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Sunday, November 30, 2003

Blogging Software
This blog is powered by Movable Type, and on the whole, I'm very happy with it. It's a huge step above Blogger, for a good number of reasons. The main problem with Blogger was that the application and all your data was stored on their server (I didn't use blogspot, so I had a local copy of dirty data, but blogspot users are not so lucky) and thus when Blogger was down, so were you. And when Blogger became so popular, outages became common. I've never particularly liked the idea of being at the mercy of their server, so when I got the opportunity to upgrade, I did.

Movable Type is feature-rich, reliable, and easy to use, which is about all you could ask from a good software package. But even Movable Type has it's limitations. Most of these things I can live with. As always, many are simply tradeoffs. MT's interface is simple and easy, but relatively sparse. It would be nice to have some sort of WYSIWYG option, but because MT is portable, meaning that all you need to access MT is a browser and an internet connection, you are somewhat limited in what can be done. Since I do post (or edit) from mulitple locations, portability is a must but the advantage of portability cuts into usability because browsers aren't robust enough to support WYSIWYG features. Steven Den Beste uses CityDesk, which is much more usable and includes a WYSIWYG editor (among other features not included in the online packages), but requires that software be installed on your local machine. It lacks portability.

I recently upgraded to Movable Type 2.64. The chief reason for doing so was to start taking advantage of various TrackBack and pinging sorts of features, but the more I learn of these technologies, the more they seem forced. They're difficult to initially grasp, and take some time to implement, for very little gain. Once they're set up, they're easy enough to use, but other technologies such as referrals do this much better. More on this in a bit.

I've also recently come across JoeUser.com, which is another blogging software package that (unfortunately) seems to resemble Blogger a bit, in that everything is hosted on their server, but that also has some really wonderful features that other software doesn't seem to have.
  • Native Referral Tracking: A very convenient feature of JoeUser is that it automatically tracks referrals (per entry and for the blog itself). This is sooo much better than TrackBack! Some sites make use of this, but they are rare, which is a shame. JoeUser supports this, which is a great feature and allows you to see who is linking to you and to automatically link back (something other bloggers will certainly appreciate - if they're willing to jump through hoops to use TrackBack, they'd love this feature). If such a feature were more common in the blogosphere, it would encourage people to link more, if only to get a link back in return (and it's also nice to see how many referrals you're giving out too!)
  • Next Articles Link: At the bottom of the page is a link that says "Next Articles" and clicking on it takes you to their archives, starting with the next entry. To do the same here, you would need to go to the archives and click on a month and scroll down until you don't recognize a post. It's a painful user experience. Not so at JoeUser. It is a brilliant feature, and it's not on any other blogging software.
  • Rating: JoeUser allows visitors to rate posts, and then allows you to view highest rated posts. The categories for evaluation are limited, but the idea is correct. I also believe other factors contribute to a post's "value" but I'm not sure exactly how the system works. What's more, if a post on your blog gets rated high enough, the entire post show's up on JoeUser's main page.
  • Community: Because of features like the one where a highly rated post ends up on the main page, you have a better chance of getting people to notice what you wrote. It's difficult to get noticed in the blogging world, and there are a few nice features on JoeUser that will help in that respect (as long as the user base stays relatively low - see scaleability below).
  • Setting a Viewing Audience: You have the ability to restrict access to a certain post to specific members or groups of members within the JoeUser community. Not something I would use, but an interesting feature nonetheless...
Unfortunately, it also seems to have a great deal of drawbacks too, which is a shame... but it is still a relatively young application, so I'm sure at least some of them will be improved upon in the near future...
  • Centralized Hosting: Like Blogger, you are at the mercy of JoeUser's server. And note that part of the reason that the good features listed above are not available in other blogging packages is because JoeUser runs on dynamic .asp pages (not necessarily a bad thing, but just something to note)
  • Not Customizeable: It doesn't look like you can customize the look and feel of the blog at all - not even with a set of predetermined layouts. In a way, this isn't so bad for visitors as every JoeUser blog has the same layout so you know where to find whatever features or links you want, but as a blogger, this is a major problem!
  • Drafts: Most of the time, it takes me a while to write a post and I continually save the post as a "draft" until I finish, and then I "publish" the post. You can do this on JoeUser too, but you need to use their "Audience" feature and set it to "Just Me," which is hardly intuitive.
  • Archives: While the "Next Page" feature is fantastic, it appears to be the only way you can browse the archives. You can view entries by subject in the "Channels" section, but there doesn't appear to be any time-based archives... A search feature for a specific user would also be nice...
  • Scaleability: Many of the good community features of JoeUser, such as the ability to have a highly rated post on the main page, will diminish in value as the site grows more popular. All of your public posts show up in the "Recent JoeUser Articles" section of the sidenav, but you've got a much better chance at getting noticed now because there are only a few hundred other users, and so you're posts aren't immediately shoved off of like they were on blogger.
Some of these are killer problems for me, so I won't be switching from MT any time soon, but I think some of these features, particularly the auto-referral system and the "Next Articles" link, are great and need to be used more often... I'll be looking to implement something similar here if I can find the time to figure it out...

Update: Check out Kaedrin's JoeUser page to see an example of a specific user's page...

Update 12.1.03: Brad Wardell/Draginol comments (he owns Stardock, the company that created JoeUser) And it looks like that post made it to the front page too!
Posted by Mark on November 30, 2003 at 09:04 PM .: link :.



Thursday, November 27, 2003

A Thanksgiving Cuisine Proposal
Last night I dined on fresh Sushi and washed it down with a generous portion of Hennepin (a fine beer, that). I was thinking of today's inevitable gorging and I had a brilliant idea.

Turkey Sushi.

If I had any photoshopping skillz, I'd have a really funny picture of a piece of sushi with a cartoon turkey head sticking out of it.

Anyway, the only thing I can't figure out is the seaweed. I'm not sure how that would go with this. Then again, throw in a sliver of gelatinous cranberry sauce with the cold turkey and you have an even better turkey roll. This is a huge market we're missing out on here! I'll be a millionaire in no time. Happy Thanksgiving all!
Posted by Mark on November 27, 2003 at 10:38 AM .: link :.



Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Recent and Future Consumption
For reasons which are unclear to me, my recent movie viewing has been somewhat limited. I shall have to remedy that. I've seen the big blockbusters, but I have no offbeat recommendations (as I usually do) at this time. As far as the biggies go, Matrix Revolutions wasn't that bad until the ending, which blew. It's not so much that it didn't make sense as that it was so poorly communicated. Up until then I was very entertained (unless I started thinking about it and nitpicking), which was pretty much all I expected. Brad Wardell apparently saw a different, much better, version of the film. Widge provides an alternate ending (pdf) (an overall treatment, actually), one of millions that frustrated fans have made up.

Master and Commander was beautifully shot and well done overall, but the entire middle section drags and could have benefitted from some judicious editing (so could both of the Matrix sequels, come to think of it). Elf was funny and suprisingly innocent. Could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on what type of person you are...

Recent listening has also been curtailed, thanks to a rogue car stereo that is taking longer than expected to fix. Stupid car. Anyway, the latest Guster album has grown on me significantly (though I still don't love it) since I last mentioned it, but the new A Perfect Circle album stinks and doesn't show any signs of growing on me. A pity, that. Let's hope Maynard doesn't let this bleed through (no pun intended, see below) to Tool...

New NIN album, to be titled bleedthrough, is coming "soon." I'll let you know how it is when it comes out in 2006. As usual, Meathead weighs in on this news with his unique brand of NIN-oriented wit and insight.
The public's reaction to BLEEDTHROUGH's title has been mixed. While some fans love it because it sounds "goth" and "angsty," others hate it because they feel it sounds "goth" and "angsty."
A few song titles have been released, and his thoughts on their effectiveness, especially that of "My Dead Friend," are hilarious. I don't give a crap about album or song titles (and I don't generally listen to the lyrics either) so I'll have to wait until "soon" becomes "now" before I can pass any judgement...

The Kill Bill: Volume 1 soundtrack is twisted and groovy (kinda like the movie). From the kickass trailer music of Tomoyasu Hotei's "Battle Without Honor or Humanity" to Isaac Hayes' "Run Fay Run" to Santa Esmeralda's crazed cover of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," it's an interesting album to say the least...

A friend recently blessed me with two supposed classics of electronica, U.N.K.L.E.'s Psyence Fiction and Coldcut's Journeys by DJ. Psyence Fiction has some great moments and several good songs, but wasn't particularly brilliant. Journeys by DJ was ho-hum, but scored extra points for using the Doctor Who theme in a few tracks.

Speaking of which, it looks like the BBC will be bringing back Doctor Who, though the good doctor has yet to be cast. In the mean time, check out these animated episodes (which I had no idea even existed). [via Crooked Timber]

I've noticed that my recent television viewing has been mostly limited to cartoons. The Simpsons, South Park, Family Guy, and other Adult Swim type stuff. My friends force me to watch 24 and I'll catch an occasional hockey game though, so it's not all cartoons...

I recently purchased the NHL 2004 video game, and it has since eaten my soul. Sports games always cracked me up because they release a new one every year that is usually only marginally different than the previous year's game (often the most significant change is to reflect current rosters). But the trend recently is to include some sort of General Management meta-game where you get to play General Manager and deal with contracts, trades, ticket-prices, etc... NHL 2004 is the first hockey game that I've played that has this feature, and it does put a whole new spin on what is otherwise not much different than NHL 1998. Then again, I'm not sure anything beats the halcyon days of the early 1990s NHL games... the player control in 2004 is a little disorienting compared to previous games, but we have still come a long way...

As for reading, I'm still chugging away at Quicksilver, which bogged down for a bit and is now picking up again. I'm not really sure what it's about yet, and from what others have said, I'm not sure it is about anything. Yet. Still two more books coming where he'll no doubt expand on that. For now it seems like nothing more than a ribald series of intellectual or picaresque adventures that are related but not oriented in any one direction. Yet.

Update 11.27.03 - DyRE informs me that I must have transposed a couple of numbers and that we should expect the new NIN album sometime around 2060, not 2006. My mistake.
Posted by Mark on November 26, 2003 at 10:33 PM .: link :.



Sunday, November 23, 2003

Venice Yellow Sunset

Venice Yellow Sunset
Anatole Krasnyansky

I mentioned this a while ago, and I thought I'd post it. I ain't no master of the camera or anything, so it's a little skewed and the color is off a bit, but you get the idea. It's hanging on my wall. Right next to all my movie posters. Very classy.
Posted by Mark on November 23, 2003 at 08:33 PM .: link :.



Thursday, November 20, 2003

The New Paradigm of Intelligence Agility
Whether you believe 9/11 and subsequent events to include massive intelligence failures or not, it has become clear that our intelligence capabilities lack agility. As a nation, we have not moved beyond the Cold War paradigm of threat-based strategic thinking. This thinking was well suited to deterring and defeating specific threats, but has left us unprepared to effectively respond to emerging threats such as terrorism.

The problem with most calls for intelligence or military reform in the post-9/11 era is that they are all still stuck in that Cold War paradigm. In the future, we may be able to cope with the terrorist threat, but what about the next big threat to come along? The true solution, as Bruce Berkowitz suggests, is not to simply change the list of specific threats, but to be agile. We need to be able to respond to new and emerging threats quickly and effectively.

Fortunately, the ability to effectively respond to terrorism may not be possible without instituting at least a measure of agility in our intelligence community. When planning against the Soviets, we had the luxury of knowing that the "threat changed incrementally, came from a known geographic location, and was most likely to follow a well-understood attack plan." The nature of terrorists is less static than that of the Soviets, so if we are to succeed, we will need to orient ourselves towards a condition of agility. The Soviets required an intense focus of resources on a single threat, whereas terrorism requires our resources to be more dispersed. Agility will give us the ability to evaluate new and emerging threats, and to dynamically adjust resources based on where we need them.

So, in this context, what is agility? Berkowitz has the answer:
For an intelligence organization, agility can be defined as having four features. First, the organization needs to be able to move people and other resources quickly and efficiently as requirements change. Second, it needs to be able to draw on expertise and information sources from around the world. Third, it needs to be able to move information easily so that all of the people required to produce an intelligence product can work together effectively. And, fourth, it needs to be able to deliver products to consumers when needed and in the form they require to do their job.
And how do we achieve this goal? The answer isn't necessarily a dramatic restructuring of our intelligence community. Agility in this context depends on unglamorous, mundane things like standardized clearances and feedback loops between managers and analysts. We should be encouraging innovation in analysis and ways to penetrate targets. Perhaps most important is the need for a system to escalate activities when the stakes are high:
[We need] Procedures that tell everyone when the stakes are high and they should take more risks and act more aggressively-despite the potential costs. The Defense Department has these procedures... the "Defense Condition," or DEFCON, system. The CIA does not.
Out intelligence community correctly recognized the threat that terrorism posed long before 9/11, but lacked the organizational agility to shift resources to counter that threat. Currently, we are doing a better job of confronting terrorism, but we will need to be agile if we are to respond to the next big threat. As Bruce Shneier comments, taking away pocket knives and box cutters doesn't improve airline security:
People who think otherwise don't understand what allowed the terrorists to take over four planes two years ago. It wasn't a small knife. It wasn't a box cutter. The critical weapon that the terrorists had was surprise. With surprise they could have taken the planes over with their bare hands. Without surprise they couldn't have taken the planes over, even if they had guns.

And surprise has been confiscated on all flights since 9/11. It doesn't matter what weapons any potential new hijackers have; the passengers will no longer allow them to take over airplanes. I don't believe that airplane hijacking is a thing of the past, but when the next plane gets taken over it will be because a group of hijackers figured out a clever new weapon that we haven't thought of, and not because they snuck some small pointy objects through security.
I've been hard on the intelligence community (or rather, the way they interact with our politicians) lately, but theirs is truly a thankless job. By their nature, they don't get to publicize their successes, but we all see their failures. Unfortunately we cannot know how successful they've been in the past two years, but given the amount of terrorist attacks during that period, the outlook is promising. We may be more agile than we know...
Posted by Mark on November 20, 2003 at 12:37 AM .: link :.



Sunday, November 16, 2003

Leaks
A memo detailing the working relationship between al-Qaeda and Iraq and addressed to the Senate Intelligence Committee was recently leaked to the The Weekly Standard.
The memo, dated October 27, 2003, was sent from Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith to Senators Pat Roberts and Jay Rockefeller, the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. It was written in response to a request from the committee as part of its investigation into prewar intelligence claims made by the administration. Intelligence reporting included in the 16-page memo comes from a variety of domestic and foreign agencies, including the FBI, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency. Much of the evidence is detailed, conclusive, and corroborated by multiple sources. Some of it is new information obtained in custodial interviews with high-level al Qaeda terrorists and Iraqi officials, and some of it is more than a decade old. The picture that emerges is one of a history of collaboration between two of America's most determined and dangerous enemies.
Naturally, the memo's contents are interesting, but what concerns me is that this memo was leaked at all, and that it surfaced so quickly after it was sent (October 27, 2003). Doug Feith, the memo's author, appears to already be on thin ice... Oh, and it turns out that, though interesting, the memo's contents are also "inaccurate" (according to a DOD statement). This seems to be an excellent example of "stovepiping" in action: it contained raw intelligence with no analysis and no conclusions. Of course, since it was leaked to the media, the public will no doubt make their assumptions. Or so the leaker hopes. David Adesnik notes:
My guess is that someone in the government feels very strongly about this report, and is trying to get the White House to stand behind it by indirectly going public. But if the case can't be made on its own merits within the government, then something may be very wrong. We'll find out exactly what that is when the Washington press corps gets a hold of the story and starts telling us far more than the Weekly Standard's source wants us to know.
This leak is yet another example of the fragile state of U.S. Intelligence that I wrote about last week. It is a purely partisan political maneuver in a field that is supposed to be devoid of such pettiness. We need to be better than this. [Thanks to Citizen Smash for the pointers]

Update 11.20.03: Citizen Smash has more on this subject. For what it's worth, I was not attempting to comment on the validity of the report in the post above (though you could read it that way). My point is that this should not have been leaked at all, and, to a lesser extent, that such raw intelligence should include analysis (which confirmed my recent thoughts on the state of our intelligence community). As the DOD says: "Individuals who leak or purport to leak classified information are doing serious harm to national security; such activity is deplorable and may be illegal."

That said, Hayes' article brought a lot of new information to light which should prompt further investigation... but the only Congressional response so far has been to condemn the act of leaking. Everybody got that? Citizen Smash has done more intelligence oversight than Congress.
Posted by Mark on November 16, 2003 at 06:43 PM .: link :.



Wednesday, November 12, 2003

The Iraqi Art Scene
Steve Mumford's latest Baghdad Journal is up, and it is, as usual, excellent. In it, he actually focuses on the burgeoning Iraqi art scene (How dare he? I've become so accustomed to his other observations that I was somewhat surprised to see him talking about art. Then I remembered that he is an artist and that his articles are published in an internet art magazine. Duh.) Instead of showcasing Mumford's art, as previous installments have done, this article exhibits the works of various Iraqi artists that Mumford was impressed with (and for good reason, at least according to my unrefined eyes). The artistic community is growing in Iraq, in no small part due to the newfound access they have to information from around the world...
Of the younger generation, Ahmed Al-Safi is a particularly talented painter and sculptor who's managed to make a living selling his art. He paints simple, almost crudely rendered figures reminiscent of the German Neo-Expressionists of the 1980s (whose work he immediately investigated on the web when I told him about them). Ahmed has a wonderful studio in the slummy but picturesque part of town near Tarea Square, where he has bronze-casting facilities.
Emphasis mine. Change is coming to the Iraqi art scene, and while they are now soaking up that which is newly available to them, I find myself eager to see what the Iraqis contribute back to the world art scene...
One widely repeated observation here is that abstraction was a convenient technique for a time when all narrative content was suspect. Everyone expects art to change with the passing of Saddam's regime, though at this point, no one I talked to is making any predictions about future trends in Iraqi art. I've seen no video art and practically no photography in Baghdad. Installation art is unknown. Indeed, few artists in Iraq have even heard of Andy Warhol. Now that communication with the rest of the world is starting to open up, Iraqi artists will discover just how large an ocean they're swimming in.
I'm not an artist, but I know what I like and if the art that Mumford posted is any indication, I hope and believe we'll find that the Iraqis will be strong swimmers in the large ocean of art. More on this subject later...

Update: I just thought I'd pick one of my favorite paintings to display here...


Muayad Muhsin
oil on canvas
2002

Mumford describes Muayad Muhsin as "a younger surrealist painter from Hilla" and I like this painting a lot. I don't know art, but have some general knowledge of the visual medium from film, and while it may be foolish to apply film theory to art, I think it might provide some insight. The cool colors suggest an aloof tranquility, a calmness, but the oblique angle produces a sense of visual irresolution and unresolved anxiety. It suggests tension, transition, and impending change. The end result is a feeling of calm, but tense and unstable, transition. It seems appropriate...
Posted by Mark on November 12, 2003 at 12:42 AM .: link :.



Sunday, November 09, 2003

The State of U.S. Intelligence
Over the past few years, I've spent a fair amount of time reading up on the intelligence community and it's varied strengths or weaknesses. I've also spent a fair amount of time defending the Bush administration (or pointing out flaws in the arguments against the administration) in various forums, if only because no one else would. However, I've come to believe that our intelligence community is in poor shape... not really because of those we have working at these agencies, but because of the interaction between the intelligence community and the rest of the government.

The problem appears to be more systemic than deliberate as questionible practices such as "stovepiping" (the practice of taking a piece of intelligence or a request, bypassing the chain of command, and bringing it straight to the highest authority) became commonplace in the administration, even before 9/11. Basically, the Bush administration fixed the system so that they got raw intelligence without the proper analysis (intelligence is usually subjected to a thorough vetting). Given that they were also openly (and perhaps rightfully) distrustful of the intelligence community (and that the feeling was mutual), is it any wonder that they tried to bypass the system?

Don't get me wrong, what the administration has done is clearly wrong and the "stovepiping" situation should be corrected immediately. There appears to be some spiteful and petty actions being taken by both the White House and the Intelligence Community, and no one is benefiting from this. A very cynical feeling is running through one of the most important areas of our national security. This feeling is exemplified by the recent leaked memo written by a member of Senator Jay Rockefeller's (D-WVa) staff. The memo recommends that Democrats launch an investigation "into pre-war Iraq intelligence in such a way that it could bring maximum embarrassment to President Bush in his re-election campaign." It has been fairly suggested that this memo is only a desperate response to the Bush administration's maneuverings, but this does not excuse the downright destructive course of action that the memo advocates.

Bob Kerry, a former vice-chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, wrote an excellent oped on this subject:
The production of a memo by an employee of a Democratic member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is an example of the destructive side of partisan politics. That it probably emerged as a consequence of an increasingly partisan environment in Washington and may have been provoked by equally destructive Republican acts is neither a comfort nor a defensible rationalization.
I have no doubt that there are Republican memos of a similar nature floating about but the Senate Intelligence Committee, by virtue of its importance, is supposed to be beyond be beyond partisan politics and it has been in the past. It isn't now. This, too, is unacceptable and needs to be corrected. Indeed, the Senate Intelligence Committee hasn't held an open hearing for months, nor has it released any preliminary findings or provided any other insight. It's website hasn't been updated in months and contains spelling errors on every page ("Jurisdicton"!?).

The blame does not lie with any one governmental entity, but their stubborn refusal to play well together, especially with something as important as intelligence, is troubling to say the least. We are a nation at war, and if we are to succeed, we must trust in our government to effectively evaluate intelligence at all levels. The practice of "stovepiping" must end, and the White House will need to trust in the intelligence community to provide accurate, useful, and timely information. For their part, the intelligence community will have to provide this information and live up to certain expectations - and, for example, when the Vice President asks for something to be checked out, you might want to put someone competent on the case. Sending a former ambassador to Niger without any resources other than his own contacts, no matter how knowledgeable he may be, simply doesn't cut it. He didn't even file a formal report. I don't pretend to know how or why those involved acted the way they did, but I do know that the end result was representative of the troubling breakdown of communication between the CIA and the White House.

And the Senate Intelligence Committee could perhaps learn something from the House intelligence Committee, which, in a genuinely constructive act of bipartisan oversight of intelligence, "challenged the CIA's refusal to comply with their request for a copy of the recent report by David Kay on the search for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction."

Of course, it must also be said that public acknowledgements about intelligence failures before 9/11 or the Iraq war may also prove to be counterproductive as they could reveal valuable intelligence sources (which would be "silenced" by our enemies). Such information cannot be made public without jeopardizing the lives of our people, and it shouldn't. In the end, we must trust in our government and they must trust in themselves if we are to accomplish anything. If the past few years are any indication, however, we may be in a lot of trouble. [thanks to Secrecy News for Intelligence Committee info]
Posted by Mark on November 09, 2003 at 10:00 PM .: link :.



Thursday, November 06, 2003

Kaedrin Weblog Oversight Committee
A senior member of the Kaedrin Weblog Oversight Committee has pointed out that it has been about 6 months since I vowed to begin posting more frequently and with higher quality content.

I'm not usually one to pat myself on the back, but I think I've done well. My main strategy was to introduce a regular schedule (i.e. update every Sunday) and with one exception I have kept to that schedule (I only missed one update, and that was because I was out of the country without access to the internet.) Indeed, as I suspected, this regular schedule has not only forced me to consistently churn out worthwhile material, but it has also caused me to increase the frequency of posting. Time is sparse these days, but I have grown into posting 2 or 3 times a week. This pales in comparison to the more prolific bloggers, but it's not bad considering my time constraints. One other thing I sought to accomplish was to start creating more original high-quality content, as opposed to just linking to it. Again, as I suspected, this is a rather slow process. Most of what I post are still links or summaries, but I have made the occasional foray into original writing. Expect this slow progress to continue.

Anyway, I thought it might be nice to share some of my observations about the way I blog and some things I grapple with, since I often wonder what process other bloggers go through (feel free to share):
  • Writing: It often takes me a very long time to write a post, which is part of the reason I don't post every day. When reading other blogs, I get the impression that people are able to do this a lot quicker than I. Is this true? How does everyone decide what to write about? Where do you find your subjects or links?
  • Post Titles: Conceiving of a clever title for a post is one of my major pet peeves and often results in lame titles (i.e. this post's title), a resigned reliance on simple pragmatic post titles (i.e. Horror), and/or chain-smoking monkey gags (i.e. Mr. Teeny).
  • Post lifetimes: This is another old pet peeve, one that I figure annoys a lot of people. Every once in a while I'll have a series of posts which I think are very high quality and am really proud of. But then some time passes and they get pushed off the front page into the obscurity of the archives. Even more frustrating is that I don't even know if anyone saw it! (see below for more about visitors) Does anyone read the archives? Fortunately, since I have certain interests that keep coming up here, I get to link back to them myself, but I doubt many people go perusing the archives and one can hardly blame them. It's just the natural way of the blog.
  • Visitors: One of the more infuriating things about running a weblog is not knowing if or who is reading your posts. Referrer logs only tell you so much, and Sitemeter sometimes misses important information. One of my goals was (natch) to gain a modest set of new readers, and it is difficult to tell. I will occasionally get links from kind bloggers; I've even made it into a few blogrolls... but even with all of that it is difficult to tell who is reading. 95% of my refers still come from google/yahoo, and about 80% of those are for pages other than the blog. A lot of popular bloggers have given advice on how to get noticed and how to get people to link to you, but I'll be honest: Sending an email to a blogger begging to be linked makes me feel dirty and I feel like I'm really intruding. I guess that's why the call it "link whoring". I prefer to be noticed in referrer logs or comments sections. I've achieved modest success with that, and I'm truly grateful for the attention thrown my way by certain bloggers, so I'll continue along that vein. In any case, if you are a new regular reader, show yourself! Why not post a comment and let me know what you like or dislike about this here blog.
  • Feedback: Along the same lines as not knowing if people are visiting is not knowing what people like or dislike about the blog. Feel free to leave a comment below or send an email with comments, suggestions, corrections, flames, whatever tickles your fancy...
Well, there you have it. Here's to another six months...

Update 11.7.03 - Jeeze, this sounds a lot more whiney than I wanted it too. I'm not unhappy or anything...
Posted by Mark on November 06, 2003 at 11:19 PM .: link :.



Sunday, November 02, 2003

Horror
Halloween has past* but since horror is one of my favorite genres, I figured I'd list out some good examples of horror books & movies because it's always fun to scare yourself witless. When it comes to film, horror is one of the more difficult genres to execute effectively and, as such, the genuinely great horror films are few and far between. What's left are a series of downright creepy, but flawed, films. Because of their flaws, many horror films are often overlooked and underrated and these are the films I'd like to mention here. Books, on the other hand, tend to be overlooked and underrated as a medium. Horror books doubly so.

Film
I've never been a fan of the classic 1950's horror films like the Mummy, Dracula, or Frankenstein... They're not without their charm, but when it comes to the classics, I prefer their source materiel to the films. For classics, I would mention Halloween (1978, it started the lackluster "slasher" sub-genre, but it is an excellent film, particularly it's soundtrack), Jaws (1975, another excellent soundtrack here, but there was plenty else that made people afraid to go back into the water again...), Psycho (1960, the sudden shifts and feints coupled with, again, a distinctive and effective soundtrack, make for a brutally effective film), Alien (1979, "In space, no one can hear you scream." Director Ridley Scott really knew how to turn the screws with this one), The Exorcist (1973, The power of Christ compels you... to wet yourself in despair whilst watching this film) and The Shining (1980, Kubrick's interpretation of King's masterwork is significantly different, but it is also one of the few examples of an adaptation that works well in it's own right).

But those are all films we know and love. What about the one's we haven't seen? Director John Carpenter built an impressive string of neglected horror films throughout the 1980s and early 1990s (a pity that he has since lost his touch). Aside from the classic Halloween, Carpenter directed the 1982 remake of The Thing, which was brilliantly updated and downright creepy. It has its fill of scary moments, not the least of which is the cryptic and ambiguous ending. He followed that with Christine. Adapted from the novel by Stephen King, Carpenter was able to make a silly story creepy with the sheer will of his technical mastery (not his best, but impressive nonetheless). His 1987 film Prince of Darkness was flawed but undeniably effective. Many have not heard of In the Mouth of Madness, but it has become one of my favorite horror films of the 1990s.

If you're not scared away by subtitles or foreign films, check out Dario Argento's seminal 1977 gorefest Suspiria, which boasts opening and ending scenes amongst the best in the genre. Argento's rival, Lucio Fulci, also has an impressive series of gory horror classics, such as the 1980 film The Gates of Hell. Both Argento and Fulci have an impressive body of work and are worth checking out if you don't mind them being in Italian...

The 1970's and early 1980's were an excellent period in horror filmmaking. Excluding the films already mentioned (a significant portion of the classics are from the 1970s), you may want to check out the 1980 movie The Changeling, an excellent ghost story, or perhaps the disturbing 1981 film The Incubus. And how could I write about horror movies without mentioning my beloved 1979 cheesy creepfest Phantasm. Other 70s flicks to check out: The Hills Have Eyes (1977), Dawn of the Dead (1978), Salem's Lot (a 1979 TV miniseries based on Stephen King's book), The Omen (1976), Carrie (1976), Blue Sunshine (1976, almost forgotten today), The Wicker Man (1973), The Legend of Hell House (1973, a personal favorite, adapted from a novel by Richard Matheson, who we'll get to in a moment), and of course we can't forget that lovable flesh-wearing cannibal, Leatherface, in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974).

Ok, so I think I've inundated you with enough movies, hopefully many of which you've never heard of, for now so let's move on to books (naturally, I could go on and on and on just listing out good horror flicks, but this is at least a good start).

Literature
My knowledge of Horror literature is less extensive than horror film, but I have a fair base to work from. We all know the classics, Dracula, Frankenstein, and the works of Edgar Allen Poe, but there are many overlooked horror stories floating around as well.

M.R. James (1862-1936) is one of the originators of the modern Ghost Story, and there are several exemplary examples of this sub-genre in his oeuvre. His works are public domain, so follow the link above for online versions... I especially enjoyed the creepy Count Magnus.

Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House is a classic that is rightly praised as one of the finest horror novels ever written.

Richard Matheson's brilliant I Am Legend is a study of isolation and grim irony that turns the traditional vampire story on its head. This might be one of the most influential novels you've never heard of, as there have been many derivatives, particularly in film.

H.P. Lovecraft is another fantastic short story author whose work has been tremendously influential to modern horror. His infamous Cthulhu Mythos and Necronomicon were ingenious creations, and many have seized on them and attempted to follow in his footsteps. Indeed, many even believe his fictional Necronomicon to be real!

You might have noticed Stephen King's name mentioned a few times already, and there is a reason so many of his books are turned into movies. I've never been a huge King fan, but The Shining is among the best horror novels I've read. I've always preferred Dean Koontz (sadly he has absolutely no good film adaptations), who wrote such notable horror staples as Phantoms, Midnight, and The Servants of Twilight. Both Koontz and King can be hit-or-miss, but when they're on, there's no one better.

Other books of note: Clive Barker's The Hellbound Heart (which was adapted into the 1987 film Hellraiser) is an excellent short read (about 120 pages), and some of his longer works, such as The Great and Secret Show and Imajica, are also good. F. Paul Wilson's The Keep is one of the few books that has ever truly scared me while reading it. I've always found William Peter Blatty's novel, The Exorcist, to be more effective than the movie (and that is saying a lot!). Brian Lumly's Necroscope series is an interesting take on the vampire legend, and his Titus Crow series builds on Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos nicely.

Well, there you have it. That should keep you busy for the next few years...

* One would think that this post should have been made last week, and one would be right, but then one would also not be too familiar with how we do things here at Kaedrin. Note that the best movies of 2001 is due sometime around mid-2004. Heh. This whole being timely with content thing is something I have always had difficulty with and need to work on, but that is another topic for another post...
Posted by Mark on November 02, 2003 at 07:51 PM .: link :.



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