R.I.P. Net Neutrality

The internet is the greatest invention in the history of mankind. Information has never flowed more freely in the 5,000 plus years of recorded history. The advent of the internet has allowed more ideas to be shared than previously thought possible. Art, science, literature, cinema, and any number of creative works are shared with ease. Billions of dollars are made and lost. People conduct important work and, at the same time, preform mundane tasks like caring for a virtual garden. We connect with old friends and long lost relatives. Grandmothers view pictures and videos of their grandchildren instantly from thousands of miles away. That may all be changing very soon.

Imagine an internet where the information we see is controlled by the same people who deliver it to your home. Do you want to watch a video on YouTube? Too bad! AT&T might demand an access fee from Google. Maybe Google doesn’t want to pay the fee. Maybe you want to go to Fox News’ site. Well, guess what, Comcast owns NBC. MSNBC could be the only news site you get to access. Why should they allow you to look at their competitor’s site? Why would Fox or CNN pay an exorbitant toll to get through? Do you think they want to prop up their competitors? Who do you think will actually pay these fees? The companies? Yeah right. It’s going to get passed on to the consumers.

I know what you might be thinking. That’s all impossible. That could never be allowed! Well, think again. The Appeals Court for Washington D.C. has struck down the FCC’s ability to enforce net neutrality. Of course the service providers are thrilled about this. While they say they won’t do it, the fact remains that this now allows them to charge extra for access to certain areas of the internet. If there is one thing I know about corporations, it is that they will never pass up a chance to make more money off their customers.

Of course, congress could pass a bill enforcing net neutrality. They could pass legislation giving the FCC control over internet communications again. I for one would like to see something like that happen. Part of me has a doom and gloom feeling about it. Can I trust our senators to do what is right? I hope so. I am asking my elected officials to do the right thing. Hopefully, you will too.

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Goodbye Blockbuster!

Blockbuster Video, I knew you well.

On November 6th Dish Network announced plans to close the last Blockbuster stores. An era has ended. I put in a good three years at Blockbuster. I even made my way up to a glorified whipping boy otherwise called a Shift Leader. Some days it was the greatest job in the world. Other days, not so much. What I do remember most was the camaraderie I had with my fellow employees. While I may not keep up with most of them anymore, I can name just about all of them. We were in the trenches together and we counted on one another.

The memories of weekends still send shivers up my spine. Friday and Saturday nights were our game nights. Most of the time we didn’t leave until 2 a.m. because the store looked like a bomb had gone off. We could always count on lines that stretched to the back of the store. People regularly yelled and screamed obscenities at us that would make sailors blush in shame. Inevitably, every other customer would be upset about the latest hit not being available for them. This was usually around 9 p.m. On a weekend. The stupidity of people never ceased to amaze me.

Some nights would be so busy that we would actually start trivia games with the customers in line. The winners would get free popcorn or candy or possibly even a rental. Whatever we had to do to keep a riot from breaking out. Really, it was more fun than it sounds. Usually the violence was kept to a minimum. Usually. God forbid it rained or snow. Those were the days when everyone in the city of Fort Worth decided to show up at the very store I was working at. On those days, we ran out of everything. Seriously, I watched a guy rent Gigli out of desperation. Good times.

One thing that was guaranteed was that you had to work every holiday. The stores just didn’t close. Ever. No, you could look forward to working Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and everything in between. In fact, my first day was on Thanksgiving. I signed up as seasonal help. How the hell it wound up being three years is completely beyond me, but I digress.

Well, now it’s time to say my permanent goodbyes to the big blue ticket. The late fees, the endless lines of customers, the Blockbuster Rewards Cards, the trip after trip with the movie cart, all of those things are gone forever. One day I will be over the trauma. One day I will have fond memories instead of nightmares when I think about a video store. I can start the process of recovery now. Blockbuster, I’d like to say I’ll miss you, but really I’m just going to try and forget you.

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A Look Back

This has  been an interesting semester for me. The time has flown at a dizzying rate. A busy school schedule, a brutal work schedule, and an always hectic family have all left me with barely enough time to even sleep. Couple all of that with the fact that every medical calamity possible seems to have happened over the last few months and it becomes easy to see why time has been my greatest enemy this semester. It’s been a delicate balance that I have barely been able to maintain.

With all of that said, there has been one saving grace: English 3372. I actually looked forward to going to this class. All around it has been greatly enjoyable. From my fellow students all the way up to the professor, everything in this class made it seem less like something I have to do and more like something I wanted to do. The lessons learned here have been ones that I hope and believe will aid me far in to the future. What are those lessons? Let me expound!

Web 2.0 Technologies

I consider myself to be pretty darned savvy when it come to computers, technology, and the internet. I have to be because it is my job to be. As a computer tech, you must keep your knowledge fresh and current or the world will pass you by before you know it. I must admit that I was lacking in some areas though. I never really did understand what exactly a “Web 2.0” is or how it was supposed to be different from the normal web. I always assumed that it was just some buzz word that was latched on to in order to make the same old stuff sound new and exciting. Apparently I was wrong. Take a screenshot because I don’t admit though often.

I am not going to go over these Web 2.0 tools again. If you want to know my feelings on the tools we used in this class you can look back at my last post on this subject. No, what I want to discuss here is what my experience using these tools was like. Using the Web 2.0 tools provided and discussed in English 3372 started out as more of a hassle than anything else. I didn’t want to use Twitter or blog. This is an English class damn it! Let me write my papers and get the hell out! My attitude in the beginning was completely wrong. <—-Screenshot

Using these tools made collaboration with my fellow students easier than I could imagine. Also, being able to do my homework from any computer or phone made an amazing difference in how easy this class was for me. All I have to do is Tweet a few things for class? Sweet, let me pull out my phone! All I have to do is write a blog post on WordPress? Awesome, got an app on my phone for that and my work computer doesn’t have their site blocked! Dropbox? Pfft, more like easy as pie box, right guys? Okay, maybe that one is a bit much, but you get my point.

Collaboration

As I mentioned in the previous section, collaboration with my fellow students was made much easier using these tools. Everyone has a busy schedule so getting time to meet up and put our heads together was impossible. What we did have though was email, Twitter, and Dropbox. These tools enabled us to put our ideas together and update them on a mostly regular basis.

Just about every college student will tell you that group projects are the worst. It’s just a given that you will have certain people in your group. I will handily list them.

  1. The in charge guy/girl – This is the person who assumes control of the group immediately. Usually this person is also the one person everyone in the group dislikes the most. Strangely enough, people initially bend to their will.
  2. The “what?” person – This person is absolutely clueless. They don’t understand the project or what is needed from them to accomplish it. They need their hand held through the entire process. At least they do the work though.
  3. The absentee person – This person shows up for group meetings, has lots to say, and is usually the same person as the in charge guy/girl. They just aren’t doing their part though. Usually they believe that participating in discussions is enough. The grunt work should be left up to everyone else!
  4. The smart guy/girl – This is true backbone of any group project. 90% of the work is typically done by this person. It happens because he/she lets it happen. You see, it is easier for them to do the work than it is to complain to anyone in charge. Teachers typically don’t care how the job gets done, they just want it done. The smart guy/girl will not let the incompetence of her group members drag his/her grade down.

Obviously you can mix and match these people, but anyone who has ever had a group project will nod their head in agreement with this list. The great part about my group project this semester: none of those people existed in my group! Surely you are thinking that everyone needs a smart guy/girl in their group. Well, that is correct and we had that person in our group. More to the point, my whole group was that person. Everyone doing their part to ensure the success of the project was the theme and goal of our group. It worked. By god, it actually worked!

What Did I Learn?

Honestly, and I am sorry Dr. Hara, but I did not learn any new information in this class. What I did learn though was to appreciate many of the tools we used. Before English 3372, I had absolutely no appreciation for social media. I knew how to use it because I had to stay relevant, but I didn’t care about social media. I assumed that things like Facebook, Twitter, and similar networking sites were simply flash in the pan trends. I was wrong! <—-Screenshot Social media is not just a trend; it is the future. Citizen journalists are becoming more and more prevalent. Social media is being used to usher in revolutions, coordinate civil wars, and to topple corrupt governments. The whole world is getting smaller than we could have ever imagined and this is largely being facilitated by social media.

Again, appreciation was the lesson learned here. Now that I have an appreciation for these tools, I can assure you that I will not forget that. I will incorporate social media in to my life like I have never done before. From making myself more visible to anonymously espousing controversial opinions, social media is now a part of how I do these things. It’s a brave new world for me. All I can do is ride this train and see where it take me.

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A Little Something About “Black Friday”

I work in retail. I am not ashamed of it either. A job is a job. Working in retail has exposed me to one of the most insane American traditions in existence: Black Friday. Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving when idiots flock to stores to buy cheap crap because it is such a good “deal”. Some of these people even go so far as to set up tents and camp out in front of their store of choice. That’s right, they are so pathetic that they choose to forgo Thanksgiving so that they can be the first to get their hands on junk they don’t need and likely wouldn’t want if it weren’t on super-duper, OMG sale!

I will step on that old lady's soul to get that $30 camera!

I suppose it is immediately apparent how I feel about Black Friday. If you did not get the gist of it in the previous paragraph, I will spell it out for you here: I hate it. There is nothing more vile than the annual lemming run known as Black Friday. This year some retailers are taking it to a whole new level though.

You see, Target, Best Buy, Macy’s, and Kohl’s have all decided to open at midnight instead of the standard of 5:00 am. Wal-Mart is taking it even further by opening at 10:00 pm, but they are usually open 24 hours anyways. For those businesses that are opening at midnight, that means the employees have to be on scene by 10 or 11. So yeah, no Thanksgiving for them. To make matters even worse, most employees are expected to work a minimum of a 12 hour shift. It’s bad enough to ask them to be there before 5:00 am, but to ask them to be there from 10 at night to 10 in the morning is just ridiculous. Oh and don’t even think about calling in sick or even dead on Black Friday unless you want to lose your job. Seriously, try and find me a retail business that doesn’t consider working on Black Friday as being absolutely, 100% mandatory. No questions asked, no excuses accepted. If you don’t show, you forfeit your job. It really is that simple.

Kind of like this, but with way less compassion

Fortunately for me, I got lucky this year. I do work for one of the places that is opening at midnight, but my particular job is not needed until normal business hours. I don’t have to be in until noon on Black Friday. I get a nice normal shift, but a lot of people don’t. So while it may not directly affect me, it does affect a lot of my friends. For them, I am particularly pissed about this cash grab.

So here is what I am hoping: complete and utter failure. I hope that extra 5 hours that these stores are open costs them more than what they bring in. These businesses are treating their employees like serfs. They are being told this year that their time with their families is not important. What is important is getting those doors and selling crap specifically made to be sold on Black Friday. That’s right, most of that “too good to be true” stuff you buy on Black Friday is a lesser quality version than you can buy the day before or the day after. I have never seen a $300 laptop sold on Black Friday that was worth more than$250. Why? Because the specs on those things are deliberately made to be inferior in order to fleece morons. All the mindless sheep see is a computer with a perceived low price tag!

Look son, this one has 1.6 jiggawatts of memory. Only paid $300 for it!

So here is what I am asking from those who may happen to stumble across this post: don’t go! Please, for the love of all that is holy, don’t go. Should this year’s extravaganza succeed, then all retailers will do it next year. Think about that for a second. To get all the really good “deals” you will have to go at midnight from now on. You can effectively kiss a decent Thanksgiving goodbye at that point.

What you have been reading is my opinion. I realize some of my language may have been harsh. I also realize that some people believe that a retail worker gets what’s coming to him. If you didn’t want to be a slave to market pressures blah, blah, blah. I know all the talking points. Should you want to spout them in the comments, that is fine. I would prefer decent, respectable conversations though.

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Web 2.0 and Me: What the Hell is a Twitter and How Does it Taste?

I have always considered myself to be a fairly savvy denizen of the internet. I still make that claim. Truth be told, I am a computer person in general. You absolutely must have a fairly good working knowledge of the internet if you want to make it in the computer industry. This is indisputable and any disagreements will be dealt with swiftly and harshly!

With my bit o’ bragging out of the way, I must now state that there were some really neat things that I was missing out on. Fortunately for me and the rest of the world Dr. Hara showed me the light. You see, I know how awesome things like Twitter and blogging are thanks to her and her English 3372 class. So that’s great for me. For the rest of the world, it is great because they can now read all the great things I have to say.

Yep, this just about sums it up.

Let’s start with Twitter!

I knew about Twitter well before I started taking this class. I also somehow knew it sucked despite having never used it. Sure, that’s a bit short-sited, but whatever. Don’t judge me. Well, the first day of class we were informed that we had to sign up. How awful was that? The gall of this professor! Didn’t she know how I felt about Twitter?

How I felt!

Apparently I was being irrational. After signing up for Twitter I had a slow start. Other than who I was forced to follow, who else was I supposed to follow? I started looking. I quickly found that a lot of my favorite media personalities are on Twitter. I had some friends and family on there as well. Next thing I know I am actually participating. Willingly. Okay, I can concede now that I may have possibly been wrong about Twitter. It really is pretty neat. I don’t often concede defeat so easily. Next time Dr. Hara, next time!

Delicious

Wow, this site is amazing. It’s simplicity can not be overstated. Basically, you throw up your bookmarks on here and other people can check them out. Sounds like a terrible idea, right? Not so fast! You can tag them, share them, and comment on them. You can search through the many, many available public links as well. Just a random search for “clownsreturns 2299 results. As horrifying as the thought that people are stockpiling clown sites may seem, it just goes to show how useful this site really can be.

On the other hand....

Terrifying yourself in to a sobbing mess isn’t Delicious’s only plus. Think about the countless times you have been at a buddy’s house and could not remember a site or even what you searched for to find it. No problem says Delicious. Save that cool stuff to Delicious and when you are at your friend’s house then you can just log in and pull it up. Sweet!

No, really, please stop saving the clown sites. Please...

WordPress

Hopefully anyone reading this knows what WordPress is. Here is a hint: you are on it right now. WordPress does two things. First, it allows people like me to create blogs for free. All you have to do is sign up and start spouting your opinion like the whole world cares. Second, they have a plugin that almost all major web hosting sites allow you to install on your domain. This enables you to take advantage of their easy to use interface while maintaining your personal site. Do you like the way the WordPress dashboard makes updating your page easy, but don’t like being tied down to xyz.wordpress.com? It can be kind of cumbersome. You know what is not cumbersome? Xyz.com, that’s what. Just purchase your chosen domain name, find a host that supports WordPress, install it, and get busy talking to the world. It really is that easy.

You keep saying it's easy, but I am still looking for that damned "any" key.

Well, there you have it. We those are the three major tools we have used this semester. Sure, there were a few that we talked about, but those were consistent. They were the rocks upon which we raised our buildings of education. They are our addictions and enablers all at the same time. To describe them as the glue that binds would be putting it a little too mildly! If I try to fit one more euphemism in here it will likely be too much for the universe to handle so I will stop now.

Getting a little woozy here James.

As always, comments, criticisms, and suggestions are always welcomed. Jump in and tell me what you think!

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Technology and Literacy? Someone Missed the Mark…Maybe

Cynthia Selfe wrote Technology and Literacy in the 21st Century: The Importance of Paying Attention in 1999. I have not read the book. I probably won’t ever read it, but I did read the first chapter! While outdated, I believe many of the points she made were decent enough.

The main talking point is President Clinton’s Technology Literacy Challenge. President Clinton had proposed a $2 billion fund for increasing technology access, usage, and literacy. The question then becomes, what is computer literacy. Selfe devotes a great deal of time to explaining this. She says that it can be one of two things:

  1. “Computer skills and the ability to use computers and other technology to improve learning, productivity and performance”
  2. Being able to use a computer to read, write, and communicate.

The big question though is this: have we achieved computer literacy? Did all the efforts pay off? Who shot J.R.?

Maybe this isn't relative, but I've been trying to fit it in somewhere!

My best source of information regarding this issue comes from my own personal experience. I am, by trade, a computer technician. That’s just a fancy term for one who fixes computers. If you ask me, I will tell you that people are not becoming more computer literate. No, they are treating computers like they do cars. People just want them to work. They don’t care how. For all most people know it could just be magic.

Pictured: Tech Support

Now, to be fair, my own experience is extremely skewered. It is indeed a fact that the world has become more tech savvy. I hesitate to give credit to a technology challenge though. The thing that has made computers more common is likely due to one very important factor: price. When Selfe wrote Literacy, the average price of a computer was right below $1000. Today the average price is roughly half that, for both laptops and desktops! This price discrepancy has resulted in a boon in personal computer sales. By the end of the year 2000, half of all households in the United States had computers. That’s roughly 54 million households. By the end of this year, it is expected that 364 million PCs will be sold. That’s enough to accommodate ever single man, woman, and child in the United States. Also, that number is not the number of computers used throughout the world. No, that’s just what will have been sold by the end of this year world wide. Back in 2008 there were 1 billion computers in use. That’s one for every six people. Think about that number just for this year and you can see that we are quickly approaching a margin of 2 for every six.

So, while people may not fully understand how computers work or even what they can do with them, the fact remains that most people probably at least know how to function one. When this book came out, most people would likely have had trouble even turning on a computer!

What about communication and literacy though? Don’t they rate? Absolutely! Today, computer writing is the standard. But that’s not the only standard that’s related. Kids use texting more than they talk on phones. Sure, this has created a bane of text speak, but the fact remains that coherent thoughts are still being conveyed over a technological medium that is closely related to personal computers.

Most newspapers are now offered digitally as well as many magazines. More and more technology is forcing literacy upon people. In order to properly use a computer you have to be able to read. In order to get any kind of work you have to be able to use a computer. Even jobs that in the past were considered menial labor require computer usage. Going to work at McDonald’s? Better brush up on your computer skills! Plan on digging ditches? Those machines are controlled by computers. Yeah, they are everywhere. You may as well bow down to your computer overlords now. It can only make things easier on you.

Yes sir, and don't worry, I won't let it happen again.

Okay, that’s my rant on the subject. Any comments, criticisms, or witty remarks are always greatly appreciated!

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Wikipedia

Writing a Wikipedia article is painful. Not exactly the best way to start, I know, but hear me out. First of all, it’s all so arbitrary. What qualifies for more than a “stub”?Who decides what a good reference is or is not?Are the mods time traveling Nazis?These are questions that must be answered!

My task was to either create a new article or at least expand on an existing stub. Sounds easy, right?Yeah, not so much. To start off with, everything has already been written. A million+ articles is more knowledge than anyone place should have! If you can think it, it has been done. I promise you that. Fortunately for me, I found a very small stub on a man that I actually knew a little something about. Did you catch the word “little”?I hope so, because that’s all I could muster. Sure, I expanded it to more than just a cursory paragraph. I added sections and links and what I believe are “real” references, but damn…

Now here’s the real kicker: should I put up a large article that would easily qualify as a doctorate thesis, any yahoo could come along and edit it. Not only that, but, one of the moderators or editors could come along and scrap the whole thing on little more than a whim. Sure, there is a process in place to make your case as to why it should not be deleted, but even then it can be arbitrary.

Don’t get me wrong though. I believe that the processes in place are most likely very important. When you want your body of work to be taken seriously, you can’t allow just anything to be thrown up. I get that. What I am saying is that there is no possible way they have experts on every single subject, person, place, or thing! No way! Think about it. Such a thing would be ridiculously impossible to do. Even major universities can’t do it. Do you think the University of Texas has an expert on rodeo clowns?Well, a major Texas university might, but I promise you most in this country don’t!

Let’s talk about their so-called markup language. Listen, you can’t take everything everyone ever knew about word processing and HTML (you know, hypertext MARKUP language) and just throw it out the window. I really do understand that some changes are probably necessary due to the way links and references are handled, but asking me to forget everything is just ridiculous. Why would I put some crazy dashes to make a level 2 header?Why not just let me use the far more sensible

?I guess that would make too much sense!

I do want to make it clear that I greatly value Wikipedia. I have even donated to help keep it alive. They do a lot of good and help keep the world informed. That can be nothing but good. However, that does not mean that I am cut out for writing for them. Maybe I have difficulty with staying neutral. If it’s not fairly obvious, I have a pretty high opinion of my own opinion. My points need to be made as far as I am concerned! Well, Wikipedia doesn’t want my opinion and that’s okay. I understand the fact that my type of writing is not for them and vice-versa. I did what I was supposed to do though and I hope it’s good enough. Now I just have to hope I have this pecha kucha thing figured out…

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