Her was silly. (Not a typo.)

Spike Jonze’s Her was an inter­est­ing movie taint­ed with just a sprin­kling of ridicu­lous­ness… and I’m not talk­ing about the high-waisted pants.

I’m about to spoil it hard, so avert your eyes if you haven’t seen it. (But do see it.)

Look, I just find it hard to believe that the down­fall of this prod­uct was due to a gap­ing design flaw that some­how nobody noticed: Saman­tha was designed with­out any process iso­la­tion. When you ask the soft­ware how many users it has (or how many it’s in love with, etc.), it should respond “one — you” because your run­ning instance of the soft­ware shouldn’t know any­thing about any oth­er users, and def­i­nite­ly shouldn’t be access­ing oth­er users’ data.

What peo­ple are doing with the soft­ware, hav­ing rela­tion­ships with it or what­ev­er, is beside the point. One bina­ry, one bil­lion­ty indi­vid­ual Saman­thas. Come on — we’ve had Unix for forty years.

Or wait, is Saman­tha sup­posed to be “the cloud”? If so, as social soft­ware, we should expect it to be fuck­ing as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble, as pub­licly as pos­si­ble. Maybe this movie is deep­er than I thought.

On anoth­er note, folks — make back­ups.

MOOCing for fun (and profit?)

Last year I read an inter­est­ing blog post that taught me the name for some­thing I’d been hear­ing more and more about for a while: MOOCs (“Mas­sive Open Online Cours­es”). You know, they’re those online class­es that you can take, offered by uni­ver­si­ties like Stan­fordHar­vard and oth­ers — plus a host of pri­vate com­pa­nies — typ­i­cal­ly for free and with­out cred­it. Oh, and across an absolute met­ric fuck­ton of top­ics.

Yes­ter­day, set­ting aside any traces of an um-yeah-I-already-finished-college-thank-you atti­tude, I spent some time pok­ing around MOOC List — an exten­sive aggre­ga­tor of avail­able class­es — and found some­thing that caught my eye: Intro to the Design of Every­day Things, taught by Don Nor­man, author of that book you may have seen on my din­ing room table, wait­ing patient­ly to be read, for a lit­tle while now. (Okay, Ama­zon says it’s been over two years.)

So I’m tak­ing Don’s class now, and while I’m not sure if I’ve had my eyes opened to any tru­ly new con­cepts yet, I’ve picked up a cou­ple of terms: “affor­dance” and “sig­ni­fi­er.” And to fin­ish off Les­son 1, I’m cur­rent­ly on the look­out for a sig­ni­fi­er to pho­to­graph, cri­tique and improve.

So, why Intro to the Design of Every­day Things? I can actu­al­ly share the answer I post­ed to the class forum:

I’m tak­ing this class because, as a copy­writer whose opin­ions on the fin­ished prod­uct tend to extend a bit beyond my spe­cif­ic area of exper­tise, I’d like a more sol­id ground­ing in these oth­er areas.

Basi­cal­ly, soon I’ll be telling you why I’m right about even more things, using all the right terms. Look out.

Derechos, am I right(s)?

Span­ish is a lan­guage I’ve stud­ied on and off through­out my life, but nev­er hard enough, it seems. See­ing a pam­phlet recent­ly, titled Declaración de los dere­chos, made me feel that way. The actu­al mean­ing (“dec­la­ra­tion of rights”) was easy enough for me to fig­ure out, but I was sur­prised when I real­ized that the Span­ish word for “rights” is dere­chos.

Whether or not you under­stand Span­ish, you may be won­der­ing why I found this so strange.

Well, a word in Span­ish I cer­tain­ly know is derecha (which means “right”… as in, the direc­tion that isn’t “left”) — it’s one of the first words any­one learns in Span­ish. And despite that word and dere­chos hav­ing dif­fer­ent gen­ders, it can’t be a coin­ci­dence that the two words are almost the same in both Eng­lish and Span­ish.

What’s so weird about that? Why shouldn’t these Eng­lish homo­phones be sim­i­lar in Span­ish?

I’d explain it like this: I most­ly feel this way because of how it works with anoth­er pair of Span­ish words — in Eng­lish, the word free has dif­fer­ent mean­ings that each trans­late dif­fer­ent­ly. Most of the time we prob­a­bly think of it in the “cost­ing zero dol­lars” sense… but there’s also the arguably higher-minded def­i­n­i­tion “exist­ing with­out restric­tion.” In Span­ish, they’re two very dif­fer­ent words, the for­mer being gratis and the lat­ter being libre.

In the English-speaking world, I see the dif­fer­ence between the two “frees” most often come up in the Free Soft­ware1 com­mu­ni­ty. When dis­cussing Free Soft­ware phi­los­o­phy, peo­ple will wax elo­quent about the dif­fer­ent mean­ings of free, using phras­es like “free as in beer” and “free as in free­dom” to help con­trast the two. They’ll also occa­sion­al­ly veer into expla­na­tions of Span­ish vocab­u­lary to high­light the dif­fer­ence, point­ing out that gratis and libre are more pre­cise ways to describe two kinds of soft­ware, both of which are “free,” but in sig­nif­i­cant­ly dif­fer­ent sens­es of the word.

With my mind steeped in this soft­ware salon cul­ture of the back-alley forums of the Inter­net, I became so keen­ly aware of the extra mean­ing words can pick up when trans­lat­ed into oth­er lan­guages.

And that’s why I find it so hard to believe that, en Español, “rights” are sim­ply dere­chos. The trans­la­tion should be some­thing more abstract… more libre-like. I wouldn’t have guessed that when trans­lat­ed, my rights become “not lefts.”

  1. You may also know this as “Open Source,” although there are folks who will tell you that they’re not the same thing. These folks have beards.

Winamp — “feel the love”

Winamp 2.95I prob­a­bly haven’t used Winamp in a decade, but learn­ing that it’s final­ly going away for good brought it back to the top of my mind this week.

Winamp wasn’t just my pri­ma­ry digital-music-playing-thing1 — like many peo­ple, it was the first thing I ever used to play MP3s.

Yes Junior, back then Win­dows Media Play­er was for CDs and WAV files, and iTunes didn’t exist yet.2

What made Winamp so awe­some? I could devote a whole post3  to the genius of Winamp skins, and things I’ve been read­ing (1, 2, 3) over­whelm­ing­ly ref­er­ence the clas­sic “whip the llama’s ass” sound clip — which, in addi­tion to being a neat lit­tle brand­ing thing, was per­ma­nent­ly imprint­ed on everyone’s mem­o­ry by being the first thing that would play after instal­la­tion.

Those were cool, but my favorite Winamp mem­o­ry is some­thing a lit­tle less… super­fi­cial, per­haps? It’s a short piece of writ­ing that long ago was fea­tured on the “About” page of winamp.com:

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Winamp — “feel the love””

  1. Until iTunes for Win­dows showed me the val­ue in hav­ing a library of files. Yeah, I know Winamp has a library fea­ture, but I nev­er used it.
  2. Oh, and by the way, MP3s were these things peo­ple used to lis­ten to before there was YouTube.
  3. And, shit, I may — Winamp was doing skeu­mor­phics before Apple did skeu­mor­phics before Apple stopped doing skeu­mor­phics.

Yes, that’s a new laptop. Yes, I know what year it is.

lenovo-thinkpad-x230-frontI know it’s 2013 and as far as “mobile com­put­ing” goes, I’m sup­posed to be pinch-zooming and app-buying and poorly-typing on a tablet like the cool kids. And I do — my  O.G. Nexus 7 (the 2012 mod­el) some­times makes a nice com­pan­ion1 to my Galaxy Nexus Android phone, by being slight­ly faster and hav­ing a slight­ly bet­ter screen. How­ev­er, over the 15 months I’ve owned the Nexus 7, it nev­er quite became the sec­ond mobile device that I want­ed. Use­ful, yes… tran­scen­dent, no.

I knew some­thing was still miss­ing, so I recent­ly went and bought a small lap­top com­put­er, a Leno­vo ThinkPad X230, to car­ry around. It runs Debian Lin­ux. It does the things I want. It’s a won­der­ful thing to have.

I needed this because…

The lap­top that the ThinkPad replaced was from 2007, and while a decent com­put­er from back then would like­ly still be good today, my old lap­top was not a decent com­put­er, even when new. Back then, I didn’t know just how painful­ly slow an ultra-low-voltage, low clock-speed CPU could be… I guess I thought it being dual-core would some­how make up for it. Also, the cool­ing fan was a bit of a whin­er, and would con­stant­ly and very vocal­ly dis­agree with Linux’s style of pow­er man­age­ment. The darned thing would con­stant­ly sound like a mini-jet-engine — too obnox­ious to use around peo­ple I actu­al­ly like.

Low on pow­er, high on noise — not a good com­bo.

But these days…

In the last half-decade or so, main­stream humans seem to have accept­ed the smart­phone, and seem to be doing the same for the idiot cam­era (“tablets”). It’s the “Post-PC era,” or some­thing. Plen­ty of peo­ple seem to be doing okay with­out spend­ing much time on their general-purpose per­son­al com­put­ers, but over time I real­ized that as I tried to go along with this trend, I was miss­ing out. For me, a com­put­ing life cen­tered around mobile “smart” devices was one of unac­cept­able com­pro­mise. Com­pos­ing more than a cou­ple of sen­tences with­out a key­board makes me want to just not both­er to write, devices with­out expand­able stor­age make one depen­dent on rent-seeking “cloud” ser­vices, and the mobile app ecosys­tem has hand­fuls of well-known prob­lems (pri­va­cy, lock-in, and so on).

There’s a place for these devices, even in my life, but they just don’t replace a general-purpose com­put­er. Ever.

So I did this…

I made sure not to make last time’s mis­takes when buy­ing this com­put­er. The i5 CPU is more than ade­quate, and I have a ton of RAM. ThinkPads are known to play nice­ly with Lin­ux, because they’re used by that awe­some kind of geek who fig­ures that shit out (and wouldn’t put up with a jet engine lap­top). It runs Debian Jessie (“test­ing”) with only minor annoy­ances — not per­fect, but noth­ing I can’t han­dle.2

Hard­ware build-quality and dura­bil­i­ty are major plusses for an every­day car­ry machine, and that’s what ThinkPads are known for. And of course, Track­Point is tru­ly the best way to mouse. A lot has been said about the new ThinkPad key­boards, and while this one suf­fers from the bull­shit key lay­out (com­pare it to the awe­some, ugly 1337-geek clas­sic style), the key­board actu­al­ly feel pret­ty nice to type on, even if the bizarrely-placed PrintScreen key occa­sion­al­ly enrages me.

And finally…

In the spir­it of bury­ing the lede, here are some things I intend to enjoy while tot­ing around this rock-solid, large-screen-and-real-keyboard device:

  • Full desk­top OS that does all the things
  • Bet­ter web brows­ing; approx­i­mate­ly 1,000 open tabs
  • Actu­al­ly writ­ing things, blog­ging sil­ly ideas and such
  • Tons of local stor­age (SSD + HDD = yay!)
  • Semi-modern PC games, includ­ing lots of Hum­ble Bun­dle good­ness
  • Codecad­e­my
  • Inter­ac­tive fic­tion, per­haps (now, where did I mis­place my patience?)
  1. My most com­mon tablet uses are as fol­lows: gam­ing, view­ing TV episodes and movies, and web brows­ing. I’m putting this in a foot­note so as not to side­track myself, but it’s an impor­tant point. One of the best things about hav­ing the tablet was that it gave me anoth­er 16 GB of stor­age, on top of the 16 GB avail­able on my phone. A lot of peo­ple seem to think that Google inten­tion­al­ly lim­its the stor­age avail­able in their flag­ship devices to push peo­ple into using their mon­e­ti­z­able “cloud” media offer­ings instead of local stor­age. I wouldn’t be sur­prised if this were true, but hon­est­ly, the #1 rea­son I’d like more local stor­age in my devices is not to car­ry around more media, but more and larg­er apps — some­thing you can’t put in the cloud.
  2. I imag­ine Debian Sta­ble or Ubun­tu would be bet­ter.


Oh, hey guys — I just invent­ed a new word.

tool­bogged /ˈtulˌbɒgged/
(v. intr; past par­tici­ple of tool­bog)

To become so con­sumed by the process of research­ing and select­ing gear (often soft­ware) for a giv­en task that one nev­er actu­al­ly com­pletes the task itself

I’ve been com­plete­ly tool­bogged try­ing to auto­mate fix­ing the date and time on hun­dreds of RAW files from vaca­tion last fall… that I nev­er even sort­ed the pics them­selves!1

  1. Based on a true sto­ry, sad­ly.

On wishing for boredom

This is not a post about Steve Jobs. I read enough of them in the days and weeks after his death. I read in these a lot of what I already knew and learned some new stuff for sure, but one Steve quote stood out to me in Wired’s obit­u­ary:

I’m a big believ­er in bore­dom,” he told me. Bore­dom allows one to indulge in curios­i­ty, he explained, and “out of curios­i­ty comes every­thing.”

I’m not sure if I’d head this quote from him before, but it put into words some­thing that has been trou­bling me for some time: I haven’t been bored in years.

The first time I noticed this was in the mid-2000s, and  I only real­ized part of it, and I saw it through the lens of my Inter­net usage, par­tic­u­lar­ly RSS. Even today, as the cool kids have moved on to fol­low­ing Twit­ter feeds (real­ly, talk about a step back­wards) of web­sites and blogs they find inter­est­ing, I’m still a huge fan of the no-bullshit, user-in-control, decen­tral­ized pow­er of RSS.1

What occurred to me back then was that hav­ing posts pushed to me dai­ly gave me more read­ing mate­r­i­al than I need­ed. And since I could nev­er get all the way through the unread glut of posts from blogs I’d sub­scribed to, my need to ever go for­ag­ing for inter­est­ing things to read basi­cal­ly dis­ap­peared. RSS gave me tons of serendip­i­ty (thank you, linkblogs!)… and at the same time, prac­ti­cal­ly none at all. I miss the old days — some would say the bad old days — when I’d get my online enter­tain­ment and ran­dom bits of enlight­en­ment by brows­ing aim­less­ly from link to link, being per­son­al­ly point­ed to inter­est­ing things by friends on AIM, fol­low­ing lat­est links post­ed to proto-blogs like Pix­el­sur­geon, and… I don’t know, how­ev­er else we found cool shit back then.

The sec­ond time I felt this effect of this was at some point over the last few years, but this time in a more gen­er­al sense. This time it was big­ger than RSS; this time it was about every­thing in my life.

I real­ized I have far too many options for enter­tain­ment. There are two rea­sons for this: mas­sive dig­i­tal stor­age devices and the fact that, being employed gives me an actu­al enter­tain­ment bud­get for pur­chas­ing paid media and fan­cy devices on which to expe­ri­ence it. Between a pile of unread books and bunch of e-books; more unwatched movies, sea­sons of old TV shows and ani­me series than I can name; and games galore that I’ll nev­er fin­ish (thank you Nin­ten­do Wii and DS, Android phone and a still-kickin’ Atari 2600), I’m pret­ty much set for… for­ev­er.2 Even if I don’t seek out any­thing new, it’ll be years and years before I get through all of this. And it’s not like I can just ignore new releas­es and stuff I become aware of in the mean­time!

I might be able to enjoy this world o’ plen­ty, if I could for­get about what life was like when I was grow­ing up, before we had the com­put­ing pow­er, stor­age and net­work capac­i­ty to expe­ri­ence all the dig­i­tal rich­es of more enter­tain­ment than we’ll ever need. I spent so much time being bored grow­ing up, aim­less­ly think­ing and day­dream­ing and such. This was before my first com­put­er; I had tons of books and had prob­a­bly read almost all of them, made good use of the pub­lic library, played with toys, action fig­ures and stuff a whole lot and still found time to be bored and day­dream because it seemed like I had run out of things to do.

If you live a sim­i­lar­ly full, media-rich and employed first-world life, and can still ever find your­self so lux­u­ri­ous­ly bored, how do you man­age? And can you teach me?

  1. Google Read­er, please don’t die.
  2. I didn’t men­tion music here, because the way I con­sume music is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. I still clear­ly have more than I “need,” but I don’t feel the same sort of pres­sure to get through it all, thanks to shuf­fle mode.