I turn to my computer

17 02 2017

Bought it, and a router.

Of course, I spend an hour (or so. . . ) looking at router reviews, settled on two or three (of the cheaper ones), checked reviews, then said What the hell and went with the mid-priced one. Again, I’m sure it’ll be fine.

Part of the issue is just making my way through the completely different kinds of reviews. The variety makes sense, really: a technophile will look focus features x, y, and z, while an end-user like me, who just wants something reliable, will likely focus on p, q, and r. Still, reading the techie reviews can at least clue me in the importance of, say, x, and so I’ll factor that into my considerations as well.

There is no method to my shopping anxiety. I look top-ten lists, check various tech mags, and toggle back-and-forth between those and Amazon reviews (some of which are themselves quite tech-informed). I’ll then pull up this product and that, compare the specs, the prices, then maybe check out a few more products, check more reviews. I’ll twist myself around in a self-made tornado of information before I say, Paugh, enough.

I am, after all, only buying a computer, not a spouse.

As for the experts, I might concede their criticisms of while nonetheless concluding that it doesn’t really matter.

I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. Many years ago, when my little workhorse HP printer broke down (after a number of jerry-rigged fixes that kept it chugging along) and I was casting about for a new printer, I went with a highly-tech-rated Epson.

I didn’t love it. The features the reviewer concentrated on were not particularly the ones which mattered to me—something I realized only after I unboxed the thing. I still have it, but it’s basically stowed out of the way and hauled out only when I need to scan something.

For my day-to-day printing, I went with another boxy little workhorse, a Brother laser-printer. It’s basic—black-and-white, no scanning—but that sucker prints page after page after page of text; given that I do almost all of my printing in draft mode, the print cartridge can last for years.

So, are my new purchases what a technophile would buy? Hell no. I can appreciate their insights while recognizing that, when it comes to computers, I am pretty goddamned basic. And I’m all right with that.





Hanging on the telephone

19 03 2015

My phone is dying.

This is, of course, bullshit: I have an old landline that, were I to plug it into a working outlet, would work. It doesn’t do as much as cellphone can—it only sends and receives calls—but how did “better” tech come to mean “more fragile” tech?

Bullshit, I say. Bullshit!

Yet here I am, with an old, dying flip phone (the battery isn’t holding a charge), so I’m looking at new (-to-me) phones, and wondering what is the cheapest plan I can get.

I did look into getting a smartphone a coupla’ years ago, when my old plan expired, but the monthly cost would have been more than double what I was already (over) paying. I’m thinkin’ that if I can an old/refurbished phone—hey, even an old smartphone would be a leap in tech from what I’ve got—I can simultaneously avoid an overpriced plan: after all, the phone companies offer you a free/cheap new (otherwise crazy expensive) phone in exchange for a ruinous calling/data plan; get a cheap phone, get a cheap plan?

On the advice of friends, I’m looking at T-Mobile: they offer a 50 buck/month plan, plus the 12 bucks I’d pay for a used Samsung Galaxy S4. Verizon (which is what I currently have) is supposed to have great national coverage, but jeez, I only leave the state every coupla’ years, so why pay $70-80/month?

Maybe my old phone will rally—it’s faltered before, only to rebound—and I can hold off on spending more money on a tech which I rely upon and resent in about equal measure.

But if not, man, time to pony up.





Now make some dollars

9 03 2015

apple watch header

Nope.





Call me

30 12 2013

See, there are some benefits to resisting every shiny (expensive) new toy:

New York City resident Kevin Cook was mugged at gunpoint in Central Park on Saturday, but when the thief stole Cook’s phone, he was so upset to find that it was an old flip phone that he gave it back, the New York Post reported.

“Once he saw my phone, he looked at it like, ‘What the f–k is this?’ and gave it back to me,” Cook told the paper. He described the phone in question as “like a 3-year-old generation Windows phone.”

Do I have a flip phone? Oh yes, I do.





She blinded me with science

14 12 2013

Quick note/plea: I’m putting together a proposal to teach another 300 general education course (as is the bioethics class), tentatively and excitingly called “Technology & Society”.

I’ve begun putting together a web page to serve as a resource for my would-be students at my course blog; as I am just getting started with this, the page is a bit thin on content. I’m not exactly sure how I’ll wrassle the various possibilities into a (semi-) coherent course, so I’ll be tossing up  links to as wide a variety of sites as possible.

Why do this? As the course will require a couple of honest-to-pete research papers, and as this is the first time many of the students will be writing h2p research papers, I’d like to give them as much of a boost as possible to get going.This isn’t meant to serve as a substitute for their own research, but rather, as leads.

(For comparison’s sake, you could look at the Bioethics articles and Bioethics sites & docs pages.)

Anyway, any help you could offer (in the comments, or via email—absurdist [at] gmx [dot] com) would be greatly appreciated!





Angels in the architecture

16 07 2013

This is not a “why I am not a creationist” piece. Oh no. Even though I’m not.

This is a hit on a “why I am a creationist” piece.

Virginia Heffernan, who can be an engaging writer, has apparently decided to disengage from thinking. In a widely commentedupon piece for Yahoo, the tech and culture writer outed herself as a creationist. It is a spectacularly bad piece of . . . well, I guess it’s a species of argumentation, but as she kinds of flits and floats from the pretty to the happy and fleetly flees from sweet reason, it might be best to consider this a kind of (bad) performance art.

My brief with her is less about the God-ish conclusion than that flitting and floating: she rejects science because its boring and sad and aren’t stories about God sooooo much better?

You think I’m exaggerating? I am not. To wit:

I assume that other people love science and technology, since the fields are often lumped together, but I rarely meet people like that. Technology people are trippy; our minds are blown by the romance of telecom. At the same time, the people I know who consider themselves scientists by nature seem to be super-skeptical types who can be counted on to denigrate religion, fear climate change and think most people—most Americans—are dopey sheep who believe in angels and know nothing about all the gross carbon they trail, like “Pig-Pen.”

I like most people. I don’t fear environmental apocalypse. And I don’t hate religion. Those scientists no doubt see me as a dopey sheep who believes in angels and is carbon-ignorant. I have to say that they may be right.

Uh-huh.

Later she mentions that she’s just not moved by the Big Bang or evolution, and that evo-psych is sketchy science (which it is) this must mean all of science is sketchy (which it is not).

And then this stirring conclusion:

All the while, the first books of the Bible are still hanging around. I guess I don’t “believe” that the world was created in a few days, but what do I know? Seems as plausible (to me) as theoretical astrophysics, and it’s certainly a livelier tale. As “Life of Pi” author Yann Martel once put it, summarizing his page-turner novel: “1) Life is a story. 2) You can choose your story. 3) A story with God is the better story.”

(Would it be fair to mention at this point that I hated Life of Pi? Too beside-the-point?)

To summarize, she likes technology—because it’s trippy—but she doesn’t like knowing the hows and whys technology actually works, i.e., the science.

This would be fine—after all, there are all kinds of things I like without necessarily being interested in how and why they came to be—were it not for the fact that she’s a technology writer.

Perhaps she’s a closet Juggalo, or maybe she thought Bill O’Reilly waxed profound on the movement of tides, or maybe she just ate a shitload of shrooms and floated down to her keyboard, but I’d be very—excuse me, super-skeptical of the views of a tech writer who apparently thinks angels make iPhones.

~~~

I have to admit, I was more amused by her piece than anything, and her Twitter exchange with Carl Zimmer left me gasping; to the extent I can make out any kind of coherent line at all, it seems to be “I like stories more than theories—so there!”

As someone who likes both stories and theories—yes, Virginia, we can have both—however, I hate her feeding into the Two Cultures divide, not least because dopey angel-mongering tends to diminish even further the humanities.

I am a science enthusiast, but I am also a critic of the some of the more imperial epistemological claims by some scientists (what often gets branded as “scientism“). To note that the methods of science (methodological naturalism, nomological-deductivism—take yer pick) and knowledge produced from those methods are bounded is often taken as an attack on science itself.

And, to be fair, sometimes—as in the Storified Twitter spat, when Heffernan (big fat honking sigh) pulls Foucault out her nose to fling at Zimmer—it is.

But it ain’t necessarily so. It is simply the observation that science is one kind of practice, that it hasn’t escaped the conditionality and history of practice into some kind of absolute beyond.

Now, there’s a lot more behind that observation that I’m willing to go into at this late hour, so allow me to skip ahead to my ire at Heffernan: her dipshit argument makes it harder for those of us who’d prefer our critiques both dip- and shit-free.

So, thanks Virginia, thanks for stuffing your face with shrooms or replacing your neurons with helium or whatever the hell it was that lead you to declare the moon is made of cheese.

But next time, if there is a next time, Just Say No.





Hey, you’ve got to hide yourself away

12 05 2012

Is it time for another anti-Facebook rant?

(Well, okay, not really an anti-Facebook rant so much as an anti-YOU-MUST-BE-ON-FACEBOOK!!!! rant. And if it’s not time, I don’t care, because it is time.)

Ahem.

Farhad Manjoo loves him some social media. He loves Google and Apple and Facebook and smart phones and probably Twitter and Linked-In and implanted RFID tags which will “let” everybody know where everybody is and what they are doing at all times.

(Well, okay, probably not, but this is rant so I get to lie exaggerate for literary purposes. And, seriously, it took him until May 1 to ask Is it Time to Stop Trusting Google?)

Manjoo and Emily Yoffe have been tag-teaming on online etiquette for awhile in audios for Slate, and their most recent venture has them pondering whether it is possible to opt out without being a weirdo?

Yoffe cautiously suggests that, perhaps, for the young ‘uns, it might seem a little weird. It’s fine, but it’s going to be odd. Still, for those over 35, say (the age of the letter writer to the manners-duo), I really don’t think we’ve gotten to the point where if you don’t have a Facebook page, you’re somehow signaling you’re socially inept.

At which point Manjoo throws his pom-poms into the ring and starts yelling Give me an F! Give an A! Give me a CEB! . . .

Let me first address what I said before. That question came up in the context of a debate about online dating. I said that if you’re going to set up a date with someone and you can’t find anything about them on Facebook… I’d extend that to other social networks. If you can’t find a photo of them and there’s no photo on the dating site either, then you should be suspicious. That person seems to be trying to hide something.

At which point Yoffe helpfully interjects, We’re all trying to hide something, Farhad.

But the Head Cheerleader WILL NOT BE DETERRED!

But to the letter writer’s question beyond dating, I think that it’s better to have a social networking profile for a couple reasons. You are taking control of your online life then. If you have nothing about yourself online, your friends may post stuff about you on Facebook, you may come up on a news story, you may come up on a search engine. I think it’s better just generally to take control of your presence online.

And if you don’t have one, I think people will judge you based on that. Maybe it’s different in some circles. This guy says he works in the trades. I think that in some kinds of professions, it’s not as necessary as others. In our profession, it seems like it’s required.

I’ve looked at the numbers for Facebook. If you look at the demographics, it’s not like only young people have Facebook. It pretty much cuts across most demographic lines, and from what I can tell, also socioeconomic lines. They have a billion people around the world. Lots of people are on Facebook and I think you’re kind of judged now, for better or worse, if you don’t. [emph added]

Aaaaannnnnd we’re all back in junior high.

Manjoo does at least insert a “for better or worse”, and later admits that It’s work. This guy says he feel overwhelmed by it. He raises setting up a generic profile, but that’s going to still be work. I agree. But,as he goes on to say,

it’s your reputation. You have to maintain your reputation in the offline world. If somebody is talking about you and telling untruths about you, you have deal with it and you have to deal with it online.

And how, pray-tell, does a Facebook account slay those untruthy evildoers? Will the mere presence of a Facebook page demonstrate my upright nature, disciplined work-habits, uncomplaining demeanor, and good hygiene? And in such a manner to override and overcome any possible suggestions otherwise?

Here’s a new tagline: Facebook: When You Need To Prove Your Innocence. And You Do.

Who knew social technology could be so liberating?





Free free, set them free (pt II)

19 08 2009

When we last left off, we were discussing the difference between free and, well, not-free. . . .

More to the point, while we humans may generate bits, we ourselves are made of atoms. However useful may be the comparisons between one’s genome and the bits and bytes of computing, our genomes require us to take in a certain amount of energy (in the form of calories, a.k.a., food) in order to function. And in order for these genetic information processors to receive their requisite amounts of energy, some other genetic information processing unit (gipu) must grow and deliver said energy to a location wherein multiple gipus may—wait for it—purchase said energy for their use.

Information may be free, but food isn’t. And for one to acquire such food, one must be, yes, paid, for one’s work. This payment, of course, also allows for the purchase of such old-economy items as a home, clothing, car, bike, beer, and computer, electricity, and broadband connection.

Thus, while I may blog for no payment, I don’t rely upon this blogging to pay for the rest of my life. And while WordPress may recoup costs by placing ads in my blog (as, for example, my e-mail providers do with my messages), that I neither pay nor get paid doesn’t mean that money isn’t changing hands somewhere up or down the line.

So how do I get paid? By absorbing, rearranging, and delivering information, i.e., I teach. And as much as I enjoy teaching, if CUNY wouldn’t pay me, I wouldn’t be doing it. In other words, I distinguish between a hobby (blogging) and wage-labor (teaching). Were such wage-labor to disappear, so too would would the hobby.

In other words, if I don’t get paid, I am unable to support my life—as in lifestyle, or, at the extremes, the biology itself.

Thus the basic question: if the economy is to be based on free, how is anyone to live?

Marx noted that capitalism required its laborers to be sustained, however minimally, in order to be able to work. (Corpses tend toward absenteeism.) Among the elements of the allegedly-inevitable crisis of capitalism would be the immiseration of the proletariat below the level of sustainability.

Some capitalists have made a similar observation. Even that old anti-semitic bastard Henry Ford  got one thing right about the labor force in a capitalist economy, namely, that if you wanted people to buy your product, you had to pay them enough to afford it. With this insight, he married two essential elements of any economy—the dynamic of consumer supply and demand for products, and the role of labor in creating those products. (In so marrying these elements, he highlighted the dual role of the laborer as both producer and consumer, creating a sustainable form of consumer capitalism that Marx did not foresee.) Capitalism in particular relies upon the differential between the cost of production and the price for the products for the creation of profit; thus, price must more-than-cover costs for profit to be generated.

Anderson breezes past all this. It is fashionable to discount the role of labor in production and to focus exclusively on supply and demand, such that the price for a product is allegedly solely based on s&d and bears little relation to labor costs, but:  no labor, no product. If labor costs didn’t matter, corporations wouldn’t bother to move production overseas in order to drive down those costs.

It’s one thing to engage in a hobby, which presumably one finds pleasurable, for free; it’s quite another to slog through a pile of exams or operate a punch-press or make caramel macchiatos for caffeine-crabby customers for free.

Oh, but manufacturing and retail are so atom-based, so they don’t count (I don’t know if Anderson has anything to say about teaching or medicine or law—rather significant information-based professions). But if this is a truly new economy, then how does one account for such atom-based activity? And given that the bit-based economy requires the presence of such atom-activities, wouldn’t this new information economy be better understood as the icing on the, ah, old capitalist cupcake?

Or is what’s new the notion that we are to labor for free? The costs of producing, say, an investigative report or song or book are completely discounted because the production itself doesn’t matter; what matters is the selling of that product. Thus, a band doesn’t tour to promote their music, a band promotes its music (for free) in order to sell the product (the band itself, on tour).

Again, the selling or trade of a product is a part of any economy, but in order for such trade to become or remain sustainable, it must have some positive relation to the costs of production. Metallica and Madonna have become sufficiently well-known commodities that they can, in fact, sustain themselves  through the sale of themselves, i.e., touring, but how can the unknown band or musician  support themselves outside of such a profitably virtuous circle?

What, posting on YouTube and blogging and Twittering one’s way into fame? Nothing against YouTube or Twitter—and hell, I’ll drop my anti-Facebook stance and throw that in the mix as well—but if everyone is using these fancy bits to generate publicity for themselves, how the hell is one supposed to distinguish oneself well enough to launch that profit-generating (and atoms-based) tour?

Do you know what musicians (and actors and writers and dancers and artists) are called in New York City? Waiters, baristas, teachers, and temps. Our vocation may be in the arts, and we may put a great deal of work into our vocations, but until we get paid for it, it ain’t wage-labor. Which means we have to find another way to pay the rent.

It’s not as if Anderson doesn’t make some intriguing points about third-party payment for certain technologies, and, in this Wired article from 2008, he notes that time has its own costs (although he doesn’t go so far as to make the brilliantly original observation that time is money, perhaps because he’s trying so hard to get away from money). And he notes in this article that ‘free’ is distinct from ‘cheap’ in psychologically important ways. (I won’t comment on this latter observation because 1) I fail to understand what’s new or particularly significant about this observation and 2) he does apparently expend a fair amount of energy in the book explaining what is new and significant about it. Plus, this post is already too long.)

But allow me one last jab. In the Wired article Anderson quotes Milton Friedman’s adage that ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch,’ but then goes on to wonder if so-called traditional economics doesn’t have it wrong. Thus:

a free lunch doesn’t necessarily mean the food is being given away or that you’ll pay for it later — it could just mean someone else is picking up the tab.

Exactly. But there’s little new or innovative, much less revolutionary, about this kind of economics, not least because  usually you do, somehow, pay for it later, as, say, in the expenditure of your time viewing or listening to advertising—or, as broke young hotties looking for a sugar daddy or mama learn, in some other atom-based way.

And if you don’t? Say it with me: It’s not free; it’s freeloading.

Ain’t nothing new about that.





Where was I?

3 02 2009

Still happy with the apartment.

Still happy. Who’d a thunk I’d ever use that term to describe myself?

____

I took time off to move, and while it was good to have those days to sort my shit, it threw me off.

I have a routine. I may not particularly like it, but I do rely upon it. Last semester, it was Job3, Job2/Job1, Job 3, Job 2, Job 1, Job 1, day off. So, to have four days off in a row was a spanner in the works.

(I don’t know what a spanner is. I just like the sound of ‘spanner in the works’.)

Then, with the new semester, the routine changed up even more. I teach a third class, and ended (temporarily) the temp Job3 last week.

So, finally, the new routine is: Off, Job 2/Job1, off, Job2, Job1, Job1, off.

Diggin’ those days off, yet still adjusting to new routine.

Yeah, I know: radical politics, conservative nature.

Now, when to write. . . .

____

The bummer with the move was that stress so befogged me I was unable to enjoy the inaugeration. C. has a nice take on it at her blog, SoundofRain (link at left), so check it out.

And even though I’m creeping back into crank mode, I am still delighted to hear the term ‘President Obama.’

President. Obama. Fuck yeah!

____

Spanner: wrench.

And I thought it was some sort of sailing term.

____

Fuck Farhad Manjoo.

He had a piece awhile ago in Slate in which he insisted there was no reason not to join Facebook.

Apparently, not wanting to join is an insufficient reason.

Now, some of my best friends are on Facebook, so I don’t want to be trashin’ the ‘book. But. I have no desire to join.

‘You can connect with old friends!’ Yeah, well, I want to connect, I can look up their numbers. If I don’t have their phone numbers, there’s probably a reason why.

‘Old classmates can find you!’ And this is a plus?

I’ve managed to skip all of my class reunions thus far, and am not particularly anguished by my absence. No axes to pick or bones to grind: it’s just that mild curiosity is not enough to get my butt on a plane to SmallTown for an event which will feature food I don’t eat (i.e., meat) and music I no longer listen to. Yeah, I’d like to see LW and LdB and thank JK for one of the most excellent gifts a person could have given me, but, hmmm, if I were to see them, I’d want to see them. So, if the next reunion coincides with a visit, I’ll go. But otherwise? Nuh-uh.

Manjoo also states that privacy isn’t really an issue, given that a ‘booker can calibrate her privacy options, but what of the company itself knowing your business? And the guv’mint hasn’t had many problems getting tech companies to turn over records on its users to whatever master spies/doofus office grunts request them.

Besides, if I can configure my privacy options so that if you want, you can let everyone see essentially nothing about you, then why the hell bother with setting  up a profile, anyway?

What’s truly irritating about Manjoo’s piece, however, is the utterly unrecognized coerciveness of his call to Face: The site has crossed a threshold—it is now so widely trafficked that it’s fast becoming a routine aide to social interaction, like e-mail and antiperspirant. In other words, it is precisely because everyone else is using Facebook that you’re expected to do so. It is the inversion of  ‘if all your friends jumped in the lake. . . ‘ moral, in which the correct response is now ‘yes.’

Not going along with the crowd is no longer an option. Sure, you can trade e-mail addresses or phone numbers, but in many circles Facebook is now the expected way to make these connections. By being on Facebook, you’re facilitating such ties; without it, you’re missing them and making life difficult for those who went looking for you there. That’s right: it is now incumbent upon you to make life easier for those around you—and if you don’t, your life will be made much, much harder.

Okay, so not yet. But I think Manjoo is right, in that Facebook (and related technologies) will become as omnipresent—and necessary—as a phone. As I ranted to coworkers at Job1 the other night, such techs are coercive insofar as they demand their adoption to retain a basic social existence. Sure, you can go live in the boonies without a phone or internet connection, but try to apply for a ‘regular’ (i.e., non-day) job without a phone number. If you lack access to or knowledge of certain techs—like e-mail or antiperspirant—you jeopardize your standing in society. Hell, I got a cell phone because I found it difficult to operate in NYC without it—movers, landlords/rental agents, potential roommates, new friends, potential employers tended toward the incredulous when I said I didn’t have a cell. I consider myself lucky my jobs don’t require a Blackberry and that my friends humor my anti-texting stance.

But don’t I love my cell, now that I have it? Not really. The reception is worse than a land line, and even at the most basic PhoneConglomerate rate, I pay considerably more than I did for my old phone service. Sure, it’s convenient when I’m late or unsure of where to meet someone, but given that I managed to deal with these exigencies pre-cell, I’m not at all convinced of the absolute (as opposed to relative) necessity of the walkabout phone.

Will I capitulate on FB? After all, Manjoo argues that my friendships might ‘demand’ that I sign up. I don’t know. I once stated I’d never own a cell phone, given that there is rarely a political theory emergency ( i.e., that it was hardly necessary for someone to be able to reach me at all times), and now I carry the damned thing with me almost everywhere.

I don’t answer it, though. Loooove those caller i.d. and voicemail features. . . .