Monday, December 29, 2008

Gaza Strip vs. Portland

I've got a lot of thoughts and opinions on the ever-going Israel-Palestine situation/conflict/problem, but I prefer not to comment publicly on it; there's a lot of people out there with a lot more knowledge of the situation who are a lot more invested/involved/immersed in it than I will ever be. Why should some Joe with no stake in it start professing like he knows something or has a solution? Then again, I guess that's what the Internet's for, but I digress.

Anyway, with the conflict in the news for the past few days, I decided to open Google Earth and go visit the Gaza Strip. It's tiny. I figured it was pretty small, but I had no idea. Sometimes it's good to put far reaches of the world in local perspective, because it provides us with a scale that we can use when we are reading or learning about stories from a particular part of the world. On that note, here's some comparisons:

The city of Portland covers 145 square miles, with 134 of them being on land as opposed to water. The entirety of the Gaza Strip is 139 square miles. Portland's population is about 576,000. The Gaza Strip has a population of 1.48 million people.

Thanks, Wikipedia.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

RSS Feed = Sloth?

Man, the Internet is my favorite tool next to a good drawing pen or a good writing pen. It's actually - for better or worse - become my main tool these days. I use it extensively for fact-checking and drive-by research. Ostensibly, I would actually be using the vast powers of the web for further contributing to this digital Library of Alexandria, but really, I'm a lot more of a passive than active user of the Internet. (If any proof of this is needed, just go to my website and check out the last time I updated it.)

As this passive user that would like to be a more active participant, I am always interested in new internet-based technologies and ideas. I love the ideas of wikis, blogs, cameras that upload direct to your flickr account, all of that shit. The thing is, I am definitely not an early adopter. Case in point: it was only last week that I learned how to use RSS feeds.

RSS feeds are magic - it's like it pulls all of the parts of the Internet that you are interested in to one, easily accessible place. No longer do I have to remember a series of URLs that I like to visit daily! No longer do I have to think about using "bookmarks". (I kind of shun bookmarks because when I use them, I overuse them, then never organize them. There is no need to bookmark every French and Dutch learning website on the English speaking Internet.) I use Google's Reader to pull all of my feeds.

The first day I used Reader was magic - I was reading about all sorts of fascinating arts news (something that I never seek out on a daily basis), posting links to different things on facebook. It was great. I had about twenty feeds. By the end of the day, I subscribed to thirty more. The next morning, I found that I had over 500 articles to catch up on. Note that I write "to catch up on": rather than finding a wealth of magic in my feed, I found a bunch of stuff that I immediately felt that I needed to battle my way through. There were twenty-five posts about opera, which I am about as interested in as I am in football or cars. "Mark as read", "mark as read", "mark as read". After a few hours, I'd gotten it down to a manageable two hundred articles. I probably really read about twenty. And that was one day.

The next day was a Saturday and (as my ever-patient girlfriend, Heather, can attest), I spent most of the day reading things that interested me, but mostly, clicking through things that I wasn't interested in reading. Here are some things that you might not know: a lot of webcomics are written by guys that read a lot of manga and play World of Warcraft and make comics about guys (or anthropomorphized cats) that read a lot of manga and play World of Warcraft; 95% of the content of I Can Haz Cheezburger is not funny; the New York Times has its regular articles, and then its "In Brief" articles, which are re-caps of the regular articles. Saturday was a lesson in reading judiciously; I went through my Sunday feed in about an hour.

Even factoring in the outright crap (that I shouldn't have subscribed myself to in the first place) and the articles that I'm not particularly interested in reading, there's still a lot of good stuff to find on my feeds. Enough that I spend a significant amount of time going through them, and therein lies the beauty and the horror of the feed: there's alot of interesting stuff out there. I mean, I've read about a guy that had amnesia for most of his life, and another guy that figured out how to build the atomic bomb they dropped on Hiroshima. That's cool stuff (to me) that I would have never bothered reading if I hadn't subscribed to all of these sites. At the same time, though, I have this continuous urge to always KEEP READING, to stay up-to-the-minute on my feeds. I think to myself,"Hey, this is an interesting article! I should post in on facebook, or on my blog!" Then I immediately think,"No I shouldn't! If I do that, I won't have time to read the next five articles!" Even given that, should I just be re-posting things that I find? The Internet's a vast echo chamber, and disseminating content that doesn't come directly from me feels a little wrong and unnecessary to me.

And that's the thing: I want to contribute to the Internet, not be consumed by it. Re-posting an interesting article on facebook is one thing, but re-posting it on my blog without adding additional content doesn't further anything. I simply become a step in the process of redistributing advertising, entertainment, propaganda. I think I might have to seriously cull my RSS feeds because I need to reclaim the time to casually read things, digest them, then contribute in my own way.

At the same time, I haven't even signed up for Oregonlive or Cafe Unknown yet... I better go check up on my feed now.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Walking Report, December 10th, 2008

I started out at the Central Library, where I've been doing research after work on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (those are the nights that they're open until 8pm). This doesn't actually pertain to the walking report, but has anyone else noticed the Homeless Hackerz that hang out at the Library? These guys have laptops, and grab books on coding, but then they also have big frame backpacks with - what I presume - is all of their worldly belongings. These guys are in the Library pretty much every time I go there. It's a little community; when I'm being gracious I like to assume that they're a roving band of heroes, traveling from town to town like modern day minstrels, improving the Internet and fighting for freedoms. Maybe they are exchange students or travelers.

Anyway, on my way out of the Library, I realized that I'd like to buy a wire-bound notebook so I could take down some notes in a non-digital fashion. The Library store was still open, so I stopped in there, but the cheapest thing that they had was Moleskin. I wanted something standard issue for a high school student, something that might cost two or three bucks and provided a larger writing surface. I decided to walk down to the Rite Aid on Alder at Sixth and pick one up.

At the entrance to Rite Aid was the ubiquitous hippie gutter punk. These guys drive me out of my mind; they're capable people who make a bad name for the emotionally/socially/psychologically-challenged actual homeless people that hang out down town. The guy hanging out at the entrance was a new guy, who looked way too tidy to be sitting on the sidewalk. Maybe he was doing something for a Sociology class at Reed? Nah, Reed kids usually don't end up making it all the way downtown. I digress, because otherwise I'll start ranting about obnoxious not-really-homeless street kids like S. Renee Mitchell. I really have no room to talk.

Anyway, Rite Aid had no notebooks. Seriously, there was not an 8.5" x 11" wire bound college rule to be found. Don't school/college kids use these anymore? I'm getting old, I don't know anymore. They had wire steno notebooks, but since I don't know how to write shorthand, I declined. I left without buying anything, which always makes me think that the loss prevention crew expects that I am shoplifting. I wasn't.

I left there racking my brain, thinking of where else I might be able to purchase a notebook. The smoke shop on 4th Ave was out of the question. I didn't consider Peterson's. I kept thinking. Why doesn't Stumptown sell notebooks and sketchbooks? Wouldn't that make sense to do? Maybe they could even sell pens? That's a free idea for the proprietors of Stumptown. Maybe they already sell these things, I didn't check. I ended up buying a (non-wired) steno pad at the Plaid Pantry on MLK and Burnside. I think that the clerk is/was a meth addict judging from the sores.

There were a lot of corporate douchebags out tonight. Excuse me, corporate goons - I'm thinking that "douchebag" is becoming a little over-used. These are the kind of guys that travel all abreast on the sidewalk, oblivious to others (unless they're a foxy lady) and laughing loud with mildly absent and mean-spirited grins on their faces. Probably talking about golf.

The drug dealers on the east side of 4th between Washington and Stark were all on the west side. I took the east side. No one offered me anything. The former site of Veganopolis has still not yet been rented out, and still suggests people to try the vegan meals at the Ethiopian place next door.

The street kids with the tired and lame "Fishing for Change" improvised fishing pole and change cup weren't out tonight in front of Voodoo Donuts. I've taken to wearing my mp3 player while I walk lately (after a four month hiatus), so I didn't hear anyone if they spare-changed me. I'm pretty sure I saw spurts of blood on the sidewalk at Third and Burnside. No one was sleeping on the southwest side of the Burnside Bridge. I saw a guy taking pictures of either downtown or the "Made In Oregon" sign at the mid-point of the bridge, which has become an increasingly common sight when crossing the bridge. Are a bunch of photography projects due, or does someone want to add "Portland, Oregon, at night" to their flickr account? I have no idea.