This I Believe

On this day when the United States inaugurates a new president, one elected by a minority of eligible voters, using a constitutional loophole, through a campaign based on hate, ignorance, and fear, I thought it might be a good time to take a personal assessment. It has been a while since I wrote something like this, and I’m not a very philosophical person to start with, so take that into consideration as you read.
This I believe.
I believe in the power of learning. Open-ended, open-minded, uncensored, take-it-where-you-will learning. When that ends, so does life.
I believe in public education. Because every child, not just those with money, influence, or luck, deserves a solid foundation for the rest of their life. That’s power that comes from a strong system of public schools, which is also the cornerstone of a functioning democracy.
I believe in science. Not because scientists have all the answers, but because the scientific process is committed to always looking, always asking questions.
Related to that, I believe in curiosity and the art of asking questions. Because anyone who claims to have all the answers is wrong. And possibly an impediment to human progress.
I believe that any real change in this world comes from progressive, positive, committed optimism. Working to recreate the past, one that likely only existed in the mind, is a waste of time and energy. That attitude probably comes from being an educator for most of my entire adult life. I still don’t understand how anyone can teach children and not be optimistic about the future.
I believe in travel, both physical and virtual. Especially to places that are very different from wherever I am right now. The best way to understand other people, and foster peace in the world, is to visit them where they live, listen to what they have to say, and talk with them honestly.
I believe in humor. Not the kind that tears down, belittles, and diminishes people, but humor that exposes the flaws of life and makes me think as well as laugh. Plus the just plain silly stuff, of which the members of Monty Python were masters.
Finally, I believe there is much good in the people of this country. But also that our greatest problem remains the indifference shown by most of them when it comes to the larger society and our very fragile participatory democracy. I have an expanded post on this topic, should you care to read it.
Well, that’s it. Or at least all I can think of at this moment. As with most of my opinions, I reserve the right to change my warped little mind when new evidence is presented. Except for Monty Python, of course.

The Strange Holiday Mix 2016 – Best of Edition

I’ve been posting this list for more than 10 years, but this year we seem to have a major shortage of original, interesting, and/or weird holiday songs. Even The Killers, instead of a new, oddball holiday song, dropped a compilation of their past Christmas singles (adding one cover of a holiday classic).

So in that spirit, here is a short list of the best holiday-themed stuff in my music collection, now in heavy rotation for the season. Enjoy.

  1. Christmas is Interesting – Jonathan Coulton
  2. Elf’s Lament – Barenaked Ladies (With Michael Buble)
  3. Christmas in L.A. – The Killers
  4. You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch – Thurl Ravenscroft
  5. I Want an Alien for Christmas – Fountains of Wayne
  6. Merry Christmas from the Family – Robert Keen Earl
  7. Can I Interest You In Hannukah? – Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart1
  8. Father Christmas – The Kinks
  9. Ain’t No Chimneys In the Projects – Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings2
  10. Yuleman Vs. The Anti-Claus – The Bobs
  11. Snow Globe Christmas – Pink Martini
  12. The Christians and The Pagans – Dar Williams
  13. The Cowboys’ Christmas Ball – The Killers
  14. Come Darkness, Come Light – Mary Chapin Carpenter
  15. Alternate Christmas In Heaven Song – Monty Python
  16. Light One Candle – Peter, Paul & Mary
  17. Fifty Kilowatt Tree – The Bobs
  18. A Great Big Sled – The Killers
  19. Oklahoma Christmas – Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison
  20. Another Christmas Song – Stephen Colbert
  21. The Man in the Santa Suit – Fountains of Wayne
  22. Getting Ready For Christmas Day – Paul Simon
  23. Fruitcake – The Superions

And not really a holiday song, but still one that seems appropriate for some this time of year:

Atheists Don’t Have No Songs – Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers

Back From Havana

It has been very quiet around here recently but I do have a good reason for the lack of posts. We just returned from a visit to Cuba where I had very little access to the internet and not a lot of time to blog if I did.

The trip was an incredible learning experience,  traveling with some wonderful people, and I’ll have more to say after a little reflection. Not to mention time to process all the pictures, since this was a photographic expedition.

For now I just need to make it home after a very early start this morning. Very early. 

Paid Also Has It’s Perils

Last month I ranted in this space about the perils of depending on free. Free software, free web services with no obvious means of support that could disappear or change in an instant.

More than a few friends and colleagues were quick to point out that paying for the tools you depend on didn’t necessarily guarantee they would always be available, or that they wouldn’t be altered in some negative way. Very true. And the past few weeks have delivered two warning signs to support their caution.

In the first case, about a month ago Yahoo was sold to Verizon. Now Yahoo (I can’t bring myself to include the !) has been largely irrelevant to many of us for most of a decade. At the end of the previous century they were the center of the web and pretty much everyone used their directory. But now I really don’t care what the new owners do with almost all the pieces. Except for Flickr, the classic photo sharing site.

I’ve been posting my pictures on Flickr since 2005 (a few months before Yahoo bought it from the founders) and a paid Pro member for much of that time. For most of it’s life, Flickr had an active community of interesting photographers, most of whom were committed to sharing their images. I first learned about Creative Commons from people on Flickr.

Having a Pro account offered several useful features, including greater upload allowances and, later, no advertising. Today there’s a different set of Pro tools that make paying $25 a year still a good value. But, although paying for Pro also offers the illusion of stability, I doubt there were enough of us to make a profit for Yahoo.

It’s too soon to know what Verizon will do with that little corner of Yahoo but I’m not confident Flickr will survive another two years. At least not in a form I will want to use. So, I’m scanning for another web space that makes it easy to store and share my pictures. Anyone want to weigh in on SmugMug? Something else?

Then last week comes the news that Instapaper was purchased by Pinterest.

Instapaper is a “read later” service that has been a core part of my daily workflow for many years. It allows me to capture web articles from a browser or multiple mobile apps for later review, without ads and other cruft, on phone or tablet. In addition to the convenience of having a good reading list anywhere, I also use Instapaper to gather posts I might want to use for PD sessions or for posts here, with tools for annotating the text.

As with Flickr, Instapaper works on a “freemium” model where paying customers are supposed to generate enough revenue to cover a far larger group using the free version and make a profit. I’ve been a paying Instapaper Premium member for many years, both for the additional features and again for the illusion (probably misguided) that this approach would produce stability and longevity.

So we also watch to see what Pinterest plans to do with their new acquisition. At least Instapaper seems a little better fit with their new parent company than does Flickr in a mega telecom company like Verizon. I expect they’ll try to make it part of their efforts to compete with Google in selling ads.

Anyway, I’m gradually learning my lessons when it comes to working on the web. You can’t trust free but there’s also some risk of disappearing/changing product for paying customers. Ok, Evernote, what news do you have for me?

Portable Computing in 2016

Last month, for the first time in eight years, we bought a new car. Flash forward into the 21st century.

The old car, very much a legacy of 20th century technology, probably had computers in it somewhere, but nothing visible to anyone but a mechanic. An LCD display for the CD/radio/clock was pretty much it. In 2008 I thought it was great getting a single phono jack to connect my iPod to the sound system. (No mistype; this was also before I could afford my first smartphone.)

On top of all the GPS navigation and smartphone integration embedded in the dashboard, features that seem to be standard in most vehicles these days, this new car is a hybrid.3 Which means I get two additional screens to monitor those systems. One it seems, exists just to score (and train) my driving and braking skills. Plus I can talk to the car and get a response, although I’m still working on how to make it understand me consistently.

Anyway, we now essentially own yet another portable computer, one with four wheels and a small trunk. One that will need regular software upgrades, just like every other digital device we have. And one that probably has malware and hacking instructions floating around the web somewhere.

But this is just a stepping stone to that all-electric, self-driving vehicle that is more computer than car. Maybe in another eight years?