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December 16, 2010

Filed under: random»linky

In Link With The Mic

Scare y'all quicker than a mean ol' goblin.

  • Between the hectic end of session rush, the loss of several key team members, and the holiday season, it's been hard to free up the mental space to write here. But here are a few of the fruits of my efforts: an interactive earmark database (with a fully-browseable version in development), another map on immigration patterns, a look back at the 111th Congress for Roll Call, and of course, our live midterm election coverage. Unfortunately, things show no real sign of settling down.
  • Law and the Multiverse answers your awkward comic-related legal questions.
  • This is a slow month for dance jams, but my teachers at Urban Artistry put together some videos as introductions to the different types of urban dance, and I think they're really well-done. Check out breaking with Emily and Russ:

    And popping with Ryan:

  • As a journalist, I'm generally pro-Wikileaks (although not necessarily pro-Assange--the distinction is important). More interesting than the releases, I think, are the reactions to them, and the questions that they raise: are activists endangered by a mostly profit-driven Internet? (Yes.) Should we consider denial-of-service attacks a kind of civil disobedience? (Probably.) Were the actions of Anonymous legitimate protest, then? (Good question.) When it comes to the organizations I lump under "New Protest," Wikileaks and Anonymous rank prominently due to their effectiveness, not to mention their eccentric, decentralized, and anarchist tendencies. Having them acting in concert (such as it is) is fascinating.
  • Ta-Nehisi Coates on Dr. Doom and hip-hop. On a similar note, racists are not happy with the casting of Idris Elba as a Norse god for Thor.
  • It turns out that if you examine Ray Kurzweil's claims, he's usually wrong--or at least, right in a way so vague as to be meaningless. Perhaps he should enter the business of political punditry.
  • Wheat linked the other day to this tutorial on using Mobius and Ableton together for live looping, by bassist Russ Sargeant. I had almost forgotten how awesome the combination--it is no small endorsement that a free plugin is better than Ableton itself for this kind of live instrumental performance.

    It may be hard for non-musicians--or even non-loopers--to understand how big a deal Mobius can be. You have to understand that, much more than other effects (and I've tried my share), looping is like learning a whole new instrument, and each looper brings its own set of constraints to the table that you have to learn to work around. For years, the gold standard was the Gibson EDP, but it was A) expensive, and B) discontinued. Then along comes some guy with a complete software emulation that anyone with a decent soundcard can use for free. Oh, and it's scriptable, so you can rewire the ins and outs to your heart's content (I made mine control like my beloved Line 6 DL-4). That's no small matter. Every now and then, I almost talk myself into picking up a netbook just to run Mobius and a few pedal VSTs again, it's that good.

August 9, 2010

Filed under: random»linky

Link Spice

The tags your tags could link like.

  • Jay Rosen argues that Wikileaks is a "stateless" news organization, by which he means "decentralized." It's an interesting parallel to my own thinking on information-age activism. Of any group in existence today, Wikileaks probably best embodies what it would mean to do decentralized advocacy, for better or worse.
  • My new favorite blog is Awful Library Books. I mean, come on: The Burt Reynolds Hotline? Your Three-Year Old: Friend or Enemy? A New Look At Dinosaurs--from 1983? Awesome.
  • In the future, we will get our meat protein from insects. Or as I like to think of it, we will "become vegetarians."
  • There's kind of a big gap in Time's best blogs of 2010.
  • I love scripting languages, and I especially love this series on using JavaScript--highest of the high-level--to emulate the original GameBoy. It's kind of an amazing learning tool, if you think about it. Someone should do this for X86.
  • Never say no to Panda.
  • While it's true that b-boys and b-girls love correcting people who call it breakdancing, I actually think it's more depressing that most people think the dance is entirely about acrobatics--flares, windmills, and backspins--to the exclusion of toprock and footwork. That's not their fault, of course: that's how the dance has been sold in mainstream culture since the eighties. But check out this video by Zeshen of Havokoro, and consider how much people are missing. He starts out with some pretty standard stuff, and then about a minute in starts going off on impressive combinations of strength, flexibility, and creative movement. It's one of the coolest footwork displays I've seen.

  • Consider this part of an infinite series titled "Innovative, Magical, and Stupid." Long story short: an iPhone developer wants to make a service for doing enhanced copy-paste functionality, but you're not allowed to do that on the iPhone. So instead, they have to play music (or an .mp3 of silence) the entire time that they're backgrounded in order to pass muster. They refer to this "a very elegant solution," but let's call it what it really is: an awkward hack required by a patronizing, artificial requirement.
  • Finally, this Washington Monthly story is a fascinating read on how Google Maps has touched off a new generation of border disputes--especially interesting for the crisis-mapping crowd. People in developed countries, and particularly urban areas in developed countries, tend to forget how political and contentious seemingly-neutral documents like maps can be. But of course, this is only the start. In a world where our surroundings are tagged with metadata by a combination of community processes and automated spiders, we're going to see these kinds of scuffles a lot more often.

June 24, 2010

Filed under: random»comedy_and_tragedy

A Series of Increasingly Unlikely Apologies

I'd like to take this opportunity to apologize to the users of NPR's Android application, whose playlists crashed after last week's update. That was my fault--I wrote a 2 where there should have been a 3, or maybe a < where there should have been a <=. Either way, I'm sorry I broke your application, and a fix is on the way.

I'd also like to apologize to baby freezes. Lately I have been leaving them out of my breaking runs, and if they had feelings, I bet they'd be hurt. But I can explain! See, if you mess up a shoulder freeze (the only other footwork freeze I know), it's an big, dramatic mistake. It looks difficult--you're balancing upside-down on your shoulder! In theory, you're not supposed to get credit for tough moves you don't land, but I find that people (particularly non-dancers) can respect them. Whereas, if you mess up a baby freeze, it just looks like you curled up in a ball and fell over. From a risk management perspective, it's a no brainer. Sorry, baby freezes.

While I'm at it, I'd like to apologize to Stieg Larsson, whose book "The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest" I was unable to finish because there's only so much Swedish hospital intrigue a man can take. Also, there are about 700 billion characters, and they all have ridiculous Swedish names like Torsten Edklinth and Gunnar Bjork (only with an umlaut, a punctuation mark that I find personally offensive and for which I will not bother to look up the HTML entity, no matter what the New Yorker says). Unfortunately, Mr. Larsson is deceased, and cannot accept my apologies, but that's never stopped me before.

Finally, I'd like to apologize to the general public for the Twilight series, both the books and the movies. I'm not responsible for them in any way, of course. But someone needs to apologize, and nobody actually involved with the production of these glitter-drenched grotesques seems likely to do so. It might as well be me.

June 3, 2010

Filed under: random»personal


Look, I'm not saying George Clooney's character from Up in the Air is right about wanting to unload all personal relationships. I don't have that many to spare, after all. But getting my worldly possessions down to a backpack (and then ditching the backpack)? Reducing my carbon footprint, my level of mindless consumerism, and my reliance on cheap, over-designed crap created by underpaid factory labor? Great. Let's do it. theory, at least. In practice, it is tough to get rid of stuff. Learning to live frugally is a multi-step process.

Belle started with a simple rule for our apartment: if you bring something in, something else of equivalent size has to go out. This is a great rule, if for no other reason than that the apartment is very, very small and we can't stuff anything else into it without learning to stack the pets like Tetris blocks. And it incentivizes sustainability by making it easier to use trading/swap services than to buy new books/games/movies.

The second step has been learning to embrace digital media. I still buy a few CDs and paper books, but not nearly as many as I used to, and usually only if they're something I'll want to loan out, or if they're not available online. And we almost never buy DVDs--Netflix has that covered. While it has taken some time to get used to not 'owning' my music or movies, maybe that's the point--'ownership' shouldn't be the defining characteristic of cultural engagement.

Next up is learning to be happy with last year's model. This is not easy to do, especially given the constant deluge of electronic follow-up that companies can leverage these days. Most recently, for example, TiVo sent out messages offering new versions of their DVR box to subscribers at a discount. That's tempting: we've still got the old Series 2 box, the one that came out in 2006, and it doesn't do HD, or Netflix streaming, or... well, lots of neat features. But do we need that? I mean, we don't have HD cable anyway, and it doesn't really bother us. We've got the XBox for streaming, and we'd have plenty of space on the current TiVo if we'd stop using it to store whole seasons of Damages. There's nothing wrong with it to justify a replacement, so we'll stick with what we've got.

At some point, I want to start simplifying--giving away, selling, or (as a last resort) trashing the objects that I only keep out of habit. You know what I mean: old purchases that you don't use anymore, but you keep just in case it comes in handy somewhere down the road. Ruthlessness is the key--you're never going to turn that old Super NES on again, and you know it--but I probably lack the outright willpower. So instead I think I'll get a roll of those little green dot stickers, the ones they use to mark prices at flea markets, and put them on anything I haven't touched in a while. If it actually gets used, I'll take the sticker off. Anything with a sticker still on it at the end of the year has got to go.

Which brings us to the toughest part: our book collection. Already, heavy boxes of books books are the moving experience we dread most. But paper texts have another type of inertia, a weight derived more from their intellectual and emotional impact than their actual mass. Especially if you love books--and we do--it's hard to discard them. It's like throwing away knowledge! And yet we'll never read many of them again, and some of them we bought and may never read in the first place. Everyone would be better off if they were donated to the library or recycled. Of all the steps for reducing our material footprint, cutting the number of books sitting around on our shelves will no doubt be the most painful, but it may have the biggest impact.

Belle and I will probably never get our lives down to the point that they can fit in a backpack, or even an overhead luggage compartment. In reality, we probably don't actually want to get there--we're not monks or masochists, after all. Yet just as the best essay can benefit from judicious editing, I think it's appropriate to take a critical scalpel to our lifestyles from time to time. There's a lot of pressure out there to accumulate, to the point that "consumer" has too often become synonymous with "citizen" or "person." That pressure has consequences, in the labor system, in the environment, and in our financial stability. It may be true, as Slate's Farhad Manjoo insists, that we can't actually opt out from American materialism, but maybe we owe it to ourselves to try.

March 5, 2010

Filed under: random»linky

Beware the Links of March

He is a dreamer; let us leave him.

  • I actually don't like programming--I like solving problems. It just happens that every good application usually has at least one brain-teasing problem inside. Here's a cool one: BK trees are a method for organizing words to find close dictionary matches, as in a spellcheck or a keyboard auto-correct. I was wondering the other day how to do this, and now I know.
  • Flotilla is my latest indie game acquisition, and it fits in well with the release of Sins of a Solar Empire: Diplomacy. While fleet combat in Sins relies on upgrade trees and swarm composition, Flotilla actually models small-scale, 3D space tactics--it's all about positioning, orientation, and group coordination. It gives me flashbacks to the great Kirk vs. Khan space battle in Star Trek II. Also includes a surreal, darkly-funny campaign mode played out around a randomly-generated galaxy.
  • tears into Ashraf Ghani's fetish for technocratic governance in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, over at Afromusing, Juliana Rotich tosses out five ideas on futurity in Africa, and asks: where are the African futurists?
  • put up footage of the battles at Unbreakable 3 a couple of weeks ago. It took place at my old alma mater, George Mason University, and I had a great time there. I especially love the exhibition between Iron Man and Meen187, who are both really musical dancers:

    When the camera dips down behind someone's head and you can't see anything for a moment, that's basically what it was like to actually be there. As I told someone later, I'm glad I went, but I'm also glad we have YouTube.

  • Blog plugin to-do: Reader Achievements.

February 2, 2010

Filed under: random»linky

Spring Linking

Oh, man. Budget season. What a drag.

  • I committed a new version of Underground to its Google Code repository the other day, adding support for Home app replacements like OpenHome, as well as Android 2.1 devices with new launchers like the Nexus One. I'll push a new version out to market as soon as I've tested it a bit. This is long overdue--hardcoding the launcher Intent was always a hack, but it was relatively low-priority until the Nexus broke it.
  • Speaking of Android, remember how it's supposed to be fragmenting all over the place? Turns out that even for game developers, who are relatively "down to the metal," that's not true at all. I look forward to retractions.
  • Jo Walton discusses reading science fiction as a skillset. Interesting meta-commentary, which should ring bells for anyone who's tried to get a friend or relative into the genre.
  • It turns out that GPS proves the Theory of Relativity in interesting ways. Take that, Newton!
  • As a tinkerer, I found Mark Pilgrim's post on the 'Tinkerer's Sunset' to be really interesting, moving stuff.
  • Some Foursquare badges I'd like to see. Personally, instead of joining Foursquare, I'm just going to constantly post snarky commentary about my location on Twitter. Pretty much the same thing I do now, in other words.
  • The Berkman Center hosted a lunch to discuss piracy research from the perspective of developing nations. They'll probably have a video and audio soon, but David Weinberger has a good liveblog summary. The most interesting note was that piracy is bad for open software advocates: it lets closed, for-pay software propagate as long as the software developers turn a blind eye. To what degree are grey markets (here and elsewhere) becoming a legitimate business strategy?
  • Microsoft is making their own 2D data tag, in competition with QR codes and datagrid codes. You may have seen these already without knowing it: they use these on some XBox games, largely for cross-promotional and inventory purposes. I believe them when they say that these are better than QR codes, but they'll never take off for the same reason that Ogg Vorbis hasn't beat out MP3: a good-enough de-facto standard can practically live forever, and the other 2D barcode formats have all the momentum.

A little story to go with that last item: last time I ordered business cards for myself, a couple of years ago, I integrated a QR code into the graphic design of the front, and stuck one containing my v-card on the back. I thought of it as a demonstration for potential employers: who's got two thumbs (the card symbolically asks) and can navigate between the world of print and online journalism in innovative ways? This guy. But I never really thought that it'd be usable, since this was before I had a smartphone, much less anyone else I knew. I made it with a chunk of badly-translated Taiwanese freeware, and tested it with a webcam at work.

The other day after a breaking class, someone asked for my contact information, and I noticed that they had an Android phone. So I showed them how it worked, told them to grab Barcode Scanner from the market ("But I've got a different phone." "Doesn't matter, it's all Android."), and passed them a spare card. Pretty much instantly, they were able to import my card to their contact list. It was pretty cool for me, but it was even better to see the enormous grin on their face when my friend realized they had basically just pulled information out of thin air, like magic. Sometimes, technology's okay.

January 4, 2010

Filed under: random»personal»events

Review: 2009

  • Celebrated five years together with Belle, an achievement for which few words would be sufficient. Thanks, babe!
  • Mostly followed my gaming resolutions from last year. Definitely played more indie titles, skipped tedious grinding, and avoided console shooters when possible. Did not get around to trying an MMO, which was probably for the best.
  • Bought a Kindle 2 and an Android Dev Phone. Became a developer for the latter, much to my dismay.
  • Wrote about a quarter of a game engine, then quit when I got to the parts that aren't instantly gratifying (preloading, faux-threading, AI). Still managed to learn way more than anyone should know about high-performance Actionscript optimization.
  • Survived a congressional session, a corporate purchase, and a promotion.
  • Survived a mild case of extensor tendonitis, and resolved to take better care of my hands.
  • Rewrote my personal subset of Blosxom in PHP, increasing the speed of this blog by an order of magnitude. Resisted the urge to convert to a real publishing platform like Wordpress. Purged a number of old entries, while I was at it.
  • Read a fair number of books, including a long, miserable slog through Chris Anderson's Free.
  • Began taking breakdancing classes, which (after six months) qualifies me as something of a b-boy-in-training, I guess. Lost about 20 pounds in the process, but failed (so far) to conquer a general deficiency of flavor.

Reviewer's notes: The special effects may be showing their age, and portions seemed rushed or in need of additional polish. But overall, 2009 delivered a solid annual experience, not to mention a definite improvement over previous franchise installments. Possible candidate for Year of the Year. Score: 9/10

October 15, 2009

Filed under: random»linky

Link Disclosure Policy

In anticipation of future FCC policies, I'd like to state up front that I was not paid or bribed in any way for these links, which seems like an awful shame, as well as a real opportunity for anyone with some extra bribe money lying around.

  • There's video from local b-boy battle-slash-arts-fair Crafty Bastards here (check the related section for more). I caught the first round of this last week, and if I can find a partner, I'm entering next year.
  • MobileActive has an overview of different setups for SMS activism. Lots of good links there, including an SMS server/analysis tool that runs on Android.
  • John Robb theorizes that protest is being militarized by governments that treat it as a national security threat. This is not a good thing.
  • This is your planet on climate change: Theatre of Inconveniences presents Kenya's drought in photos as part of a series on the impact of global warming on wildlife.
  • Ethan Zuckerman got eye surgery and somehow still managed to blog a ton of incredibly insightful stuff. One of my favorite entries is The Cloud and Useful Illusions, which discusses the ways that the "cloud" metaphor invites us to ignore the underlying infrastructure and politics, in both good ways and bad.
  • Happy Internet Human Rights day, China! Let us know how that's working out for you, if you can get past the firewall now that they're blocking TOR.

August 27, 2009

Filed under: random»linky


It's like a linkup, but more pessimistic.

  • RECAP is a Firefox extension that sends public documents behind a for-pay firewall to the Internet Archive as users browse the original site. Evgeny Morozov has more. Effectively, they're crowdsourcing the process of creating a site mirror. It may have implications for getting around censorship, but it's more interesting to me in the way that it creates something valuable by piggybacking on the user's actions, much the same way that ReCAPTCHA leverages site verification to improve OCR for scanned documents.
  • At Arthur Magazine, Douglas Rushkoff argues that "movements" are dead, because they now play a role that's more social than actively political. I disagree, personally: I would say that he's picked some stunningly poor movements, then. The goal of the New Dissent, just as with traditional social and protest movements, is to put feet on the ground, albeit in a new way. A movement that doesn't put feet on the ground is a failure, no matter whether it's Rushkoff's strawman of "a top-down, passionately executed, and highly branded movement" or a decentralized, flash mob of demonstrators. Ironically, the very health protest astroturf that's made Rushkoff so dejected is a prime example of this kind of action. It's not necessarily seeing results--but that's because it's badly run. People show up, and then act like either loons or idiots, which convinces no-one. But that doesn't mean the organizing principles are unsound.
  • In this Google video, Nils Gilman of the Global Business Network discusses "the global illicit economy"--basically the globalized black market in guns, drugs, sex, and malware. Some interesting observations inside: for example, says Gilman, attempting to control drug trade via border control is counterproductive because it raises the profit margins for successful traffickers.
  • It turns out that people will pay for explainers, but won't pay for your vague trend piece. Surprise! It's almost like good journalism could be profitable in this country, if it weren't being killed by all those pesky blogs and Internets. Nieman Journalism Lab has a lot of great interviews like this, by the way, including Bill Wasik on the Politico and David Simon on charging for web content.
  • Shepherd Fairey interviews Banksy. In other news from the four elements of hip-hop, More Than A Stance has a neat "breakumentary" on b-boy history shot at Street Science in Rotterdam.
  • As someone who's done his share of public speaking and video editing, even to a teetotaler this Johnnie Walker ad is unbelievable. It's a single, six-minute steadicam shot of Robert Carlyle walking through Scotland, telling the brand's history as he walks by carefully-placed props or visual aids. Apparently it took 40 takes. I find it fascinating for two reasons: first, because the craftsmanship of it is striking. But second, because it breaks the commonly-accepted rule of thumb for video journalism--"keep it short," because people won't watch long-form web video. As I've said before, I think that's a fallacy. People will certainly watch long-form productions, if it's interesting. What they won't watch is a lengthy imitation of "local news"-style coverage.
  • Hall and Oates, Carlos Santana, U2: what do these artists have in common, besides a soporific effect rivalling prescription drugs? Satan.

July 31, 2009

Filed under: random»linky

Money for Nothin', Links for Free

After a week of Free, this round's on the house.

  • In Praise of [Some] DDoSs? asks whether a denial-of-service attack is morally equivalent to blackmail--or to a sit-in. It's a fascinating question: do lawmakers write anti-cybercrime laws with mythical uberhackers in mind, without recognizing that they may fall under the same range of intent as meatspace offenses? And what does that mean for digital activism?
  • While cruising through Saurik's Android Market webclient the other day, I found CRIME MAP, a mobile mashup between Google Maps and live crime data (sadly, only for Osaka, Japan at this time). So it's like EveryBlock, but map-oriented. And I started to think about the potential for this kind of thing--match it up with a Locale plugin, for example, to warn you if you're about to walk into a high-crime area. Or if it were adapted to non-crime tasks, and people were allowed to submit activities/tagging to it (instant flash protest?). A big deal has been made out of the camera-aware augmented reality applications beginning to trickle out, but I wonder if this limited-but-ubiquitous form would be more effective--a sixth sense, instead of a direct visual overlay.
  • Appfrica has details on Mozilla's Week of Service, which matches IT volunteers with needy nonprofits. If you need the help, there's a link to the Idealist page for registration. I was disappointed that the volunteers are not necessarily just Mozilla staff, because I thought it would be hilarious if JQuery creator John Resig showed up to rebuild Belle's nonprofit web page. But it's still a good idea.
  • Adam West is a strange, strange man.
  • A Gabonese presidential candidate is attempting to use social media to mobilize his followers, although it's unclear how many people he's going to reach, given that only 10% of the country has access.
  • I've had no time, at all, for playing games this week. When I have, it's been adventure-centric: Monkey Island 2 on the smartphone, and Zombie Cow's smart indie comedies, Ben There, Dan That! and Time, Gentlemen, Please! I highly recommend both of the latter, especially if you love the old Lucasarts titles. The first is free, but there's an option to donate extra when buying the second one. Go ahead, push the total up to $10. You won't regret it.
  • Tonight is my first breakdancing class. No, you can't see video.
  • Josh finds the common thread between America, Apocalypse, and Anime.

Future - Present - Past