Adolescence is a construct, but a useful one.

After WWII people started buying and watching televisions, but when you go back to footage of those broadcasts, it often grates — narration and dialogue are wooden, everything is seen through a single camera, and so on. Fifteen or twenty years on, things started to improve forcefully, and that’s when we start to see a lot of stuff that evokes nostalgia now - Walter, I Dream of Jeannie, and so on.

I see the Web in a comparable place, on a comparable timeline. Its practitioners are finally learning how to treat it as a medium unto itself, instead of using the conventions of print and CD-ROM as a crutch — and many experiences reflect that change.

We are, however, a long way off from a point in time when production values will more readily reflect knowledge and skill in lieu of ignorance.

Such is the sound of being Titanically pissed off.

I just finished reading “The Kids Are Actually Sort of Alright” (which title is a riff off a particularly catchy Offspring song). In response, somebody wrote “Generation X Doesn’t Want to Hear It”, which does us the favor of including the money quote from the piece to which it responds.

…And here’s the money quote from the latter article:

…But that’s okay. Generation X is used to being ignored, stuffed between two much larger, much more vocal, demographics. But whatever! Generation X is self-sufficient. It was a latchkey child. Its parents were too busy fulfilling their own personal ambitions to notice any of its trophies—which were admittedly few and far between because they were only awarded for victories, not participation.

Some of us—like myself—are called upon to put a big fat asterisk behind “self-sufficient” because whatever the Baby Boomers did right, they were too fucking self-righteous as a generation to stop any cycle at all. Their Depression Kid parents put neuroticism and a prescriptive worldview front-center, they rebelled in seemingly complete ignorance of what they were rebelling against, and we became the filling of that proverbial shit sandwich. Some of us took poorly to the experience.

The rest, the ones who had the good fortune to be well-adjusted (or at least believe that they were well-adjusted) wonder how on Earth they even made it to thirty. It was all supposed to go up in a spectacular puff of thermonuclear smoke, and when it didn’t, we were relieved. Hell, even the not-so-well-adjusted ones were relieved.

But all the while, we learned about the potential for drastic climate change. We wondered why “liberty and justice for all” obviously didn’t apply to anyone in shitholes like Bosnia, or Rwanda, or East Timor, or most significantly Afghanistan.

We watched Boomer narcissism as it made a mockery of the Founding Fathers’ intent, as it baited the denizens of L.A.’s ghettoes. We quietly shook our heads when the butcher’s bill for that nonsense came due.

…And a lot of us are convinced that the inattention of the Nineties is back to haunt us, that we’re the ones who’ll need to clean up the fucking mess.

To tell the truth, we don’t feel sorry for those who followed us, because unlike the population of our cohort, the brightest and most capable of Gen Y might just believe that anything is possible—even if that belief was instilled by the perpetration of a scam.

They might play the game too often and well for our comfort, but at least they play to win—not merely to participate.

That ain’t nothin’.

Updated to add:

The above list of states to which the ideals of the Republic (as stated by the Pledge of Allegiance) don’t apply is focussed on the most spectacular failures of the Nineties. To those we can add:

…Where the proverbial man-on-the-street ate shit during the Eighties or Nineties (or both) from the elites, who were profiting from the expenditure of aid funds unwittingly provided by the American taxpayer.

…And then there’s the Palestinian problem, caused by still more elites in still more countries. If like me you’re not far enough Left to despise the State of Israel, you can despise all of the Arab autocrats who did their level best to keep the Palestinians in their pitiable state for more than sixty years. A large fraction of those states have enthusiastically spent American aid dollars, or at least profited from the support of American federal agencies, for decades.

Everybody between the ages of 30 and 50 today grew up aware that American democracy only gets exported under rare and special circumstances. The Iraq war and its blank check made out to cont^H^H^H^Hprofiteers was merely the exclamation point on that.

I fervently hope that when the time comes, apologies will come with it.

On governments and internets.

Two issues crossed my radar today:

Regarding taxes…

Since Congress has the last word on interstate commerce, it has the last word about the collection of sales taxes across state lines. The bill passed by the Senate would pave the way for states to demand collection of sales tax from their residents, regardless of a retailer’s presence in a given state.

I actually welcome this to a point; I don’t believe that the current regime is fair to anyone, and deepens the advantage of online behemoths when it comes to trade in lower-volume goods.

On the other hand, implementing e-commerce is painful enough. I have a professional interest in keeping things simple in that respect.

Furthermore, I believe that sales taxes are of dubious morality, that they soak all but the wealthiest among us.

I say that if governments want to collect those taxes, they should do the heaviest of the lifting required thereby. To that end, I suggest a 4% sales tax on all United States residents in jurisdictions that levy a sales tax. The tax revenues would then be distributed in proportion to what would’ve been collected if all of those same purchases had been made at those prices offline.

The IRS, or a GSE chartered for the purpose, would be responsible for determining the amount to be collected from each retailer. That amount would be established on the authority of purchase reports drawn up by retailers, the individual records of which would include the purchase grand total, the ZIP Code of the purchaser, and a creation timestamp.

Using ZIP Codes would require the USPS to align their boundaries with those of tax collection districts, but better that than census tracts, in my opinion.

Online retailers would still be called upon to hire accounting expertise to certify on demand the absence of fraud, but at least the collection process would be straightforward and transparent. Nor would it impose the unfair requirement that smaller e-commerce operators become tax experts outright.

Another advantage of such an approach — my favorite, in fact — is that it would effectively penalize state and local governments that levy exorbitant sales taxes while reducing or eliminating the price advantage of buying online. It would also drive some business offline in those few jurisdictions that charge less in sales taxes.

Bear in mind that for me personally, it’s a lose-lose situation: if no taxes are collected, then my local community is taking it in the pants to some degree. If taxes are collected down-the-line at the thousands of differing rates out there, then I’m less likely to get e-commerce prospects. My idea still requires infrastructure and moves some purchases back offline, which trickles down to me.

…But the arrival of some kind of tax fairness is long overdue. If we must have them for the sake of roads and schools and other benefits of government, then we should pay them.

Regarding software as intellectual property…

I say good riddance. At the end of the day, the community of software engineers is a population of monkeys bashing out attempts at scripts for Hamlet on souped-up typewriters. The notion that any party should profit from mere serendipity in such an environment makes me a bit sick.

Also, monopolies (and oligopolies) are bad. Just sayin’.

Video, posted 1 year ago

mohandasgandhi:

What happens if you flip gendered book covers?

You are informed about a book’s perceived quality through a number of ways. Probably the biggest is the cover.

And the simple fact of the matter is, if you are a female author, you are much more likely to get the package that suggests the book is of a lower perceived quality. Because it’s “girly,” which is somehow inherently different and easier on the palate. A man and a woman can write books about the same subject matter, at the same level of quality, and that woman is simple more likely to get the soft-sell cover with the warm glow and the feeling of smooth jazz blowing off of it.

This idea that there are “girl books” and “boy books” and “chick lit” and “whatever is the guy equivalent of chick lit”* gives credit to absolutely no one, especially not the boys who will happily read stories by women, about women. As a lover of books and someone who supports readers and writers of both sexes, I would love a world in which books are freed from some of these constraints. Click here to read more about the perceived differences between ‘girl’ and ‘boy’ books.

(Continue reading…)

This is a pretty interesting experiment from author Maureen Johnson.

One item from my inventory…

I do a really shitty job of accounting for the ‘they’re not delusional, yet faithfully working on it’ case. This is where I fail miserably most of the time, out of a lack of faith that isn’t too hard to appreciate when you consider [my life experience]. That said, it’s still down to faithlessness out of habit, which makes a shitty excuse.

CSS is not an amoral monster.

Tim Bray, for whom I have oodles of respect — and who encourages me by likewise missing the fact that browsers are finally soft-breaking on long dashes — offered the following:

Liking the look of Stylus. All these tantalizing alternatives when what we really want is to take the ship up and nuke CSS from orbit.

For those youngsters who might be missing the pop culture nod (NSFW soundtrack):

At this moment I’m wondering if I should take umbrage at the sentiment, in no small part because I’m hip-deep in instructional copy on the subject. Months of asking myself daily how best to explain CSS to n00bs should make me sympathetic thereto.

I’m leaning toward umbrage at the moment, but only for one reason: I’ve tried to think of a better approach that meets all the basic requirements of web tech, and I… can’t. I suspect that the guys at Microsoft who came up with this approach — and a number of unsung folks also far smarter than me — likewise attempted and failed.

There is this awful, horrifying tendency to think of a web page as an artifact that shows up on a backlit display within a particular footprint, and never anywhere else.

The web was never meant to be that platform; PostScript, Flash, and PDF were.

Yes, genuinely good CSS that makes the fullest use of its power is hard. Don’t like it? Deal with it:

If you are in fact willing to deal, I have three recommendations that might make it easier to do so.

Quit thinking of pages as static, box-like things.

Hell, if you can, stop thinking in terms of pages, and instead think in terms of content. Unlike a memo or a broadcast, web media allow you to present things in whatever context you damned well please. If you want to split one page into twenty as circumstances might dictate, you can make something that does that. Those of you who like jelly beans might get this with particular ease.

Consider that selectors can apply to one childless document node, or hundreds. It’s up to you.

I agree completely that the requirement to grasp the Document Object Model steepens the learning curve, and poorly suits a lot of people. That’s why I just told you to quit thinking of web content as some monolithic thing that fits in some box.

Simplify.

Write your content in plaintext. No, really. Then start adding elements as you need them. The better your hang of selectors, the fewer elements you’ll need. End of story.

In any event, the idea of the web as something you can just wave a wand at and make work magically… is, to put it directly, bullshit.

Image, posted 1 year ago

tmbgareok:

A fine venn diagram of the song They Might Be Giants from Craig Collin @kreggg. Please submit your TMBG-related bar graphs, flow charts and venn diagrams right here and we’ll post them here!

tmbgareok:

A fine venn diagram of the song They Might Be Giants from Craig Collin @kreggg. Please submit your TMBG-related bar graphs, flow charts and venn diagrams right here and we’ll post them here!

The suck gets worse, or, why is Social Media so easy to f*** up?

First Twitter — many months since — and now Facebook are encroaching onto my last operating nerve.

Last night I discovered that Facebook won’t retrieve all of my Wall posts. So much for using it as any sort of proper record.

Then, a few minutes ago, I was in the middle of reading a friend’s post when voila, my feed updates right then and there. Worst. User Experience. Yet.

It’s time to find a better platform; in the absence of surely robust revenue models, Facebook and Twitter appear to be eating their own tails.

I will spare you my extended muttering-in-words-of-syllable.

I have seven simple questions.

  1. If you leave the front door to your premises unlocked and someone walks in and helps themselves to some of your belongings while you’re away, are your premises then in fact burglarized?
  2. In such an event, do you believe that people should blame the burglary on the guy who committed it, even though you left the door unlocked?
  3. …And if the burglar endeavors to photograph himself amidst your (stolen) belongings in the manner of a Price Is Right model, post those photos to the Internet, and publicly rags on you for being stupid enough to leave your place unlocked, would you consider yourself insulted atop injury?
  4. Would you feel fury if the burglar was never caught?
  5. …Or utterly fail to feel any sympathy if he were?

Most right-thinking people would answer ”yes” to all of these questions.

If the crime were instead rape, and your lack of caution led to drunkenness, would you feel any differently?

…So why do you feel differently just because it’s not you or your wife or your sister or your daughter, but instead someone else’s?

Updated:

These remarks are, of course, prompted by the Ohio rape trial that concluded several days ago. In a Facebook comment, a friend brought things full-circle with the following sentiment:

The kids convicted of rape not only burgled her ‘house,’ they set it on fire. What’s not being said is [that] they ruined their own lives, and hers. Her door may have been unlocked, but they still decided to take a fire axe to it.

I cannot even imagine what it would have been like to go out, think you are feeling sexy and cute, make the mistake of one too many drinks that causes you to lose control then consciousness. Then, someone decided it’s ok for you to be physically violated and publicly humiliated, The house metaphor is too weak [emphasis mine]. What happened to that girl is too horrible. Two guys.

I had to go through several articles (that all mentioned ‘promising football players’) before I finally found this:

‘Twitter posts, videos and photographs circulated by some who attended the nightlong set of parties suggested that an unconscious girl had been sexually assaulted over several hours while others watched. She may have even been urinated on.’

I’d rather have you waltz into my house and steal my stuff.

Fear and Loathing in Red America

A friend posted to Facebook with the beginnings of a rant about one of the anti-social-safety-net talking points.

Hence my comment:

There are certainly people who game the system, and there are (considerably more) people who cherry-pick programs with the intent of staying on the treadmill…

…But when you get down to basics, it’s all about fear of becoming one of Those People, stuck living cheek-by-jowl with brown people and heathens as they see it.

I’ve met Republicans who’ve been genuinely poor at some point in their lives, but all of those except the near-sociopathic ones are awfully generous with their money and would just prefer not to be giving so much to the Gubmint.

Related: you have read What’s the Matter with Kansas, right? [link to NYT review]

Cliff’s Notes Version: the crypto-Objectivists are in an unholy alliance with the Religious Right, beating the electorate about the head with messages from the latter so that they can pursue the policy objectives of the former. Since the book was written, a ‘Prosperity Gospel’ has sprung up, effectively serving as a saccharine apologium for that agenda.

I never finished it, because as you work through the copy, the author gets more and more shrill. Can’t say I blame him, though.

The Wikipedia page for the book links to some pretty interesting resources, but the page itself is stale.

I’ve been trying to avoid politics because it depresses the hell out of me, sapping energy I could be putting toward meaningful and achievable goals. On the other hand, from time to time it seems right to say I believe this and let that stand. This is such a time.

F*ck You, Pay Me, Revisited

I hate brainworms, and I’m writing now to kill one before it eats my useful thoughts.

Today’s topic is Getting Paid at Writing. Before I say my piece, here are the bits that transmogrified into my brainworm:

First things first:

I won’t work without an advance from a new account that contracts any of my work product, apart from article-length copy. …And no small part of that exception is down to the fact that it would take longer to hammer out the terms than to just-write-the-damn-article.

From where I’m standing, the challenge is this: where people see a prospective client or publisher, they see a gatekeeper.

The hitch is this: we’re all gatekeepers.

Lowballers sing these notes in their mating calls:

“We can get it done cheaper by going to {x}.”
Response: “You get what you pay for.” People that price-sensitive are nickel-diming, penny-wise-pound-foolish idiots, likely to undervalue your work, or badly undercapitalized. When it comes to people shopping for sitedev services, they might well be on their third or fourth attempt to make their site serviceable… but at least they’re easy to detect and dismiss.
“We don’t know what we want.”
Response: “In that case, I charge {x} per hour for research and consulting.” People who ply you with this feedback have made one of two mistakes: either they haven’t given any thought to the campaign they need to run and want you do their homework for free, or they’re trying to bait you into throwing mud at the wall and giving them a quote on that basis.
“I’m up against timecrunches/obstacles/resistance. Can we talk next week?”
Response: “Sure, but if we don’t agree to a Statement of Work by the end of the month, I’ll have to refer you to someone else.” Once you hear this line two or three times from the same prospect, you can safely assume one or more of three facts: they’re undercapitalized (and trying to put you off until they know they’ll have the money), overcommitted (and likely to drag a project into Development Purgatory as a matter of course), or hoping you’ll blink first because you need the money. Proceed at your own risk. On the other hand, this is the cry most likely to escape the lips of someone who has every intention of treating you well.

Meanwhile, none of these mating calls have any bearing on the sort of nonsense you get from lowballers once you actually agree to the gig.

How do book publishing models fit into this? Not terribly well point-for-point, but the basic message is the same:

There’s no shortage of people happy to attempt underhanded shit with the goal of getting you to work more cheaply.

With respect to written matter, I see one awful problem: time. People usually have time or money, but rarely both. The upshot is that the market for books is boiling rapidly down to the people who believe that they need them: lit addicts, students, professionals, and polymaths. The rest either cannot justify the cost of buying books in lieu of cheaper forms of entertainment, or don’t have the time to read them.

…Yet people are still trying to make a mint on this shrinking market. The ones who are succeeding are likely ripping someone off. Don’t let it be you.

Brevity is the soul of wit. (…Yet again.)

From time to time during my work on the latest heap of book copy, I encounter a clause that earns its place among examples of my bad writing.

Without exception, I recognize two issues, of which the latter is far more common:

I find that when I switch those instances of passive voice to active voice, they become shorter and more approachable… almost without exception.

While you shouldn’t believe everything you read, there are certainly times when you read something that warrants a moment’s consideration.

It’s far from my best, but it’s something.

  1. The falcon flies away,
  2. Disintegration reigns,
  3. The center is sundered,
  4. Anarchy has its day.
  1. These wages for our pains
  2. Leave all our souls tattered,
  3. But quarrelsome we’re still
  4. Even as bereft we stand.
  1. The old, rough beast stands taut
  2. And so we take our fill
  3. Of conflict and demand,
  4. Giving hope nary a thought.
  1. How will the future say
  2. That we did all our best
  3. When shouts left sense shattered,
  4. Binding good men of will?

Mammalbrains are here to stay a while.

I’d originally planned to let the previous post stand, but I feel called upon to point out one other thing:

We’ve become a society that looks for technical solutions to human problems.

Don’t like something? Write a law, or institute a filter, or conduct surveillance, or impose disincentives, or practice deterrence.

We’ve created systems to moderate the link between actions and consequences, and we’re all worse off for it.

Après les bullets…

If it’s not a crazy seizing his fifteen minutes, it’ll be a terrorist. If it’s not a terrorist, it’ll be a crypto-pedophile. And so on. I won’t spend the next several minutes cataloguing shit that could trigger any number of high-strung parents and/or trauma victims, but I think I’ve gotten my idea across.

Two ideas follow:

In Julius Caesar Cassius says, “the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” In saying this Cassius incites Brutus to murder, but the sentiment holds with respect to government of the people. No government or bureaucracy, much less no tyrant, need “bestride [our] narrow world like a Colossus” except that we permit it thusly… and in so doing permit catastrophes like these as an unintended consequence.

…And with that, I’ll return to my private sense of shell-shock now.