- Take a look at Visuino, which is a visual development environment for the Arduino embedded processor family. This is a beautiful thing, and makes me wish I still ran a certain magazine.
- And there’s a new default OS for the Raspberry Pi 2 and 3. (Don’t try it on the earlier boards, nor the Pi Zero.) Looks good from here, and my RPi 3 will get the treatment as time allows.
- 75 years ago, there was a butt-kicking geomagnetic storm. Not exactly Carrington, but it makes me wonder how our infinitely more electronic culture would respond to such a storm today.
- Chemporn: How sodium and other twitchy elements burn.
- As of today, there are no Obamacare individual policies available in Maricopa County, Arizona. None. Granted, open enrollment does not begin until November 1, but we qualify to purchase because we’re moving interstate. Arizona officials are still reviewing a proposal from Centene to offer an HMO here, and if approved, it would be the only plan available in this county. This is not a robust healthcare marketplace. This is a law that has already imploded.
- More evidence? Here’s the firehose.
- Implosions, anybody? Great rant about the ongoing imposion of the media elite.
- Low testosterone appears to predispose men to dementia. It’s unclear (and no longer automatically asserted) that high testosterone predisposes men to prostate cancer. (Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link.)
- There is a very nice online PDF calendar generator that will create a calendar in PDF format for any string of months you might want. (The site has much else worth exploring related to calendrics.) You can add in holidays, solstices/equinoxes, phases of the moon, and so on. This pretty much makes my 1999 copy of Calendar Creator…useless. (Thanks to reader Spook for the link.)
- How The Atlantic explains Donald Trump: The media takes him literally but not seriously, and his fans take him seriously but not literally. This may in fact explain a great deal.
- Lee “ArtRaccoon” Madison has posted a new page on Cafe Press with all kinds of Sad Puppies 4 swag, featuring Isaac, Ray, Frank, and robot puppy Robert. Shown above is the 15 oz. coffee mug. Mugs also come in 12 and 20 oz. sizes.
- If you’re not familiar with Sad Puppies 4, here’s the main site.
- And if you missed my summary of the Sad Puppies phenomenon last year, take a look. It’s part of an ongoing series that began here.
- Rick Hellewell informed me that the $15 Pine64 single-board computer is shipping and getting some attention. It sports a 1.2 Ghz quad-core ARM A53 as part of the Allwinner A64 SoC, plus a 500 MHz Mali-400 GPU that can do 4K video. The $15 version has 512MB of RAM; the $19 version has 1 GB, and the $29 version has 2 GB RAM. The $15 version is shipping (though, as I expected, it’s out of stock) and the two more powerful boards should be shipping by May.
- Indie authors take note: Amazon has begun pulling Kindle ebooks that have the TOC at the end of the book, and demanding that it be placed up front. Authors have been putting the TOC in the back recently so that there is more “real” content in the 10% preview, but, alas, scammers are also putting TOCs in the back to game KU by encouraging readers to immediately click to the end of the book to see what’s in it. Walter Jon Williams got stung, as I assume were many others.
- Some T-shirt firm on Amazon has begun selling T-shirts with my most famous quote on it: “A good tool improves the way you work. A great tool improves the way you think.” Alas, they didn’t cite me by name, and the underscore between the two sentences suggests it’s some sort of data-driven product bot.
- I’ve always been in the “rare Earth” camp, and intuit that Earthlike planets are rare. (There’s a book about this.) I’m not sure I ever imagined them as quite this rare, though.
- Not all cheap ham radio transceivers come from Baofeng. (See my entry for February 14, 2015.) I stumbled on a dual-band $69 mobile rig from Leixen that has promise, and can be programmed with CHIRP. What I’d really like (but don’t seriously expect to find) is a small, cheap rig that includes 50-54 MHz.
- How far back could you travel in time and still understand English? I would do better on Middle English than most, but on Old English I would be almost completely hopeless.
- You can have the ugliest house in America (practice your un-seeing exercises, folks!) for the trifling price of $850,000. Carol and I would set it up as a sort of culturally or decoratively haunted B&B, and make a fortune from people daring one another to spend a night in it.
- This is by no means news, but I’m amazed how many people are unaware of my favorite broadband speed tester. Make sure you test it using a browser with only one tab open, and ideally shut down any other machines on the same broadband line.
- A portion of the cheese you put in your omelette may be wood pulp, which is used as an anticaking agent in packaged shredded cheese. I started reading labels closely, and discovered a house brand of shredded Parmesan at the local Kroger chain, Fry’s, that doesn’t contain wood pulp. It does, however, contain calcium sulfate. Is that a win? I’m sure I don’t know. After all, sodium ferrocyanide is used as an anticaking agent, as is a lot of other scary sounding stuff.
A few days ago, a countdown timer appeared on Carol’s Win7 PC when she booted up. It told her that Windows 10 would be installed in two hours.
I turned off the machine and started digging around online. A lot of people have this problem, apparently. All of us who aren’t already running Win10, of course, have been nagged mercilessly about upgrading since last summer. I don’t care if it’s free. I don’t want it now. If I want it later I’ll pay for it. But just so you know, I don’t plan to leave Win7 land before 2020. I dislike the nags, but nags are just nags. This time MS told me they were going to give me something I didn’t want and hadn’t asked for.
So. I quickly learned that the upgrade software is contained in a Windows update module called KB3035583. I turned Carol’s machine on and as soon as I could I uninstalled KB3035583. That ended the spy-movie countdown timer. Alas, the next morning the damned thing was back. The countdown timer now said Thursday, (it was Tuesday morning) which was some comfort. I still had some time to work.
I hid KB3035583. The next morning, someone (guess!) had un-hid it. Ok. This means war. I dug around a lot deeper, and found an enormous amount of cussing and bitching and suggested fixes. I tried a couple of things with mixed success. Then I stumbled upon the GWX Control Panel, by Josh Mayfield of the Ultimate Outsider site. Josh initially released it late last summer, and has been updating it periodically ever since. Josh’s instructions are pretty good, but for something a little clearer, take a look at Mauro Huculak’s article on Windows Central. He did a good job, which I know because I followed his instructions when installing GWX Control Panel on my lab machine. I had no issues, and understanding that MS was about to start messing with my wife’s PC, I installed it on her machine as well.
Like Philip Phillips says, Gone Gone Gone. We’ve not even seen the nag window since Thursday, much less the countdown timer. I quickly added GWX Control Panel to all of our other Win7 machines. Worked every time.
Now, why did Carol’s machine say it was about to install Win10, while our several others just kept nagging? We don’t know how, but Carol’s PC thought that somebody had reserved a copy of Win10. The download manager in KB3035583 had already downloaded well over a gigabyte of stuff, which I assume was all the install machinery and the OS itself. Carol doesn’t remember clicking on anything, nor do I. It’s possible that one or us selected something by mistake. MS seems to be increasingly desperate to get as many people as possible to upgrade, and its popups offer no clean way out.
Ironically, I vaguely remember reserving a copy from my lab machine way back when this business first came up. The lab machine did not have the install files and was not giving me a countdown timer. My only theory is that Carol’s PC may now be using the local IP address that my lab machine was using way back when I (may have) reserved a copy, even though that was in Colorado. It’s kind of crazy, but I have no better ideas.
I don’t have anything strong against Windows 10. I know a lot of people who like it just fine. I will probably use it eventually–once it has several years of history behind it. However, as most of you know, I do not like to be pushed. That’s the heart and soul of being a contrarian. The harder you push me, the more likely I am to go in the opposite direction.
All the usual cautions apply to GWX Control Panel. Do a full backup and a restore point before you install it, just as you would with any new software. Follow the directions closely, and do your best to understand what you’re doing. We’ve had no adverse issues with it, granted that I installed it yesterday. If anything changes tomorrow morning, well, you’ll read about it here.
- Lazarus 1.6 has been released. It was built with FreePascal 3.0.0, a first for Lazarus. Mostly incremental changes, but there’s a new rev of the docked form editor that looks promising, even though it’s not quite stable yet. Wish I had more time to play with it!
- Older versions of Lazarus have run well on the Raspberry Pi for me. However, installation on the newer Raspberry Pi 2 is much trickier. This installation tutorial is almost a year old, and I haven’t yet installed Lazarus 1.4 or 1.6 on my Pi 2, but it’s the best how-to I’ve yet seen.
- From Glenn Reynolds: Indie author Chris Nuttall lays out his journey as an indie, emphasizing that all but the biggest names are being driven to indie by publishers who simply don’t understand which way the wind is blowing. Read The Whole Thing, as Glenn says.
- Back when I reviewed the Baofeng handhelds, there was some discussion in the comments about the RDA-1846S SDR chip. Gary Frerking pointed me to the HamShield project on Kickstarter, which is an Arduino add-on board (a shield, in their jargon) that uses the RDA-1846S to transceive on 2M, 220 MHz, and 450 MHz. Like the Baofeng radios, HamShield will also operate on FRS, MURS, and GMRS, though the group doesn’t say that explicitly. (This is an SDR, after all.) It’s not shipping yet, but they’ve raised a fair amount of money (well over $100,000) and appear to be making progress. Definitely one to watch.
- Cool radio stuff is in the wind these days. One of Esther Schindler’s Facebook posts led me to Beartooth, which is an SDR roughly similar to HamShield built into a smartphone battery case that snaps onto the back of your phone. Unlike HamShield, beartooth is going for FCC type acceptance and will operate on MURS. However, there’s been no activity on their Web site since mid-December and I wonder if they’re still in business. It’s not an easy hack; see this discussion from midlate 2014.
- Oh, and I remembered GoTenna, which is similar to Beartooth except that it’s limited to texts and geolocation data. (That is, no voice.) It’s a Bluetooth-powered stick that hangs on your belt and uses your smartphone as a UI, basically, and allows you to text your hiking buddies while you’re out beyond the range of cell networks. I guess that makes it a sort of HT…a Hikey-Textie. Unlike HamShield and Beartooth, GoTenna is shipping and you can get two for $300.
- Twitter continues to kill itself slowly by shadowbanning users for political reasons. What the hell is in it for them? When they collapse, something else will appear to take their place. They’re a tool. (Take it any or every way you want.) When a tool breaks, I get another tool, and generally a better one.
- In case you’ve never heard of shadowbanning…
- I stumbled on something called Roblox, which is evidently a high(er) res take on the Minecraft concept. It’s looking more and more like what I was thinking about when I wrote my “RAD Mars” piece for the last issue of Visual Developer Magazine in late 1999. Anybody here use it? Any reactions?
- Slowly but steadily, reviews are coming in on my Kindle ebooks. Here’s one that I particularly liked.
- The Obamacare exchange in Colorado “smelled wrong,” so Carol and I avoided it. We were right. (Thanks to Sarah Hoyt for the link.)
- I don’t care how many tablets and smartphones you have. Paper is not dead.
- Google is banning Flash-based advertising. About damned time. Flash is and has always been a malware farm. Die, monster, die!
- Flash is the biggest risk but not the only one in terms on online ads. AdBlock Plus is very good, but makes its money by selling whitelist positions to advertisers like Taboola. Here’s how to turn off the whitelist.
- Although he doesn’t say much about it in the article itself, I see this research about the hypothalamic attack region as justification for considering tribalism born and not learned behavior. (Thanks to Tom Roderick for the link.)
- The BMI is a lie, and a deadly one. A measurement that cannot distinguish between fat and lean muscle is a lie now, has always been a lie, and will never be anything other than a lie. Furthermore, it’s been a lie for 185 years. You’d think medical science would have figured it out by now.
- Solar Cycle 24 is the weakest in 200 years. Bummer. First time I can have a reasonable HF antenna in 13 years, and it may not matter. But at least I’m now living in a warm climate.
- Nonetheless, the Sun seems remarkably active in this video showing an entire year of solar activity at 12 seconds per frame.
- What if NASA designed space travel posters? Well, um, they did. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
- Engadget reviews the second-gen Compute Stick 2016, which is a Windows 10 computer the size of a fat thumb drive that plugs into your TV’s HDMI port. HDMI doesn’t supply power (yet, but MHL is coming) so you still need a wall wart. However, it’s now got 2 USB ports so you can plug both keyboard and mouse into it without a hub. (Many keyboards now have USB hubs, so if you want you can put both on a single port just using the keyboard hub.) Even thought it’s as small as it is, it still has a fan. Wow.
- How they build a tunnel with giant concrete Legos and a truck with casters where a hedgehog has spines.
- The Senate has made the ban on Internet access taxes permanent. Note that this has nothing to do with sales taxes on Internet purchases, but is about taxing Internet access itself. The law, originally passed in 1998, had to be renewed annually. If the House passes it and the President signs it, the law will no longer need to be renewed every year.
- People ask me sometimes why I consider Woodrow Wilson by far the worst US President in history. Here’s only one reason. There are many more. Here’s another. He came as close to being the first American dictator as we’ve ever come. (Thanks to Esther Schindler for the first link.)
- Neanderthal genes may be a mixed bag. Well, sweetheart, what isn’t?
- It’s Back to the Future Day, and apart from antigravity, well, Marty McFly’s 2015 looks more or less like the one we live in, only with better food and inifinitely worse partisan tribalism. If predicting 19 Jaws sequels is the second-worst worst flub the series made, well, I’m good with that.
- October 21 is also the day that the Northrop YB-49 flying wing bomber made its debut flight, in 1947. (Thanks to Charlie Martin for the reminder.) The YB-49 is my second-favorite undeployed bomber prototype, after the stunning XB-70 Valkyrie.
- Here’s a (very) long and detailed essay by a liberal Democrat explaining why he went from being a climate alarmist to a global warming skeptic. Loads of charts and links. I don’t agree with him 100%, but he makes a very sane and mostly politics-free case for caution in pushing “decarbonization.” (Thanks to Charlie Martin for the link.)
- Far from melting, Greenland is breaking all records for ice growth, having gained 150 billion tons of snow and ice in the last six weeks.
- Here are 18 useful resources for journalistic fact-checking. Pity that MSM journalists are unwilling to do that sort of thing anymore. (Thanks to Esther Schindler for the link.)
- The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has ruled that scanning books is legal. The court ruled against the Authors Guild in their 2005 class-action suit against Google. The Guild intends to appeal to the Supreme Court. If the Supremes take the case, interesting things could happen. If they don’t, the case is over.
- The secret history of the Myers-Briggs personality test. I am of three minds about Myers-Briggs. No make that nine. Oh, hell: seventeen.
- This is probably the best discussion I’ve seen (and certainly the longest) on how and why SFF fandom is actively destroying itself at the same time it’s dying of old age. Read The Whole Thing. Part I. Part II. Part III. (And thanks to Sarah Hoyt for the link.)
- Also from Sarah: Backyard atomic gardens of the 1950s and very early 1960s. I love the word “atomic.”
- I love it so much that, having recently bought a midcentury home, I may subscribe to Atomic Ranch Magazine. I’ve begun looking for a Bohr atom model to put on our mantelpiece.
- From the Elementary Trivia Department: The only way to make pink-tinted glass is to add erbium oxide to it.
- Thunderbird is getting on my bad side. It regularly pops up a box claiming that it doesn’t have enough disk space to download new messages. My SSD on C: has 83 GB free. My conventional hard drive on D: has 536 GB free. Online reports suggest that Thurderbird has a 2 GB size limit on mail folders. Still researching the issue, but I smell a long integer overflow somewhere.
- From Rory Modena: A talented writer explains the history of the Star Wars movies, and rewrites some of the clumsier plot elements right before our eyes. A lot of what bothered him blew right past me; I knew it was a pulp film and was in it for the starships and the robots.
- From Esther Schindler: A Mexican church long sunk at the bottom of a reservoir is emerging from the water due to drought. (This isn’t a rare occurrance; it happened last in 2002.) I kept hearing Debussy’s spooky tone-poem “The Engulfed Cathedral” while reading the article.
- McDonald’s recently went to a breakfast-all-day menu, to my delight. I’m very fond of their Sausage McMuffin with Egg, which is of modest size and makes a great snack anytime. Alas, adding all the new line items to the menu has caused chaos in some smaller restaurants, and franchise owners are having second thoughts. I doubt McD is facing “imminent collapse” but I’m now wondering how long the new menu will last.
- This may explain a certain amount of the drama coming out of the anti-Puppies camp…or, for that matter, a great deal of modern politics: Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD). (Thanks to Adam Baldwin for the link.)
- OMG! Global warming may mean stronger weed! (That makes it all better, right?) Colorado’s on it.
- BitTorrent recently released Bleep, a private encrypted P2P messaging system. Of special note is “whisper mode,” in which a message sent vanishes from both devices 25 seconds after it arrives. Whisper mode also blurs out the display so the message can’t be screencapped. It’s available for iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac.
- Ok. This is weird: KFC in Germany developed a tray liner…that was a disposable Bluetooth keyboard. Pair it with your phone, and you can type with the same greasy fingers you’re scarfing chicken with. It was a test, and only available for a single week. Most of the tray liners, furthermore, went home with customers.
- Where’s my flying car? Well, there was once a flying Pinto. (For a little while. Until the wings came off.) I’m still not sure that counts as a flying car. (Thanks to Bill Higgins for the link.)
- Fred Richardson messaged me to say that he had built a Shive torsional wave machine, just like the one that starred in the Carl & Jerry story, “The Bell Bull Sessions.” It’s now for sale on eBay.
- I’m interested in what SFF authors have bichons. I’m one, Jim Butcher is another. Are there more? I’m also interested in bichons that appear in SFF stories. Toby from Varley’s The Golden Globe is the best-known. A bichon also appears in The Last Policeman trilogy, and, of course, my own Mr. Byte appeared in David Gerrold”s excellent “The Martian Child.” Any others?
- I recently learned of Dabble, which is basically Uber for teaching one-off courses. Would I make any money teaching Pascal/Lazarus programming? I could also try teaching SF writing, except that I’m not always sure how I do it myself.
- The Raspberry Pi Model A+ is the beating heart of the do-it-yourself PiGRRL GameBoy-like retro game console. A good video for a chance, though not a step-by-step. I love that little bitty display. (Thanks to Eben Upton for the link.)
- The opah has recently been identified as the only known fish with whole-body endothermy; that is, it’s warm-blooded.
- The National Park Service has posted a number of recordings of the Edison Talking Doll, which was a great deal like Chatty Kathy (and similarly electronics-free) except it was sold in 1890. People have commented that the dolls sound creepy or possessed. To me they sound like the women who made the recordings were shouting at the tops of their lungs to provide enough energy to move the recording needles on the wax cylinders. Listen to the recordings again and see what you think.
- I’m less sure of this than the author, but it’s something to think about: Apple may not always rule; look at IBM.
- Researchers who were testing Android apps to see what-all they connected to (generally without notifying their users) found that dopey little apps of no special character were connecting to thousands of tracking sites. Then they did the obvious, and created an app that watches the other apps and logs what connections they make.
- The EM Drive makes my head hurt, though in a good way. NASA Spaceflight’s article on the gizmo doesn’t exactly make its mode of operation clear, but the fact that NASA is even testing it is reason to stand up and cheer. Somewhere in my notes is an old concept (predating The Cunning Blood by a decade, in fact) that posits an antigravity device built out of the parts in old microwave ovens and harvests energy from the quantum vacuum. It would be so vindicating if this thing works out! (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
- The Atlantic takes on lifestyle panic. Don’t miss this one. (I may have been ahead of the curve when I talked about it in 2010.)
- The Sun just ain’t wakin’ up nohow. Barely a year after Cycle 24’s sunspot maximum, whatever sunspots exist are barely discernable. Last year we had the weakest peak since 1906, and the cycle as a whole may eventually become the weakest in recorded history.
- Don’t relax too much: The Carrington Event occurred during a weak solar cycle.
- Recruiters looking to discriminate against older people are now asking for “digital natives.” Lawsuits are beginning. The real problem: It’s legal to charge employers more for group health policies when their staff skews older. Outlaw age underwriting entirely, and that problem will mostly go away.
- Will TV just die already? Cable subscribers drop below Internet subscribers at Comcast. Anything you can watch on TV, you can watch on the Internet. TV is now a redundant nuisance.
- As an Army radio operator stationed in Italy, my father watched the March, 1944 eruption of Vesuvius, and called it the scariest thing he ever saw. That was 71 years ago. If (nay, when) it erupts again, we’re going to have a lot of very serious problems.
- Everybody’s aggregating this, but it sounds bogus to me: The more coffee you drink, the longer you’ll live. (Some people I know should therefore live forever.) I’ll stick with my theory: You can do worse than your genes, but you can’t do better.
- And might I also suggest, for those who attempt immortality the Folgers way, to recall the dangers of invoking the invisible, jet-packed Mr. Coffee Nerves.
- How long would one of Tesla’s new Powerwall home-power batteries keep your house running? Wired does the math.
- If you want to read Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter saga, start at the beginning. The books make much more sense if you read them in order. Baen offers the first three as an ebook bundle.
Several weeks ago, Carol and I got stuck in traffic on I-25 on the south end of Denver. We were trying to get home to Colorado Springs, and traffic was at a standstill. We didn’t know where the problem was, nor how to get around it. So we took most of an hour to get a couple of miles. The next day I tracked down a fuzzy memory of a mobile app that maps traffic congestion using crowdsourced reports from app users. It only took a minute to find Waze. I installed it on my phone, and Carol and I have been playing with it ever since.
We don’t punch a clock anymore and have no commute, but whenever we have to go across town (which for Colorado Springs is about fifteen miles tops) we fire up Waze and look at the prospective route. It’s definitely saved us some stop-and-go time, especially on I-25, which is the only freeway we have here.
Waze is basically an interactive map on which reports from users are plotted in something very close to realtime. These include speed traps, wrecks, potholes, construction, and other miscellaneous hazards. The reports are generally accurate, right down to the potholes. When traffic is slow, Waze knows it, because GPS can calculate your speed. When two or more Waze users are going slow on a particular route, Waze paints the road in red and indicates what the speed currently is.
This is cleverness but not genius. Back in the wardriving era when GPS was first commonly available (back in 2000-2003 or so) I had this notion that a system could gather information about speed traps, if only there were a way to get reports to the central server from user cars. Then, wham! Smartphones happened. The rest is history.
No, the genius part of Waze is that its creators turned it into a sort of combination video game and social network. Waze users are plotted on Waze maps right along with the speed traps and potholes. It integrates with things like Foursquare. You get points by submitting reports and spotting errors on Waze maps. (You actually get points just by driving around with Waze running on your phone, which allows them to gauge speeds on the roads.) People with the most points get swords, shields, or crowns to wear on their little ghost-like Waze icons. Intriguingly, you can send messages to other Waze users, create teams of drivers, and other things that I haven’t quite figured out yet, including searches for cheap gas. Even doing as little driving as we do, in three weeks we managed to rack up over 900 points. There’s a stack rank of users for each state. (We’re down in the 100,000 range for Colorado.) Carol got some points for making roadkill out of a piece of hard candy that mysteriously appeared on the Waze map in front of us. If that sort of thing appealed to us, I suspect we would be addicts, like the people with over half a million points obviously are.
There are two fairly obvious downsides to the Waze system:
- To be useful, Waze requires that a certain critical mass of users be prowling around your town, reporting things. Here in the Springs, this rarely happens outside rush hours. I’m guessing that in smaller towns, Waze never really gets out of first gear. Like so much these days, it’s a YUH (young urban hipster) phenomenon.
- As if I even had to mention, it’s yet another driver distraction, probably in the same league with texting. That’s why we only use it when we’re both in the car, and Carol typically does the reporting and the sniffing ahead for congestion.
I’m starting to see articles about how cops hate it because of speed trap reporting, which suggests that, at least in large urban areas, it’s working as designed. I like it for the sake of the traffic reports, which I suspect will be even more useful the next time we’re in Denver, or lord knows Chicago. Problematic for one, useful (and sometimes fun) for two.
On more than one occasion, a reader has emailed me to ask why he or she couldn’t see me on Twitter. My answer might have seemed inconceivable to them: I’m not on it. I never have been. I’ve researched it and thought about it and waffled about it almost since there was a Twitter. I still haven’t gone there. And at this point, I’m unlikely to.
One reason has always been that I don’t think in 140-character text bites. I’m a careful and methodical writer on both the fiction and nonfiction side, and being methodical (not to mention fair) requires more than 25 words, or five words and a hotlink. I’ve recently experimented with what I call nanoarticles on Facebook. I’m currently on Day 13 of a 50-entry meditation on writing over there, with individual entries running from 40-100 words or so. I’m still not sure it’s useful.
I like epigrams, and I’ve written a few. I’ve gotten hundreds of Twitter posts and retweets of my statement: “A good tool improves the way you work. A great tool improves the way you think.” A few have liked “If you see a pinata, remember that somewhere close by is a blindfolded person swinging a stick.” I’ve gotten some pushback on “Self-esteem is confidence without calibration.” (This leads me to believe it may be truer than I thought.) It might be in the family; my father said, “Kick ass. Just don’t miss.” I guess I’m good enough at epigrams to post them publicly, and Twitter is epigram-sized. That said, I don’t think I want to be known primarily for my epigrams. On Twitter, you pretty much have four choices:
- Forwarded links.
Note that novels, technical books, and long-form journalism are not on the list. I already do Odd Lots here on Contra. One cannot retweet without tweeting.
So then there’s Number Four.
“Shouting” is the short form. It’s almost always indignant shouting, self-righteous shouting, or outright hateful shouting. The basic Twitter mechanism is a sort of amplifier, and once the person doing the shouting gets above a certain level of popularity, a runaway feedback mechanism ensues. Boom! (Squeal?) We have a mob. And far oftener than you might think, we have a lynch mob.
It struck me a few months ago: Almost all the current Internet wars are Twitter wars. Gamergate could not have happened without Twitter. Neither could Donglegate. Mobs require the sort of immediate feedback that only immediate presence provides. Twitter is as close as you come online to immediate presence.
Twitter wars would be mere popcorn fodder (low comedy, actually) and easy to tune out if there weren’t real-world consequences. There are. Adria Richards eavesdropped on two dorks making dumb jokes at a conference, took photos without permission, and tweeted them. One of the two dorks was fired from his job, as (a little later) was Adria herself. People have objected angrily to a Twitter lynch mob’s reducing Rosetta mission scientist Matt Taylor to tearful apology over his dopey Hawaiian shirt. I have a suspicion that he had no choice but to apologize. It’s not easy getting a probe to a comet, and it wasn’t easy for Dr. Taylor to be part of the team. Had he not made obeisance to the lynch mob, he might well have lost his job, and in fact his entire career. Employers can be cowardly in this fashion without much cost to themselves: There are always 400 people waiting to fill the void that you make when your company shows you the door.
We have a phenomenon here related to what I call “comment harpies.” There is a psychology that feeds on outrage and hate. Comment harpies are this psychology’s manifestion in blog comment sections. On Twitter, the psychology is amplified way past absurdity, and becomes an online lynch mob. It’s so easy to join in: Are you an umbrage vampire? A recreational hater? Choose your hashtag and join the mob!
I don’t associate with such people, and I don’t want my participation on the Twitter system to be seen as validating what might well be the Internet’s most efficient hate machine. Whether Twitter would be good for my writing career is still an open question, and while Twitter leaves an ugly smell in my nostrils, I rarely say never. Attention amplifiers are very good things, if they can be controlled, and somehow prevented from melting down or blowing up in your face. This happens; there is an SF writer I once respected who has frittered away much of his reputation on laughably rabid Twitter attacks. This may be a calculated strategy: Is he deliberately trading the broad but shallow support of his casual readership for the slobbering adulation of a Twitter mob? If so, he may not be as smart as he looks.
I strive to always be smarter than I look. The smart path may be to avoid Twitter entirely. Time will tell. In the meantime, watching the Twitter lynch mobs at work has put new steel up my back. If some jackass umbrage vampire ever calls me some sort of ist or phobe, I will reply: “No, I’m not. Now back off.”
I might be thinking worse of them inside my head, but…civility matters. And civility is the exception on Twitter.