The Problem With The Internet

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Did you ever wonder what the problem is with the Internet? Well, you’re in luck, because I’m going to tell you.

No, it’s not that it’s too slow. It’s not that it costs too much. It’s not that you can’t get broadband on your wristwatch.

The problem with the Internet is that it puts us in contact with people with which we never would have had contact before the Internet existed. Now, clearly, this is a wonderful thing, too. The world is filled with wonderful people that we never would have had the good fortune to meet, had it not been for the wonder of the World Wide Web.

However, the world is also filled with bad people too. I’m talking Bad. Evil. Sick. Selfish. Twisted. Scary. And now they have a way into your home, your digital assets, and your mind.

It used to be that such people were far, far away. You never had to worry about encountering them, unless you wandered into the wrong neighborhood. But, today, they’re dropping email into your inbox, trying to install bad software on your computer, trying to steal your identity. It’s enough to make you consider becoming Amish.

That’s one part of the equation. Part two is the fact that the Internet, and particularly Web 2.0, has made everyone a publisher. Everyone is creating content. We used to have three television networks, a handful of magazines, and a few radio stations. Now, there’s more online content than anyone could possibly consume. Blogs, podcasts, videos, social networks, comments on all of the above, etc. It’s as if every moment on the planet is available online from every perspective, not to mention the commentary on it all.

Part three of this equation is the anonymity of the Internet. Since people are not looking each other in the eye and have no need to provide their actual identity during all of this publishing, there is no accountability. Standards of quality, morality, and ethics are easily lowered. So what gets published is far from the best that we have to offer.

Combine these three, and you get the “perfect storm” of social decay.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the Internet is a wonderful thing. It has the potential to do so much good that it is almost utopian. But that can only happen if we as the inhabitants aspire to such high ideals. And with so much that is less than ideal, we face a mighty challenge.

I suspect that society will eventually demand some accountability in the online world, at least in some areas, or the Internet will fail to live up to its potential. I’m not talking about legal reform; I’m referring to social mores that dictate what is socially acceptable and what is considered outside the realm of acceptable behavior. And I suspect that anonymity will begin to become frowned upon.

In fact, I suspect that something like the online equivalent of a Drivers License will become essential for having your blog read, your comments accepted, your email delivered, etc. Preventing anonymity would go a long way toward extending our social values to the Internet. If we don’t bring the same values to the Internet that we bring to our real world interactions, it will eventually fade to nothing more than a source of entertainment and escape, rather than an extension of our “real” lives.

We already see the beginning of this with eBay feedback and new Web 2.0 reputation services. While it seems like a shame to lose the freedom to just be free, a little bit of shame goes a long way toward building a society that really works. Some of us need such pressures to keep us in line.

What the heck is that?!

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Weird CharacterI happened to spot this in my GMail spam folder. I’ve never seen a character like this in a browser before.  It reminds me of the old days, where individual characters could be constructed by setting each bit.

I don’t understand where my machine would get a font with such a character. I can only think of malevalent reasons for it being there. Any thoughts on how this can happen?  Is this a new virus vector?

Sharpcast seamlessly syncs photos

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Sharpcast, Inc.I’ve long thought that digital asset management for the masses is going to be one of the big challenges in coming years. Now that our personal photos, home movies, personal correspondence, and most of our productivity are stored on hard drives, the effort and expertise required to management, maintain, and preserve these important keepsakes are beyond the ability of the average user. Even as a tech-savvy poweruser, I struggle with keeping things safely backed up, tracking if things are backed up, making sure that I don’t have too many duplicates, managing multiple versions, etc. I have no idea how my parents handle it, but I’m sure it’s terrifying. It’s a truly complex and dangerous task. All of our important memories are at risk.

Sharpcast has come out with a service that takes all the pain and uncertainty out of the equation, at least for family pictures. Photos from multiple sources are sync’ed (Sharpcast likes to contrast that to uploading), keeping all PCs and mobile devices up-to-date. An entire family or other group can share an album, comment, even chat about particular shots.

Most promising is an upcoming service, code-named Hummingbird, that promises to do the same for all your digital assets including documents. For the road warrior, or simply anyone who transitions from an old PC to a new one, the ability to store what’s important to you in a reliable and remote repository is quite attractive.

Did you know about this TLD???

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I was reading a milk carton this morning (I had already finished the cereal box 🙂 and spotted the strangest URL I had ever seen. It said organicvalley.coop. I thought “What a poor proofreading job, to put a nonexistent URL on your product package.”

Well, it turns out that there’s nothing wrong with their proofreader. That’s a legitimate domain. You can browse to http://www.organicvalley.coop and read about the people who make my milk. It’s not a fluke domain, either, because there’s a link on there to http://www.farmers.coop.

I checked GoDaddy, and they don’t seem to have a way to register a .coop domain. Where does such a thing come from? It seems so obscure; I wonder how .coop managed to get approved, considering all the other TLDs have been rejected.

More importantly, how do I register chicken.coop?!

Update: Organizations can purchase .coop domains at http://www.nic.coop. Individuals are not eligible to purchase .coop domains.  It appears that someone is squatting (the mind reels with puns) on http://www.chicken.coop.  Darn the luck; it’d be worth forming an organization around that domain name.

Delphi for PHP

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I remember when Delphi 1.0 came out.  It was what I had been looking for for several years.  At last, I could build Windows apps without all the pain.

And now, there’s Delphi for PHP.  It’s what I’ve been looking for for several years.  At last, I can build web apps without all the pain.

Since Turbo Pascal 1.0 in 1983, I’ve been using Borland products to be a more productive software developer.  I love you, Borland!

And we’re back…

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Ugh! What a frustrating time it’s been, having my blog broken. There have been so many times I wanted to post something, but I couldn’t, because Pebble had lost its mind. It would sporadically accept new posts, then trash them. All the while, it’s spewing errors into my Tomcat logs at a rate of about ten per second!

And now I’ve got the issue of all kinds of inbound links that are probably no longer working. Worst of all, I’ve got my sites spread out at three different web hosts! I used to have everything at Kattare. Then I opened an account at HostGator. Then I got a really good deal at Kiosk. So I’ve got a lot of organizing to do! Plus, I’m trying to transition everything without having any downtime, which seems nearly impossible, especially for database-driven apps.  When you’re waiting for the DNS switch-over, you’re in a very nondeterministic situation.
I can’t wait until everything is where it belongs.

The difference between thinking of something sexy and seeing something sexy

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Have you ever noticed that thinking about something sexy, let’s say a Victoria’s Secret commercial, is a different experience from actually seeing it? No matter how well you can clearly remember and visualize it, I find that it feels different.

Since I’ve only lived inside my own head, I don’t know if this experience is unique to me, or whether it’s universal. It seems that my pleasure center gets a more direct jolt through my eyes than through my imagination. I have no doubt that there are different neural pathways engaged in seeing, versus imagining. Or that the messages have a different quality to them as they travel through my brain.

So, assuming that this is not a phenomenon unique to me, what is the value of this observation? Well, I would have to say that there are clues here regarding how to live more effectively.

I used to play a game called Black Box which had a hidden 8×8 grid, in which your opponent would hide atoms (or subatomic particles, I can’t remember which). You would then fire probe particles into the grid from a given row or column. Your opponent would then determine where your particle came out of the grid, if it did. There were three rules:

  1. If your inbound particle hit one of the grid atoms directly, it was absorbed and disappeared.
  2. If your inbound particle arrived at an empty space diagonally next to a grid atom (imagine an X around the atom), your particle would make a 90 degree turn away from the atom.
  3. If two grid atoms are on the same row or column, with an empty space between them, and you fire a probe particle at the space between them, the probe particle is reflected back to the space from whence it came.

By carefully analyzing the results of the forty possible probes, you could figure out what was happening inside the hidden grid and where the atoms were placed. (Somebody also did a software version of this game upon which I whiled away many hours.)

My point in bringing up Black Box is that we can similarly send certain probes into our own brains and analyze the results coming back to deduce what’s going on inside. And the difference in experience between thinking of something sexy versus seeing something sexy gives us a very important clue.

We’ve heard so many times that it’s important to write down our goals. But I know exactly what my goals are. They are clearly defined in my head. Ah, but in that head is the same brain that doesn’t like thinking about Victoria’s Secret models as much as it likes seeing them. So maybe there really is a difference when you write your goals down.

I can tell you that I’ve taken reams and reams of notes in my life that I’ve never referred to. Yet, I’ve often remembered what I’ve written. In fact, memories of taking notes can be so vivid that I can remember what part of a page I wrote certain notes on. (The capacity of a human brain to recall detail is so remarkable that it strikes me that it is more a tool for accessing data than storing it, as if the data is actually stored elsewhere. That’s a very heady idea for some other post.) I’ve always believed that the act of taking notes helped me remember things, even if I never read the notes again. It’s physical, it’s visual, it’s the act of translating what is heard into internal thoughts and physical action.

With this realization, I have to conclude that many of the tidbits of advice I’ve heard in every Nightingale-Conant tape set, every magazine article, every seminar, even in movies like The Secret and What the Bleep, have some basis in fact: Writing your goals matters. Surrounding yourself with pictures of what you want actually does make a difference. Test-driving the car really does have an effect on your brain.

It’s not just airy-fairy stuff. It’s the way we’re wired.

[BlogEntry] Yet Another Web Framework Shoot-Out

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This is a really well done, albeit long, screencast comparing JSP, Rails, Zope (Plone), Turbo Gears, Django, and J2EE. It is entertaining, smart, and fun. It's also a great example of quality presentation techniques. And the final score is almost definitely going to surprise you.

It took me over five months to get around to watching this presentation. I recommend you not wait that long. Now, please excuse me while I go take a good look at…