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Winter Wandering

When the arctic air sets in for a week at a stretch, the body decides that staying indoors and curling up in the warmth of a blanket is the best course of action to survive the onslaught of the disagreeable elements. However, as a normal human being, the mind begins to wander as being trapped within the confines of brick and mortar, there is precious little to slow the onset of the the dreaded “cabin fever”.

Thankfully, Mother Nature has found mercy and decided to give a momentary reprieve, whether for the sports fans who are getting prepared for the Super Bowl (screw you, NFL, and your heinous copyright statements forcing others to use the term “Big Game”. I’ll call it by its name, and you’ll like it because it is free advertising. Perhaps people should spend their money elsewhere and let the National Concussion League die a slow, painful death of idiocy)…

Apologies. Where was I?

Ah, yes.

Or maybe you are the outdoors type who enjoys winter sports, but who needs somewhat tolerable temperatures to spend a few hours out on the slopes and lakes. Maybe you just want to go shopping. Whatever the case may be, get outside and enjoy it while it lasts, because I think the climate has one more nasty push in store before it decides to abate for the Spring flood season.

And while you’re out, why not return that overpriced NFL merchandise, because screw them. It’s an Olympic year. There are far better things to watch than that joke of a “Big Game” where the advertisements are more entertaining than the mouth-breathing announcers and well-compensated (albeit quite physically skilled and talented) brain destroyers.

Stay warm and be well.

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Postfacebookism

Dave Winer on the next evolution of “sharing”:

It’s pretty obvious what comes next, via extrapolation — from past turns of the wheel in software.

What comes next is an easy way for the generation of people who grew up on Facebook to create their own social networks, accessible only by the people they want to share it with.

A somewhat easier to use version of what AWS is today will be the platform.

And Harvard dropouts of the day will create AMIs their friends will configure cleverly.

The art in this new way of doing things will be clever twists on “share.”

We’re already there. It’s just a matter of time before the best, easiest to use postfacebookist technologies bubble to the top and gain traction. Facebook will not die. It will merely become irrelevant. Some (including myself) would argue that it already is.

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The Art of Asking

The beauty of the Internet is that it can open doors to content that in years past would have been inaccessible and perhaps permanently unavailable to large segments of the world’s population. The TED conference is one of the many doors that has been opened to the world at large. What began as an exclusive conference for thought leaders in many fields of study has grown in to a multi-faceted organization with numerous events that attract everyone from industry moguls to tech hobbyists and expert scientists to cabaret musicians

Thanks to the TED Talks videos being made available online, we can share in the profound insights and genius of an engaged culture of humanity that continues to think inside and outside the box in a forum where we share because we want to make a difference in the world.

I happened upon a TED Talk, “The Art of Asking”, by Amanda Palmer of Dresden Dolls fame. In her talk, she is really addressing the issue of payment models used in the music industry, but for the majority of it, she discusses human nature and the longing for connection. Amanda says,

Through the very act of asking people, I connected with them. And when you connect with them, people want to help you. It’s kind of counter-intuitive for a lot of artists — they don’t want to ask for things. It’s not easy to ask. … Asking makes you vulnerable.

But the perfect tools can’t help us if we can’t face each other, and give and receive fearlessly — but more importantly, to ask without shame.

I think that Palmer’s talk is empowering for current and aspiring artists in any medium. As a creator, you must be willing to ask — for money, for help, for fans, for feedback, for connection. Artists are already putting themselves on display for the world to see and interpret which can be risky and frightening, so you would think that asking would be easy, but when you are already vulnerable, that simple act can be a daunting challenge.

I believe that as more artists take back control of their creations, connections will grow and asking will become easier. It will never be easy, but it should not be so difficult. We are all human, and we are all in this experience together. Through online tools like Kickstarter, and artists like Jonathan Coulton and Amanda Palmer, and content creators like Ze Frank, we are seeing the beginning of a new culture of connection — a culture of asking. A culture where we really see each other, and as Amanda said,

When we really see each other, we want to help each other.

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Crossing the Desktop Chasm

Back in the data center, the Linux operating system runs on a majority of my servers, but as Miguel de Icaza puts it,

Linux just never managed to cross the desktop chasm.

Even with others like myself attempting to adopt Linux full-time on the desktop, there are so many pain points that a normal user would be hard pressed to last 15 minutes on the platform before giving up. Miguel’s is yet another switcher story (YASS?) is a recent spate of them, but it struck a chord with me as I wrote about my experience as a Linux systems administrator in the Apple world yesterday.

Miguel’s Mac experience may have been influenced in part by the fact that he adopted the Mac full-time while on a relaxing trip to Brazil, but he continued to use a Mac afterward.

Computing-wise that three week vacation turned out to be very relaxing. Machine would suspend and resume without problem, WiFi just worked, audio did not stop working, I spend three weeks without having to recompile the kernel to adjust this or that, nor fighting the video drivers, or deal with the bizarre and random speed degradation that my ThinkPad suffered.

While I missed the comprehensive Linux toolchain and userland, I did not miss having to chase the proper package for my current version of Linux, or beg someone to package something. Binaries just worked.

There’s that marketing phrase again. “It just works.” Apple has a magnificent marketing group to drive the adoption of some marvelous products. What makes them different is that their products usually live up the the hype.

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It Just Works

One of the more notable Apple, Inc. marketing slogans is “It just works.” While the slogan was used to market Mac OS X, many users have found that it is apropos to most Apple products and services. A contributing factor for the “just works” trait of Apple’s technology is the focus on user experience first. I previously wrote about user experience and removing user annoyances, and this really gets to the heart of the matter for me.

I am a Linux expert and systems administrator by day. However, when my work day is complete, I am a user of technology at home, and as an end user of technology, the last thing I want to do when my work is complete is come home and do more work, so I have a requirement that any technology I use as a consumer and creator in my home must “just work”. Not only must the technology work with minimal interruption, but it must also fit into my workflow that I have developed over the years. In my case, that workflow is heavily Mac-centric. The reason for this is that my first Mac jump started my creativity, and I’ve become accustomed to the tools and processes that came about as a result of my working on a tool that got out of the way and allowed me to create things.

Mac OS X and other Apple software and hardware are not without their faults and annoyances, though. Nothing is perfect, but Apple comes close where users are concerned. Why? Because I can work on my projects and get things done.

David Drake wrote about his battle to stay on the Linux platform for home computing, but how Apple ultimately won him over. In a nutshell,

I was tired of spending time on my computer working on my operating system instead of working on my projects.

David’s is a switcher story, yes, but don’t discount his opinion. He is not saying that everyone should go out and switch to Apple products. He is saying that although Apple’s ecosystem is a “closed” one which has been vilified over the years, it is a closed system that absolutely affords the user a high level of customization and minimal annoyances when it comes to device support.

The hardware is great. The OS is a constant pleasure. All my time that I want to spend developing or doing things is actually spent developing or doing things instead of the constantly interrupted, buggy experience I had before. Because it’s Unix-based, everything is familiar or easy to learn since I spend most of my time in a terminal.

Instead of finding a brand new and unfamiliar experience, I found the experience I was looking for Linux to be: a great and consistent environment for me to get things done.

The experience that David had is very similar to my first encounters with the OS X world. As a Unix/Linux systems administrator, I was pleased to still have Terminal access and all the Unix trappings I was familiar with, but on top of it all was a graphical user interface that was beautiful and stable, and an application ecosystem that was robust and powerful.

Do I run Linux servers at home still? Of course I do. I never stop learning and improving my skills as a professional. Would I jailbreak an iPhone and tinker with it? Of course I would, but when it comes to the phone I carry with me at all times, it will be an iPhone that runs the current iOS release from Apple, and until it fails to provide the features I need, my home router will always be an Apple AirPort Extreme. Also, I will keep an AppleTV hooked up to each of my televisions until Apple manages to manufacture a television with the device built-in, and I will upgrade my Mac to a new one when it ceases to work. Why? Because all of these Apple products are consistent, and they “just work” both individually and together.