Friday, October 27, 2006

assignment 3 now online

for internet studies web writing assignment 3 i looked at halo and neuromancer and how they relate to each other, life on the screen, and our ideas about computers.

here it is.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

web writing assignment 2 - memex vs woodstove

In their earlier stages, new concepts and technological innovations are typically on the receiving end of a wide variety of feelings. Many people simply adjust, some totally embrace, and quite a few always complain because they do not like or are not prepared for the changes brought on by the technology in question. Nathaniel Hawthorne, in his 1846 article "Fire-Worship," shows himself to be one of the complainers, at least in the case of a new device which was around during his day and revolutionizing the way people heated their homes.

The insidious heater Hawthorne rants about is none other than the friendly wood stove.

Doesn't look so bad here, does it?

Closed, dark, and very antisocial according to Hawthorne, this iron contraption robbed him of the pleasure of sitting by an open fire while writing or socializing. What he fails to take into account, however, are the many benefits of the stove. Many of us today remember sitting by them in the houses of various (often much older) friends and relatives growing up, and surely most anyone can think of at least a few buildings still heated by them a century and a half after Hawthorne predicted their virtual destruction of society. My personal memories hold quite a positive view of the stove. It has the ability to pretty much bake anyone and anything within a three-foot radius and do much damage to any object unlucky enough to touch its surface, but when handled correctly and regarded with respect it gives off happy popping noises and warms everyone in the room to the bone very nicely. It can also dry clothes and other items placed near it and, depending on the design, may be able to boil water and cook food. Today we have heat powered mostly by petroleum or electricity (or a combination of the two) that lacks many of these features. However, I'm not about to start complaining that furnaces and space heaters are killing my old friend and destroying my world.

If Hawthorne's article represents a reactionary view of technology, Vannevar Bush's "As We May Think" lies all the way on the opposite end of the spectrum. In this article, written roughly a century after Hawthorne's, Bush speaks to scientists who have been involved in WWII research and says they should turn their energy toward advancing humanity and using new technology to create devices to help us organize our vast collection of knowledge in a way that we can easily store and access any information we need. Many of the ideas he presents in this writing, though they may seem sort of far-fetched at first look, bear striking resemblance (in concept at least) to things we use today. These things he speculates about which we now have include photography devices, personal computers and the Internet, and even voice recognition and optical character recognition. The fact that he could not actually bring these devices into existence does little or nothing to damage the power of the ideas. The most intriguing idea in the article is the Memex, a mechanical computer designed to use a system of photography, projection, and microfilm in conjunction with buttons and levers to act as a powerful research station.

Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and to coin one at random, "memex" will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory. -Vannevar Bush, As We May Think

The Internet, though it is hugely successful and growing rapidly, is still a relatively new concept and is therefore subject to these extremes of thought. In only about ten years it has undeniably changed the way we as humans do many things, from communication to research to even routine tasks like ordering food and paying bills, with some of these changes being very positive and others understandably hurting us. Some have had strong negative reactions, of course. Others have totally immersed themselves to an unhealthy degree. Some have raised interesting, though strange, questions. Many have adapted and realized the Net's potential to act as an enrichment to our "real" lives rather than a soul-sucking void, and among these there are many who understand its potential for both good and bad and work to keep it aligned as closely as possible with the former. Here is an example.

Personally, I feel like I identify most with the last group I described and with Bush's article. I feel that the dawn of the Internet has brought his Memex idea to life and even surpassed it in scope. Services such as Wikipedia, The Linux Documentation Project, Erowid, and many more have sought to collect as much knowledge as possible in one place. Some deal with certain subjects and cater to certain types of people; others are universal and can be extremely helpful to everyone able to use them. The goal of each is education and research. Though technically not all stored in the same place like the information on Bush's machines, they are all available to anyone with a computer and access to the Net from any location. On a wider scale, many sites on the Web as a whole, some related and some not, are linked to each other for various reasons. One can start browsing with one subject from one site and end up with something totally different from a very different place by simply following links.

When weblogs are brought into the equation the whole concept resembles the Memex even more. Bush writes, "When the user is building a trail, he names it, inserts the name in his code book, and taps it out on his keyboard...Thereafter, at any time, when one of these items is in view, the other can be instantly recalled merely by tapping a button below the corresponding code space...It is exactly as though the physical items had been gathered together to form a new book. It is more than this, for any item can be joined into numerous trails." He also mentions the ability to insert one's own thoughts and link them to the other information. In my opinion Wikis and, to a greater extent, blogs, are very real incarnations of this idea. My first blog experience that really sold me on the idea was when a friend sent me a link to Shannon Larratt's Zentastic. (Warning: This blog sometimes contains graphic content.) I thought it was really cool how he could just post whatever he wanted and insert links to anything at any point in the writing. Thoughts on life, things that happen to him, information on events and services his friends and acquaintances might be interested in, even pictures of anything at all. Associative indexing at its finest, this was what totally set it off. I still read Zentastic on a somewhat regular basis and learn a lot through the different articles and sites to which it directs me.

I thought it would be really nice to have this same power and for years wanted a blog of my own, even if for no other reason than to give friends insight into my strange world and vent some of the many thoughts that are constantly flying through my head. Its primary use is not research, as Bush would have it, but then again I'm not exactly a scientist. Hawthorne's reactionary conservative viewpoint would have me depressed and wasting away inside from a lack of direct face-to-face communication caused by sitting in front of an electronic box with a screen, but I choose to see it in a more positive light. I realize there is a potential for harm, but I respect what computers, the Net, and blogs have done for global society and I look forward to the crazy new innovation the future surely holds.

The REAL evil of the Internet...and the force behind it...haha.

Monday, October 09, 2006

ugly web page

my ugly page

i used some clashing colors and extremely bad form on it...

of course, there are pictures of a few certain individuals (who shall remain nameless) that make it REALLY ugly.

Saturday, September 16, 2006


yeah, okay, so when i came up with that title just now i definitely had a vision in my head of the good old days...getting out of bed really early (by today's standards) on a saturday morning, running to the living room already wide awake and ready to go, and turning on the television. sometimes it would be early and infomercials would still be on, usually about some kind of stop smoking machine ("it tells me when to light up!") or the soloflex home gym which was so trendy at the time. soon enough, though, the sweet kiddie-crack would begin to pour out of the box and right into my second-grade brain. teenage mutant ninja turtles, garfield and friends, super mario brothers (or super mario world in later years), captain N the game master (of course with the hot princess lana), heathcliff, various other colorful goodies...if you don't understand this feeling, you had a deprived childhood and i feel sorry for you.

back to 2006...

this is what i saw upon looking outside this morning. the picture really doesn't do it justice, but the weather and smell and feeling in the air was what got me started thinking about those mornings when i was a kid. i think i could stay in boone for quite a while.

keeping a blog updated is proving to be a challenge amid upper-level courses, a job, and some attempt at having a life outside all that. fortunately, a lot of the things going on in classes relate to other things i'm interested in. starting this blog, for example, was something i had been wanting to do for a while but never did until i had to as an assignment for internet studies (and the majority of the posts will probably reflect that for a little while). sight and sound, for which i did this project, is giving me a reason to learn more about the software i am now using (including the GIMP, which i think i'm really going to like). internet studies is showing itself to be the right choice for a minor.

i saw this yesterday on the watauga county democratic party site. i thought it was pretty funny and although i'm not very familiar with blust himself, i find it to be a powerful statement about politicians in general (republicans especially). i've been planning to write a blog post about my thoughts on 9/11 five years later, but i never got around to it on monday or since. maybe i'll do it soon, though it might be more lazily written because of the delay.

this is what i came home from work with last night. salmon, blackened something, curried chicken, green beans almondine, corn on the cob, mixed greens with shrimp and balsamic vinaigrette, pickles, pickled okra, pineapple, and a strawberry. the blackened something was some kind of fish, and it had a really dank flavor and had no fishy taste at all. i definitely got lucky when i started working at brcc.

damnit, now i'm hungry and it's time to go to work. i've put too much time into this collection of ramblings. or maybe just enough.

life is crazy.

but it works.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

My History with Computers (Internet Studies)

My first introduction to computers (as far as I can recall) was through my uncle, who at the time worked for IBM. I was very young and only remember playing a few very simple games and knowing that the confusing box with a screen and keyboard was very important to his job. The elementary school I attended had an IBM lab and an Apple lab. The only thing I ever remember using the former for was Writing to Read in first grade, a program that combined workbooks and computer activities and probably confused about as many kids as it helped. The Apple lab contained a selection of IIe and IIgs models and was a place I always looked forward to going because all we did was play games. Even when the school acquired (limited numbers of) Macs with vastly superior hardware and flashy CD-ROM games I still preferred to sit and play Spellevator and Oregon Trail. In fifth grade I clearly remember one day in class when the computer teacher told us about this thing called the Internet, which allowed people to connect computers from many different places together and communicate through them. She gave a short explanation of e-mail and showed us a few Web sites. I ended up helping out in the lab some that year and attending a short computer camp the following summer, where I learned how to use some basic applications and gained some more knowledge about computers in general.

Another important introduction I experienced in first grade was that of home video games. The Nintendo Entertainment System was going strong and everybody either had one or wanted one. I had no idea at the time that it was a computer, but the thought of pressing buttons on a small pad to make things happen on TV was as intriguing to me as it was to many children my age, and Christmas 1990 started an addiction which has been with me ever since and from which I have no desire to be free. The changing times have brought new systems and more complex and advanced games, but the basic idea remains the same.

In middle school computers were a bit more common and we used them more frequently. We were taught how to use them for research and to type papers, as well as basic database and spreadsheet operation. The Internet became more popular and I started riding my bicycle to the public library to use their computers with access, getting a tiny taste of what would become another obsession. I obtained an e-mail account and began e-mailing my friends and chatting as well as browsing the few sites I knew about. During this period I also became good friends with Jason Shaver, who had had quite a bit of experience with computers and taught me a lot through the following few years, fueling my interest in technology.

The high school years brought some changes. Computers were much more common and quickly evolving, prices were dropping, the Net was exploding, and many of the Macs were giving way to PCs, of course running Windows 95 and 98. My parents purchased our first family computer shortly before the beginning of my freshman year, so I finally had something of my own to experiment with and learn about. It was a Compaq Presario with a 300 Mhz Pentium II, 64 MB of RAM, and an 8-gig hard drive. Pitifully slow by today's standards, it was quite fast at the time, and it came with a large selection of games and other things to keep me occupied for a while. It also had a dial-up modem, which I started using to connect to a local BBS and browse and play games, although I had hardly a clue of what I was doing. I also used free dial-up Internet services for a short time (NetZero before they started charging) and started learning basic HTML and making Web pages, albeit crude simple ones. The learning process continued through high school, as things including broadband Net access, MP3's, Instant Messaging, and CD burners made their way into the mainstream and into my life. The Texas Instruments graphing calculators we all had to buy for math classes also proved to be quite useful toys, and we filled them with games. Some of us also started experimenting with editing existing software and writing our own programs for them using their BASIC-like programming and the Graph Link computer interface.

Once high school was over I needed my own computer to use once I started college, so I purchased the HP Pavilion I am unfortunately still using today. It has performed well enough and required little hardware maintenance (I've only upgraded the RAM, added HD space, and replaced the power supply), but I have outgrown it and cannot yet afford a new box. I have done the vast majority of my learning and experimenting using this same computer, and although there is still much to learn, I finally feel that my overall computer knowledge is at a fair level.

Lately my interest has been in making things better; figuring out how to make my PC and other computerized devices (Xbox and cell phone, both of which are connected to the computer/network) perform the way I want them to as well as efficiently and trouble-free as possible without costing more money than I have to spend. A major step to accomplishing this, I learned over time, was a switch to different software. Winamp became my music player of choice, easily knocking out Windows Media Player. Mozilla took over the job that scary, dangerous blue "e" used to have. OpenOffice found its way onto my hard drive (which originally came with no MS Word or PowerPoint), as did AVG Anti-Virus. These programs were all free, yet they performed better in many cases than did the alternatives, some of for which I would have had to pay dearly. I had heard about Linux a few times in recent years but knew little more than the fact that it was a different operating system.

I had finally gotten things running somewhat smoothly, but my displeasure with Microsoft grew, and other options began to seem more and more attractive. Finally, in the early Spring of 2006, my friend Chris Midcap gave me the bit of motivation I needed to attempt to make the jump by suggesting a few Linux distributions I might be able to start out using. I downloaded Fedora Core 5, installed it, and was pretty much lost, so I mostly stuck with Windows for the next few months. Summer break provided plenty of free time, and I was able to read many manuals and howtos and get my system set up to do basically everything it could do in Windows. XP Home Edition still lives on my hard drive, but only in case of a need for Windows-only software.

My computer and the Internet are very much a part of my day-to-day life and likely always will be. I use them to communicate with friends and family, do research for school, type papers and print various things, find out virtually anything I want to know about any subject, and (of course) waste plenty of time. Computers have evolved quite rapidly during my lifetime thus far, and while the future may be uncertain, they will most certainly play a major role.

wow, i've finally done it.

i've been thinking about setting up a blog for a while, and it appears to finally have happened. it's nice when school assignments fit in well with life. now let's just hope i have the time and motivation to keep it updated...