The Midnight Hunter Musings, ruminations and wild rants about life from the Midnight Hunter.

February 20, 2010

Misadventures with Technology

Filed under: Uncategorized — me @ 2:56 pm

I’m a hard headed SOB. Too stubborn for my own good.  I know this.  I admit it. Guilty, as charged.

What brings on this admission of personal failing? My adventures this past week with technology, or rather, my misadventures with technology, along with Pastor Jeff Edward’s Lenten blog posting, which has inspired me to be a bit more introspective regarding my experience. Had it not been for Jeff, I’d more likely be venting my frustrations with the various imperfections of the technologies that I experienced than reflecting on my own reaction to those imperfections.

The journey began several weeks ago when I purchased a Sony Daily Edition eBook Reader. One of the first books I knew I wanted to purchase for the eBook was the Bible, so I went out to the Sony store and found a copy of the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible from Harper Collins, in two volumes, one the New Testament, and the other was supposed to be the Old Testament and Apocrypha. When I downloaded the second volume to the eBook, I found it was, instead, another copy of the New Testament. After some back and forth with Sony, I went to the Harper Collins website, found and purchased the Old Testament from the publisher directly (one of the advantages of the Sony device over Amazon’s Kindle). I then had to get the downloaded book from my Linux laptop to the Sony eBook.  This is where my real troubles began.

I was an early adopter of Linux, for a number of reasons, not the least of which is my notorious, um… let’s just say frugality. About ten years ago I calculated that it costs about $1200 per year in hardware and software to keep up with the Microsoft software channel on one PC. I doubt that number has gone down much since. Linux, on the other hand, while not truly free (the operating system is free, but I’ve not yet seen a free PC) probably costs about a third of the Microsoft option, though I’ve never actually worked out those costs. The problem, of course, is that so many things are not compatible with Linux, including my Sony eBook.

There is, however, an open source (i.e. free) software program for Linux that will communicate with the Sony eBook, called Calibre. Calibre, however, wouldn’t install on the version of Linux I was running (Ubuntu 8.04). No problem, I thought, I’ll just upgrade. As I was watching the new version of Linux download onto my computer, I thought to myself “you really should have made a backup of your data first”, and I had that sinking feeling in my stomach. Needless to say, the upgrade did not go as planned, and I have spent the past week trying to recover my old data and restore my laptop to health, cursing my stupidity with great regularity in the process.

At this point I could launch into a tirade on how manufacturers make their hardware and software too proprietary, how software is overpriced, overprotected, too incompatible with other software/hardware. But that neglects my own role in this mishap. I made a choice, and it is up to me to accept the various consequences of that choice. By choosing to use Linux, I am aware of the fact that many devices and most software is incompatible. When I rant and rage as things go badly I am neglecting to acknowledge my own choices. My self-imposed journey through the computer wilderness has caused me to reflect on what my expectations are, and whether they are reasonable. If I choose to take the “path less taken” in technology, can I reasonably expect to enjoy the benefits of compatibility that accrue to taking the “path of least resistance”? More importantly, what benefit does my anger and rage serve? None.

I have lost a week and some of my precious data, but did eventually get the Old Testament onto my eReader, and I did get most of my data back and my laptop is now using the latest version of Linux. I should be satisfied with that.



February 8, 2010


Filed under: Uncategorized — me @ 10:00 pm

I’m coining a new word.

Sophophobia: fear of experts. (from Greek: Sophos: wisdom + Phobia: fear)

Why? As I was driving home from my bloodwork appointment this evening I was listening to Marketplace on XM Public Radio and I heard this enlightening exchange between Kai Ryssdal and his guest, Stacey Palmer:

Ryssdal: OK, so now back to the downsides, and those experts you were talking about. That’s kind of a scary term, when somebody else, some other expert decides how you get to do what you do, right?

Palmer: That’s one of the problems: Who gets to decide.

(For the complete interview and transcript see here.)

What I found fascinating and disturbing about this exchange was the almost unchallenged assumption that expertise is somehow bad. It seems that in the United States experts and expertise are the enemy, some sort of elitist cabal out to subvert democracy and enslave mankind. Granted, this is not a new phenomenon.  Toqueville wrote in the 1830s:

Men seldom take the opinion of their equal or of a man like themselves upon trust.

Not only is confidence in the superior attainments of certain individuals weakened among democratic nations, as I have elsewhere remarked, but the general notion of intellectual superiority which any man whatsoever may acquire in relation to the rest of the community is soon overshadowed. As men grow more like each other, the doctrine of the equality of the intellect gradually infuses itself into their opinions, and it becomes more difficult for any innovator to acquire or to exert much influence or the minds of a people.

I am also reminded of the vehement opposition to the “egghead” presidential aspirations of Adlai Stevenson. His intellectual demeanor was ridiculed by Republicans, led by Stewart Alsop, the newspaper columnist who, himself, boasted a Yale diploma. But it was precisely at that time that America’s experts were at their peak, building nuclear bombs and soon after putting man on the moon. Apparently, America’s brief intellectual apex tapped the deep natural vein of anti-intellectualism that has brought us to this present moment, when expert is a scary term.

But, you might argue, experts have brought on us all the recent economic calamity. When so-called experts can cause such a mess, what value can we place on expertise, and who can say who is really an expert and who is not?

This is a problem we American’s bring on ourselves. When we don’t like the answer experts supply, all to often we go “shopping” for a different expert to give us the answer we want, or that reaffirms our own beliefs, since we are really intellectually equivalent to any supposed expert, as Toqueville so presciently observed. It’s never hard to find someone who will claim expertise in order to fill a void. This is the root of the problem: Americans don’t want experts; they want sycophants. They want someone to tell them they are right, not someone to tell them the truth. This was alarmingly obvious during Bush the Younger’s administration, but it really reflected the culture of America as a whole, not some deviant aberration. And little has changed since George W. left office.

Which brings me to a final point. If as Toqueville observed more than a century and a half ago, Americans are predisposed to discount expertise, and we have managed despite that fact to create a modern nation that boasts the largest economy in the world, what’s wrong with that? Well, perhaps this predilection to disdain for the intellectual has brought us this far, but no further. Perhaps we have reached the realistic limits of our cultural capacity. China is rapidly advancing on us economically, and Europe has long since passed us by in most measures of social and cultural development. By some measures, particularly regarding public health, we are being overtaken by many third world countries. Perhaps we have gone as far as amateurism, duct tape and sophophobia will take us.

Perhaps it’s time for a revolution…



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