Archive for the 'tech' Category


Is technology making us lonely?

“Within this world of instant and absolute communication, unbounded by limits of time or space, we suffer from unprecedented alienation. We have never been more detached from one another, or lonelier. In a world consumed by ever more novel modes of socializing, we have less and less actual society. We live in an accelerating contradiction: the more connected we become, the lonelier we are. We were promised a global village; instead we inhabit the drab cul-de-sacs and endless freeways of a vast suburb of information.”

What do you think?


Chainmail suits + Tesla coils

It’s like a meeting of tech geeks and the SCA.

Would any of you try this?


A holiday I can get behind

An awesome declaration about Facebook “friendship.” Plus there’s Shatner!



Social media

I did it. I permanently deleted my Facebook account yesterday.

In early summer, I got fed up with Facebook and decided to take a break from it. I deactivated my account (which meant I didn’t show up in searches anymore or on anyone’s lists), and for two months I didn’t miss it at all.

Then an old friend told me that he’d gone to Burning Man and posted his photos on Facebook and nowhere else. I wanted to see them, so I logged back into Facebook and found that my wall looked pretty much the same as it had when I last saw it. The same announcements of accomplishments in games, the same passive-aggressive status updates, the same everything. I quickly found my friend’s photos, clicked through them (looks like he had an awesome time), and got the hell out of Dodge.

I know that a lot of people (a lot of people–including many readers here) use and enjoy Facebook. Good for them (and you). But I’ve realized that it’s just not my thing, and I’ve decided to stop wasting my time and energy on it.

I took a few minutes to send notes to people who use only Facebook to communicate with me and with whom I’d still like to keep in touch. Interestingly, this was a fairly small group on both counts: most people know how to reach me through other means (phone, Twitter, e-mail, snail mail, even–gasp!–face to face contact), and I’ve noticed that most of my Facebook “friends” aren’t really friends in the sense that contact with them is something I actively want.*

A few of the people I wrote to have asked why I left (my note just said I was deleting my account and provided my contact information), and a surprising number replied with some form of “Good for you!” Kind of makes me wonder if a mass exodus from Facebook is on the horizon…**

And of course there are the privacy and marketing concerns. Whatever meager benefit I might derive from using Facebook is obliterated by my unhappiness about how that organization handles my information. Need more convincing on this point? Take a look at Gizmodo’s excellent articles on the subject: “Top Ten Reasons You Should Quit Facebook” and its followup, “More Reasons Why You Should Still Quit Facebook.

“Wired’s UK editor is off Facebook, too, and spells out his reasons here. A few interesting tidbits from his article:

  • “Facebook has made it harder for users to understand exactly what they’re giving away…for instance, its privacy policy has grown from 1,004 words in 2005 to 5,830 words today (by comparison, as the New York Times has pointed out, the U.S. Constitution is 4,543).”
  • “Some day you should take time to read those 5,830 words: it’s Facebook that owns the rights to do as it pleases with your data, and to sell access to it to whoever is willing to pay.”

I know that the simple act of using the Internet and living in a society with other people means I can’t live a life that’s 100% private. And I’m totally okay with that. What I’m not okay with, though, is willingly handing my personal information over for free to someone who I know will use it any way he can to make money. (I trust Mark Zuckerberg about as far as I can throw him. Take a look at the current New Yorker profile of him, and maybe you’ll see why.)

So what am I going to do with all the time I used to spend on Facebook? Lots of stuff. Hopefully some of it will be interesting enough to write about here!


* I hope that doesn’t come across as snotty. It’s just that, for all that my “friends” list had a few hundred names on it, most of those people were acquaintances at best, and I’m sure that neither they nor I will miss our interactions on Facebook. I suspect that this situation is true for most Facebook users, actually.

** If you’re interested in deleting your own Facebook account, take a look at this article to learn how to do it. It’s easy to find the link for “deactivation” (making your account dormant) on your Facebook page, but in order to find the “deletion” link you have to go something like five links deep into their “help” files. And even after you say, “Yes, I want to delete it,” your account is actually only dormant for the next fourteen days (then it’s deleted) and goes back to live status if you log in during that time. Jerks.


It’s a book



Tech talk

Around the end of June, my tech life changed dramatically in two ways.

First, I became the owner of an iPhone 3G. Jan bought this two years ago and has used it pretty much nonstop every since. (We joke that it is his “auxiliary brain.”) When the iPhone 4 came out last month, he preordered one; it arrived (and was immediately activated) the day before it would have been available in stores.

Then the 3G became mine. I’m not using it as a phone, though. My cell phone use doesn’t justify this expensive; it currently amounts to about 400 minutes per year–so I use T-Mobile’s prepaid 1000 minutes good for one year for $100 deal. So the old iPhone is functioning as an iPod Touch*, which means I have Internet access whenever I have a WiFi connection.

So what am I doing with the 3G? Mostly gaming. It’s very handy for playing an asynchronous Scrabble-like game with friends, as well as Carcassonne. (If Settlers of Catan ever comes out for the iPhone, I will probably disappear for a while…) I’m also having loads of fun with Plants versus Zombies, which is exactly what it sounds like (and available for many platforms, for non-iPhone users out there).

The other big change is that I have pretty much stopped using Facebook in the past few weeks. I ranted here about Facebook several months ago, but ultimately still found it a useful place to keep in touch with people. But lately, I find that reading Facebook just annoys me: too much passive-aggression, too many “let me say something vague and negative so lots of people will ask me ‘what’s wrong?'” status updates, too much inanity. I started hiding people from my feed, and when I realized that I was hiding most people, I knew it was time to go. Oh, and there’s also that whole thing about how Facebook completely ignores any privacy concerns and aggressive markets users’ information to other vendors. Yeah, that.

(I haven’t nuked my Facebook account–still on the fence about that–but I’ve removed most of my personal information from there.)

So, aside from the blogosphere, where am I hanging out these days online? Believe it or not, Twitter, where I’m First Things; you can find me here. I’ve been active there only for a couple of weeks now, and so far it’s been…interesting. More on that later, though.


*What a lame name. Seriously, Steve Jobs: Apple has excelled in the design and marketing department for some time now. This was the best you guys could come up with?


Seasonally appropriate

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I find myself with more reason than usual to be grateful this year.

Last month I won a contest, and my prize was some amazing artwork done by my friend Bethany. She’d held the contest to launch a new website and business venture: a design collaboration with her friend Melanie.

At the time Bethany mentioned that there was a second part to the prize, which I’d receive later. I filed this info in the back of my mind…where it promptly got lost until earlier this week, when another package arrived in the mail from her. This one contained two sets of their just-printed-so-I’m-amazed-the-ink-wasn’t-still-wet holiday cards. I’ve been on Bethany’s holiday-card list for a couple of years, and it’s always a delight to see each year’s design. Now I have my own to send out! I tried taking photos of them but couldn’t get a decent picture. So go take a look at them on their Etsy page (which is where you should be going anyway, so you can buy some for yourself).

Yesterday I received another contest prize in the mail (I’ve had a rare streak of luck lately). This one contained a VTech S9181 WiFi internet radio. With this, I can listen to over 11,000 Internet radio stations, plus good old FM stations. This item came from Frank Yang, who writes the very excellent blog Chromewaves, which contains more information about the current music scene than you can shake a stick at. Go take a look at it. You’ll probably spend hours poking around and listening to MP3s…and then start trying to figure out how you can move to Toronto so you can go to all the concerts he writes about.

I set up the radio today, and so far it is cooler than sliced bread. Yes, I’d even go so far as to say it’s all that and a bag of chips. The options are paralyzing. You can search by genre, by location, and by a number of other categories. The only station I’ve added to my Favorites list is Radio Suisse Romande*, and I’m looking for more. But I’m not sure where to begin. (I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t have the time or patience to scan through 11,000 radio stations.) Suggestions? Any of you have favorite Internet radio stations that you’d like to recommend?
*I used to listen to this when I lived in Switzerland and always liked the announcement “Et pourtant elle tourne” (the words–likely apocryphal–Galileo muttered under his breath after recanting his astronomical findings before the pope) that marked the start of the noon news hour.


Rant the fourth

I love reading blogs. I love how blogs can offer intellectual and creative stimulation. And I love how blogs can point me in directions I hadn’t seen before.

A lot of this pointing takes the form of links. I don’t click through every link I see, but when one grabs my interest I hover the cursor over it and look at the URL in the status bar at the bottom of my browser to see if the link looks clickworthy.

On some sites, though, my placid cursor-hovering is interrupted by a little window that pops up in the middle of my screen: a Snap Shot.

I hate these things. Loathe them.

First, they obscure a good chunk of the surrounding text. Here I am, merrily reading along, when suddenly one of those little windows appears and completely derails my train of thought.

Second, the Snap Shot windows are so small that they’re actually useless. (Note that I am not advocating any embiggening.) Whatever text and images appear in them are barely discernible from the noise in the window. If there’s a link to, say, Matthew Fox in a Speedo*, that little window isn’t going to show much. If I really want to see Matthew Fox in a Speedo, I’m going to have to follow that link.

Third. if I want to know where a link goes, I find it far more useful to just look at the URL. The URL of a blog post can reveal a ton of information, including the website, post title, and post date.

Fortunately, there are ways for site visitors to avoid seeing those annoying windows: by disabling Snap Shots. Apparently, the company has had enough complaints about this product that they’ve included this info in their FAQ; just follow the link in #3 on the list. Unfortunately, this solution requires cookie placement and has to be reactivated whenever your cookies are deleted.

If you’re using Firefox and running the AdBlock Plus extension (which is awesome), you’re in luck: you can get rid of those Snap Shots forever. (Well, for as long as you’re running AdBlock Plus. Which is so awesome that you’ll never want to get rid of it. So yeah, I guess that does mean forever.) Check here for the details. (Opera users will find their solution in the comments to that post.)

*That one’s just for you, Gina!


Still catching up

While I was in Vermont, I got my invitation to Ravelry (about two months after I’d signed up for one). I was worried that the invitation might “time out” if it didn’t get a response within a certain amount of time, so I endured the slowness of my cottage’s dial-up connection and registered an account (FirstThingsFirst) there.

And that’s all I’ve done. Unlike pretty much everyone else who’s gotten into Ravelry, I haven’t uploaded pictures of my stash or my finished projects or anything. Heck, except for just a few minutes ago–when I checked to make sure I actually had an account there–I hadn’t even looked at Ravelry since I was in Vermont. Eventually I will update everything, but, well, I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. Does this make me a Ravelry ingrate?


Why AOL is going down the toilet

Two days ago the June statement for my Visa card came in the mail. Because of a busy weekend, I didn’t get around to opening it until this morning, and I was very surprised by what I found: two $25.90 charges, spaced one month apart, for AOL service.

I should point out a few things:

1. This card is associated with a particular merchant, and I use it only when shopping with that merchant (so I get free shipping) or when shopping at one of the few places (e.g., my local health-food store) that does not accept my primary credit card. This card gets very little use (monthly statements often have no balance), so out-of-the-ordinary charges definitely stick out.

2. I do not use AOL. I have never used AOL.

First, I try to call the telephone number listed next to the AOL charge on my card statement and immediately got stuck in AOL’s IVR hell. Pressing zero didn’t work, saying “I want to talk to a human” didn’t work, and the tips at IVR Hacks and Gethuman didn’t work.

So I decided to take a break from trying to contact AOL. I called my credit-card company to dispute the charge–no problems there. But they said I’d need to call AOL to make sure the subscription was canceled. Sigh.

Back I went to AOL’s IVR system. After about ten minutes of mucking around and getting more and more frustrated, I restarted the call. The first question asks if you are currently an AOL subscriber. Rather than answer yes, this time I said no. The second question asked if I wanted to sign up. “Yes!” I answered jubilantly. And whammo–I was instantly directed to a real, live, customer-service rep who was able to answer my questions.*

Let me get this straight: if you want to start a new subscription to AOL, they are falling over themselves in their eagerness to talk with you. But if you’re a current AOL customer with any sort of query whatsoever, well, they’ll talk with you, too–but only if you jump through a gazillion IVR hoops (and heaven forbid you reach a point where none of the answer prompts is the one that suits your case!).

Wow, that’s great customer service, isn’t it?

*As it turns out, these AOL charges were fraudulent: someone I didn’t know was using my card to get AOL service. So I had to call the credit-card company to report this and request a new card. Ugh.