Some thoughts on LiveJournal and such

Things Franklin Hates #117:

Writing a post in response to someone else’s comment, then having the post bounce because that person’s journal accepts posts only from friends (and the owner has at some point removed him from her friends list without him noticing, because he’s not very detail-oriented that way).

Some time ago, lordfuckbeast and I ran an interview with William Gibson, in which he compared the formation of online communities in cyberspace (a term he coined, by the way) with the development of the world’s first cities and the change in human society from agrarian to urban.

A bit over the top, I thought, but now I’m not so convinced he isn’t right.

kellyv has on many occasions expressed doubts about the depth of one of my romantic relationships, on the grounds that I first met her online, and most of our contact was online, so I couldn’t really have known her all that well.

Had I never experienced that kind of connection, I would no doubt be skeptical myself. But the fact is, online communication can be a remarkably intimate thing. It is, in its way, even more intimate than the telephone–because the apparent anonymity, the very lack of the immediacy of a verbal or face-to-face conversation, can itself facilitate lowering one’s defenses to this other person. After all, it’s only text on a screen, right?

The thrust of Gibson’s argument is that, throughout human history, every society that has ever existed has been predicated on geography…until now. Before the Information Age, you belonged to the society in the place where you live. Now, for the first time in history, societies can form without regard to geography or physical location at all.

But it’s a mistake to think that those societies are “less real” than the geographical kind. They take on a life of their own, just as traditional societies do; they grow and change over time, they form bonds as strong and as intimate as those you see in more conventional societies.

I still prefer the physical ones to the kind that exist in cyberspace. Maybe I’m a traditionalist; I do like to get to know my friends in person, and I prefer physical touch to its more ephemeral online counterpart. (Though that may change one day…)

Anyway, I was amused to see that I had a user on my friends list when I first joined the LiveJournal community, whos eventually deleted her journal; and now it’s been long enough that someone else, entirely unrelated, has begun a new journal with the same name. Does that make me a grizzled elder of the community? (Or does it just mean that I neglect to update my friends list for so long that everything old is new again?)

And YOU thought the United States was a free country!

From C|Net news:

“A secretive federal court on Monday granted police broad authority to monitor Internet use, record keystrokes and employ other surveillance methods against terror and espionage suspects.

At a press conference Monday afternoon, Ashcroft applauded the ruling, characterizing it as a “victory for liberty, safety and the security of the American people.”

Ashcroft said the ruling marks a new era of collaboration between police and intelligence agencies such as the CIA and the National Security Agency. ”

Maybe I’m being a bit slow here, but I fail to see how granting law enforcement broad, warrantless espionage powers, and allowing the FBI to call in the CIA and NSA in domestic cases, counts as a victory for liberty. Obviously, I should be sent to a re-education camp to bone up on my doublethink.

Things you Always Thought You Knew

For quite a while now, I’ve made a small project of collecting things that everyone knows are true, but really aren’t true anyway. I’ve been working on this project on and off for quite some time, and come up with a few examples of such “common knowledge” so far. For example:

“It takes the police 2 minutes (or sixty seconds or some other amount of time) to trace a phone call.”

This has long been a staple of bad Hollywood thrillers–“Keep him talking! Keep him talking!”–but the fact is, tracing a phone call takes zero seconds. The call is traced before the phone has finished ringing. You don’t even need to answer it.

“There are three states of matter.”

Actually, there are six states of matter: Einstein-Bose condensate, superfluid, solid, liquid, gas, and plasma. Of the six, five occur naturally thorughout the universe (Einstein-Bose condensate occurs only in the lab); and four of those–solid, liquid, gas, and plasma–occur naturally on Earth.

“Someone who passes out on his feet will fall over backward.”

Also a staple of Hollywood. In reality, if you lose consciousness standing up, you fall over forward.

“There are three primary colors.”

The human visual system responds to photons with a wide range of diffeent wavelengths. Most people have three distinct receptors in their eyes, which are maxinally sensitive to a relatively narrow range of wavelengths; however, all three receptors do respond to all visible frequencies of light. (Some people have only two kinds of receptors; these people have red-green color blindness. A few people have four, and can distinguish colors most people can’t.)

Because all the receptors do respond to all frequencies of visible light, it is impossible to model certain colors based on any one set of primaries. For example, pure, 100% saturated yellow can not be modelled by any combination of red, green, and blue light. You can get yellow, but you can’t get pure yellow.

“Science says bumblebees can’t fly.”

Actually, science says bumblebees are aerodynamically unstable, which means they can’t glide. Many things that are aerodynamically unstable can fly–including bumblebees and Stealth fighters.

An aerodynamically unstable object can fly if it has an active stabilization system. In a bumblebee, that system is the animal’s sensory apparatus, brain, and muscles; in a Stealth fighter, it’s the plane’s gyroscope, onboard computer, hydraulics, and control surfaces.

In all such objects, if the active stabilization fails, the thing glides about as well as a rock.

“The Eskimoes have fifteen words for snow.”

This idea comes from a linguistic hypothesis called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which postulates that a civilization will develop more words for concepts that are most important to it. In practice, it doesn’t quite work that way.

The Eskimoes have three words for “snow,” which translate roughly as “snow,” “sleet,” and “slush.” They also have a distinct word for snow on the ground versus snow in the air, but then, so does English; “blizzard” and “snowstorm,” as distinct from “snow.”

“The rubber tires on a car will protect the car’s occupants from lightning.”

This common misconception is downright dangerous. Yes, rubber is an insulator; however, rubber tires and rubber-soled shoes offer zero protection from high voltage. Air is also an insulator! Anything that can get through six miles of air is not going to stop for a few inches–or even a few feet–of rubber.

You are safe in a car, provided you do not touch any metallic object, because of the shape of the car, and its construction, not because of its tires. The electrical discharge will tend to travel around the car’s metallic shell, rather than passing through the metallic body and into the car. Rubber-soled shoes do not protect you from lightning (or other high-voltage discharges) one little bit.

“Water conducts electricity.”

Another common misconception about electricity. Pure water is an insulator. It does not conduct electricity. Water becomes a conductor only if there is a polar compound, such as salt, dissolved in it. It’s actually the salt (or whatever) that is carrying the electricity–not the water.

If it’s on the Internet, it must be true.

Franklin Is Messy.

Franklin Is Lost.

Franklin Is Bossy.

Franklin is a place to ‘enjoy’ rather than just ‘stay.’

Franklin is the fire, the wheels, the quick-throated,
rounded blossom, sizzling life of all the universes.

Franklin is echt niet leuk om te lezen. (This is on the Internet and I don’t understand it, so it must be doubly true!)

And finally…


On the Nature of Happiness

Someone recently asked me, in a discussion on a mailing list, Would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy?

They say that the key to life is not in knowing all the answers, but rather in asking the right questions. Everybody assumes that means you can’t find the right answers if you don’t first ask the right questions, which is true; but there’s more to it than that.

The questions you ask reveal a great deal about your unspoken assumptions, about your preconceptions and the way you view the world.

“Would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy?” is one ofthose questions. It’s also the wrong question. It’s so completely wrong on so many different levels that I feel I can’t even rightly understand the misapprehension that gave rise to it.

On the face of it, it’s a facile question. It makes a false choice between two alternatives that are not directly related to each other. It’s like asking “Would you rather be driving, or would you rather be warm?” Or like asking, “Would you rather be a teacher, or would you rather be dry?” Being right does not logically imply being unhappy as a consequence; and conversely, being happy does not imply being wrong.

But the rot goes deeper than that.

The question assumes a false opposition between two ideals that are not in opposition at all; but worse, it implies that truth is somehow inimical to personal happiness, that ignorance truly is bliss, that having the one must mean giving up the other.

The question has as an unspoken assumption an entire philosophy: Reason is the enemy of Happiness; where one prevails, the other must give way.

If your happiness is predicated on some misapprehension, some fundamental flaw in your understanding of something about the world around you, then I submit that your happiness is a mirage. It’s a phantasm, a castle built on sand, awaiting only the revelation of the truth to bring the whole structure crashing down.

Happiness-real happiness, the kind that lasts a lifetime–must ultimately be built on bedrock, not sand. It must be stable and secure enough to withstand the revelations that life will necessarily bring to you from time to time. It must be solid enough to withstand change, from within and from without.

Enlightenment and inner peace are never attained through a policy of willful ignorance.

A wise man knows, of course, that he will not always be happy or right. But assuming that you must sacrifice one to attain the other is the height of foolishness.

S&M Barbies, Sesame Street & Drugs, and other news of the day

Amusing news item: A judge has ruled that a Web site showing Barbie dolls in S&M outfits and sexually explicit poses mayhave a fair-use defense against Mattel’s attempt to seek copyright-infringement damages, and that “it appears that there is slim to no likelihood that Dungeon Dolls would serve as a market substitute for Barbie dolls.”

So maybe there is some hope for the world, after all.

In other news: After having been forced recently to sit trough an episodeof Sesame Street, which used to be cool but is now about as much fun as a trip to the dentist, I noticed something startling:

Mr. Noodle, a character on the ghastly “Elmo’s World,” is none other than Michael Jeter–the same actor who played the computer hacker in the movie “Drop Zone.”

In Sesame Street, he fumbles around in outrageous costumes and generally makes a fool out of himself. Good thing that’s only his day job. In Drop Zone, he hacks the DEA’s computer and sells information about undercover narcs to Columbian and Mexican drug lords, which I imagine pays rather better.

Does anyone know…

…the name ofthe song and artist behnd the most recent Pontiac Vibe commercial?

I’ve been searching for it for days with no success. It’s not the Vibe “DJ” commercial; it’s the most recent one, where the camera is looking in on a black man as he’s driving along; as the commerical progresses, you see the guy’s friends, girlfriend, wife, pregnant wife, little girl appear in succession on the seat next to him. The music itself is kind of trance/new age/something or other.

It’s a really well-done ad, and a really interesting piece of music. I’ve successfully found the name and artist behind every Pontiac Vibe ad except that one, and that’s the only one I’m interested in.

Updated: Success!

The song is “Breathe,” by the band Telepopmusik.