Limitless Levels of Unused Potential

“Joy comes from using your potential.” - Will Schultz

I'm part of the generation that grew up both in awe of and, more and more, subservient to computers. Thirty-somethings have never known a world without computers, although not all of us had them in the home until our teens. But they've always been an impact on society, business, and education in our lives. They are not mysterious machines that beep for unknown reasons (well, ok, sometimes the reasons are unknown). They are not, as some family members label them, necessary evils. Computers have always, to us, been tools--hammers in an era of data and the need to manipulate that data.

We bathe in technology now on a daily basis, the likes of which would have blown our minds as children; the phone on my hip has more computing power than all the TRS-80s in the computer lab where I first entered "10 PRINT "55378008" / 20 GOTO 10 / RUN" and then snickered on my way to lunch. The Web, for all its erudite uses, is still approached as a child's toy by most people, cataloging our cats and dogs, making us giggle at life's idiosyncrasies as if we were still that kid with a BASIC command line.

The influence on science and research is the most pronounced, with grid and distributed computing growing in importance. Worldwide computing power is nearly inconceivable; over 1 billion PCs are out there already, with projections of 2 billion by 2015. We have a global network that could potentially link a significant portion of these machines together (and already has in some cases) looking for cures for diseases, extraterrestrial life, or prime numbers.

And yet, in an age where consumer-level desktop computers contain the computing power of supercomputers from 15 years ago, what have we done with this potential? Aside from a sub-set of the general population donating computing cycles for distributed projects, what has the average person done with the machine sitting in their den or perched on their lap?

We play games, we surf the web, email our friends and update our statuses. We bid on auctions, vote on articles, and blog (hey, wait...). But, unlike many of our other tools, we don't shape the computers to do what we want them to do. How many things have you used a screwdriver for other than to drive a screw? How many odds and ends sit in a drawer for that just-in-case moment? I know I have a dental pick sitting in a drawer and I've never used it to clean my teeth.

But we don't view computers the same way. Sure, we install programs to collect and sift through our data, catalog our photos, and index our documents. By and large, though, we don't know how to make the computer bend to our will, to make it do something we can't find a command or app do for us. It's not that we don't know how to code, although relatively few people do know how to do so (when compared to the general population). It's that we don't even know how to use the cruft already on our machines to their full potential. The thought of using programs many of us own to build a list of addresses for sending out Christmas cards, merge it into a template, and print those addresses onto envelopes so eludes us that, even today, getting a card with a printed address from a non-business is shocking.

So, the obvious question here is: why? Why have we failed to utilize a greater part of the potential power in a  computer?

I only have my own thoughts here (so, chime in if you feel like it), but here's my punch list.

They're still new

From a cultural standpoint, we're still educating the second real generation to grow up digital, with computers as a part of their lives from Day 0. Computers are a relatively new concept culturally, despite the influence they wield. Because of this, we consider them powerful, mysterious machines; we don't know how, but they do all these amazing things, things we then take for granted.

We don't understand them

This goes along with the cultural newness. Arguments can rage for many pages of search results as to what constituted the first personal computer, but no matter where you draw the line (Apple ][ in 1977 or the Simon in 1949), the general acceptance of computers as de facto members of the household's electric-slurping ecosystem took some time. As recently as 1997, computers were only in 36.6% of homes [source: census (PDF)]. By 2003, it was just short of 62% [source: census (PDF)]. Think about that: 7 years ago, 1 out of 3 houses didn't have a computer. I'm not going to get into the socio-economics of who did and didn't have them within those groups, but as a collective, we haven't had much change to actually learn about how the machines work.

Nevermind that, fundamentally, computers are somewhat difficult to grasp for someone uninitiated in their use. My mother, who can sort of describe to a mechanic what she believes is wrong with her car, couldn't tell you the first thing about how a computer works. As why should she? She interacts with the interface without need to know why the program runs.

There's no need for to know about pointers or buses or floating point errors to make a computer work. She doesn't need to know about serpentine belts, brake pads, or alternators either in order to drive, but she's picked it up throughout her life because she lived in an automotive world. People around her just knew about cars.

We have yet to have a generation that grew up not only in a world gone digital, but one where knowledge of computers is absorbed simply by living.

It is hard

Just as computers are dumb, so it is difficult to tell them what to do. Instructing a computer to do something used to be actual rocket science. Programming languages have simplified the process a bit, but brought along the necessary cruft as well: syntax, objects, variables. We need them for modern programming, but these are high concepts for a non-programmer.

In short, it takes a degree of knowledge to be able to bend a computer to your will. The average person isn't just going to sit down with their shiny new laptop and start banging out code.

We're Not Interested

We've accepted that computers will be "easy to use" and that we have no need to learn their inner workings. Like cars, we have moved computers into a category of Commodity and woven them into our daily lives. Which, really, is the point of many people's careers: making computers easy to use and easy to integrate with our existences. We're not interested because we don't have to be.


I feel ok with the current situation. Honestly, I do. There are many, many people around the world working on harnessing the power that sits on a vast majority of desks to solve problems.

I do hope, however, that others will come to appreciate that same power and supplement it with some knowledge. While every day brings the reality of the most computing power in history, we need to, as a species, ask the questions in the right way. And that's something worth paying for.

links for 2009-11-26

Things to Buy: Nirvana Live at Reading

Widely considered one of the best live concert recordings, Nirvana - Live at Reading is now available on CD, DVD, and MP3s. Highly recommended. Lala has it for $8.50.

I've been jamming on this all afternoon. One trip through the album and I bought it. God, they were good.

Infinity Ward castrates Modern Warfare 2

As Ars Technica says: "You have to wonder if there are any actual PC gamers working at Infinity Ward".

When MW2 was first announced I have to admit I was salivating. Infinity Ward has made some of my favorite FPS games. So the sequel to Modern Warfare had me getting all ready for a couple of months not playing World of Warcraft to frag some n00bs (or, be fragged, as the case may be).

Then, IW dropped the bomb that they wouldn't be allowing hosted servers. They were moving to a centralized system where their own servers choose a users machine to host the game and others playing there, sort of like consoles. That was bad. The great thing about CoD games was that clans would build great communities around their servers. If you found a great server, you could keep going there. Clans would build maps, fix physics, add weapons; you know, enhancing an already great game.

This is an important point in that the hosted server community was a huge reason the Call of Duty games were so popular. Clans spent innumerable hours building on top of the game to make it that much better. Tournaments and ranking systems grew, motivating people to keep playing. Now, with that community hobbled, all that community was going to be hard to maintain.

Then, two developers from IW did an online interview to promote the game and dropped the remaining bushel of shoes.

The short list:

  • no console

  • no choice on host

  • if the host leaves, the games pauses for 5 seconds (yeah, right) while the system selects a new host

  • no ability to lean (a regression)

  • can't record a match (meh)

  • no ability for players to kick or ban cheaters, hackers, or plain or douche bags

Good luck with that, IW. All of this and it only costs $60. The price tag had given me pause, but with a feature set like that, I'll be skipping this. I'd hope the games tanks so that other PC game makers won't repeat these idiotic development decisions, but that's wishful thinking. The game will still sell millions of copies; I just won't be one of the throngs plunking down my cash.

PC Modern Warfare 2: it's much worse than you thought - Ars Technica.

links for 2009-10-04

iChat with Google Talk

After beating my head against a wall for the better part of an hour (I'm on vacation, I had the time to kill), I was completely unable to get iChat to connect to GTalk via the Jabber configuration that used to work prior to my Snow Leoapard install.

After searching around (on Google's site), I resorted to trolling the Google Talk support forums and stumbled on the solution; you have to use a Captcha unlock to allow the signin to work. Why, I have no idea, but thank you to the person who posted this link on the Google forums.

If you are trying to sign into iChat and constantly get the "Login information is incorrect" message, go here: I have no idea why you have to do this or what else becomes unlocked through this, but it allowed me to finally log in with iChat 5 on Snow Leopard.

links for 2009-10-03

Fantastic Sand Animation

I'd never heard of sand animation, but I can't imagine it gets much better than this from Ukraine's Got Talent. I feel I'm missing much of what makes it moving with my lack of history for the Ukraine, but the art is just awesome.

links for 2009-09-19

links for 2009-09-15

How Healthcare Reform Would Actually Work


That is all.

The Fair Is In Town

The Chelsea Community Fair begins today (kinda). The Chelsea Blog has all the details and links you could want.

Also, nice redo on the website, Chelsea Fair. From The Chelsea Blog:
Schedule Highlights

The fair takes place from 10am until 10pm Tuesday 8/19 through Saturday 8/23. See the website for full schedule.

* Rides open Tuesday at 5pm

* Children's Parade and Tricycle Pull - Tuesday 5:30pm

* Animal exhibits - every day

* Nature's Creation of Life tent - every day

* Demolition Derby - Tuesday and Wednesday night

* Figure 8 Derby - Thursday night

* Chainsaw Carving - several shows daily

* Horse Shows - various times each day

* Colors the Clown - Tues 5-8pm, Wed through Sat 3-7pm

* Ladies Day - begins Friday at 8am

* Tractor Pull - Saturday night

* Chelsea Fair Parade - Saturday 1pm

$7 daily or $25 for the week.

via The Chelsea Blog: Chelsea Community Officially Fair Starts Today!.

links for 2009-08-24

  • "I am tired of people comparing Obama to Hitler. I am tired of seeing signs with swastikas and Nazi symbols at health care rallies. I am tired of people saying that a health care plan intended to uplift millions of Americans to give them dignity, and choice and the ability to care for their families, is like Naziism."

    There are too many people in Michigan who need to comprehend (not just read) what this article says. I doubt they will, but here is it, just in case they stumble by.

The Only Response The Right Wing Deserves

If only more politicians would tell these idiots off. The thought process that leads anyone to equate any President with Hitler surely is a process which only bolsters the need for more coverage in this country. Obviously, we are not servicing the mental health needs of our fellow citizens.

The Ann Arbor Bias - Zingerman's

Ever since one summer as a college student in Paris, sipping cappuccino on the Champs Elysees, I’ve been looking for that same type of European, al fresco atmosphere that makes you feel like you’re on vacation. But so often, outdoor dining means you’re just steps from a busy street, inhaling car exhaust.

What's the best place to capture that feeling in Ann Arobr? Zingerman's Roadhouse, of course. You know, the one at the corner of Jackson and Stadium, less than 300 yards from I-94. So what makes it one of the best outdoor dining establishments (aside from the food)?
...wobbly tables and hard, rather uncomfortable seats...

...the descent of tiny bugs on our remaining food at the end of the meal...

...noise can be a problem outside. When crowded, it is virtually impossible to hear your fellow diners amid the din.

I think there should have been some standards set forth before reviewing restaurants where you'd dine al fresco.

Don't get me wrong, we drop a C-note at that place once a year because of the food. We don't, however, go there for the atmosphere. Putting Zingerman's on a list of the best outdoor dining establishments in Ann Arbor is disingenuous at best.

via Restaurant review: Zingerman's Roadhouse -

links for 2009-07-30

  • Illustration created for Uberbooks's Designers´ Games ReMiX book based on my favorite game from the 80s "Super Mario Bros" and inspired by Capcom latest game " Monster hunter".

  • 4) you believe in the constitution...
    but think the only part worth defending is the second amendment, and so long as you have a permit and do it a "free speech zone"

    5) you believe in "freedom" ...
    but won't hesitate to stoke a mob mentality and use tyranny of the majority in the name of "protecting families"

    6) you believe in "states rights"...
    but go running to the feds demanding marriage laws when more enlightened states decide to recognize gay marriage.

    (tags: politics)

links for 2009-07-20

To better know me....

A cynic is not merely one who reads bitter lessons from the past, he is one who is prematurely disappointed in the future.
- Sidney J. Harris

Responding to the National Organization for Marriage

While this feels like feeding the trolls, here we go...

The National Organization for Marriage, in case you've been living under a rock, recently started their campaign to "defend" marriage. As with many cultural issues, this one is another case study in logical fallacies, a complete misunderstand of one's own belief system, and reasoning so flawed it would be hilarious if they weren't dead serious.

This video (I refuse to embed it) is making the rounds, with the kind of fearmongering usually reserved for Those People. With a host of actors, NOM insinuates all kinds of tragedy and falsehoods about what "gay marriage" would cause. My favorite is the argument that, because a same-sex couple may be married, a doctor somehow has to make some awful choice between faith and profession. Here's a quick reference line for later, doc (who's not actually a doctor, BTW): If you have a hard time choosing between what's right medically or morally and what's preached on Sunday for anyone, you may have chosen the wrong profession.

But my favorite portion on NOM is the FAQ on their site. With language like "threaten marriage" or "San Francisco-style judges" or making a clear distinction between "moms and dads" and "parents", the page reads like the dance instruction pattern for How to Tap-dance Around My Bigotry.

I was going to do a point-by-point, but frankly I want to say a couple things and then be done.

Recent articles in the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek discussed the recent declines in religious worship and participation in the church. National Organization for Marriage, you are the poster child for why this is happening. You are the latest face of a sect in this country that has perverted faith and belief into a discriminatory political force. You are the people that have turned a large portion of an entire generation against the very ideals you claim to support because your message is filled with hate, and bile, and lies. You are the smirking face of bigotry which claims, like a child caught in a lie, that that wasn't really what you meant.

You are, in short, doomed to irrelevance in a world that will cease to care about you or your cause. It will take a while because, like all hysterical ninnies who refuse to grow up, we--my generation--will have to force you into tolerance, much as our parents' generation forced the bigots before you to accept civil rights.

Let me explain why you're doomed, because I think you're not sure. From Progressive States:

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal has gained some well-deserved youtube stardom for his extremely thoughtful remarks on the Senate floor.  Responding to a request to suspend the rules and co-sponsor a leadership bill to amend the state constitution to overturn the decision, Majority Leader Gronstal replied:

"One of my daughters was in the workplace one day, and her particular workplace at that moment in time there were a whole bunch of conservative, older men. And those guys were talking about gay marriage. They were talking about discussions going on across the country. And my daughter Kate, after listening to it for about 20 minutes, said to them: ‘You guys don’t understand. You’ve already lost. My generation doesn’t care.’ I think I learned something from my daughter that day, when she said that.  [Watch the video here or by clicking on the image above.]

Support for marriage equality has been growing among the whole population, but the fact is that a clear majority of Americans age 18-34 support same-sex marriage by a margin of 51-40 according to a December 2008 Newsweek poll (reflecting many other surveys), meaning that when it comes to full equality for GLBT Americans the question is not if, but when. 

Your actions cement that future every day because you turn people like me into advocates.

links for 2009-04-09

links for 2009-04-03

Going Galt...

Or to put all that more succinctly: "There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs."

Yep, that's about right.

via titled: some amusing blog pun.

Jeff Zucker is an Idiot

"Just because someone who mocks authority says something doesn't make it so," Zucker said, describing the comedian's comments as "completely out of line."

Listen, I get it, you want to defend your network. But don't go after Stewart. It's not that he can't take it or is above criticism, but this is not the fight you want to pick.

Face it: CNBC completely missed the point about what business news is supposed to be about. You don't pump stocks, you analyze the market. Jim Cramer is not to blame. You are to blame, Mr. Zucker. You're the one who shaped the strategic vision of a network who can't spell "journalism", much less execute it.

I look forward to watching you and your network continue to be lambasted and embarrassed on Comedy Central, because you just hung a huge target out there for Stewart and Co. to take shots at.

Jeff Zucker - Yahoo! TV.

Awesome Half-Life-Inspired Video

The best 9 minutes of video you'll see today.

links for 2009-03-18

Jeff Daniels Profiled in

You had to read that title twice, didn't you? Anyway, Mr. Daniels is the hometown boy who made it big and, by all accounts, is a pretty nice guy, too. I always find it interesting to read about him, mostly because of the "yeah, he's from my town" factor I think, but also because I enjoy his work (and he's from my town). Check out the profile on Playbill. Oh, and Jeff, if you ever want to play euchre, him me up; we'll head down to Sietz's and scare up a game.

links for 2009-03-12

The coming evangelical collapse OR why they still don't get it

Michael Spencer over at the Christian Science Monitor has this article today about the imminent collapse of the evangelical church in America. He claims that "Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants" which sounds about right. Christianity has likely peaked in this country, due in no small part to the evangelical, or worse, the fundamentalist elements within.

Depending on how you define "evangelical", I was raised in such a church (Dutch Reformed, as a matter of record). So, the assertion that this flavor of church is turning stale raised an eyebrow. I have to say, after reading his article, I think Spencer is onto something.

Why is this disaster about to befall the church? Spencer's reasons, with my comments following:
1. Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. This will prove to be a very costly mistake.

Bingo. I can't even begin to highlight this enough. This movement has even gone so far as to have priest and pastors alike saying that a vote for one candidate is a sin. What tripe. But buried within this first point is something that deserved it's own bullet point.
Being against gay marriage and being rhetorically pro-life will not make up for the fact that massive majorities of Evangelicals can't articulate the Gospel with any coherence. [emphasis mine]

I can't even begin to count the number of times before and after leaving the church where I've had conversations where the person debating and/or arguing with me got the Bible wrong. If you're going to argue a religious viewpoint, you sure as hell better have your own sacred text straight. The knowledge the average Christian has about their own faith is astoundingly small and only serves to belittle their faith and religion in the eyes of those to whom they attempt to proselytize.
2. We Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught.... Our young people have deep beliefs about the culture war, but do not know why they should obey scripture, the essentials of theology, or the experience of spiritual discipline and community.

Here we disagree. My experience was actually different, and I saw it mirrored in the experiences of my friends growing up. Yes, we have deep beliefs about the "culture war" (ed. ug, really?), but we reject the previous generations' stances. We know full well what the Church's stance is on gays, evolution, abortion, etc., but our experiences tell us that those stances are wrong. We reject the hypocrisy of a church that discriminates against gay people but continues to employ or welcome adulterers, or spiritual leaders who rail against such sins while committing those very sins or stealing from the coffers. We reject a church who views science as an evil force aligned against Faith, then tells their pew neighbor they're doing very well thanks, the treatments are working quite well.

My entire childhood was spent in the shadow of fear of what would happen if God caught me not praying before dinner,  prayers, incidentally, I realized very early on I could rattle off without thought and still fulfill my obligation somehow. Orthodoxy was boring, and asking questions was frowned upon or outright challenged, only confirming that it's engaging qualities were either for the adults or non-existence. Either way, as a child, I'm not interested.
3. There are three kinds of evangelical churches today: consumer-driven megachurches, dying churches, and new churches whose future is fragile.

Maybe, but I don't think this is a cause, merely a symptom.
4. ...Christian education has not produced a product that can withstand the rising tide of secularism. Evangelicalism has used its educational system primarily to staff its own needs and talk to itself.

I'll have to take his word, but I can't imagine accomplishing much talking to an echo chamber.
5. The confrontation between cultural secularism and the faith at the core of evangelical efforts to "do good" is rapidly approaching. We will soon see that the good Evangelicals want to do will be viewed as bad by so many, and much of that work will not be done. Look for ministries to take on a less and less distinctively Christian face in order to survive.

Frankly, there's only one answer to this: bullshit. This is a total copout argument: "We have to do un-Christian-like things because that's what people expect. If we did what we should do, it would be viewed as bad." Hmm, maybe that's because undermining and oppressing everyone who doesn't fall into line with your strict definition of "good" is, in fact, bad.

And, let me dispense with one other pet peeve. "Cultural secularism" is not "cultural". It's just secularism. Full stop.
6. Even in areas where Evangelicals imagine themselves strong (like the Bible Belt), we will find a great inability to pass on to our children a vital evangelical confidence in the Bible and the importance of the faith.

Now we're just expanding on the previous points. Why can't the average Joe and Jane pass on confidence in the Bible and the importance of faith? See point 1: they don't know the Bible, and therefore even they can't live by. When I was active in the church, I could count the number of people in my church who were All Week Christians on one hand. Most of the others were Sunday Morning Christians. The rest came out of compulsion or familial necessity (Mom said you had to).

How do you expect to instill confidence in a book and dogma even you don't really believe in? You pay it lip service, sure, but only when the meal's on the table or someone's watching. Religion, in public just as much as in the sanctuary, is spectacle. The prayer always sounds better and lasts a little longer when someone's watching or listening.
7. The money will dry up.

Well, no duh. And, not only that, but I'd wager that before the actual balance is $0, many churches will have gone under simply because of the way they spend money. The money spent on actual ministry, sending people in amongst the unwashed heathens, is dwarfed by building funds, sound systems, projectors, printing costs, salaries and benefits. Oh, didn't they tell you? Being an evangelical preacher is pretty lucrative, even without a TV show.

The big question is, now that someone finally said all this in a fairly well-read publication, what's the response from those still on the inside? My guess? Stunning denials that will shatter any irony meters deployed nearby. Then character attacks on Spencer ("He's not the right kind of Christian to make these points.") Then we'll get the pseudo-intellectual rebuttals of how this needs to happen for some reason, but it will all work out because God wants it to or something.

The only saving thing here for evangelicals? It doesn't mean your faith is dying, just the mechanism. Hm, maybe that's not such a bad thing after all.

Something's Rotten at Chelsea Library

For the fourth time in a little more than three years, the Chelsea District Library is looking for a new director.

That's the lead line to this story in the Ann Arbor News. For a small-town library, that's an extraordinary track record of failure in the retention department, especially one with such incredible programs and facilities. Certainly it can't be the pay (although I'm trying to dig up some salary info). And being in Chelsea, while not terribly big,  must have some prestige; CDL was named Best Small Library in the country last year.

So, what's story at McKune? Or, more likely, what's the store at the board meetings? Are the rumors true? How does one go about effecting change on a Library Board?

links for 2009-03-10

Twitter has pushed me too far

Inspired by Matt Haughey's stand against Twitter , I re-logged into Mastodon on all my devices and shelved my Twitter access. I haven&#...