Archive for October, 2008

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E.T., Don’t Call Home

October 31, 2008

We haven’t had a television in our home for over twenty years. Now we can feel even more like edgy hipsters, as we no longer have a home telephone either. A few weeks ago, we canceled it.

It’s not like there aren’t a lot of ways to communicate with us. We have personal mobile phones, which are with us almost always. Then there’s the Internet, with email, IM, and Twitter. If you’re Old School, send us postal mail, make smoke signals, or just shout loudly.

Nor was it like we were getting any real value from having a home phone. We were on the National Do Not Call Registry, so most of our calls were from those exempted: political organizations, charities, or telephone surveyors. After the fourteenth call asking if plan to vote for Obama–and if not, can we be talked into it–it gets a bit old. Ditto for the endless political surveys to which New Hampshire residents are subject, and the endless cries of “PLS HALP!” of charities.

Oh, occasionally we’d get a call from a doctor’s office reminding us of some upcoming appointment, or just a chat from someone else who could just as easily dial us directly. We directed the few who had our home number–or at least those that we might actually want or need to hear from–to call our mobile numbers. To Hell with the rest! We didn’t usually want to talk with them anyway.

Beyond the annoyance factor, a recent review of our phone bills showed we were paying outrageous monthly fees for a bevy of services like caller ID and you-can’t-call-us-unless-you-have-caller-ID that are primarily designed to keep us from being bothered. Nickel-and-dime charges, we don’t need you either!

Some folks have pointed out that not having a home phone wouldn’t suit everyone. With a busy household, for example, you might actually want to be able to call and have whoever’s closest pick up. Or, with kids in the house, you might want an easy, guaranteed way to call 911. If you have broadband Internet, services like Vonage can give you telephone-over-IP on the cheap. Fair enough. But we don’t seem to need anything else, and so far not having a home number is working just fine.

So buh-bye, Verizon landline! Thanks for the memories. Don’t let the door spank you on the way out.

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Fail Whale for the Favrd

October 22, 2008

Many Twitter users are perfectly happy sharing tweets along the lines of “I am at Crispy Joe’s having a double tall extra milk frappachino with two cherries. Man! Do I ever love me some girly coffee!” or “Going to gym. Good abs day. Tomorrow: Pecs.” Good for them!

But some folks aspire to more. More than answering just “hey, whatcha doin?” they want to amuse, inspire, and entertain. They their very own place in the firmament of the Twitterverse: Favrd.

Unbeknownst to many users, Twitter lets one click a little blank star next to each tweet to “favorite this update.” (Twitter clients may use something different. The popular Twhirl for instance uses a star for something different, and uses a heart icon for favoriting.) Favrd is a service that turns those favorites into an ongoing, crowd-ranked distillation of what is most funny and favored across the Twitter land.

A program at Favrd’s world headquarters uses the Twitter API to look at the favorites of a subset of Twitter users (you can nominate yourself into this group, if you like). These favorites are seen as votes. If tweets get enough votes (currently 3), they are “favrd” and appear on The Leaderboard. Day by day, the best and the brightest are voted up, the votes tallied, and the winners proclaimed.

But the voting process is now broken. Twitter has stopped reliably recording favorites. Twitter has never been known for rock-solid quality of service. Quite the opposite, in fact. Sometimes the whole service has been down, sometimes just a feature like search or keyword tracking. After a particularly shaky Summer, service levels have been generally good and improving. For at least a week however, favorites have not, at least in part, worked. Some tweets can be marked as favorites by some users–but not by other users. Sometimes favorites look like they worked, but are not permanently recorded by Twitter. In other words, the failures are intermittent, and some are of the silent-but-deadly variety. The problem also seems time-dependent. Some unfavorable tweets suddenly become favorable, a day or so later. Unfortunately, most users will have long since moved on.

Many Twitter problems and status updates are reported on status.twitter.com, but the systemic failure of favorites doesn’t appear there. I’ve started a discussion in Twitter’s Developer Talk area, and Twitter developers such as Alex Payne (@ax3l) are aware of it.

I know I’m risking a A Twitter feature is broken!! A Twitter feature is broken!! How ever will I live?! frenzy reminiscent of @Lisa_Nova‘s excellent Twitter Whore video. (And yes, I did tweet my moment of tizzy. You know I did!) But having major Twitter features not work is important. It’s important to users, and it’s important to Twitter as a platform provider. It’s especially important to the Favrd crowd. If favorites don’t work reliably, Favrd might as well be using Diebold voting machines. Favrd Nation, the Fail Whale is upon you.

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Return of the Hobo

October 18, 2008

The hobo was back last night, in the same spot. So he didn’t die. He was indeed looking much better, and he seemed sober. He even had a bindle this time! Well, no stick, but a plastic grocery bag with some stuff in it. That counts, right?

I am starting to wonder if he’s going to make this his winter home. If so, I think I should make up a Harry Potter-ish address for him, should any of you wish to contact him:

The Hobo
Between the First and Second Floors
The North Stairs
High Street Parking Garage
Nashua, New Hampshire 03060
The United States of America

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C’est Moi

October 17, 2008

I’m not what you’d call brilliantly photogenic, but I like this recent photo of me. Taken by my wife as we traveled on The Café Lafayette Dinner Train.

jseontrain_smaller

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So Many Awesome People! I Never Knew!

October 16, 2008

One of the things I’ve learned via Twitter is to be less cynical about people. Yes, there are many, many, many toads and turds out there. I see them–and unfortunately, interact with them–every day. I also interact with good people every day. But the ratio sucks. Middlin’ to poor is the norm, with good, great, or awesome the happy exceptions.

Via Twitter, however, I have found large numbers of people who I greatly like, admire, and enjoy. They’re funny, smart, and delightful. People I’d like to know better, and to spend more time with. People that, via Twitter, I am actually getting to know better, and that I am spending more time with.

Many live in places that I really wouldn’t have expected. Boston, New York, Chicago, Austin, Portland OR, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Vancouver, London, Paris, Barcelona–yeah, OK, I expected you to have a few great ones. But you have a lot.

My estimation for The Sticks has been especially enhanced. Take Richmond, Virginia for instance. Is that a place I’d expect to find a lot of truly awesome people? Uh, no. Call me elitist, parochial, or a flyover-bigot, but the honest truth is, I wouldn’t a’ thunk it. Yet RVA has turned out to be a hotbed of awesome folks. So much so it makes me want to actually visit the place. Wow. Have driven through it many times, and been happy to see it in the rearview mirror. Next time, I want to stop. Hell, next time, I’d go out of my way to stop there. Just. Wow.

RVA is not alone. Nor would I have given Nebraska, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Maine, Western Mass., nor a lot of other places much more than the time of day. And yet, there they are, beaming their funny, their smart, and their delightful interior lives out to the world. Even in places like Southern NH, the Bay Area, and Savannah GA that I know well, I’ve found new gems I would not have otherwise met. And people I already knew before Twitter? I generally know them better and like them more than I did before.

Call me sappy, but I’m grateful. You people are awesome!

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The Hobo on the Stairs

October 13, 2008

I just stepped over an actual, honest-to-goodness hobo on my way home from work. Well, an actual vagrant / homeless person, at any rate. I don’t think he was carrying a bindle.

He was sleeping on the stairs in Nashua’s High Street Parking Garage, apparently drunk. I wasn’t sure he was OK, so I woke him up: “Excuse me. You OK? Hey! Hey! Are you OK?” Him: “Mmmmmime OK. Ennnhhh. Tired.” Me: “OK then.” Except for having your drink fully on, and that lurid black eye, OK, then.

I considered calling the police, but he was sleeping within a few hundred yards of a homeless shelter. I assume he knew exactly where it is. A lot of shelters don’t admit the obviously drunk. And I figured the cops would just roust him out of the parking garage. There probably isn’t anyplace better for him to go. Not clear he’d be any better off wherever else he had to sleep. So there he remains, snoring away.

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So…What’s the Sword All About?

October 5, 2008

I’ve been chatting recently with Holden Helena, a San Francisco-based artist better know to the Twitterati as @sflovestory. See what will hopefully be just one of her many 15-minute segments of fame in Twitter Tweeters on Current TV, or read more about her on San Francisco Love Story.

dadao1_normalHolden closed yesterday’s comment with “PS What’s the sword all about?” She is referring to my Twitter icon, which is indeed a sword. A dadao, a two-handed Chinese broadsword, to be exact. It’s a fair question. Here’s my answer:

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar…an icon just an icon. If you want to go with that, its virtues include: It’s simple and recognizable, it’s not like most other Twitter avatars/icons, and I like it.

If you’re not buying that, how about this: My Twitter bio says “Scholar-warrior in the great Daoist tradition.” Assume for a minute that I’m serious about that. The dadao is historically and culturally appropriate for a Daoist.

The sword symbolizes both the scholar and the warrior. The martial application is obvious, but also consider Occam’s Razor. A number of Daoist symbols and teachings suggest cutting through obstacles, obfuscation, and confusion. I like that. I’m a sucker for clarity, insights, and breakthroughs…especially if they’re in areas that seem otherwise muddled, impenetrable, or intractable.

Most of my warrior training is unarmed, but when I’m training with weapons, I do actually favor dadao (or their Japanese cousins, katana). They’re easy and very pleasing to use, and devastating in impact. It’s no wonder they were successfully used in combat as late as WWII.

Single-edged weapons are also a reminder of humility. In movies you see double-edged straight swords all the time. They’re usually carried by the main characters, especially Good Guys. They’re even known as “hero weapons.” The problem is, double-edged weapons are extremely dangerous; you need extraordinary skill to wield one in a way that isn’t dangerous to yourself. Consider the old wisdom: it takes 100 days to learn the spear, 1,000 days to learn the (single-edged) broadsword, 10,000 days to learn the (double-edged) straight sword. Do the math: 3 months, 3 years, or 30 years. But because double-edged straight swords are considered the “top end,” everyone wants to use one of those—just like folks wanting to lift the heaviest possible weights in the gym, or go into the most extreme poses in yoga, regardless of what’s going to be best for them. It’s not easy, but I do try to keep my ego in check. Give me no hero blades.

So take your pick. Dive as symbolically or psychoanalytically deep as you like. For my part, I think it’s just an icon. I like it, but I’m not married to it. I’ll change it up for something else before too long.