December 29, 2010


I always think about David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest when I stream some audio or video or, more recently, download a public domain book. In one of those conversations in the book that feels like a musical canon or fugue--multiple speakers in conversation yet each part sounds oddly independent--Orin Incandenza rhapsodizes on how he misses discursive mass media in their current world of everything on demand. Beginning on page 599, speaking with a supposed survey-taker:

'I miss TV,' Orin said, looking back down. He no longer smiled coolly.

'The former television of commercial broadcast.'

'I do.'

'Reason in several words or less, please, for the box after REASON,' displaying the board.

'Oh, man.' Orin looked back up and away at what seemed to be nothing, feeling at his jaw around the retromandiibular's much tinier and more vulnerable throb. 'Some of this may sounmd stupid. I miss commercials that were louder than the programs. I miss the phrases "Order before midnight tonight" and "Save up to fifty percent and more." I miss being told things were filmed before a live studio audience. I miss late-night anthems and shots of flags and fighter jets and leathery-faced Indian chiefs crying at litter. I miss "Sermonette" and "Evensong" and test patterns and being told how many megahertz something's transmitter was broadcasting at.' He felt his face. 'I miss sneering at something I loved. How we used to love to gather in the checker-tiled kitchen in front of the old boxy cathode-ray Sony whose reception was sensitive to airplanes and sneer at the commercial vapidity of broadcast stuff.'

... 'I miss summer reruns. I miss reruns hastily inserted to fill the intervals of writers' strikes, Actors' Guild strikes. I miss Jeannie, Samantha, Sam and Diane, Gilligan, Hawkeye, Hazel, Jed, all the syndicated airwave-haunters. You know? I miss seeing the same things over and over again.'

Patton Oswalt touches on this in a Wired editorial titled "Wake Up, Geek Culture. Time to Die" [ via Slashfilm ]. His main premise is that easily accessible culture has changed the fan from someone who scours book stores or record stores or rarity catalogs over years, to someone who downloads the equivalent in an afternoon. Appreciation without effort alters the relationship.

The problem with the Internet, however, is that it lets anyone become otaku about anything instantly. In the '80s, you couldn't get up to speed on an entire genre in a weekend. You had to wait, month to month, for the issues of Watchmen to come out. We couldn't BitTorrent the latest John Woo film or digitally download an entire decade's worth of grunge or hip hop.

I'm sympathetic with the impulse behind his thesis (before it goes very far afield around halfway through), but not necessarily with the pejorative conclusion. I was driving home yesterday with my Android on the dash showing me POV traffic via Google Maps and listening to streaming Radio Swiss Classic (a Joseph Haydn Symphony, I see, by looking up that timeslot on the internet). Fifteen years or so prior, I had a Newton that I'd only dreamed would have access to such "cyberspace" niceties, and my dreams were probably much paler than the wealth we ended up with. I worry some about the decadence of immediacy, but not yesterday. Yesterday, the immediacy and the realization that it doesn't even register to teenagers made me more interested in what the next wealth will be. We sorta saw this coming (remember that commercial from 10 or so years ago with the guy checking in to the dusty roadside motel and the attendant offering him any movie or recording he wanted for entertainment?) so we can probably see the next wealth coming.

posted by sstrader at 2:06 PM in Internet | tagged android, david foster wallace, newton | permalink

Net neutrality

Some notes I had taken a week back:

Compromise On Net Neutrality from WNYC with Tim Wu commenting, at around the 6:30 mark:

I was in the FCC and I said why don't we just extend [Net Neutrality rules] to wireless, and they said "that's great, but AT&T will never agree to that. And I said "AT&T doesn't have a vote on this commission." They said "yeah, but they got 60 Congressmen. They can make our life miserable."

Al Franken has been a long-time supporter. The video from his petition to save net neutrality:

In it, he asks: How long do you think it will take for these [media] monoliths to buy enough elections so that they effectively have veto power over anything Congress tries to do to regulate them. Succinct.

Recently, I had serendipitously read Richard Stallman's essay in The Guardian titled The Anonymous WikiLeaks protests are a mass demo against control.

In the physical world, we have the right to print and sell books. Anyone trying to stop us would need to go to court. ... However, to set up a website we need the co-operation of a domain name company, an ISP, and often a hosting company, any of which can be pressured to cut us off.

We need more extremists like him.

Ars Technica reviewed recent books on the subject, one by Tim Wu, in their article Four takes on why net neutrality matters. The reviewer gets to the heart of the heart of the matter:

The deeper problem is that the First Amendment is empirically blind. It is oblivious to speech and information bottlenecks. It is not in fact a "free speech" guarantee, but a limitation on government. The Supreme Court focuses more on the "no law" than the "freedom of speech" parts of "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech." [emphasis mine] While "no law's" concern about state censorship is certainly well-taken, it is only half the story. It hobbles any government attempt to act against private censorship. (Indeed, corporations have discovered the First Amendment as a useful argument against many types of government regulation, from consumer disclosures to campaign finance.) In an ironic turn of events, the First Amendment is used against speech.

Finally, and related, we have David Frost interviewing Julian Assange on Al Jazeera via Reddit:

I'll repeat: David Frost has a show on Al Jazeera.

posted by sstrader at 2:01 PM in Internet | tagged net neutrality, wikileaks | permalink

December 4, 2010

December 3, 2010

Wikileaks and the cables


+1 for the phrase banging the absolute hell out of.

Gizmodo first reports that the Swedish charges against Assange (because, you know, they're relevant to whether the content of the leaked documents adds insight to the action of the US govt) were not rape, then update them to reflect updated charges. Basically--and this is a delicate area--Assange had consensual protected sex, they slept, then woke up and had either consensual or unconsensual sex without a condom. It takes Gizmodo to report this? Really?!

Julian Assange answers your questions over at Guardian earlier today at ~13:00 UTC. Site was down for the duration of the Q&A, but they eventually get published. Worth reading for the alternate humility and slight arrogance. A pity he sided-stepped a diplomat's question--pissy as it was. Regarding getting bumped from AWS:

Since 2007 we have been deliberately placing some of our servers in jurisdictions that we suspected suffered a free speech deficit inorder to separate rhetoric from reality. Amazon was one of these cases.

Wishing I would have better documented the reasons why these cables are neither boring nor filled with justifications to kill Assange (make up your minds, US politicians; either they're deadly or they're mundane):

H. Clinton made a lame non-apology to Sec.-Gen. of the UN Ban Ki-moon for spying on him.

Death threats and blood lust:

  • Tom Flanagan, a [former] senior adviser to Canadian Prime Minister I think Assange should be assassinated, actually. I think Obama should put out a contract and maybe use a drone or something.
  • Palin Why was he not pursued with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders? and asked whether it was a treasonous act.
  • Huckabee Whoever in our government leaked that information is guilty of treason, and I think anything less than execution is too kind a penalty.

ReadWriteWeb points to an NY Law School post elaborating on the legality of Wikileaks' actions. Redirects (I won't get into the fact that their servers were never gone):

  • - actually a list of mirrors

The information is out there. You haven't stopped anything.

[ updated 9 Dec 2010 ]

Not wanting to get too deeply into the charges, but a Slashdot comment references a blog post pointing to some suspicious social networking comments by one of the accusers. I hadn't seen this anywhere else, so it seems worth linking.

posted by sstrader at 11:26 PM in Internet | tagged wikileaks | permalink

Thoughts on my new Kindle

I hated the first gen Kindle for its ugliness (first) and its (personal) uselessness. I'm a collector w/r/t art artifacts. Books. Albums. Videos. Books mostly, so having a book-less medium was anathema. Now, with the trip to Thailand in January, I simply cannot carry the volume of books it will take to make a ~20 hour one-way flight bearable. With the niceification of the Kindle design v3 and the more pressing need, I purchased a Kindle. I still plan on purchasing physical books for each bit book.

First things first, and these first things occurred prior to receiving my Kindle: Project Gutenberg is my hero. Years ago I'd donated money to them on principle.They deserve so much more for what they've been doing for 40 years! A few years back (prolly longer but can't find a ref) I got the itch to read the classics that I'd not read growing up or in college. Years ago I went through a Sherlock Holmes period; I'd picked up at the airport and read with fascination Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird; in college I went through a notable Dostoevsky period, reading most of his works. There're always classics you haven't read, and I'm glad that I can read Voltaire and Oscar Wilde and Jane Austin comfortably and conveniently since they're on PG. This is the impetus of Wikipedia and Project Gutenberg.

Calibre is an absolute must-have, software-wise. Where is the competition? (Maybe FOSS as a system produces one primary solution until demand increases.) Complaints on Kindle/Calibre: still not sure how to use Calibre to group a series and have it grouped on the Kindle in series order. Somewhat minor. Also: no way to find what you're currently reading and/or group by what you've read.

Fourth paragraph that is shorter than the previous. Screen is beautiful and readable.Case is solid and feels good. $140.

posted by sstrader at 1:33 PM in Home Network & Gadgets | tagged catcher in the rye, sherlock holmes, thailand | permalink