On September 11: my memories and the role of technology in never forgetting

I really hadn’t intended to write a 9/11 post here. It doesn’t seem to fit with whatever this blog is supposed to be. But it’s all over the newspaper and it’s all over Twitter, and I’m sure if I turned on the TV I’d see 9/11 all over again. Even the Sunday comics were more touching than comic, so I guess it’s fitting that I share my thoughts.

The morning of September 11, 2001 dawned. I’m not sure how it dawned, because I was still sound asleep in my room at Purdue’s Cary Quadrangle. My alarm went off at some point to tell me to wake up and go to class, and I ignored it. A few weeks into my collegiate career, I had already decided that 8:30 chemistry lectures were optional. I didn’t wake up again until my roommate Carl came back from his morning classes. “Dude. One of the World Trade Center towers collapsed,” he told me. “Fuck off, Carl,” was my reply. I was barely awake, and I was convinced that Carl was bullshitting me.

So he turned on the TV.

I don’t remember what time it was. I don’t even remember where in the timeline it happened. All I know is that for the rest of the day, Carl and I sat on Lucy the Couch and watched CNN. We couldn’t look away. I don’t even think I left to go to the restroom until about 2:00 that afternoon. And that’s when I first started to realize the magnitude of what had happened. There were about 40 guys on my end of the floor, mostly freshmen and sophomores, and it was rarely a quiet place. Without air conditioning, we all kept our doors open to get air flow. But as I walked down the hall to the bathroom, I realized that all I could hear was the sound of everyone’s televisions.

That night, Carl and I went to go get dinner. I don’t think we went with friends as we normally did. It was more of a “we haven’t eaten all day and there’s no new news, let’s go grab a bite real quick” decision. The Cary dining hall, one of the most popular eateries in all of University Residences, was subdued. The kids of middle-Eastern decent looked nervous and ate quietly and away from everyone else. Were they afraid of misplaced retribution? To my relief, I never heard of such an occurrence at Purdue. The same could not be said for other college campuses.

Life returned to normal fairly quickly for us. No classes were cancelled. Homework was still there. Most of us, being generally Midwesterners, had few ties to New York City. While the news was horrific, it didn’t impact our daily lives. And here we are 10 years later. The political climate is soured. Our troops are still in Afghanistan. Laws passed to aid the fight against terrorism have been used largely to combat domestic drug crimes. And yet we maintain this promise to never forget.

And so I think about the other events that we, as a nation, have sworn to remember. The Alamo, the Maine, Pearl Harbor. Each of these events were a rallying cry for a moment in time, a common thought that drove the people toward a goal. But as time has passed, we seem to remember them less. The events are still recalled, but with no more clarity than a history lesson. The personal stories are fading, and continue to do so as a an ever smaller percentage of our population has first-hand stories to tell.

A decade on, the September 11 attacks are still remembered. Will they be in 2101? Certainly the history and political science texts will have much to say. But what will our national conscious say? Does the fact that the victims were civilians instead of military personnel make this more enduring? Will the digital age help preserve our stories? Or will time simply wash this event from our collective thoughts?

As a technology enthusiast, I am intrigued by the role that technology may play in our shared history. Although social media didn’t really exist in 2001, it now provides an opportunity for shared reflection. People are able to interconnect in ways that were not possible on December 7, 1951. We’ve seen the role Twitter and Facebook can play in driving revolution in oppressive regimes. What will our Tweets, our statuses, and our blog posts do to ensure we truly never forget?

mmtter: a front end for TTYtter

If you know much about my Twitter habits, you know I’m a bit fan of Cameron Kaiser’s TTYtter. I’ve written in the past about using it to follow event streams, but one limitation was that it was hard to consistently tweet event messages. For example, when you send a tweet from a UStream feed, it includes the feed’s hashtag and a URL to the stream. This is a great way to lure in viewers.

Since TTYtter has easy support for posting messages from the command line, I figured it would be an easy task to write a wrapper that would automatically include the relevant information so that I wouldn’t have to copy/paste every time. The result is mmtter, a small Perl script to pass the arguments to TTYtter. So far, it just checks to make sure the tweet is short enough and then mashes the text onto the end. Since it blindly grabs the arguments from the shell, you have to carefully escape special characters. Future “enhancements” will include the ability to prepend a string. In the meantime, you can get it from GitHub: http://www.github.com/funnelfiasco/mmtter

While you’re enjoying my minutes of hard work, be sure to watch the Mario Marathon and donate using the happy little button on the right-hand side of this page.

Is Twitter just a crippled version of IRC?

Back in May, Karsten Wade posted “microblog format/interaction is a crippled, radically transparent form of #IRC. Otherwise, seems to serve same purposes.”  I don’t know if that’s his own conclusion or if he was quoting someone else, but I disagree either way.  The other evening, I had a related discussion with a friend.  Her take was that Twitter is a less-featureful version of Facebook status updates.  I don’t believe that either, but it seems to highlight a problem with Twitter: it’s utility isn’t readily apparent.

Twitter easily supports one-to-one and one-to-many interaction.  Many-to-many is possible, but requires some searching and/or client configuration.  That makes it a rather poor replacement for IRC.  IRC is also more real-time than Twitter is necessarily.  Although Twitter is often used for real-time events, it doesn’t have to be.  The big difference between IRC and Twitter is that IRC is self-contained.  This is a point I made several times during the Mario Marathon, when people in chat felt they were being ignored.  IRC can be very active, but no one outside the channel will notice.  With Twitter, the message gets spread each time someone posts.  If a topic begins to trend, that can pull in even more participants.

There’s a better case for saying Twitter is just like pulling the status updates out of Facebook.  Several people I know post Facebook status updates with their Twitter accounts, so it seems reasonable.  I’d agree that they are mostly the same, but there are a few differences.  The primary difference is that Facebook more easily allows threaded discussion, whereas a tweet stands alone.  Neither way is necessarily better; in certain circumstances one is preferable over another.  There’s also the lack of passive support.  In Facebook, you can “like” a status with impunity.  On Twitter, to express support, you must re-tweet and therefore own the statement.

To me, there’s a clear use for Twitter.  That’s not the case for many people, and until they can figure out a use, they simply won’t use it.

My TTYtter configuration

It’s been many months since I found out about TTYtter, a command line Twitter client written in Perl.  Though some users might bemoan the lack of a snazzy graphical interface, it is that very lack which appeals to me.  TTYtter places only a very tiny load on system resources, which means my Twitter addiction won’t get in the way of running VMs to test various configurations and procedures.  Being command-line based, I can run it in a screen session which means that I can resume my Twittering from wherever I happen to be and not have to re-configure my client.

I don’t claim to be a TTYtter expert, but I thought I’d share my own configuration for other newbs.  TTYtter looks in $HOME/.ttytterrc by default, and here’s my default configuration:

#Check to see if I'm running the current version
vcheck=1
# What hash tags do I care about?
track='#Purdue #OSMacTalk #MarioMarathon'
# Colors, etc are good!
ansi=1
# I'm dumb. Prompt me before a tweet posts
verify=1
# Use some readline magic
readline=1
# Check for mentions from people I don't follow
mentions=1

Of course, there are certain times that the default configuration isn’t what I want.  When I was reading tweets in rapid-fire succession during the Mario Marathon, I didn’t want non-Mario tweets to get in the way, so I used a separate configuration file:

# Don't log in and burn up my rate limit
anonymous=1
# Find tweets related to the marathon
track=#MarioMarathon "Mario Marathon"
# Don't show my normal timeline
notimeline=1
# Colors, etc are awesome!
ansi=1
# Only update when I say so. This keeps the tweet I'm in the middle of reading
#      from being scrolled right off my screen
synch

There are a lot of other ways that TTYtter can be used, and I’m sure @doctorlinguist will tell me all of the ways I’m doing things wrong, but if you’re in the market for a new, multi-platform Twitter client, you should give this one a try.

Twitter made me feel important

I know it’s hard to imagine Twitter serving a useful purpose, but it did on Monday.  Not only did it make me feel useful, but I was able to pass along information.  Allow me to set the scene.  Purdue University announced last month the need for a $30 million cut in the budget to address a “structural deficit.”  Recently, the governor announced a cut of $150 million in higher education funding for the remainder of the biennium.  Because of cuts and RIFs earlier this year, there are a lot of questions among the faculty and staff about what these cuts might bring.  In order to address some of the concerns, President France Cordova held an open forum on Monday, joined by Provost Randy Woodson and Executive Vice President and Treasurer Al Diaz.

The South Ballroom in the Purdue Memorial Union was standing-room-only, and there were still many people who could not attend.  In order to keep my colleagues (and other followers who are interested in the state of Purdue’s finances), I live-tweeted during the 45-minute discussion.  As I expected, it was rather difficult to try to summarize important points in 140 characters or less while listening for the next useful piece of information.  What I didn’t expect was how fun it was to do it.  It was fun trying to meet the challenge, and I was encouraged by the fact that I got a few follow-up questions from followers (and amazingly, no one complained).  I’m not about to quit my job to become a full-time Twitter reporter, but I do hope I get a chance to do this again.

This is what passes as humor

Since I don’t have time to write a real blog post, here’s a recent exchange on Twitter between my friend @orangeshirtguy and myself.  If you get the jokes, I feel sorry for you.

Me: I like using sed commands in IM and then berating people when they have no idea what I’m talking about.

OSG: @FunnelFiasco to them, it’s just a case of he sed, she sed.

Me: Quick. Someone give me a witty rejoinder using the word ‘awk’ RT @orangeshirtguy: to them, it’s just a case of he sed, she sed.

Me: Better late than never? @orangeshirtguy don’t you think that joke was a bit `awk`ward. Perhaps you should `tr`y harder next time?

OSG: A nano second too late. I don’t need to vi for attention, I’m leet to th emacs.

Me: @orangeshirtguy > /dev/null

OSG: @FunnelFiasco: Not just “@osg >/dev/null”. That’s *nix fail. Try “cat @osg > /dev/null”. Have to have the cat, ‘cos OSG’s a cool cat.

Me: @orangeshirtguy not fail. I gave you the ol chmod a+x because I want you to be executed.

OSG: @FunnelFiasco : I gnu you would get mvious.. You must get a grep on yourself…

Me: @orangeshirtguy You don’t need to be such a cranky Gnome. I think it’s time to put this thread on IceWM. Surely you can CDE that point?

OSG: This is more like it. Vim and vi.gore.

OSG: @funnelfiasco Listen to me, mac, OS I’ll have to bash you to illustrator my point, and you’ll be a shell of your former self.

Me: @orangeshirtguy quit trying to stall, man. You’re de Raadt and you know it. Maybe you should go grab your blanket like Linus.

OSG: @funnelfiasco niiiiiice -20! should we kill -9 this thread and GBTW? It could get troff if I spend the rest of the day doing this.

Me: @orangeshirtguy [509 bcotton devo ~ ]$ niiiiiice -20! -bash: niiiiiice: command not found

And then @johnjanitor had to cap it off with: @orangeshirtguy @funnelfiasco please don’t shutdown now, it is not the 2nd tuesday yet. continue or cancel?

I could never get the hang of Thursdays

The e-pocalypse seems to be upon us. This morning I tried to upgrade my MacBook to 10.5.8 and it’s been “booting” for the past 45 minutes or so. The evolution-exchange backend keeps failing on my Linux box so I can’t get to my e-mail (interesting side note, it also crashes Pidgin). Twitter and Facebook were down, although Facebook seems to be back now. I feel so isolated!

I’m Twitter-pated

A while back, I decided to register a Twitter account.  I had no intention of using it, but I figured since it’s free, I might as well squat on my domain name.  Last week, I was having some problems with the IRC chat for the Mario Marathon, so the only way I had to interact with the guys was to use my Twitter account.  So I did.  Then on Sunday and Monday, I was in front of the camera reading the tweets.  Much to my surprise, people began following my account.

“Listen, you guys, I’m not very exciting,” I’d protest.  It made no difference.  As of this writing, there are 200 people out there who feel the minutia of my life is worth following.  Since I’m a sucker for attention, I had no choice but to start actually using it.  OMG, I’m in love.

Twitter has allowed me to feel emotions that I never thought I could.  For example, on Wednesday Wil Wheaton was having problems with his iPod.  I felt so bad for him.  I mean, as a kid, I totally wanted to be Wesley Crusher, and here I am now watching him suffer through the misery that is a misbehaving electronic device.  Fortunately, some of the other hundreds of thousands of people who follow him were able to give him advice on how to fix it.  I am happy to say that Wil’s iPod now works.  Without Twitter, I’d never have been able to get on this roller coaster.

At first, the idea of microblogging seems rather silly.  But it can be a lot of fun, and it’s certainly easier to catch up on 30 tweets than it is to catch up on 30 full blog posts.  And tweets are more like a slow conversation than a lecture, which makes it easier to form e-bonds with people.

So I have to say that I’m rather fond of my followers, and I’ll try not to be too boring for them.  The hard part will be trying not to become addicted.  It may be too late already.