No longer, My Book

I’ve long un­der­stood, but was re­mind­ed tonight, that there are prod­ucts de­signed with re­spect for the user, and those with mis­trust and may­be even con­tempt. Until tonight, I hadn’t ex­pe­ri­enced any prob­lems with my, ad­mit­ted­ly ag­ing, 250 GB Western Digital My Book Premium USB hard dri­ve.

After over four years of ad­e­quate ser­vice, the My Book fi­nal­ly stopped work­ing. It would click in­stead of au­di­bly spin­ning up, and that it wouldn’t show in dmesg at all when plugged in sug­gest­ed that the prob­lem was like­ly the en­clo­sure, not the disk in­side.

I was right, but couldn’t be sure about this un­til tear­ing the case open and ex­tract­ing the disk, a sim­ple 3.5″ SATA. Tearing isn’t ex­act­ly the right word; I was care­ful and didn’t break any­thing while half-following the­se in­struc­tions, but I had to put con­sid­er­able amounts of force in­to a few of the steps. Case in point: screws tight­ened by pro­duc­tion line ro­bots, so much so that on­ly ro­bots can eas­i­ly un­screw them, suck.

I re­moved the disk and placed it in an­oth­er en­clo­sure—the kind sold with­out a disk — I had handy. The process (or lack there­of) was lit­er­al­ly a joy com­pared to the fight­ing I had to do with the plas­tic My Book case. Sure, stand­alone hard dri­ve en­clo­sures are de­signed for peo­ple who at least know enough to buy one of those and a 3.5″ SATA disk, not to men­tion that the­se things ex­ist. It’s not brain surgery, but it’s al­so not the kind of thing you need to know to be a “com­put­er user” the­se days.

Of course, be­ing such a user means shrug­ging your shoul­ders and los­ing data when on­ly half of your pro­duct breaks.

The choice is yours, but un­less you like headaches, I sug­gest not buy­ing dumb shit.

QR Codes: great, but then what?

I keep a long and ever-growing out­line of blog top­ics I may some­day write about. Most aren’t ful­ly formed, but each at least on­ce struck me as in­ter­est­ing at some point or an­oth­er, so I fig­ured they’re worth keep­ing around.1 (See one re­al ex­am­ple to right.)

  • <3 qr-codes
    • bridges the phys­i­cal and the cy­ber
    • low-tech, lowest-common de­nom­i­na­tor
    • cam­er­a­phones in every pock­et
    • makes a lot more sense than com­pet­ing tech­nolo­gies, like that mi­crosoft one with the dif­fer­ent col­ors that re­quires col­or print­ing, etc. this one I could, if so in­clined, draw with a pen­cil
    • sad­ly, most of what I use this tech­nol­ogy for is cu­ri­ous­ly decod­ing bar­codes I come across on the web

I add top­ics to my list pret­ty reg­u­lar­ly, but what doesn’t hap­pen very reg­u­lar­ly is some­one read­ing my mind and writ­ing my post for me. Okay, it’s on­ly hap­pened on­ce: about a week ago, and it was geek­ing out on QR Codes.

I’m a bit be­hind on my RSS read­ing, but when I just came across this bo­ing­bo­ing post, I was quite pleased. In it, guest blog­ger Glenn Fleishman pret­ty much lays out the case for 2D bar­codes — QR be­ing the most pop­u­lar, good/open-enough for­mat — as a use­ful sort of link be­tween the phys­i­cal world and the dig­i­tal one. It’s an idea I hap­pen to have loved for a few years now, and with Internet-enabled cam­er­a­phones all over the place, one that has the po­ten­tial2 to cre­ate some ben­e­fit to so­ci­ety on a large scale.

It should come as lit­tle sur­prise, then, that for as long as I’ve been aware of the­se codes, I’ve longed to find a use for the tech­nol­o­gy aside from the mun­dane let peo­ple scan your ad to go to your web­site, or send a URL from your com­put­er to your phone. A hand­ful of bo­ing­bo­ing com­menters point­ed out a few real-world ex­am­ples of ways they have used QR codes: la­bel­ing shared lab equip­ment or get­ting on the VIP list at Tokyo clubs. Interesting they are; world-changing they’re not.

Of course, there’s al­so the idea of pro­vid­ing richer in­for­ma­tion about wine than a sim­ple bot­tle la­bel could dis­play, which I find a step above the oth­ers, and giv­ing ex­tra con­text to mu­se­um art, which I think gets us even closer.

Yet I still think QR Codes have even greater po­ten­tial… but po­ten­tial isn’t even half the bat­tle.

  1. Yes, they’re ba­si­cal­ly brain crack.
  2. Naturally, the bar­ri­er to adop­tion is con­vinc­ing the av­er­age per­son to both­er solv­ing for them­selves a prob­lem — easy URL/text/contact en­try on their phone — they didn’t re­al­ize they had.

Uncommon Knowledge: Songs about “you”

Every so of­ten I re­al­ize that some­thing I be­lieve to be com­mon knowl­edge ac­tu­al­ly isn’t, sim­ply be­cause not every­one has the same life ex­pe­ri­ences as I do. I’m try­ing to doc­u­ment such things that I know, for the bet­ter­ment of so­ci­ety as a whole. This blog seems to be the per­fect place to do this.

Here’s today’s bit of very im­por­tant, un­com­mon knowl­edge:

If you’re not in a com­mit­ted re­la­tion­ship, per­haps the great­est thing you can do for your­self is be­gin one with a per­son whose name — or a rea­son­able nick­name for their name — ends in the let­ter “u” (IPA: u: — MWCD: ü — NOAD: o͞o) or oth­er­wise rhymes with the English word you.

Why would you want to do this, you may won­der. What you lose be­ing in a re­la­tion­ship for an ad­mit­ted­ly piss-poor rea­son, you gain in be­ing able to fill the individual’s name in­to all sorts of pop­u­lar mu­sic from at least the last 60 years or so. This will help you bet­ter put your feel­ings for them in­to words, and not sound en­tire­ly ridicu­lous in the process.

Seriously, have you ever no­ticed how many songs ad­dress some­one in the second-person, where the singer sings words of love, hate or some oth­er emo­tion to an un­named some­one? It’s true! You prob­a­bly don’t no­tice just how use­ful this is un­til you find your­self in a re­la­tion­ship where you want to ex­press some emo­tion or an­oth­er for an in­di­vid­u­al who is named in that cer­tain way. But on­ce you do, this sim­ple thing be­comes very use­ful, in­deed.

So go and find some­body with a com­pat­i­ble name. I sup­pose you could nick­name pret­ty much any­one “Boo,” but that’s sort of lame. Unless that’s their given name, in which case they’re nat­u­ral­ly a keep­er.

Here are some ex­am­ple songs to get you start­ed, and names to help nar­row the field:

  • You’re just too good to be true/Can’t take my eyes off Stu #
  • I don’t be­lieve that anybody/feels the way I do about Lulu now #
  • Hello/I love Drew/Won’t you tell me your name? #
  • I know I’ve got noth­ing on Lou/I know there’s noth­ing to do #
  • It’s Matthew that I adore/You’ll al­ways be my whore #
  • Colour my world/with hope/of lov­ing Jewel #
  • You prob­a­bly think this song is about Marylou. #
  • An Eskimo showed me a movie/He had re­cent­ly tak­en of Pikachu #
  • If on­ly I’d thought of the right words/I wouldn’t be break­ing apart/All my pic­tures of Sue #
  • If I leave here tomorrow/Would Kooh still re­mem­ber me? #

Most pet names count, and of course, this works best with names of few­er syl­la­bles. Find the right per­son and the mu­si­cal world is your pho­net­ic oys­ter.

Uncommon Knowledge: Twitter @replies

I’ve been think­ing late­ly, and I’m go­ing to start a new se­ries here on the blog, ten­ta­tive­ly ti­tled stuff I know and take for grant­ed, but it’s stuff that a lot of peo­ple don’t know, you guys!

I may need to think of a bet­ter ti­tle.

I won’t, how­ev­er, let that stop me.1 These are things that the world may or may not need to know, but should cer­tain­ly have the chance to know.

Here’s my first one:

If you have a com­mon name on Twitter, you prob­a­bly get lots of er­rant ‘@replies’ be­cause peo­ple don’t know how to use them.

A lit­tle back­ground: if you use Twitter — and I won’t fault you if you don’t2—you’re prob­a­bly aware that you can di­rect your post to an­oth­er user by plac­ing their unique Twitter user ID af­ter an @ sign some­where in your post. For ex­am­ple, if you want­ed to tell me I’m great, you’d say some­thing like:

I think that @everett is great!!

(@nobody Hey, thanks!)

…and then my Twitter soft­ware client would alert me that some­one di­rect­ed a post my way. These are usu­al­ly called “replies” or “men­tions” de­pend­ing on the client you use. Simple stuff, right?

Note that it just so hap­pens that my Twitter ID is “everett.” This is so be­cause I reg­is­tered my ac­count in mid-2006, ear­ly enough that first-names were still un­reg­is­tered, and thus, avail­able as user IDs. Because I chose a com­mon name for my ID and quite a few peo­ple out there know peo­ple named Everett and some of the­se peo­ple don’t know what they’re do­ing, I of­ten get posts di­rect­ed at me un­in­ten­tion­al­ly.

I’ve got­ten used to it. Here are some ex­am­ples of places I was ‘men­tioned’ by mis­take.

Not the worst ad­vice, but I can’t take the cred­it.

This nev­er hap­pened. Really.

Not sure where I was on the evening of August 19th, but I’m not sure where Elijah’s sense of en­ti­tle­ment comes from ei­ther.

This ex­am­ple is in­ter­est­ing. Thanks to Twitter, I’ve learned that there’s a chain of bar­be­cue places in the Oakland area called Everett & Jones, which a lot of peo­ple like to go to. Mentions of E&J ac­tu­al­ly get mis­tak­en­ly di­rect­ed at me a lot… and from every­thing I’ve heard, it makes my must-try list if I’m ever in the Bay Area again. Thanks, Twitter!

  1. You could al­so say that I need to think of bet­ter ideas than this one, but I won’t let that stop me ei­ther.
  2. Despite all the hy­pe, Twitter is to­tal­ly non-essential, and you’re prob­a­bly not miss­ing that much if you don’t use it.

…I just want some snack cakes

I was play­ing some Scarface: The World Is Yours ear­lier this evening on my Wii and while the game is in many ways a se­ries of mis­sions that don’t vary all that much, a part of the game that is pret­ty con­sis­tent­ly in­ter­est­ing is talk­ing to ran­dom peo­ple on the streets. (What does that leave? A pret­ty stan­dard 3D open world, drive-cars-shoot-people-deal-drugs rush rush af­fair that hap­pens to take place in a Miami I don’t quite rec­og­nize.)

But like I was say­ing, the con­ver­sa­tions.

I can’t re­mem­ber what pur­pose this serves in the game, but you can have back-and-forth con­ver­sa­tions with the seem­ing­ly hun­dreds of unique NPCs that line the streets of the game. Walk up to one, press A and Tony spits out a line, to which they re­spond with some­thing that more-or-less makes sense. Press A and Tony replies with some­thing most­ly rel­e­vant to what they said. Do this back-and-forth ex­change a few times and your “Conversation” count in­creas­es by one. (You can on­ly con­verse with any given in­di­vid­u­al on­ce, at which point talk­ing to them con­sists of seemingly-random one-liners that seem to ei­ther pro­pose sex­u­al re­la­tions or bod­i­ly harm… or are just strings of Scarface-style ex­ple­tives.)

So ear­lier, I (well, Tony) was vis­it­ing our lo­cal bank branch when I de­cid­ed to talk to some of the peo­ple hang­ing around in the stair­well. We walked up to one African-American gen­tle­man in an ug­ly sweater and the con­ver­sa­tion ba­si­cal­ly be­gan like this:

Tony: Miami is full of pussy, meng. You just need to be rich to get it.
Gentleman: Man, I don’t care about pussy. I just want some snack cakes.

I’m gonna let that one hang for a mo­ment.

Okay, I fuck­ing love this game.

The word calamity makes me smile (and now I know why)

Words are spe­cial things to me, and when I was a small­er geek and would try to fig­ure out the mean­ing of un­known words, I would of­ten form a men­tal im­age of a word’s mean­ing based on, of­ten times, an­oth­er word it sound­ed like (re­gard­less of whether the two words ac­tu­al­ly had any­thing to do with each oth­er). Sometimes, I’d ac­tu­al­ly use con­text to help de­ci­pher the mean­ing of the mys­tery word, but that wouldn’t al­ways lead me to the right an­swer.

From time to time, I’d be un­able to shed this first im­pres­sion of a word, which would stick with me even af­ter I would learn the word’s ac­tu­al mean­ing. I’d have the­se false im­ages some­times pop in­to my mind when I’d hear the word it­self used else­where, even know­ing full well what it re­al­ly means.

So when I found my­self, in more re­cent years, find­ing the word calami­ty to be, of all things, bizarrely amus­ing, I be­gan to se­ri­ous­ly ques­tion how this could be. It’s not like I find calami­ties them­selves fun­ny. And the word is not one I hear used much on a day-to-day ba­sis, and it cer­tain­ly isn’t one used to de­scribe things that are sup­posed to be fun­ny. It’s not near­ly as well-used as its syn­onyms cat­a­stro­phe, dis­as­ter, or even tragedy. So why would I find it dif­fi­cult to sup­press a smirk when hear­ing or read­ing about some­thing that some­one de­scribed as calami­tous?

Here’s what tru­ly brought my strange re­la­tion­ship with the word to a head: I used to work for a com­pa­ny with pret­ty strong ties to the Philippines, so when the rather dead­ly Typhoon Ondoy (a.k.a. Ketsana) rolled through the coun­try dur­ing my time em­ployed there, the storm, and its ef­fects, were more than just the head­line or two that they may have been to most Americans. Reading pret­ty ex­ten­sive­ly about the storm, both through news re­ports and firsthand ac­counts from many of our cus­tomers, I no­ticed, a hand­ful of times, many pinoys us­ing calami­ty to de­scribe what had hap­pened there. To what we owe their word choice is not some­thing I un­der­stand or am re­al­ly con­cerned with, ac­tu­al­ly. More im­por­tant was the in­vol­un­tary smirk­ing ef­fect the word had on me.

That I could find my­self amused by some­thing so strange, in the face of tales and pho­tos of death and de­struc­tion, was some­thing I found un­set­tling, so I lat­er thought hard about where this feel­ing like­ly came from. I can’t quite re­mem­ber how I made the con­nec­tion, but it even­tu­al­ly hit me.

That cute lit­tle guy to the right is Calamity Coyote, a char­ac­ter from the early-90s an­i­mat­ed tele­vi­sion se­ries Tiny Toon Adventures, a show that may not have made as last­ing an im­pres­sion on me as oth­ers from the era did, but is one I def­i­nite­ly re­mem­ber watch­ing. (I re­mem­ber the the­me song very well, for what that’s worth.) Calamity is al­so a rel­a­tive of Wile E. Coyote, or some­thing.

Lacking any oth­er con­text to ex­plain to my single-digit-aged self the mean­ing of the word calami­ty, I must have as­sumed that it meant… well, some­thing fun­ny! Because, you know, the show was made up of fun­ny char­ac­ters do­ing fun­ny things, so this un­known word must mean some­thing fun­ny.

It makes per­fect sense to me, and feels like the ex­pla­na­tion, the true cre­ation myth I’ve been look­ing for. I can’t imag­ine where else a younger Everett would have come across that word, and it’s not one I’ve seen enough times in the in­ter­ven­ing years, mak­ing this one of those wrong de­f­i­n­i­tions I still just can’t for­get.

Do you have any words that have a spe­cial mean­ing to you, one that’s com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent than what the word re­al­ly means? Or per­haps that even tick­le your fun­ny bone in an equal­ly ir­ra­tional way? (I re­al­ly do want to know.)

The current state of the art in comment spam

Write, geek! gets a fair amount of spam replies. This sur­prised me at first, when it be­gan hap­pen­ing al­most im­me­di­ate­ly af­ter the blog was set up and con­tent was post­ed. I should have known bet­ter; there’s al­most no cost to spam­mers in spam­ming even un­pop­u­lar blogs, so why would they make an ex­cep­tion for mine?

I’m us­ing the Akismet plug­in for WordPress, so it’s not like any of the­se com­ments ac­tu­al­ly make it to my blog. In fact, I’d nev­er even have to see them, if not for the fact that I reg­u­lar­ly clean the­se com­ments out of my spam fold­er by hand. I do this part­ly to en­sure that noth­ing le­git­i­mate gets fil­tered in­cor­rect­ly (which hap­pens some­times) and part­ly be­cause I like to sort of keep tabs on the cur­rent ‘state of the art’ in spam­ming.

The cur­rent state of the art in spam­ming is this: the com­ments are get­ting bet­ter. No longer are com­ments jam-packed with dozens of links com­mon­place (one par­tic­u­lar de­fault WordPress set­ting prob­a­bly made those al­most 100% in­ef­fec­tive), but they’ve been large­ly re­placed with com­ments that mas­quer­ade as… ac­tu­al com­ments!

The idea of noise dis­guised as sig­nal is noth­ing new if you’ve used e-mail in the last 15 years, but that the noise is get­ting bet­ter (read: more dif­fi­cult for hu­mans to de­tect) is some­what sur­pris­ing. Of course, the­se com­ments are no match for a large, dis­trib­ut­ed sys­tem like Akismet, which all-knowingly sees what’s be­ing post­ed to prob­a­bly mil­lions of blogs, but the well-disguised, large­ly pseudo-flattering com­ments are prob­a­bly now de­signed to get hu­man blog au­thors to click the “Not Spam” but­ton, free­ing them the com­ments the spam box so that they can do their SEO-based dirty work.

Of course, gen­tle read­ers, I’m far too smart to fall for that, but not so blind­ed by my ha­tred for spam to be un­able to ap­pre­ci­ate a well-crafted work of au­thor­ship, like this one I just found:

Spam that reads "Excellent read, I just passed this onto a colleague who was doing a little research on that. And he actually bought me lunch because I found it for him smile So let me rephrase that: Thanks for lunch!"

Sure, it’s not per­fect, but some­one out there put some mod­icum of thought in­to it, which is the least you could ask of the au­thor of a work that’s go­ing to be dis­trib­ut­ed on a mas­sive scale.

Plus, it’s a lot bet­ter than this anti-gem I al­so just found:

Spam that reads "Why jesus allows this sort of thing to continue is a mystery"

Can you get more un­in­ten­tion­al­ly self-referential than that? (No, you can­not… and yes, that was a chal­lenge.)