Social Media


Dave Rogers:

I’m somewhat chagrined to note that I’ve imbibed the Facebook Kool-Aid™. What has tipped the balance for me is the iPhone application, and the fact that many of my “meat-space” friends are on Facebook. If you’re a regular reader and are also on Facebook, look me up as David Michael Rogers. (I was playing games with Google when I created my account there more than a year ago. I’m the top hit as “Dave Rogers” on the Big G, but I wanted a lower profile on FB. If you were looking for me on Google, you’d be inclined to think I’d have the same name on FB. Or something. Anyway…)

It’s also damn convenient to post a link to an article on Facebook, and upload pictures from the iPhone, both of which I’ve been doing with some frequency. The downside is, I’m less inclined to do so here because of it.

Is this you, Dave?

I was a little surprised to read of Dave’s new enthusiasm for Facebook. Surprised and a little disappointed, because Facebook, unlike other social networking sites, prohibits access to member pages unless you, yourself, are a member, and I canceled my account months ago.

A person would have to be fairly dense not to realize that so much of discussions that once took place in weblogs now occurs elsewhere: Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Friendfeed…the wave has moved on.

I have been putting tentative toes into both Twitter and Friendfeed, but I don’t find the activity to be terribly comfortable. I don’t think I have the gift of gay repartee, and am afraid I come across as rather dull—like a person going to a party in Silicon Valley and spending the entire time talking about RDF. However, I will keep dabbling my toes. Perhaps someday I will progress to that person who talks about HTML5 at the same parties.

Then there are those, such as Robert Scoble, who seemingly suffer at the opposite end of the social networking spectrum— following thousands and thousands and being followed by thousands and thousands in return. Such an existence, to me, would be nothing more than a constant state of noise, none of which would have any meaning in and of itself. When would a person have time for self?

A friend gave me a book, Solitude: A Return to Self, by Anthony Storr. It was first published in 1988. How fascinating it would be to see this book updated to modern times, incorporating the internet and the social networks that surround us. Storr does seem to have predicted the direction these networks would take, though.

Contemporary Western culture makes the peace of solitude difficult to attain […] Indeed, noise is so ubiquitous that many people evidently feel uncomfortable in its absense. Hence the menace of ‘Muzak’ has invaded shops, hotels, aircraft, and even elevators. Some car drivers describe driving as relaxing, simply because they are alone and temporarily unavailable to others. But the popularity of car radios and cassette players attests the widespread desire for constant auditory input; and the invention of the car telephone has ensured that drivers who install them are never out of touch to those who want to talk to them.

Nowadays we have the internet, always accessible via iPhone or other handheld device. We are never alone, never out of touch. Comforting on a dark, country road with our gas tanks hovering near empty, but what about the search for self?

Removing oneself voluntarily from one’s habitual environment promotes self-understanding and contact with those inner depths of being which elude one in the hurly-burly of day-to-day life. In the ordinary way, our sense of identity depends on interaction both with the physical world and other people. My study, lined with books, reflects my interests, confirms my identify as a writer, and reinforces my sense of what kind of person I consider myself to be. My relationships with my family, with colleagues, friends, and less intimate aquaintenances, define me as a person who holds certain views, and who may be expected to behave in ways which are predictable.

But I may come to feel that such habitually defining factors are also limiting. Suppose that I become dissatisfied with my habitual self, or feel that there are areas of experience or self-understanding which I cannot reach. One way to exploring these is to remove myself from present surroundings and see what emerges. This is not without dangers. Any form of new organization or integration within the mind has to be preceded by some degree of disorganization. No one can tell, until he has experienced it, whether or not this necessary disruption of former patterns will be succeeded by something better.

The desire for solitude as a means of escape from the pressure of ordinary life and as a way of renewal is vividly demonstrated by Admiral Bryd’s account of manning an advanced weather base in the Antarctic during the winter of 1934. He insisted on doing this alone. He admits the desire for this experience was not primarily the wish to make meteorological observations, although these constituted the ostensible reason for his solitary vigil.

Aside from the meteorological and auroral work, I had no important purpose. There was nothing of the sort. Nothing whatever, except one man’s desire to know that kind of experience to the full, to be by himself for a while and to taste peace and quiet and solitude long enough to find out how good they really are.


Today, Admiral Byrd would be expected to have a MySpace page, post frequently to Twitter, and publish photos to Flickr. Not to do so, would mark him as unsocial, at best, a Luddite at worst. Of course, as the new interview with Clay Shirky would suggest, the technology is not a problem, we only need to establish the right filters.

So, the real question is, how do we design filters that let us find our way through this particular abundance of information? And, you know, my answer to that question has been: the only group that can catalog everything is everybody. One of the reasons you see this enormous move towards social filters, as with Digg, as with, as with Google Reader, in a way, is simply that the scale of the problem has exceeded what professional catalogers can do. But, you know, you never hear twenty-year-olds talking about information overload because they understand the filters they’re given. You only hear, you know, forty- and fifty-year-olds taking about it, sixty-year-olds talking about because we grew up in the world of card catalogs and TV Guide. And now, all the filters we’re used to are broken and we’d like to blame it on the environment instead of admitting that we’re just, you know, we just don’t understand what’s going on.

Admiral Byrd was 46 when he staffed the meteorological base, and almost died of carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty stove. To survive, he would have to turn off his heat, sitting alone in the dark and the cold for hours at a time, but still sending in reports while trying not to convey how desperate his situation was to prevent a dangerous mid-winter rescue. He would later write that he never regretted the experience, because it taught him appreciation of the “sheer beauty and miracle of being alive”.

My own need for solitude fits somewhere between Robert Scoble and Admiral Byrd.


Wettest year ever

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Congratulations, St. Louis.

With this afternoon’s rain, frozen rain, sleet, and hail, we set a new record for wettest year. From the Weather Underground:

Statement as of 2:40 PM CST on December 23, 2008

... Record yearly maximum precipitation set at St. Louis MO...

A record yearly maimum precipitation of 55.00 inches was set at
St. Louis today. This breaks the old record of 54.97 inches set
in 1982.

We managed to flood every river, stream, creek, and dry bed this year. Though none of the floods beat any records, the number of floods was extraordinary, as was the fact that every flood came perilously close to beating records. However, at least we haven’t been getting the snow other areas are getting. Knock on soggy wood.



Roku rolls out HD, new content in 2009

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Roku started its rollout of HD content to Netflix Box owners beginning today. I’ve been a latecomer beta tester, and am generally happy with the quality of the stream I’m getting.

Only about 100 movies are HD at this time. Many of the shows provided by CBS, including Star Trek the first season, are being rolled out as HD quality. The Star Trek shows are exceptionally nice—crisp, campy, and colorful.

I have a 720p television, connected via HDMI. The stream sizes I’m seeing are 2.6 for HD, and 1.5mpbs for SD quality. The SD quality shows are actually using less bandwidth with the new profile.

There are some hiccups, including shows that end abruptly, some audio/video sync issues, but these are issues that Netflix is aware of, and working to resolve.

No new content for Roku box owners, at least not until 2009. There is now a screen option in the Roku box that will provide access to the new content when it does release. No hints, either, about what the new content will be. Most folks are still hoping for Hulu.

All in all, after a few bumps along the way, the Roku box, with a subscription to Netflix, has turned out to be the best video value this year. Costwise, the combination costs a fraction of what cable costs.


I’m a lefty and what Obama’s Warren pick means to me

In an article for NPR, David Weinberger tells his fellow liberals to “chill out”. That Obama’s pick of Rick Warren to participate in the inauguration is actually a good thing; a case of bridge-building promised by President-elect Obama during his campaign.

My first impulse was to disagree, vehemently, both with David and with Obama’s pick. Kathryn Kolbert at CNN best explains why this is so

Warren has worked hard to cultivate a moderate public personality but his views are very similar to those of traditional Religious Right leaders.In an email sent before the 2004 election he wrote a Falwell-esque message proclaiming that, for Christian voters, the issues of abortion, marriage for same-sex couples, stem cell research, cloning and euthanasia were “non-negotiable.” In fact, he said, they are “not even debatable because God’s word is clear on these issues.”

Warren is adamantly against reproductive rights for women; against gays, for all of his talk of serving gay people water and donuts. He is worse, in many ways, than someone like Falwell, because he pretends to be open-minded, when he is anything but. There is no bridge-building with a man who coldly and unequivocally rejects equality for gays, reproductive rights for women, and, frankly, religious freedom for everyone.

Warren is a man who will sit at one end of whatever bridge is being built, and demand that it meet him, rather than make any movement to build any part of the bridge, himself. His choice leaves me to wonder: why are we progressives always asked to give? To sacrifice our beliefs, our rights, our hopes and dreams for true equality in this country? In particular, why should women and gay rights be the pillars on which this new “bridge-building” occurs?

Obama’s choice is a painful one, given how this country has suffered under a religious fundamentalist-backed president for eight years. And especially painful, following the passing of the constitutionally authorized bigotry that was Proposition 8 in California.

As I wrote earlier, my first impulse was to disagree with Obama’s choice, but now, I’m beginning to think it may be an excellent choice in the long run—and not because of any absurd statements about “bridge-building”. The left is coming perilously close to deifying President-elect Obama, and that’s not a healthy state for us to be in. We needed something to shake us up, and it would seem that Warren’s pick is it.

In the last few months, we’ve built up such a faith in Obama that to criticize anything he does, even mildly, brings down “wrath of the progressives” upon our heads. Obama can do no wrong, and though he has made, to me, and others, some questionable choices for his Cabinet, the most that happens is a sage, head-nodding among his loyal supports, as we admire his bridge-building skills. When we do have concerns, we whisper them rather than speak out loudly. We’ve become fearful that any criticism will lose the floods of Republican conservatism and all hope will be lost.

The real danger in our country isn’t so much that we’re parties at odds with each other. There is no such thing as a country by consensus, and every politician knows the unobtainability of this dream. No, the real problem isn’t that we question those ranged against us, but that we don’t question those on our own side.

During the Presidential campaign, John Scalzi published a post titled, Reminder: There’s No Actual Office for “President of the Left”. In it, he wrote, Obama’s probably also aware that he’s got the left in the tank.

he’s got the left in the tank…

Obama has made a choice for his inauguration that, to all intents and purposes, betrays the very progressives whose base he relies on. Rather than “chill out”, we should be shouting our anger out, loud and clear, not only to remind ourselves what being a progressive really means, but also to remind Obama that, contrary to expectations, he does not have a lock on us.

Obama cannot assume we will look upon him, forever a day, with the indulgence a parent gives a favored child; that he can make decisions like this with impunity, based on an assumption that we “lefties”, as David calls us, will grumble and growl but ultimately stand behind him as our dear leader. No matter what. Such an assumption emasculates the left, doing little more than reducing us to sycophants and bobbing heads. Blind belief in one’s chosen leader may be acceptable to the fundamentalists, but it ill suits progressives. We needed a reminder of this, and now we have it.

Choosing a man (Warren) who symbolizes exclusion (and then hides such, when caught), as a way of symbolizing inclusion, just does not compute to this progressive. Mr. President-elect Obama, sir, you blew it with this one.

Social Media

Finding our brave faces

I agree with Jeffrey Zeldman in that I’m also surprised that George Oates was laid off from Yahoo and her work with Flickr. I also thought that George’s recounting of how she found out she was laid off was telling, and sad.

Once upon a time, Yahoo was the bright and shiny future. Once upon a time, Flickr was one of the most dazzling of the new breed of startups. The success of both was based less on equipment and technology, and more on the people who helped create both companies. How Yahoo treats the people it has let go, is a measure of what the company thinks of itself. Evidently, those still in management in Yahoo, and at Flickr, don’t have a high opinion of themselves.

(An earlier interview with GeorgeMore on the layoffs.)