Category Archives: Web/Tech

Someone found my Kindle on the airplane this weekend. I’d really like it back.

I left my Kindle on an airplane this weekend (post-convention exhaustion will do that to you), and someone found it.

I know that someone found it, because they've been using my account to buy games and books. Based on the purchases, I'm fairly sure the person who found my Kindle (which is named Wheatley) is young, possibly a teenager or a college student. He or she likes Scrabble, Battleship, Spelling Star, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and something called Telesa. He or she also hopes to learn Samoan, French, and Spanish. He or she has spent a fair amount of my money on these things.

I used Amazon's Personal Document thing to send a note to my Kindle, thanking the person for finding it, and telling them that I can be contacted at [email protected] to arrange its return.

I'm hopeful that this person will do the right thing and get in touch.

*Updated*

I called Amazon, reported it stolen, and they deactivated it after refunding me the fradulent purchases.

This isn't the end of the world; I can afford a new Kindle (thank Steve the Fruitbat), and in the grand scheme of things, it isn't the biggest of deals… but I sincerely hoped that whoever has my Kindle now would have read the note I sent to it, which is titled TO THE PERSON WHO FOUND MY KINDLE, and gotten in touch to return it to me. I want to believe in the basic goodness of people.

I really hope that it wasn't just taken by some kid who decided to keep something because, you know, Finders Keepers. I really hope that it was taken by some dirtbag who turned around and sold it to a kid who is too young to know that "this Kindle comes with whatever you want and you never have to pay for it, just give me fifty bucks for meth!" or whatever is a pretty clear flag that something isn't totally honest with this thing.

Anyway, it looks like I'm not getting it back, and all someone has for their trouble is a useless piece of plastic and wires.

life imitates art (or: I don’t know much about brain scans, but I’ll help you fix your computer.)

Earlier today, I got an email from a Star Trek TNG cast member who will remain nameless. I've chosen the pseudonym Jonathan Frakes for the purposes of this post.

"Jonathan Frakes's" email had been compromised, and I'd gotten one of the things it sent out, so I pinged him and offered to help him fix it, if he needed assistance. "It turns out I still have a little Wesley Crusher in me," I typed. Then I thought for a moment and added, "…eww. That doesn't sound right at all."

I walked him through scanning and removing spyware and malware, mostly via text messages… which was hilarious to me, because my text message alert tone is the original Star Trek communicator sound.

It all ran smoothly, but "Frakes" was concerned about his CPU maxing out. "It's using all the power," he typed to me. Then, and I swear to whatever god you believe in that this is true, he followed that up with: "I'm givin it all I can, Captain!"

I typed back, "Okay. Run a level five diagnostic and emit an inverse neutrino pulse through the main navigational deflector."

A moment later "Jonathan Frakes" replied, "All done! It worked. Thanks for your help."

"Any time," I replied. Then I collapsed into a fit of giggles.

This was funny to me, because we're two Star Trek guys (with magnificent beards), making contextually-relevant Star Trek jokes with each other. More significantly, though, is that we did this using handheld computers which were inspired by the show we were on twenty-five years ago.

Finally, in a nice, poetic bit of closing the circle: twenty-five years ago, I helped Patrick Stewart set up his first Mac II computer. It was an incredible technological marvel, that blew me away… and it didn't have a fraction of the computing power or memory of my four-and-half ounce smart phone.

I love living in the future.

So I broke down and made a Facebook thing…

I’ve resisted using Facebook for years, mostly because I have a huge problem with the privacy policies. I’m really happy using a combination of Twitter, Tumblr, and Google Plus to do all my social media public life stuff, and I don’t really want to add something else.

But I’ve talked with friends who I trust and respect, people who create and produce awesome things for the Internet, and they have all told me that even if I don’t like Facebook personally, having at least some kind of Facebook presence is an important part of our public lives, especially because there are thousands and thousands of people who get online and never really leave Facebook… so I asked Felicia Day to help me figure out Facebook, and with her help I think I made the privacy things work as best as I can, so I can have a Facebook… thing. Page. Whatever. Like This. Something.

I know that a PR person would tell me to “spin” this as something I think is totally awesome, and brand something and interact with synergy excitement Bieber, but the truth is: I feel weird and not entirely comfortable doing it. I feel like I’m compromising something I’d rather not compromise. But I’m there because I know that even though I’m not crazy about Facebook, a lot of people are, and it’s silly to ignore all those people because I’m a cranky old man. Also, being on Facebook affords me some business opportunities that I wouldn’t otherwise have, and being able to support my family is more important to me than shaking my fist at a windmill every day.

I told my wife, “I know that I’m an adult, because I made a compromise that made me uncomfortable, because it was in my family’s best interest.”

Then I said, “But it still feels weird.”

So I have a Facebook thing, which I hope to turn into something cool, or at least interesting. If you care about that sort of thing, now you know about it.

Just so you know what to expect if you subscribe to it:

I have currently connected Twitter and Tumblr and occasionally my blog to the Facebook thing, so all my things are in one place. This means that there will occasionally be a huge flood of Twitter things or Tumblr things posting here automagically. Also, I say "thing" a lot. 

I'm happy with this, and I honestly like having one place on the Internet that holds all of my stupid things together. I realize, however, that not everyone shares this opinion, and if you're one of those people, you should probably unsubscribe; no big deal.

 A few other things you should probably know:

  • I'm opinionated.
  • I love hockey.
  • I'm a progressive populist.
  • I'm a secular humanist.
  • I have zero patience for people who are dicks, and I block pretty ruthlessly.
  • I love science.
  • I don't really censor myself. I swear a lot.
  • Occasionally, something will show up here from my Tumblr that's NSFW.
  • I'm probably going to disappoint you in some way.

I've been there about a week, and I don't completely hate it. I read as many comments there as I have time to read, and I'm not able to respond as often as I'd like.

However, love it when some silly or stupid thing I did sparks a conversation between people who have nothing in common other than reading whatever that thing is. Maybe some of you will become real life friends, and come to a w00tstock together, and then you'll be all, "Hey, we met because we both liked that thing, and now we're here together." Then we'll all high five, take a picture, and post it online.

Okay, that's all. If you still want to subscribe to it, I hope it's worth your time.

 

Today the US Senate is considering legislation that would destroy the free and open Internet.

“Why is it that when Republicans and Democrats need to solve the budget and the deficit, there’s deadlock, but when Hollywood lobbyists pay them $94 million dollars to write legislation, people from both sides of the aisle line up to co-sponsor it?”

        –Reddit Founder Alexis Ohanian on CNBC.

I put this on my Tumblr thing earlier today, but I'm reposting it here, because it's important to me. If you don't know what SOPA and ProtectIP are, read this technical examination of SOPA and ProtectIP from the Reddit blog and come back when you're done.

SOPA Lives — and MPAA calls protests an "abuse of power."

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has looked at tomorrow’s “Internet blackout” in opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)—and it sees only a “gimmick,” a “stunt,” “hyperbole,” “a dangerous and troubling development,” an “irresponsible response,” and an “abuse of power.”

“Wikipedia, reddit, and others are going dark to protest the legislation, while sites like Scribd and Google will also protest. In response, MPAA chief Chris Dodd wheeled out the big guns and started firing the rhetoric machine-gun style. 

“Only days after the White House and chief sponsors of the legislation responded to the major concern expressed by opponents and then called for all parties to work cooperatively together, some technology business interests are resorting to stunts that punish their users or turn them into their corporate pawns, rather than coming to the table to find solutions to a problem that all now seem to agree is very real and damaging.”

Can I interrupt for a moment? Thanks. When you complain that opponents didn’t “come to the table to find solutions”, do you mean that we didn’t give NINETY-FOUR MILLION DOLLARS to congress like the MPAA? Or do you mean that we didn’t come to the one hearing that Lamar Smith held, where opponents of SOPA were refused an opportunity to comment? Help me out, here, Chris Dodd, because I’m really trying hard to understand you.

“It is an irresponsible response and a disservice to people who rely on them for information and use their services. It is also an abuse of power given the freedoms these companies enjoy in the marketplace today. It’s a dangerous and troubling development when the platforms that serve as gateways to information intentionally skew the facts to incite their users in order to further their corporate interests.”

Oh ha ha. Ho. Ho. The MPAA talking about “skewing the facts to incite” anyone is just too much. 

“A so-called “blackout” is yet another gimmick, albeit a dangerous one, designed to punish elected and administration officials who are working diligently to protect American jobs from foreign criminals.”

Except for the part where this is completely false, it’s a valid point.

“It is our hope that the White House and the Congress will call on those who intend to stage this “blackout” to stop the hyperbole and PR stunts and engage in meaningful efforts to combat piracy.”

Riiiiiiight. Protesting to raise awareness of terrible legislation that will destroy the free and open Internet is an abuse of power, but buying NINETY-FOUR MILLION DOLLARS worth of congressional votes is just fine.

I’m so disappointed in Chris Dodd. He was a pretty good senator, wrote some bills (like Dodd/Frank) that are genuinely helping people, and is going to be on the wrong side of every argument as the head of the MPAA. What a wasted legacy.

===

I am 100% opposed to SOPA and PIPA, even though I'm one of the artists they were allegedly written to protect. I've probably lost a few hundred dollars in my life to what the MPAA and RIAA define as piracy, and that sucks, but that doesn't come close to how much money I've lost from a certain studio's creative accounting.

The RIAA and MPAA are, again, on the wrong side of history. Attempting to tear apart one of the single greatest communications achievements in human history in a misguided attempt to cling to an outdated business model instead of adapting to the changing world is a fucking crime.

A free and open Internet is as important to me as the bill of rights. I don't want the government of one country — especially the corporate-controlled United States government — to exert unilateral control over the Internet for any reason, especially not because media corporations want to buy legislation that won't do anything to actually stop online piracy, but will expand the American police state, and destroy the Internet as we know it.

Please contact your Senators and US Representatives, and tell them to vote NO on SOPA and ProtectIP. The future of the Internet — and the present we take for granted — depend on it.

I really, really, REALLY hate DRM. Especially when it screws honest people.

I'm sure that many of you know that I hate DRM so much, it makes me want to punch babies. I have promised that I will never knowingly infect anything you buy from me with DRM.

So you'll probably be as surprised as I am to learn that Lulu put Memories of the Future, Volume 1 into the iBook store and into my Lulu shop (yay! awesome! Memories in a native eReader format!) but put that horrible, intrusive, disgusting, annoying, stupid Adobe DRM bullshit into the files.

I've heard from a non-zero number of readers who legally purchased MotFv1, and were (rightly) furious that they had to install some bullshit software they didn't want, just so they could read something that they paid for.

For example:

Adobe Digital Editions doesn't run on Linux and Lulu, like most companies who sell digital content (*cough* audible *cough*), doesn't care.
For Linux users like me there are three options:
a) Find a Windows machine or Mac at work or with friends, then install
ADE there (thereby also using one of my six devices I'm allowed to read
on for someone else's computer)
b) Spend hours getting it to work in wine on my Linux machine
c) Bittorrent it.

I think it's pretty obvious which one is the least work. If I'm inclined
to buy another ebook I'm much more likely to bittorrent it and the
donate on the author's web page than buying over Lulu.

I completely agree with this email, and others like it. This is the sort of thing that drives honest people to piracy, because the pirates are providing a better end user experience for them than the legal alternatives.

I tried to revise the file so that there is no DRM, but I can't do that without uploading an entirely new file. I tried to download the file Lulu made (which, other than the DRM bullshit is really nice and well-formatted; I would totally use their conversion service again in the future, if I was given the option to do it without DRM) so I can convert it to a non-DRM'd version and re-upload it, but it keeps telling me that there's an error with the file — yeah, no shit, that "error" is what I'm trying to eliminate! — and since I'm leaving for FedCon in just a few hours, I don't have the time to keep banging my head against the wall trying to fix it.

So: I want readers and potential readers to know that I'm aware of this problem, it is not my fault, and I'm doing everything I can to fix it … it's just going to be a week or so until I can.

The silver lining in all of this is that I was able to do a really neat .mobi conversion that I uploaded to the KDP store yesterday. If everything goes according to plan, you should be able to buy Memories of the Future, Volume 1 for your Kindle by the weekend.

Help me help Safecast help people in Japan

This morning, my friend Sean Bonner e-mailed me this:

As you may or may not know I’ve spent the vast majority of the last month either in Tokyo or working with people in Japan on project I helped start called Safecast. Actually we just changed the name to Safecast, until last week it was called RDTN. We realized that the only information on radiation levels was coming from groups we couldn’t really trust, and decided we could do something better. Safecast has a goal of distributing geiger counters to people in Japan and creating an open data sensor network so anyone can access the information we gather with these devices. We’re also collecting data ourselves – if you have a few moments and want to read this post it’s a great example of what we’re doing right this second.

http://blog.safecast.org/2011/04/24/first-safecast/

If you don’t have a few moments I’ll sum it up for you – we drove up to Fukushima and took readings at schools that are in the “safe” zone. At one of those schools we measured over 50 µSv/hr outside on a playground. To put that in perspective outside today in Los Angeles I measured 0.072 µSv/hr. We also gave some counters to volunteers in the area who will take readings and report back to us, and measured over 5000 different points during the trip. We hope to do this on a regular basis.

Anyway, what I’m asking for your help with is this:

http://blog.safecast.org/2011/04/25/fundraising/

We have a kickstarter and are more than halfway to our goal, but only have 11 days left to hit that mark. While donations are helpful, what we really need is awareness. We need more people to know about what we’re doing, we need more people to know they can help.

I’ve known Sean for almost 12 years, and even though he does amazing things all the time, he never sends out e-mails like this. This is something Sean cares deeply about, and I want to help him however I can, starting with my blog, my Twitter, and my Tumblr.

I keep hearing from people that I have all this influence, people listen to me, I have lots of Twitter followers and blog readers blah blah blah. I think it’s way overestimated … but I’d love to get this project funded and find out that I actually do have a voice that occasionally rises above the background noise.

If you are comfortable with it, please help me give this a signal boost and tell your friends,  tell Reddit, tell your eccentric millionaire uncle who likes to fund projects … you get the idea.

Thank you.

various items including: hunter, marketplace, batman, and a show with paul and storm

Various items that may be relevant to your interests begin … NOW!

* I talked to the Marketplace Tech Report recently, and our two interviews are now online.

I'm sure it will surprise you to learn that I'm a huge NPR geek, so getting to talk to John Moe for Marketplace (I did my side of the converstaion from KPCC) was pretty cool.

I am doing a show at Largo with Paul and Storm on Tuesday, March 29th! I'm going to perform stories with and without musical accompaniment, and Paul and Storm are going to play music. Then we'll sing about pirates for two hours. Los Angeles always asks me to do a show, and then nobody ever shows up when I do one here. Don't fucking let me down, Los Angeles; I'm getting tired of defending you to Chicago.

* I know I'm way late to the party on this, but I've been playing Batman: Arkham Asylum recently. It's sort of like being in control of an episode of the Batman animated series, but there are a couple of things that keep taking me out of the experience.

First, there is just way too much backtracking. I really hate it when games do this, because it feels like a cheap way to make a game appear longer than it is, and it's just boring. I already did the complicated zipline batclaw jumpglide across the poison gas room thing, guys. I don't need to do it again.

Second, It's incredibly fun to pretend that I'm Batman, but it's a little silly that I my progress is constantly thwarted by 5-foot high brick walls. And by a little, I mean goddamn fucking ridiculous. I AM THE GODDAMN BATMAN FOR FUCKS SAKE.

Still, those complaints aside, it's a lot (or alot, if you prefer) of fun. Beating up on bad guys requires timing and precision, so it doesn't turn into a button masher (you can try that, if you want, but you won't get very far). There are also two extra games that parallell the main storyline where you try to solve puzzles posed by The Riddler, and you try to find these tablets that reveal the history of Arkham Asylum.

Huh. I just sort of reviewed the game without meaning to. I guess I should grade it, then: B-

* I think it's really important that the story of HBGary, Bank of America, Wikileaks and The Chamber of Commerce doesn't die. This is serious ratfucking and is pretty much a perfect example of the war the ultra-rich and powerful are successfully waging against the middle class in America.

Digital: A Love Story is a computer mystery romance that is set "five minutes into the future in 1988". You read it by using an emulator that looks an awful lot like the Amiga, and it recreates the old BBS experience when 2400 baud was all the baud we needed. The story unfolds via messages. It's just amazing.

* A friend of Anne's makes and sells organic, eco-friendly clothing with positive messages. I really love it, and from time to time I remind the Internet about it, so people will check it out and tell their friends. It's called Capable Arts. Tell them Wil sent you. 

* Many people have asked how HUNTER is selling. Without getting into specifics, I'm delighted that so many people have chosen to give me donations for the story. Most are giving between 1 and 5 dollars, and close to one thousand readers have paid for the story. I stupidly set it up in a way that doesn't let me track individual downloads, so I have no idea what the ratio of downloads to customers is. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and I'm inclined to revisit the world at least once in the future. I'm calling this a success, and I'll do pay-what-you-want again in the future. 

This goes on its own line because I want to make sure it gets seen: Thank you to everyone who read Hunter, left me feedback about it, paid something for it, and told friends and Internets about it. This wouldn't have been a success without you.

* Finally, Anne found a home for Velvet Wesley Crusher's Moustache:

IMAG0652

technology makes you stupid

It's been over 80 for the last few days, and I'm going up to Portland for the rest of this week to see my sister, so I took advantage of the warm weather and went for a run yesterday afternoon.

My brain quickly tuned out and started working on this story I'm about to publish, so my feet went their own way, taking me up a street I usually go down, and out onto a fairly major street that has a bike lane.

My brain stopped rewriting long enough to notice this, and said, "Hey, I bet we'd enjoy riding a bike. I wonder how much something like that costs?"

"That is an excellent question, and a very good idea," I thought back, "I'm glad we thought of it."

When I got home, I texted my friend Atom, who is an avid bicycle, uh, riding guy. (Bicycler? Bicyclist? Bicycloid? I don't know. Math is hard.)

Hey, I said, I'm thinking of getting a bike. Can you give me some buying advice?

Sure, he replied. Do you want a touring bike or a mountain bike or a racing bike or what?

Um. I want a bike, I texted back. The last time I bought one, I just wanted something that could do wicked jumps off the curb, you know?

Why don't you get on IM so we can figure this out, he replied.

Sure. What's your IM name?

He told me.

I tried to add him to iChat, and couldn't get it to work.

I picked up my cell phone and texted to him: I can't get it to work. Do you do Skype?

No, but I'm on Google Talk.

I'm not on Google Talk, I said. 

Did you try Adium? He said.

No, let me try that. I replied.

I set my phone down and typed Adium into Google.

I paused.

I looked at my phone.

I looked at my computer.

I looked back at my phone.

I picked up my phone and texted him, Hey, I just remembered that I can use my phone to call you. Maybe I'll just do that.

Your phone makes calls?!

Yeah, it isn't an iPhone, I said. I laughed in my empty living room, very pleased with myself.

I picked up my phone and dialed his number. 

..well, that isn't entirely accurate; I looked him up in my contacts list, and pushed the appropriate buttons to initiate a call.

The phone rang. When Atom picked up I said, "Man, technology really does make you stupid, doesn't it?" 

end user: greetings from the future of filmmaking

I took a few minutes away from working on Leverage and writing my short stories to turn in an End User column that’s all about some of the stuff that’s been on my mind since I started working on Leverage:

I’m in Portland, Oregon, shooting an episode of TNT’s prime time drama, Leverage.

Just about every night after we wrap I meet up with my friend John Rogers, who is the co-executive producer and head writer for the show, to have a beer and decompress after a long day on the set. Whether we talk about filmmaking, comic books, nerdy geeky gaming stuff, or technology, a common thread runs through our conversations: it’s pretty awesome to live here in the future, we sure are lucky to get paid to make stuff up and entertain people, and holy crap has the industry changed since we first entered it.

Leverage is totally shot in the future. We use the Red One digital camera, we watch takes right after we finish them to make sure nothing went wrong, and we get our dailies via secure internet connection anywhere we have computers and WiFi. John told me that at least once, they realized they didn’t shoot a single or needed a tighter angle to make something work, and were able to create coverage in post-production, which is done entirely on Final Cut Pro. During production, we could send pictures and updates from the set to Twitter and our blogs, and engage the audience in a direct and intimate way that is unlike anything I’ve ever done before.

I’m not going to lie to you, Marge, the future’s pretty cool.