Media Multitasking and the Fast Twitch Impulse

I saw on FriendFeed that Howard Rheingold pointed to this study from Stanford about attention and mixed media. The basic idea is that people that are high multi-taskers in media consumption find it harder to do tasks that require discriminating things that are important from that are irrelevant.

At the risk of cherry picking the first data point that supports my position, this is exactly the sort of thing I’ve been pushing back on lately. My gut feeling from my own life is that the attempt to stay up on the most recent information from FriendFeed / Twitter / the blogosphere / et al is an endless treadmill that burns a lot of time and energy but doesn’t make me any happier. I’ve been talking about wanting to be more mindful in my life, and I describe iPhones and Blackberrys as “anti-mindfulness devices.” They are built to take you away from where you are and put you somewhere else.

Last weekend, without any particular plan, I mostly stayed away from those sources. I used the computer but I wasn’t particularly paying attention to the data feeds. More and more I feel the need to take time off from the attempt to stay current. The bits of data that I *really* need to know real-time is pretty small. Severe weather, trafific and road closures, where my friends are having lunch. That’s about it. I’d be surprised if there were more than 1 in 1000 posts on Slashdot or Boing Boing for which my quality of life would actually be affected whether I read it now, next week or never. In fact Ryan on Signal Vs. Noise recently posted (I’ll quote the post in its entirety since it is one sentence long:)

How many of these supposedly important blog posts and industry articles actually make me better at what I do?

I’m not sure where this line of thinking is heading me and I’m not in any hurry to get there. What I really need is a better data valet system that will manage these things for me and bubble them up based on importance to me. My very first big project I wrote in Java back in grad school was an information crawler that allowed you to specify search terms and a weight on them, and would then crawl web pages and usenet to find matching information and sort them by this fitness function. I’d be looking for something like that that takes all my social networking information feeds, RSS feeds and whatever arbitrary information feeds, collates them and sorts them for me. Bits and pieces of this exist, but I’d really love to have an overall holistic manager of the whole incoming noosphere. What I really want is something like the mythical Apple Knowledge Navigator. Let’s make that happen, internet.

Mark Sanford on Ethics

SC Governor Mark Sanford will be in my town today, speaking at a Ryans restaurant that we frequent. He is scheduled to speak on ethics which ought to be rich. I wish I could go.

The drama with out governor continues. He seems to be defending himself with the “Cheney Tactic.” As people criticize him and ask for him to step down, he claims they have a political agenda so that makes all charges ignorable. Umm, Governor? You are a politician as are all of the legislators. If they didn’t have political agendas they should be drummed out of office. It’s the only reason to be there.

Here is my take. I do not give a damn about Sanford’s personal life, the state of his marriage, his infidelities or any of that. Frankly, I wish I could un-know most of what I’ve heard about it. Here’s what I care about: in a coastal southern state during hurricane season, he left the country while telling his staff he was in the country. I consider that by itself to be a dereliction of duty sufficient to warrant the resignation, and failing his resignation an impeachment proceeding.

These are not academic concerns. If you think back to August 2005, part of the federal government defense for their miserable handling of the Katrina aftermath was that they weren’t getting the proper requests from the Louisiana governor. When disaster strikes, the governor needs to be on top of it. Our governor wasn’t around, had lied about his whereabouts and the lieutenant governor had not been handed authority. Had something happened, the crucial first hours would have been spent trying to figure out who was in charge, where the governor was, and what to do. Sanford lied about the commission of his duties of governor. If that is not an impeachable offense, what is?

Sanford made his choice when he put his personal life above that of his constituents in the state of South Carolina. If he felt he had to do that, then he had to do that. Now it is time to pay the price for that. Conservatives love to talk about personal responsibility. It’s time for Sanford to take some for his actions, step down and put the governance of this state in the hands of someone with different priorities.

When Andre Bauer made his deal this week (any deal that involves Bauer not running for governor is a good one), Sanford declined to resign. At this point, that’s his way of saying “I’m not going to do this the easy way.” I believe it is time for the impeachment proceedings. Ample opportunity has been given for clean alternatives, Sanford declined, now on to the messy stuff.

So when I say that Sanford speaking on ethics down the street from my house is a rich one and I wish I could attend, I really really mean it.

PS – I wonder if Rod Blagojevich sent Sanford a thank you card when this story broke?

My Favorite Joke of All Time

My favorite joke of all time has sadly been rendered ineffective by the advancement of technology. I myself have used the item in question but it was already an antique when I was a little kid. Stephen Fry referenced it in a blog post yesterday and it really made my day to read it. With no further ado, here is my favorite joke of all time:

A guy walks into my office and asks “Can I use your dictaphone?” I said “NO! Use your finger like everyone else!”

Thank you, good night. Be good to your waitresses and try the veal.

M*A*S*H Crosses the Line

We leave the TV on to the Hallmark Channel for our dog many days, which means that I leave the house to the Golden Girls and generally arrive home to M*A*S*H. The episode that is on right now is one of the earlier ones with BJ Honeycutt and Colonel Potter. There is a scene where Frank Burns is searching Radar’s desk and pulling out comic books. The only problem – these are clearly 70’s era Marvel Comics, including The Amazing Spider-Man and The Avengers, characters that wouldn’t be created for almost a decade after the Korean War ended.

I may not know a lot of American history, but I know my comics. When this was filmed, back issues were cheap. Would it have killed them to send a prop assistant out to get some actual 50’s era books?

Douglas Rushkoff and Life, Inc

The other day on impulse I bought the Kindle version of Douglas Rushkoff’s new book Life Inc . I heard two interviews with him, one on Bat Segundo and another on Tech Nation. I’ve long since dropped Tech Nation but this is the rare episode I actually didn’t delete out of hand and actually listened to.

Both interviews were interesting and in aggregate they sold me the book. I’m interested in the basic question of “When did we decide that these legal constructs that emulate a person are more important than actual people?” The Bat Segundo interview had one of Ed’s trademark conflicts of premise with Rushkoff. I swear to god, I’ve never heard any interviewer get more guest pushback than this show, but it was entertaining. One of the insights that interested me in the book was Rushkoff’s tackling of Maslow’s hierarchy of need, specifically that “self-actualization” is the highest peak of human enlightenment. As he points out, that’s actually a (by definition) self-centered viewpoint, and one could argue that the highest point of achievement is something like “community actualization” where you not only are secure and fulfilled in yourself but also with those around you.

Until Dragon*Con and beyond, I’ve got every second of reading time committed to books I need to read for interviews, but as soon as that is passed I’m reading the Rushkoff. It sounds right in my wheelhouse.

Update: I forgot to mention that in the Tech Nation interview, Rushkoff lamented that people are trying to earn more money so their money earns more money, and then to retire ever younger. Let me be the first to say “Guilty as charged!” I have a very good job that allows for a very secure life that I enjoy going to most days (I’d be lying if I said “every day.”) Even so, the idea of having all day every day to pursue whatever crazy idea occurs to me, to read books and comics and watch old movies, that seems like a damn pleasant existence. I’ve said for many years that if I ever get the point that my money and investments earn as much as I do, I’m going to get out of the way and let it do the work. Rushkoff seems to think that’s a weakness in character or morals or something. That’s what I call “the master plan.”

Evil Genius Chronicles Podcast for August 20, 2009 – “Fifth Podiversary”

Here is the direct MP3 download for the EGC clambake for August, 2009. I play a brand new song by Rocket City Riot; I talk about the first five years of this podcast, how I got here and where I want to be and where I want to go in the future; I play a special song from the Gentle Readers; I celebrate our medium in my own special way; one more brand new song from Rocket City Riot and it’s on to the second five years of this show.

My MP3s didn’t have an album name in the metadata, but in fact the Rocket City Riot album is titled Saturday Night Angels.

You can subscribe to this podcast feed via RSS. To sponsor the show, contact BackBeat Media. Don’t forget, you can fly your EGC flag by buying the stuff package. This show as a whole is Creative Commons licensed Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5. Bandwidth for this episode is provided by Cachefly.

Links mentioned in this episode:

Democrats vs Republicans

Tom Tomorrow is uncomfortably correct about how both Democrats and Republicans behave in this cartoon.

I know that getting burned out on healthcare is part of the conservative strategy so I’m trying to fight the feeling. I know a lot of the opposition is being raised because of cost. This would be a lot stronger argument if the same people hadn’t been strong supporters of every Iraq appropriation and presided over the deficit rising from $5 trillion to $10 trillion during the Bush years. That they are willing to spend on the one, but not on healthcare for Americans can only lead to one conclusion about priorities:

Conservatives would rather make dead Iraqis than healthy Americans.

PS – don’t bother trying to comment troll this post. I have a delete button that I’m not afraid to use on anyone who wants to be a jerk. Use that energy trying to get Medicare repealed since you hate government healthcare so much.

Five Year Podiversary

Tomorrow is the actual day of my five year anniversary as a podcaster. My plan is to sit down tonight and record the episode. It will effectively be published tomorrow because the absolute earliest I could get it online would be very late tonight.

I’ve been having a deep rejection of nostalgia lately and in keeping with that, there will be little to no glory days reminiscing in this episode. Instead I will focus on where things are at, where they are going and where I want them to go. I feel about this anniversary a lot like I feel about my birthdays. Ostensibly a cause for celebration, they serve to me as convenient annual markers of how fall I am falling short of my goals. It’s not party time to me, but occasions to hunker down, redouble and retreble efforts to move forward.

I may or may not ustream tonight while I record. If I do, I’ll post it here and also to my Friend Feed account. Thanks to everyone who has stuck it out this far, those people who started at the beginning and are still here, the recent converts and even those who started out and flaked away. We all have our own reasons and own paths, so do what you need to do.

And now, the party’s over because there is work to do.

RIP, Dale Hudson

Sadly, Dale Hudson, a local author was found dead this week. As it happened, I met the guy a few years ago and blogged about it. He was giving a talk at my local library and I just happened to go and to buy a copy of his book Dance Of Death. I was a little shocked when hearing this story of a man found drowned when they showed the picture and I recognized him.

He went missing Wednesday and was found in the Pee Dee River Saturday night. The police report says there were no signs of foul play. This doesn’t look good and seems to be a sad story. I wish peace to his family.

Today is Kelley Day!

Today is Kelley Eskridge day at this Author August thing happening on the Science Fiction Message Board. Kelley is one of my favorite people in this world, one of my favorite writers in any genre and a person who makes things better. Check it out.

There are only a few posts on her thread as I type this but it’s early on a Saturday. I guess I’ll have to create an account on that board so I can join in. For those interested in her, I humbly point you to the Reality Break interview I did with her a few years ago around the release of her collection Dangerous Space. These are all good ways to spend your weekend.

My Dragon*Con Schedule

Here are the things I’ll be doing at the upcoming Dragon*Con convention. I’m trying to get things together and have created Facebook events for them. I’m doing one live taping of Reality Break and then two of the three other panels are ones I suggested and am moderating. That’s a little heavier responsibility load in terms of making the wheels go so I’m trying to get it together up front. For those 98% of you already on Facebook, feel free to RSVP via the events and spread them around, especially to your Dragon*Con goer friends.

Podcasting Track Kick Off!

Friday, September 4 at 1 PM, Hilton 204

Panelists: Dave Slusher, Scott Sigler, Len Peralta, Veronica Belmont, George Hrab and moderated by Swoopy

Join some of your favorite podcasters as we take the temperature of the Podcasting world, and talk about some of our best moments of the past year.

Facebook Event for this panel

Podcasting Tips for Working Writers

Saturday, September 5 at 2:30 PM, Hilton 204

Panelists: Mur Lafferty, Dave Slusher, Michael Stackpole, Scott Sigler, Christiana Ellis, P.G. Holyfield

A discussion with authors and podcasters who have turned the art of the podcast novel into a formula for publishing success.   

Facebook Event for this panel

Reality Break – LIVE!

Sunday, September 6 at 10 PM, Hilton 204

Panelists: Dave Slusher, Keith R. A DeCandido

Come be in the audience for a live taping of the Reality Break podcast with author Keith R. A. DeCandido. He is currently the author of the Farscape comic books from Boom Studios. Keith has a bibliography longer than a yeti’s arm and there is a good chance than everyone at Dragon*Con has read something he has written.

Facebook Event for this panel   

Social Media Overload

Monday, September 7 at 1 PM, Hilton 204

Panelists: Dave Slusher (What? I’ll have to dragoon people to joine me if there are no others.)

Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Flickr – Are we still creating content or just floating along on the stream? Discuss the pros and cons of social networking as it pertains to podcasting.

Facebook Event for this panel

All in all, that’s a highly reasonable schedule. I’ve certainly done many more panels in a single convention. The biggest bummer about the way Dragon*Con is organized now is that there seems to be little or no overlap between programming tracks. I attended Dragon*Con as a science fiction guest every year from 1993 to 2000 and would love to be back on some of the SF panels again, but once I got slotted in as a Podcaster track guest that seemed to be it. I’m not a big enough fish to catch anyone’s attention across tracks, I guess. I’m just happy to be going and doing this one more time.

How To Fix My Life

Uggh, when your internet connection dies in the middle of a publish, ecto erases your post and replaces it with a blank one. Time to rewrite this mother lover.

Second try at this. In my last podcast, I said that I’m making an effort to try to allocate my time in ways that are consistent with the things I value. If that were really true, for the last two weeks you’d think that the Facebook version of Bejeweled is the most important thing in my life. It isn’t, obviously, but it’s damn addictive and compelling on a minute to minute basis. Still I need to get myself straight and make sure the way I spend those precious non-sleeping, non-day-job hours is on things that create long term, lasting value for me. I fritter away a lot of time on things I can’t remember what I did the next day.

Step 1: Stop playing Bejeweled, cold turkey, immediately. Playing it anymore, even a few farewell games is like deciding to have one last fix of heroin for the road.

Step 2: Make a serious effort to collect and organize all of my various projects and tasks. I have a ridiculous number of irons in the fire and I even forget that I have some of them at times. It’s not uncommon that I have a project stalled out for weeks or months when 45 minutes of concerted effort would get it moving again. This is where GTD would be highly beneficial but I just keep bouncing off of it every time I try. I’m not sure the best mechanism for this but I need something that works for me and I need it now.

Step 3: Be mindful at all times. Whether doing something or eating something or just watching or listening to entertainment, be mindful. There is a reason that when I just upgraded phones I avoided iPhones like the plague. They are the anti-mindfulness devices. I need to do less default viewing and default munching and default activities. Do the things I mean like I mean them until I stop. Even if the thing isn’t important or urgent like reading comic books, when I’m doing that I should do it until I stop.

Step 4: More people, less machines.

Step 5: More dogs, less machines.

Step 6: ???

Step 7: Profit!

Cover me, I’m going in.

FriendFeed, Facebook and the Insider Logroll

Yesterday the news broke that Facebook has acquired Friendfeed. It’s way early in the process of figuring out what this means going forward, but until it is proven otherwise to me, I’m assuming that there is nothing good in this for me. I like FriendFeed as it is and have been touting it for over a year as the antidote to the things that suck about Twitter. Shades of the buyout of I Want Sandy which shortly led to that very useful service getting shut down. My expectation that is the fate that is in store for FriendFeed. If it still around this time next year, I’ll admit that my gut feeling is wrong but that is where my gut compass currently points.

The reaction to this buyout shows the true polarization of the insiders and outsiders in the online world. There were basically two reactions to this news: 1) “Oh boy, it is doubtful that this is good for me as a user of FriendFeed” and 2) “I’m happy for the founders and investor who got to cash out.” The second reaction is common in these kinds of buyouts and it drives me crazy.

I don’t have any emotions for the founders of FriendFeed or their personal lives and bank accounts. They built something that is useful in my life, I used it daily and by my use, I was one of the many who byte by byte built the value that they later realized in a cash payout. The “this is great for the founders” view is something useless to me. If you are one of those couple of hundred or thousand Silicon Valley types who hang out in these social circles then good for you. One of your own made good. For the tens or hundreds of thousands of users of FriendFeed not in that circle, things aren’t looking so good. How about you insiders try to make the next one of these work without the broader online public and see how that works for you? If y’all are so happy, try being the only users of these things from now on. For myself, I am looking for good stewards of my online life yet over and over again, finding those I entrust lacking.

I’ve gotten tired of feeling milked by these things. I’m tired of integrating these things into my life and then having them pulled out from under me. I repeat, we don’t know that is happening here. If it does, this is a cut that won’t heal soon. I’ve built up enough Web 2.0 antibodies to become resistant to their idea viruses. The burden of proof that I should spend my time on any new whizzy thing will have been raised and my skepticism will become that much more solidified.

FriendFeed, Facebook, don’t screw me on this. If you pull an I Want Sandy style shutdown, you are closing the door on an era.

My Projects and Action Items from Balticon

I walked away from Balticon in May with a list of things to do. I had three primary ideas/ action items. I’ll lay them out as ideas. Anyone that wants to take these ideas and run with them, go for it. I’d much rather see them exist in the world than be a Dave ™ branded project that never happens.

1) Push the Creative Commons licensing of science fiction conventions events.

I’d like to see every discussion panel at the least be Creative Commons licensed , something like BY/NC/SA type. At Balticon, there were sessions getting recorded but it wasn’t every single one. It was pretty ad hoc. Thomas Gideon recorded and published one session we were on, but that wasn’t universal. There are panels I missed that I’d like to be able to hear. If the con can’t do it, I’d love to have an audience recording at the very least.

The discussions surrounding these are just stultifying. I went through it in 2006 when I recorded panels I was on at Orycon and I really got sick of negotiating with the panelists and crowd every single time. It’s a public event on the record in front of an audience. Make it CC licensed and let anyone do anything they want up to the limits of that license. Maybe authors doing readings would push back, as would filkers doing concerts and such. Let’s start somewhere and make every panel CC, please and we can work out the details of other forms of events later. Science Fiction cons with a heavy nerd liberty focus should take the lead on this and go for it.

2) Create an outreach program from podcasters to working published writers

This is actually happening now, taking the form of a panel at Dragon*Con. I hope it goes further and maybe becomes more formalized into things like workshops at the Nebula weekend or bigger SF cons, etc. Balticon had a big new media track and a big SF/fantasy literature track with a tiny amount of overlap between the two. It’s my belief that the two groups have an enormous amount to offer each other. The fiction podcasters have a tookit and new modes of interaction with ones work and ones audience to bear. Published working writers have access to the ways one can actually make money by writing. I’m sure that both groups would be stronger for interacting more and teaching each other what they know. I’d love to see higher professional standards in podcast fiction and more empowerment and ownership of the relationship with ones fans from the published writers.

For those who want to participate and shop up at this panel, I’ve created a Facebook event and am trying to turn the wall for that event into a psudeo-community to discuss the panel and the ideas behind it. Feel free to spread it around, particularly into communities of writers who might be attending Dragon*Con. I’m trying my damnedest to be of service to the writing community, so having writers participate is pretty much the minimum to make this work.

3) Digital Divide Bridging Widget

This came out of a conversation with Emil Volchek and is the one I cannot possibly do myself. I want to create a device that one can put in urban areas to bridge the digitial divide. The idea is that you have a box with an ethernet port, a wifi card and a low power FM transmitter. There would exist a basic web service that would allow one to configure and manage this device, which would have a unique account and periodically check in with the service. On the box would be a minimal podcatcher and a minimal MP3 player. The box would get files down, and play them out via the low power FM transmitter.

You can get fancier with this, like allowing for certain shows played at certain times, restreaming of other feeds when there isn’t already a scheduled show playing, playing the X newest files in a rotation, etc. In essence, this would be taking the power of podcasting and putting it back out in a low tech manner accessible to those without computers, without internet and without MP3 players. Practically everyone has access to an AM/FM radio of some form or another.

Imagine downtown in some city with municipal wifi. With a power source and a little height, you are done. With a little bit of management, you have a neighborhood FM station. Assuming that you have at least one person connected enough to manage the device, they could also do a local interest podcast and subscribe to their own show and rebroadcast it over the FM. It takes a lot of the power we talk about for the infotopia and puts it where it matters, to the people whose lives might be affected by this. It also allows for a counterbalance to the Clear Channelization of radio. As stations were bought up and homogenized, the amount of local relevance on the radio diminished. By doing this, you can create hyperlocal radio and push it out to your neighborhood. Rock on!

I don’t know what such a beast would cost, but I’d think with an Arduino and some off the shelf components, it could be in the low hundreds. Assume that the transmitter doesn’t need to reach more than say a 1 mile radius or even smaller and it might be feasible to do. Any hardware hackers out there who want to tackle this project?

Myrtle Beach VMWare User Group Meeting August 6

On Thursday August 6th, there will be the inaugural meeting of the Myrtle Beach VMWare User Group. It will be from noon to 2 PM and will be held at Barefoot Landing in North Myrtle Beach. I’m considering taking a long lunch and going to it. It is (arguably) relevant to my day job and I am a VMWare user of Fusion on my MacBook. There will at the very least be free food, there will be some value to me personally and professionally but most of all, I want to encourage there existing things like this in Myrtle Beach. I don’t want people to get the idea that it is useless to hold technical meetings in this area. I’m on the fence now but I’m tilting towards going.

Up to Speed with Bashpodder

I’ve now been using bashpodder long enough that I’ve completed my transition from Juice. The worst part of moving from one podcatcher to another is that you lose your history, and there is always some duplication and hassle at the cutover. I’m now about a week past that point of dealing with that issue and now I’m into baseline business as usual.

I’ll have to say that I am truly digging bashpodder. Linc Fessenden wanted to make sure the world knew I had made this switch, and I’m doing what I can to publicize that fact. I posted to Linc’s forum about the changes I have made. One I made over the weekend allows for the same script to handle either RSS or Atom podcast feeds. The irony is that for bashpodder it was a couple of lines of XSL code but I’ve never built support for Atom feeds into Amigofish. Maybe one day and maybe if more than a few dozen people start using them.

All in all, I really wish I had moved to bashpodder years ago. If you are an OS X or Linux user it is a no brainer and if you are Windows user it is a barely brainer.

Blogging’s Midlife Crisis

Regional compatriot Ed Cone has an interesting post from a few days ago, republishing his column from the Greensboro News and Record. In it, he ponders blogging a decade in. It’s too late to be the avant garde and too early to be the new mainstream. The interesting thing is that the restless malaise he describes is very much how I feel about podcasting and my role in it. I continue to struggle to identify where my place is and how I feel about it as time goes on. This is very much worth a read.