Self Identification

This was the first year that I ever got to fill out a cen­sus as hus­band, father, home­own­er, and all around adult. The last cen­sus, both Angela and I were liv­ing in a dor­mi­to­ries (in two dif­fer­ent states, no less). It was such an small but sat­is­fac­to­ry sense of self-worth.

In the big­ger pic­ture, the U.S. Cen­sus is a con­sti­tu­tion­al­ly-man­dat­ed check-up on who makes up our coun­try. But some­thing that real­ly struck me is that it is no longer about what labels can the gov­ern­ment assign to us so much as it is a ques­tion­naire of how we see our­selves. My wife was absolute­ly thrilled that she was able to check more than one box for race (you’d be sur­prised how many forms still only allow for one option). So, she able to describe to the gov­ern­ment how she sees her­self as well as how we see our chil­dren.

There is a short, cutesy video explain­ing to same-sex cou­ples that they are allowed to mark how they view them­selves and their rela­tion­ship. It’s short and stars George Takei and his hus­band, Brad Alt­man:

The same con­cept applies here: the cen­sus is about dis­cov­er­ing how we view our­selves and not what labels oth­ers want to use. Whether it be race or mar­i­tal sta­tus on the cen­sus, or reli­gion or even gen­der, I — and my coun­try — am real­iz­ing that self iden­ti­fi­ca­tion is far more impor­tant that exter­nal labels.

In a coun­try where indi­vid­u­al­ism is cel­e­brat­ed, this is the cen­sus we should use1. The gov­ern­ment of the peo­ple has to let the peo­ple define them­selves.

  1. Though, in 2020, it damn well bet­ter be elec­tron­ic! []

Till the Chrome Wears Off

I spent all of the past week using only Google Chrome (build 5.0.307.11 beta for the mac) as my default brows­er. I want­ed to post a few of my obser­va­tions as a ardent Fire­Fox user.

Speed

First of all, it is very nim­ble when launch­ing and page loads are fast. To give an exam­ple, I use a three year old iMac Core 2 Duo w 4GB of RAM. I always keep my browsers to load the last set of tabs that were open on clos­ing. For a Chrome to launch and load ten web pages only takes under 13 sec­onds. Addi­tion­al­ly — for you mac nerds — the dock icon only bounces twice. Fire­Fox, eat your heart out.

Now, all of this isn’t to say that the brows­er is always fast (more on this in a bit).

Extendability

Exten­sions are avail­able to replace most all of those that I actu­al­ly used in Fire­Fox; as well as some basic Fire­Fox func­tion­al­i­ty which I was sur­prised was­n’t includ­ed. I cur­rent­ly am using:

  • Chromeleon — a user-agent spoofer
  • Deli­cious Book­marks — a social book­mark­ing tool
  • Tab Bud­dy — a tab man­ag­er
  • Bug­MeNot Lite — a tool for bypass­ing web reg­is­tra­tion
  • Google Voice
  • RSS Sub­scrip­tion — A tool to add easy feed sub­scrip­tions (how was this not inte­grat­ed to begin with?)

Anoth­er nice fea­ture of Chrome is the abil­i­ty to add web-site spe­cif­ic search­es into the address bar, as opposed to Fire­Fox’s sep­a­rate search field, with a drop-down menu to select a search engine. Both are about as easy to add a new site to, but Chrome’s inte­gra­tion feels more seam­less.

The lack of a his­to­ry in the nav­i­ga­tion but­tons annoyed me. I actu­al­ly use that when I’m doing some web search­ing to go back to a point I branched off on my cur­rent rab­bit hole. It made for a lot more click­ing on my part. It seems like the sort of thing that could be eas­i­ly added in, but nei­ther Google or any third par­ty exten­sion writ­ers have done so yet.

Flash & Video

Per­son­al pref­er­ences aside, the real down­side is when it comes to video. Flash is real­ly awful in this brows­er. If found that YouTube reg­u­lar­ly locks up. Pages with lots of Flash-based ads can com­plete­ly choke the brows­er. Fur­ther, Microsoft Sil­verlight isn’t even avail­able for Chrome, which means1 no Net­flix2 That may not be a deal-break­er for many, espe­cial­ly as many users (myself includ­ed) would like to move away from Flash and Sil­verlight. How­ev­er, they are a real­i­ty of the web right now and some­thing I end up using every­day.

I’m also notices some web­site tools don’t func­tion so well in Chrome. For exam­ple (though albeit not a great one), the “Quick vote” poll tools on CNN.com’s site don’t seem to work for me in Chrome. I click Vote and noth­ing hap­pens. It’s Javascript, so I’m not sure what is going on there because as I under­stand it this is the place where Chrome real­ly excels. It’s not the sort of thing that has both­ered me so much I’ve felt the need to even inves­ti­gate it, but some­thing worth men­tion­ing.

Conclusion

I have to admit, I fig­ured that I would find myself need­ing to open up Fire­Fox every­day when using Chrome. Hon­est­ly, oth­er than the occa­sion­al hard-to-remem­ber login or acci­den­tal click, I haven’t missed it at all in over a week of using Chrome. I could eas­i­ly find myself using Chrome full time on my mac and may even give it a whirl on my belea­guered Win­dows lap­top (which needs all the cor­ners cut pos­si­ble in terms of speed).

And, for the Apple fan­boys, my next exper­i­ment is to switch to Safari for at least a week to see how well that brows­er works for me. I haven’t seri­ous­ly re-vis­it­ed it since I got my mac three years ago.

  1. Sil­verlight works fine in Chrome, not sure why Net­flix won’t play nice. []
  2. A Safari-based exten­sion, sim­i­lar to the IE Tab exten­sion for both Fire­Fox and Chrome, would solve this issue. How­ev­er, those are bulky and far from ide­al solu­tions. What’s more, it’s only hypo­thet­i­cal at this point, as no such exten­sion exists for Chrome ont he mac. []

I Don’t Like These Numbers

I’ve been pok­ing fun at many of the num­ber-goal groups on Face­book for some­time. It’s just seems so com­i­cal to me that there are a huge num­ber of “I bet I can find 1,000,000 peo­ple for/against so-and-so” type groups there. They only get more enter­tain­ing the longer I’m on that site.

It’s so cute that there’s now a FB group which wants to sign up the entire US pop­u­la­tion (they even used an old num­ber; about 3 mil­lion too low as of last year) against our new Health­care Reform law. Nev­er mind that these are the peo­ple who won a demo­c­ra­t­ic elec­tion and did what they said they’d do. Or that cur­rent polls show sup­port for the law solid­ly north of 50%1.

What’s so cute about this? These are many of the same peo­ple who com­plain about the account prob­lems with the law.

  1. Actu­al­ly 49% called it good vs. 40% called it bad, accord­ing to a Gallup Poll report­ed in the Chris­t­ian Sci­ence Mon­i­tor. []

News of my High School Leaves More Questions Than Answers

I attend­ed high school like pret­ty much any oth­er kid in this coun­try, though this high school was a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. Found­ed as a pri­vate school by Ten­nessee’s WWI hero, Alvin York, it was lat­er hand­ed over to the State of Ten­nessee as the only gen­er­al, state run high school in Ten­nessee1. York felt strong­ly that the rur­al chil­dren of Fen­tress Coun­ty need­ed the oppor­tu­ni­ty for a sound edu­ca­tion and this is how he chose to spend his good will earned fight­ing over­seas. And so, the school was expand­ed and man­aged all on state funds since 1934.

At least, until last month. Appar­ent­ly, with no warn­ing, the state informed Fen­tress Coun­ty — a rur­al coun­ty which has his­tor­i­cal­ly had one of the high­est unem­ploy­ment rates in the coun­try — that they would need to begin pay­ing for over $2 mil­lion of the school’s $5.5 mil­lion bud­get. Today, it seems, the pic­ture has got­ten even more grim for the chil­dren of Jamestown, Allardt, and sur­round­ing areas in Fen­tress. The State Dept. of Edu­ca­tion is hand­ing out ter­mi­na­tion notices to all fac­ul­ty and staff which are like­ly to go effec­tive at the end of the term (May 2010). So, there are so many ques­tions I have but no would appear to make the sit­u­a­tion much bet­ter:

  • Who will own the school prop­er­ty and grounds? Will Fen­tress Co. be allowed to con­tin­ue using this regard­less of fund­ing capa­bil­i­ties?
  • Is the ter­mi­na­tion of employ­ees part of the $2 mil­lion cuts or is this in addi­tion to those? That is, are the salaries what Fen­tress Coun­ty Schools will need to find mon­ey for?
  • Why has this been done with no warn­ing or plan? Can’t this be grad­u­at­ed over some peri­od of time?

I’m sure there are many more ques­tions, but right now it appears that either no one knows or they aren’t mak­ing it pub­lic. I urge any­one who gets cred­i­ble infor­ma­tion to inform the local and state news as soon as pos­si­ble.

Here’s a quick cal­cu­la­tion just to put some per­spec­tive, based on Wikipedi­a’s demo­graph­ic data for the coun­ty:

  • The pop­u­la­tion of Fen­tress Co. is under 18,000, with 6,693 house­holds (of which 4,818 are fam­i­lies) resid­ing there.
  • If each house­hold has to take the addi­tion­al cost, that is $344 annu­al­ly.
  • The aver­age income lev­el is $23,238 ($28,856 for fam­i­lies), which puts the school funds need­ed at 1.5% of the aver­age income.
  • It’s also impor­tant to note that near­ly one quar­ter of Fen­tress Coun­ty lives below the pover­ty lev­el (23.1%) and the unem­ploy­ment rate is his­tor­i­cal­ly much high­er than the nation­al aver­age.
  • It actu­al­ly gets worse when you com­pare the medi­an house­hold income to the rest of the state. Fen­tress has a medi­an fam­i­ly income of just $27,8742 where the state medi­an fam­i­ly income is over one-and-half times as much ($43,614).
  1. Oth­er state run high schools are for spe­cial needs chil­dren such as the blind or deaf. []
  2. In the coun­ty seat of Jamestown, where the high school is locat­ed, the medi­an fam­i­ly income is a sick­en­ing­ly low $15,149. []

Liberals Who Pine for Conservatives

As a lib­er­al who grew up with, works with, and lives with great peo­ple who are con­ser­v­a­tives, this piece by the Wash­ing­ton Post’s E.J. Dionne, Jr. speaks vol­umes about how I feel about them. Which is that con­ser­v­a­tive voic­es are an impor­tant par­ty of a pro­gres­sive soci­ety. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, as Dionne points out, we haven’t seen that kind of con­ser­v­a­tive in the past year when dis­cussing the cur­rent admin­is­tra­tion or health care reform:

Many who call them­selves con­ser­v­a­tives pro­pose to cast aside even gov­ern­ment pro­grams that have stood the test of time. They seem to imag­ine a world in which gov­ern­ment with­ers away, a phrase that comes from Friedrich Engels, not Buck­ley. Or they tie them­selves up in unruly con­tra­dic­tions, declar­ing simul­ta­ne­ous­ly that they are dead-set against gov­ern­ment-run health care and pas­sion­ate defend­ers of Medicare.

And while mod­ern con­ser­vatism has usu­al­ly sup­port­ed the mar­ket against the state, its old­est and most durable brand under­stood that the mar­ket was an imper­fect instru­ment. True con­ser­v­a­tives may give “two cheers for cap­i­tal­ism,” as Irv­ing Kris­tol put it in the title of one of his books, but nev­er three.

The world and this coun­try des­per­ate­ly needs both lib­er­als and con­ser­v­a­tives, but those who tru­ly cham­pi­on those val­ues and can peace­ful­ly and con­struc­tive­ly reach a com­pro­mise.

Top Level Domains for Companies

Yes­ter­day, Canon announced they were acquir­ing the gener­ic top lev­el domain .canon. I pre­dict as this prac­tice becomes more com­mon­place, it is going to result in a web-brows­er secu­ri­ty night­mare. There are already plen­ty of peo­ple who don’t under­stand how to read a web address to com­pre­hend if they are actu­al­ly at the site they think they are. This is going to open up a whole new world to shady folks who use con­fu­sion and social engi­neer­ing to pull off all sorts of bad things.

Archaic Iconography

In many com­put­er appli­ca­tions1, you’ll find a tool­bar which con­tains a save tool & icon. Almost with­out fail, that icon is of a flop­py disk (most close­ly resem­bling a blue 3 1/2″ flop­py). But why not a com­put­er hard dri­ve (though those often end up look­ing like sar­dine tins in small icons) or a reel-to-reel tape? It is inter­est­ing that we sort of all agreed on one slice out of our tech­no­log­i­cal his­to­ry to agree upon as the stan­dard for sav­ing data. Of course, the irony of using this for to exe­cute a save com­mand is that very few com­put­ers today have a flop­py dri­ve at all and using these as a pri­ma­ry method of sav­ing pre­dates even the 3 1/2″ flop­py itself.

I’ve often won­dered if I’ll have to show my kids a old flop­py disk to explain the his­to­ry of the icon. That is, assum­ing I can even find one around here. When I did my Spring clean­ing last year, I had to bor­row a USB flop­py dri­ve from my father-in-law since I did­n’t have a com­put­er handy to even read those disks. Regard­less, I believe the icon itself will be large­ly abstract to them; though I don’t doubt they’ll learn to rec­og­nize what func­tion it rep­re­sents imme­di­ate­ly. They will become sym­bols more than direct rep­re­sen­ta­tions, which isn’t a bad thing in of itself2

Sim­i­lar­ly, you might find a old phone hand­set rep­re­sent­ing calls or phone func­tions and a snail-mail enve­lope for cre­at­ing or check­ing e‑mail. These, too, are out­dat­ed (or near­ly, in the case of the enve­lope) tools to rep­re­sent their dig­i­tal replace­ments.

But then, what icon bet­ter rep­re­sents sav­ing data? Or mak­ing phone calls? Or send­ing mail?

  1. This is most­ly a Win­dows and Lin­ux GUI con­ven­tion. You’ll occa­sion­al­ly find it in Mac appli­ca­tions, though most­ly in those writ­ten by Microsoft. This is because in most Mac appli­ca­tions, the file-lev­el com­mands are only found on the menu bar and not in a win­dow tool­bar. A lot of web appli­ca­tions use a sim­i­lar icon, as well. []
  2. Pret­ty much all let­ters, num­bers, and oth­er sym­bols all had more con­crete mean­ing at one time. Take, for exam­ple, the octothor­pe/pound/hash/crosshatch/number sym­bol (#). Accord­ing to The Ele­ments of Typo­graph­ic Style, this was once used in car­tog­ra­phy to rep­re­sent a vil­lage. That is, it was a sym­bol for a town square sur­round­ed by eight fields. The fact that we have so many dif­fer­ent names for this sym­bol is indica­tive of its many mod­ern uses and that we have all but for­got­ten its orig­i­nal, more lit­er­al mean­ing. []

Using Location Based Social Networking Sites

As I’ve become more and more attached to using Twit­ter, I (like most every­one else) has enjoyed adding more rich infor­ma­tion into tweets. I per­son­al­ly love includ­ing links to a pho­to, which essen­tial­ly ren­ders a tweet to a cap­tion (Arguably it also adds a 1,000 words or so to your actu­al tweet length). I have also been try­ing to use some of the loca­tion-based social net­works on and off for a cou­ple of years now, most of which seem to thrive based on their inte­gra­tion with Twit­ter.

First, we had BrightKite, which — while an attrac­tive site — was try­ing to do too much. Foursquare and Gowal­la both seem to be restrict­ing them­selves to I was here and did this1.The val­ue I see in these is to add some loca­tion con­text to a tweet (rather than the game of Foursquare or Gowal­la, for which I could­n’t care less). It also pro­vides a way for any addi­tion­al data I wish to add to be made avail­able to oth­ers if they hap­pen on the same spot.

That being said, it is very annoy­ing to me that these two meth­ods for adding infor­ma­tion to tweets (images and loca­tions) aren’t real­ly inte­grat­ed bet­ter. After strug­gling for the bet­ter part of 15 min­utes to add a Flickr2 pho­to to a Foursquare post, I fig­ured I’d like­ly nev­er try that again.

Twit­ter + Foursquare + Flickr = headache

Per­haps it could be argued that hav­ing mul­ti­ple URLs in a sin­gle tweet is a bit much infor­ma­tion for a sys­tem that was built around min­i­mal­ism. To that end, I at least try to pro­vide enough infor­ma­tion in the tweet itself to make it of some val­ue. I almost nev­er just use the default “I went to [blank]” text in Foursquare. If it is worth post­ing, it’s worth let­ting oth­ers know why I did it. This is how I choose to use Twit­ter. That is, let­ting any­one inter­est­ed in what I think know what I’m doing and why it is of val­ue. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, it just does­n’t seem to be the inten­tion of many of the ser­vices on Twit­ter.

  1. It’s no coin­ci­dence I use the past tense here. One of my issues with putting my loca­tion online, in real time, while doing some­thing away from home is best explained by the site PleaseR­obMe. While I don’t wor­ry too much about actu­al thieves track­ing my where­abouts via the web, I find it best prac­tice to lim­it who knows where I am and when. Thus, I gen­er­al­ly post to Foursquare just after I’ve left. I’m just cagey like that, I sup­pose. Some feel this abuse of Foursquare is cheat­ing the game. To those I would point to above and remind them that shit = not given. []
  2. Despite Flick­r’s adop­tion of their own URL short­en­ing, it has been poor­ly adopt­ed by Twit­ter, its clients, and its ser­vices. The lack of inte­gra­tion there real­ly puts a damper on my inter­est in using these as well. Why must I use Twit­Pic (less attrac­tive and inter­est­ing to me) when I already am a long-time Flickr user? []

Ad Blocking Software

I don’t have a real­ly good solu­tion to what Ars Tech­ni­ca’s Ken Fish­er describes as dev­as­tat­ing to web­sites (ad fund­ed sites, any­way). How­ev­er, I don’t use ad block­ers myself. I’m a big fan of ad-sup­port­ed, freemi­um ver­sions of soft­ware and sites, and it’s my way of sup­port­ing those which I am not will­ing to out-right pay for. It’s not that I don’t know now to install or use these, I just choose not to. Frankly, when a site, appli­ca­tion, or even a tele­vi­sion pro­gram offers rel­e­vant ads, I’m often thank­ful to have seen them. I sub­scribe to the idea that effec­tive adver­tis­ing is just seen as infor­ma­tion, not a sell.

Screencasting 101 at PodCamp Nashville 2010

You can watch the direc­tor’s cut (extend­ed edi­tion with DVD extras) of my pre­sen­ta­tion here.

Screencasting Session

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, my small HD video cam­era gave out only 22 min­utes into a 32 minute pre­sen­ta­tion. The above is from the still of the actu­al pre­sen­ta­tion at Pod­Camp. How­ev­er, I have re-record­ed the audio (and hope­ful­ly adding back in a bunch of the tips I for­got to tell the audi­ence or ran our of time to include). You can watch the whole thing in the link above or head on over to SlideShare to watch.