I’m Blocked from Twitter, Like Everyone Else in Turkey

Thanks to Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdoğan (aka “The Little Dictator That Could”), millions of people in Turkey can no longer access Twitter. This includes me.

“The international community can say this, can say that. I don’t care at all. Everyone will see how powerful the Republic of Turkey is,” he [Erdoğan] said in a characteristically unyielding tone.

San Francisco-based Twitter said Thursday afternoon local time that it was looking into the matter and had not issued a formal statement. But the company did publish a tweet addressed to Turkish users instructing them on how to continue tweeting via SMS text message.

I don’t know how long this blocking will continue. I don’t have a VPN or access to a good proxy server (that I trust) at this point. WordPress automatically publishes a link to my blog posts on Twitter. So for now that’s the only way I can publish to Twitter. But it also means I still have no way to continue to follow many of the people on Twitter whom I read on a regular basis.

There are many great and wonderful things about Turkey. The pettiness and corruption of its current leader is not one of them.

Update: …and just like that…I’m back on Twitter courtesy of a very easy-to-use VPN. Bwahahahaha…

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What to Do When the Company That Makes Your Ebook Reader Exits the Market?

The big news in the ebook world back in North America is that Sony is closing its Reader ebook store and transitioning it customer base to Kobo. The closing was not much of a surprise after Sony stopped selling their digital readers in the US this past Fall.

The fact they are trying to give their soon-to-be former customers a smooth transition to another company is a welcome surprise. Like all the other Sony Reader owners, I received an email explaining how the transition is supposed to happen. I don’t know how smooth it will be. I hope all the books I purchased are also available on Kobo.

I bought a Sony Reader (PRS-350) back in Spring of 2011. I like the design and the touchscreen interface. The fact that the casing is metal has always made it feel durable to me.

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I’ve been splitting my time between ebooks and dead tree books. The Sony Reader has come in very handy for our temporary move here to Istanbul. I bought several books and put them on the Reader before we left for Turkey. Books are heavy. And the airlines don’t let you bring as much (even on international flights) as they used to. Well, they do, but you have to pay more for it.

Having the Reader also allowed me to acquire copies of Turkey-related books like Lady Montagu’s Letters and the writings of Procopius, courtesy of Project Gutenberg. The former was the perceptive wife of the British ambassador to Turkey during the early 18th century. The latter was a historian during the age of Justinian here in what was then Constantinople. I also have the ebook of Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence. I hope to read that before we leave Istanbul in the Summer.

When my Sony Reader dies what will I do? Nook will be dead soon. Do I go with a Kobo or join in the modern eReader Borg (aka Kindle)?

I have time to decide despite the fact that after nearly three years the battery life on my Sony Reader is noticeably less than what it once was (though significantly longer than my smart phone and my wife’s iPad). Regardless, I’m glad I always keep copies of my ebooks on my laptop. I don’t understand these people with wifi readers who don’t have their own backup copies. If it comes down to an issue of compatibility with my future ebook reader, I’ll just strip the DRM from my Sony Reader bookstore purchases.

Note: The screensaver picture on my Sony Reader is one I took of Beyazit Tower back in the late summer. My wife has since been able to tour the tower.

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New Mac, New Year, Back on Track

I’m back. I’ve got a new laptop: a 13” MacBook Pro 13. My third Mac in a row. Here are my old Macs and iPods, a Museum of dead Mac Products, if you will.

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The iBook and the MacBook each lasted for around five years. (I tend to use things as long as possible. I have an Epson printer/scanner that’s six years old.) The iPods both had their hard drives replaced by me at some point, extending their lives by a year or two. I now have a year-old  iPod Nano. Yeah, I’m kind of hooked on Macs. Though my phone is an Android phone.

The new Mac was my Christmas present. It was an unexpected large expense, though. I was hoping to get one more year out of my old MacBook. I had thought about hictio’s persuasive advice for a Linux laptop. Honestly, for my needs (writing, email, blogging, playing music) I could easily get by with a Linux laptop. The problem is that a large chunk of my music collection is tied to iTunes and my writing files are done using Mariner Write, an excellent word processor with a very small footprint, but which uses a proprietary format.

As far as pictures, there are some passable photo storage programs for Linux. Other than cropping, I don’t use much, if any, of the functionality of iPhoto. So as happy and content as I am with my new very fast, shiny sleek MacBook, I’m making long-term plans to make my content a bit less platform-dependent.

In the short-term, I’m running again. Short distances for now, taking it slow as I work my way back up to where I was before my ankle started bothering me. So far I’ve been able to run without pain.

I also created a new page, China 2012, accessible at the top of the blog. The page contains links to every post I did about my family’s trip to China last summer. That should make it easier for those of you who are new to my blog and want to read about that big adventure.

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday, whichever faith you do (or don’t) belong to, and I wish you a very happy and prosperous New Year.

Technical Difficulties

My five year old MacBook died yesterday morning. With life intruding, and now a dead laptop, it looks like I will be offline for awhile.

I’m writing this post on my phone. As cool as it is, using a phone to blog is not a viable long-term solution. 🙂

Let the Wild Rumpus Start!

This is what I call an “elegant solution” to our flooring problem in the basement of our house.

Over a year ago, we had water damage in our basement from a burst pipe, a pipe leading to one of our outdoor faucets. The old mangy brown carpet had to be ripped up along with the padding. The wall had to be cut out, about two-thirds all the way around the room from the floor to about two feet up. After we had the drywall replaced and the stucco applied to match the rest of the walls, I put primer on it, so that it’s ready to paint whenever we get around to it.

What we never got around to doing was putting carpet in. For over a year we just had the concrete sbufloor, which the kids found to be wholly uninviting, having been used to the carpet.

A few months back, I finally went to a highly-rated carpet store and had them give me an estimate. To cover the nearly five hundred square feet of floor plus the stairs would have cost around $3000.

And that’s with “cheap” carpet.

For carpet that will be destroyed by our children in the next five to ten years.

It’s also three thousand dollars we do not have.

So I did some research and stumbled on these floor mats. They’re made by Norsk-Stor. I found them on sale at Amazon.com for roughly $16 per case of four. That’s roughly $1 per square foot. So after discussing it with my wife, we decided, what the hell, let’s cover the basement floor with them. It’ll be fun, easy to do, relatively inexpensive.

I went back to Amazon.com and tried to order 24 cases of the mats. But Amazon would only let me buy six. So I ordered the six and then I went and ordered six again. But Amazon stopped me after my second order of six.

That’s right. Amazon.com, that Unmatched Paragon of Capitalist Efficiency, wouldn’t let me buy as many as I wanted.

My wife and I figured we would simply wait until we received the 12 and then order again. But that would take awhile, ordering 6 or 12 at a time. After the initial cases arrived, I put them on the floor of the basement. They looked good and felt comfortable, and, most importantly, the kids liked them.

I researched where else I might find these same mats and lo and behold Sears sold them for a dollar more a case but with free shipping to a local store. I double-checked my measurements and ordered 17 from Sears on Thanksgiving weekend. Sears did not limit how many I could purchase. A month later I received an email telling me they had arrived at the store. It took a far longer than I had expected, but I was happy that now the rest of the basement floor could be covered.

I went to Sears to pick them up. Except no one there could find the mats. They had disappeared. The order had been made, my credit card charged, and there was every indication that they had been shipped to the Sears store. But no one at the store had seen them or could locate them. The store offered to refund me the charge on the credit card and let me know if they found them sometime in the next week. I took them up on that offer but I was pissed, muttering to myself about how it was no wonder Sears was closing stores and going the way of Montgomery Wards.

It seemed the universe did not want me to cover our basement floor with these colorful mats. So I waited a week. I was about to go straight to the manufacturer’s website and order the mats for about $5 more per case when I got a call from Sears. They had found the mats. Turns out someone there had set them in the boiler room, thinking they had been purchased for their workspace. Why someone would think multi-colored floor mats were for a workplace that’s not a children’s daycare center I’ll never know. But the important thing is they had found them and I so I went to the store, paid for them and picked them up and brought them back home.

The kids were enthusiastic about helping me put the mats down on the floor. I set up a pattern to follow and, as my son Henry said, “It’s like putting together a puzzle!” we set them down and snapped them in place. It’s the easiest floor I have ever done. Far easier than laminate and much less laborious than tile. See this?

I used a utility knife to cut the hole. No power tools were used during the installation of this product.

Now we have a soft, cushioned, insulated basement floor for the kids to play on. It’s stain-resistant and easy to clean. When the kids grow out of the mats, I’ll just pull the mats up and donate them or throw them out.

Let the Wild Rumpus Start!

What Is Facebook Good For?

There was an essay last November by Zadie Smith in the New York Review of Books about the movie The Social Network and the book You Are Not a Gadget. It still gets a lot of traction regarding Facebook’s flaws, especially for this,

Or maybe the whole Internet will simply become like Facebook: falsely jolly, fake-friendly, self-promoting, slickly disingenuous. For all these reasons I quit Facebook about two months after I’d joined it.

and this,

When a human being becomes a set of data on a website like Facebook, he or she is reduced. Everything shrinks. Individual character. Friendships. Language. Sensibility. In a way it’s a transcendent experience: we lose our bodies, our messy feelings, our desires, our fears.

When I read the essay at the time, I disagreed with her perspective on Facebook but I could not fully articulate why.

Now I can.

This is why.

In a 48-hour period during the past week, I’ve seen a flame war over New York legalizing Gay Marriage end in a de-friending, a discussion over whether women prefer “speed” or “stamina,” a number of people talking about their dogs, a plea to pass the DREAM act via someone whose Twitter feed is automatically posted on Facebook, a number of joyful comments about Blago being convicted, pictures of my niece on her third birthday, demands that everyone post the Pledge of Allegiance to demonstrate their patriotism, my sister pledging to run a 5K for charity (while pregnant), someone’s new headshot, a funny cartoon showing the difference between LCD TV and LSD TV, numerous comments about and even a video from the U2 concert here on Sunday, a picture of one of my nephews making “tri-colored wood peg stew,” someone asking where to find sumac or za’atar, someone wishing their mom and dad a happy anniversary, numerous condolences for a couple that had a miscarriage, and been invited to a meeting about recalling a Republican State Senator (I can’t attend).

I think that’s a pretty broad spectrum. I don’t think my Facebook news feed is anything unusual. None of that includes the variety of links shared, from news articles to essays to music videos to reviews to offbeat websites. I know many of these people offline, which means these short bursts of self don’t seem “reduced” to me. If anything, it tells me that, overall, the people to whom I am linked on Facebook perform and suffer the whole range of human behavior and have not lost their feelings, desires, or fears. Facebook doesn’t let you transcend anything other than, maybe, space with its ability to allow a certain kind of communication over the Internet.

If there’s one thing people should know by now, after thousands of years of recorded human history, it’s that technology doesn’t change what is essentially human. Virtues and vices have not changed. If anything, Facebook reinforces that on a daily basis, just as the news does. (There are websites dedicated to showing the strange, crazy, and embarrassing things people share about themselves on Facebook. How did I find such sites? On Facebook, where else?)

So what do I use Facebook for? Keeping in touch with family and friends. It’s easy to upload a photo of my kids on a hiking trail straight from my phone than it is to assemble a whole bunch of digital photos and burn it to a disc and mail it to interested family members. I also post links to my blog posts. WordPress makes it easy to do that, doing it automatically for me. That’s really about it…and the usual time-wasting I do just viewing status updates and comments and following links…

(Okay, there was that one time, just to be silly, when I spent an entire day Vaguebooking on purpose, even using some of the very same statuses I’d seen by others in my feed. Most people were not amused.)

One thing I rarely do is post anything political, since A) most people know my liberal politics and don’t need it reinforced, B) a number of my FB friends reside on a different part of the political spectrum and I don’t feel like arguing with them; as a semi-retired political blogger, I know plenty of place where I can go on the Internet for a political argument 🙂 , and C) I use Facebook to keep in touch with family and friends, not start arguments.

Maybe my perspective differs from Zadie Smith and others critical of social networks, because I used to work in the IT industry. When you’ve spent a dozen years documenting how to use all kinds of technology it’s difficult to look at a piece of software, no matter how powerful, like Facebook as anything but a tool. Tools do certain things well, based on their design and purpose.

I find Facebook to be great for sharing links and photos, and having short interactions with people about those things, and just generally seeing what people are up to. Yes, it is telling what people choose to disclose and hide on Facebook, which in itself is also very human behavior. But we make decisions about what to disclose and hide about ourselves when we meet people for the first time or 101st time, depending on circumstance and our relationships with such people.

Facebook can’t replace a face-to-face conversation anymore than a recording of a band can replace the experience of being at one of that band’s live concerts. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go waste some time on Facebook.

A New Kind of Egg Chair

The classic 70’s era egg chair has gotten a big update, according to Wired magazine. They are now wired for sound.

The interior is coated with sound-isolating open cell acoustic foam. Climb in, crank it up, and you’ve got your own personal capsule for watching movies, playing games or just plain spacing out.

They are called Sound Egg Chairs. They are customizable (choose your own colors for the outside and inside) and they are not cheap, starting at $1450.

As a music and movie fan, I see the cool appeal of this chair.

As a bookworm, I think it would be a comfortable chair in which to read.

As a parent, I imagine my small children jumping in and out of it, trying to climb on top of it, yanking out pieces of the soundproof lining, pounding on the buttons, and tipping the whole thing over. Thus ends the dream of owning such a chair.