As I predicted in previous posts, I slacked off. Not much excuse, and I shall not bore you with details. However, I have found it interesting to write my thoughts down again, for posterity and in the hope that it brings amusement to some. Not that I expect that there’s anyone still reading me after a year-long hiatus, you understand.
It’s nice to be back.
Like a lot of geeks of “my generation,” I am an avid reader of the website Slashdot. I have been a reader since its early days, and its tagline of “News for nerds. Stuff that matters.” still resonates with me — even if I don’t always find the content relevant any more. However, it still does point me at interesting things from time to time. Slashdot hooked me onto XKCD, a geeky “webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.” Reading XKCD is always fun, and usually interesting, as some of these posts make evident. Some things they post purely as a joke, but that take on a life of their own.
A while back on Slashdot, I caught a link that reminded me of one of the XKCD items that gained life. The general idea is that you take a trip to a location, derived from a computer-generated interpretation of the most recent opening price of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Apparently, at one point, a modification of this algorithm produced a location that was near the South Pole. So, some geeks on the Internet with friends at the Scott-Amundsen Research Station at the South Pole arranged an expedition. Internet history was made.
Geeky things like this usually end up interesting me. Geocaching, something in a similar vein, has taken on a life of its own, and I occasionally participate in that. It’s come up with other things, like verifying USGS markers, visiting whole-integer points of latitude and longitude, and other such silliness. Some of these tasks are fairly cheap, lots of fun, and very family friendly. I wish I had more time (and, sometimes, more attention span) to do more of these.
Kids these days.
Some days, I begin to wonder if one shouldn’t have a license to procreate. Was I that poorly behaved going to Wal-Mart? Would I scream at the top of my lungs continuously because mom moved the cart, or I didn’t get to buy a toy? Would I go to the restaurant with my parents, smear half my food on the furniture, a quarter more of it on the walls, and then complain that I was hungry? I hope not, but the vagaries of youthful memory certainly make me wonder. I certainly know that if I had acted the way I see some kids act in public lately, my parents would have knocked me silly, deservedly so — and wouldn’t have worried whether they were going to lose their kid as a result of disciplining him.
Now don’t get me wrong. I KNOW that I’m catching parents with kids at their bad days. I have more than one friend whose children have diagnoses somewhere along the Autism Spectrum, and I understand that. And really, as curmudgeonly as I may sometimes act, kids can charm the hell out of me. But I still can’t help but wonder sometimes if modern parents really aren’t capable or willing to deal with their childrens misbehavior — or that they aren’t willing to “suck it up, buttercup” and sacrifice the trip to the movies, or going to the quick-serve restaurant, if their kid won’t fall into line.
It also doesn’t help that society thinks that the government knows how best to raise children, to the point where they will interfere with parental authority, control, and discipline of their children. I won’t deny that there are plenty of abuses by overzealous parents who can’t control their temper, or see their names on the birth certificate as similar to having their name on the title to property. However, I can’t help but wonder if the government oversteps its bounds in the name of ‘protecting the child’… and that the child knows this. Is there a solution? I really don’t know.
But I’m considering changing my name to Wilson… and you kids really need to get off my lawn.
Looking over the very brief summary of Google Analytics that my WordPress plugin gives me, I was somewhat amused by the graph…
Also amusing to note: some of these visits are me logging in to admin the blog or to write. Also, for the geeks in the audience, the uncompressed TIFF of this image was smaller by about 4k than the PNG.
Ah well. I’ll get readers, even if it after I’m dead and can’t write any more. Hey, it worked for Poe, didn’t it?
I’ve tried to do several “journal” type projects over the years. I’ll freely admit, pretty much of them have all fizzled out. Sometimes due to lack of time to make the effort, but a lot of the time I just don’t have anything to write about. I’ve noticed that a couple of days into this project, even with a queue of titles, snippets, and ideas — I sometimes think “what am I doing? I don’t have anything to write about!”
I’ve discovered that having this queue is helping a little bit. Also having the discipline to keep “finished” items in the queue, so I can give a steady flow of items to my readership, is important. Other sites I’ve participated in have “starter” ideas, and I might start using those as well. I might even mix other media in as well – my former schoolmate Sunday over at Extreme Parenthood posted an item to Facebook on a photo-a-day project for March. I think I might try and do this, it looks like an interesting experiment. I’ve also had a ping from one of my coworkers to start writing about the technical trials of deploying IPv6 on my home network. And I know I’ll have other items to post on, too.
So don’t worry if my face goes slack and I start drooling. I’m likely just trying to come up with another topic to write about. Either that, or the last cup of coffee wore off.
In an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Captain Picard struggles to master a greeting in an alien language. The last time it was attempted by a starship captain, he botched it, and the aliens withdrew from contact for decades. At the end of the episode, Picard delivers it flawlessly, and the alien responds that he is honored to be greeted in his own language.
I recently observed the impact my words have on a global audience. In the span of 24 hours, my words reached around the world, towards people whose native language I do not speak. Yet I made it a point to try and welcome them in their own native tongue – or at least that, assisted by Google. When possible, I try to do this in real life, too. Why not? Making the effort to speak even a couple of words in someone else’s language can make all the difference in friendship. Even if you botch the attempt, you are reaching out to them… And assuming that a greeting is not syntactically or phonetically similar to a mortal insult, you have little to lose, and the results can be quite rewarding. My barista at Starbucks is of Russian descent. A couple months ago, I said “спасибо” when she gave me my drink. To see her eyes light up, and realize that someone made the connection of her accent and where she lives, was well worth it. I really want to learn more Russian now, to see her light up like that again.
Of course, then there are the dangers of using machine translation, like I normally am forced to. Several years ago, working a problem that had no fuctional technical solution within an acceptable timeframe, I became frustrated. As is my occasional habit to try and vent frustration harmlessly, I pushed something like “Please go pound sand, comrade” into the Google Translate engine, selected Russian, and pasted the resulting output into my email for a humorous punchline… hitting send without a second thought. Big mistake.
One of my coworkers at the time spoke Russian. He responded “You might actually have wanted to say [this],” he said, putting the actual Russian phrase in there, “because what you actually said litterally translates as ‘Please pass the pound of sand, comrade.'” Of course, this was a moment of great hilarity in my team, and when someone on our team is asked to do something that is annoying, difficult, or technically impossible, my snark, often as not, is “Ask them to please pass the pound of sand, comrade.”
For the record, I should state that I only speak two languages fluently – English, and Bad English. Anything else is as likely as not to be a mechanical translation, and I apologize in advance if I ask you for sixteen ounces of granulated silicon.
I live in Montana: a vast, sparsely populated state, where often times the distance between places is not measured in linear measurement but in drive time, where the nearest neighboring cities are multiple hours away, and where the nearest “major” city of any note is a solid day’s drive away. Obviously, this means that one can spend a lot of time on the road. Indeed – I just completed a 700 mile road trip over less than 24 hours to repair some failing equipment.
I recently reached a milestone in my car – 270,000 miles on the odometer. When I acquired this car, it had much less. Realizing how many miles I’ve spent behind the wheel, it occurred to me how many thoughts I’ve had – ideas, insights, topics for discussion, minutes of sheer joy and moments of absolute terror – behind the wheel. But it also pains me to think of how many I’ve forgotten. When one is driving the car, it is not like you have time to stop the car and start writing — at least, not with modern society. You want to get from Billings to Missoula — more than halfway across the state — in an expeditious manner, so you can fix what’s broken, get sleep, and go home. You focus on the task at hand, and you don’t always realize what you’re missing, or what you’re losing. Instead of stopping for a cup of coffee and resting, you get your gas and get back on the road, for there are miles to go before you sleep.
I had the seeds and ideas for this post, along with a few others, during my drive back home today. I’ve tried to at least plant the seeds, even if I can’t make them grow yet. But I can’t help wondering how many other seeds I’ve dropped along the way that I may never recover. Hopefully I’ll find them in time, or their offspring, so I can plant them, and help them to grow.
In the 24 hours since I started this project, it’s been interesting to see the response. I’ve posted several items, and in a couple of cases, posted the links to Twitter and Facebook. I’ve seen responses from friends, family, former coworkers and people I only know as words on a computer screen. But what interests me more, possibly, is the global reach of my words. As part of this blog, I signed up for a Google Analytics account. Not because I’m trying to sell something, or to achieve “search engine optimization” (GODS, how I hate that term!) but because doing that meant that I didn’t need to try and set up my own analytics on who is reading me and why. And the results have been quite interesting.
In the roughly 24 hours since I started this project, I’ve had 25 “visits” (at least a couple of them from myself) from the United States. No surprise there — most of the people I know live in the US. No surprise, either, about the visits from the United Kingdom or New Zealand. I have friends in both places. But the country hits that surprise me?
- The Netherlands. Welkom!
- Israel. Shalom and As-Salāmu `Alaykum to my readers in the Middle East.
- Russia. Спасибо за чтение.
- Botswana. Really? That’s cool! I’m afraid I don’t speak Setswana, and Google Translate doesn’t provide an option. But I’m very glad to see you. Since you might be technically inclined and oriented, perhaps you might be interested in Hackers for Charity – a favorite organization of mine in Africa.
Even as young and jaded as I am, having been involved in computers and “online” from a relatively early age, it still amazes me that my words have a global reach… And that people in the cradles of humanity and modern civilization might have interest in what I have to say. At the risk of being accused of false modesty, I do confess that I don’t think I have anything necessarily special to say. But I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoy writing it.
And finally a shout-out to Chrissy, who I’m guessing is my New Zealand reader, and who should be starting her second day of University about now. You’re going to do wonderfully, kid.
Leauxra over at Does This Make My Blog Look Fat is celebrating her 100th post on the blog. My congratulations to her. She, among others, is my inspiration for doing more writing. In this post, she writes about “The Rules of Blogging.” Specifically, she states “Do not talk about your blog.” Not once, but twice. I get the Fight Club reference. Leauxra, I love you… but I think you’re wrong.
People are coming to your blog (and, maybe, eventually, to mine) because they’re interested in you — or at least things that you do or say. And unless you’re getting someone to ghostwrite your blog for you (which, knowing how evil you are, is a distinct possibility) that means that writing your blog is something you do or say. Knowing what’s going on, and why someone is writing (or not) may be as important as everything else they write. Besides, one can’t have a winner at writing with every post. Some will hit, some will miss… and sometimes your keyboard will spontaneously catch fire after you try to burn down the house while getting rid of mysterious creatures that try to eat you alive.
There are people out there known for being their own favorite topic. Yes, Jason Scott, I’m talking about you. You are also very good about talking about you. You’re passionate about it, and about your interests. And you know them. Someone once said “If you want to be a writer, write about what you know.” I forget who said it originally, but I’ve always tried to take it to heart. I sometimes think I don’t know very much at all. But I try anyway.
Variety, I think, is probably the spice of blogging life — and if that means you meta-blog once in a while, so be it. Maybe someone else will get turned on to blogging as a result.
On a mailing list I frequent, there has been an interesting discussion of late in regards to privacy and Google. There are a lot of people out there moving their sites, data, and information off of Google wholesale. They are saying, in effect, that “Google knows too much about them”. They feel that some level of privacy is being violated. Maybe they are right — I honestly don’t know. But I don’t feel that way, and here is my feeling behind it.
Google provides a wide variety of services. Some of them are well-known to everyone, such as Search (what pretty much EVERYONE knows Google for), email, and YouTube. Some of them aren’t as well known – things like Google Reader (for RSS feeds, so I not bouncing back and forth between different blog formats) and Google Music (although I really haven’t started using that yet). Some of these services I use extensively. Others I use occasionally, and the vast majority I may not use at all. But that’s not all that Google touches in my life. They also run Google Analytics (so people publishing content can see what’s popular on their website, and with who and where…). Do you see advertisements, either text or banner advertisements, on web pages? Chances are that they are being served by Google as well. Google runs AdWords, which are the text advertisements. They also purchased DoubleClick, probably the most well known advertising distribution network on the Web, some years back. The end result? Without some effort, I can’t really remove Google’s data dip into my life… Nor that of anyone else on the net who is really interested. (And there will be more on this topic later.)
Even more interesting, however — I’m not certain I CARE what Google knows about me. Is the fact that I’m a 35-year-old single male with a predilection for pizza, craft-brewed beer (both root and alcoholic), and coffee a national secret? Even “free content” costs, at some point. It may be fractions of a cent to deliver, it may be more. It does cost Google in some small measure to act as a mailbox for me, and deliver messages outbound. How do they recoup that cost? Advertising. But they do it in a generally non-intrusive way, and sometimes the ads are relevant to what I’m interested in. So yes, I click on them, and may even find what I’m looking for at times. If they can use the data I run through their services to make those same services more palatable and interesting to use? Great – go for it, guys. But I know you need to make a living, too — and as long as you aren’t being too intrusive, you might as well use my data to do it.
Moreso — they are providing value TO me as well. A couple of years ago, as an experimental project, I turned up a domain for my father’s side of the family to use. I set it up using the free version of Google Apps, and I started running most of my personal email traffic through it. I discovered that not only was the system interface simple and easy to use, but that it saved me time and resources managing things that I simply think of as “utilities” any more. A good case in point: email. To keep a domain fairly spam-free would take me, easily, 80 hours a year — that’s 80 hours, guaranteed, of updating and maintaining spam filters, monitoring applications, and dealing with ongoing user issues. That’s easily $4000 PER YEAR worth of work. And that doesn’t including the basic items such as hosting a maintaining a server, keeping it relatively secure and up to date, and connected to the Internet. There was a time that I would have viewed such an item as an interesting diversion and challenge and diversion – but now my time is worth more, to be working on other projects. But Google Apps for domains is free for up to 10 users in an advertising supported configuration (until recently, it was 50 users, and I still have a legacy domain or two with that), and if you buy the “business grade” service, it is $50/user/year. That is, by almost any measure, DIRT CHEAP.
Now, I won’t discount that there may be privacy concerns, and there should be better data privacy and integrity laws, such as what we see in the European Union. I’m considering recommending (or using) Google Apps for Business for a couple of project sites, and I want to see what kind of data privacy laws they have in place before I do so. Yet the value that they provide me as a user is very high – not only in content, but in time, money, and resources spent elsewhere, instead of keeping my basic infrastructure running.