on “The Bug”

For several years, my job has been testing web sites. There’s several ways to describe what I do, the commonest being that I “look for bugs.” I perform a role known formally as ‘Quality Assurance’ on web development projects, and I’ve worked on a variety of sites, like HGTV, the Washington Post, TroopSwap, and Better Medicine. I’m not a programmer by training, but much of the QA process requires logical thinking and familiarity with engineering practices. As someone who majored in English and spent more time reading Shakespeare than learning UNIX commands, my career has been an experiment of patience. Testers are usually outnumbered by coders, so it can be a lonely (and thankless) task. I recently found a novel that lucidly captures the mentality of testers, developers, and anyone who has had to deal with the often infuriating process of creating software. “The Bug” by Ellen Ullman tells the …

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on the Boston Bombing

A week before the Boston Marathon bombing, I was volunteering at a ten mile race in Washington D.C.  I spent the morning at the finish line of the Cherry Blossom 10 miler, giving medals to the elated finishers of the race. Thousands of people ran the circuit around the Tidal Basin, past the blooming trees, enjoying the Spring sun as it rose over the river.  There was no notion of danger, no way I could conceive of the violence that would rattle a similar event just a week later in a city not too far away. There is no way to prepare for such madness, no avenue of avoidance to strictly follow. Ugliness exists, and it struck Boston.  My deepest condolences go out to those affected by the violence, and my sincerest praise to those who finished the race, and those who helped apprehend the criminals.  As details emerge about …

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on my Data Trail

I made a list of every website on which I have an account that requires a password – I got up into the forties and realized that I exist in way too many places on the internet. I tried to imagine what it would be like if 40 physical locations I visited asked me for a password every time I showed up. It would be insane, I would stop going anywhere. My data exists all over the place. There are databases that seem to track everything I do, and most of them are smart enough to predict what I’m going to do next: what songs I’ve listened to the most, and therefore which new releases I will like; how much REM sleep I average every night, what books I read, how much I spend on laundry detergent compared to other people in the United States, how many times I’ve been …

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on the Popularity of Empty Places

Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo!, recently announced that all remote workers would soon be required to report to physical offices. Whether or not the decision is agreeable, I find it interesting that this was apparently a matter of such great proportion that only the CEO could address it. I imagine a giant, monolithic Yahoo! office, tumbleweeds floating through hallways, and Mayer, alone, shouting into the emptiness: “Return!” Other leaders, managers, or vice presidents could have made an effort to wrangle up the herd. Or were they, too, hacking away at a keyboard in their bathrobes at home? Mayer’s decision to personally make the statement seems to indicate either a grand political maneuver, or a last ditch attempt to solve a monstrously large problem. Either way, the corridors of Yahoo! aren’t the only places that seem empty lately. In music and television, the echoes of solitude ricochet often. The French …

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on ‘What Technology Wants’

Working in the web development industry, where growth and innovation happen at an incredible rate, it’s easy to become enamored with the internet, software, screens, and devices, and put off the big questions about our use of technology. Kevin Kelly’s book, “What Technology Wants” is a vivid analysis of the human compulsion to create and use tools, adding depth to the commonly superficial perspective we take on daily interactions with things like the web and mobile phones. Kelly writes with authority on many subtopics (from the sentience of rock ants to the ‘evolution of evolution’) but the book’s most eye opening theme, for me, was the analogous relationship between biological life and technology. “We can think of technology as our extended body,” he writes. He relates the evolution of technology to the evolution of life, finding parallels over time in increasing complexity, structure, and mutuality. The story of new ideas unfolding in …

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on Taking Sips (of Books) (part 2)

Last May, I published a list of all the books (42) I had sampled on Kindle.  The editors of WordPress featured the post on the ‘Freshly Pressed’ section of the WP homepage, bringing thousands of readers here and prompting hundreds of comments. The suggestions that readers left the comments were helpful, but not totally followed. From the first list of samples, I ended up buying 6 of the books – 5 on the Kindle, and one in paperback. The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien What Technology Wants – Kevin Kelly Aleph – Paulo Coelho Alone Together – Sherry Turkle Beautiful Testing – Adam Goucher The Four Loves – C.S. Lewis Two I finished reading – Lewis and Turkle – the rest I’ve begun but haven’t finished. (Tolkien 35%, Kelly 51%, Coelho 17%, Goucher 77%) I’ve also finished  probably 15 others that weren’t sampled or on the list. I have continued my habit …

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on Missing the Mark

I was a “Child of the 90’s.” For some reason, Microsoft has decided this is a fantastic reason for me to use their browser, Internet Explorer. Their latest commercial attempts to connect fads of the decade and using their product, which for me, were years apart. The first time I remember anyone using Internet Explorer, with any regularity, was after 1998. Until then most people were connected to the internet using a portal like AOL, and its built-in browser. Even then, there were other options – Netscape was popular as well. Everything in this IE commercial, for me, was happening years before the internet was around. I definitely was not wearing light-up shoes, or playing with POGS, at the same time that I was using Napster. I didn’t have a ‘fanny-pack’ and a 56k modem at the same time, and I wasn’t dying of dysentery on the Oregon Trail moments …

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On being ‘Alone Together’

I recently finished reading the book by Sherry Turkle, ‘Alone Together’ which analyzes the growing relationship between humans and technology. As someone whose occupation is dependent on using the internet and social media, I’m moderately skeptical of the benefits of 24/7 connection. Could having the internet everywhere, all the time, be analogous to having holidays every day of the year ? Could the internet become redundant? I think it’s important for people to find ‘offline’ time. Turkle is an MIT professor whose research in human/computer relationships inspired her to write the book, and give the corresponding TED talk. Throughout ‘Alone Together’ she gives several examples of what scares her about the dependency people have on using machines to communicate; she also looks deeply into the interactions that people have with robots. I wasn’t expecting so much of the book to detail human/robot relationships. She is mostly concerned with how children who interact with robots …

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Casino Creativity

A hundred years ago when the American West was being settled, entertainment was scarce. Gold digging and cattle herding, taming the elements and avoiding bandits was probably enough to keep the most ambitious of folks from having much time to play games. Yet casinos were a staple of life (or so Hollywood has led us to believe) and remain today a big part of Western culture (Las Vegas.) The Casinos have hung around, but life has changed alot since the 19th century. Now we have electricity, iPods, and most importantly, video game consoles.  Ask any seven-year-old what “gaming” means, and they will tell you it means swinging a Wii numchuck, blasting space aliens in Halo, or mastering the latest iteration of the Sony Playstation.  And yet casinos, from Vegas to Branson, havn’t caught on.  (Not that they are trying to attract minors, but in fifteen years, they will be.)  In …

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