Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Hello, interwebs

Hi there. Nice to see you again. It’s been a while.

In fact, it’s been, let’s see…ah. Yes. More than a year.

Wow. Time flies.

So, lots has happened since I was here last. I’m a year older, for one.  There’s been a lot of life going on that I won’t get into here. But I still work at the same place. I still come home to the same family. I still love the same woman, the same daughter, and the same God.

From a fan standpoint, there has been a whole Star Wars movie released that I haven’t even mentioned here. A new Star Trek movie is in the theaters right now, and I’m pretty sure I’m not going to see it until it comes out on Blu-ray. A new Harry Potter story is in bookstores as we speak.  I’ve commented on none of it here.

In fact, there’s been an appalling lack of any kind of anything her for the past two years. No personal stuff, no fan observations, no nothing. Why?

Well, for one thing, I’m a born introvert. I have an fierce and abiding inner conviction that nobody wants to hear what I have to say on a given subject. And my total readership for the bulk of this blog has borne this out. I’ve been limping along here for some seven years now, and I am comfortable certain that no one has read this blog that is not a blood relation.

Please don’t think that bothers me. Anytime I write anything that I’m not getting paid to write — and I’m certainly not getting paid to write this — I’m doing it for myself. But I must admit, if I had an audience of 400 instead of four (all of whom I’m in regular contact with), I probably wouldn’t have stayed away so long.

Another thing is I write a lot. I write for a living, and I do my best writing between 7-10:30 a.m. And I can count the number of times that I’ve been able to write something of my own choosing during those golden hours in the past two months on the fingers of one hand.

After about 1 p.m., it gets harder and harder. It's about 8 p.m. now, and creating new sentences is starting to feel like running through wet concrete.

Either way, I’m back now. I didn’t start this blog just to let it rot. Amid the miasma of social media — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, Tumblr, and whatever else have you — I still have a soft spot for the long form.

I’ve got some ideas that will hopefully bring me back here more often. I know — the guy who can’t even make a regular Facebook or Twitter post thinks he can blog again. All I can do is give it a try, and see what happens.

You’re also probably going to see some changes around here. A new look is in order, for one thing. And probably, a new name. I’ve always disliked the name ‘Padawan Pause.’ I chose it because somebody had already beaten me to the name I wanted to use. It was alright for a while, but now, it just doesn’t fit. Its time has passed. It’s time for a new name, and possibly, a new home for this blog when I come up with one.

That’s all for now. I don’t know when this will happen, or when I’ll be back. So, no promises, pledges, vows or definitive plans; just know that we’ll talk again soon.

Friday, July 31, 2015

An ongoing problem

Since announcing my intention to try my hand at short, speed entries, I decided to test the waters by talking about Ernest Cline, a new author I'm becoming a fan of. I started writing a blog post on Monday. It's now Friday, and I've revised it at least twice, but have yet to actually post the thing.

Herein lies my problem. So let's try this again:

I'm reading Armada by Ernest Cline. I really like him. He's a geek like me. I loved his first book, Ready Player One, and I'm planning to read everything he writes from now on — that's how much I like him.

Now, was that so hard?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

In which I contemplate why I've been gone so long

Other people write blogs. Why can't I?

I've had this space on the internet for several years now. I write long pieces on topics near and dear to my heart — editorials, really — every six months or so. But there's nothing in between. No short notes. No mid-range opinions. Just these long screeds every so often.

As you've probably noticed, I don't have time to write a long piece very often. So there is silence, and lots of it, interrupted by large, and often unasked for, pieces of my mind.

I think it might be nice to write something that didn't require me to stitch complex ideas together. May just a few off-the-cuff thoughts here and there — not a magnum opus every time I sit down at the keyboard.

This should hopefully make less pressure on me to create a perfect entry, encourage me to write more often, and allow me to write on more varied, and heck, even personal topics.

We'll see how it goes.

Saturday, December 6, 2014 which I learn to stop worrying about Google and love the constant surveillance.

Wow — has it really been that long since my last post?

I recently adopted a new policy about Google, and wanted to share. Not the earth-shattering topic one would expect for my first blog post since late May, but maybe my serious lack of earth-shattering topics is why I haven't done anything here in a while.

Anyway, for years, I have been Mister Privacy when it comes to what I share with Google. Like most people, I had flirted with a couple of the company's offerings; I had a Google+ account along with my Gmail, and had experimented with things like Google Docs and its Calendar. But I sharply limited what I let the company know about me and my Internet habits. I had saving my search results turned off, I used other search engines when I could. and I certainly, certainly didn't let Google track where I was as part of its Google Now program — an initiative that tries to present you with necessary information based on what the company knows about you from it's myriad technological tentacles. 

A lot of the reason for this is because I am a die-hard Apple enthusiast, and am frankly distrustful of the company, largely because of the way that Google, in my opinion, blatantly ripped off the design of Apple's iPhone for its Android software. The theft made me mad, and distrustful of the search giant's motives. Any large company, even Apple, shouldn't be trusted too far with ultimate world power, and the theft made me very suspicious indeed of Google's famous "Don't Be Evil" mission statement.

So for years, I kept my Gmail use to an absolute minimum, kept my searches secret from the company, and avoided Google+ like the plague. Not that anyone I cared about ever really used Google+.

Here's the thing, though — Google has some really, really smart people working for them, that make some really cool stuff. And the stuff they offer is not only free (to users like us), it's also pretty useful. None of it was anything I couldn't do better with Apple's ecosystem, but the tech geek in me still thought it was neat.

A couple of things happened this week to make me give Google another look. 

The first was this posting from Chris Messina, a former Google+ developer, which I'm linking to here with a profanity warning. In it, he offers the first defense of Google's jealous hoarding of user information that I actually found reasonable. He talks about things like the digital identity in such an urgent, idealist way, I find myself actually wanting one. Mind you, he thinks that Google+ has failed, and that Google is rapidly squandering its chance to keep Facebook from being the only digital identity site out there. But he makes some good arguments as to why letting someone like Google build up a huge amount of user data can, and is, a good thing. 

What he doesn't say, to the best of my memory, that this experience comes at the expense of user privacy so they can sell advertising. But I already knew that. What impressed me was his real, genuine wish to give people something genuinely valuable in return. He still passionately believes in the work he did with Google, even though he thinks the Google+ project has lost its way. 

If he'd still been an employee when he wrote about how great data collection is, I would have been much more skeptical about his arguments. But the fact that he's not and employee, and that he still seems to have genuine regret that more people don't avail themselves to the benefits of being "data positive," as he puts it, gave me pause. And when he said that we are, to companies like Google don't really care about our data, specifically, I very nearly believed him.

And please, before you pass any judgements on my mangled paraphrasing of his arguments, you owe it to yourself to go and read what he actually said. As a college history teacher of mine managed to convince me, primary sources are nearly always superior to secondary sources.

Here's the thing: I know for a fact that there are many apps that have a legitimate need for your personal information. A mapping app that doesn't know where you are is twice as hard to use for directions, for example, and impossible to use safely when you're driving a car. It's possible that good things can come from letting the machines know more about us, as frightening as that is to say out loud.

Mind, I think there's still a huge potential for abuse if you hand over information about yourself to complete strangers. For example, a lot of the apps on my phone have absolutely no reason to be able to track my location. But everything Google wants from me can, with a few clicks, be turned off and erased. I know this because I've done it. Of course, the company's apps were practically screaming at me not too the whole time (and, by practically screaming, I mean there were repeated warnings about the dire consequences of my actions at each and every step. So maybe "screaming" is a little melodramatic). But it can be done — the genie can be put back in the bottle with a minimum of fuss.

I may be wrong, but I don't think that's the case with something like Facebook. Oh, there are privacy controls there, but they change an awful lot. I can't speak for Android users, but Facebook's iOS apps update like clockwork every two weeks. Given the company's past track record of using privacy updates as a way of switching user privacy settings to "wide open," I'm a little suspicious each and every time they update. And actually deleting a Facebook account is, when I last heard, worthy of one of the Labors of Hercules.

The other part of this is that I get a lot of enjoyment from experimenting with technology. Computers and the Internet have developed to the point where it's a form of electrical necromancy; what companies like Apple, and Google, and yes, even Microsoft, are doing often feels like magic, even though it's not. I take great joy from discovering the little wonders the programmers and developers have built into our laptops, tablets and computers. It was what made me fall in love with Apple's approach. And it's what keeps me excited, year after year, about what's coming next.

So, despite my sincere and somewhat justified misgivings about Google's past, I'm going to let my guard down, open my mind a bit, and go play in someone else's garden for a bit. I really don't expect to come away wanting to switch to Android — as Jason Snell recently observed, I still bleed six colors, and think I always will. But I hope, if nothing else, it will be fun. And just maybe, it'll make it easier to see the other guy's point of view. And, heaven knows, we could all use more of that.