A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘social networking

[PHOTO] On vintage photos of the last days of the World Trade Center

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The New Yorker‘s Nick Paumgartner’s “Take Picture” describes some remarkable photos of the World Trade Center taken just months before the complex’s destruction.

In June, 2001, Konstantin Petrov, an immigrant from Estonia, got a job as an electrician at Windows on the World, the restaurant atop the north tower of the World Trade Center. He was given a little office without cabinets, and after he built a shelf there, by bolting a steel plate to an exposed steel girder, he sent his friends a photograph of himself lying across it, and boasted that if the shelf ever collapsed the building would go down with it.

Petrov worked the night shift. This suited him, not only because he had a day job, as the superintendent of an apartment building at the other end of Manhattan, but because he was an avid photographer, and the emptiness of the Trade Center at night, together with the stunning vistas at dawn, gave him a lot to shoot, and a lot of time and space in which to shoot it. In the summer of 2001, he took hundreds of digital photographs, mostly of offices, table settings, banquettes, sconces, stairwells, kitchen equipment, and elevator fixtures. Many shots were lit by the rising sun, with the landscape of the city in the background, gleaming and stark-shadowed, more than a hundred floors below.

Paumgartner’s evaluation of Petrov’s photos elsewhere strikes me as correct.

Petrov’s photos, viewed now, contain the premonition of obliteration. It’s amazing to behold this ordinariness and know that it will soon be consigned to dust. The dawn glow in many of the shots makes the arrival of the planes seem imminent. There’s something apocalyptic, too, about the absence of people, as though these were dispatches from a different calamity, of the cinematic kind, in which the cities endure but the citizens do not—just a few survivors roaming around, foraging for food. Here is the hideous décor of Windows on the World, in itself a kind of aesthetic innocence; it didn’t know any better. You half expect to see Burt Reynolds. But fate imbues the restaurant with a retroactive dignity. These aren’t the bygone glories of, say, the old Penn Station, but all of lost New York has a corner in the kingdom of Heaven.

Konstantin Petrov’s Fotki photo archive is all online.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 16, 2014 at 1:25 am

[BRIEF NOTE] On Livejournal becoming many things, hopefully doing at least one of them well

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On Saturday, James Nicoll–ruling blogger of English-language Livejournal–linked to a new video advertisement on YouTube for Livejournal.

In it, an anonymous narrator suggested that Livejournal would meet the needs of people who would like to write at length in anonymity, to shed the public identities of Facebook and the like for something pseudonymous, even anonymous.

I said in the comments of that YouTube video that I wished Livejournal had done it before now. Visiting that page again, I see that it recorded only 647 views. That’s up a few hundred since the first time I saw the video, but still. The commenter at James’ blog who suggests the whole thing is moot until the people who left Livejournal for Facebook come back is entirely right.

I mentioned in May that Livejournal was also being positioned as a competitor to Medium, as a host for long-format writing. This new use is not incompatible with that previously-stated use, yet I have to wonder. Does Livejournal know what it is doing? Or is it desperately casting about for something that can keep it going in the English-speaking world?

Written by Randy McDonald

September 15, 2014 at 11:04 pm

[BLOG] Some Monday links

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  • blogTO shares pictures of Queen Street in the 1980s.
  • The Broadside Blog’s Caitlin Kelly considers the idea of a digital detox.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper noting strange occultations of TW Hydrae.
  • The Dragon’s Tales links to one paper suggesting plants can grow in simulated (and fertilized) Martian and lunar soil, and speculates Russia will be trying to build a space station of its own or to cooperate with China.
  • Eastern Approaches examines the shaky ceasefire in eastern Ukraine.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that Joan Rivers was an early HIV/AIDS activist of note.
  • Language Hat summarizes a paper suggesting that language death and economic success are correlated.
  • Marginal Revolution considers Scottish separatism, wondering about the sense of either a currency union or a separate currency, and noting the increased possibility of separatism according to betters.
  • The Russian Demographics Blog critiques Mark Adomanis’ critique of Masha Gessen’s article on Russian demographics.
  • Savage Minds notes that, alas, Joan Rivers never majored in anthropology.
  • Torontoist notes that NDP Joe Cressy, defeated in his run for the Canadian parliament, is now running for city council.
  • Towleroad notes the firing of a pregnant lesbian teacher by a Catholic school, and observes the hatred felt by some anti-gay people who would like books celebrating children pleased when their same-sex parents die (among other things).
  • Understanding Society examines the sociology of influence.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy disagrees with Henry Farrell that laissez-faire ideology contributed to the Irish Famine.
  • Window on Eurasia notes Russian hostility towards the Crimean Tatar Meijis, reports on things Ukrainians think Ukraine should do doing the ceasefire and things Russians think Ukrainians should do (federalize and accept the loss of the east), notes high rates of childlessness in Moscow, and suggests that the Russian victory in eastern Ukraine is exceptionally pyrrhic.
  • At the Financial Times‘s The World blog, the point is made that a Scottish vote for independence would have profound implications worldwide.

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

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  • Anthropology.net reacts to the discovery of Neanderthal abstract carvings and what they say about the Neanderthal mind.
  • blogTO shares Toronto postcards from the 1980s and lists the five least used TTC subway stations.
  • Centauri Dreams reports that potentially habitable exoplanets Gliese 667Cc has been confirmed to exist.
  • Crooked Timber’s Corey Robin describes the continuing Steven Salaita affair, with another Crooked Timber post and one at Lawyers, Guns and Money providing more context.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper placing HD 10180g in its star’s habitable zone and links to another making the case for the potential habitability of exomoons.
  • The Dragon’s Tales’ Will Baird is very concerned for the fate of Ukraine.
  • Language Log’s Victor Mair examines the pressing question of why Hello Kitty is not a cat.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money looks at rape culture in England.
  • Marginal Revolution notes that Bolivians of different classes rarely marry each other and is relatively optimistic about the country’s future.
  • Spacing Toronto has a lovely picture of a track on a ride at the CNE under construction.
  • Window on Eurasia notes that Kazakhstan is ready to leave the Euriasian Union to protect its independence, argues that the Ukrainian war is sparing Tatarstan and North Caucasus attention, and examines the depopulation of Pskov oblast next to the Baltic States.
  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell notes the strengths and weaknesses of the Islamic State as described in an article: a willingness to risk death isn’t always a plus.

[LINK] “LinkedIn Reviewing China Censorship Policy”

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Bloomberg’s Sarah Frier describes how LinkedIn, after enforcing Chinese censorship policies on its global audience, is trying to move on.

LinkedIn Corp. expanded into China this year, adopting policies in line with the country’s censorship rules. Now the world’s largest professional social-networking company is saying it may have gone too far.

When a LinkedIn user in China shares a post deemed to be in conflict with the government’s rules, the company blocks the content not only in China but around the world. While LinkedIn’s goal is to protect members against how their content might be shared and noticed by the government, the practice may end up stifling Chinese users seeking to spread messages outside their country.

“We do want to get this right, and we are strongly considering changing our policy so that content from our Chinese members that is not allowed in China will still be viewed globally,” Hani Durzy, a spokesman for Mountain View, California-based LinkedIn, said yesterday.

LinkedIn’s dilemma underscores the difficulty of doing business in a country with stringent censorship rules where few other U.S. technology companies have succeeded. Twitter Inc. (TWTR) and Facebook Inc. (FB) social-networking services are blocked in China, though Facebook is slowly expanding its advertising business there after signing a lease in central Beijing, people familiar with the matter have said.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 3, 2014 at 7:30 pm

[BLOG] Some Monday links

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  • blogTO reports on the latest doings of blood-painting artist Istvan Kantor.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze posts links to a two-part study (1, 2) suggesting that there aren’t any high-energy galaxy-dominating civilizations in the universe, at least not easily detectable ones.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that a serial killer of gay men in Seattle says he was trying to wreak vengeance for American policy in the Middle East.
  • Language Log analyses a fascinating study of pronoun use by gender on Facebook.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money marks the 200th anniversary of the burning of the White House in the War of 1812.
  • Personal Reflections’ Jim Belshaw is tiring of the use of slogans as a replacement for communication.
  • Livejournal’s pollotenchegg maps the demographics of Kiev.
  • Towleroad reports on the furor prompted by Sam Smith’s dismissal of dating apps like Grindr as not conducive to romance.
  • Transit Toronto celebrates the imminent return of streetcars to Spadina Avenue.
  • Window on Eurasia links to a Russian analyst who thinks that Stalin shouldn’t have annexed Galicia to the Soviet Union, so as to prevent the formation of a separate and potentially anti-Russian Ukraine.

[LINK] “The First Gay Space on the Internet”

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David Auerbach‘s Slate article on the USENET group soc.motss is a delight. I’m a participant in the Facebook group founded by many of the group’s long-time participants, and I myself have fond memories of USENET (soc.history.what-if, mainly). It’s a delight to see USENET get the attention it deserves.

(This article is the first in a series. There’s more stuff coming.)

I grew up in a time and place—the Los Angeles suburbs of the 1980s—where LGBTQ culture was pretty much invisible in everyday life. The first out people I met were online. In fact, LGBTQ culture played a significant, though underreported, part in shaping the overall online culture. Since the early 1980s, there have been many LGBTQ spaces on the Net: newsgroups, bulletin board systems, or BBSs, mailing lists, social networks, chat rooms, and websites. But the very first LGBTQ Internet space, as far as I’ve been able to find, was the soc.motss newsgroup. And it hosted conversations that had never been seen before online—and that arguably remain in too short supply even today. (I’ll be frequently using “LGBTQ” as the best available catchall term, with the awareness that categories and nomenclature have gone through many evolutions since the early 1980s.)

In 1983 programmer Steve Dyer started a discussion forum called net.motss (later soc.motss) on the Usenet newsgroup system. Built in 1980 atop pre-Internet networks such as ARPANET and BITNET, Usenet allowed for creation of hierarchical categories of interest groups (comp.lang.java.help, rec.arts.books, etc.) and public threaded discussions within each group, in much the same way forums and comments work today. The abbreviation “motss” stood for “members of the same sex,” an unflashy acronym that would make it less of a potential target for censorship. University of Colorado–Boulder professor Amy Goodloe, who went on to start many lesbian Usenet groups as well as found and run lesbian.org in 1995, calls soc.motss the first explicitly LGBTQ newsgroup—and possibly the first explicitly LGBTQ international space of any kind.

And it was a prominent space: By the early 1990s, motss member and software engineer Brian Reid estimated that about 3 percent of all Usenet readers were reading soc.motss, which was an audience of about 83,000 people. (For comparison, 8 percent were reading the perennially popular alt.sex.)

Dyer, who died in 2010, was a Unix hacker who worked at BBN before becoming a private consultant. In the very first motss post on Oct. 7, 1983, Dyer set out the newsgroup’s aims: “to foster discussion on a wide variety of topics, such as health problems, parenting, relationships, clearances, job security and many others.” Dyer stressed that the forum would provide “a supportive environment” for gay USENET members: “Net.motss is emphatically NOT a newsgroup for the discussion of whether homosexuality is good or bad, natural or unnatural. Nor is it a place where conduct unsuitable for the net will be allowed or condoned.”

According to engineer Nelson Minar, who was active on soc.motss in the early 1990s, newsgroups of the 1980s and ’90s tended to have a slower pace of discussion. A day could pass before someone replied to a thread, and responses were frequently closer to mini-essays than short comments. That sort of belles-lettristic group dialogue allowed for a deeply nuanced and intellectual discussion of gay and lesbian issues.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 22, 2014 at 2:00 am


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