Monthly Archives: March 2009

Question to ponder: Is the Rock Star Dead?

comcast.net Music: JT Ramsay: Is the Rock Star Dead?:

The days of major labels turning ordinary people into rock stars is over. There will be pop hits here and there, but chances are you’ll never see someone reach the heights of (sustainable) fame in the manner that artists as disparate as Guns ‘N Roses and Britney Spears enjoyed again. You could blame Britney and Miley, but we’ve always had pop stars. We could just as soon blame Frankie Avalon!

But that’s not just because of the major label’s money woes. It’s that major music media just keeps disappearing, whether it’s in print or on television. It seems much tougher for stars to create myths about themselves at a time when we know even the most minute details about them, whether it’s through outlets like TMZ.com, or from the star’s themselves (or their ghost-tweeters) via Twitter.

As a tool maker, how responsible are you for how people use your tools?

It’s a difficult question with a lot of valid points of view. Take Michael Osinski – he was a successful software engineer on Wall Street from the 80s to the 90s – and according to him – helped write software that enabled the current financial crisis:

…I wrote the software that turned mortgages into bonds.

…The software proved to be more sophisticated than the people who used it, and that has caused the whole world a lot of problems.

I never would have thought, in my most extreme paranoid fantasies, that my software, and the others like it, would have enabled Wall Street to decimate the investments of everyone in my family. Not even the most jaded observer saw that coming. I can’t deny that it allowed a privileged few to exploit the unsuspecting many. But catastrophe, depression, busted banks, forced auctions of entire tracts of houses? The fact that my software, over which I would labor for a decade, facilitated these events is numbing.

Our software was rolled out to ride the latest wave. Traders loved it. What had taken days before now took minutes. They could design bonds out of bonds, to provide the precise rate of return that an investor wanted. I used to go to the trading floor and watch my software in use amid the sea of screens. A programmer doesn’t admire his creation so much for what it does but for how it does it. This stuff was beautiful and elegant.

The aim of software is, in a sense, to create an alternative reality. After all, when you use your cell phone, you simply want to push the fewest buttons possible and call, text, purchase, listen, download, e-mail, or browse. The power we all hold in our hands is shocking, yet it’s controlled by a few swipes of a finger. The drive to simplify the user’s contact with the machine has an inherent side effect of disguising the complexity of a given task. Over time, the users of any software are inured to the intricate nature of what they are doing. Also, as the software does more of the “thinking,” the user does less.

Last month, my neighbor, a retired schoolteacher, offered to deliver my oysters into the city. He had lost half his savings, and his pension had been cut by 30 percent. The chain of events from my computer to this guy’s pension is lengthy and intricate. But it’s there, somewhere. Buried like a keel in the sand. If you dive deep enough, you’ll see it. To know that a dozen years of diligent work somehow soured, and instead of benefiting society unhinged it, is humbling. I was never a player, a big swinger. I was behind the scenes, inside the boxes.

Those are some choice quotes from his piece in New York Magazine. Read the whole thing.

His story raises many powerful, deep questions about what we do, who we do it for, why we do it, and repercussions. It was courageous, even if I don’t necessarily agree. I tend to believe that software does not change human nature – but there are people in the industry who swear that what we do is literally changing mankind. If so – should they be looking in the mirror? Should we all?

This post is participating in @weeklyblogpost: week8: tools. Checkout other posts there about the topic and feel free to join in.

Songwriting and music by Dan Gillmor

During Dan Gillmor’s stint as guest blogger at boing boing he posted some fine pieces on his subject matter of focus – journalism and its future – but one post should have reached a wider audience “When It All Falls Apart”. It’s a song. A song of the apocalypse. With some good lyrics and melody. Turns out Dan used to play in a band a long time ago. It’s a strangely timely song. Check out the discussion thread which was just terrific to follow.

Here are some random songs about the end of the world, any that you know come immediately to mind?

“End of the World as We Know It”, R.E.M.
“1999″, Prince
“The Four Horsemen” , Metallica
“Blackened”, Metallica
“The End”, The Doors
“War Pigs”, Black Sabbath
“Children of the Grave”, Black Sabbath

Recently wrapped up my first class at college

A lot of fears of mine were proven unfounded as my first class at Villanova has come to a recent close. While it was a challenge to balance out my responsibilities at work and home with the class, I made it. I participated in class (probably was among the top two conversation drivers in fact), and had a great time writing essays and reading the material required. Now I’m looking forward to re-upping, but this time, closer to either home or work. Villanova is perfect for a working adult, and I’m happy to have went there for my first class, but if I am to take multiple courses a semester, it has to be faster to reach or online. The hours spent driving were hours that could have been spent studying or helping at home.

Last week I attended an information session at Penn’s College of Liberal and Professional Studies. What it could provide in terms of flexibility, coursework, and distance were great – but cost – at about $10-$15k a year isn’t responsible for my family.

I’m planning on checking out the Graduate! Philadelphia organization next. There’s a solution that will fit and I’m looking forward to continuing this journey.

You have no idea how blessed I feel to have this opportunity.

Educational infographics, movies, and more on the economic crisis

USAToday: The 35 counties where the foreclosure crisis started.

Ever hear of Glass-Steagall? Well, maybe if we did, or understood its implications more widely when it was repealed in 1999, according to Boing Boing this crisis may have been averted.

The Crisis of Credit Visualized – an infographic movie!

Good: Making Sense of the Financial Mess – more interesting infographics.

PBS: The Ascent of Money – a fantastic movie that puts the management and meaning of money into context, to better understand the crisis.

Frontline: Inside the Meltdown – what was happening during the stock crash and aftermath? What where some of the policies that led up to it.

Frontline: Ten Trillian and Counting – on some of the fundamental issues the lie underneath the financial crisis.

Baseline Scenario: Financial Crisis for Beginners.

Jon Stewart’s confrontation with Jim Cramer.

I’m enjoying the controversy around the latest Microsoft advertisement

I didn’t think an ad could generate controversy in this day and age, but Microsoft happened to do so with its best attempt yet at contrasting itself with Apple. Even though I run a MacBook Pro these days as my work machine, I know I could be just as productive with a decent laptop running Linux, Open Solaris, or Windows. Just about everything I run is open source an is available across all three operating systems.