Find Me On

My Homepage





RSS Feeds

My Stuff

Shared Items

Search This Blog


Josh Braun’s Blog // I have it written down somewhere . . .

William Gibson’s “Pattern Recognition” Jun 29, 2013


I recently finished reading William Gibson’s novel, Pattern Recognition.  Published in 2003, it’s a prescient social critique of surveillance marketing, the post-9/11 security state, and the uncomfortable blurring of the two.  While reviews of the book when it came out apparently fretted at times as to whether it would seem dated within a few years, the topics it deals with, ranging from the discontents of globalization to NSA monitoring of Internet traffic, are in many places as relevant today or more so than they were a decade ago.  A few of Gibson’s more memorable quotes from the book:

The site had come to feel like a second home, but she’d always known that it was also a fishbowl; it felt like a friend’s living room, but it was a sort of text-based broadcast, available in its entirety to anyone who cared to access it.

You ‘know’ in your limbic brain. The seat of instinct. The mammalian brain. Deeper, wider, beyond logic. That is where advertising works, not in the upstart cortex. What we think of as ‘mind’ is only a sort of jumped-up gland, piggybacking on the reptilian brainstem and the older, mammalian mind, but our culture tricks us into recognizing it as all consciousness. The mammalian spreads continent-wide beneath it, mute and muscular, attending its ancient agenda. And makes us buy things.

Everything Lenin taught us of communism was false, and everything he taught us of capitalism, true.


Posted in Clipped | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Merriam-Webster on “Irregardless” Jun 28, 2013

I watched the explanation.  This word still ticks me off regardless.

Posted in One-Off Musings | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

“When Unix was created and when it formed its cultural values, there were no end users. Computers were expensive, CPU time was expensive, and learning about computers meant learning how to program. It’s no wonder that the culture which emerged valued things which are useful to other programmers.” Jun 28, 2013

Joel Spolsky, “Biculturalism”

In this essay, Spolsky reviews Eric S. Raymond’s recent book, and examines differences between the cultural values of Windows and Unix programmers and how that translates into different user experiences.  I like the essay quite a bit—it has a nice “communitarianism meets software development” vibe to it.

Posted in Clipped | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

“The problem with most Web video startups is that you’ve seen them before. Another compilation of cheap clips posing as the next big cable channel. Another solution for nonexistent ‘discovery’ problems. Another ‘Instagram for video’ that won’t be.” Jun 27, 2013

Peter Kafka, AllThingsD

Posted in Clipped | Tagged | Leave a comment

Obligatory Google Reader Exodus Post Jun 26, 2013

photoSince Google announced it would be shutting down Google Reader everyone who makes regular use of RSS, and who’d succumbed to Google’s hegemony over feeds, has scrambled to find a good alternative.  I’ve been following other folks’ posts about the various options they’ve chosen, and it’s been interesting to see the diversity in how people make use of their RSS readers.  Some simply use them to read content, others use them to share content, and still others curate their own feeds of interesting or useful items.

In making my own switch from Reader, I toyed with a broad variety of tools including but not limited to Thunderbird, NetNewsWire, Pulse, Netvibes, Yoleo, and Feedly.  There were so many directions to go that I ultimately had to take a step back, take a break from all the marketing messages enshrouding each service, and ask myself what wanted out of an RSS reader.

Here’s what I decided I needed:

  1. Access from anywhere.  I switch frequently between my personal Linux machine and my OS X work computer, and I wanted access to my feeds from both devices.  That ruled out most desktop applications, and particularly platform-dependent ones.  I figured it also wouldn’t hurt to be able to access my reader from my tablet or other devices on the go.
  2. Ability to publish and curate my own feeds.  Over the years, I’ve greatly appreciated the ability to publish my own RSS feeds made up of curated links from items in my reader, as well as self-authored items.  I’ve used curated feeds with my classes and also as a way of feeding custom content into web development projects.  Once upon a time, before I fell into Google Reader, I used an excellent open source web application called reBlog for curating feeds, but that project was orphaned and it unfortunately broke with the introduction of PHP 5.
  3. Control over my data.  If ever the service or application ceased to exist, I wanted to be able to leave with my subscriptions and all my data intact.
  4. Extensibility and control over the software. I’d prefer some level of control over upgrades and functionality, as opposed to being one of the lowly chorus of users who complains helplessly about changes to a service (e.g., “I don’t like the new Facebook/Gmail/Twitter/etc.”).

After looking at a bunch of different options and consulting with my inner Dave Winer, I finally decided on Tiny Tiny RSS (TT-RSS for short).  TT-RSS is a self-hosted web application, meaning I run it via my own server.  This means my data will always belong to me, and I can export it at any time in any format I need.  And since it’s web-based, I can access it from anywhere on any device.

It’s an open source application and it has an extensible plugin architecture, meaning that where necessary I can modify it to suit my needs, as well as take advantage of tweaks provided by other users.  It’s written in PHP, which for better or for worse is the server-side scripting language with which most of my core competencies lie.

And, last but not least, it has some very flexible tools and methods for publishing and curating your own RSS feeds.  TT-RSS’ interface also includes a bookmarking feature for adding and remembering content from anywhere on the web, and as such I find that it’s rapidly supplanting my need for tools like or Scuttle.

So, that’s it.  It’s the solution that worked for me.  I’m not planning on running a hosting service, but if you’re a friend or colleague who’s interested in TT-RSS, but not quite technical enough to install it yourself, I’d be happy to create an account for you on my server.  Just email me and I can get you set up.

Posted in Journalism, New Media & Digital Culture | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

On Centralizing Skype Jun 24, 2013

skype-logoFor scholars and others interested in questions of “materiality and media”—i.e., among other things, how media technologies and infrastructures enable and constrain particular modes of production, distribution, and use—this mailing list post by one of Skype’s software architects on the service’s shift to a centralized infrastructure is totally enthralling.

Posted in Journalism, New Media & Digital Culture | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

“Developing better in-car technology is critical for automakers like GM to attract younger, tech-savvy buyers. If they can pull it off, the companies will generate new sources of revenue and boost profit margins. One approach may be for GM to sell advertising within the car itself.” Jun 14, 2013

Tim McLaughlin recounting remarks by General Motors Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson 

Please, please no.

Posted in Clipped | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Cicadas! Jun 9, 2013


My wife and I went to see the 17-year cicada emergence today.  I took this, among many other photos.  A pretty amazing event that won’t happen again until 2030.

Posted in One-Off Musings | Tagged , | Leave a comment

“I approach my journalism as a litigator. People say things, you assume they are lying, and dig for documents to prove it.” Jun 7, 2013

Glenn Greenwald on investigating government surveillance programs

Posted in Clipped | Tagged | Leave a comment

Roundup of Recent Links Jun 7, 2013

Old Against New, or a Coming of Age? Rethinking Broadcasting in an Era of Electronic Media // A very interesting call for papers by Stacy Blasiola, R. Stuart Geiger and Airi Lampinen for a special issue of The Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media on the evolving relationship between broadcast and online media.

chainThe Jobs TV Does // An interesting look by Ben Thompson at the roles TV plays in society.  This is part three of a series by the same author on changes to the television ecosystem and I look forward to going back and taking a look at the first two portions.  I’ve also added Ben to my RSS reader, as it looks as though there’s a ton of interesting stuff on his blog.

How the Robots Lost: High-Frequency Trading’s Rise and Fall // The title says it all.  Very interesting in the wake of discussions at the recent “Governing Algorithms” conference.

TV Apps: A Dive Into Fragmentation // This is a very utilitarian post wrapped in market-speak and aimed at app developers, but it’s still interesting to me as an academic because it does a nice job of highlighting  the numerous layers of intermediaries involved in bringing content to connected television screens. Almost any one of the myriad companies and platforms mentioned would make a good case study.

How likely is the NSA PRISM program to catch a terrorist? // In the wake of the huge breaking news about the NSA’s PRISM program, a biologist schooled in biometrics applies Bayesian methods to the problem of how (un)likely the data mining techniques would be to actually catch a terrorist.  The post is tongue-in-cheek and reads almost like one of Randall Munroe’s “What If?” columns.  It’d be funny if it weren’t all so terrifying.

The Dictatorship of Data: Robert McNamara epitomizes the hyper-rational executive led astray by numbers // An interesting short feature at Technology Review that’s only more relevant in the wake of yesterday’s news.

And lastly, some interesting links concerning Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).  The first data and studies from these huge online offerings at Stanford and MIT are coming out and the different takes on their effectiveness are interesting.  I thought these two articles contrasted nicely:

MOOC Students Who Got Offline Help Scored Higher, Study Finds // This post, from the Chronicle of Higher Education concerns a study, which found that, at least for one MOOC, the existence of offline, face-to-face help was one of the biggest predictors of student success.  The post concludes that this study, if replicated, will add arrows to the quivers of online education critics who say that the effectiveness of in-person education can never be replicated by massive online courses.

As Data Floods In, Massive Open Online Courses Evolve // Meanwhile, this piece in Technology Review, which includes interviews with MOOC designers, spins the story the opposite direction.  In the view of the course designers quoted in this piece, the massive amounts of detailed analytics recorded about students interactions with these courses can be used to create adaptive interfaces and tailored course experiences for future classes, and will help delineate and solve issues with the pedagogical process that could never have been identified in traditional educational settings.  A sort of Taylorism for the classroom.

[Image Credit: Chains cc by-nc-nd 2.0 Kristian Vinkenes]

Posted in Clipped | Tagged | Leave a comment