Meet Robbie

Rosie (closest) and Robbie (furthest). I hope they’ll be friends.

Rosie (closest) and Robbie (furthest). I hope they’ll be friends.

When Megan and I got married, I put a Roomba on our wedding registry on a whim — I didn’t actually think anyone would get one for us. But someone did, and it was a delight to have a robot servant in the house. I named it Rosie, and for the last seven years, it’s been dutifully cleaning the floors.

Seven years is a long time for a robot, as it turns out. Things break, and I’ve replaced its brush motor, brushes, and other random pieces over the years. I’ve even printed parts for it on occasion, and dismantled it completely for a couple of cleaning sessions. Robots that crawl around on the floor picking up dirt get dirty — go figure. It’s still chugging away, but it’s a bit louder, and doesn’t always work as well on the carpets.

I’ve been thinking of replacing it for a while now, and when another one popped up for sale, I splurged and bought one. This new one is a slightly upgraded model — a Roomba 640, which I’m calling Robbie. It’s a bit of a step up and a step down from Rosie, which is a Roomba 500 model. This new one is quieter, it seems like it’s a bit smarter, and it works exceptionally well. But while I can schedule Rosie to begin work at 9AM, this new one doesn’t have a scheduling feature, and it’s a little hard to tell when it’s charging. But, after running it in our bedroom, Megan came home and asked if I’d vacuumed it. High praise.

I’d originally thought that I’d hand off Rosie to a friend, but after putting the two of them together, I realized just how attached I’d become to it. That’s not uncommon, apparently. In Wired for War, P.W. Singer wrote about how soldiers became incredibly attached to their packbots (also made by iRobot). Rosie’s been a constant presence in the house, even though it can be loud and exasperating at times, it’s almost like a pet. So, Rosie will stick with what it’s good at — handling the harder floods downstairs, while Robbie will handle everything else — bedrooms and basement

The long trail of conversations best forgotten

I recently purged nearly a decade's worth of tweets on my Twitter account last month, going from over 51,000 posts to around 1,500. There's been a lot of talk about this sort of thing around the internet, in the wake of alt-right trolls tanking the careers of movie directors or attempting to do so to former colleagues. I'm certain that in the ten or so years I've been on Twitter, I've never really tweeted anything controversial, but if there's any one lesson out of some of these instances, it's that there's a lot that can be taken out of context and warped in ways that are unpleasant. 

This comes at a time when I've been really thinking about the uses of social media and been thinking about how I approach talking on the internet. Last year, I interviewed horror author Joe Hill, and the topic of Twitter and social media came up, which provided some real revelations for me, particularly in how he notes that sites like Twitter and Facebook can really isolate people and bring out their worst behaviors. As social creatures, we're really not well suited to working in really large communities. In smaller structures, we can easily self-regulate our behavior: someone who steps out of line will get attached with a considerable social stigma, whereas when they're able to network and pool their personalities together, that job gets harder — a job that companies like Twitter, Facebook, and others have completely ignored. Angry people is good business: it helps with engagement when you can rile yourself up in your own little echo chamber. 

The actions of various companies over the last year have really only reinforced this perception for me. Bad behavior that is really, truly detrimental just doesn't have consequences attached to it. It's weird, because when I was a teenager exploring the internet, the forums I belonged to were typically moderated. Bad behavior would earn you a time-out or a ban. The new wave of companies that followed prized growth over healthy communities, and now we're in today.

Facebook reminds me that I've been on the platform since 2006: I remember the hype around it when I first joined: an exclusive, college-only social network that wasn't as ugly as MySpace. Looking back on those early days, I cringe as the types of things that I was posting. There are conversations, complaints, and memories that would have otherwise faded with time, preserved in silicone and electrons. As a historian, that long tail of thoughts is really cool, because I can go back and mine that past for contemporary thoughts on ... whatever it was I was vaguebooking about. But it's not healthy to dwell over, or to have hanging over one's head, especially when there's the threat that it can be weaponized against you.  

This never really seemed to be a problem with blogs: Facebook and Twitter are great for dashing off thoughts that might have otherwise been deleted in a longer blog post, and the various services out there have tools to reward such impulsive thoughts, with Like buttons, favestars, and commenting sections. It's hard to ignore the rush that a bunch of notifications brings! 

But chasing the endorphin high that those reactions bring just isn't healthy in the long run, and they should be treated like the short-term missives that they are: available for a short while, then thrust out of mind. I've found myself being more thoughtful about what I post to Facebook and Twitter. I've gotten tired of the inane and continual outraged grind when it comes to politics and culture, the people shouting into the voice because it feels like it's better than doing nothing. I've muted vast chunks of my friends list on Facebook, and consider who I follow on Twitter. Social Media is a firehoses of information, and we provide a conduit straight into our brains. Cutting out the aggressive connections with no interest in anything other than mindless anger is a huge relief — not because it provides me with a nice, safe echo-chamber, but because pulling out the loudest voices gives more space to those who are measured and thoughtful. In theory. I'm still muting and hiding people, but it's at least manageable.

I've often said that if I didn't need Facebook or Twitter for work, I probably wouldn't have them. I don't know how true that actually is, because I like what these services provide: connections to people I know (even if I don't necessarily want to see what they have to say all the time). It removes some of the cost of staying in touch, which is a valuable thing. But I'd like to keep drawing back on my reliance of them, going instead to longer-form blogging and online journals that I came of age with. 

Acer Chromebook, Initial Impressions

Earlier today, I got a new computer in the mail: an Acer Chromebook. For most of my freelancing / working life, I've used a work computer in my off hours to write up just about everything. When it became clear last year that I'd be leaving Norwich, I ended up buying a used iMac at a good price, which has been an absolute joy to use. It's reliable, user friendly, and didn't require too much effort to get used to.

The problem with a desktop is that it's really chained to one area, whereas before I have a sort of freedom of movement with the laptop, and while I don't travel all that often, when I do, it requires some extra finagling, such as carting along an iPad with its keyboard.

I like that setup, but my iPad 1 is getting up in age, and it's hard to do anything but watch Netflix or read the occasional book on the various book apps that are available for it. Last month, one of my fellow Gizmodo writers wrote an interesting post about how he picked up a Chromebook, rather than a new Macbook.

What hooked me here was the price that he got his at: $173. That's a staggeringly low price for a computer, especially if you do some light writing and surfing, which is pretty much what I do day to day, especially if I'm on the road.

So, I picked up this little Acer Chromebook for $140. I've been playing with it for a bit, and it plays Netflix nicely and seems to work decently as a writing device.

The main main thing that I need to get used to is the fact that there's no default Capslock button. I've trained myself to use that button instead of shifting (for some random reason that I can't fathom), so I have to get used to using SHIFT properly. There's a search button that's in the place of the Capslock that has me opening up a window every couple of minutes. Going into Settings allowed me to move that button to Capslock, which is nice, and makes things easier.

A couple of other buttons are in weird places - Control and Alt, but that's not bad. The keyboard isn't all that different from the Mac, and it's about as responsive, so that's a plus. It's a bit smaller, so that'll take some getting used to.

I'll have to see if I can get a small wireless mouse for it - my Apple mouse doesn't seem to want to connect.

I'll take this out with me when I go away from the house. It's simple and small enough to toss into my bag and cart along with me, provided I have an internet connecting where I'm going.

The initial impressions that I've got? For $140, it's stupidly simple and cheap, and it'll fill the role that my iPad just wasn't filling. Hopefully, once I get on the road later this month, I'll be able to try it out.