A River Runs Through It

Words to Live By

Steve [Jobs] said:

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma–which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.

Write down this quote and place it on your mir­ror, in your wal­let, and at your desk. Every day until you die, fol­low the advice.

Endless Possibility

Jonathan Gourlay wrote an arti­cle, Being and Nothingness and “Minecraft”, wherein he cap­tures the essence of the Minecraft experience:

No video game before Minecraft has presented the player with a world as simple, beautiful, and engaging as a box of random Legos or wooden blocks or loose change or sticks or shells… toys whose only purpose is to soak up human consciousness and light into being upon a human whim.

The sun is setting, so I need to get inside before the creepers come. Fear is essential to action, after all. Life would be dull without creepers.

There is no goal, no point, no reason at all in this godless universe for playing Minecraft. But then, there is no point to playing with blocks either. There are things you can do with blocks. There are things you can do in Minecraft. You can find an elusive saddle in an underground monster lair and use it to ride a pig. But you don’t get anything — no badge or narrative or points to spend at an online store — for riding a pig. Pig riding is an end in itself. When you have accomplished it, that is simply how you chose to live your Minecraft life. Quit to title. You are your life and nothing else, pig rider.

Even with the updates and changes to Minecraft, there is still a refresh­ing feel­ing and sense of excite­ment when you load up a new world. The sun is over­head, the land­scape is untouched, and the world is yours to shape. Simple, ele­gant, wonderful.

Social Disengagement

Two weeks ago, I wrote about deac­ti­vat­ing my Facebook account, as well as Instagram, to reclaim some time and cut dis­trac­tion from “social” net­works that were not adding any enhance­ment to my life. I kept a Twitter account active and also kept the LinkedIn app installed on my iPhone. Then I installed the Tumblr app so I could use it as a link blog and catch-all since I did not want to rel­e­gate my web site to that task.

Now, I have deleted the Twitter app from my phone. The Tumblr app and account are also gone. As my exper­i­ment with leav­ing Facebook pro­gresses, I feel less com­pelled to use any of these social net­works. They feel far less valu­able to me com­pared to my past inter­ac­tions. Some might argue that Twitter is the only place to get break­ing world news before any­one else, but I’m not inter­ested in hav­ing my eyes glued to a feed to “find out first” when I have my own life to live. Seconds are pre­cious. Time will con­sume our lives no mat­ter what we do, so we should make the most of that time.

I have decided that any link I think I may want to refer to in the future is best stored in Pinboard, out of the way yet acces­si­ble and archived for­ever. If I find that I have some­thing more to say about a link or an arti­cle that I read on the Internet, then the appro­pri­ate place is right here. If I am going to devote some of my fleet­ing time to writ­ing about some­thing, I should own it and host it myself. One of the issues with Tumblr is that while it makes it easy to pub­lish any media to the web, it is still an insid­i­ous social net­work that causes com­pul­sive fol­low­ing and feed read­ing which defeats my pur­pose for using it.

Twitter is not what it once was for me. I am not quite sure what it ever was other than a place to engage in some witty ban­ter with Internet and real-life friends, but that has faded over time, and now I would rather engage in face to face con­ver­sa­tion with friends.

I am done with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr. Will I stay in retire­ment from these net­works? I hope so, although I have a friend who jokes that this is just my usual social net­work hate phase and that it will pass in a month or two. I hope not. I hope it lasts for a long time.

A big­ger con­cern for me is that so many web appli­ca­tions and sites have begun to rely on social net­works for their authen­ti­ca­tion ser­vices that they may become dif­fi­cult to avoid alto­gether. Many sites still offer to let you cre­ate an account with them, but most offer Facebook, Google, and Twitter as authen­ti­ca­tion options. I can appre­ci­ate the sim­ple beauty of sin­gle sign-on authen­ti­ca­tion and the sim­pli­fi­ca­tion of infra­struc­ture and oper­a­tions for com­pa­nies that accept these other authen­ti­ca­tion meth­ods, but I don’t want to have to main­tain an account with any of those companies.

It’s a mat­ter of trust. I might agree to use your ser­vice, but I will not use your ser­vice if you force me to use a Facebook or Twitter account to access it. I no longer trust those com­pa­nies with my infor­ma­tion, so I do not want to use them as an authen­ti­ca­tion method for other ser­vices. I don’t think that social net­works are the new way to engage peo­ple. In fact, traf­fic met­rics prove that search is still the sin­gle largest dri­ver of traf­fic. For my sites, RSS and e-mail also drive a large amount of traf­fic in. When I tried to use Facebook and Twitter to engage peo­ple, there was lit­tle to no traf­fic from those sites.

There’s a rea­son for this phe­nom­e­non. The social net­works do not want you to exit the walled gar­den, nor do the users want to leave them. Facebook would rather have me post an arti­cle on their plat­form than use my own site. Of course, I have tested that as well, and any­thing more than two short para­graphs in length is often ignored by the Facebook crowd. If you’ve read this far, it is likely that you are an out­lier on Facebook.

Facebook and Twitter do not make money if you leave their play­ground. Twitter is also not built for long form writ­ing. There are apps and util­i­ties that allow you to post long form writ­ing to Twitter, but it’s a mess to read and attempt to fol­low such posts. Twitter is a haven for mar­ket­ing and hash­tags these days.

Tumblr is great if you like long scrolling pages of reblogs, notes, and likes. And the amount of hash­tags on Instagram has become ludi­crous. I love some of the pho­tos, but the jum­ble of text is illeg­i­ble and detracts from the entire experience.

At the risk of fur­ther insult­ing the hard work and years of effort that bril­liant tech­nol­o­gists put into build­ing these fab­u­lous web appli­ca­tions, I will wrap it up. It’s enough to say that I do not find value in these ser­vices any longer. If you do, that’s all well and good, but my retire­ment from them is part of a larger change in prun­ing the iPhone of inessen­tial appli­ca­tions and time wasters.

It’s funny how the human mind works to spot infor­ma­tion to the cur­rent task. As I have been going through this process, I hap­pened upon the arti­cle, “Power Down”, by Jeremy Vandehey in my RSS feed reader. It is an excel­lent arti­cle and worth the 10 min­utes or less it takes to read. For those of you who think ten min­utes is too long to devote to read­ing, he pro­vides a social net­work style summary:

TL;DR – We are on our phones too much. They were built to enhance our lives, not consume them. Be a human.

Simple, and beau­ti­ful. Don’t let these life enhance­ments steal your time and thereby your life away from you. Consider the value, if any, they add to your life and adjust your behav­ior. Go talk to some­one face to face. Enjoy the flow of con­ver­sa­tion and inter­ac­tion. Be a human. Live.

Vicarious Viewing

I want to buy the new Wolfenstein game. That’s want, not need. However, I don’t want to spend the money on it right now, because there are bet­ter things to spend my money on, and I know what would hap­pen if I pur­chased it. It would not run well at max­i­mum graph­ics set­tings on my cur­rent com­puter, so I would feel the need to upgrade com­po­nents and thereby spend more money. In addi­tion, I would be hard pressed to find time to play it, and I would end up not fin­ish­ing the game and feel even worse about wast­ing money.

So am I to do? Enter YouTube. Yes, the same com­pany that is plan­ning to acquire Twitch​.TV because they real­ize the value that videos of gamers play­ing video games brings them. There are tens of thou­sands — more likely hun­dreds of thou­sands — of peo­ple like myself who for one rea­son or another find enjoy­ment in view­ing oth­ers play­ing video games. Getting more adver­tise­ments in front of those eyes means that Google can increase their poten­tial ad revenue.

For me, YouTube is a money saver when it comes to games. I still buy the occa­sional game if I want to invest my time and money in it, but more often than not, I will watch a game being played by some­one else when I have some down­time to fill. The beauty of it is that I can expe­ri­ence the game first hand, but like read­ing a novel, I can also skip to the end­ing if I so choose, or I can close the book and walk away if I decide I am not inter­ested in see­ing it through to the conclusion.

In the case of Wolfenstein, YouTube is allow­ing me to view, and play, vic­ar­i­ously though oth­ers, and that’s a Good Thing™.

Anti-Cloud Computing?

Over on Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow posted about the Adobe Creative Cloud out­age:

As Adobe Creative Suite struggles with its license-server outage, stranding creative professionals around the world without a way of earning their living, a timely reminder: a cloud computer is a computer you're only allowed to use if the phone company and a DRM-peddling giant like Adobe gives you permission, and they can withdraw that permission at any time.

I typ­i­cally find Cory to be very insight­ful. I think he has a point here, but misses another point. True, rent­ing cloud servers and appli­ca­tions, par­tic­u­larly ones that rely on DRM and license servers, is putting your­self and your money at the mercy of another per­son or cor­po­ra­tion where you have lit­tle to no con­trol short of tak­ing your money some­where else. I under­stand that he is speak­ing nar­rowly of rent­ing cloud soft­ware ver­sus pur­chas­ing licensed soft­ware to install directly on a com­puter that you own (although with Adobe’s phone-home licens­ing, this would still be an issue if you lose Internet con­nec­tiv­ity enough when attempt­ing to use their products).

However, we are all sub­ject to the whims of the telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions providers to lever­age the Internet for appli­ca­tions and web sites. If Comcast decides to stop accept­ing my money as a cus­tomer, I have no other options to con­nect with the out­side world. (That’s not entirely true. I could still use POTS lines for dial-up, and I believe Verizon may have a DSL option in our area, but the options are not com­pa­ra­ble to cable con­nec­tiv­ity.) And that is a real prob­lem. As a cus­tomer of Comcast, I must main­tain a ten­u­ous bal­ance between being irri­tated with their ser­vice (or lack thereof) and pre­vent­ing them from becom­ing irri­tated with me for ask­ing for the level of ser­vice that I pay them to provide.

I real­ize I can­not run my own telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions infra­struc­ture, but I also real­ize that there is a real lack of com­pe­ti­tion in most munic­i­pal­i­ties, and that is a prob­lem. Even the server I run this site on is a rented piece of equip­ment that is con­trolled by the host­ing com­pany I pay who in turn are rely­ing on the ser­vices of their band­width providers. Let’s face it. The Adobe license server out­age is a huge prob­lem for a lot of peo­ple. It is also a great exam­ple of why ser­vice level agree­ments are so impor­tant, and why fault tol­er­ant enter­prise infra­struc­ture is critical.

I don’t know the details of the license server fail­ure, but Adobe needs to ensure that they cor­rect the infra­struc­ture fail­ures to pre­vent this from hap­pen­ing again. In addi­tion, they need to reim­burse cus­tomers for the fail­ure to meet their SLA. As for the telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions issue… well, Cory has writ­ten far more about that state of affairs than I have or ever will, but there is room for improve­ment. There is a fair level of cer­tainty that the phone com­pany will not take its ball and go home, leav­ing us with no con­nec­tion to the out­side world, but it is true that we are entirely depen­dent on them in the Internet age.