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season’s close

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Earlier this evening, I walked out of the office after my last day as an employee in the IT industry. For now, at least, and for good if I have any control over my future. We had our “official” send-off in the pub two weeks ago, so today there was no fanfare, no send-off beyond a few handshakes, and electronic well-wishes from half-a-dozen time zones. That was how I wanted it; in most senses but the physical, I left long ago.

Tomorrow is the first day of orientation at University College Dublin, a day dedicated to we “mature students”. The main orientation starts on Monday, but I will not be involved until Thursday and Friday next week. The few days off were a welcome surprise that will come in handy. On the Monday after that, the real work starts; in the first year, my main worry is the Maths, since in my last years of school, the introduction of Calculus sent my marks in to a downward trend from A+ to B-. The same was not true of Physics and Chemistry, which I enjoyed all the way to my final A, and which forms a smaller part of my course.

The other side of the course is creative; it is a mixture of Engineering and Design, with the prospect of something more than mere numbers at the end of it. Outside the class, I’m looking for creativity in other fields too, and intend to get back in to playing music after too long away. I ordered a new Tune 4-string bass from Germany, earlier this week, a demo model at a knockdown price: I guess an amplifier is next: something portable.

I don’t expect to escape computers altogether, and I would not want to: I know they will be part of my future studies and work. If anything, not having to deal with a multitude of computer problems may rekindle some of my old enthusiasm for using them in creative ways, but I want and intend to live and work in the real world, once the studies are done. What I am leaving behind is the idea of computing for computing’s sake. Blogging is one example: it used to mean something, to me at least, but those days are over.

If a hunter shoots his gun in the forest, but there’s no-one there to hear it, did it really go off? In the real world, you can go and look at the hole in the squirrel tree, and you have the evidence that the gunshot really happened, and there were consequences. In writing this blog, I’ve been a poor hunter in a virtual forest, taking potshots at tempting targets, and never knowing if I actually hit anything. Today’s bloggers are more focused on a particular target; they know what they are doing out here, and wear better-fitting armour, but they are not much better at leaving holes in the real world.

As a hunting season ends when the majority of the hunter’s prey has migrated to warmer climes, my blogging season is now over; my reasons to be out here, in the chilly virtual evening, have flown away, so I am packing up my weapons and taking them home. There’s not much in my swag bag, but I did not go hungry. My pantry is well-stocked for the winter, and that will suffice. If a new season comes, will I step outside again, blunderbuss over my shoulder? I don’t know; that, too, must suffice.

Written by brian t

August 31, 2007 at 11:59 pm

Posted in blogging, internet, life

wind-up or wind-down?

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giving up blogging - Β© hugh macleod 2006 A while ago I stated my intention to stop blogging, as soon as I started university. That eventuality is now one week away, and I still intend to go through with it. I’m viewing this move as one step in a larger set of life changes, nearly all of which have been under my control.

It’s well over 5 years since I started blogging, and I’ve seen it develop from a niche activity to a web standard. A process of commercialization is already under way, even if it is not obvious from a superficial standpoint. This is understandable in purely economic terms: anything with mass popularity will be ripe for commercial exploitation.

This blog is hosted by wordpress.com, which was set up as a host for the WordPress “content management” software developed by the same multinational team. It does not charge users for a basic account. They do charge for extras, such as extra storage space or (in my case) the use of my own top-level domain, but these are genuine extras, and I don’t know if they are big cash cows for the developers. I get the impression they are still doing this because they can, not purely for commercial gain, even though the costs of running wordpress.com must be somewhere between “stupendous” and “horrendous”.

Will we see “professional bloggers”? In some senses, we already have them. Blogs, and comments on them, are major weapons in the arsenal of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) executives. We also have technology journalists and podcasters such as Robert Scoble and Adam Curry using these media to further their careers, even if stardom is not quite what they want. Me? I just enjoy writing, and found this blog a useful platform for stories about myself, my activities, and anything else that interested me.

Where I am going – for the next three years, at least – I will have plenty to write about, with little or none of it about me. In the remaining week, I may post a little more about the changes ahead of me, or I may not: they are not that exciting or unusual, and not all are guaranteed to take place. For now, I’ll resist the temptation to quote from Turn, Turn, Turn (by The Byrds), and enjoy the Debussy on the BBC Proms broadcast. This must be what old men get up to on Saturday nights.

Written by brian t

August 25, 2007 at 8:43 pm

Posted in blogging, internet, web 2.0

24% evil, 76% good

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This site is certified 24% EVIL by the Gematriculator This site is certified 76% GOOD by the Gematriculator

No, it’s not real: the Gematriculator is a spoof Numerology analyser for web pages or text. Well, if this says good things about the site, I can’t take much of the credit: it’s analysing the underlying HTML code too, and most of that is generated by wordpress.com and the Theme I use.

My two years of pill-popping have started: so far I have three bottles of capsules from America, complete with Federal warning labels, each with about a month’s supply of… a lot, a little, or nothing. The capsules are the smallest I’ve ever seen, so small it’s hard to imagine anyone having trouble taking them. Since I have to take one a day, I’ve set up alarm reminders, which means I won’t be forgetting to take my vitamins, either.

I spent most of the day just sitting around, and was able to write a few thousand words of… well, that’s for another day. There was no internet access, so no normal work was possible, but I could take coffee breaks. The worst parts of yesterday’s hospital visit were the ECG exams. (Electrocardiogram, also known as EKG.) I had one in the morning, before the first dose of medicine, and another later in the evening.

If you know about the ECG, you might be asking: what’s the problem? It’s quick, non-invasive, and all you need to do is lie still. Well, all that is true, but in my case the problem is preparation. I’m male, so I don’t get the luxury of modesty: I’m lying on a trolley with my shirt off, while everyone and their sister walks past, or pokes their noses in to say Hi! to the nurse. A pretty female nurse, who has to repeatedly reattach electrodes that refuse to stick to my hairy chest. It took alcohol swabs, surgical tape, and a threat to break out the razor and shaving cream, before they held still long enough for a minute’s data.

What I said before about being patient number one turned out to be untrue: I was the first going in, true, but the last going out with a bottle of pills. Well, not quite the last, because I made a new friend yesterday: Cathy, who stayed a little longer than me, and whom I will hopefully see again, on my next visit in two weeks’ time. After the first hour, during which we both failed to present any symptoms whatsoever, we went out for lunch. We also hung out during the day – but not while she was having her ECG: she, at least, got to enjoy a little modesty.

Written by brian t

July 20, 2007 at 7:32 pm

belated independence

with one comment

We’re almost at the end of the day after Independence Day, and I’m finally getting the opportunity to sit down and write a little about my own Independence Day, 2007. I’m not American, but I had one, nevertheless.

July 4, 2007, was the day I started quitting my job, at a major IT company. I say “started” because I haven’t actually resigned yet: it’s too soon for that. I need to give four weeks’ notice; I gave eight weeks of actual working time, or ten weeks if you factor in holidays that I won’t be taking. What I did was inform my manager that I was leaving, with the rest of the team here being told soon afterwards.

Where am I going? Not another job, at least not yet: in early September I will start full-time study at University College Dublin (UCD). The course is Structural Engineering with Architecture, straddling two disciplines. A lot of mathematics, a lot of looking at the “designed environment”, some graphic design, even some materials and construction.

I thought it was a good all-rounder course: while I enjoy architecture and design, I have no illusions of becoming an Architect with a capital A; it would take a certain level of Arrogance that I don’t have or want (I hope). More details to follow as I get them.

That is not the only change around here: not long after the meeting where I made the announcement, a former colleague of ours came calling. He still works for the same company, but in a different area, and he needed a place to stay for a few days, possibly longer. He’s not Irish, but married an Irish lady, whom (he says) is no longer a Lady. As a result, my place is now his “halfway house” on his way to the divorce courts and out of the country. Good thing I have that spare bedroom.

The last change will take the next eight weeks to engineer: the end of this blog. The reasons are complex, and will be the subject of further entries, but the most straightforward is that this blog is out of step with the way things are done today. Blogging is no longer an end in itself, but a means to an end: an end that I have little interest in achieving.

Written by brian t

July 5, 2007 at 11:51 pm

Posted in blogging, life, study, web 2.0, work

rated arrrrrrr

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What's My Blog Rated?I’m dangerous!
(Image courtesy of Mingle2‘s Blog Rating Tool.)

Why? They’re doing some keyword matching, and the reason given was:

  • bomb (4x)
  • dangerous (2x)
  • drugs (1x)

All the “bomb” references must be those in my recent post slagging off the bombers, which was about another plot to bomb London, after the July 2005 bombings. Indeed, the front page (today) has two uses of the word “dangerous”: the first examining the risks of capture that terrorists expose themselves to, in their drive to publicise their acts; the other was regarding the religious indoctrination of children.

The drugs? Well, if I’ve passed all the tests, I will be engaged in a trial of a new Multiple Sclerosis therapy, FTY720 (fingolimod). I also have some other plans in the pipeline, but (like the trial) it’s too soon to talk about them here.

The trial is an unnecessary risk, strictly speaking, as are my other plans; way to live dangerously, dude! I don’t believe I say anything here that is unsuitable for kids, but then I wasn’t brought up in the USA, where kids would grow up totally unprepared for the real world, if their parents had their way. (Not that they always do – YouTube has many examples of failures of parental control.)

No, I’m British, from a previous generation, and all is not lost there, either. This year, the winner of the prestigious Galaxy Book Of The Year Prize was The Dangerous Book for Boys; designed to get them out from behind their computer games and out in to the world, climbing trees, fighting battles, falling into streams, and generally acting like healthy boys should. The book has just been released in the USA, with some modifications: baseball instead of cricket, General Grant instead of Lord Nelson, etcetera.

Can you tie a Reef knot? I can, but that’s about all I remember about knots. A Bowline was about as far as I got, and (I recall) the Sheepshank defeated me utterly. Granny knots, on the other hand, are not a problem. πŸ™„

Written by brian t

June 22, 2007 at 1:18 pm

Posted in blogging, books, culture, humour

web 1.0 reborn

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I’ve just deleted my account at Twitter, and intend to cut my participation on forums down, even further than I already have. I left The National Midday Sun (TNMS) last year, and the MythBusters fan forum a few months go – two forums that sucked up epic spans of time, but provided little real reward, only an illusory aura of “participation”.

Reboot 9.0 is kicking off, in Copenhagen, tonight: a year ago I was at Reboot 8.0, wondering if I could get a handle on all this Web 2.0 stuff. I came away with an overriding impression, backed up by explicit statements from other bloggers, that Web 2.0 is all about creating more intrusive links between a person and the Internet. This is a double-edged sword, in my opinion.

The first edge is the drive for “personalization”; they will help you get what you want, in the way that you want, so you can make better use of your time and attention. The same information, about your interests and plans, can be used to customise advertising directed at you – something that, it is hoped, advertisers will happily pay more for. It’s an illustration of a universal truth behind any new non-scientific endeavour: follow the money.

The second edge is the drive to put oneself out there, to create the “brand of me”. If you search the Internet for “brand of me”, you can find many examples of how to do this well, but you’ll also note that the practitioners of this are those with something to sell. The most vocal proponent of this approach, that I know of, is Sally Hogshead, blogger and author of Radical Careering, a book which appears to be about careers in general, but seems to me to be focused on “public-facing sales” careers, such as marketing and advertising.

To hear these “brand of me” proponents speak, you would think that everyone needs to be a marketeer, because everyone has something to sell: yourself. This reminds me of something I heard an employer say: “everyone is a salesperson”. (That one got a good laugh at the time.)

I understand there are occasions when such measures are necessary – when looking for a job, for example – but once you are done with that, why keep selling yourself? The stock answer that I’ve heard goes something like “you never stop looking for new work and new challenges, and you need to push your brand message at every possible opportunity”.

This, allegedly, is the way of the future. To reach out to anyone in this attention-starved, noise-saturated world, to survive in a hyper-economy, you need to be faster, louder, and more aggressive, in your drive to make your name known and sell your services. To effectively reap the benefits of personalization, or effectively market yourself, you sacrifice privacy and anonymity, because everyone can see you.

If I look at the steps I have already taken without close examination, and those I plan to take in the next few months, I realise that I have already decided how much personalization I want, and how important the “brand of me” is.

I’m not “dropping off” the Internet. but I am giving up any illusions I may have had about active participation in the “web 2.0 revolution”. My plans are moving from the virtual world back in to the real world. More details will follow in the next few months; not that anyone will notice, since I have not effectively marketed myself or this site. Never mind Second Life; I have a First Life to live. 8)

Written by brian t

May 30, 2007 at 6:40 pm

hate is cheap

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It’s always easier to destroy than create. This is true of culture in all its forms, starting with the purely physical. A sculptor can always chisel off a little too much stone. An editor can edit a piece of writing to the point where the meaning is lost. When you use heavy JPEG compression on a picture, you lose detail that you can never get back.

On the Internet today we have a disturbing new development; prominent bloggers are being subjected to death threats, for no apparent reason. It’s not because anything they’re saying or doing; it’s purely because of their visibility. I was honestly disturbed to read a report from Kathy Sierra, software developer and author of Creating Passionate Users, about death threats that have led her to cancel speaking engagements and stay at home. These were accompanied by images of Kathy modified to horrifying effect.

I know how easy it is to ‘shop an image in Photoshop, because I’ve done it myself, with the difference that I do it for comic effect. Now, however, it’s being done to threaten, to frighten, to terrorize. We bloggers pride ourselves on our constructive use of language, which makes it doubly upsetting to see it used in such a destructive way.

The important question is “why?”, and the answer is simply “because they can”. Too many slasher movies, too few opportunities to do something rewarding, or just boredom? I know I’m talking in the abstract here, because I’m not in Kathy’s shoes, and can’t claim to know how she feels. What I do know is that, as a creative person, she will overcome this setback, with the support of her family, friends, and her fellow bloggers.

Constructive work will always triumph over the destructive, because you always have something real to show for your efforts when the day is through. 😎

Written by brian t

March 26, 2007 at 10:48 pm

Posted in blogging, culture, internet