Sunday, March 31, 2013

Baseball is Back

I'm absolutely swamped with work, as school wraps up for me in three days, and I've still got a couple of major school things standing between myself and the freedom of summer. But I still made time to sit down and (mostly) watch the Astros-Rangers MLB opener tonight.

Baseball is back for another year, and all my other problems don't seem to bad right now.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

My Crowning Achievement

I've gotten into the habit of spending most of my lunch hours at work going for walks. Working 9-5 doesn't exactly agree with me, and I find that by noon I can really use the chance to get some fresh air and stretch out a bit. Now that the weather is getting a little nicer, I will usually spend about 45 minutes walking around outside, before making my way back into the branch and attempting to heat and gobble down my lunch in the remaining 15 minutes.

Unfortunately, that meant that by the time I returned on Saturday to discover that the microwave was broken, it was too late for me to go somewhere to buy food. Apparently, somebody turned it on and it started to emit smoke, and when you're dealing with a device that heats things with radiation, people tend not to want to take risks. Many days, that just wouldn't be a problem for me. I often bring leftover food from the day before which is better warm, but totally edible cold. Unfortunately Saturday was not one of those days. I had brought a frozen cheese cannelloni which was essentially a brick. Eating it cold was not an option. I basically resigned myself to enjoying the mini yogurt I brought and then going hungry.

That lasted about five minutes. I was hungry, and tired, and the last thing I needed was to get cranky when I have to work with kids and teens all afternoon. I was also determined not to be beaten by a microwave. I took stock of my options and developed a plan. A wild and crazy plan.

My office has only one thing capable of generating heat: a kettle. Unfortunately, I could not cook my microwave cannelloni in a kettle. However, I was fairly confident that the microwavable container would float, so I decided to test that theory. I found the most durable plastic container in my office, and prayed it would not melt. I boiled the kettle, and set up a platform in the corner of my office, where if I spilled any water there was nothing to damage.

The container did float, thankfully, and the plastic tub did not melt, again thankfully. Already, this was a ragingly mediocre success!

I had to go back and forth from my office to the program, but I changed the water every few minutes. While this strategy was seeming more and more likely to work, it was not working very quickly. Ten minutes passed and it was still solid. Twenty and the sauce was beginning to soften. Thirty and the ice was gone off the top of the noodles. By forty minutes, the noodles were only frozen in the middle, and lunch seemed inevitable.

But wait! This lame story would be super lame without a last minute twist. While I was confident that it was only a matter of time until my food was edible, I began to question the integrity of the waterlogged microwavable container. These things are disposable, and not meant to stand extreme water for extended periods. While lunch may have been inevitable, so was disintegration. Now I faced a race against time! So much drama!

By fifty minutes, I had a decision to make. My food was lukewarm, even in the middle. It was edible. I like it hotter, but I was convinced that the container could not withstand another round in the tub. I made the decision, and I called it. I found a paper plate and transferred the pasta out of the sodden mess of a container. Lunch time!

I had beaten the system. I had triumphed where others would have given in. I got to eat lunch. Victory never tasted so mediocre, but I was hungry so I did not care. I was also even more glad than usual to be vegetarian. I did not have to worry about the potential consequences of undercooked meat, having none in my meal.

Hopefully next week we will have a new microwave, and I can cook my food properly, and in a reasonable amount of time.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Google

This is an issue we discuss all the time in Library School: how can we remain relevant in a world where everyone uses Google for research questions? One of the arguments I've heard a lot is that we just have to be "better" somehow. The human element means that we are better positioned to answer queries that are more complicated and multi-dimensional than "how long do kangaroos live." We can understand what our users actually want, in a way that Google can't.

I think this is incredibly short-sighted for a couple of reasons. First of all, our users clearly don't care that we may be able to offer better results (even that is debatable). They're using Google en masse, because it's free, convenient, and fast. We are losing to Google as it is.

Even worse: Google is getting better. They have an army of the best computer scientists, engineers, business professionals, and yes, even librarians. They have hundreds of billions of dollars. And they are motivated to throw all of that money at making their search tools the best they can possibly be, because they need you and I to use their search tools in order to mine the data they use to sell advertising. They have the tools, the resources, and most importantly the motivation to be the best. And anyone who says they will compromise the quality of their search engine in order to sell advertising is a fool; Google is not that shortsighted. They need us to use their search engine, and they know they need to have the best product on the market, or they will quickly be overtaken by Yahoo!, Microsoft, or Facebook in the search world.

Google will beat us at search. We cannot compete. This week they hired a UofT professor to "teach context to computers" in order to improve search. They will figure that out, and they will move on to the next way in which they can be better. They have too much money and too many resources to not conquer any obstacles they encounter. If we try and be better than Google at information retrieval, and we make that a pillar of our profession, we will be screwed. We will continue to lose market share. And we will die.

So, how can we remain relevant? That's easy: Don't try to compete with Google. We can concede retrieval to Google, because that's only a tiny part of our real job anyway. What we still own, and where Google doesn't even want to compete with us, is space. We have a physical presence in the community. We are a part of our communities. We can interact with them, connect them to other resources, connect them to each other, and provide programs that Google can't and won't. We can, and should, teach them to use Google better, along with the rest of the web. We can provide a place for them to access Google and the rest of the web.

Google doesn't want to compete with us, but we seem to want to compete with Google. They want to coexist with us. We do a lot of things they love, and they want us around. They're not killing us, we're killing ourselves by retrenching ourselves in something which may constitute a large part of our identity, but only a small part of our profession. It's time to let go of retrieval, and move on to a new era in librarianship. It's time to be better.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Google announced today that they would start selling Chromebooks in Canada. They'll be selling the Samsung and Acer Chromebooks via BestBuy and Futureshop, and the HP via HP's online portal. I'm not sure why Google chose to eschew their own virtual sales portal, the Play Store, or their Chromebook launch partner in the US, Amazon, but I'm just glad they finally brought Chromebooks into this market, and BestBuy/Futureshop has national distribution channels both online and via brick and mortar stores.

Personally, I've been using a Samsung Series 5 550 Chromebook for about six months now, and I love it. The Series 5 550 is not the same Samsung Chromebook as the one Google is bringing to Canada (it's slightly more powerful but also a little louder and slightly larger) but it is very similar. I actually drove down to Buffalo to get one last year, believing that Google would not be bringing the devices to Canada any time soon.

Chromebooks have been around for a couple of years now, but they seem to have really taken off with the introduction of the $249 Samsung Chromebook late last year. The cheap price grabbed a lot of attention, and the quality hardware and lengthy battery life brought a lot of people in. Acer and HP jumped on the bandwagon shortly thereafter, and Google released their own, ultra-premium Chromebook a few weeks ago, though they do not appear to have brought that one to Canada yet. Not a lot of people will be upset by that though, as the ultra-premium price tag it carries would not have led to a lot of sales.

Without question, Chromebooks have their drawbacks. As Chrome OS is primarily a web browser, they require a constant internet connection to be truly useful. They also cannot run anything that doesn't exist as a website or Chrome app, so if you need custom software for work or school, you're SOL. They are also obviously effectively useless for anything more than casual gaming.

However, they are really, really good at the web. Removing all the bloat of a desktop OS like Windows means that Chromebooks can get much more from their hardware. Keeping a dozen tabs open at once is a breeze on mine, the Chromebook just doesn't care. It's also capable of playing back HD video, including Netflix. Websites all render properly, just like in desktop Chrome, and Flash plays perfectly. The keyboard is also outstanding; while my old Acer netbook was a nightmare for typing even short emails, I can easily type entire essays on my Chromebook. While still smaller than a bulky full-size laptop, the extra size makes a huge difference for both the screen and keyboard.

As for the internet connection, that isn't an issue for me at all. In Toronto, there are wireless hotspots everywhere. I always have wifi access at home, at school, and at work. At worst, when I can't find a wifi hotspot, I tether my phone and use its data connection. Honestly, in the six months that I've had this thing, not having internet access has not once been an issue.

For someone like me, who lives almost exclusively in the cloud, if I didn't have an internet connection, I wouldn't know what to do anyway. Even when I had Windows laptops, I never did anything that wasn't online. I do all my school work via Google Drive. I keep all my music in Google Music (registered via a VPN, and it works fine from Canada once you sign up). I did all this before I had a Chromebook, so the transition was very smooth.

If you're only looking for a thin client with which to browse the web, I highly recommend you take a Chromebook for a spin. They're not for everyone, and for most people they will need to be a secondary computing device (I have a desktop PC at home), but as a web browser it doesn't get much better, especially for the cost. I'm not sure whether the Acer is the older Acer or the very recently announced upgraded model, but either way I'd recommend everyone take a long hard look at the Samsung model. I really believe this is the future of laptops, and I'm glad to see it finally available in Canada.

Monday, March 18, 2013

A One Sentence Post on Being Alive

In that moment, when the sweat is coming off me in sheets, and I feel like my entire body is about to shut down, but I push myself to go 2% further, 2% harder, and 2% longer, that's when I feel the most alive.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Glass and the Downfall of Society

Edward Champion wrote an interesting article detailing 35 reasons why Google Glass is a bad thing. He actually makes a couple of good points, but he also repeats his arguments, uses some incredibly flawed logic, and makes some points that apply equally to smartphones, cameraphones, laptops, and other devices. In general, he also turns the entire thing into a strawman hackjob.

Champion leads with a Sergei Brin quote lifted from the Wall Street Journal regarding what exactly Glass is. The quote is from an interview in which Brin is responding to questions from reporters. Against typical journalistic conventions, Champion is careful to include in the quote the several "uh"s used by Brin. Brin is an IT worker, not a public speaker. He's not the CEO of the company (that would be Larry Page, his fellow cofounder) because Brin preferred to stay free to work on projects like Glass. Champion could have removed the "uh"s from the quote, or he could have used one of a million other quotes that define Glass, or he could have simply summed up Glass himself. It seems pretty clear that he chose this quote because, when written, it makes Brin look like he can barely string together a sentence. Champion apparently has to attack the messenger because his argument is too weak to stand on its own.

Champion then discusses the price, citing an article from the Verge, and then has the audacity to suggest that Glass is "propped up by ostensible "journalists" who have never thought to question Mr. Brin’s brilliant PR." Of course, since Champion just cited the Verge he presumably read Joshua Topolsky's lengthy hands on with Glass, published that same day as the article Champion cited in which he spends a significant amount of time questioning privacy issues and the possible impact on society. Or Ellis Hamburger's piece from earlier this month questioning whether Glass could "drown us in data." Suggesting that journalists have not questioned Glass or Brin is not only factually incorrect, it is morally repugnant, and another straw man which Champion happily tears down.
Anyway, on to the "arguments."

Argument One: It could destroy whatever shreds of privacy we have left.

Champion's case seems to be revolving around the fact that data will be uploaded to Google's servers, and video including people could be indexed and tagged without the user even realizing. This is true, but is equally true for smartphones, or any video files stored in the cloud. This is an argument against the internet, not Glass. Champion then gets into some farfetched dystopian bullshit about a future where Google sells you your privacy, which is so ridiculous and out there that it's not even worth addressing. Also, again not directly an argument against Glass.

Argument Two: It will turn the United States into a surveillance state.
I don't live in the United States, but Canada isn't that different. Yes, if I do something illegal, I am more likely to be caught. If I do something immoral, I am more likely to be exposed. That could really be inconvenient, but it's mostly an extension of the existing smartphone paradigm.

Champion gives the example of two same sex individuals having public sexual intercourse, being caught on camera, and being fired from their jobs for it. That would be absolutely wrong and tragic. However, that would not be absolutely wrong and tragic because they had their photo taken. though I'd feel sorry for them, and I don't think it's right to take pictures in that case, they took that risk when they decided to have public sex. What is truly wrong and tragic is if they were fired for having same sex intercourse. That is the problem here, not Glass. This is another straw man.

Argument Three: It will hold more people needlessly accountable for easily pardonable activities.
This is true, but again an extension of the existing smartphone paradigm. Also, there is a case to be made that if everyone has their personal life publicly available, it will make it impossible to fire someone for (heaven forbid) drinking alcohol in their personal time, as in the case Champion cites, because everyone will have photos on the internet of them holding alcoholic beverages.

Argument Four: It is remarkably easy to steal a pair of glasses.
This is true. Don't be an idiot. Don't walk around at night, or in bad neighbourhoods, with a $1500 pair of glasses on. Use some common sense, and most people will be fine. As Champion himself says, there are always a lot of thefts in the early days of a computing technology. Glass will be no different. Does that mean we should stop inventing new technologies? At some point Glass will die or become so ubiquitous and cheap that it won't be worth stealing.

Champion also makes an argument that a stolen Glass could lead to identity theft. He's making a huge assumption as to how Glass will work here (as in, no security or protections whatsoever) and ignoring that smartphones offer the same problems.

Argument Five: It gives Google far more personal information than it needs to know.
Define "needs to know." It is true that Google is collecting your personal data. They use this data to improve their advertising service, the profits of which go into developing the free software they distribute. This is true of Google Search, Google+, Chrome, Android, and their many other products and services. The more information they have, the more they can make from ads, the more they can invest into delivering better products. If you have a problem with it, and there are many who do for good reason, then use a different set of products or services. However, I don't know why Champion feels he gets to set the line on exactly how much Google "needs to know."

Argument Six: It will open new possibilities for online sexual extortion.
This is, again, just an extension of the smartphone paradigm. It's a problem that extends to cameraphones and computer services like Skype. The solution isn't to stifle innovation, it's to improve protective legislation and increase the power and scope of law enforcement to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Argument Seven: It may increase violence.
It may, or it may not. Did cameraphones increase violence? Google has said that the point of the Explorer program is to see how people develop social norms around Glass.

Argument Eight: It will discourage personal risk.
Champion seems to believe Glass is recording at all times, which isn't true. Even still, in this day and age, people should assume they're on camera at all times anyway. They probably are. The presence of Glass shouldn't change that.

Argument Nine: We have no idea what health problems Glass will create.
Champion makes a rare good point here: we should be concerned about this, and we should be studying it. However, there is plenty of evidence that SAR is harmless. It's likely that the impact of Glass on brain health will be nil.

Argument Ten: It may increase violations of doctor-patient confidentiality and attorney-client privilege.
This is just stupid. The solution to doctors and lawyers having unencrypted smartphones stolen is to encrypt their smartphones, not take them away. Any doctor who takes pictures of patients' files, or lawyers who use Glass to record interviews with clients, is incompetent anyway. Again, does Champion not realize that Glass isn't recording at all times?

Argument Eleven: It could be hacked.
So could your smartphone or your webcam. Let's all go back to lettermail communication only folks, because you never know when you might get hacked.

Argument Twelve: It will discourage anonymity.
Yes, it might. Want to be anonymous? Don't use Glass. Of course, Champion's whole argument here is completely unrelated to Glass, and rambles on about some idiot who didn't pay attention to what he was doing and was appalled that he used his real name on an app review.

Argument Thirteen: It isn’t distinct enough from the body.

This is barely even coherent. It sounds like Champion wants Glass to be a useless fashion statement, rather than a function-over-form personal device.

Argument Fourteen: It could give the police far more details about you than you can possibly know.
If you live somewhere where you do not feel that you can trust the police force to act in your best interest, don't use Glass. In fact, don't use any service that uploads reams of information on you to the internet. This is common sense.

Also, don't make drunken sex videos with people wearing Glass.

Argument Fifteen: It will discourage kindness and respect.
Glass will not discourage kindness and respect. As Champion himself notes, if people want to be dicks with cameras, they already do. Blame the people, not the tools. Also, Champion seems to go off on some utterly insane tangent about how the leaking of the Abu Ghraib pictures was somehow a bad thing. Dude seems to be losing it.

Argument Sixteen: Artists will be held more accountable for material that "offends."
Easy solution here: if you don't want them to record you, make people take off Glass while watching a standup comedian perform.

Argument Seventeen: It may kill off what remains of the moviegoing experience.
I hate people talking or texting in movies. It drives me absolutely insane. Put away your damn phone for a couple of hours. Again, this is the person, not the tool. Plus, Glass won't have the annoyingly bright LCD bothering me.

As for piracy concerns, have fun watching a movie that was recorded by a head mounted camera. You think people can keep their heads perfectly still for two hours? Of course, had Champion done his research, he'd know that Glass records in short bursts (and almost certainly doesn't have the battery for a full movie). He'd also know that Glass is removable from prescription glasses, so people can just take it off to get into media events.

Argument Eighteen: It will create problems with consent.
Why is it Google's job to make you aware of your rights. They need to let you know what they will be getting from you, and that's it. Whether you agree or not is your choice. Should they send a damn lawyer to your house to explain it?

Argument Nineteen: Cool places will be outed by boors.
Good restaurants will become popular. How tragic. I'm sure the hardworking owners and staff will be so disappointed to be recognized for their quality and hard work. Seriously, this one is just patently ridiculous.

Argument Twenty: It will discourage people from paying attention.
Just because you get an email notification in Glass doesn't mean you have to ignore the person you're talking to in order to attend to it right away. In fact, that is the whole point of Glass, to allow you to know you have an email and make a value call on its importance without interrupting what you're already doing. Champion is just way off base here.

Argument Twenty-One: It will turn more strangers into stalkers.
This is just Champion being intentionally ignorant. Yes, you can use Glass to help you find people. You can do this only if they have actively shared their location with you. It leverages Latitude, a Google service which already exists. Don't want someone to stalk you? Don't make your location public.

Argument Twenty-Two: It will create more cyberbullying and stress.
This is just argument eleven repeated. Also, Champion is assuming Google will allow users to remotely activate and view the camera, which is not a given at all.

Argument Twenty-Three: It could make you more willing to believe lies.
This is, again, barely coherent, but I think Champion is arguing that if you're getting information from friends through Glass you're more likely to believe it? Champion again seems to be making huge leaps as to how Glass will function, and doesn't explain at all how this is different from a smartphone, and generally seems to really, really be reaching here.

Argument Twenty-Four: It will create more needless distraction.
This is again just an extension of the smartphone paradigm. It's also counter-intuitive: Champion makes an argument that smartphone picture-taking is negatively impacting weddings but that if people could take pictures of exactly what they're seeing without needing to get out a smartphone and get in other people's way this would somehow be a bad thing.

Argument Twenty-Five: It will expand the Streisand effect to an unprecedented level.
There might be something here, except that Champion makes absolutely no connection to Glass. We already take pictures with our smartphones and upload them to the internet. The only difference is we might take more pictures. What this has to do with unflattering pictures being leaked and circulated is beyond me.

Argument Twenty-Six: It could prevent people from discovering themselves.
You know, Glass does turn off, just like your smartphone, tablet, and laptop. And even wearing it you can probably get good and lost, if you want to. I sometimes do, on purpose while wandering Toronto, even with my smartphone.

Argument Twenty-Seven: It will discourage people from seeking unfamiliar viewpoints.
I'd argue that social media has made it much easier to find (or be presented with) unfamiliar viewpoints. I was linked to Champion's article via Twitter.

As for the fact that you can block people in Google Hangouts, how is this any different from screening calls and hanging up on people? Hangouts are meant to function like group video phone calls.

Argument Twenty-Eight: It could create another place where advertisement takes over our lives.
Yes, it is possible that Google might one day add ads to Glass. But any company might one day add ads to any product or service. We can't live in fear of that at all times.

Argument Twenty-Nine: It will create needless competition over who has the most worthwhile life experience.
This is just silly. It gives people a way to share the most awesome things they do in their life. Getting to see something really cool that my friend did from his perspective will not make me feel inadequate, because I am not petty and shallow. Does looking at people's vacation pictures make you feel like a loser? If so, there may be something more fundamentally wrong.

Argument Thirty: It will discourage people from striking up conversations with strangers.
Champion goes on a crazy rant about how people won't ask for book recommendations because Glass can already tell them where the music section is and people might be spying on him. Again, he makes huge logical leaps regarding the functionality of Glass, and he assumes (for no apparent reason) that because people can have their directional questions answered by a computer, they won't ask reference questions anymore. Just because my GPS can direct me around New York City, that doesn't mean I wouldn't look online and ask people I know who have been there for advice on what to see and do.

Argument Thirty-One: It could discourage companies from hiring people.
This makes absolutely no sense at all. Yes, this might be the death knell for Wal-Mart greeters (and we'll all mourn their passing, I'm sure), but why would stores eliminate customer service reps and returns desks just because people are wearing Glass? We all have phones in our pockets which we could use to call a customer service line right now. Hell, my phone could even do a Hangout with a customer service rep. Why does Glass change anything here?

Argument Thirty-Two: It will create unfair advantages for online retailers.
This is just another extension of the smartphone paradigm. In many industries, retail stores are a dying model, and Glass isn't going to be the difference maker. Amazon is just better at it. We should embrace the future of retail, not demonize it. If small stores do something better than online retailers, they will survive. If they don't, they don't deserve to survive.

Argument Thirty-Three: It could usher in a new form of vertical integration and that does not compensate talent.
Boo hoo, Google isn't paying users enough for the views that they get when they upload videos to YouTube. Apparently, the fact that Google is providing a free video sharing service for all isn't enough. In that case, there are many competitors.

Google services dominating the world is a real concern. We should want to see more competition and innovation. YouTube underpaying viral video uploaders is not a concern. Champion misses the mark here.

Argument Thirty-Four: It will make driving dangerous.
More dangerous than hands-free GPS and phone calls? That's debateable. However, it is a driver's choice to read an email while driving, just as it is their choice to do so on their smartphone. If they want to be reckless and irresponsible, they already can be. Again, blame the person, not the tool.

Argument Thirty-Five: It could attempt to erase people in need from existence, as well as serious problems that we cannot ignore.
Champion details some creepy sounding German technology that can be inserted into contact lenses and remove homeless people from view. This sounds awful. This technology is not in Glass. this technology could not be in Glass, the way Glass is constituted. The fact that this technology might one day come to market is not directly related to Glass. This is pure fear-mongering.

Thus ends Champion's series of flawed and fallacious arguments. However, the best may be yet to come. Champion proceeds to (rightly) lionize Steve Jobs for the iPhone. There is no question that the iPhone changed the smartphone industry for the better, and maybe even changed the world. However, Champion then proceeds to get more than a little ridiculous.

Champion begins to contrast Jobs and Sergei Brin. He paints Jobs as an eloquent speaker and presenter who could really deliver a hello of a sales pitch for a product and make you believe in it. Brin, on the other hand, he describes as nervous and uncertain, with a little bit of bumbling geekishness. All of this is true, but putting aside the fact that Brin is not to Google as Jobs was to Apple, as I pointed out in the beginning; what the hell does that have to do with the product itself? How is the fact that Jobs is eloquent and dynamic and Brin is not even remotely relevant to the value of the iPhone and the value of Glass? Are we seriously rating products based on the quality of their spokesperson?

Champion ends his piece with perhaps his most over-the-top insanity of all, stating that "Jobs believed that the iPhone was for everyone. For Brin, Glass is for a privileged elite." Let's ignore the fact that we're comparing two completely different products for a moment. Let's also ignore the fact that for Google, the more people wearing Glass the better (not just the "privileged elite"). The fact that Champion can one-eighty from the defender of the poor and down-trodden in his last argument, to claiming that a six-hundred dollar device is for everyone is just mind-blowlingly audacious. Apple has steadfastly refused to enter the low-cost smartphone segment, a market Google's Android now owns, because they want to remain in the elite upper market. They have the highest profit margins of any smartphone manufacturer in the world, and they continue to maintain high prices. They try to be the definition of elite. The iPhone is not for everyone. It's for everyone who can afford it.


I'm throwing this in here, because I think it's related. I've seen this tweet retweeted a few times the past few days, and I take personal issue with it.

I like to read. I'll admit that I don't really "get" a lot of visual art (I think it has to do with the colour blindness), but I respect it. I like good books, journalism, theatre, and culture. I also like gadgets. The two are not mutually exclusive. Suggesting they are is a straw man argument which is insulting to those who like one or the other.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Worst. Day. Ever.

Google announced their annual spring cleaning plans for 2013 yesterday. Spring cleaning is where Google announces a few products or services for which it plans to shutter or end support. Typically these are services that almost nobody uses, or are designed for obsolete platforms, but for those hooked into the Google ecosystem this day is always a little nerve-racking, because you never know if Google might shut down one of the more obscure services you rely on. Personally, I've never been significantly impacted by a spring cleaning. Until this year, that is.

This year, due apparently to declining usage, Google announced the upcoming death of one of my absolute favourite services. As of July 1, 2013, Google will be shuttering Google Reader. Reader is basically an RSS repository. It takes feeds, usually from blogs but sometimes other sources, and aggregates them. It formats them into a nice, clean interface which is especially ideal for mobile, and saves them for viewing at leisure. I use Google Reader primarily to track baseball blogs, but also some tech blogs and other things. I find it particularly useful to keep tabs on blogs that rarely post, because I won't visit them otherwise.

Reader and RSS are a rather dated technology, in the internet world. However, I have yet to encounter anything which functions as well in the same role. Since the demise was announced, many of the people I follow on Twitter have mentioned that they abandoned Reader long ago, preferring to get their stories through Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or other social sharing networks. While I use these services, and I find outstanding content through them every day, they don't work in the same role. When a story is posted to my Twitter feed, and I don't read it right away, I'll rarely remember to go back and find it later. This means that if I'm busy, which is most of the time, I will miss things posted in real time, and I might never read them. Services like Google Currents (which I use on my tablet) and Flipboard have the same problem.

Google Reader aggregates that content. On my desktop and Chromebook I have a Chrome extension that shows me how many unread articles I have (32 at this moment) and link me to Reader. On my Android phone and tablet I have a widget that serves the same purpose. When I have spare time, I open Reader, and peruse content at my leisure. The Android app even syncs it so that I always have something to read on the subway.

Since nothing within the Google ecosystem or my existing stable of services and social networks will fill the void, I'm going to be forced to look outside for a new service. Last month, after it was redesigned, I purchased PocketCasts for Android after growing incredibly frustrated with the buggy, discontinued Google Listen podcasts app, and I absolutely love it. I've seen Feedly floating around as a possible replacement, so I'll check that out. If it can be the PocketCasts of RSS aggregators I'll be thrilled.

This isn't the end of the world, but it's really, really annoying. I depend on Google Reader and use it a ton, and the worst part is probably that it was perfect for what I needed. Honestly, I didn't have a single complaint about the way Google Reader worked. The whole thing is just makes me sad.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Wednesday Mornings

I have a somewhat unfortunate school schedule this semester. I have class at 10 am on Tuesdays, which, thanks to my commute, means I have to be up at 7 am. This alone would not be so bad; I can handle early mornings, especially when I'm armed with a steady supply of coffee. Unfortunately, it doesn't end there. I have class until 9:30 on Wednesday nights, which means that (again thanks to my commute) I don't get home until 11:30 most nights. Again, this wouldn't be so bad on its own; I usually go to bed much later than that, and I'm used to some long days.

Where it really compounds is my class the next morning. On Wednesday mornings I have class at 9 am, which means I have to be up at 6. With my class on Tuesday nights, I can get six hours of sleep at best. In reality, it usually ends up closer to four. Combine that with not getting enough sleep Monday night, and I'm usually wrecked by Wednesday morning, even with multiple Pikes in my system.

It is Wednesday morning. I am wrecked. Trying to keep myself from faceplanting onto my keyboard is priority one. In a seminar type class that expects active participation, I expect to say something stupid or incoherent every Wednesday. I'm sure today will be no expectation.

Monday, March 11, 2013


We've been studying identity and belonging a lot in one of my classes this semester, and one of the concepts we come across a lot is home as a component of your identity. Of course, the old saw of "where are you from?," so controversial in North America these days, came up early in the discussion. All the articles I've read on the topic seem desperate to define how and why people identify with a place, how they determine what represents home, and how it figures into their broader identity.

Frankly, I think the whole discussion is interesting, but the authors are way off base. In my mind, one of the most brilliant parts of the whole human experience is the inability to define something like that. Everyone defines home a little differently, and everyone has different values on home as a component of their identity. Exactly how that connection is formed will be different for everyone. I think that's awesome, because it means that every time I encounter someone there is always something new to learn and explore about them.

Personally, I identify as being from Toronto and Canada, and those two figure heavily into my identity. I also identify as being from Scarborough, Ontario, and North America, but those are far less prominent in my identity. My current house is my home, a connection which I feel much more strongly than I ever did at my last house, but I could not tell you why. Meanwhile, despite moving several times as a child, I can tell you exactly which house and neighbourhood I identify as being "from" (and it's not the one I lived in longest). I'm not entirely certain why I made that connection, but it is definitely there.

And despite my clear national connection with Canada, I happily switch my allegiance to England and Holland in international sporting events like the World Cup or the Euro in which Canada doesn't participate. Those two represent my heritage, and I'm proud of that despite never having lived in either.

I love that the home component of my identity can be so fluid, and so static at the same time. I know what home is and where I am from, but I can't say exactly why I feel that way, and there is no formula to break it down. On top of that, home will almost certainly change as I grow and move, and I can't wait to see where it evolves.

Downtown Part Two

Well, technically part three as well. I watched seasons two and three.

The series shifts a lot for season two, which was probably my favourite season. It covers the First World War, as well as the Spanish Influenza epidemic, so it naturally captured the history enthusiast in me. However, those two events also added a layer of intrigue and danger without it feeling at all forced by the writers. We know how the war will end, but we don't know how the characters will fare. This gives the writers plenty with which to work.

Unfortunately, I felt like in season three, with the stakes having naturally declined, the writers felt the need to manufacture levels of drama to match season two, rather than returning to the relative simplicity of season one. Season three becomes a bit of a bloodbath as a result, with a couple of huge characters departing. I still enjoyed it, but I did feel like the writers may be running out of ideas. How many times can the family almost-but-not-quite lose Downtown, or the service staff have questionable relationships? Bates and Anna held apart, O'Brien and Thomas scheming, Carson horrified by some tiny indecency, Mrs. Crawley sticking her nose where it doesn't belong, Edith alone; they're running out of ways to make it seem fresh.

The ending...well I'm not really sure what I think of the ending. My first thoughts were to really, vehemently dislike it. With respect to the series' tone, it does feel in a lot of ways like they're covering the same ground as they did midway through the season. However, it does add a huge level of complication to the story, and I think it may serve to move the Earl back into the spotlight a little more. I felt like he was increasingly pushed to the margins (an opinion which the character seemed to share) and while that made sense, I like the character and I want to see him have a little more prominence again.

It'll be a while before I see season 4; I don't think they've even started filming it yet, and I won't watch it until it finishes its live run and is released on blu-ray, so I have plenty of time to let my opinion on the ending settle. I just hope the writing team can come up with a fresh direction for season 4.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

On Frustration

I said in my first post that I won't tell stories from my job, for the sake of maintaining confidentiality of the kids, and I plan on sticking by that. I also should say that I love my job, I love the kids I work with (both the children and the youth volunteers), and I know I'm lucky to be able to do what I do. I'm also not a grumpy old man, though my posts probably often read that way.

Stuill, when you spend your day surrounded by teenagers and children, sometimes you feel like you're the only person in the world capable of behaving like an adult. March break, and the one week reprieve it brings, can't come soon enough.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Death of Easy Gaming

As a baseball fan and nominal video gamer, I try and buy a baseball video game every year. For the past few years I have been buying 2KSports' MLB games. Everyone has told me that The Show is a much better game all round, but The Show is PS3 only. I do own a PS3, but it's connected to a shared TV that gets a lot of use. I also vastly prefer the general Xbox interface, and all my gaming friends use Xbox Live. As a result, I never buy PS3 games, which has always extended to baseball games.

This year however, MLB 2K13 is by all accounts the same game as 2K12 with some roster updates. It was one thing to pay $60 per year for a mediocre game, but I just couldn't bring myself to pay $60 twice for the same damn mediocre game. I walked to BestBuy with the full intention of buying 2K13, and walked out with The Show 13 instead.

I've been playing it for about an hour now (after spending a half hour installing and updating, only on the PS3) and everything I heard about The Show was true. The game is far more complex, realistic, and representational of real baseball, making 2K12 (and presumably 2K13) look like a relic. The only thing I'm not sure of is whether it's actually more fun.

What I liked about the 2K series was that it was easy to play. The controls were pretty simple, and people could pick up the game, play me, and actually pose a challenge. With the complexity of The Show comes a steeper learning curve. The controls are complicated and, in my opinion, less intuitive. It will take a while to master, at which point I imagine it will be much more fun.

I used to be a pretty big gamer in high school and the first couple of years of my undergrad, but I've really fallen away from it the past few years. These days 95% of what I play is Call of Duty, sports games, and simple games on my phone. I buy maybe 3 or 4 new releases each year, and I barely touch some of them. I think part of that is maturity and part of it is not having a lot of time for games. But I wonder if some of it has to do with how complicated every game seems to be these days. I can't pick up and play most games; there is a ton to learn and a ton to keep aware of at any given time. I don't regret buying The Show, but I definitely miss the simplicity of the video gaming past. Which I guess is a little odd given how openly I embrace complex technology throughout the rest of my life.

Controlling the Message

I wrote a paper last week on the role of a social media librarian and, combined with a class discussion on whether libraries should designate a social media librarian or simply encourage all their staff to engage with social media, I started thinking. Personally, I'm in favour of libraries employing a point person for social media (whether it's a PR person, a dedicated librarian, or just someone who rolls it into their other duties) for the same reason I publicly engage in a lot of social media myself. I think it's important to control the message.

As I always tell people, everyone is on the internet. Whether you actually use the internet or not, you're on there somewhere. Even if you've somehow never touched a computer, at some point in your life someone you know mentioned you online, or someone posted a picture of you online, or you participated in an event which was documented online. There are a million ways you can end up on the internet, and most of them are out of your control.

So, if you accept that you're already on the internet, you're faced with a choice. You can try and hide as much of your own presence as possible, or you can put things out there yourself. If you choose the first, you leave yourself at the mercy of others. While it might effectively minimize your presence online, it also means that the first thing that shows when someone Google's your name is a terrible picture your friend took, or a non-flattering story they told, or the ridiculous MySpace/LiveJournal/Geocities website you maintained in high school and forgot about years ago. Most people would probably be astounded by the amount of information I can find about them with some careful digging. Note: that sounds far creepier than I intended; I'm not actually sitting around digging up all kinds of info on random people.

The alternative is to control what is available to the public, not by trying to lock them out completely, but by letting them see what you want them to see. Personally, I flood the internet with publicly available information. I don't "advertise" this blog anywhere else, but if anyone somehow stumbled across it and wanted to know about me, I wouldn't be hard to find. I use my real name for this blog, as I do for my Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram and more. In the handful of places I post under a pseudonym, I use the same couple of pseudonym's which would not be hard to link back to me. Most of my accounts are connected to my page. This forces me to behave well on the internet, but that's not a problem for me.

The benefit of this, is that because I flood the internet with things I'm comfortable with people seeing, things I control, I bury everything else. Though I'm not aware of any, there may well be ridiculous pictures or stories of me online. However, finding them would take some serious digging through the things which I make link tightly back to myself.

There are risks to this, of course. You don't want to make so much available that you can be hacked through some simple social engineering and have your identity stolen. You also don't want to open yourself up to e-stalking, a particular issue for women. Be smart about all of this.

No matter which direction you go with this, there are some simple rules you should remember when dealing on the internet. First of all, always remember that if you put it out there, you can't just take it back. Anything you put on the internet is probably there forever, it will be really hard to scrub it from the record. Even things you do anonymously may one day trace back to you, so why risk putting out sensitive information or saying something offensive?

You should also assume that anything you put on the internet will be available to anyone. Just because you restrict a Facebook picture to a close friend doesn't mean nobody else will ever see it. Maybe they get hacked one day, maybe you get hacked one day, maybe Facebook changes the permissions by accident one day. You never know what might happen, and if that picture hits the open internet it's out of your control forever. If you really don't want it out of your control, then don't risk it.

Online (Dis)Content

Anyone who knows me probably knows that I'm a huge baseball fan. That starts with the Blue Jays, of course, but it extends to the entire baseball world. In fact, what sets baseball apart from other sports for me is that unlike professional hockey, basketball, or soccer, which I also enjoy, I can watch any baseball game and enjoy it, whether I have a rooting interest or not. As a baseball fan, the idea of an international tournament of the best baseball players is right up there in appeal with a Jays game or MLB postseason.

Enter the World Baseball Classic. The event is far from perfect; there are very low pitch caps on pitchers and many of the best players beg out every year, unlike Olympic hockey or the FIFA World Cup, but it's the best international tournament around, and at this time of year I'll take any meaningful games I can get. Unfortunately, getting it is the problem. In Canada, the games are available exclusively on Rogers Sportsnet, with no online feed available.

I actually happen to have Rogers cable, and I get the Sportsnet channels. However, in my room where I watch most of my TV, I don't have a cable box or outlet. That's not usually a problem since I literally never watch broadcast TV. My TV viewing comes from DVDs and blu-rays, Netflix, and other online sources. Last year I bought for the first time, allowing me to watch all the non-Jays games online. As a cable customer, Rogers makes the Jays games available to me through their online service, as well as some Leafs games. With past Olympics, World Cups, and Euro tournaments I have been able to watch online, either for free or for a nominal fee. I do it all legally, as I long ago swore off pirating content. I'm not so poor that I can't afford to pay for what I want, and I feel like great services like deserve to be compensated.

If the World Baseball Classic was available via online feeds, I would happily pay a nominal fee to watch. The tournament is operated by MLB, which has the fantastic infrastructure at its disposal. I'm sure Rogers could also make the game available online, if they wanted. However, there is no legal way for me to stream the tournament. This is 2013, where every major sporting league or event seems to be available online, except for this one. Personally, I think MLB should be embarrassed.

MLB has had a hard time gaining traction with the WBC. This won't help. I really, really want to care about this tournament, but they're not making it easy. I might negotiate for use of a TV with a cable box for some games involving Canada, the USA, or the Dominican Republic (who feature a couple of Jays), but other than that I suspect the inconvenience of it all will keep me away. Meanwhile, the many people without cable TV (and I've seen plenty on Twitter) are frozen out completely.

If this tournament fails, MLB has nobody to blame but themselves.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

40 Years Young

I'm a day late on this, but the legendary Pink Floyd album, Dark Side of the Moon, celebrated its fortieth anniversary yesterday. Obviously, I wasn't born until long after the album's release, so I'll spare you the crap about how old it makes me feel that Dark Side of the Moon is 40 (though I was kind of stunned because I remember the 35th anniversary like it was yesterday). No matter when you were born though, I feel that listening to this album front to back is a truly formative experience which everyone should enjoy at least once in their life. In an era where I think most people take a group of singles and put them on shuffle, listening to a single album in order has become somewhat of a novelty. Dark Side of the Moon deserves to be that novelty.

It's actually not my favourite Pink Floyd album (that honour goes to the Wall), but it is still fantastic, and I think a little more accessible to non-Pink Floyd fans. If you've never listened to it, I'd encourage you to change that as soon as possible.