Tuesday, December 20

When one is a child, when one is young, when one has not yet reached the age of recognition, one thinks that the world is strong, that the strength of God is endless and unchanging. But after the thing has happened--whatever that thing might be--that brings recognition, then one knows irrevocably how very fragile is the world, how very, very fragile; it is like one of those ideas that one has in dreams: so clear and so self-explaining are they that we make no special effort to remember. Then of course they vanish as we wake and there is nothing there but the awareness that something very clear has altogether vanished.

Russell Hoban (via)

Monday, December 19

generalizations from recent work by our friends at google, twitter, apple, et al.

1. Would you really like to kill or neuter a popular application, platform, or service? Well think again, because— No, actually, go right ahead. Your users don't have any rights and can't do shit. Welcome, everyone, to the brave new frontier of the Cloud!

2. If you want people to stop using existing features of software, you'll catch less static by just making them incredibly inconvenient than by removing them outright. One approach is to hide a feature's existence behind configuration options or migrate it into an addon or plugin. This will temporarily placate power users, who will just figure out how to turn the feature back on while everyone else forgets that it exists. You may have better luck in the long term with simply ruining an interface, which will assure that almost no one continues to use it, but lets you point out that it still exists if anyone complains. (Later, once everyone has basically given up, you can justify the feature's removal by pointing out that no one uses it.)

3. It's not news that your agenda for the web will go further if you control a popular browser. It just took longer than it should have to figure out that the best way to achieve this is to build a pretty good browser.

3a. Your browser needs to be pretty good (no mean feat, in this day and age), but it also needs to create the impression of being the legitimate new hotness, so that youngish technical people will feel like they might be losing their edge by not using it. Just like in sports, perceived momentum is very nearly everything.

4. If you can just build a really good e-mail system, it is remarkable how much your users will tolerate in order to keep using it. Get this one right enough, and the competition will naturally diminish as many of the smart people who would otherwise be working on alternatives switch to your system and stop worrying about mail altogether. Bonus: You now have a unified authentication mechanism for whatever harebrained schemes you might care to foist on the world, and you basically own the identities of millions of users.

5. Just because you're in a five- or six-way knife fight with other big players in warehouse-scale computing doesn't mean you can't all collude to undermine some of the little niceties of an open web. Readable URLs, easy deep linking, feed discoverability — this stuff is not helping pile those garden walls any higher. If you need to distract the users who might care about this sort of thing, you can probably annoy them by giving a designer who thinks they've come up with a better scrollbar free reign for a while. Everybody seems to have at least a couple of those on staff these days.

Saturday, December 17

Charlie Stross:

1. The USA is already a functional oligarchy. (Or, more accurately, a plutarchy.) It has been functioning as such for some time — since 1992 at the latest, although the roots of this system go back to before the Declaration of Independence — it's a recurrent failure mode. Historically such periods last for a few years then go into reverse. However, this time the trend has been running since 1980 or even earlier. What we're now seeing are the effects of mismanagement by the second generation of oligarchs in power; the self-entitled who were born to it and assume it to be the natural order of things.


8. So I infer that the purpose of SOPA is to close the loop, and allow the oligarchy to shut down hostile coordinating sites as and when the anticipated revolution kicks off. Piracy/copyright is a distraction -- those folks pointing to similarities to Iranian/Chinese net censorship regimes are correct, but they're not focussing on the real implication (which is a ham-fisted desire to be able to shut down large chunks of the internet at will, if and when it becomes expedient to do so).

Go and read the whole thing. It won't take you long, and it's as good a handle on the zeitgeist as anything I've come across lately.

Monday, December 12

Ok, so aside from cat pictures and exclamatory remarks about snow, Twitter, the medium, has so far this year told me about:

  • A series of revolutions against oppressive regimes.

  • The execution of Troy Davis and the ongoing fight against the death penalty in America.

  • A whole bunch of shady authoritarian behavior on the part of sundry governments and other corporations, along with efforts to counter same.

  • A massive outpouring of popular unrest, including austerity protests in many developed nations and offshoots of Occupy Wall Street in most major US cities.

All of this crosses my mind as I notice that Twitter, the company, would like me to “discover”: A new season of Fear Factor and a sequel to 2009’s live-action G.I. Joe.

saturday, december 10

saturday, december 3