Hardy Herons and Cheesy Europeans

EDIT: so uh, when I said Gutsy Gibbon, I meant Hardy Heron. I even corrected myself in a draft of this post that subsequently got eaten, and then forgot again when I rewrote it. Oops.

I upgraded to Ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon Hardy Heron a couple of weeks ago, and I keep meaning to write something reasonably substantial about it. I don’t know that I’d consider myself qualified enough to give an authoritative review of it, but I could record my experiences for the sake of posterity. Not sure I’m there yet, but I do want to say that the one really noticeable problem I’ve had is that, between firefox 3 beta 5 and rhythmbox, only one seems to be able to handle audio at a time, and it’s whichever one I opened first. So if I’ve been listening to music and want to watch a youtube video, I have to close firefox and rhythmbox, and open up firefox again. This is…annoying.

I haven’t tried yet with any other music players–my search for something that could successfully communicate with my ipod was traumatic, and I’m still a bit gun-shy. I did have the pre-release of Songbird for awhile, but it just wasn’t stable enough for me. Every so often after I’d had it open for awhile I’d lose sound altogether and have to reboot to get it back. I haven’t tried it on Gutsy yet, but I don’t expect that the problem was entirely on the OS end. I’ll keep a lookout for 0.6 and give it another shot. I think Songbird has a lot going for it and I am really looking forward to the first official release. Assuming they get their searching and sorting issues worked out by then…I mostly listen to my music by building playlists to fit a mood, and I do an awful lot of searching and sorting during that process, and I need them both to be fast and reliable.

Basically I still haven’t found a piece of software that lets me do exactly what I want with my music as seemlessly as iTunes. It’s pretty much the only thing I miss about Windows. Which, well, you know.

Rhythmbox does have one feature I wish iTunes had: automatically downloading lyrics. Lyrics are a lot of what I respond to in songs, and I like being able to see them and follow along, and refer to them for quoting and such. The downloading means I spend a lot less time on those evil lyrics sites. Speaking of which, Lyrics Directory is the best at being not evil. I wish there were some way for individuals to contribute lyrics, since they definitely don’t have as much as some of the big spammy sites. On the other hand, if I want to correct something or paste in my own lyrics, I have to click some “edit” button. This is dumb. There’s no reason for the program to get in my way like this. It’s even dumber that there’s no real visual clues to it. The lyrics display looks just like a text entry box, and in fact it looks exactly the same once I click edit (and again, when I’m done and click save). if I can’t just edit whenever I want, make the display clearly different from editable text entry!

But rhythmbox has bigger UI problems, like the fact that the play button turns into a pause button during playback, without any visual feedback. It still says play, the icon is still a little triangle. You just have to infer from the complete lack of any pause or stop button that you click on it again to stop the music. It’s especially annoying when things are getting slightly buggy, and I can’t tell whether no music is happening because the song is quiet at the beginning, Rhythmbox is trying to play the song but is just taking its sweet time about it, or something really is wrong and playback is just not happening.

Always give visual feedback. Obvious visual feedback. And always test to make sure it’s obvious to people who know nothing of your design, because you know way too much to be able to evaluate it yourself.

Anyway, time to restart firefox so I can listen to the 2008 Eurovision entries.

Radical Trust

International No Diet Day was yesterday, and I failed at it, thanks to trying to avoid the internet in the interests of getting my last week of undergraduate work actually finished. And then when I did return to the internet in the evening, I didn’t know how to approach the topic. Resisting diet culture is related to so many other things that are so personal to me. But it’s ok that I missed yesterday, because any day could be no diet day (and every day should be no diet day…) and I have come up with a focus: trust yourself, and trust food.

For one day, think about what you want to eat, not what you think you should eat. Give yourself permission to want what you want, and to enjoy what you want. Think about what would taste good and then eat as much of it as you actually enjoy. Give yourself permission to want food. Any food, not just the “good” stuff you’re “supposed” to eat. Resist moral judgments about your desires, or about the food you eat. Just enjoy it.

Make peace with food. For one day.

“possible” relevance

Today (or I guess yesterday, by now) wordpress added a new feature: possibly related posts. Basically an algorithm compares my blog post to other indexed blog posts and news stories, and if it thinks they might be related, inserts links at the bottom of my post. The brilliant Kate Harding over at Shapely Prose is not happy about the change. While I am not as categorically opposed to the feature as Kate is (maybe because I had fair warning before seeing it suddenly appear on my own blog? And maybe because the links I’m getting are mostly just plain irrelevant, rather than almost uniformly the exact ideas my blog is dedicated to opposing…), I definitely think making it opt-out was a bad choice. And in my opinion, simply sticking the words “automatically generated” next to the heading of the section is not enough of a distinction from the content that is actually mine. Maybe if it were a widget to put in the sidebar, clearly marked, I’d feel better about it.

But really, I think the idea is just not as exciting or revolutionary as the wordpress people want it to be. They mention youtube, and I’ll admit, youtube’s related videos feature is pretty great. But blog posts are not youtube videos. They exist in a different ecosystem, and they are consumed in a different way. The biggest difference is that, without the “related videos” feature, there just isn’t another handy way to get to other interesting videos directly from the one you’re viewing. With blogs, there is. It’s called hyperlinks. And if you’re on the internet without using those, you’re doing it wrong.

Very few of the blogs I read do not regularly link to other places already, and if they don’t, it’s because the nature of subject matter and its treatment simply do not invite links to lots of other places. For example, personal blogs. If I’m reading a blog a friend of mine is writing about her life, I don’t want to see a bunch of news stories, or other personal blog posts by strangers, I want to see more of my friend. Same with celebrity blogs like Wil Wheaton or Neil Gaiman. I’m reading their blogs because I like their writing. Automatically generated links would be pointless. On the other hand, for a blog like Overcoming Bias, generated links would probably be irrelevant because other people just aren’t doing what’s going on there. If someone writes something thoughtful in response to the ideas being put forth there, they can leave it in the comments or a post a link to their own blog, and a community discussion develops that way. But it’s not the sort of thing you can just look for news stories about.

The kind of blog I can think of that might benefit from this feature would be one where the majority of posts have a relatively narrow, impersonal and common topic. And the blogs I read like that…already link to other blogs. And those links I know I can trust to be relevant and thoughtful. Even if every post is not chock full of relevant outside links, there will often be a blogroll where I can go explore high-quality blogs dealing with similar issues. That ease of linking to other places is one of the fundamental structural differences between internet and print media, and just about every really good blogger (you know, the ones I’m interested in) I read understands that and takes advantage of it. And I trust them more than I trust some template-matching algorithm. Hell, the whole point of a blog like kottke or swissmiss is that they’re out there looking for interesting things on the web, and the reason I read them is because I trust their judgment and know that I’ll find something interesting.

So really, this feature seems more attractive as a source of traffic for the blogs being linked to than to either the blogger (who has no control over the links and so can’t check them for relevance or quality) or the reader (who, because of that lack of editorial control, can’t trust the quality). Or maybe for lazy bloggers who don’t spend much time finding or linking to other interesting things. In other words, Kate was right, and this is basically spam.

Even if I am totally wrong and this goes over like gangbusters and six months from now we’re all saying “how did I live without this,” well, they should have made it opt-in. At the very least, they should have provided more warning and explanation, and made changing it more transparent. Plenty of people using wordpress don’t pay the least attention to the official blog. And judging by the questions being left at that blog, plenty of people who do pay attention don’t really read it.

I think the take-home message here is that it’s time for me to expand my blogroll.


In yet another foreshadowing of my HCI interests (this time in the display of complex information), ever since I learned that maps can show more than political boundaries and the location of large bodies of water, I’ve been kind of fascinated by them. So finding this map blog just now was pretty exciting.

The post on map-related songs reminded me of a beautiful song by Great Lake Swimmers, who have a very nice site marred by gratuitous use of frames or I’d link to the page where you can download “Your Rocky Spine.” Instead I will link to the file directly and call it a day.
Your Rocky Spine by Great Lake Swimmers
It’s not about maps so much as using geography as metaphor, but it’s such a pretty song I couldn’t help but share. And anyway, isn’t using geography as a metaphor the whole idea behind maps that show information besides topology?

Other neat map things:
2008 web trends map
naming styles in the US (the Name Voyager is also a fun bit of data visualization. My name appeared briefly in the top 1000 names in the 1950s, and has reappeared this decade, both times due to pop culture influences)
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s moonwalk, superimposed on soccer field, baseball diamond, and universal studios soundstage
maps as clothing
maps of war has animations of historical trends and events. I think some of the maps end up losing a lot of important complexity, but still interesting to play with.
human brain cloud is not quite a map, but it’s fun. It might be interesting for someone to work more seriously on it, to turn the presentation into something a little more sophisticated. At the very least, I’d like some visual representation of the strength of connection between two words.

things I’ve been doing instead of things that matter

primarily, exposing my ignorance
I can’t tell you why trying to enumerate trivia is so engrossing, I only know that it is.
Also useful as a drill if you’re trying to memorize things! I’ve been using it to memorize the US military alphabet code.
I may move on to Batman villains next, just for the pointlessness of it.

it’s probably not best for your self-esteem to do this at 3 in the morning like me. I tried to name the countries of North America (including Central America and the Caribbean, otherwise it would just be too trivial…), and I forgot Cuba. Cuba!

I did name all fifty states pretty fast, and got 35 presidents.

Bravo Lima Oscar Golf!
I was trying to help myself remember the alpha code by spelling my name, but it has lots of repeated letters. They tend to be in the middle of the alphabet, though, which I guess helps counteract order effects.

Hotel Charlie India?
It just doesn’t have the ring of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

I’ve also been trying to kick my spider solitaire habit, which I’ve replaced with a “finding something besides spider solitaire” habit. I installed gweled but I’m not all that thrilled with it. The music is kind of hilariously overdramatic for a puzzle game that involves moving around little colored blocks, but you can’t turn it off or change it or anything, and the novelty wore off fast.
though it looks like it will be fixed in Hardy Heron…

since feeling is first

Ok, just to balance out that previous post, I thought I would share a few love poems. As one might guess from said previous post, I don’t really go in for much love poetry, but now and then I find one I like.

The Shampoo
Elizabeth Bishop

The still explosions on the rocks,
the lichens, grow
by spreading, gray, concentric shocks.
They have arranged
to meet the rings around the moon, although
within our memories they have not changed.

And since the heavens will attend
as long on us,
you’ve been, dear friend,
precipitate and pragmatical;
and look what happens. For Time is
nothing if not amenable.

The shooting stars in your black hair
in bright formation
are flocking where,
so straight, so soon?
— Come, let me wash it in this big tin basin,
battered and shiny like the moon.

“I like my body when it is with your body”
e. e. cummings

i like my body when it is with your
body. It is so quite a new thing.
Muscles better and nerves more.
i like your body. i like what it does,
i like its hows. i like to feel the spine
of your body and its bones, and the trembling
-firm-smooth ness and which i will
again and again and again
kiss, i like kissing this and that of you,
i like, slowly stroking the, shocking fuzz
of your electric fur, and what-is-it comes
over parting flesh . . . . And eyes big love-crumbs,

and possibly i like the thrill

of under me you quite so new

Romantics: Johannes Brahms and Clara Schumann
Lisel Mueller

The modern biographers worry
“how far it went,” their tender friendship.
They wonder just what it means
when he writes he thinks of her constantly,
his guardian angel, beloved friend.
The modern biographers ask
the rude, irrelevant question
of our age, as if the event
of two bodies meshing together
establishes the degree of love,
forgetting how softly Eros walked
in the nineteenth century, how a hand
held overlong or a gaze anchored
in someone’s eyes could unseat a heart,
and nuances of address not known
in our egalitarian language
could make the redolent air
tremble and shimmer with the heat
of possibility. Each time I hear
the Intermezzi, sad
and lavish in their tenderness,
I imagine the two of them
sitting in a garden
among late-blooming roses
and dark cascades of leaves,
letting the landscape speak for them,
leaving us nothing to overhear.