Posts Tagged ‘tech’

rip the things we forgot to save

12 May 2014

An emerging list of lost Internet value:

  • Television Without Pity, where the best posts ever were Stee’s reviews of the original Temptation Island
  • Fametracker‘s “Two Stars One Slot” feature. Where are we now supposed to go for verification that Leo DiCaprio and Johnny Depp are becoming the same actor?
  • Google Reader. Google Buzz (I was one of the three people who read it). The old, close-packed view of Google Mail where you could have the whole screen to write on. The clean Google search page, where the occasional appearance of a custom logo created a special occasion of its own. The clean design in general. Bring Marissa back!
  • On the bright side, Astronomy Photo of the Day is still running, at a higher resolution that makes everything look like Hollywood special effects.

    requiem for an empire

    4 September 2013


    I understand something happened in Finland today. Two years ago I might have learned about it in a very unpleasant 6 am phone call. Today I learned about it when the US woke up and my father and brother sent me links – work is busy and I was taking a social media holiday. I still haven’t looked at anything much except the statement, the Bloomberg story, @teroterotero’s columns and Facebook.

    I lived in Helsinki from 1994 until a year ago. Starting about 2000, friends back in the States stopped asking me if I knew Linus Torvalds personally and started asking me about Nokia: What was their secret? What was the Finnish magic? I would reply that there was no magic. [1] They were a decently run company that had a good chance of hiring anyone they wanted in Finland because they were the only big tech company and the only truly global company there. They made some lucky decisions. But they were ruling the mobile phone market mainly because their competitors were worse – as one does. If you don’t remember all the brands of ugly, bulbous black phones with no features that used to be sold for hundreds of euros, dig up a Helsingin Sanomat from, oh, 2001. Yes, they were pushed in Finland too, for years after Nokia started to walk on water. And they were primitive. My first US mobile phone couldn’t even text [2]. It didn’t matter because people there didn’t yet understand why you’d ever want to text instead of call. Wasn’t that what pagers did?

    I had four Nokia phones:

    1. The 8110i Matrix phone (1998-2003). At that time the main competition was Ericsson phones that looked like digital voltmeters. The 8110i looked like … a sexy digital voltmeter, with sculptured curves and a satisfying click-shut. It held 10 texts – I would copy them into a notebook before deleting and I never deleted the first few, so effectively seven texts – and could be used as a modem, just barely. The user interface was absolutely transparent.

    2. The 6610 (2003-2008). This was one of the little business phones with a rather flimsy case which cracked the first time I dropped it on a bathroom floor; it was bound together with tape for most of its life. The selling point for me was an FM radio. It had simple icons on the color display and could be used, just barely, to browse Internet sites that had preformatted their information into droplets (this was called WAP). The user interface was mostly easy to figure out.

    3. The E61i, E63, and E71 (2008-2012). I loved the Nokiaberries dearly and it seemed like true science fiction to have a little computer terminal you could slip in your pocket. These had great keyboards for pounding out text messages and text notes in QuickOffice. They could surf the Web in the manner of a magnifying glass surfing an encyclopedia, and even learned to do e-mail. They were my first cameraphones. The user interface was challenging, but anyone who grew up hacking mainframes and knew Finnish could catch on eventually. I had to keep buying them because they kept getting stolen when I traveled, but I got them secondhand off and a better model each time so it wasn’t as painful as it could have been. (Still if you are the person in Riga who took my E61i, I would like my Montreal photos of Safdie’s Habitat back, and if you are the person in Arlington who got my E63, I would like my notes for a crime novel back. You’ll find my e-mail in the superordinate page here. Thank you.)

    4. The Lumia 800 (2012 and still is my Finnish phone). While the phrase “Microsoft Windows Phone” did not inspire confidence, I have always had a thing for organized, democratic arrays of squares. Perhaps my mother was frightened by a periodic table while she was carrying me. The user interface was for the most part intuitive, and sometimes terrifyingly so. As in, it occasionally anticipated my thoughts or rearranged my information into new and delighful arrays. It took splendid photos and movies. The battery life and Zune backup were underwhelming. I demoted it because upgrading in order to get WiFi tethering and other features would require wiping the memory – hello, 2012 and still no way to back up a phone completely including preferences, apps, contacts and texts? I don’t want to get out that SMS notebook again. (Update: Battery died again and I can’t recharge it at all. It is 18 months old.)

    My main UK phone is an Android (Sony Ericsson, but used only for voice, texting and WiFi tethering of the iPad I use for everything else. I wonder if my old Matrix phone still works and could be hacked to tether the iPad.

    I wish everyone involved in the latest mashup arrangement and transfer of sovereignty well. Good job faking people out.

    [1] Really hate to disillusion people and tarnish the national brand but there is also no magic in the Finnish schools. They are well funded and well staffed and have relatively well looked-after raw material to work with, thanks to the welfare state. Also, no magic in the Finnish economy, just high taxes, conservative planning, somewhat fairer distribution, and a social tradition that tends to think “because I can” is not a good excuse for exploiting other workers.

    [2] Or possibly it could text, but only to phones on the same carrier, or only to phones of the same make on the same carrier, or some such mishegas. Anyway, for practical purposes it couldn’t text.


    to tweet or not to tweet

    11 July 2013


    This flyer comes from the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Hamlet. The quality of the production is not at issue here; Hamlet isn’t one of my favorite plays but I thought this was amazing and would see it again. I particularly enjoyed Jonathan Slinger’s performance – he starts out looking like a young banker who’s having a bad day on the markets, and then progressively goes nuts – as well as the masque at the end of the first act and the stormy supermarket lighting.

    The point is the Twitter blurbs.


    the third act begins

    14 December 2006

    Leslie Harpold, one of the early Internet colonists I encountered on alt.society.generation-x and its spinoffs, died this past weekend of natural but sudden causes. Most of you kids probably don’t remember what life was like back in the early Clinton Administration, when Al Gore and that guy at CERN were personally dragging the Web out of the Pleistocene of the Arpanet and Gopher. The standard webpage was stone grey with faux-incised division lines and a yellow “Under Construction” sign. Netscape was the browser of choice and Alta Vista was the search engine of choice. People were still arguing about whether it would be right to use the Internet for commerce, and if so how. Spam was a highly uncool food product, often mentioned in the same breath with marshmallow Jell-O molds.

    At some point in those years John Scalzi said he was going to start an online diary, and people scoffed. How could anyone come up with stuff of general interest to write about every day? Around the same time Leslie started her first webzine, Smug, and some of us were skeptical about that too. I think it’s fair to say that Leslie (and John) had the last laugh, and kept on innovating.

    I never met her, and I wasn’t in the center of the target market (a favorite eyeroll phrase at asg-x) for Smug, but I dearly loved Leslie’s posts and her Compulsion column. Almost ten years later, I am still looking for Ren Dan just because of the way she wrote about it. Many people have posted tributes to her and I hope a lot of that love reached her while she was alive.

    15 May 2000

    This is one of the coolest press releases I’ve ever seen, especially the last three paragraphs (cool =/= proofread, though). Via everybody.

    15 May 2000

    Hmmm. I may need a link to Tranbase at Trantex for a while longer.