At least to one website.
— Mark Barrett
While I was away from Ditchwalk last year the legal system meted out punishment regarding Apple’s conspiratorial efforts to fix the price of e-books on an industry-wide basis:
As punishment for engaging in an e-book price-fixing conspiracy, Apple will be forced to abide by new restrictions on its agreements with publishers and be evaluated by an external “compliance officer” for two years, a federal judge has ruled.
Though the punishment is comically light, Apple remains determined to clear its tainted name:
Cupertino is not pleased, for example, to have an antitrust monitor who is responsible for making sure it does not violate antitrust rules going forward. Attorney Michael R. Bromwich was selected to serve as monitor, and Apple asked that his tenure be delayed pending appeal, but Judge Denise Cote denied that request last week.
Now, in filings with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Apple is arguing that it had no idea that publishers were colluding about e-book prices, according to Reuters. Any discussions it had with publishers were simply to boost competition “in a highly concentrated market.”
So on one hand Apple is a shining light of innovation, forward thinking and marketing brilliance, while on the other it’s a company run by dolts too stupid to realize that the relationships Apple entered into with multiple publishers at the exact same time and under the exact same terms constituted a federal crime. Good to know.
— Mark Barrett
As regular readers know I have serious issues with Kickstarter, in large part because the site/service can so easily be exploited for nefarious purposes. As RPS finally (and to my mind belatedly) made clear after flogging the site endlessly, when you’re giving money to a Kickstarter project you’re not buying anything. Instead, you’re investing in something that may or may not happen, which means the people you’re investing in need to have a great reputation to go along with their great idea.
I’m genuinely glad there’s a way for independent artists and creators to bypass gatekeepers and raise money for small projects, and from time to time I’ve considered the possible utility of the site myself. That I’ve never backed a Kickstarter project before is less a sign of where my heart is than where my brain is, because I know my brain would be angry with me if I put scarce personal equity into something that never materialized. (I do that enough on my own.) Having said that, today I backed my first project on Kickstarter for reasons that have nothing to do with Kickstarter, and I think the project I’m helping to fund is something you might want to consider as well.
For years Neil Young has been griping about the quality of music in the digital age. It’s a complaint I’m not only sympathetic to, at some point in the recent past I noticed that I had simply stopped listening to music for enjoyment for close to a decade. When I tried to figure out why it became obvious that my enjoyment of music ceased when the MP3 file became the playback standard. To bring music back into my life I tried using iTunes, but that proved to be just as bad, in large part because (unbeknownst to me at the time) Apple’s default sampling rate for ripped CD’s was less than lossless. Only when I discovered FLAC and Foobar2000 and was able to get CD sound out of my digital library did I once again start hearing sounds that had gone missing.
I want to stress here that I’m not an audiophile or a purist. I don’t need an oscilloscope to know what I’m hearing. Instead, I feel it, and all I can tell you is that digital music has generally left me cold. Not cold enough to go back to the hisses and pops and turntable maintenance of vinyl, but cold nonetheless. So when I first heard that Neil Young was pushing for a new standard for digital music I was all for it. Unfortunately, if memory serves, that was also a decade ago. (Or at least it seems like it.)
Well, that day is here. Sort of. As I understand it the PonoPlayer is ready to go and Kickstarter is being used as much to sell/reserve initial/limited copies of the device as it is to raise money for future development of the accompanying service. Still, if you believe in high-quality music and supporting the artists who make it, I think it’s worth considering what Pono is about and whether you want to chip in. At the very least you can help demonstrate demand is there which might encourage the big-money people to get off their stuffed wallets and buy in as well.
As for the risks involved, I’m confident that Neil Young isn’t going to take my contribution and blow it on a new couch, or something worse. Although he might be tempted to sink it into an all-electric Lincoln Continental. (I jest.) Currently, on day one, the campaign is halfway to its initial $800,000 goal. Given that it looks like the 30-day campaign will be fully funded in a day or two, and that it’s backed by people who have reputations to protect, I think the risk of the project falling apart are pretty low. Not zero, but close enough for me.
— Mark Barrett
There’s no question that the internet is a boon to learning. It’s a rare day when I do not pop open a browser and look up information that helps me solve a problem or move a project along. Compared with life before so much knowledge was available there’s also no question about which reality I prefer, even allowing for the inevitable costs and tech headaches that accompany such momentous change.
Given that others seem to share that preference it’s not surprising that there are widespread efforts underway to turn the internet toward education in a more directed fashion. From online courses that can be taken for continuing-education credit to the explosion of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC’s) and even the appearance of online-only ‘universities’ offering full degrees, there seems to be a genuine hunger for virtual academics, and why wouldn’t there be? Instead of having to alter or uproot your life to go where the knowledge is you can now simply log on and learn.
It’s probably also not surprising that some of the jazziest online schools and programs are for-profit. While making an honest living is a laudable goal in life, some of these for-profit online schools — like their for-profit brick-and-mortarboard kin — are nothing more than a skimming operation aimed at federal student-loan dollars. Couple premeditated leeching with administrative efforts to heap for-profit debt onto students at abusive interest rates and the worst of these schools are little more than a gussied-up Craigslist scam looking for student suckers.
Standing in opposition to the for-profit paradigm are fully accredited non-profit and governmental schools offering free MOOC’s. While academically laudable, it’s also true that some of these staid institutions are getting into MOOC’s for branding and marketing reasons, some are using MOOC’s to up-sell students on fee-based courses, and a few are acting as incubators in order to spin off for-profit start-ups that will eventually help enrich already bulging endowment coffers. Still, cynicism aside, a free course is a free course, and if a MOOC gives far-flung students a chance to learn at a distance I think that’s a good thing.
Unfortunately, even if we narrow our attention to free MOOC’s and impute only golden motives to institutions hosting them, there’s a problem with this most benevolent form of online education. And as a recent New Yorker article points out, it’s a big problem:
An average of only four per cent of registered users finished their MOOCs in a recent University of Pennsylvania study, and half of those enrolled did not view even a single lecture. EdX, a MOOC collaboration between Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has shown results that are a little more encouraging, but not much. And a celebrated partnership between San Jose State and Udacity, the company co-founded by Sebastian Thrun, a Stanford professor turned MOOC magnate, also failed, when students in the online pilot courses consistently fared worse than their counterparts in the equivalent courses on campus.
Like many institutions of higher learning, the University of Iowa (my alma mater) has begun offering Massive Open Online Courses. Given that Iowa is home to both the Iowa Writers Workshop and the International Writing Program it’s not surprising that the initial offerings play to those strengths.
The first course, which began in mid-February but is still open for registration, features an in-depth look at Whitman’s A Song of Myself. If you’re interested in poetry, the roots of modern poetry, American history, the roots of American individualism, or Whitman himself, you can’t go wrong here.
— Mark Barrett
How should writers measure success? How should non-writers measure the success of writers? Should writers pay attention to what non-writers think about success? Should writers pay attention to how other writers define success?
Can the success of a writer be measured objectively? In judging your own success are there specific metrics that matter to you? The number of fans you have? The amount of money you make? The number of awards you receive? The nature of the awards you receive?
Are all award-winning writers successful? Can a writer be successful without winning awards?
If you make money as a writer are you successful? Is your measure of success tied to how much money you make? Can you be successful as a writer if you don’t make money writing?
If you never win an award and you never make any money but you have devoted fans are you successful? If you don’t think you’re successful does that make your fans wrong?
Are subjective measures of success more or less valid than objective measures? Is that true for all writers?
Is your definition of a successful writer fixed or does it change over time? Is your sense of your own success fixed or does it change over time?
Do you measure success relative to your writing or how your writing is received? Both? If you write something you don’t respect and it makes a lot of money or wins a lot of awards or pleases the public, have you been successful? What if you write something that garners no interest but you believe to be your best work? Is that success? Failure?
Is it possible to objectively prove some writers are good and some writers are bad? Do you believe good writers eventually succeed and bad writers inevitably fail?
Is there such thing as a failed writer? Is that something writers decide about themselves or something non-writers say about writers? Is a failed writer someone who failed at the craft of writing? Someone who failed to make money writing? Someone who failed to turn writing into a career?
Does writing itself sustain you, or do you need feedback from others? Are you driven by the process of writing or the outcome? Both? If you could choose only one, which would you choose?
When it comes to defining success as a writer you get to choose what success means to you. Choose carefully.
— Mark Barrett
If you have an interest in writing, what will it take for you to think of yourself as a writer? If you already think of yourself as a writer, what convinced you? If you write but don’t think of yourself as a writer, why not?
What does it mean to be a writer? Is being a writer like being a plumber? A doctor? A cleric? A singer?
What does it mean to be anything? Does it mean that label is your whole life, or what you’re doing at the moment, or what you’re doing at the moment for money?
Who gets to decide if you’re a writer? You? Somebody else? If somebody else, who? Your friends? Your family? An authority who knows nothing about you except what you’ve written?
What if there’s a difference of opinion? What if some people think you’re a writer and others don’t? Does it matter who thinks what? If your friends think you are and your family thinks you aren’t, are you a writer? What if your family thinks you are but your friends think you aren’t? What if an authority thinks you are or aren’t?
What if nobody thinks you’re a writer but you? Can you still be a writer? Can you be a writer by yourself? Can you be a writer if no one ever reads what you’ve written? What if you write in the woods and nobody reads your work until you die? Were you a writer while you were writing? Or are you a writer only after your work is discovered?
Can you be a writer if you make a living doing something other than writing? If you’re being paid to write are you a writer? Always? Is writing a profession? A career? If you work as a writer and you stop working as a writer does that mean you’re no longer a writer?
Do you think of some writers as real writers? Are writers who make money real writers? Are writers who don’t care about money real writers? Are writers who make money better or worse than writers who make no money?
There are a lot of questions in life. There are forty-one in this post alone. Some questions can only be answered with experience. If you think of experience as making mistakes you will always be in pain. If you think of experience as learning you will never know your limits.
When does your interest in writing turn you into a writer? You get to choose.
— Mark Barrett
What is writing? What does it mean to write?
In thinking about those questions do you need more information before you can answer? If so, why do you feel that way?
How is all writing the same, or can all writing ever be the same? Is some writing inherently better than other writing? If so, how do you know which is which? Is that something you decide or something others decide for you?
Is writing a means or an end? Both? Always?
Does the written word inherently have value? Does the act of writing inherently have value?
I ask these questions to separate writing from the context in which writing takes place. Yes, context matters, always, but context is not writing. Writing is writing.
I believe all writing is communication. Writing can also be art and commerce, but I think the implications of writing as communication are worth considering.
You don’t have to agree with me, of course, but if you’re interested in writing for any reason — and I mean any reason at all — I don’t want you to confuse writing with fame, fortune or being an author, because those are separate things. They may spring from writing, but they are not writing.
There are many people in the world — tens if not hundreds of millions — for whom writing is intensely personal and private. These people use writing as a means of reflection and meditation. Most of their writing will never be shown to another human being yet still provides communication with the self.
If you have an interest in writing, protect it. It doesn’t matter what age you are, what your educational background is or isn’t, or anything else. Don’t let anyone trivialize or denigrate your interest in writing.
There are people who believe words are sacred and only certain people should be allowed to use them. Words are not sacred. You are sacred. Anyone who tries to convince you otherwise is to be ignored.
There is a lot in life that cannot be communicated through language, let alone writing. At times there really are no words. Encountering the limits of writing is as interesting as discovering what writing can do.
You are not obligated to tell anyone that you are interested in writing. You get to keep your interest private unless you want to talk about it. You don’t have to justify it or defend it, and no one who cares about you will ask you to.
What is writing? You get to choose.
— Mark Barrett
Even if you’re an absolute beginner, making changes to an existing CSS style sheet is not complicated. Yes, there are things you need to learn, and computer code is often unforgiving, but as I hope I explained in the previous post the basics are easy to grasp. Fuel your own initiative with a reference site like W3Schools, where you can pick up tips and information as needed, or even try out techniques before implementing them, and the only thing standing between you and success will be the bitter realization that an innocent misstep may lead to hours of hysteria because you don’t know how to protect yourself from your own ignorance. So let’s solve that problem.
Whatever goals you have for learning or even just tinkering with CSS, the first thing you need to do is see those goals in context. Yes, finding the exact right shade of green for your hyperlinks is important, but so is ensuring the stability and functionality of your site. There’s nothing inherently dangerous about making changes or even making mistakes when you’re working with computer code as long as you know how to protect yourself from inevitable errors. That protection begins with making sure you can always get back to the most recent stable build, even after you’ve made (and forgotten about) multiple changes.
1. CTRL-Z IS YOUR FRIEND. CTRL-Y IS YOUR OTHER FRIEND.
If you’ve been using a computer for any length of time you probably know that pressing and holding the Control (Ctrl) key, then simultaneously pressing the Z key will undo the most recent action in many applications. Most word-processing and image-editing software uses this convention, and the same holds true for many of the applications used to edit CSS style sheets.
If you make a change to the CSS in your style sheet, then upload the change and get results you’re not expecting, you can usually press Ctrl-Z to undo your mistake. Since mistakes are quite often unintentional you may not even be sure what you did to cause the problem, so Ctrl-Z can be a real lifesaver. Even better, many applications allow for multiple undos, so you can go back through five, twenty or even fifty edits. (Check the documentation to determine the exact number.) Since some mistakes become apparent only after multiple changes, Ctrl-Z may be the only way to step back through the sequence that triggered the problem.
What many people don’t know is that holding the Control key down and pressing the Y key will often redo an action, meaning between Ctrl-Z and Ctrl-Y it’s possible to go backwards and forwards through your most recent changes. For example, maybe you made a change but forgot what the original value was and suddenly realize it’s important. With Ctrl-Z and Ctrl-Y you can cycle back and read the value, write it down on a piece of paper or copy it to a separate document for reference, then cycle back to where you were. (What you must not do is cycle backwards with Ctrl-Z and make a change unless you’re sure you won’t need to press Ctrl-Y again. Any change you make when you go backwards with Ctrl-Z necessarily starts a new Ctrl-Y sequence in the application’s memory at that point.) [ Read more ]
This isn’t the first time I’ve tinkered with a website or tweaked a WordPress theme, but as usual it feels like it. While I do remember a few things from previous style-sheet adventures, as with all things tech the horizon is constantly receding, and what once seemed like bedrock knowledge has become obscured by an ever-evolving feature set.
In the face of such inevitable changes the only options are to stay constantly up-to-date or effectively start from scratch each time. Because nobody in their right mind would stay up-to-date on CSS if it wasn’t paying the bills, it’s probably safe to assume that any CSS hacking you intend to do is driven more by your desire to have things just so than it is by a love of code. You want things to look the way you want them to look, but because money is an object you either have to suffer the indignity of off-the-rack blogging or make those changes yourself.
I feel your pain. In order to prevent you from feeling some of the pangs and jolts I’ve experienced, however, I thought I would pass along one tip I’ve never forgotten, which has saved me more time and trouble than the sum of all the CSS knowledge I’ve gleaned from websites, books and kind strangers who took pity on me. For all I know this is a common practice even among CSS professionals, but if that’s the case it’s considered so obvious that nobody mentions it when offering tips to absolute beginners. I stumbled upon it myself by accident and only belatedly recognized it as a means of preventing the kind of frustration and disorientation that can, in more advanced cases, lead to a seventy-two hour psych hold. Sure, you laugh — or at least I hope you do — but don’t laugh too hard because CSS can perplex almost anyone. [ Read more ]