Near Earth Archive

A backup of Near Earth Object by Paul Fidalgo

Month: May, 2010

Get Your Links off My Lawn

In my mind, he’s held the title in a very informal, just-as-far-as-I’m-concerned way, but today the prize is his. Nick Carr is officially the Biggest Curmudgeon in the Intertubes. You might already know that he thinks Google is making us stupid (I had some things to say about that), and that the Internet is making us scatterbrained. While his Cassandra act may be a necessary one, in that he is someone fully enmeshed in the online world who warns us against its excesses, it can get a bit, well, excessive. Carr’s latest adversary? The hyperlink itself.

Links are great conveniences, as we all know (from clicking on them compulsively day in and day out). But they’re also distractions. Sometimes, they’re big distractions – we click on a link, then another, then another, and pretty soon we’ve forgotten what we’d started out to do or to read. Other times, they’re tiny distractions, little textual gnats buzzing around your head. Even if you don’t click on a link, your eyes notice it, and your frontal cortex has to fire up to decide whether to click or not. You may not notice the little extra cognitive load placed on your brain, but it’s there and it matters. People who read hypertext comprehend and learn less, studies show, than those who read the same material in printed form. The more links in a piece of writing, the higher the hit on comprehension.
The link is, in a way, a technologically advanced form of a footnote. It’s also, distraction-wise, a more violent form of a footnote. Where a footnote gives your brain a gentle nudge, the link gives it a yank. What’s good about a link – its propulsive force – is also what’s bad about it.

Nick, you know, you don’t have to click every link you come across. And while the visual appearance of a link might take a little more brain power to process, it’s no more than to say “Hey, there’s more information about this if you want to delve deeper.” Indeed, to me a link also implies, “And I’ll still be here when you finish reading the whole piece.” It certainly doesn’t prevent one from reading and digesting something in its entirety. Is it more distracting than a footnote? Possibly, but I don’t think so. But is it in any sense “violent”? Oh, come now.

I am glad that Carr is out there fighting for a saner Internet that is more amenable to focus. But even today that focus can be found by those who seek it, those who care enough to attain it. Carr assumes, I think, too much passivity on the part of the user, too much powerlessness to tailor their own Web experience. I want folks like Carr making sure we know what physiological changes occur due to Internet use. But there comes a point when we have to assume that users can take care of themselves and their own brains.

There is, of course, an art to hyperlinking. I have no patience for sites that hyperlink every other noun to related content within that site–and its even worse when accidentally passing one’s cursor over the link yields a pop-up “preview.” Even the New York Times overdoes it–a thoughtful Frank Rich piece, for example, gets polluted with blue underlines as every proper noun for some reason must be cross-referenced within the Times‘ universe.

But let’s be reasonable. On the whole, the links are fine, and will not overload anyone’s brain nor do violence to anyone’s consciousness. To complain otherwise I fear moves Carr from the Cyber-Cassandra (who really had important information to convey) to something far worse: The E-Andy Rooney. Don’t go there, Nick. Don’t be that guy.

P.S. The Carr/Rooney comparison led Andrew Abruzzese to remind me of this gem. Enjoy.

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Maga-zing!

So unless someone is looking for a machine that makes money disappear very quickly, why would they buy Newsweek?

David Carr – Bids for Newsweek Due This Week – NYTimes.com

RIP Narrative

I’m not a fan of large sweeping apocalyptic statements, but here’s one for you: the current fascination with possible worlds, an infinite number of alternative universes, is death to narrative. Death to narrative because our stories draw their power chiefly from the limits of our lives. If death is the mother of beauty, limit is the mother of story. I’m not sure why or how the makers of Lost got caught up in this — in the recent reboot of Star Trek it seems that J. J. Abrams glommed on to it because it offers infinite expansion of the franchise: one world in which Kirk and Spock are enemies, another in which they are best friends, several in which they die young, a few in which they live to a ripe old age… .

But whatever one’s reasons for embracing this model, it renders every particular story vacuous. Why weep when Lear enters, bearing the dead Cordelia in his arms, or when Juliet awakens from her drug-induced sleep to find Romeo dead? Much easier to turn our eyes to those alternate worlds in which Lear and Cordelia crush their enemies, and Romeo and Juliet unite the houses of Montague and Capulet, world without end, amen. Or, rather, world that goes on until we get bored again and decide we want a bloodier cosmos, just for a change.

Text Patterns: I can’t improve on these statements

Clenched Jaw

Since the oil rig exploded, the White House has tried to project a posture that is unflappable and in command.

But to those tasked with keeping the president apprised of the disaster, Obama’s clenched jaw is becoming an increasingly familiar sight. During one of those sessions in the Oval Office the first week after the spill, a president who rarely vents his frustration cut his aides short, according to one who was there.

“Plug the damn hole,” Obama told them.

Washington Post: Obama administration conflicted about relying on BP to stop gulf oil spill

No One is Driving

For years, the show’s creators and actors have been running the same bullshit line about how Lost is a character-driven show. Here is the thing, though: It is not a character-driven show. It is a show, that has characters! But the characters do not “drive” the show, except in the sense that they do things that help advance the plot. Because it is a “plot-driven” show! Lost is a show that is interesting because it has an interesting plot. Frankly, most of the characters suck! Especially Kate. And Jack. And Sawyer. And, really, all of them, except for Ben.

Gawker: The Lost Finale Was Incredibly Dumb

Puckman

[Namco video game designer Toru] Iwatani called his team’s creation Puckman. The name was changed to Pac-Man when marketers realized that American teens would probably replace the P in Puckman with an F.

Pac-Man hits 30 without losing its way

Menace 2 Eternia

The Kingdom of Eternia was an unforgiving place. If you were born with some debilitating birth defect, it was labeled a superpower and you were conscripted into Skeletor or He-Man’s army, à la Bloods vs. Crips. Just ask poor Ram Man here. He was born with a gland problem, so his guidance counselor strapped a colander to his head and said “You’re a human battering ram. Your job is to aid He-Man whenever he loses his keys.

The 10 Most Unfortunate Masters Of The Universe Toys – io9

Adversary System

…all the stuff [Rand] Paul is getting in trouble for now are things that would just be really tough to use against a candidate in a GOP primary in Kentucky, or frankly most red states, especially in 2010.

One of the things we rely on in politics is an adversary system to weed out bad apples. We don’t just rely on the press. We rely on the self-interest of the candidates themselves to ferret out weaknesses and warning signs in their opponents. In this case, though, was Trey Grayson going to go after Paul for his archaic and troubling views on civil rights? In a GOP primary in Kentucky in 2010? I doubt it. And pretty much the same for thinking there shouldn’t be a minimum wage or that Mexico and Canada are going to take away our liberty or that there shouldn’t be an Americans with Disabilities Act or all the rest.

Josh Marshall – Theories of the Fall | Talking Points Memo

The Steve Shall Provide

This is really how this went down.

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been wanting to make the full transition to MobileMe from Google for all my mail and calendaring needs. I know, I know, all the yammering in the tech blogosphere of late–other than being about how Mark Zuckerberg thinks you’re a sucker (he does)–has been about whether Apple is creating an evil, ironically 1984-ish hellhole of a closed system, but those complaints don’t impress me. Seems to me people unhappy with Apple’s sensibilities can, well, not buy things made by Apple. Anyway, my one hangup was that I felt MobileMe’s web-based mail client was unacceptably clunky and slow, and missing many features. A better MobileMe mail experience was the last box to check before of my Great Migration.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided that I could wait no longer, and that I would put my grievances to the man himself. With his e-mail address now publicly known, I sent an e-mail to Steve Jobs and asked him to fix MobileMe mail.

Suffice it to say, he never responded. But shortly thereafter, Apple announced a new beta of a revamped MobileMe mail! Now, I’m not so foolish as to think my e-mail spurred the beta’s creation–it must have been in the works for quite some time already. But it was neat. I signed up right away.

As time passed, I heard of more and more people getting invitations to the beta, but none for me. Itching to begin the Great Migration, I decided I’d give my old pal Steve another buzz. I asked him if he might dispatch a lackey to put me closer to the front of the line to take part in the beta. No harm in trying, right?

The next day, I got an invitation.

Okay, so look. It’s quite probable that Steve Jobs never saw any of my e-mails, and even if he had, he would likely have junked it with a batch delete of messages from other lowly mortals like myself.

But I, rationalist, skeptical, militant atheist that I am, choose to believe…to think…different. I asked Steve Jobs to do a small, small favor for a maniacally devoted fan, and The Steve did provide.

Peace be upon him. Many thanks for your great blessings, oh Bringer of Aluminum and Glass.

My faith is renewed!

P.S. The MobileMe beta? It’s alright. Got some great new features, definitely less clunky. Still needs some work. But it’s a beta, right? Steve be praised!

My Boy is Kind to Crusty Old Former Republicans

My boy Toby, he’s a baby you can count on when you’re down.

Update: Here’s Justin Sapp’s take on the next part of their exchange.

Update Update: Okay, this may go on for a while. Keep up with the series here.