Another bite out of the Apple

I just discovered another flaw in my iPod nano. As usual, the hardware is great, the software is problematic. My first complaint was that they force you to download and use iTunes. Other programs like Windows Explorer are able to move files onto the nano, but it will only play songs if they are added via iTunes. If I go to a friend's house and he wants to pass a song to me, then he either has to download iTunes, or else he can move the file onto my nano, and it won't play until I take it home, copy it onto my computer there, and finally use iTunes to add it back to the Nano? The only purpose for that is for Apple to maintain control and establish a monopoly on the use of their software. It doesn't help end users.

Anyway, the new thing I discovered today is that my nano appears to have a copy of every single song I've ever loaded onto it, even thought I thought I had deleted some of them. It lets you create folders to help organize or categorize your music. It also creates a default folder with "All Songs." I usually go straight to folders and don't mess around with All Songs, but yesterday I tried it. Instead of moving forward through the songs, I moved backwards, and discovered dozens of podcasts and old time radio shows that I thought I had deleted.

For some reason, it automatically keeps one copy of every file in "All Songs" and another copy of every file in the individual folders. If you delete songs from the individual folders, it doesn't remove them from All Songs. Which explains how it stays filled up to the maximum lately, and doesn't make much room even when I delete a bunch of songs.

I realize they were trying to keep instructions simple (it came with a tiny fold-out pamphlet, ten pages long but each page is literally one inch square). But this is the kind of thing that would have been helpful to know months ago.

What I'm finding is that Apple makes assumptions about what's most useful to consumers, and doesn't even tell you what they've done. Hopefully there will be more products with open source software and hardware when I'm next in the market for some tech.


Sci-Fi: I don't think that word means what you think it means

Do you have a rough idea of how you'd define science fiction?

Good, then I'll take it for granted we both have the same idea in mind. There are a few people who have something different in mind, and unfortunately they're fairly famous and influential.

Cory Doctorow: "In his new novel Spook Country, William Gibson take science fiction to an amazing, unseen world: the recent past. ... These characters inhabit the exciting, futuristic world of 2006. And it is a futuristic place, our recent past, a place so weird and light-speed that we don't even notice it. Not until a master storyteller and keen observer like William Gibson comes along to show us what we're all living in." Spook Country was published in 2007, and Doctorow's post about it was from 31 July 2007.

"Bleak House is a quintessential Victorian text, but it is also probably the best steam-punk landscape that will ever be. Dickens really nailed it, especially in those proto-Ballardian passages in which everything in nature has been damaged by heavy industry. But there were relatively few voices like Dickens then. Most people thought the progress of industry was all very exciting. Only a few were saying, Hang on, we think the birds are dying."
Gibson interviewed in the Summer 2011 Paris Review

Margaret Atwood: the road to Ustopia
"The author of The Handmaid's Tale has been criticised for not wanting to call her books science fiction. But what is SF anyway, and how does it connect with her lifelong fascination with creating other worlds?"

Instead of saying that some sci fi is good and some is bad, or that some is plausible while some is not, she wants to reserve the term "science fiction" for "fiction in which things happen that are not possible today". If you find her novels plausible or convincing or possible like she does, then she can escape from the ghetto of science fiction. The term she prefers is "speculative fiction", meaning "things that really could happen but just hadn't completely happened when the authors wrote the books."

No matter that the rest of the world uses the term "science fiction" (synonymously with speculative or extrapolative fiction), Atwood will hold tightly to a different meaning, and pretend that the rest of us are being uptight when we try to remind her what the term commonly means.

Neal Stephenson had made some statement in an interview saying that Cryptonomicon and his Baroque Cycle could be classified as science fiction because they explore ideas that sci fi fans would enjoy. It annoyed me at the time, but looking back for those quotes, he seems to be qualifying the statements a lot, not necessarily stretching the definition of sci fi.


The Importance of Job Creation on Birdwhack Island

Ten people live on Birdwhack Island. The island is pretty bare, so the two remaining trees aren't big enough to make a canoe or raft. All food is imported. For some reason the only fish or crabs or insects or birds that come to the island are inedible. The remaining grass and bushes are inedible and can't make a cool Kon-Tiki type boat like Thor Heyerdahl made.

One guy has a big motorboat which he uses to get chicken and yams and whatever from the nearest island 20 miles away. (Or whatever distance would be farther than most humans could swim in a day.) He doesn't let anyone else use his boat. If you like eating, George is the man to see.

The island is named after its dominant economic activity, bird-whacking. George was once attacked by a sparrow when he was five, so he employs the other nine islanders in grabbing every bird that lands on the island and whacking it to death on rocks. These are seagulls and cormorants and terns, not much like sparrows, but George wants them dead anyway, anything with wings. They've never attacked anyone on the island. The dead birds can't be eaten, aren't used as fertilizer. Killing them serves no purpose other than fulfilling George's whim.

Let's say George doesn't like Kevin's whacking technique. He demonstrates how he wants the birds whacked, but Kevin is fired when he's unable to make the elegant motion that George demonstrates. Now Kevin has no way of getting food. If the other islanders can't share because they're getting just enough to sustain them, and he can't get George to donate food to him, he's going hungry.

The way people usually talk about this kind of problem in the US is to say Kevin needs to find someone else who can give him food. It's a lack of jobs, or maybe they need more vocational training on Birdwhack Island so Kevin can get that elegant technique George prefers. It starts to seem like birdwhacking is an inherently important task because everyone's ability to eat depends on it, and shame on Kevin for not finding something he can do that George will trade food for.

I assume people reading this analogy would talk about how unfair it is that George is the only supplier of food. In other words, George controls the means of production.

How can the situation be changed without socialism or violating George's property rights? Put the means of production in the hands of the workers? Perish the thought! It's George's right to use his boat how he wants, and to forbid others from using it. He could donate food to the others if he felt like it, but he should feel free not to donate if he doesn't want to. I suppose the dastardly Union of Birdwhackers could go on strike until George rehires Kevin or agrees to feed everyone. But George could just leave the island and stop bringing food to any of them.

Remind me again why George's right to own and control the means of production is more important than other people surviving? Damn the property rights, full socialism ahead. I understand some of the dangers of people redistributing wealth, some portion of the population deciding to take the property of others and deciding how to spread it. I understand some of the historical examples of how it has gone wrong. I don't think redistributing wealth or common ownership of the means of production requires all the other hideous baggage that accompanied it in Russia or China, like assassinating and imprisoning dissidents, causing famines, central planning by the state. There are other models that I think could work. I'm partial to a thing called "Participatory Economics" which is all about worker-owned and worker-run businesses. It's almost like a module that could be used in a socialist state or a stateless anarchist collective. In some ways there's overlap between socialist and anarchist ideas, although socialism seems to imply a state is involved. Anarchism doesn't mean people can't form organizations and work together.

Anyway, what I wanted to show in that analogy is how people sometimes hold jobs sacred, for no good reason as far as I can see. Whether they are doing any job, no matter how pointless, becomes more important than whether they have food or shelter or health care. Why are jobs that sacred?

The way we've been brought up to view jobs is that if one person pays another to do some task, then the job is contributing to society. I don't buy it. Not that Paris Hilton needs more money, but someone paid her to appear in House of Wax, and a commercial for BK, and a reality tv show. Is she contributing more to society by working those jobs than someone who has no job? Financiers have been busy making loans to people they knew couldn't pay, then repackaging and selling the loans to other people as toxic assets. That was harming society, but the financiers earned lots of money from it, and then got bailed out and given bonuses.

If jobs are not all contributing to society or not mostly contributing to society, and we're telling people they should starve to death or have their illness untreated because they haven't got a job, that means we're expecting poor people to choose between humoring rich people, or death. Are you sure you haven't tried as hard as you can to humor some rich person? Did you wear a really big jester cap with bells and bling?

On the other side of the equation, there are people whose skills aren't very marketable, or aren't getting a chance to earn enough money to support themselves. Just because they can't do something that a corporation or business would be willing to hire them for, or can't start their own business and pull themselves up by their bootstraps, doesn't mean they are slacking. The economy seems to be currently organized so that money goes out to workers based on whatever rich people think will help them get richer. Capitalism. People with capital leveraging it to get a return on their investment. Just because people can't or won't participate in that doesn't mean they're causing a problem.

If we can't feed everyone by hoping for capitalists to hire everyone, then we should move on to some other system that will.


Tread On Me

I saw one of those flag stickers on the back of a pickup yesterday, rattlesnake on a yellow background with the caption "DON'T TREAD ON ME." I'd been debating economics, health care, and libertarian vs. socialist outlooks with a friend, and had a little epiphany.

Don't Tread On Me seems like a good soundbite summary for a general conservative or libertarian outlook. I think of gated communities and survivalists stockpiling food and ammo in fall-out bunkers, expecting to fight off hostile intruders, seeing everyone around them as potential hostiles. You go get in your bunker and your gated community, I'll get in mine, and that's the best way for both of us to survive. If you come to my bunker asking for help, I'm sensitive about the possibility that you're taking advantage of me, so it's best if I stay independent and you stay independent.

I've read some arguments via saying that stereotypical survivalist mentality seems like it would be ineffective in the long run. You try to hoard some resources and protect them out in your country bunker. Kids and older folks in the country are inquisitive. They check out new houses going up in the old field. They see a new driveway coming off the road and they'll ride bikes up to see where it goes. Even if your bunker entrance is hidden, you're going to leave some tire tracks going up to it when you bring construction materials, tools, and all that ammo and freeze dried astronaut ice cream to outlast the coming crisis. Will you be hunting or trapping to supplement your food stockpile? Using a silencer or bow, or something that will be heard a half mile or mile away? Leaving traps that could be noticed by outsiders? You'll probably attract attention one way or another, and then they just need to gather enough nasty friends to root out your camouflaged bunker entrance and overcome your defenses.

And what if you get in a situation where you need help? You might need a doctor or someone to fix a broken tool or machine, or you might run out of some important supply. Do you know anyone nearby that you can depend on to help you, or are they hunkered down somewhere secret? Did you already turn them away when they came to ask you for help or space in your limited shelter?

A more sustainable way of surviving a crisis, even liberal apocalypse fantasies about Peak Oil or the collapse of capitalism, is to work together with your community. See them as potential neighbors who will help you and who need your help, instead of potential moochers and thieves. Instead of your nuclear family plus Aunt Bea trying to fend off the complete cast of Sons of Anarchy, you could be part of a community that will help defend any of its members getting attacked. I suppose we could keep escalating and imagine larger and larger groups of attackers, warlords with armies that would crush any communes they can. I don't know how we stop that from happening, other than trying to convince people that being part of a warlord's army is more dangerous in the long run than being part of a democratic community.

Now how could you fit that helping attitude on a bumper sticker with as few words as the rattlesnake flag?


For one thing, it evokes all the rest of the song. It's about offering help to people who need it, because we're all likely to need help at some point in our lives. Independence is good, but losing connections with people is bad. Traditionalists and Dana Carvey's grumpy old man have been complaining about this trend for decades or centuries, families getting smaller and more distant because we move far away from parents and siblings (mainly for jobs), we're bowling alone instead of in leagues, keeping a safe emotional distance from neighbors. Wouldn't it be nice if we could establish some new traditions that reversed that trend and established stronger connections between people? Or if we could just change our thinking about whether to fear other people or connect with them.

People might object to my simplistic interpretation of the libertarian or conservative outlook. They don't hate their neighbors or family. They might be just as likely as anyone else to bond with neighbors or personally offer help to strangers in need. It just doesn't show in their attitudes about government social programs because they don't trust the government to decide on those things. Unfortunately, there are more people now who seem to genuinely need help IMHO than are able to get it from charities. If it comes to the government protecting the freedom of people to hold as much money as they can legally get, versus the freedom of people to eat and have shelter and survive (FDR's Freedom from Want), I know which of those freedoms seems less important to me. (Maybe it's not an either/or situation like that.)

On the other hand, the LEAN ON ME outlook might seem naive, making yourself vulnerable to slackers and moochers and grifters and thieves. Sounds PLEASE TREAD ON ME. That is a fair point, but it works both ways. When you tell people "DON'T TREAD ON ME", are you rejecting people who need somebody to lean on? If you have to ask someone to help share your load, will you have to ask help from someone you turned away before, or someone that you encouraged to follow the motto "DON'T TREAD ON ME"?

So our attitudes should include a little of both.


I like it in that order. Initially it's offering help to everyone, carrying all the implications and explanation of the song. But it also shows you're wary of people taking advantage of you. I'm afraid the rattlesnake pretty much undermines any hint of helpfulness, so it needs a visual overhaul. Maybe keep the yellow background from the Gadsden Flag, but have Bill Withers with a guitar. Doesn't look very threatening, but he looks like he could hold his own.

Now how do we implement specific policies based on a bumper sticker slogan, in ways we'll all agree on? Yeah, right. I'll get back with you on that by Wednesday.


I, for one, reject our social network overlords.

Melinda has gotten screwed over by Youtube again. It's a reminder that corporate websites are not here to help people or make useful products or be our friends. They are here to make money, and we are tools to that end.

As you may or may not know, Melinda stumbled into Youtube a few years ago and has spent most of her waking hours since then watching, responding to vlogs in comments, and making her own daily videos. She occasionally gets fed up or freaked out and stops participating for a while, occasionally deleted all her videos or closed her channel, but she never stays away for long.

After interacting with popular vloggers, she attracted viewers to her channel, and plenty of devoted trolls and haters. Eventually she learned that arguing with some popular vloggers is like slapping a hornets' nest, attracting thousands of that person's devoted fans to sting you, so she tries to keep out of drama lately. She had enough fans that she qualified to become a Youtube partner, which means earning money from the ads they put on your videos. She made $100 or $200 from it, which means a lot to someone who hasn't held a job and worries about it.

When I say devoted trolls, I mean there were a few who made videos taunting Melinda, photoshopping her head onto porn images, extracting her voice from videos and putting it over movie rape scenes. Plus text comments, a constant string of vicious insults and threats that make those visuals seem tame by comparison. Trolls also "flag" Melinda's videos, supposedly warning Youtube that her videos are offensive or violating copyright when they aren't. Anything to cause trouble.

Youtube doesn't want to pay a "partner" who fraudulently clicks their own ads. They have rules against it, and presumably ways of tracking IP addresses of people who click ads. Makes sense so far, except I wonder how they deal with a partner living in Georgia who asks an accomplice in Borneo to click ads hundreds of times and generate more revenue for them. The partner in Georgia could claim they know nothing about it, and how could Youtube know if it were true? The answer is they don't bother to verify it. Their policy is to punish any partner whose ads get clicked too frequently by any one user. That's what they did to Melinda.

How does this account for trolls and haters who intentionally click ads dozens of times to make it look like fraud? Or authentic friends who think they're doing you a favor by clicking ads, and don't realize it will get you kicked out? How do you appeal if something like that happens? On Youtube, you cross your fingers and ask them to reconsider. I would have thought Youtube would be smart enough to understand that haters will do that thing. They probably do, but they don't have the tools to distinguish between fraudulent clicks from partners and fraudulent clicks from haters, so they err on the side of haters.

That's how you run a site when you see participants as resources, not as humans. They told Melinda she was cheating their system and dropped her. She can still post videos and use the website, and they may still run ads alongside her videos, but they won't pay her because they claim someone clicked on her ads fraudulently.

Even if you haven't been screwed over in that way, you've seen how Youtube and Facebook will initiate policy changes or tweaks to their website with no notice. Do they care what you think about the changes? Do they care enough to let you know before it happens, or to ask what you want? If there's a big enough backlash, they'll change it, but they don't get input from users beyond some focus groups or surveys. These websites are not your friends. They're just not that into you.

How do you like the latest changes on Facebook? I hear you've got a ticker down the right side of your screen that you can't get rid of, showing things you don't care about. It never showed up for me, and I don't know why. If there's a site or rss feed where they post info about their changes, I haven't heard of it. Haven't even found it when I looked for it. Yes, you might be able to tell me about a link to it now, but that's not the point. Isn't that the kind of thing they should make easily accessible, or at least easy to find when people go looking for it? Should they rely on people getting answers from their friends? That would be bad customer service, but we're not customers. Advertisers are their customers. We're something below customers.

A few days ago, Melinda heard a person on Youtube talking about his foot fetish, so she made a joke video where she held a cigarette between her toes and smoked it. Two great fetishes in one video. It was about one minute long. Her foot was bare but she was wearing more layers of clothes than you'd see on Baywatch or your average booty-shaking or dick-slangin dance video. She takes a few puffs. I think she said one sentence at the end about how silly it was, and that's it.

Unfortunately I can't give you a link to see it because Youtube took it down. I don't know if some user flagged it as inappropriate, or Youtube moderators made that decision on their own, but it was a ridiculous decision either way.

Yes, it had "fetish" in the title. Search results for 'fetish': about 30,000 results. Yes, some people might have been turned on or got off to it. But they can do that to anything. Watching young Jody Foster dressed as a hooker in Taxi Driver could get some people excited, and they might abuse themselves while watching it. Does that mean Taxi Driver is kiddie porn? No Denis Leary or Bill Hicks stand-up routines or Edward R. Murrow interviews because someone might see them smoking and want to jack off? There would be almost nothing left on Youtube, the website would shut itself down if they consistently removed all the innocuous things that inspire some people to wank.

Does it make a difference that Melinda used the word "fetish" in her title or talked about it? Is it offensive just to talk or joke about those things now? Should we pretend that it doesn't happen, at the risk of having our videos removed? If that's the case, how was she able to hear that guy talking about it on Youtube in the video that inspired her?

To add insult to injury, Melinda got a "strike" on her account, meaning she could be banned by Youtube if they decide that she breaks some of their other rules in the next six months. That's nice that they drop it from her criminal record after six months, but could she have reasonably expected that Youtube would consider smoking a cigarette between her toes a violation? I look at the many search results for "dick slang" and "booty bounce", and I don't think so.

You could see this as sour grapes, a person who breaks some rules and complains about getting penalized for it. Or you could see it as a disagreement about how to moderate a website. I see it as a problem of capitalism. It wouldn't be all utopian sunshine and rainbows and gravy if we lived in a non-capitalist society, or if we were talking about non-capitalist websites that currently operate. As long as there are humans, there will still be disagreements between humans. But users face a big disadvantage on sites that keep their software and actions and policies opaque, with decision-making limited to people who happen to have more money, or who leveraged their position as early adopters to make more money.

A good forum would have users making decisions about how to run it. If they run it into the ground, then presumably there will be other forums to try, and some of them will work. A large enough group will have most of the users working within the rules, maybe kicking out users who break rules.

A forum where users have little influence, where the existence of the forum is meant to earn profit for a small group of people, is not a very open or good forum.

No one is putting a gun to my head. If I don't like the way Youtube or Facebook or Google+ treats you, then I can take my ball and go home. But on social networks, I can't necessarily take all my friends and go home. I'm sure there are already non-profit alternatives right now. I'd like to try them, but it requires other friends and acquaintances to use them. Otherwise you can be the loudest tree falling in the quiet woods, with no one around to hear you.

This is not meant to convince my friends to stop participating in/on/with corporate websites today or this week. I would just like you to think about what it means that profiteers are running these websites, making decisions about how you communicate, whether you're allowed to participate on the forums where a lot of your friends and acquaintances do.

Meanwhile, if you know of any non-profit, user-managed alternatives right now, please let me know anyway.