The Core Dump The Core Dump is the online home of Nic Lindh, a Swedish-American man living in the Sonoran desert. 2015-01-23T20:59:53-07:00 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License. New technology requires new thinking Nic Lindh 2015-01-23T00:00:00-07:00 <p><img src="/images/old-tech.jpg" /></p> <p><i>Mitsubishi 19" Diamondtron and Sony 17" Trinitron monitors back in 2004. Those were the greatest display technologies you could purchase at the time. And yes, cool people, you are correct: that’s a FireWire iSight camera perching on the Trinitron.</i></p> <p>Probably the biggest hurdle with new technology is that it requires people to change to get the most out of it.</p> <p>When you adopt a technology to help solve a problem—like, oh let&rsquo;s say, team work—if you just drop the technology in people will use it like a faster version of the old technology. It&rsquo;s analogous to what happens to new media: First there&rsquo;s radio and then there&rsquo;s TV, and TV shows are radio shows with a camera trained on them until enough time goes by that pioneers discovers the strengths of the new medium and develop it into its own thing.</p> <p>In offices today we&rsquo;re still in the early part of that transition—we have better ways to do things, but they&rsquo;re stuck in their old workflows.</p> <p>Like the dreaded e-mail chain, where everybody&rsquo;s sending e-mails around like they&rsquo;re little slips of digital paper. And then a document needs revising, so a Word document gets attached to the e-mails, like it&rsquo;s a bunch of papers. </p> <p>There&rsquo;s no sane reason to do this in 2015, but all over the world this happens in offices every day. Because it&rsquo;s such a natural analog. You&rsquo;re using new technology to make what you used to do faster and more efficient, but forcing it to conform to old habits.</p> <p>And in offices around the world, people open the Word file, read it, edit it, and pass it along, exactly like a piece of paper that gets marked up by different people.</p> <p>It may still be a win since sending e-mails is a lot easier, faster, and cheaper than couriering paper around, but it&rsquo;s still the same old process, only turbocharged.</p> <p>The hard part about adopting a digital workflow isn&rsquo;t to replace the manual tools—<em>the hard part is to change the workflow.</em> </p> <p>People fear change. Most people at this point have realized the benefits of using a word processor instead of a typewriter, but that doesn&rsquo;t change the writing <em>process</em>, only the physical act itself.</p> <p>(As a sidenote here, the people working so hard on the Word team to add new features would cry themselves to sleep every night if they knew how many millions—perhaps billions by now—people use Word like it&rsquo;s a typewriter with magic white-out.)</p> <p>Which is profoundly sad—the state of computers and networks these days has the potential to revamp the process itself.</p> <p>One obvious technology that has been mature and ready for the masses for a long time is shared documents. Let&rsquo;s use Google&rsquo;s implementation as an example, since it&rsquo;s free and polished.</p> <p><a href="">Google Docs</a> lets you create and edit text documents, spreadsheets and presentations on the Internet, which is great for people who move between different machines a lot, or for people who simply want to be able to work on a document at work, then pick up where they left off at home without resorting to kludges like e-mailing themselves the document or remembering to put it on a flash drive. That&rsquo;s a win, right there.</p> <p>But the real win is that other people can be invited to collaborate on the documents. So different people can change things at the same time. Which means <em>no more e-mailing documents back and forth.</em> No more having to figure out who has the latest version, or the even worse scenario of spending your time editing a document only to find out it&rsquo;s several versions old and all your work was for naught. Not a good feeling, that.</p> <p>So why aren&rsquo;t more teams using technologies like Google Docs when the benefits are so obvious?</p> <p>Because they <em>require</em> a new process. Why mess with something that works—well, that kind of works—but is grossly inefficient?</p> <p>This is the challenge for technologists and technology evangelists—getting people to understand why changing the entire workflow is sometimes necessary to get the benefits of the technology. It can be a hard sell.</p> <p>Lord, can it ever be a hard sell.</p> An HTML, CSS and JavaScript lesson plan Nic Lindh 2015-01-14T00:00:00-07:00 <p><img src="/images/nic-teaching.jpg" /></p> <p><i>Spreading knowledge. Yes, it’s scary for all involved.</i></p> <h3>Introduction</h3> <p>Teaching HTML to beginners is difficult. <em>Learning</em> HTML is difficult and frightening for beginners.</p> <p>This post contains a lesson plan for getting beginners started I&rsquo;ve used with good success. It includes supporting files.</p> <p>Why should you listen to me? I&rsquo;ve taught HTML for over 15 years and <em>I&rsquo;ve never made anybody cry.</em> Ask anybody who&rsquo;s taught beginners to create websites and you&rsquo;ll find I&rsquo;m a unicorn. Oh, sure, there have been trembling lips and moist eyes, but no crying.</p> <p>Web nerds should probably be close to your fainting couch for this: Most people, including &ldquo;digital natives,&rdquo; have <em>never seen</em> HTML. I&rsquo;ll give you moment to recover.</p> <p>HTML is alien and hostile for most people—one typo will make half the page disappear; you have to be in control of your files; and there&rsquo;s a strict non-obvious and non-discoverable syntax you have to learn.</p> <p>JavaScript in the context of the browser is even harder since you can&rsquo;t do anything without understanding the basics of HTML (and preferrably CSS). So there&rsquo;s a steep learning curve before a student can do anything to get excited about.</p> <p>And of course being able to see the results of your work and getting excited is a huge part of learning something new and intimidating; it&rsquo;s what insulates students from fear and frustration about the long road ahead.</p> <h3>Why teach HTML basics</h3> <p>It&rsquo;s true most people will never need to create a website from scratch but will only need to understand enough to be able to use a Content Management System (CMS), but I argue everybody should nevertheless understand the basics of how websites are created.</p> <p>HTML is one of the most fundamental pieces of technology that affects a first-world person&rsquo;s life on a daily basis and you should understand what it is. Even if you do all your webwork inside a CMS, you will sometimes need to tweak things and knowing how to sprinkle in some CSS or a custom HTML tag will make all the difference.</p> <p>Ignorance is not a good thing.</p> <h3>The two paths to teach the basics</h3> <p>One of the constant points of dissension between people who teach beginning Web skills is whether you should teach using <a href="">a tool like Dreamweaver</a> or make students type in a text editor. I&rsquo;ve tried it both ways and with that experience have come down hard on the text editor side of this argument.</p> <p>There are two reasons: </p> <ol> <li>If you want to use a tool like Dreamweaver you first have to teach the tool—this takes valuable time</li> <li>The tool will let students dig a deep, deep hole they can&rsquo;t get out of without understanding the things the tool has hidden from them, so you—and your students—end up in a frustrating <a href="">Catch-22</a>.</li> </ol> <p>Teaching with a text editor (<a href="">Text Wrangler</a> by Bare Bones is a great, free option on the Mac) on the other hand lets you get to the topic at hand almost immediately. (If you use Text Wrangler in class, don&rsquo;t forget to tell your students about Soft Wrap.) Of course, typing HTML by hand is also more stark and forbidding, so positive reinforcement is important.</p> <p>(And don&rsquo;t be That Guy and try to have your beginners write HTML in <a href="">Vim</a> or <a href="">Emacs</a>. Don&rsquo;t. Just don&rsquo;t.)</p> <p>Note that <em>typing</em> is crucial: Have students type as much of their HTML as possible from your example up on the projector. Just reading is not enough. Typety-type-type. Though it&rsquo;s a good idea to distribute the HTML skeleton—after explaining it thoroughly—to save some time.</p> <p>As an instructor you will also discover the results of K12 schools cutting their typing classes: Most &ldquo;digital natives&rdquo; are horrendously slow typists. Build in enough time in the lesson plan to allow for this.</p> <p>(It would be an interesting experiment to have students do typing tests on both their phones and on keyboards—I&rsquo;d expect some of them to be faster on a slab of glass.)</p> <h3>Lesson plan</h3> <p>So here&rsquo;s how I broke the Web portion down for an online media class at the <a href="">Cronkite School</a>. Depending on the students and how long you make the lectures this will take two to six hours. </p> <p><a href="/downloads/">Download a zip file of the example pages.</a></p> <h4>The Underpinnings</h4> <ul> <li>How the Internet works <ul> <li>TCP/IP, DNS, client-server relationships</li> </ul></li> <li>History of HTML <ul> <li>Why it is the way it is and the problem it solved <ul> <li>Why Sir Tim-Berners Lee is a hero</li> </ul></li> </ul></li> </ul> <h4>Naming files for the Internet</h4> <ul> <li>Use only lowercase, a-z, 0-9, no spaces, no special characters for filenames <ul> <li>Especially important on a Mac since it&rsquo;s case-insensitive and things seem to work if you mix upper- and lowercase, but then things break when put on a Linux server and the world can see your work</li> </ul></li> </ul> <h4>The importance of the root folder</h4> <ul> <li>Why you must get into the habit of creating one first thing in a project</li> </ul> <h4>Writing HTML</h4> <ul> <li>Distribute HTML skeleton and show the workflow: Edit in text editor, open in browser, save and refresh. Wax on, wax off</li> <li>Students create a root folder</li> <li>Students make a page with h1 and p tags</li> <li>Students copy the page and create a second page, change the headline and text on the second page and link them together</li> <li>Students download an image from the Web, put it in the root folder and include it in the page</li> <li>Students add a different image to the second page</li> </ul> <p>At this point students have created a two-page website with pages that link to each other and have images. This is big!</p> <h4>Adding CSS</h4> <ul> <li>Lecture on CSS, what problem it solves and why it&rsquo;s different from HTML</li> <li>Distribute HTML skeleton and have students build a <em>new</em> two-page site using skills from previous lesson</li> <li>Add CSS includes and create a simple CSS file to change colors and fonts</li> <li>Explain why we have hex codes for colors and show <a href="">Adobe Color CC</a> (née Kuler)</li> <li>Students experiment with fonts and colors</li> </ul> <p>Students now know how to customize the look of their pages.</p> <h4>Adding JavaScript</h4> <p>The objective of this part is to have students create a page they can interact with. </p> <p>The lesson has three parts. First, create a page with a text box students can type into and see a different box update with the same text. Second, add in a test to see if the text box is empty and display different text. Third, build in an easter egg that displays special text when a certain word is input.</p> <p>Yes, this is very basic. It will still bake the brains of students who&rsquo;ve never programmed before—there are a lot of concepts to absorb.</p> <ul> <li>Lecture on the basics of programming: variables, loops, functions, and conditionals</li> <li>Lecture on the history of JavaScript (Created in 10 days in 1995 by one man—which explains a lot)</li> <li>Distribute the first file (<code>js1.html</code>) and verify it works</li> <li>Explain we&rsquo;re going to change the page so the box doesn&rsquo;t disappear when there&rsquo;s no text in the text box</li> <li>Put up <code>js2.html</code> on the projector (don&rsquo;t distribute) and have students type in the changes</li> <li>Explain we&rsquo;re going to put in an easter egg. Because all programs must have easter eggs</li> <li>Put up <code>js3.html</code> (don&rsquo;t distribute) on the projector and have students type in the changes</li> <li>Have students change the easter egg to a word of their own choosing <ul> <li>(Only change the <code>if</code> statement)</li> </ul></li> </ul> <h4>Getting more advanced</h4> <p>Obviously the pages so far have been basic. To take it to the next level, introduce students to frameworks like <a href="">Bootstrap</a> that let them stand on the shoulders of giants.</p> <p>There&rsquo;s no better place to learn how to make the Web than the Web itself. Highlight resources like <a href="">Code Academy</a>.</p> <h3>Supporting documents</h3> <p><a href="/downloads/">Download a zip file of the example pages.</a></p> <h3>Let me know how it goes</h3> <p>If you end up using this, please do let me know how it went and if you have any feedback via <a href="">email</a> or <a href="">Twitter</a>.</p> Book roundup, part 17 Nic Lindh 2014-12-27T00:00:00-07:00 <h2>Non-fiction</h2> <h3><a href=";sr=&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;_encoding=UTF8">So, Anyway…, by John Cleese</a> ★★★★☆</h3> <p>As you&rsquo;d expect from an autobiography by John Cleese, <em>So, Anyway…</em> is smart, funny, and conversational. Fair warning, though, that it stops just as Monty Python are formed, so apart from allusions to Cleese and Terry Gilliam not being on the best of terms, to put it mildly, there&rsquo;s little about that part of his life in here.</p> <p>There&rsquo;s plenty about his early life, strained relationship with his mom, and the escapades of his father, who clearly had an interesting time what with getting hurt in WWI then traveling around the waning Empire leading the life of a British gentleman before settling down in rural England to sell insurance.</p> <p>One feeling I kept having when Cleese wrote about his college years and his start in comedy was how incredibly implausible it sounded. Not casting any aspersions on his truthfulness, but wow, the coincidences and lucky breaks are astonishing.</p> <p>If you&rsquo;re interested in Cleese himself or you&rsquo;re a bit of an anglophile, <em>So, Anyway…</em> will do you solid.</p> <h3><a href=";ie=UTF8&amp;keywords=yes%2Bplease%2Bpoehler&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;qid=1417563151">Yes Please, by Amy Poehler</a> ★★★☆☆</h3> <p>A funny and smart mix of stories about Poehler&rsquo;s life, advice, and general oddity. It&rsquo;s a fast, easy read, though the name dropping gets a bit heavy at times.</p> <p><em>Yes Please</em> made me binge-watch <em>Parks and Recreation</em>, which was enjoyable.</p> <h2>Fiction</h2> <h3><a href=";tag=thecoredump-20&amp;ie=UTF8">The Mirror Empire, by Kameron Hurley</a> ★★★★☆</h3> <p>One of the best new fantasy novels I&rsquo;ve read in ages, <em>The Mirror Empire</em> does very interesting things with the tropes of the genre and is completely engrossing.</p> <p>Be prepared to concentrate, though—the plot is intense and dense. You&rsquo;ll be rewarded.</p> <h3><a href=";sr=1-1&amp;s=books&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;qid=1419532954">London Falling, by Paul Cornell</a> ★★★★☆</h3> <p>There&rsquo;s a whole sub genre of urban fantasy that takes place in London and <em>London Falling</em> is the darkest take on the genre I&rsquo;ve seen. It&rsquo;s a bit hard to discuss the plot without spoiling it, but basically four hard-case police officers working on a case accidentally acquire what they call the Sight, enabling them to see the supernatural elements and beings that crowd around London, including and centrally to the story a very terrible witch.</p> <p><em>London Falling</em> admirably sticks to being a noir police procedural with the supernatural elements added on top, providing another level of menace and straight-up creepiness.</p> <p>This is one of the most British books I&rsquo;ve read when it comes to vocabulary, to the point where I had to concentrate to understand some passages, which added to the atmo.</p> <p>It&rsquo;s also the first in the Shadow Police series and frustratingly the only one. If you happen across this review, Mr. Cornell, please write as fast you can—can&rsquo;t wait for the next installment!</p> <h3><a href=";ie=UTF8&amp;keywords=rivers%2Bof%2Blondon&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;qid=1419627210">Broken Homes, by Ben Aaronovitch</a> ★★★★☆</h3> <p><em>Broken Homes</em> is the fourth installment in the great Rivers of London series and you should absolutely not start here but <a href=";ie=UTF8&amp;keywords=rivers%2Bof%2Blondon&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;qid=1419731072">at the beginning</a>—the series is written with each novel having a stand-alone plot but there&rsquo;s also an arch that gets more and more interesting as it goes on.</p> <p>So Rivers of London is written like a TV series and rewards binge-reading. Which is great until you reach the end of the published novels and have to sit in a corner and wait for the next one to get your fix.</p> <p>Rivers of London is part of the London urban fantasy genre, like <em>London Falling</em>, but takes a much lighter tone. Our protagonist, Peter Grant, is a police officer with the ability to see the supernatural elements of London and is apprenticed to a wizard police officer who runs a tiny department in the police force that deals with the &ldquo;special&rdquo; sorts of cases.</p> <p><em>Broken Homes</em> gets deeper into the mythology and has Grant figuring out what is going on with a London slum skyscraper. Hint: Bad things.</p> <p>It moves the series along and there&rsquo;s a <em>huge</em> twist at the end, but it&rsquo;s not the best installment. Still, if you&rsquo;ve gotten this far in the series, you&rsquo;ll enjoy it and get excited for the next installment, which is January 6, 2015 according to Amazon.</p> <h3><a href=";ie=UTF8&amp;keywords=ellroy%2Bperfidia&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;qid=1417921612">Perfidia, by James Ellroy</a> ★★★★☆</h3> <p>Ellroy is back in LA in this first novel in a new series that takes place around the time of Pearl Harbor, before the events in the LA Quartet.</p> <p>As you&rsquo;d expect from Ellroy it&rsquo;s super densely plotted and written and the most hard core of hard core noir. Soooo dark and depressing. And incredibly impressive both for its own sprawling plot and for all the recurring characters from the LA Quartet. (You don&rsquo;t have to have read it to enjoy <em>Perfidia</em>, but if you have you&rsquo;ll gasp in places as you get the back story of characters in those novels.)</p> <p>If you&rsquo;re an Ellroy fan, <em>Perfidia</em> is a given.</p> <h3><a href=";sr=1-1&amp;s=digital-text&amp;keywords=gibson%2Bperipheral&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;qid=1417564975">The Peripheral, by William Gibson</a> ★★★★★</h3> <p><em>The Peripheral</em> may very well be Gibson&rsquo;s best work ever, which is high praise indeed. It gives us not one but two dystopian near-futures and is lathered with his polished, smooth prose. It&rsquo;s impossible to talk about the plot without spoiling, so I&rsquo;ll leave it alone except to say that it&rsquo;s completely normal to start reading this novel and enjoying it while being utterly confused. Until that glorious moment when the plot clicks into focus.</p> <p><em>Glorious.</em></p> <h3><a href=";ie=UTF8&amp;keywords=burning%2Bchrome&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;qid=1418244022">Burning Chrome, by William Gibson</a> ★★★★☆</h3> <p>After reading <em>The Peripheral</em> I decided to revisit <em>Burning Chrome</em>, Gibson&rsquo;s classic short story collection. And even though some of the specifics of how cyberspace works and the prevalence of Japanese cyberdecks and conglomerates dates it pretty badly, they&rsquo;re still beautiful vignettes, and since the technology was never really the thing, it&rsquo;s still a great collection.</p> <p>Since the last time more than 20 years ago I last read it, I&rsquo;d forgotten how sad the stories are—regret is a constant theme.</p> <p>Well worth a re-read or a first read if you&rsquo;ve been living under a rock.</p> <h3><a href=";sr=1-1&amp;s=digital-text&amp;keywords=kameron%2Bhurley%2Bomnibus&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;qid=1417563337">The Kameron Hurley Omnibus, by Kameron Hurley</a> ★★★☆☆</h3> <p>I was impressed enough with <em>The Mirror Empire</em> to pick up this omnibus of Hurley&rsquo;s entire Bel Dame Apocrypha series, <em>God&rsquo;s War</em>, <em>Infidel</em>, and <em>Rapture</em>.</p> <p>Far-future sci-fi, the series takes place on a planet colonized mostly by Muslim nations. The terraforming didn&rsquo;t go super well, and the nations have descended into a horrific never-ending war.</p> <p>Our protagonist is a former Bel Dame, what government enforcers-slash-sheriffs are called and she is most emphatically not a nice human being. And neither is anybody else. The series is grim and grimy with a strong sense of noir.</p> <p>With the general unpleasantness of everybody involved, it can be a bit of a slog, but Hurley&rsquo;s world building is first-rate and full of interesting details like the use of insects as technology-analogs (a result of the terraforming not going well) and plenty of misandry (women run the planet and are just as bad at is as men).</p> <p>The Bel Dame series is well worth checking out if you want a different flavor of sci-fi.</p> Introducing the Link Dump Nic Lindh 2014-12-20T00:00:00-07:00 <p><img src="/images/memtest.jpg" /></p> <p>As a maestro of being bad at marketing, I never even thought to talk about <a href="">the link blog I&rsquo;ve been running for a while</a>. Because with a blog and Twitter and whatnot, there sure wasn&rsquo;t any place for me to talk about the fact that I&rsquo;m finding interesting links and sharing them…</p> <p>Urgh. Bad at Internet.</p> <p>Still, I did. Run it, I mean. For what it&rsquo;s worth. And I intend to keep running it at <a href="">its new home</a>.</p> <p>Moving the link blog (aka &ldquo;The Flatline&rdquo; in an obvious William Gibson homage. And speaking of Gibson, it&rsquo;s upsetting that with all these new idiotic top-level domains like .plumbing there&rsquo;s no .cyber or .sprawl. Heathens.) to its new domain and obvious new name—&quot;The Link Dump&quot;—turned out to be not hard but annoying in that &ldquo;have to spend time in the Terminal fighting things&rdquo; way I&rsquo;d hoped we would be past in 2014.</p> <p>Still, there were things to learn in moving a WordPress site from one URL to the other without downtime.</p> <p>The most important is that by now you should only self-host your Internet presence if you enjoy dorking with computers.</p> <p>Seriously. Self-hosting is still hard and involves a lot of arcana. Which if you&rsquo;re the kind of person who have asked yourself, &ldquo;How does a BIOS actually work?&rdquo; and then figured it out only means you&rsquo;ll have to sink some time into it. But if you&rsquo;re normal you&rsquo;ll have to call somebody.</p> <p>So unless you enjoy knowing a lot about incredibly specific things or you have a tame nerd at hand, you should not self host your stuff.</p> <p>Newline. Newline. Italics. <em>Should not.</em></p> <p>Unless you get off on doing it yourself, you&rsquo;re going to have to pay somebody a lot of money. And the teenager across the street who says he can do it for a couple of movie passes? Maybe he can, and maybe he can&rsquo;t, but even if he can, will he take your call when the site goes down during the school day?</p> <p>So what should you do instead of self-hosting? For a simple blog like this or the link blog, just use <a href="">Tumblr</a>, <a href=""></a> or <a href="">Squarespace</a>. (Disclaimer: I&rsquo;ve never used Squarespace, but the people who have seem to like it.)</p> <p>This way there are platoons of people who get paid to make sure your site stays up while you sit on the beach sipping a chilled beverage, plotting your next post.</p> <p>But, a lot of people say at this point, I have specific things my site must do that or Tumblr or whatnot doesn&rsquo;t do, so I must self-host!</p> <p>To which I say, How much money do you want to spend to have that particular specific feature? Because you&rsquo;ll need to hire a Web developer to make that happen. <em>And</em> how crucial is that feature? WordPress and Tumblr are pretty mature platforms at this point and have built in most of the functionality sane people want on their sites. So if you absolutely must have some functionality they don&rsquo;t have, you&rsquo;re either on to something great or you&rsquo;re nuts. Which one is it?</p> <p>The main thing to worry about is the URL: <em>You must own your own domain.</em> Fortunately you don&rsquo;t have to spend more than $10 or $20 per year for a domain.</p> <p>You must own your domain so you can move around. If you start on, then decide, You know what, I do need crazy feature X I can only get if I self-host, if you own your own domain you can just move all your content over and keep all your Google juice. </p> <p>But if you&rsquo;re on then decide to move to you&rsquo;ll have to let your readers know about the change, hope they update their bookmarks, then wait for your Google juice to regenerate, which will suck.</p> <p>But Nic, you say, didn&rsquo;t you just move your link blog across domains? Isn&rsquo;t that what sparked this rant?</p> <p>You are correct. Did I mention I suck at marketing?</p> Our little sociopathic predator fluffballs Nic Lindh 2014-12-13T00:00:00-07:00 <p><img src="/images/helios-patio.jpg" /></p> <p><i>Our cat Helios, a.k.a The American Taliban. Terror and destruction are his middle names.</i></p> <p>Our relationship with cats is amazing when you think about it. We take these small predators that—unlike dogs—have had no evolutionary pressure whatsoever to consider us as anything but sources of food and warmth, invite them into our homes, provide food and shelter, and clean up their waste. </p> <p>Which, let&rsquo;s be real here, is <em>disgusting.</em> </p> <p>If you have a cat you&rsquo;ve had those moments when you&rsquo;re bent over the litter box, plastic shovel in hand and, tears in your eyes, choking back the urge to vomit.</p> <p>And this you do, because you love your little furry friend.</p> <p>Your little furry friend who is a sociopathic predator that lives to murder.</p> <p>One of our monsters, Helios, pictured above, has started to sleep with his helper monkeys now that the nights are getting colder, and he tends to come by as I&rsquo;m reading myself to sleep, purring up a storm next to me.</p> <p>Which is great—how can you not love that?</p> <p>But then the other night as I was petting him I realized, &ldquo;Wait. I&rsquo;m feeling super great that this animal I feed and clean up excrement from is allowing me to pet him and make him feel so good he purrs.&rdquo;</p> <p>Sucker. Just a sucker.</p> The glanceable wrist in your future Nic Lindh 2014-12-07T00:00:00-07:00 <p>I&rsquo;ve worn a <a href="">Pebble watch</a> for about a year now, and it&rsquo;s great for my particular use case, which as you&rsquo;d expect involves not caring if people around me think I&rsquo;m a huge nerd. (The Pebble is a large, relentlessly nerdy object to have on your wrist.)</p> <p>While huge nerds like me will love the Apple Watch, I still think it will be <a href="">a bridge too far</a>, no matter how &ldquo;intimate&rdquo; they make the thing. Getting notifications on your wrist is and will probably remain a nerdy thing and not something normal humans are interested in. (For &ldquo;interested in&rdquo; read &ldquo;recoil in horror from.&rdquo;)</p> <p>Apart from the dark horse of what currently secret functionality the Apple Watch will include, the main things that will set it apart from the Pebble will be the integration: Apple can make it do things Pebble just can&rsquo;t. We don&rsquo;t know yet what that will be. And whereas the Pebble looks like a nerd gadget, the Apple Watch will be much sleeker.</p> <p>But will that be enough to get the masses interested? I&rsquo;m doubtful.</p> <p>From what I&rsquo;ve read on the Internet from people who&rsquo;ve bought Pebbles and <a href="">Android Wear</a> watches to get a jump on the Apple Watch experience, there are three main schools of thought: 1) Lordie! Having notifications on my wrist is the bomb! (I fall into this category); 2) My wrist keeps buzzing and this is so annoying <em>kill it with fire</em>; and 3) Meh. I don&rsquo;t really need this—taking my phone out of my pocket isn&rsquo;t exactly arduous.</p> <p>Note that most of the discussion centers around notifications, since that&rsquo;s the most obvious thing the Pebble and Android Wear watches do.</p> <p>And I do like the notifications my wrist and don&rsquo;t find them oppressive since I turned off <em>a lot</em> of notifications on my phone before getting the Pebble. To me having the phone buzz in my pocket means I need to know what it&rsquo;s saying, so most notifications are off.</p> <p><em>This probably counts as a life hack/tip: Turn off all notifications that aren&rsquo;t crucial. Everywhere. You&rsquo;re welcome.</em></p> <p>But the Pebble does more than just notifications. For my use case, it&rsquo;s a watch, a timer and a music controller. I do a lot of physical therapy to alleviate my IT band syndrome, and having a timer set for 40 seconds right there on my wrist is <em>huge</em>. And I mean huge in the same way that a remote control is huge: When I first heard about remote controls for TVs I thought it was the silliest thing I&rsquo;d ever heard. What kind of lazy bastard can&rsquo;t get off the couch to switch the station?</p> <p>Well, me, as I learned five minutes after using a remote control for the first time.</p> <p>Same thing with having timer functionality right there on my wrist instead of using a separate device.</p> <p>But I&rsquo;m a professional alpha nerd and the kind of person who buys a Pebble or Android Wear watch in order to write about it on their blog or talk about it on their podcast is also a huge nerd, so what the normal humans will think when the Apple Watch hits the street will be very interesting indeed.</p> <p>For myself, having an Apple-quality color screen on my wrist will sure be nice. But much love for Pebble who were the first to show that a wrist computer is a useful thing. </p> <p>Though I still can&rsquo;t wrap my head around how millions and millions of people will agree.</p> The story we tell ourselves Nic Lindh 2014-11-24T00:00:00-07:00 <p>If you follow politics in America these days, you&rsquo;re probably angry and depressed a lot, no matter where on the spectrum you fall. Because the other side is not getting what you&rsquo;re talking about at all. </p> <p><em>Of course</em> the other side are mentally deficient idiots. Of course they are. The truth is out there, it&rsquo;s self-evident and they are refusing to even see it.</p> <p>They must be insane or at the very least liars.</p> <p>But of course that&rsquo;s not the way it works. Whichever side you&rsquo;re on, the opposite side aren&rsquo;t morons who want to watch the country burn as they giggle and drool. (Well, not most of them at least.)</p> <p>Instead, what&rsquo;s happening is that people are being people. And us humans are poorly equipped indeed to deal with the modern world.</p> <p>We <em>are</em> exquisitely well-tailored to living in extended-family groups of less than 150 people on the African savannah—that&rsquo;s where our species spent most of its time, hunting and gathering and procreating.</p> <p>At that time, a tendency to freak out at specific threats—like Ebola—and an ability to dehumanize everybody different from you was valuable.</p> <p>But now we live in huge cities where we&rsquo;re forced to interact daily with people we&rsquo;ve never seen before. Think about it: The person driving the plane or train or subway or bus you take to work is probably somebody you&rsquo;ve never even laid eyes on before the trip. And yet, you&rsquo;re going to trust that person to take you to your destination without crashing. How do you know that person can do that? You&rsquo;re going to have to trust the system.</p> <p>Otherwise you&rsquo;ll have a hard time just leaving the house.</p> <p>So the story you tell yourself is that this person has been trained and tested by whatever appropriate authority and will perform just fine.</p> <p>That&rsquo;s your narrative while traveling.</p> <p>The narrative is mostly underground, outside your active consciousness, guiding what you think and feel, taking new pieces of information and conforming them to what you already know.</p> <p>But that&rsquo;s not all the narrative does: The narrative forces you to discard any piece of information you receive that don&rsquo;t fit.</p> <p>This is how we keep from going insane—tailoring the inputs we get to our existing narrative, in the process throwing away inputs that don&rsquo;t fit—those inputs that don&rsquo;t fit would force you to rethink what you believe. </p> <p>And that would suck: Now you&rsquo;re spending a lot of time and energy reevaluating what you believe instead of finding food and procreating. This, to your mind, is a huge waste.</p> <p>You should follow the narrative; you should bring every new piece of information into line with the narrative. If you don&rsquo;t, you&rsquo;re fighting your brain and you&rsquo;re spending energy your brain is worried will run out on something non-essential and potentially harmful. This can&rsquo;t be tolerated.</p> <p>So your brain will bring you back on track—to the narrative.</p> <p>It&rsquo;s useful to think about your narrative and if it still fits your life.</p> <p>A hard thing to do, but very much worth doing.</p> It's the words, stupid Nic Lindh 2014-11-16T00:00:00-07:00 <p><img src="/images/bookshelf16by9.jpg" /></p> <p>I love books. Always did. I was the kid in middle school who&rsquo;d be late to class after lunch because I was in the library reading.</p> <p>But with the advent of e-readers and read later-type apps I&rsquo;m realizing more and more that it wasn&rsquo;t <em>books</em> I loved, it was the content of those books. This is not a semantic quibble, it&rsquo;s at the core of the disruption happening to the publishing industry.</p> <p>I still love going to a bookstore to browse the aisles and get ideas about things to read, but I&rsquo;m not purchasing more corpses of trees. Which is of course very bad news for the bookstore and I do feel bad about that. I&rsquo;ll usually buy a cup of coffee so I&rsquo;ve at least done something to keep them in business.</p> <p>(I should add here that if you&rsquo;re a fellow book lover who&rsquo;s fuming at this cavalier attitude to Keeping Bookstores in Business, I feel you. I get loving books as objects. The image at the top of this post is a fraction of the books in my home. Books I&rsquo;ve read and loved.)</p> <p>We&rsquo;re at the point now, though, that e-readers are valid ways to read all by themselves and the artifact that is the book as physical object is no longer necessary.</p> <p>Not only is it not necessary, but it is <em>worse</em> than the electronic equivalent. </p> <p>Can you change the font and font size in a printed book? No you can not. </p> <p>Can you tap on a word you don&rsquo;t know and get a dictionary definition? No you can not.</p> <p>Can you finish a book, be super excited about reading the next installment in the series, buy the thing right there and start reading it? No you can not.</p> <p>Can you realize you don&rsquo;t remember who a character is and search for the first time that character was introduced? No you can not.</p> <p>So, the utility of a dead-tree corpse is actually worse than an electronic version. And yet, and yet. It does hold a special place in a book-lover&rsquo;s heart. Holding the thing. Smelling the thing. It&rsquo;s a <em>thing</em>, a physical manifestation of a writer&rsquo;s blood sweat and tears. It&rsquo;s real in a way an e-book just isn&rsquo;t.</p> <p>But then, so were CDs, which were in themselves a much better audio experience than vinyl, but also a much worse physical manifestation than vinyl.</p> <p>Listening to an album on vinyl was a physical experience: Taking the album out of its cover, putting it on the turntable, cleaning it with the brush and cleaning solution, lowering the needle, hearing that static before the track started&hellip; Physical and real.</p> <p>And way worse of a presentation of the actual content of the medium than the CD provided in its own detached, clinical way.</p> <p>If you&rsquo;re the kind of person who relishes touching and holding physical books (or vinyl albums, for that matter), more power to you. Keep doing your thing. As long as you have money to spend you will be catered to. But you are a member of a diminishing minority.</p> <p>Apart from but related to the conveniences listed above, here&rsquo;s the number one reason I love e-books: They give <em>me</em> the choices. Not the publisher or the designer. I get to choose (within Amazon&rsquo;s needlessly limited options, granted) which font to use and which size I want it and—and this is the important part—that choice applies to all the books I read. This way, the only thing I care about in the book, the content, is distilled down to its essence.</p> <p>It&rsquo;s just me and the words.</p> <p>You can&rsquo;t influence my perception with nicer paper or a better design. It&rsquo;s just the words.</p> <p>As it should be.</p> Voting in America Nic Lindh 2014-11-07T00:00:00-07:00 <p><img src="/images/american-flag.jpg" /></p> <p>I became an American citizen in 2006 and have voted faithfully in every election since. And every election I&rsquo;m struck by just how willfully archaic the American system is.</p> <p>Which I think stems from the fact that <em>America loves the idea of America more than it loves the actual America.</em> </p> <p>The <em>idea</em> of America is of a hardy frontier nation of hamlets full of white people, all bandying together to fight off the enemy, however you defined the enemy. (Hint: Usually people who weren&rsquo;t white.) </p> <p>Which America sort of was, you know, 300 years ago. But the America that exists now is a nation of people of different skin colors living in sprawling metropolises, not knowing their neighbors, trying to make ends meet by working post-industrial jobs.</p> <p>But before we get into the current problems, let&rsquo;s first cover the basics of the American voting system. For people unfamiliar with the system, the process goes like this:</p> <ul> <li>First, you register to vote and indicate which party you want to be affiliated with: Democrat, Republican or Independent. Yes, you have to indicate who you&rsquo;re going to vote for. Nobody here finds that odd. The reason for this is so you can vote in the primary election where each party elects their candidates. This is so the parties don&rsquo;t have to actually do the work of figuring out who their representative should be. Efficiency, you see?</li> <li>Then, depending on which state you live in, <em>many different things can happen</em>. This is because each state gets to make up their own rules for how to run elections. Yes, even elections for federal office. Nobody seems to find this strange, not to mention a massive waste of time, energy and money.</li> <li>In Arizona, the only state where I&rsquo;ve voted, we can choose to vote by mail. This is civilized and good.</li> <li>So in Arizona, a bit before the election, your ballot arrives.</li> <li>You fill it out and mail it in and hope it didn&rsquo;t get lost somewhere. </li> </ul> <p>Ah, the ballot. The piece of high-grade paper you are sent. On the ballot are the choices you&rsquo;d expect, like president, governor, secretary of state and whatnot. But it doesn&rsquo;t end there. Nope. America is a direct democracy where the voter gets to have her say on many, many things.</p> <p>Which I&rsquo;m sure made sense in the 1800s when the majority of people lived in tiny burghs where everybody knew everybody and <em>of course</em> you should have your say in who sits on the school board.</p> <p>However, now that the majority of Americans live in metro areas, turns out I don&rsquo;t know who Joe Blow is or whether he&rsquo;d be a good candidate for the corporation commission.</p> <p>Not to mention the judges. International readers, did you know America elects it judges? Again, something that made sense in Deadwood but is now just archaic idiocy.</p> <p>And then there are the propositions. These are suggestions for laws proposed by either citizen initiatives or the legislature. In theory this is so the legislature can wisely get the people&rsquo;s direct input on controversial proposed laws so everybody gets their say, but in practice it&rsquo;s usually ideas the legislature recognizes are so nutty they don&rsquo;t want their names behind them but at the same time special interests they are beholden to want to see them pass, so they kick them out into the propositions. &ldquo;Hey, I tried.&rdquo;</p> <p>Not surprisingly, the citizen initiatives that manage to collect enough signatures to become propositions tend to also emanate from special interest groups. So they are often concerned with keeping particular industries unregulated.</p> <p>You take the sheer amount of people you have to know well enough to decide whether to vote for or not and the amount of propositions you have to read through and think about together in order to feel good about casting your ballot and it leads to three classes of voters:</p> <ol> <li>The wonks who&rsquo;ve researched the heck out of everything. All three of them;</li> <li>The fired-up base who are rolling in to vote a straight party ticket; and</li> <li>The ones who just can&rsquo;t be bothered to deal with all this bullshit and also need to get to their second job so they can keep food on the table. Those don&rsquo;t vote, especially not in a midterm election.</li> </ol> <p>In the 2010 midterm election, <a href="">Arizona&rsquo;s voter turnout was 35%.</a> Which is not a shameful number at all. Nope.</p> <p>So, every two years the citizens of America must make sure they are still on the voter rolls, hoping there hasn&rsquo;t been a new rule change they didn&rsquo;t hear of that kicked them off, then make sure to get the time off to go vote on a Tuesday. </p> <p>Yes, a Tuesday. America loves democracy so much we decided to have our elections on a work day. And if you live in a state without mail-by-vote and your boss won&rsquo;t give you time off to go vote? Well, clearly you didn&rsquo;t deserve to anyway. </p> <p>The hours the polls are open of course differ by state as does the density of polling places. Because it&rsquo;s important the states get to make decisions about these things which clearly differ so widely between states since they are not all peopled by humans. Or something.</p> <p>Seriously, this is not the way to do this and it hasn&rsquo;t been the way to do this for over 100 years. </p> <p>It&rsquo;s embarrassing and scary how large a portion of the <a href="">second-largest democracy on the planet</a> finds this state of affairs &ldquo;well, shrug, fine&rdquo; or even scarier &ldquo;best ever hell yeah!&rdquo;</p> <p>The country I adopted is better than this. Or at least should be.</p> The Kindle Voyage is a solid update with an achilles heel Nic Lindh 2014-10-25T00:00:00-07:00 <p>Not long ago I wrote about how much I love reading on my Kindle, but <a href="">lamented its deplorable build quality</a> and wished Apple would enter the e-ink field with a premium device. As expected, that didn&rsquo;t happen, but surprisingly enough Amazon instead released <a href="">a new, premium Kindle, the Voyage</a>, which addresses most of my complaints.</p> <p>The Voyage has a better screen, even backlighting, a brightness sensor, is <em>much</em> faster to respond to touches, and has vastly improved build quality. While not what anybody would call Apple quality, the Voyage is significantly nicer to hold than previous Kindles, which as you know feel disposable and chintzy.</p> <p>So yay for Amazon! If you spend a lot of time with your Kindle, the Voyage is a very nice update, with improvements pretty much everywhere.</p> <p>Theoretically one of the nicest features of the Voyage is buttons. Yes! No more moving your thumb to the screen to turn the page!</p> <p>Which is nice and overdue. But. Somebody at Amazon decided that actual physical buttons are passé. So instead we get something called PagePress. </p> <p>Yes, let it sink in, take a deep breath, find your chi and just become one with the idea that instead of physical buttons like you use every day we now have a technology named after the button but which assuredly is not a pedestrian button that smells bad what with all the common people touching it. </p> <p>Instead of last-century button bullshit where you push the thing and something happens we now have PagePress. With PagePress you &ldquo;Simply apply pressure on the bezel to turn the page, and PagePress will provide a silent haptic response for consistent and immediate feedback.&rdquo; You know, like a button except it&rsquo;s nothing so gauche as a button. Nono. Instead it&rsquo;s a touch sensitive area on the bezel you mash to turn the page.</p> <p>This is clearly a huge win for our civilization that was <em>so over</em> buttons so long ago. I mean, <em>eye-roll. Buttons. Sheesh.</em></p> <p>So with PagePress you get no feedback until your Kindle buzzes—sorry, &ldquo;provides a silent haptic response&quot;—and turns the page. </p> <p>I&rsquo;ve read hundreds of pages on my Kindle Voyage and I still don&rsquo;t have muscle memory for exactly how hard to push. Because I&rsquo;m pushing on rigid plastic.</p> <p>Perhaps it will come. Perhaps not.</p> <p>To make it worse, the pressure-sensitive areas of the bezel only have a visual indication that they&rsquo;re pressable, so when you&rsquo;re reading and—you know, as you do when you&rsquo;re reading—focusing on the screen, you have to visually check your thumb is on the right area.</p> <p>It&rsquo;s really inexcusably stupid and I wonder what kind of corporate culture could let this kind of dumb get out the door in a premium product.</p> <p>But nevertheless, if you&rsquo;re a heavy Kindle user, it&rsquo;s still worth the upgrade. If nothing else, having your Kindle respond to touches the same day is worth it, and yes, the screen is gorgeous.</p> <p>It&rsquo;s just amazing that smart people could get together and tell themselves that mashing on an area of the bezel would be way better than a lowly button. I wonder if any of those people have ever actually sat down on the couch to read a book on a Sunday afternoon.</p>