Today I fell into a rabbit hole, down through the center of the beautiful, crazy wonderland that is the Internet, into something even stranger and amazing still. I was sitting at my desk, eating my lunch, and reading an article from Esquire.com on my phone, as is my habit at such times. I was about halfway through the most recent description of the unfolding telenovela love affair between the Kremlin and the White House, when I came across an ad from Abe Books for something called the Codex Seraphinianus XXXIII. I was intrigued by the interesting illustrated cover of what appeared to be a book (that being a fairly safe guess, as books is the bulk of what Abe Books sells), as well as the fairly hefty $75.60 price tag. I am a fairly regular customer of Abe Books*, but my purchases tend to come with price tags that look more like $0.99 and $1.19. Something in the several tens of dollars has to be either new (which this particular copy is, although the used copies were even more expensive), rare, famous, out of print, or a textbook. I had to find out, and so took the red pill.
As a kid I never expected to see the year 2000. Especially just before the end of the Cold War, when it seemed like the stalemate with the U.S.S.R. would continue for millennia, and knowing that the missile base just miles from our house was a prime target for a nuclear strike.*
My lack of expectations for the new century were so low, particularly when you add in the vague but ominous threat posed by Y2K, that I remember saying goodbye before going to bed early on December 31, 1999. I fully expected that whatever came next would be in a new, different world. I woke up in the dark of the early morning on January 1, 2000, surprised that death didn’t look much different than life had, and then further surprised that the world hadn’t ended, that Chinese and old Soviet missiles had not struck Japan, where I was living at the time, when their controller computers failed (an event that appears to never have happened – maybe the old communist programmers were smart enough to avoid the kinds of programming shortcuts that resulted in the whole Y2K disaster).
“There isn’t anything to eat.”
“I think I’m going to die.”
These are actual quotes from my children. My children who with only a few very short exceptions have never known actual hunger. What they actually mean when they say those things is “I’m bored,” “I don’t like what you made for my lunch,” “There isn’t anything in the house I want to eat,” “I threw my lunch away and you aren’t making dinner fast enough.”
“Are girls allowed to play soccer?” That is the question my four-year-old daughter asked me this evening while we snuggled watching Costa Rica beat Mexico 1-0 in their FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifier. Like little children do, her question was just exactly the right one, at the right time. Her question comes in a week that has been filled with ever more sensational news about the hate-group-disguised-as-a-social-movement, #gamergate. Her question also came just minutes after I, in an eloquent soapbox rant to my wife, had a realization about myself as a “gamer,” as a nerd, as a soccer fan, as a man, and as a father.
If you haven’t heard, Microsoft is buying Mojang, the creators of the insanely popular Minecraft open-world creation game. My children love Minecraft. They fight over who gets what device, and then when settled spend hours playing with each other an an enormous creative world. These are children who will not get along for anything. They love Minecraft. Sometimes all they talk about is Minecraft. But it gets them talking. To each other. For that reason, if for no other, I love Minecraft. And yet the game itself is a ton of fun (which I discovered for myself during my annual vacation this last summer).
So the news that Microsoft is buying Mojang? Horrible. I come from the generation that couldn’t spell the name without dollar signs. Micro$oft was my generation’s Babylon the Great, Whore of All the Earth. The Enemy. The Man. The primary justification for the existence of Linux. And then, about the time my kids came along, Microsoft just wasn’t that important anymore. They had much more competition, and were even struggling to keep relevant in a new age. I thought that the undying hate might actually die with me, and my children would grow up in a world of peace. But today that all ends. Children, meet the enemy from Redmond.
Disclaimer Note: I have grown up some since my youth, and in spite the tone of my comments above (which carries more of the anger of my children than of my own), am not an outright opponent of Microsoft. I use Windows (reluctantly) at work, and even have a Windows partition somewhere on my laptop for those few things (Adobe Illustrator) that just won’t run in Linux. If I had to say, these days I am rather ambivalent about the whole thing. But Mr. Satya Nadella is making quite a statement buying Mojang, and has the opportunity to absolutely piss off an entire generation of children if Microsoft gets this wrong (like they seem to have largely done with acquisitions in the past).
Copyright Note: The featured image is posted all around as a Creative Commons image, but I have not yet been able to find an original source or author. If you know where it came from, please point me in the right direction. Thanks.
Today is the last day to submit online comments to the FCC on Net neutrality! I have intended for a couple of weeks to submit comments to the FCC on how I feel about Net neutrality, and its upcoming rule-making upholding the ability of Internet Service Providers to slow down access to services that don’t pay extra fees to stay fast. What does this mean? It means that without a ruling in favor of Net neutrality, even though I pay a lot every month for high-speed internet access that is an order of magnitude or two faster than the national average, if I site I like doesn’t pay the V*****n [name of big-name ISP censored because my legal defense fund is small] tax, my access to it will be slow. Even if they are paying their ISP for high-speed access as well. Make sure you submit comments.
I remember reading the story in the Scholastic News as a kid – a species of bird so numerous that when it migrated it completely blotted out the sky, sometimes for days. An abundant species so hounded by hunters that within a human lifespan they were completely gone. 100 years ago today Martha, the very last known living passenger pigeon, died at the Cincinnati Zoo.
All around the story is interesting – there are a lot of things I’ve learned in the last couple days that I didn’t know. At the time, the passenger pigeon was the most numerous bird species in North America, with billions of individuals, and may have been the most numerous bird species in the world. Martha lived to be somewhere between 17 and 29 years old (Wikipedia claims that 29 is the most commonly accepted age), which just blows me away. Is it common for birds to be that old? Martha was frozen in a block of ice after her death and sent by train to the Smithsonian where she was photographed, skinned, mounted, dissected, preserved, and put on display for most of the next 85 years.
I didn’t understand all of the social and ecological issues when I read that article all those years ago – thinking about the age I was, it was probably the 75th anniversary of Martha’s death. Even though the extinction of the passenger pigeon was a horrible tragedy, it was also the catalyst for many of the fundamental protections we have today. It’s interesting to think of myself sitting in school learning about an extinct bird (I think we also learned about California Condors at the same time – an issue that was big then), never knowing that 25 years later my career would be focused on endangered species restoration.
As a nerd, learning what I can about just about anything is just an inherent part of who and what I am. Continuous self-upgrading through daily learning is so important to me that I made it one of the foundational principles of the get-badass-slowly approach I am using in my Awesomeness Upgrade Project. I was delighted this morning to read a great article by Paul Jun over on 99u titled Never Stop Learning: How Self-Education Creates a Bullet-Proof Career. The points that Jun makes are right in line with the process that I have gone through with the AUP.
Reading is the foundation of my professional and private life. If you can read you can learn anything. It makes sense that if you can read (with comprehension) faster, you can learn faster. This is the part where the cheesy theme music starts, and speed reading steps out onto the stage wearing a cape.
Long the realm of graduate students and competition readers, speed reading has been all over the news recently (e.g. here and here) and a big clump of apps (like this, this, this, and this) and Web sites (e.g. here, here, and here) promising to teach you how to speed read have been showing up all over the Web. I have been speed reading for much of my life – one of the tools that helped me survive grad school. I just took a speed reading test on the Staples Web site. The content wasn’t very challenging, but I read 3,235 words a minute. Can you beat me?
Source: Staples eReader Department
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
When I was younger, I had no problem finding new authors to like. I suppose it had something to do with having all the time in the world and that feeling of invincibility that only the young have. I read everything I got my hands on. Historical fiction? Bring it on. Translation from Arabic? Sure. Fifth book in a series I’ve never heard of by an unknown author? No problem (this happened many more times than you would imagine – especially as I got closer to finishing reading all the novels in our small branch library. Staying up all night reading every night wasn’t a problem – I had the energy of youth and healed fast. I had time to waste.