Category Archives: Science & Technology

New study says your memory is lying to you

The brain updates memories to make them more relevant and useful. It isn’t trying to accurately remember what happened. So, what do you remember that’s wrong?

Science has long known that human memory is far less reliable than most people imagine. For fun, Google [memory not reliable] and when you get a few spare minutes work your way through the 89,300,000 results that pop up.

I first encountered this body of research – not all of it, of course – as an undergrad at Wake Forest in Dr. Jerry Burger’s Intro to Psychology class, and then we studied it a bit more when I later took him for Social Psych. Utterly fascinating was the research on eyewitness memory in criminal investigations. We all imagine that if we’re sitting in a room watching a lecture and a guy bursts in and beats up the professor, we could probably give an accurate enough description and pick him out of a lineup a few minutes later, but it turns out that this isn’t the case nearly as often as you’d imagine. Continue reading New study says your memory is lying to you

And now, let’s get 2014 started: Benjamin Bratton’s epic anti-TED Talk TED Talk

TEDx: It’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death” for the Techoliterati crowd.

Happy New Year, a few hours early, from the staff of Scholars & Rogues. Have fun tonight, but please be careful. Big holiday occasions are amateur night and we don’t want you getting run over by drunken idiots. It goes without saying that we don’t want you being drunken idiots.

That said, I’m going to ask you to take ten minutes to read this (or watch video, which is below). It’s Benjamin Bratton’s TEDx Talk in San Diego a couple weeks ago, where he was apparently invited by TED to stomp the balls off everything they do and stand for. Continue reading And now, let’s get 2014 started: Benjamin Bratton’s epic anti-TED Talk TED Talk

SEO: Google’s Hummingbird algorithm from a content strategist’s perspective

Marketing and Search aren’t different things anymore, if they ever were.

Google recently implemented their new “Hummingbird” organic search algorithm, perhaps the company’s most significant overhaul in more than a decade. Thomas Claburn at Information Week explains that Hummingbird is an expansion of Google’s Knowledge Graph, which was

“introduced last year as a way to help its search engine understand the relationships between concepts rather than simply matching keywords in documents. The Knowledge Graph structures data, so that a search for, say, Marie Curie, returns facts about her contributions to science, her life, her family and other related information, not all of which are necessarily contained in the same document.” Continue reading SEO: Google’s Hummingbird algorithm from a content strategist’s perspective

PowerPoint is making us dumber and damaging our businesses

Yes, PowerPoint sucks. Here’s why, plus some suggestions about how to fix the problem.

Imagine a widely used and expensive prescription drug that promised to make us beautiful but didn’t. Instead the drug had frequent, serious side effects: It induced stupidity, turned everyone into bores, wasted time, and degraded the quality and credibility of communication. These side effects would rightly lead to a worldwide product recall. – Edward Tufte Continue reading PowerPoint is making us dumber and damaging our businesses

Our psychopath Congress

Government shutdown, debt crisis reveal how much GOP has in common with other sociopaths…

Is this to be an empathy test? Capillary dilation of the so-called blush response? Fluctuation of the pupil. Involuntary dilation of the iris?

I believe Philip K. Dick had it right in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Technology had, in that not-so-distant future, created androids that were nearly indistinguishable from humans. The one thing people had that the Nexus 6s didn’t, the quality that made them essentially human, was empathy. Continue reading Our psychopath Congress

The New Constitution: comprehensive statement of principles (draft)

CATEGORY: The New ConstitutionThe original plan when we began this project was to offer the amendments individually, invite discussion, then produce a final document. The course of the process, though, has made a couple things clear. First, there needs to be a period to discuss the entire document in context, and second, while the original “Bill of Rights” approach perhaps had a certain formatic elegance about it, the project is better served by a less formalized articulation of general principles.

As a result, what follows is a restructured draft that accounts for the discussions so far and that also adds some new elements that have arisen since the process launched.

We will compile a final statement of principles out of this discussion.

_____

1)    Organization, Composition and Conduct of Government

a)     Proportional Representation

i)      No political party representing a significant minority of the electorate – and here we suggest five percent as a workable baseline – will be denied direct representation in the legislature.

ii)     All legislative bodies shall be comprised proportionally according to the populations represented and all elected officials should be selected by direct vote of the people.[1]

b)     Public Financing of Elections

i)      In order to eliminate the corrupting, anti-democratic influence of corporate and special interest money on the electoral process, all elections shall be publicly financed. No individual will be allowed to contribute more than a token sum to an official, candidate or political party (perhaps the cap could be in line with the current $2,000 limit for contributions to presidential candidates).

ii)     All corporate, commercial and other private or publicly held entities shall be forbidden from contributing directly to any official, candidate or political party.

iii)   All citizens and collective entities are free to designate a portion of their annual tax contributions to a general election fund.

iv)    No contributions to the electoral process shall be allowed by foreign interests, either individual or institutional.

v)     Election funds shall be administered on a non-partisan basis and no candidate or party demonstrating a reasonable expectation of electoral viability shall be denied access to funding.

c)     Secular Government

i)      The government of the people shall be expressly secular. No individual, religious or quasi-religious entity or collective engage or seek to influence the course of legislation or policy in accordance with theological creed.

ii)     No government edifice, document, collateral, communication, or other production, including currency, shall make reference to religious concepts, including “god.”

iii)   No one shall, in any legal context, including legal processes or oaths of office, swear upon a sacred text.

iv)    Oaths of office shall explicitly require officials to refrain from the use of religious language and dogma in the conduct of their duties.

v)     No government funds shall be spent to compensate employees who exist to serve religious functions. This includes, but is not limited to, the office of Chaplain in various military bodies.

vi)    No religious institution shall be eligible for tax exempt status.

d)     Oversight of Covert Activities

No governmental entity shall conduct secret or covert proceedings absent ongoing oversight by a multi-partisan body of popularly elected officials.[2]

e)     Federal Autonomy

No state or local government entity shall assert special privilege or exemption with respect to established rights granted by the Federal Constitution.

2)    Individual Freedoms

a)     Free Speech, Press and Religion

i)      No government, corporation, commercial or private entity shall abridge an individual’s legitimate exercise of free speech. This includes all political, social and civic speech activities, including those criticizing the government, corporations and business entities and other collective organizations.[3]

ii)     The right of the people peaceably to assemble, especially for purposes of protest, and to petition for a redress of grievances will not be infringed.

iii)   The health of the nation depends on a vital independent check against public and commercial power. As such, no government, corporation, commercial or private entity shall be allowed to abridge the rights of a free and unfettered press.

iv)    Congress will make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

b)     Equal Rights Under the Law

i)      No governmental, corporation or commercial interest, or other private organization shall deny to any enfranchised citizen the rights or privileges accorded to others.

ii)     The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

c)     Freedom from Surveillance

i)      All individuals shall enjoy the right to privacy and freedom from systemic surveillance by governmental entities in the absence of a legally obtained warrant articulating probable cause against the individual.

ii)     The right of the people to be secure in their persons, homes, papers, data, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

iii)   All individuals shall enjoy the right to privacy and freedom from systemic surveillance and data gathering by corporate, commercial or other private or public entities unless they have specifically opted into such programs.

d)     Basic Human Rights

All citizens shall enjoy the right to shelter, nourishment, healthcare and educational opportunity.

3)    Conduct of Business and Commercial Interests

a)     Legal Standing

No corporation, business interest or any other collective entity shall be accorded the rights and privileges attending citizenship, which are reserved expressly for individuals.[4]

b)     Public Interest Standard

No corporate, commercial or other private or governmental entity shall be licensed, accredited or incorporated absent a binding commitment to serve the public interest.[5]

c)     Lobbying Restrictions

i)      In order to further the public’s interest in a free and independent legislature, elected officials shall not be allowed petition the body in which they served, either on their own behalf or on behalf of the interests of a third party, for a significant period of time after the conclusion of their terms.[6]

ii)     No person shall be allowed to assume a position charged with regulatory oversight of an industry in which they have worked in the past five years.

iii)   No elected official shall be allowed to assume a position on any legislative committee charged with oversight or regulation of an industry in which they have worked or held financial interest for the past five years.

d)     Collective Bargaining

i)      All workers shall have the right to organize for purposes of collective representation and bargaining.

ii)     In any publicly held commercial interest where a significant percentage of the workforce is represented by a union, the workers shall be entitled to representation on the corporate board of directors.[7]

4)    Citizen Responsibilities and Service

a)     Mandatory Service

i)      All citizens will, upon attainment of their 18th birthdays, enroll in a two-year program of public service, which may be fulfilled with either civic programs or the armed forces.

ii)     Enfranchisement will be earned upon completion of the public service commitment and a demonstration of a basic understanding of principles informing the political and policy issues facing the nation and the world.

b)     Right to Arms

i)      The right of an individual who has completed a two-year military service commitment to keep and maintain firearms appropriate to the common defense should not be infringed. [8]

ii)     The Federal government will establish guidelines by which enfranchised citizens may obtain firearms for reasonable purposes of sport and self-defense.

5)    Justice System

a)     Due Process and Fair Trials

i)      No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against him or herself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

ii)     In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed five hundred dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise re-examined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

iii)   In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury of professional, trained adjudicators sanctioned by the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; defendants shall have the right to be confronted with the witnesses against them; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in their favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for their defense.

b)     Punishment

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.


[1] This disposes of the Electoral College.

[2] An alternative might be to entrust the public court system with the decision. Make all documents automatically become public in N years (and make destruction a federal felony) but the government can petition a federal court to hold them as secret. Court uses a strict scrutiny standard to continue secrecy, advocates for release present arguments and can appeal a secrecy decision (no appeal on orders to release). (Submitted by Evan Robinson.)

[3] This does not prevent said entities from policing explicitly illegal behavior, such as theft of proprietary information or sexual harassment. (Suggested by Carole McNall.)

[4] This item overturns the Citizens United case.

[5] This item eliminates the narrow “interest of the shareholders” doctrine emerging originally from Dodge vs. Ford.

[6] It is suggested by multiple commenters that “a significant period of time after the conclusion of their terms” might best be changed to “forever.” This is a perspective with some merit. In truth, though, we’re discussing a body of people who possess expertise that can, in the right circumstances, be of benefit to the people. A term of five years, for instance, might serve to rid the system of revolving-door corruption without permanently eliminating the possibility that a highly qualified individual may be able to contribute to the public good.

[7] This practice is common in Europe and promotes an environment of collaboration, instead of confrontation, between management and labor.

[8] Weapons systems are constantly evolving and we are now perhaps within a generation of the point where lasers, thermal lances and other currently experimental man-portable devices might be viable. The term “firearms” in this document should not be construed as limited to the sorts of projectile weapons we’re familiar with, but should instead be taken in a broader context. (Suggested by Rho Holden.)

Acknowledgments

The New Constitution has been a long time in the making, and it would be the height of arrogance to suggest that I reached this point on my own. In truth, I’m an intensely social, extroverted and associative thinker, which means that if I have an interesting idea, it probably emerged from interactions with one or more other people. This is why I work so hard to surround myself my folks who are as smart as possible. If they’re brighter than me, as is often the case, that’s all the better because that means there’s more opportunity to learn.

Some of the people in the list below are known to readers of S&R and others aren’t. Some have played a very direct and active role in my political thinking in recent years, and others contributed less obviously in conversations, in grad school classes, in arguments and debates over beers, and so on. In fact, there are undoubtedly some on the list who will be surprised to see their names, but trust me, each and every one of them helped me arrive at the present intellectual moment. This doesn’t necessarily mean they all endorse the project or want their names attached to it, so if there are things that aggravate you, please direct those comments at me and me alone.

All that said, many thanks to:

Brian AnglissFrank BalsingerDr. Jim BoothDr. Will Bower

Dr. Robert Burr

Gavin Chait

Dr. Lynn Schofield Clark

Dr. Erika Doss

Dr. Andrea Frantz

John Hanchette

Sam Hill

Rho Holden

Dr. Stuart Hoover

Dr. Douglas Kellner

Alexi Koltowicz

Dr. John Lawrence

Dr. Polly McLean

Carole McNall

Stuart O’Steen

Alex Palombo

Dr. Michael Pecaut

Dr. Wendy Worrall RedalEvan RobinsonSara RobinsonKristina Ross

Dr. Willard Rowland

Dr. Geoffrey Rubinstein

Mike Sheehan

Dr. Greg Stene

Jeff Tiedrich

Dr. Michael Tracey

Dr. Robert Trager

Dr. Petr Vassiliev

Sue Vanstone

Angela Venturo

Dr. Frank Venturo

Pat Venturo

Russ Wellen

Cat White

Dr. Denny Wilkins

Lisa Wright

HobbyWeek: The Denver Garden Railway, Colorado’s coolest railroad

Denver Garden Railway 1
This Mason Machine Works locomotive, which belongs to Joe Foss (who repainted it and the cars it pulls), steams past a reconstruction of Dallas, Colorado, a defunct town near Ouray. Several alternate versions of the shot are posted at 5280 Lens Mafia.

WikiPedia’s List of Hobbies page is a long one – over 170 entries. Included are some you’d expect: cooking, birdwatching, knitting, stamp collecting, all manner of sporting activities, etc. There are also some you may not have thought of. For example:

  • Chainmail making
  • Conlanging (artificial language construction – think Esperanto and Klingon)
  • Locksport (the sport or recreation that aims to defeat locking systems)
  • Worldbuilding (the process of constructing an imaginary world, sometimes associated with a whole fictional universe)
  • International Science Olympiad
  • Mushroom Hunting (or Mycology)
  • Radio-Controlled Car Racing (Hobby Grade)
  • Hooping (generally refers to artistic movement and dancing with a hoop [or hoops] used as a prop or dance partner)
  • LARPing (Live-Action Roleplaying)
  • Sand castle building
  • Element collecting (collecting the chemical elements – one presumes that Plutonium is hard to come by)
  • Rock stacking
  • Gongoozling (watching activity on the canals in the United Kingdom)
  • Magic
  • Color Guard
  • Table football
  • Paintball
  • Bus spotting
  • Bonsai
  • Knapping (no, not “napping” – the shaping of flint, chert, obsidian or other conchoidal fracturing stone through the process of lithic reduction to manufacture stone tools, strikers for flintlock firearms, or to produce flat-faced stones for building or facing walls, and flushwork decoration)
  • Urban exploration

Most of us have a hobby or two, and the intensity of our investment might range from casual to obsessive. Take me:

  • I’m a novice photographer
  • and blogger
  • who spent years as a creative writer
  • and played all kinds of sports (mainly soccer and basketball) to the point where my knees are in tatters
  • and I’m also a dedicated sports fan (hoops, soccer, and especially Chelsea FC, which routinely finds me up and off to watch the games with the rest of the Rocky Mountain Blues as early as 5:00 or 5:30 on weekend mornings).
  • Finally, I try desperately not to think about how much money I have spent on music through the years.

The photography habit has it hooks in me deep, and over the past couple of weeks it led me to inadvertently discover a fascinating group of dedicated hobbyists not far from here. A few days ago I went out to the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden to see if I could learn a thing or two about photographing old trains. This, in and of itself, was plenty rewarding.

However, what I didn’t know is that the museum grounds are home to the Denver Garden Railway Society, a collection of model train enthusiasts who have developed an insanely cool complex of tracks and to-scale buildings and towns.

Except that this group goes well beyond just the model train part.

A Garden Railroad is most often a model railroad layout placed outside, usually winding through backyard landscaping. Garden Railroading may be described as the marriage of two hobbies; model railroading and gardening!

Paul Gunther, Etzel Wilhoit and Sam Kunugi prep for departure.

Already I’m learning. I knew there were plenty of model train enthusiasts, but I’d never heard of this garden thing before. It’s hard not to be impressed, though. The landscaping and engineering is extensive, resulting in a site that’s both functional and beautiful. Relaxing. Tranquil.

I went back out this past Wednesday morning – they stage a number of events on the weekends, but Wednesdays are apparently the club get-together day – and met some of the mainstays. Alan Olson, the ringleader, is one of those people who knows more than you can even think to ask about. (He’s also a talented kinetic sculptor.) He graciously agreed to let me take some pictures and even showed me around, telling me a bit about the history of the local society (they’re the oldest organization of their type in the US) and helping me understand just how large the garden railway community is nationwide. He introduced me to some of the other members, all of whom were ready and willing to help me set up shots (and also to answer any question I might have). The great thing is that they not only know about model trains, they know a lot about real railroads. For instance, I now know what that huge rotor engine on the museum grounds is for (snow removal).

This gorgeous locmotive is Etzel Wilhoit’s. I liked it so much I processed it several different ways. See the rest at 5280 Lens Mafia.

As I have noted elsewhere, I am by instinct and training a culturalist. Whether we’re talking the kind of working class popular culture that contextualized my upbringing or more intellectual pursuits, such as the arts, I’m fascinated by the things that people do, and in particular the things they do together – the activities, events, histories, philosophies, material artifacts and so on that provide the gravity wells into which we all seem to drift.

So even though I know little about trains and absolutely nothing about the garden railway world, I was instantly fascinated. The machines are beautiful – intricate and detailed engineering marvels – and if you doubt the passion of the aficionados themselves, all you need to do is look around and ask yourself a few questions about what went into the construction of the grounds and how much work is involved in their ongoing maintenance. Then, since you haven’t begun to understand the challenge, ask Olson about the deer eating the landscaping and the raccoons raiding the koi pond.

Alan Olson talks things over with Sam Kunugi, the society’s youngest member.

I have tried to take some shots that convey a bit of the obvious joy and pride Alan and the rest of the society’s members. Enjoy, and please give their Web site a look to learn more. And stay tuned, because my guess is this isn’t the last you’ll hear from me on this group.

Tommy Stewart cleans the tracks.
Paul and Etzel working in the shop.
Mike Harris enjoys the morning. I need that apron.
Joe Foss services his locomotive before sending it out.
Close-up of Joe’s locomotive. Alan and Etzel work in the background.
Kids love trains.
What? Of course they have Thomas.

ArtSunday: You can take the boy out of the working class, but can you take the working class out of the boy?

As I’ve noted before, I grew up working class in the South. My neighborhood, my school, my family and friends, it all oscillated between “redneck” and “white trash,” and yes, there’s a difference. I wrote not long ago about the challenges facing those of us trying to climb the socio-economic ladder when nothing in our upbringing had taught us which fork to use, how to dress, how to speak or how to behave in polite society.

These days I’m a PhD working in the world of marketing and corporate communication. You’ll find a lot of companies you probably recognize on my client list, and I am positively wallowing in what French scholar Pierre Bourdieu termed “cultural capital.” I’ll spare you, for now, a lecture on how real capital is of more value when the rent comes due, but suffice it to say that people like me are allegedly respected in society due to our intellect and earned status.

In other words, I’ve come a long way, baby, from my modest hillbilly upbringing in Wallburg, North Carolina.

But you know that old saying: you can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy. I’m fond of telling people that I’m a “simple country boy.” They always laugh, and I’m not sure they ever guess the degree to which it’s actually true. Yes, I’m smart and highly educated and artistic and thoughtful and enlightened and complex, etc., but in many respects I’m still quite the uncomplicated working class kid. The inner tension, the sometimes oppressive dissonance in my head, can be maddening. It’s as though I live in two distinct worlds. Worse, it’s sometimes hard to know who “I” am. No matter where I go, I’m out of place. From the time I wake up in the morning to the time I go to sleep, and often on through a night of disorienting dreams, I’m in exile.

So there. There’s your self-absorbed existential introduction.

I’m thinking about this because yesterday I went to a classic car show out in Wheat Ridge, the decidedly working class suburb that borders my NW Denver neighborhood to the west. We seem to have a lot of folks here in the greater 5280 who love old cars, and I suspect that’s true where you live, as well. From Model Ts through the golden age 1950s and on into the rise of the late ’60s and early ’70s muscle cars – on any given weekend when the weather is nice you can find people who devote a great deal of time and money to a celebration of America’s longstanding love affair with the road.

The thing is, you walk through these crowds and it’s clear that this cultural experience is defined and bounded by class. Despite the beauty, the sheer artistry of some of the restorations, we’re talking about the people I grew up with. Working class. If they lived in the South instead of Colorado I’m sure you’d call them rednecks, and you may anyway.

When I picked up photography nearly a year ago, it never occurred to me that I had any interest in shooting old cars. Literally – that thought never once crossed my mind. I’m not a car guy. I mean, I like cars okay, but this isn’t and never has been anything more than a “hey, look at that cool old car” kind of passing interest for me. But one day last July I drove past a little roll-in at a bowling alley in Wheat Ridge (classic cars and bowling alleys go together like peanut butter and jelly), pulled over for the heck of it, and accidentally discovered that I’m not bad at this sort of photography.

The more I’ve thought about it, the more it makes sense, I guess. I love design. My dissertation was about the evolution of technology, and a significant hunk of that project was specifically concerned with photography and technology through the middle of the 20th century.

Since then I’ve taken quite a few classic car shots, including one that’s easily the best technical image in my brief photography career.

But walking around that show yesterday was unsettling. I felt right at home, and at the same time I felt so out of place part of me was sure that people were pointing and whispering behind my back. My inner working class boy was completely comfortable with his people. I know them, their lives, their frustrations and their hopes and their artistic aesthetics. I know them because I am them. But they also represent the cultural gravity well I have been struggling to escape for 35 years or more. That guy – the one with all the cultural capital – he’s not at home here anymore and he’s sure that they can tell that he doesn’t belong.

As I walked around admiring the cars, I realized that there is a specific era of automotive design that appeals to me above all others: the mid- to late 1930s. 1936 and 1937, in particular, produced the machines that exert the greatest tug on me as a person and as an artist. And I realized why. When I was a kid, I used to go to Winston-Salem’s Bowman Gray Stadium every Saturday night in the summer to watch the races with my friend Ed Berrier. The main feature was the Modifieds, and Ed’s father Max was a bit of a regional legend in the division. At that point in time a vast majority of the cars were ’30s-era Fords, Chevys and Plymouths. Max, as I recall, ran an iconic ’37 Chevy, and I suppose the power and elegance of those cars imprinted on me in a way that I never quite got over. To this day my sense of design in automobiles is more compelled by graceful, assertive curves that trace their lineage back to 1930s Detroit.

By the late 1970s most of the teams had switched over to Pintos, Vegas and Gremlins, which I thought were kind of cool (especially the Gremlins), but when I think back it’s always the older models that I remember.

The culture of minor league stock car racing in the South in the 1970s? Right – working class. People like those at the show in Wheat Ridge yesterday.

A lot of people have grown up on the wrong side of the tracks and earned their way into some capital, be it cash or cultural. Not all of them are as willing to acknowledge their roots as openly as I do, and I empathize with their inner struggles. As I note in the “which fork to use” article I link at the top, society isn’t always forgiving when it comes to uppity working class types, and if they feel they need to keep the redneck in the closet for their own good, I can’t fault them.

For me, though, there’s something energizing in the tension between the art and material culture of the class I inhabit now and the one in which I grew up. There is a way in which the Wheat Ridge audience contextualizes the beauty of these artifacts that is wholly incompatible with a middle class or upper class aesthetic. At the same time, there is a place in which the two overlap, a shared terrain of essential shape and color, a shared history regarding form and function, and I find myself fascinated by the possibility of finding the artistic moment upon which we can all agree.

I took some shots yesterday that I really like, and maybe I succeeded in extracting from a working class ritual something that an elite eye might also appreciate.

If not, I’m going to keep trying. Happy ArtSunday.

Wings
Wings

The new Mailbox app for iPhone and iPad: so far, a waste of time

Like many of you, I had been hearing about this new app called Mailbox. The buzz said it was a killer mobile app that was in nearly every respect superior to the default e-mail program in iPhone and iPad. So I went to the App Store and signed up, only to be told that I was in line behind a couple hundred thousand people. Wow, I thought. This must be some hellacious app.

Then, a few days ago, the news broke that Mailbox was being bought by Dropbox.

“Rather than grow Mailbox on our own, we’ve decided to join forces with Dropbox and build it out together,” Mailbox said in a Friday blog post. “To be clear, Mailbox is not going away. The product needs to grow fast, and we believe that joining Dropbox is the best way to make that happen.”

Nice, I thought. Full steam ahead.

It isn’t that the iPhone app is a trainwreck or anything. It’s generally a pretty good way of managing e-mail (and I get a lot of it, using multiple accounts, each day), although there are two issues that need addressing. The first is that it can be difficult adding an account from any ISP other than the big services like Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, etc. Like my E Street ISP account – it’s doable, but even with all the info you need in front of you, it isn’t easy, and it’s damned sure not intuitive.

Second, why in the tapdancing motherfuck am I not allowed to “select all” when I want to clean up my goddamned inbox?! It’s like Apple hired a hateful wanker from Microsoft to handle mobile e-mail functionality.

All of which is to say that I wasn’t feeling a desperate need for what I imagined Mailbox would be, but I was interested in taking it for a spin.

Last night I got the message that my Mailbox was ready to set up. So I open the app, follow the instructions to add an account, walk through the little tutorial, etc. And I quickly hit on a problem: Mailbox isn’t an app for handling your e-mail, it’s an app for handling your Gmail. Period. It doesn’t let you add Hotmail or Exchange or Yahoo or AOL (not that you should want to, but that isn’t the point), and it certainly doesn’t let you add accounts from smaller ISPs like E Street.

Mailbox offers users some slick, elegant ideas for managing their Gmail, it’s true, although it mainly seems devoted to letting me do things that I don’t have any interest in doing (like kicking an e-mail over to a special “save for later” queue). May work for you, and by all means check it out, but it’s not the game-changer that all the hype led me to expect.

Even if I loved it, though, it still complicates life because I’d have to use two e-mail apps instead of just one. Oh – and if it lets me select all to clean up the inbox, I haven’t figured out how yet.

If you’ve heard that it’s a Gmail handler with some cool features for arranging and organizing inbound e-mail and you like that idea, then by all means check Mailbox out. If you rely on services other than Gmail, then keep moving. They may let you add other services in future releases, but for now it’s going to be a waste of your time.