Everybody talking to their pockets, 10

29 09 2014

Monopolies don’t care about you, and damned near every corporation aspires to be a monopoly—precisely because it wouldn’t have to care about you.

Facebook is, in the US, a monopoly (you don’t really think Google+ is a competitor, do you?), and thus indifferent to its users.

It doesn’t have to care if its consumers don’t like its privacy or transparency policies, nor does it pay much mind to journalists or bloggers who are outraged—OUTRAGED!—at yet another change which inconveniences the end-user.

That’s because the end-user doesn’t matter, or at least not in the way she thinks she matters.

We in the US are used to hearing the customer is always right, which in addition to not being even remotely true, only works as a check on corporate behavior when the customer has other options.

When the corporation is a monopolist, it has all of the options, which can vary from ignoring the complaints, issuing anodyne statements about the complaints while doing nothing, or inviting its customers to go elsewhere—all the while knowing there is no place else to go.

It may also, of course, take account of those complaints and make changes in a way pleasing to its customers, but it will only do so if those changes are in its own interests (profit, market reach). “Pleasing its customers” is a mere pleasant and unnecessary side effect to its real aims.

And thus back to the customer and the end-user: The customer believes that the product is for her use, that she is the reason for the product’s existence. But she’s not the end, but the means to the end, because the real end-user is the corporation itself. The customer exists to serve the corporation.

If the corporation is not a monopolist, it might respond to customer complaints as a way to gain competitive advantage, which may help to explain why Google+ dropped its real-names policy. It’s not at all clear that this change did help Google+, however, precisely because it is operating as a competitor in a monopolized field, i.e., one in which there is no competition.

Albert O. Hirschman noted that customers, workers, and citizens have three options in expressing their dissatisfaction with a product, employer, or government, exit, voice, and loyalty. These options are thin in the case of monopoly, Hirschman noted, but he also assumed the monopolist in competitive economy would not be “tight” but “flabby” or “lazy”, such that non-responsiveness would lead to the rise of competitors.

If the monopolist is tight, however, then Hirschman’s optimism is unwarranted: in the case of a tight monopoly, they could simply use the voice option—feedback—to further their monopoly. As the monopoly is extended, options for exit decrease, and in any case, present little threat to the monopolist, largely because those who exit don’t defect to a competitor (because there is none) but drop out of the market altogether. At worst, they remain marginalized by the monopolist; at best, they could join the monopoly service later, that is, they serve as a kind of customer-reserve potential.

None of this is to say that monopolies are forever, especially when it comes to cyberspace. This whole area of the economy is too new to determine  how dynamics which apply to the material sphere work over the long-term in the cyber-sphere, and whether traffic in data is different from traffic in, say, refrigerators.

And, of course, the possibility of mass exit remains, which can cripple a monopoly. Facebook could come up with a policy which so offends such a large mass of its users, and which they persist on implementing, that that large mass quits. They might then alter the offensive policy in order to woo the customers back, but if they take too long or their behavior is seen as too boorish to forgive, the monopoly crumples.

Absent such mass action, however, Facebook or any other monopolist can do what they want. They can handle a few dropouts here and there if the benefits of the policy change outweighs the costs of those few dropouts. Furthermore, by monitoring social media complaints—which Facebook almost certainly does—they can compare the number of the complaints to the number of dropouts.

And I’d bet dollars to donuts that far more complain than do anything about it—which only reinforces Facebook’s ability to do anything its wants.

In this way, even the complainers are serving Facebook’s needs.





Flashdance

26 09 2014

I am an idiot.

I loathe autoplaying ads and vids, and have at times frantically searched through multiple open tabs in order to track down the offending bit and TURN IT OFF. If I can’t find it before I lose my mind, I simply turn off the computer’s sound.

Turning off the sound isn’t a bad tactic, by the way, but flash-infestations also slow loading times on this old laptop, and as IAMVERYIMPATIENT, I wanted. . . something more.

Okay, so I knew that there were solutions out there, but despite my deep and profound rage at autoplay, I couldn’t be arsed to track down those solutions.

(So I don’t always make sense; this surprises you?)

Anyway, today I saw a coupla’ mentions of this handy-dandy Mozilla (and Chrome) add-on called Flashblock and finally managed the tremendously difficult task of clicking on a button to install it.

Cue the sound of angels.

If you have been as irritated-by-Flash and lazy as I’ve been, today’s your lucky day. Y’all know I don’t shill for products, but this sucker’s free, easy, and goddess-as-my witness, works.

Can’t beat that.





Everybody knows that the dice are loaded, 9

26 09 2014

Pavlina R Tcherneva/https://twitter.com/ptcherneva

No comment necessary.





Coolsville

22 09 2014

Did you miss them?

The posts of me bitching about the hot and the mugg and the sun and the smell, capped off by the August I-hate-everything rant?

Yeah, didn’t happen this summer. Because this summer was. . . not bad.

Not bad at all; in fact, it was the best summer since I moved to New York.

There were occasional hot days, and a fair amount of humid days, but in June-July-August, there were damned few hot-and-humid days. The worst week of the summer was the first week of September, with temps in the eighties and dew points in the seventies—uncomfortable, but which discomfort was easily abated with a fan.

Okay, during one or two of those early-Sept days I could have turned on the a/c, but since I hadn’t bothered to put it in the window, I made do with the fan.

That’s right, it was so not-awful that I never needed to heave that box into position; instead, it remained hunkered down on an upside-down milk-crate beside my bed, an ersatz bed-stand for my (30+-year-old) clock radio and a couple of plants.

The only downside to the many cloudy days was the sadness of my windowbox-basil. It enjoyed the sun and rain thru most of June, but there was a big windy storm at the end of June, and it never fully recovered. I got enough leaves throughout the rest of the summer for salads and sandwich toppers, but not enough for pesto.

Still, that’s a trade-off I will make every time. And hell, isn’t that what greenmarkets are for, anyway? I bought a coupla’ bunches for a few bucks and whipped up another year’s worth o’ basily and garlicky goodness.

Of course, me being me, I’ve already had moments of dread about next summer—which is a decent argument for trying to get away from oneself from time to time.

And hey, it’s supposed to be a cold winter! That I can look forward to!





Boom boom boom

18 09 2014

I am a mine-layer.

Some days—most days?—the most I can accomplish is to fling out enough mines that at least some will burrow into rather than merely roll off of my students.

I’m a pretty good teacher—I’d put myself in the B, B+ range—but I think even the best teachers fail to impart whole systems of thought or history or formulae to their students. One might be able to lay out the sets and subsets, the permutations and exemplars and exceptions, in as straightforward a manner as possible, noting what syncs up with which and where it all falls apart, but beyond the assignment or the test or the essay, the knowledge dissipates.

This isn’t their fault—the student’s, I mean—nor is it the teacher’s. Most of the material covered in a college course can only be fully taken in through repetition, and for many students in many classes, it’s one-and-done: the ticking off of requirements on their way to a degree. What they remember may be courses in their major, and that’s because they run into the same concepts and theories and studies over and over again.

If students are able to see the connections amongst ideas laid out in a 3- or 4-hundred-level course in their field, it likely has less to do with that particular professor than with the accumulation of bits from the 100- and 200-level courses.

So what to do when teaching a 1 or 200-level class, or even an advanced class which is supported by no major?

Lay mines. Try to expose the students to concepts they are likely to encounter again, so that the next time they run across “Aristotle” or “Arendt” or  “deontological ethics”, that little bomb will go off and they’ll say to themselves, Hey, I recognize this! and maybe not feel so estranged from what had seemed strange.

So many metaphors could be used here: taking a student down a path and pointing out enough landmarks so that when they traipse down it again, they’ll say Hey! . . . , and feel more confident in their surroundings, more willing to push further on. Tossing out enough seeds in the hopes that a few take root, sprout. Or maybe repeated vaccinations, priming the immune system to respond when next encountering the invasive idea (tho’ there are clear limits to this last analogy insofar as the knowledge isn’t to be annihilated).

Maybe it’s different for professors at elite schools, with students who’ve already been exposed to and are comfortable with these ideas. Or maybe even at my CUNY school I’d find less mine-laying if I were to teach more advanced-level courses in my field.

But maybe not, or, at least, not the way I teach. Yes, I want them to perform well on tests and papers, but more than that, much more than that, I am greedy enough of their attention that I want them to remember this stuff for the rest of their lives.

I’d rather they get a B and be bothered for decades than get an A and let it all go.

So this might explain why I’m partial to the mine idea: because it allows for the possibility of little bits of insight to explode whenever the student strays over forgotten territory. And if those mines are powerful enough and buried deep enough, there’s a chance those explosions might rearrange her intellectual landscape, might change how he looks at the world.

And yeah, I like the idea of blowing their minds, too.





Get back

16 09 2014

You know how people give you the back of the hand?

Well, this is Trickster’s preferred stance toward me:

Ignore that clawed-up ottoman.

Ignore that clawed-up ottoman.

Of course, sometimes giving me the back is simply a second effect to much larger (and known-only-to-her) purpose.

002

There is nothing on the other side of that door except floor and more doors. Doesn’t end her fascination, though.

007

No, I don’t usually have extra bags of cat food sitting around, but there was a sale!

She can’t even face me when she’s sitting in my lap.

010And when she’s had enough of that, she slithers on to the desk and comports herself just so:

012

Yes, I am clearly the center of her existence.





Listen to the music: It’s an inconvenient time

15 09 2014

It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?

I’ve dabbled in summersongs (fallsongs—or autumnsongs?—coming up!) and kicked around a song or two here and there, but after the disquisition on GY!BE and Miss Holly, the lacunae is noticeable.

I have been listening. This fistful of cds was, like the last, dominated by two names (albeit three performers): David  and Macy Gray, and Nanci Griffith (and rather a lot of Nanci Griffith). Unlike the last time, I zipped right through my listening of them, and ended with some lovely Charlie Haden.

The music wasn’t the problem: I just couldn’t be arsed to write about them.

Both of the Grays have the kinds of voices I like: a bit low, and skritchy. I mean, I’m not a Dave Matthews fan, but when he sings with, say, Emmylou, I dig that rasp.

Mr. Gray is another bloke I was introduced to while (whilst?) in Canada. He’s a bit of a mope, but what saves him, most of the time, from emo-overload are the bites he’ll snap out of the woe. There aren’t really any laughs in his songs, but there’s a sardonic sensibility which, again, cut against the despair.

I do wish for alternate production on some of his songs—he’s a sucker for the big whoomp—but when I’m havin’ one of those days, Life in Slow Motion goes down well with a beer or whisky and a slouch in the couch.*

And Nanci? Yeah, man, lotta cds. Her voice has a bit of the kewpie to it, but she’s a hell of a songwriter and I appreciate the hell out of the bottom-line humanness of her tunes.

And her cd, Flyer, helped get me through my dissertation. All hail Flyer!

~~~

234. David Gray, Life in Slow Motion
235. David Gray, a new day at midnight
236. Macy Gray, On How Life Is
237. Macy Gray, Id
238. Nanci Griffith, Storms
239. Nanci Griffith, Blue Roses from the Moon
240. Nanci Griffith, clock without hands
241. Nanci Griffith, Heart in Mind
242. Nanci Griffith, The Dust Bowl Symphony
243. Nanci Griffith, Flyer
244. Nanci Griffith, Other Voices, Too
245. Charlie Haden, The Montreal Tapes
246. Charlie Haden & Pat Metheny, beyond the Missouri Sky

*I don’t currently own a couch, but the line doesn’t work as well with “my one upholstered chair”.





All things weird and wonderful, 46

14 09 2014

A fox, which flies. From India. An Indian Flying Fox.

Otherwise known as a “bat”.

Indian Flying Fox 2 sm

Traer Scott Photography

What a glorious thing is chance and necessity, allowing for the emergence of mammals with wings where their arms could be.

And she is a night animal—my kind of animal. Along with the serval and the otter, the kangaroo rat and the possum, the snow leopard and the moth, creatures great and small and maybe a little bit creepy, Traer Scott has photographed them (not quite all).

But this is the one which captured me.

What a magnificent shot of a magnificent creature.

~~~

h/t Daily Dish





You’ve got to fight for your right to party

11 09 2014

Smartphones everywhere and no video?

Please let there be video:

There’s some sort of unofficial birthday/Iron Dog-type/snowmachine party in Anchorage. A nice, mellow party, until the Palin’s show up. There’s beer, of course, and maybe other things. Which is all fine, but just about the time when some people might have had one too many, a Track Palin stumbles out of a stretch Hummer, and immediately spots an ex-boyfriend of Willow’s. Track isn’t happy with this guy, the story goes. There’s words, and more. The owner of the house gets involved, and he probably wished he hadn’t. At this point, he’s up against nearly the whole Palin tribe: Palin women screaming. Palin men thumping their chests. Word is that Bristol has a particularly strong right hook, which she employed repeatedly, and it’s something to hear when Sarah screams, “Don’t you know who I am!” And it was particularly wonderful when someone in the crowd screamed back, “This isn’t some damned Hillbilly reality show!” No, it’s what happens when the former First Family of Alaska comes knocking. As people were leaving in a cab, Track was seen on the street, shirtless, flipping people off, with Sarah right behind him, and Todd somewhere in the foreground, tending to his bloody nose.

I generally avoid the half-guv, but c’mon, this is a can of Pringles to me.

I should also note that I am rather-too fond of the notion of bar brawls, treating them, affectionately, as a kind of good-time-gone-wrong.

I’ve never actually been in a bar fight (that I can remember, at least), but I’d like to think that, at some point before I die, I’d be involved in a tavern-related mêlée.

If not, well, after my next eye surgery, I’ll explain the facial bruises the same way I explained the bruises of my last surgery: bar fight.





You know, I’ve got a funny feeling I’ve seen this all before

10 09 2014

President Obama is speaking now about the necessity of going after ISIL, currently the most rabid of death-eaters of the Middle East.

ISIL is terrible, and terrible for the people of Iraq and Syria.

The US, by waging war on and in Iraq, has helped (but did not solely) prepare the ground on which ISIL arose. The Iraqi government, thru spectacular mismanagement and churlish policies toward its Sunni citizens, fertilized that ground, and Syrian President Assad, by emptying his jails of militants, gleefully seeded it.

Whatever the US responsibility for ISIL’s rise, however, it is not at all clear that we have the competence to clean up our own mess.

I wasn’t opposed to the limited bombing in support of the evacuation of the Yazidis, largely because it was limited in time and place and for a specific purpose, and for which the alternatives, including doing nothing, were unlikely to work in preventing a massacre.

But this, this expanded campaign  to “degrade, and ultimately destroy” ISIL?

No.

The president’s speech was short, and of the parts which weren’t filled with the usual boo-yah blather, strove for a combination of modesty and determination: no ground troops, working with allies, humanitarian assistance, strikes in Syria (not modest!), all geared toward long-term peace.

Peace—what a lovely idea.

But if we are determined to eliminate ISIL, modesty likely will not do, and I am concerned that if these modest efforts don’t work or work as well or as quickly as the war-bangers want, then we’ll hear—are already hearing—that determination requires immodesty, and by gum the US is weak, weak, I tell ya!, unless we’re willing to kill and die and kill some more.

As I’ve mentioned before, I do not believe that we act ably or well in our military endeavors in the Middle East.

It’s not so much that I fear that we might fail as believe that we have already failed, and with this re-engagement, are about to amplify that failure.