Things That Have Ruined The Internet, Part I: “Free”ware

So, I went to make a recording. (I’m not much into recording. I prefer to let any given performance, warts and all, be ephemera. I find myself more easily convinced by the praise of others when there are no records to disabuse me.)

I fired up SndRec32, the multimedia extravaganza application built-in to Windows (my only mic is on my Windows laptop, though thinking about it now, I could’ve booted it to Ubuntu, hmmm) and recorded for about 3 minutes.

‘course, SndRec32 stops recording after a minute. You can force it to go in minute increments with some trickery but I thought, shoot, I could put together a simple recorder in 5 minutes. (Might, even.) Surely, there would be a plethora of simple sound recorders.

Which brings me to something that’s ruined the Internet: A proliferation of pages offering “free” software that tops any search you do, where the software isn’t free at all–or the download link for the free software is almost completely occluded by a bunch of links to paid software.

I ended up downloading a program called AVS Audio Editor, a “full featured audio editor”, which was so not what I wanted. (I just wanted a slightly less dumb SndRec32, fercryingoutloud.) But what the hell, I figured I’d try it and see. If it were a genuine limited-use software I might stick with it. (For what I need, I don’t really want to pay $40. And even more than the $40, I don’t want the overhead of keeping track of some registration key and upgrading, etc. etc. etc.)

So I hunt around on this massive panel for a “record” button, set up the microphone (oh, yes, it required setup, because this is a Serious Audio Application) and got to recording. Recorded my three minutes again and used the special effects panel to boost the rather soft results. Went to save and discovered that the “trial” version inserted a blank second for every 5 seconds or so of recording. In other words, you couldn’t save.

Well, fine. I guess. I looked for a free app, instead I got a non-free one by mistake, and it was so crippled and annoying that there’s no chance, ever, that I would buy or even use this application. Of course, I uninstalled, but nothing ever really uninstalls in Windows.

And it’s all due to these jerky pages serving these “free” apps and, besides plastering 10 ads on the page, hide the legit app to full you into downloading a fake one.

I miss BBSes.

Stupid Graph Tricks

My pal Esther, who I hope hires me again someday soon, tweeted about Indeed.com, a site that tracks job listings over multiple sites and allows you to graph trends in relative and absolute terms. (She was lamenting the rise of squooshy terms like “social media” over terms like “editor” and “writer”–though anyone who’s been involved with “social media” knows there is a desperate paucity of writers and editors out there.)

So, I did my own research–and after determining that nobody anywhere ever needs the skills I have–I went further afield, as encapsulated in the graph below:

As you can see, job opportunities for “sex”, “drugs” and “rock and roll” have been on the rise over the past four years. What’s fascinating–and by fascinating, I mean utterly meaningless–is how despite the way drug demands rise and fall, and sex demands spike then plateau, and rock and roll rises steadily, they all pretty much go up at the same speed.

So, I guess this means putting “sex, drugs and rock and roll” could only improve your job prospects.

Or maybe I’m not the sort of person who should be using these tools.

We Can’t Have Nice Things

A new commenter came by and commented on an old post I had about the weirdness of IMDB movie ratings, which is a topic I’ve mentioned not too long ago. When I first logged on to IMDB, the top-rated movie was The Godfather, and it had a 7.8.

I had always thought the main distortion on IMDB was simple inflation. “Oh, Godfather is a 7.8, eh? Well, then, Glitter must be at least an 8! And Godfather should be a 1!” And this leads to a vicious cycle, where people aren’t ranking movies according to their own preferences, but against others’.

And it made me think of Susan Boyle, who got a record breaking number of views on YouTube, and the article I was reading talked about how “Evolution of Dance” was suspected of being the most viewed video, but that fans of various musical groups set up tricks to increase the view count for their favorite acts.

Then I thought over Wikipedia, which has limited utility from all the bias. Then Althouse comment threads–and Althouse has among the best commenters–which people go in with the sole purpose to create noise. Twitter has a pretty good system for reducing noise, but you can still get lots of spam.

And I think to myself: This is why we can’t have nice things.

Seriously, all the social web things are cool. The open-ness of them, the facilitating of mashups and unexpected uses. But the difficult balance to strike is allowing contributions and also disallowing them.

Twitter works because following is easy but not automatic. Unfollowing is only slightly harder, which is to say, not hard at all. But Twitter lacks continuity and intimacy. (That may be an artifact of Twitter versus a necessary result of the following process.) It’s also a chaotic stream that is only manageable because you can limit it.

I was struck by that old meme of the mom pulling out hair because the kids knocked over her expensive vase by playing ball in the house where she laments, “We can’t have nice things.” The social web often reminds me of that. That and the sort of nouveaux “tragedy of the commons”, which isn’t about consuming resources, but controlling the ones that command attention.

I think something like Twitter could be evolved with multiple streams and nesting, possibly around little nodes, which could be links to blogs, or could be long “tweets”. But these would exist in the common space, perhaps with separate streams for different responders, even. Something less monolithic than Twitter.

I don’t know. I suspect we’re not done with the whole social web thing. But the real trick is trying to figure out how to have nice things.

Dead Men Throw No Switches

So I started doing the nutritional program in earnest, along with The Boy, and got a bit of a scare. It’s probably nothing, and may be related to the antibiotics I’m taking (for the ear infection from hell), but I’ll be having a thorough medical examination as a result. 

It’s not really something I look forward to. 
But it got me thinking about my mortality and taking care of business. Death isn’t something I fear, generally. When younger, I had some brushes with mortality to which my reaction was “Well, I guess if it’s my time…" 
I know that we get a sense of invulnerability, immortality, that nothing bad can happen to us, but there’s also the "who cares?” aspect of it. When you’re young you consider yourself sovereign over your life, and if you’re going to do something reckless well, what’s that to anyone else? You can see young death glamorized in a way that mortality otherwise is not.
And then you have kids. 
Well, crap. Now it matters if you live or die. (And if you’re thinking, you realize it mattered before–back when you were SuperTeen–to your own parents. A feeling of embarrasment is normal at this point.) I mean, the finances are easy enough to handle. In fact, the traditional male role is easy to fill: I think a widow with children can probably much more easily plug in a new male into her life than a widower is likely to find a woman willing to take care of another woman’s home and children. And how much more traumatic is that, that the primary caretaker be replaced by a relative stranger?
Of course, it happened a lot in the Old West (for example), with mortality in child birth being so common. And certainly it’s happened that a step-father has a callous and indifferent (or worse) attitude toward another man’s children.
Anyway, having a kid changes the game, if you were indifferent to your survival before. If you’re cancerous and would rather just let it take you than endure the medieval treatments we have for handling it, you really don’t have much of a choice. You have to fight. Congratulations: You’ve become more important than yourself.
It should also mean that you’re not exposing yourself to a lot of unnecessary risk, like extreme sports, daredevil ballon rides, base jumping, etc. But that doesn’t always happen.
Given the rather severe separation of my online life versus my real one, I’ve often thought about setting up a “dead man’s switch” that would notify people should I not throw it. I figured the most likely result of that, though, would be a false “Blake’s dead!” message. Heh. That might be funny once or twice, but sort of defeats the purpose should it happen a lot.
There’s now at least one service that will do this for you, I think. It’s been in the news a lot lately. But I suspect a lot of us don’t give enough thought on how online folks would be affected by our sudden disappearance. (I’ve had it happen numerous times, and I don’t know to this day whether the person just dropped out or something had happened to them.)
So, it’s something worth thinking about.

TV Tropes

“He’s bluffing! No creature would willingly make an idiot out of itself!”
“You’ve obviously never been in love!”
–“Futurama”, “Parasites Lost”

This post is from the “notebook”.

This is one of my favorite episodes of one of my favorite shows. Fry becomes infected with parasites after recklessly eating a truck stop egg sandwich. He discovers they’re there when a pipe goes through his stomach and the worms immediately patch the enormous hole. They then start to work toning his muscles, improving his neurological function (Fry’s a moron), and generally cleaning up the place.

This makes him palatable to the object of his affections, Leela, who attempts to keep him from getting rid of the worms, finally ending with his own efforts to rid himself of the worms and undo what they’ve done, in order to find out whether Leela loves him for himself or for his, um, worms. That leads to the priceless bit of dialog above. (Being a sci-fi show allows Futurama to pose some interesting and unlikely questions.)

End Notebook Section

I can’t remember why I started this post, except that I was probably watching this Futurama episode and it made me think of this great site called “TV Tropes”. That link actually goes to an entry called “Love Makes You Dumb”, and it’s part of a bunch of “Love” entries, like “Love Makes You Crazy” and “Love Makes You Evil”.

TV Tropes is a great site because it lists all these common themes used in television shows–but many can be scene throughout movies and literature as well. Things like “Actually I Am Him” and “Someday This Will Come In Handy” make you realize how often you’ve seen something.

The site’s a little animé heavy with the examples, I guess because those are the people who contribute most. So it’s geekier than geeky. (I mean, it makes me feel like a square sometimes, so you know it’s gotta be extreme.) Still, a whole lot of fun to dig around and go, “Yeah! I know exactly what you’re talking about!” (There’s probably a trope for that, too, but I don’t know what it is.)

Enjoy digging around.

Ikariam

A little web-based game reminiscent of Settlers.

I don’t know if I like it or not. The pacing of these things is quite slow which is a sort of mixed bag. You can check in sporadically and play, so you’re not a slave to it. On the other hand, it’s not exactly intense.

Looks good, though. It amazes me how things like this proliferate when no money is being made.