Monday, January 26, 2015

Book: Michael Harris' "The End Of Absence"

For the fourth book of the year I chose Michael Harris' "The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection".

Harris approaches the topic of the Internet and its constant connection as a member of the generation that still remembers what it was like to be Internet-free.  I am of the same generation though a bit older than the author.  The absence he speaks of is the lack of communication, the time away from other people and news, the solitary time we once had.

The book is a bit schizophrenic.  On one hand Harris complains that we no longer have that quiet, contemplative time anymore.  The always on communication of email, texting, and social media always beckons us out of our revelry.  On the other hand he doesn't seem to know how to turn his phone off - claiming that one day he counted himself doing fifty-two email checks.  This doesn't sound like a problem with the Internet and more like a problem of self-control.

He points out how using the Internet rewires the brain.  He talks about the limitations of multitasking and the shortening of attention spans.  All of these things are legitimate concerns but I wonder if they are generational.  Is the rewiring of the brains of the younger generation making them more adept at multitasking?  I think it is too soon to come to a conclusion.

There is a chapter about online dating sites.  He wonders about the benefit of algorithms taking teh work out of choosing a partner.  Then we found out that he met his partner on such an online dating site.  Harris can't seem to make up his mind if he likes it or not.

Most of the book felt like the typical older generation fretting about those young "whipper snappers".  The generation that straddles the big changes are often the ones that have the hardest time adapting.

I gave this book three stars on goodreads though, like the last book I read, I wish I could have given it three and a half.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Witnessing The March Of Technology

My first laser printer - the HP LaserJet IIP *
I remember in the early 1990s going to a business computer store and purchasing my first laser printer.  It was an HP LaserJet IIP.  By today's standards is wasn't anything special but in 1990 it was incredible.  It replaced an old dot matrix printer I'd had since the early 1980s.  It only printed in black and white but it was such an improvement over the dot matrix printer.  I don't remember the exact price but I think it was over $900 before taxes.

Earlier this week I was walking through Sam's Club looking at the printers.  All priced under $300.  All printing in color, as well as scanning and copying,  One was less than $100.  Things had changed a lot since that first LaserJet of mine.  Then I came to the end of the aisle ...

There, sitting on the end of the aisle, was a Makerbot 3D printer.  I've known about 3D printing for quite a while but I didn't realize you could buy one at Sam's Club.  It was price at $1,299.  Not much more than what I paid for my first LaserJet IIP '2D' printer.  Seeing it there on the shelf really drove home just how things are changing and progressing.  What a wonderful technological future awaits us.

P.S. TGAW, a blogger I follow, has played around with 3D printing including winning the White House 3D Printed Ornament Design Challenge last month.  You should pay her blog a visit and read about her 3D printing projects.

* Photo is a derivative of a photo uploaded to Photobucket (Majorbloodknock)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Book: William Gibson's "The Peripheral"

I had high expectations for my latest read.  I follow William Gibson on Twitter and I find his comments interesting.  The last few months his twitter feed has been dominated by his latest book "The Peripheral".  The reviews were so glowing that I decided to read it.

I've known about William Gibson for awhile but I have never read any of his writing.  I'm not really sure why as his books fit in the science fiction/technology/cybernetics  genre that I am often attracted to.  "The Peripheral" also fits in this genre.  That is why I am surprised to say that my reaction to this book was ... meh.

Don't get me wrong, the book is not bad.  It just feels a bit ordinary.  It did have some original ideas which did peak my interest but in the end I expected more.

The thing that bothered me the most, I suppose, are the loose ends.  Some critical concepts are introduced as mysteries in the book but the mysteries are never solved - namely the truth about "the server" and how a second group had managed to enter the stub.  In some books mysteries like these would presage the coming of a sequel.  In "The Peripheral" is just felt like incomplete storytelling.

On Goodreads I gave the book three stars.  I almost considered giving it four but the holes in the story bothered me.  I wish I could have given it three and a half.  That would have felt more appropriate.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Today Is Penguin Awareness Day!!!

Penguins chillin' on the Ballestas Islands off the coast of Peru.
If you happen to see a penguin ... be aware of it!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Music: Fleetwood Mac At The Pinnacle Bank Arena ... Cut Short

Saturday we had an awesome evening planned.  It didn't quite work out as we'd hoped but it was still pretty awesome.

The night started with us going to Lincoln to the haymarket area to have dinner.  We wanted to eat at Lazlo's but the two hour wait turned us away.  We ended up around the corner at Brewsky's instead where we only had to wait an hour for our food to arrive.

After dinner we walked the couple blocks to the Pinnacle Bank Arena to enjoy the expected two to three hour concert.  We bought some snacks and drinks and found our seats.  They were good seats with clear views of the stage.  The people around us were hardcore, pre-lubricated, Fleetwood Mac fans and were ready for the show.  While the Wife and I usually come close to winning the oldest in the room awards at the concerts we go to, for this one we would be closer to the youngest in the room.  The sold out arena was a sea of grey hair.

The show started about fifteen or twenty minutes late and I was surprised to see there was no warm up band.  Fleetwood Mac took to the stage and started what was going to be twenty-four song play list.  Despite the members pushing the upper sixties (Christine McVie is seventy-one) they all sounded great.  This was the first time in a long time that the band was complete.  In prior shows Christine McVie did not participate.  During the concert nearly every member took their turn thanking McVie - her butt was thoroughly kissed.

After playing some awesome songs most of the band went backstage leaving Lindsey Buckingham to do a few solos as well as a few duets with Stevie Nicks.  The band came back out and gathered in a huddle.  These seemed a bit strange since concerts are planned out before hand and there really isn't a need for this kind of onstage pow-wow.  Stevie turned to the crowd and we learned the bad news.  Mick Fleetwood was sick.  He was back stage throwing up.  For the first time in forty years they would not be able to complete the show.

They ended up doing two more songs.  Their drum technician (Steve!) sat in for Mick for a rendition of  "Go Your Own Way".  He was so good we all hoped they could finish the show with him subbing but it was not to be.  The show ended with Christine McVie singing "Songbird" with help of Lindsey Buckingham.

The show was cut short by about eight songs and about an hour.  It was cut short but it didn't fail to please.  Stevie Nicks promised they would be back so we could see a complete show but ... I'll believe it when I get the email saying we have tickets. We still got ninety minutes of awesome memories and music.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

I'm Getting Organized So I Must Be Getting Better

In the past when I've felt a lack of motivation, when I was suffering from writer's block, or when I was struggling my way through a period of the blahs, I've usually fought my way out by organizing a part of my life.  It may be setting up a to-do list on an app to help form a chore routine, it may be gathering and organizing ideas for posts, or it may be the simple act of folding my pajamas every morning instead of leaving them in a pile on the end of the bed - it doesn't always take much.  Over the last month or so I have felt myself climbing my way out of my latest funk.
A happy mop after a job well done.
It started awhile back with loading the dishwasher sooner.  I used to let dirty dishes accumulate in the sink.  Now I try to get everything in the dishwasher as soon as possible.  As I said ... it doesn't take much.  In general I streamlined most of my chores and am turning a few into habits.

Next I organized my digital life.  I started organizing my email slightly different using Google's new Inbox app.  It has helped me maintain my non-chore to-do  list by allowing me to set up timed reminders from the Inbox when an email comes in that needs an action from me.  I also became more diligent at updating Google Calendar.  I now use six calendars, each with a different function and color.  For example I have one for medical appointments.  Another for The Wife's school functions that affect me.  Another shows vacation plans.  It may sound complicated but the pretty colors make things easy to follow for me.

The past few weeks I have cleaned the basement and organized the furnace room and the laundry/storage/workshop room (a room we call the Tornado room).

All of these things are slowly pulling me out of my funk.  I like organization.  It comforts me.  The fact that it's above freezing and sunny outside ... that helps too.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Book: Christian Rudder's "Dataclysm"


The second book of the year was Christian Rudder's "Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One's Looking)".  This book looks at what we can find out about society and ourselves from the data we share on social media.

The books generally looks at what men and women want from the opposite sex, how we see racism, and how the sexes differ in what is important.  The author is a co-founder of OKCupid, the dating site, which explains, what I saw as, an over emphasis on the Man-Woman dynamic.

The material discussed, and the author's enthusiasm for the potential benefits of studying social media data, is interesting.  I wish the author had broadened the scope, away from the dating-centric examples but, since the data is coming from social media and dating sites, I suppose this was the most common data available for him to collect and interpret.

The book does provide a good idea of what is possible.  Social media data allows social scientists to, for the first time, stop relying on biased questionnaires and polls and actually observe how we interact as a society and as individuals.  As more and more people join social media and as more and more data is collected over time, we will eventually have a much clearer and honest understanding of how we interact and respond to the world around us.

The author does mention the downside of the data being used as marketing tools to get us sheep to buy more useless stuff but, in his enthusiasm to promote the study of the data, he under-emphasizes this dark underbelly of Big Data.

On Goodreads I gave this book four stars though I wish it could have been longer with a broader scope.

A Note On Checking Books Out Of The Library:  I ended up reading this book in three days.  The reason I read it so fast was another book that I had on hold, which I expected to become available in a week or two, became available the day after I started this one.  I had seventy-two hours to check out the other book before I would loose it to the next person in line waiting for it.  I wish you were given an estimate for when it could become available.  Fortunately "Dataclysm" was a relatively short read and I finished it in plenty of time.