I first got on the internet in 1995. I spent my evenings on my new Windows 95 PC exploring this new wonder via 28.8 kbps modem. I had been working with the SGML document format at work, so the HTML of the web came easily to me. Like many people at that time, I had my own web site on GeoCities.
I decided to create a web site for the church that Katie was serving as a minister at the time. While working on the site, I came across a set of web pages that listed, in categories, pretty much all religious-related web sites existing at that time–the web was still small enough that such an endeavor was possible. For some reason, I emailed the site’s creator, Susan Brumbaugh, and we became email friends.
Susan was working on her Ph.D. In sociology at the time and spent her days at a Sun workstation at the university, which meant that she was one of the very first people to get internet access. Like me, Susan was learning to author web pages and had decided to create a web site for the church she was attending. But Susan was (still is?) a collector, and as she explored the web, she created a catalog of the sites she ran across. So was born her site ‘Religious Resources on the Net.’
By 1996 or so, I had moved on from learning HTML to web programming in Perl. Susan’s directory of religious web sites was an obvious choice for converting from a set of static web pages to a database-driven web site. So, I converted it to Perl CGI and a flat-file database. Susan could add, edit, and delete sites by editing the text file. At some point, we acquired the domain religiousresources.org and moved the site there.
In about 2002 or so, I was learning the LAMP technology stack, so again I migrated the site to PHP and a MySQL database with a full-fledged administrative interface for Susan to review submitted sites and manage the site. I also redesigned the site at that time, and I have to say that, in my biased opinion, at least, the design has held up pretty well for a decade:
Through all of this, Susan maintained the list of sites as a labor of love. Eventually, she went from finding sites herself to taking submissions. But she still reviewed each submission for suitability to her standards for the site, appropriate description and inclusion in the appropriate category. As the web grew, this became a big job.
Throughout the early years, we explored options for making at least enough money from the site to pay for its hosting. We considered and rejected banner ads back when they were popular. We found them too distracting, and the potential for ad revenue didn’t seem very good. However, when targeted Google AdWords ads came along, we found something that would earn us some money and would actually be an improvement to the site’s visitors. Since the purpose of our site was to help its visitors find resources elsewhere, relevant ads actually added options for our site’s visitors.
Eventually, Susan’s and my interests changed: we had families, changed jobs and cities, etc. Combined with the ever increasing number of submissions for inclusion in the directory, we eventually got hopelessly behind in reviewing submissions. Eventually, we quit taking new submissions since we were not dealing with the existing ones.
After several years of neglect, as the sites in our directory got older and more irrelevant, we have finally made the tough decision to shut down the site. Susan and I have done other interesting web work over the years and formed an enduring friendship and business partnership . It’s been a good run, but it’s time for this chapter to come to an end.
I am currently listening to the audio version of World War Z. I’m really enjoying it, but one thing about it bugs me. None of the interviewees uses the word ‘zombie.’ I have to assume that the author made the same decision as the creators of other zombie stories: to place their story in a universe that is pretty much exactly like our own, but with one difference: the cultural concept of zombies does not exist in the story’s universe. I understand the narrative need for this choice, but still, it nags at me.
Update: OK, the? narrator and several interviewees have used the word ‘zombie,’ but there is still no indication that the concept existed before the war.
As a kid, I wasn’t very intentionally athletic; I didn’t take part in sports leagues (mostly because I lived in the middle of nowhere) and my interest in school athletics died out after middle school when it got competitive. In high school, I fulfilled my PE credits with marching band.
Despite my lack of interest in physical fitness, when I was 16 or 17 I started jogging, and I’ve been at it since pretty regularly since. The other day, I decided to total up the number of miles I’ve probably run in my life. I’m currently running 12-20 miles per week, but there were periods–especially when the kids were young and we lived in a colder climate–where I ran a lot less. So, I figure 10 miles per week or 500 miles per year is a safe average. At that rate, I’ve run around 16,500 miles in 33 years. Again, let’s round that down to a nice 15K miles for good measure. I find that amazing!
I recently had a short conversation with a coworker about poverty and providing social services. My coworker expressed the opinion that he’s reluctant to provide social services to poor people since he has observed poor people spending money on luxury items. I told him that I disagreed, but unfortunately we were interrupted by work and never got to finish the conversation.
I’ve been thinking about this conversation since then, and while I have some very firm opinions on this matter, it dawned on me that I may not be able to communicate them very coherently. So, I took this issue to Facebook to get input from friends.
One friend pointed me to research on the psychology of poverty. In summary, the additional cognitive load of being poor directly contributes to poor people making poor decisions. With a little searching, I found this paper (PDF) which offers a good analogy of how one aspect of this works:
Imagine packing for a trip, using either a small or large suitcase. If you have a large suitcase, it is an easy task to pack everything important with room to spare. You may even choose not to completely fill the suitcase. With a small suitcase, however, the task becomes much more complex. If not all important items will fit, you must consider trade-offs, such as what to take out if one more item is added. The suitcase can represent any resource, such as money. In that case, someone with ample resources can easily purchase all needed items with money left over. They may consider the wisdom and value of a particular small purchase, but are not likely to explicitly consider what other item must be given up in its place. In contrast, someone with limited funds must spend a lot of time and mental energy thinking about what to purchase, as each item chosen means some other item or items is foregone. In other words, having fewer resources makes decision-making much more complex. Complex problems draw on limited cognitive resources, which in turn means that there are fewer resources available for self-control.
The answers to this Quora question provide an entertaining introduction to several aspects of linguistics: What are some English language rules that native speakers don’t know, but still follow? Among several very good answers, this one is very succinct:
If you want to insert ‘fucking’ in the middle of a word you know exactly where to do it. You say Colo-fuckin-rado, not Co-fuckin-lorado.
Even more surprisingly, if you want to insert ‘diddley’ in the middle of a word, like Ned Flanders from The Simpsons, you know where to put that and it’s not the same place. (Note: Flanders’s also duplicates a syllable so it’s slightly different.)
Still more surprisingly, the rule that explains this placement can be explained in terms of prosody which is an entire dimension of linguistic (and almost musical) rules that few people seem to be aware they use.
A couple of months ago, a very creative friend of ours hosted a tie-dye party. It’s actually quite an involved process. You have to soak the shirts for 15 minutes in advance, then tie and dye them, and then 24 hours later, you have to rinse them thoroughly, apply a fixative and then wash them with a fixative detergent.
She purchased the dyes and other chemicals (about $160 worth, I think she said) and then invited several families over to do the tie-dying in her front yard. The following evening, I spent several hours rinsing our clothing on the deck and washing them. We had a lot of fun, and I made the shirt below, as well as a couple of T-shirts. I’m afraid my attention to detail wasn’t very good, but every time I wear this shirt, I get compliments, so I guess I did well enough.
Recently, Charlie Pierce got thinking about how well Americans of one group know others outside their group. He got a polling organization to ask a set of “Do you know anyone who…?” questions, and here are the results:
Results: The percentage of Americans who don’t know anyone who…
- Died in Iraq or Afghanistan: 87%
- Is part of a married gay couple: 76%
- Was a victim of gun violence: 73%
- Has HIV/AIDS or died of AIDS: 72%
- Is an illegal immigrant: 71%
- Is a millionaire: 63%
- Is in jail: 62%
- Committed suicide: 59%
- Had an abortion: 49%
- Lost his/her job in the financial crisis: 46%
- Doesn’t have health care: 31%
- Has been arrested: 26%
- Owns a gun: 22%
- Served in the military: 17%
In reading through the list, I realized I do, in fact, know people who meet almost all of these criteria.
Here are my responses:
- Died in Iraq or Afghanistan: No
- Is part of a married gay couple: Yes
- Was a victim of gun violence: Yes
- Has HIV/AIDS or died of AIDS: Yes
- Is an illegal immigrant: Yes
- Is a millionaire: Yes
- Is in jail: Yes
- Committed suicide: attempted, yes, succeeded, not that I can think of.
- Had an abortion: Yes
- Lost his/her job in the financial crisis: Depends on how you define ‘financial crisis’
- Doesn’t have health care: Yes
- Has been arrested: Yes
- Owns a gun: Yes
- Served in the military: Yes
So, I apparently have a much broader experience than the average American. I would like to think that it makes me more accepting, but I don’t want to flatter myself. I’m not sure what else to take from this survey and my answers except to try to keep in mind that many of the people around me do not have such broad experience with their fellow residents of the US.
I’ve been an avid user of Google Reader for several years, and I am bummed about Google’s decision to shutter it. To be honest, I hadn’t thought much about the life of the underlying technology: RSS. In this blog post, Ryan Holiday offers his opinion on why RSS, along with Google alerts and Delicious, is dying:
Think about it: in an ad impression-and pageview-driven business, a service [such as an RSS reader] that allows users to opt out of the noise and get content delivered directly to them is dangerous. When the common practice for bloggers is to publish first, verify second, the paper trail of Google Reader can be an embarrassment. And when sites do everything they can to hook you and increase the critical “time on site” metric or hit you with retargeting cookies, off-site RSS Readers once again stand in the way.
In other words, RSS is impervious to blogging’s worst, but most profitable, traits.
Depressing but probably accurate.