Wash Post and WSJ front page photos

Two Versions of One Truth: Sen. Flake at the Kavanaugh Hearing

A photograph is as objectively true as anything can be, isn’t it? Pictures record light, as it existed for an instant in material reality. Unlike two fallible people, each with a distinct recollection of what events in their lives did or did-not occur, directly contradicting one another, there’s no wiggle room in a picture about whether or not the light captured by the camera was telling the truth. It was what it was. Or was it? The phrase ‘post-truth’ has been a popular term of derision in this age of ‘alternative facts,’ but maybe the idea is more than the notion that those in power will lie at all costs to keep it. Perhaps truth really does not, or can not exist, independent of context. Today’s cover photos in the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal show an almost identical scene – a group of senators and staffers hovering around Sen. …

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Jaron Lanier said something interesting about optimism

A few years ago I read Jaron Lanier’s book “You are Not a Gadget,” and I felt like I was listening to someone with a rich understanding of technology take a fairly critical view of it – a position not as many people were arguing at the time. Lanier is fully entrenched in Silicon Valley and big-tech, but he is also a thoughtful voice who often questions the less scrupulous ways internet technology is “helping” us. When Google and Facebook let their profits take precedence over their ethics, Lanier counters with accessible arguments of why the ethics matter more. In a recent interview with Kara Swisher on the “Too Embarrassed to Ask” podcast, Jaron said something that jumped out at me for the way it subverted common thinking about criticism, and its relationship to optimism & pessimism. When criticism is poorly expressed, it’s just complaining, or being mean, or being …

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This diagram of a packet-switching network appears in the 1974 paper by Vint Cerf

What’s troubling Vint Cerf? Five-hundred year old WordPerfect files and a fifty-year trip to the cosmos, that’s what.

Vint Cerf has a problem: the star Alpha Centauri is too far away. He wants to get a good look at it, but at 4.37 light years from the sun, it might take a while. He’s not too worried, though, because he’s designing an interplanetary internet with Google. On Thursday in Washington, D.C., Mr. Cerf described the outer-space-net and some other personal projects to an assembly at Georgetown University, part of the National Medals Foundation’s “An Evening With” series. Mr. Cerf has been awarded more medals than he probably knows what to do with. I guess that happens when you get credit for inventing the internet – in 1974, Cerf and Robert Kahn co-authored a paper for the IEEE titled “A protocol for packet network intercommunication.” Forty-some years later, four billion humans are piggybacking their idea into five billion daily YouTube views, a three-hundred-billion dollar digital advertising market, and a …

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If you want to know about SEO, I’ve always been the wrong person to ask

What do I know about SEO?   I started this blog, “Brian Writing,” ten years ago as an assignment in my undergraduate English program. I’ve continued writing posts occasionally since then, sometimes more frequently than others. In all that time, I have never tried doing anything about my blog’s SEO – the one thing that might help people actually find me. I always assumed the internet elves that live behind the digital curtain would take care of it for me. That’s all changing, now! This week I watched a course on Lynda.com called SEO Foundations, taught by instructor David Booth. For anyone who enjoys writing a blog but has never gotten into the messy details of finding an audience for it, learning about SEO is critical. I recommend checking out the course or finding other ways to learn about SEO. In a nutshell, Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is way to …

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What’s that got to do with the price of ads in Russia?

I’ve been reading comments on articles about the Russian intelligence effort to influence the US election by social media subterfuge. I know this is a dumb idea. It directly goes against Matt Groening’s advice: “No matter how good the video on YouTube is, don’t read the comments, just don’t, because it will make you hate all humans.” But, against my better judgment, I’ve come across an argument a few times that I want to discuss. It goes something like this: “Clinton and Trump spent $81M dollars on Facebook ads, but we’re supposed to believe that Russia spending just $46K made an impact? Yeah right, libtards, har har har.” Fair enough. The candidates spent a butt-load more money than the Russians did, as they should have. The basis of the argument is real: Facebook’s lawyers came right out and testified those exact numbers to Congress. It would be naive to argue …

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Marathon runners crossing the Sydney Harbour Bridge

On Running #2

I’m not sure when it happened – but I crossed a line somewhere along the way, and became a morning person. I’d regularly find myself sitting by the window, waiting for the sun to come up, watching the steam rise from my coffee, letting the quiet and the wakefulness and the possibility of the day course through me. And then… I would go running. On one of those mornings this Summer, I was about six weeks into a marathon training plan, and halfway into an eleven mile run along the Potomac River. On some runs, I just listen to my own ideas. I think about what I see, or I think about myself and assess what’s going on in my life. But on this particular morning, I was listening to an audiobook of Haruki Murakami’s “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” – going for the meta-experience, forcing reflection into my …

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#ShowYourWork

I read Austin Kleon’s book “Show Your Work!” last week. It presents an idea that seems pretty basic on the surface, but is actually pretty challenging: “You can’t find your voice without using it.” According to Kleon, creative people have to show what they’re doing for it to be meaningful. Showing the work is as important as doing it. I used to have a good habit of doing that with this blog. Until a few years ago, I was posting regularly, and it seemed like people other than my Mom were actually reading it. (Thanks for reading, Mom!) Things I wrote about here turned into the things I talked about with people out in the world. Then life caught up. I started grad school. I got engaged. We got a dog, moved, got married, bought a house, and moved again. Amidst all that, I also changed jobs – and in …

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About today in Charlottesville…

When I was a “younger lad”… 14 or 15, maybe? The cops picked me up one night when they found me spray-painting anti-Nazi graffiti on the back of a building. I don’t remember much about the political climate of those days because I don’t even remember specifically when those days were, just that I was a younger, less risk-averse version of my current self – but I do remember that there weren’t any Nazis marching through the streets of Virginia at the time. And now, there are. As an adult who used to be a kid who used to tag anti-Nazi graffiti on the back of buildings (when I didn’t even have Nazis around to show it to) what’s the law abiding, responsibility-having version of myself supposed to do about the current state of affairs? The most saddening and immediate thing that I feel obliged to do… since some of …

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Weather review ★★★ Tysons, VA

The moon, a bleached white cork, hangs low on the short horizon, plugging the night inside a bottle filled with lightning bolts. In a flash, the heat shatters it – carbureted clouds steamroll in; all the garage doors on the street stand like bare teeth, grit against the interrupted silence, braced by yellow curbs, yellow corners, and dutiful yellow hydrants. ★★★ Three of Five Stars

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Weather review ★★★★ Vienna, VA

★★★★ Four of Five stars The birds are euphoric this morning, carousing like late-night drunks who found the advancing sunrise as a challenge to keep making noise. Beneath their chorus, the bulldog stops cold in his tracks, the day after his first birthday, dumbfounded that a season has changed. His little wrinkled face had been despondent for weeks, completely unaware that the air would ever warm again; now he snorts in Spring’s miracle through a not-frozen nose, happily. Yesterday, high temperatures set historical records across the region. Today the tips of Summer’s sweaty fingers continue prodding early March, as blustery clouds grumpily settle, then artlessly blow away, mumbling about when they might return.

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