Anonymous is Just Another Word for Chickenshit

On quite a number of news sites lately I’ve noticed that when people want to post a derogatory or defamatory comment about an individual in an article or the author of the article, they often tend to childishly hide behind the nomenclature of anonymous.

Typically, anonymous is defined as either an individual who is unknown, or someone who wishes to remain unnamed.

Henceforth, I’d like to apply a third standard meaning to the term: chickenshit. As in too scared to put one’s identity behind one’s beliefs or comments.

Of course, a fourth definition could also be applied: dumbass. As in too stupid to realize anonymity doesn’t truly exist online.

One of the unfortunate side effects of the internet is that it has engendered a culture of unsubstantiated, anonymous public commentary. As a result, too many news site readers believe they have the right to mindlessly spew (and misspell) derogatory drivel about what- or whomsoever happens to be mentioned in a story.

Of course, the bulk of the internet public immediately writes off anonymous posters as the whackos they read to be.

Any reasonable person realizes that the only words that matter are the ones that can be attributed to a recognizable individual. Words that come from the void of anonymity lack merit and smack of fear and self-loathing.

I’ve noticed that a lot anonymous posts tend to be derogatory or defamatory in nature. This is probably why the posters of the comments attempt to hide behind a lack of identity. They realize that they can be formally penalized for stating untruths, half-truths, and purely malicious commentary.

And they further believe that simply by withholding their real name, they’ll be able to avoid any such actions.

The truth is, though, there is no anonymity online. Through a combination of server logs and internet provider records, discovering any individual’s identity is child’s play.

So anonymous posters, don’t be so dumb as to trust in the “Name” field of a web site.

But who enables anonymous posters? Some might blame the media for this behaviour. I would concur, in part.

Some news sites permit open, unverified comments and permit posters to hide behind false identities. I’m not sure why they’d do this. Not only does it question the publication’s journalistic integrity, but it also risks the publisher being drawn into any dispute that might emerge from the publication of such untrue defamatory and derogatory commentary.

Most credible online news sites, however, have mechanisms in place to actively prevent truly anonymous posts. The sites that continue to permit such activity simply lack the skills and knowledge for enabling high-quality comments-based discussions to supplement their stories.

So those amateurish publishers become the clumsy vehicles for the mindless drivel of anonymous commentary.

The next time you think of flippantly lipping off about something and withholding your name, consider your motives. You clearly don’t believe you’re contributing anything useful to the public sphere if you lack the courage to mark your words with your identity. Better to keep your meaningless vehemence to yourself.

What’s more, by marking your post as anonymous, or some other equally lame pseudonym, your words are going to lack all credibility; so what’s the point?

Posting to the comments section of a web page is an important action that builds discourse and community. Flaming the comments section as an unknown commodity is just plain dumb and a waste of everyone’s time and attention.

Anonymous posters, grow up, grow some cojones, and get a life. We’d love to have you maturely engage in the discussion online. But your whole Wizard of Oz act is growing old.

Northwestel’s Triumph is a Heavy Burden to Bear

Imagine, if you will, a long string of interwoven glass threads stretching across the landscape for hundreds of kilometres.

It winds through almost impassable mountain landscapes, carves through provincial parks under roadway pavement, and bounds through the air over poles amongst the pine trees.

It crackles inside with the red light of a laser beam: an optical depiction of a massive volume of voices, movies, pictures and credit card purchases. That beam bounces from wall to wall of the glass threads with a speed that can only be surpassed in the vacuum of outer space.

This is Northwestel’s latest triumph, the final piece of a fibre optics puzzle that at last launches the Yukon Territory into the modern telecommunication age. Continue reading

6 Reasons Not to Buy a Palm Pre on Bell

Bell is working hard to position the new Palm Pre as the pre-eminent alternative to the iPhone in Canada. They’re got a boatload of the devices and they want you to buy one and commit to their network for the long run in the process.

There’s no doubt that the Pre is a killer device and that its Web OS bolsters a new mobile computing era that the iPhone began a couple of years ago. But there’s a lot of reason not to buy into the device at this time.

Dead Network

In partnership with Telus, Bell will be rolling out a new, much faster 3G HSPA network for Christmas. This means their current CDMA-based mobile network is effectively end-of-life. And that’s the network the Pre will live on. Come 2010, a slew of new, better devices will roll out for the new, fast network and, within a year, the old network will be like that forgotten country lane. The Pre will be forever constrained to bump along on it like your Grandpa’s Buick.

Long Term Commitment

You can’t get a Pre unless you commit to Bell for 36 months. That’s a long, long time, especially considering that there’s a heck of a lot of change going on in the Canadian mobile marketplace these days. On top of the new network, the epiphany of the iPhone is forcing innovation that is resulting in an outpouring of amazing new devices. Buying into the Pre for 36 months is way too long. You’ll be kicking yourself for doing it before next summer.

Version 1.0 Syndrome

Every geek worth his salt respects the ancient wisdom of our elders: never buy version 1.0. The Pre is the ailing Palms’ desparate – and valiant – grasp the company’s former glory. It’s an ambitiously big step for a company on such unsteady ground, with a new operating system and new hardware. And it’s the first kick at the can. Which means that the device, while cool at first in all its newness, will seem very cutting edge. But anyone who bought a first generation iPhone knows how fast that sheen wears off fast. It’s advisable to wait until Palm releases a version 2 device. It’ll be more solid, less buggy, and even more feature-rich.

Low Customer Satisfaction

Even as Apple’s iPhone satisfaction rating with customers approaches an impossible 100% level, the Pre struggles to pass 50% with US consumers, who have had their hands on the device for several months now. That means new Pre owners have a 50-50 chance of disliking their new, expensive, commitment-heavy mobile device.

Expensive Network Dependency

The only legitimate point of entry for a calling plan for a smartphone will include at least 1000 MB of data transfer. You’ll carve through anything less far too quickly and end up paying exorbitant penalty rates. Bell’s “unlimited data” plans with other required voice features like voice mail and call display start at $100 a month. Considering that with a Pre you’ll commit to 3 years of loyal servitude and you’re promising Bell a whopping $3600 just for buying into Palm’s new dream. That’s too hefty a commitment.

Elementary School Software Tactics

Palm would like you to believe that the Pre will sync with that cornerstone of the global music industry, iTunes, which now commands a full 25% of the market. But it doesn’t. Only devices that Apple permits to sync with iTunes can do so. And they’re not letting the Pre in. So Palm has resorted to software deception, attempting a form of schoolyard deception to try and convince iTunes to let it in. But it’s not working. In the long run: your Pre will be shut out of your iTunes library, so don’t buy Palm’s misinformation; with a Pre, you’ll have to forfeit iTunes.

So here’s my advice: wait it out. Once Bell and Telus turn on their new network, a new, much-needed era of fierce competition will flourish in Canada. Finally, the three national providers will be on equal footing in terms of access to new devices and network technology, and they’ll be fighting tooth-and-nail for customers. Plus, 2010 will be a banner year for exciting new mobile devices. We’ll see an exciting new product from Apple, a Pre successor will probably be announced, and who knows what might come from sleeping giants like RIM and Sony.

And don’t get me wrong: I’d love to pick up a Pre. I think it’s probably a great device and offers a great alternative to the iPhone. But I would only buy in if I could get it for about $200 to $300 and with no more than a 12-month commitment. Because I know the Pre will be outdated and outmoded by this time next summer.

There has never been a worse time to sign an expensive, long-term contract for a first-generation device like the Palm Pre. If you do, in a matter of months you’ll be kicking yourself as you watch the parade of ever-cooler, more able, and faster devices roll out onto a new mobile data highway.

Technology is Killing the World

We live in an age of irony.

Even as we shop in the market-driven spirit of eco-trendiness, we maintain technology-based habits that subvert the very spirit of going green.

Things like browsing the web and buying coffee can be such environmentally-damaging activities that, when recognized as such, it’s difficult to see how we can feel good about ourselves just because we pretend to shop in a more eco-friendly manner with a new kind of bag.

This morning I watched a man cruise alone into the drive-through line of a local Starbucks.

His trendy Volkswagen Jetta idled first as he placed his order, then again as the single cup was prepared.

Meanwhile, both the parking lot and restaurant itself were empty.

The Sierra Club estimates that each year, Americans emit about 58 million tons of carbon dioxide as their vehicles do nothing more than sit there doing nothing but idling.

They figure that McDonald’s customers alone are responsible for over 7.25 million gallons of gas being wasted each year while they sit in their cars, in line, waiting for their greasy vittles to be packed up.

That’s a whole lot of environmental damage being done just for the convenience of laziness.

All of this doesn’t even take into account that workers staffing the drive-through windows are developing health problems as a result of their work. Vehicle emissions are not unlike second-hand smoke.

Then there’s the internet, that pristine, emission-free utopia of social and information utopia. Right?

Lately I’ve let my guard down and re-engaged with that most frivolous of all frivolous pursuits: Facebook.

What’s worse, I’ve somehow been drawn into a game  called Farmville. It’s a virtual environment in which I can pretend to plant crops, milk cows, and generally sit around chewing the fat with my neighbours.

Yeah, I admit, it’s a total and utter waste of time.

And, man, when I launch Farmville, even my most powerful Mac groans under the heavy demands of that artificial agricultural environment. I can smell the heat coming off of it.

And that can only mean one thing: increased power consumption.

Which can only mean one more thing: a requirement for increased power generation.

One researcher estimates that to maintain a character in an artificial world like Farmville requires 1,752 kilowatt hours of electricity per year.

That figure is almost on par with what a real-live flesh-and-blood Brazilian human being requires.

But it gets worse. Even if you don’t partake in these vapid activities, just by being a member of the internet community you’re causing damage.

Computer security firm McAffee estimates that in 2008, spam alone burned the equivalent of 2 billion gallons of gas.

About 80% of that is us just deleting the damned messages from our inboxes.

And earlier this year it was reported that two Google searches generate about the same amount of carbon dioxide as boiling a kettle.

This is because maintaining data facilities such as Google’s (and Facebook’s, and Twitter’s) is one of the most energy-demanding operations imaginable.

As a result, some experts figure that within a decade, the internet will generate about 20% of the world’s carbon emissions.

It already generates the same amount of greenhouse gases as the airline industry.

Sorta makes me want to burn my crops, slaughter the herd, and mosey on out of Farmville.

Just because the grease got left behind in the gears and cogs of the Industrial Revolution doesn’t mean technology isn’t as dirty as it ever was.

It would do the world a heck of a lot of good if we could recognize this and stop feeling so smug over the supposed eco-friendliness of half measures like shirts made of plastic bottles and organic blueberries that get shipped halfway round the world.

There are much bigger issues that impose far greater stresses on the environment.

They’re just cleverly hidden behind the artificially clean veil of contemporary technology.

Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, August 14, 2009

Synthesizing Steve: Music Bots Are No Match for Boutique Expertise

Back in the day, I relied on my friend Steve Gedrose for musical advice.

He owned a boutique CD store called Rose Music down on 4th Avenue, and he was a walking musical encyclopaedia.

But more than a human tome of raw information, Steve was an attentive music enthusiast and empath.

He maintained a elaborate mental record of his customers’ likes and dislikes, passions and apathies. As a result, Steve was almost always bang-on with his musical recommendations.

I’ll never forget this one day I walked into Rose Music and Steve jumped out of his chair.

“Hey, Andrew,” he exclaimed. “I found a disc you’ll love!”

A fat funk beat overlaid with DJ Logic’s erratic vinyl scratching exploded onto the Rose Music sound system like an aural kaleidoscope.

As I gasped in awe, Steve’s other customers cringed.

11 years later, Medeski, Martin & Woods’ Combustication remains an essential album in my collection.

These days, most of the the Steve Gedroses of the world have shuttered their independent stores as the digital music revolution drew their customers online.

And we are all poorer for that.

The Stevebots we’re now forced to suffer – those online music recommendation programs – are far less effective than the humans they replaced.

Take the iTunes Store “Genius” feature.

Or, I’ll just call it the anti-Genius, since it seems to employ such a crudely logical set of recommendation parameters.

Like, if I listen to Plants and Animals, then Grizzly Bear is going to appeal to me, right? After all they’re both neo-hippie jam bands that kind of sound the same.

If only it were that simple. Musical appreciation is much more than a comparative analysis of trends or genres.

Through conversation Steve had learned that, while I wasn’t a huge Miles Davis fan, I love the trumpet player’s jazz-fusion A Tribute to Jack Johnson soundtrack.

Steve also knew I was picking up some rock and hip hop albums at other shops.

So when he read a review of the then-underground MMW album that sported hard-rocking drum beats, killer B3 Hammond riffing and a popular DJ to boot, he knew the album was for me.

The iTunes anti-Genius would never have figured that out.

It would have suggested something obvious like Wynton Marsalis, because he’s a great jazz trumpet player, sort of like Miles. (Whereas Steve also knows I don’t dig such clean playing.)

So while Steve combined a number of my musical interests to introduce me to a new sound I wasn’t familiar with, the iTunes anti-Genius just assumes I want the same-old, same-old.

Technologists will be working until the end of time to synthesize Steve’s musical brain into an effective Stevebot. But they’ll never succeed.

Most artificial intelligence as applied to musical comprehension focuses on the qualities of music like rhythm and melody and patterns of individual consumption.

Resulting systems rely on some form of statistical analysis, which is the core problem. Musical enjoyment is not a structured beast.

Sometimes we like a song, well, just because. It makes us feel good, or sad, or it just plain resonates with our very being.

You can’t apply statistics to that.

So artificial intelligence misses one very important aspect of musical enjoyment, and that is the act of enjoyment itself.

In the 1993 anime series Astro Boy, the Japanese term kokoro is used to describe certain innate human characteristics that robots have been programmed with, such as emotions and empathy.

Kokoro lends Astro and other robots the capacity to recognize and respond to a broad range of both overt and covert sensory input.

In other words, kokoro gives robots the ability to be illogical. Kokoro gives robots a “gut.”

Kokoro is, of course, the state of being human, with which we are all naturally endowed.

It’s something that really can’t be taught or, I would argue, programmed.

That’s why technology-based musical recommendation systems will never be as good as Steve Gedrose.

Steve didn’t used to sit around all night calculating my musical interests, analyzing my purchases for patterns.

Based on what he knew about me, and his consummate understanding of the art and craft of music, Steve just had a gut feel for what I might like.

So while we’ve gained a magnitude of convenience from the digital music revolution, we’ve paid a great price.

We’ve lost Steve and his ilk.

The online Stevebots we now suffer demonstrate about as much musical sensibility as a Roomba bouncing around from couch leg to wall in search of dust bunnies.

Fortunately, I know Steve Gedrose has moved on to bigger and more important musical pursuits.

But my musical library is poorer for his absence.

Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, August 7, 2009.