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.)