The Culture War on Halloween


The culture war on Halloween, originally uploaded by mathowie.

Halloween is a time-honored holiday steeped in the traditions of sharing with your neighbor, celebrating childhood with candy and decorations, and generally having a fun time as the days begin to grow shorter.

There is also a culture war that seeks to end this traditional holiday.

Like the above photograph shows, several local churches near me are throwing parties aimed at avoiding this holiday of giving and sharing with thy neighbors, going by the euphemistic term "Fall Family Festival." They offer treats, fun, and games, but they just so happen to throw them on October 31st, during the prime evening trick or treating hours.

Make no mistake, no matter how many years (Norman Rockwell anyone?) Halloween has existed, no matter how harmless toddlers dressed as ghosts and princesses are, no matter, there is spiritual conspiracy behind this new found war on Halloween and it needs to stop. I fear the day is coming when we won't be able to display our Jack O'Lanterns in the town square, when we will be called names for trying to share real American treats like Crackerjack and carmel-covered apples, and when our sons and daughters will ask us why we can't go out and share candy with our beloved neighbors anymore.

We can't let this happen. Heroes, join me in opposing these PC-thugs and their so-called "Fall Family Festivals." This is a nation with a sweet tooth, our founding fathers ate candy (why else would they have wooden teeth?), and your children and grandchildren should too. Keep candy in Halloween!

Scalable personal IT for non-geeks?

Last month, I hung out with a friend from college that was impressed by the gadgets I carried and how I used them, but didn't have the spare time necessary to set everything up like I have (stuff like moving downloaded movie files to a TV for viewing, being able to check 5 email accounts on your iphone using gmail/imap, etc).

After each explanation of how I set things up grew increasingly longer, I realized there's probably a simple business model in place for a Personal IT staff kind of thing for regular users of technology that aren't uber geeks. I picture something that isn't the Geek Squad (they only do work piecemeal, right?) but is more like a subscription service, maybe $20 a month, where you as a customer can basically get your home computer and mobile phone updated remotely with the latest time-saving tweaks. I bet someone that reads lifehacker religiously, can do IT and PC Support work, and could figure out a way to do it remotely (either remote desktop sessions, or having customers' computers phone home to grab updates and configuration scripts) could build a pretty nice business off of it.

Is there anything like this out there today?

Separate but not equal

Mobile Twitter (m.twitter.com as opposed to twitter.com) bugs I wish were fixed:



1. Protected profiles give this confusing error shown above.

2. You can't favorite anyone's posts.

3. You can't block someone from their profile.

4. No link to begin a direct message on people's profiles.

How to get my nerd vote

I've been thinking lately about a dream candidate for my nerd habits, my nerdy business, and the way I live my nerdy life. Regardless of party affiliation, if you're running for an office from as small as city council all the way up to president, if you hit on any/all of these things, you just might get my vote.

  1. Broadband Everywhere. I want crazy South Korea/Japan style broadband I've heard about for years: 100Mbps (upload and download) fiber connections for less than $50/month with unlimited bandwidth and the ability to run your own servers. I know the US is a big spread out country and it makes this stuff somewhat difficult/costly, but it's an ambitious goal with a ton of payoff. We don't have manufacturing jobs in the US anymore: we don't make things, we don't build things, we don't sew things here, but we do have lots of ideas and inventions.

    The economy of the future in the US is going to be intertwined with the internet and if every man, woman, and child in America has all the internet access they could ever need and could quickly program, build, and deploy their own stuff on their own mega-fast lines, we'd have a million and one programmers and designers and crafters and more contributing to a new vibrant future economy. If fiber everywhere is too much, at least get 3G coverage in more places.

  2. Universal Healthcare. Everyone I know that freelances or works a day job and wishes they could quit and follow their dreams of launching a company complains about the lack of healthcare. Whenever I used to talk about freelancing at tech conferences, the first question was always about healthcare coverage. I've heard that in places like Berlin where you don't have to worry about where your healthcare is coming from or how much it costs, up to 35% of working age adults are freelancers. It may sound crazy and anti-capitalist to consider healthcare for all, but if we flipped a switch tomorrow and everyone had health coverage I swear a million small businesses would launch overnight. I know lots of people that keep a job just to get healthcare that are wasting their creative talents because they had a cancer scare or were born with a defect or otherwise are deemed uninsurable on their own.
  3. No federal taxes on internet purchases. It's worked out well for over a decade, let's just stick with not charging tax on online shopping.
  4. Renew a commitment to Education. Yes, we already spend a lot on education, but it's nothing compared to what we spend on defense. There are loads of possibilities to reform education at all levels with the goals being well-informed kids that love learning in a safe environment and can grow up to attend any college they want to (hopefully cheap or free of charge).
  5. Renew a commitment to Science. Bring back NASA and let's really fly to The Moon and Mars again. Don't let local school boards dictate that it's ok to prevent teaching proper biology (yes, the scientific method and evolution) to students. The US spent the last hundred years being at the forefront of science only to begin abandoning it as we passed into the 21st century. Engineers and scientists will continue to lead innovation in America and it seems silly in this day and age that we even have to defend the basic tenets of science from constant attack.
  6. Real changes to transportation. Increase MPG requirements for all carmakers selling vehicles in the US. Engineers love a design challenge and making a Chevy Suburban get 25mpg may seem impossible today but I'm confident a design team could develop one quickly if given the proper resources. We flew to the freakin' moon 40 years ago on the computing power of today's $5 solar calculators — we can make cars burn fuel more efficiently.

    Regarding alternate fuels, stay away from net-zero energy fuels like Hydrogen and corn-based Ethanol (for now, keep researching them though) and instead focus on what works today using existing technology. Biodiesel could work in many cities and in many cars today given the proper tax incentives to car owners and fuel station owners. Keep researching other fuels (switchgrass ethanol sure would be nice) but it feels like we're ignoring the low-hanging fruit that is biodiesel.

    Decrease foreign oil use by giving tax incentives to people that work at home, to people that ride a bicycle or walk to work, and to those using public transportation. Want to move to be closer to work? Get rid of capital gains taxes on homes sold less than two years after you take up residence if you can cut your commute in half or more.

  7. Allow early voting by mail. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I love the way Oregon works with regards to voting in all elections. You get voter information packets about 4-6 weeks before an election, then your ballot arrives about 2-3 weeks before the deadline. You can vote at your leisure, using wikipedia, google, and anything else you need to research your vote as you cast your vote.
  8. Revamp Copyright/IP law. Using the internet means you are making a perfect digital copy of everything you ever read, see, and hear, and it doesn't always jibe with existing copyright law. There is lots to say about this, but I wish we were a little more Lessig and a little less Disney when it comes to this realm.
  9. Fund the patent office so it can do a better job. Software patents almost universally suck and stifle innovation.
  10. Open government. Open source voting machines, xml data for every vote on every bill by every legislator. Public Domain dumps of every photograph, recording, film, and publication commissioned by the government in an easy to retrieve place.

These are all pretty much self-serving: I was a science major in college and grad school, I work from home (and am enjoying a fast fiber connection), run a company that is considering employee healthcare, my wife drives a diesel car, and I previously worked at a non-profit cofounded by Lessig. I know there aren't a ton of details and there are downsides to many things I've mentioned but I came up with my own dream list.

I know I must be missing something, what would you throw on the nerd wishlist for candidates?

Almost there…

If you're visiting this site in a browser, you've likely figured out I've moved to Typepad and there are a few bugs in commenting, in my archives, and in my feed (feed still points to my old blog and permalinks). Things should be working as intended soonish.

update: yay, everything seems to be working now. Comments are out of order on my old imported posts, and I don't currently have URL redirection for old WP urls yet, but everything basically works again and I'll likely be posting much more because heck, Typepad is kind of fun and easy.

Flickr’s skinner box

Flickr's most addictive page in their giant game that is photo sharing is easily the Recent Activity page. It used to be a slight drag to have to check comments you left on other photos as well as your own, and soon after they redesigned their iPhone version of flickr, I realized the combined activity page was a much better solution to the problem of how to keep up on what has changed on flickr for you.

I'm happy to see upon checking my activity tonight, the same info on the iPhone recent activity page is now showing up in their website proper. Very cool change.