Program or be programmed

I read Douglas Rushkoff’s book, Program or Be Programmed with a mixture of fascination and criticism. I didn’t agree with every argument (e.g., that computer networks have no notion of time; many internet protocols use timestamps to ensure reliable communication), but each chapter gave me something to wrestle with mentally, and the book as a whole made me see various aspects of my life (interacting with technology) in a new light. Rushkoff’s thesis takes a historical view of how new technology penetrates society gradually, and those who develop the ability to manipulate and create, rather than just to use and consume, are the ones in control. Arguing from examples based on the development of writing, print, and electronic media, he notes that for us today, it’s the ability to program that gives us control over the new technological world, and that (somewhat chillingly) willful or accidental ignorance about the motives of Those Who Program may cause you to execute their Program without even knowing it.

This great, short video lets Rushkoff summarize his points in two minutes flat:

I am already a “programmer,” in that I have programming skills, but even so I consume most of what’s on the net as a user, rather than getting out there and being actively involved myself. Programming is what I do at work. On the other hand, I’ll never forget the thrill I experienced when I first contributed to an Open Source project. My art, my creation, uploaded into the ether after building on, complementing, and extending the work of complete strangers! And who knew where others might take it! It was like Free Love, but in C.

But after reading his book, I couldn’t help but think a while about what built-in biases about how various technologies work are shaping my own thoughts, habits, and ability to create.

This point, however, is the tenth of his 10 commandments. The earlier ones have value too; it never hurts to get another reminder of the value of not always being “on”/”connected,” and of being present in the here and the now.

When CloudFlare and WordPress don’t get along

It’s the little things… like your website suddenly vanishing.

My website (including this blog) is hosted by Dreamhost, a great company with great service. They offer a lot of one-click installs and generally make it easy to set up a blog or email accounts or mailing lists, etc.

Recently they started offering a free CloudFlare plan to Dreamhost subscribers. CloudFlare offers two benefits: faster webpage loads (by distributing your content across different servers around the world) and community-based protection from spam, bots, crawlers, etc. I thought I’d try it out, so I signed up.

When you check the “CloudFlare” box, Dreamhost warns that you need to allow them to redirect all traffic that comes in as to This seems harmless enough, and it worked fine for me at first, until I realized that one of my WordPress installations stopped working. Trying to visit or both resulted in an error: “Too many redirects.” Oddly, my other blog ( did not have this problem.

I couldn’t find a good, concise description of how to fix this on the web, so I’m posting about it here. Basically, the problem occurs when your WordPress installation has its location specified as instead of CloudFlare redirects incoming URL requests to, WordPress redirects this to, and so on until the server gets sick of it and tells you “Too many redirects.”

To fix it:

  1. Turn off CloudFlare (otherwise you can’t get in to your WordPress settings). Go to your Dreamhost panel, click “Manage Domains”, then click “Edit” for the domain in question. Scroll down to “CloudFlare Services” and uncheck the box. Scroll down and click “Change settings.”
  2. Keep reloading your WordPress site until it works (i.e., the DNS updates propagate).
  3. Log in to your WordPress site and go to the Dashboard. Click “Settings”. Update the “WordPress Address (URL)” and “Site Address (URL)” fields to have the form Scroll down and click “Save Changes”.
  4. You may or may not also need to clear your browser’s cookies for this site.
  5. Go back to the Dreamhost panel, re-enable CloudFlare, and save settings.
  6. Everything should now work! (Again, DNS updates have to propagate for CloudFlare to be activated again.)

Imagine a web that extends world-wide…

There was a time before the Internet—and it wasn’t that long ago. Consider excerpts of this 1984 article from the Whole Earth Catalog, titled “Telecommunicating”:

Someday everybody will communicate by computer, according to an emerging army of dreamers.
Less expensive than national networks are local bulletin boards […] To give an example of the bulletin boards’ power; David Hughes of Colorado Springs entered onto his computer bulletin board the text of a pernicious city council bill outlawing professional work at home. Instead of tracking the bill down at City Hall, residents could dial in at their convenience and read the bill at home. Within a week, Hughes had gathered enough angry readers to storm the next city council meeting and influence council members to defeat the measure.
Programs are finally emerging that treat telecommunicating as a human activity instead of a technical obstacle course.

So much so that we don’t even use the term “telecommunicating” at all. We’re just communicating.

NPR’s Science Friday broadcast an episode in 1993 called “The Future of the Internet” that is well worth the listen. The episode itself made history by being broadcast on the Internet, instead of just by radio. Today, the topics and the way they are covered sound so… quaint. Compuserve! WAIS?

The opinions being expressed are enthusiastic, sometimes prescient, and other times (from today’s perspective) naive. “I found a complete archive of jokes on the Internet in under an hour!” “The magic number is 64,000 bits per second.”

Ira: “Let’s make it clear to everyone listening that you’re not on a telephone, are you?”
Caller Tom: “No, I’m sitting in front of a workstation, with a microphone…”

I did like the discussion of “information anxiety” (they had that back then too? ;) ) over the “glut” of information available (from the 420 different databases WAIS was indexing. Oh, my word.).

“One of the things we’re doing is learning how to ignore information, and that’s one of the most important things the Internet will let you do. […] You want your machine to be working for you … finding the right stuff. There’s just way too much out there already. So going and filtering through, searching, finding just the issues that you care about — your machine is starting to know a lot about you. It knows what you like, what you don’t like, what you’ve read, what you didn’t read.”

I wish we could say we’ve solved that problem now! Even with RSS feeds, collaborative filtering, and various learning systems, I still feel inundated by all there is to read, and without a good solution for sorting and prioritizing it. Email alone…!

Blocking Flash in Chrome

I have the Flashblock add-on for Firefox that allows me to selectively click to allow Flash to run when I want to, and otherwise nothing happens. This makes for a calmer, quieter, more enjoyable web browsing experience. (You can add permanent always-run exceptions for well behaved, regularly visited sites so that clicking-to-flash doesn’t get annoying.)

Lately I’ve started experimenting with Chrome, and I wanted to see if it had a similar add-on. There is a Google Chrome extension called FlashBlock, but it turns out that you don’t need to explicitly add this (or anything). Thanks to these instructions, I learned that all you have to do is:

  1. Type “about:flags” in a new browser window/tab. Scroll down to where it says “Click to play” and click “Enable.” Scroll to the bottom of the page and click “Relaunch browser.”
  2. In your relaunched browser (took me two launches), go to Preferences (Cmd-,), click “Under the Hood,” click “Content Settings,” then scroll down to “Plug-ins” and select the “Click to play” radio button (which is not visible if you haven’t done step 1).
  3. Go to some Flash-y site like and test it out. Nice!

My phone is smarter than I am

I finally did it: walked into a Verizon store and picked out a smart phone. I’d been dragging my feet for a variety of reasons, ranging from a dislike of the slab-like form factor to just plain laziness. But oh my, was I missing out! Things have changed since my last phone purchase in 2006!

I’m not an impulse buyer. I was just going to see what the latest offerings were. And if or when I did get a smart phone, I vaguely assumed it’d be an iPhone, which is the only one I’ve played with before. But the Verizon employee who met me as I walked in immediately steered me to the Android side of the store. “That’s what we all use,” he confided. And here I’d thought Verizon was over the moon to be offering the iPhone, which is selling so fast that you can’t get it in black anymore online (or at this particular store), only white.

I handled a bunch of these phones and gradually narrowed it down to two that were the least chunky and slippery. I was persuaded that I might as well opt for a 4G phone, since although only 3G is available here in Corvallis, I’ll be moving back to L.A. soon where it seems 4G is all the rage, and 10 times faster. I really liked the Verizon guy who was helping me; he was extremely knowledgable, fielded every single one of my questions, and was up front about what was a useful attribute and what was a buzzword. I later learned that he was the store owner.

I converged on the Pantech Breakout, a phone I otherwise knew nothing about, but it felt the best and since they all had the same OS, form factor apparently was the deciding angle. It was just a bit smaller than the other 4G phones, with a slightly grippy back, and felt better in my hand. The thing has a 1-GHz processor, weighs less than 5 ounces, and has about a billion features I won’t need but came along for the ride (like how it can act as a “hotspot” and relay net access to other devices). I was going to go home and think it over, per usual with large purchases, when I realized that at $50, what exactly was I going to deliberate?

Verizon guy: “I guess you probably don’t want the phone insurance option. After all, you managed to hold onto that phone for FIVE YEARS.”

He threw in a car charger and a screen protector with a nice discount, and I was on my way. A whole new way! I’ve got the future in my pocket!

Here are some of the awesome things I’ve discovered this “phone” can do:

  • Voice translation. Like, you speak in English, it turns that into text, translates it into French, and then speaks the French aloud. Your French friend can then do this in reverse and suddenly, you’re communicating across the language barrier. I sat in the Verizon store entranced, having a conversation with myself in two languages, and it WORKED! I imagine you could also use this to learn the foreign language, at least to some initial rudimentary level.
  • Voice dictation. You can dictate text messages, emails, search queries, memos, etc. The accuracy of its dictation (relayed to a server, not local to the phone) is startling. I can say “wikipedia oregon trail” and google does the right thing! I can say “post office” when I’m looking at google maps and it pops up pointers at all the right places! The pain of typing texts is gone! (As a bonus, the “swype” method for entering texts on the keyboard is a nice advance in itself, and good for settings in which you don’t want to speak your texts out loud.)
  • Yelp. Google docs. Geocaching. Disc golf maps and scoring. My ravelry knitting projects. An exoplanet counter. Angband.
  • Amusingly gratuitous: animated desktop wallpaper, such as little flowers that sway and bob when you swipe left or right, or ponds that ripple when you touch them. Amusing for about 30 seconds, then deemed not worth the battery life they require and deactivated.

At the store’s recommendation, I attended their “smart phone training session” which took place the next day. It was me and six octogenarians. Another Verizon employee led the class. He began with a glowing paean to all things google, which concluded with “It’s okay to share all of your data with google, because their motto is ‘do no evil.'” I did get more familiar with the OS and was able to ask some questions. So far, so good.

Any favorite Android apps you’d like to suggest?

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