This Week = No Fun, but here’s an update anyway…

Busy week with unpleasant surprises, but I ain’t dead yet. You’re probably wondering what a hot dog that’s apparently eagerly anticipating eating itself has to do with that. The answer is: nothing, but it does relate to something I have been intending to post about for a long time, but haven’t since I didn’t have access to the paper…

So, in lieu of blasting out Twitter®-style updates on my Laconica feed that nobody reads anyway (a few people no doubt see the echo of them on Twitter® itself, but I don’t know if anyone cares…), here are a couple of what-I’m-doing-now updates before I go to bed:

  • I just shot off an email to the webmaster (the only contact I could find who might have the relevant information) of the Institute of Brewing and Distilling, trying to get access to a classic paper published in the Journal of the Institute of Brewing and Distilling for the upcoming “On the Shoulders of Giants” carnival.
  • There’s no way I can afford the ~$300US that it would cost to join the group, nor even at the moment to pay the typical $30 or so that greedy paywall-imprisoned publishers charge for individual articles. However, they appear to be opening up their archives to the public, for which I think they deserve substantial praise. Still, they haven’t worked their way back to the first few decades of the 20th century yet, so I had to email and ask if there was a way to get the article in question. If not, I’ll see if there’s any way to get it through inter-library loan in time.

  • “Small Things Considered” asks “What Microbiological Discovery in 2008 Did You Find Especially Interesting?” Which brings us to the “self-eating” thing.
  • The paper on caffeine’s induction of macroautophagy (“self-eating”) in yeast (and what happens when benzoic acid is also present) finally escaped from the paywall prison in January, and I now have a copy. I at least thought it was full of interesting implications (along with some useful knowledge), so I’ll hopefully be posting about it soon.

  • I’m also a computer nerd
  • Particularly when it comes to things like Linux. I’ve been thinking of trying to do some recordings on a couple of practical subjects that interest me for “Hacker Public Radio”

  • And of course, I still need to do some Xanthomonas snot Xanthan Gum experiments.

I am an attention-whorewilling to listen to my readers’ interests, so if anyone has suggestions or comments feel free to post them…

Oh boy. This is “bad”.

(Note the “scare quotes” around “bad” up there…)I woke up kind of late this morning, which is probably just as well as I think I really needed the sleep before I load up the car with stuff from the old house and make the ~1600 mile (about 2575km or 83.45 picoparsecs) return journey. As a bribe to myself for making this trip, there are two places I had been considering stopping for a bit on the way back. One of those two is New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins, Colorado. In order to do this, though, I obviously need to arrange to be going through Fort Collins (around 8-9 hours from here) while they’re open. The thing is, there’s really not much point in stopping from my perspective unless they happen to have what I’m really interested in – their not-always-available limited-release “La Folie” (link from the image goes to the page describing it) and possibly their seasonal “Frambozen“. Last time I went by it appeared they always had some La Folie on tap at the tasting counter but not in bottles for take-out.

It turns out New Belgium is open on Saturday until 6pm. And they have both La Folie and Frambozen in bottles there right now.

The other possible stop is Lava Hot Springs, Idaho, where I find it very enjoyable to lounge in the hot springs amid all the snow. However, they open at 9am, so even if I get up really early to make it to Fort Collins before New Belgium closes, I can’t spend any time in the hot springs until 9am anyway, so I’d never make it from the Hot Springs to Fort Collins on the same day. I could, of course, lounge at the hot spring today and then hit Fort Collins tomorrow morning, stopping somewhere between Central Wyoming and Fort Collins tonight, but that could mean the return journey spanning three days rather than two.

However, the weather on this side of Idaho and Wyoming looks most passable today especially later in the afternoon when the roads have been cleared off well, and it looks like getting across the bad wind and snow on the Eastern side of the Wyoming may be safer and better tomorrow morning rather than today.

So, basically, the entire Universe (or at least that portion of it in charge of weather for this region of the country) is obviously telling me that I should take my time loading up and getting out of town, and then go ahead and stop at Lava Hot Springs for a little while to relax before continuing on to somewhere around Rawlins or so, and then resume in the morning which should just coincidentally put me going through Fort Collins in the Late-Morning to Early Afternoon time frame, when New Belgium Brewing is open.

I mean, I don’t want to stop and enjoy myself. Really, I want to be a good boy and drive back in the quickest, most efficient way possible, but who am I to thwart what is the Obvious Will of the Universe? (Supernaturalism makes some of the best excuses…)

In other news, I did manage to fix the Stupid Mistake™ in my little “Where Was I?” application for Asterisk, so now not only do the location updates happen but also the conversion of the associated voice update to MP3 for listening now happens automagically as well. I also fixed the hard time-limit, so updates shouldn’t cut off at 30 seconds like the one from Fort Collins did on the 24th. If you keep an eye on the page and everything goes well for me, you may catch an update from Lava Hot Springs later in the day. If you are especially bored (or are being paid by a Secret Government Agency or Vast International Conspiracy or Santa Claus to spy on me) I will try to do an update from there while sitting on the steps in view of the East Webcam. If so, I’ll be the tiny figure waving at the camera from the steps. If you happen to be watching at the right time, you might catch me there to gaze upon my magnificent pixellated spiffitude. Just don’t look directly at it or you may go blind…

Naturally, a live update from New Belgium Brewing Company is planned for tomorrow as well. After I return I can work on making my little application more interesting (embedded audio player, nicer presentation, maybe an embedded map, ability to come back later and attach related pictures…) and masssaged into a condition that wouldn’t be too embarassing to let others use. This “live neogeographical netcasting” thing is too much fun to keep just to myself. (I wonder how hard it would be to interface this with the Laconica microblogging system?…)

Further bulletins as events warrant…

Off-Topic and Back Again: “Framing”, Cluetrain Manifesto, and Twitter

“Framing” came up briefly on one of the other small independent blogs I follow. I’d link
to the post but it’s gone now. I sincerely hope its disappearance wasn’t related to the
comment I posted there, unless it was just because of the “don’t feed the trolls” part
of it – (in which case excuse me for a moment while I tell myself what an amazing fountain of useful advice I am and feel self-important for about 15 seconds before I return to reality…). I’m guessing the poster just decided he didn’t want to keep the post, but I won’t let that spoil my brief ego-feeding fantasy.

For those lucky enough to have missed it so far, here’s my flippant and extremely brief explanation
of my understanding of how the “framing” thing goes. An assistant professor of communications popped up among the science blogs one day with what seemed to begin as a couple of reminders of the obvious (mainly because it occasionally seems that people have forgotten). Namely, that if you want someone to understand what you are trying to communicate (particularly scientific matters) and agree with you, you are more likely to succeed if you can connect what you are discussing to something that your audience already cares about, and you are less likely to succeed if you are, shall we say, unfriendly to them as you present your subject.

From there, “framing” seems to have grown into something resembling the brand-name of some kind of mass-market “self-help” product line. Its primary proponent, from the distant vantage point
whence I occasionally catch a glimpse of the fight, starts to seem like the angry Vice President
of Communications for Science, Incorporated, whose office issues angry memos denouncing the insubordinate “screechy monkeys” who insist on deviating from the approved language when discussing Science, inc.’s Mission Statement. The fact that science is a conversation among people rather than a corporation probably explains why so much of the response has been not “Oh, crap, we’d better behave ourselves or we’ll get in trouble” but “Who the heck are you, and why are you telling me what I can say and how I can say it?” And that, I think, is all that needs to be said. (Anyone who stumbles upon my little blog and disagrees is welcome to say so in the comments.)

Book: The Cluetrain ManifestoActually, it’s probably more than needs to be said, and I wouldn’t have even mentioned it except that the problem of trying to apply this sort of approved “Command and Control” approach towards information in the Internet age reminded me of something else. The Cluetrain Manifesto was published so long ago that AOL was still considered a successful and valuable operation at the time, but it still seems to be relevant. (It’s free to read online – follow the link if you want to do so). At its core, its central thesis seems to be that the “Command and Control” approach to information management favored by corporate and political entities is effectively broken now because of the two-way communication made possible by a ubiquitous internet. In essence, “the market” is no longer made of isolated individuals passively sitting on the couch “consuming” the approved messages coming through the television, but a “conversation” of people who can easily tell the difference between a corporate “message” and authentic human conversation. Here’s a relevant passage:

“Imagine for a moment: millions of people sitting in their shuttered homes at night, bathed in that ghostly blue television aura. They’re passive, yeah, but more than that: they’re isolated from each other.

Now imagine another magic wire strung from house to house, hooking all these poor bastards up. They’re still watching the same old crap. Then, during the touching love scene, some joker lobs an off-color aside and everybody hears it. Whoa! What was that? People are rolling on the floor laughing. And it begins to happen so often, it gets abbreviated: ROTFL. The audience is suddenly connected to itself.

What was once The Show, the hypnotic focus and tee-vee advertising carrier wave, becomes in the context of the Internet a sort of reverse new-media McGuffin an excuse to get together rather than an excuse not to. Think of Joel and the ‘bots on Mystery Science Theater 3000. The point is not to watch the film, but to outdo each other making fun of it.”

Twitter logoAnd now we take one more step towards on-topicness: One current set of the metaphorical wires described in that passage is Twitter. Twitter is kind of like a gigantic lobby at a convention center where some huge conference is going on. The lobby is filled with little groups of people, collectively discussing with each other all kinds of little thoughts, observations, and events that each person there has encountered. You can easily wander through the lobby for hours, listening for snippets of conversation that relate to your own interests. Sure, being a raw, natural, human group of discussions, Sturgeon’s Law (“90% of Everything is Crap”) is in full effect. Sometimes literally: On Twitter I’m tracking the term “brewing” which seems to pick up more metaphorical uses of the word than literal, and a recent “Tweet” that popped up was somebody commenting that someone didn’t flush the toilet (“someone’s been brewing up a 1.6 gallon pot of turd stew.”)

So why bother? Because I think the remaining 10% has enough potential value to make a little mental effort to sift through the stream of messages worthwhile. I’d say a majority of the messages that come through are related to events happening at that moment. Twitter seems to get a lot of use as a back-channel for commenting on things that are happening, and for organizing impromptu gatherings. In most of these cases I think location information would be a valuable addition…and now I’m finally back to “on-topic”.

I think it’d be exceedingly nifty to be able to map Twitter messages in real-time. If I can convince anyone else that my “geostrings” idea is worth using, and then if one were to track “geostr”, any “tweet” with parseable location information would automatically show up. A small tag containing precise location information would make it possible for your computer automatically alert you if a post was describing something anywhere near where you are. Imagine the case of posts like “I just saw a tornado touch down, I’m going down to the basement now”. Or, say, “Who wants to try the homebrew I’m about to bottle?”

Example code in Javascript and PHP for picking out and parsing geostrings to follow soon. I’ll get back to yeast again shortly thereafter, though.

New toy: “Twitter”

Wow – Celestron takes 8 business days to get me a terse one-sentence answer. BigC responds in one. Impressive. Apparently their technical people are all at trade-shows at the moment so my bigger question will have to wait until they get back, but they were at least able to answer my question about their “tabletop” digital microscopes magnification (answer: the “600x” really is optical magnification, not digital.)

Another digital microscopy WANT/DO NOT WANT post to follow when I get the followup reply. Meanwhile, after hearing about it on the This Week in Tech podcast for a while, I finally talked myself into signing up to play with the coincidentally named Twitter system.

Twitter logoIt sounds like a really stupid idea – “Oh, goodie, now I can broadcast ‘text messages’ no more than 140 characters long about trivial events in my life to the whole world! Whoopee!” “Wow! I can find out when random strangers are drinking coffee AS IT HAPPENS!” Thrills! Excitement! Adventure!…

On the other hand, having the messaging system watch for particular words might be a handy way of monitoring current events. Plus, there seems to be a lot of potential for fun, off-the-wall uses, even if many of them are kind of silly.

It DOES seem like kind of an ideal context to play with that “geostrings” concept I’ve been toying with. A terse, easily-machine-parsed format for geotag data that can fit into a “twitter” post and still leave room for a sentence or two to go with the geographic information seems like it might be useful. If you’re so incredibly bored that you want to see some examples, you can check out my own Twitter posts, several of which I’ve embedded geostrings into.