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This blog is closed, and has been closed since 2013.
Go check my home page to discover all the nifty new stuff I’m doing. I assure you, this blog pales in comparison to everything I’m doing now.
Still, the old posts here get a tiny trickle of traffic, so I thought I’d give this blog its proper headstone. In large part, I retired this blog because the world moved on, and everything I hoped to accomplish here came to pass anyway, with or without my help.
The World Moved On...
Gone is the hope that STEM careers and the technology renaissance will save the world. Society is now permanently divided into the technology illuminatti and the vast, idle consumers. I did not succeed in turning the world into a hivemind of hackers.
But the desktop moved on to the mobile platform, and everything wrong with the desktop era became fixed in the mobile era. Computers are now no longer in danger of being dumbed down for the anti-intellectuals, because the anti-intellectuals now have the mobile platform to toy with and the desktop dinosaurs are once again the province of the true productive worker. Linux on the desktop no longer has to be hammered into the template of a toy for the end users. The end users have their toys; the hackers have their tools. Both now have what they want.
We just call Linux “Android” now. After all those years of wringing our hands about the Microsoft monopoly, we “won” the desktop war simply by being nimble enough to establish a stake on the standard that came just after the desktop. When the mobile platform caught on, there was no United Way event for Bill Gates’ mother to network for him with the CEO of IBM to establish the Microsoft desktop dictatorship. Since the mobile platform was established by merit, Linux won easily and Microsoft got lost trying to keep up.
Microsoft has now had to bow to its new master, whom it formerly whipped so viciously and so fruitlessly all those decades. Microsoft has even had to join the Linux foundation.
The Hippies Lost!
More importantly, most importantly, the best victory I can lay a personal claim to: All of the above got done in spite of the hellish efforts of the hippies.
To define “the hippies”: The protesters, the “Linux advocates,” the TUX500 scammers, Anonymous, LULZSEC, the #OccupyWallStreet loafers, the geek-shamers, the Randroids, the Paultards, the Bernie Bros, and everybody who flung the epithet “elitist” at anybody who typed on a keyboard or read a book. All the filthy, toking, hairy bums who threw themselves under the wheels of progress did nothing to slow down the laborers of the world - including yours truly! - whose hard work and sweat forged the identity of Linux and open source in the pioneer days and promoted it to the business sector, where it always belonged.
I don’t have many claims to fame, but I’m willing to drop my usual humility to brag for a paragraph or two about my success in almost single-handedly holding back the hippies from doing a Pol Pot number on the technology world.
I Never Wanted To Be A Revolutionary...
This blog was originally started to be a positive space to promote constructive hackers, discovering new and exciting stuff they could do on their home machines and the exciting developments that reshaped the open source world from the early 2000s to the late 2010s. However, I quickly found that promoting the renaissance didn’t sit well with the hippies, who would have us all shot for being intellectuals and would have the rest of us digging a ditch in the mud, all starving but at least “free” of “eliteness.”
This is how it literally went down:
Me: “Look at this cool thing I did on the computer! Let me show you readers how to do this cool thing so you can do it too!”
Hippies: “No, don’t show them that! Linux can’t do anything because it has command lines and programming and you have to read stuff! Reading is for elitists! We want Linux for Joe Sixpack so it will be just as dumb as Windows and then the whole world will be dumb like us! Dumb everything down, burn all the books, hang all the nerds!”
Me: “Well, shit.”
So this blog quickly turned into a defensive fort. For about seven years, the few of us who just wanted to do something cool with our tech tools found ourselves under constant siege. Oh, the enemies I made on here! I would love to list them here by name, just to thumb my nose at them from my present lofty position, but why validate their scummy existence now? The archives are right there at the top of the sidebar and you can tell which posts were my battle calls.
For those of you who were nastily surprised at the recent election of Donald Trump, I was pissing myself laughing. I knew all about these people, I’d been fighting them for years. Sadly, it looks like they’ve set their sights higher than mere technology now. They might end up doing to the United States what they wanted to do to Linux.
But damn ‘em all, human nature is just that edge of 51% good to ensure that no Pol Pot will ever win in the long run.
See you in the trenches!
Why are we talking about this again? Didn't we just do this? Let me repeat it again:
It doesn't matter how much data you collect.
What matters is having the eyeballs to read that data.
Apparently this simple, simple point is too hard for anybody but me to understand.
Look, if Johnny collects every streaming minutes of data on all 7 billion humans on planet Earth, and for every hour's worth of surveillance Johnny collects, it takes three hours to watch it, analyze it, research it, and decide whether it's important or not, how many staff members will Johnny have to hire just to keep up with the day?
That is correct, Johnny will have to hire three times as many people as exist right now.
But here comes summer, when thousands of Cheeto-encrusted bong rats suddenly have a lot of free time. And since there don't seem to be any new-released blockbuster video games to soak up that time this month, the next best thing for them to do for fun is scream and panic about nothing.
Scream! Freak! Even the EFF, which is getting way too #Occupy for my tastes lately Spaz! Gurk! And heebie-jeebies!
Who asked the US and UK governments to do this? Oh, United States and United Kingdom citizens, of course.
Remember, you wanted the government to keep you safe from the terrorists. Well, in a shocking development, it turns out that terrorists are, in fact, human beings who just up and decide to do bad stuff all on their own, without warning anybody. So to watch terrorists, they have to watch you.
Not that it does any good.
Me, I'd just as soon end all intelligence and antiterrorist programs of any government. They don't do shit. They're a black hole for money to disappear down. And the overblown danger is minuscule. The largest terrorist attack on US soil, 9/11, only scored 2,996 fatalities. In that same year, 42,196 US citizens died in..... traffic accidents. Every surveillance agent could go be a public-service designated taxi driver and save more lives, and it'd be cheaper on the budget too.
But it just isn't sexy to get worked up and worried about traffic accidents, is it?
No, it's more fun to imagine comic-book villains hatching dastardly plots against the US and UK, because they hate you for your freedom, see, and then turn around and get worked up even more because the people you told to do something about it are trying to do something about it.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is where all the problems in the world come from. Quit getting your reality from comic books and watch how fast you start making better decisions at that ballot box.
Update A pretty fantastic post-mortem on the media fiasco that has been "PRISMgate" over on Daily Banter... and yes, this whole kaka-storm has made some strange bedfellows of mine. I even found myself not loathing Techcrunch for a half a minute.
But it's provided the inspiration for a satire, which it is your civic duty to spread and evangelize, citizen.
I know I certainly didn't see this story get nearly enough exposure: Robert Rose of the ambitious (to say the least) private enterprise space program SpaceX says he uses Linux software throughout its technical base. In fact, he was a Slackware slackie as far back as 1994 (hardcore former Slackware bros represent!) Hey, he even quotes Fred Brooks!
Putting aside my considerable skepticism at the SpaceX project's feasibility, I think it's a notch in Linux's belt to be so thoroughly trusted with space hardware. And a heck of a lot more notable than a sticker on a racecar (yes, I'll never get tired of beating up con artists, even when said cons have moved on to fake cancer schemes).
And now a digression. If all you came here for was the SpaceX story, adios!
I came upon this month-old news by way of this hours-old post comparing the Linux kernel favorably to the moon landing in terms of notable human achievements. Well, yeah, I do agree that Linux and the moon-landing at least belong in the same top-ten.
But I would raise the following points:
#1 The initial space program did a lot to shape our current computer industry. Inventions born out of necessity in reaching the moon later came down to Earth to power our desktops and smartphones. So really, Linux (and Unix and all software) at least has some debt of gratitude to the space programs of the past.
#2 When people are grousing that "we don't do big things anymore", they're talking about the United States. Linux was started by a Finnish programmer; most of worldwide Linux adoption as well as Linux development has happened outside the US. Here, watch what comes up when I Google "government adopts Linux" in quotes:
Notice anyone big missing from the party?
What US-based Linux adoption there has been has mostly been the product of corporations that are also multinational. There's no Yankee Doodle playing when Linux boots, bub.
Sure, we know that other countries are going on into the Jetsons age while the US will stay in the Flintstones era. We figured that out when we started learning feet and pounds and quarts in school. Or when we compare our Internet speeds with our international peers. Or, heck, when we see pictures of infrastructure in European plus-sign-flagged countries while we're lucky if we can drive a whole truck over an American bridge.
We got into the space race in the first place because of Commie paranoia. I sometimes wish the US would catch the same fever over Netherlands Socialism paranoia, because, by God, that would be somebody to beat!
Anyway, Linux in space, yay for the computer geeks of all nations. In spite of Microsoft... an AMERICAN software corporation.
I almost couldn't post this, because I've been in such an agonized tizzy, screaming myself to sleep at night as my white-knuckled fingers clench the sweat-stained bedsheets all about THE QUESTION.
THE QUESTION will not go away. It is front-paged on every news website, puked onto the table of every TV pundit debate, screamed from the headlines of every newspaper.
"ZOMG HOW DO WE GET MORE WOMEN INTO PROGRAMMING????????"
And science careers? And tech jobs? And STEM careers? And web development? And math? And database administration? And... and... where the wimmin at, dog?
None of these people realize that every time they ask this question, they drive women further away from programming. If there were a smidgen of interest in actually creating a balanced society, we would just make everything equally accessible and then let women make up their own minds what to do.
You know what question we never see? "How do we get more men into needlepoint?"
And nursing careers? And cake decorating? And ballet? Hey, guys, how would you feel if you had a mass of screaming harpies chasing you around with a camera and microphone demanding to know, right this minute, why you, sir, are not actively learning how to warp and weft a 10x20 penelope canvas? Would you be more open to getting into needlepoint then? Or would you be annoyed at being singled out for your gender? That's how women respond (and I know several myself) to "How do we get more women into programming?"
The answer is trumpeted to be, of course, that you must have this culture around needlepoint that is discouraging you from getting into it. Stigma. As soon as women find out you're a male needlepointer, they yell condescending remarks: "Oh, you petit-point pretty well for a man!" Flip that in reverse for women and programming. See how dumb that is? If women are only staying out of programming because of stigma, then men are likewise kept out of needlepoint. It's a female-dominated hobby, you see, so that would stop you from simply downloading patterns and buying thread at Hobby Lobby, because you'd be afraid of the clerks snickering at you behind their fist.
Not that it does. There are male needlepointers, there are female programmers. Ask either one of them what it's like in their culture, and they'll both respond that yes, the other gender does tend to dominate the industry, and yes, they do run into some sexism, but oh well, they deal with it and hope for a more enlightened tomorrow.
Yeah... but why? Why don't the genders show an even 50/50 split across all occupations and interests? Why are soap operas mainly watched by women; why are comic books mainly read by men? And yes, that last question is beginning to make the rounds; the media, endlessly helpless to distinguish one stereotypical pursuit from another, has leaped from asking why women aren't in STEM careers to why aren't there more women "geeks" and from there downhill to why aren't there more female Batman fans.
Oh, wait, they've tried to solve that one. Batman - boy-bits + girl-bits = Batgirl!
But wait, it didn't work. Women still don't read comic books!
Perhaps because they sensed that this "Batgirl" person (and Supergirl, Wonder Woman, etc.) was a shallow attempt at marketing to them by taking the same thing that's popular with boys and painting it pink. There's jillions of female superheros, and they are all male superhero spinoffs with a sex change. You may have Batgirl, but Batgirl drawn and written and sold by men. Oh no! Here it comes again! "How do we get more women to be comic artists?????"
No, really, guys, listen to this: What if we make needlepoint patterns available that picture monster trucks, football games, Playboy models, and Transformers robots? Will that get you into needlepoint?
Oh, it won't? Oh, you hurt my feelings.
(Sidebar: By the way, yes, there's female comic book and cartoon fans. In the manga and anime section, because in Japan, they have special categories of just manga and anime by females for females about females, and if there's male characters and more than two of them in one plot, you can bet the guys will be in each others' pants by issue #3. And if they aren't, the female slash fiction base will correct that oversight. Manga and anime enjoys a 50/50 gender appeal, because it started out from the first place being segregated into genres.)
Why aren't more women into programming?
I have the answer. My answer is so good, so definitive, that I should charge you for it.
The answer is "money."
No, not that the money is bad (although it is bad, but it's perceived as good). It's that every boy who grows up pursuing a tech career has dollar signs in his eyes. Because of Bill Gates, Sergey Brin, Larry Ellison, and Mark Zuckerberg. These guys are trumpeted from the front pages of Forbes, Time, and Business Week. The message is "there's big money in programming!" True, most of the programmers end up slinging Java in some god-forbidden corporate data warehouse for $12/hr. and end up getting laid off in five years when their job gets outsourced, but when they started out, they were aiming for Redmond.
(Another sidebar: Yeah, yeah, I know, there's one guy out there I have to address: You're only motivated to program because you enjoy making computers do nifty stuff. It's the love of the art. And that's why you have a job that has nothing to do with technology, do nothing to promote your success amongst your technology peers, and if somebody offered you fistfulls of cash to do anything computer-related, even consult or deliver a lecture at a conference, you'd push it away and be insulted, amiright? Yeah, you do it for the "love of the game" - you and every NFL player on their way to cash their 8-figure check.)
No, the question we should be asking is "How come there's so many guys in programming?" Because programming, even in 2013, is still seen as an at least stable and potentially lucrative career. And (WARNING: We have reached the part of this essay that will draw screams of "sexism":) guys feel more pressure to make money than gals. Because how many women want to date a broke man?
That's it. There are a lot of men in programming, because programming is seen as a potentially successful career, and men, naturally competitive, want those wads of cash very badly. You want more women in programming? Get rid of the money and the potential for success on a huge scale, men will abandon the field like toddlers fleeing the canned vegetable aisle, and Glamour, Vogue, and Cosmopolitan will start carrying ads: "Learn freelance programming at home! It's the perfect 'mommy-job'!"
Here, I'll prove it:
Presenting a book I've held dear on my shelves for a very long time, waiting for its day in the sun. The book is Introduction to Business Data Processing, by Lawrence S. Orilia, published McGraw Hill, copyright 1979. Important date to remember as we browse through it.
Sure, in 2013 you might think that there's a gulf between "data processing" and "programming", but in 1979, there wasn't one. The book is chock full of code in FORTRAN, COBOL, and BASIC. With flowcharts, endless fields of flowcharts, because that's how data processing was done back then. Check that link I made to Google books - while they don't have a scanned copy, note the keywords in "common terms and phrases". Yes, they go into line numbers and loops and statements. The students who learned from this textbook weren't modern data entry clerks. They would become programmers, because advanced software didn't exist at the time and it was expected that you would know coding in order to just use a computer.
Thirty years later, even Tim O'Reilly can't say "everybody who uses a computer should learn a little programming" without a lynch mob battering down his door.
What this book is also chock full of is women sitting at computer terminals. All the way through the book. Females operate the computers, men enjoy lofty positions in suits and ties striding around with clipboards, supervising the women.
You see, computing in this era was still largely seen as office-type work. Before computers it was all typewriters, adding machines, and filing cabinets, which mostly women did in the position of "secretary", so computers at the time were deemed to be glorified typewriters, adding machines, and filing cabinets combined - hence "women's work". Mostly it was the kind of work you wouldn't catch a guy dead doing. Remember, we're not talking the world of 3D rendered graphics and Internet entrepreneurs, we're talking punched cards and magnetic tape.
That's right, women were the first "hackers"!
His tie is wide enough to land a plane on, so he must be in charge. No way is he getting his hands dirty with this grubby computer stuff.
And yes, these queens of code could actually use a command line! You know, that thing I get screamed at all the time by the troll chorus for being an "elitist geek" for advocating?
Just look how confident and happy she is! Little did she know that in 30 years, plugging in your own external storage media correctly on the first try would be beyond 95% of either gender without a frantic call to tech support.
But modern macho men, your final humiliation is yet at hand. So only big, strong, logical men can handle all this computer stuff, ehhhh? Well back then, computer operation as an occupation had to be sold down, not up, so they had to include this charming anecdote:
It says on page 252: "A computer has become the means of communication between Lana, a four-year-old chimpanzee, and the rest of the world. Two years ago, she started to use the symbols on a computer keyboard to talk to her keepers."
"You see that, ladies?" said 1979 businessmen desperate for technicians, "These things are so simple, even a monkey can learn to use them, so you have no excuse!" A female monkey.
Remember this was 1979. Nobody had made billions of dollars in software yet. In hardware, yes, certainly, IBM, Honeywell, DEC, and whatnot, were very big deals. So the manufacture of computers was a male-dominated field, but just like typewriters, once we make 'em, let the women type on 'em. Also take note that the word "hacker" had yet to enter public parlance. There was no mythologized archetype of the cyberpunk anti-hero.
So if programming computers wasn't glamorous yet, and software tycoons who would become world-class billionaires were years in the future yet, and operating a computer was so easy that a monkey could do it, then what was there to attract men? Nothing. Yet the world needed programmers. So they had to hire women, and lo, there were the women running all the big, hot, dusty machines.
Now, I don't have time to write a whole book here and you don't have time to read it. I've laid out all the tools you need to build your own answers, because you're all bright people. Think about men, women, jobs and hobbies, and which ones are male-dominated, female-dominated, or 50/50. Think about history. Think about motivation, and the options people have in society.
I hope you have all learned something, not just about the history of computing, but about the genders, society, and the way the public perceptions relate to all of them.
But above all, most of all, more than my dear blood, I hope I never have to hear this stupid, stupid, stupid question ever again.
Follow-Up: I misplaced the bookmark when I was writing this, but I found it again. Here's Stanford research about how programming changed from a female to male profession. Now, sociologically, they cite our old boogey, gender-bias. Subtle gender-bias covered up by personality testing and prerequisite courses. Yes, but saying "we don't have female programmers because personalities are screened for introverts and college records are screened for math credits" does nothing but move the question out to "Where are all the introverted math geek women?" There are introverted math geek women out there. But anyway, it's another point of view worth sharing here.
Update: How many times does YOUR head hit the desk when reading about the latest gender-tech scandal, known as "dongle-gate"?
Update 4/10/13: As I continue to get more responses to this, here's a link somebody found on Fogcreek from 2 years ago: “The Computer Girls” from the April 1967 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine. Once again, somebody else noticed that women used to dominate the computer field, but then answers "why did they leave?" with the knee-jerk "teh sexism!" Always, always, always.
Here we are on the last day of 2012. Does it feel as if 2012 was discouraging?
In the US in the last few months, it feels like 2012 had it in for us. Hurricane Sandy, mass psycho shootings, and a government that gleefully accepted our votes and cheers over the supposed victories, and then went right back to being the stone-deaf bullshit factory it's always been.
Elsewhere in the world, 2012 was also grim. Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Gaza, Benghazi, Rustenburg, Congo, and South Africa in general have all seen their share of human-made atrocities and tragedies and the kind of civil-rights violations that lead to stories that typically begin with the phrase "Thousands took to the streets..." Greece and Spain have had economic crashes, also human-made. And can we even count the whack-job end-of-the-world predictions? It seems that humans can't go a day without making their own problems worse.
From a STEMmer or geek point of view, it's depressing. It's depressing because everybody around you just seems to get stupider and stupider every day. Make no mistake: In the United States of America, there IS an anti-intellectual movement going full-blast. Science and reason really ARE under attack, and will continue to be under attack for a long time yet. You're not imagining it.
If you're bitter and angry about the world's problems, chances are good that you have what they call "depressive realism". You have too clear a fix on reality and are too aware that the human condition is a giant ball of crap to really be optimistic about the future.
I know that depression.
And I know why it's not that bad.
The human race is simply too young yet. The frustration we all feel is with the growing pains of advancing from animal to human.
The latest evidence shows that humans, in their earliest form, evolved around 5 to 7 million years ago (MYA) in eastern and central Africa. "Lucy", the earliest-known specimen of Australopithecus, lived about 3 MYA. Sometime during the next million years after Lucy, we started to make our earliest stone tools. First evidence of the ability to make fire has so far been pegged to about 1 MYA. So humans went some 6 millions years before they finally arrived at the ability to make fire at will - the trademark human advancement. About 350 to 200 thousand years ago (KYA), we saw the rise of the human prototype known as Neanderthals, the first type of human to show signs of social organization and hence, language. So humans took over 700 thousand years after they invented fire before they even communicated in anything but grunts and barks.
The first homo sapiens emerged between 200 and 100 KYA, again in East Africa. They demonstrated tool-making, social organization, and migration. What about agriculture? We didn't advance that far until just 12 KYA, with the Neolithic Revolution that happened spontaneously in various spots around the world. This is the first record of mankind willfully tending crops and herding livestock, transitioning from a nomadic hunter-gatherer species to creatures who, for the first time, had a reason to settle down in one place and call it "home". So humans were around 4 million, 88 thousand years before they could finally sustain themselves with a reliable food source and, for the first time, spend a few minutes of their day thinking about something besides how not to starve to death.
Earliest human writing is pegged to about 4000 BCE (6 KYA) in Mesopotamia. So humans lived another 6000 years after the advent of agriculture before the smartest of them figured out how to scratch down some kind of permanent record, and for the first time, gain the mere capability of handing down knowledge through the generations. The first true technology innovation, the wheel, shows up about this time, along with the earliest organized true cities. If you put fire and wheels together, you get cars, and if you logically extend writing, you get computers. So with transportation and information technology, you can see how those two disciplines alone still shape most of our society today. Pretty much all of human ability right now is confined within how fast and efficiently we can move either physical objects (including ourselves) or data, with a side order of how efficiently we can produce power (we still use fire a lot).
What we think of now as wonders of the "ancient" world, things like the pyramids and sphinx in Egypt, the Acropolis of Athens, the Great Wall of China, the founding of the Roman Empire, and so on, were all built within the last 6000 years. Even Stonehenge, just a damned circle of rocks planted with some notion of tracking the seasons, was only built between 3000 and 2000 BCE, just around 4,400 years ago. Rocks, the earliest computer, and it took us 6,990,000 years to dope that out.
Are you starting to understand why grandma can't cope with a tablet computer yet?
Stonehenge was only built during the most recent 1% of human history. Meanwhile, the human brain takes millions of years to have a slight change due to evolution.
As recently as only 500 years ago, average human life expectancy topped over 40 years for the first time. Up until that time of the 17th century, 2/3rds of all children born in northern Europe died before the age of four. So it's only been in the recent two millenniums that humans anywhere could expect as good as a 50/50 shot at living to see their own grandchildren. Even today, average life expectancy only runs between 40 and 60 years in most of Africa, and only reaches the peak 77-80 range in First-World countries (North America, Europe, Australia, and Japan). It's only been recently in the past few years that we are starting to see a spike in centenarians, humans living to see their 100th birthday, running from estimates of 23,000 centenarians worldwide in 1950 to 209,000 in the year 2000 and 455,000 in 2009. In just the last five centuries, average human lifespan worldwide has reached 67 years, just barely doubling. Think about how much intellectual value a human piles on in their later decades, and then consider that, barring a few historic individuals, it's only been the last five centuries that we're starting to get consistent access to that.
Meanwhile, electric engineering has only been around for just under two centuries. This marvel of modern science upon which we currently chat, the Internet, was not possible before the computer, which was not possible before the microprocessor, which was not possible before the invention of the integrated circuit, which first appeared in 1949, in a patent filed by Werner Jacobi. That's right, computers, and all of the wonders thereof, are only 63 years old! Only a couple of decades older than our very first visits to a non-Earth sphere.
In the United States, the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, mandating the right of women to vote, is only 92 years old. The Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery throughout all of the United States, is only 147 years old. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, finally mandating the concept of equal rights for all humans in the United States regardless of race, color, gender, or religion, is only 48 years old. The United States Federal Department of Education was only founded in 1867, meaning that the US was in business just under a full century before it attained, for the very first time, an organized method of ensuring that its citizens could simply read and write. And the idea that anyone could have the right to even a basic education goes back again to that Civil Rights Act. When was the last time we amended the Civil Rights Act? 1991, when we extended and strengthened the ability of employees to sue their employer for discrimination. Bush, Sr., vetoed the previous version of the act but had to buckle on that one.
Universal health care and gay marriage and pot legalization? It will happen. It's just that, you have to understand, it takes more than a few weeks wearing stupid costumes and waving stupid signs and getting stoned in Zuccotti Park.
Now, then: You are upset because the human race is not progressing faster? Sweetheart, we are just barely out of tails and flinging poo. WE ARE STILL ANIMALS! There is no escaping that we are animals, and we will remain animals for many, many millenniums to come. Yes, it is frustrating now feeling like you were born trapped in a primitive world without the wonderful societies that we dream about for the future.
I'm sorry, but you were born too soon for flying cars and colonizing space.
But at least you weren't one of the billions and billions of people who lived and died back there without ever having seen electronics... or machines... or tools... or reliable sources of food... or writing... or even speech! Pause a moment and bow your head for the Australopithecus Einsteins, who had to be content with chewing grubs out of bark and hooting at each other, maddened with the idea that they should be able to live more comfortably if only they could teach the others the value of sharpening a stick to use to dig out more food. Millions of them lived and died and lost in time back there, too discouraged to even write in the mud with their finger, because who the hell would come along who was smart enough to read it?
Do not be so vain, young and smart people, as to be discouraged for the human race because you could not fix it in one month. Quit feeling so sorry for yourself, and devote your life to aiding as much of human progress as you can. Live for the future, when more advanced humans will be able to appreciate what you were living with now.
Allow me to put on my freelancer's hat for a minute and talk about something not only relevant to technology, but to my business as an online content creator...
A little while back, Forbes took notice of the tech entrepreneur world with an article on the "death" of SEO.
Every word in that article is spot-on, dead accurate, worthy of being proclaimed from the rooftops. Except the title. Because, contrary to all common sense, SEO, like a Lovecraft Eldritch multi-dimensional horror, will never die.
I've pointed out many times that the very premise of SEO is to game search engines, and search engines exist to find genuine content, not "optimized" content. So the very minute you start thinking of SEO for your website, you're beginning a war with the Internet, trying to steal their time redirecting them from the content they wanted to the sales-pages you want them to see. There is no such thing as "white hat SEO". It's like saying you're practicing "legal tax evasion".
"Common sense, but not common practice" indeed. Note the footer of that article where a hundred SEO cranks post flames back at the author and he caves a little, because Forbes is still a business with face to save, after all.
But I stand by every word of that article as originally envisioned, even if he doesn't. There are no "bad parts" to SEO. It is all bad, 100.1% of it. The Venn diagram is shaped like a circle.
That's why I never take any job offer for producing content for anybody who so much as mentions SEO or any of the associated buzzwords: "keywords", "SERP", "density", "meta tags", "backlinks", "landing page", and so on. Not for any amount of money, not for sexual favors from Hollywood starlets, would I do this. I'm too stinking proud, and besides, the kind of wingnut crank who blathers on about this meta-tag voodoo and keyword-density astrology is the kind of person of low morals and little sense who will attempt to cheat me out of pay, argue with me about every little detail, and expect a thousand times the effort of what they'd be paying me.
What I will do is produce organic content that I think actual humans beings at least might want to read. And then if that content has a business link next to it for an associated product or service, well, so be it, that's how the web should work.
SEO is the belief that you can reverse-engineer and "hack" a search engine using only the text on your webpage, causing said engine to magically send all the visitors to you no matter what they type. It's a kind of irrecoverable brain damage. There's a whole cult of it out there. Everybody wants one thing: To be the first result on Google. Now, how many people want that? How many number-one spots on Google are there? What does common sense tell you will happen to the 999,000 people who didn't make page one?
Now, let's logically ask ourselves, "Why do people come back to a search engine?" Why, because it gives them RELEVANT, USEFUL CONTENT, does it not? So what if you "win" your SEO game and redirect Google traffic to your one-page sales-letter full of boilerplate marketing copy? Users will quit using Google and switch to a different search engine. After all, any search engine which was so easily gamed would be a poor quality search engine and users would abandon it. So, the objective, the true, root goal of all SEO is to put Google out of business. You, with your $3/month GoDaddy domain and pirated 1996 copy of FrontPage Express.
What could possibly go wrong with your simple business plan?
Let's take a famously iconic contested keyword: "mesothelioma". It's an incurable lung disease caused by inhaling hazardous substances on the job (I've worked construction jobs and at a power plant so I have a touch of it myself, cough cough cough), which leads to a lot of top-dollar workman's comp cases and legal settlements. Hence, it's a cash cow for ambulance chasers. SEO wonks have been trying to rank #1 for this word ever since 1997 when Google first launched.
So, after 15 years of "progress" in the SEO industry, where does the search result page for this coveted keyword stand right now?
The #1 spot is the Wikipedia entry.
The #2 spot is a domain with the same name, a commercial enterprise.
The #3 spot is the US government's own National Institute of Health site.
The #4 spot is the Mayo clinic.
None of these are the result of SEO tactics, but genuine content produced to inform first. Two of them are even non-profit public services. What does this tell you about the effectiveness of SEO vs. being an actual credible source on the subject? But go to any freelance job-posting site on the web and search for that keyword. Pages and pages of keyword-crankers, all offering the lordly sum of about $2 if only someone will help them get their spam site to come out on top of Wikipedia, the Mayo clinic, and the US government.
You'll find this over and over again. These idiots clog the web with their search-spam, never winning, and never learning. It's a brain disease. Just like with any superstition, you can't drive any common sense into their heads about how search engines actually work. They have charts! They have keyword density formulas! They have magic meta-tag spells! "If we jack these secondary-related search phrases into our keyword probability matrix times our nofollow-tag formula and our backlink farm sends stealth links from the dark web, we get a 2.3657680012% keyword density substrate for our article-spinner."
These cranks will never die. They will never learn. They're flakes. Not just some of them or the "black hat" ones, but all of them.
Anybody out there thinking of using a website as part of a business strategy? Stay away from SEO. Google hates it. Forbes hates it. Internet users, your presumed customers, hate it the most of all. SEO, like alchemy and Orgone and flying saucers, is every kind of wrong it can be. It's broken, it's stupid, and it doesn't work.
I never dreamed the day would come when civilization would get this naive, to the point where I have to share the big secret of how people lie on the Internet to get attention, but I guess that film 2006 Idiocracy wasn't made for nothing...
OK, case in point is this thread: "I was clinically dead for 2 minutes after a heart-attack (28/f), and death was the most peaceful feeling of my life. AMA." Posted 9/17/12, today as I type. I'll try to preserve what I can since fakes just tend to delete everything and pull the same stunt two weeks later under a different name.
Here is the post screenshot (click to fullsize):
(EDIT And it's gone already minutes later, so my post is now the only record.)
Note that the poster's story is that they had pneumonia which (heart attack?) caused them to pass out and require resuscitation.
The poster puts up several photos to back their claim:
Links (but might be taken down soon): photo 1, photo 2, photo 3, photo 4.
Now, we go to google.com and click on the image tab...
Once you're in the image search tab, click on the little gray camera icon in the search box...
Now you have a new search box open. Find one of those images, get the URL (so it's showing just the image in your browser - the URL, in the address bar, has to be showing the image file name extension - jpg, png, gif, whatever - at the very end), and paste it into the search box...
Google will find every other page on the web in its index with the same, or similar, images. Note that in this specific case, it even finds another matching photo from the same case, killing two birds with one stone. We find the exact same images on this blog from November of 2011. Note that this gal has Multiple Sclerosis, and reports the occasion where her heart stopped and was brought back in a very similar story. She even reports that the hospital PA system said "Rapid response to 3 North rehab! Rapid response to 3 North rehab!" while our faker says the hospital PA says "rapid response to 4 North, rapid response to 4 North." A clear case of plagiarism as well, just editing the text slightly because, duh, everybody knows that Google can find text...
That's the end of Google image search's helpfulness, as it couldn't find matches for the other two photos. #4 isn't hard to fake, since it's just a shot of a common form which I tracked down to here. Since there's no handwritten marks on the form indicating whom it belongs to, this could be anybody's photo from any where.
Now, photos #2 presents us with a poser. Google image search comes up dry on the alleged photo of the person's face, but does not look like the same person with MS shown in the original blog post from November 2011. A Caucasian female with red hair, to be sure, but otherwise no match. And yet wearing the same shirt!
Note that the nails are painted in photo #2 but unpainted in photo #1.
What's going on here? We have two different sets of photos from two different time periods. This post, dated from September of 2012, shows more the same gal from our photo #2. The discrepancy in her facial features is explained by "moon face", where steroid therapy makes your face fill out (yes, steroids are used for more than just male bodybuilding). And a year's time is enough to re-do your nails and get a new hairdo.
But here's the trump card: The owner of that blog also has a Reddit account, and also posted an AMA just 25 days previously under her own account name of "Gimme_Danger". Here is her submission history, and she links to her own blog here.
Note that this girl is confined to a wheelchair and the faker account, red__head, posts comments about things like working at a strip club (with motorcycles lowered from the ceiling???).
We'll call this one solved for now.
Why do people DO this???
Money! High-karma accounts are worth money on the social media asstroturf circuit. See my three posts about the underground big-business of social media asstroturfing here, here, and here. Note that red__head's account at Reddit, at the time of my writing, is just two days old. Do you know a quicker way of growing a lot of karma in a short time? Never mind the "self-posts don't give you karma" dodge, comment karma always counts and it's obvious from looking at scores that successful self-posts do give you some karma.
The rest of the karma comes from this post, also by red__head, claiming to have adopted a kitten. Here's the same photo at OMGCuteThings (retch!) with one small detail: the logo in the bottom right has been edited out! It's a simple trick, I use Gimp's resynthesizer plugin myself.
An account like this is most likely hacked into existence over a few days then sold on one of those sites that does "social media marketing." They're most likely done in batches. What matter if this one gets deleted? What matter if a moderator catches one account and bans it? It's like pulling up a dandelion.
WHY does this keep happening?
Dear reader, I hate to sound harsh, but this is your fault.
It is your fault for being gullible and taking everything on the Internet at face value. Those few of us who do this kind of legwork could not possibly keep up. I have spent years on this site alerting people to scams, shams, fakes, lies, swindles, and cons, from the corporate CEO level down to rank flim-flammers like this, and all of you just shrug and go "Duh, whatever LOL!"
Clearly, you don't care.
Clearly, you couldn't care less if these hospital photos were exploited by a fraud who asked for donations - this happens all the time as well. Millions of dollars trade hands over the Internet every day, spurred by people posting asking for donations, and no fact-checking happens. Clearly, I could be rolling in money using these same tricks to scam all of you. I am, after all, a professional writer. I could concoct a load of bull and put up a kickstarter can or a PayPal link like anybody else. All of you are so uncaring that you're probably now asking "Well then why don't you? I'd donate to you even if I knew you were faking!"
Apparently that's the world we live in today. Everybody but me does this just because nobody but me has any idea that doing this is wrong anymore.
Yet, you're here now, aren't you?
Don't waste time on my site, readers! Go back to your RSS feed and your social networks and spot the nearest fake to you RIGHT NOW! Investigate, hunt for clues, question everything, find them out, and post the evidence for all to see!
Hey, there's this news about America that seems to be on the tip of everyone's tongue: the economy. It's sucking mud, right? And the younger generation, they're pretty depressed about the lack of jobs, right? And everyone's asking each other "Where did all the jobs go?"
And what's the first thing you hear out of every candidate's mouth, on either side of the aisle, from mayor to president? "We need to create jobs." "We need to bring jobs back." "Ladies and gentlemen, I will now pull ten million jobs out of this hat!" You'd think job were like rabbits, and it was all just a question of making them boink fast enough.
I think this is the point where I can drop the bad news about what happened to the jobs: You know all those stories we used to have about how technology will replace humans doing the same job? Well, it's starting to happen. It is happening. It's been happening for years.
You know that utopian Jetsons future where you just sit on your throne and push buttons and magic robots do all the drudge labor? Well, don't look now, but we're getting damned close to it. Technological unemployment is a thing, and it's not going away. And we're sure not going to let the Luddites have their way, so we better get used to a society with an ever-smaller number of available jobs.
- Remember bank tellers? ATMs do most of the work they used to do.
- Remember paper maps? GPSs fill that gap now.
- Newspapers? Magazines? Paper books? Electronic media is eating them all.
- Records and CDs? I don't have to tell you what happened to those, do I?
- Media production in general? Technology does 90% of that now.
- When's the last time you dropped off a roll of film to be developed?
- Office jobs? Sure, they're still there in a FIRE economy. But each office gets more done with fewer heads.
- Phone operators? Radio station DJs? Most of that's automated now.
- Fewer cops on the streets? Well, good thing we have those red-light automatic-ticket machines at every intersection, isn't it?
Heck, I can relate a personal experience: Back when I worked for $GIANT_BANK, our mission in life was to process incoming payments from all the customers in North America, which arrived in the mail in the form of paper checks - run them through machines to transform them into electronic money. When I started prior to the turn of the century, we're talking some four truckloads of carts of trays of checks per shift and it was all credit cards. Almost a decade later, when I quit, maybe five carts, and that's credit cards, student loans, insurance, and mortgage. The center I worked at has since shut down.
And before that, the machines that I used replaced even more jobs before me. The computers did all the math, but that math was once done by banks of manual adding machines. Accounting was done by MICR and OCR technology, but it used to be done by writing transactions down in a ledger. Data entry was also outsourced; electronic images of the checks (when AI, OCR, and MICR were all defeated by people with sloppy handwriting) were processed by some nameless clutch of coolies in some south-Asian sweatshop. Even the machines that opened the mail and extracted the checks and paystubs replaced the people who used to do it with letter openers. Now, even what I did is gone - when is the last time you wrote a check?
Remember, we wanted this. We have all wanted our shining society of crystal spires and togas, our utopian paradise of leisure. We have only now begun to ask ourselves, "Hey, when robots/computers do all the work and there's no more immediate problems to solve, what the hell are we going to do for a job?"
Not the mean, dingy socialism of China, Cuba, and former Soviet Union that everybody's scared of. The hip, swinging, democratic socialism of Scandinavia.
Let's face it: We get more done now with fewer human resources. That's a good thing! But without adjusting a society to keep pace with technology progress, you end up with 95% of the people competing with machines for jobs, and masses of wealth becoming concentrated into the hands of 5% or fewer, who own the machines, the patents on the machines, the copyrights to the manuals about the machines, the universities that teach you how to run the machines...
There is a socialism answer.
You hate the idea? So do I. It's our second-worst option, but everything else is tied for first. But what's going to happen when we have no choice? Our population isn't shrinking. We aren't going to bust up all the gadgets and go back to doing everything by hand. What else can we do? You tell me.
I've been sniffing around on this idea, and so far I see an Alternet columnist suggesting an economy without jobs. And of course there's the classic scarcity question in economics. Another recent Alternet post points out lies perpetuated from our outdated Capitalist Republic structure, and #1 is the myth of the relation between the prosperity of the rich and the number of jobs. Because what happens when having more wealth merely allows the rich to buy more robots??? Or, indirectly, better technology to make outsourcing more efficient?
And there's those jobs again. "Give tax breaks to the rich, because they make jobs!" Yes, look at all these invisible jobs the Job Fairy brought us. They are raining from the sky.
It's a waste of time to fight progress. We're right here, on the Internet, trying to think bigger and pushing more progress forward. You can argue that you can move your career forward with progress. Take advantage of the new technology and the new jobs it creates - if you're replaced by a robot, become the guy who builds the robots. If science takes your job, become the new scientist. If the global market outsources your job away, become an outsourcer on the global market yourself. Yes, we can do that, but over time, that path shrinks. When one robot replaces thirty laborers, we only need a couple of maintenance persons for the robot.
We have to transition from a labor economy to a knowledge economy. We have to transition from a scarcity economy to a plentiful economy. Inevitably, we have to allow some of the scraps from our table to support a few freeloaders, who, let's face it, do nothing to earn their keep. Or they do intangible things to benefit society (helloooo, parents, grandparents, housekeepers, mentors, and volunteers of all kinds) which are not recognized as "jobs".
We already do this - we just force them to dodge and flinch through the system under a subterfuge to get the same public pension they'd get in a Socialist country.
And for the Raymondites (as in Eric S.) out there in Linux-land: What is Free and Open Source Software, after all, but Socialism in action?
Granted, Socialism works in software because you can freely copy and transmit software anywhere in the world, without making anyone poorer. That's harder to do with a truckload of turnips. The farmers' jobs are safe for now. But - I live in Iowa, an agricultural powerhouse, and more and more every year I see that there's better computer programs developing more advanced genetic strains of turnips with a higher yield per acre and better machines that harvest the turnips faster and when Google's self-driving cars become an established reality, even the truck driver that drives the turnips from the farm to the store will be out of work.
Did you see what I just did there? I linked to Wikipedia, a Socialist website that's put a huge encyclopedia industry out of work. Yes, they take donations, but that money goes mostly to servers, bandwidth, offices to keep them in - they spend it on bots. The content itself is, as this clever user puts it, "the aum of the Internet". Stick that in your John Galt, Jimbo! What's that about never asking another man to live their lives for the sake of yours, again?
The goal of technology, even of science, is to improve society to the point where we don't need a Capitalist system any more.
There are countries in the world that realize this now, and there are countries in the world who do not.
Update, same day By complete coincidence, I ran across this imaged quote making the social media rounds. Take it away, Buckminster Fuller!
Sourced from here, which I tracked down by the grace of Wikiquote.
Update 9/9/12 Hey, here's a philosophy professor also criticizing the role of work in capitalism. hm.
Update 11/25/12 Another look at this problem, "skills don't pay the bills". "Transitioning to a knowledge economy", did I say?
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I shouldn't be posting right now. I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't, so I might as well be damned for "do". It is too soon to talk about a bloody tragedy that happened only hours ago. It is highly insensitive to the victims and their family members for us media wonks to go on about it.
But you're all going to forget this happened within a week, and sick jokes about it are already starting to circulate on the web, so my hand is forced.
Last month, I posted about people who cannot tell the difference between reality and fantasy. Detailing the problems that occur when these kinds of people encounter the media, and their delusions become mixed up with fictional fantasies. It got me called a "crank", among other things.
Last night, a man named James Holmes entered a movie theater at the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises. He was dressed as one of the villain characters in the movie. He was equipped as that character in the movie. He then proceeded to open fire on the audience, attacking them in exactly the same style as that character in the movie. He timed his attack to coincide with the identical actions performed by that character in the movie, happening right beside him on the screen. Finished with his rampage and leaving a theater full of dead and wounded people, he then calmly waited in back of the theater for police to show up, bearing no evident anxiety over what he had just done. After being arrested, he informed the police that his apartment was booby-trapped with a sophisticated device exactly like one the character in the movie would have used.
James Holmes cannot tell the difference between reality and fantasy.
Let's see if I can break this down so the simplest of you can understand it:
A crazy person with guns just caused a massacre.
Key points of problem:
- Crazy people.
Solution space #1: What can we do about guns?
Well, there's debate about that all the time. Michael Moore said quite a bit about it in Bowling For Columbine. Gun control debate isn't my focus here. Naturally, hordes of gun nuts all crammed online within minutes of the story breaking to sing hymns to their beautiful, beautiful guns, and rationalized it as "if everyone was packing (including, one assumes, the three-month-old baby) then this situation would have been better... somehow". I am flabbergasted at how people can think that in a dark, crowded theater, where many people were so disoriented that they thought the rampage was part of the entertainment until the actual bullets started hitting them, more bullets whizzing around would be exactly what we need, but oh well. Second Amendment debates lie outside the realm of a geek / tech blog. To those of you out there with no such disclaimer... good luck!
Solution space #2: What can we do about crazy people?
Ah, now we're closer to my turf, since I blog about the Internet (it is a matter pertaining to both geeks and technology), and if you've all not noticed, a heck of a lot of crazy people seem to be on the Internet. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that the whole Dark Knight fad was born in the lap of the Internet.
Previously, I indicated that the Internet, while not to blame for crazy people having delusions any more than any other form of media (video games, TV shows, literature, movies), does differ in one, small detail, in that it is more interactive than other forms of media. You give to the Internet and it gives right back. It gives to you, and you give right back. It is a more immersing experience. So it fosters and nurtures delusions.
Now, we all want to go on using the Internet. So we have a responsibility on the Internet. That responsibility is:
- To keep an eye out for deluded people.
- To be intolerant of hate speech by deluded people.
- To call out and identify when deluded people are posting hateful, violent thoughts on the Internet.
- To make it as clear as possible that there is a line between reality and fantasy and announce unambiguously when we cross it and when we return.
- To listen to, and identify, the delusions that run around within the media space and analyze the harm potential they have.
- To intervene to our fullest ability to council deluded people, explaining the difference between their delusions and reality.
- If they are resistant to this council, then to intervene with mental health treatment to prevent them from becoming a danger to themselves and society.
- ...And get health care laws fixed so that it's easier to do that.
Now, what is the responsibility (and I'm including myself here, remember) of those of us who produce media for public consumption? To not encourage people to confuse reality with fantasy. And that goes 180-degrees opposite of what big film studios do with their viral marketing campaigns for summer blockbusters. When we allow corporations to astroturf, when we allow "altered reality" events to market fiction, we make it that much harder for people who are already prone to delusion to distinguish between reality and fantasy.
Here's another good reason for me to post right now: The motives and inner thoughts of James Holmes have so far not become public. However, when the story comes out, I am certain that his thoughts will turn out to be woven, warp and woof, from a tapestry of popular Internet memes, Internet-bred conspiracy theories, Internet-published cornflake urban legends, Internet-popular pop psychology / philosophy / politics. You will hear his utterances and read his posts, when his web accounts are uncovered, and you will nod your head with recognition, because more likely than not they will be echoing the headlines of the very stories you've been reading lately all over social media.
I'd be very surprised if he also wasn't one of those guys painting his face like the Joker during an Occupy Wall Street rally. Or one of those guys wearing a V for Vendetta mask during an Anonymous rally. Or one of those guys dressing as a Wookie during a Ron Paul rally. Maybe three-for-three.
Are there some more Dark Knight fans who are deluded? Well, according to this story, negative reviews of the franchise have drawn death threats over the Internet. Does this tell us anything? Even BoingBoing, as guilty of the irresponsible media frenzy around comic-book movies as anybody else, just posted this week about these retards, biting the hands that feed them.
But remember, I'm not blaming the Dark Knight franchise itself, any more than I blamed the Matrix franchise before, or any other media production. They're just stories, albeit pretty brainless ones. It's the people who experience a work of fiction and then adopt it as their frame for reality that is the problem. I draw a webcomic, for those two of you who weren't aware yet. I would be equally (if not more) upset if someone chose to emulate the characters and actions of my webcomic in real life as well. I would be just as condemnatory if they tried to practice the fictional religion "Micca" from my strip, or attempted to commit cybercrimes the way the strip's character "Sherry" does, or conned their way into the offices of Senator Rick Perry to beat his butt with a riding crop the way the strip's character "Audrina" does. These would be wrong things to do. That's why it's - duh! - called fiction!
Speaking of BoingBoing, they've reposted (with no awareness of the irony) Marilyn Manson's thoughts post-Columbine school-shooting (which are also a part of the aforementioned Michael Moore movie). If you won't listen to me, perhaps you can listen to M.M.?
"A lot of people forget or never realize that I started my band as a criticism of these very issues of despair and hypocrisy."
As have I started my blog for similar motives, albeit within the realm of technology.
"When it comes down to who's to blame for the high school murders in Littleton, Colorado, throw a rock and you'll hit someone who's guilty. We're the people who sit back and tolerate children owning guns, and we're the ones who tune in and watch the up-to-the-minute details of what they do with them."
Say, do you suppose he's talking about us?
"We live in a free country, but with that freedom there is a burden of personal responsibility."
Well, now you know where I get some of my crazy, radical, wild-hair ideas.
"In my work I examine the America we live in, and I've always tried to show people that the devil we blame our atrocities on is really just each one of us."
Well, hopefully, since Marilyn is more popular than I am (not, I concede, without cause), maybe you'll take his word for it, even while you dismiss me as a random raving loony for saying things of a similar bent. I am, after all, just one more part of the media.
A political cartoon that I found here speaks volumes about the issue:
Now, the thing that Americans seem to push back against always seems to be the complex solution. People don't want that, they want an easy quick-fix. But that doesn't work. You should always beware of black-and-white solutions to multi-hued problems.