Around the Digital Campfire

The internet and social media have provided platforms where “everybody’s unintelligent ideas are flying in circles like mosquitoes around the digital campfire,” he wrote. “So now, in the world of online commenting, it’s all stupidity, all the time.”

– John DeSanto, 65, of Warwick, N.Y.

I prefer to keep my unintelligent ideas right here around my own campfire where others can choose to come read them.

[via The New York Times: How to Log Off of Facebook Forever, With All Its Perks and Pitfalls]

Trump as Nero


It is literally painful to write this sentence, but the president of the United States is a pathological liar. The president of the U.S. is a racist (it also hurts to write this). He is attempting a coup from the top; he wants to establish an illiberal democracy, or worse; he wants to undermine the balance of power. He fired an acting attorney general who held a differing opinion from his own and accused her of “betrayal.” This is the vocabulary used by Nero, the emperor and destroyer of Rome. It is the way tyrants think.

Winter is a time of regeneration

Winter, for me, is a period of reflection and regeneration, of withdrawal, reminiscent of a time when humans were forced to be more malleable and responsive to the seasons. Each year, I long to see the landscape around my home in Germany transformed by the cold: frost-limned trees, crisp air, and snow shrouding everything, muffling every sound, as if covering over the acoustic evidence of humanity. 

Endless Possibility

Jonathan Gourlay wrote an article on Bygone Bureau, 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.


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.

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.

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.


Kevin Ashton published a breakdown of the manufacturing of a can of Coca-Cola and in the process manages to wax poetic about globalization.

The number of individuals who know how to make a can of Coke is zero. The number of individual nations that could produce a can of Coke is zero. This famously American product is not American at all. Invention and creation is something we are all in together. Modern tool chains are so long and complex that they bind us into one people and one planet. They are not only chains of tools, they are also chains of minds: local and foreign, ancient and modern, living and dead — the result of disparate invention and intelligence distributed over time and space.