A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘computers

[LINK] “How to mark the 20th anniversary of the Netscape Navigator?”

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Colby Cash’s article in MacLean’s marking the 20th anniversary of Netscape Navigator is a delight.

The Netscape Navigator web browser celebrated its 20th anniversary this week. For many of you, Netscape will have been the first browser you used, and was therefore your first introduction to ubiquitous digital connectedness. This, in turn, means it was probably responsible for a permanent change in your neurology and in the essentials of your lifestyle. Which seems worth observing—or mourning, according to your view of it.

When I say “Netscape,” of course, your instinctive reaction is probably to recoil at the memory of crude, dead technology. You think of four-digit baud rates, image files loading with agonizing slowness, and the raspy scream of the old-fashioned modem. But Netscape, practically speaking, probably changed your life much more than changing religions or cities or even spouses would.

Even if you are a literal hermit who has never come within five metres of a computer, you have some relationship to the browser and its consequences: It has altered politics, decided elections, changed regimes, reshaped the economy, exploded and reassembled the media, transformed the news. The children raised with (within?) the browser will have consciousnesses we cannot comprehend. They will live according to axioms, and on the basis of expectations, that are foreign to us, and that would be foreign to every generation of humans that has hitherto lived.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 17, 2014 at 2:04 am

[BLOG] Some Friday links

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  • blogTO looks at what the Financial District was like in the 1970s and 1980s, recommends things to do in Little Italy, and has ten quirky facts about the Toronto Islands.
  • Centauri Dreams notes simulations of how solitary stars like our own Sun are formed.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper noting that evidence of a planetary system outside our own was first gathered in 1917, from a spectrum taken of Van Maanen’s Star. It was only a matter of no one recognizing what the spectrum meant.
  • Marginal Revolution notes a study of filesharing services suggesting that rich countries tend to see music downloads while poor ones download movies.
  • The Planetary Science Blog takes a look at the discoveries of Dawn at proto-planet Vesta.
  • pollotenchegg maps changes in industrial production in Ukraine, noting a collapse in rebel-held areas in the east.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer compares the proposed Home Rule that would have been granted to Ireland in 1914 with current proposals for Scotland.
  • Torontoist notes that despite population growth nearby, the Redpath Sugar Factory will be staying put.
  • Towleroad notes that Estonia has become the first post-Soviet nation to recognize same-sex partnerships.
  • Why I Love Toronto recommends Friday night events at the Royal Ontario Museum.
  • Window on Eurasia suggests that the collapse of Russian civil society is a responsibility of Russian citizens as well as of their state.

[NEWS] Some Sunday links

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  • Al Jazeera notes the effects of population aging worldwide, observes the quarantining of four individuals possibly exposed to Ebola, comments on the huge costs associated with reconstruction in eastern Ukraine, and reports on a conference held by the Vatican on the plight of Middle Eastern Christians.
  • Bloomberg notes the recovery of house prices in Hungary, notes that elderly Koreans are being warned against speculative investments, looks at Southeast Asian Muslims going off to fight in Syria, notes the resistance of farmers to Thailand’s junta, quotes Angela Merkel’s comparison of the Ukrainian crisis to the decades-long Cold War and East Germany, looks at possible Russian capital controls and growing Spanish public indebtedness, points to the aging of Sweden’s nuclear reactors, looks at Catalonia’s separatists as they prepare for a controversial independence referendum, and warns the world about Japan.
  • Bloomberg View notes the profound uncertainty over Ebola, suggests Shanghai cannot replace Hong Kong as a financial centre yet, looks at skyrocketing real estate prices at the far upper end of the New York City scene, and suggests that Hong Kong’s revolt will sputter out.
  • CBC notes that Makayla Sault, a First Nations child who refused treatment for her leukemia, is relapsing, notes that global warming is leading Greenlanders to hunt more orcas, observes that the Islamic State has ended the Arab spring, and wonders what China will do with Hong Kong.
  • IWPR notes the odd optimism of many eastern Ukrainians, looks at the problems of Syrian Armenian refugee schoolchildren in the Armenian school system, and notes controversy over the creation of a Russian satellite university in Armenia.
  • National Geographic notes the new phenomenon of sanctuaries for former pet pigs, and suggests that threats to an Ottoman tomb could bring Turkey into Syria.
  • Open Democracy notes the plight of Syrian Kurds, suggests that secularism is an alternative to oppressive religious identities, and criticizes European Union migration policy.
  • Wired looks at Europe’s history of trying animals for crimes and examines Andy Warhol’s sketching of Blondie’s Debbie Harry on an Amiga.

[LINK] “You Call This Thai Food? The Robotic Taster Will Be the Judge”

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Via Marginal Revolution’s Tyler Cowen I found Thomas Fuller’s article in The New York Times describing how the government of Thailand is hoping to use robotics to solve the problem of sub-par Thai food in the wider world.

Hopscotching the globe as Thailand’s prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra repeatedly encountered a distressing problem: bad Thai food.

Too often, she found, the meals she sampled at Thai restaurants abroad were unworthy of the name, too bland to be called genuine Thai cooking. The problem bothered her enough to raise it at a cabinet meeting.

Her political party has since been thrown out of office, in a May military coup, but her initiative in culinary diplomacy lives on.

At a gala dinner at a ritzy Bangkok hotel on Tuesday the government will unveil its project to standardize the art of Thai food — with a robot.

Diplomats and dignitaries have been invited to witness the debut of a machine that its promoters say can scientifically evaluate Thai cuisine, telling the difference, for instance, between a properly prepared green curry with just the right mix of Thai basil, curry paste and fresh coconut cream, and a lame imitation.

A boxy contraption filled with sensors and microchips, the so-called e-delicious machine scans food samples to produce a chemical signature, which it measures against a standard deemed to be the authentic version.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 30, 2014 at 11:30 pm

[LINK] “Building a Gaming Con for an Ostracized LGBT Community”

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Wired‘s Bo Moore has a nice article describing the genesis of the GLBT-friendly GX: Everyone Games gaming convention.

Growing up in rural Vermont, Matt Conn felt like an outcast.

“It was really tough growing up as both geek and gay,” he says. “I remember growing up, being super geeky, and I had to leave schools because I was so bullied and it was just really bad. And that was when I was like 9 or 10. So when I came to terms with my sexuality, I was so afraid: My life was already kinda not great, if I have to deal with being gay on top of that, I feel like I’m condemning myself to a life of shittiness.”

Conn had difficulty finding a community he identified and felt comfortable with. The geeks and gamers he fell in with seemed to be uncomfortable with his sexuality. The LGBT groups didn’t “get the geekiness.” In his college years came a ray of hope, online communities like gaygamer.net and Reddit’s r/gaymers. All of a sudden, Conn had access to thousands of other LGBT geeks like himself—but only online.

He looked, but did not find a gaming convention that hit the intersection of his and thousands of others’ queer geekiness, where LGBT geeks could feel open and comfortable without the fear of harassment, judgement, or any of the social pressures they face on a daily basis. So he made his own: GaymerX.

Now officially known as GX: Everyone Games—Conn wants to be clear that it’s about inclusiveness, not LGBT issues specifically—the convention is finishing up a successful Kickstarter drive today for its third annual convention. The outpouring of support illustrates that Conn’s show is filling a need felt keenly by many gamers.

“There’s a need for certain communities to feel safer,” said Mattie Brice, a game developer, media critic and former GaymerX panelist. “To feel explicitly welcome. And I think a lot of people don’t realize what is needed for people to feel welcome.”

Written by Randy McDonald

September 23, 2014 at 7:46 pm

[LINK] “Razr Burn: My Month With 2004’s Most Exciting Phone”

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It’s fall now. In summer, Slate linked to Ashley Feinberg’s Gizmodo article describing her experience in 2014 with using the Motorola Razr V3 for one month. Used to using iPhones, Feinberg was surprised by how much less functionality this classic phone had. At least its batteries lasted longer.

In July of 2004, Motorola debuted the Razr V3, one of the most iconic cellphones of all time. Exactly 10 years later, I shed my iPhone for a month to experience the world where apps don’t exist and T9 reigns king. Maybe I did it for the nostalgia. Maybe I did it because I hate myself just a little bit. Either way, one thing is certain: Using 2004’s hottest phone in 2014 is hell.

It may be hard to remember now—or to believe at all, if you’re under 20—but at the time of its release the Razr was the final word in mobile technology. For the first time, you got a sleek, powerful, and wildly expensive bit of metal to call not only your cellphone but your status symbol, too. A couple of years and a few slashes into the $700 price tag later, you could barely go outside without seeing someone flip open a Razr. In four years, Motorola sold 130 million of them, a record that wouldn’t be touched until well into the iPhone’s run.

That lingering coolness factor only makes it all the more depressing when you realize that, today, the Razr is a barely functional, actively-out-to-sabotage you bit of technological refuse. What was once displayed with pride on a shiny store pedestal, I found on eBay for $36 and sandwiched between a bulk set of broken chargers and discontinued memory cards.

[. . .]

Maps are hard. I am perhaps the most directionally inept person I know. I always assumed that, were it not for my phone’s GPS, I would have been forced to settle down in the nearest park to build a new life for myself long ago.

[. . .]

There was a reason we used to carry around digital cameras. As far as the casual consumer is concerned, cellphones today are more than capable of handling our various photo-taking needs. I was quickly reminded that this was not always the case.

[. . .]

We take threaded conversations for granted. And they have made me impossibly lazy. I’m so used to being able to see entire messaging conversations at a swipe that I hardly even bother to absorb the words I’m looking at. Because normally, I can take an absentminded glance (mostly to stave off notification anxiety), and later, when I’m ready to respond, the entire back-and-forth is staring me in the face.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 23, 2014 at 7:38 pm

[NEWS] Some Sunday links

  • Al Jazeera notes the quilombos of Brazil founded by escaped slaves and looks at the strength of the separatist vote in Scotland’s largest city of Glasgow.
  • Bloomberg notes continuing tensions between North Korea and Japan over Japanese abductees, looks at Russian state subsidies to sanctions-hit companies, suggests a softening of Polish foreign policy versus Russia, and notes how Johannesburg is flourishing as gateway to Africa despite high crime and inequality.
  • The Bloomberg View notes separatist concerns depressing yields of Catalonian and Spanish bonds, and wonders if Gujarat’s industrial economy might serve as an example for all India.
  • CBC notes that national newspapers are no longer being sold in Yellowknife, looks at the case of an Iroquois girl refusing chemotherapy, and notes that the Angelina Jolie effect boosting breast cancer screening endures.
  • Open Democracy examines Catalonian separatism, looks at India’s changing Palestinian policy, considers trends in ideology in Hungary, wonders if Jordan will be next to succumb to the Islamic state, and examines anti-Syrian sentiment in Lebanon.
  • Wired examines teletext and notes the strength of China’s Alibaba.
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