Elliott C. Back: Internet & Technology

Americans: “If I can’t have it, neither can you.”

Posted in Holiday,Jobs,Law by Elliott Back on December 15th, 2010.

I was reading the news today and came across this article, US sues school over denial of Muslim pilgrimage, which details an interesting case of law:

The federal government sued a suburban Chicago school district Monday for denying a Muslim middle school teacher unpaid leave to make a pilgrimage to Mecca that is a central part of her religion. [...]

Khan wanted to perform the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia which every adult Muslim is supposed to make at least once in a lifetime if they are physically and financially able to. Millions go each year. [...]

Berkeley School District compelled Khan to choose between her job and her religious beliefs, the lawsuit said.

Interesting stuff. As an employer, I believe that you should make every possible effort to strike reasonable work-life balance for your employees. Unpaid time away to get married, look after family, and fulfilling religious obligations are all the sorts of things that you would reasonably expect accommodation for. In more civilized countries, you would be accorded sufficient paid holidays to do much of this. Unfortunately, in the United States, by law, there is no requirement to offer any holidays at all!

Ignoring the religious and racial overtones in this news article, what I found interesting was the comments thread. Check these high-rated gems out:

  • “they want, want, want but don’t want to give. Special treatment! Whatever happened to the (former) American work ethic?”
  • “Contract, obey the rules and live with them or dont sign up”
  • “Whoever hired her should be fired.”
  • “This is a sham on the american way of life”
  • “Seperation of Church and State. Take a Religous Holiday when everyone else does.”
  • ” She signed a contract, then did not like it. Tough. Think I like paying my credit cards? No, but I have a contractual relationship to pay .”
  • “What a bunch of bull. This should not even go to court. She should be denied time off for this. Try this at a real job and they will tell you “no”! Here is why, if you want the time off then use your vacation time. That is what it is for. Your employer is not obligated to give you any more time off then what you have accrued.”

It’s an interesting fact that Americans have the least paid vacation days in the world (0 by law), some of the most mediocre students in the world, the largest wealth-gap between the rich and poor, etc. Yet when confronted by an individual who is trying to improve the American standard of living (by advocating for improved time-off rules), American internet commenters essentially say, “I don’t have this right; why should you?”

I don’t understand this.

Do you want America to suck? You should be cheering this woman and the ALCU on, because they are fighting for your rights. (If you feel like commenting that I’m an elitist foreigner who should shut up and work harder, please don’t even bother to leave a comment.)

Update: It’s nice to see Netflix lets its staff take as much holiday as they want, whenever they want – and it works come out today.

July 4th Fireworks Photos in Washington DC

Posted in Holiday,Photo,Travel by Elliott Back on September 2nd, 2010.

These photos were taken July 4th, in Washington DC, sitting on the lawn underneath the Washington Monument (which is, in my opinion, the best place to watch the fireworks). If you decide to go, arrive at least an hour early to get a good spot on the lawn. Another popular place to sit is on the steps on the Lincoln Memorial, but there’s less space there, and there it’s much more crowded. After the fireworks, many nearby metro stations will be closed, and police out in full force, looking to smash heads. So walk quietly to a farther station, wait in line, and hope to get home!


Original (high res) on Flickr


Original (high res) on Flickr


Original (high res) on Flickr


Original (high res) on Flickr


Original (high res) on Flickr


Original (high res) on Flickr


Original (high res) on Flickr


Original (high res) on Flickr


Original (high res) on Flickr

These photos were taken by me with a Nikon D90 using the kit 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6 AF-S DX VR ED lens at ISO 400, slow ~1/2s shutter, and f/6.3 at 22mm. My first time taking night fireworks pictures, hope they are OK!

For information about next year’s fireworks, About’s 4th of July page is worth a look!

Jakob Lodwick Stops Blogging

Posted in Blogging,Celebrities,Scandal by Elliott Back on June 26th, 2008.

In a post titled I’ve Had Enough, Jacob Lodwick, famous for dating Julia Allison, founding floundering social video site Vimeo, and College Humour, has announced that he is departing from blogging. Since the post has been deleted, I’m going to reproduce its text in full below:

After reading my mom’s post on shutting down her tumblelog, I can’t help but agree, and it’s time for me to end this. It’s not about Tumblr, specifically. It’s about the web in general. It’s become overrun by too many animals. One of the last straws was adventures of mascarah, who, after reading a few posts where I expressed myself, wrote this:

“I will say that if you cut off his head he still looks much better here than with his new shorter locks and Office Space/ child molester glasses. You might not have been happy then, Jake, but wow, you looked so much better.”

I may be a millionaire but I this sort of thing still hurts. If this were a one-time thing, I could deal with it, but it happens several times a week, no matter what I do, and I can’t avoid seeing it. To be hit with a personal insult, from a stranger who knows only my blog persona, yet attacks me as a person, is an awful feeling. Another last straw was this Gawker post, where I wanted to learn multiple basic summaries of the China situation as a starting point for a larger exploration of the country. I was torn to shreds (I still don’t understand why) by the poster, an elf who has never talked to me but stammered a darted his eyes when I encountered him at a party a year ago. Worse than the post were the comments. Imagine reading these things about yourself:

* Boil. Your. Face.
* His relationship with Julia “hey guys, I need to write an article, send me stuff and do it for me” Allison makes so much sense right now. They’re BOTH what’s wrong and evil in this world.
* Oh, he’s my least favorite brand of asshole: the kind that thinks being an asshole makes him edgy. It doesn’t. It just makes him an asshole. He sucks.
* Please kill yourself. You’re completely worthless.
* I didn’t think it was possible to hate him more. But it is, apparently. He needs to shut his ugly face. We can call him ugly without fear of retribution in the form of execution right? Ugly. Inside and out.
* Ha. Seriously. Fucking Napoleonic complex to go with his undoubtedly tiny ween. Also, ugly.
* I saw him at the Bedford Ave subway station a week ago, looking like an escaped mental patient dressed as a retarded toddler.

The last one really pushed me over the edge. Not only do these people attack me online, but they recognize me in real life. That’s the kind of thing I don’t want to think about while out and about. The absolute worst, though, has got to be the attacks for any display of self-confidence. You may conceptualize the Unites States as a great nation. But it’s also a big tribe, with its own irrational taboos. One of them is: don’t talk proudly about your achievements.

Unfortunately, my line of work requires me to aim high. If you can’t stomach that, fine, but consider the long-term effects of bashing me and others who goals are to innovate. Entrepreneurs, artists — our jobs are not easy; they require doing something new. This means we assume risk — our business could go bankrupt, our art could be despised. Perhaps you are happy with the current state of USA. I am not — I am deeply unhappy with it — and I want to change it.

But going forward, Jakob Lodwick, the person, is withdrawing from the public web. You will see the results of my efforts through Normative and other companies. I just cannot deal with these animals any longer.

On his website, he has also posted this farewell letter:

Dear The Internet,

I closed my blog on June 26, 2008. I could no longer handle the relentless, vicious, public attacks from a digital lynch mob towards the personality traits I have no intention of changing, such as my curiosity and my self-confidence.

If the Web is to flourish, we cannot count on the good will of the public. The combination of anonymity and universal access means no individual can fully feel safe opening up. The Web itself (the technology) has a vast and unrealized potential. Until we create new types of Web sites which value privacy on a fundamental level, the web risks collapsing into a cesspool of YouTube comments and ad-based gossip-hate sites.

When I say “privacy”, I mean in the sense of private property, as in, “No Trespassing”.

I am walking away from what might be called The Social Web. This comprises any site where ‘anyone can sign up’ and electronically socialize with one another. The story is the same with most of these sites: a few settlers discover and make themselves at home, enjoying the solitude. Increasingly, less-adventurous people find their way to the site. The population begins to snowball. A vocal minority of thoughtless jerks begin to speak up, driving away the settlers. In the worst case, the result is something like MySpace.

I have been an active participant in The Social Web since the 1990s and now it is time for me to leave. I desperately need to socialize on the Web in a way that makes me happy, but the right tools do not exist yet. I now intend to start building them.

If you’re interested in following my progress, keep an eye on JakobLodwick.com. I will simply post stuff there.

Sincerely,
Jakob Lodwick

His tumbler blog is now entirely deleted (why destroy the past, Jakob?), but we can still glean some insight into his world view before it fades into the ether. A post from March 20th, where he addresses the following message from a “fan”, is interesting:

Why must 1/3 of your tumblr posts feature your face? Are you that self involved that you are unaware that THAT is really the most unattractive, ie d***he-bag quality, feature of web life 2.0? You diminish the value of your own stock. Perhaps that will go down as your poetic flaw…

Jakob’s reply is that ordinary people deserve to accept themselves as they are:

By posting pictures of myself, I am also broadcasting the message, “It’s ok to be photographed even if you are not a model.” This may subtly influence people to post their own pictures; as a result, they will become more aware of their own image.

He suggests that any attempt to over up what is with a semblance is irresponsible:

…arching your neck forward to stretch a double chin does not actually change your body.

This conversation embodies some of the things I disliked about his blog. First, the rampant narcissism and egoism, which can’t be excused by “I’m an innovator” or “I’m making art, I need an ego,” shines through the nearly-daily barrage of poorly taken self-portraits. In a three day spread you might see three pictures of Jakob Lodwick, unkept, unshaven, and half-naked posted on his blog:

jakob.jpg

If nothing else, it’s unprofessional and unsettling to readers. Other posts are remarkably intolerant of internet diversity, such as the names people online choose to give themselves:

But most modern websites don’t make you pick an exclusive name. If you’re uncomfortable giving your full name, just use your first name instead. I am getting really sick of finding out that “brooklyndude” liked my Vimeo videos, or zipzappizzazz is my tumblr follower. I have no idea who you people are, nor will I ever, unless you use a real name.

In real life, a real name is something you’ve been handed down by your parents and the government, not an entity that you have created to express yourself. On the internet, it’s the other way around. Accept the names people have chosen, because they’ll tell you more than their given name. It would have been nice to see Jakob dig a little deeper, past his inane aggrevation with people’s online identities, into the heart of the psychology of how people name themselves. Unfortunately, for me, the post let me down. Many others are like this; some personal pet peave without any real justification. You read them, you just feel beaten down. For that reason, I won’t be missing him when he goes. But, perhaps when Jakob comes back the level of insight will be raised a notch or two. I’m willing to give him a read again.

Update: Matthew Ingram has a salient summary: “for young Jake to moan about all the negative attention he’s gotten, after happily posting every intimate detail and thought about his life and relationships to public blogs, in an almost pathological exercise in over-sharing, is really rich.”

Update 2: There are some interesting comments on the Valleywag piece.

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