Climbing Mount Tsundoku

Over at Tor’s web site, James Nicoll found a sympathetic audience for his thoughts On Acquiring More Books Than It’s Possible to Read:

Every new book on the wall, each epub tucked away in my Kobo gives me a delicious tingle of anticipation. Sure, the math says I probably won’t get around to reading any particular book I acquire. It also says that I might. I will take might any day of the week. Better might than definitely won’t.

[Via More Words, Deeper Hole]

Smart City, Surveilled City

Geoff Manaugh ponders the extent to which a Smart City is a Surveillance City:

The smart city is more than just a city that watches and listens. City dwellers are constantly generating data about themselves, down to the vibrations of their footsteps. Consider a project called Big Glass Microphone by the California-based design consultancy Stamen. Big Glass Microphone turned the fiber-optic telecommunications infrastructure embedded beneath Stanford University into a terrestrial eavesdropping tool. Able to pick up seismic disturbances created by delivery trucks, passing cyclists, and even the footsteps of lone pedestrians, the campus’s fiber-optic network became an underground tool for monitoring events on the surface. It is an invisible burglar alarm underfoot.

The impulse is to imagine that in a decent-sized metropolis one voice, one instance of eye contact with a camera, one check-in by your smartphone to a wireless hotspot will be lost among hundreds of thousands of others. But the one thing we know computers are good at is remembering things, filing things away, retrieving them again when someone decides to take an interest in the whereabouts of a given person on a given day.

If we’re lucky, such technology will be frittered away by private companies who deploy all that technology in the interests of deciding who we are and which starlet we’ll find most appealing/eye-catching the next time our line of sight interacts with an advertising billboard they control. If we’re unlucky, all those data feeds will pass through a government data centre for copying/archiving on their way to the advertisers, just in case.

[Via Flowing Data]

Not theirs, ours

Jeremy Keith is getting nervous about just how and why Google and Firefox are planning to nudge web users into improving the web their way:

One of my greatest fears for the web is that building it becomes the domain of a professional priesthood. Anything that raises the bar to writing some HTML or CSS makes me very worried. Usually it’s toolchains that make things more complex, but in this case the barrier to entry is being brought right into the browser itself.

Or, to put it another way (as he does at the end of his post): This isn’t about you or me. This is about all those people who could potentially become makers of the web. We should be welcoming them, not creating barriers for them to overcome. Damn straight.


Parallel lives

Veteran tech journalist Charles Arthur has found himself forced to try surviving with just an iPad to get through his daily workload:

A couple of weeks ago, I opened my Macbook Pro as usual. The keyboard lit up, as usual. I waited – there’s that pause while the display gathers itself (it’s a 2012 model) and the processor pulls everything together and presents the login window.

Except this time, nothing. The display didn’t light. There was the quiet sound of the fans going, but nothing. Oh dear. [So…] I turned to my iPad Pro.

That was, as I say, a couple of weeks ago. Since then I’ve been doing everything I’ve done on this iPad – a 12in iPad Pro, with Smart Keyboard. That means email, writing articles for papers, editing chapters for my book, composing The Overspill’s daily Start Up post, and so on.

A few years ago, this would probably have been impossible. I wouldn’t have contemplated it. Now? Getting along fine. In a number of ways, the iPad is preferable – particularly weight and connectivity. In only a couple of ways is it worse (the most notable being “lappability”). […]

I feel his pain, in the light of my recent failure of my Mac. My hardware is a lot more limited – I have an iPad Mini 4 and a Logitech Bluetooth keyboard where he’s using a 12-inch iPad Pro with an Apple Smart Keyboard – but it’s been interesting to read a professional’s take on how to make this work on an iPad. I came across what sounds like the same problem in extracting YouTube embed URLs yesterday when I was posting about black ice skating, so it’s both comforting and daunting to realise that he’s having problems with that issue too.

I suppose the big difference between our respective situations is that Charles Arthur is a journalist and author and he needs to complete his work so he’ll still get paid, whereas my problem is entirely with using my iPad Mini to write this weblog and my income doesn’t hang on making this work. 1

Listen carefully

Skating on black ice sounds amazing – seriously, be sure to listen to that video with headphones turned up to the maximum.

I’m sure eventually you get used to the constant audible reminders that the very act of skating across such thin ice is increasing the prospects that the person who follows you will hear a loud splash as their trip ends less pleasantly.


While I was away…

A quick round-up of things I’d have posted about while I was unable to post anything here:

  • Pioneering blogger and techie and general all-round good guy Dean Allen passed away. I didn’t know him personally, but to some degree I, like many others reading his posts at Textism over the years over the years, got a sense of him as someone who was on the right side of the argument about what this World Wide Web thing was for more often than not.Good rememberances of him from Jason Kottke and Om Malik and John Gruber.
  • Stephen Wolfram did a deep dive into the life and accomplishments of proto-programmer Ada Lovelace. Wolfram’s verdict:

    Today, with computers and software all around us, the notion of universal computation seems almost obvious: of course we can use software to compute anything we want. But in the abstract, things might not be that way. And I think one can fairly say that Ada Lovelace was the first person ever to glimpse with any clarity what has become a defining phenomenon of our technology and even our civilization: the notion of universal computation.

    It felt odd to read a piece on Ada Lovelace that failed to include a reference to Sydney Padua’s highly entertaining comics take on her partnership with Charles Babbage, The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace & Babbage. To be fair Wolfram’s focus is very much on assessing Lovelace’s position in the history of computing, rather than establishing her place in geek culture. 2

  • While I was away, we lost The Awl, a site that published pieces like this one about the career of actor-turned-jobbing-episodic-TV-director Keith Gordon. I know everyone tells us we’re in a golden age of TV, but compared to feature films there are very few TV directors who get to be well known to the general public. Partly that’s the nature of the job: TV is still mostly a producers/showrunners medium, and they primarily want a director who can walk onto a set and work with the show’s existing cast and crew to get the job done and turn the next episode over to the next director without leaving a visible mark on the show.
  • Speaking of those who’ve stopped what they were doing while I was away, Tony Zhou brought his video essay series Every Frame A Painting to an end and gave us a postmortem on the series and an insight into how far it was shaped by the constraints of putting the series up on YouTube.

Now that I’m back up and running, I’ll be hoping to post something more or less daily (until the next technical or medical failure steps in to silence me.)

I’m back (again! )

So, here we are again. Another change in Content Management System, another switch in the address of my site and RSS feed. Anyone would think I didn’t want anyone to have people keep track of my content.

This time I’ve been offline since my venerable Mac Mini started exhibiting signs of an impending hard disk failure late November 2017. After a lot of dithering around I find myself once again setting up and using WordPress. 1

Expect a couple of days of faffing around as I tweak this iteration of the site to get things running how I want them, followed by my importing a bunch of older posts as and when circumstances allow. For now, I’ll be posting some items that I’ve had lurking in my Pinboard tagged as ForWeblog (or for_weblog, depending upon my mood/preferred tagging style that day) and been forced to keep to myself as I didn’t have a machine capable of running Jekyll to hand.