Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Back off, Yahoo!

They day I see this pop up as I open my Yahoo email is the day I put Yahoo email in the cold, cold ground.

Now I know companies need to make money. And that sometimes companies on the Internet make money through advertising. But preventing me from seeing my email because I have an ad blocker? Not gonna fly with me.

What’s the solution?

I don’t know. Charging me for email use would fly even less than saying but-but-but ad blocker at me. I would go as far as to say I’d rather see ads as I read my email than pay to read my email. But this either/or is kind of a Hobson’s choice. Either option is unpalatable.

Clearly, this is something the markets will decide. If Yahoo persists with this tack, I’ll likely change email platforms.

Though I don’t want to. I’m familiar with how Yahoo appears. I’ve tried, say, Gmail, and frankly getting deeper into Google’s tentacles makes me feel icky. There’s Outlook, I suppose. . . 

Funny thing is, there are times I don’t mind ads at all. I’m a Simcity Buildit player, and they’ve suddenly introduced ads this week in the form of allowing me the choice of watching short app commercials in exchange for in-game items. I’ll watch the ads for a reward. But Yahoo – my email isn’t a reward. It’s communication, yes. Reward? No. Most of it goes unread. But there’s occasionally something important there. Like emails from myself at work to myself at home. Easiest file transfer protocol out there. I don’t need to see ads or be rewarded to get my own stuff. See the difference?

It’s a quandary, I know. You can’t keep offering these services for free, and the alternative to free is to monetize my presence somehow. I get that.

Newspapers and magazines kinda got that too. They got used to people pruning before they read – dropping all the ad circulars or taking out the little subscription cards before they read. Now, there are times those circulars and such are important enough to keep (Black Friday is coming up, after all).

There are solutions like this. Oooh, savor the irony, Kronk.

Is there a chance AdBlock Plus users could counter pay to avoid seeing the ads? I don’t know. Because if AdBlocker wants me to pay a premium to see no ads versus using a free version that allows paid-paid ads through, well I’m going to go with the free option. Because my desire to use free stuff on the Internet trumps any hatred I might harbor for ads.

See, the ads I can ignore. I ignore them a lot. I tune out during radio commercials. I throw out the circulars (when I pick up a newspaper at all). And I watch those silly Simcity Buildit ads while I’m using the bathroom. So they don’t hurt me. I’m not as ad-averse as the current generations, who apparently are physically injured every time they see an advertisement.

I’m turning into Abe Simpson. And I’m okay with that.

Writing -- Through the Eyes of A Silent Film Star

A little bit more writing help from Tony Zhou at Every Frame A Painting.

This time, he’s looking at the storytelling of Buster Keaton, recognized as one of the biggest stars of the silent film era.

Zhou emphasized Keaton’s visual storytelling – something that should sound familiar to anyone exploring the best ways to write: Show, don’t tell.

Here’s Keaton’s advice:

Tell your story through action. The average silent era picture, he said, used 240 titles, where dialogue or exposition was written out for the viewer. “The most I ever used was 56,” he says. “We eliminated subtitles just as fast as we possibly could if we could do it through action.” That’s Fiction Writing 101: Show, don’t tell. (And something I occasionally struggle with.)

Equally important to Keaton: Where do you put the camera? Changing the location of the camera can bring significant improvement to a scene as the character and the action are kept in the same frame at the same time.

How does that work for the writer: If a scene isn’t working from a certain perspective, change it and see if it’s better. Give that situation to a different character. Fiddle with your narration style. See what changes.

Also significant for writing: Allowing inspiration. Keaton says about 50% of what he did was planned, and the rest came as things went right but different, or wrong but different, during filming. As you go along, he says, you might see jokes “emerge organically, from the character.” That implies knowing one’s characters, which Keaton knew in a serious way.

Spend some time, watch the video. It’s enlightening.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Let Me Know if I Missed Anything . . .

Click to embiggen. And remember each flowchart flows onto the next page.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Safe Spaces, and the Allegory of the Cave

I am – with immense relief felt every time I say it – no longer in the journalism business. Nevertheless, things like this irk me.

You want twisted, insincere narratives? That’s typically what you get when you shut people out, whether they’re journalists or not.

I am far and physically removed from the protests in Missouri. I have no plans to invade any “safe spaces” (whatever that means). But I might, out of curiosity, out of sympathy, out of empathy, want to know what’s going on. By shutting out the news media, you sound as loony as those who fear “the medias” are a left-wing (or a right-wing) cabal of truth-forgers bent on shaping whatever it is you think you’ve got into whatever it is you think they want to tell the rest of the world. And grant you, we see that sometimes (and from both the left-wing and the right-wing of this so-called cabal).
But isn’t there room for sincerity somewhere? And isn’t there irony painting “the medias” with a broad brush when you’re on campus trying to paint race relations with finer instruments?

Whooooooah! I think there is.

Here’s a twisted narrative for you: What are y’all trying to hide there? That’s the first question that came to my mind when I heard y’all were shoving the media out and wanting to create safe spaces. Is your conversation of reconciliation and delight so dark and unproductive that you don’t dare share it with the rest of the world?

I know I’m painting an unfair picture.

But you’re helping paint it by barring outsiders who happen to come with a camera or a microphone.
You’re helping to feed the monster of fear and distrust, folks. You’re feeding the monster of “Us vs. Them” even as you think you’re starving it.

You chanted “We Shall Overcome” and you overcame. But this kind of behavior means pretty soon y’all will be the ones others are chanting “We Shall Overcome” at (h/t to Terry Pratchett for that one).

I’m reminded of the humans described in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, chained to the floor and able only to see the shadows and hear the cries of what is going on behind them, lit as the cave is by a crackling fire. They see shadows of man and shadows of the statues of animals the men carry, and sometimes the shadows blend together so they are not quite certain of what they see. And there is an echo in the cave, so any voices or cries or singing they hear is muddled with the reverberations. They are never quite sure what they see and hear; they can only interpret. And one sitting next to the other may not agree on the interpretation.

Don’t be like these prisoners, who, once released, initially prefer to stick with their own interpretations because, upon looking at reality – that some of the animals that they saw were statues, not real; that the sunlight blinds and hurts their eyes -- they can't deal with it. They prefer to return to their prison, even unchained, and remain there for a time because they're more comfortable with seeing mere shadows and illusions than they are dealing with real life.

Real life does not offer safe spaces.

Real life requires an open mind without shutting others out of it.

The sooner you learn that, the more meaningful the rest of your education will become.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Sick of Crap Internet Service? Make Your Own With Parts You're Sure NOT To Have At Home.

It’s clear I need to forget about a doctorate in technical communication (and all the messy moving to Logan that such a program entails) and begin taking courses in physical Internet service construction (if such a thing is offered).

I’m inspired today in this lunacy by this story at Ars Technica, featuring a group of frustrated internet users on Washington State’s Orcas Island who built their own internet service.

Every broadband service map or list I see claims our area is loaded with internet service options. We’re on our third ISP, and I’ve yet to be dazzled (to be fair, as much as the Ars article pokes fun at Century Link, theirs is the best service we’ve had; we left them because of their penchant for treating current customers like crap at the expense of new customers).

Surely there are people in our own neighborhood smart enough to do this. I know the Madison School District set up their own microwave service to connect their schools. Surely it can’t be hard to do, if you’ve got the knowledge and the money. Our own city of Ammon is working on its own fiberoptic network, but the first time I checked in, their ISP wanted $20,000 just to say hello. We’re a bit priced out of that, for an individual user. Lately, they’ve dropped the price to $3,000 – still a bit steep.

I have no idea how much the folks on Orcas Island invested in their network – the article, like Rodrigo, is a little hazy on the details.

The city is looking for a neighborhood to act as a pilot program; unfortunately per this map of interest, my neighborhood isn’t quite saturated enough yet to get the city’s attention. Maybe I need to go on a campaign or something.

Or go into business for myself. But right now I’m not smart enough. I’m not a community organizer. So it’s the finding people, or the schooling. Or both.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Saddest of the Sad Views

Silas said, “Out there, the man who killed your family is, I believe, still looking for you, still intends to kill you.”

Bod shrugged. “So?” he said. “It’s only death. I mean, all of my best friends are dead.”

“Yes.” Silas hesitated. “They are. And they are, for the most part, done with the world. You are not. You’re alive, Bod. That means you have infinite potential. You can do anything, make anything, dream anything. If you change the world, the world will change. Potential. Once you’re dead, it’s gone. Over. You’ve made what you’ve made, dreamed your dream, written your name. You may be buried here, you may even walk. But that potential is finished.”

Neil Gaiman, in “The Graveyard Book”

Many years ago, I read “Good Omens.” After that, there were two paths to choose. Neil Gaiman or Terry Pratchett. I chose the latter. And have been happier for it.

As talented as Gaiman is, I’ve always found his vision limiting. Pratchett always approached the world with wonder. Gaiman, with caution. Neither make much of many of the things I hold dear, but leave it to Gaiman to turn out an idea like what’s quoted above: Hopelessness. Stasis. Infinite boredom. Maybe because Pratchett always wrote about the Now, leaving the Then for the Nac Mac Feegle, believing their lives to be dead now, living later. But there’s always hope in Partchett’s tales, whereas Gaiman leaves the future bleak as trees in winter.

In reading The Graveyard Book, comparisons are inevitable. There’s a clear Lemony Snicket vibe here, with the orphaned Bod being hunted by mysterious murderers, and a mysterious organization protecting him, or at least fighting against the other group. But Snicket is a more clever writer in this vein. And Snicket is entirely more menacing and is in on the hopelessness joke with the reader. Gaiman’s graveyard is filled with milquetoasts protecting a milquetoast kid from a milquetoast murderer. A fine tale, but there are better ones out there.

The Next Battle in the BSA – and the Soul of Scouting

All has fallen quiet (or at least as quiet as it can be) in the Boy Scouts of America since the decision to allow gay leaders came down earlier this year.

But the seeds for the next conflict have been sown, particularly in a revamping of rank requirements that include the question: “Tell how you have done your duty to God.”

I predict this will be the next battlefield, never mind that a duty to God has been an acknowledged part of Scouting (and not just the BSA) since its founding.

Here’s the rub: If a boy says in the scoutmaster conference or board of review that he does not believe in God, rank advancement can be stopped. Per Bryan on Scouting 9emphasis mine):

Q. What if, during a Scoutmaster conference or board of review, a Scout says that he does not believe in God?

A. A Scout is called to do his duty to God by both the Scout Oath and Scout Law, and his belief in God should be acknowledged by his parent or guardian’s signature on the BSA Youth Application. A Scout’s declaration that he does not believe in God is grounds to deny rank advancement and could affect his continued membership in the troop. The situation should be approached with the utmost caution, recognizing that the Scout and his family are best served by a process in which the Scout remains positively engaged in his Scouting pursuits. Troop leadership should not attempt to counsel the Scout, but should contact the boy’s parents or guardians and allow the family time to discuss the situation with the youth. If the issue arises at a board of review, the board should be adjourned and reconvened at a later date, giving the family an opportunity to conduct that discussion with their son.

I happen to be a believer. Have been for a very long time. But in this day and age where people do not read the terms and conditions, this is going to become a sticking point.

But should it?

I know a boy who has been held back on his Tenderfoot rank because he can’t do a pull-up. That’s a firm requirement. And has been for a long time, since “physically strong” was part of Scouting. And I think his leaders are being a bit too hard on him.

My youngest son also fits this category. He’s a chunky monkey like his father. He cannot do a pull-up. But he has passed off that requirement through the help of wise scout leaders (not me) who see his love of Scouts and Scouting should not be halted by one shortcoming.

If we wash out the spiritually agnostic, do we also wash out the physically weak? If so, I’d better leave Scouting. I can’t do a pull-up to save my life. Literally.

How would I react if a boy said to me, in a Scoutmaster conference, that he does not believe in God?
The reaction would be nuanced.

I’m Scoutmaster in an LDS (Mormon) unit. Most of my scouts are Mormons. Some are lapsed. And I have one Scout who is not LDS, but has other beliefs. All are, on occasion, asked to say a prayer over a meal, or before a camping trip. None have refused. They have gone to church-sponsored activities where the focus was religion, not Scouting. None have protested. The parents seem to know this is going to happen. None have complained.

And if they did, and if they insisted neither a certain religion nor belief in God be pushed?

That is their right.

But their boys are still Scouts. They can still come to our troop. They won’t be forced into any activity they don’t wish to engage in – though they won’t be shunned or excluded.

Excluding these boys – and by extension, their families – from the BSA because they elect not to believe in God is a disservice, for the cause of religion (of any stripe) and of Scouting – and certainly of these boys. Shoving them out because they decline to believe in a higher power will further alienate them and make them more disinclined to believe.

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.