Ellen Says: “Keep Off The Grass”

I tested the OCR capabilities of the new HP scanner I got on clearance at Staples by scanning a favorite part of the book On Becoming An Artist by Ellen Langer:

Our world has been fashioned largely by people. People create the products we use, make the laws we follow, write the books we study in high school. Despite all of our efforts to perfect ourselves, the truth is that people have limited knowledge, mixed motivations, biases, and any number of other limitations. Many of us know this conceptually, even if we don’t think very often about how it affects our approach to the world. And so we experience our world, more often than not, as if it exists independent of human involvement. We take the things we use, the rules we follow, and the information we rely on as if they are true in some absolute sense, regardless of context or perspective. We have become oblivious to the part others play and have played in deciding much of what we take for granted. This is unfortunate, for by doing so, we give up new choices and lose the opportunity to take more control of our lives.

By creating an external world, then treating it as if it is independent of ourselves, we rob ourselves of our individuality and the opportunity to meet our needs. We can regain control, but only when we put people and context back into the equation. Compare a sign that warns you to “keep off the grass” with one that reads, “Ellen says keep off the grass.” The first demands obedience withour hesitation, whereas the second invites us to ask, “Who is Ellen and why does she want me to keep off the grass? Who does she think she is?” Too often, we follow rules as if they have an inherent logic that is reasonable across all contexts. We are taught to think inside the box. Then we are taught to think outside the box. What I want us to ask is, Who put the box there?

As far as I’m concerned, that summarizes about 90% of what is important in what is called “Postmodernism,” and it does it without anything written opaquely in French. Ellen Langer is a writer who writes in a seemingly unsophisticated style and ends up saying extremely important, deep things, which you’re liable to miss if you’re not careful. Highly recommended.

Oh, the scanner recognized everything perfectly except that it mistook a lowercase ‘L’ next to a period for an uppercase ‘L’. Nice.

The New Debian Might Possibly Not Suck So Bad Anymore

Linux.com | Debian redefines itself with new release:

Earlier versions of the Debian installer have asked questions that inexperienced users would find puzzling, such as the domain name of their workstations. The current version of the installer still asks the question, but with clear and concise help that explains what a domain name is, and adds, “If you are setting up a home network, you can make something up, but make sure you use the same domain name on all your computers.”

I’m almost tempted to give it a try on the home machine currently running ubuntu.

Frets On Fire: Don’t Bother

Last night I tried “Guitar Hero” (actually it was “Guitar Hero II”) for the first time, and was blown away by the awesomeness of the experience. My mind immediately turned to a piece of software I’d heard of, an open source game which was much like Guitar Hero, except you play it with your keyboard (you pick it up like it’s a guitar). It’s called Frets On Fire. And it turns out it totally sucks. Or at least it did for me.

I have fairly low usability standards, as I use a lot of open source software, but this is what it was like for me to try to run it…

  • on Linux: I download it, make sure I’ve got all the needed support stuff installed, and run it. I get an opaque error message. I google on the error message and all I can find is people on various message boards asking what to do about the error message and getting no answer. Well, wait. One guy got an answer. It was the words, “there is an FAQ, you know,” and a link to an FAQ for one of the components of Frets On Fire, which gave advice completely unusable in this context.
  • on the Mac: I downloaded a single self-contained application, that I could double-click to run. When I ran it, my screen turned black. That’s all. When I hit buttons on my keyboard I got angry beeps. I had to hit command-option-escape (the Mac equivalent of the 3-finger salute, Control-Alt-Delete) to get it to quit. I turned to the Mac’s Console application for debugging info. I found an opaque error message. When I googled on the error message, all I could find was people on various message boards asking what to do about the error message and getting no answer.

I guess I should have smelled trouble when the app’s home page, according to google results, turned out to be blank except for what appears to be an error message in Finnish, forcing me to download it from a third party FoF fan community.

Open Source, my beloved Open Source, why do you have to suck so bad so often?

Yahoo Is Still Not Something You Should Really Trust

Watch Your Mouth On Yahoo! Answers Or They’ll Delete Your Email And Website – Consumerist:

Wow. Even if you’re a paying customer, Yahoo will cheerfully delete everything you have on their servers with no notice if they decide you’ve said something they don’t like somewhere.

Note to self: never depend on yahoo for anything.

Note to self: yahoo doesn’t treat paying customers any better than freebie users.

Note to self: DEFINITELY avoid the yahoo if you are a dissident in a totalitarian regime. Which I’m not.