February 18, 2013

the Nashville Software School

Filed under:, , , , — cwage @ 7:47 pm

The cover story in the City Paper this week is on the Nashville Software School. It's a great read, and it's about a great program.

The NSS is a game-changer for technology and education in Nashville. I'm immensely proud of everyone involved of it and incredibly thankful to John Wark for his tireless efforts to get it going. Years ago, Nashville's first ISP, Telalink, had an intern program that accepted anyone and everyone for weekly meetings to teach and discuss just what this whole "Internet" thing is, anyway. I learned about everything from ISDN channel bonding to CGI programming (in C, no less, until I discovered Perl). I am forever indebted to Thomas Conner, Bill Butler, Tim Moses and everyone else at Telalink that helped us out back then. The roster of people that came through that program (me notwithstanding) is a veritable Who's Who of incredibly smart people here and abroad. Nick Holland (also a Telalink intern) and I tried to revive a similar program years ago (and I believe a young Eliza Brock was a member!). It fizzled, eventually -- frankly, due to the hustle of running a small biz -- a testament to the time and energy required for something like this. I had wanted for years to start something up again and I'm delighted that I don't have to (yay, laziness!). The NSS has done all that and more.

I'm a product of the Nashville public school system, and an aborted failure of our country's higher education system. A year into it and roughly $17k in loans later, I learned that if I was going to learn anything about technology, it wasn't going to be at a university. So, I've been in the private sector ever since. I would have killed for something like the NSS to have been around then. It fills a huge gap in our education system, and it makes me tremendously excited.

Some ideas I'd like to see emerge from the success of the NSS in years to come:

  • The resurgence of an intern program more suited to younger people -- something to get high school-age students started and funneled into the NSS (or something like it).
  • Something more accommodating to people still working full-time -- either a less aggressive courseload and/or after-hours courses.
  • More advanced parallel tracts of schooling: systems engineering/devops, network engineering, and so on. These are all areas where schooling and expensive certification do exist, but pales in comparison to the education via the school of hard knocks. Something like the NSS could serve this demographic as well.
  • Local business/govt-sponsored scholarships. I realize that giving out money for education is a hairy business once you get into trying to decide how to hand it out (merit vs. need vs lottery vs who-knows-what), but it could be done well.
  • Failing that, or in addition to it: A way for federal money (Pell, Perkins, et al) to be available to students of the NSS. This is probably a long-shot for a variety of reasons, but it'd be nice to see this money redirected to grassroots programs like the NSS that are actually generating real skills and real jobs in a relatively short turnaround rather than padding the bottom line of elephantine institutions of higher learning.

February 12, 2013

diction

Filed under:, , , — cwage @ 2:02 am

It took all my willpower not to title this post "DICKtion". GET IT?! Moving on:

So, Southern/Alpha is sponsoring an event called Spark Nashville, which will feature some startup pitches, general tech-ey networking, and some speakers -- Marcus Whitney and Nicholas Holland, who were referred to in the press release as "patriarchs" -- a truly unfortunate choice of words.

Why is this a problem?

First, the definition of patriarchy, courtesy of wikipedia:

Patriarchy (rule by fathers) is a social system in which the male is the primary authority figure central to social organization and the central roles of political leadership, moral authority, and control of property, and where fathers hold authority over women and children. It implies the institutions of male rule and privilege, and entails female subordination. Many patriarchal societies are also patrilineal, meaning that property and title are inherited by the male lineage.

Now, stay with me here, but some wacky feminists of late have suggested that female subordination is a total bummer and should be avoided. If you stretch your imagination a bit, you can prrrrrobably imagine how this particular word might be a little off-putting to any women that read it.

Given that, do I think it likely that the author of the press release intended to promote the subordination of females? Not likely. Both Hanlon's and Occam's razor apply here. It's more like that whoever chose the word was simply ignorant of its implications. There really is no common ungendered colloquial sense of "patriarch", especially when so many other words would have sufficed (start with "leader" and go from there), so it's a bit weird. There it is. Patriarchs. A truly unfortunate choice of words in a city trying desperately to get women involved in many traditionally male-dominated fields, technology foremost among them.

I won't get into the details of any actual patriarchy in the industry (which of course does exist), and how hegemonies tend to be promulgated despite the best conscious intentions of everyone involved. I can't speak for Nick or Marcus, but I know that if anyone ever described me as a "patriarch" of anything I'd be annoyed and politely but firmly ask them to choose another word.

Related: this older blog post.

November 21, 2011

a eulogy for google reader

Filed under:, , , , — cwage @ 9:10 pm

So, Google rolled out a lot of changes to its Reader product in the last couple of months. A lot of this has been said already, but I feel the need to say it myself.

Google has gutted and abandoned the one source I relied upon heavily to get information. Poof, gone. It hurts. First, a review of what they gutted, and why the Google+ equivalents as implemented thus far are no substitute:

(more...)

February 21, 2011

why save WRVU?

Filed under:, , , — cwage @ 4:17 pm

So, this is probably going to be an unpopular opinion, but it comes from a genuine curiosity and a real question: why is WRVU worth saving? I'm not convinced that it is. I realize and appreciate the value that college radio had in years past: providing a voice for people and music that normally couldn't make the cut on mainstream radio. Maybe I'm being naive, here, but does anyone listen to the radio anymore? And even if they do, is it a demographic that intersects with the people that most need the voice of college radio? When I think of radio's current core demographic, I think of an older generation. Hence, the boom of conservative talk radio -- the only thing I imagine keeping radio alive. Somehow I just don't imagine kids out there getting their first doses of new/broader horizons via WRVU anymore, sorry. Are we trying to save it out of a misplaced sense of sentimentality, or an out-of-touch overestimation of its value? I don't get it.

And this isn't because I don't appreciate the *content* on WRVU. I have friends that have/had great radio shows on WRVU that I'd love to listen to, but I never can, because .. who has time to listen to the radio? I don't even own a radio. (no really -- even my car doesn't have one). Give me a podcast, or at least a live stream, and now we're talking.

If you want to preserve what was valuable about WRVU, ditch the airwaves and move to a medium that actually reaches people. Start a non-profit/consortium that collects donations to pay for streaming costs, start a blog. Whatever. Let the radio station die a natural, peaceful death -- the rest of the traditional broadcasting industry will be following right behind it anyway.

Am I missing something obvious?

November 15, 2010

davis kidd

Filed under:, , , , , — cwage @ 5:55 pm

I have to admit, I find the lamentations regarding the demise of Davis Kidd bookstore a little disingenuous. Someone on twitter said it well: "If you want to shop at Davis Kidd so bad.....why haven't you been shopping at Davis Kidd?" Granted, the shutdown came because its conglomerate owner filed for bankruptcy, so it was not necessarily a failure of the store itself, but still. I really, really doubt that 99% of the people decrying its shutdown have even been there in the last year. And why would they? It was a hollow shell of its former self, in a horrible, inaccessible anchor corner of the Green Hills Mall -- ground zero for Nashville's vapid, consumerist upper middle class.

For years, the store filled a hole in our public consciousness that we all felt we needed: a cool, locally-owned independent bookstore -- an oasis apart from the megacorporate Borders and Barnes & Nobles of the world. Except it wasn't that, and it hasn't really been for a long time. Yet it persisted, staying in business and commanding a sort of weird hushed reverence, even though no one actually shopped there. I don't doubt that the store made an effort to continue its support of local publications to some degree, but let's not pretend there was any yawning gap of differentiation between the recent incarnation of Davis-Kidd at the mall and the Borders a few miles away.

Towards the end, I doubt that Davis-Kidd served any meaningful role for most people in the area beyond a place they could pretend they stopped at on their way to spend $300 at Whole Foods. So, in a weird way, with the demise of Davis-Kidd, we have a continuation of the only role it's really served for people in the last few years: feigned patronage and pretentiousness. Don't cry for Davis-Kidd -- it died years ago. Go get a Kindle e-reader and move on.

January 30, 2010

the oversaturated sky is falling!

Filed under:, , , , , — cwage @ 11:50 am

The LA Times turned its eye to commoditized stock photography, last week, and the languishing industry in general. It's extremely silly. Never before have I read such a melodramatic sob story for the woebegotten creative photographic industry:

The New York Times this week announced a plan to charge frequent online readers for the stories and photos it spends millions to create. Hulu executives said they plan to begin charging for some of the TV shows they previously put on the Internet for free.

Now the freelancers -- the sensitive, right-brain souls who sell their creative power one byte at a time -- are going to have to get just as aggressive as the big boys. That means struggling mightily to find the audiences who appreciate their work and make them pay.

It won't be easy.

Photographers are among those who found out most painfully what happens when their work (or a reasonable facsimile) becomes readily available online at little or no cost.

A decade ago, professional photographers thought nothing of selling pictures to stock photo houses. But what once provided a source of income went into catalogs of nearly endless size and accessibility.

Seemingly overnight, a publisher who wanted a picture of a sunset could choose from thousands on any number of databases. Why pay a photographer hundreds, or thousands, of dollars to go out and shoot a new one?

Oy. Now, what makes this article so silly is that they've made a grievous error: they've conflated stock and/or product photography with creative arts. It's not the same thing. Sorry. There are two angles to this. First, the consumptive angle. Why indeed would any consumer of photography pay a photographer "hundreds, or thousands, of dollars" to go take a picture of a damn sunset? You'd have to be a fool. Digital photography has made brilliant sunset pictures as ubiquitous as cats on the internet. It's not an evil conspiracy -- the work of dastardly corporatist overlords. It's just reality. The advantage that you, mister stock photographer, once enjoyed by virtue of the high cost of film cameras, film cost and processing cost is gone. The advantage in archival, organization and distribution is gone. Technology marches forward.

Then there's the production angle -- the skill (and the art?) that goes in to this work. Is the march of technology obliterating genuine artistic talent, condemning it to languish in obscurity, unrecognized and uncompensated? Hardly. The industry that is evaporating isn't artistic, it's utilitarian. I realize that throughout the course of history, there has been much artistic merit found in the work of "professional" photographers being paid to do otherwise bland, "commoditized" work. (The FSA photographers come to mind, of course.) But, let's not get too sentimental. Technology is making photography easier, and the niches of the photography industry that are evaporating just aren't that hard, folks. Product photography isn't that hard. You basically buy your way into it. Lights, softboxes, cameras. Action. Naturally it can still be done badly, and it can be done quite well, but the market (it turns out) doesn't really discriminate that much. They just want a picture of a [whatever]. Similarly, taking a picture of a sunset isn't that hard either. (I should know.) It's easy. It happens almost every day! Point and shoot. It doesn't take a "sensitive, right-brain soul". I could pretend that my oh-so-stunning sunset pictures are a reflection of some facet of my inner soul and artistic spirit, but they're just not, sorry. The emperor has no clothes! As a photographer, I know what goes into this sort of professional photography, so I'm a little unimpressed by this article making it sound like these are hapless creatives losing their patron:

I've now heard it hundreds of times: fear that the technology providing the world entree to an unimaginable trove of art, images and information is also obliterating the boundaries that once allowed the creative class to make a living.

It's not that I lack sympathy -- having your entire industry wiped out in under a decade has to be jarring. But, that's life. Time to find a new niche. The human instinct towards self-preservation is strong, and in the face of changing economic circumstances, it manifests in futile defensive measures -- just look at over-reaching labor unions, protectionist trade tariffs, etc. Rarely do they combat reality for long. This bit highlights the real shift in what's going on:

This winter, for the first time in two decades, Berger didn't shoot a single company or family Christmas party, work that used to bring him as much as $5,000 once he'd sold prints to all the participants.

Berger sent me a few of the photos one group had come up with as a substitute. "They stood them against a wall, wide angle, with an on-camera flash, looking up their noses. Static. Lame. Absolute junk," Berger said.

The problem here is that Mr. Berger is overestimating the economic value of his artistic work, sadly. People want good pictures of their memories, of course, but it turns out they're not as concerned about the relative artistic/creative merit. At least not compared to the cost of buying PnS cameras and doing it themselves. Berger's technological advantage is gone. Oh well. Time to do something else.

Despite all this commotion, nothing fundamental has changed for the creative/artistic market. Technology can't change this, and it never will -- the elusive nature of art and the ever-changing market behind it guarantees this. Speaking as someone that has contemplated the various ways I could be making money with my photography, I can commiserate with the plight of a lot of photographers. What I don't have sympathy for is the exasperated cries of the slighted supposed-artists. Perhaps you weren't as good as you thought. Nothing is stopping you from making art, and nothing ever will. Digital technology has made photography a lot easier and a lot more popular. The industry has changed. Get better, or get out. (But definitely shut up, either way.)

UPDATE: Kenneth Jarecke, at the Online Photographer, tackles this as well. It has the same sort of lamentations that I think are somewhat silly. Though I think I could paraphrase his larger point as being that outfits like Time or Newsweek really are (were?) the modern day equivalent of the artistic patron, supporting and subsidizing genuine art. And that as they resort to cheaper alternatives, the artists relying on them starve. I think this is a decent point, but I think this intersection is a rather small (miniscule) data point in the grand scheme of things.

January 31, 2008

twitter

Filed under:, — cwage @ 9:34 am

Aunt B is a recent twitter convert and not really getting it. I confess I am still sorta borderline myself. But, I have a long history of scoffing at innovative ideas early on and then looking like an idiot later. When Mirabilis came out with ICQ, my friend Nick showed it to me. "Hey cool," he said, "you can message people in realtime!!" "Big deal," I scoffed, scoffingly, "there's a little thing called talk(1) in UNIX that has existed practically forever."

So, twitter has been something recently I've been trying to keep an open mind about. What is it? Wikipedia says: Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that allows users to send "updates" (or "tweets"; text-based posts, up to 140 characters long) to the Twitter website, via short message service, instant messaging, or a third-party application. Okay, but. What is it, really?

I think of twitter as basically a web-based chatroom where you have everyone on ignore by default. The interesting thing about it is that not everyone thinks of it that way. Some people treat it as microblogging and only visit it periodically. Conversely, some people have twitter piped right to their IM client and treat it as another form of instant messaging. (Interestingly, I have a feeling these people annoy the piss out of the former folks.) So far, I'm ambivalent. It's cool every once in a while for rapid dissemination of information, or relaying info to a person but giving other people an opportunity to comment on it. Like I said, it's like a web-based chatroom that can be piped into other mediums (email, web, XMPP/jabber, SMS, etc). I use it primarily via jabber, but the trick is knowing when to shut it off. When I'm heads-down working at the office, I just can't handle the deluge of updates on who's drinking what caffeineated beverage at the moment or whatever.

You can also discriminate who you get IM notifications from and who you don't, which is sortof nice. So, in conclusion, I think it's a neat technology -- the crux of it being that it's basically a method for disseminating information through a gateway that makes it available in whatever medium you want: IM, SMS, Web, etc. The only problem with it I see is that it's centralized in one commercial entity. And that it can get really annoying. But I'm learning that the trick is realizing you can control fairly well what you don't get, what you do get, and how you get it.

August 22, 2007

Seam Carving for content-aware image resizing

Filed under:, , , , , , — cwage @ 4:38 pm

This is awesome:

(more...)

July 2, 2006

ignoring the wall

Filed under:, , , , — cwage @ 12:05 am

Via Bruce Schneier, an interesting paper about a technique to bypass the filtering technique currently employed by China's Great Firewall. I am gonna get a little nerdy here -- something I generally reserve for the CentreBlog -- so bear with me here:

The way this firewall works is precisely the same as many commonly-available content-based filtering appliances available here. (I tested and evaluated a number of them for the TN K-12 school system back when I worked for ENA.) It's not the routers or firewalls themselves that monitor for keywords and allow/drop connections, but rather servers that sit on an adjacent port on a switch and sniff the traffic. When they see a verboten word, they make an attempt to kill the connection. This is done utilizing a very simple technique.

In any TCP connection on the Internet, there is a packet with a certain flag that can be sent at any time by either end to reset the connection. The flag is called RST, which stands for .. you guessed it.. "reset". So, in order to kill a connection, these servers merely spoof RST packets both to the source and the destination of the connection, effectively terminating the connection. More advanced products hijack the connection entirely -- sending RST packets to the origin webserver and delivering a "block page" instead of the requested content to the client, letting them know that the content is forbidden, or perhaps in this case, that the storm troopers are en route to their house.

This is a fairly effective technique with one major drawback: it's subject to race conditions. If the server monitoring traffic gets bogged down, it may not get around to issuing the RST packets before the connection has already proceeded and data has been transferred. At the time, this was a major reason we opted not to use this technology at ENA. The amount of hardware needed to ensure a "race" was never lost was exorbitant in the face of more cost-effective methods. Apparently this isn't an issue for China.

But anyways, back to the paper. They are pointing out another obvious downside to this technique: if both sides of the connection ignore the RST packets, the connection won't be terminated. So, theoretically, firewall administrators in China could simply configure their firewall to ignore RST packets and if the server on the other end did the same, there would be no censorship. But of course this is useless if the other end doesn't cooperate. It raises an interesting possibility: a movement on the rest of the Internet to cooperate, and implement firewall rules to ignore RST packets on port 80 from IP addresses in China? Are there any possible negative side-effects of this? Other than some very dysfunctional situations in the event that a connection actually needs to be reset.

F1ght the P0w3r D00dZ!!

February 26, 2006

technology

Filed under:, , , , — cwage @ 7:55 pm

Who would have thought so much would go into buying a vacuum cleaner? Once upon a time, if you wanted a vacuum cleaner, you went to the vacuum cleaner store (I'm assuming), and made one Tim the Toolman Taylor-esque decision: how much power can I afford.

Not anymore. HEPA? Cyclonic? HEPA *and* cyclonic? Bagged or bagless? Upright or canister? I felt like I was buying a car, except it was more complicated.

Well, I haven't gotten one yet, because we perused through Wal-Mart, Sears and Lowes and couldn't find what I decided would be best: a bagless canister cyclonic with a HEPA filter. Phew. I think I'll probably just wind up buying online, if I can even afford it.

We went to Big Lots to check out their selection, and they had a $300 Dyson. Too rich for my blood. However, I did get this:

Donald Rumsfeld Doll

That's right. It's a talking Donald Rumsfeld doll. Best $5 I ever spent. I also got a George Bush (the elder) doll, but he wasn't as photogenic, because I didn't take him out of the box yet. So the day wasn't entirely a bust.

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