I remember well the first time I heard the word “attitude” used to mean “negative attitude.” It was shortly after John Lennon had been killed. I was in a mall and the poster shop was selling some crappy Lennon memorial posters at jacked up prices. I was devoted to Lennon, and muttered something about it being opportunism. “You got an attitude,” the clerk said, sneering. “I don’t need your attitude.”
I was tempted to say, “Yes, I have an attitude. We all have attitudes.” But I knew what he meant.
Likewise, nowadays I hear weather forecasters predicting that there will be “some weather moving in.” No, there’s always weather. They mean “severe weather” or maybe just “noticeable weather.” I do sometimes correct them, but since they’re on tv, it hasn’t yet had an effect. Except on my wife who finds it charming every time I do it, or so I choose to believe.
This is far from the first time a quality has been taken as denoting a particular value when used unadorned. “He has a temperature.” “You’ve got a reputation.””He’s in a mood.” I suppose you could even put “a person of color” into that category. So, it happens.
In my continuing series “How to Be an Idiot,” here’s what not to do when installing a new hard drive into your MacBook Pro.
I started off right. I had everything prepared: a new 500gB hybrid drive, a fresh Time Machine backup, and an 8gB USB stick with the Mac Mountain Lion installer on it. I still managed to fail maybe 20 times over the course of two days booting from everything I could find, re-installing Lion onto the stick, backing up from Time Machine, etc. The closest I came was when I installed off the repair partition over a backup drive. The Mac started up its install process, but got stopped with a message that said that Apple was unable to confirm that my computer is authorized for an OS install. At least, that’s what I think it meant; it’s not a very clear message, and, no I didn’t write it down :(
This made me think that the problem was that I was trying to install the wrong version, although I was pretty durn sure that I had upgraded to Mountain Lion a few weeks earlier, having resisted the blandishments of Lion. Maybe Apple was confused, although I couldn’t see why. I installed the prior version of the OS on my USB drive. Nope.
And now for the answer. And it’s not going to make me look smart, that I promise you.
You see, kids, for Apple to verify my machine, it has to get onto the Internet. It turns out that if during the install process you give your Mac a choice of wifi hotspots to connect to, it picks an open one without asking for your say-so. As a result, it happened to pick a hotspot that requires a login on a web site, but there’s no browser available during the install process. Once I pointed the Mac to another hotspot, it was able to connect and authorize my machine, enabling the installation to proceed.
Sure it was dumb of me. But it’s also dumb of Apple to give us an error message that says that it’s unable to authorize, rather than that it was unable connect. (I also didn’t see a relevant message in the Installer log, but I may have missed it.)
Fortunately, each of the things I tried took a relatively long time to fail, so I was able to get a lot done while trying. Still, the moment of victory was definitely a forehead-slapper for me.
I’ll speak for myself, but I actually have good reason to think that I’m talking for many others. I stayed inside because the mayor and governor told me that they needed the streets clear in order to catch the child-murdering bastards who attacked my city. The bombers were being cornered, and on that Friday there was nothing I desired more than they face justice. I never felt in danger, and I am not a brave person.
My evidence that I’m speaking for more than just myself: In the many conversations with people afterwards, not one of them mentioned being afraid, or it being a scary day, although many (including me) talked about it being a very weird day. Our only fear was that they might get away. (It was undoubtedly very different for people in Watertown. Here in Brookline/Brighton I didn’t see any police or hear sirens or gunshots.)
Dave nicely ties it back to a talk he had given the day before to the Boston Globe:
People feel a need to be part of the world they live in. Most of us feel like we’re on the sidelines, spectators, consumers, eyeballs, credit card numbers, and that’s not what we want. We want meaning. We want to make a contribution. We want do do good and have that good make a difference. If you look at what people actually do, not the stories you read in the paper or hear on CNN, this is obvious. The bombings not only worried people, for a short time when the scope of the danger was unknown, but people also saw the opportunity to get some of the precious stuff, meaning and relevance.
Yup. Our participation that day was minimal — stay at home! — but it was what we could do, and it would only work if we all did it together. It was a moment of civic focus and solidarity that palpably transformed the city for one day. Fear had nothing to do with it.
Amanda Filipacchi has a great post at the New York Times about the problem with classifying American female novelists as American female novelists. That’s been going on at Wikipedia, with the result that the category American novelist was becoming filled predominantly with male novelists.
Part of this is undoubtedly due to the dumb sexism that thinks that “normal” novelists are men, and thus women novelists need to be called out. And even if the category male novelist starts being used, it still assumes that gender is a primary way of dividing up novelists, once you’ve segregated them by nation. Amanda makes both points.
From my point of view, the problem is inherent in hierarchical taxonomies. They require making decisions not only about the useful ways of slicing up the world, but also about which slices come first. These cuts reflect cultural and political values and have cultural and political consequences. They also get in the way of people who are searching with a different way of organizing the topic in mind. In a case like this, it’d be far better to attach tags to Wikipedia articles so that people can search using whatever parameters they need. That way we get better searchability, and Wikipedia hasn’t put itself in the impossible position of coming up with a taxonomy that is neutral to all points of view.
Wikipedia’s categories have been broken for a long time. We know this in the Library Innovation Lab because a couple of years ago we tried to find every article in Wikipedia that is about a book. In theory, you can just click on the “Book” category. In practice, the membership is not comprehensive. The categories are inconsistent and incomplete. It’s just a mess.
It may be that a massive crowd cannot develop a coherent taxonomy because of the differences in how people think about things. Maybe the crowd isn’t massive enough. Or maybe the process just needs far more guidance and regulation. But even if the crowd can bring order to the taxonomy, I don’t believe it can bring neutrality, because taxonomies are inherently political.
There are problems with letting people tag Wikipedia articles. Spam, for example. And without constraints, people can lard up an object with tags that are meaningful only to them, offensive, or wrong. But there are also social mechanisms for dealing with that. And we’ve been trained by the Web to lower our expectations about the precision and recall afforded by tags, whereas our expectations are high for taxonomies.
I’m a sucker for ads that comment on the dishonesty of ads. For example, I laughed at this one from Newcastle Brown Ale:
I also really liked this one as well:
I do have a duck-rabbit disagreement with Piper Hoffman’s reading of it at BlogHer. I took the ad as a direct comment on the sexism of beer ads: if you’re not an attractive woman, beer companies won’t include you. But Piper raises an interesting point. [SPOILER ALERT] She’s right that if the pronoun had been “she,” the point would have been less ambiguous. But it also would have been a bit crueler, since the ad would have had Newcastle calling their brewmistress unattractive, and it also could have been taken as Newcastle agreeing that only attractive women should ever be shown on in an ad.
While I enjoy a meta-ad like this (at least as I take it), I also feel a bit meta-fooled: What does that have to do with whether their beer is any good? I’m not looking to be friends with a beer.
I get more enjoyment from viewers subverting ads. For example, I saw an ad for KFC about some new boneless chicken product.
I wasn’t paying attention, in part because it was a commercial, and in part because I haven’t eaten anything from KFC since I became a vegetarian 1979 but I have not forgotten the sensation of eating chicken that’s been so close to liquefied that it’s held together only by a layer of deep-fried cholesterol. But I saw the hashtag #iAteTheBones and checked it out on Twitter.
Bunches of the tweets praise the commercial as amusing. (It was directed by David O.Russell, who also directed the Oscar-winning Silver Linings Playbook.) But prominent in the list is this:
THE MAJORITY OF INSTAGRAM POSTS BEARING KFC’S #IATETHEBONES HASHTAG FEATURE DIRT TUNNELS LITTERED WITH SHREDDED CLOTHING.
I wrote a piece in the early afternoon yesterday about what we can learn from watching how we fill in the blanks when we don’t know stuff…in this case, when we don’t know much about Suspect #1 and #2. It’s about the narratives that shape our unserstanding.
For example, it turns out that I only have three Mass Murderer Narratives: Terrorist, Anti-Social, or Delusional. As we learned more about Suspect #2 yesterday, he seemed not to fit well into any of them. Perhaps he will once we know more, or perhaps my brain will cram him into one even if he doesn’t fit. Anyway, you can read the post at CNN.
I find myself unwilling to use Suspect #2’s name today because Martin Richard is too much with me.
I’m very proud to announce that the Harvard Library Innovation Lab (which I co-direct) has launched what we think is a useful and appealing way to browse books at scale. This is timed to coincide with the launch today of the Digital Public Library of America. (Congrats, DPLA!!!)
StackLife (nee ShelfLife) shows you a visualization of books on a scrollable shelf, which we turn sideways so you can read the spines. It always shows you books in a context, on the ground that no book stands alone. You can shift the context instantly, so that you can (for example) see a work on a shelf with all the other books classified under any of the categories professional cataloguers have assigned to it.
We also heatmap the books according to various usage metrics (“StackScore”), so you can get a sense of the work’s community relevance.
There are lots more features, and lots more to come.
We’ve released two versions today.
StackLife DPLA mashes up the books in the Digital Public Library of America’s collection (from the Biodiversity Heritage Library) with books from The Internet Archive‘s Open Library and the Hathi Trust. These are all online, accessible books, so you can just click and read them. There are 1.7M in the StackLife DPLA metacollection. (Development was funded in part by a Sprint grant from the DPLA. Thank you, DPLA!)
StackLife Harvard lets you browse the 12.3M books and other items in the Harvard Library systems 73 libraries and off-campus repository. This is much less about reading online (unfortunately) than about researching what’s available.