musing

Into the West – a Travel Story (with Photos!)

I can’t afford to travel nearly as often as I would like, so I try to make the most of every trip. This past week, I traveled across a continent to reach a coast at once foreign and familiar, and it was quite a ride.

Between getting robbed of my train fare by a lady with jewels more expensive than my entire wardrobe, making new friends with the sheer power of a smile, and accidentally crossing the Golden Gate Bridge to find myself halfway to Sausalito (no, I was totally sober), I’d say that I accomplished my goal of experiencing it to the fullest.

There are so many more stories to share, and I think it’s very fitting to begin with the “Travel” album. After all, “a good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” This is the philosophy that I had in mind when planning my trip and that allowed me to love every moment, pleasant and challenging alike.

“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” –Lao Tzu

From Tuesday to Tuesday, I traveled 5100 miles by plane, 1300 by train on the lovely and eventful Amtrak Coast Starlight, and far too many hours worth by bus and foot. I met inspiring and exciting people like the Arts extraordinaire Heidi and high-aspiring writer/photographer Robert, encountered rude bitter people like the wealthy thief, and often found myself grateful for my 10,000mah Anker external battery to recharge the camera, GPS, and lifeline that is my trusty Android phone (Samsung Galaxy Note 4).

And of course, I snapped a few pretty photos. 😉

So stay tuned over the next few days and enjoy the journey. I know I did.

 

 

“I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”
–Robert Louis Stevenson

The Irony of the Microsoft-Mojang Merger

With Microsoft’s impending Minecraft acquisition due for official announcement tomorrow, it’s worth noting the subtle irony surrounding the whole ordeal. Microsoft is the well-established platform that is desperately trying to fight an impending irrelevance. Minecraft is the ridiculously simple and deceptively powerful creative tool that took the world by surprise. Minecraft fundamentally is everything that Microsoft needs to reestablish its dominance in modern-era computing, yet the very suggestion of acquisition suggests that Microsoft is at risk of succumbing to the same trend of misguided or half-hearted assertions of dominance that is turning millennials away in droves.

The most significant problem with Microsoft’s entire platform is that it’s trying to carve itself a place in ‘emerging’ markets that are already well established by Apple and Android. Despite the vast improvements to the Windows Phone 8 operating system, it remains plagued by lack of interest and lack of independent development. Though the PC decline has stagnated somewhat in recent quarters, the simple fact remains that the trends lean against Microsoft’s traditional business model, and Microsoft execs need to take a moment to reflect a moment to redefine their niche.

Even most of the marketing for the surprisingly solid Surface Pro line touts features that could easily be said of most of the competition. Take a look at most of the Surface Pro commercials and you’ll find that an Android tablet or an iPad can accomplish just about everything that the ad features, short of running a full version of Photoshop.

Instead, if Microsoft wants to be successful in this age of digital fragmentation and revolutionary and wildly successful startups, it needs to promote and expand the one noteworthy truth that Apple and Android cannot claim: the centrality of the Windows OS. Windows needs to be more than just an extremely useful utility- that’s where the dozens and hundreds of very unique startups and established competition continue to excel. What none of the competition can claim is the ability to bring everything together in an efficient, powerful way. Do you want to get the most out of your Android? Pair it with your Windows PC and get the most out of the apps you love. Think your iPad is the greatest thing since sliced bread? Connect it wirelessly with your Windows PC and expand its functionality even more. Have a MacBook? Check out how easily the Windows OS takes your creativity to the next level.

Minecraft was successful not only because it was simple, but because it provided the building blocks (pun intended) to easily and conveniently unleash users’ creative prowess. Minecraft gave users a central hub around which to create, collaborate, and share, regardless of platform and regardless of the computing power of their device. The canvas was empty and the brushes were cheap and easily acquired.

With this acquisition, Microsoft walks on the edge of disaster. Meddle too much, and they’ll easily destroy the foundation that made Minecraft so successful. Limit the platform, the usability, or the universality in any way, and Microsoft will only mar its own name and prove that it is unable to adapt to the era of inclusion, in which crowdfunding and open-source mentality reign supreme.

If Microsoft wants to be successful, it needs to step away from the old era of closed-source professional development and Apple-style exclusivity. Microsoft needs to learn from Minecraft’s success and adapt its own business model and marketing style accordingly- not the other way around.

Tomorrow’s official announcement will hopefully shed some light on the direction Microsoft will take, but the decisions made regarding this acquisition will have an impact that transcends the fate of a Lego-inspired building game and affect the direction of the company as a whole.

 

Through a Traveler’s Lens – Resica Falls in Middle Smithfield, PA

This post was a creative exercise I gave myself to kill a bad case of writer’s block, but it was a nice experience so I thought I’d share. My challenge: write from the perspective of a traveling writer far from home.

The first thing I noticed as I entered the parking area was the dramatic roar of the falling water pounding stone into submission. The falls were nowhere in sight, but their commanding voice left no doubt as to their location. Having arrived several days of heavy rain, I knew the falls would be in full glory.

Little did I know, the summer falls would exceed even my own expectations.

As I exited the gravel-clad parking area toward the sound of the falls, I was greeted by a large, colorful sign in a small covered booth. “Welcome to Resica Falls”. Colorful and cartoony, it seemed almost out-of-place in the rustic atmosphere set by bronze boyscout statue and boyscout headquarters building at the entrance to the park area.

Behind the welcome sign was Bushkill Creek, the sole tributary to the waterfall, and beyond was a wide shimmering pool that ended suddenly in a dramatic drop-off, with the lazy creek winding off past the battered stones below the falls’ base and into the distant woods.

To my left I found the walkway into the falls’ visitor’s area, a green metal-grate bridge that crossed over a marshy runoff from the creek. Already I could peek glimpses of the falls through the wild brush, but the foliage was still too thick for a good view. Not until I crossed deeper into the staging area did were the falls on full display.

I arrived in the late afternoon, and the west-facing falls placed the sun upstream, it’s full strength glaring into my lens as I snapped mementos of the visit. There was no gift shop or amenities of any kind, so my own shots would have to capture the majesty.

As I looked out onto the incredible natural scene, I did my best to notice every detail: the powerful roar of the crashing water, the rush of cool, moist air as the summer breeze pushed the mist my direction, the sound of the birds chirping and squirrels chattering in the trees above me, the scent of pine and leaves so strong that I could nearly taste it. Many have written of the peace to be found in nature, but few mention the sheer overload of sensory input from a place busier than any city.

The roped-off visitors area was further from the action than I would have liked, but it was certainly close enough to savor the moment. I closed my eyes to fully appreciate the freshness of the air, the singsong tunes of the birds who knew little of human dominance and urban development. This is where their lives would begin and end, and I was merely one in a long cycle of guests to their home.

When I opened my eyes again, I noticed movement at the top of the falls. Kingfishers, small birds who loved a good fish, were swooping down into the pool from the trees lining the creek. I watched as they would flutter for a moment and dive down, only to return empty-taloned. I watched them for a few minutes, but found my attention drawn away as I heard footsteps behind me.

Two men in boyscout uniforms were coming up from the wooded area on the far side of the visitor’s area. Behind them, I noticed a seating area with picnic benches below a series of stone steps that I had mistaken for a natural rock formation. The unopened picnic baskets and spread of food suggested an impending group of considerable size. The uniformed men smiled and nodded silent greetings as they continued by, cameras in hand to capture their own memories of the visit. I remembered that the Resica Falls area is merely the staging area for a full-fledged boyscout reservation and in that moment seriously regretted dropping out of boyscouts as a kid. Oh, the wisdom of hindsight.

I turned back to the waterfall and realized that it was already starting to get dark. The high treeline hid the sun much earlier than in flatter areas, and the shadows were quickly growing longer. With a wistful last breath of the scene before me, I covered my lens cap and headed back up the metal grate toward my visit’s end.

Musing: Twitter’s Information Ecosystem

Study maps Twitter’s information ecosystem | Al Jazeera America.

I wonder how closely political audiences match any of these network types. I recall one study by Hemphill, Otterbacher, and Shapiro that showed a very polarized landscape among congressional accounts, very much akin to Menczer’s study. Is the landscape for followers themselves similar? Reinforcement is a powerful force in political media, and quite frankly, I don’t blame people for preferring to follow accounts that reinforce their worldviews. After all, isn’t there’s enough strife in the world without going and seeking conflicting views? Based on my own study, I’d venture to say that in the realm of political social media, the answer is yes.

On the other hand, a lot can be learned by a side-by-side comparison of the different network structures. While the discussion of #GOP is a blatantly bipolar topic that will likely always be discussed in polarized crowds, issues that can be successfully ‘converted’ to more accessible structures would likely have a much stronger chance of generating collaborative discussion across communities… including across political parties.

Framing, then, becomes an even more essential component of political communications than ever before. In unified and community cluster type social structures, opinion leaders would likely matter much less than the general sentiment toward the topic itself. Of course this raises more issues along the lines of groupthink, but it does have a lot of potential to foster the type of dynamic group conversation that the American Democracy is meant to represent.