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Sunday, 30 March 2008

What Bloggers Hate

Bloggers hate when a blogger whose blog they have to look down their cultured noses to see gets a low six-figure book advance. end of article

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

An American Dream (subprime palette)

While the Fed works overtime to ensure that shareholders of publicly traded companies don't lose their seasonal homes in Telluride, CO, and the weekend pickmeups in Martha's Vineyard, working class Americans set up shanty towns in Los Angeles, CA, home of Disneyland, Hollywood, and the culture industry whose "promise [. . .] is illusory: all it actually confirms is that the real point will never be reached, that the diner must be satisfied with the menu" (Horkheimer and Adorno 1230).

While the number of foreclosure victims living in this makeshift town are in the minority, all of the people in this shanty town are products of forces more complex and larger than themselves. It's stunning how the United States fails to respond to the needs of these people and how quickly it acts to protect the luxuries of the wealthy. end of article

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Works Cited

Horkeimer, Max and Theodor Adorno. from Dialectic of Enlightenment. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: Norton, 2001. 1220-1240.

Tent Cities Spring up in LA. BBC. 2008. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CnnOOo6tRs8>.

Monday, 17 March 2008

A Tale of Two Beings

I know why Jill Bolte Taylor's presentation, her "stroke of insight," is "universally considered the best" presentation of the TED conference held annually in Monterey, California. Taylor's message, her testimony, has deep implications for our shared existence. When you watch it, you will understand that the video is not about suffering and recuperation, not about medical science and technical insight. It's about something very, very different, something more important even than the air we breathe. end of article

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Please tell me this isn't true

I am praying some of the information in a New York Times article regarding pacemakers (implantable cardioverter-defibrillators, or ICDs) is in error, is fabricated, is untrue, is a lie or a dream. How can it be that

device makers have begun designing [implantable cardioverter-defibrillators] to connect to the Internet, which allows doctors to monitor patients from remote locations.

Can such a device actually have been approved by the governmental bodies who regulate the medical device industry? Did a group of sentient beings actually decide it was OK to connect a pacemaker to the Internet so doctors could surf the status of patients' pacemakers?

My incredulity is like a burning light that's driving me insane. end of article

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Racism is tastier with a dash of class anxiety

Some white people think colonizing mass culture as "what they like" is equivalent to reading a barometer of cultural hegemony. Congratulations.1

end of article
1 Remember to try this with a little deleted context. 2
2 Or get really advenenturous with something new for your palate.

Sunday, 09 March 2008

Microsoft Word 2008 Inappropriate for Education

I received my first batch of student papers this calendar year, which means I am encountering the Microsoft .docx format for the first time. The Microsoft Word 2008 .docx forrmat is incompatible with earlier versions of Word which shouldn't really matter since the .docx format is XML. However, opening a .docx file in a text editor reveals this

screen shot of MS Word 2008 .docx file opened in BBEdit

Calling that XML is like calling hamburger tofu.1 The innards of the .docx formart are binary. I defy anyone to copy-and-paste the text content of a .docx file into a new file without using Microsoft Word. XML is supposed to be human-readable to facilitate precisely such interchange. I couldn't even write a PERL script to convert that mess.2

Ideally (and in practice until Microsoft got around to making an XML DTD of their own), XML files are human-readable, like so:

screen shot of Tinderbox 4.2.1 .tbx file opened in BBEdit

That's XML.

I don't use Microsoft software except for document compatibility with publishers, colleagues, and students.

Upgrading to Microsoft Office 2008 would cost me out-of-pocket something in the neighborhood of $20 (US). Not much money. On the other hand, Microsoft has removed Visual Basic from Office 2008 for Mac OS, and this means the custom macros I use (colored text and automated insertion as I explain in the "understanding comments" document I provide my students) would not be available to me. It's not just that there is no incentive for me to upgrade; there is disincentive.

Mac users are up in arms about the crippling of Office 2008 for Mac OS. I'm frankly surprised MacWorld gave Word 2008 higher than two out of five. This seems to be of a piece with Microsoft's failures of late, including the ongoing debacle of Vista which Randall Stross covers in today's New York Times, thirteen months after Vista was released.

Furthermore, it is imperative that documents created by a publicly-funded institution such as Ohio University (where I presently teach) be accessible to people who use non-proprietary software. All documents produced by public institutions of higher education should be in open formats, formats other than Microsoft's which have never been open. The pressure Microsoft is placing upon users of older versions of Microsoft Word, upon institutions of higher learning, and upon taxpayer-funded government bodies should be the last warning anyone needs before abandoning closed formats.

Here's what I'm doing.

For the first time in the five years I have required students to submit papers electronically, I will disallow Microsoft Word documents. Starting with Spring quarter 2008, I will require submissions to be in RTF only. end of article

1 As a point of comparison, below is a screenshot of a Microsoft Word 2004-compatible document open in a text editor. You will notice that unlike files produced by Microsoft Word 2008, it contains human-readable text. This human-readable text does come quite a ways into the text, as indicated by the position of the scroll bar. The Microsoft Word 2008 .docx file in the screenshot at the top of this entry contains undreadable binary data throughout.
screen shot of MS Word 2004-compatible .doc file opened in BBEdit
2 I told my students I could handle Microsoft Word documents. Several of my students submitted .docx files and, to my chagrin, I had to ask them to send RTF files in their place. So much for compatibility and accessibility.

Friday, 07 March 2008

No Ubiquitous Mobile Computing for You

Apparently, iPhone applications will only allowed to run one at a time and never in the background. Whenever a user leaves an application to answer the phone or to open a new application, the last application has to quit.1

While this will likely go some way to making sure iPhones are stable, it seems to me some of the more interesting uses of iPhone are prevented by this limitation. For example, jailbreakers have successfully installed and run Apache on the iPhone. Apache really only makes sense as an always-on background application. Not that the iPhone would make the fastest or best web server, but the ability to deploy a web server (or a server of any type) that was truly mobile (and small enough to conceal) would profoundly affect certain aspects of Internet computing, perhaps to the point of bringing new ones into being.

I understand jailbreaking will never end, but if one wants the support of official APIs using an iPhone as a server will require the dedication of an iPhone to that service. This seems, to me, a serious lack of foresight on Apple's part. The iPhone represents, to my mind, the way forward for ubiquitous mobile computing, but Apple at present doesn't seem to want the iPhone to take on this role.

I guess the jailbreakers will have to show Apple the way. end of article

1 A slightly different version of this entry was first posted here.

Tuesday, 04 March 2008


Ohio is the jam car of progressive American politics, and I wish it would just get out of the way. end of article

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