Category: Tech

I Blame the Internet

I Blame the Internet

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But I’m not sure how to fix it.

Maybe I should reel back a little bit. It’s not a new problem I’m talking about, but it seems to get worse every day. There was a time, I think, when people were mostly polite to each other. But that day seems to be kind of in the past. There is a lack of respect for individual people by individual people. I’ll give an example.

A while back, we brought home a new pet, a ball python, a chunky, docile little snake who will never get appreciably bigger than the 3-ish feet long she is now. She’s cute, and I think reptiles are neat, and so I blogged about it and posted. And in among the various likes and positive comments, I had a couple of friends who felt the need to comment negatively, and not just some innocuous little comment about how they didn’t like snakes, which I could have lived with. One who suggested, and not terribly politely, that I was out of my mind and what was wrong with me? Another went so far as to say that if such an animal came into their house it would be dealt with in summary fashion, likely being chopped up into little bits.

I got publicly irritated with both of them. One of them possibly to the point where they may have snoozed me or blocked me. I’m okay with that. Keep thinking you’re an animal lover when you can laugh off telling me one of my pets was only good for killing.

In what social context is it essentially okay to be a dick to someone and tell them that their opinion or thing they like, not only doesn’t matter to you, but is worth your time to denigrate?

I blame Internet.

It’s mostly not anonymous anymore, if it ever really was, but it seems to have taught us to behave however we feel like behaving, say whatever we feel like saying, because there are no consequences. It’s not a real interaction so I can say whatever I want. Free speech, you know, freedom of expression.

To which I remind you that free speech isn’t freedom from consequences.

You are absolutely free to say whatever you want, think whatever you want, do whatever you want, so long as you’re willing to accept the consequences. I’m free to disagree with you, and free to do it out loud if I don’t like your opinion, particularly when it pertains to something that matters to me. It’s entirely reasonable for me to tell you that I think you’re being an asshole. And if you get offended, well, too bad.

There is an old, old cliché that runs along the lines of if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. I like a slightly modified version: if you can’t say something nice, say something nice about someone else.

Now, I am almost famous for trying to see things in a positive light, the best light I possibly can. I do get irritable, and I do get grouchy, I do have issues sometimes with people, places, things, processes, whatever. But I try to pay attention to what’s coming out of my mouth or keyboard, regardless of what’s going on my head. I am a firm believer in Wheaton’s law. It’s the same cliché, but expressed in more modern terms, and very succinctly. Wheaton’s law: don’t be a dick.

Seems pretty simple, doesn’t it? I don’t understand why it’s getting hard for individuals in our society not to be dicks to each other.

Where, exactly, along the line did we collectively get the idea that not only do I have the right to express my opinion, but that I’m entitled to an audience, that anybody who happens to be nearby has to listen to it?

Sure, you have the right to express your opinion, but why should I care what that opinion is? Why should I have to listen to it? Why, having been forced to listen to it at some point, should I have to agree with it or accept it?

The answers is quite simple, actually. I don’t have to listen. If I do hear, I don’t have to agree. If I don’t agree, I’m just as free to tell you that as you were to express yourself in the first place.

And sometimes I will.

Recent experience shows me, however, that there’s a good chance that if I call you on being a dick, your interpretation of that is going to be that I’m the one being a dick. Well, I can probably live with that. If you can’t, it’s kind of not my problem.

Sometimes, if you can’t say something nice, and instead choose to say something that isn’t nice, the appropriate response is actually for me to tell you to shut the fuck up. I’m sorry if that offends you, and I’m not usually going to go straight to that, but we might arrive there eventually. I’ll regret going there, but not for long, and not stress too hard about it after the fact.

In Wheaton’s name, be well, everyone.

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Change is Bad, Right?

Change is Bad, Right?

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusrssyoutubeby featherWhy is our first impulse for anything different ignore it or try to force it to meet our preconceptions?

It shouldn’t be, and I’m not sure why human nature resists change so much.

Let me give an example.

Earlier this week on Facebook, I came across an eye-rolling meme in my time stream, re-posted from some other source for the mumblety-thousandth time:

You can probably guess that most of the comments were just a flat-out agreement, with the occasional stronger agreement for emphasis or an extra word or two to display the importance of the opinion, and once in a while even, gasp, a whole sentence. There was, on this particular re-post, exactly one disagreement so far when I scrolled back through several pages worth of comments. Everyone else seemed to agree that it was an awesome idea.

So I decided to call shenanigans:

“Disagree. Far better move to integrate them into things. Taking them away is going to breed resentment and theft. Teach them that they’re tools for more than just amusement.”

I think I took a fairly gentle track. I didn’t talk about how the teacher has no rights over the property of the students, or how if a teach did do something like this they would assume responsibility for all the property and making sure it gets back to the original owners. Okay, maybe I did with the use of the word “theft”, but not strongly. But while Facebook is a bit more verbose than, say, Twitter, in many cases you’re not going to catch most people do with a comment very much longer than the one I left.

Still, I think I could have done better, even in the limited space. The heart of this meme says that since I couldn’t have a cell phone when I was in school, you shouldn’t be able to have one either. If we use similar logic, and people have, to since my father didn’t have calculators available when he was in high school, I shouldn’t have been allowed to use one when I was in high school. Since his father didn’t have access even to slide rules for the high school equivalent of the day in the old country, my father should have learned to memorize logarithmic tables just like his father did. And so on.

Screw technology. Change is bad.

And that’s the real heart of things, change can be scary, and therefore it’s bad. I don’t understand it, and so I need to protect other people from understanding it.

Wouldn’t it be better to adapt and integrate, as many teachers have already begun to do? Teach students that the powerful computer they carry around their pocket, and use to text her friends and play games on, is a gateway to every scrap of knowledge the human race has to offer. The fact that it’s also gateway to pseudoscience, fake news, and outright lies is a whole different set of lessons, but one they also need to learn.

Douglas Adams, a brilliant writer of bizarre science fiction whom we lost decades too soon, came up with a set of three rules to describe our reactions to technologies, but that really can be more generalized to change in general”

  1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
  2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
  3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

I’d argue the thirty-five is an average. Some people are much younger when they reach that stage and some never do.

It’s very easy to become set in your ways. It’s much harder to keep your mind open to new concepts, to actually investigate and judge them on their own merits and validity rather than just saying change is bad, that things should be like they were back in my day.

But back in my day is over, and while I agree it was probably awesome at the time, with the big, bright world filled with huge possibilities, it seems particularly clueless of me to use something that didn’t exist back then in order to protest against it existing now. Not to mention ironic.

So if you post something that says kids today have it too easy, that they should or shouldn’t have something because that’s not how it was when you were a kid, don’t be surprised if I disagree, don’t be surprised if I take the time to tell you I disagree, and, honestly, and don’t be surprised if I laugh openly and tell you you’re wrong.

This gently phrased opinion piece has been brought to you by the lyric fragment, “Constant change is here to stay”.

Be well, everyone.Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Recording Studio Mark 1.1

Recording Studio Mark 1.1

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So up until now, this is what I’ve been using as a recording studio.

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Recording Studio 1.0

(This is not actually where I record, but that’s occupied by a teenager just at the moment.Oh, and it’s a Zoom H1: small, portable, and really good sound quality.)

Recently, however, I’ve made an upgrade. Not a very expensive one, but one that may have the effect of increasing my recording quality just a little, and hopefully reducing the amount of editing time I have to put in.

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Recording Studio 1.1

It’s a small difference, and not a very subtle one. A homemade pop filter, consisting of a coat hanger, wrapped in a dollar store nylon and supported by a phone book that magically appeared on my doorstep. This fantastic, astounding, and amazing upgrade cost me one dollar plus tax because I already had the coat hanger. In fact, for the cost of three additional coat hangers (which I already have), I can make three more filters with that same dollar, because the nylons came as two pairs. And since they’re of the knee-high variety, I didn’t even have to get the scissors out.

Has it made a difference? On the recording side, I think it has. Since using the filter while working on Days of Geek, my editing ratio has dropped from just over 3 1/2 minutes of editing time per minute of raw audio to less than 2 1/2, not counting mixing or leveling. There are still some pops here and there on my plosives, but not nearly as many, and I don’t have to do as many retakes because of them. Hopefully the audio quality is, at worst, as good as it was before with less time and effort spent, leaving me more time and effort for other creative things.

(I do still have to do plenty of retakes due to the various verbal stumbles I make, and it’s worth nothing that now every two minutes of raw audio equals approximately 1 minute of finished audio. Still working on that.)

I am planning an upgrade to the recording studio in the near future, a more significant one, perhaps to version 2.0. This will involve foam, exacto knives, and hot glue. Probably won’t be too long in coming, but it will also probably cost more than a dollar. With luck, sales tax included, if I spend a little bit of time planning and making sure I know what I’m doing, I should come in at around $20 plus tax, swearing, and labour.

Wish me luck.

Be well, everyone.

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Returning the Surface

Returning the Surface

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusrssyoutubeby featherAt first glance, the Surface RT has a lot to recommend it.

First, because whether any of us wants to admit it, cool is a consideration. The keyboard that attaches by magnets is pretty cool, and the charger works the same way. I don’t know if anyone remembers the initial advertising campaign, but it was smooth, clever, and cool.

Still, cool is only one item in the list, and it doesn’t trump functionality.

Other things I like:

  • The Surface is, so far, the only tablet to possess a full USB port instead of a micro. Most of the androids have a micro USB jack and a micro SD port (the Surface has the SD port available). The iPad has neither.
  • The touch screen works well, even up to iPad standards in my brief experience, and the Windows 8 interface actually works pretty well away from a non-touch machine, of course that’s not surprising since it was obviously designed for touch.
  • The Windows App store is slowly coming up to snuff. There’s a lot more available than when the Surface launched last fall, even if there are still some gaps.
  • And the embedded Office RT suite was actually a nice touch, keeping pretty much all of the functionality I’d need for any writing or tracking tasks that I typically have going on.

I’m a writer, and if all I wanted to do was a little writing, the RT would actually be fine. Not great, but fine.

But there’s a lot more to my life than writing, and the connectivity the 21st century is bringing to us all is here to stay, so I can’t help but compare it to other devices in my possession, thinking about the laptop functionality I wanted to replace even as I struggled to find things that my two year old iPhone couldn’t do faster and better. I didn’t come up with much.

  • I’m about to become an honest to goodness podcaster, so the idea of being able to work anywhere on some audio processing and editing, is appealing. There are some apps to manage this, but they’re limited and clunky so far.
  • Voice recognition is weak, but I don’t know if my expectations are reasonable or if I’m just used to Siri and Dragon.
  • Both cameras are merely 1 MP each. My phone’s primary camera is 8 MP. While the secondary is merely a VGA for Facetime, I don’t know that you can get a new phone with much less than 1.2 on the secondary. Not looking for super photography here, but for the price tag on the surface, I’m looking for better than crappy web cam level. They take grainy, noisy pictures, even when the tablet is resting still on a solid surface.
  • It suffers from the age old mandatory Windows update problems. I’d had the device for three days before it downloaded an update without telling me, and I didn’t even know it had things to install until I tried to power down. That installation then took 20 minutes. This is one of the main things that has so irritated me about Microsoft for years.
  • It’s under-powered. I suspected this from reviews, but it’s a tablet not a full-fledged computer. The reviews and comparisons were, if anything, generous. I spent far too much time looking at splash pages waiting for the apps to load. Simple things were 3-5 seconds. Stuff that needed processing power ran 8-12. On average, with one or two exceptions, equivalent apps on my phone loaded twice as fast. But those are mobile versions! Yes, but so are most of the apps on the Surface. Don’t be fooled.

I bought the 64 GB version in a keyboard package, and paid $500. This is after a recent price reduction of $100 by Microsoft, as well as an extra $100 on sale at Best Buy. For what I got, it was too much. Had I paid the original $700, “disappointed” would be far too weak a word. At $350, I could have lived with it. At $300, I think I would have been satisfied. Even still, I did my best to test out everything I’d want to do with it for almost a week before making that decision. I really wanted to like the RT, I just couldn’t.

I keep saying I’m done with Microsoft, but I keep trying. I don’t know why. I might have had enough this time.

But what other options do I have?

As far as the iPad goes, the lack of external connectivity has always been a deal breaker for me. It probably has the best functionality but it’s over-reliant on “the cloud” and doesn’t want me to be able to plug anything in on my own or have any extra storage without paying hundreds of dollars extra for it. I love how the iPad works, but I don’t like the closed nature of the system.

So taking the Surface out of the equation, unless I’m willing to shell out even larger dollars for the Pro version, which is actually a PC and actually running the full Windows 8 so can actually manage full programs instead of apps, I think I must now be leaning toward an Android tablet, even if it’s only for expandable storage reasons. Well, and I think the app store is approaching Apple quality.

The Surface is cool, but it’s made of unequal parts awesome and suck. There’s too much suck.

Be well, everyone.Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Entering the Tablet World

Entering the Tablet World

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusrssyoutubeby featherI decided a while back that my next computer would probably end up being a tablet. My current laptop is starting to stagger and I’ve just about had it with burning through laptops in a couple of years. There are too many of them in the house anyway.

On Labour Day at Best Buy, while browsing the tablet section, I allowed my wife to talk me into a Surface. Between the sale and the recent price reduction, it’s was a pretty sweet deal. Out of stock in the store, we were able to order it online. It arrived this morning about 20 minutes before I had to leave for work. Awesome timing. I was able to open the box and plug it in before I left.

Now, I’m not a huge Microsoft fan, exactly, but I think every computer I’ve ever had has run some kind of windows, except for the old desk top I’m experimenting with Linux on. And I’ve been following stories and reviews on the Surface. I’m not going to give any serious opinions yet, but I want to be impressed. Everything I’ve read tends to be polarized and partly depending on when it was written; the more recent, the more favourable the review, it seems, so I’m hopeful. I’ll post bits and pieces on what I discover and accomplish with my new device as we go along.

But right now I have to go play with it. While I’m still awake.

Inside this box...
Inside this box…

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There’s another box. And inside that box…

My new Surface RT.
My new Surface RT.

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