," but "we as net mavens," and only after that calls Johnson and Doctorow apologists for shorter=better. He probably includes his previous self in that group.

Also: It's not like Swartz's completely dismissed/dismissing entertainment that contains farts (Arrested Development, The Daily Show, what have you). The gibe about "pictures of cats with poor spelling on them" is not about either cat pictures or misspellings, Adam -- it's about that particular leetspeek/catpic subgenre of internet humor, although I will concede that that sentence is the third- or fourth-weakest sentence in the essaylet.**

As I see it, Doctorow's piece says to writers, "people will read works on the screen if they fit the affordances of the screen and continuous partial attention; if you want people to read the kind of thing that doesn't, give them enough onscreen for them to like it and decide to move to the appropriate medium." Swartz is saying to technologists: "tech right now is making it easier to come down with Dorito Syndrome, and the trend is only increasing, and we should stop it." Although I am not currently in a position to act on Swartz's suggestions, I do read Reddit, so I see where he's coming from and find the gist of his argument quite plausible.

Adam, on the other hand, you're in a prestigious tech/creativity Master's program, so maybe you hear all the time about new technologies that create new affordances for enjoying long-form content and community. What am I missing?

* (I feel weird calling him "Swartz," since he's slept in my living room, but house style tells me to refer to people by their last names while discussing their ideas.)

**First: "Similarly, no one (Doctorow included, I suspect), actually prefers blog posts to novels, it's just that people tend to have more short chunks of time to read blog posts than they do long chunks of time to read novels." I think there are certainly people who prefer blog posts to novels, especially (and this feeds into Swartz's fear) if they've never exercised their capacity to gain enjoyment from longer works.
Second: "Doctorow's conclusion? Blogs are just better." I think that's too broad a reading.

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: Also, Bikram Seth's Ultra-Steamy "A Suitable Boy": Patrick McKenzie has a funny story from Palm Sunday, with a child's suggested revision of the holiday's name. I pointed out to Leonard that this child has an admirably meritocratic view of holiday-naming, where the person/thing that did the work that makes that holiday special gets name credit. By that standard, should Good Friday be Pilate Friday? However, I accidentally said "Pilates" instead of "Pilate." Pontius Pilates: the killer with the killer abs!

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: Anatomy And Andragogy: Yesterday, I sat down over coffee with the Fog Creek system administrator and learned how a specific piece of our network architecture works. As he talked and I asked questions and tried saying things in my own words, and we drew diagrams and annotated them, I learned something about how I try to understand a complex system.

  1. First: the big parts/components and their functions.
  2. Next: understand the desired and usual flow of data/blood, from entering the system to exiting it. Here I try to see things from the perspective of a single data packet, blood cell, or what have you.
  3. Next: what's enforcing the rules, and what's pushing the data/blood through the system? What are possible attacks or failure points? And what defenses are built in to resist or recover from attacks or failures?

Without even meaning to, I was taking Neal Stephenson's advice to heart:

Windows 95 and MacOS are products, contrived by engineers in the service of specific companies. Unix, by contrast, is not so much a product as it is a painstakingly compiled oral history of the hacker subculture. It is our Gilgamesh epic....

...Unix has slowly accreted around a simple kernel and acquired a kind of complexity and asymmetry about it that is organic, like the roots of a tree, or the branchings of a coronary artery. Understanding it is more like anatomy than physics.

--Neal Stephenson, "In The Beginning Was The Command Line" (1999)

So I've articulated a possible plan of attack for learning computer-related architectures. Another: just dig in! Try something small and concrete, and learn as you go. But I've found that, once I try to do anything even mildly complicated with OSes, filesystems, networks, and what have you, I get quite uncomfortable unless I can find out the structure and foundations of the domain. So now would be a good time for me to take classes in data structures, algorithms, networking and architecture, etc. Maybe I'll make my own summer crash course.

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: Nameforesaken: I won a little competition, so Gareth L. Powell will, as I suggested, name a protagonist in his new story "Shweta Venkatesh." I found out about the contest from the Futurismic blog. Futurismic is publishing Leonard's story "Mallory" sometime soon; I loved "Mallory" and hope you get to read it soon. One of the major characters in "Mallory" is Indian, too. Whoo.

In the news these days: half-Indian Sunita Williams, dynamo astronaut who will run a marathon in space. Also in the news: half-Indian Sanjaya Malakar, who is setting new records for prolonged badness on American Idol. It's like a Law of Conservation of Awesome.


(3) : Discovery: People at work are loving the new Discovery Channel show "Planet Earth." However, one colleague described a heartbreaking scene where a mama elephant has to leave the worse-performing of her two babies behind during a yearly water-seeking migration. Then, the baby recovers, and tracks his mom's tracks....and starts going the wrong way! The copter shot zooms out and you see the baby entering a forest, on the other side of which sits nothing but a vast desert. Noooo!

March of the Penguins was hard enough.

Other discovery: Le Tigre, via Sarah, whom I miss. "We tell the truth they turn up the laugh track."

"Sumana, apparently someone got lazy and decided to give us the same childhood."


: And How Did That Work Out?: World-Famous Leonard from a Salon article three years ago:

At an engineering offsite in the Marin Headlands, soon after the announcement, a "V.C.-type" speaker came in to put [Collabnet]'s move into a larger economic context, developer Leonard Richardson, 24, remembers.

"He talked about how the agricultural economy had become the industrial economy, which in turn had become the knowledge economy. Someone asked him what comes next, after outsourcing takes its toll on the knowledge economy. He said that if anyone had any ideas he was interested in hearing them," says Richardson.

Kevin Maples, another programmer, dubbed this vague notion the "I don't know, you think of something" economy.

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: Approval: It turns out that my wantlist is my primary means of listing off bands I like, so I added a bunch today. I wouldn't know of half those bands without Internet radio. The list of desired books has almost nothing in common with what I will actually enjoy this summer. I wonder what music I should learn to effectively manage software developers?

Speaking of lists of desirable objects: people are still LOVING Leonard's book. Every single review on that Amazon page is four or five stars. I am so proud! He worked so hard, and now there is something very valuable in the world, something that people use with relief and delight.


: Movie Friends: Leonard doesn't like seeing movies in the theater, so I'm used to going alone or with other people. When we lived in SF, I had free time and a bunch of acquaintances who would go see movies with me. Now I have very little time and the pile of movie friends isn't what is was. I make double features for myself when I splurge: Borat and Stranger Than Fiction back-to-back, and The Queen and Children of Men too.

I think The Great New Wonderful is the only film I've seen in New York that I wouldn't have been able to catch in any other US metropolitan area. Leonard and I together saw A Cock and Bull Story, An Inconvenient Truth, The Science of Sleep, and one or two other movies before I started school in September, and I can't wait for this month (and thus the semester) to be over. So much for all the Culture you get for moving here. I don't have enough free time to go to indie/foreign movies, or comedy shows, or Google Tech Talks, or even the Meetup I manage. Especially when those activities are on the opposite side of a zero-sum game from my husband. And even when I get a "vacation" from school, I'll still be working 40 hours a week!

I guess what I'm saying is that sometime in 2009 I want to go on a three-month vacation and just watch the movies I'm missing. I should just stop reading A.O. Scott and Roger Ebert (glad you're better!) (wait, Roger Ebert doesn't read my blog) until then. That'll be a good time to do Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Wire, Deadwood, and Babylon 5, too.


(7) : MC Masala on Spring and Continuous Partial Attention: Okay, this is ridiculous. It is snowing! in early April! This puts the lie to my "yay it's springtime" column this week.

After I failed one quiz and squeaked by another, he gave me advice on how to study.

Studying computer programming is more like math and less like history. It's a skill, not a bunch of facts and ideas to learn and rearrange in one's head and synthesize into models of how the world works. So, every time the book introduces a new concept or function, I have to try it out and practice it and feel out its limits and appreciate how the contours of the problem space have subtly altered.

[Update Apr 10th: Evidently this post doesn't do justice to the practice of history; please read previous comments and the column itself before calling me on it.]


: Even My High School Chemistry Teacher Liked "Frasier": From a reference on Jaime Weinman's MacLeans blog: parts 1 and 2 of the Frasier episode "Ham Radio" (the YouTube links in the original Weinman post don't work anymore).

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(1) : "Stephen watched the samosa being smothered.": I have posted over 160 links, without meaning to accumulate such a repository, to the del.icio.us account that Leonard and I share. Here's something that might not get posted there: the Colbert/Stewart slash that made me think Colbert/Stewart slash was awesome. I've been thinking JS/SC is the One True Pairing; what's all this Colbert/Olbermann nonsense? More evidence of OTP status from SilentAuror.

I assume people who regularly read and write slash about real-life celebrities, especially ones they admire, have some well-articulated set of ethics about it -- I'd appreciate knowing about it.

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: Seen: Yesterday: a sign encouraging me to "Give $ Baby". I gave a dollar, but not a baby.

Tuesday: a "Health King" juice/smoothie seller in the forties or fifties on Lexington Avenue. I thought the 38th & 7th Health King must certainly be an independent since the disco-colored tackiness of its signage so strongly implies that no pastel-pushing corporate overlord was involved in its design. Also, I'd misremembered the 38th & 7th location as "Friendly Health Juice" or the like.

Friday: a cool Broadway play! Thanks, cool coworker Ben Kamens!


(5) : Static: For the past six months, my life at Fog Creek has had a rather unpleasant and pervasive physical element. I accumulate static electricity while in my Aeron chair.

It seemed to start during the rainy/snowy months, so I thought it was the rug, or the long underwear, or the humidity. But now it's continued through many sorts of weather, and my chair and I now sit atop hardwood. Every time I get up, I can hear the "rip" of the static clinging to the chair's weave, and I touch something metal and grounded nearby.

Ideas?


(4) : Excerpt's Incredibly Nostalgia-Inducing, Too: I know it's Flash, but the site for Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris has an okay conceit with very good implementation. The video reminds me more of Salon than I could have imagined -- I believe I used the exact same model of phone. And I love the music. I've been leaving the page open in the background while doing other things and just looping the music; that's how much I like the music. As good a book promo site as Miranda July's for No One Belongs Here More Than You, which references it.


: Representative Excerpts:

To repeat, I am no way suggesting that a Mac Tablet would not be completely awesome. I would buy at least five, possibly eight, so I could use a different one each day of the week with a hot-swappable backup. But, except on rare occasions, business does not run on awesome ideas; it runs on profitable ones.

"Well (long pause), I guess I don't hate it here. I mean, I've been here 20 years. I haven't left."

Dear Candidate: Thank you again for meeting with us at the American Historical Association's annual conference. We have narrowed down the applicant pool to three very strong candidates, yourself included, but we just can't decide among them! We hope you would be willing to come to the campus, along with the other candidates, and fight to the death for our amusement.


(1) : Next Up: A. Lincoln's Gettysburg Address Deck: We need more videos of Powerpoint Karaoke.

I watched one performance to get a taste of it. And I realized what I might have guessed all along: I've seen performances just as bad (and we weren't allowed to laugh) by people who prepared the slides themselves. Sheer knowledge of the content of the presentation will only get you so far! Let me practice giving a presentation on a topic I know nothing about, and I'll do better than an expert who's assembled the slides but never practiced the presentation.

Danny O'Brien, did you have a Tufte-esque hidden agenda in throwing this shindig?

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: Pondering : Building :: Talkering : Growing: Some insights into my thought/conversation styles, at work and with friends, in response to a blog post by my colleague Eric. Truth, vulnerability, certainty, nitpicking, and Wikifriends come up.


(1) : Whew: Yesterday was my last all-day Saturday class of the semester. Now, just a terrible three-week push to the final classes/presentations/papers and I'll have a summer "off" (only working full-time).

John and Susie, I'm sorry I called and possibly woke you yesterday afternoon! Hope you're doing well.


(1) : MC Masala(s) on O'Neill, Past, and Atrocity: A short version and a longer version, which makes more sense, of my column this week.

April 19, 1995, was the day of the Oklahoma City bombing. I was alive for that one. I was in rehearsal for my school's spring musical, "Oklahoma!" No, I am not kidding. We put a donation box in the lobby and awkwardly carried on.

Another April atrocity that I know about: April 13, 1919, the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh. In the north Indian city of Amritsar, in retaliation for protests a few days earlier, the British opened fire on hundreds, if not thousands, of unarmed Indians who were celebrating a religious festival.


(1) : This Is Ridiculous: I am now one connection away from Teresa and Patrick Nielsen Hayden via something like four different acquaintances and friends. This includes someone I've worked with, someone who's had me sleep at her house as a guest, and someone I met today on the subway because she was reading the Mark Haddon book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. If this trend continues, we will end up colleagues or related or something.


(3) : Riddle Me This: I work in a software firm. I am the only person there, except the office manager, who is not a born-and-bred computer geek. They play video games all the time. Yet I'm the only one who regularly walks in reading comic books, and who makes Star Trek references that no one understands at the lunch table. Worst....stereotype....ever.

Note on my objective weirdness: I've also been bringing in MAD Magazine to put next to Linux Journal for bathroom reading.

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: Virginia Tech: My thoughts are with the victims and their families and friends. Not that that's a deliberate decision -- I can't help it. I couldn't help it all yesterday. I hope to God the body count doesn't go up any more.

They've named the murderer: a man born in South Korea and raised in the US. They've named some victims, including a professor from Israel and a professor from Tamil Nadu. This is not just an American tragedy.


: Search Requests: I get some fascinating search requests from people who arrive at Menstruation Products: A Compare-And-Contrast. No, it's not supposed to hurt to insert or remove a tampon. No, you shouldn't put in more than one at a time. It makes me want to buy multiple copies of Our Bodies, Ourselves to give them away.


: Networking Layers: Here are the networking documentation layers of interestingness/readability, from highest to lowest:

  1. Neal Stephenson
  2. Bossman Joel
  3. Conversation with knowledgable friend
  4. People on Ask Metafilter
  5. Wikipedia
  6. The book I'm reading
  7. Microsoft knowledge base
  8. RFC-type spec


: Between Transparency And The Paywall: You are important. You are worthwhile. Your time and effort have value. Right now, a very good way to indicate and articulate and leverage your value is by making sure you get money in return. And it is okay to make more than you absolutely need.

From The West Wing:

Josh Lyman: I know that you can parlay the Santos win into a doubling of your fee.
Louise Thornton: Tripling, if it figures into your memoirs.
Josh Lyman: Nothing is going to top this. Everything else's going to be a letdown.
Louise Thornton: Letdowns that make me semi-rich, that's a tradeoff I'm willing to endure.
Josh Lyman: You don't care about money.
Louise Thornton: Who doesn't?
Josh Lyman: You!
Louise Thornton: Not as such.
Josh Lyman: As what?
Louise Thornton: Scorekeeping. Quantitative evidence that I'm smarter than you. (Not YOU.)
Josh Lyman: Who?
Louise Thornton: Everybody else.

Prices send signals; one way for me to make sure Salon valued me was to get them to give me a raise. "Doing things that make work rewarding and pleasant is the most important part of attracting people." Once I'd hit the ceiling at Salon, and the work wasn't rewarding or pleasant anymore, I started looking for other work. But in the meantime, I got a raise from Salon to compensate me for my experience, value, and not-leaving-ness.

The easiest way to get a raise is to get a new job; a big jump in pay happens easier when you first get hired, while you still seem shiny and exotic and new to the new employer. But if you can get a raise from your existing employer, then the new employer will have to raise it to get you. So I make as much as I do at Fog Creek partly because I got that raise at Salon. Salaries accumulate over time, like compound interest, so getting up the ladder has long-term effects.

John Scalzi talks about how much he makes and talks about why he talks about it. I don't feel comfortable talking on the web about all of my finances without asking my husband first, because they are now his finances too. But I will tell you that I make $75 per column for my weekly MC Masala gig, and that I'd like to be making more from that, since I have delivered for two years now and built up a small fanbase and have a circulation in the hundreds of thousands. This summer I'd like to seriously look into syndication.

The more information we wage-earners and freelancers share, the better we can negotiate with the employers. Whom does it benefit when we are reticent in disclosing the pay scale of the world?

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: Futurama Lives: I work in the heart of New York's historic Garment, um, Fashion District (the bit with the giant button and needle poking out of the ground at 40th St and 7th Ave), yet I rarely see people who give off the "I am a fashionista!" vibe. Maybe that's because everyone in NYC gives off the better-dressed-than-Sumana vibe and I can't distinguish between martyrs to style and Easter-and-Christmas clotheshorses.

Yesterday, though, I saw a group of five stylon-emitting men and women on 7th Ave, conversing in a little circle. One woman seemed to be flashing her chest at another, but as I passed, I saw that she was merely holding up the hem of her shirt so another woman could inspect it. The only phrase I overheard: "hand-lasered."

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: Straw Men: Did I ever tell you about the striped straw experiment and deciding to be happy? From a column I wrote about a year ago:

...straw fortune-telling, or bendymancy. For breakfast every school morning, I had a bagel with melted Velveeta and a cup of Carnation Instant Breakfast -- not the complete and nutritious meal that my mother would have preferred.

I drank the shake through a straw (Bendy, not Krazy -- after all, I wasn't a baby). Mom bought these straws in 500-packs from the Pak 'n' Save, which printed grocery packing directions on its brown paper bags, headlined with the educational but dismissive "Pack Your Own Savings!"

These white straws came with assorted stripe colors, one quarter of the box was red, one yellow, one blue and one green. I decided that the stripe color of the straw I randomly chose would foretell the quality of my day. Red was horrible, yellow was unpleasant, blue was good and green was great.

And if that makes sense to you, you should read Mark Haddon's "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time," in which an autistic boy decides to make up his own fortune-telling superstition.

Even if I knew it was all fake, even if I drew a red-and-white straw, at least it gave me a worldview, some resignation or confidence so I could frame the events of the day.

The things I decide to do on my own feel so much better. Learning a bit of Scheme, exercising, going to church, climbing a rock, whatever -- the very self-direction makes them taste sweeter. But I still need another person's support or company to keep doing them. So that's one balance to hit.

I learn skills best when I've created a goal that I sincerely want and that requires those skills. Until I want that goal, it's useless. But what do I want? Desire and agency feel so far away, even though I have demonstrably chosen things towards certain preferences. All I consciously own are the lower-order needs. I'll second-guess any consciousness of ambition. What makes me feel joy, just for a moment, is fulfilling the ambition that I'm too suspicious of -- and too enamored of laziness masquerading as rat-race-avoiding contentment -- to wholeheartedly chase.

The world is not finished. I'll never master things. How is it that some people find that energizing? I can understand how existentialism turns some to nihilism and some to humanism. I think I'm struggling along, finding some structures readymade and creating some, awkwardly, secretively, on my own. I feel less like an oak and more like ivy seeking a trellis, even though sometimes I dare to look down and can't quite see the scaffolding I've assumed was there.

[Update: Nothing is finished, and that is a comfort because that means we haven't permanently failed, either.]

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(1) : Want a Danish? I can see by the look on your face that you've got ringworm.: You have probably already seen that you can download Van Morrison's entire contractual obligation album or just view the lyrics. But Michael, Evan, and Stuart hadn't known of it, and none of us had heard any of it, until yesterday. Some observations.

  1. Leonard was confused at the "poor man's Bob Dylan" genre evidenced in the recordings, because he had thought Van Morrison was a hard rocker. This is because he was confusing Van Morrison with Van Halen.
  2. We agreed that it would be interesting to use the snippet-length songs from the contractual obligation album as the basis for other songs. They feel like jingles or samples, and "Just Ball" for one was favorably compared yesterday to "Revolution #9". I mean, they're perfectly competent as bits of music -- one can't just noodle about and improvise 31 songs at this level of composition without some chops. There's a combination of tossed-off horrible and baseline quality that makes this album, in some sense, the opposite of The Eye of Argon (link to a new Leonard toy relating to EoA) and "The Good, the Bad, and Scarface".
  3. Leonard, could you put in the comments or something what Evan wrote in response to this music? The ones about ennui and the void?
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(2) : Pizza Tip: Leonard and I get New York-style pizza from Sac's Place at Broadway & 29th St. in Astoria, Queens, NYC. We get plain cheese pies, or sausage-topped ones for Leonard, and then Leonard roasts some garlic or chops up extra basil to put on top. Today the fresh basil smells better than many air fresheners. I wonder whether basil air freshener is any good.


: Firefox 2.0.x Memory "Leak" Fix: Aha! Firefox 2's memory usage goes down if you change a few about:config settings. The specific preferences: browser.cache.memory.capacity, browser.cache.memory.enable, and browser.sessionhistory.max_total_viewers. I'm trying this out now in hopes that FF2 stops driving me crazy.


: Tales Of The SDS: I was trying to find the details of a story Seth once told me and found some memorable archives on his blog: a great eulogy for Fred Rogers and a thoughtful report from my Apollo performance.

Remind me to tell the story of the trilemma picket.

I hereby remind you, Seth!


: Horcrucio!: The PDF of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows that's floating around is in fact Melinda Leo's very nice "The Seventh Horcrux". Markers: more sex and profanity and overall emphasis on personal relationships than in HP1-6. And something ineffable. Rowling is very concrete. Lots of proper nouns.

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: QOTD: "You can't destroy the master's house with the master's tools; it's against the tools' EULA."

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: Trepidation And Excitement: Today at work I got to coordinate the creation of a neat thing. That excited me. Tomorrow I defend the first chapter of my product proposal for my master's degree. That's more scary.

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(1) : "Jet, Codenamed 'More Perfect Than God'": The Fog Creek sysadmin has righteous fury. Be sure to read his hypothetical Microsoft case study excerpt.


: I Said, Good Day: I probably successfully defended the first chapter of my thesis. Then, hours of food, drink, and conversation with friends, and a walk in the East Village. Just one more test, then I can finally read The Baroque Cycle with a clear conscience.


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