Tag Archives: technology

The Not-So-Evils of Technology

Image Source: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/the_middlebrow/2006/02/can_you_fear_me_now.html
Image Source: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/the_middlebrow/2006/02/can_you_fear_me_now.html

Technology is evil. It rots our brains, makes us less social, and leads to shorter attention spans. People never go out anymore; they spend all of their time on the internet. People don’t talk to each other; they text. People need to unplug and focus more on making genuine human connections.

All of that is a bunch of bull, and here’s why.

Technology, like anything else, is a tool. It’s not evil, it’s not rotting our brains, and it’s not leading to the breakdown of society. In fact, in many ways simple things like texting, Twitter, television, and so on can actually make your life better.

I hear so many people complain about technology, yet like many types of complaints, they never actually think things through. Here’s a few examples:

Spending too much time on Twitter makes you anti-social

This is a bunch of baloney. A lot of the time, it comes from parents who think their children are ignoring the family because they spend so much time online. Yet the simple truth is, kids didn’t want to spend times with their families long before the internet was invented. If kids wanted to sit at home all day spending time with their boring parents and their pain-in-the-ass siblings, they wouldn’t sneak out of the house to hang out with friends, or lock themselves in their rooms playing loud music, or doing any of the millions of other things kids do when they want to be left alone. The difference with a website like Twitter is that it allows you to actually make friends and interact with people in a safe, controlled way. You can pick and choose the people you interact with, block the ones who bother you, and keep up to date on current events or live-tweet community experiences like the season premier of your favorite show. It’s a way for people to have fun and be social, just without having to limit your social group to people who are geographically close to you.

Kids text too much and don’t develop communication skills

People of any age can be shy. Communication is hard, especially for someone who is unpopular, awkward, or has low self-esteem. But a lot of the time it can be easier to get to know someone one text at a time. You can take your time, develop your thoughts, and make sure you aren’t inhibited by your shyness. Plus, texting can actually be more efficient in some ways. It’s much easier to, say, read a book or do some homework while you’re texting someone than while you’re on the phone with them. Being on the phone generally requires your full attention, whereas texts can be sent whenever you have a break in what you’re doing. The asynchronous nature of texting can make it a more powerful form of communication in many ways.

The internet is just for silly cat pictures and porn

Sometimes people go overboard with pictures. It can seem excessive at times, making you wonder why people need to share eight million pictures of their dog, their coffee, and their feet. But on the other hand, pictures can be used to communicate quite a bit. Memes in particular have become a fascinating form of communication. For example, when one of my writer friends is slacking, I’m likely enough to send them an encouraging photo. When they tell a corny joke, I’ll play a rimshot. Or when they’re having a bad day, I might send them a sweet e-card.

And then there’s some things you just can’t say with words.

Internet time should be limited

Because naturally, it’s about quantity over quality. To some people, it doesn’t matter if you’re using the internet for education, social interaction, creative pursuits, and other wholesome activities. They still see it as something you can have “too much of.” But I say, there’s nothing wrong with being on the internet for hours on end if you’re using it the right way. Five hours straight on a silly cat picture Tumblr page? Okay, that’s too much. But if you spent the same length of time reading educational materials, talking to friends, doing research, and playing classical music videos on YouTube, would that be such a bad thing?

All people do online is complain

That’s ridiculous. Who spends all their time online complaining about other people? It’s not like anyone would read an entire blog post that was just a long angry rant…

Tee hee.


mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

CreateSpace and Amazon

and in ebook format through:

Kindle and Nook

Advertisements

Tech-Savvy Feathered Velociraptors

What does Jurassic Park have to do with learning new technologies like Twitter and WordPress in the digital age?

Feathers.

Confused? Read on and it will all make sense.

When I was a kid, I loved dinosaurs. Hell, I STILL love dinosaurs. So do you. Don’t lie. EVERYONE loves dinosaurs. They’re big, they’re majestic, and they’re mysterious. We all wonder about what they were really like, how they died out, and whether we could ever really bring them back using science. They’re a cultural obsession that has never gone away.

CURSE YOUR SUDDEN BUT INEVITABLE BETRAYAL!
CURSE YOUR SUDDEN BUT INEVITABLE BETRAYAL!

When I was a kid, there were certain “primary” species of dinosaurs that everyone knew. If you asked 100 people to name a type of dinosaur, the survey would say something like: Tyrannosaurs Rex, Brachiosaurus, Brontosaurus Apatosaurus, Stegosaurus, Triceratops, Pterodactyl, and Ankylosaurus. Some runners-up would include Parasaurolophus, Allosaurus, and The Mighty Megalosaurus.

One dinosaur that would NOT have been on the list in the 1980s was the velociraptor.

You know you want to see this happen.
You know you want to see this happen.

I don’t know about you (and people born after Jurassic Park came out will surely differ), but I didn’t know WHAT a velociraptor was until Dr. Grant explained how deadly they are . After that, raptors became one of the most famous dinosaurs, known to be deadly, cunning pack hunters and problem solvers.

Very clever.
Very clever.

But then something changed. Science is always evolving. Scientific theories are always called “theories” not because we don’t know if they’re true, but because the state of knowledge is always changing. More information gets added with each passing year, giving us an ever more complete picture. Today, this is what the picture of a velociraptor looks like:

FEATHERY DEATH FROM ABOVE
They use their retractable claw to hook into your body and use their wings to balance atop you while they force you into submission.

This information may be hard to process at first, but you’ll cope.

Paleontology isn’t the only science that’s changed since 1993. Hell, just look at this recreation of the Jurassic Park computer system to see how different computers have become. That might be a fictional computer system, but it captures a lot of the nostalgia of the computer I had back then, running Windows 3.1, using floppy disks, and limited to 640k ram.

Goddamn Windows 98!
Goddamn Windows 98!

But just like raptors, we can adapt and evolve. From both the inside and the outside.

We once thought raptors had leathery, reptilian skin. We now know they had feathers. But we ALSO know that they were intelligent problem solvers. We, as denizens of the digital age, can change our feathers and learn to solve problems at the same time. One of my Twitter friends, Janet Lee Nye (@JanLNye) asked me “What you youngsters really think about us old people trying to be tech savvy?” What I honestly think is that you’re a raptor who doesn’t realize you have feathers. Anyone of any age who thinks “I’m too old to learn this” is still thinking of themselves as the person they were years ago, when raptors were reptiles and 640k was enough for anybody. But you’ve changed, learned, and grown since then. ANYONE using the internet today who used it 20 years ago is more tech-savvy than you used to be. You simply have to be, because the technology has changed so much. There was no twitter 20 years ago. If you’ve ever tweeted, you’re showing your feathers. There were no tablets or smartphones 20 years ago. You show your feathers every time you use a touch screen or take a digital photograph. You show them every time you navigate a website, make a blog post, or pin something on pinterest. These are all skills you’ve learned that the old you simply couldn’t do.

So what makes you think you can’t keep learning something new? Pshaw. The only thing stopping you is yourself. If you want to be a tech-savvy feathered velociraptor, then I say:

Wisdom of the ages. Now go, conquer the world. No, really. GO!
Wisdom of the ages. Now go, conquer the world. No, really. GO!

OMG SCRIVENER IS THE BEST THING EVAR!!1!1!!!!!!!

So as you may know, I participated in NaNoWriMo this year. One of the prizes you can get for winning NaNoWriMo is discounts off various types of software. I used the NaNoWriMo discount to get Scrivener software for half price. I just installed it yesterday and started working with it.

Now, normally I don’t believe in paying for software. No, I’m not a “pirate.” What I do is seek out free software because really, who wants to pay for all these computer programs? Most antivirus programs have a free version (and frankly, unless you run a business, there’s NO reason to use the upgraded pay version). Most websites, from social networks like Twitter and Facebook, to email, to this blog are all free. Heck, even Adobe Photoshop has a free version (as long as you don’t mind that it’s the 10-years-outdated version with no support). With so much free stuff, why pay for a program?

Well, I have a free version of MS Word (they call it “Word Starter”), and man, Scrivener is SO MUCH BETTER!!! I paid $20 for Scrivener after the discount, and it’s already worth it.

I have only barely begun to dip my toes into it, but here’s a few things I found VERY handy.

First, it allows you to take “snapshots” of your work. A snapshot is apparently like saving an extra draft. This is something I do all the time anyway. This is my file folder for Manifestation right now:

And I have backups of EVERY one of those files.
And I have backups of EVERY one of those files.

I save multiple versions, depending on the changes being made. “Draft 2” and “Draft 3” are substantial changes in overall organization and structure, but “Draft 3.2” and “Draft 3.3” might just mean there was one big scene I cut, and I wanted a pre-cut and post-cut copy of the file. I’m currently on “Draft 3.95,” and about to start “Draft 4” soon (which will be another FULL revision from beginning to end).

Well, with Scrivener I can just hit “Crtl-5” or click on “Take Snapshot” and it saves a copy of the whole document, as it stands right now. And if my document is divided into sections by chapter (as explained below), I can take a snapshot of just one individual chapter so that I can decide later if I need to put just that one chapter back the way it was. Seems very handy to me!

Even cooler than that is the ability to divide your book into chapters, and reorganize them with ease:

The blue dots are Tock chapters, the green are Gabby chapters, and the pink are Dr. Caldwell chapters.
The blue dots are Tock chapters, the green are Gabby chapters, and the pink are Dr. Caldwell chapters.

Each chapter basically becomes a stand-alone sub-document, but when you click on the “view all” option at the top, it puts them in order just like in my old Word document. I can continue writing and revising in each chapter like normal, but each remains separate. And THEN I can do this:

Gabby's_Story

I have the chapters labelled by whose POV is shown in that chapter. So I can type “Gabby” in the search bar (circled red on the upper right side) and the list of chapters (in the red box on the left) changes to show ONLY Gabby’s chapters. (You can click on the picture above for a full-sized image to better see what I’m talking about.) You’ll notice that the chapters skip from 2 to 7 then 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 22, etc. The chapters in between are either chapters Gabby isn’t a part of, or chapters where she is there but the events are being told from another character’s POV. In this way, I can go through just Gabby’s section of the story alone. I can then switch to either Tock’s or Dr. Caldwell’s with ease, just by typing a different name in the search window (and you can’t see this in the screenshot, but the search window has a dropdown menu that I used to select “Labels” since that’s what I’m searching).

Now, I’ve only actually used Scrivener for about an hour so far, and these are just the features that I’ve discovered during that time. I’m sure there’s TONS of other features, but I wanted to discuss what I learned already. Cause, c’mon, if I found all this cool stuff in ONE hour, imagine what else there is to learn!

*The excessive !’s and 1’s in the blog post title are dedicated to the lovely and wonderful Meera.

Number Nerd

16384
16384

I’ve waited two months for this day. Ever since the day I passed 8192 Tweets!  Today I have tweeted 16,384 times! That’s TWO TO THE FOURTEENTH POWER! That’s 4000 in Hexadecimal! That’s 100000000000000 in Binary!

Yes, I’m a huge nerd. Yes, NO ONE ELSE seems to get it (Except for @Cylithria, God bless her).  But to me, this is an epic and wonderful moment.  I’m happier about this than about hitting 10,000.  I think in binary.  This is who I am.  Deal with it.

#NumberNerd out!

Random SwiftKey Story

So, I’ve recently been introduced to an app called “SwiftKey.” If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a new type of keyboard app that can be downloaded to your smartphone.  I’m using a free-trial version right now (I believe the full version is like $4 or so).  I’ve been enjoying it a lot.

Compared to a normal “autocorrect” program, SwiftKey has a few advantages.  It’s far more intuitive and actually learns as I type.  For example, whenever I type the word “Dr.,” SwiftKey knows that the next word I normally use is “Caldwell,” one of my main characters. The suggestion bar across the top of the screen predicts that use for me to select.  It saves a lot of time typing.

Also, the SwiftKey program is far more intelligent about correcting errors. One of the common errors I had on my old keyboard is hitting “b” instead of the space bar, ending up with mistakes “likebthis.”  The old keyboard couldn’t understand that, but SwiftKey recognizes I meant to type it “like this.”

While using SwiftKey I came up with a strange idea.  Since it always suggests words based on my usage patterns, I decided to see what it would come up with if I used the suggested words every time.  I wrote the following story doing just that.  The word choices offered to me were based on the patterns I’ve been using while working on the sequel to “Manifestation,” but there’s a fair amount of randomness in there as well.  It’s almost as if the story was based on a jumble of words taken out of what I’ve written in the sequel.  The result is mostly nonsense, but I thought it would be interesting to read how the intuitive program of Swiftkey would sculpt a story on its own.

I present it here, completely unedited:

——————————————————————————

 

The following is a military operation. The thorns were writhing and growing, but she needed to find shelter. She was likely curious about your business and leisure. She was born in the forest and I have been in the distance between the ages. The tingling sensation was happening in your life. I laughed at the thornbush. It was somehow worse than the sight of the herd of the store’s employees. I tried calling the police, but she hadn’t heard back from the people who have been in the last few weeks. We are going to be late to the bush and making sure that you are looking for her. Though at the same time, there are no surprises. She was a gas station and the temperature was dropping rapidly. She kept moving closer to the bush and making sure that you have work to do with the cacophonous bell ringing in the distance.

She had learned to recognize the sudden look of pain on someone’s face. The only way to contain the last few times a week or so of her heart she felt that the effects were just different. The thorns were writhing and growing. She was infected.

” Get back! ” As part of the dream of a squad of soldiers. The thorns grew long and deadly. She was likely curious about Tinker’s use of language. For example, if Maximus repeatedly asking for help, and she felt like she could not find any information about this, but this is a helpful thing.

The thorns were just talking about the world. I don’t know why.

But now that I think about it, it always happened when people got closer to me. Maybe I’m radioactive. She was likely doing well. Hopefully this will be a lot more than twenty feet from her.

Her left side tingled like a weight. She struggled against the grip of her captors. She was quite curious about what they could collect and the glow suddenly brightened. ” Thank God for the nearest store. The only other subject of confidential. For example, if you wanted to, and the bush grew up in the densely populated suburbs of the herd, and the energy flow into the man.”

Get back here. I don’t know. Maybe there’s something about them that makes them different.

Watch the Universe Do the Rest, Part 2

(Continued from: Watch the Universe Do the Rest)

I thought it would end there.  I’d had my silly moment to shine, and I’d gone home and written a small story about it.  After that, I promptly forgot that it had ever happened.  I thought that the moment was behind me.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

A few days later, I received the following text from a friend of mine:

Chris: Dude, there’s a video of you up on YouTube
Wed, Oct 24, 2012, 9:15 PM

Confused, and a bit concerned, I asked him for a link.  He directed me to a YouTube video that had captured my lone performance from a few nights before.

I watched the video with a small amount of embarrassment.  It seemed to be nothing special.  I wasn’t particularly impressed with my performance.  The clip was all of twenty seconds long.  It was almost not worth mention.  Though the video was soon circulated among all of my friends, who got a bit of a laugh.  I sheepishly responded to their jokes and light-hearted praise.  I figured it would end there.

Once again, I was wrong.

I forgot about the video for awhile, until one day, when I was out at Pep Boys getting my car serviced.  While I was sitting in the waiting room, reading, someone across the room pointed at me and asked, “Hey, aren’t you the ‘Standing on a chair’ guy?”

My response was to look dumbly up at him and ask, “What?”

“Yeah!” he said.  “I saw that shit on YouTube!  Fucking awesome, man!”

“Uhh, thanks…” I replied, returning to my book.  I was a bit disconcerted that some random person had somehow recognized me, though considering I was still in my hometown, I had no way of realizing just how far the phenomenon had already spread.

When I got home that night, I decided to check the video once more.  What I saw could not have shocked me more: over 200,000 hits, with thousands of ‘likes’ and only a scattering of ‘dislikes.’  I booted up AOL Instant Messenger and sent a message to the friend who had originally brought the video to my attention:

Jason Cantrell (11:19:55 PM): Yo
Chris (11:23:29 PM): whats up man
Jason Cantrell (11:23:47 PM): Have you seen what’s been going on with that video?
Chris (11:24:17 PM): What video?
Chris (11:24:57 PM): Oh wait, that thing with the chair? No, what?
Jason Cantrell (11:25:49 PM): It’s got like 200,000 hits…
Chris (11:27:03 PM): What!? Really?
Chris (11:27:08 PM): I didn’t think it was that good?
Jason Cantrell (11:27:14 PM): Me neither.
Chris (11:27:23 PM): what you think?
Chris (11:27:30 PM): Going viral?
Chris (11:27:48 PM): Pretty cool, right?
Jason Cantrell (11:28:54 PM): I guess…

I didn’t know what to think.  Surely I wasn’t going to follow the path of the infamous Numa Numa guy.  Nor did I really want to.  I didn’t really want that level of exposure.  Of course, once I had decided to let the universe do the rest, it was really out of my hands.

It started with comments.  People posted their thoughts on the video, some mocking, some praising.  People shared the video on Facebook and Twitter.  Before I knew it, it was spreading around the world.  The hit count rose daily, soaring through the ranks on its way to over a million views.  I had nothing to do with it; I never shared the video with anyone, and in fact I had no control over it.  I didn’t even know who had posted it.  The only clue to the poster’s identity was their YouTube username: UniversalSquared.  They could have been anyone.

Next there came imitators.  Others started posting their own videos, recording themselves standing on a chair and shouting their hearts out for all the world to hear.  The range of videos crossed all cultures and areas of interests, with YouTubers proclaiming, “I AM A MUSICIAN!”, “I AM AN ACTOR!”, “I AM GAY!”, “I AM A GINGER!” or whatever else they wanted to declare.  Soon the movement grew, and it was no longer limited simply to declarations.  People climbed on chairs and danced, giving performances set to music.  Others recorded their pets on chairs.  Some people did it as pranks, standing on chairs in public places just to see what would happen.  It was the new ‘planking,‘ and the movement had no signs of stopping.  When it reached Fox News, I knew it had become something big.  It even ended up inspiring an Indy band to write a song based on the movement.

When I tried to figure out what it all meant, I realized it was all about participatory culture.  Michael Wesch said it best, “This is really a story about new forms of expression and new forms of community and new forms of identity emerging…”  He described the cultural reaction to the Numa Numa video by saying, “This video obviously became a huge phenomenon … and you’ll see people from all over the world joining in this dance.  And this then becomes something really important that’s going on.”  He was referring to the spread of culture.  The celebration of being able to join in.  Of being able to participate on a field that was once restricted only to professional actors and musicians.  Before the internet, before YouTube, anyone who wanted to perform and make themselves known had to audition and risk rejection from producers.  Only a select few, the best of the best, could ever become famous, could ever achieve anything of their dreams.

Yet now, anyone could.  Anyone can reach out there, and grab their small bit of fame.  All they had to do was find their own chair, drag it out into the own street, climb on high, and shout out to the world, “I AM A ______!”  And by doing so, they are doing more than making a declaration.  They are grabbing their own little piece of fame.

(Note: I do not actually own or have any connection to any of the content linked above.)

The Future of Writing

The following is a presentation originally created for a class at Rowan University.  The assignment, created by Professor Bill Wolff, was to analyze various aspects of writing in the digital age.  The presentation was then done using a mixture of text, images, audio, and video, making it a prime example of the versatility of new media in the current era.

Images in the presentation are a combination of screenshots of my own work, creative commons images, and screenshots of TED videos. Additionally, since the work was created for a class, it falls under Fair Use Guidelines and within the exemptions to DMCA Section 1201 rules announced by the Library of Congress on July 26, 2010.

The visual layout of the presentation was made using Prezi, and the video and audio were recorded using Jing. The voice you hear is none other than yours truly.

You can view the presentation in its entirety here.  Below is the written transcript of the recording:

At its core, I believe that writing is communication.  Whether a writer wishes to tell a story, share personal details about themselves, educate others, or simply entertain, writing is a means of expressing those thoughts and ideas so that others can receive them.  In the past, the written word was simply one of the most effective and long-lasting ways of doing so.  Unlike speech, writing could be transported across distances and time, allowing a message to be shared with a much broader audience.  Given enough time, a profound work could be spread across the whole world.  However, the advancements of technology today have changed the way communication takes place.  It has first changed the power of the written word, allowing it to be transferred more quickly and to a much broader audience.  In addition, it has given us the means to share images and voices across distances and time, in a way that only the written word could be shared in the past.

In order to ‘be a writer,’ and to do so successfully, one must consider how this communication takes place.  Technology has granted us a wide variety of mediums we can use to share thoughts and ideas, but a writer needs to understand the advantages and limitations of them in order to utilize them properly.  One must also understand one’s audience, and how, when, and where that audience will receive one’s message.  In the past, the audience was simply readers, and a writer knew that they wouldn’t receive the written message until after a work had been written, revised, published, and distributed.  Now, however, many written forms allow for immediate online publication to a broad audience, who can access the work from anywhere in the world.  The advent of smartphones takes this a step further, allowing users to access media anywhere, not just from home.  No longer do they need to await distribution, or go to a bookstore or library in order to access a work.

Writers who are aware of this will understand that their writing can prompt immediate feedback, whether that be in the number of ‘likes’ a page receives, or in comments added directly to an online work.  They also need to understand the current interconnected nature of writing, where online spaces are powered by links that connect a writer’s work to other places.  This can be in the form of linking from one’s own writing directly to other things that are referenced in the work, or in the form of linking to other parts of one’s own site in order to help a reader navigate.

To be successful in this digital age of writing, a writer must also understand what goes on ‘behind the scenes’ in their writing.  An understanding of html coding, linking, embedding, images, and videos will help a writer to sculpt a more versatile environment, which in turn will allow them to better get their message across.  They must also understand how to connect these things, such as combining videos with voice-overs, or inserting images into the appropriate places in their text.  Without proper use of these tools, online writing can be seen as sloppy and amateurish.

The future of writing is no doubt going to bring this interconnectivity to even greater levels.  The more tools we develop, and the more ways we have of sharing information around the world, the more a writer will need to know about the tools that exist, the effect they have, and the methods needed to use them properly.  These tools will likely include new interfaces, allowing a writer to create their words without the need to type, such as can already be seen with voice recognition software today.  They will also include new ways to link information, connecting not just web pages but entire ideas together in new forms.  We can already embed links into photos and videos, and soon they might be able to connect on even deeper levels.  We do need to stay aware of the potential pitfalls, since the links that surround us may include restrictions and limitations, filtering out content, including that which we create.  But on the other hand, the ability to reach out across such a broad scale is something unmatched by anything that we’ve seen before.