Archives for category: Technology

Inbox Zero

Email can certainly be a bear. I get a lot of it both at work and at home. And with the proliferation of mobile computing, it has become increasingly difficult to just walk away from it. My email walks with me. The danger is that email will become yet another interrupt-based technology. Frankly I don’t work all that effectively when confronted by overwhelming or unctuous interruptions.

Inbox Zero is a methodology for effectively dealing with the deluge of email we receive every day. Merlin Mann made a presentation on it at a Google Tech Talk in 2007 and has written several articles on the topic. The idea is simple. Instead of just checking email, you process them. Processing does not mean responding– in fact that’s often the least appropriate action to take. Instead you apply one of the following actions:

  • delete
  • delegate
  • respond
  • defer
  • do

I don’t particularly subscribe to Mann’s entire Inbox Zero methodology, but I am rather draconian with how I handle incoming messages, and some of my techniques dovetail nicely with his approach. When I read my mail in a UNIX shell, I rigorously apply procmail. Over time I have developed more and more complex mail filters, eventually branching out to include SpamAssassin and other features. Mail filters continue to be my first– and often strongest– line of defense when dealing with email overload. I have them– lots of them– everywhere I read email.

I filter. I file. I delete. I delegate. — And for the most part, my inbox is pretty small, but very rarely zero. When I do manage to get it to zero, I allow a bit of celebration. It goes something like this.

“Inbox Zero”
Music by: Foreigner
Lyrics by: DJ Bingo

Sittin’ on the datacenter floor, with his head hung low
Couldn’t close a ticket, and it was time to go
Heard the roar at the bar, he could picture the scene
Put his head to the desk, then like a distant scream
He heard “You’ve got mail”, just blew him away
He saw blood in his eyes, and the very next day

Bought a beat up laptop, from the Craigslist store
Didn’t know how to work it, but he knew for sure
That one laptop, felt good in his hands, didn’t take long, to understand
Just one laptop, slumped way down low
Gotta close the tickets, only one way to go
So he started typin’, he ain’t never gonna stop
Gotta keep on typin’, someday gonna make it to the top

And be at inbox zero, got stars in his eyes, he’s at inbox zero
He took one laptop, inbox zero, stars in his eyes
Inbox zero, (stars in his eyes) He’ll come alive tonight

In a cube without a name, in a ticket downpour
Thought he passed his own shadow, by the breakroom door
Like a trip through the past, to that day in the cage
And that one laptop, made his whole life change
Now he needs to keep on typin’, he just can’t stop
Gotta keep on typin’, that boy has got to stay on top

And be at inbox zero, got stars in his eyes
He’s at inbox zero, got stars in his eyes
Yeah, inbox zero, stars in his eyes
With that one laptop, (stars in his eyes)
He’ll come alive, come alive tonight.

Yeah, he’s gotta keep on typin’, just can’t stop
Gotta keep on typin’, that boy has got to stay on top

And be at inbox zero, got stars in his eyes
He’s at inbox zero, got stars in his eyes
(Just one laptop) inbox zero, (aah aah aaah) got stars in his eyes
He’s just at inbox zero, aah aah aaah
Juke box (stars) hero, (stars, stars) inbox zero, (stars, stars)
He’s got stars in his eyes, stars in his eyes

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Cisco Live! 2013 Orlando

I spent this past week in Orlando at Cisco Live! 2013. The first time I went to this convention, it went by the name Networkers and was held in Denver. That was 1998. I attended Networkers the next year in Vancouver and Whirl came along with me. We tacked a few extra days on at the end to play tourist. A lot of things change in 15 years. The attendance back in the late 90s, at the height of the dot-com boom was still only about 3000 people. Every CCIE proudly wore a leather jacket with their number embroidered on it. I was still wet behind the ears, wide-eyed and naïve.

Now I suppose I’m older. More grizzled. Less impressed by flashy things and more interested in practical knowledge that will improve my work. My boss suggested I go this year. He attended two years ago, and knew that there is real value to be obtained– and that there is some fun to be had as well. So I booked up my class schedule, found a hotel, booked a flight and set off.

I also packed my swimsuit and my Blackhawks sweater. The suit was so I could practice with Team Orlando Masters at the YMCA Aquatic Center on International Drive. The sweater was because game six (and game seven, if necessary) of the Stanley Cup Finals would be played while I was there. And I was glad for both of them. I got two practices in with the Orlando Masters, and on Monday night a made a bunch of new friends at Miller’s Ale house. We turned the beer garden into our own Stanley Cup Finals party. At the end of the night we must have played “Chelsea Dagger” on the jukebox at least nine times in a row.

I attended sessions every day starting around 7:30 and going until about 5:30 or 6:00. Everything from radio frequency specifications and antennae design to the latest features in Cisco’s newest datacenter switches– a monster of a thing that will push 83 terabits/second through the switching fabric. I went to the big customer appreciation event on Wednesday night at Universal Studios– where we closed out the park and had a private, catered party for the 20000 people in attendance. I toured the World of Solutions expo where hundreds of various tech companies had booths set up. It was quite enlightening, nearly ten times the size of my previous visits.

Anyway. that’s enough preamble. Here are a few of the koans of wisdom I gathered from my four days at Cisco Live! 2013.

  • Connecting disconnected things allows those things to communicate (who knew?)
  • Journey without Steve Perry should be called Journey on My Wayward Son
  • Compute is a noun
  • Bathroom inequality is real; I just hadn’t truly experienced it before
  • Resonate (n): superficial consideration of allegedly meaningful propositions
  • EIGRP-OTV is super-cool
  • NX-OS accounting logs can save your bacon
  • 58 seconds can last a lifetime
  • Filling your keynote speech with an over-abundance of buzzwords is a surefire way to clear a room of network engineers; simultaneously offering free food and beer elsewhere multiplies the effect dramatically
  • The Kool-Aid sometimes tastes funny
  • Cafe Tu Tu Tango is wonderful; you should have dinner there

Six weeks ago NASA concluded its final shuttle mission, STS-135. At the time, I found myself rather conflicted about the whole thing. Space and all the things that go along with that — rockets, exploration, astronauts, the planets, moons and asteroids — have fascinated me from an early age. (That and dinosaurs, of course, but near anyone knows, there are no dinosaurs in space.) So to see NASA give up the last remnant of human spaceflight was saddening. No more rocket launches.

And yet, I’ve grown increasingly critical of the shuttle program since the Challenger explosion in 1986. I never quite understood why we were investing so much time, money and effort into a program that was I believed was essentially a pick-up truck to low-earth orbit. Of all the places we could possibly go in the solar system, low-earth orbit has got to be one of the most boring. I now count going back to the moon to be a close second place. — At least from LEO, you’re halfway to a huge number of very interesting places. I think of LEO as something like the St. Louis, Missouri of the high frontier. It may not be particularly interesting or exciting in its own right, but you do have to go through it if you’re headed out to the territories. And the territories are exciting.

So I tend to view the Space Shuttle program as a very expensive, somewhat unreliable ride to St. Louis in a pick-up truck. I can think of far more exciting trip to take.

Like Mars.

The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must is a detailed examination of manned space exploration of Mars by Robert Zubrin. It was first published in 1996. Now, fifteen years, three presidents, and a number of successful robotic exploratory missions later we have a wealth of additional information about the viability (both technical and political) of a manned mission to Mars and Zubrin has updated and republished his book with those additions. The book details Zubrin’s Mars Direct plan for manned exploration of Mars. The plan utilizes existing technology currently ready-at-hand for a budget a fraction of original NASA proposals for the first human landing on Mars. The plan focuses on keeping costs down by making use of proven automated systems, and chemical processes via in-situ resource utilization.

Like Buzz Aldrin, I am critical of NASA’s goal of sending astronauts back to the moon. Aldrin said it was “more like reaching for past glory than striving for new triumphs” and has advocated for his own Mars to Stay program of human space exploration.

So it is now, that the albatross of the Shuttle program is off our neck that I hope we may be able to refocus human space exploration onto a goal that is challenging, rewarding and ultimately possible. Let’s go to Mars!

Like me, many of my friends also work in technology. From time to time, we succumb and wage the various holy wars about particular bits of tech with one another. One such protracted battle — a battle I am steadily losing by attrition — is the holy war over the “one true editor.” Vi vs. emacs. Recently Princess and Farmboy fired a salvo across the bow of my ship-of-the-line: emacs.

And while another approach might have been to yell, “Avast, ye scurvy dogs!” and open fire on these ninjas, instead I responded in song.

“Like a EMACS”
Music by: Far East Movement
Lyrics by: DJ Bingo

Poppin tildes on the files, like a blizzard
When we code, we do it right gettin LISPer
Slippin regexp in my style, like three splats
Now I’m feelin so fly like a EMACS
Like a EMACS, Like a EMACS
Now I’m feelin so fly like a EMACS

Gimme that Per-Per-Perl
Gimme that Py-Python
Ladies love my style, in my syntax gettin on
Get them tildes poppin, we get that push and that pop
Now give me two more buffers cuz you know it don’t stop

Hell Yeaah!
Code it up, code-code it up,
When source compile around me, they be actin like they run
They be actin like they run, actin-actin like they run
When source compile around me, they be actin like they run

Poppin tildes on the files, like a blizzard
When we code, we do it right gettin LISPer
Slippin regexp in my style, like three splats
Now I’m feelin so fly like a EMACS
Like a EMACS, Like a EMACS
Now I’m feelin so fly like a EMACS

Sippin on, sippin on init, Ima ma-make it diff
Girl I keep it gangsta, poppin buffers at the fringe
This is how we live, every single night
Take that buffer to the head, and let me see you fly

Hell Yeaah!
Code it up, code-code it up,
When source compile around me, they be actin like they run
They be actin like they run, actin-actin like they run
When source compile around me, they be actin like they run

Poppin tildes on the files, like a blizzard
When we code, we do it right gettin LISPer
Slippin regexp in my style, like three splats
Now I’m feelin so fly like a EMACS
Like a EMACS, Like a EMACS
Now I’m feelin so fly like a EMACS

I am a strong proponent of minimalism. Particularly when it comes to web design. If you asked me, I’d be hard-pressed to come up with compelling aesthetic arguments as to why I prefer minimalist design. I just do. I like the absence of clutter. Minimalism done right gives me just the information that I want and nothing more. And that’s very different from giving me just the information I asked for and nothing more. Computer systems are quite adept at that second request. But as with many things, when making requests of computer systems often I ask the wrong questions. The computer is glad to give me what I asked for but not necessarily what I wanted. I believe good design should employ the art of intuitive anticipation along with the removal of distractions: potential, actual or hypothetical.

So it was with these ideas in my head that I set about looking for a new theme for our blog. Yes, this very blog you are currently reading. (Thank you for that, by the way.) When I decided upon the Wu Wei theme by Jeff Ngan and began showing it to my friends, I got several comments about how I was in love with minimalism. And while I don’t believe I am a particularly vocal evangelist of minimalism, I do recognize my own predisposition toward its use. And in those moments that I work on my own ideas of design, it comes out. I like the Helvetica font. My computers all have plain black backgrounds, without images or ornamentation. I try to think about minimizing clutter, and a consistency of look and feel. As I said, I hadn’t vocalized this in any particularly concrete way. It was just a set of preferences I had arrived at over time. So when the responses came to me, reminding me externally of a conversation I had only sporadically had with myself internally, I rejoined.

Yes! More minimalism!

And then I was immediately struck by the humor of such a statement. Minimalism, this movement in visual design where the work is stripped down to its most fundamental features. And I wanted more of it. Smokes suggested that it would make a great slogan for a t-shirt: make the word “more” really small, and the word “minimalism” really big. You can never get too much irony, right?

I sat on the idea for a few days, and then decided to give it a try. This morning I got out a piece of paper and a pencil, sketched a few ideas and then fired up Photoshop. Pretty soon, Smokes and I were exchanging ideas and I kept making new iterations on the design. Again, this was more of a learning exercise in trying to get my mind around Photoshop CS5 than an attempt at a career change. So without further ado, I present my iterations of “More Minimalism”.

Opinions welcome in the comments.

Read the rest of this entry »

In particularly distressful moments of frustration it is not uncommon for me to feel reduced to emotional arguments absent any useful data. And that just makes things worse. The rational engineer in me chafes. I know better. And then I feel guilty for not developing some strategy to provide a metric. If only I could quantify it. Quantifying the experience allows me to speak dispassionately to management. With a fistful of data, I can be calm, cool, collected. I move from being the boy who cried wolf to a more rational position. I am able to explain with an air of aloofness: critical infrastructure equipment is blowing up once a quarter, once a month, once a year. The actual numbers are less important than the fact that they’ve been collected and are reproducible. It becomes much more difficult to dismiss recommendations based on aging infrastructure when the rate of the infrastructure’s failure is clearly documented. I can think back to all those hours in the chemistry lab and still pull out the second law of thermodynamics. In an isolated system, entropy never decreases. Things fall apart.

So the end results are some acronyms that we’ve come to recognize and know and love:

  • MTBF : Mean Time Between Failures
  • MTTR : Mean Time To Recovery

How long is it going to be before something breaks. How long is it going to take to get back to normal after it does. Attach dollar amounts to those times — equipment costs, labor costs, cost of lost business. It simplifies things dramatically to assess the risk of particular designs, or other so-called cost-saving managerial decisions.

But things are more complex, now. Technology is still a mysterious, fetishized commodity. Personal taboos spring up and develop around how we contend with it. Many years ago I worked at a shop where all the engineers refused to make major changes on Tuesdays. Fridays I can understand. No one wants to kill the weekend if a big change goes wrong. But Tuesdays just seemed bizarrely arbitrary. The thing was, that for about a three month period, every change made on a Tuesday backfired in a catastrophic way. Tuesdays were cursed. If you did anything significant on the systems on a Tuesday, it would blow up. Maybe this was self-fulfilling. Maybe this was anxiety developed over time, but I can tell you that after being the rat metaphorically shocked one too many times in the Tuesday Skinner Box, I learned to avoid major work on Tuesdays. And I wasn’t alone. Eventually even management got on board and actively recommended against major Tuesday changes. Mondays and Wednesdays were fine. Thursdays were still good. Fridays we avoided if possible for more rational concerns. Tuesdays were forbidden: there be monsters here.

The Tuesday example is an extreme case. I’m including it more for humorous effect. It does underline one important aspect, though, that of conventional wisdom in the face of technology. Performance problems get attributed to particular fetishized causes across the board. It’s the firewall. It’s DNS. It’s Oracle. It’s swap. It’s spanning-tree. It’s the RAID controller. It’s a race condition. It doesn’t matter what the actual problem might be or how it’s manifesting, the first instinct is to blame the fetish.

If you happen to be responsible for the fetish in question, your first task is to clear the name of your particular ward before you can proceed. Because everyone knows that it’s always the “whatever the Hell it is that you’re responsible for.” And because this is conventional wisdom we’re talking about, it doesn’t matter how many times you clear your ward of wrongdoing. It’s always your stuff at fault. I don’t know where these conventions come from. Maybe they’re something akin to post-traumatic stress disorder. One bad experience scars you as a company for the rest of your technological life with that particular daemon.

The time spent clearing your system’s name is time wasted. It’s aggravating and depressing, too. I’m conscientious about my responsibilities. I want them to work. When they break, I step up and do what I can to correct them. It wounds me to suggest time and time again that my systems are at fault. I take that personally. My systems are at fault; I’m at fault.

In an increasingly complex technological world it is refreshing to be reminded “but we can measure that”. Enter a new metric promoted by Jim Metzler:

  • MTTI : Mean Time to Innocence

Metzler writes:

The conventional wisdom inside most companies, and even within most IT organizations, is that the cause of application degradation invariably is the network. This piece of conventional wisdom leads to a new management metric –- the mean time to innocence (MTTI). The MTTI is how long it takes for the networking organization to prove it is not the network causing the degradation. Once that task is accomplished, it is common to assume some other component of IT such as the servers must be at fault. This defensive (a.k.a., CYA) approach to troubleshooting elongates the time it takes to resolve application degradation issues.

It’s a great device. I think the MTTI metric — however cleverly titled — has the potential to refocus an entire IT organization off of perpetuation of useless fetishes and onto fixing real problems. It accomplishes this by promoting cooperation, and appropriate realignment of the entire operational structure. Metzler concludes:

[M]ore IT organizations need to focus their management attention on performance and these organizations also need to move away from a CYA approach to troubleshooting that is based on assigning blame and adopt an approach to troubleshooting that is based on fixing the problem.

Alternately, we could just stop changing things on Tuesdays.

CoolThe well-worn idiom reads necessity is the mother of invention. Last week the central air conditioning unit for our loft finally konked out. The system had been installed thirty years ago with the original 1979 conversion of the commercial building into residential use. Ours is the last of the original A/C units on the roof. And up until last week, it still worked rather well. It was noisy, and sometimes cantankerous. It usually needed a mild servicing call in the spring each year. But it functioned. It cooled the loft effectively.

Our only real trouble with it came in 2005. The A/C blower mechanism decided it was going to leak sporadically over the top of our bathroom that spring. Whirl — already taxed with taking care of me after the brain injury — spent considerable amount of time and energy maintaining the house and managing the leaks until we finally found the cause and corrected it. An archaic drainage system had clogged up and would overflow from time to time depending on the humidity. That was the catalyst to start our planning to replace it. We put a new A/C system in our budget and started socking money away. Our intent was to upgrade the entire system in 2009 or whenever the unit died. Whichever came first. As it turns out the deadlines came due at almost the same time. Almost.

We just wish the unit had hung in there for two more weeks.

Rather than pay to repair the old unit only to replace it a few weeks later, we decided to build our own air conditioning unit on the cheap based of some plans originally attributed to some college students in Calgary.

Tools and ComponentsTools and Components : Styrofoam Cooler (1), Box Fan (1), Copper Tubing (3/16 inch; 50 feet), Zip Ties (60), Aquarium Pump (1), Aquarium Tubing (20 feet), Mini Tubing Cutter (1), Scissors (1)

Rigging the Tubing 3Rigging the Tubing : We began by positioning the coil of copper tubing on the front of the box fan. We aquired 50 feet of 3/16ths inch tubing and took advantage of the grid-like guard that existed on the front of the fan to anchor the tubing. We used zip ties on the cross-hatches, beginning on the outside edge and methodically spiraled toward the center.

Cutting the TubingCutting the Tubing : We could have planned a tighter spiral that left us with less leftover tubing. However we decided to cut the excess with the mini tube cutter and leave it off. We connected the aquarium tubing to the ends of the copper spiral with the feed starting at the outside edge and the return from the other end of the spiral.

Imagine Cool Air HereTrimming the Zip Ties : I liked the look of the the forest of zip ties. It gave the whole design some motion. However the noise of the box fan was already considerable. When the flapping of the free zip ties was added to that, it was too much. We quickly cut down all the zip ties.

Filling the TankFilling the Tank : The experiment attracted the attention of our two cats. At several moments throughout the project I felt like they were our foremen, directing our efforts. We submerged the aquarium pump in the water and connected it up to the vinyl leads to prove out the entire closed system.

Ice!Adding Ice : The pump is not particularly powerful, but given enough time it was able to provide a constant — if somewhat weak — flow from the water reservoir through the copper spiral and back to the return. The last step of the process was to get that water cold. We added a lot of ice to chill the water as much as we could.

Completed A/C UnitSuccess! : Turning on the fan and the pump yields a small but refreshing breeze of of chilled air. It does not replace our failed A/C unit but it does provide significantly cooler air than what comes off of our unmodified control fan. A more powerful water pump would propel the cold water through the copper tubing faster and provide for more effective overall cooling.

The complete gallery of photographs includes a few more images than what I’ve included here. The unit is not pretty. It will not cool down the big expanse of the loft, but it was a fun experiment and cost about $50 in parts altogether. And more than half of that total was spent on the tubing.

Print EditionsI just came back from the panel discussion over at the DePaul Center. Three authors were there promoting their books and talking about music.

Chuck Klosterman: Fargo Rock City; Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs; Killing Yourself to Live; Chuck Klosterman IV; Downtown Owl.

Greg Kot: Wilco: Learning How to Die; Ripped; “Turn It Up” Chicago Tribune.

Nathan Rabin: The Big Rewind; “The A.V. Club”.

Each presented a reading from their work. Rabin started with a section of his book dealing with drugs and the challenge with his reading was more technical than anything. The sound system in the basement of the DePaul center seemed to have been set by bonobos with a penchant for reverb. Big hollow room and nervous spoken word came out as a booming, sometimes incomprehensible mess.

Rabin Klosterman KotBy the time Klosterman took the microphone, they had figured out the sound system. Klosterman’s new book Downtown Owl is a novel. It is his first. And instead of reading from that novel he read an essay from his forthcoming book, Eating the Dinosaur. He explained this decision by saying that authors reading from their own novels can never end well. A reading should select a small section of the book and present it in an entertaining way. If you do that successfully, the audience is left wondering what the other 400 pages are all about and walk away thinking the novel is craptastic, pretentious fluff. After all, they have already heard the best part. And if the author flounders in making the selection for the reading, then the reading goes poorly and the audience walk away thinking the author is craptastic, pretentious fluff. So he reads essays. Essays are about the right size for this sort of event. And so he selected an essay about Chicago’s favorite musician: Garth Brooks. (His claim; not mine.) The essay focused on the need for our music to be both authentic and staged and looks with laser-like relentlessness at Chris Gaines. Klosterman tries to answer the question nobody is asking: why did Garth Brooks create Chris Gaines?

Greg Kot, just off the highs of the Pitchfork Festival, joked that if he wasn’t as successful in entertaining the audience he would be brief so that we could get out of there and catch the Billy Joel/Elton John concert at Wrigley Field. And if we couldn’t afford that we might get more entertainment from perusing the reader comments of his review of Thursday’s concert. Nevertheless, he selected a short section of Ripped that dealt with how the Internet has hyper-accelerated the development time bands have previously enjoyed. It was a theme he repeated in some of his reviews of acts at Pitchfork.

Chuck Klosterman 2After the readings the panel took questions with Kot, the journalist, firing the first few off to his fellow authors. The topic focused on the health of media: specifically print and music. The authors contrasted the two fields, how even if all music were available for free, musicians had a revenue stream unavailable to authors: live performances. They talked about the role of record companies, the apparent uptick in nostalgia formats like vinyl and eight-track.

And at the very end each of the authors patiently stuck around for at least an hour to talk to audience members and sign books. After all, that is how authors make their money: they sell books. Kot underlined this point at the close of the panel when he asked the rhetorical question: Let’s be honest how many of you would have paid $15 to hear us?

Quiet laughter filtered through the room.

Ripped, Greg KotGreg Kot is joining Chuck Klosterman and Nathan Rabin at the DePaul Barnes and Nobel next week to talk about the role of music in their work and lives. I’m planning on attending for a number of reasons. Music is a topic I’m very interested in. Klosterman is an author I’ve come to enjoy a great deal over the past several years. And most coincidentally, Greg Kot is the music columnist for the Chicago Tribune where I work. But that’s not all. Kot’s latest book, Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music, chronicles the massive changes roiling through the music industry in the past fifteen years. Much of the book discusses the ways the Internet has changed music. But before that, Kot spends several chapters discussing the transformative effects of radio consolidation that gripped the industry in the 1990s: for example, the second chapter of Ripped details the practices of Clear Channel under the direction of Randy Michaels. Randy Michaels is now the current Chief Operating Officer of Tribune Company. Several other key Clear Channel executives were recruited to Tribune eighteen months ago when Tribune Company went private. Meet the new boss, indeed.

So we have a fascinating constellation of topics — personal, professional and accidental — that have come together in a book that has landed almost literally on my doorstep. And much of that, while interesting to me, says very little about the quality of research and attention Kot pays to the subject at hand. Still, I found this quote in a review of Ripped by David Thigpen, former Time music writer, particularly poignant:

Kot’s insider access and the chops honed as a music critic give this book a richness that makes it an indispensable survey of the turbulent turn-of-the-century music scene. Ironically, with the digital revolution also putting newspapers on notice, it’s unlikely the “wired” generation of legions of bedroom bloggers and earnest but unprofessional amateurs will soon produce a writer with the broad perspective and access it took to achieve this book.

Grr! Argh!I had an engaging conversation today about the rapid adoption of social media phenoms: Facebook and Twitter. This was more than just a discussion of the fantastic rates of adoption these two sites have enjoyed. We talked at length about their ubiquity and utility. As more and more people I know have begun using these services, I have come under increasing pressure to join them. I haven’t. That may sound egotistical or misanthropic — a tried and true (and tired) way to reassert my “dark and mysterious” demeanor in an increasingly over-exposed world.

I don’t mean it that way.

I have a long history of adopting technology ahead of the curve. And again this may sound like bragging or elitism. My way of saying that I was country before country was cool. Fine. What I’m trying to explain is my methodology for adoption of new technology. I’m not a technological explorer — tinkering with new technologies just for the sake of discovery. I want to have a purpose in mind. I separate art from craft, poiesis from techne. My primary criteria for this separation is utility. Technology serves a purpose. It has a function. It does something. When a given technology proves that its utility exceeds its cost, I adopt it.

I see Twitter as another communication model, the latest of many that have followed since the model for a computer has shifted from a computing device to a communication device. Mobile computing has accelerated this transition dramatically. But absent a compelling reason to use this tool to communicate over any of the other well-established ones I already enjoy, Twitter is an empty vessel, lacking real utilitarian value.

I find Facebook an empty activity in its own right — sociological navel-gazing at best. A pass-time on par with a Saturday afternoon filled with John Woo movies or an MTV marathon of “The Real World.” At worst it is an unfortunate reconnection with a past that by all rights I buried in the past.

Facebook is the Sims but with real people.

So far I have not seen the compelling use-case argument for either of these media. Spreadsheets, email, wikis, digital photography: these passed my arbitrary utility test with ease. Blogs, instant messaging, and cellular phones had a more arduous time of convincing me. MySpace, Facebook and Twitter remind me that I am rapidly becoming a middle-aged member of Generation X. I was born into the Space Age, not the Internet Age. In terms of the Internet culture, I am Issei, rather than Nisei.

And I am in awe at how radically the society changes with such generational influence.