So the RSS feed looks the same to Thunderbird, but the rendered HTML is quite different.

Maybe that is what Dave is talking about. So for a genuine blog, making it an idea stream is less useful … but for a genuine idea stream, it looks great.

03/17/14; 08:57:08 AM

I refreshed the feed to this blog, in my feed reader Thunderbird. It did not work as I expected:

  • March 17 did not appear as a post

  • Each of the previous notes (Second March 17 Note, and Ideas setting in Fargo) appeared as posts.

I think I did something wrong. Not sure what.

03/17/14; 08:52:23 AM

I add this note/idea just to see how it works.

Still unclear: since this sends out a post to RSS only on the day/date, does that mean the feed will only update daily? If so, then it can only know that March 17 ideas are finished when the calendar rolls to March 18.

And then, if I go back to add to these idea notes, does the feed not recognize it? (I think that would be consistent with the previous way Fargo handled feeds, though I’m not sure.)

03/17/14; 08:48:23 AM

Dave just added the notion of an idea stream. Basically as I understand it, this will work just as before, except that the RSS feed will no longer send out a separate post for each idea (I notice Dave has added a lightbulb icon which now characterizes each post node rather than the rectangles seen in the posts below). Instead the day/date will be what is sent out, and the posts – the ideas – will be listed as part of that post. So, this post will go out under a “March 17” post in the RSS feed.

This makes sense for a prolific blogger like Dave. It also makes sense for a worknotes outline – I have one of those but leave it private rather than a named outline.

03/17/14; 08:44:08 AM

A lot of outrage has come in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations. Though a lot of what has been reported was long suspected, people have reacted a lot more to images of actual documents (along with non-denials from the spies involved). But it also helped build credibility for the news stories Mr Snowden helped write, that the officials at the NSA and their congressional supporters (along with President Obama) were found to be lying every time they said the Snowden reports were untrue.

But here is the thing about spies. They break the law. In fact it is their job to break the law. And it is their job to break every law of every country except one law of one country.

Spies kill, poison, strangle, beat and maim, steal, burgle, forge, counterfeit, blackmail, extort, lie, defraud … think of any spy book or movie you have ever seen, along with stories documenting what spies and spy agencies have done since 1912.

The only one law that spies are not supposed to break? They are not supposed to betray their country. They are bound to obey the commands of their head of state and any relevant oversight bodies in their nation’s legislature and courts.

Of course, many spies break these laws as well. I am reminded of a press conference given by President Obama in the summer of 2013 about the NSA; when asked about the programs Mr Snowden had reported to the country, the President answered that he didn’t know about them, he only found out about them “like you guys, when I read it in the newspapers.” I don’t know if the President was fudging the truth when he said that, but we have seen reports of military commanders and spy agencies in several countries who disobeyed their heads of state when they deemed these heads of state to be not hard enough when it came to war. And there must be an attitude among the long-serving spies and military commanders about their elected officials, that this one or that is “not one of us” and will soon be gone come a new election, while the civil servants in the military and spy agencies will still be there.

03/12/14; 02:15:35 PM

(These are some thoughts on how the ATV could grow beyond the streambox it is now.)

A lot of writers have thought on how the Apple TV set top box might become, variously, a full sibling in the iOS family, or a gamebox, or even a $99 PC. Many Apple-watching pundits have predicted these things as being right around the corner, for some years. But the ATV remains a streambox and nothing more.

Most of the speculation circles around how to control the thing, and the predominant wisdom runs that an iPod Touch, iPhone, or iPad would be the logical choice to serve as controller. But with AirPlay, if you have these devices, you can stream through the ATV to your HDTV set now … so why would you need or want to have the ATV be the workhorse and relegate your other iOS device (with likely more computing power onboard) as mere controller? Or, looking at it the other way, spending $99 on the ATV and then $230, $300, $500 or more on a ‘controller’ does not make a lot of sense financially.

So this is my idea: take the Apple trackpad, pair it through Bluetooth to the ATV and use it as controller.

This would mean changing things a little bit:

  • this trackpad would need to include an onboard gyroscope and accelerometer

  • the variant of iOS on the ATV would have to be modified to include an onscreen cursor (more than one, actually)

You would control the trackpad with thumbs, moving the thing, tilting it. The onscreen cursor(s) show where your touches would affect the graphics onscreen. Tapping the trackpad would constitute a screen tap in iOS.

Adding the gyroscope and accelerometer to the trackpad adds to its cost. I could see that these could add usefulness to the trackpad with a Mac, though. Adding the cursors etc. to the ATV flavor of iOS would be harder to do. Maybe it would be too much.

I still like the idea though.

Another thought: iOS v7 added support for external game controllers, and though the market is not great, and maybe the support Apple has offered so far is not very good, these things could be used with the ATV. I would imagine that going this route would not be feasible yet – it would need an iOS upgrade (v8 maybe) along with a decent list of games that support the controllers on iPads and iPhones, before bringing it along to the ATV.

Another problem for this whole concept is its complexity. Touching an iOS device is so simple and natural; that is the whole genius of doing without a stylus on a pentop computer. But the idea is getting complicated, even cumbersome, with all the special gestures now. Adding the game controller also Balkanizes the platform further (along with needing 1080p resolution support for the games).

03/10/14; 11:08:26 AM

Netflix wanted to start streaming movies and TV shows. According to Robert X Cringely, this was always Reed Hasting’s plan. So, the company started designing a set top box. But this was dropped on fears that a very jealous Apple would ban all Netflix apps from iOS if Netflix sold a box competing with the Apple TV. The box went on to be sold off and developed into the very popular Roku box.

So Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and others, are software only. This means that there is no local storage and the quality of the stream you see depends on how good your connection is, right now, to the internet. UHD 2160p is promised to be coming from Netflix, but how many people in the territories Netflix serves have the bandwidth (to say nothing of usage caps in monthly service) to support 2160p videos?

There is a better way and it involves a box and distributed TV.

This is how I imagine the box:

  • it has storage (or a connection a la USB to outboard storage)

  • it has a CPU, likely either an ARM or Intel Atom SoC

  • it runs a minimal OS, maybe embedded

  • on this OS it runs a sharing or peer to peer software

How would it work? Much like Netflix now

  • Online (and possibly through the box itself) you create and order a list of movies and TV episodes you want to watch

  • the top of your list is downloaded to your box

    • downloading takes place all the time, whenever you are connected, in the background

    • the files are encoded at h.265 or HEVC at very high bitrates, BluRay quality

  • when a movie is complete on your box, you can watch it

  • after you have watched a movie or TV episode, you can keep it on the box or delete it

    • delete a movie and it frees space to begin downloading the next item on your list

But how is this better than now?

  • The quality is higher

  • the video is not dependent on internet connection or quality once it has downloaded

More, the box OS and sharing software connects to all the other boxes in your network

  • that is, other subscribers who are also on your ISP

And the videos you have get passed along, all within your ISP’s network, to other subscribers who have those videos on their lists

Because the files are passed around in the background and at all times, the connections of the ISP are never choking on a big portion for this one application.

  • Currently in the US, Netflix takes up about 1/3 of all bandwidth in the evening “let’s watch something” hours

I imagine that ISPs would still want to block this or hold it up for ransom, so they would have to be made partners in the business.

Indeed, I have long believed that book publishers should offer all their books like subscription libraries and deal directly with readers; likewise movie distributors, producers, TV networks et al. should be doing this – big ISPs too. Get the ISP onboard with a taste of sugar (percentage of revenues) and they will devote more bandwidth to it.

The Netflix Box is another instance of decentralization. Decentralization is necessary for individual freedom. If the Netflix Box is combined with the Blogging Box, and if every user (client) is also a publisher (server) we will all be better off for it.

03/10/14; 07:24:30 AM

One of the problems with blogging is censorship.

Blogging on a web platform like Blogger, Wordpress.com, Tumblr, and so on, you live under the threat that the authorities who run the platform might at any time take a dislike to you or what you write, and censor it.

But the problem here is the gatekeeper, which derives from the larger problem of choke points.

Wherever a choke point exists on the web, there is the danger that somebody might put the squeeze on it. And choke you off.

This is related to the problem Dave Winer and Richard Stallman talk about concerning ‘walled gardens’ and ‘silos’ but it goes beyond that to something the Internet was created to solve, but which has been lost in the way we use the WWW.

I can save my data, what I write, on various hard drives in various places. If my house burns down, I can have backups elsewhere.

But there is only one line between me and the WWW. There is only one line between any of my readers and the WWW. So the ISPs involved could always block communication at one end (mine) or the other (the reader’s). And where does my text live on the WWW? Even here in Fargo, my text exists at Dropbox online. I have a copy here on my local machine, and I can dupe that copy on any number of hard drives in many locations – but Small Picture can only ask Fargo to find this text from the online Dropbox files.

We need something like the Freedom Box. But we also need distributed networks, many Freedom Boxes working in a system or network, using peer to peer sharing software, encrypting and sending each person’s blog posts on lots of other people’s boxes. Not only copying and backing up the posts, but making them available. That is: if you go to read my blog, normally you would find the posts on my own box. But if my box goes offline, the software would just route around the problem, in the original vision of the Darpa geeks who made the internet, and load up the posts from some other Freedom Box, probably the nearest box to where you are.

This gets us to the ideal of the WWW from the glorious days of 1993 and goes beyond them. In short, every computer connecting to the internet should be both host and client, and we should all be sharing one another’s content so none of it is vulnerable.

This is really really really important for users who live under and oppose oppressive regimes.

  • (And as Edward Snowden has shown the world, it is looking more and more like every regime is an oppressive regime. Or if it is not oppressive now, it soon will be.)
03/09/14; 12:12:53 PM

This week I watched Pirate Radio an enjoyable though middlin’ British picture celebrating the rock and roll underground (actually offshore) radio stations in Britain in the 1960s. Love that old music, it brings me back to when I was a kid.

Another sign I am getting into oldgeezerland!

03/09/14; 12:03:02 PM

I look over the ads for Bluray disks and I can’t find anything. The recent movies just don’t appeal. I cannot see paying for any of them. I barely want to spend the time watching them!

I suppose this is because I am too old, far beyond the target movie audience demographic.

But it also comes from years of buying DVDs and then never watching them!

A friend of mine, Tim, told me that Godard once remarked, “Owning a movie means never having to watch it again.” J-L was talking about owning 35- and 16-mm prints, much more costly than a BD version. But the psychology seems to be the same.

03/09/14; 10:54:25 AM

The greatest failure of science in the past 500 years is not thinking in terms of systems.

03/01/14; 11:18:11 AM

This was done using Fargo2 (v1.47 as listed in the left column).

02/24/14; 08:02:20 AM

I just determined that a url in a post that is tagged `method - markdown' will render a full url as a link. But I wonder now if that is due to the method - markdown, or if that would be true if I left that tag out. So here once more is that url: http://brettterpstra.com/2013/09/26/marked-2-launched/

No, that appears as plain text only. And if I add that method tag?

Yes, that worked. But, of course, each of these lines renders as only a sentence, a piece of a larger para, because Markdown needs a blank line or some HTML code, to render text as a paragraph separate from the ones around it.

  • This para, by the way, is indented -- is it still rendered as part of the same para (that is, will this entire post be shown as a single paragraph)?

Yes it did. But if I do a few nodes starting with dashes to make a list, I expect the list will render true:

  • an item first in the list

  • second list item

  • third list item

No that did not work. But I begin this node and the next with the p tags, without closing them.

This is the second node beginning with the p tag, unclosed.

And that worked (this is tagged blockquote, but I close it).

Interesting: in the September archive viewed, this post renders as p's (at least the 2 that open with the p tag and the blockquote) but without whitespace vertically inserted: looking more like linebreaks. If I click on the link to the post itself by itself, though: the vertical whitespace renders. Huh. (But I see that this p-opened node has vertical whitespace above it in the view that shows all the September posts -- maybe because it follows the properly-closed blockquote.

09/27/13; 08:24:10 AM

Doc Searles did a quickie version of his links blog one day, and he included the urls of sites, but these were not links. Instead they were plain text that needed to be copied and then pasted into the location bar of your browser.

I wonder if using Markdown as type would make this easier. I think Markdown will recognize a url so long as it is enclosed by less-than and greater-than brackets. The url appears both as plain text and this text is a link to that same text. So let me try that now: here is Brett Terpstra detailing his release of his mac program, Marked2: http://brettterpstra.com/2013/09/26/marked-2-launched/

Well that was interesting: I forgot to enclose the url in the brackets -- but it still showed up as a link!

09/27/13; 08:16:23 AM

There has been much talk about Microsoft since CEO Steve Ballmer announced, 2 weeks back, that he would step down. Much has been made of how the company's stock value has not increased, but this is worthless chatter by our financial lords. What is more to the point is how the company -- despite having so much research -- has failed to move forward past its twin monopolies in operating systems and office suites.

John C Dvorak has repeated his calls for the company to split itself into a few separate companies. He has thought this was a good path for MSFT since the 1990s. He might have a point. But I wonder.

The big question hanging over MSFT for the past 5 years has been this: If you get rid of Mr Ballmer, who do you get instead? If Mr Ballmer has been doing a bad job, who could do better? And few names spring to mind.

So Mr Dvorak's plan makes sense in that it would be much easier to imagine a better chief at Windows Inc, or Office Inc, or XBox Inc, than it would be to imagine an effective chief over the whole combine. Think of this: an independent Office company would have ported its programs to iOS years ago -- heck, it might have been one of the first partners for Apple and stood on stage beside Steve Jobs when he introduced the iPad. That would add up to 3+ years of big fat juicy profits for Office Inc., and it would have all but made sure the company's Word and Excel would have extended their monopoly into iOS. Then a year or so later we could have seen the Office apps ported to Android -- say on stage at Google IO when Android 4.0 was unveiled. And Word and Excel would monopolize the Android platform as well.

XBox as an independent company could have brought many games over to iOS and Android as well as OSX.

But, I wonder if it might not be better to do something absolutely different -- something that nobody has suggested as far as I can see: why not dissolve Microsoft as a company entirely?

Instead of one company, transform Microsoft into a holding company, and then let all the engineers in Redmond mix and match, form any sort of teams they want. Unleash the skunkworks as a business plan. Turn the campus into a miniature Silicon Valley, a hothouse of startups.

Each startup would have unfettered access in perpetuity, to the holding company's patents. Each startup would be owned say 60% by the parent Microsoft Holding Company. The holding company would have no say over what any of these startups do, it would merely collect 60% of revenues. Full control, and the rest of revenues, would go to the startup teams themselves. Patents and inventions of the startups would go to the parent holding company and in turn would be shared out with all the other startups at Redmond Valley.

Microsoft has developed lots of ideas over the years, but as a giant it has had a hard time bringing any of them to market. Inevitably brand-new ideas threaten the old monopoly core businesses, and get choked off. The company is often described as consisting of many small fiefdoms all at war with one another.

Dissolving it into Redmond Valley startup culture would solve this problem.

Mary Jo Foley has written over the years about various efforts within Microsoft to reinvent the operating system. There are at least two new operating systems that have been created there, but nothing has reached the market -- victims to the mindset that the Windows monopoly, as currently existing, must be protected at all costs.

But at Redmond Valley, these operating systems could have been polished, finished, and offered to the public and to manufacturing partners alike. These efforts would have an edge over the typical startup that begins from nothing but an idea: free use of the Microsoft patent and inventions. The new OS would not have to re-write the Internet Protocol stack, for example. Just pull up the stack the parent company owns.

It would be good for the company and it would solve the problem of a new MSFT CEO, whose position would devolve to the task of overseeing how the patchwork quilt of Redmond Valley is sewn together. And under this would be 1,000 startups with 1,000 CEOs, each intent on its own core ideas, competing with one another as fiercely as the company divisions do now, but at last able, each and all, to bring their own products to market and satisfy their own creative and engineering dreams.

09/02/13; 07:45:30 AM

The promise of the internet, 2 decades ago, was freedom for the individual voice. This has since been buried under an avalanche of commercial interests, and undermined by governments worldwide (but especially, it seems, the government of the United States where the central servers of the internet are physically located). Individual voices still thrive on the internet, but they are needles in the (commercial) haystacks. We are all grateful these voices survive. We should do all we can to support them, especially as the US empire grows increasingly interested in interfering with us all and desperate to carry on despite its ongoing decline.

At one point, two decades ago, freedom on the internet was summed up with: Get Your Own Webpage and Code it Yourself.

Today, freedom on the internet can be summed up with: Get Your Own Server and Administer it Yourself.

And tomorrow, freedom on the internet will require: Encrypt Your Own Server and Keep Your Passwords to Yourself.

It looks, in the light of the revelations of United States government espionage and its crackdown on all forms of dissent (under even a socialist''leftist'' administration), that it seems most likely that only the Darknet will remain free from commercial interests and the control of governments. Perhaps this will even mean universal underground networks of Sneakernets, where thumbdrives are anonymously passed around, left in public places, and turn up on the campuses of universities. Perhaps then the governments will restrict ownership of thumbdrives.

09/01/13; 11:33:31 AM

Dave Winer blogged about how good it would be if students and journalists ran their own servers: http://dave.smallpict.com/2013/08/26/studentsCanRunTheirOwnServers. In part this is such a good idea because of a new wrinkle in the state of things: the government's massive and oppressive surveillance on its own citizens. In part it is a good idea due to the old notions of self-reliance: running your own server today is like maintaining your own car engine in 1938. In comments, Dave was lauded for the proposal and a wish was expressed of a box that would handle the tough stuff for you: you would customize it but it would give you the basic hardware and allow you to proceed from there (rather like buying a car in 1938 before you change your own oil, tune it up, and maintain it).

There are in fact a couple projects underway to realize something like this. One was proposed by Eben Moglen, the Columbia University law professor. His idea was a server based on the SheevaPlug model, that would operate in a mesh network and guarantee (insofar as possible) one's privacy and anonymity in the face of oppressive governments. This was hailed and work was begun and today you can see how far they have gotten at the https://www.freedomboxfoundation.org.

There is also a variant of this work based on the Linus Debian distribution, at https://wiki.debian.org/FreedomBox.

08/27/13; 11:56:07 AM

Nate Hoffelder at the Digital Reader writes up a writer who considers the natural death cycle of various physical media. He finishes with a couple of bizarre conclusions:

  1. ``So in conclusion, I’m going to go against my source and predict an indefinite lifespan for current ebook formats (barring some unpredictable random occurrence).''

  2. ``This is one of those times where it is safe to bet on proprietary over open formats.''

Mr Hoffelder is usually sharper than this. His #1 runs counter to everything we know about the digital era, as does his #2. More on the second notion:

Kinds of ebooks

  • An ebook (the field Mr Hoffelder covers) is a digital file. They fall into a range of proprietary to open formats.

  • 1. Binary Blobs These are the most proprietary. They can be opened and read only with software that understands the file format, and the reader software itself is usually also proprietary. To read this format 100 years from now, you will need a computer and the hardware and software to read whatever physical media the file lives on (these latter will be assumed as common of all ebook formats). But you also need the software that can open and display the contents of the binary blob.

  • 2. Compressed and Encrypted These are compressed (maybe by proprietary compression algorithms, or by standard compression algorithms) and encrypted. These files are almost as proprietary as the binary blobs. To read them you must have software that can uncompress the file and software that will pass the proper key to decrypt it. Usually a proprietary file such as this will give readers one tool that will do both these jobs.

  • 3. Compressed but Not Encrypted These are compressed (again, by either proprietary or standard compression algorithms) but not encrypted. All you need is to be able to uncompress them.

  • 4. Not Compressed but Encrypted These are not compressed, but they are encrypted, so you will need some sort of software that will let you enter a key to unlock the book contained within the encryption wrapper.

  • 5. Nor Compressed Nor Encrypted These are just text, with some degree of markup, of which there are a number of levels:

    • a. Highly Markup Open Document format, and Rich Text Format, are both markup schemes that are very verbose: in order to find the text content of the book, you will have to wade through a sea of markup language, after traversing a continent of header information. Usually though you will use software that understands and interprets the markup jungle employed.

    • b. Medium Markup Medium markup might be HTML, whose header is only an islet, not a continent, and whose markup of the content is mere puddles, easily skipped over. This is the densest, most-highly-marked up, format that you could read as raw text if you had a few hours' (at most) study of the markup language used.

    • c. Light Markup Light markup schemes or minimal markup -- the best-well known and used now seems to be John Gruber's Markdown -- use the least amount of markup to render the text, and are generally designed so that you could read the raw text with very little or no knowledge of the markup language; the intention behind such schemes is that the markup is almost self-explanatory, though some notions have evolved from conventions of email that maybe a reader from 100 years from now would need help understanding.

    • d. No Markup -- Text Only ... This can comprise basic ASCII text or 8- or 16- or 32-bit encodings. Seven-bit ASCII text will need the least amount of software to decode, and higher-bit encodings will need only a little bit more. Such files might declare their encoding at the start of the file, as HTML files are encouraged to do.

Every ebook that comprises what was called a `book' 60 years ago -- i.e., text -- will contain text. This text is the content and the heart of the ebook onion. Around that text is a wrapper of markup, more or less verbose. And that markup-wrapped text is then either encrypted or compressed, or both, as further wrappings. And this may then be blobbed into a binary file format.

Therefore, in order to read any ebook in a proprietary format, all the succeeding, interior layers of the ebook onion must also be readable.

In other words, to read any proprietary format ebook, you must be able to read text.

Text is the only format that will die only when the physical media the file is etched on, and all methods of reading data off that media, crumbles away.

08/14/13; 11:35:05 AM

There is something missing in most analyses of how the newspaper industry is faltering over the past 20 years in the US.

Let's go back to the 1950s. Television came with lots of entertainment and news, all for `free' once you bought your set and antenna and hooked it up within range of a local station. By contrast, movies cost you every time you wanted to see one -- plus you had to leave home and reach a moviehouse (and for the growing numbers of people who moved to the suburbs, this meant driving to the city and paying for parking). Television grew and movies failed. Television brought in more and more money and profits. These profits could be sunk into (relatively) unprofitable arms like the networks' and local channels' news departments. Watching the Nightly News was free and what is more, it was effortless, compared to poring through all the sections of the evening newspaper.

The evening dailies fell and were largely gone by when? -- early 1970s or so?

Once the evening dailies closed up, the morning dailies had a monopoly grip on their market. In the major metro areas, enough people still card to read papers to support 2 or more dailies, but in the smaller markets, one newspaper and only one remained.

In the olden days of multiple dailies, newspapers competed. They competed with one another. In the continuing give-and-take of this competition, newspapers were always looking for ways to please their readers and peddle more papers. This was a matter not only of getting more-popular features, but always studying and learning how better to compete.

But once a paper got its market all to itself, it no longer had to compete head-to-head with other papers. Instead the competition turned slantwise, against radio and television news. And slantwise competition is very different from head-to-head competition. In slantwise competition you simply focus on what makes your offering different from the competition. Hone your forte and let the others hone theirs. And in the case of television news, which had replaced the evening papers, the two competitors could compete on 2 fronts primarily:

    1. time difference
    2. space difference

Television gave a quick rundown of what happened, earlier today. Newspapers, with more space, gave a more detailed rundown of what happened, yesterday.

  • (There remains one other distinction between the 2 media: television wants, and even needs, to get everything on camera; the news heads on television news disdain what they cannot film. Print news, on the other hand, makes no such distinctions: everything there is words alone. This makes it possible for newspapers to report on what has not and cannot be filmed. Investigations are far easier for print media to cover than they are for television.)

The monopoly newspapers unlearned how to compete -- in general. They stood alone and wielded outsize influence in their markets and their states, playing kingmaker. And all the extras features in a newspaper -- the sections that had once been highly regarded as the focus of a paper's competitive edge -- were allowed to go stale. No longer was the keen humorist a highly-prized addition to a paper's staff. The comics section was printed smaller, smaller, smaller. This meant that the continuing comic, the soap opera and adventure strip, fell out of favor, and the simple gag strip dominated.

When the internet came along and offered news with the immediacy of live radio and tv, but in print with all the aspects of the newspaper, the monopoly papers let it happen. Many wished the future away. Others proudly boasted of their tradition going back a century or more and proclaimed ``We will always be here because we always have been here.''

They didn't compete with the internet; they no longer knew how.

They still don't know how.

08/14/13; 09:49:21 AM

Think of the last time a London department store got bombed.

Last week? Last month? Last year?

These bombings were pretty common in the 1980s. The rebels in Northern Ireland were responsible. They were attacking the British Empire at its heart, with the hope that the bombings could turn the British public against the lingering Imperial occupation of Ireland.

In the 1990s, after the intransigent Thatcher government was voted out, the British Empire entered into more relaxed negotiations with the rebels (aided by President Clinton's government here, which acted in some ways as intermediary). Though the Empire still occupies Northern Ireland, power-sharing has reached that part of Ireland, and the bombings have stopped.

Now consider the price the American people have been paying for supporting the American Empire -- massive, debt-funded warfare and global imperial war bases, mass domestic spying and surveillance, being groped and x-rayed at places of mass transport, the militarization of their police forces ... not to mention the occasional bombing and attempted bombing perpetrated by global rebels against our empire.

These are the price we must pay, we are told ... but, pay for what?

  • For security. For peace. For world domination?

Most Americans would recoil at this last. We little like to think of ourselves as aggressors, as conquerors, as occupiers, as the Evil Empire George Lucas and President Reagan warned us against. But if you look at the facts, objectively, what do you see?

The price for liberty is high, our leaders tell us. In fact, they tell us, the price for liberty is nothing less than liberty itself!

Wow. Nothing less than the total collapse of education in America (and a truly massive government campaign of propaganda) could get most of the people'' believing thatmost of the time.''

The answer to terrorism is simple. And as a bonus, it costs are negative -- it will in fact save the Americans money.

End the empire. Give over plans at world domination. Close the global war bases. End the wars that are more than even the Secretary of Defense Panetta can count.

Leave them alone and, just as the British Empire found out 20 years ago, they will then leave us alone.

08/13/13; 11:48:59 AM

Apple Corporation (formerly `Apple Computer Corporation') has struggled with the cloud in various endeavors such as MobileMe and iCloud, but it seems to me that Apple would do better to return to their original effort in the area of the iDisk.

Give everyone with an Apple device and iTunes ID webspace and a web page. Then Apple could offer HTML apps that would work across every platform and on every device. Provide a basic API that would allow Mac apps and iOS apps to save to and draw from the same storage pool the web page does. Provide a free level of storage and least out more storage as the user wants.

Don't try to be Facebook, don't try to be Twitter. But a Dropbox Apple could be.

08/13/13; 08:03:06 AM

On 11 Aug 2013, I wrote up a `working definition' of Film Noir:

  • the world is darker than you think

There are implications in the word `darker' here.

    1. darker means you are moving out of a lighter place
    2. there is a limit to how dark `dark' can get
    3. people get uncomfortable feeling uncomfortable feelings -- such as fear, anxiety, doubt, loathing
    4. when you get as dark as dark can get, you can only stay there or begin to go back toward the light
    5. when you are sated with fear, anxiety, doubt, loathing et. al., you move naturally, even without willing to, back toward more comfortable feelings such as security, safety, confidence, love
    6. when you are sick of sharing depravity, you willingly seek out goodness and health

Three unique things came to American popular culture, and through it to Hollywood commercial movies, in this time period:

    1. Freudian psychoanalysis
    2. the World War and what American military men (and perhaps especially teenaged men) saw and did during the years of combat
    3. the disruption to society as the government took almost the entire male workforce into the military and replaced them with women

Basically, Americans lost their innocence as they confronted questions such as basic identity (wife or welder? man or murderer? provider or provided-for?), saw their world and its assumptions turned on its head, and were asked to ponder ideas they never had before about motivation, morals, and mental `illness.'

So, film noir both soothed and aggravated these deep anxieties.

Film noir sprang from this loss of innocence. It cannot occur to a generation that was never innocent to begin with. The modern (post-1970) dark films, the neo-noirs, are more homage to past styles and tribute to and partial send-up of the attitudes that underlay the noir years of the 1940s and 1950s.

Adding to this is the whole subject of technology and style. Hollywood moved from black and white film stocks to color, and the film grains shrank and stock grew faster, capable of registering images in less and less light. All these technical changes made the rich, stark chiaroscuro possible to a 1946 black and white film very difficult, even out of the question to a 1963 color film. Though it might be possible in a digital age to recreate the characteristics of 1940 polychromatic black and white film, doing so would be merely an exercise in style, a deliberate affectation, rather than working with the tools available to explore the problems of the day.

08/13/13; 08:02:42 AM

The term `film noir' is a messy one. This is how I define it.

Context

  • The very term `film noir' came after its first claimed exemplars. It was coined, after the pulp paperback imprint Serie Noir, by a french critic when French cinemas flooded with Hollywood movies after the fall of Germany in 1945. Seeing these films all at once, contrasted with the memories of sunny, more hopeful Hollywood productions from the pre-war period, the French were struck at a very evident change in the sensibilities of studio filmmakers.

    • It is important to remember, though, that in Hollywood itself, the term film noir' was not used, and the men and women who made the movies that were later called film noir, were unaware they were making any such thing -- that any such thing existed. They instead were working within the standard genres Hollywood had laid down long before, such as Westerns, dramas, crime films, mysteries, musicals, biopics and the like. So in a very real sense,film noir' is an artificial distinction, an alien term from outside Hollywood.
  • Film noir belongs to an historical period of roughly the 1940s and 1950s. The trend reached its strong height in the late 1940s and during the 1950s gradually ebbed away in the face of more moralistic Westerns and the gray flannel suit era of rising suburbia.

  • The roots of film noir come out of several trends both within and outside of America, including films of the late 1930s France and mid-1920s Germany, crime novels and pulps of 1930s America, psychoanalysis, events of the war, and anxieties of big city living.

  • All these combined to manifest in a sensibility or attitude in American popular culture in all media -- radio, fiction, comic books, and movies.

The sensibility

  • The sensibility or attitude inherent in film noir can be summed up in 7 words: the world is darker than you think.

  • Darkness

    • I am deliberately vague when I use the word darkness' because the sensibility that lay behind film noir was never defined or sharply outlined at the time, either among those who produced this type of tale, nor among those who consumed it. More: the trend came upon the public gradually, so that it took an outsider sitting in cinemas in Paris, seeing the movies of the past half-dozen years all at once, even to mark the change that, now we have the termfilm noir' to aid our perception, seems so plain to us.

    • Darkness exists in many senses here:

      • dark as in unknown -- and unknowable
      • dark as in mysterious (hence the popularity of mystery tales in the noir era)
      • dark as in inspiring terror or fear or dreaddark as in sinful, bad, or evil
      • dark as in night, and the things that pertain to the nightland, including dreams (the opening through which Freudian psychoanalysis crept into the movies)
      • dark as in shadows
      • dark as in death and mourning
      • dark as in the alien, foreign, and strange (akin to the mysterious)

The definition

  • With these thoughts in mind I define film noir then as:

    • The manifestation in commercial Hollywood movies of the general sensibility in American culture between roughly 1940--1960 that the world is darker than you think.
  • Darker' carries its own implications. Once any depth ofdarkness' in whatever form the darkness might take, has been marked and plumbed, later noir tales must take us deeper -- darker. It is not enough, once heroes have been proven to be corrupt, to show us another corrupt hero. He must be more corrupt, or corrupt in some darker sense -- twisted, sick in the head. Once a certain ugliness of aspect has been revealed to us, we need the next one to be darker, and uglier.

  • Such a tendency is common to most artistic movements. The creators strive to capture some sensibility, some aesthetic. They move deeper into its realm, and achieve greater mastery over depicting it. Audiences want more of the frisson, the shock of the new sensation. Until it wears itself out. It can go no farther, can expose no more, can achieve no greater mastery. And a new sensibility takes its place.

08/11/13; 04:13:02 PM

A century ago, the Federal Reserve was instituted in the USA. Since then the nation has experienced a general inflationary trend, broken by periods of recession and depression, but on the whole, the greenback has bought less and less goods. So much so that, according to the official Federal Reserve accounting, $0.03 in 1913 would equal $1.00 today.

  • (And this is according to the official reckonings, which have been tweaked several times over the past 40 years -- always with the effect of diminishing how inflation has been counted. The reality is that inflation has been greater than the official tally, and more likely $0.02, or less, in 1913 dollars would equal a single 2013 dollar.)

Back in 1913, there were Dime Novels'' and evenNickel Novels'' costing $0.10 and $0.05 respectively.

So it is no wonder that hardback book prices of the big new releases now cost $30.00, or $0.90 in 1913 money.

But looking at ebooks, we see that in Amazon's Kindle store, the bottom price for a publisher wishing to accrue 70% of the sale price is $2.99, and the lowest price Amazon allows is $0.99. (Between $0.99 and $2.98, the publisher accrues 35% of the sale price.) Putting these into 1913 dollars gives us $0.10 and $0.03 (again by the official, tweaked, Federal Reserve reckoning of inflation over the past century).

Today's ebook is the modern Dime and Nickel Novel.

08/11/13; 09:37:22 AM

The MacOS (now supplanted by osX) has always stood apart. It comes from a single company and is designed to be run on that company's hardware. (Like Sun Microsystems, which alas is no more.) Buyers who get macs in general do so out of personal preference for both side of the experience -- they like Apple's hardware and they like Apple's OS. They prefer both.

  • (There are a few geeks who prefer Apple's hardware and like osX for its BSD underpinnings, and a very small number who prefer Apple's hardware as a platform on which to run MicroSoft Windows.)

MicroSoft Windows came to predominate the PC industry, achieving a de facto monopoly in the 1990s. But though the software came from a single company, the hardware came from any company that either licensed the OS, or built compatible hardware on which the OS could be installed (such as whitebox computer makers or home brewers).

MS-Windows was a buyer's only choice when looking at mainstream low-price PC hardware. Many schools and businesses standardized on the Wintel ecosystem in the late 1980s and through the 1990s. Thus many buyers who got Wintel PCs did so not out of a personal preference for MS-Windows but rather for a few other reasons:

    1. It was the cheapest alternative, the only one you could afford
    2. It was the only hardware that would run the application programs you had already bought for your current PC
    3. It was what your school required, or was the only choice that ran the application programs your school required
    4. It was what your office required, or was the only choice that ran the application programs your office required

This meant that there were significant numbers of buyers of Wintel PCs who were only (grudgingly) buying hardware bundled with MS-Windows because they had no choice, and not out of any personal preference for the OS. MS-Windows is just what came with the PC you got, it was the default option, and was rarely chosen for itself. Any gripes a buyer had with MS-Windows came to the fore, whereas the good parts of the OS were taken for granted.

This state of affairs led a goodly number of geeks to adopt Linux or one of the flavors of BSD (and later, when OpenSolaris was developed and could be freely installed on x86 platforms, Solaris).

On today's mobile platforms, we find a few OS choices:

    1. iOS
    2. Android
    3. Windows Phone
    4. Blackberry
    5. and a few minor alternatives like FirefoxOS, Ubuntu for Mobile, Tizen, et al.

Apple, as on the desktop, pioneered with the modern smartphone and touch-tablet. Apple makes its own iOS to run on its own hardware. Microsoft, quite late to the game, follows its previous model on the desktop, but also makes its own hardware; to date the company has had limited success in winning OEMs to license the Windows Phone OS, and even less success in licensing Windows RT.

Android here is like MS-Windows: Google's Android division writes the OS, and hardware companies license and adapt it for use on their own hardware. But since Google based Android on Linux, the OS is freely available, and an OEM can install almost any flavor of Android (excepting only the stopgap first tablet release of Android 3.0 Honeycomb) on their own hardware.

Android is like Linux. So many `open' geeks like it. But Android is also like MS-Windows in that it is controlled by one company. It also involves a new wrinkle to the game due to the devices being of necessity online: official Android OS releases include Google code that reports back to Google. Google knows who you are, where you are, and what you are doing with your device. And through Google's servers, so does the US Government.

There is another wrinkle here: there is fierce competition and rapid development in the mobile hardware world. So updates to the Android OS might not work on past hardware. More: most mobile hardware that hooks into a telco system is controlled by the telco (Apple is the exception here, and Microsoft is trying to cleave to that side) -- thus whatever version of Android that comes on a smartphone will only be updated at your carrier's desire, and will usually be larded with applications that serve your carrier's interests rather than your own as buyer. And each hardware partner in the Android world seeks to differentiate its offerings, and will add its own layers of user interface and application programs.

I like the look of iOS, and since I use a Mac, it makes sense for me to go iOS in any tablet or smartphone. But this only locks me in further to Apple's world. Just as I installed and played with various Linux distros on my PCs in the past, so I am leaning toward Android tablets. But then, they report to Googleplex...

Not sure, in sum, what I will do.

08/10/13; 08:55:04 AM

Last built: Mon, Feb 23, 2015 at 3:58 PM

By SWP Pond, Monday, February 23, 2015 at 3:58 PM.