Saturday, May 30, 2009

Netrights: Internet Access as a Human Right

I recently read this post on Boing Boing that really got me thinking. The post was referencing an article about the homeless and the Internet from the Wall Street Journal. The gist of the article, is that technology, and more specifically the Internet, has permeated society to such a degree that even those most alienated from it have started using it as part of their daily lives. They use it to check e-mail, blog, look for work, chat with friends, update their Facebook, Twitter, etc. In other words, it has become as much a part of their basic existence as it is for everyone else at all other levels of the social strata. The feared "digital divide" (the idea that as society becomes more dependent on technology, those least able to afford it would become more and more cut off from the mainstream) has not come to pass but has actually granted an unprecedented level of equality and opportunity to those who need it the most.

Now the Boing Boing poster made a prediction, that within 5 years the UN will deem network access a "basic human right." This idea intrigues me for several reasons. First of all, I was not aware that the UN deemed anything "nonessential" as a human right, but things such as free speech, education, and privacy are considered human rights. It also made me think about the Internet and how it has become a huge part of our lives. We do our banking online, pay our bills, look for work, talk to friends and family, download music and videos, get the latest news, and even watch TV. It's become so ingrained into the fabric of society, that not having access to it for any prolonged period would be devastating; the modern day equivalent of solitary confinement.

It's true that at a basic level, nobody needs Internet access (or a computer, or an iPhone, or anything like that) to survive. Food, water, shelter; those are survival essentials and rightfully are basic human rights. But humans are not just about survival. We're about collaborating, communicating, creating, conducting commerce, and other words that seem to start with "c". We've been doing this for thousands of years, just never with such a wealth of information so easily available, or communication so fast and widespread. Information is power, and with so much information freely available it means that almost anyone can connect and learn and grow.

I find the fact that a homeless man in New York can talk to a university professor in Los Angeles, or a lawyer in London, or a writer in Buenos Aries (setting aside language barriers of course) to be one of the most amazing things about the net. Sure they might be talking about their favorite LOL Cat, or just Tweeting what kind of sandwich they're currently enjoying, but in the past there was no way for you to talk to anyone outside a small circle of friends and acquaintances. Radio and television allowed almost instance communication to the masses and the telephone allowed live conversation to take place across the world, but those communication systems are either limited in scope or exclusive, and the net levels the playing field considerably. When you are online, you are the same as everyone else. You can have a blog, you can post in a forum, you can display your art, you can apply for a job, you can research a paper; the possibilities are endless. And none of it is closed off to you because you live in a shelter, or you don't wear the right clothes, or have the right number of 0's at the end of your paycheck.

I don't think it will happen in 5 years. I hope it does, because the rise of the netbook and the success of programs like One Laptop Per Child have made it clear that access to something that is fast becoming a fundamental part of modern society should be available to all. And I agree with the poster on Boing Boing, one day we will look back and wonder how we ever thought that it wasn't a fundamental right of every human being. So what do you think?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

My Tweets, let me show them to you!

So I haven't had a blog entry since January 6th, eh? Wow, I am a huge blogging slacker. It made me wonder why I haven't felt like blogging. It's not for lack of stuff going on or interesting things to talk about. Nor is it that I have nothing to say.

The trouble, as it were, is Twitter. And my iPhone. Ok, the TWO problems are Twitter, my iPhone, and ubiquitous wireless Internet. No, among my problems are such elements as Twitter, my iPhone, ubiquitous wireless Internet, and...I'll come in again.


For those not in the know, Twitter is what I call YASNS (Yet Another Social-Networking Site). Usually I'm not big fans of social-networking sites beyond a passing interest. I never joined MySpace, I had a FaceBook account back when it was strictly college students and rarely use it now, and I can't even remember my LinkedIn password.

Twitter is something I knew about, but I never really got into until last year when I got the iPhone. My old phone had "Internet", if you can call the crappy pay-by-the-KB T-Mobile portal that you could go to on your phone the Internet. But when I got the iPhone, suddenly I had high-speed, REAL Internet access in my pocket, everywhere I went. I could get my e-mail, check news sites, read webcomics, you name it. It was quite exciting. Even more exciting since I hate text messaging, and I never used it on my old phone. Any way I can type a message without using SMS, I'll take it.

I'm not sure what my aversion to texting is. Maybe because I never had a phone that was easy to type messages, or that I had to pay a fee for every message (both incoming and outgoing). Either way, it was simply unpleasant. I preferred e-mail, or some sort of chat program.

I decided to start using Twitter mainly because my work system blocks Gmail Chat, and I missed being able to chat with people (like Jen) while at work. With Twitter, I can talk to people anywhere without restrictions. It's not quite chat, but it's much quicker than e-mail (usually), and it has the benefit of the social network aspect in that questions or comments made can be seen by all, so others can chime in and have conversations. It is, at it's most basic level, micro-blogging. A message is posted on Twitter (blog entry), others see that message and reply (comment). The beauty of this system is that because the entries as so short (140 chars), and you can set it up to only see posts from your friends, it provides a really quick way to communicate in a casual fashion without the overhead of sending mass text messages, e-mail chains, or blogging.

One of the negatives I've heard about Twitter (and social networking in general) is that your "friends" on these sites are not really your friends. "Real" friends would just call you and see how you are doing, rather than just sending a 140 character message into the ether. But that totally misses the point. Of course most of the people on my "friends list" (or in Twitterese, people I "follow") are not real friends. They are simply people that I find interesting (authors, actors, journalists, techies, etc.), and I like to see what they are up to. Many of them use Twitter as a way of communicating with their fanbase, and they make announcements or post links to interesting stuff that they are involved with. In one sense, Twitter is something like a real-time Google Reader in that it consolidates separate information sources into one stream that you can configure and consume at your leisure. It lets you know what everyone that you like to know about is up to, and in many cases even lets you communicate directly with someone that you might not otherwise ever have any contact with. There are a few people I follow that I met randomly through Twitter that I find amusing and enjoy the occasional short conversations with, but I don't think of them as "friends" in the "get invited to their daughter's wedding" kind of way.

Then there are my actual friends that I follow on Twitter. People that I talk to in meatspace, hang out with, have actual connections with, etc. People like Jen (@ataleof2monkeys), Josh (@schlizzag), Ben (@hbi2k), Brad (@BradIsBest), Jeff(@Homebrew_Magic), or Bryce (@Bingo_TC). What I take offense to is the notion that just because I talk to these people on Twitter, they're not really friends. Look, many of my friends live in other cities. Some in other states. We're spread out and if all we had was the telephone to communicate, we probably wouldn't nearly as much. Twitter allows you to talk to someone directly if you want (direct message), but usually you just send a message with their username at the beginning (@-reply), and you know that it's a message directed at a specific person. That person replies to you, maybe someone jumps in, and soon you have a whole thread of conversation going that is just so much harder to set up with any other system.

Which leads me to the original point of this post. My blogging frequency has declined as my Twitter usage has increased. Because many times I can say what I want on Twitter, and get it out to all the people that I know might actually care much faster than if I wrote it in my blog. Of course, there are still a few stubborn holdouts to joining Twitter (*cough* Meghan! Mel! *cough*). I really wish they would join because sometimes I feel like they are missing out. But hey, Twitter is not for everyone. I still read blogs and leave comments (and I just now discovered that LiveJournal lets you use your OpenID!), but outside of the occasional long post like this one, Twitter is where I do most of my online rambling and commenting these days.

So that's my little shtick on Twitter. I recommend just giving it a try for a few weeks (and getting it on your phone if you can, makes a world of difference), and see how you like it. If you find it lame, stop using it. Hell, Josh was the first person on Twitter and for 2 years, he was "At work" :-P Can't be any lamer then that!

You can follow me on Twitter if you like: @SQUIDwarrior

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Blog it forward

Found this via Jen's blog. Seems like a good idea! So I'm doing my part. This basically is a fundraiser where the creator, Melissa Margarita-DiStefano, will donate $1 for every blog that posts about the fundraiser. Sort of "chainblogging" without the "send this to 10 friends or you will never find love" of chain e-mails/letters.

For the 3 people that read this, repost this on your own blog and leave a comment here with a URL to the post.

That is all.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Government services 2, Me 0

Today was an epic fail for me regarding utilizing government services. First, I tried to go pick up a package from the post office that they completely failed to redeliver (despite leaving a note saying they would reattempt). This really irks me. I mean, is it too much to assume that when the USPS leaves a note on your door saying "We tried to deliver this, you weren't home, so we will try again tomorrow! Or you can pick up the package after 2pm today from the post office!" that they actually do what the damn note says? Seems logical to me. But no, they try once, leave a note saying they'll try again but if you'd like us to leave it on your doorstep just check this box and sign here, then they dump it at the post office and leave it there.


Anyway, on my way out I noticed that the garbage collection STILL had not come by to pick up our overflowing garbage can. This is supposed to happen on Fridays. By Saturday afternoon, no trash pickup. I sighed and brought the can in figuring that they just skipped trash pickup this week due to the holidays.

Now the post office is maybe 15 minutes away; just enough to make on the edge of what I consider a quick trip. And since the post office is not even slightly on anyone's way home, Jen and I both hate having to leave work early just to make a special trip way out of the way to get something from there. Anyway, I headed out to finally pick up the damn package.

When I arrive around 2:45, slip in hand to claim my prize, I see a small sign attached to the door. I'm not really sure what it said; everything went kind of hazy and all I remember seeing when I looked at it were the words "Holiday Hours 9am-2pm." Fuck.

So I drive back, very disgruntled not only at the fact that the already stupidly limited post office hours are even shorter but that they didn't bother to TELL anyone. Guess I'll just try again on Monday and deal with the extra driving time and rush-hour traffic.

As I get back to our neighborhood, I notice a large truck leaving from the back entrance. A large green truck, with big friendly letters spelling "Waste Management" on the side. And it's driving away. And I already pulled the can back in because I thought they weren't coming.


I rush back to find that all of my neighbors' trashcans are empty. They rescheduled trash pickup for SATURDAY. And it just happened to fall during the 30 minutes that I LEFT FOR THE FUCKING CLOSED POST OFFICE AFTER PUTTING THE BLOODY CAN AWAY. Again, I never heard a damn thing about this. And does it make one iota of sense to give the trash guys the day off (i.e. Friday), then make them work on their normal day off (i.e. Saturday)? Or do they normally do trash pickup on Saturdays too and the holiday just shifted everyone's schedule by a day? Last time a holiday fell near our trash day, they just skipped it for the week. They didn't come the next day or Saturday. They just didn't come. Assholes.

Either way, I succeeded in wasting half an hour of my time, at least half a gallon of gas, and missing the only window to get our trash picked up this week.


Sunday, November 09, 2008

Assaulted by Tea

Ever hear of "exploding water"?  That old urban legend that heating water in a microwave for too long and then adding tea or coffee or something can cause it to explode? Well, it's a real phenomenon called "superheating."  In a nutshell, when undisturbed water is heated in a smooth container (with no scratches or chips), the water can get hotter than it's boiling point without actually boiling.  Then, when something disturbs the water (a spoon, tea bag, coffee, etc.) the water can instantly boil very violently in an "explosion" of hot water and steam.  Check out the science of it here.  This often happens with microwave ovens because they heat the water directly, and the containers we use in microwaves are usually glass or ceramic which are often completely smooth even at a molecular level.  Kettles and pots are usually not smooth and provide nucleation points for bubbles to form.

Why am I bringing this up? It just bloody happened to me while I was making tea!  I heated the water up in the microwave, took the cup out, put in the tea bag and FOOM!  Instantly sprayed with hot water and steam.  Fortunately being at such a high elevation (my parents' house in Prescott) meant that the boiling point was lower so I didn't get more than a minor burn on my hand.  But it was a hell of a surprise. 

For a demonstration, I call on the Mythbusters:

Needless to say, I think I'm going to make my hot water on the stove, or put something in the cup to prevent this from happening (a rough object in the water provides a nucleation point for the formation of bubbles).

Thursday, November 06, 2008

(End of) Life on Mars

Ok, this is just too cool not to post (I know, I know...I should be in bed). The Phoenix Mars Lander is "blogging" on Gizmodo to chronicle its last days as an operational spacecraft. It's written from the point of view of the lander itself, and it is absolutely brilliant.

You can read all the posts here.

You can follow Phoenix on Twitter here.

Also, Cassini, and Spirit and Oddyssey.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Brave New World

I don't post a lot. Partly because I never really know what to say, and also because I don't feel that I have anything all that meaningful to add to the world's literature. I have, however, started using Twitter. And that made me think that maybe I don't have to have some deep, meaningful prose about the great questions that plague man's soul. I am realizing that this blog is something like a journal or a diary, though much more public than that. It doesn't have my innermost thoughts or hopes or dreams, but it does have things that I think about or enjoy talking about. And sometimes, it just records my random thoughts.

I decided to post today mainly because I think it's important to have a record of my feelings and state of mind with such an historic event as this presidential election. I didn't really blog anything (as I wasn't into blogging yet) during 9/11 or the months that followed. And I kind of regret this.

Most people know that I tend to lean to the left side of the political spectrum. My views are usually pretty liberal, though I don't think I'm an extremist in any sense. So it probably surprised no one that I voted for Obama. But I wanted to explain why.

Our country has had a dark cloud over it for the past 7 years. The current administration has grossly mismanaged this country. At the end of Bush's 8 year stint, we've had two miserable (and unending) wars, the worst financial crisis the world has seen in decades*, the passing of the (un)Patriot Act, and the most divisive political situation I've ever seen. We tried to change things in 2004, but we failed. To be fair, Kerry was not a great candidate. I was a Howard Dean supporter and I never really liked Kerry. In fact, despite the generally dismal situation in 2004 I still felt like I was just voting for Kerry because he was not Bush. That's not a good feeling, but it's how it's been just about every time I've voted: resigned to pick someone not because I was inspired by their policies or speeches or inspirational ability, but because I didn't want the "wrong lizard to get in" (go here for an explanation from the late Douglas Adams).

But not this year. This year was different. It wasn't a matter of "I'm voting for X so that !X won't get in!" No, this year I voted for someone that I actually believed in. Someone who, I felt, exemplified the ideals and qualities and character of a true leader. Someone who would be able to lead this country through compassion, understanding, and strength. Not through fear and paranoia and force. Barack Obama is that person. Now I want to be clear that I do not think that John McCain = George Bush. Far from it. In fact, I would have possibly considered voting for the McCain of old. But his record over the last few years, and his WTF decision of selecting Sarah Palin as his running mate just cemented my conviction that the status quo would continue under McCain.

I do think that had McCain been elected, things would have changed. Most of the Republican party has more or less severed ties with the Bush administration and McCain has definitely been trying to make that clear. So I'd say that McCain ~ Bush.

But be that as it may, it would not have mattered one iota because the Dems decided to go all in with this election. And I'm not just talking about Obama. I'm talking about Hillary Clinton as well. I mean, either way I felt the Republicans would be benched for this round. It was more a question of which historic candidate would we elect? The first black president, or the first female president? I liked them both and I would have voted for either one. But as time went on, Obama proved himself to be an inspiring candidate. One thing I like about him is that he makes very careful, calculated decisions. The selection of Joe Biden as VP was an excellent decision and I'm sure a lot of thought went into that choice.

I've heard people make comparisons regarding the general feeling in the country following Obama's win with how people felt about Kennedy's presidency. Kennedy was the same kind of leader that Obama has the potential to be. He was young, charismatic, inspiring, and a brilliant statesman and orator. Some of the best speeches ever given were given by Kennedy. But I also think people tended to make more out of Kennedy than he really was due to the assassination. People were still on the new leader high and when he died, and then it was no longer fashionable to criticize his politics. This is not to say the Kennedy was a poor leader as he did some great things while in office: the kick-starting of the space program, creation of the peace corps, that whole Cuban missile crisis thing. But he really did not introduce many sweeping changes while in office. Most of his legislation introduced only minor changes. And of course, there's the Bay of Pigs incident.

But what Kennedy might have lacked in bold action and reform, he more than made up for in his ability to inspire and bring hope to all those who saw him or heard him speak. Obama has this same quality and I hope he can continue to inspire the American people and the rest of the world. But he has a steep hill to climb. He must lead by example and not try and simply talk away all the problems. There can be no redefining of the problem so that it no longer exists. Our country has been broken, and it needs to be fixed. The fact that, only a few decades after the civil rights movement brought the beginnings of equality to this country, we can elect a black president speaks volumes for how far we've come as a nation. The eyes of the world are upon us and the president-elect. It's time for us to show the world and ourselves that we are the shining example of democracy that the founding fathers envisioned.

*To be fair, it was not completely Bush's fault that the world financial system imploded. There are many, many people involved in the crisis and no one person is at fault. But if the captain of an oil tanker smashes it against a reef because he was sailing too close trying to make better time rather than taking the safer route, he does still bear responsibility. I'm just sayin'.