An idea occurred to me the other day that sounded fun but next to impossible when I initially mulled it over. I've been super excited about recent articles like this one from Smashing about building media sites using WordPress and other how-to-ish stuff like it that explores the topic in some depth and doesn't drop the subject with a bullet pointed list of features and hints at possible uses for the default features. That stuff gets linked and twittered endlessly, but at the end of the day, it isn't useful other than as device to hype a given CMS or an attempt to hitch your wagon to $stuff.
I had a different idea and, as always, to do anything remotely like this it would require more than just me driving and a fair amount of scheming on infrastructure, etc. Here's what I would like to do: A website (weblog variant would be fine for the sake of presentation) about doing real world projects in different CMS's. An errant thought occurred to me regarding doing this work for non-profits and organizations in need, but I think I'd like to keep the focus of this unimplemented and poorly considered idea on doing medium complexity website projects involving different CMS's, sharing what we learn along the way, and generally being truthful about how the process worked or didn't. This theoretically would include sharing code customization, plugins or external resources used, and the whole shebang. I realize this is beyond ambitious and staggers right into the realm of biting off more than a person or two could possibly or responsibly chew.
The killer for me about the traditional 'Make x CMS into z really cool and useful thing is that the process of adaptation is almost never covered in any depth by folks who present the aforementioned types of articles. I'd always stumble on them and wonder while reading through the write up why the folks playing with it made their decisions or how you might make slight changes to achieve something completely different while using most of the same steps. Why? I dunno, but I know this would require a fair amount of commitment from its participants and wouldn't be easy by any means.
Anyone interested? Let me know either in the comments or by sending me some mail goneaway at this domain here. If you've got a better or less sprawling idea or alternative I'd be interested in hearing about that as well. If something like this already exists I would love to help out.
I'm awash in a ton of sit there and listen and then sign things not-so-busy work so I've been doing a lot of reading that has nothing to do with intellectual property. I guess that is sort of guaranteed given the utter lack of giving-of-shit on either side of the equation. I'm ready for this week to be done and to get started for reals.
Glenn Beck is sharpening up his repertoire as our country's leading satirist and is expanding to new markets. He is founding a publishing company which is allegedly going to publish real books that aren't the religious themed picture menus I'd assume his target demographic is more comfortable with. I suppose I should be pleased that at least he's attempting to create something that has tangible value instead of scams that prey on paranoia and ignorance. I suggest doing some stretching to accommodate the coming deep belly laughs that are no doubt forthcoming.
So, here's a good example of being completely crazy and daring to be very public about it. After you've finished being completely horrified be sure to read the comments because they're not only hilarious, but a bracing affirmation that you, as the reader, are not the fucking crazy one. To be fair, there is a vividly embarrassed follow up that addresses both the comments and attempts some light hearted self-diagnosis.
Tennessee's governor made 'broad' sharing of Netflix (and other premium streaming content) a crime in his state. Christ. Fuck the South again and again.
I don't keep very close tabs on the state of culture in other countries but it seems like the U.S is creeping slowly towards a sort of fundamentalist culture where pure dogma (the rules, man, the rules) is steamrollering interpretation. I think of interpretation as a matter of being engaged in something, a sniff test for making sure that you're actually awake when you're outside of your home and acknowledging that there are other people walking the surface of the Earth that are not you.
I think that inane tendency to simply look out for your own interests by a very narrow (or non) interpretation of rules put in place mainly for good reasons is what makes situations like the one this six year old has to deal with so infuriating. If the contents of the article are reasonably accurate then the faculty of this kid's school ignored all of the things they knew about him and instead sketched in the potential for a statistical anomaly. As a student, what do you take away from this? That you're actually a prisoner? That is simply embarrassing.
I've lagged again for a freakishly long time and there are several reasons for this. I was thinking about the millionth hibernation of Team Murder this afternoon and decided (while fixing a bunch of fucked up permissions on a huge number of files shares on a Windows 2003 box because what the fuck else are you going to do while the progress bar creeps along glacially in its march of the damned?) that the reasons I haven't had the necessary concentration or interest to do much writing here are more worthy of extrapolation than whatever cool crap I gazed idly at on the web.
Brain Injury One:
I'm looking for another job pretty seriously. So seriously in fact that I'm returning phone calls from recruiters. It bears mentioning that right now is probably the worst time in the history of IT to be seriously nosing around for a better place that offers more money but I've grown pretty attached to the idea of leaving my current place of work. It isn't the soul crushing call center of misery that I mined salt in before but I'm pretty unhappy for a number of different reasons. The most prominent contributor to the ick is that I'm the only member of my three person department that has any background or present interest in computing outside making quick Google searches in the same way that a twelve year old might employ a magic eight ball to determine the outcome of one horrible decision after another. All of this IT related thinking is an intolerable interruption to reading a ton of fascinating material on nutritional supplements and the latest health scare about oxygen or whatever. I'm sure that everyone else who administers a network used mainly by clicktards suffers similar frustration at the state of things but, in this case, the really thick decisions that impact me directly are made by someone who allegedly labors under the same labor genre that I do but is influenced by trade magazines and an artificially inflated job title than common sense or decency. Okay, the 'decency' part is hyperbole but little else really is.
So I'm doing some interviews at the moment. One today, one tomorrow, and so on until I eventually move up a couple of notches on the income totem pole and hopefully avoid defaulting on student loans. I had a particularly hilarious interview today for a company that handles routing software for taxis. The gist of the position was that I was going to be an installer and nothing else. Affix mounting clips to the inside of a car, adapt down power supplies, and on and on. It didn't sound interesting in the slightest but the dollar amount did catch my ear and kept me from fleeing the scene immediately. See, the office I was being interviewed in was a large empty room on the top floor of a taxi building with a card table set up in the center bearing a lone laptop and a battered phone that was likely fished out of a box of surplus office supplies found in the basement. The guy who I actually spoke with was, to his credit, very straightforward and told me that the job would likely expand to include a hellacious amount of travel and that I would be the only person employed by the company in the United States. I narrowly avoided bursting into a fit of giggles about just how awful it sounded until it was time to meet the 'engineers.' They were both from the UK and here a day's notice to scrape together parts for a Vegas trade show. They were both very sleep deprived and unwilling to spend more than a few minutes talking to me about how the actual software/hardware worked (just looking for fail over here, folks) before trading places and rifling through the contents of another cardboard box filled with taxi meters in various stages of dissembly. To add to the hilarity the fellow 'interviewing' me repeatedly asked me if I had any additional questions before letting me know that the opening was due to one of the engineers having his visa declined while trying to come into the US. It was a geyser of awesome. I'm supposed to get a call back from them within the next couple of days but I'll probably let that one go to voicemail.
I had another interview shortly after the one I mentioned above that was equally terrible for entirely different reasons. I guess the methodology has changed for attempting to load up Tier 1 support positions with overqualified people who will grow bored and hit the ejection seat trigger within a year. The new strategy involves calling the position 'System Administrator' when posting it and only revealing the grunt level expectations after the interview (the first of four, of course) has started. Riiiight.
Brain Injury Two: World of Warcraft
I had a pretty abysmal WoW habit while Oscar was still tummy bound. Besides being a plentiful source of disdain for pre-teens who apparently type with their elbows it was an all consuming distraction from all of the scary things that I ought to have thought about. Now Oscar is walking around, starting to say recognizable words, and sleeping through the night so I have a bit more time to play with. I recently rolled a death knight and a hunter to level up because I am a masochist.
All of the above said, if you happen to favor my particular flavor of crack give me a holler via comment or my user name at this domain. I'd love to level with other folks who can complete a sentence and not ninja all of the good loot. I'm predominately on the Shandris realm but I could roll on another as long as it's not PVP. If I have to heal for one more PVP geared, holy spec'd paladin I may retire.
Brain Injury Three: Reading stuff I'm supposed to
Since I dropped out of college I've gotten progressively more lazy about reading. I tend to fallback on books that I've read a couple dozen times in the past. This isn't a complete waste of time as re-reading works for me as a sharpening of my meandering attention and allows me to digest and comprehend parts of books that aren't part of the plot push or tangential. I'm trying to avoid this pattern by actively seeking out books that I should have read but have dodged for whatever reason. The first on the list Atlas Shrugged is more a matter of knowing my enemy. Libertarians tend to be trust fund babies that were incredibly traumatized by the need to earn money, the hierarchical nature of the working world, and other startling obvious economic matters. So, I'm struggling with this 500 page plus turd and not gaining enthusiasm as I turn the pages. Ayn Rand was a terrible writer and developed characters with all the subtlety and understanding of a four year old wielding a sock puppet. I feel obscurely embarrassed for both her and all of her fans when reading this stuff. It's difficult to feel much of anything for people who can wear t-shirts that say things like "Taxation is Slavery" without a glimmer of understanding of why that sort of historically uncomfortable bobbing for oppression might make people around them who have been adversely affected by things like, you know, literal chattel slavery and hand to mouth economic adversity instead of the hallucinatory, dorm room sort of adversity feel a bit hostile towards them
That brings me back to my current quandary (which I will not try to equate with slavery, starvation, the Holocaust, or any other hyperbole at the expense of others) which is not treating me well. Given that each page of this execrable novel is making my toes curl I tend to avoid reading entirely. This is bad and I may need to scrap this idea entirely before I lapse into illiteracy or Objectivism or something even worse.
Brain Injury Four: Learning some languages I've previously ignored.
I'll readily admit that one of the prime motivators for me even investigating Mono was all the controversy about its inclusion in some distribution's packaging of Gnome. I have this habit of assuming that people generally have a good reason for bothering to respond to the foaming at the mouth variety of criticism and in this case I think the response has been reasoned and generally out to correct misconception rather than get in a my god is bigger than your god war with ideologues. Given the handling of this by folks on the free as in freedom is all there is to think about in the world crowd and RMS being on full time moron duty lately, I'm thinking about revoking my FSF membership. I support much of the work they do but have a really hard time justifying contributing any of my piddly income to funding flights around the globe so their mascot can insult women and generally act like a teenager. Sorry but there are a lot more important things that can be accomplished within free software and nearly none of them have anything to do with RMS babbling about Emacs virgins.
Anyway, I started looking a bit at the spec for Mono and realized that it could actually be pretty useful to me. The downside is that I've really disliked the books published on the topic and the online documentation stops at the 'is your Mono install functional' level so I've been working with C# books and trying to adapt their contents to my purposes which mainly means Gtk Sharp projects. I like C# for the most part because it includes what I thought was handy about Java (I'll pause here to note that my Java use has been pretty minimal as the overhead is just too large for most of what I do) without all of baggage that made me hate it worse than the plague. So, I've been hacking away on that stuff for learning purposes and for the sake of knowing a bit about .NET and ASP crap. See the above crap about job hunting for all the rationale you would ever need. I'm having fun which is much more than I can say for my journeys into most programming languages.
That's what I've been up to instead of bothering to post here. I'm pretty bored with the state of tech news. I'm not very interested in Windows 7 so tech news has been a continually busy signal for me for the last couple of months. More here when I make some more poor choices.
I can almost grasp why some folks might have problems with the proposed health care reforms President Obama has been working on. Politically, I'm as far left as is imaginable but that doesn't mean the chorus of stick stupid is going to get any slack from me especially when both motives and tactics are such a fucking train wreck.
If anyone who opposes any change to the way health care is currently handles in the United States has a little more than fumes left from brain cells, could you point me in the direction of a cogent and sane summary of the framework necessary to support such a contradictory policy salad or is this all just knee jerk channeling of Ed Anger because you're afraid you'll be taxed to death when the outcomes of major health care policy adjustments will more likely lead to black ink instead of red.
It isn't often (enough) that I mention writing here that I'm happy with or agree with entirely but the Linux Magazine article about MSFT's potential contributions to the kernel is one of them. This might be a sign of me getting a bit older and more reluctant to shake hornet nests simply for the sake of watching the rage and confusion play itself out afterward but I'm becoming a huge fan of writing about FOSS that is more measured and, um, professional, I guess. The inverse is that I'm pretty fucking tired of reading poorly considered screeds that serve little purpose other than to cherry pick sources and textual evidence to further bolster an opinion that won't change or consider the third option (maybe neither option in a binary standoff is the best possible answer).
There are ninety different ways to spread out what I just said but I'm pretty happy leaving this as is. Sometimes extrapolation on the fairly obvious gives you, the person theoretically reading this, less credit than you are likely due.
So, Heinz is supposedly* putting together a USB mini-microwave so you can heat up a lot of beans at your desk. Jesus. Beanzawave?!? Really?
Imaginary Heinz Marketing Conference Call
Drone A: We've come up with a brilliant plan to sell more beans to office workers?
Drone B: Really? Edgy new ad campaign? Deal with office building convenience stores.
Drone A: No. Fuck that! Think really big. Like huge but smaaaall at the same time.
Drone B: Does this have something to do with Wal-Mart?
Drone A: No! Shit. This is about a computer powered mini microwave that revolutionizes the way that people eat beans at work without ever leaving their desks.
Drone B: shoots Drone B. Turns gun on self.
Pure, unadulterated awesome! I'm sure a Nobel nomination will be forthcoming as soon as the ether wears off.
* I say supposedly because part of me is fairly certain that this will surface within the next few days as a viral campaign instead of the comedy gold marketing that it is now. Curses.
The story about ownership of sounds (in this case kazoos that simulate duck quacks) has been pretty widely covered by a number of folks who have some professional/legal foundation for pontificating on the subject. I'll say that it's a terrible idea and admit that I didn't know that it has existing precedents:
Cynthia Lynch, an administrator for trademark policy and procedure for the United States Patent and Trademark Office, said such sound marks were fairly uncommon, with only about 150 registered, a short list that includes the Ride the Ducks quack, the MGM lion’s roar and NBC’s signature chimes.
The truly scary part is that given the filed trademark their legal action seems (again, not a lawyer) legitimate since the business they're in dispute with is in precisely the same industry. The legitimacy question here is really with the Patent Office for allowing this filing in the first place.
With all the Kindle hype we've all endured recently (and I've seriously considered a future purchase of one) and all the babble that speculation on the impact this might have on the readin' and writin' industry, I've probably spent more time in the consideration of books, conceptually as opposed to the title-to-title thinking that usually dominates brain cycles, in the past month than I ever have.
Thinking about books instead of actually reading them typically yields grim results for me. This is especially the case when I attempt to write about them here. Part of the insta-failure has a lot to do with the consideration of an audience that does not exist and another with getting myself all entangled in the snarls of more formal criticism of anything that isn't software. The point here is that I read constantly but write little about it, at least here. During my huge span of unemployment when I had more bonus time than I've had in my entire life my reading habits changed for the infinitely worse and only now are beginning to recover. The symptoms were typical: reading only when on public transportation, reading only genre fiction or books that I've read dozens of times before, and generally laziness towards reading for extended periods of time.
Now that I actually have a job and am not spending large amounts of what could otherwise be idle time stressing out and reloading Craigslist every 45 seconds I've gravitating back towards spending more free time reading. One distinction that I really needed to make was between reading from one of my computers and reading dead tree books. This is the line that the Kindle blurs somewhat and makes more more cautious about even considering it for a potential wish list item. The ease of distraction when reading text from a computer is obvious and it doesn't necessarily make for a focused platform for reading huge chunks of text that necessitate both concentration and the ability to return to the text at a later time. The only time that I've successfully read long pieces of writing on a computer is when that computer is not connected to the internet. The Kindle is perpetually connected to some kind of internet access. I've reluctant to count that as a strike against its value since, you know Free IntarWeb and all but it does count against its value as a dedicated reading terminal.
All of that said, I've returned to the habit of just reading again. It's stupid and simplistic enough to make me think that I'll soon be astonished by sliced bread and flushing toilets. I knew that it was a better idea and follows all of the conventions for success in study but I'd nearly forgotten how rejuvenating it is to just sit and read for several hours without interruption. I need to not forget the feeling of composure that extended reading gives me and what a powerful antidote it is to the feeling of perpetually scattered thinking that comes along with having your attention span artificially segmented by all of your crap that beeps. I'm going to try to do all of my reading offline for a couple of weeks (excepting newspapers because they're stupid) to see how it effects the reading that I do online. I'll venture a guess that it will improve my attention span for individual items and also force me to actually read them instead of skimming and substituting.
Since Demonoid is currently being hassled out of existence I'm forced to use less savory sites to get my fix of unanthologized (or at least not published in the canonical graphic novel form since only pulp/noir wannabe gritty detective in the mean streets bullshit seems to earn that honor these days) comics from the 1990s. Unfortunately, they're not very well organized, have a user base slightly brighter than a chipped Pet Rock, and are really, really focused on pornography instead of anything remotely interesting for folks older than say nineteen. It involves a lot of sorting and a lot of advertising images that make the markeetering done on Myspace seem brilliant and innovative in comparison. In short, pornography is basically tedious shit cranked out for morons who are willing to deal with the formulaic construction so they can, completely heterosexually of course, watch all glassy eyed as giant throbbing penises spurt bulk rate semen over bored and listless faces that desire only moist towelettes and one more chance at graduating high school. Bleh.
What I'd like to propose is a consolidation of by-idiots, for-idiots exploit-tainment and bring together competition-based reality shows and pornography to create a bulletproof fucktard-geist of a hybrid (new) media entity. Seriously (sort of), why not combine them into something like American Bukkake Idol where contestants must pit their 'skillz' against one another competitively while struggling against a ravenous pack of fellow competitors and being humiliated by a panel of useless but vicious (or just plain drunk) judges only to ascend to the heights of the final round when one lucky participant gives it their all on the line shot at momentary and transitory glimpses of dignity. Then the bukkake and a bright future similar to that which all reality show contestants can look forward to with the possible exception being a possibility of more porn work perhaps as a fluffer. Reality shows have plenty of room for these sorts of annexation. Just keep away from that magician show with Uri Geller. No one needs to see that man naked, now or ever again.
The best part about all of this is the potential for the consolidation of slack jawed attention to be drawn to other places. While this might spell a sort of doom for Fark and Digg I think it is totally worth it and hope that the effect is lasting. If that fails we could always go the porn/crime scene investigation route, right?
I did a bunch of Photoshop work today which is aggravating when working for someone else -- I come from an offset printing background of sorts so I am absolutely anal about details. I worry most about problems that don't really exist like small point size trapping and other whimsies of tight registration manipulation that fucking WON'T look exactly the same as your shitty fiery output. Um, so, I ended up slapping together a new banner and throwing it up top. Whoopee.
The point I'm almost ready to explain is that I've been increasing the offset more recently which has brought on a slew of comments about it being decidedly off center. Yes, eagle eye, it is indeed not centered. People used to tease me about my complete disregard for the standards of CSS and how slapdash I was about everything. This needling seemed to center around the perpetually askew banner that I've plastered across the top of this site for the past five years. I kind of like this one as it looks kind of bargain basement steampunk (for something slapped together in five layers over the course of fifteen minutes) and it is making me want to actually redo the theme here. It's something I've procrastinated about for at least a year and now that the relatively inside joke is no longer simply a matter of personal amusement I don't feel like I need to keep running with it. Soon.
As always, I'm about three days behind in reading worsened by a day off when all I had to do was pay a visit to the dentist for fillings and do laundry. This nugget about the MSFT retaliation against a MVP who scored the honor as a result of developing the same extension was one of those things that I vaguely remember from the various headlines that trickled through my feed reader with nary a word read but didn't actually think about until today. I don't mean 'think about' in the sense that MSFT is flying black helicopters over your compound/ranch because you've got something against them. The feeling I came away with after reading this is that MSFT really needs to reel itself (hydra-like as that self may be) and make some kind of decision about whether the monkey boy 'developers' dance really was a product of a hallucinogenic energy drink or whether they are actually interested in having people write real software for their platform that isn't a fucking game or, more profitably, spyware.
The truly confusing part is what damage this developer is really causing MSFT? The downloadable versions of Studio are there for what reason? To win karma back? To woo the kids? Free promotion on the old Thetan levels? No, it's a gimme to convince people that Studio is worth the investment in time and the learning curve in order to use/learn. By making the freebie more useful you have injured the beneficiary of the promotion how? Stupid, stupid, stupid.
I had a pretty good conversation with a co-worker today about developing software and how need is determined when pitching your idea to other people who have only money to connect them to the idea of software or at least potential money. That's another thing entirely though than what I'm trying to eventually get at. I started thinking between rounds of tedium at the hands of hostile and incompetent retirees was what my wish list might look like. I'm a different demographic (now there is some terminology that hardly even makes my flesh crawl) entirely so I tried to formulate a list of tools that I would like to have. Here are some of them:
1. An integrated RSS reader and offline web content grabber. The only real time that I have during the work day (or most days for that matter) to actually catch up on reading the stupid number of feeds that I subscribe to is on the bus ride home which is both a long period of time and utterly interweb free. I would like to be able to follow some of those links especially since many of the weblogs I formerly had a hankering to stay current with are little more than distributed Digg clients that seldom offer much more than a line or two of comments about a big news story. I would like my content gathering feed reader to also be smart enough to realize that caching duplicate web content is a terrible idea so I don't get too much junk in my trunk but can still get the link contents (perhaps minus images or whatever) in the mix so the Twittery snarkiness would not sound like wind howling over a barren wasteland of jokes stranded without punchlines.
2. A browser plugin (not necessarily Firefox since ol' tubby already consumes an inequitable number of resources for the scant advantages it might provide discounting, of course, popularity) that would save a series of images like Google maps or the like into either an animation or a navigable interface where zooms and pans previously viewed would be contained and accessible. This works really well for things like maps and other content that appears in the browser a single frame at a time but appears dynamic when you actually have network connectivity. What I would really like to have is a simple way to specify number of 'actions' (this is total userland bullshit talk but my knowledge of Flash is minimal at best), trigger the capture, and then later watch the whole thing again in a little browser that didn't feature too many doodads or continually connect to remote servers and annoy me half to death with errors.
3. A mini application that would run a single PS filter on an image or just preview it that way without opening the vault of the behemoth when wading through a bunch of 'acquired' images. What might a box blur look like on this picture of peonies? I dunno because I'll be damned if I'm going to womp the holy shit out of my battery life just to see what a single filter pass would look like. It would also be nice if this application could produce a meta-data report that could either be read by PS later to automate the process or produce readable text approximate to the sorts of questions PS would ask when employing filters. This one likely exists already but I'll toss it out there if only to make the bus ride seem shorter.
I really ought to read more book reviews. They're one of the few forms of journalism that I actually find engaging even when they pay a little too much attention to press releases than the meat of what they aim to evaluate reviews are often more entertaining and seemingly free critics up to do absolutely insane things like pay close critical attention to the artifacts of pop culture. One of the nicest parts about reviews is the language they typically use (and I'm talking about newspaper and glossy magazine reviews here and not the stuff in peer-reviewed academic journals where fear of taking academically incorrect positions can blunt what would otherwise be insightful) which is simplified and avoids couching itself too deeply in theory jargon because, hey, we're all stupid products of media saturation and shouldn't be smothered with shop talk, right? I'm not even sure where the sarcasm is going there but nonetheless I'm much more likely to read a review that dumbs it down a little than something encapsulated in the assumption of shared fields of study. It makes me feel like I can stray into areas and topics that I'm not already on a first name basis with.
What is even more rewarding is the occasional serious consideration of a topic often relegated to the trash can of popular culture that I'm familiar and a little infatuated with. Using horror movies as the jumping off point for making points is something I am all too familiar with. That is probably why I enjoyed this article in Reason so much. It takes a topic that I'm completely geeky about (zombie movies in case you don't know me or have never visited here before) and they are also the mythological milieu that I most often use when trying to analogize group dynamics (yes, stupid, I know) and speculate about how human social structure holds up under human nature run amok. Believe it or not, this is pretty frequently because I'm not a big believer in the essential goodness of people.
The celluloid zombie outbreak just seems like a logical albeit unrealistic extrapolation of that cynicism. George Romero is the big gun when it comes to this sort of social criticism and often the least subtle. You would have to be an idiot not to notice the themes that all of his movies club you over the head with. Only his zombie movies really work in this sense because the backdrop is the most interesting. Bruiser (one of his most clumsy attempts at social criticism) sounds interesting in concept but it makes for a godawful train wreck of a movie that shambles aimlessly yet pointless but yields only shrugs and disappointment. I think this has to do the lack of realism shown in the portrayal of human characters (protagonists?) in the other movies while the Dead movies are all about human relationships, social structure and hierarchy, and how we might really interact with our peers if the world was really fucked.
The living dead are just the messengers in these movies which makes them frightening, pitiable, and really scary in concept even when they're played comically. Walking corpses are just the delivery mechanism of the sickness, hatred, and isolation that was always there but inhibited by social pressure. Duh. The small cast of characters and the claustrophobic environments they are necessarily confined to brings their interactions and failures into much sharper focus. I, being the obsessive idiot preoccupied with trashy stuff instead of vitamin-rich tedium, tend to overuse scenarios and stretch the interpretations possible in these scenarios out like taffy. It's good to know that I'm not alone in this. I'm going to order a copy of Pretend We’re Dead: Capitalist Monsters in American Pop Culture because although I might not be entirely sold on socialist criticism anymore than I am on libertarian ideas being dragged into areas where they probably don't belong (read: pretty much anywhere other than a small room in a student union filled with trust fund babies) the use of the horror movie as a basis for criticism of other aspects of life is always a potential wellspring of enthusiasm. Yes, I get excited about the things you chuckle absently about and I'm okay with that.
Apparently. we, being internet users and inherently and infinitely connected to the source of all information, are the person of the year according some dead trees. Somehow this pronouncement about the revolution of a deeply interconnected (at least through social networks) populace seems about a decade too late or more if you count McLuhan's writings as a theoretical foundation for this sort of ass-ward rush of smoke blown via Time. A lot of also ride buses together.
Yay. We use tools according to their introductory hype and abandon them when they are proved useless. Does this carry any deep meaning for anyone or is everyone just happy to be 'recognized' as force of annoyance to everyone who isn't us? I hope not. Hats off to Time for being comically at to the cashing in on the thrice or more reanimated horse of Web 2.0.
Don't trust me. Let the gushing speak for itself:
And for seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game, TIME's Person of the Year for 2006 is you.
I started thinking and later writing about this knowing full well that most folks who land here via Google searches like 'fuck websense' will never see it. The post they're reading is four years old and has something like eighty comments attached to it. At one point I was going to take it down simply because some of the information is outdated but relented when I realized that there are a ton of kids trading workarounds through the comment section of that post. I'll skip being the dutiful janitor for that sake as it is the very least I can do.
What is most often misunderstood is why I loathe Websense so much. To be absolutely clear about my motivations for leaving that post up and for generally trying to work against filtering software whenever I can be lazy about it probably requires more explanation than is really appropriate for this space but I'll give it a miserably tired and weeknight shot: I don't begrudge any administrator setting limits on what their resources can be used for. Restricting use is the only sane way to keep your network from being bled dry and to keep your well padded fanny out of the court system. File sharing is increasingly treacherous for large networks and the organizations that support them.
What goes nearly without saying and opening the floodgates to any sort of legal liability really isn't the business that most large organizations are in. Hell, I can even sympathize with the deployment of software like Websense to some degree. It's an easier fix for limiting access to questionable content than most solutions and is very appealing to admins already overburdened with the usual work necessary to keep a bunch of outward facing boxes running and a bunch of users from whining any louder than they already do. In fewer words, I don't necessarily blame people for rolling out things like Websense when they're trying to make the best of limited resources (like people who have a clue, a breed nearly extinct in IT) and save themselves from lawsuits and being car-bombed by right wing Christian activists for allowing children access to blasphemous information not brought to them by Charlton Heston and the Hooah! bar. It is difficult to discount self-preservation as a viable motivating factor in the decision making process.
My problem with Websense is that it doesn't work as intended. Does it block access to sites? Of course, I am in and out of the blocked list as a 'sexual' site which is just incorrect. Should I be blocked because I show so much affinity for four letter words and refer to heads of corporations as 'pigfuckers'? Maybe but I don't think sexual has anything to do with it. The obvious problem here is that human eyes don't review things filtered by Websense even when complaints are filed. I tried communicating with Websense support more a few times four years ago about properly categorizing Team Murder as something offensive other than sexual with no reply, acknowledgment, or consideration otherwise. My case is trivial to say the very least but when you apply this same set of criteria to institutions, like public schools, that should facilitate research on topics like breast cancer or the the abolitionist movement before the Civil War you run into problems. Of course I generally have a problem with broad content filtering because it just doesn't work but I would generally be more accepting if Websense wasn't so clearly marketed towards education and the filtering was properly maintained. It isn't, so I'm not. All this was prompted by a number of new comments attached to the four year old post that seemed generally sympathetic but still thought that crippling research opportunities for the sake of 'the children' was a good idea.
Social Networking Will Unbreak Complex Socio-Political Situations By Helping Those Unfortunate Children Form Groups And Tag Things
Sweet mother of fuck. I've seen frequent mention of the OLPC Human Interface Guidelines but hadn't actually gotten around to reading it until tonight. It really does look like a hybridization of marketing pap for some Web2.0er and the Ubuntu idealization of the terminology of the generalized other as serving and understanding. It's a little embarrassing when the alleged goal is to promote computer literacy for third world children who may not have access to any other technology. How best to teach children about technology? Apparently by making it arbitrarily different and assuming that those poor little starving brown children aren't bright enough to figure out the desktop interface that shows no sign of going away. I've always thought that this project was a fabulous idea with godawful implementations and that was a fairly predictive observation. Oh well, I'm sure it made some people in the industry feel better.
I've never agreed with any of the schools of literary criticism entirely. It's a pretty easy conclusion to come to -- when you're not grinding any interpretive axe into a molecule thick cookie cutter through which you'll see the entire universe, these things become a bit like a little pepper spray in a crowded room. When the author is actually hung up on whatever thing it is more a matter of being a balancing act between writing on topics that you're familiar with and avoiding beating those idiosyncrasies to death and also a matter of your own interpretation as a reader. Bukowski had booze, Burroughs had junk, and so on and so on. Most writers approach things with more subtlety than either of the aforementioned but there are a good number of near-canonical writers who wrote the same damned thing again and again with situational differences being the only thing that distinguishes the old from new thematically. Herman Hesse is who I think of immediately. I can forgive the authors of books though.
Anyway, obsessively myopic literature is ingrained into the pop culture consciousness in the United States; it is expected of writers the same way that erratic behavior is expected of painters or alcoholism is expected in journalists. Those habits become harder to bear when used by critics. Reading a research paper length analysis that completely disregards original context will make you want to dismember that critic as much for wasting their own time polishing turds as for wasting your own reading and trying to make sense of it. What I always neglect to consider when tearing my hair out over some utterly horrendous piece of criticism that contacts the subject at all the wrong points and seems more like smirky parody than honest engagement with a written work is that there other forces at work here.
This article about criticism in the Sunday Times made a number of scarcely used gears whir in my head. The gist of it becomes more interesting when you consider the critics bemoaning the sensationalization and duh-cultural interpretation of their own writings into headline fodder. There is some mega meta going on here and it is pretty satisfying reading for me at 2 am while fighting a gut full of leftover turkey sandwich sleep poisons. When you can't bring yourself to sleep quite yet it is trivial to sink deeply into meta-critical examinations like this as it is scathing at times and traverses familiar territory for me in terms of sheer provocation. I suppose I have an inappropriate reverence for things literary (naturally excluding science fiction and horror from the former category) that makes me cringe when an author's life is dissected for supporting arguments about the intended meaning of a text. Paris Hilton is a public figure who offers little reason for the press to pay much attention to her unless she is behaving scandalously. There is a little Art Puritan in me that believes against all rational argument that authors must be elevated slightly above this fray. The Puritan in me might be reacting to the use of the same tone and depth of analysis used for either the socialites trashing hotel rooms or the people writing books. That feels utterly wrong. Go read the whole fucking article. It made me feel a whole lot better in general about the possibility for balance between analysis and interpretation. Whether that is the intent of the author or not is not my problem at two in the morning.
I'm probably not the only who thinks that a plan to use popular media to form a bottleneck for the flow of information is a measure of desperation. The modest proposal is here and actually uses the term 'embargo' as part of the argument. This would all be fine and semi-understandable if the majority of newspapers produced more content than redistributed AP/Reuters/blah blah blah to fill up column inches around advertising. What lacks the ability to compel isn't the dead tree format but the fact that most sources of news don't offer anything distinct from any of the other sources. The eventual outcome of this might be something akin to what Wal-Mart has done to the department store market. You cannot hold things back from potential buyers and count on this strategy to protect your product forever. There is always a player with deep pockets waiting in the wings to pick up the folks you left behind and feed them slickly wrapped crap for less than you can possibly afford to give up for. There are always faster gunfighters and there are always cheaper whores. While the irony would be satisfying the creation of a mega-USA Today doesn't hold very much appeal. Remember what newspapers were like before the emergence of USA Today? I'm guessing not but it was a hell of a lot more impressive and diverse.
I intended to give some credit to whoever pointed this bit out but I didn't write it down. Oops. I guess I won't be cashing in on the faux-journalism door prize anytime soon. The problem here, above all of the other screamingly obvious problems, is that it equates scarcity of access to information with access being valuable. Make the information worth some trouble to obtain it and maybe (big maybe) people will follow through but when you simply lock the same shit behind some new doors you're inviting disaster.
Six words is the new thing this week because the new black is, um, stupid and its most ardent cheerleaders are gunning for the anchor chair on something so awful it might be called multimedia. I blame Wired for this excursion ire-ward.
Shit, I'm on the news again
Man shot for fucking renting Riverdance
Idiot haiku is lame, stupid hipsters
Hemingway was joking. Stick with latchhook.
I saved Danny Sullivan's post on the suckiness of search interface in an offline reader and promptly forgot about it for a week or so. This may sound like more of my milking a post from something I forgot to do methodology but there is actually a point buried in here somewhere. The point is about interface and by this I don't mean the more commonly and narrowly defined concept of how buttons are arranged in an application panes and in which order they appear. What I'm thinking of has more to do with the much maligned metaphor interaction. Neal Stephenson gave us a good deconstruction of why this is conceptually flawed in In The Beginning There Was The Command Line and compared the commercial operating system interfaces to the faux-thenticity that Disney employs in makes us suspend disbelief in order to participate in the illusion as an actual participant being emotionally drawn into the display instead of a simple observer apt to notice inaccuracy. The devil is really in the details when you need to just perceive the veneer as a zeitgeist entity that offers an illusion of choice in a world of constraints determined entirely by the environment. There is no way you're going to be truly convinced you're tromping around in the jungle if you simply circulate through the props on a cart that moves along a track. Ideally Disney might force you to travel the same route through the fake scenery but it will also maintain the illusion that you've either made a choice or reacted to another piece of the scenery. I guess that is the complicated part about interacting with metaphors as reality.
What I started thinking about was the metaphor of searching the web and now many different areas of enquiry are folder into that term. In many ways 'search' is a pretty simplified term that is close to the use of 'internet' to mean the large blue E on the desktop or just the web. Defining hugely expansive categories of both objects and sources with generic terms always steers like the Titanic into semantic icebergs that gains its massive size by alternating between the lexical and conceptual. This is where the interface to 'search' becomes really important. If I am running a query in a database of peer edited academic journals I really shouldn't be surprised by the returned results. I went into the text field with an expectation and the end result was within the constraints of my expectations. The academic database carries a whole lot of semantic weight with it and is usually more formally organized than say a Wikipedia article on the same general topic. It draws from a limited number of known quantities and makes for a whole lot less time spent thumbing through dusty indexes. You know what to expect.
The same is true of traditional search interfaces: you slap some words in a textfield and then press the appropriate go button and your results are returned in a hierarchical list, sorted by invisible algorithms that you're accustomed to. If you've come up using Yahoo as your search weapon of choice then you've come to expect the first set of results to be sponsored crap and know to skip those results unless you're in the buying state of mind. It works the same for Google or whatever as well. If you've come to depend on that format and accepted its limitations (advertising more or less) then you actually get what you're looking for. I think that is the reason why so many of the ultra-deluxe interface search engines haven't been successful. The initial presentation doesn't matter a whole lot as complexity or a whole lot of pulleys and levers that don't have an obvious use or impact on the submission of search terms. It's more crap to navigate through if you're unfamiliar with the interface and more presentation layer between user and results. Extended features are better presented as a part of the search and not another knob that will likely be ignored. CSS-fu is probably wasted on the search interface.
This all comes back to the reason that this article sat unread in my offline reader for so many days. I consciously went through the effort to archive this article with the intent of giving it a more thorough read while riding the bus to work and promptly forgot about it. I had a version open in an actual browser and accidentally closed the tab so in my head that article was gone and would have to be looked up again when I had a live network again. Why didn't I realize this? A good portion is probably attributable to it being before 7 am but again the interface that I'm used to didn't have the content so I just assumed that I wouldn't be able to access the content. Another item to add to the infinite to do list I guess.
There Are Two Jobs That Need Doing Well Here And Most Applications Suck At Doing Either Of Them Simultaneously
I'm going to agree heartily with Matt Dorn and say that most word processing applications are intended to do far too much. The kicker here is that they are set up to do all of these tasks with surprisingly small yields in terms of work to product ratio. The actual composition of text is secondary in the functionality of word processors to the howling wasteland of features that are piled atop the already overloaded heap in hopes of making a desktop environment. What aids and abets this abuse is that most people are familiar with a single WP interface (pretty safe to assume that the default here is the Cthuluoid horror known in certain circles as MSOffice where only a few scant tentacles exposed to the surface world are visible to hint at the misshapen continent of fangs and other pointy appendages that hides behind that idiotic paperclip) and don't separate the idea of editing text from the idea of formatting text with footnotes, clip art, and other gewgaws. If you come from the elder school of computer use the idea of this separation might not seem so alien. Have you ever written a letter in Quark? It is not pretty and makes the task less about finishing this thing that you eventually need to finish and more about navigating an endless stream of options and menus.
OpenOffice is the shining example of why simply cloning interface is such a shitty idea. It is, more than anything else, a marvel of engineering as evidenced by its amazingly fast evolution and feature to feature compatibility to MSOffice. That said, do we really need a second Galactus in the computer universe sucking down entire planets worth of energy just to sustain itself? I'm guessing not but then again I am just a user who wants his application to work sanely. This means I would like not to feel like I need a independent instance of a computer to dedicate to writing some text. If I were a usability expert then I'm sure I could be adequately distracted by the order of buttons in some print dialog to even notice this catastrophic abuse of resources.
Another distressing part of this text producing monoculture (at least in the corporate/business world) is that this arbitrary inflation of resources moves outward from whatever is produced under its aegis like pollution from an oil spill. Why wouldn't you want to use Word as your default editor in Outlook (that is another rant entirely and by that I mean the idea of Outlook) when the editing interface is so damned familiar? If you need to read some mail through a text based mail client which I do daily as part of my job you'll rapidly understand how atrocious scads of markup and other line trash that is displayed in its plain text incarnation when not paired with Mount St. Office to translate for you. This sounds like the rant of a crank and to a certain degree it is but the one really, really important distinction that needs to be made is that most text reading software for the visually impaired depends on things intended for transmission in plain text to actually read like plain text. In that case, you're spending time and energy to do excessive formatting by default that will make the end product completely useless to the intended recipient.
I can't imagine that users would ever tolerate a return to the plain text editor. I'm not going to advocate the wider use of Emacs by non-programmers or anything as I think that is also a move in the direction of burying users under a pile of features they will never use or even know about. What I would love to see and this is of course would depend on something like being appointed Bad Application Czar by the federal government is the separation of the steps of composition into more discreet portions on the application side.
Why not have an edit portion of an application suite that works like AbiWord only with a feature set reduced to what might be necessary to compose plain old text or another relatively complete yet decidedly non-monolithic text editing (yes, definitions are being stretched here but bear with me for a few hundred more words or so) application or an even more stripped down version of that very basic functionality that when signaled invokes the formatting portion of the application (hopefully a separate and also smaller application) that handles layout and formatting. The implementation that I have in mind is one that also saves the file (text, then formatting, and then the final product) in discreet steps that save individual files instead of dedicating more square feet of memory to caching for an anticipated undo.
I like the idea of applications being strapped together so they're launched in an order that makes sense for doing things with text but pairing them so that each function becomes the domain of a piece of software that happens to do that particular task very well and doesn't require the loading of a small solar system into memory simply to edit a document. Does this make the task more complex? Maybe but it also makes the individual yet important steps of creating documents distinct from one another and doesn't encourage the user to attempt all of these steps simultaneously.
Another point that interests me is what distinguishes a text editor from a word processor. Matt calls attention to this ambiguous distinction in his post in the Challenges section. My mind returned to this question a couple of times during the day when I wasn't immediately occupied with other things. I think I try to use word processors more like text editors. I don't format as I'm typing. This isn't a decision that I made consciously but it developed as a reaction to the addition of many features of MSWORD that are enabled in the default setup. Have you ever really fucked up the formatting in a Word document? I've done it so badly and apparently irreversibly that I ended up saving a copy of the document as text and then opening a copy to work on. The more times that I painted myself into a corner the more often I thought about leaving the text as just text until I was ready to print the sucker out. I think that is what really distinguishes the two concepts for me: word processors are used to create documents intended for consumption as documents by other people and text editors in which features like syntax highlighting, indentation, and parentheses/bracket matching are more prevalent and important are intended more for the production of things that are basically finished once they are composed like programming. Programming is close to a penultimate when it comes to requiring focus on the actual composition of a file.
That aforementioned intended presentation of work done with a word processor is what really makes me feel like my own predilection for simplified flow of tasks and less specific file formats are more important than I initially thought. The weighing of the classic KDE versus Gnome desktop environments in terms of uber configurability against the reductionist view of the desktop as something that must be configured one way and whittled down by removing many common options seems pretty insignificant in comparison to the concerns you should have when sharing documents with other people. This becomes especially important when those documents are produced by software designed to output things for printing and duplication and are often viewed as files on machines configured differently than those of the creator. The model isn't obsolete but it seems pretty broken in a world where MSFT didn't squash every other operating system and piece of software out of existence. Users are eventually going to become more attuned to this more sophisticated digital divide if only by being annoyed to death by various platform adherents, the requirements of government organizations trying to rid themselves of an incompatible document format, or the simple fact that more mail servers are stripped potentially dangerous attachments. Text works for everyone and requires a lot less of its users on both sides of the equation.
After getting my ass kicked by a schedule that really is not going to work for very much longer I woke up feeling like absolute shit this morning. When I say morning I mean 4:30 am for those of you who associate the term with the period that occurs after the sun comes up. I'm not sure that I'm actually really sick now that I've slept for a number of hours that strays into the double digits but I had an epiphany of sorts about working strange, twisted, and extended hours:
What I really need to do is acquire a severe and wasting drug habit that I am paid a minimal amount to maintain. I would benefit nearly as much from this sort of arrangement as I do from my current state of zombiedom. Plus this would be more heart rending and poetic than just working yourself to death with tedium and boredom. I might bore others to death with a gigantic and heartbreaking habit but at least I would get some entertainment as well. So, sponsors, step forward! At least then I could do slightly more interesting things in my several hours of clear headed-ness that my current work schedule affords. I would also like a Mac Pro. Thank you.
The Heartbreaking Exclusion Of The Noble Consumer From Better Design Decisions And Increased Stability
I'm actually a big fan of unifying APIs. I'm not a fan of the oft mentioned 'combine all distros or Linux is doomed' strategy most commonly referred to by those who haven't a clue. This is worsened by articles like this one over at Linux.com that argue that the Portland Project will never work because Redhat's Bluecurve failed to unify desktops and blah blah blah. The lack of comprehension here is a little startling. The unified look and feel folks have been at it hammer and tongs for as long as I can remember and the claim that a lack of common interface will ruin the user experience, bring dark plagues to the land, and other ill considered predictions of doom is not by any means a new one.
The other part that is not new is the lack of understanding when it comes to the announcement of desktop initiatives. Yeah, theming and other eye candy efforts are usually the first things proposed when someone gets another brilliant 'unify the desktop environments' epiphany but making common APIs is not a bad idea especially given the fact that developers are in no way obligated to necessarily use them. That is one of the greatest strengths of the platform: the freedom to totally ignore Gnome's HIG specifications if they don't make sense for your application and also the freedom to ignore the junk in the trunk clutter of KDE's configure everything all the time interfaces. You don't need to follow any of them and there is no overarching part of either desktop environment that obligates you to follow all of their specs whether they are fantastic or terrible. None of things is a panacea and cannot be as there is no embedded desktop (for most distributions) that forces folks to design with a certain goal in mind.
In a few senses the post I'm talking shit about is correct: there is no single solution for this problem. Of course, the caveat here is the lack of a unified perception of discreet pieces being part of the desktop environment as a problem. For people slugging it out with code that needs debugging for, you know, actual functionality this entire drama has to seem like little more than a bad joke. It also shows how far along Linux really is in terms of desktop usage. For those of us who have logged a few years in the not-so recent past working with Linux machines, a lot of us remember when worrying about similar looking applications was the very least of our problems. It wasn't so long ago that simply getting an IDE CD burner to work was a SCSI emulating pain the ass. Most distributions these days pick it up on the fly if you have access to the root account. If you've never set up a USB connection with a PDA under Linux you haven't really had fun. I've spent more time fussing with the creation and subsequent deletion of /dev/pilot than I'm happy to admit. Most of that has exited the playing field and that is cause for celebration almost by itself. Hardware mostly works (more so than Windows given the lack of commercial drivers for most devices) and software is increasingly functional, powerful, and in many cases pretty damned simple to use. The appearance of things rarely concerns me although it is apparently a headache of some kind for new users who are already accustomed to most things working out of the box with the 'hard' operating system.
Better planned and more inclusive APIs will benefit the sort of folks who demand (despite the gales of sarcastic laughter issuing from behind the curtain) resemblance to certain commercial OS's in terms of similar functionality (copy and paste are always perennial targets) and behavior. You can't lose with more functionality that is similar being paired up with more applications. The applications get hacked less than the API which is kind of the idea but, like most things even tangentially related to Linux, the big design decisions remain largely in the hands of the developers writing the software and are not decided by focus group or committee. That flexibility seems to work better for developers who use the platform for the sake of being able to make their own fundamental decisions (among other reasons obviously) than it does for end users. I'm still not completely sure that Linux is the best fit for end users but I'm equally convinced that bending the direction of active development towards the wants (not needs and I cannot emphasize that enough) of users who don't contribute anything back unless you consider market share some kind of hot commodity is a really terrible idea. If nothing else formulating APIs like the Portland Project give people cranking out the code the option of adhering to a design principal and if users are captivated enough by these particular shiny objects then I guess you've got some degree of success.
I'm actually pretty happy that arbitrary standardization hasn't become an important issue for more than a few peripheral players and the obvious big money vendors like RedHat and SuSE. Considering the depth and scope of the internal changes that might make Linux some kind of desktop contender makes me a little less anxious every time I read some bitchy thread in a forum somewhere. It also makes realize that catering to the whims of the consumer is a job best left to third parties and not the main designers. This is why you can still buy cars that don't look like they were imagined by a three year old but every Auto Barn is full of adhesive backed spoilers and the like for those who can't imagine driving around the strip mall without some cheap plastic accessories plastered all over their cars. This is just good design in practice.
Things have been busy at my workplace so I have not had the time to do much messing around on the web but there have been a couple things that have caught my eye over the past few days. One of them was the My Dream App competition which seemed like the worst idea ever for any number of reasons. My objections or more like 'aspects that make me wince empathetically in anticipation of pain and suffering' mainly have to do with the idea of having someone perhaps on intellectual par with your average marketeer come up with the magical idea for a magical application and then paying a handful of developers to make this idea into real, working software. It sounds wonderful but so do Horatio Alger rags-to-riches stories until you consider the likelihood that the man had himself had some sexual interest in the boy heroes of his stories and then the shit just gets creepy.
Of course my summary of perceptions is clogged with bitterness and a little anemic on real solid criticism other than my usual mission in life further spreading the unconfirmed rumor that Horatio Alger was a child molester or at least pedophile. Lucky for me some of the sharper knives in the drawer immediately saw most of the potential problems with an arrangement like My Dream App and have written them down and expanded on them to the benefit of news skimmers with serious time deficits like myself. I didn't realize earlier that the developers saddled with the task of bringing half baked ideas to life in code pounded out by people hoping to garner some reputation for doing such. Jesus. What an awful fucking idea. I'm sort of glad that I missed that aspect of the process on the first go-round because it sounds like not only the aforementioned worst idea in the history of software development but a fabulous opportunity for those poor bastard developers to get a bad case of burnout trying to craft feasible code out of fucking pipe dreams. Perhaps they could add a crippling RSI or early bout with alcoholism clause to the contracts as well just to perfect the insanity. Oh, and there is the 'no money' thing. That definitely adds to the 'huh' factor of this project. Go read the post on the Red Sweater Blog. Really.
Another aspect of the idea that is tackled pretty agilely in the post is the relative worth of ideas versus concrete implementations that you can actually do something with. I agree that conceptualizations especially by those entirely unfamiliar with the process of writing something larger than hello world are pretty much worthless. I would guess that a large percentage of the jokes thrown around my workplace by the exhausted and frustrated in response to user stupidity and unwillingness to learn anything new (whew!) would likely be a more likely candidate for actual implementation than some cool sounding ideas tossed around by casual users. Casual users have difficulty simply using the features in existing applications much less those dreamed up by someone charged with the task of transmuting those half-assed wishes into cold hard code. I too wish these developers a lot of luck because they're going to need it.
While part of me understands that a good deal of what goes on at BlackHat gatherings is, of course, going to be showboating bullshit I am a little surprised by the recent outing of the Macbook wireless crack as a fake at least in the sense that no actual Apple hardware or software was actually responsible for the vulnerability. Given the amount of crap that is churned out of code factories these days it's pretty annoying that the folks responsible couldn't find a real exploit to strike back at users they hate. It's written by humans so the existence of exploitable flaws is likely. I did a little digging into the original claim and I was pretty baffled by it even though I don't have an external Atheros card. Ah well, your fifteen minutes have expired now go back to IRC for crude commentary on $porn_star or $current_teen_idol. Thanks for stopping by.
Another article from the recent past that failed to make a blip on my radar as it sailed right past me into the collective unconscious dream state of a gazillion maligned desktop support monkeys who spend their days and nights furiously pitching snowballs into hell without health insurance or paid vacation days.
Um, the word from MSFT is that a lot of spyware/adware is non-removable and they suggest simply automating a system of burning and reimaging infected machines and in the same breath advocated the extension of a day into 150 hours and the immediate minting of certificates useful for redeeming lost hours of your life watching a progress bar creep across a screen. Wow. That is some advanced fucking research and development that is nearly novel and exciting a couple years after many of us have been doing exactly this sort of stupid thing day after day. With pronouncements like that I have only the utmost dread for the horrors that will no doubt be lurking beneath the clunky, Skittles-like asscandy of Windows Vista.
Then again, when you build an operating system around the principle of near unrestrained whoring for the user (user friendly, I guess) you shouldn't be all awe struck when your house is soon full of pimps selling off your cycles to even less savory characters. Really what I want from the bazillionaires that run MSFT is for them to grow the starts of a spine about user access to the internals of the system. It should be hard to install and require user intervention to install things that have system access - why is it insanely easy to install a rootkit but difficult for a user to install and use a USB jump drive? That doesn't sound much like a sane default to me. The other side of that coin is allowing a fucking web browser to pimp out kernel hooks to whoever happens to show up with a handful of spare change and that is just plain stupid. The worst part is that this glaring pile of crap built on more crap is that it was built that way by design and even used as a justification of sorts for avoiding monopoly litigation. Yeah, I'd pay for that.
I had the unfortunate experience today of witnessing a discussion between a user and one of my fellow desktop support types that reminded me why I need to have some patience enhancing drug prescribed post haste. The topic had to do with automatic/scheduled shutdowns of XP machines in what amounts to a public lab and the idea the user had was so horrible that it was almost funny. It did inspire me, though, to think that maybe for a week or so we should go forward with every dipshit plan that a user comes up. The clean up afterwards would be horrible but nearly worth it when pushy users were forced to deal with the consequences of ideas that they don't entirely understand in any sense excepting the "But that's what I want" way. This user wanted a scheduled shutdown and startup that didn't require any intervention and would simply shut the machines down presumably after a lab tech had issued some kind of verbal warning. The very first time that a user had their work nuked into the ether because the tech forgot to give that warning would be my reward. I could play stupid for a week. I really could.