Going Mobile

I’m goin’ home
And when I wanna go home
I’m goin’ mobile
Hee, hoo!Beep beep!

– The Who

GoingMobile-LP-USA2As you can see, The Endless Further has a new look. I’m going mobile. But, when Peter Townsend wrote the lyrics to The Who’s song, he was talking about mobility in transportation terms. I’m talking technology.

Nowadays, as more and more people use tablets or smartphones for surfing the Net, blogs and websites have to adapt their sizes to fit any screen dimension. Two things recently came to my attention: one, several potential visitors complained that the blog was not accessible to mobile devices, and secondly, I learned that back in April Google began using “mobile-friendliness” as a ranking signal (where have I been?). If your site is not mobile-friendly, you could lose page rank in Google’s all-important ranking algorithm. I don’t care much about rank. The Endless Further will never be anywhere near the top, but I hate the idea of preventing folks from visiting here out of sheer ignorance.

It’s been a learning experience. Mobile-friendly is definitely a case of less is more and small is better. The layout and design must fit to a small screen. Navigation must be arranged so a user can easily click where they want without accidentally hitting the wrong button. Images need to be compressed to speed-up page loading. And that’s just the beginning.

I checked my blog with the W3C mobileOK Checker – WC3 is the international standards organization for the World Wide Web, the place to go to see if your CSS or HTML code is correct – and my site had so many errors it was overwhelming. I wasn’t sure I could fix all that was wrong with the theme I’ve used from the beginning, so I went with a new one and simplicity was my guiding principle.

From here on, images will be smaller, compressed, and if you want to see the full image you can just click on it.

Any readers who are mobile who want to tell me how The Endless Further looks on their device – I’d appreciate it.

I am curious about the links. I always set them to open in new windows, because that’s what I like when I’m viewing Web content. It doesn’t work too well on my phone (because it’s a cheapie) but I wonder about other mobile devices. I’d like some feedback on that.

If you are hosted on Blogspot or WordPress.com, it might not be a major issue, because they will take care of the mobile stuff for you. But if you are like me, a self-hosted blogger and/or website owner and you want to become mobile friendly (if you’re not already) here are some resources:

Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test Tool is the first place you want to head for, and it will quickly tell you if you are mobile friendly or not and show you what the Googlebot sees when it goes to your site.

If you fail and you want to know what’s wrong, go to the W3C mobileOK Checker. Not for the faint of heart, because unless you are an expert coder, you might be shocked. Still, it is an indispensible tool for learning about mobile optimization.

Responsinator is cool, but it just shows you what your site looks like on a small mobile phone, but not on a tablet or some of the larger cell phones.

OK, I am sure that was boring to most of you, so we’ll leave it behind and get mobile:

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Update on Aung San Suu Kyi and Net Neutrality

It’s been over two months since Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest. It dawned on me that I hadn’t heard much about how she was faring, which I interpret as a good sign, and so I decided to check the world wide web and see.

According to the BBC, Suu Kyi “has obtained internet access . . . Technicians set up wireless broadband at her home after the military government authorised an internet connection.” Suu Kyi’s assistant has reported that she had not yet used her connection because the signal is too weak, and additionally, she has also been feeling a little too unwell to try the internet. Apparently, Aung San Suu Kyi has never been online.

The military dictatorship in Burma, strictly controls internet connections and those who apply for internet service must not be involved in politics. The Indo-Asian news service reports that “Soon after her release from house arrest, the 65-year-old leader said that although she would apply for the internet permit, she would fill in the form saying that she would participate in politics.”

The Mizzima news agency has this: ‘The connection is a communication technology called McWill. But, the telephone has not been installed. With this connection, she will not be able to use voice (internet telephony). Only an internet connection has been installed. Although they told us to provide 1 MB, currently she has received 512 KB. They said they would extend the bandwidth later.  The internet installation cost at 560,000 kyat (about $560). Suu Kyi will apply for a mail4you e-mail account, which is a product of Yatanarpon Teleport and the only officially authorised e-mail account in Burma. The authorities have access to all passwords for mail4you e-mail accounts.”

In the United States, the internet is pretty much unrestricted. In this country, we do have a dictatorship, though, but it is not the government, despite what some would like to claim, it is “big business.” And for some time now, our unrestricted use of the internet has been threatened. What’s at stake is a principle called “net neutrality”, a principle applied to users access to the internet. Basically, it means that internet service providers should not discriminate between different kinds of content and applications online. It’s meant to provide a level playing field for all web sites, users and providers.

But cable and telephone companies want to charge money for easy and smooth access to Web sites, speed to run applications and download files, and permission to plug in devices. If you have a fairly fast connection presently, once these companies have their way, to keep it you will need to fork over more of your hard-earned cash or be left in the slow lane.

It’s all rather complicated. If you are unfamiliar with net neutrality or if you want to get up to speed with the latest developments, I suggest you take a look here, here and here.

Last week U.S. Senator Al Franken and Rep. Dennis Kucinich both warned of what the former describes as “a growing threat of corporate control on the flow of information in our country.”

We who live in “free” countries are  fortunate not to have the kind of restrictions on the internet that Aung San Suu Kyi is saddled with in Burma. Most of us, myself included, have a tendency to take it for granted. We should not.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

Edmund Burke

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Web Censorship Bill

Many people complain about big government, but the sad fact is most of the time these complaints are ill-informed and misplaced. The public will latch on to some non-issue manufactured by people with political agendas, yet remain silent and largely ignorant of real cases of government overreaching. One case in point is a web censorship bill that has just sailed through a US Senate committee. Anyone who uses the Internet should be very concerned over this legislation.

This week we’ve had the controversy over airport screenings and pat-downs conducted by TSA or Transportation Safety Administration, a branch of the US Department of Homeland Security. The bill in question amounts to another kind of pat-down and eventually, take-down. The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) received unanimous approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee. It will still require full approval from the House and Senate before becoming law.

In a nutshell, this bill gives the Attorney General the power to “shut down websites if copyright infringement is deemed central to the website’s activities”. Under this bill, a website can be shut down even if no crime was committed. Critics maintain that this bill will allow censorship of the Internet without due process, and the big question  is who will determine which web sites should be shut down. The government? Yahoo? Google? ARIN?

According to Wired.com, “scholars, lawyers, technologists, human rights groups and public interest groups have denounced the bill. Forty-nine prominent law professors called it ‘dangerous.’ The American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch warned the bill could have ‘grave repercussions for global human rights.’ Several dozen of the most prominent internet engineers in the country — many of whom were instrumental in the creation of the internet — said the bill will ‘create an environment of tremendous fear and uncertainty for technological innovation’.”

One of those “prominent internet engineers”, Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the world wide web, said “Neither governments nor corporations should be allowed to use disconnection from the internet as a way of arbitrarily furthering their own aims.”

This is an issue I would think right-wingers, Republicans, and Tea-baggers would be all over. They’re always talking about how people should fend for themselves, pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, etc., and now that the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are people too, I think the same should apply to those media companies who support this bill. I do not condone online piracy, but at the same time, I don’t understand why music and film companies should get an assist like this in the job of protecting their property. Let them look out for themselves, like the rest of us. It would be unreasonable for me to expect the police to come and stand guard over my personal property twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I think it is just as unreasonable to expect any government entity to do the same with my intellectual property.

Legal experts are concerned, and rightly so, that allowing government to shut down internet sites based upon vague and arbitrary evidence, especially if no law-breaking has been proved, is an unconstitutional abridgment of the freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Become an engaged Buddhist, or an engaged whatever you may be, and write to your representatives in Congress and ask them to vote against this Draconian bill.

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The Internet and Monkey Mind: Reevaluating Online Practice

Tarzan's chimp, Cheeta, had a real bad case of Monkey Mind

Saturday CSPAN2’s Book TV re-aired a panel from the 2010 Chicago Tribune Printers Row Lit Fest this past June. The subject was how technology is affecting our minds and one of the panelists was Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.

The book has been called a “Silent Spring for the literary mind.” I would say any mind. Carr is of the opinion that the Internet is changing our brains and not necessarily for the better.

Here is a pretty accurate transcription of what Carr said at the beginning of the CSPAN2 program. After reading a sentence from Carr’s book (“The price we pay to assume technologies’ power is alienation.”) the panel moderator went on to ask him if he thought “alienation is a necessary byproduct of our winding up bombarded by all this stimuli?”

Yes, I do. I’m using alienation not in the kind of metaphysical sense, but in the very simple sense that technology alienates us in different ways from ourselves . . . it happens . . .  in the most extreme and the most personal and the most intimate ways with media and other technologies that we use to think with . . . I think we’re seeing it with the Internet and other digital technologies. One on the hand they give us enormous convenience, they give us access to far more information than we ever had access to before. But on the other hand . . . they are emphasizing a certain mode of thought and deemphasizing another mode of thought. I think what the net and related technologies are doing is emphasizing the side of our mind that wants to skim and scan and browse and jump around and gather as much information as possible,  a very kind of primitive side of our mind . . . but what they’re deemphasizing is a very different mode of thought, slower, quieter, more solitary, the mode of thought that underskins contemplation, introspection, reflection . . . and I believe that we’re seeing on a personal level and a societal level a shift away from those modes of thought to this ever faster more superficial . . . mode of thought . . . My fear is that lose our capacity for the more contemplative modes of thought we are going to lose something very important to us as individuals and also one of the underpinnings of culture in general.

If Carr’s right, or only half-right, perhaps we should reconsider how we choose to use the Internet and other new technologies. This would seem especially crucial for Buddhists, or anyone who practices meditation. According to Carr’s research, our brains are changing on a cellular level and not only are we losing our ability to pay attention and focus, but also we’re eroding our contemplative mind, the very thing that we as Buddhists are trying to cultivate.

Those who have been so earnestly promoting online practice and sanghas might now want to reevaluate. I’m not saying that they have no value, yet considering some of the rather extravagant claims I’ve read, not to mention some insensible criticisms of traditional modes of communication, I am beginning to feel that this is seriously misleading people, however unintentionally.

I am certainly aware that these new technologies are not going away, nor would I want them to, as I greatly appreciate and enjoy all the convenience, access to information and fun they provide. However, the prospect of a future overrun by people with ADHD is rather frightening.

Actually, Buddhism considers Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder to be our normal state with or without technology. We call this “Monkey Mind.”

Those of you already familiar with the term might have noticed how Carr’s statement quoted above contained a very accurate description of Monkey Mind: “the side of our mind that wants to skim and scan and browse and jump around.”

Most scholars seem to believe that the term “Monkey Mind” originated in China. I’m not so sure. Chih-i in the T’ung Meng Chih Kuan or “Stopping and Seeing for Beginners,” composed in the 6th Century CE, quotes a sutra (which not identified in any English translation that I’m aware of): “A fixed mind is like a bound monkey.” This sutra could be an apocryphal Chinese text, but it could also be an authentic Indian sutra.

In any case, a modern meditation master, Yin Shih, in his book Experimental Meditation for the Promotion of Health, offers a good explanation of Monkey Mind:

The mind is like a monkey and does not stop for an instant. What then should we do? We should prevent this monkey mind from moving by tying it to a stake and it will cease jumping about aimlessly. In the practice of [meditation] the first step is to fix the mind on an object (hsi yaun chih). When the false mind moves, it looks for something that is called its object. When all of sudden it thinks of one object, then of another, and then of a third and a fourth; this is its clinging to objects. The purpose of [meditation] is to fix the wandering mind to a post in the same way that a monkey is tethered to a stake; this stops it wandering.

A number of reliable studies in recent years have shown that people with ADHD can benefit from meditation. In fact, nowadays, it is almost universally accepted that meditation is an effective tool for reducing stress, improving health, and boosting concentration and creativity.

Most of us know this and it shouldn’t be necessary to go through all the reasons why a “contemplative mind” is something that we should not only cultivate, but cherish. The questions we need to consider are: Does the Net and other digital technology cancel out everything we gain from meditation? Do we break even? How should we balance this out?

If, as Carr suggests, the contemplative mind is important both individually and culturally, then we need to take steps to protect it. Of course, not everyone is convinced by Carr’s arguments, and they point to the fact that the jury is still out, after all while some studies support his thesis, others have found significant cogitative benefits from exposure to the Internet and digital media. But if we ignore the possible negative effects, if we wait until the jury comes in, it may be too late to reverse the damage done.

Lastly, let me share with you something from Winston Churchill. It’s a piece of wisdom that has really helped me out as I’ve made my way down this long road of life: “Never hold discussions with the monkey when the organ grinder is in the room.”

Now you know.

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The Top Buddhism Blog Awards Hustle

I don’t know how this went down but The Endless Further has received an award as one of the fifty Top Buddhism Blogs of 2010. Now before you congratulate me, or if you are a fellow “winner” before you begin to congratulate yourself, let me share this with you:

According to the website, “Top Buddhism Blog Awards are brought to you by Online Schools & Awarding the Web.” And who might they be? Neither website provide any real information about who they are. This alone tells me a story. Except that they also give out awards in such categories as Top Allergy Blog, Top Literary Studies Blog, and so on.

There is nothing on the web that provides any background information about either of these entities.

I Googled onlineschools.org and came up with their main site, which has links to contact various educational institutions, also pages like “15 Things You Should Know About Breasts”, “15 Things to Know About Steve Jobs” and “The Facts about Poop.” Okay, that makes me go Hmmm . . .

Next, Googling awardingtheweb.com, I found this at MISH’S Global Economic Trend Analysis, dated June 16, 2010: “Today I received an email from Awarding the Web  congratulating me for making their best of web category. There was just one catch. I had to post their badge on my blog or they would give my spot away.”

I didn’t receive an email, perhaps because I don’t have an email link on this blog. If someone wants to contact me they need to go to the Contact page. I discovered my status as a winner by accident. Anyway, this “post the badge or loose the award” business seems fishy.

Also, their process for nominating blogs and judging the winners is a bit vague. There is a panel of 5 judges, but who are they? Okay so maybe they don’t want put the names out to the public for privacy reasons, but are they professionals, other bloggers, where do they come from and how were they picked? How about just a general idea? It’s definitely starting to smell now. Not only that, although that someone would nominate me does not seem beyond the realm of possibility, I seriously doubt that I would have garnered enough votes to rank in the top fifty.

A guy named Robert Archambeau at Samizdat Blog won a award and he checked with a colleague who informed him that it was basically a list to shore up Online School’s credibility as a diploma-mill. Archambeau says, “As it turns out, the awards are sponsored by a consortium of online doctoral programs, some run by for-profit institutions. What’s more, the html code for the badge one is meant to display on one’s blog contains a text link, just below the badge, for a site promoting these programs.”

The secondary purpose of the awards seems to be to drive traffic to the Online Schools website, which is not anything I want to do.  That’s just another form of advertising and I don’t want ads on this blog.

I don’t think it qualifies as a scam, but it’s certainly a hustle. Maybe some one else has some better information, and if so, it’d be nice if they put it out there.

I went through the list of the 2010 Top 50 Buddhism Blogs, and if nothing else, at least I discovered a couple of interesting blogs I didn’t know about, so I thank the Awards people for that. I noticed that about 1/3 of the winners displayed the badge on their blog, but only two or three had a post about winning the award.

I’m ambivalent about stuff like blog awards. I submitted The Endless Further to the Blogisattva Awards Blog Directory. I do want people to know about this blog, find it and read it, but I am not particularly interested in the awards. Unless I win one, of course. Which ain’t gonna happen.

No, I feel that perhaps the most fitting award that I could win would be something along the lines of The Best Curmudgeonly Buddhist Blog, because in regards to being a member of an award winning group, I kind of feel like Groucho Marx who once turned down membership in an elite club with this line, “I don’t care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members.”

I haven’t decided if or how I will respond to the Awarding The Web folks, but while I am making up my mind, here’s few other “curmudgeonly” takes on the subject of awards to muse on:

Awards are meaningless to me, and I have nothing but disdain for anyone who actively campaigns to get one.
Bill Murray

Awards are only a publicity gimmick.
Tony Randall

I could have a roomful of awards and it wouldn’t mean beans.
Bobby Darin

I have done so much for hip-hop and ’til this day, I haven’t received any awards or any recognition for it.
Luther Campbell

Most awards, you know, they don’t give you unless you go and get them – did you know that? Terribly discouraging.
Barbra Streisand

I didn’t get a lot of awards as a [baseball] player. But they did have a Bob Uecker Day Off for me once in Philly.
Bob Uecker

To those of you who received honours, awards and distinctions, I say well done. And to the C students, I say you, too, can be president of the United States.
George W. Bush

Up there with my awards, I have a great big statue of Groucho Marx, just to put everything in perspective.
John Lithgow

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