May 31, 2003
Why Blog? Mix Tapes and Manners
As a top-of-my-head number, I decided 95% of the blogs in the world die after their first week, or maybe month. A friend wrote to express his own uncertainty about the point of blogging, which prompted me to requestion why I bother. My answer: part manners, part mix tape. Read on for a lightly retouched replay of Why We Blog.
When you consider the pitiful proportion of the Web a blog occupies (according to Blogshares.com, PuddingTime commands about .000032% of the blogging world's attention, which is, in turn, probably less than 1% of the total "volume" of the Web), it isn't as public an act to blog as it first seems.
The Web has, by virtue of the cheapness of bandwidth and the ease with which almost anybody with access to a PC can publish, made content an almost frictionless product that will continue to expand with the population ad infinitum. A network engineer friend told me that the next version of the Internet naming/numbering system could allow us to have a unique identifying number for every molecule on the planet (friend Ed went on to point out that it's closer to one for very electron in the universe). It's impossible to call trivial little "my little dog" pages a waste of anything, because there's almost nothing, relative to the total volume of potential resources, to waste except for the blogger's and reader's time.
So what's left is the simple existential crisis that kills 95% of blogs in their first week: why bother? The Web is huge enough to already seem infinite, I'm one voice in that vast sea, no one seems to be reading, it feels weird to ask my friends to bookmark my musings when I could just send an e-mail, the Web is already cluttered with junk opinions, etc. etc.
My own desire to blog is partially built around my loathing of "cool link" e-mail. I hate getting it because I spend a ton of time on the Web and see a lot of it days before someone with less time gets around to it. I hate sending it because enough of my friends are blunt geeks who won't pass up the opportunity to say what I'm thinking about things they may have already seen. So, I put up a blog and people have to pull it down: it isn't wasting their time, like opening a mail they think might have something about the real world only to find me telling them that there's a rilly, rilly cool article they already read a week ago would be. And if they
That's only half of the equation, though. There's also a self-expression component that I think is a cousin to the mix tape or a DJ, neither of which constitute completely original creative action. Weblogs become a sort of "know me by knowing my grazing habits" hyperlink mix tape... a collage of references that use the massive amounts of raw material provided by the Web to create a composite or mosaic of the person doing the compiling. Where lots of mix tapes are acts of brotherly love or desperate calls for bootie, many Web logs are substantially "cooler" in tone (witness memepool's fetishistic use of the oblique and laconic reference), but the intended result is the same: love my blog? Love me. Or at least recognize I have good taste in re-mediated content and spend mad time finding it, yo.
That second component is why we have things like trackback pinging, services like Technorati, and online games like Blogshares: as much as any rational person who's got even a tiny grip on the vastness of the Web must surely realize deep down that only her friends are reading, there's a curiosity about how our ideas, our virtual mosaic portraits, go over outside our peer groups. What if you made a killer mix tape for the most fantastic babe ever, and it came back to you a year later with a heavily photocopied version of the collage you made for the cover on a different brand of tape from the one you used from a wide-eyed friend who said his sister got it from a friend who's now married because her boyfriend used it on her after finding it in the glovebox of some guy from Florida? Or what if I just told you that I played it at a party and ended up having to make 12 copies, and it became the smash of that summer's party circuit? I'd guess you'd be proud, and I doubt you'd fret about the sudden appearance of yet another mix tape in the already overcrowded market of oblique bootie calls.
The added value of a blog over that mix tape is the way people can eventually draw a thin, silvery little strand of connectedness to your collage... a relationship that is like the Web itself, but with links that are merely presented as hyperlinks when what they really are is expressions of some sort of kinship. I post a snarky one-liner about Andrew Sullivan wetting his pants at the prospect of going to war with Iran, and Snappy the Clam notes it, too, saying he got it from me, and he sends along a ping to let me (and people reading PuddingTime!) know: it's a small act of community, a way for a stranger to say "over here! I'm with you on that one!" There's a little self-serving "look over here for more like this!" or sometimes "look over here for why this clown you're reading is fucked!" going on now and then, but it establishes a state of relatedness and a sense that our ideas have become part of another collage of self-identification.
Some people take it all a step further and go for the "amateur commentator" gusto, but if content is endlessly available, they'll either keep it up as they accrue readers/kindred spirits or they'll quit once they feel better and realize they didn't have an endless supply of opinion after all, and that no one cared anyhow. Pithy linking is my fallback for the malady of not having much to say: I made a terrible editor on one site because I had to have an editor's note once a week and I would spend Thursday night wide awake wondering what the hell there really was to say for Friday. I'm deliberately neglecting the professionals who are loss-leading with their blogs . . . they've got a different set of motivations from mine, and I wish the decent ones luck, but the "them" we're getting in those things isn't quite so much them as it is their perception of the version of "them" that's marketable to an editor looking for a new columnist. Except Andrew Sullivan: he can't hide what he is, and Salon seems to be happy to keep him around to prove it can still throw good money away in its lean post-boom years.
And at this point, our essay trails off except to note that we had about 6000 visits here this month. Don't know how many of those were from unique visitors, but the point is: people read what's on the page, they link to it now and then, and they find it useful on some level. It's pretty easy for me to do the simplest sort of linking, so why not keep it up? If I ever get sick of it, it'll be no big loss to just slap a "closed" sign at the top of the page and wait 20 years to act rueful about the pet rock I spent all my precious bandwidth on.
Posted by mph at 3:29 AM
May 30, 2003
Jim Henley is on fire:
". . . God damn George W. Bush for accepting the advice of knaves and dreamers. God damn Tony Blair and the Third Way messianism that sees war as the engine of human progress, damn the cowardly Democrats in Congress for confusing their short-term political viability with the welfare of the country and damn the freelance cheerleaders, with blogs or syndicated columns, who imagined that their September 11-induced post-traumatic stress disorder was clarity and toughness rather than hysteria."
Posted by mph at 5:38 AM
May 29, 2003
On Behalf of All Of Us:
Posted by mph at 8:36 AM
Nothing If Not Reliable
On a quiet night, you can hear the dominoes tumble. Andrew Sullivan establishes the utter reliability of neocon hawks.
Posted by mph at 8:28 AM
First CE Online Game: "Eh."
I just finished my first Cosmic Encounter Online game. It went something like this:
Getting into a game was easy enough: I went to an empty "room" in the "lobby" and signed up for a game against three bots. I was assigned Zombie (not a favorite power, but it'll do) and found myself against Philanthropist, Empath, and Pacifist. Not an all-star lineup of powers, really, though Empath and Pacifist are good in the hands of obstructionist players.
On my 500Mhz iBook, the game was a little slow to respond. It also wasn't very clear on what interactions were expected to move the game along: mouse or key presses seemed to randomly cause it to get to the outcome of an action or move along to the next turn. That aside, it was easy enough for a veteran of the game to figure out what was going on, and the graphics were cute but not intrusive.
Since I was up against bots, I should have expected that it wouldn't be particularly clever, but I was shocked, shocked to note that it was letting me get away with the classic "leaching victory" maneuver, where I just offered to ally with every player on the offensive. It took me all of one round of play to achieve a "double victory" with the Philanthropist simply from tagging along on each attack. In a game of humans, this would not have stood: the last planet in a game is always a veritable Ragnarok of finger biting and cursing. Online, against dull-witted computers, it was simply a matter of tagging along for the ride and racking up a win while the bots stood idly by.
I'm betting with humans it's a better experience, so I'll tag an addendum when I have the time to play against a few.
Initial impression: More fun around a table of friends who aren't afraid to tell you how much you suck when you steal victory and engage in an appropriate but abusive amount of gloating.
Posted by mph at 2:32 AM
May 28, 2003
Mayor McCheese Never Had It This Hard
b!X has the goods on the clash of the recall campaigns, a pair of ideologically opposed attempts to send Portland Mayor Vera Katz packing.
This kind of stuff just didn't happen in Charlottesville.
Update: Looks like there are new developments in the story.
Posted by mph at 7:16 PM
Never Underestimate a Rogue Manager
It seems Starbucks isn't hostile to "ordinary folks" taking pictures in its stores ... just "the media," according to this followup on BoingBoing. So stand down from "contributory infringement alert," and consider instead going to the page of a former Starbucks employee who explains how the Great Coffee Chain Wars led to institutional paranoia.
Or, just head back to BoingBoing's discussion of the matter where a few blog advocates happily discard their desire to be treated as legitimate press when it means they can take pictures of each other complacently sucking down a frappucino misty.
Posted by mph at 7:05 PM
Resistance Is Irrelevant
Tomorrow is a special day: Cosmic Encounter Online, a multiplayer Flash version of the classic board game will finally launch. It's a tough game to describe, but I usually leave it at "poker with alien powers."
CE's been around forever: I remember reading a review of it in a copy of Starlog Magazine on a road trip to Texas with my dad when I was, well, young. I didn't get a copy until college, when the West End edition was on sale for $5 at a Kay-Bee that was shedding its stock. That edition fell to pieces in a move, but I picked up the Avalon Hill version, which has to suffice until I work up the will to buy one of the superior older editions on eBay.
The Cosmic Encounter FAQ tells most of what you need to know about the game, and daveola.com provides some more info on what may be the best game ever. Here's hoping the online edition holds up. I'll try to post a review after I crush a few hapless space freaks.
It's for-pay, by the way, so it'll have to be pretty good to warrant more than a temporary account.
Posted by mph at 7:12 AM
Good to the Last Drop
I ended up spending weekends driving back and forth between Fayetteville and Charlotte, NC for a while. There was a small mom-n-pop about halfway between the two cities where I discovered Blenheim Ginger Ale. Happily, it's pretty easy to order the stuff online now. If you like ginger ale, you owe it to yourself to order a six-pack apiece of the "hot" and "not so hot" variants. Have a bowl of peanuts handy: your nose will burn if you aren't careful.
Posted by mph at 6:37 AM
For those who may live in the Portland area and may not have picked up on the formation of the Portland Association of Independent Journalists (PAIJ), the group is having its second meeting tomorrow night.
Posted by mph at 2:35 AM
May 27, 2003
I can't spend a Memorial Day without thinking of the year I pulled in Korea. The camp at which I was stationed was settled near Hill 303, site of a grisly war crime involving the mass execution of 26 soldiers at the hands of their N. Korean captors during the Korean War:
"The boys lay packed tightly, shoulder to shoulder, lying on their sides, curled like babies sleeping in the sun. Their feet, bloodied and bare, from walking on the rocks, stuck out stiffly ... All had hands tied behind their backs, some with cord, others with regular issue army communication wire. Only a few of the hands were clenched."
Soldiers assigned to my unit at Camp Carroll heard the story at least once a year, on Memorial Day when the chaplain led the company up the hill for a memorial service.
We haven't had a president, since I've been keeping track of these things, from whom Memorial Day platitudes have seemed anything other than distasteful. Soldiers live and die for each other, and sometimes ideals. When it comes time for our country to take a day to remember the dead, it seems best to keep the politicians out of it. It's a day that deserves to be left alone, free of political posturing.
That said, David Permutter's essay "Why I'm Not A Patriot" seems a fitting Memorial Day sentiment. There are a lot of readings we can apply to the piece, but mine renders it a fitting tribute to the men on Hill 303.
Posted by mph at 7:16 AM
Our Memorial Day weekend was spent car camping with some good company in the Trapper Creek Wilderness in Washington. It's a nice find. Though the sites were much more primitive than what you tend to find at state parks and ACoE rec areas (small fire rings only, except for one smallish RV area; and bring a cat-hole trowel), they were far apart from each other and well off the roads. Compared to Lost Lake at Mt. Hood, it's a much more secluded, quiet, uncrowded spot, and it's not much more than 70 miles from Portland.
Car camping earns some sneers from "serious" campers who prefer to backpack. I've enjoyed a few backpacking trips, myself, but the last couple of years have seen me sort of digging just loading up the car with a tent, sleeping bags, and a box of cooking stuff and going somewhere quiet. It's not about the pleasurable sense of self-sufficiency backpacking engenders, but the way I get to feel unplugged for a few days. After the first few hours of hanging out at the site or walking around on a short dayhike trail, I stop thinking about whatever I've got to do in the real world and start enjoying where I am. After a few nights of sleeping in a tent, it's nice to get home, too.
Apropos the whole car camping thing (and because I'm suddenly not feeling like coming up with a pithy way to work them into oblique links):
- PBS provides a brief appreciation of car camping's history.
- RoadTrip America's car camping page.
- A remarkably thorough packing list from gorp.com
Posted by mph at 5:44 AM
Elsewhere in the Linguasphere
Posted by mph at 1:58 AM
Well, Plus Virginia Just Sort of Sucks
Since several of us on a Memorial Day camping trip have recently lived or are from states that call themselves "commonwealths" (Virginia and Kentucky, specifically), the sort of idle speculation that quick access to Google usually squashes went unanswered when the conversation turned to what the difference between a state and a commonwealth might be.
Posted by mph at 1:26 AM
May 23, 2003
And This Contributes...
...to the promotion of the useful arts and sciences how?
Prof. Lessig reports that Starbucks has copyrighted its "entire environment."
BoingBoing recommends packing a camera into your neighborhood Starbucks and committing "contributory infringement."
Update:: Cory at BoingBoing made good on his plans. Too bad he decided to pass a little money along to a company willing to stretch copyright law as far as it did.
Posted by mph at 11:59 PM
latest on FCC
I'm not sure how this can be, but it appears that there's nothing you, I, or the U.S. Army can do to prevent FCC Chairman Michael Powell from relaxing the rules against media consolidation.
Bob Harris at This Modern World makes a salient point:
"[I]f the media really was in liberal hands, then centralization of that power would be absolutely terrifying to the right wing. It would be all you ever heard about. And yet those guys are strangely silent."
It should be fun, watching corporate greedheads gobble their own tails in a race to the nadir of capitalism, when regular people will finally be forced to smash the works with whatever tools are at hand. I didn't think, until November 2000, that it would come to that, but now I've seen how the other side's playing it, and I no longer doubt it.
I'd like to say bring it on, "I wanna be AN-AR-CHY," but the fact is I've been one of the lucky ones: I have a tidy little home, lots of toys, and a son who's forcing me to, like, give a shit about the future. So I don't really want to see this system dash itself on the rocks, and yet it appears to be doing so like a mindless organism in the grip of a natural process: A man in a suit speaking carefully into the microphone in favor of the next step towards his doom.
Maybe that's melodramatic, and either way, things will probably just continue kinda halfway sucking for another generation or two. So what are you drinking?
Posted by pk at 8:16 PM
When I Touch You, I Tingle
Once upon a time, I came up with an idea to stop criminal assaults like rape and mugging. Simple: we'd create life-like androids packed with explosive charges (and maybe ball bearings... but a good party conversation pointed out the undesirability of collateral damage in a sidewalk scenario), wired to detonate on contact of longer than a few seconds.
We'd make them look like attractive young women, little old ladies with big purses, and mimes. We'd turn them loose on the streets in sufficient quantity that a few weeks' worth of deployment would generate lots of headlines. Then we'd reduce the ratio to maybe in in 1000 people... enough to allow for the occasional object lesson.
People were quick to point out problems with the idea: the aforementioned collateral damage, the danger of an errant boyscout trying to give CPR to a toppled old lady model, SkyNet taking them over, etc. etc. What the idea lacked was the ability to pull the trigger with deliberation. Now, with the shock jacket, that problem's solved: living, breathing human beings become the boobie trap. (Make sure to check out the videos, too.)
Posted by mph at 9:19 AM
You Might Want to Reach...
...for the "blog free" button at this point, if blog analysis is wearing down your will to go out and enjoy the sunshine, but OneMan of (wait for it) OneMan'sOpinion offers a deconstruction of the phrase "blog noise", endures a touchy response from me in his comments, and offers a thoughtful followup.
I think this is probably the last exchange on the topic I'll note: I've said what I've had to say a couple of times over. My real notion of what's hosed in the media world has less to do with form than it does process.
Posted by mph at 9:19 AM
May 22, 2003
the real hillbillies
Redneck nation is on its own: Ford Trucks and Toby Keith, the ass-kickin' empty hat who brought us "Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue (The Angry American)", are launching the "Shock 'N Y'all Tour" this June.
Why reinstate the draft? Back Humvees up to the exits and let every half-wit who turns out for a show like this put his ass where his mouth is.
Last night, Mr. Keith was awarded the Association of Country Music's "Entertainer of the Year" award. The Dixie Chicks were booed, and the audience had to be scolded to mind its manners by presenter Vince Gill, who encouraged them to "forgive."
They're the RED states, godammit!
Posted by pk at 10:14 PM
nothing to lose
At least Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) isn't afraid to take the gloves off:
Posted by pk at 9:43 PM
More on Media Concentration
TomPaine has a lot of links to items regarding the FCC and media concentration, too.
(via Eric Alterman)
Posted by mph at 8:38 PM
bedtime for democracy
The FCC is likely to take actions soon that will have cultural and political ramifications sweeping enough that even William Safire is worried.
If the media's recent run-up to, rah-rah coverage of, and post-victory departure from the war in Iraq didn't feel "managed" enough for you, the fact that most citizens haven't heard a thing about the FCC's decision--and, trusting our nation's supposedly free media, probably therefore believe it must not be important--ought to prove the point. The corporate owners of the mainstream news media desperately want these restrictions eased on their ability to control more media outlets, so they have kept you essentially in the dark about it. (Also go here for a story on FCC Chairman Michael Powell. More Salon stories--just pay the damn ferryman.)
The rant continues here:
It's funny to think back to the Reagan '80s, when the Dead Kennedys titled an album Bedtime for Democracy, in homage to the Gipper's monkey movie and in disgust for what did then seem like a twilight hour for free thought, given the declared necessity of closing ranks against the Communist menace. Then Reagan's mind drifted over the horizon, the Wall came down, we elected a hippie president, techno-geeks ruled the world, and Nirvana saved spring break! And now the Reagan era looks like a utopia of moderation and restraint compared to the future of grim enslavement to corporate imperatives this president is ensuring.
The open flow of ideas and information critical to a free society has been compromised, since deregulation began under Reagan, by the consolidation of media ownership into the hands of a decreasing number of corporations, which withhold and spin information to further their pursuit of profit, acquisition, tax evasion, and a favorable regulatory environment.
And it has certainly worked: Regulators have never been more favorable to what business wants, which is why the FCC is preparing to make a bad situation worse, further easing anti-monopoly restrictions to allow corporate entities to control even more media outlets, growing ever more powerful, and driving independent voices to the margins.
And don't kid yourselves, bloggers and surfers: These are the margins. As they attempt to win the freedom to horde media power, the moguls will extol the power of the Internet, as if to say, "Aw, don't be scared of us! Those wildcats on the Internet will keep us in line!" A new paradigm exists, they will say. But even if you ignore the fact that corporate ownership is just as pervasive on the net, America will be TV Land for at least another generation, and a million bloggers and alt.news websites will never have the power of Rupert Murdoch and his radio doppelganger, Clear Channel, to shape the public agenda.
The media is the forum in which America learns, discusses, and defines who it is and what it will do. The proposed deregulation means that the public consensus--on music, movies, political candidates, and national affairs--will be shaped in corporate boardrooms, not in the town square. If it doesn't suit their agenda, you won't be able to see it, hear it, read it, know it, buy it, or vote for it. You don't have to call that slavery, but you sure can't call it freedom.
Posted by pk at 7:46 PM
Although the protests against CBS's "The Real Beverly Hillbillies" have me thinking I probably ought to come up with a PC term for rednecks (send your ideas!) and start showing them the compassion I reserve for other disenfranchised minorities, stories like this one on today's Salon show that certain armed, racist Americans don't need any damn help from me. Not as long as the national administration turns a blind eye, anyway, and there's a grandstanding Republican congressman who smells an issue (in someone else's state).
"I dare the president of the United States to arrest Americans who are protecting their own country," Simcox said....
When White House press secretary Ari Fleischer was asked whether President Bush approved of Simcox's militia, his response was carefully ambiguous: "The president believes that the laws of the land need to be observed and the laws need to be enforced."
The president cannot say that he supports hunting Mexicans. But he doesn't have to say that he doesn't.
(I think you have to watch a commercial if you're not a subscriber.)
Posted by pk at 5:53 PM
Lieutenant, Your Men Are Etc. Etc.
New This Modern World:
Posted by mph at 6:40 AM
May 21, 2003
portrait of the artist as a working man
It's never too late to discover Jon Langford: artist, worker, Chicago Welshman, Waco Brother, Mekon. Read this, then go and buy "The Mekons Rock'n'Roll" (1987) while it's still in re-release. Then go buy the last Mekons and Waco Brothers albums, or just whichever ones you find next. Collect them all--even the bad ones are worth having if you care at all about rock and roll, politics, laughter, or drinking.
Sitting here listening to our president's 7th-grade elocution on NPR, I could use a dose of three of those myself.
Posted by pk at 11:05 PM
Terror Alert Confusion
Given the necessity of having our nation's current Terror Alert Level uppermost in mind at all times, it concerns me that the color codes for the five levels may not be equally intuitive for everyone. For example, if blue is a calming color for you, as it no doubt is for many people, you may subconsciously assume that a Blue Alert means a Low terror threat.
I have disturbing news for you.
A GREEN Alert indicates a Low threat of terrorism--a BLUE Alert requires that you assume a Guarded posture. Your mistaken assumption could lead to your choosing short pants instead of trousers, sandals instead of sneakers--sneakers that could have saved your life.
Indeed, even an inversion of the familiar Roy G. Biv appellation for the order of the color spectrum--the "rainbow," if you prefer--fails us, due again to the government's contention that green is less scary than blue. I don't think I have to explain the many ways such dangerous subjectivity could lead to lapses in each citizen's vigilance--and open wide the door for our enemies.
Some have suggested adopting an official analog to our friend Roy. (I suggested "G[reen]eorge B[lue]ush Y[ellow]ells O[range]ur R[ed]age," but was shouted down by the city/county council.) It's clear that this only muddies the waters further. More importantly, what good is ANY of this to our color-blind citizens? In spite of their crippling disability, we surely cannot afford to cast them to the sidelines in freedom's most desperate hour.
For this reason, I have developed the following five Animal Codes to more logically correlate to the Terror Alert Levels. They are as follows:
Level of Terrorist Alert -- Animal Code
Low -- Possum
Guarded -- Owl
Elevated -- Snake
High -- Tiger
SEVERE -- SHARK
I urge you to make automatic your reaction to each adjustment in Terror Alert Level by practicing, perhaps with family or friends, your own interpretive behavior as it corresponds to each Animal Code. (Costumes shouldn't be necessary, and would be cumbersome in the event of an attack.) Constantly monitor the Dept. of Homeland Security website or FoxNews.com. (You may also find FoxNews's buffet of celebrity reportage entertaining as you maintain constant watchfulness.)
If you find the Animal Codes to be helpful in adjusting your personal alert level, I encourage you to pass them along to others, and post them at home, at work, in your vehicle, or anyplace else where you'll find them most helpful. Remember, our way of life depends upon your vigilance.
Thank you, and God bless America.
Posted by pk at 7:54 PM
Over the weekend, I spent a lot of time making the site much more modular, so's to make it easy to keep up with the collection of variants that made things like the "Mac Free" XML/HTML pages possible.
Consequently, all it took was about three minutes to introduce a new set of XML/HTML for the latest scourge on reader interest at PuddingTime!: meta-incestuous-self-referential-blog-stories.
For your reading pleasure, we introduce the options:
which will filter out any entries under the "blog" category. This means you'll be free of most of that blog chatter, which I find unwholesomely compelling at the moment.
Posted by mph at 7:45 PM
When Worlds Collide
Entertainingly, the fact that he mentioned Jared's blog means Doc managed to "help out" by getting Scoble, Dan, and whoever else happened to notice to link to the thing at all, in which case the answer to the original question is now apparent: he wasn't turning up in Technorati because no one wanted to link to him, not because Technorati was broken or missing something.
Disclosure: I freelance for JupiterMedia on the Web content side.
Posted by mph at 6:40 PM
I Feel Better Already
The Pentagon has figured out that "Terrorist Information Awareness" sounds less objectionable than the alternative "Total Information Awareness."
What with the retirement of their sinister pyramid deathray logo and the new name change, I'm feeling positively snuggly about the whole project. Paint the damn thing mauve and roll it out, boys!
Posted by mph at 5:44 PM
Posted by mph at 9:00 AM
Good... Measure 26-48 Passed
I was at home watching the "Buffy" series finale, but b!X was at the "Yes on 26-48" Party and has some commentary, some links, and a smidge of gloatage, which is just fine.
Posted by mph at 6:53 AM
Let the Healing Begin
One thing I really love about life in the naughts is how quickly we're supposed to "move on" from this to that. Jayson Blair, for instance, is already sniffing out book deals, and offering self-aggrandizing psycho-drama like:
"I was either going to kill myself or I was going to kill the journalist persona. So Jayson Blair the human being could live, Jayson Blair the journalist had to die."
and (brace yourself)
"I hope to have the opportunity to write and share my story so that it can help others to heal."
But here's a wonderful quote about "The Blair Pitch Project" I suspect won't hold for some publisher somewhere:
"'His nonfiction is so untrustworthy, you'd have a hard time believing his fiction,' said David Hirshey, the vice president and executive editor at HarperCollins..."
Posted by mph at 6:44 AM
Blog Noise Revisited
Snowden Snowdeal looks at blog noise in a pair of entries in which he considers Google less as a "one click solution" for Web searches as a two click solution, where we consider Google useful for pointing at sites that are likely pointing at the right thing. And sometimes it points at sites that are pointing at sites that are pointing at something that might be useful.
Like Ed said... it's a heuristic.
Posted by mph at 3:28 AM
Doc collects follow-ups to the printwashing thing. My own question about how much for-pay archives contribute to the bottom line of newspapers seems pretty much answered by Sheila Lennon. Bottom line: it'll take more than Google-style text ads.
Posted by mph at 3:08 AM
TP Reports From Your Palm
The WSJ explains how to fake a hard day at the office:
"It has never been easier to be a white-collar slacker. While the uninitiated are still grousing about how mobile technology has created a 24/7 work culture and sabotaged their private time, a savvier crowd has moved on to a more rewarding pursuit: using technology to make it look like you're working when you're not."
Posted by mph at 12:33 AM
May 20, 2003
Cascading Crap Shoots
Update: Well, the problem turned out to be Safari hating the "z index" attribute, which the folks who built the "3 column" part of my stylesheet (sensibly) included to deal with the potential for overlapping elements in really narrow displays. It's a nice thought on their part, but I'm leaving it out for now. If you have problems with the way the page looks, please adjust the width of your browser window to greater than, oh, 450 px. :-)
Moved the site over, momentarily, to a three column design I adapted from Blue Robot. Discovered, to my deep dismay, that, under Safari, the links in the right column weren't clickable, nor was the content in that column selectable. If anyone feels like taking a look, the page built on that design been moved out of the way and the stylesheet is still in place. Since the design works in everything else I threw at it (that'd be Explorer 5 for Mac, Explorer 6 for Win32, a recent Mozilla nightly, and Camino), I'm inclined to call it a Safari bug, and I filed it as such with Apple, but any insight's appreciated.
Posted by mph at 10:11 PM
"It's Sam and Diane [from "Cheers"]. That's why we had Angel go bad when he and Buffy got together. Because -- and I've gotten into so much trouble for this phrase -- what people want is not what they need. In narrative, nobody wants to see fat, married Romeo and Juliet, even if fat, married Romeo and Juliet happen to be [Dashiell Hammett's detective couple] Nick and Nora Charles and they're really cool and having a great time in their lovely relationship and really care about each other and have nice, well-adjusted children. Guess what? People don't want to see it."
It's also good to read he was just being pragmatic when he got rid of the "cramping vampire early warning system":
"You make up rules that you need and jettison the ones you don't. I had to jettison one of the rules from the movie, which was that Buffy had sort of a cramping every time she was around a vampire. In a series I didn't want her to always know when she was around a vampire. And that's too bad in a way because it was a very primal, feminist concept that she literally feels it in her womb, as it were. But I had seven years and she needed to be surprised."
Posted by mph at 8:56 PM
Low Hanging Fruit
Michael B. sent a link to a story about "The Matrix" driving people to crime. It includes a comment from Lawrence Fishburne:
"There is no Matrix, there is only what is real."
Posted by mph at 4:40 PM
Mr. Hall, Your Men... Are Already... Dead.
So, a while back a certain prominent site I was editing ended up getting owned because we didn't patch the SSH CRC-32 bug in time. It's entertaining to note that's the hack Trinity used in "The Matrix Reloaded". I'll need to drop a line to the guy who was the Webmaster at the time and let him know we were in good (if evil) company.
Posted by mph at 3:55 PM
Spiders Don't Bite
Ed Felten points out that it's getting harder and harder to feel too bad for, say, The New York Times when it doesn't allow search engines to index it. Shame: PaidContent.org's NYT Online archive is a collection of testimony to just how stellar the NYT's online offerings are. While I'd shy away from the "open your archives up for free" line of reasoning without more information (I have no idea if the NYT's online division would stay stellar in its profits), I have to say it's a shame that the paper of record is practicing a sort of isolationism from the rest of the Web that not only locks away its offerings while they're still of immediate relevance, but sees to it that we have a harder time knowing they're there in the first place.
More of a shame, while we're on the NYT, is an LA Times item that reports victims of Jayson Blair's fairy-tale reporting didn't see the use of protesting, since "You expect people are going to get misquoted, or quoted out of context."
Posted by mph at 12:41 AM
And *I* Wish Firefly Was Still On . . . You Idiots.
Being a fanboy of this and that myself, I'm more than willing to admit that there's nothing soppier than the self-congratulatory, world-despising rap of a fanboy whose favorite show just got canned or moved to a kiss-of-death time slot. So it goes with The American Prospect's Richard Just, who's in mourning over the departure of Aaron Sorkin from "The West Wing":
"His was a smart show whose central message was about the virtue of intellectual passion. In its rise, it demonstrated that there is an appetite for intelligent, popular art among a wide swath of Americans -- and in its ratings decline, which led to Sorkin's well-publicized feuds with NBC, it has illustrated how fickle that appetite can be."
I'm sitting here wondering what happened to me. I remember when the show came out a few years ago and how I watched faithfully for the first two seasons, and I remember slowly losing interest as I felt more and more like the show was getting schticky. Then I stopped watching. I must have gotten dumber, too.
About as bad as Just's self-congratulatory loathing of the rest of us, though, is this bit:
". . . what has set Josiah Bartlet [the fictional president on "The West Wing"] apart from his fictional Republican rivals -- and from his real-life counterpart in the White House -- has been less his politics than the intellectually and morally serious way he approached his job. The means that Sorkin used to distinguish Bartlet from his adversaries were -- contra the widespread perception of the show as a liberal fantasy -- almost never ideological."
Right. In other words, in "West Wing" Land, the liberals don't necessarily pursue better policy, but they're "intellectually and morally serious," and Republicans are not. That was the liberal fantasy part, whether Just wants to get it or not: in "West Wing" Land, Republicans aren't scary because they're just big idiots who'll wither under a barrage of stream-of-consciousness sanctimony from their moral and intellectual betters.
When we encounter similar generalizations -- perhaps the favored Hollywood trope that all a feminist needs is a near unsurvivable situation from which she can be rescued by a muscular, pragmatic man of action -- we (meaning "people who aren't anti-feminist") don't much like it and we deplore what we take to be a cheap shot fired at a big strawman.
Posted by mph at 12:00 AM
May 19, 2003
Hey, everybody, the next entry down was posted by Phil, who's a new collaborator on PuddingTime! It's cool to have him here. So the official PuddingTime! description is now "All Pudding, All the Time", and I've changed timestamps to UTC since we're now trafficking in pudding over state lines.
Posted by mph at 7:00 PM
sometimes you wear the costume, sometimes the costume wears you
Although, for his speech in Indianapolis last week, President Bush did not arrive in a race car, dressed like a race-car driver, his professionals did instruct VIPs being seated behind him to remove their neckties, so it would look like he was mingling with regular folks. This was apparently in lieu of a giant banner reading "Mingling with Regular Folks."
Posted by pk at 10:27 AM
See Dick and Jane Fight
A female embedded reporter discusses her time with an infantry unit in Iraq, and concludes "I'm not qualified to say that no woman could do that job, but I suspect that it would be a rare one who could."
My initial response, as I read the piece, was "that journalist bootcamp you went to doesn't exactly provide you with the on/off switch soldiering sticks somewhere between your brain and the rest of your body," but she saved the fact that she's run marathons and grew up on a farm for the last paragraph.
That doesn't diminish the fact that infantry's tough no matter who's doing it. My four years in showed me plenty of men who fell apart under the relatively light demands of life in an airborne signal unit, and it showed me a few women who flatly kicked ass. So the generalizations about sex and military service that fall around "physical capability" aren't very interesting, though they need to be looked at: so-called "gender norming," which relativizes things like physical performance tests to ones sex are bad ideas and probably ought to be weeded out. What's more interesting are the arguments about how mixed units work together.
Posted by mph at 10:21 AM
Scoop J. Blogger
Ed Cone offers guidelines for journalists with weblogs, which is a good collection of common sense mixed with most of the tests that would allow the prospective blogger to avoid terrible copyright litigation.
Posted by mph at 8:29 AM
Three O'Clock High (1987)
Haven't written up many movies for a while but I caught "Three O'Clock High" over the weekend and feel like mentioning it: I think it's my favorite '80s teen movie (with the possible exception of "Better Off Dead", and not because it's campy: it's pretty well done. It catches the gut-wrenching, heart-sinking misery of getting caught in a bully's crosshairs, and it does a nice job of creating and exploring a high school ecosystem, from wannabe film students to jock contract "hit men." Worth a rental. Wish it was on DVD.
Posted by mph at 2:02 AM
Meanwhile, Back at the Ballot Box . . .
As much as it's fun to write about blogs, googlewashing, and all that, there's also a pressing local matter, which is Measure 26-48, which will enact a three-year 1.25% income tax for county schools and other services if it passes. The measure was written in reaction to the spiking of Measure 28.
Posted by mph at 1:41 AM
May 18, 2003
"The bottom line: In the age of the Web, the practice of charging for access to digital archives is a collossal anachronism. It's time for The New York Times and the other papers to step forward, join the real world and correct the problem. Expose the archives. Give them permanent URLs. Let in the bots. Let their writers, and their reputations, accept the credit they are constantly given and truly deserve."
That's a fine call to make (and substantially more generous toward the NYT/print media in general than the "burn it all down" school of blogger). A re-read of Orlowski's piece, though, inidcates that he was saying a little more than "the NYT is inadequately linked." He maintained that the original use of the phrase "second superpower" was propagating through the Web (and Google's index) until it was picked up and repurposed by a blogger, who, Orlowski maintained, was arguing a neutered, so-apolitical-it's-political-again variant. In other words, the idea had become bigger than the original presentation then it was pushed out by the repurposed meme (I don't want to call this an instance of "blog noise" because it's different from this page turning up in Google searches for Tolkien's Beowulf manuscript.)
No conclusion because I'm in and out too much today, but iIt looks like Doc's post is getting a lot of approving links from here and there, which I'll recap later Technorati has rounded up (I guess . . . I don't have much opinion on it, even if other people seem to think it works).
Dave Winer also has something along the same lines, which manages to blithely walk past the point of the whole thing even after walking up and acknowledging it:
"Somehow, in a perfect world, Orlowski reasoned, Google would remember not only that the Times had used the term first, but that somehow the Times is more important than weblogs."
Orlowski doesn't talk about privileging, as Winer mistakenly (or simply falsely) asserts, the New York Times over blogs. He talks about blogs pushing out an idea in favor of another with the same label, and he says that's bad for reasons of his own we can decide on for ourselves. (Tuttle SVC says it's ok that the thing happened the way it did, in fact.)
There are numerous unfairly simplistic interpretations of Orlowski's argument cirulating on the Web, including accusations of conspiracy theorizing and the like. Some of his language troubles me, because it implies deliberate acts instead of the natural tide and shift of the Web vis a vis how Google reports it to us. The "big point," though, is that even Winer says, referring to A-list bloggers such as himself:
"Google gives us considerable power, because of our longevity and regularity and incoming and outgoing pointers. Popular weblogs can confer a lot of page-rank, and that's a good thing, imho."
It can't get much plainer than that, and it's pretty apparently true if my own referrer logs are any indication. This strikes back at what I was saying about taking a media literacy approach to weblogs: understanding how and why they present the content they do helps us evaluate what they're telling us and how we should treat what they point at. Knowing that they have "considerable power" should put us on notice that there's a potential for a monocultural (incestuous, implies Danny Ayers) trend in what we see coming across the Google results. No, not all bloggers are alike, but Andrew's original piece did a useful job of tracing the social ties that bind some prominent bloggers, and lends credence to the idea that there are somewhat like-minded nexuses of "Google power."
Armed with a more informed understanding of how blogs/bloggers tick and why they produce the media they do, and how they have a healthy chunk of Google's attention, we'll become able to contextualize them (and Google's usefulness) in our overall information diet. This isn't, to my mind, about de-privileging blogs (I wouldn't be working with PAIJ if I wanted that) . . . it's about understanding them and the effect they have on their media surroundings, then incorporating them into the much broader mission of seeking the truth, which is something grander and harder to nail down than all the words and facts to which Google can direct us.
Posted by mph at 8:43 AM
May 17, 2003
The Scobleizer Weblog says the Google/Orlowski/blog noise thing was a trial balloon, pushed out the door under pressure from advertisers, who aren't pleased that personal, honest communication might rise to the top over their favored forms: the press release rewrite and the brochure site.
I don't think that's a nutty idea, but Scoble isn't citing much more than "sources of his own" who want to remain anonymous. I'm guessing it's a little less clear a story than he suggests, but speaking from the personal experience of a few years in print and Web journalism, if Google's under that kind of pressure, it's nothing new and it's not a paranoid flight of fantasy to suggest advertisers have been pretty upfront about the whole "blog problem" (note the scare quotes) in their communications with Google. Advertisers hate unvarnished opinion turning up anywhere near pictures of their product. From their point of view, it dilutes the value of a banner if there are ten comments from people down on the other end of the page calling the product crap, and they aren't afraid to say so to the marketing departments of media outlets trying to sell them ad space.
This is always framed in the most reasonable sounding terms, too. I've seen publicists appeal to the vanity of professional editors (me included) more than once. The relationship they try to establish is one of "the reasonable people/the professionals" vs. the uninformed, unreasonable amateurs. It's an attempt to disconnect journalists from their public, and it often works because, frankly, doing journalism on the Web is a grind. You deal day in and day out with cranks who turn up in your inbox castigating you for this detail or that, and you have to flap out in the open, knowing that on some Web sites, the reader comments are held to less of a standard than letters to the editor of a podunk rural weekly, if they're held to a standard at all. You either toughen up, or you start becoming timid, making only the safest assertions, because you get tired of being blindsided and sniped at by people who get to retain their anonymity while they try to trash your reputation.
Some journalists keep their chin out, others just identify what their audience likes and become cheerleaders for it knowing they'll get dinged less if they ape the right line, and others get sick of it and quit. Publicists know this dynamic is at work (one went so far as to apologize to me for the abusive, anonymous comments of his clients after I tore up a product in a review) and they work that angle.
Google's in a different position, but the advertisers are going to be no less quick to figure out ways to talk down the relative value of non-commercial, non-professional speech. It's an issue beyond "blogs" vs. "non-blogs," and I hope mainline bloggers figure that out, their enthusiasm for their favored form of media production notwithstanding.
Posted by mph at 5:23 PM
Back to the Table
The NYT on the intersection between blogging and privacy has a good quote:
"All writing is a form of negotiation between the reader and writer over what constitutes responsibility," said David Weinberger, author of "Small Pieces Loosely Joined," a book about the Internet. "Because blogs are a new form, the negotiation can easily go awry."
So, when Dave Winer distorts and oversimplifies on his blog, it's a sign I should bring in a professional arbiter, because our "negotiation" is badly in need of help.
Posted by mph at 10:44 AM
. . . we regret the error.
Holy cats, it's late!
So, apropos my earlier post about corrections/updates and blogs, I came up with a quick solution by creating the category "reruns" and putting an item in the sidebar that reads "updates/corrections." It'll include the most recent three changes, updates, errata, etc. that I tag as "reruns."
Permanently placed, about as prominent as the item was when it first appeared on the front page, and a useful place to look to see if anything changed down in the depths of the page. Works for me.
I bet I won't use it much: things just don't move like that around here, but it's a working example to point to, especially when this comes up at PAIJ.
Posted by mph at 2:48 AM
Working It Out
"Here's a thought. What would happen if the archives of all the print publications out there were open to the Web, linkable by anybody, and crawlable by Google's bots? Would the density of blogs 'above the fold' (on page one) of Google searches go down while hard copy sources go up? I'll betcha it would.
My point: Maybe this isn't about 'gaming' algorithms, but rather about a situation where one particular type of highly numerous journal has entirely exposed archives while less common (though perhaps on the whole more authoritative) others do not."
That's a good point on the technical side. I know of a popular commercial site that jumped up its page views by double after reengineering the way it presented pages and making them more spider friendly.
And I don't mean to make it sound like I think there's some fantastic conspiracy at work to subvert Google, or that we're yoked with a tyrannical cabal of A-listers out to trick everyone into listening to them first.
The question, I guess, is more about what the outcome of the "blog noise" effect is, and whether Google should feel any responsibility about it. I'd be relieved if I had less blogs to track through on my way to sources. I love the commentary some blogs provide, but I prefer to read the wire copy before reading a reaction and deconstruction of that copy, no matter how qualified the blogger, unless he/she happened to interview the same people on the same day, or (I know, I know, unlike Jayson Blair) was at the scene of the story, too.
It seems like Google moving to emphasize the source instead of the person pointing at the source will result in removing some of the privilege (within the context of Google) those pointers enjoy. Ed pointed out a few days ago that I'm asking for perfection in a non-perfectible system . . . that Google's inability to distinguish pointer/pointee is genetic. In that case, providing a blog tab, and a "-blog" switch that whacks out 75% of the noise seems equitable enough, without Google going down the dangerous road of deciding (as it shouldn't) that personal pages (not just blogs) are undeserving of attention because they aren't institutional or corporate.
And to move past that point and provide a little more closure on this spate of posts:
It seems that ultimately, what Bill Thompson was going after is the idea that when you step into the blogosphere, you're on a substantially different ride from the one you might be used to in other forms of media. Anyone who reads more than a few a day knows what it's like to sit down with some time to kill and end up traversing huge chunks of the Web, following along with the back-and-forth of conversing bloggers. It's not the same as a news portal or a traditional news site. It's not a linear, "point a to point b" experience. But consuming a blog is still like consuming any media . . . the reader illiterate in its subtexts and underlying meanings is intensely vulnerable, not to some sort of sinister manipulation, but to the simple way blogs present and view the world, favoring that which can be linked, and favoring, as with most forms of human communication, that with which the author agrees, or can easily refute.
Because blogs are often intense personal expressions, it's a little problematic to argue for a media literacy approach to reading them: the underlying skepticism required to be a literate blog consumer will seem like an affront to the blog author, who more likely than not is doing little more than relaying the world as it appears through their perceptual filters, and certainly not (usually) deliberately lying, distorting, or deceiving.
But as a blogs grow in popularity as a format, they'll require vigorous deconstruction all the same: understanding how, why, and by whom a media outlet is produced is key to assessing its ultimate worth as a tool for shaping a world view, or even an opinion on a single matter. How well an individual blogger tolerates the scrutiny key to determining the worth of his/her output will provide even more comment on the voice behind the blog.
Thompson and Orlowski have taken a hard, bare-knuckled approach a few times, but they're part of the process. Bloggers who can't deal with scrutiny, or being questioned about their motives or credibility, should probably hang it up: they're no more immune to questioning than NBC or the New York Times.
Posted by mph at 1:51 AM
May 16, 2003
Feds to Open Relays: Check Yourself...
. . . before the rest of us strangle to death on spam. The FTC, SEC, Post Office, and several other countries have decided to do consciousness raising about open STMP relays.
When I was admining a database at a high school several years ago, the network admin for the place was in the process of setting up mail services for the faculty and staff. Teachers wanted to be able to read their mail at home, and he was hitting his head up against the wall of people not understanding the difference between a POP server and an SMTP server. His solution? Tell them to change the settings the ISP gave them when they set their Internet accounts up in the first place so they could just use the high school's SMTP server. The obvious problem he was then faced with was letting people from AOL, Earthlink, the local ISP's, and the rest of the world relay through his server. So he just made it an open relay and called it a day.
About two months later, he started getting warnings from ORBS and others telling him what he was doing was a Bad Idea. He waved one mail under my nose and wondered "Who the hell do these people think they are!?" I told him, but he didn't much care. Then mail started to bounce as the school was circulated through assorted blacklists, and teachers started grabbing anyone who had something to do with computers demanding to know what they'd done wrong when mail started coming back with the words "blacklist" and "contact your administrator" on prominent display. He listened after a week of that and closed the relay back down.
If the FTC et al want to try their hand at convincing newbie admins and reckless hobbyists that open relays are bad, I'm all for it. We've got SMTP auth and SSL . . . arguments that it's too much of a burden to lock relays down are specious, and nothing compared to the burden the rest of us deal with losing resources and our precious time to spammers.
One last spam note for this entry: SquirrelMail, which gets nicer and nicer, has a buzz-a-licious Bayesian Spam Filter plug-in that seems clever enough. It makes using SquirrelMail when I'm away from home a much more pleasant proposition.
Posted by mph at 2:38 PM
Don't Forget Hairy Palms
The entry's a week old, but there's still humor to be gleaned from Anil Dash's observation of a film camera store that isn't dealing with the digital revolution too well. In a followup entry, he records the inevitable.
It's interesting that the store was so intransigent on the issue. Mainline photography magazines (which are a good indicator of where the journeyman photographer is at) are integrating digital photography into their content at a respectable rate. All the local camera shops have some sort of provision for making nice prints from flash cards and CD's. So who's digging in and fighting digital? Evidently this store was. I just went back to film with my latest camera, but I'll be the first to admit it's a weird thing for an amateur to be doing . . . it was a decision made mostly on the basis of immediate bang-for-buck and frustration with the near total depreciation of what had been a "nice" digital camera two years ago, not the long-term question of film developing expenses and all that.
Anyone who just wants snapshots is running out of reasons to stick with film . . . looks like that store decided to implode rather than deal with that.
Posted by mph at 1:19 PM
Above the Fold? Where's the Fold?
Doc popped up in the comments a few items down both defending his choice of approaches to posting updates, and raising an issue I expect we'll probably be dealing with in the PAIJ ethics guidelines: what constitutes appropriate placement for corrections/retractions on a weblog.
In newspapers, it's easy, since their design allows you to say "if the mistake appeared on page three, so does the correction," or "if the error was run above the fold on the first page, so will the correction."
No such luck with blogs: the second a new entry goes up on the front page, the only place an older entry stands to hold an immutable location is in its individual archive (provided the blog's author doesn't use date-based archives), and that does little good for readers who treat blogs the way most blog design demands: as a never-ending roll of paper that scrolls off into some repository somewhere, never to be visited again except as the result of serendipity.
The problem here, as the item I referred to demonstrates, is that if I hadn't revisited Doc's entry to do a quick fact-check, I wouldn't have seen the ideas he later added, and would have assumed the final word on the matter was "Andrew's a shit-stirrer," not "Andrew's a shit-stirrer who might have a point about some of this even if he's a troll."
Thinking on the screen, it seems to me that there are a few ways to handle this: one is to add a category tag called "corrections" or "updates", and run a sidebar with the most recent two or three items with this as a secondary category. Another way is to decide that there's a 24 hour statute of limitations on an item's assumed "freshness," at which point the original item gets an edit, and a small note about the change goes in at the top of the front page directing readers to the change.
During my time at the helm of Linux Today, corrections and updates tended to get "touched" to update their timestamps and keep them at the top of the feed. It was a way to ensure that a typical reader would stand a good chance of noticing the update during the course of a normal 24-hour grazing cycle.
It sounds very clunky, but the fact is that I'm very interested in blogs reaching some sort of point of general credibility because I still believe they can be agents for democratizing the Web. But if they can't be counted on to do something as simple as provide a reliable way for readers to learn when an error has been made and corrected, it's going to be hard. Like or hate professional, institutional journalism as it's constituted itself at the moment, one of the more useful things to come out of the development of a self-aware news press is a sense of responsibility to the truth, and a willingness to give up some ad space or time to make sure that mistakes get corrected when they're identified. If the public can't trust you to do that much, I don't care if you're the NYT or Andrew Sullivan: people will eventually realize they'll get at the truth elsewhere.
To bring it back around to what instigated this entry, I don't think the instance we're talking about here is a case of correction: it's a case of amplification. But I continue to believe that blog noise is a problem, and that Andrew Orlowski hits it on the head when he says it's partially because of willful or unintentional gaming of Google's algorithms. That view isn't very popular among bloggers, and when a prominent one, (ie, Doc) says maybe there's a point to it all the same, it's a shame when that observation slips away into the ether, especially since Doc's most devout readers are probably reading his stuff as he adds it... not catching it by coincidence a few days later.
Posted by mph at 11:49 AM
Well, It's a Dead Issue Now
Someone needs to write Andrew and tell him the blog noise story has been approriated by the slow kids.
Posted by mph at 10:49 AM
Let Them Eat Internet Appliances
Update: Doc expounds on the entry I cite here, and provides a spirited defense of weblogs vs. print in terms of accountability to readers. My own tangent on the matter, if you're coming in through the archives, is a few items later. Doc's also in the comments to this item, offering an alternate reading of his posting style. I'll call it a correction and accept it on its face.
Bill Thompson savages the O'Reilly Emerging Technologies Conference as a carnival of myopic nerds and compulsive bloggers and reiterates what I guess we can start calling the oppositional line on the Google/A-Lister, er, thing:
"These people are not quite an aristocracy. Perhaps they are simply the blogeoisie (pronounced bloj-wah-zee ), a dominant class in network society. Or it may be simpler to think of blogs as a feudal system, with respect and links acting as the chief currency. The peasants toil in the low-rank blogs, paying their tithe in LazyWeb projects to the lords of the link in return for an occasional mention from Hammersley or Searls."
Doc, for his part, responds by copping a "don't hate me because I'm beautiful" line with " . . . Bill's off-base when he blames quotable people for being quotable . . . ", but he seems to be willing to give up the point that a lot of the noise issuing forth from the blogosphere is, well, mere blabbing. He's still clearly peeved with Andrew Orlowski's assault on blog noise, though, and he's disinterested, near as I can tell, with discussing any fix to the issue that might involve lessening the privilege A-list bloggers enjoy. He's gracious enough, at least, to avoid the churlish accusations of jealousy you get from the second tier, but not gracious enough to resist calling people who want to talk about it trolls, and predictably unwilling to really dig into what it all means beyond burying a weak expression of interest at the bottom of a day-old entry.
In case you're curious what the typical response to Thompson's piece (besides Doc's) might be, go no further than the comments at Joi Ito's weblog, where Dave Winer turns up to call him an idiot and discourage "giving him flow," which is much nicer than the usual accusations of envy that surround his contribution (but only slightly less petty than just coming out and saying "don't link to him because we don't agree with him.") There's also Radio Free Blogistan's attempt to prove that a horselaugh is worth a thousand syllogisms. And there's The Scobleizer's graze on the issue, which lurches around long enough to accuse Thompson of being a johnny-come-lately before demonstrating a complete disconnect on the issue of accountability.
The issue here isn't particularly earth-shattering. It's about how well you can tolerate the terminally self-satisfied. Thompson doesn't handle it so well, Orlowski doesn't either, and I continue to maintain that people coming here looking for information about Tolkien's Beowulf manuscript or Tillamook Cheese are indications enough that the smugness is both misplaced, and the product of some breakage somewhere.
Posted by mph at 2:14 AM
Back In Mac
The iBook's back home again. It seems the last repair they did on the display involved a part that proved defective after a few weeks of use, hence its sudden death three days ago. I took it to the shop on Tuesday, mildly bent out of shape, and got it back today. Between Tuesday morning and Thursday afternoon, it went to California, got fixed, and came back.
During the interim period, I was thinking pretty hard on the prospects of switching over to a clone laptop, but the research I did on the Dell Inspiron line and the IBM R-series ThinkPads told me the 800 and 900 MHz iBooks really are a pretty good deal compared to their competition in Wintel land. I'm guessing something like Photoshop is going to be faster on a ~1.5-2 GHz Mobile Celeron than it is on an 800-900 MHz G3, but not painfully so.
The deciding factor comes down to learning that I'll get a reasonable trade-in on the iBook at the local Mac store (maybe I'd be able to squeeze more out of eBay, but not by much) and realizing that I've got some dough tied up in software for OS X.
Oh... it's also worth noting that sometime in the past few days the good folks at Ranchero kicked out the final 1.2 release of RSS reader titan NetNewsWire, which is bad only to the extent it makes it very easy to blow off sites that don't bother too syndicate in favor of the sheer pleasure of reading the ones that do with NNW's slicker'n snot interface. A few days away from NNW had me playing around with Amphetadesk, which is fine and all, but it felt like flint knives and bear hides compared to NNW.
Posted by mph at 12:32 AM
May 15, 2003
It's a Scourge
During my two years at Fort Bragg, I was frequently tasked to crank out the Powerpoint slides for the Quarterly Training Briefing (QTB), a fairly straightforward rundown of how trained a given unit is. It was a big deal for the unit commanders presenting it because it was supposed to be reflective of how well they were training their soldiers during peacetime.
The hell of QTB came from the way commanders, suddenly aware all too late that they had less than 95% training rates in given tasks, would run their units into the ground rushing them through physical fitness tests, rifle ranges, 12 mile ruck marches and four mile runs in the month leading up to presenting their briefing. Since numbers were coming in right up to the hour before the briefing, getting the slides together was a nightmare of everything from accidental deletions to bonehead ROTC cadets loading the laser printer up with inkject transparencies and squealing with dismay as the slides fused to the printer's innards.
The other part of the hell came from PowerPoint, which provides a focus for the unholy powers of anal retentiveness possessed by bored garrison commanders. One QTB involved waiting, poised over the keyboard, for a call from the battalion geek to tell us whether the slides should fade or wipe during transitions. Another involved stark terror at the prospect that the headings were actually supposed to be 20 point instead of 18 point. And far from solving the problem of paper glut, the slides made for more, because it wasn't enough to project them on the screen: the entire battalion command team needed individual copies of the 30 page presentations.
Posted by mph at 11:20 PM
But What About Elvish?
The headline (Hyperventilating Press Forces County to Nix Klingon's Inclusion On List) pretty much sums up b!X's post mortem on the whole matter of Multnomah County's initial inclusion of Klingon on the list of languages supported by county services.
Was it that freaking hard to figure out in the first place? The reporter who filed the original story provided an e-mail address and phone number for people too impaired to read the item for themselves and come to reasonable conclusions.
Posted by mph at 4:18 PM
Get It Coming and Going
Posted by mph at 1:40 AM
But Not the Fillings In Your Teeth
I always used to wonder what happened to people who went through bankruptcy. The local independent weekly decided to find out by profiling a bankruptcy "trustee", the guy in charge of deciding what people can keep and what they can't:
"Then there's the couple who both work at Intel, pulling down a combined salary of $74,000 a year. Grassmueck doesn't ask why they're filing--but he does ask the wife to hold up her hands and show him her wedding ring.
"The ring cost $2,000 new, she says. Grassmueck peers at it through his glasses, clenching his jaw. Legally, as the trustee, the ring belongs to him. If he wished, he could ask her to pull it off her finger. An individual filing Chapter 7 is only allowed to keep $1,800 worth of jewelry and clothing, total. If Grassmueck reckons the ring is worth more, he can seize it, liquidate it, give $1,700 to the couple, and pass the rest on to the creditors."
Harrowing, and made even more unpleasant by the revelation late in the article that the "trustees" get a cut of any assets they uncover.
Posted by mph at 1:15 AM
May 14, 2003
Now What the Hell Does That Mean?
SCO's sent a letter out to its customers telling them it's suspending its Linux activities because of IBM's alleged infringement of its intellectual property. The letter also includes this little nugget:
"Similar to analogous efforts underway in the music industry, we are prepared to take all actions necessary to stop the ongoing violation of our intellectual property or other rights."
You may recall that the music industry's efforts have included trying to push through legislation that would allow it the right to access your computer and delete mp3 it determined to be illegal while being held harmless for any collateral damage it inflicted. Yes, the RIAA was stopped, no that doesn't mean that trying to slip the thing in was a good idea to begin with.
The real good part of the SCO page is the "Quotes from Linux Leaders" section, which uses Richard Stallman and Bruce "Trample You Dead to Get at the Buffet" Perens quotes to make its point that Linux developers are reckless and acquisitive pirates. The fact that none other than button-down-black-tie-white-shirt IBM is probably who did the infringing doesn't matter when they can cherrypick quotes out of context.
Yeah, I think intellectual property matters. No, I don't think it's "harmless" if IBM truly did swipe some code somewhere in SCO's protected library of IP. But I'm really curious to see just what "all actions necessary to stop the ongoing violation" of its rights is going to entail.
Posted by mph at 4:36 PM
May 13, 2003
For our "Minor Tuesday Tech Mystery" we have a Mozilla nightly build for Win32 that runs from a folder on my desktop just fine, but crashes and burns when installed using the installer program. Anyone?
Posted by mph at 11:44 PM
I Was A Korean Campaign Worker
Perhaps not exactly. I was digging around for something else this afternoon and came across this photo and leaflet (click for the big versions):
That's me on the right (in the left picture) about nine years ago. The guy on the left is a Korean politician who happened to be hanging out around the Waegwan train station the day I decided to take a weekend trip to Seoul. Korean election day, at least in Waegwan, was sort of a zoo: I remember trucks and vans with loudspeakers, and lots of people walking around circulating playing card-sized leaflets (like you see on the right) with pictures of the politicians on them. I had my picture taken with him because he took the time to shake my hand as I came out of the station.
Posted by mph at 6:56 PM
No Totebags, Though...
Slashdot's getting more aggressive about pimping its subscriber services, but I find it pretty hard to get all excited about early access to a story that's going to appear in fifteen or twenty minutes anyhow, especially when the site's missing stories by three and four days at a time.
Score one for both blogs and RSS on this one: it's just not that hard to efficiently track primary sources or more timely secondary sources these days.
Posted by mph at 1:59 PM
Same Tune, Different Year
Seven or eight years ago, when you installed Red Hat, you got a desktop that looked sort-of-kind-of like the default Windows 95 desktop, right down to the teal wallpaper and cute little "Start" button (except with a ShadowMan logo). As much as Red Hat's heart was in the right place, this was eventually understood to be a Bad Idea because of what people took to calling the "Martian User Interface," something similar enough to seem familiar, but alien enough to be really, really uncomfortable after a little use: the not-quite-Windows interface fell apart under any attempt at actually using it like Windows.
Lindows, it seems, has reinvented the phenomenon in 2003, and El Reg isn't particularly impressed.
Lindows kvetches, btw, are nothing new here.
Posted by mph at 9:35 AM
May 12, 2003
Any Port In a Storm
With the iBook back in the shop for some more just-before-warranty-termination work, I turned back to the Windows machine, only to learn that Mozilla, for reasons unknown, won't launch. Mozilla derivative Firebird, however, will. Verdict: it's a browser, it seems to work, the icons are spiffy, and it's not Internet Explorer, which makes me feel safer. Oh, it blocks popups and has tabbed browsing.
Posted by mph at 11:10 AM
Deconstructing the NYT Deconstructing Blair
Editor and Publisher has some useful followup questions to the NYT's Jayson Blair mea culpa. Fav pull:
"I told him [Blair] that he needed to find a different way to nourish himself than drinking scotch, smoking cigarettes and buying Cheez Doodles from the vending machine."
Kid sounds old school to me.
Posted by mph at 10:52 AM
May 11, 2003
things that are getting old
... the iBook's display is crapping out again, so it's back to the shop with it. Here's hoping they figure it out this time.
Posted by mph at 10:47 PM
May 10, 2003
b!X picked up on Multnomah County's search for a qualified interpreter of Klingon, with Elvish on the horizon.
Posted by mph at 3:03 PM
New York Times Comes Clean on "Fabrication and Plagiarism"
"A staff reporter for The New York Times committed frequent acts of journalistic fraud while covering significant news events in recent months, an investigation by Times journalists has found. The widespread fabrication and plagiarism represent a profound betrayal of trust and a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper."
The New York Times report on the Jasyon Blair plagiarism/falsehood debacle is fascinating reading in all sorts of ways.
We get a look inside the way the NYT operates, witness a ton of dysfunction of the sort with which anyone who's ever worked in a large organization is familiar, we get a team of reporters who are surely cognizant of the need their publication has for them to get the story as right as they possibly can, and if we remember any of the articles Blair filed that we may have accepted as fact, we get a sense of the fragility of what we can claim to know.
Registration required, but this one is worth it. I've made my one "for personal use" PDF of it, and intend to spend some time re-reading it this weekend.
Posted by mph at 2:55 PM
Leaky Mosquito Netting
Safari and cousin Konqueror have an unpleasant SSL bug that might cause the cautious to reconsider online banking with them for the moment.
Posted by mph at 2:00 PM
Sam has released Parasite Version 1.0. It's a nifty piece of blogging software that's fairly easy to install and configure (if you're competent to maintain a PHP and MySQL-capable Web server anyhow) and has some nice convenience features that move it a notch above the simplest entries in the field. Worth looking at for a basic blog project when you don't want to spend a week in the weeds working out the features of one of the more elaborate CMS's.
Posted by mph at 1:42 PM
May 9, 2003
It's Called An "Ad Populum" Argument, And It's Not Nice
I really like The American Prospect's blog, but when they offer up arguments that end with "there's not a truck driver or stockroom clerk in America who doesn't instantly grasp this to be true", I cringe. There are all sorts of things truck drivers, stock room clerks, and assorted other "normal folks" grasp to be true . . . that's why there's a fancy Latin phrase to explain why it's poor reasoning to invoke those beliefs as part of your argument. Not that there's an argument there . . . TAPPED called the guy a scold (I'm not saying I disagree) then got all cornpone on his ass as if that settles something.
Posted by mph at 4:11 PM
Clearing Out the Blogwebs
I have a blog. I help other people have blogs. I am a blogger. And yet, it's with supreme happiness that I read Google might finally be doing something about the problem of 'blog noise.'
What's blog noise? The article explains it well enough, but it's worth reiterating since this site happens to be a poster child for its effects.
Suppose you're curious about something like, say, William Bennett's gambling thing. You go to Google, and you feed it the query "William Bennett gambling". It may be different by the time you read this, but, at this very instant, PuddingTime shows up as the number three search result on the topic behind only an AP item (to which I linked),and a parody site. The original article that broke the story? It's down there somewhere, I think. Most of the results, though, are reactions to the story.
There's a certain amount of ego gratification that comes from being such a well-respected source for information. Clearly I'm providing some unique service here, else the impartial and quality-minded algorithms that made Google the very best search engine ever would't be singling me out, right? Bullshit.
The simple fact is, last December I wrote an angry "open letter" directed at uber-blogger Doc Searls over his (ironically enough) bizarre obsession with Google and how often his own name turned up on it. I have no idea whether Doc is a "good guy" or not (the only other time he's ever mentioned my name, it was to liken me to a tobacco lobbyist, but he was trying to make a bigger point and I've forgiven him). He took the screed in stride and stuck me in his blog roll (a link list, presumably to blogs Doc thinks you should read), where I've resided ever since. Now, as a "first mover" in the modern blog world. Doc is so widely linked that Google's search algorithms give him some "weight" as a source of information. Google's designers are democratically minded people who built a prejudice in favor of people who get linked to a lot when they worked out what makes certain search results "good." Some weight also accrues to people who get linked by people who get linked to a lot. In the Googleverse, Doc is like King Kong or Grape Ape or a well-loved and widely worshipped Norse pundit deity, and anyone on whom he confers a link gets some of his magical pixie search dust on themselves.
I'm fairly confident PuddingTime's "popularity" is the result of Doc's link to it, because almost no one else in the overcrowded blogosphere (as much as it pains me to admit it) acknowledges my existence. Not convinced? Here's what Google has to say about who links to this site. Not many folks besides Doc. And why should they? With the exception of a mostly quiet time at the helm of LinuxToday and a minor book, there's not much reason to come searching me out: Pudding Time's yet another blog linking to the same stories some other blogger (or three, or a hundred) is linking to, or showing pictures I took, or whatever else goes on around here. I don't do it because I'm out to set the world on fire with my quality links, I do it because a few friends look in now and then, and that's different from inviting them over for dinner then making them sit through a slide show.
It probably seems like a weird thing to get cranky over getting page views from Google searches but it's not me I'm worrying about (even if I am sick of random strangers who call themselves "MARINE" and "Publius" turning up to complain about my almost commentary-free links to stories). I'm much more concerned about what a disservice to the rest of the world Google's heretofore idiotic insistence on running a giant popularity contest complete with a cool kids lunch table represents. Bloggers are a tiny minority of the population, but they've created an echo chamber that gives inappropriate weight to their choices. They're proud of this, and they brag about their capacity to game Google with Googlebombs and other search-skewing play. Some intentionally, some not, they've subverted a search engine people liked because it was meritocratic about information, and made it about themselves and their narcissism. Their junk is cluttering things up, though, and it pleases me to no end to read Google might do something about it.
This isn't, by the way, the first time Andrew Orlowski has tackled the issue of "gaming" Google. He's taken issue with Googlewashing, and he's got good taste in blogs when he reads the ones that aren't the "tuneless cacophony of the Gen-X gone bored and rich".
Metafilter's readers aren't certain Google's main results will be cleaned up very much and point to some good technical reasons for why this would be tough. A man can still dream.
Posted by mph at 10:32 AM
May 8, 2003
Dear South, ReduxI found a link to this piece on Southern Nationalism on Reason's blog. It tackles the question of southern nationalism and the roots of the Civil War, and may serve to erode a lot of the fuzzy-headed romanticism we continue to endure from assorted folk trying to tell us southerners are an oppressed ethnic minority ground under the boot heel of Yankee Imperialism.
Know what? Some of their teenagers get death threats for daring to integrate their proms. I had an instructor at Fort Gordon who was happy to tell my training class that we were part of "an occupying army" if we wore the uniform south of the Mason-Dixon Line. In Virginia, these boobies spit on Martin Luther King's memory yearly with their absurd "Lee/Jackson/King Day." At what point do we just create a federal entitlement program to help these people get over themselves?
Posted by mph at 10:29 PM
Ethics Schmethics?Caught with his hand hovering over the cookie jar, Aaron Brown (or his bosses anyhow) decides not to do astroturfy phony news spots. I would say "good for Aaron," but it's offensive that he even considered doing the items. Journalism's banner is tattered as it is . . . did he think contributing to the Big Blur is going to help things? Or did he think at all? Or did he think it all through and just not give a damn?
Posted by mph at 10:18 PM
May Day at MusiclandThe National Review has had its say about the Grokster ruling (in which file sharing software was let off the hook):
"By legalizing Internet file-trading tools, a California court handed a major victory to communism. The Internet allows the well-wired to take copyrighted material freely. Left unchecked, rampant copyright theft may soon destroy the for-profit production of movies, music and books and may usher in an age of digital communism."
In which the record company executives are, no doubt, forced to live in gulags, the radios all play the same, bland, state-approved music, and musicians receive a pittance for their work, which is collected by punitive & intrusive oligarchs.
Posted by mph at 8:34 AM
May 7, 2003
Sub-tul Flos'feeSlashdot links to the first Matrix Reloaded review. Highlight of the Slashdot item is the poster, who says "What I liked most about the original was the way it blended stunning action with a subtle philosphical [sic] theme about how we percieve [sic] reality."
I think I mostly liked the stunning action.
Posted by mph at 8:24 PM
Joy Joy!Evidently The Joy of Linux is out in a trade paperback edition. I'm sure it'll never earn back the advance, but I'm pleased to see it warrants another run.
Posted by mph at 3:48 PM
Hopefully Hallmark Is Working On ThisI'm assuming this doesn't entail a white sale.
Posted by mph at 11:00 AM
Bob Edwards at 128kbpsCool! PublicRadioFan.com features links to public radio stations that netcast. (via Memepool)
Posted by mph at 9:19 AM
We Don't Need No Steenkin' WhitelistEarthLink is testing challenge-response spam fighting system. Curious to see how that pans out. AOL says it'll be too hard for users to manage.
Posted by mph at 8:52 AM
The Kids Were AlrightPete Townshend was cleared of kiddie-porn charges, but the police are still entering his info into a sex offender database.
Posted by mph at 8:30 AM
Belly Up, BoysThe NYT offers a look at prominent newscasters doing advertorials for drug companies. And here's some due dilligence from one of the stations relaying the videos, which are ginned up to look like real newscasts of some kind: "They offer them to us for free," she said, "so I don't go digging around for any other information."
Posted by mph at 8:28 AM
May 6, 2003
Sit Back and Relax . . . Pleaseb!X reports that our state legislature continues to hold the line against self-serve gas in Oregon.
Posted by mph at 10:24 PM
Dear South: Please Grow UpThe Guardian looks at that segregated prom (and recounts other instances of segregation in the South). One of the teens who supported a desegregated prom last year received anonymous phone threats.
Posted by mph at 4:25 PM
Cultural ActivitiesEd has chastised me for failing to mention what may be Portland's most important cultural event of the year. (May not be safe for all works)
Posted by mph at 8:50 AM
One Link Per Customer . . . PleaseJorn Barger has taken up the good work of teaching people how to write Slashdot blurbs. His common sense re: the amount of linkage in a given blurb is especially useful to anybody who ever commits links to a page.
Posted by mph at 8:45 AM
Downtown Street Shooting
Spent some time Friday afternoon letting the camera do what it would with the self-assigned theme of "people downtown."
A lot of the pictures are disappointing for this reason or that, mainly because the light was pretty harsh and the sun was directly overhead, but it was fun to take them, so feel free to look with an understanding that this isn't so much a "look at my wonderful pictures" thing as it is a "here's my Friday afternoon." I put up gallery of my favorites.
Posted by mph at 1:23 AM
The Red Rock Eater RustlesPhil Agre's waking from his wartime media coma and kicking a few things out onto RRE including a reminder about the fixated and interesting Commentaries on Cheap Pens. Because I like to mention it every time RRE or Prof. Agre come up, here's a link to How to Help Someone Use a Computer, which would do much to heal the terrible rift between nerds and normals.
Posted by mph at 12:35 AM
May 5, 2003
Now Brace for Some Real Self RighteousnessOh. Well nobody told me Bennett was going to comment: looks like he's giving up gambling because it sets a bad example. On your way to the group hug, make sure to smack the record player down at the Weekly Standard, it seems to be stuck in 1998.
Posted by mph at 3:36 PM
Your Mark of QualityThe logo that almost was:
Posted by mph at 12:37 PM
Still CrazyDavid Duke's both still alive and big in the Middle East and the former Soviet Union.
Posted by mph at 12:11 PM
Rub rub rubMichael Kinsley can't contain his glee. (Last item on the Bennett thing, unless, of course, it somehow gets better/worse).
Posted by mph at 12:09 PM
The Washington Dispatch offers buddingThe Washington Dispatch offers budding logicians a "find the fallacy" easter egg hunt (with emu-sized eggs).
Posted by mph at 8:34 AM
Our hard-hitting local Fox newsOur hard-hitting local Fox news team is taking on a real tough one tonight, complete with night-vision cameras.
Posted by mph at 1:05 AM
Pardon Our DustMade a few changes here and there, mainly to simplify maintenance and allow for less blabbing/more linking. The "notech" page is gone (no one used it), but the "Mac free" page is still intact (several people get something out of it). The archives are also rejiggered a little. If something's broken, drop a line.
Posted by mph at 12:42 AM
I'm curious about Andrew Sullivan'sI'm curious about Andrew Sullivan's take on anything approximately once every six to nine months.
Posted by mph at 12:19 AM
May 3, 2003
Most. Pointless. Press. Release. Ever.Most. Pointless. Press. Release. Ever.
Posted by mph at 1:24 AM
May 2, 2003
The blogosphere erupts over William Bennett's gambling . . . thing.The blogosphere erupts over William Bennett's gambling . . . thing. (Sanctimony against sanctimoniousness . . . goody.)
Posted by mph at 4:01 PM
May 1, 2003
Georgians Plan Whites-Only Prom PartyGeorgians Plan Whites-Only Prom Party (via rantavation)
Posted by mph at 12:59 PM
iTunes Music Store sold 275,000 tracks in its first 18 hoursBillboard says iTunes Music Store sold 275,000 tracks in its first 18 hours.
Posted by mph at 11:30 AM
First PAIJ Meeting
PAIJ held its first public meeting this evening. It was good to meet some of the other organizers (first time face-to-face for most of us) and have a sense that we've got something in place and happening. The next month will be devoted to online discussions of the PAIJ ethics guide, using an amalgam of concepts and bullet points from other ethics guides as a basis for deliberation.
If you're interested in following along with general PAIJ news and independent press issues, the PAIJ Weblog (FrontPAIJ) has several editors in place now.
Posted by mph at 12:46 AM