Information Overload

Yesterday I took  a repeat-recommendation from a friend to listen to a podcast called Radiolab. It has a storytelling style that is similar to This American Life, but with a very cool, very engaging hodgepodge of sounds and effects thrown in to the mix. It all comes together to make each episode sound more like you’re listening in on a conversation than to a podcast. But that’s only the surface details, because if the presentation was good, without anything underneath, I wouldn’t be writing about this podcast right now. The best part about this podcast, is the content. They find really cool topics with a few stories for each, much like This American Life. But the stories are never presented just as standalone stories that tie into a theme. The stories are presented as a prelude to further a discussion on the topic of the episode.

My favourite episode so far, titled What Technology Wants, follows this amazingly cool idea of the Technium. This is a term that I believe was coined by author, and guest on this episode of the show, Kevin Kelly. The best way to understand the concept is probably to hit the link and listen to the show, but short of that I’ll try to summarize it briefly for you. You may have heard of the phenomenon of colonies of bees or ants acting as if they were a single unit. Individual ants of some varieties will use their own bodies to produce bridges for their fellow ants to traverse gaps in terrain, all in the name of gathering food for the queen. Similarly, bees will sacrifice themselves to ward off invading predators all for the sake of the hive. These are sometimes referred to as superorganisms – organisms made up of individual organisms. Just as the individual cells in our bodies would not survive separate from our bodies, individuals belonging to a superorganism would not survive long outside of the social network that makes up the superorganism. Well, Kelly takes this idea of the superorganism and applies it to essentially everything around us, and specifically technology.

Now if I start to think of humans, animals, plans and technology all as parts of a single superorganism, I am compelled to ask the question, “What does it want?” Just as Kelly does in his book and on the show. I really want to go into more detail on this, but then I wouldn’t be able to move on to this other really cool thing I discovered just today.

I should preface this by giving a shout out to my friend Coco, who first suggested that I mention TED talks on my blog. Unfortunately, two months later, it took my stumbling across a TED talk quite accidentally to finally do it. In any case, thanks for the suggestion Coco! I’ll have to come back and devote some more time to talking specifically about TED, but for now you should know that it’s a site filled with interesting, inspiring videos of lectures on pretty much any topic you can think of. Hopefully the one I’m going to go into detail on here will make you intrigued enough to check out the site for yourself.

The particular TED talk I want to…talk about is by a woman named Jane McGonigal. She develops games at an organization called Institute for the Future, and her interest is in creating games that will effect social change. She sees gamers and the vast amount of time they spend playing games as an overflowing and untapped human resource that can be harnessed to affect change in the real world. It’s a really interesting idea, and I don’t want to bastardize it by summarizing (much like I did for technium idea), so I will simply leave you to watch her twenty minute talk on your own.

Alright, so the idea seems a little weird, but there are already games out there that are trying to do this, as Jane mentions in her talk. Gameful is just one example of an online game that is trying to make a positive impact in the world around us. Well, that’s almost true. It’s a game that’s bringing game designers and gamers together to collaborate and share with the goal of making other games that will make positive real-world changes. I’ve just set up a profile with them, I’m not really sure exactly what I can do to help yet, but the way they’ve set up the site is very game-like. The Mayor, who is the little monster that runs the site, gives you goals that effectively cause you to become more immersed in the Gameful community. It’s a very interesting concept, so I’m going to be coming back to this site for a while to see where it takes me.

If you want a legit list of some positive real-world change games, you can go to this page on Gameful, which has a list of these kinds of games. I haven’t tried any of these yet, but I have tried EteRNA, a game-project designed to build up a database of RNA designs, all with the help of gamers! That’s right, you play this game, and you are actually contributing to scientific research! It’s a pretty cool idea, and not too shabby of a game either.

 

Anyway, I had all these ideas bouncing around my head and I needed to get them out somehow. And the more I listen to Radiolab, and the more TED talks I watch, the more cool ideas that keep bouncing around. Actually, when I first heard the What Technology Wants episode of Radiolab, I started imagining all of these really cool scifi scenarios that actually seemed plausible. I’ve been thinking about writing a short story or something like that on the topic, but I can’t really solidify my ideas enough to get a story out of them. Plus, I haven’t written a short story since I was in high school. So if there are any writers out there reading this, I would be real grateful for some tips!

Clutter. Literary and Otherwise

On kind of a meta note: To some extent, I think de-cluttering involves recognizing that regret is part of life, and being OK with that. Yes, I’ve given away books that I now often wish I still owned. But I’ve also screwed up relationships, made iffy career choices, etc. — you suck it up and move on. If you try to cling to everysinglething (material, spiritual, or emotional) that you might need one day in the totally hypothetical future, you’re going to end up bogged down in a lot of stuff.

This is a comment written by occhiblu which I found on this post on 43 Folders

 

Doing research for some posts today, I stumbled upon this comment and it made me stop and think for a while. I thought I’d share it here and see if it speaks to anyone else. I’ve always been a bit of a pack rat. As a kid I used to keep receipts and other random pieces of junk from what seemed to be special occasions at the time. I would save them in shoe boxes. When one box filled up I would find another, and now I have about five boxes of stuff, representing five different ‘periods’ of my life. Now, I’ll admit that it’s kinda neat now to open one of these boxes and see the things I’ve saved. Many of the objects have lost all their significance to me, through the passing of time. Some I remember the feeling associated with them, but can’t remember the context. And then there are others, like programs from shows, that are a lot easier to remember.

At this point it’s fun to look at these things and reminisce. But I used to be very easily depressed as a kid, and looking at many of these things would make me very sad in earlier years. And luckily, with time and help I’ve learned to deal with letting go of things better and to move on. Some things are still difficult, but it helps that I don’t save every little scrap of paper anymore.

Anyway, this comment spoke to me, because it doesn’t just talk about holding onto things that have a significance to you. It also mentions the value of getting rid of things that you think might be useful in some hypothetical eventuality. This is something I haven’t quite mastered yet. For example, I still own one of those converters that you stick into your car’s tape deck so that you can play your mp3 player on your car stereo – I DON’T OWN A CAR! What use do I have for this? I could argue in my defense that I visit home fairly frequently, and that when I do I drive my mom’s car. But I have never, ever, ever, ever brought the converter with me. I always listen to the radio when I drive. It’s just simpler.

Anyway, I’m inclined now to make a personal resolution to be more vigilant about not hanging onto things that are more hypothetically useful than actually conceivably useful. But before that I wanted to devote some thought to: ‘what’s so bad about holding onto stuff?’ Thoughts?

Z-Rox: an Intolerably Addictive Puzzle

Z-Rox

I’ve spent what probably amount to a little too much time playing this puzzle. If you have a little free time on your hands I highly suggest it. I won’t try to describe it here, because the game explains it way better than I could in words. But know this: Z-Rox is not your typical puzzle, it’s very unique, so I highly recommend giving it at least a cursory glance. And know this too: if you manage to work your way up to the 59th level and beat it, please drop me a hint here or in a private message using the contact link at the top of the page. I am stuck and would be forever in your debt. Or at least until I find something more constructive to spend my free time on.

 

Incidentally, Newgrounds, the site I found this game on, is filled with fun time wasting games (and mentioning this site allows me to add this post to my Reviews category guilt-free) . A rare few are much better than others. Tentacle Wars is another great not-your-run-of-the-mill game. (but beat level 59 of Z-Rox for me first).

Blogging Continued: RSS feeds, Comments, and Emails

Feedburner logo

posted by Bob on authentikartists.com

 

It’s been a few posts since I started a discussion on blog services. Now I’d like to continue that train of thought with a visit to three blog-related sites. OK, one is actually a blog itself, but the format is a little different, and I didn’t think to include it last time, so BACK OFF! Ha…ha….*awkwardly pulls at collar*.

Let’s start with my favourite of the three: Google’s Feedburner. This gem won’t be useful to you unless you’re working with a blog, or some other website that has an RSS feed. And if you’re not sure what I’m talking about when I say RSS feed, then go ahead and click on that link back there. In a nutshell, RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is a web format used for sites that have frequently updated content, like a blog. This format, and others like it, make it possible for you to subscribe with your RSS aggregator (or reader) to sites that update frequently, like blogs or news sites. I actually mentioned some of this briefly in a previous post, right after I updated this blog with Feedburner RSS feeds.

But let’s get back to business. Your blog comes with a feed of its own. There’s likely a link on your site that your readers (people) can click to subscribe on their readers (RSS aggregator), or they could just type your blog’s address into their reader (aggregator) to get the same thing. Hopefully that went down smooth. So where does Feedburner come in? The middle. Go to Feedburner, enter your blog’s address, and select the RSS feed you want to ‘burn’ (you’ll likely just have a choice between posts and comments). Do all that, and Feedburner spits out a new link that you will use to replace the RSS feed currently on your site. It’s your new RSS middle-man!

But wait, why go through all the trouble? Well, that’s because if your readers subcribe using this new feed, as opposed to your original one, you will be able to keep track of them! Your blog service may have the ability to track how many visits you have to your site, but what if your most frequent readers don’t even visit your site anymore, and only read your posts with their aggregator? Well, now that they’re subscribed through your new Feedburner feed, you can track these guys too. Pretty cool, non?

Feedburner has a bunch of other neat features that I won’t go into here, but check it out. It’s a bit technical, but they have some decent walkthroughs specific to the blog service you might be using. It won’t bite. Promise.

 

Disqus is another little ditty you can add to your blog, but instead of improving your RSS feed, this baby supes up your comments. Tumblr uses this right now for their comments, and I’m sure there are other services that allow it (although WordPress.com isn’t one of them). With Disqus you can moderate comments from multiple sites in one place. It integrates with other social networks like Facebook and Twitter, so that people commenting on your site can sign in to write a comment on your site without having to make a special account just for the task. And it also uses this integration to make sharing to these networks nice and simple. It can also look around Twitter and bring back any tweets that make mention of your stuff.

That’s a pretty brief overview, but I’ve only scratched the surface with this service, since I’m only using it on my Tumblr, which I rarely use lately. But if you want to integrate comments from your sites with your social media, then Disqus seems like the way to go.

 

What, other than email subscriptions, does email have to do with blogs? The answer is everything, when you’re using Posterous. Posterous is a blog, but the way you write your posts is what makes it so unique. You can post anything you want with a simple email. Want to add a picture or video or music clip? Just add an attachment. Posterous will format everything for you and make a tasty looking post just for you.

Instances where this might be useful:

  • If you were traveling and could never be sure of the quality of internet connection you might get. At the very least you should be able to send a simple email, though. Right? Well if you can do that, then you can post to your Posterous blog.
  • Maybe you and your siblings and parents want to keep each other updated on the happenings in your life. Instead of sending out a mass email, send an email to your family Posterous. Everyone can will get it, it’ll look nicer than an email, and all of those memories will be kept in a central location to be recalled whenever your heart desires. Plus, if some members of your family aren’t too tech savvy, it doesn’t matter! If they can write an email, they can contribute to the family blog.
  • On that same line, maybe you know someone who wants to make a blog, but isn’t tech savvy enough to set it up. Give the gift of Posterous! Set up a posterous blog for them, and then all they have to do to post to it is send an email.

I’m thinking of starting one, family. You in?

Visualizing the Yeas and Nays

Notabilia – Visualizing Deletion Discussions on Wikipedia

 

Here’s a neat page that my buddy JB found. Every once in a while, some Wikipedia editor somewhere looks at a Wikipedia article, takes a pause to consult their wikipedic knowledge on Wikipedia article policies, and decides, ‘hey, this thing should probably be deleted.’ They nominate it for deletion, and a discussion ensues. Usually this discussion is a short one (at least according to the data on this website. I can’t verify, because I’m not a frequent Wikipedia editor. Though I have edited a single article in my time). But there are exceptions to the short discussion rule, and this website makes a very cool interactive graphic from the result.

 

The tree at the top of this page is a visual representation of how the 100 longest deletion discussions are proceeding in the editorial wikiverse. They go on to describe some other cool properties about this data, but I’ll let you read up on that on your own time. At the very least give it a glance and a quick mouse-hover.

It’s a Brave New Wordle

Redbudd's WordPress Wordle1

This blog's Wordle as of Jan 1, 2011

I started this post with the picture above on the first day of the new year. Somehow I stumbled upon a post on Jamie Cooks referring to this interesting little site. Wordle allows you to create a word cloud based on any text you give it. You can either directly paste in some text of your choosing, or give it a URL so that it can cloudify an entire website. You can play around with colour themes, font, and word arrangement. Like your typical word cloud on a blog, it displays the most common words largest. You can save your Wordle in their database to be viewed by anyone, and print out a copy for yourself. If you’re trying and failing to save your Wordle to your desktop I suggest clicking print, and then saving to PDF instead – that seems to be the only option.

As the caption suggests, this Wordle was created for this blog on the first of 2011. I’d like to revisit Wordle in a few months to see how my Wordle has changed. And so I have the opportunity to say Wordle some more.

In other news I’ve spent my first day working on my new blogging project. I’ve spoken about it before, but essentially this involves my being employed part-time to manage a self-hosted blog. Today I set up the hosting with Dreamhost and then installed WordPress…twice. I ran into trouble soon after the first installation, because I wanted to install a theme that wasn’t included in the one-click install. I contacted Dreamhost’s tech support, and they got back to me right away. Turns out I needed to do the less fool-proof custom install, which I did. Now everything’s hunky-dory. But I can tell my troubles with this endeavour aren’t over yet. But I’m not giving up. Just acknowledging that I will likely be making more than a couple mistakes along the way.

If you have any experience with managing a self-hosted blog with WordPress or Dreamhost or both, I’d really appreciate any advice or tips you might have.

Blogs, Blogging, and a Blog-Related Challenge

 

'Blog' in typeset pieces

From Marcel Media, posted December 16, 2010

 

Firstly, happy new year to you all. I hope you had an enjoyable, not over-hyped celebration to bring in the new year. To start off I want to announce my inclusion in WordPress’s Post-a-Week Challenge for 2011. It’s just what it sounds like. I’m committing myself to produce at least one post every week for the next year. This could very well be too ambitious for me, since I only just started my blog a couple of weeks ago, but we’ll see how it goes. What have I got to lose?

 

This post I’d like to take some time to talk a little bit more about blogging and some things that come with it.

A web log, or blog, is what you’re reading right now. If you’ve never heard of or read a blog before, people use them to share their opinions, give reviews, report the news, showcase their talents, or just express themselves.

There are a bunch of different services out there that you can use if you want to start one up yourself. WordPress, Blogger and Tumblr are a few that I’m familiar with. Blogger is run by Google, and is a service I tried using a year or so ago (I mentioned something about this briefly in my first post). At the time I felt as though I kept bouncing between hobbies and so I was going to dedicate my blog to writing about my hobby of trying new hobbies. That blog never really got off the ground. Not because of the service though. I just didn’t have enough interest in my topic of choice to write about it. From what I’ve heard, Blogger is a very good service to use, and since it’s run by Google that shouldn’t come as a surprise. There are a variety of simple themes to choose from, and you can alter the colour schemes and change the layout of the page. Logging back into my empty account with Blogger, all of the tools look pretty simple to use. If you want to see a nice crisp Blogger blog in action (and/or are a Blue Jays fan) check out my brother’s blog, Blue Jays on Fire.

If you’re looking to blog with a format even more simple than what’s offered by Blogger, I suggest Tumblr. Tumblr has a large variety of free themes to choose from, though not much customization in the layout is available after that. You can link your Foursquare account up to it if you have one, so that it will automatically publish your check-ins and other things (it’s not really a selling point, but I thought I’d mention it anyway). The real draw with Tumblr is its ease of use. To start a post with Tumblr, you choose what kind of media your post will focus on from the list of post options at the top of your dashboard:

Tumblr Dashboard

From there, you create your post which will be published automatically in a format that lends itself to the content you included. There is a whole network of people using Tumblr, and it’s easy to search through their directory to find Tumblrs on the topics you’re interested in. Here are a couple entertaining ones that I’ve found thus far: Godzilla Haiku; When Parents Text (and here’s mine – ). Tumblr also has the ability to ‘reblog’ content that you find on other Tumblrs, which lends itself very well to spreading memes and creating a social network feeling to Tumblr.

If you have a smartphone, and want a place online to post cool share-able stuff that you come across during the day, I’d say this blog format is for you. It’s essentially a microblog, though it’s not quite as micro as Twitter is in that sense. Tumblr also lends itself well to photo-blogs, or any other focused blog where writing is secondary to some other kind of content (e.g. video, quotations, links).

But maybe quick and easy isn’t your style – I know it doesn’t seem to be mine. I use my Tumblr for random findings on the net, but I don’t think it really lends itself to expression of any length. For full functionality I make WordPress my blog’s home. I’m not just saying this because I use WordPress and I want to score points with the admin. I did after all mention two other blog services and didn’t say anything negative about either of them. It just so happens that I’ve chosen WordPress, and I’m very happy with it. It’s very functional, and has tons of widgets to add to the site. A WordPress.com blog, hosted by WordPress itself may not be as functional and customizable as a self-hosted WordPress.org blog, but you don’t have to pay for the former, and for now that serves my purposes just fine. However, some of you may remember my mentioning a new project I’m working on. That project will actually give me the opportunity to use WordPress.org’s self-hosted service, which I’m very excited about.

If you were hoping that I’d get talking about blog-related services at this point I’m sorry to let you down. I was going to, but this post seems to be a good length already, so let’s just call it a cliffhanger…

  • Flickr

  • Delicious links I'm looking at

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