November 1, 2017

The Facebook Matrix Cometh

I have disabled Adblock Plus on Facebook.
I think this is significant. Adblock Plus recently figured out how to block "sponsored posts" on Facebook (but not perfectly). As I scrolled through, I would see them flash for the briefest moment as they came into view before disappearing.
I didn't like it.
Facebook does such a good job targeting me with ads that I actually want to see some of them. So I turned it off.
Now I've voluntarily subscribed to advertising newsletters such as travel and electronics deals, but I think this is the first time I've voluntarily subjected myself to ads embedded in unrelated content. For instance, I've turned off TV commercials at every chance, dating back to the days of ReplayTV with its commercial-skip feature that was destroyed by political pressure. I buy commercial-free content from Amazon rather than subscribe to cable.
But the ads on Facebook have become so relevant to me that I want to see them. They have rewired my brain to get me to choose to see advertising. And, with a nod to Buck Henry, loving it.
As I predicted in my 1995 book Virus of the Mind, mind viruses (and I include Facebook in that) become better and better at gaining a share of our mental resources. But it's a mistake to think we will notice and resist the invasion. It feels like entertainment. TV shows have become so good that I spend much more time watching them (without commercials) than I used to. It seems laughable to look back on the day when All in the Family was the best thing on TV.
When The Matrix comes, it will not look like being dragged into a plastic feeding tube and hooked up to wires. It will look like fabulous entertainment, 24/7.
Is that such a bad thing?
Only if you have something more important to do.

February 5, 2017

Did you get the joke?

I loved La La Land from the moment I realized that the opening all-singing, all-dancing number was not an overblown, cynical attempt to create a hit movie combining new Bollywood ,old Hollywood, and modern diversity. That number was intended to leave us flat despite it being the biggest, most expansive and expensive scene in the show. It was ridiculous. It was a joke.

 I loved La La Land because to me the whole thing was high comedy, from the opening number to casting stars who can't sing to Ryan Gosling's knowing wink at the ending.

To me La La Land was a kindly, sad grandpa speaking wistfully of the impossibility of recreating the past while at the same time harboring an ineffable love for it. The movie illustrated this conceit in the three arenas of marriage, jazz, and musical theater, in all of which I have not a little experience.

For a long time I've been unsatisfied with everything new in musical theater since early Andrew Lloyd Webber. New shows seemed unable to simultaneously provide an engaging story and a fresh, upbeat, non-derivative score. Lin-Manuel Miranda almost got it right in In the Heights and then he hit the home run with his next work. I was struck in Hamilton by the broad range of musical genres Miranda pulled off from ballads to hip-hop. The magic ingredient of a resonant political message pushed it over the top.

Jazz, similarly, seemed to dribble to a standstill in the early '60s. How do you keep creating music in a genre that by its very nature deconstructs the past? It eats its own tail. Jazz clubs in Seattle, like Gosling's in La La Land, play music that might have come from 50 years ago to an audience of white-hairs. There's no money in it.

It remains to be seen what will happen to the institution of marriage in the West but for the last 50 years it's been on a similar path of deconstruction. One man and one woman for a lifetime seems quaint, antiquated, and even hateful. Did families like the Cleavers ever really exist? It seems hard to remember.

From the awkwardly derivative opening number to the embarrassingly inept allusions to Astaire and Rogers, La La Land showed us that no matter how much we might want to preserve the past, time marches on. The choice isn't between a sad attachment to nostalgia or a successful modern life, because how can there be success if you give up everything you love? Ultimately you do what you do and you live with the sadness.

That is, until you get the joke.

February 7, 2013

How to turn off the annoying Facebook notification beep

Here's how to turn off the annoying beep that Facebook recently starting making when you get a new notification:

1. Click on the gear in the upper right corner
2. Choose Account Settings
3. On the left side of the screen, click on Notifications
4. In How You Get Notifications/On Facebook, click View on the right
5. Click to remove the check mark in "Play a sound when each new notification is received."
6. Click Save Changes

Presto! No more beeps!

Read my book Virus of the Mind: The New Science of the Meme

October 7, 2011

Tribute to Steve Jobs

A film made by Apple employees for Steve Jobs' 30th birthday, with an appropriate Bob Dylan song as a sound track, is a fitting tribute today (h/t Harry McCracken):

Not many people realize how much we loved Steve at Microsoft back in 1983, when we were secretly working on Microsoft applications for Macintosh. I was invited to the Mac launch party in Cupertino and remember Steve Jobs as the most captivating speaker I had ever seen. But we were so much older then.

Few men leave a shadow as long as his. Goodbye Steve.

September 1, 2011

Nine days a month

A bug in Microsoft Windows which has existed for 25 years or so has now spread to Windows Phone 7. I reported this bug back in the mid 1980s before I left the company but somehow it has never been fixed. The bug is quite visible, but only happens nine days out of every month.

I still have a lot of friends at Microsoft and every now and then I mention it to them. I've even demonstrated it with my snazzy Samsung Focus, now running the kick-ass Mango 7.5 OS, and they usually do a double take, blink, and say they can't believe it's never been fixed.

It doesn't cause any data to be lost. It doesn't cause crashes. It's simply aesthetic. Perhaps for that reason it has remained on the low-priority bug list for 25 years. But I know exactly how to fix it, and the fix involves a one-character change to Windows.

I'll explain.

Around the time Windows was released, Microsoft was building its international business by localizing all of its products. This involved taking out all of the hardwired English messages and replacing them with the appropriate text in the local language. We did this by taking all the text out of the program itself and putting it in a small database. The program would say "display message number 17" and the appropriate text would be fetched from the database in the local language.

It wasn't that simple, though. There were other local conventions such as currency unit and date format. In America we put the month first (9/1/2011) but in Europe they put the day first (1/9/2011). That is known as the "short date" format and it can be customized, both by Microsoft so that when you install Windows it uses the format customary for your location, and by the user, if for some reason you want to use a non-standard format. You just go to the control panel for "Region and Language," click on "Additional Settings," go to the Date tab, and you can create your own format. For instance, if you only want a two-digit year (as was customary before Y2K), you would modify the short date from "m/d/yyyy" to "m/d/yy". Or if you wanted leading zeroes for one-digit days and months so that all the dates would line up neatly in a column, you would say "mm/dd/yy".

There's also a "long date." In America, we say "Thursday, September 1, 2011." In England they say "1 September 2011." And of course in other places they use different languages for "September." It all works beautifully.

Except that in the very first release, some unknown Microsoft employee inadvertently put "dd" instead of "d" in the US English long-date format.

Go look. Put your mouse down over the time in the lower right corner of your Windows screen and see what it says. Nine days a month you'll see something like "Thursday, September 01, 2011."

(If you're like me and now, knowing this, it will bug you forever, just go to the control panel mentioned above and delete one of the two d's in the long date format so it looks like "dddd, MMMM d, yyyy".)

Honestly I thought someone would have fixed this by now because it drives me crazy knowing that hundreds of millions of people are seeing that extra zero nine days a month. And now with Windows Phone 7, they've copied the meme and there's not even a way to edit the format string (although they graciously give you a choice of four long-date formats, all with the bug).

I'm currently lobbying with two of my highly placed friends at Microsoft to finally get this fixed, at least for the phone where the date stares you in the face every time you look at it. But until then, I grit my teeth nine days a month.

Happy September 01, everyone.

August 15, 2011

Getting Past OK ebook introductory price $1.99 until Sept 5!

My second book Virus of the Mind is the one most people have read, but I think my first book Getting Past OK: The Self-Help Book for People who Don't Need Help is better. (So does Bill Gates, who gave me a rare endorsement on the cover: "Incredibly useful!")

If you have an ebook reader (and I think it's available for just about all of them) you can buy it for only $1.99 until Sept 1 from my awesome new publisher Hay House. Click here.

June 17, 2011

I'm in the money in the Limit Hold 'Em Championship

If you're in Vegas, come sweat me starting at 3pm today (Friday) in the Amazon Room at the Rio. There are 14 players left and my chip stack is about average. My good friend Matt Hawrilenko is also still in.