Exposed: Ben Franklin. Also, Franklin’s real schedule

You might have seen this before.

It’s sup­posed to be Ben Franklin’s daily sched­ule, and it’s used all the time by can-​​do types who want to make you feel inad­e­quate, because look at all the stuff Ben Franklin was able to get done before you’ve even shaved that three-​​day growth or changed out of your PJs you under­achiev­ing no-​​good slacker slug.

Twaddle, says I, twaddle.

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The medium is not the message

I won­der what exactly Jonathan Franzen is think­ing. I’ve read his The Corrections, and wasn’t that wowed by it, which doesn’t really mean much except that one book of his I read didn’t res­onate with me in the same way that his other books seem to res­onate with many other readers.

But then he tells an audi­ence at a fes­ti­val that ebook read­ers are poten­tially dam­ag­ing to soci­ety because of the imper­ma­nence of the words they dis­play on the screen (via CSM):

That kind of rad­i­cal con­tin­gency is not com­pat­i­ble with a sys­tem of jus­tice or respon­si­ble self-​​government.”

He seems to be sug­gest­ing that read­ing words which are not printed on paper some­how makes the expe­ri­ence of read­ing less real. Furthermore, it seems this unre­al­ity is so ephemeral in its nature that soci­ety itself will be desta­bi­lized as a result.

To con­flate the behav­ior of an elec­tronic device with the future via­bil­ity of a soci­ety seems a lit­tle exces­sive, doesn’t it?

We’ve had the inter­tubes for bet­ter than 20 years now, and in that time we’ve seen (prob­a­bly) petabytes of infor­ma­tion pro­duced on it — much of which is sub­jec­tively assess­able as noise. That’s easy to prove; how much of the inter­net do you not spend time pay­ing atten­tion to? Most of it.

(That doesn’t mean that the stuff you ignore is being ignored by every­one else, of course; it just means that your areas of inter­est don’t inter­sect with every­thing that’s avail­able to you. This is no more a prob­lem than the fact that there are prob­a­bly parts of your local library or book­store whose shelves you’ve hardly vis­ited, if ever. Time and atten­tion are finite, and inter­ests are sub­jec­tive, after all.)

The point is that this ephemer­al­ity of infor­ma­tion has not desta­bi­lized soci­ety just yet. Are things dif­fer­ent today than they were thirty years ago? Of a cer­tainty. Are things worse? Some are. Are things bet­ter? Some def­i­nitely are.
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Are we safe yet?

This from the Beeb. A Tourist named Leigh Van Bryan was barred from entry to the US because of some­thing he’d posted on Twitter.

The 26-​​year-​​old bar man­ager wrote a mes­sage to a friend on the micro-​​blogging ser­vice, say­ing: “Free this week, for quick gossip/​prep before I go and destroy America.”

[…]

In another tweet, Mr Bryan made ref­er­ence to com­edy show Family Guy say­ing that he would be in LA in three weeks, annoy­ing peo­ple “and dig­gin’ Marilyn Monroe up”.

The TSA inter­ro­gated Leigh Van Bryan for five hours. They then responded (empha­sis mine):

Mr Bryan con­firmed that he had posted on his Tweeter web­site account that he was com­ing to the United States to dig up the grave of Marilyn Monroe. Also on his tweeter account Mr Bryan posted he was com­ing to destroy America.”

Apparently it’s not just a sense of humor that the TSA lacks, but any sense of per­spec­tive or pro­por­tion as well.

Kill all programs before shutting down OSX 10.7 (Lion)

If you’re like me — and I know you are — you sucked up a copy of OSX Lion as soon as it was on the App Store, and were imme­di­ately infu­ri­ated by the check­box labelled “Reopen win­dows when log­ging back in”.

Why did you find it infu­ri­at­ing, as I do? Because you have to uncheck it every. bloody. damn. time you shut down or reboot. If you don’t, then what­ever pro­grams you had run­ning when you shut down will “help­fully” be loaded right the hell back into RAM when you boot again.

Apparently, some­one at Apple made the deci­sion that we want our pro­grams to reload every time we reboot, and to hell with what we think about it — because there is no way to over­ride this check­box set­ting.

There is no pref­er­ence to change it.

There is no way to make it go away.

If you for­get to click that check­box on shut­down, your pro­grams will all reload the next time you boot.

Those of us who use sil­i­con pigs such as Adobe’s suite find this set­ting not merely irri­tat­ing, but pos­i­tively infu­ri­at­ing, since it adds sev­eral min­utes to your sys­tem boot time.

There have been sev­eral solu­tions offered to deal with this. I check peri­od­i­cally to see if there’s been progress made. The last time I looked, I stum­bled across a series of AppleScripts writ­ten by Victor Andreoni that essen­tially send tell com­mands to the Finder, order­ing a shut­down and click­ing the check­box for you.

In read­ing his dis­cus­sion of his meth­ods, I saw that he’d found a default set­ting, TALLogoutSavesState, that appar­ently con­trols whether your pro­grams reload on boot or not. Unfortunately chang­ing that set­ting to 0 is not per­sis­tent; it’s rewrit­ten to 1 on each boot. What that means is that it’s a short-​​lived plea­sure; next time you boot your sys­tem, yep, the god­damned pro­grams load up again.

His AppleScript solu­tion is suit­able, I think — but there’s a prin­ci­ple in play here, and I’ll be hell if I let my Mac tell me what to do. So in Googling for more infor­ma­tion, I learned a cou­ple of other things, and fired up Automator, and did this.

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Congress declares victory over constituents

In a bold step for­ward for decreased gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion of gov­ern­ment, Congress was able to declare vic­tory over the vast major­ity of the American elec­torate Tuesday. “This is an impor­tant day for all leg­is­la­tors,” stated Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-​​OH). “For years we’ve been ham­pered by the demands of unrea­son­able tax­pay­ers, but with this lat­est vote, I think we’ve been able to estab­lish once and for all who’s really in charge here.” Rep. Boehner then paused to weep.

I’m deeply sat­is­fied with this out­come,” slurred Senate minor­ity leader Mitch McConnell (R-​​KY). “In our vote to extend the debt ceil­ing and cut spend­ing, we’ve been able to pro­tect our real inter­ests, and for the first time since I was elected, I know we don’t have to fear being voted out of office as a result.” Senator McConnell was refer­ring to the refusal of the GOP to close the so-​​called Bush tax breaks on the wealth­i­est 10% of Americans, despite the sup­port of an esti­mated 70% of the American pub­lic for doing so.

We’ll just keep on get­ting re-​​elected now, since money is speech and pro­tected,” he added. “Money talks, and the bull­shit walks, so we don’t have to lis­ten to any of y’all’s bull­shit any more.”

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Why we don’t let cartoonists write policy decisions

About one in twenty car­toons by Michael Ramirez is actu­ally worth a read; most of the time he pro­duces far-​​right nitwit­tery that, rather than pro­vid­ing bal­ance or nuance to my openly social­is­tic and lefty views, sim­ply rep­re­sents cog­ni­tive noise. It’s unfor­tu­nate, too, because Ramirez is actu­ally one hell of a skilled illus­tra­tor. He clearly puts a lot of time and effort into his single-​​paneled gibes, but that seems to be the extent of his effort involved in cre­at­ing them.

Case in point is this sim­ple fal­lacy. See if you can spot the prob­lem (and in this case it has noth­ing to do with his politics):

What Ramirez seems to be miss­ing here is that the Y2K bug, the H1N1 out­break, and the I-​​405 prob­lems didn’t come about because there was a hell of a lot of work done to pre­vent them hap­pen­ing in the first place.

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Who is I?

Physics is a field that con­tin­ues to sur­prise. In the early 1900s the belief was that it was effec­tively fin­ished — apart from a few minor details, there wasn’t any­thing new left to dis­cover. Those few minor details ended up being the set of insights Einstein had which rev­o­lu­tion­ized our under­stand­ing of energy, mat­ter, space, and time.

While finess­ing what we now know as General Relativity, Einstein came across some­thing that didn’t make sense to him; actu­ally it so offended his sense of order that he chose to work around it rather than explore it. Later physi­cists, fol­low­ing up on Einstein’s work, found that it led to inde­ter­mi­nacy, which essen­tially means that we can­not simul­ta­ne­ously know a particle’s speed and its loca­tion. The physics of Quantum Mechanics devel­oped from that.

More recently, the LHC in Europe may have found traces of a sub­atomic par­ti­cle which might or might not tie together cur­rent the­o­ries in physics; or it could be a sta­tis­ti­cal anom­aly. And else­where, devel­op­ments con­tinue in teleportation.

Not the Star Trek ver­sion of it. So far it’s only sub­atomic par­ti­cles that have been tele­ported, but it is hap­pen­ing. Essentially what hap­pens is a particle’s state is ana­lyzed, dur­ing which the par­ti­cle is dis­as­sem­bled, after which it gets reassem­bled on the other side of the room. That it’s the same par­ti­cle is con­firmed by its quan­tum state — a sort of fin­ger­print. Eventually, we can imag­ine the same hap­pen­ing for larger items such as atoms, marsh­mal­lows, miss­ing socks, and pos­si­bly even liv­ing enti­ties such as gold­fish or people.

So sup­pose you step into a tele­porter one day, and zap your­self to the other side of the planet, where you spend some time shop­ping and eat­ing inter­est­ing foods. When you’re fin­ished you tele­port your­self back home. As you step out of the booth, you’re accosted by a wild-​​eyed per­son who insists that you’re no longer you, that you’re actu­ally dead.

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Footprints of a gigantic lizard

I can’t say with any­thing like cer­tainty that I know what hap­pens to us when we die. To some extent I think it might be a bit like the reverse of what hap­pened at birth, only a bit more rapidly and drastically.

Of course, what hap­pens at birth is itself an inter­est­ing ques­tion; after all, fetuses are viable before birth, capa­ble of liv­ing with­out the womb. You have to go back a num­ber of weeks to find a fetus that can’t sur­vive on its own. What’s intrigu­ing is that you don’t get signs of coher­ent aware­ness, of a string­ing together of con­scious­ness into the nar­ra­tive that calls itself I, until well after the baby has come into the world.

Death, on the other hand, can be abrupt. It can just as eas­ily be a grad­ual process, one that hap­pens slowly enough for every­one to get used to the idea. I have a feel­ing that grad­ual deaths are eas­ier for the loved ones to deal with.

From another per­spec­tive, though, we’re really dying all the time, in the sense that the per­son I was a minute ago — or an hour or a day ago — is not the same as the per­son that I am now. Even rel­a­tively minor events have changed my per­spec­tive, so it can be argued that the past me is dead in one sense. However, there is his­tory, there is a con­ti­nu­ity, there is that con­tin­u­ing motion of con­scious­ness whose entire job is to join together dis­crete, dis­parate events and sen­sa­tions into a beaded string of appar­ent wholeness.

There’s a rea­son for all this phi­los­o­phy in this post.

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Paper airplane template

Yes, that’s right. This is one of the things I actu­ally do for a living.

The back­story is actu­ally valid. Our occu­pa­tional health depart­ment offers, among other things, FAA flight phys­i­cals. Many of our local pilots seem not to know this, though, and are going to other cities to get the phys­i­cals done.

So to pro­mote our much-​​more-​​convenient local ser­vices, I decided to take the term “flyer” lit­er­ally and cre­ate an adver­tis­ing piece that can be folded into a work­ing paper airplane.

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Inverting black and white colors in InDesign CS5

One of the tru­isms about pro­gram­mers is that they pre­fer not to have to do the same thing twice. That’s why the good ones tend to start keep­ing code libraries, and the really good ones start doing sub­tle and ele­gant things with objects.

Coming from a programming-​​for-​​clients back­ground I even­tu­ally ended up in graph­ics (which was what I’d started doing long before any­thing else), at least partly because when you’re work­ing on some­thing for a client you’re never really fin­ished. You’re always doing the same thing twice. And con­sid­er­ably more often than that as well.

So it is that I don’t par­tic­u­larly like hav­ing to do the same design twice, nor do I like sloppy or inel­e­gant solu­tions to situations.

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Helpin’ out my homies

Or at least my fel­low pas­sen­gers on the Lorelei, the steam­boat that fig­ures in Mark Siegel’s out­stand­ing web comic, Sailor Twain.

I mean, just look at this. Here’s the first page.

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You’d think after a while…

…they’d begin to real­ize that some things will always be misogynistic.

You’d be wrong.

Because if it doesn’t smell like a car air fresh­ener, there’s no way I’m climb­ing inside it.

EDIT: This was appar­ently a mockup ad for a fem­i­nine hygiene prod­uct sub­mit­ted for an award, that some­how got leaked to a legit­i­mate ad site (Ads of the World) — see the com­ments. Evidently the actual own­ers of the actual prod­uct used in this mockup were incensed, and rightly so, by the misog­y­nis­tic presentation.

Fair enough; it seems to me that remov­ing the brand­ing ought to take care of their issues, but I do believe I’ll take a moment to soap­box here.

1. Do not ever release any­thing — even for a con­test (espe­cially for a con­test) — that might come back to bite you in the ass.

2. This trend I see among ad houses toward releas­ing ad mocks for com­pe­ti­tions has to stop. Either be hon­est enough to sub­mit real work, or stop pre­tend­ing to be ballsy and cutting-​​edge for the sake of the contests.

And by the way, guys — really poor taste on the ad, mockup or no.