State of Emojincy⚠

Today we celebrate the release by Sony Pictures of “The Emoji Movie,” rated PG (for saucy language). Rush to see it before it sinks without a trace. One look at the animation’s trailer told me it’s everything I hoped it wouldn’t be. Okay, the characters look authentic and are well voiced by prominent actors, but finding Patrick Stewart reduced to playing a pile of poop  was particularly depressing. Basically the entire film is a promo for the eponymous app plus others for Google, Facebook, YouTube and DropBox. It is meant for children, of course, but the the protagonist is pathetic and the plot is a downer. Critics were sad-faced, to say the least, with reactions ranging from  to  to . Writing for rogerebert.com, critic Peter Sobczynski ended his review with

“The Emoji Movie” may be as depressing of a film experience as anything to come out this year but if the [lack of positive] reaction of the kids that I saw it with is any indication, there may be hope for the future after all.

We can hope against hope. The very fact that an emoji movie exists alarms me, but that it’s propaganda for big Internet brands hardly comes as a surprise. I guess I should get used to seeing more of that.

Continue reading “State of Emojincy⚠”

Go Solve Yourself

Having noted that there are seven billion human beings now weighing down the planet, most struggling for subsistence, the question that keeps corporations up at night is “How can we turn these poor wretches into consumers?” And more often than not the answer is “tether them with technology that we’ll constantly monitor and update.”

Due to the dispersed nature of talent and resources, high-tech expertise nests in niches, nooks, and crannies in all sorts of places, pursuing separate goals that may or may not be related. To maximize the market potential of up-and-coming makers and capitalize on it, corporate chiefs, technologists, government policy makers, non-governmental organizations, and academics have learned to meld minds to find ways and means to get the downtrodden up to speed in the digital economy. Many hard-striving institutions of higher learning have assumed the guise of problem-solvers-to-the-world to hone the bleeding edge of innovation to razor sharpness, and no one does it better than the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Continue reading “Go Solve Yourself”

With Light Saber Toolbox Getting Started

[A little-known Star Wars fact: As an apprentice Jedi, Yoda paid his dues by serving as a technical writer. The following text is the first part of the only example of his work that has wormholed its way to us. It’s a user’s manual for installing, calibrating and using the software that light sabers need to function. In addition to his other formidable exploits, Yoda as a great technical communicator remembered will be.]

 

For purchasing Light Saber Toolbox®, thank you. For any application of a light saber—even opening packages—essential it is. Simple and pleasurable this guide the installation and operation of the toolbox makes. In it you find

  • Background – About your light saber
  • Installation – How the code to bootstrap
  • Control Logic – General operating principles
  • User Interfaces – Two of them, your choice
  • Self-Tests and Diagnostics – If trouble you encounter
  • For More Information – Learn more, you always can

Know we do that Light Saber Toolbox many generations of Jedi knights has faithfully served (some without upgrades, even). And you too it will if with the Force you abide. Continue reading “With Light Saber Toolbox Getting Started”

Catch of the Day

Flash fiction from a while ago, refurbished and scanned for malware

As usual, Max was working late. Not so usual for the pair of quality engineers who had invaded his cubicle, waiting to be noticed. “Earth to Max,” one of them finally annouced.

       “Sorry, I didn’t catch what you said,” he murmured, looking up from his tablet. His glasses were fogged from running through thickets of text and chasing after hyperlinks as he panned his face over to his two coworkers. His complexion seemed paler than usual.
       “I was trying to finger an entity that entered our room,” he said by way of an excuse. “Some of us think it’s an NSA droid.”
       His tone was hushed even though they were alone on the floor. Lakshmi asked “How can you tell it’s an agent, and how do you know it’s NSA?”
       Max glanced back to his screen. “It fits a profile, the way it insinuates itself. MrEd ID’ed it as the type that showed up in May trolling for Wikileaks sources.”
       Rob reiterated. “Anyway, I asked you how the tests were coming along. We need to validate the release tonight.”
       “It’ll happen. But this thing that barged into the chat room calling itself SkyRocket spooks me. Has to be disposed of.”
       “You’re sure?” Lakshmi asked, eyes imploring. “Can’t it wait?”
       “For what?” Max snapped back. “For them to bust us before we finish collecting evidence from the agency?”
       “About…?”
       “Can’t go there, Lakshmi. You know that. Just assume it involves the surveillance state peeking up your address.”
       Lakshmi sighed. “Okay, okay. We know you hack for freedom, but must you handle this thing now? We only have twelve hours to wrap testing and upload the release, you know.” Her fingers drummed out Helter Skelter on Max’s desk.
       Max was adamant. “Somebody needs to fire off Skyrocket, and I think I know how.” He punched some keys, stuffed his tablet into his backpack, and struggled up, his chair and his limbs creaking in unison. “Gotta go. Back in a few hours to mop up.”
       “Where are you going?” Rob asked. “Home?”
       “Norway, actually” was Max’s reply. “TTFN.”
       They stared after Max as he padded down the corridor. They had dropped by his cube to dope-slap him back to work. It hadn’t worked.
       Rob growled “I guess we gotta run his test code, if we can figure out how. Let’s hope it doesn’t find too many bugs.”

Max hurried through the parking lot to his car, unholstering his cell phone to dash off a message. When a response beeped he cranked the engine and lurched onto the highway. Fifty minutes later his wheels were two counties away. His mind was elsewhere, but the GPS kept him on course.

At daybreak, Lakshmi and Rob were still in his cubicle sorting through test logs when Max waddled in clutching a coffee cup.
       “How was Norway?” inquired Lakshmi. “Catch any fish?”
       “Big ones,” Max purred through a yawn.
       “Cut bait,” Rob demanded. “Where did you really go?”
       “I needed to visit a friend of mine. He has this really obscure tap into the Net. I couldn’t risk using my connection.”
       Lakshmi tossed her hair. “In Norway, right?”
       “No, but the proxy server we hooked into is, and it spoofed an IP address for us inside the FBI.”
       “Then what?”
       “So I suckered Skyrocket into a private chat room and told him Israel was collecting certain stuff they had no need to know and offered a few tidbits. When they analyze what went down between us, NSA will see Skyrocket debriefing some rogue FBI agent. Just a little red herring to keep them off balance until we’re ready to reveal all.”
       Creaking into his seat, Max continued, “Now let me run the other tests you should have done while you go fix whatever bugs you found.” Max—or at least his body—was back.

Will Drive for Food and Sex

Q: How did the “sharing economy” become a predatory landscape?

A: It’s simple; Capitalism is a predatory beast. Corporations will appropriate idealism, deceive customers, cheat workers, and squander good will in a New York Minute if doing so accrues value to shareholders and executives.

As Dean Baker wrote in CounterPunch several years ago, “… in their exuberance over the next big thing, many boosters [of the sharing economy] have overlooked the reality that this new business model is largely based on evading regulations and breaking the law.” He’s right about the criminality but his piece paints sharing with too broad a brush.

There’s an old Russian proverb that Trump and his minions should take to heart: “A fish rots from the head.” It’s redolent of the kind of moral decay that sets in when CEOs mistake market share, earnings and valuation for virtue. The stench that now pervades the entire economy is overpowering to everyone who doesn’t have a financial bubble to wall it out. Continue reading “Will Drive for Food and Sex”

What Would Henry Do?

[Dug out this 2006 essay from my archives because it seems to apply as much now as a decade ago. Only the technology has moved on, not the human species.]

Dedicated to Peter Balen

If life has you feeling more overwhelmed and less able to cope all the time, it might not just be encroaching senility, the accumulation of bad chemicals in your body, or even 9-11. Consider what might connect such random areas of interest as

  • Prescription drug programs
  • Retirement planning
  • Airline deregulation
  • The blogosphere
  • School vouchers
  • Globalization

Continue reading “What Would Henry Do?”

WordPress: DIY or die

Getting into WordPress publishing is like cooking a Thanksgiving dinner when you subsist on fast food and frozen entree. There’s a cookbook with a table of contents an index, and a bunch of descriptions of cooking techniques, but all the recipes are blank.

For example, I wanted to create a page that duplicates an existing on, change it slightly, and post it. After 20 minutes of mousing around the dashboard I gave up and went to WordPress Forums (e.g., this one), only to lean that this isn’t a built-in feature; you need to get a plug-in for that.

But other things I need to do are built in, but how to know how and when to use them? They’re all nicely documented in the WordPress Codex, but there aren’t very many how-to’s except for the code examples (that don’t necessarily tell you where you must put them to make them work.)

When something doesn’t seem to be working, is it a bug, misconfiguration, or my ignorance of how it works? So many mysteries, like why the Categories widget doesn’t show my categories when placed under a post, but does on the sidebar. I just know if I asked a forum (but which one?) about this, some kind soul would give me code to patch it, not telling me where it should go.

The second week things got better after I concluded that plugins are my friend. Of course, no matter what you want one to do, you first need to come up with terms to describe it and then pick from umpteen search results. So you need to consider: Does its author describe the gizmo cogently? Does it do what you want the way you want it? How many users does it have? Is it compatible with the current version of WP? Is it loaded with features you’ll never need? Does it tease you with features only to tell you oh BTW, they’re only in the premium version?

So far I’ve only encountered one plugin that didn’t work. I junked it and got another I’m happy with. But now I worry I’ll  plug in one too many times and my install will run out of memory. Actually, that happened almost as soon as I unboxed WP. Eventually found a nice forum user who had posted fixing up wp-admin/includes/media.php to allocate more memory to solve this problem (obviously), which worked but then I had to up it again.

So I have a site now that more or less does what I want. All I need now are visitors to give me feedback telling me what sucks.