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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Last week, I looked at commonplace books and various implementation solutions. Ideally, I wanted something open and flexible that would also provide some degree of analysis in addition to the simple data aggregation most tools provide. I wanted something that would take into account a wide variety of sources in addition to my own writing (on this blog, for instance). Most tools provide a search capability of some kind, but I was hoping for something more advanced. Something that would make connections between data, or find similarities with something I'm currently writing.

At a first glance, Zemanta seemed like a promising candidate. It's a "content suggestion engine" specifically built for blogging and it comes pre-installed on a lot of blogging software (including Movable Type). I just had to activate it, which was pretty simple. Theoretically, it continually scans a post in progress (like this one) and provides content recommendations, ranging from simple text links defining key concepts (i.e. links to Wikipedia, IMDB, Amazon, etc...), to imagery (much of which seems to be integrated with Flickr and Wikipedia), to recommended blog posts from other folks' blogs. One of the things I thought was really neat was that I could input my own blogs, which would then give me more personalized recommendations.

Unfortunately, results so far have been mixed. There are some things I really like about Zemanta, but it's pretty clearly not the solution I'm looking for. Some assorted thoughts:

  • Zemanta will only work when using the WYSIWYG Rich Text editor, which turns out to be a huge pain in the arse.  I'm sure lots of people are probably fine with that, but I've been editing my blog posts in straight HTML for far too long. I suppose this is more of a hangup on my end than a problem with Zemanta, but it's definitely something I find annoying.  When I write a post in WYSIWYG format, I invariably switch it back to no formatting and jump through a bunch of hoops getting the post to look like what I want.
  • The recommended posts haven't been very useful so far. Some of the external choices are interesting, but so far, nothing has really helped me in writing my posts. I was really hoping that loading my blog into Zemanta would add a lot of value, but it turns out that Zemanta only really scanned my recent posts, and it sorta recommended most of them, which doesn't really help me that much.  I know what I've written recently, what I was hoping for was that Zemanta would be able to point out some post I wrote in 2005 along similar lines (In my previous post on Taxonomy Platforms, I specifically referenced the titles of some of my old blog posts, but since they were old, Zemanta didn't find them and recommend them.  Even more annoying, when writing this post, the Taxonomy Platforms post wasn't one of the recommended articles despite my specifically mentioning it. Update: It has it now, but it didn't seem to appear until after I'd already gone through the trouble of linking it...) It appears that Zemanta is basing all of this on my RSS feed, which makes sense, but I wish there was a way to upload my full archives, as that might make this tool a little more powerful...
  • The recommendations seem to be based on a relatively simplistic algorithm. A good search engine will index data and learn associations between individual words by tracking their frequency and how close they are to other words.  Zemanta doesn't seem to do that.  In my previous post, I referenced famous beer author Michael Jackson. What did Zemanta recommend?  Lots of pictures and articles about the musician, nothing about the beer journalist. I don't know if I'm expecting too much out of the system, but it would be nice if the software would pick up on the fact that this guy's name was showing up near lots of beer talk, with nary a reference to music. It's probably too much to hope that my specifically calling out that I was talking about "the beer critic, not the pop star" would influence the system (and indeed, my reference to "pop star" may have influenced the recommendations, despite the fact that I was trying to negate that).
  • The "In-Text Links", on the other hand, seem to come in quite handy. I actually leveraged several of them in my past few posts, and they were very easy to use. Indeed, I particularly appreciated their integration with Amazon, where I could enter my associates ID, and the links that were inserted were automatically generated with my ID. This is normally a pretty intensive process involving multiple steps that has been simplified down to the press of a button.  Very well done, and most of the suggestions there were very relevant.

I will probably continue to play with Zemanta, but I suspect it will be something that doesn't last much longer. It provides some value, but it's ultimately not as convenient as I'd like, and it's analysis and recommendation functions don't seem as useful as I'd like.

I've also been playing around with Evernote more and more, and I feel like that could be a useful tool, despite the fact that it doesn't really offer any sort of analysis (though it does have a simple search function). There's at least one third party, though, that seems to be positioning itself as an analysis tool that will integrate with Evernote.  That tool is called Topicmarks.  Unfortunately, I seem to be having some issues integrating my Evernote data with that service. At this rate, I don't know that I'll find a great tool for what I want, but it's an interesting subject, and I'm guessing it will be something that will become more and more important as time goes on. We're living in the Information Age, it seems only fair that our aggregation and analysis tools get more sophisticated.

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Posted by Mark on February 15, 2012 at 06:08 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

State of the Blog
Hard as it may be to believe, this blog is coming up on its 11th anniversary. In other words, I've been blogging for more than a third of my life, and all of my adult life. Of course, the blog has seen varying levels of activity over the years, but has remained remarkably consistent over the past few years, largely due to my Sunday/Wednesday schedule. Anywho, I thought I'd take a look at the past year of statistics and see what that shows me. Some generic stuff:
  • 36,815 Visits
  • 54,408 Pageviews
  • Approximately 75% of traffic comes from search engines (approx. 62% of total site traffic comes from Google)
  • The remaining 25% are split between referring sites (13%) and direct load (12%)
Now, I have set up my analytics software to ignore me, and this is mostly successful, though there are definitely times when the cookie gets cleared somehow, so I'm sure some of the above is me. But you're not seeing the full brunt of my obsessive site-checking.

So what are the most popular pages?
  • Weblog main page is obviously the biggest winner here, with 18% of pageviews
  • Time Travel in Donnie Darko seems to be the most popular single entry on the blog. Google seems to be the biggest referrer, though I do frequently see people coming from facebook.
  • Samoas vs Caramel DeLites is also quite popular. The interesting thing about this one is that it only really gets traffic in January, February, and March (i.e. when Girl Scout cookies are sold). Facebook and other referring sites seem to make up a bigger percentage of the referrers for this one...
  • Sins of a Solar Empire: Lessons Learned, Sorta is a funny one to be popular, as I suck at that game. It's what's known in the biz as a "PC ass PC Game", meaning that it's ridiculously complicated, with a huge learning curve and a crappy tutorial. Apparently this post has a great google ranking for people looking for a guide to the game (of which the post really isn't).
  • Cowboy Bebop: The Ending is also a popular post, presumably because I'm so brilliant.
  • A Reflexive Media gets a bunch of traffic as well, usually from folks looking to understand Reflexive Documentaries.
  • Bear Pajamas gets a ridiculous amount of traffic given the trivial nature of the post (about how a character in an Anime wears Bear Pajamas)
  • Neal Stephenson Category Archive gets a nice amount of traffic, which isn't all that surprising.
  • Interrupts and Context Switching gets some love too, which is reassuring, as it's one of my favorite posts.
Mind you, those are only blog posts I'm referencing. Older stuff from the pre-blog days still gets a lot of traffic too, most notably my in-depth review of Hitchcock's Rear Window and my Guide to Isaac Asimov (which I wrote when I was a teenager and should probably revise at some point, as it's pretty embarrassingly bad).

I've definitely settled into a bit of a groove on the blog, and I can tell you that I spend less time writing posts these days. I have mentioned a few times that I need to shake things up a bit, but I have had limited success with that. I've generally noticed that my posting goes in waves. Sometimes I'll be inspired and have no problem writing new, interesting stuff. Other times, not so much (which is when you get simple posts like a link dump or something). Yeah, this isn't exactly an earth shattering observation, but still. In reality, I tend to be pretty hard on myself when I'm in the midst of writing - I'm usually not super happy with a post when I publish, but if I revisit later, I'm often surprised by what I wrote. I usually like it a lot more after the fact. Go figure. In any case, the blog must go on, even if it does get stuck in a rut every now and again (hopefully, it's at least an entertaining rut!)
Posted by Mark on June 29, 2011 at 07:32 PM .: Comments (3) | link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Decade of Kaedrin Weblog
Believe it or not, it's been ten years since I started blogging here. Sure, I started the website even before then and the blog has changed a lot since those initial entries, but it's still an important milestone. Going back to read those first posts is a bit painful, what with the embarrassing attempts at humor and reliance on some of the lame weblog tropes of the day, but I'm ultimately pretty happy with my blog.

In the beginning, I had focused on smaller entries and reached a peak posting rate of just a little less than one a day. However, this was unsustainable, especially if I didn't just want to keep repeating stuff that other people were posting. From there, things floundered a bit for about a year or two until I set a weekly schedule for myself, committing to at least one entry a week (on Sunday). The thought was that having a regular posting interval would make it easier on readers, who would know when to expect new content. The schedule was later amended to include at least two entries a week, and I've kept to that schedule pretty well over the past several years.

I'd also like to think that the quality of my writing has improved, though I have to say that I feel like I've been a bit of a funk lately. I've been relying on formulaic and not terribly inspired posts like link dumps and doing less writing of consequence. More and more it seems like I don't really have a good idea what I'm going to write about when I sit down on Wednesday or Sunday, and all too often, I end up firing out an entry in about an hour or so (this post will probably fall into that category, though I knew I wanted to write it). These entries often come out better than I thought at the time, but they're still not my best work. I've been blogging long enough to recognize that this sort of thing happens from time to time though, and I often feel better after a few months, so I'm not looking to make any drastic changes. I considered taking some time off to see if my brain would recharge or reconfigure itself or something, but I think whatever success I've had with this blog has been due to my schedule. Plus, I do have some longer and more involved pieces in the works, so hopefully I'll be able to polish some of those off soon...

One of the interesting things about running a blog for so long is that I've developed some strange habits. For instance, I often find myself thinking about whether or not something I'm doing or watching or reading is blog-worthy. A lot of people blog because they have something to say or because it's timely and relevant, and I suppose I do that too, but I also blog to learn about things that interest me. Most current events don't really fall into that category until after the fact (if at all). But I am, of course, interested in lots of things and even writing a quick post on a complex subject can lead to deeper understanding. Writing a a longer form essay often takes me to all sorts of interesting places that I never even intended to visit when I started writing, and those end up being my favorite posts. Usually such posts burrow into my mind and grow follow-up posts (which is perhaps another thing that only a blogger could appreciate).

In the ten years I've been running the blog, I've never really had that large of an audience. I've had a small and loyal following, and for those readers I am very grateful, but this blog was never entirely about that. Of course, the blog is public, and so I do very much appreciate whatever limited attention I get, but it's always been more about what interests me at any given time, and often that doesn't lend itself to the sort of thing that make blogs popular (i.e. timely events and controversial stances in short, easy to read chunks, etc...). This isn't a complaint, as I don't think I'd enjoy having a tremendously popular blog; that entails all sorts of other frustrations that I'd rather not deal with.

In any case, since I've already done a detailed look at the history of the site, I figure there's not much to say at this point. I realized that I hadn't updated the Best Entries category in a few years, so I added a bunch of posts I thought worthy (if you have any favorites of your own, let me know) and hopefully I'll be writing many more posts that belong there in the future. Just for the heck of it, here are some of my favorite posts from the past year or so: And I think that about wraps it up for now.
Posted by Mark on July 18, 2010 at 08:05 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, June 07, 2009

A Decade of Kaedrin
It's hard to believe, but it has been ten years since I started this website. The exact date is a bit hard to pinpoint, as the site was launched on my student account at Villanova, which existed and was accessible on the web as far back as 1997. However, as near as I can tell, the site now known as Kaedrin began in earnest on May 31, 1999 at approximately 8 pm. That's when I wrote and published the first entry in The Rebel Fire Alarms, an interactive story written in tandem with my regular visitors. I called these efforts Tandem Stories, and it was my primary reason for creating the website. Other content was being published as well - mostly book, movie, and music reviews - but the primary focus was the tandem stories, because I wanted to do something different on an internet that was filled with boring, uninspired, static content homepages that were almost never updated. At the time, the only form of interaction you were likely to see on a given website was a forum of some kind, so I thought the tandem stories were something of a differentiator for my site, and it was, though I never really knew how many different people visited the site. As time went on, interactivity on the web, even of the interactive story variety, became more common, so that feature became less and less unique...

I did, however, have a regular core of visitors, most of whom knew me from the now defunct 4degreez message boards (which has since morphed into 4th Kingdom, which is still a vibrant community site). To my everlasting surprise and gratitude, several of these folks are still regular visitors and while most of what I do here is for my own benefit, I have to admit that I never would have gotten this far without them. So a big thank you to those who are still with me!

But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Below is a rough timeline of my website, starting with my irrelevant student account homepage (which was basically a default page with some personal details filled in), moving on to the first incarnation of Kaedrin, and progressing through several redesigns and technologies until you got the site you're looking at now (be forewarned, this gets to be pretty long, though it's worth noting that the site looked pretty much like it does today way back in 2001, so the bulk of redesigning happened in the 1999-2001 timeframe)...
  • 1997-1999: As I started to take computer programming courses in college, I gained access to a student account on the university website. By default, all student accounts came with a bare-bones homepage which we were encouraged to personalize. I never really did much with it, though I thought it was funny to see some of the courses I was taking back in the day: MAT 1050 - Who cares about math, and HIS 3140 - The History of the spork. Also of note, the fact that we referred to it as "electronic mail address" and that google was not on my radar yet... Sometime during this timeframe I started considering a more comprehensive "homepage" and made a few stabs that never really got beyond the photoshop stage (thankfully for you!). Among these ill-fated designes included the uber-nerdy logic gate design shown below (click for larger, more complete version):

    Old, bad, nerdy design

    I'm not really embarrassed so much at the logic gate aspect of the design (which I thought was mildly clever at the time) as the font choice. Gah. Anyway, it was during this timeframe that the first designs for a site called Kaedrin started. The first drafts of the now iconic (well, to me) Kaedrin logo were created during this timeframe. They were not used, but every logo since then has used the same Viner Hand ITC font, though these days the logo isn't quite as prominent as it once was (as you'll see below).
  • May 1999 - Kaedrin v1.0: Again, I've had difficulty pinpointing the exact date when I launched Kaedrin in earnest, but judging from the timestamp of the first entry in The Rebel Fire Alarms, I gather that the site had been fully launched in May of 1999 (just as I was finishing up the semester and had some free time on my hands). Thanks to my participation on 4degreez.com (which may have been known as the T.A.S. Boards at the time, I don't remember exactly), I immediately had a built-in audience of like 5 people, which was pretty cool at the time. That summer was filled with updates and content (this was before blogs, so updates came in the form of reviews for books, movies, and music amongst other stuff that was popular on the web at the time, like sound clips and funny pictures, etc...). The layout initially featured mostly red text on a black background, but I found that to be a bit hard on the eyes, so in August I tried to soften the colors a bit (though even the new color scheme was pretty tough on the eyes). I can't seem to find an example of the full red on black, but here's the tweaked version (Click the image to see the full HTML page).

    Kaedrin: Version 1.0

    For the full effect, you have to click through to the HTML page and mouse over the left-navigation. Back in the day, CSS support was minimal, so to do those rollovers I had to write a custom javascript. I don't think any of the links off the page will work, but it's worth viewing just for the fun of it. Also worth noting: the copyright logo animated gif thingy and the fact that I had a guestbook (which was all the rage back in the day). Finally, if you have a high resolution monitor today, it's difficult to notice, but at 800x600 the Kaedrin logo is enormous!
  • May 2000 - Kaedrin v2.0: After graduating college and initiating a job search, I decided that the old homepage design wasn't very professional looking. During the course of my Senior year, I had spent time learning and thinking about usability and accessibility, and my site at the time was not especially great in those respects (i.e. I figured out for certain that dark red and blue text on a black background was a bad thing). Also, being stuck with a modum connection (after the school's snappy T3 lines) made me more acutely aware of page loading speeds (and the old page was rather image heavy). So I came up with a much cleaner and simpler design (Click the image to see the full HTML page).

    Kaedrin: Version 2.0

    This was certainly an improvement and when I eventually did find a job, my boss mentioned that she liked my site, so mission accomplished, I guess. Unfortunately, a "much cleaner and simpler design" also meant a more boring design, so it wasn't long before I started fiddling around with the layout again. This was a little vexing because I was maintaining all of the pages on the site by hand, and converting to the new layout was a monumental pain in the ass. As such, many of the design tweaks made during this (rather short) era were inconsistent throughout the site.
  • July 2000 - Kaedrin Weblog launched: The summer of 2000 is also when I discovered weblogs (the yellow-heavy designs of dack and kottke were my first exposure to the world of weblogs) and the relatively new Blogger. I remember being amazed at the fully featured blogging software that these crazy Pyra people were giving away for free! It's easy enough to pinpoint my first blog entry, but to be perfectly honest, I'm not sure what the design of the blog was like. It was probably something along the lines of the v2 design, but I'm also virtually positive that the v3.0 design was pioneered on the blog, due to the fact that Blogger was something of a light CMS in that I could tweak the design for all blog pages rather easily. I do vaguely remember having a lot of issues with my free web-hosing company (at the time, I believe it was someone called "redrival"), and in particular their ftp sucked. I think there was a time when I would write an entry on Blogger, publish it to one free host, then transfer the code over to the new host. This is perhaps part of why the initial months of the blog were somewhat sparse in terms of entries, but things got going pretty well in September 2000 and I posted a record-high 29 posts in December 2000.
  • November 2000 - Kaedrin v3.0: Due to the blandness of the the v2.0 site and the fact that Blogger provided easily updatable templates, I came up with a different design. It was still clean and simple and ultimately it didn't last too long because it was still pretty boring. In fact, I'm pretty sure I never got around to updating the entire site. Just the homepage and the blog got this new design. (Click the image to see the full HTML page).

    Kaedrin: Version 3.0

    Ultimately not that much different than v2.0 (I suppose you could consider it more of a v2.5 than a new version, but then it's probably different enough). It's still got the big honkin Kaedrin logo, but for some reason I liked this better.. and there's also the first appearance of the "You are here" bar at the top of the page. While I liked this design better than v2.0, I wasn't very happy with it and almost immediately started working on something new. I was also getting pretty well fed up with hand coding all these pages for what amounted to minor layout tweaks. One thing that helped in that respect was Blogger, which worked like a CMS-lite, allowing quick and easy layout changes with the click of a mouse. Here is the first design for the blog that I could find. (Click the image to see the full HTML page).

    Kaedrin Weblog

    Interestingly, it seems that I decided to forgo the Kaedrin logo in favor of a little HTM text thingy. Also, I had completely forgotten about the blog's original subtitle, which could use some explaining. Back in the 1990s it was popular to use "handles" instead of your real name. When I first started posting to message boards and the like, I absent-mindedly chose the moniker "tallman" because I was a big fan of a certain cheesy 1970s horror movie that featured a character who went by that name. Since a lot of popular blogs at the time had playful titles like Boing Boing and the like, I went with "The Royal Kingdom of Tallmania". I have no idea what possessed me to do that, and it wasn't long before the subtitle was dropped in favor of just "Kaedrin Weblog".
  • January 2001 - Kaedrin.com and v4.0: After dealing with the hassle of free hosting companies, I finally realized that I had a steady income and could probably afford a professional hosting service and a real domain, so I bought kaedrin.com and started work on a new design. Fed up with manually coding redesigns, I devised a kludgey XSLT solution that allowed me to completely separate content from design. So I put all my content into XML files and coded the new design into some XSL stylesheets. This design may look somewhat familiar (Click the image to see the full HTML page):

    Kaedrin Version 4.0

    Being obsessed with download speeds and page rendering, I devised an interesting layout for the blog. Instead of using the typical single-table design, I put the blog navigation at the top (instead of to the left or right) and I put each entry in it's own table. The idea was that browsers render content as it's downloaded, and if you have a large table with a lot of content, it could take a while to load. So having a series of smaller tables on the page, while increasing the size, also make the page seem to load quicker. All in all, I rather liked the look of this layout, though I don't think it's something I'll be returning to at any point (Click the image to see the full HTML page):

    Kaedrin Weblog

    While I like what I was able to do with that navigation at the top, I think there were ultimately more things that needed to go into the navigation and that space just couldn't fit it. I broke down and put it all in a big table in later designs (see below).
  • July 2002 - Movable Type: After a couple of years, I had finally gotten fed up with Blogger's centralized system. Blogger was growing faster than they could keep up with, and so the service was experiencing frequent downtime and even when you could access it, it was often mind-numbingly slow. Around this time, a few other solutions were becoming available, one of which was Movable Type (I started with version 2.x - also, it's worth mentioning that Wordpress was not available yet). This solution increased functionality (most notably bringing comments into the fold) and provided a much stabler system for blogging. The design changed to take advantage of some of this stuff and to make my blog more consistent with certain blogging standards. This one should look really familiar (Click the image to see the full HTML page):

    Kaedrin Weblog - Powered by Movable Type

    That's basically the same design as today, except for the date and some of the junk in the right navigation.
  • And from there it was a series of tiny, incremental improvements, upgrades, and design tweaks. It's funny, I didn't realize until now just how little the site has changed since 2002. Also funny: the fact that I had finally devised a way to make redesigns a lot easier (i.e. my xslt solution) and basically stopped redesigning. Then again, it came in really handy when I wanted to do some little things. For instance, the original v4.0 design didn't have the same borders around the main content area that I use today (it did have a small border at the top of the area, but it was barely noticeable and it was coded using spacers - yuck). I suppose the grand majority of the work that I've done has been behind the scenes: upgrading software, switching databases, fighting spam, and did I mention upgrades? In 2004, the main homepage was updated to account for the fact that the grand majority of the updates on the site were coming from the blog, and the design has remained largely unchanged since then. Around the same time, I tried to make sure the blog and homepage were valid HTML 4.01 (this is perhaps not the case for every page on the blog, as I'm sure I missed an & somehwere and of course, embedding video never validates, but otherwise, it should be pretty good).
  • Of course, the big visible thing that I was doing all throughout was blogging. When I started out, technology made it somewhat difficult to update the blog. Eventually I got Blogger working with my host at the time and enjoyed 3 months or so of somewhat prolific blogging. Of course, at the time, I was posting mostly just links and minor commentary, and this eventually trailed off because others were much better at that than I was. December 2000 is still my most prolific month when it comes to the number of posts (29 posts that month), but again, those were mostly just links and assorted short comments. From there, things trailed off for a couple of years until May 2003, when I established my weekly posting schedule. This made the blog a bit more consistent, and gradually, I started to find more and more visitors. Not a lot, mind you. Even today, it's doubtful that I have more than a few dozen semi-regular visitors (if that many). Actually, if you're reading this, you probably know most of the recent history of the blog, which basically amounts to at least 2 posts a week.
Whew, I didn't realize that trip down memory lane would take quite so long, but it was interesting to revisit just how tumultuous the design was in the early years and how it has calmed down considerably since then... Hopefully things will continue to improve around here though, so what kinds of things can you expect in the near future? I have a few ideas:
  • CSS Layout: The site currently uses a table based layout, primarily because it was designed and coded in 2001 and browser support of CSS was pretty bad back then, so CSS layouts weren't really an option. In 2007 (has it really been that long), I put together a mockup of the site using CSS layout, but never got around to actually implementing it. There were a few things about the layout that were bugging me and I never found the time to fix them. Someday, I'll dust off my mockups, finalize them, and launch them to the world. Having a CSS layout would also allow me to optimize for other media like cell phone browsers, print (my goal is to make it easier to read Kaedrin on the can), the Wii browser, etc... None of those things is a particularly burning need, which is probably why I've put this off so long...
  • Weblog Post Designs: I've never really been too happy with the way each post is laid out. For one thing, I feel like I've always given too much prominence to the date - which is something I could probably just remove. Also, the post title should perhaps be a bit larger (and be linked to the permalink).
  • Homepage: The homepage has largely become irrelevant and should probably just redirect to the weblog, as that's where 99% of the content is these days. Again, this doesn't seem to be a burning need, so I haven't spent much time looking into that, but it would be pretty easy to accomplish.
  • Comments: The comments functionality is a bit of a mess and could use some work.
  • Post Content: I feel like I've been in a bit of a rut lately, mostly relying on various crutches like movie reviews, etc... and not writing as much about things that really interest me. Not that movies or video games don't interest me, but I used to write more posts about technology and culture, which is something I'd like to get back into. The issue is that those posts are a lot harder to write, which I think is part of why I've been avoiding them...
So there you have it. Ten years of Kaedrin. Hopefully, it will last another ten years, though perhaps it will be in a completely different format by then... If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions, feel free to leave a comment...
Posted by Mark on June 07, 2009 at 09:38 AM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Goodbye, Trackbacks
So while I am able to write a post now, the problem of the mysterious core dumps is still apparently not solved. I logged into my account last night to find that I had a nice 2 gb of core dumps in my movable type directory. These files must have accumulated during the past few weeks, and it's obvious that my original posting problem wasn't the only malfunction that was creating core dumps. In any case, I checked the system again tonight and found about 600 mb of files in my account. Great. At least that narrows it down a little, as I haven't logged in to MT since last night. So if it's not something I'm doing in MT, it's got to be something that is accessible to everyone, like comments or trackbacks. After some halfassed troubleshooting, I was able to cause a core dump by sending a legitimate trackback to my site. Somehow I doubt that's the only thing causing a problem, but clearly, it needs to go.

Trackbacks were a nice idea, but in reality, they've gone down as something of a debacle. The general concept is to provide a way for one blogger to notify another blogger when they've linked to their blog. So I write a post that links to another blog, and I can "ping" that blog to let the author of that blog know that I've linked to them. In addition, a link back to my post appears on their post. Sounds nice, right? And it is... when it works. The problem is that the system is completely open, so the spammers had a field day. And the trackback management functionality (including anti-spam measures) has always lagged behind comment functionality, so there always seemed to be problems. In other words, trackbacks basically became useless, and a maintenance nightmare. Also, the implementations of the trackback protocol on different blogging engines tended to be a bit strange (Wordpress blogs can never seem to ping my blog successfully.)

The general concept still exists in other forms. Aggregators like Technorati are partially driven by Pings. They deal with spam too (among other issues), but again, the concept remains valid. Six Apart and others are attempting to rework the concept, at which point it might prove useful again.

Alas, it will not exist on this blog anymore. Of course it's not a big loss. During the 8 year tenure of this blog, I've received exactly 11 legitimate trackbacks. I have no idea how many spam trackbacks I've received, but it's somewhere around way too fucking many.

All of which is to say that I'm mucking around with my blog's templates, so things might appear wonky for a bit. If you're having problems, feel free to email me (or post a comment, as that seems to work fine).

Update: Author comments. It's funny, I really should have removed trackbacks a long time ago. I guess I'm just lazy. Let's just call it blog template inertia. Oh, and there was also at least 2 occasions where I thought to myself, I should remove trackbacks! They're useless!, at which point I would receive a few trackbacks in the next couple days. But the last one was well over a year, and the core dumps provided a convenient excuse. Incidentally, only 160 mb of core dumps in the past day since I removed trackbacks. Hurm.
Posted by Mark on September 11, 2008 at 09:10 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Via Steven's post on site tracking, I found out that Sitemeter was tracking rather more than it really should (use of spyware cookies and all that). This is a shame, as I really loved some things about Sitemeter, and none of the alternatives were able to approach the simple and useful reporting Sitemeter provided. I was particularly fond of their Visitor Detail page (note, that's a link to a screenshot, not Sitemeter), which contains a good summary of a visitor, where they came from, where they went on my site, and other standard info (OS, browser, location, etc...). They only tracked the last 100 visitors, but that was plenty good enough for me, and the service served me well for the past 9 years or so.

Still, they had frequent downtimes, and they've done very little to improve the service over the past 9 years, so I've always kept an eye open for alternatives. None of the popular services have ever really satisfied me though. Now comes this news of spyware, which is just a crappy situation, and so I've decided to remove all instances of Sitemeter from my site. This is most frustrating and I'm not happy with the situation. I've removed it from all blog pages as well as my main page. The rest of the site will have to wait a bit while I breath some life into my crappy, antiquated XSLT content management scheme (hopefully this will be completed by this weekend).

I've been playing around with Google Analytics for a bit, but they don't provide the kind of detail that I want for individual visits (though they're great for collecting general stats). I just installed StatCounter, which kinda, sorta has a page similar to the visit detail page from Sitemeter. But we'll have to see how that works out. I've heard good things about Mint, and I've heard that they have a plugin/extension/whatever-they-call-it that approximates Sitemeter's visit detail page. However, Mint actually costs money (imagine that!) and I don't want to pay for something that I'm not even sure will work for me.

Anyone know of another good stat package? Anyone actually use Mint? Again, what I'm really looking for is something that will provide details like this screenshot (perhaps with more details on what pages were actually visited (rather than just entry and exit pages)). [thanks to Robert for the link to details on the spyware cookies]

Update: StatCounter's visit detail page is pretty good, though you have to click through too many pages to get there.
Posted by Mark on May 07, 2008 at 11:38 PM .: link :.

According to Technorati, there are 112.8 million weblogs (as we'll see, this is probably a highly dubious number). I'm going to take a wild guess and say that the grand majority of them aren't very active. Even among active ones, I'm betting that most don't have much of a readership. Like this blog! Part of this is that blogs fall into a power law distribution, with a small set of bloggers getting the majority of the traffic. The rest of us are in the long tail, and it can be hard to find each other.

Enter Technorati, a service that seeks to track weblogs in numerous ways. You can go there and search on a subject to see what other blogs are saying about that subject. And if you're a blogger, you can see what other blogs are linking to you. They give each blog an "Authority" score which is based on how many people have linked to you (I think there's more to it than that, but I don't care enough to look into it that much), and then they rank all blogs by authority. To give you an idea of how this works, Kaedrin has an authority of 20. The top 10 blogs on Technorati have an authority of somewhere around 10,000 to 25,000.

Here's the problem: Technorati sucks. It definitely doesn't track all the blogs out there (not that big a deal, such a task is probably pretty tough), but it's definitely sure to pick up every new bottom-feeding spammer blog. In other words, every time I write a new post, it gets linked by two freshly minted spam blogs. Those show up fine. Meanwhile, a real blogger (who is listed on Technorati) links me, and Technorati doesn't pick that up (I find out by looking at my referrers). And the same thing happens when I link to other people. For some reason, Technorati decides some of my posts are not worthy of tracking. For instance, my last post isn't showing up in Technorati.

This happens every once in a while, and I think I've figured out why. It seems to happen when I post out of order. I generally post twice a week, but sometimes I start an entry early. Last week, I started writing my review of GitS:SAC on Tuesday. I hadn't finished by Wednesday, so I wrote and posted another entry while I finished off my review. On Sunday, I finished my review and posted it, but Technorati didn't pick it up (despite repeated pings and other attempts to allow the post to show up). Now, none of this shouldn't matter, but apparently Technorati thinks it does, because this exact situation has happened several times. Maybe it's because Movable Type numbers my posts, and if I post entries out of order, perhaps it confuses Technorati. For example, last week, I posted entry 1421 after I posted entry 1422. If this is why Technorati can't figure out that I posted something on Sunday, it's pretty damn stupid. It can't be that hard to fix this. Technorati claims that they track posts by scraping the page and also by using RSS feeds, but if that's the case, they must be doing something really dumb to get tripped up by postings showing up out of order.

So basically, Technorati doesn't track all the good weblogs, but it keeps up with all the spammers' weblogs. For some reason, it doesn't register a post that was written out of order either. So what's the point? I guess it works ok for bloggers who get lots of links. If you get a lot of links, the signal drowns out the noise of the spammers, and you don't miss the posts that Technorati doesn't pick up because you've got plenty of other links to go through. But for those of us on the long tail, it's nearly useless. It doesn't hurt anything, I suppose, so I'll continue to check every once in a while, but I'm not getting my hopes up. I don't think I've discovered any new blogs through Technorati that I hadn't discovered first from my referrers.
Posted by Mark on May 07, 2008 at 09:16 PM .: link :.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Goblin Bloggin'
Since time is even shorter than usual, the Green Goblin is filling in with a video blog. Enjoy.

The project I'm working is almost over. It launches next week and I'm sure I'll be busy for a little while after that, but then we'll be back to blogging as normal.
Posted by Mark on September 19, 2007 at 11:10 PM .: link :.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Blogging Cliches
About a month ago, the Kaedrin Weblog reached the 7 year point. It's hard to believe that I've been blogging for so long, even though I perhaps don't write as many posts as your typical blogger. Every now and again, I like to take a step back and look at what I'm doing and where I'm going, and now seems like a good time for that. The last time I did this was back in January, and that's when i modified my posting schedule to post at least twice a week. So far, this has worked out reasonably well, though I will admit that my Wednesday entries tend to be somewhat lacking. This is due, in part, to an unexpected work schedule (which, come to think of it, should have been expected.) Honestly, I don't know how some bloggers do it.

In any case, via Steven, I came across Jeff Atwood's post about Thirteen Blog Clichés. Let's see how I'm doing:
  1. The Useless Calendar Widget: I've never had one, and to be honest, I never got why they existed in the first place. Indeed, the longer I blog, the more I realize that the standard date-based navigation of blogs leaves a lot to be desired (just look at the unwieldy list of monthly archives on my side nav). Maintaining a list of good categories (or using tagging) is a much better way of navigating through a blog. It's pretty rare that I ever even load a monthly archive page, and I never do so when I'm looking for a specific post (categories and search are much better for that). I must admit that my categorization scheme needs a lot of work, but it's still a much better way to navigate than dates.
  2. Random Images Arbitrarily Inserted In Text: Well, I don't do this, and to be honest, it's not something I've noticed very often, though I perhaps assume such images are simply advertisements and ignore them...
  3. No Information on the Author: While I do have an about page and an about me page, they're both outdated and could use some updating. Also, my name is on every post, so I think I'm covered.
  4. Excess Flair: I don't have much flair, though there are perhaps a couple of things. For instance, the image on the right navigation, which links back to some of my better old posts, would probably be considered flair, but I think it's a fair trade, as those posts would otherwise just sit, unread, in the archives. Not that I know whether or not people are clicking on it (and, uh, I haven't updated it in a long time), but still.
  5. The Giant Blogroll: I've kept my blogroll relatively small pretty much throughout my blogging history. This is perhaps due to the fact that I've never had that huge of an audience and was thus not forced to reciprocate via blogroll links, but even then, it's probably worth keeping the blogroll short (due to Inverse Network Effects, among other things)
  6. The Nebulous Tag Cloud: As previously mentioned, I think tagging is a much better way of organizing content for usable navigation than date-based archives, but I agree with Jeff that the trendy use of "Tag Clouds" is kinda silly and unusable. The other issue with tagging is that it can get a little ridiculous. For instance, look at the tag cloud for my del.icio.us bookmarks:

    The tag cloud for my del.icio.us bookmarks is absurd.

    That's not just useless because of the tag cloud, but becaues I have so many tags. One of these days, I'll create tag bundles which will make it a lot easier to navigate. Of course, there are other benefits to tagging on del.icio.us, notably the social networking aspects, but such benefits wouldn't be present on a blog. As such, I'm not sure I'll ever move to tagging for my blog (though I will probably start being a little more granular in my categories and sub-categories).
  7. Excessive Advertisements: I've never had any advertisements on this site, though I do link to Amazon with my Associates ID (which allows me to share a small but fun percentage of any sales made).
  8. This Ain't Your Diary: And indeed, this blog ain't my diary (though it would probably make posting every day a little easier, it would also probably be incredibly boring.)
  9. Sorry I Haven't Written in a While: One of the biggest obstacles I've faced in building an audience for this blog has been my low posting frequency. Ever since instituting my weekly schedule, I think this has gotten better, but even twice a week is perhaps too little to get people excited (or maybe it's my tastes). And to be honest, some of my Wednesday entries could probably be a little better.
  10. Blogging About Blogging: The ironic one, as both Jeff's post and mine are actually embracing this cliché, though Jeff sorta extends this to people who only blog about blogging, which is a little more understandeable. Personally, I kinda like reading about other bloggers' writing habits, but a blog which posted exclusively about blogging would indeed get old.
  11. Mindless Link Propagation: I'm guilty of this, particularly on some of my Wednesday posts when I'm short on time. I do try to make sure these links aren't posted all over the place before posting them, so perhaps those don't count, but even then I'm probably still guilty of this.
  12. Top (n) Lists: Aside from participating in the Friday is List Day meme, which isn't really what Jeff's talking about, I'm not sure I've ever written a top (n) list. It is kinda odd that such lists have come to dominate the social networking sites like Digg and del.icio.us popular, but it seems like this is a good way to create attention. I'm sure I'll write one at some point, but it won't be one of my standard blog conventions.
  13. No Comments Allowed: Jeff says A blog without comments is not a blog, but I disagree with that. In any case, I have comments. Jeff makes an exception for people with massively popular blogs, and Steven attests to that (as does Shamus). Personally, while I certainly wouldn't mind a little more traffic, I've written before about how I don't mind being a small blog. Jeff also notes that "the comments are often better than the original blog entry itself" which is something I've never found particularly true. Not that I don't appreciate comments, and indeed, the best comments tend to come on posts that only get 5-10 comments. Actually, comments on Kaedrin are actually pretty darn good, I think. So maybe he has a point. But on any post that has over 100 comments, it quickly gets absurd. Even if there's great content in there, it gets old fast.
All in all, I'm doing pretty well when it comes to these, though my blog still isn't all that popular.
Posted by Mark on August 19, 2007 at 01:22 PM .: link :.

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Sunday, April 08, 2007

Programming Notes
Two things I planned to write about this week (and in the coming weeks) have been delayed or otherwise cut short. First, due to some sort of Netflix screwup, I never got discs 2-4 of Vandread: Second Stage (disc 1 was great). Instead, I got 3 movies I wasn't expecting but want to see anyway (I still haven't figured out why, as the Vandread discs were next in my queue and they have a status of being available "Now"). With any luck, I'll have the rest of the series this week. This is the first time Netflix has ever messed up for me, so I guess I shouldn't complain, but still.

The second thing I was planning to write (a lot) about was the Philadelphia film festival. However, due to long hours and work and an otherwise hectic schedule, I doubt I'm going to get a chance to see the movies I wanted to. I might be able to make the trek to the city to see one or two films. Then again, I only saw 4 films last year (along with the Adult Swim thing), so I guess it won't be that much of a wash. Still, I had wanted to see more this year (and was even considering taking some time off), but the way certain projects have fallen at work, I just can't. There's always next year.

So blogging will be somewhat light in the coming week (I do still have another entry for tonight though). You never know, though. Sometimes my periods of highest blogging productivity are when I'm busiest in other areas of my life. Inspiration often seems to strike when you have the least amount of time to act on it. One of the ironies of life, I guess.
Posted by Mark on April 08, 2007 at 08:27 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Link to Someone New, Part 3
Time is short and it's been a while since I've done this, so here are three posts from blogs I've never linked before:
  • Domino Computation: A computer is basically a series of switches. Granted, they're very small switches, and there are millions of them in most computers, but the basic theory of the linked post is that you can do some computation using primitive means - in this case, dominoes. It's a pretty amazing post if you're interested in this sort of thing, and the author has lots of pictures and even videos of how he set up his domino calculator.
  • pdb Vs Matlock Jr.: pdb owns a video game and movie store and likes to make fun of his customers, as in the linked post which has a very Acts of Gord type feel to it..
  • Dreary Queen: This blog focuses on the corporate logo niche. In the linked post, they tackle Dairy Queen's new logo, which is very lame. "Dairy Queen's ellipse is one of the most highly recognizable marks, it is (was) unique, memorable and impactful. Despite this equity, Dairy Queen considered it was time to change and make the wrong moves in all the wrong places"
That's all for now.
Posted by Mark on March 28, 2007 at 08:35 PM .: Comments (3) | link :.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Liveblogging on Sunday
A lot of people don't like to watch the Oscars anymore. For the most part, their reasons are sound: it's a long, boring, essentially meaningless awards show in which a bunch of self-congratulatory Hollywood insiders kiss each others arse (to put it nicely). Personally, I find that I'm able to deal with it mostly because I liveblog the event and usually get drunk. It's one of those rare occassions where a live event coincides with my blogging schedule, so I feel obligated to oblige. Anyway, I just wanted to let everyone know that I'll be updating all night on Sunday. Feel free to stop by and comment. I've been doing this for the past couple of years, and it's actually kinda fun. See previous installments here: 2006, 2005 and 2004. See you Sunday!
Posted by Mark on February 22, 2007 at 10:54 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Say Hello, Dammit!
I'm apparently about a month late to the party (what else is new?), but National De-lurking Week is a neat idea, so I figured I'd give it a shot. Like a lot of bloggers, most of what I write here is primarily for my own benefit. At the same time, it's always nice to know that someone is reading, and I wouldn't publish it on the internet if I was writing only for myself. However, one of the frustrating things about blogging is that it can be difficult to know who is reading. I have been lucky enough to have a small group of regular readers, most of whom comment regularly on the blog (thanks guys!). And I've picked up a few more regular readers over the years as well, though many of them tend to be lurkers - people who regularly visit, but don't comment.

This post is aimed at that second group of people. To be honest, I'm not even sure how many there are, but if happen to be a regular reader of this blog and haven't commented, please do so! As Sheryl puts it:
...I just read a Psychology Today article which notes a direct correlation between weight loss, and commenting on your favorite blogs, so leave a comment because it will make you skinny. Not that you're fat, because you're not!! So tell me how long you've been reading my blog, or your favorite book, or the first word that pops into your mind when you hear the word shish-kabob, and remember, if you don't leave a comment, you're letting the terrorists win.
And heck, if you're a regular commenter (or someone who doesn't comment often), feel free to comment about whatever you like. After all, I have a feeling there aren't going to be so many comments on this post, and I'd love to hear from everyone.

It's National De-lurking Week. Say Hello, Dammit!

Update 2.11.07: Well then, this was not so much of a success. This is mildly strange, as I can see from my referrer logs that there are people coming here that have not posted. Either they're not reading this post, or they're being rebellious. Strange. Thanks to all who commented, though:)
Posted by Mark on February 07, 2007 at 07:49 PM .: Comments (9) | link :.

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Link to Someone New
Once again, time has run short (big game* stuff), so I'll simply resort to throwing a few links at you under the pretense that I'm fighting the closed loop of blogreading that many fall into (previous installment here). So here:
  • Pointless Attack of a Random Person from Wikipedia: A humorous and exceedingly random blog really gives it to Paul LaFarge. Who the hell is that? Go and read.
  • Fantastic Films?: Kelson gives a brief preview of some movies to look forward to, including an adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Stardust (a film I didn't even know was being made - I must be slipping in my old age). This blog is also notable (to me, at least), because the author uses Opera. Awesome.
  • The Wii Sports Experiment: This guy bought a Wii and lost 9 pounds in six weeks from the exertion. The only change he made to his daily routine was to play 30 minutes of Wii a day. This man is justifying the purchase of a Wii for thousands of husbands, everywhere.
That's all for now. Sorry for the lameness of recent bloggery. Things have been busy lately, but are finally slowing down again. More to come.

* I should trademark the phrase "Big Game" so that people can't say that either.
Posted by Mark on February 04, 2007 at 11:06 PM .: link :.

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Monday, January 01, 2007

State of the Blog
Another year has ended, and I've found it occasionally helpful to take a step back, examine what I'm doing, why I'm doing it, and where I'm going from here. I've been blogging in one form or another for over 6 years, and things have evolved considerably since I started. One characteristic of the blog that has changed since its inception has been the frequency of posts. While I've never been a "post every day" kind of blogger, I came pretty close a few times during my first year of blogging. I've scaled back considerably since then (for varied and sundry reasons), though I have tried to stay consistent by establishing a weekly schedule. Of course, posting once a week (on Sunday) probably isn't frequent enough to really garner a large audience... but I've written before about why I'm fine with that. My reasons for writing are still largely the same:
One of the reasons I write here is to learn. Many of the subjects I write about here are unfamiliar to me, and I use the process of writing about them to learn. This usually means that I will need to familiarize myself with a bunch of material, or spend a lot of time thinking about something and figuring out what it means and how to write about it. This usually takes a lot of time and effort, and I prefer to have a few uninterrupted hours to compose something like that. This is why I post on Sundays, because I have the time then. I honestly don't know how other bloggers do it, especially the really popular ones who still manage to have a large output of original material. As I mentioned above, I tend to view blogging as an exercise in thinking, a way to learn, and a way to have fun.
Naturally, this isn't the only reason I write here - having readers is an integral part of blogging, and the past year has been good to me, thanks to links from generous bloggers (who happen to populate my blogroll). My readership is still relatively small, but growing, which is good.

In any case, I noticed that I posted 12 times in December 2006. This is paltry in comparison to most successful blogs, but it's the most I've posted in a single month since August of 2001, and I think I'm due (perhaps long over-due) for an expansion of the weekly posting schedule. So I'll be posting at least twice a week, once on Sunday and once on Wednesday. I'm sure you're all entralled by this announcement. This actually isn't all that different than what has been happening naturally, but I've found that making this sort of thing formal is important. Hence this post.
Posted by Mark on January 01, 2007 at 09:22 PM .: Comments (2) | link :.

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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Link to Someone New
A while back, Shamus wrote about the tendency for blogs (and bloggers) to get stuck in a closed loop, constantly reading and linking to the same group of blogs. I'm as guilty as anyone (plus, I have a tendency to not link other blogs at all), so in an effort to combat the blogging equivalent of inbreeding, here are links to three blogs I've never linked before:
  • 79 Soul: The Year in Review, 2006: My friend Roy (aka Samael, who you might remember from his various appearances on this blog) has actually started blogging over at his buddy's site, and has posted a year in review that includes references to movies, music, and graphic novels.
  • The Amateur Gourmet: Chutzpah, Truffles & Alain Ducasse: I have no idea how I stumbled upon this, but it's great. The amateur gormet chronicles how he managed to scam his way into an absurdly expensive restaurant for a free meal. In comic form. Go and read, it's excellent.
  • Russell Davies: how to be interesting: I think most bloggers are already doing a bunch of these things, but it's an interesting (pun not noticed at first, but it actually works kinda well) post anyway.
That's all for now. I hope everyone has a happy new year!
Posted by Mark on December 31, 2006 at 03:37 PM .: Comments (3) | link :.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

A Spamtastic Mystery
One of the joys of maintaining a website is dealing with spam. Over the years, I've had to deal with several different varieties of spam here, including comment spam, trackback spam, even my old forum got inundated with spam. As such, countermeasures were deployed with varying degrees of success. Movable Type has improved its spam blocking capabilities considerably, and I use a plugin to close comments on posts older than 60 days, so the blog has remained relatively spam free for a while now. I replaced my forum with a new system that requires registration (ironically, even the new forum was spammed with a bizzarely intriciate scheme to sell, no joke, biodynamic cheese).

This leaves referrer spam. I don't know that there's anything to really be done about that short of banning IP addresses and the like, but I never really used my site's raw referral logs that extensively, so even though I'm sure I get a decent amount of referrer spam, I don't really see it. Instead, I use sitemeter, a popular web stats application that uses an image and javascript to collect the appropriate info (you can see the little multicolored image towards the bottom of every page on Kaedrin). I'm not sure if sitemeter does something on their end to prevent referral spam, or if spambots simply ignore the technology they use, but I get next to no referrer spam there.

Until this morning.

I awoke to find my site had several hundred hits overnight (much more than usual). When I looked at the referrals, I noticed that I was getting a huge amount of traffic from a bunch of sites that were all variations of the same domain. A sampling includes:
As you can see, all the referrs are coming from some sort of search application. Going to the various "listenernetwork.com" home pages, it became obvious that they were all radio station sites that were apparently all using some central application to produce cheap, easy sites for themselves (they all use the same template with content and styles tailored towards individual stations). The sites and referrals were distributed all throughout the country. At a glance, they seemed to be legit stations. How odd.

All of the referrals were going to my Neal Stephenson category archive page, which was strange. At first, I thought, hey, maybe Neal Stephenson announced a new book on the radio this morning! Of course, that doesn't make much sense, but I'm a sucker for Stephenson and so I wanted to believe. In any case, it immediately became obvious that something else was going on (damn!).

The most frustrating thing about these referrals is that they're obviously coming from these radio station sites' built-in search engine, which apparently uses a HTTP POST request instead of a GET request. Most search engines use GET requests because then the search parameters are contained in the URL, which allows users to bookmark searches. POST requests hide search parameters, so users can't bookmark their searches and referred sites can't see what the search terms are. So not only was I getting all this traffic from a mysterious search engine, but I didn't even know what people were searching for...

Back to the logs I go. After rooting around a bit, I found some other search engines like ask and google were referring to the same Neal Stephenson page... but they had the search terms in their URL:
what unit of length used in nuclear physics is named after a famed manhattan project scientist?
Allright, so I'm making progress. My Stephenson category page contains most of those terms, so that kinda makes sense. I went to one of the refferring sites and was quickly able to reproduce the search on their site and see my page come up in the results. But this question is rather odd, and there were many people searching with that exact question. What the heck is going on here?

Confused and a little intrigued, I started clicking around one of the referring radio station's sites hunting for clues. Then I found it. Apparently, all these stations run some sort of big national contest, and the mysterious question above was today's "Really Hard Trivia" question. The site even conveniently notes: "Don't know the answer? Search the web below." Bingo.

So it appears that these are all indeed legitimate referrals, though I can't imagine anyone becoming a reader, as they didn't find the answer on my page. However, in the off chance that someone is still looking, the answer appears to be the Bohr Radius, named after Neils Bohr.

It turns out that I probably could have saved myself a good deal of effort by simply googling "listenernetwork referrer spam," as this issue has apparently struck others before. Still, it was somewhat intriguing and I'm glad it didn't turn out to be referrer spam...
Posted by Mark on December 14, 2006 at 05:49 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Blogroll Call
Everyone loves to be on a bunch of blogrolls, but just because you're there doesn't mean you'll get a lot of visitors. This becomes more true as the blogroll gets larger. Blogrolls are subject to an inverse network effect; the more blogs in the blogroll, the less valuable the link. Kaedrin gets a small amount of traffic, so even though I have a short blogroll, I'm guessing most of those blogs don't get a ton of visitors coming from here. So I just figured I'd throw some additional links their way:
  • Transit of Mercury, Photoblogged: Jay Manifold takes some nice pics of the planet Mercury, as well as an amusing comparison of Manifold Observatory and Powell Observatory.
  • Team of Rivals: Andrew Olmsted reviews a recent book that chronicles Abraham Lincoln's rise to the presidency, as well as the coalition he formed and maintained to fight the civil war:
    Lincoln's ability to hold together a coalition of abolitionists, conservative Republicans, and war Democrats during the American Civil War stands as a signal feat of political dexterity that seems yet more impressive in light of more recent American history. ... the book really hits its stride once Lincoln is elected and he assembles his Cabinet, beginning with his three rivals for the nomination. The contrast is particularly stark with modern politics, where Cabinets are formed from the victor's circle of political allies. Lincoln, on the other hand, selected men who not only wanted the job he held, but who viewed him poorly at best in some cases. It's hard to imagine a modern politician selecting men who viewed him with the kind of contempt Edwin Stanton viewed Lincoln, let alone getting the kind of results Lincoln did. Lincoln's ability to get results from such disparate men is an impressive primer in leadership.
    Interesting stuff, and I think I'll pick up the book at some point, as this seems to be an impressive example of compromise and tradeoffs (subjects that interest me) in action.
  • Ars Technica 2006 holiday gift guide: Make shopping for the geek in your family a little easier with this guide (sheesh, that sounded like advertising copy *shudders*). Most of the hardware and gadget gifts are pretty good, though expensive. However, they also include lots of interesting books and smaller gifts as well. Ars always has interesting articles though. I've already mentioned the Ars System Guide on the blog recently, but they also have reviews of the Wii and PS3 that are worth reading.
  • Casino Royale: Subtitle: Die almost never � nearly forever! Heh. Alexander Doenau's take on the latest Bond flick is roughly in line with my own feelings, though one of these days I'll get around to talking more about it on the blog.
    Which may beg the question of some audiences: where is the fun when there�s nary an insane scheme to be seen, and no psychedelically decorated gyrocopters? (thank you, Roald Dahl). The answer lies partly in Bond himself. Without the scary misogyny that Ian Fleming endowed Bond with 50 years ago, Daniel Craig plays Bond as an excellent bastard. This is a Bond so confident in his own skills that he doesn�t give a care who sees him because he has a licence to kill. This is probably the only Craig film we�ll see in which Bond is able to cut as loose as he did in Uganda, because part of the story involves developing a marginally more sensible and responsible MI6 agent, but he takes the sorts of risks that make the movie fun without being stupidly unbelievable.
    I love the description of James Bond as an "excellent bastard."
  • Steven Den Beste has an interesting rating system (another subject I'll tackle on the blog at some point). He uses a 4 star scale, but also includes a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" graphic (for obvious reasons). This is interesting because it allows him to recognize a technical accomplishment without actually recommending the film (for instance, I would give Grave of the Fireflies **** with a thumbs down because it is masterfully produced, but so heartbreaking that I can't actually recommend it). In any case, if you scroll down on the link above (no permalinks there), you'll see that Steven has started rating individual anime episodes for a series called Kamichu. For episode 6, he rated it zero stars with six thumbs down. I wonder if he liked it?
  • A collection of Jonathan Swift's journalistic texts: Ralf Goergens over at Chicago Boyz makes an Jonathan Swift-related annotation to Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle:
    Attentive readers of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle will remember Daniel Waterhouse reading a a number of astonishingly vile newspapers. Some of the most acrimonious articles were from Jonathan Swift, writing for Tory papers. Stephenson didn't make that part up, the articles can be found here.

    I didn't have time to do more than a bit of browsing, but some of the historical characters from the Baroque Cycle are mentioned, like Marlborough, Bolingbroke, Harley and of course Queen Anne. There also are extensive footnotes explaining the concrete circumstances under which the articles appeared.
  • Weblog Awards: Kevin Murphy notes that since he was inexplicably passed over for the Weblog Awards, he might as well add a bunch of categories and simply declare winners. Normally, this would seem like the actions of a snarky blogger, but since Kaedrin won a Koveted Kevy, I'll say it was the result of long-standing multifaceted research project considering nearly 2 billion blogs. Also, Kevin apparently knows something I don't: Kaedrin won the Best Blog With A Japanese Word As Its Title. Hmmm. It would be pretty funny if it actually was a Japanese word (anyone know what it means?)
  • The New Threats: John Robb continues his incisive commentary on global guerillas:
    As the debate over the value of the Iraq study group's report rumbles on, it's important to reflect on larger frame within which this debate is taking place. This frame, little discussed, encapsulates nature of the threat we face in Iraq and will be increasingly likely to face in the future. With Iraq, we can catch a glimpse of the new class of threat that will increasingly define our future (and given that even a glimpse is enough to stump the establishment should be a dire warning). This new class of threat is characterized by its bottoms up pattern of growth rather than the familiar competition between nation-states. It percolates upwards through catalyzed organic growth until it overwhelms our ability to respond to it.
    My general reaction to Robb's theories is that he is usually too pessimistic and that there must be a better way to fight these global guerillas, but he always makes for interesting and worthwhile reading.
  • Depressing Anime: Fledgling Otaku's thoughts on Grave of the Fireflies are a little harsher than my own, but I have to say that he's justified in calling it anime for emotional masochists. Don't miss the comment threads on that post, the follow up post, and the recent post (in which he mentions my review). Like me, the more he learns of the context, the more he says he can appreciate its value as a work of art.
  • Tax Law Is Complicated, But Is It Vague? : James Edward Maule reads about a Judge who "struck down a portion of the Patriot Act on the ground that despite amendments to the provisions they remain 'too vague' to be understood by 'a person of average intelligence' and thus are unconstitutional." As a professor of tax law, he wonders if the Internal Revenue Code is actually vague, and asks some interesting questions:
    If everything that could not be understood by a "person of average intelligence" were to be declared unconstitutional and removed from the planet, what would remain? Is there something wrong when a patient cannot understand a medical procedure used by a surgeon? Is there something wrong when a driver does not understand the engineering formulae used in designing the bridge over which the vehicle is crossing? Is there something wrong when someone enjoying a fine meal cannot understand the recipe?
  • Take my advice, or I�ll spank you without pants.: Johno over at the The Ministry of Minor Perfidy takes note of the glorious Chingrish of actual English Subtitles used in films made in Hong Kong. Some of my favorites:
    9. Quiet or I'll blow your throat up. 11. I�ll fire aimlessly if you don�t come out!
    18. How can you use my intestines as a gift?
    18. How can you use my intestines as a gift?
    19. This will be of fine service for you, you bag of the scum. I am sure you will not mind that I remove your manhoods and leave them out on the dessert flour for your aunts to eat. [sic, of course]
    20. Yah-hah, evil spider woman! I have captured you by the short rabbits and can now deliver you violently to your gynecologist for a thorough examination.
    21. Greetings, large black person. Let us not forget to form a team up together and go into the country to inflict the pain of our karate feets on some ass of the giant lizard person.
    This sort of thing is funny, but bad translations are also responsible for ruining a lot of decent foreign movies.
  • Extremely Cool: Indeed it is:
    The Antikythera Mechanism is a 2000-year-old device, somewhat resembling a clock, found in 1902 by sponge divers in the waters off a Greek island. It has long been believed that it was a form of analog computer, used for astronomical calculations, but its precise operating mechanism was not well-understood.
    Interesting stuff.
  • Not the intended market, but still fun: Fritz Schranck has been sucked into What Not To Wear (one of those smug reality shows that berate people for having bad style, then attempt to help them out). While I've never seen this show, similar reality shows do have that sorta "I can't look away from this trainwreck" quality that makes them entertaining.
  • DM of the Rings: In terms of link love, I've been woefully neglectful of Shamus's brilliant DM of the Rings comic, which somehow manages to be both humorous and insightful (well, in terms of RPG gaming anyway). Using screenshots from the movies, it's essentially what the Lord of the Rings would have been like if it were played as a D&D game.
Holy crap, that took a while. I just realized that I would have probably been better off if I'd just done one or two a day. That way I'd have had posts every day for at least a week! In any case, stay tuned for the weekly Animation Marathon review (This week, it's Akira. Review should be up Tuesday or Wednesday).
Posted by Mark on December 10, 2006 at 09:10 PM .: Comments (2) | link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Traversing the Geek Tail
Shamus laments the difficulty of traversing the long tail of geek blogs, and I can sympathize. The need for better information aggregation and analysis has been something of a theme on this blog for a while, so I figured I'd make a few comments. Interestingly enough, this dovetails with another discussion I followed a while back (and never got around to writing about).

First, to illustrate a point, I wanted to recount how I found Twenty Sided. Basically, it all started with that infamous blond joke. I didn't link to Shamus for the joke, but it turns out that we both linked to the same place (and we both apparently found out about the blond joke from Chizumatic). I was intrigued by the blond joke phenomenon, and made a half hearted attempt at mapping the tree of links (once I realized how many branches and branches-of-branches there were, I gave up). Since we'd both linked to the same place and since we'd both pinged that blog (so that our links showed up on the linked post), Twenty Sided was one of the first I recorded. At some point, I ended up viewing his main page and commented on one of this posts. Shamus apparently noticed and then started reading my blog, and on we went.

There are a couple of things to note here. I discovered Twenty Sided almost completely by accident. It was the result of a lame yet deceptively complex blog meme (the sort of thing I used to avoid like the plague). In short, I found his blog through serendipity. What's more, I've found that many of my favorite sites were found in a similar manner: when I wasn't actually looking for them.

Which brings me to a recent (er, 5 month old) article on the subject:
Serendipity is defined as the ability to make fortunate discoveries accidentally. There's so much of modern life that makes it preferable to the vaunted good old days - better hygiene products and power steering leap to mind - but in these disposable days of now and the future, the concept of serendipity is endangered.

Think about the library. Do people browse anymore? We have become such a directed people. We can target what we want, thanks to the Internet. Put a couple of key words into a search engine and you find - with an irritating hit or miss here and there - exactly what you're looking for. It's efficient, but dull. You miss the time-consuming but enriching act of looking through shelves, of pulling down a book because the title interests you, or the binding. Inside, the book might be a loser, a waste of the effort and calories it took to remove it from its place and then return. Or it might be a dark chest of wonders, a life-changing first step into another world, something to lead your life down a path you didn't know was there.

... Looking for something and being surprised by what you find - even if it's not what you set out looking for - is one of life's great pleasures, and so far no software exists that can duplicate that experience.
There is obviously value in analog serendipity (i.e. browsing the library stacks, etc...). Indeed, I used to take a guilty pleasure in ransacking the shelves of the library in which I was supposed to be studying. On one such expedition, I discovered The Book of Imaginary Beings ("a handbook of the strange creatures conceived through time and space by the human imagination") which inspired me to create a new website (that has sadly been neglected for years). On the other hand, what the hell is this guy talking about? Like Steven Johnson, I have to wonder if this guy even uses the internet...
I find these arguments completely infuriating. Do these people actually use the web? I find vastly more weird, unplanned stuff online than I ever did browsing the stacks as a grad student. Browsing the stacks is one of the most overrated and abused examples in the canon of things-we-used-to-do-that-were-so-much-better. (I love the whole idea of pulling down a book because you like the "binding.") Thanks to the connective nature of hypertext, and the blogosphere's exploratory hunger for finding new stuff, the web is the greatest serendipity engine in the history of culture. It is far, far easier to sit down in front of your browser and stumble across something completely brilliant but surprising than it is walking through a library looking at the spines of books.
Is there a way to harness serendipity in an organized fashion? After all, serendipity isn't just random noise, it's the unexpected discovery of signal. The trick is really getting started. Shamus mentions in his post that his starting points are Google, Technorati, and referral logs (i.e. noticing that someone has linked to you). Google is a reasonable starting place for general information, but there's way too much information to sift through there, and it's difficult to find a good geek blog that way. Technorati is hit or miss (mostly miss, in my experience) and referral logs are wonderful if you get noticed (but that's not as easy as it sounds and doesn't happen all that often, especially to beginners).

In the past, I've found blogs I've liked in many ways. Often, I will find a blog I like, then surf through blogrolls. This will sometimes result in a good find (often chaining through several blogroll trees), though it also seems to induce something of a short-term ADD in me as I mostly scan without reading unless something really catches my eye. I used to post a lot on discussion boards and do a lot of debating. This often led me to do some research on various subjects, which sometimes turned up interesting articles. Finding these articles, then exploring the site it's on or googling the author will sometimes yield results.

There are, of course, the big social aggregators like Digg and Reddit. I've always found del.icio.us to be a good place to start (particularly the popular page). Of course, you still have to sift through all of these things to find the hidden gems, but once you do, the structure of the internet gives you the ability to follow a trail of associations (blogrolls being the key example here) easily and efficiently (once you find a blog you like, aggregators like Technorati become a little more useful). Those social aggregators are a good starting place, but they still leave something to be desired. However, all of these sites have come on strong only in the last couple of years and they're growing better every day.

In any case, I've noticed that my blogroll has become a bit stale these days. I still read most of those blogs regularly and they're all good, but I think it's time to add some new ones. After all, the past several entries have referenced the same blogs over and over again! Alas, I'll be away on vacation next week, with little or no computer access, so perhaps I'll just start with a "link to someone new" type post...
Posted by Mark on August 23, 2006 at 12:05 AM .: Comments (1) | link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Friday, July 07, 2006

Another Guest Blogger
I'll be travelling yet again this weekend and thus won't have much time to blog. However, long time Kaedrin compatriot DyRE will be posting in my absence (at least once on Sunday, as per the schedule). I feel confident that DyRE's geek credentials will more that suffice. Have a good weekend everyone!
Posted by Mark on July 07, 2006 at 12:14 AM .: link :.

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Friday, June 23, 2006

Guest Blogger
I'll be travelling this weekend and thus won't have much time to blog. However, long time Kaedrin compatriot Samael will be posting in my absence (at least once on Sunday, as per the schedule). Astute readers may recognize the name from his Super Mario Mega Marathon of Madness and his comments on Pre-NES games. I don't know what he'll be writing about, but he assures me it will be something geeky. Have a good weekend!
Posted by Mark on June 23, 2006 at 02:17 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Tag Map of Kaedrin
Via lots of people, here is a graph of the underlying HTML structure of the Kaedrin Weblog:
Kaedrin Weblog Site Graph, click for a slightly larger version
Each dot represents some aspect of this page. The application that generated this graph uses the following color codes:
What do the colors mean?
blue: for links (the A tag)
red: for tables (TABLE, TR and TD tags)
green: for the DIV tag
violet: for images (the IMG tag)
yellow: for forms (FORM, INPUT, TEXTAREA, SELECT and OPTION tags)
orange: for linebreaks and blockquotes (BR, P, and BLOCKQUOTE tags)
black: the HTML tag, the root node
gray: all other tags
So what are we looking at in my graph? (One note, I generated this graph last night before I posted, so this graph reflects a page that has changed.) Well, the big clump of orange and blue on the left side of the graph is obviously my side navigation, filled with links and line breaks (i.e. the blogroll and archive links). The other big clump of orange and blue (bottom right) is the main area of posts on the page. Because I've recently gone on a spree of posts with lots of images, there is also a bunch of violent in that area. The image filled posts are also the cause of the offshoots from this area, as I've foolishly used some tag-soup to get the layout right. I believe the remaining offshoot, in the middle of the graph, is the masthead (the top of the page with the Kaedrin logo and main navigation links).

It's not as pretty as those nifty XHTML/CSS pages, but it gets the job done (and it validates!) One of these days I'll get around to actually converting this layout to XHTML and CSS, but don't hold your breath. I tried to exactly replicate this layout once and just got frustrated, so when it happens, it will probably be accompanied by a minor design overhaul.
Posted by Mark on June 01, 2006 at 07:01 PM .: Comments (3) | link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Weblog Usability
For the past week or so, I've been making various improvements to the weblog. Some of it is behind the scenes type stuff that isn't even visible, and much of the other changes are relatively subtle. Many of the improvements are aimed at making things easier for new visitors, especially those who stumble onto an individual entry or archive page. For new visitors and those who aren't so familiar with blogs, it's important to provide some sort of context and assistance (especially for confusing technologies like trackbacks and RSS). So what's changed?
  • Next Page: Ever find a new blog you like and start reading the front page? Whenever I do so, I'm invariably disappointed when I get to the bottom of the page. Usually, there's nothing down there - no way to continue reading. Given that one of the most annoying things about maintaining a blog is that all your great content quickly falls off the front page to languish in the obscurity of the archives. How to avoid this? I used to just have a link to the archives down there, but the ideal solution would be to actually continue reading right where you left off... so I added a Next Page link (some weblog software provides this feature by default, which is great). That way, you can just keep reading. It only goes back a few pages, but I figure that's better than nothing!
  • RSS: RSS is an interesting technology. It can be extremely useful, and a lot of people use it without even realizing it (on sites like my Yahoo, etc...) Unfortunately, usability tests have shown that most general web users tend to be a bit unclear on the value, use, and function of RSS feeds (and this is certainly an understandable reaction, I think). I still need to address this somehow, though I haven't yet decided how I'm going to do so. In the mean time, I've made a few revisions to the feeds. I've always had the feeds available, but I noticed a few things I wanted to change. The main feed is now RSS 2.0 and I've changed it so that it contains the full text rather than just an excerpt. I've done this mainly because I've actually begun using an RSS aggregator, and it's much more convenient when a blog has the full entry text in the feed (and annoying when a feed only has an excerpt). I also removed the images and moved the section further down on the side navigation. Power users will obviously be able to figure it out, but I didn't want to clutter the top of the navigation with something that average visitors wouldn't understand... Again, more work will be done to rectify this area.
  • Individual Entry Pages: One recurring theme here at the blog is that we need better tools for information aggregation and analysis. However, aggregated content (i.e. search results from Google, the aformentioned RSS aggregators, and even blogs themselves) has certain implications which must be considered. Most sites are designed from the top down, assuming that visitors will start at the main page, then make their way to the more specific content. However, with the increasing trend of content aggregation, visitors start on other sites and make their way to the lower levels of your site, bypassing a large portion of your site's design (the portion that guides the visitor to their target content). Because of this, lower level pages like the indivudual entry pages need to provide some sort of context to the visitor (this context is normally created by the process of navigating through your site, but remember, visitors have bypassed your carefully laid out information architecture, so they have not gleaned any such context). So I've attempted to provide a little more context on individual entry pages (in the upper right area of the page). There are several other things I've changed on the individual pages, but that mostly has to do with meta data and page titles.
  • Montly Archives and Category Archives: Same issues here as on the individual entry pages, and similar changes have been made (adding context to these pages, again in the upper right). There are several other things I'm considering. With respect to the monthly archives, I'm not sure how useful it is to list every month on the right side of the main page (plus, I've been doing the blog long enough that the list of months is getting pretty cumbersome). Do people really navigate in that way, or are categories more useful? Also, categories would be a whole lot more useful if I used them better. For instance, I collected all of my recent Philly Film Festival Posts in a category page, which (I assume) makes it easier for folks who end up on any individual entry to get to other entries from the film festival.
  • Trackbacks: I've often considered just getting rid of trackbacks. If people are confused by RSS, they must be doubly mystified by trackbacks. Plus, trackbacks are major spam magnets. It apparently got so bad here that my web hosting service disabled it for me because it "was causing the server to become slow and unstable for other users on the system." (incidentally, that's why it wasn't working for a while, in case you were trying). Trackbacks have been enabled again, but I may decide to remove them at some point. If I do keep them, I'll have to make several improvements, similar to the above (i.e. provide explanations and context for them).
  • Comments and other areas: Lots of other smaller improvements need to be made, including a better way to list out comments (right now, it's difficult to tell when one comment ends and an other begins - the byline doesn't stand out enough). I've added some text explaining what happens when a comment is submitted (mostly explaining why some comments may not show up right away, though most do). The About area of the website could also use some updating. And there's probably another million little things I'll want to do as well.
As implied above, lots of additional changes coming in the future. I've been meaning to do this stuff for a while, so it's nice to actually make some progress. There have been a few papers released recently about weblog usability that were very helpful in this process.

First is Jacob Nielson's recent alertbox column, Weblog Usability: The Top Ten Design Mistakes. Quickly going through his list of mistakes:
  1. No Author Biographies: Well, I do have an About section that explains the site and me a bit, but as I mentioned earlier, it needs to be updated.
  2. No Author Photo: I question the validity of this. However, while I don't display one on every page, I do have the Fake Webcam (which is kinda silly and hasn't been updated in ages)...
  3. Nondescript Posting Titles: This is one thing I think I'm actually pretty good at (with some exceptions, of course). I used to lament my inability to come up with clever titles, but the lame titles I come up with that just explain what the post about are probably more useful to the average visitor. Also, I think I'm pretty good at writing for the web (i.e. using lots of lists, providing emphasis, and generally making content scannable.)
  4. Links Don't Say Where They Go: This is another one I think I've been pretty good at over the years.
  5. Classic Hits are Buried: This is something I've done a lot of thinking about in the past, and the result was the Best Entries page, as well as the little random image on the side navigation.
  6. The Calendar is the Only Navigation: Earlier in this post, I wondered how important the monthly links were in the side navigation. Nielson clearly thinks they're emphasised too much: "A timeline is rarely the best information architecture, yet it's the default way to navigate weblogs." He suggests the use of categories, which as I've already mentioned, I need to improve.
  7. Irregular Publishing Frequency: Another thing I used to struggle with and attempted to fix a while ago by setting a regular schedule. I make at least one post a week, and I always post on Sunday. Unfortunately, I don't post nearly often enough to really build up a lot of traffic.
  8. Mixing Topics: Color me guilty here, and while I know that a blog that serves a certain niche tends to fair better, I have difficultly settling on such a niche. However, several recurring themes have emerged here that have narrowed the focus of the blog considerably, which I think helps.
  9. Forgetting That You Write for Your Future Boss: A good point, but I don't think this has that much to do with usability (at least, from a visitor's standpoint).
  10. Having a Domain Name Owned by a Weblog Service: Check. No blogspot or livejournal for me. However, a colleague recently suggested that I make the weblog the front page of the site. That might work out, but that would also pretty much bury the other content on this site (which is more than just a weblog, after all, though most other areas of the site aren't updated very often anymore). Then again, the previously mentioned tendency for information aggregators to subvert top down navigation structures might make that a moot point (i.e. most people get to the Asimov area through a search engine, not by navigating from the homepage). Getting back to the point at hand, I think this is somewhat valid, though I think TypePad blogs do not suffer from this just yet.
Another extremely useful resource was this blog usability study, which touches on many of the things above (and in greater detail). I'd go into this one a bit more, but this post is long enough as it is. Perhaps more on this subject later in the week.
Posted by Mark on April 23, 2006 at 09:57 PM .: Comments (2) | link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Spam Fighting Update
A few weeks ago, I installed Movable Type 3.2. One of the supposed big enhancements was improved tools for fighting spam in both comments and trackbacks. At the time, I wasn't sure how well it would work, but after a few weeks, I can say that this system is great! Not a single spam comment or trackback has made it through (several hundred attempts were blocked) - and this is with almost no configuration on my part (much better than MT Blacklist on all fronts). This is mostly due to the inclusion of the SpamLookup plugin in the release. If you run a Movable Type blog, I highly recommend upgrading to 3.2 or at least installing SpamLookup.
Posted by Mark on September 18, 2005 at 08:20 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

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Sunday, August 28, 2005

I took some time out this weekend to upgrade Movable Type to the newly released 3.2 version. Despite appearing to be a small number increase in versions, it actually contains a huge amount of enhancements and new functionality, much of it focusing on combating spam.

Not so long ago, I took some measures to deal with comment spam, but trackback spam almost immediately picked up and the options for dealing with trackback spam were, at the time, very limited. For those unaware of the concept, the trackback system is a way for a website (it was designed for blogs, but could be applied to any website) to list out other websites that link to the first website. This is accomplished by allowing people to "ping" an entry, thereby alerting that blog that someone has linked to that entry. The site receiving the ping typically displays the trackback information (typically including a title, a link, and a short excerpt) below the entry. It's an open system, meaning that anyone can ping any site they want, even if they haven't linked to that site. And that's why the spammers love it.

After getting hit by a few hundred spam trackbacks one week, I decided to completely disable trackbacks on my blog, but I found that my options were limited. There was no easy way to do so, though I did eventually find a way that was easier than going back to every entry and disabling it manually. Then Six Apart announced that they were working on the 3.2 release and that it would include all sorts of ways to deal with trackback spam. For one, they've included a quick and easy way to disable all trackbacks (without having to resort to fiddling with the database directly), but they've also included some interesting spam filters which appear to be working well.

It seems to be working well so far, but I'm still considering whether or not to keep trackbacks. Aside from the spam, there are a lot of other issues with it. It's not like everyone uses it. In the past few years, I've been linked by other blogs many times, but I've only gotten something like 5-10 trackbacks (and I lost several when I upgraded my database). But the whole experience has got me thinking about open systems and the potential for abuse. On the internet, it seems like such systems are almost always ruined by spam. It would be a shame if a service like del.icio.us were ruined by spam, but at least it isn't quite as open to blatant abuse as trackbacks were, so perhaps there's a chance.
Posted by Mark on August 28, 2005 at 06:58 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Five Years of Kaedrin Blog
Yes, you read correctly. I started this blog a little over 5 years ago. Of course, it was much different back then and there have been some periods of inactivity, but the blog in it's current form pretty much began about 2 years ago. It was about that time that I resolved to post at least once a week, a schedule I've held to pretty well and even exceeded for a while. Unfortunately, I've mostly regressed to the once a week schedule, which is part of the reason this blog has never really caught on (in terms of readers and links), though I have built up a small and loyal following (which I'm grateful for).

One thing that's become more and more prevalent here is that I'll latch onto a concept and explore it from several different angles. Over the past few years, a few thematic threads have been consistently drawn, notably including the need of moderation and tradeoffs (which is part of the reason I identify with Bruce Schneier's approach to security as a series of tradeoffs) and how self-organization can aid in information aggregation. Naturally, there are some topics (movies, in particular) which I can usually fall back on when the idea well runs dry (or when I lack the motivation to produce something more weighty). In fact, one of the things I wrote about this year was just how difficult it is to run a popular blog. Never having written for a popular blog, it's mostly speculation, but I suspect that I'd have a reaction similar to Steven Den Beste's "Screw this, I'm only going to write about Anime from now on!"

Anyway, since one of the major frustrations about running a blog is that all your hard work essentially smolders in the largely unvisible archives, here are some of the best entries from the past year (all of my best entries from the past 5 years are collected here, and of course the archives are also worth pursuing as well if you really enjoy what you read): It's been a reasonably good year, though I feel like the good content has been declining a bit recently. Motivation isn't especially high lately either, but blogging is all about ups and downs, so I expect to come out of this soon. In the meantime, feel free to peruse the archives and let me know if I missed anything...
Posted by Mark on August 07, 2005 at 08:54 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Old media vs. New media
Allright, so I'm going to milk this subject for everything it's worth. ArsTechnica continues their coverage of the subject as well, posting an excellent summary of the debate.
Overall, the picture that emerges has two sides to it. First, top-tier bloggers themselves are better educated than top-tier newspaper columnists. So one of the main attractions of blogging and other forms of online-only publishing is that you get topical commentary from trained specialists and insiders, instead of from people whose only professional training is journalism school and whose very job description is that they're professional outsiders.

The other part of the picture is the audience, which is more media savvy and is more interested in being treated as a peer by news sources. Blogs and other online news sources treat their readers as peers by allowing them to post comments that are directly attached to stories and by adopting a more personal, conversational tone. Thus the audience can participate directly in the newsmaking process, as high-profile blogs manage the collective efforts of their readers and work to influence reporting higher up the media food chain.
Interesting observations, but perhaps we're making a bit too much about this. Old media isn't going away anytime soon, it just needs to adapt to the existence of the new media. It's a symbiotic relationship (both sides need each other), even moreso than past media shifts. Historically, these sorts of shifts happen when a new medium presents itself. Newspapers had to adapt to radio and television, just as they'll have to adapt to the internet now (and so will radio and television). In Neal Stephenson's The System of the World, the character Daniel Waterhouse ponders how new systems supplant older systems:
"It has been my view for some years that a new System of the World is being created around us. I used to suppose that it would drive out and annihilate any older Systems. But things I have seen recently ... have convinced me that new Systems never replace old ones, but only surround and encapsulate them, even as, under a microscope, we may see that living within our bodies are animalcules, smaller and simpler than us, and yet thriving even as we thrive. ... And so I say that Alchemy shall not vanish, as I always hoped. Rather, it shall be encapsulated within the new System of the World, and become a familiar and even comforting presence there, though its name may change and its practitioners speak no more about the Philosopher's Stone." (page 639)
In his Slashdot interview, Stephenson applies the same "surround and encapsulate" concept to the literary world. And so perhaps the new media will surround and encapsulate, but never destroy, the old media.
Posted by Mark on May 01, 2005 at 08:12 PM .: link :.

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Sunday, April 24, 2005

The Mainstream Media
Matt Haughey is sick of the singling out of the monolithic MSM, and he's right:
I'm usually not one to throw around ultimatums, but here's a new personal rule: If you use the term "MSM" in a unironic way to denote the "Mainstream Media" I will write you off as a quack, unsubscribe from your RSS, and stop reading your blog.

There is no "mainstream" media that is well-defined as Them, nor are webloggers suddenly Us. The term "The Media" is so nebulous that it includes us all. The line between the imagined "Us" bloggers and "Them" media outlets is so gray that it can't be drawn.
A few things to note here in relation to my last post on weblogs. I used the term "mainstream media" in that post (and have used it before as well) because it seems to be a common term that separates professional, broadcasted (i.e. mainstream) media (i.e. newspapers, television, radio) from informal, on-demand media (i.e. blogs). However, Haughey has a point: the line between is blurring by the second. Blogs are becoming mainstream, so the term is losing value.

As such, Haughey is essentially calling bullshit on me and everyone else who uses that term, which demonstrates another point I was trying to make:
It is true that some blogging proponents are preaching triumphalism, but that's part of the charm. They're allowed to be wrong and if you look closely at what happens when someone makes such a comment, you see that for every exaggerated claim, there are 10 counters in other blogs that call bullshit.
I haven't actually looked into it, but I'm positive that there are tons of other blogs out there that have expressed distaste at the use of the term "mainstream media." And they're right, to a degree. I was being lazy. It's easier to say "mainstream media" than it is to write a few extra paragraphs explaining what I mean, just as it's easier to issue arbitrary ultimatums than it is to make a comprehensive value judgement of a blog.
Posted by Mark on April 24, 2005 at 11:58 AM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Friday, April 22, 2005

What is a Weblog, Part II
What is a weblog? My original thoughts leaned towards thinking of blogs as a genre within the internet. Like all genres, there is a common set of conventions that define the blogging genre, but the boundaries are soft and some sites are able to blur the lines quite thoroughly. Furthermore, each individual probably has their own definition as to what constitutes a blog (again similar to genres). The very elusiveness of a definition for blog indicates that perception becomes an important part of determining whether or not something is a blog. It has become clear that there is no one answer, but if we spread the decision out to a broad number of people, each with their own independent definition of blog, we should be able to come to the conclusion that a borderline site like Slashdot is a blog because most people call it a blog.

So now that we have a (non)definition for what a blog is, just how important are blogs? Caesar at Arstechnica writes that according to a new poll, Americans are somewhat ambivalent on blogs. In particular, they don't trust blogs.

I don't particularly mind this, however. For the most part, blogs don't make much of an effort to be impartial, and as I've written before, it is the blogger's willingness to embrace their subjectivity that is their primary strength. Making mistakes on a blog is acceptable, so long as you learn from your mistakes. Since blogs are typically more informal, it's easier for bloggers to acknowledge their mistakes.

Lexington Green from ChicagoBoyz recently wrote about blogging to a writer friend of his:
To paraphrase Truman Capote's famous jibe against Jack Kerouac, blogging is not writing, it is typing. A writer who is blogging is not writing, he is blogging. A concert pianist who is sitting down at the concert grand piano in Carnegie Hall in front of a packed house is the equivalent to an author publishing a finished book. The same person sitting down at the piano in his neighborhood bar on a Saturday night and knocking out a few old standards, doing a little improvisation, and even doing some singing -- that is blogging. Same instrument -- words, piano -- different medium. We forgive the mistakes and wrong-guesses because we value the immediacy and spontaneity. Plus, publish a book, it is fixed in stone. Write a blog post you later decide is completely wrong, it is actually good, since it gives you a good hook for a later post explaining your thoughts that led to the changed conclusion. The essence of a blog is to air things informally, to throw things out, to say "this interests me because ..." From time to time a more considered and article-like post is good. But most people read blogs by skimming. If a post is too long, in my observation, it does not get much response and may not be read at all.
Of course, his definition of what a blog is could be argued (as there are some popular and thoughtful bloggers who routinely write longer, more formal essays), but it actually struck me as being an excellent general description of blogging. Note his favorable attitude towards mistakes ("it gives you a good hook for a later post" is an excellent quote, though I think you might have to be a blogger to fully understand it). In the blogosphere, it's ok to be wrong:
Everyone makes mistakes. It's a fact of life. It isn't a cause for shame, it's just reality. Just as engineers are in the business of producing successful designs which can be fabricated out of less-than-ideal components, the engineering process is designed to produce successful designs out of a team made up of engineers every one of which screws up routinely. The point of the process is not to prevent errors (because that's impossible) but rather to try to detect them and correct them as early as possible.

There's nothing wrong with making a mistake. It's not that you want to be sloppy; everyone should try to do a good job, but we don't flog people for making mistakes.
The problem with the mainstream media is that they purport to be objective, as if they're just reporting the facts. Striving for objectivity can be a very good thing, but total objectivity is impossible, and if you deny the inherent subjectivity in journalism, then something is lost.

One thing Caesar mentions is that "the sensationalism surrounding blogs has got to go. Blogs don't solve world hunger, cure disease, save damsels in distress, or any of the other heroic things attributed to them." I agree with this too, though I do think there is something sensational about blogs, or more generally, the internet.

Steven Den Beste once wrote about what he thought were the four most important inventions of all time:
In my opinion, the four most important inventions in human history are spoken language, writing, movable type printing and digital electronic information processing (computers and networks). Each represented a massive improvement in our ability to distribute information and to preserve it for later use, and this is the foundation of all other human knowledge activities. There are many other inventions which can be cited as being important (agriculture, boats, metal, money, ceramic pottery, postmodernist literary theory) but those have less pervasive overall affects.
Regardless of whether or not you agree with the notion that these are the most important inventions, it is undeniable that the internet provides a stairstep in communication capability, which, in turn, significantly improves the process of large-scale collaboration that is so important to human existence.
When knowledge could only spread by speech, it might take a thousand years for a good idea to cross the planet and begin to make a difference. With writing it could take a couple of centuries. With printing it could happen in fifty years.

With computer networks, it can happen in a week if not less. After I've posted this article to a server in San Diego, it will be read by someone on the far side of a major ocean within minutes. That's a radical change in capability; a sufficient difference in degree to represent a difference in kind. It means that people all over the world can participate in debate about critical subjects with each other in real time.
And it appears that blogs, with their low barrier to entry and automated software processes, will play a large part in the worldwide debate. There is, of course, a ton of room for improvement, but things are progressing rapidly now and perhaps even accelerating. It is true that some blogging proponents are preaching triumphalism, but that's part of the charm. They're allowed to be wrong and if you look closely at what happens when someone makes such a comment, you see that for every exaggerated claim, there are 10 counters in other blogs that call bullshit. Those blogs might be on the long tail and probably won't garner as much attention, but that's part of the point. Blogs aren't trustworthy, which is precisely why they're so important.

Update 4.24.05: I forgot to link the four most important inventions article (and I changed some minor wording: I had originally referred to the four "greatest" inventions, which was not the wording Den Beste had used).
Posted by Mark on April 22, 2005 at 06:49 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, April 17, 2005

What is a Weblog?
Caesar at ArsTechnica has written a few entries recently concerning blogs which interested me. The first simply asks: What, exactly, is a blog? Once you get past the overly-general definitions ("a blog is a frequently updated webpage"), it becomes a surprisingly difficult question.

Caesar quotes Wikipedia:
A weblog, web log or simply a blog, is a web application which contains periodic time-stamped posts on a common webpage. These posts are often but not necessarily in reverse chronological order. Such a website would typically be accessible to any Internet user. "Weblog" is a portmanteau of "web" and "log". The term "blog" came into common use as a way of avoiding confusion with the term server log.
Of course, as Caesar notes, the majority of internet sites could probably be described in such a way. What differentiates blogs from discussion boards, news organizations, and the like?

Reading through the resulting discussion provides some insight, but practically every definition is either too general or too specific.

Many people like to refer to Weblogs as a medium in itself. I can see the point, but I think it's more general than that. The internet is the medium, whereas a weblog is basically a set of commonly used conventions used to communicate through that medium. Among the conventions are things like a main page with chronological posts, permalinks, archives, comments, calendars, syndication (RSS), blogging software (CMS), trackbacks, &c. One problem is that no single convention is, in itself, definitive of a weblog. It is possible to publish a weblog without syndication, comments, or a calendar. Depending on the conventions being eschewed, such blogs may be unusual, but may still be just as much a blog as any other site.

For lack of a better term, I tend to think of weblogs as a genre. This is, of course, not totally appropriate but I think it does communicate what I'm getting at. A genre is typically defined as a category of artistic expression marked by a distinctive style, form, or content. However, anyone who is familiar with genre film or literature knows that there are plenty of movies or books that are difficult to categorize. As such, specific genres such as horror, sci-fi, or comedy are actually quite inclusive. Some genres, Drama in particular, are incredibly broad and are often accompanied by the conventions of other genres (we call such pieces "cross-genre," though I think you could argue that almost everything incorporates "Drama"). The point here is that there is often a blurry line between what constitutes one genre from another.

On the medium of the internet, there are many genres, one of which is a weblog. Other genres include commercial sites (i.e. sites that try to sell you things, Amazon.com, Ebay, &c.), reference sites (i.e. dictionaries & encyclopedias), Bulletin Board Systems and Forums, news sites, personal sites, weblogs, wikis, and probably many, many others.

Any given site is probably made up of a combination of genres and it is often difficult to pinpoint any one genre as being representative. Take, for example, Kaedrin.com. It is a personal site with some random features, a bunch of book & movie reviews, a forum, and, of course, a weblog (which is what you're reading now). Everything is clearly delineated here at Kaedrin, but other sites blur the lines between genres on every page. Take ArsTechnica itself: Is it a news site or a blog or something else entirely? I would say that the front page is really a combination of many different things, one of which is a blog. It's a "cross-genre" webpage, but that doesn't necessarily make it any less effective (though there is something to be said for simplicity and it is quite possible to load a page up with too much stuff, just as it's possible for a book or movie to be too ambitious and take on too much at once) just as Alien isn't necessarily a less effective Science Fiction film because it incorporates elements of Horror and Drama (or vice-versa).

Interestingly, much of what a weblog is can be defined as an already existing literary genre: the journal. People have kept journals and diaries all throughout history. The major difference between a weblog and a journal is that a weblog is published for all to see on the public internet (and also that weblogs can be linked together through the use of the hyperlink and the infrastructure of the internet). Historically, diaries were usually private, but there are notable exceptions which have been published in book form. Theoretically, one could take such diaries and publish them online - would they be blogs? Take, for instance, The Diary of Samuel Pepys which is currently being published daily as if it's a weblog circa 1662 (i.e. Today's entry is dated "Thursday 17 April 1662"). The only difference is that the author of that diary is dead and thus doesn't interact or respond to the rest of the weblog community (though there is still interaction allowed in the form of annotations).

A few other random observations about blogs:
  • Software: Many people brought up the fact that most blogs are produced with the assistance of Weblogging Software, such as Blogger or Movable Type. From my perspective, such tools are necessary for the spread of weblogs, but shouldn't be a part of the definition. They assist in the spread of weblogs because they automate the overly-technical details of publishing a website and make it easy for normal folks to participate. They're also useful for automatically propagating weblog conventions like permalinks, comments, trackbacks, and archives. However, it's possible to do all of this without the use of blogging specific software and it's also possible to use blogging software for other purposes (for instance, Kaedrin's very own Tandem Stories are powered by Movable Type). It's interesting that other genres have their own software as well, particularly bulletin boards and forums. Ironically, one could use such BBS software to publish a blog (or power tandem stories), if they were so inclined. The Pepys blog mentioned above actually makes use of wiki software (though that software powers the entries, it's mostly used to allow annotations). To me content management systems are important, but they don't define so much as propagate the genre.
  • Personality: One mostly common theme in definitions is that weblogs are personal - they're maintained by a person (or small group of people), not an official organization. A personality gets through. There is also the perception that a blog is less filtered than official communications. Part of the charm of weblogs is that you can be wrong (more on this later, possibly in another post). I'm actually not sure how important this is to the definition of a blog. Someone who posts nothing but links doesn't display much of a personality, except through more subtle means (the choice of links can tell you a lot about an individual, albeit in an indirect way that could lead to much confusion).
  • Communities: Any given public weblog is part of a community, whether it wants to be or not. The boundaries of any specific weblog are usually well delineated, but since weblogs are part of the internet, which is an on-demand medium (as opposed to television or radio, which are broadcast), blogs are often seen as relative to one another. Entries and links from different blogs are aggregated, compared, correlated and published in other weblogs. Any blog which builds enough of a readership provides a way connect people who share various interests through the infrastructure of the internet.
Some time ago, Derek Powazek asked What the Hell is a Weblog? You tell me. and published all the answers. It turns out that I answered this myself (last one on that page), many years ago:
I don't care what the hell a weblog is. It is what I say it is. Its something I update whenever I find an interesting tidbit on the web. And its fun. So there.
Heh. Interesting to note that my secondary definition there ("something I update whenever I find an interesting tidbit on the web") has changed significantly since I contributed that definition. This is why, I suppose, I had originally supplied the primary definition ("I don't care what the hell a weblog is. It is what I say it is.") and to be honest, I don't think that's changed (though I guess you could call that definition "too general"). Blogging is whatever I want it to be. Of course, I could up and call anything a blog, but I suppose it is also required that others perceive your blog as a blog. That way, the genre still retains some shape, but is still permeable enough to allow some flexibility.

I had originally intended to make several other points in this post, but since it has grown to a rather large size, I'll save them for other posts. Hopefully, I'll gather the motivation to do so before next week's scheduled entry, but there's no guarantee...
Posted by Mark on April 17, 2005 at 08:27 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Comment Policy
In the past few weeks, I've been waging all out war with spam (both on the blog and elsewhere on the site). I'm pleased to report that my efforts appear to be paying off, with the exception that Trackback Spam appears to have picked up in the absence of comment spam. So I'm sure this won't be the last time I need to do something to combat spam.

In any case, many changes have been made and it might benefit everyone if I posted a formal comment policy. I've always had a very permissive attitude towards interaction on the site. I usually don't require most fields and try to allow interactivity with little to no barriers to entry. This won't change much, but there are some things that will no longer be allowed, so I figured I'd lay out my comment policy:
  • Most comments are published immediately. Sometimes, a comment will be put in moderation and I'll need to approve it before it will show up. This sort of thing usually has something to do with the number of links you submit in your post. If your comment is moderated, you should get a message indicating this.
  • In order to post a comment, your browser must have javascript enabled. Sorry about that, but one of the anti-spam measures I use requires javascript.
  • On rare occassions, my anti-spam measures may think you're a spammer and will mark your comment as spam. Now, I don't generally check stuff marked as spam, so if you think that may be the case, feel free to email me and I should be able to find the comment and publish it...
  • Wildly off-topic comments will be removed.
  • Flames and personal attacks will be removed.
  • Duplicate comments will be removed (well, not the original comment, just the duplicates).
  • Spam (links to commercial sites not relevant to the entry in question) will be denied at time of posting or removed if it isn't caught by one of my anti-spam measures.
  • In some instances, I may edit a comment. In such cases, an explanation will usually be appended to the comment (i.e. "[profanity removed by editor]" or some such message).
  • The only required field is the "Comments" field, though I prefer you also supply a name. Some places on the site may supply a default name and I may be facetious in choosing such a name (i.e. "[Anonymous Wimp]").
  • Entries before May 2007 have had their comments closed. One of the ways I dealt with Spam in the past was to close older entries. However, I have new methods now (plus, uh, the plugin I used to automatically close old entries stopped working), so most entries since that date still allow comments.
Repeated failure to comply may result in blacklisting, banning, or various other screwing around as I see fit. Most of this also applies to trackbacks and other areas of interactivity on the site (i.e. the Forum and Tandem Stories). Trackbacks are less moderated as of now, but I'm sure they will eventually fall under stricter regulation as time goes on. The forum now requires registration before you can post (the old forum was having major performance issues in addition to spam woes, so I replaced it).

All rules are applied at my discretion. As such there may be exceptions or changes to this policy without notice. It's also possible that a legitimate comment will be deleted by accident or just because I feel like it (this section henceforth to be referred to as the ass-covering clause). The biggest difference is that you are no longer able to comment on older entries. Since older entries are seen less often, and since they attract more spam (because older posts have higher search engine rankings), it's only natural that comments be closed on those posts. Otherwise, nothing has really changed, other than the fact that my unspoken policies have now been explicitly articulated.

Update 12.15.07: This page was a little out of date, so it's been updated to keep it in line with the various anti-spam measures I actually have in place.
Posted by Mark on March 27, 2005 at 05:45 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, February 13, 2005

An Exercise in Aggregation
A few weeks ago I collected a ton of posts regarding the Iraqi elections. I did this for a few reasons. The elections were important and I wanted to know how they were going, but I could have just read up on them if that was the only reason. The real reason I made that post was to participate in and observe information aggregation and correlation in real time.

It was an interesting experience, and I learned a few things which should help in future exercises. Some of these are in my control to fix, some will depend on the further advance of technology.
  • Format - It seems to me that simply posting a buttload of links in a long list is not the best way to aggregate and correlate data. It does provide a useful service, it being a central place with links to diverse articles, but it would be much better if the posts were separated into smaller groups. This would better facilitate scanning and would allow those interested to focus on things that interest them. It would also be helpful to indicate threads of debate between different bloggers. For example, it seems that a ton of people responded to Juan Cole's comments, though I only listed one or two (and I did so in a way that wasn't exactly efficient).
  • Categorization - One thing that is frustrating about such an exercise is that many blogs are posting up a storm on the subject throughout the day, which means that someone like myself who is attempting to aggregate posts would have to continually check the blog throughout the day as well. Indeed, simply collecting all the links and posting them can be a challenge. What I ended up doing was linking to a few specific posts and then just including a general link to the blog with the instruction to "Keep scrolling." Dean Esmay demonstrated how bloggers can help aggregation by providing a category page where all of his Iraqi election posts were collected (and each individual post had an index of posts as well). This made things a lot easier for me, as I didn't have to collect a large number of links. All I had to do is post one link. Unfortunately this is somewhat rare, and given the tools we have to use, it is also understandable. Most people are concerned with getting their voice out there, and don't want to spend the time devising a categorization scheme. Movable Type 3.x has subcategories, which could help with this, but it takes time to figure this stuff out. Hopefully this is something that will improve in time as more enhancements are made to blogging software.
  • Trackbacks - Put simply, they suck for an exercise like this. For those who don't know, trackbacks are a way of notifying other websites that you're linking to them (and a way of indicating that other websites have linked to you). Movable type has a nifty feature that will automatically detect a trackback-enabled blog when you link to it, and set the site to be pinged. This is awesome when you're linking to a single post or even a handful of posts. However, when I was compiling the links for my Iraqi election post, I naturally had tons of trackbacks to send. I started getting trackback failures that weren't really failures. And because I was continually updating that post with new data, I ended up sending duplicate pings to the same few blogs (some got as many as five or six extraneous pings). I suppose I could have turned off the auto-detection feature and manually pinged the sites I wanted for that post, but that is hardly convenient.
  • Other notes - There has to be a better way to collect permalinks and generate a list than simply copying and pasting. I'm sure there are some bookmarklets or browser features that could prove helpful, though this would require a little research and a little tweaking to be useful.
Writing that post proved to be a most interesting exercise in aggregation, and I look forward to incorporating some of the lessons learned above in future posts...
Posted by Mark on February 13, 2005 at 10:39 AM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Chasing the Tail
The Long Tail by Chris Anderson : An excellent article from Wired that demonstrates a few of the concepts and ideas I've been writing about recently. One such concept is well described by Clay Shirky's excellent article Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality. A system governed by a power law distribution is essentially one where the power (whether it be measured in wealth, links, etc) is concentrated in a small population (when graphed, the rest of the population's power values resemble a long tail). This concentration occurs spontaneously, and it is often strengthened because members of the system have an incentive to leverage their power to accrue more power.
In systems where many people are free to choose between many options, a small subset of the whole will get a disproportionate amount of traffic (or attention, or income), even if no members of the system actively work towards such an outcome. This has nothing to do with moral weakness, selling out, or any other psychological explanation. The very act of choosing, spread widely enough and freely enough, creates a power law distribution.
As such, this distribution manifests in all sorts of human endeavors, including economics (for the accumulation of wealth), language (for word frequency), weblogs (for traffic or number of inbound links), genetics (for gene expression), and, as discussed in the Wired article, entertainment media sales. Typically, the sales of music, movies, and books follow a power law distribution, with a small number of hit artists who garner the grand majority of the sales. The typical rule of thumb is that 20% of available artists get 80% of the sales.

Because of the expense of producing the physical product, and giving it a physical point of sale (shelf-space, movie theaters, etc...), this is bad news for the 80% of artists who get 20% of the sales. Their books, movies, and music eventually go out of print and are generally forgotten, while the successful artists' works are continually reprinted and sold, building on their own success.

However, with the advent of the internet, this is beginning to change. Sales are still governed by the power law distribution, but the internet is removing the physical limitations of entertainment media.
An average movie theater will not show a film unless it can attract at least 1,500 people over a two-week run; that's essentially the rent for a screen. An average record store needs to sell at least two copies of a CD per year to make it worth carrying; that's the rent for a half inch of shelf space. And so on for DVD rental shops, videogame stores, booksellers, and newsstands.

In each case, retailers will carry only content that can generate sufficient demand to earn its keep. But each can pull only from a limited local population - perhaps a 10-mile radius for a typical movie theater, less than that for music and bookstores, and even less (just a mile or two) for video rental shops. It's not enough for a great documentary to have a potential national audience of half a million; what matters is how many it has in the northern part of Rockville, Maryland, and among the mall shoppers of Walnut Creek, California.
The decentralized nature of the internet makes it a much better way to distribute entertainment media, as that documentary that has a potential national (heck, worldwide) audience of half a million people could likely succeed if distributed online. The infrastructure for films isn't there yet, but it has been happening more in the digital music world, and even in a hybrid space like Amazon.com, which sells physical products, but in a non-local manner. With digital media, the cost of producing and distributing entertainment media goes way down, and thus even average artists can be considered successful, even if their sales don't approach that of the biggest sellers.

The internet isn't a broadcast medium; it is on-demand, driven by each individual's personal needs. Diversity is the key, and as Shirkey's article says: "Diversity plus freedom of choice creates inequality, and the greater the diversity, the more extreme the inequality." With respect to weblogs (or more generally, websites), big sites are, well, bigger, but links and traffic aren't the only metrics for success. Smaller websites are smaller in those terms, but are often more specialized, and thus they do better both in terms of connecting with their visitors (or customers) and in providing a more compelling value to their visitors. Larger sites, by virtue of their popularity, simply aren't able to interact with visitors as effectively. This is assuming, of course, that the smaller sites do a good job. My site is very small (in terms of traffic and links), but not very specialized, so it has somewhat limited appeal. However, the parts of my site that get the most traffic are the ones that are specialized (such as the Christmas Movies page, or the Asimov Guide). I think part of the reason the blog has never really caught on is that I cover a very wide range of topics, thus diluting the potential specialized value of any single topic.

The same can be said for online music sales. They still conform to a power law distribution, but what we're going to see is increasing sales of more diverse genres and bands. We're in the process of switching from a system in which only the top 20% are considered profitable, to one where 99% are valuable. This seems somewhat counterintuitive for a few reasons:
The first is we forget that the 20 percent rule in the entertainment industry is about hits, not sales of any sort. We're stuck in a hit-driven mindset - we think that if something isn't a hit, it won't make money and so won't return the cost of its production. We assume, in other words, that only hits deserve to exist. But Vann-Adib�, like executives at iTunes, Amazon, and Netflix, has discovered that the "misses" usually make money, too. And because there are so many more of them, that money can add up quickly to a huge new market.

With no shelf space to pay for and, in the case of purely digital services like iTunes, no manufacturing costs and hardly any distribution fees, a miss sold is just another sale, with the same margins as a hit. A hit and a miss are on equal economic footing, both just entries in a database called up on demand, both equally worthy of being carried. Suddenly, popularity no longer has a monopoly on profitability.

The second reason for the wrong answer is that the industry has a poor sense of what people want. Indeed, we have a poor sense of what we want.
The need to figure out what people want out of a diverse pool of options is where self-organizing systems come into the picture. A good example is Amazon's recommendations engine, and their ability to aggregate various customer inputs into useful correlations. Their "customers who bought this item also bought" lists (and the litany of variations on that theme), more often than not, provide a way to traverse the long tail. They encourage customer participation, allowing customers to write reviews, select lists, and so on, providing feedback loops that improve the quality of recommendations. Note that none of these features was designed to directly sell more items. The focus was on allowing an efficient system of collaborative feedback. Good recommendations are an emergent result of that system. Similar features are available in the online music services, and the Wired article notes:
For instance, the front screen of Rhapsody features Britney Spears, unsurprisingly. Next to the listings of her work is a box of "similar artists." Among them is Pink. If you click on that and are pleased with what you hear, you may do the same for Pink's similar artists, which include No Doubt. And on No Doubt's page, the list includes a few "followers" and "influencers," the last of which includes the Selecter, a 1980s ska band from Coventry, England. In three clicks, Rhapsody may have enticed a Britney Spears fan to try an album that can hardly be found in a record store.
Obviously, these systems aren't perfect. As I've mentioned before, a considerable amount of work needs to be done with respect to the aggregation and correlation aspects of these systems. Amazon and the online music services have a good start, and weblogs are trailing along behind them a bit, but the nature of self-organizing systems dictates that you don't get a perfect solution to start, but rather a steadily improving system. What's becoming clear, though, is that the little guys are (collectively speaking) just as important as the juggernauts, and that's why I'm not particularly upset that my blog won't be wildly popular anytime soon.
Posted by Mark on January 16, 2005 at 08:07 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, January 09, 2005

State of the Blog
Yet another year has ended, and I've found that it is good to periodically step back and take a look at what I'm doing, why I'm doing it, and where I'm going from here. I've been blogging for over 4 years, but what I do now is much different than what I did when I started. About a year and a half ago, the blog wasn't doing well, so I changed some things. Things have progressed reasonably well since then, but there are a number of things I do (or don't do) that pretty much ensure that this won't become a huge blog. This doesn't particularly bother me, for reasons I'll get into later.

Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost has been posting about how to start a blog and how to make it successful: These posts aren't perfect, but they are a good start, and they got me to thinking about why my blog isn't particularly popular, and why it doesn't bother me that much.
  • Posting Frequency: The big change I made a year and a half ago was to improve consistency by setting a schedule. I vowed to post at least once a week, always on Sunday. This is good, because consistency is important. However, once a week probably isn't enough to attract a regular readership. I often write very long entries, which could make up for some of that, but long posts can be a barrier in themselves. I prefer to write longer posts, rather than a series of small posts, so this will probably stay the same. I will occasionally make a post or two during the week, but the lack of consistency there doesn't help.
  • Breaking News: The Sunday posting schedule means I'm rarely on top of the latest news. I can think of one occasion when news was breaking on a Sunday, and I was able to pick it up and run with it. Otherwise, I'm usually commenting a few days afterwords, if at all. Perhaps because of this, I tend to gravitate towards writing about more general issues. This means that when news breaks, nobody comes here to see what I have to say about it. On the other hand, it also means that my content is still fresh and worth reading after a week or month or a year (not always, but usually).
  • Time and Motivation: I don't especially have much of either. One of the reasons I write here is to learn. Many of the subjects I write about here are unfamiliar to me, and I use the process of writing about them to learn. This usually means that I will need to familiarize myself with a bunch of material, or spend a lot of time thinking about something and figuring out what it means and how to write about it. This usually takes a lot of time and effort, and I prefer to have a few uninterrupted hours to compose something like that. This is why I post on Sundays, because I have the time then. I honestly don't know how other bloggers do it, especially the really popular ones who still manage to have a large output of original material. As I mentioned above, I tend to view blogging as an exercise in thinking, a way to learn, and a way to have fun. As Carter mentions in one of his posts:
    Blogging can be a form of enjoyment or relaxation just as jogging can be used as a means of relieving stress. But just as there is a difference between the casual jogger and the competitive runner, there is a difference between the average blogger and those destined for success.
    My posts on Self-Censorship and Arranging Interests in Parallel expand on this subject a bit more.
  • Ambition: I don't particularly have much for this blog. I would like a few more regular readers and commentors and perhaps a few links, but it really doesn't take much to make me happy. At one point, Carter says "Blogging is easy. Anyone can start a blog. Having a successful and popular blog is difficult. Incredibly difficult." I've written before about how I don't particularly want to deal with all the baggage that comes along with running a "successful" blog. There is just too much that needs to be done, and I don't have the time or motivation to do that much.
  • Marketing: I have a hard time marketing the blog. The concept of "link whoring" does not appeal to me at all, so my methods tend to be a little more subtle. This means hoping people notice a link from me in their referrer logs, or posting a bunch of comments on others' blogs. This is somewhat problematic because of the next subject...
  • Reading and Linking: This has become a major problem for me. I have a difficult time reading a lot of other blogs (more on why below), and thus it follows that I don't link to a lot of other blogs either. Combined with my infrequent posting schedule, this is quite problematic. This also makes my preferred way of getting noticed (see marketing above) a bit more difficult.
As of right now, I actually do read a lot of blogs. In fact, I've been stumbling around the blogosphere looking for new and interesting blogs for a while now. Unfortunately, this tends to induce some bad side-effects in me, and it's happened before. This was the cause of the last lull in blog posting a few years ago. I described it thusly in a post about information overload:
I used to blog a lot more often than I do now. And more than that, I used to read a great deal of blogs, especially new blogs (or at least blogs that were new to me). Eventually this had the effect of inducing a sort of ADD in me. I consumed way too many things way too quickly and I became very judgemental and dismissive. There were so many blogs that I scanned (I couldn't actually read them, that would take too long for marginal gain) that this ADD began to spread across my life. I could no longer sit down and just read a book, even a novel.
This is more difficult to diagnose than it sounds, but I've decided to curtail my blog reading in favor of activities which allow me to focus. I don't think this will change much, though. To a large extent, this is the sort of thing which has already shaped my blog to be what it is (warts and all, as described above), and I don't think it's going to change much. It's not the act of writing the blog which is the problem here, especially since I tend to write on more general subjects. This is more of a small calibration, along the lines of re-setting a clock when it begins to go awry (as even the best made clocks eventually do), than a major change (or defiant posturing).

In any case, this means that the blog will continue much the way it has, but that it won't become particularly successful anytime soon. As always, I hope to gain a few new readers here and there, and I see no reason why that couldn't happen. In a future post, I'll be talking about why I'm continuing despite my lack of ambition (which will, in turn, tie this post in with my recent posts regarding self-organization and the blogosphere).
Posted by Mark on January 09, 2005 at 08:33 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Everyone Contributes in Some Way
Epic : A fascinating and possibly prophetic flash film of things to come in terms of information aggregation, recommendations, and filtering. It focuses on Google and Microsoft's (along with a host of others, including Blogger, Amazon, and Friendster) competing contributions to the field. It's eight minutes long, and well worth the watch. It touches on many of the concepts I've been writing about here, including self-organization and stigmergy, but in my opinion it stops just short of where such a system would go.

It's certainly interesting, but I don't think it gets it quite right (Googlezon?). Or perhaps it does, but the pessimistic ending doesn't feel right to me. Towards the end, it claims that a comprehensive social dossier would be compiled by Googlezon (note the name on the ID - Winston Smith) and that everyone would receive customized newscasts which are completely automated. Unfortunately, they forsee majority of these customized newscasts as being rather substandard - filled with inaccuracies, narrow, shallow and sensational. To me, this sounds an awful lot like what we have now, but on a larger (and less manageable) scale. Talented editors, who can navagate, filter, and correlate Googlezon's contents, are able to produce something astounding, but the problem (as envisioned by this movie) is that far too few people have access to these editors.

But I think that misses the point. Individual editors would produce interesting results, but if the system were designed correctly, in a way that allowed everyone to be editors and a way to implement feedback loops (i.e. selection mechanisms), there's no reason a meta-editor couldn't produce something spectacular. Of course, there would need to be a period of adjustment, where the system gets lots of things wrong, but that's how selection works. In self-organizing systems, failure is important, and it ironically ensures progress. If too many people are getting bad information in 2014 (when the movie is set), all that means is that the selection process hasn't matured quite yet. I would say that things would improve considerably by 2020.

The film is quite worth a watch. I doubt this specific scenario will play out, but it's likely that something along these lines will occur. [Via the Commissar]
Posted by Mark on January 02, 2005 at 05:34 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Stigmergic Notes
I've been doing a lot of reading and thinking about the concepts discussed in my last post. It's a fascinating, if a little bewildering, topic. I'm not sure I have a great handle on it, but I figured I'd share a few thoughts.

There are many systems that are incredibly flexible, yet they came into existence, grew, and self-organized without any actual planning. Such systems are often referred to as Stigmergic Systems. To a certain extent, free markets have self-organized, guided by such emergent effects as Adam Smith's "invisible hand". Many organisms are able to quickly adapt to changing conditions using a technique of continuous reproduction and selection. To an extent, there are forces on the internet that are beginning to self-organize and produce useful emergent properties, blogs among them.

Such systems are difficult to observe, and it's hard to really get a grasp on what a given system is actually indicating (or what properties are emerging). This is, in part, the way such systems are supposed to work. When many people talk about blogs, they find it hard to believe that a system composed mostly of small, irregularly updated, and downright mediocre (if not worse) blogs can have truly impressive emergent properties (I tend to model the ideal output of the blogosphere as an information resource). Believe it or not, blogging wouldn't work without all the crap. There are a few reasons for this:

The System Design: The idea isn't to design a perfect system. The point is that these systems aren't planned, they're self-organizing. What we design are systems which allow this self-organization to occur. In nature, this is accomplished through constant reproduction and selection (for example, some biological systems can be represented as a function of genes. There are hundreds of thousands of genes, with a huge and diverse number of combinations. Each combination can be judged based on some criteria, such as survival and reproduction. Nature introduces random mutations so that gene combinations vary. Efficient combinations are "selected" and passed on to the next generation through reproduction, and so on).

The important thing with respect to blogs are the tools we use. To a large extent, blogging is simply an extension of many mechanisms already available on the internet, most especially the link. Other weblog specific mechanisms like blogrolls, permanent-links, comments (with links of course) and trackbacks have added functionality to the link and made it more powerful. For a number of reasons, weblogs tend to be affected by power-law distribution, which spontaneously produces a sort of hierarchical organization. Many believe that such a distribution is inherently unfair, as many excellent blogs don't get the attention they deserve, but while many of the larger bloggers seek to promote smaller blogs (some even providing mechanisms for promotion), I'm not sure there is any reliable way to systemically "fix" the problem without harming the system's self-organizational abilities.
In systems where many people are free to choose between many options, a small subset of the whole will get a disproportionate amount of traffic (or attention, or income), even if no members of the system actively work towards such an outcome. This has nothing to do with moral weakness, selling out, or any other psychological explanation. The very act of choosing, spread widely enough and freely enough, creates a power law distribution.
This self-organization is one of the important things about weblogs; any attempt to get around it will end up harming you in the long run as the important thing is to find a state in which weblogs are working most efficiently. How can the weblog community be arranged to self-organize and find its best configuration? That is what the real question is, and that is what we should be trying to accomplish (emphasis mine):
...although the purpose of this example is to build an information resource, the main strategy is concerned with creating an efficient system of collaboration. The information resource emerges as an outcome if this is successful.
Failure is Important: Self-Organizing systems tend to have attractors (a preferred state of the system), such that these systems will always gravitate towards certain positions (or series of positions), no matter where they start. Surprising as it may seem, self-organization only really happens when you expose a system in a steady state to an environment that can destabilize it. By disturbing a steady state, you might cause the system to take up a more efficient position.

It's tempting to dismiss weblogs as a fad because so many of them are crap. But that crap is actually necessary because it destabilizies the system. Bloggers often add their perspective to the weblog community in the hopes that this new information will change the way others think (i.e. they are hoping to induce change - this is roughly referred to as Stigmergy). That new information will often prompt other individuals to respond in some way or another (even if not directly responding). Essentially, change is introduced in the system and this can cause unpredictable and destabilizing effects. Sometimes this destabilization actually helps the system, sometimes (and probably more often than not) it doesn't. Irregardless of its direct effects, the process is essential because it is helping the system become increasingly comprehensive. I touched on this in my last post among several others in which I claim that an argument achieves a higher degree of objectivity by embracing and acknowledging its own biases and agenda. It's not that any one blog or post is particularly reliable in itself, it's that blogs collectively are more objective and reliable than any one analyst (a journalist, for instance), despite the fact that many blogs are mediocre at best. An individual blog may fail to solve a problem, but that failure is important too when you look at the systemic level. Of course, all of this is also muddying the waters and causing the system to deteriorate to a state where it is less efficient to use. For every success story like Rathergate, there are probably 10 bizarre and absurd conspiracy theories to contend with.
This is the dilemma faced by all biological systems. The effects that cause them to become less efficient are also the effects that enable them to evolve into more efficient forms. Nature solves this problem with its evolutionary strategy of selecting for the fittest. This strategy makes sure that progress is always in a positive direction only.
So what weblogs need is a selection process that separates the good blogs from the bad. This ties in with the aforementioned power-law distribution of weblogs. Links, be they blogroll links or links to an individual post, essentially represent a sort of currency of the blogosphere and provide an essential internal feedback loop. There is a rudimentary form of this sort of thing going on, and it has proven to be very successful (as Jeremy Bowers notes, it certainly seems to do so much better than the media whose selection process appears to be simple heuristics). However, the weblog system is still young and I think there is considerable room for improvement in its selection processes. We've only hit the tip of the iceberg here. Syndication, aggregation, and filtering need to improve considerably. Note that all of those things are systemic improvements. None of them directly act upon the weblog community or the desired informational output of the community. They are improvements to the strategy of creating an efficient system of collaboration. A better informational output emerges as an outcome if the systemic improvements are successful.

This is truly a massive subject, and I'm only beginning to understand some of the deeper concepts, so I might end up repeating myself a bit in future posts on this subject, as I delve deeper into the underlying concepts and gain a better understanding. The funny thing is that it doesn't seem like the subject itself is very well defined, so I'm sure lots will be changing in the future. Below are a few links to information that I found helpful in writing this post.
Posted by Mark on December 12, 2004 at 11:15 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, December 05, 2004

An Epic in Parallel Form
Tyler Cowen has an interesting post on the scholarly content of blogging in which he speculates as to how blogging and academic scholarship fit together. In so doing he makes some general observations about blogging:
Blogging is a fundamentally new medium, akin to an epic in serial form, but combining the functions of editor and author. Who doesn't dream of writing an epic?

Don't focus on the single post. Rather a good blog provides you a whole vision of what a field is about, what the interesting questions are, and how you might answer them. It is also a new window onto a mind. And by packaging intellectual content with some personality, bloggers appeal to the biological instincts of blog readers. Be as intellectual as you want, you still are programmed to find people more memorable than ideas.
It's an interesting perspective. Many blogs are general in subject, but some of the ones that really stand out have some sort of narrative (for lack of a better term) that you can follow from post to post. As Cowen puts it, an "epic in serial form." The suggestion that reading a single blog many times is more rewarding than reading the best posts from many different blogs is interesting. But while a single blog may give you a broad view of what a field is about, it can also be rewarding to aggregate the specific views of a wide variety of individuals, even biased and partisan individuals. As Cowen mentions, the blogosphere as a whole is the relevant unit of analysis. Even if each individual view is unimpressive on its own, that may not be the case when taken collectively. In a sense, while each individual is writing a flawed epic in serial form, they are all contributing to an epic in parallel form.

Which brings up another interesting aspect of blogs. When the blogosphere tackles a subject, it produces a diverse set of opinions and perspectives, all published independently by a network of analysts who are all doing work in parallel. The problem here is that the decentralized nature of the blogosphere makes aggregation difficult. Determining a group as large and diverse as the blogosphere's "answer" based on all of the disparate information they have produced is incredibly difficult, especially when the majority of data represents opinions of various analysts. A deficiency in aggregation is part of where groupthink comes from, but some groups are able to harness their disparity into something productive. The many are smarter than the few, but only if the many are able to aggregate their data properly.

In theory, blogs represent a self-organizing system that has the potential to evolve and display emergent properties (a sort of human hive mind). In practice, it's a little more difficult to say. I think it's clear that the spontaneous appearance of collective thought, as implemented through blogs or other communication systems, is happening frequently on the internet. However, each occurrence is isolated and only represents an incremental gain in productivity. In other words, a system will sometimes self-organize in order to analyze a problem and produce an enormous amount of data which is then aggregated into a shared vision (a vision which is much more sophisticated than anything that one individual could come up with), but the structure that appears in that case will disappear as the issue dies down. The incredible increase in analytic power is not a permanent stair step, nor is it ubiquitous. Indeed, it can also be hard to recognize the signal in a great sea of noise.

Of course, such systems are constantly and spontaneously self-organizing; themselves tackling problems in parallel. Some systems will compete with others, some systems will organize around trivial issues, some systems won't be nearly as effective as others. Because of this, it might be that we don't even recognize when a system really transcends its perceived limitations. Of course, such systems are not limited to blogs. In fact they are quite common, and they appear in lots of different types of systems. Business markets are, in part, self-organizing, with emergent properties like Adam Smith's "invisible hand". Open Source software is another example of a self-organizing system.

Interestingly enough, this subject ties in nicely with a series of posts I've been working on regarding the properties of Reflexive documentaries, polarized debates, computer security, and national security. One of the general ideas discussed in those posts is that an argument achieves a higher degree of objectivity by embracing and acknowledging its own biases and agenda. Ironically, in acknowledging one's own subjectivity, one becomes more objective and reliable. This applies on an individual basis, but becomes much more powerful when it is part of an emergent system of analysis as discussed above. Blogs are excellent at this sort of thing precisely because they are made up of independent parts that make no pretense at objectivity. It's not that any one blog or post is particularly reliable in itself, it's that blogs collectively are more objective and reliable than any one analyst (a journalist, for instance), despite the fact that many blogs are mediocre at best. The news media represents a competing system (the journalist being the media's equivalent of the blogger), one that is much more rigid and unyielding. The interplay between blogs and the media is fascinating, and you can see each medium evolving in response to the other (the degree to which this is occurring is naturally up for debate). You might even be able to make the argument that blogs are, themselves, emergent properties of the mainstream media.

Personally, I don't think I have that exact sort of narrative going here, though I do believe I've developed certain thematic consistencies in terms of the subjects I cover here. I'm certainly no expert and I don't post nearly often enough to establish the sort of narrative that Cowen is talking about, but I do think a reader would benefit from reading multiple posts. I try to make up for my low posting frequency by writing longer, more detailed posts, often referencing older posts on similar subjects. However, I get the feeling that if I were to break up my posts into smaller, more digestible pieces, the overall time it would take to read and produce the same material would be significantly longer. Of course, my content is rarely scholarly in nature, and my subject matter varies from week to week as well, but I found this interesting to think about nonetheless.

I think I tend to be more of an aggregator than anything else, which is interesting because I've never thought about what I do in those terms. It's also somewhat challenging, as one of my weaknesses is being timely with information. Plus aggregation appears to be one of the more tricky aspects of a system such as the ones discussed above, and with respect to blogs, it is something which definitely needs some work...

Update 12.13.04: I wrote some more on the subject. I aslo made a minor edit to this entry, moving one paragraph lower down. No content has actually changed, but the new order flows better.
Posted by Mark on December 05, 2004 at 09:23 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Arranging Interests in Parallel
I have noticed a tendency on my part to, on occasion, quote a piece of fiction, and then comment on some wisdom or truth contained therein. This sort of thing is typically frowned upon in rigorous debate as fiction is, by definition, contrived and thus referencing it in a serious argument is rightly seen as undesirable. Fortunately for me, this blog, though often taking a serious tone, is ultimately an exercise in thinking for myself. The point is to have fun. This is why I will sometimes quote fiction to make a point, and it's also why I enjoy questionable exercises like speculating about historical figures. As I mentioned in a post on Benjamin Franklin, such exercises usually end up saying more about me and my assumptions than anything else. But it's my blog, so that is more or less appropriate.

Astute readers must at this point be expecting to recieve a citation from a piece of fiction, followed by an application of the relevant concepts to some ends. And they would be correct.

Early on in Neal Stephenson's novel The System of the World, Daniel Waterhouse reflects on what is required of someone in his position:
He was at an age where it was never possible ot pursue one errand at a time. He must do many at once. He guessed that people who had lived right and arranged things properly must have it all rigged so that all of their quests ran in parallel, and reinforced and supported one another just so. They gained reputations as conjurors. Others found their errands running at cross purposes and were never able to do anything; they ended up seeming mad, or else percieived the futility of what they were doing and gave up, or turned to drink.
Naturally, I believe there is some truth to this. In fact, the life of Benjamin Franklin, a historical figure from approximately the same time period as Dr. Waterhouse, provides us with a more tangible reference point.

Franklin was known to mix private interests with public ones, and to leverage both to further his business interests. The consummate example of Franklin's proclivities was the Junto, a club of young workingmen formed by Franklin in the fall of 1727. The Junto was a small club composed of enterprising tradesman and artisans who discussed issues of the day and also endeavored to form a vehicle for the furtherance of their own careers. The enterprise was typical of Franklin, who was always eager to form associations for mutual benefit, and who aligned his interests so they ran in parallel, reinforcing and supporting one another.

A more specific example of Franklin's knack for aligning interests is when he produced the first recorded abortion debate in America. At the time, Franklin was running a print shop in Philadelphia. His main competitor, Andrew Bradford, published the town's only newspaper. The paper was meager, but very profitable in both moneys and prestige (which led him to be more respected by merchants and politicians, and thus more likely to get printing jobs), and Franklin decided to launch a competing newspaper. Unfortunately, another rival printer, Samuel Keimer, caught wind of Franklin's plan and immediately launched a hastily assembled newspaper of his own. Franklin, realizing that it would be difficult to launch a third paper right away, vowed to crush Keimer:
In a comptetitive bank shot, Franklin decided to write a series of anonymous letters and essays, along the lines of the Silence Dogood pieces of his youth, for Bradford's [American Weekly Mercury] to draw attention away from Keimer's new paper. The goal was to enliven, at least until Keimer was beaten, Bradford's dull paper, which in its ten years had never puplished any such features.

The first two pieces were attacks on poor Keimer, who was serializing entries from an encyclopedia. His intial installment included, innocently enough, an entry on abortion. Franklin pounced. Using the pen names "Martha Careful" and "Celia Shortface," he wrote letters to Bradford's paper feigning shock and indignation at Keimer's offense. As Miss Careful threatened, "If he proceeds farther to expose the secrets of our sex in that audacious manner [women would] run the hazard of taking him by the beard in the next place we meet him." Thus Franklin manufactured the first recorded abortion debate in America, not because he had any strong feelings on the issue, but because he knew it would sell newspapers. [This is an exerpt from the recent biography Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson]
Franklin's many actions of the time certainly weren't running at cross purposes, and he did manage to align his interests in parallel. He truly was a master, and we'll be hearing more about him on this blog soon.

This isn't the first time I've written about this subject before either. In a previous post, On the Overloading of Information, I noted one of the main reasons why blogging continues to be an enjoyable activity for me, despite changing interests and desires:
I am often overwhelmed by a desire to consume various things - books, movies, music, etc... The subject of such things is also varied and, as such, often don't mix very well. That said, the only thing I have really found that works is to align those subjects that do mix in such a way that they overlap. This is perhaps the only reason blogging has stayed on my plate for so long: since the medium is so free-form and since I have absolute control over what I write here and when I write it, it is easy to align my interests in such a way that they overlap with my blog (i.e. I write about what interests me at the time).
One way you can tell that my interests have shifted over the years is that the format and content of my writing here has also changed. I am once again reminded of Neal Stephenson's original minimalist homepage in which he speaks of his ongoing struggle against what Linda Stone termed as "continuous partial attention," as that curious feature of modern life only makes the necessity of aligning interests in parallel that much more important.

Aligning blogging with my other core interests, such as reading fiction, is one of the reasons I frequently quote fiction, even in reference to a serious topic. Yes, such a practice is frowned upon, but blogging is a hobby, the idea of which is to have fun. Indeed, Glenn Reynolds, progenitor of one of the most popular blogging sites around, also claims to blog for fun, and interestingly enough, he has quoted fiction in support of his own serious interests as well (more than once). One other interesting observation is that all references to fiction in this post, including even Reynolds' references, are from Neal Stephenson's novels. I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to figure out what significance, if any, that holds.
Posted by Mark on November 11, 2004 at 11:45 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, October 31, 2004

MT Success!
After a week of Movable Type installation and upgradation woes, I hath finally vanquished mine enemy and emerged victorious. My tale is long and breathtakingly boring, so I shall not curse thou with the banal details of my struggle without warning. But for posterity, and because some people may have the same problem as me, I shall recount my tale of woe and weary, as well as how my foul enemy was finally defeated.

So las week I embarked on a quest to upgrade Movable Type to the new version. I also figured it would be a good idea to upgrade my database from the once preferred Berkeley db to MySQL. SixApart, the developers of MT, were thoughtful enough to provide a utility (mt-db2sql.cgi) that loads the data from Berkely db to MySQL, say thankya. However, after backing up all my data and following all necessary steps, I ran the script and was baffled by the response. "MySQL server has gone away," it said. Repeated attempts were to no avail. A helpful poster at the MT Support Forums found the error in the MySQL documentation. Said documentation seemed to indicate that this was a server timeout problem. I opened a support ticket with my host and they confirmed that "We do have some limits in place that restrict the amount of time queries can run for, or how much memory they may consume."

At this point I almost despaired. This was about 3 days after the initial attempt, and my lack of progress was depressing. But, in my desperation, I set the script up to run again, and asked my host to run it for me, figuring that they would be able to run it as an admin (or otherwise get around the query limits on the server). My host graciously agreed, and ran the script for me. Checking the database with PHPMyAdmin, I could see that all the pertinent data was in the appropriate location. Victory is mine! Or so I thought.

Overjoyed at finally completing the data load, I anxiously logged in to MT. Alas, it was not to be. I logged in, and saw that neither of my blogs was appearing. What foul devilry was this? I could see my profile information and the Activity Log, but I could not view (and thus, I could not edit) either blog. Even more frustrating, the MT System Stats box showed "Total Blogs: 2." This meant that MT was getting data from MySQL, but that not all of it was showing up.

Again, I almost despaired. Subsequent posts to the MT Support Forum did not produce any results. For three days, I languished in agony, and in moments of weakness, I debated switching back to Berkeley db. But this morn, I decided to give the MT Support Forums one last check, and though no one had responeded to my pleading posts, I did find one post in another forum on another subject, which proved to be most helpful.

In short, that post contained links to a few useful configuration utilities, including the glorious MT-Medic. After downloading, configuring, and installing MT-Medic, I saw that my Username in MT no longer had the correct permissions set. For whatever reason, mt-db2sql.cgi did not transfer over said permissions when it ran, and thus my Username did not have permission to see my blogs. MT-Medic allowed me to fix this problem quickly and easily. (I must also thank the Multiple Blog Suite for help in diagnosing the problem).

With that demon slain, I was able to log in to MT and write this entry. Success was finally mine. I can finally post again, and upgrade MT-Blacklist so as to prevent massive comment spamming (apparently, spammers found a way to submit comments even during the period of limbo). So there you have it. If you're still reading this and wondering what the hell I'm blathering about, please accept my apologies, but I figured this post could be a help to others who will no doubt suffer from this problem in the future.

Update: Well then, it seems my celebrating was a bit premature. It turns out that none of my templates made the switch, and so when I tried to publish this entry it didn't show up. So I switched back to Berkeley db, copy/pasted all of the templates into files, which I then imported into the MySQL version of MT, at which point I was able to publish this. Yes, so another helpful hint: Use the link this template to a file feature. Again, apologies to those who have no idea what I'm talking about...

Again Update: It seems that in the conversion process, all of my entries lost their category associations. Odd. So the category archives might be acting funny until I can go back and recategorize everything. Given MT 3.x's new subcategory feature, this might not be a horrible thing, but still, another thing to be aware of...
Posted by Mark on October 31, 2004 at 10:16 AM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, October 24, 2004

MT Upgrade
I'm in the process of doing some upgrades and maintenance to the site. I've just upgraded to Movable Type 3.121, which went pretty well. Some nice new functionality, and I'm glad it was available in a free version for people like me who only have one weblog with one author and don't post all that often.

Next up is converting from Berkeley DB to MySQL. I actually tried this before I upgraded, but it keeps crapping out on me (I get this error, which I'm sure is a host thing, but they have yet to get back to me). Hopefully I'll get that resolved in the next few days, as I'm told that MySQL is much better in terms of performance.

All of which is to say that you might experience some wierdness in comments and whatnot (wierdness as in not working, not people like myself making strange comments). Other site maintenance is afoot as well (believe it or not, this site is more than just a weblog), so keep an eye out...

Update 10.26.04: Still no luck with converting to MySQL. I may have to stick with Berkeley for the time being. Anyway, comments were down for a good portion of the day today, and may be going down again soon. Also, for now, comments need to be approved before they show up. Sorry for any inconvenience.
Posted by Mark on October 24, 2004 at 10:59 AM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

A Reflexive Media
"To write or to speak is almost inevitably to lie a little. It is an attempt to clothe an intangible in a tangible form; to compress an immeasurable into a mold. And in the act of compression, how the Truth is mangled and torn!" - Anne Murrow Lindbergh
There are many types of documentary films. The most common form of documentary is referred to as Direct Address (aka Voice of God). In such a documentary, the viewer is directly acknowledged, usually through narration and voice-overs. There is very little ambiguity and it is pretty obvious how you're expected to interpret these types of films. Many television and news programs use this style, to varying degrees of success. Ken Burns' infamous Civil War and Baseball series use this format eloquently, but most traditional propaganda films also fall into this category (a small caveat: most films are hybrids, rarely falling exclusively into one category). Such films give the illusion of being an invisible witness to certain events and are thus very persuasive and powerful.

The problem with Direct Address documentaries is that they grew out of a belief that Truth is knowable through objective facts. In a recent sermon he posted on the web, Donald Sensing spoke of the difference between facts and the Truth:
Truth and fact are not the same thing. We need only observe the presidential race to discern that. John Kerry and allies say that the results of America's war against Iraq is mostly a failure while George Bush and allies say they are mostly success. Both sides have the same facts, but both arrive at a different "truth."

People rarely fight over facts. What they argue about is what the facts mean, what is the Truth the facts indicate.
I'm not sure Sensing chose the best example here, but the concept itself is sound. Any documentary is biased in the Truth that it presents, even if the facts are undisputed. In a sense objectivity is impossible, which is why documentary scholar Bill Nichols admires films which seek to contextualize themselves, exposing their limitations and biases to the audience.

Reflexive Documentaries use many devices to acknowledge the filmmaker's presence, perspective, and selectivity in constructing the film. It is thought that films like this are much more honest about their subjectivity, and thus provide a much greater service to the audience.

An excellent example of a Reflexive documentary is Errol Morris' brilliant film, The Thin Blue Line. The film examines the "truth" around the murder of a Dallas policeman. The use of colored lighting throughout the film eventually correlates with who is innocent or guilty, and Morris is also quite manipulative through his use of editing - deconstructing and reconstructing the case to demonstrate just how problematic finding the truth can be. His use of framing calls attention to itself, daring the audience to question the intents of the filmmakers. The use of interviews in conjunction with editing is carefully structured to demonstrate the subjectivity of the film and its subjects. As you watch the movie, it becomes quite clear that Morris is toying with you, the viewer, and that he wants you to be critical of the "truth" he is presenting.

Ironically, a documentary becomes more objective when it acknowledges its own biases and agenda. In other words, a documentary becomes more objective when it admits its own subjectivity. There are many other forms of documentary not covered here (i.e. direct cinema/cinema verité, interview-based, performative, mock-documentaries, etc... most of which mesh together as they did in Morris' Blue Line to form a hybrid).

In Bill Nichols' seminal essay, Voice of Documentary (Can't seem to find a version online), he says:
"Documentary filmmakers have a responsibility not to be objective. Objectivity is a concept borrowed from the natural sciences and from journalism, with little place in the social sciences or documentary film."
I always found it funny that Nichols equates the natural sciences with journalism, as it seems to me that modern journalism is much more like a documentary than a natural science. As such, I think the lessons of Reflexive documentaries (and its counterparts) should apply to the realm of journalism.

The media emphatically does not acknowledge their biases. By bias, I don't mean anything as short-sighted as liberal or conservative media bias, I mean structural bias of which political orientation is but a small part (that link contains an excellent essay on the nature of media bias, one that I find presents a more complete picture and is much more useful than the tired old ideological bias we always hear so much about*). Such subjectivity does exist in journalism, yet the media stubbornly persists in their firm belief that they are presenting the objective truth.

The recent CBS scandal, consisting of a story bolstered by what appear to be obviously forged documents, provides us with an immediate example. Terry Teachout makes this observation regarding how few prominent people are willing to admit that they are wrong:
I was thinking today about how so few public figures are willing to admit (for attribution, anyway) that they’ve done something wrong, no matter how minor. But I wasn’t thinking of politicians, or even of Dan Rather. A half-remembered quote had flashed unexpectedly through my mind, and thirty seconds’ worth of Web surfing produced this paragraph from an editorial in a magazine called World War II:
Soon after he had completed his epic 140-mile march with his staff from Wuntho, Burma, to safety in India, an unhappy Lieutenant General Joseph W. Stilwell was asked by a reporter to explain the performance of Allied armies in Burma and give his impressions of the recently concluded campaign. Never one to mince words, the peppery general responded: "I claim we took a hell of a beating. We got run out of Burma and it is as humiliating as hell. I think we ought to find out what caused it, and go back and retake it."
Stilwell spoke those words sixty-two years ago. When was the last time that such candor was heard in like circumstances? What would happen today if similar words were spoken by some equally well-known person who’d stepped in it up to his eyebrows?
As he points out later in his post, I don't think we're going to be seeing such admissions any time soon. Again, CBS provides a good example. Rather than admit the possibility that they may be wrong, their response to the criticisms of their sources has been vague, dismissive, and entirely reliant on their reputation as a trustworthy staple of journalism. They have not yet comprehensively responded to any of the numerous questions about the documents; questions which range from "conflicting military terminology to different word-processing techniques". It appears their strategy is to escape the kill zone by focusing on the "truth" of their story, that Bush's service in the Air National Guard was less than satisfactory. They won't admit that the documents are forgeries, and by focusing on the arguably important story, they seek to distract the issue away from their any discussion of their own wrongdoing - in effect claiming that the documents aren't important because the story is "true" anyway.

Should they admit they were wrong? Of course they should, but they probably won't. If they won't, it will not be because they think the story is right, and not because they think the documents are genuine. They won't admit wrongdoing and they won't correct their methodologies or policies because to do so would be to acknowledge to the public that they are less than just an objective purveyor of truth.

Yet I would argue that they should do so, that it is their duty to do so just as it is the documentarian's responsibility to acknowledge their limitations and agenda to their audience.

It is also interesting to note that weblogs contrast the media by doing just that. Glenn Reynolds notes that the internet is a low-trust medium, which paradoxically indicates that it is more trustworthy than the media (because blogs and the like acknowledge their bias and agenda, admit when they're wrong, and correct their mistakes):
The Internet, on the other hand, is a low-trust environment. Ironically, that probably makes it more trustworthy.

That's because, while arguments from authority are hard on the Internet, substantiating arguments is easy, thanks to the miracle of hyperlinks. And, where things aren't linkable, you can post actual images. You can spell out your thinking, and you can back it up with lots of facts, which people then (thanks to Google, et al.) find it easy to check. And the links mean that you can do that without cluttering up your narrative too much, usually, something that's impossible on TV and nearly so in a newspaper.

(This is actually a lot like the world lawyers live in -- nobody trusts us enough to take our word for, well, much of anything, so we back things up with lots of footnotes, citations, and exhibits. Legal citation systems are even like a primitive form of hypertext, really, one that's been around for six or eight hundred years. But I digress -- except that this perhaps explains why so many lawyers take naturally to blogging).

You can also refine your arguments, updating -- and even abandoning them -- in realtime as new facts or arguments appear. It's part of the deal.

This also means admitting when you're wrong. And that's another difference. When you're a blogger, you present ideas and arguments, and see how they do. You have a reputation, and it matters, but the reputation is for playing it straight with the facts you present, not necessarily the conclusions you reach.
The mainstream media as we know it is on the decline. They will no longer be able to get by on their brand or their reputations alone. The collective intelligence of the internet, combined with the natural reflexiveness of its environment, has already provided a challenge to the underpinnings of journalism. On the internet, the dominance of the media is constantly challenged by individuals who question the "truth" presented to them in the media. I do not think that blogs have the power to eclipse the media, but their influence is unmistakable. The only question that remains is if the media will rise to the challenge. If the way CBS has reacted is any indication, then, sadly, we still have a long way to go.

* Yes, I do realize the irony of posting this just after I posted about liberal and conservative tendencies in online debating, and I hinted at that with my "Update" in that post.

Thanks to Jay Manifold for the excellent Structural Bias of Journalism link.
Posted by Mark on September 15, 2004 at 11:07 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Blogroll Updates
Since I'm writing about weblogs a lot lately, I figured I'd take some time out to update my blogroll. As I've mentioned before, a blog usually makes it to my blogroll only because I like to read that blog. Once there, it tends to stay there, but I may eventually remove it, if only to make room for other blogs (and in some cases, bloggers have stopped posting, making the decision to de-link easy). I don't like to remove links, but I will because I think it is important to keep the list relatively short (due to things like Inverse Network Effect). However, most of the blogs I have ever linked to are archived on my general links page (which needs some updating, actually). Anyway, here are the additions to the list:
  • A Voyage to Arcturus: An excellent science and astronomy (among other things) themed blog by Jay Manifold (who is also a contributer to Chicago Boyz).
  • Mauled Again: One wouldn't think in-depth discussions of tax law would be that interesting, but James Edward Maule manages to do so about as well as one could expect. I honestly don't remember how I found this one, but I'm glad I did.
  • The Politburo Diktat: I'm a sucker for communist themed pseudo-satire, and the Commisar fits the bill (for example, his Show Trials are hilarious)
  • Funmurphys: An interesting little blog. Mr Murphy has been kind enough to link to me on several occasions, and he does good work, so I figured it was time to reciprocate.
There you have it.
Posted by Mark on September 09, 2004 at 09:45 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Too Much Bardak
Last week I wrote a post about popular bloggers and how success can be a challenge. As if to prove my point, Steven Den Beste has quit blogging (for the time being, at least). It's not a huge surprise, he's been slowing down for a while, and he's posted a few times about it. He used to have a bulletin board, but he took that down a while ago. He doesn't have comments, nor does he allow trackbacks. The only thing left is email, and it appears that his inbox gets constantly filled with pedantic nitpicking. He once described it thusly:
Almost all of these letters were friendly and helpful. But the cumulative effect of them is like a piledriver... This morning, I started scanning through my mailbox and, for just a moment, considered taking the site down. I really do like receiving mail from readers, and I don't really mind receiving critical mail. But when I receive 50 letters in 12 hours which all hop on the same exact point, then even if nearly all of them are friendly and helpful and supportive, the cumulative effect is ego-crushing. And for a couple of minutes, I found myself asking why I'm bothering with this at all. Why am I spending $200 per month and several hours per day, apparently only to give people someone to sneer at?

It was an unfair reaction on my part; I know full well that most of my readers don't sneer at me.
He's been trying for a while to cut down on annoying emails, to the point where he inserts little notes in his posts which mean "Don't write letters!" For all his efforts, this apparently didn't stop abuse; emails nitpicking minor details (missing the forest for the trees) still flood his inbox.

Last week, I quoted Commisar on why big bloggers don't allow comments, etc... "Too much bardak," he said. But Den Beste posted some examples of the email he gets, and it becomes clear that while he has to shift though his fair share of noise, there is a significant amount of signal that is worthy of attention. Too much, in fact, and I can imagine that would be overwhelming.

The only real solutions left to Den Beste are to stop blogging, or to stop allowing emails. Forbidding emails is probably unrealistic. I'd imagine he wants some sort of feedback, just not the backbreaking quantity he gets now. It's not just that he doesn't get good emails, it's that he gets too many good emails as well. There's no real way to separate duplicate comments or overly intensive requests from the rest, and that's the real problem. I suppose if he did forbid emails, feedback could be garnered through people blogging their comments, but that still leaves something to be desired. From what I know, I think it could work, but it's obviously not ideal. So for now he's stopped blogging.

And as much as I enjoy his blog, I really can't blame him for that. I can't imagine getting that much feedback, and if I did, I'm sure I'd buckle under the pressure far sooner than Den Beste. I will miss his blogging though, and anxiously await his return... but I'm not holding my breath. Happy trails, Captain!
Posted by Mark on August 29, 2004 at 08:03 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Spider Man and Blogging
Webslinger or Weblogger?: metaphilm details the surprising similarities between Spider Man 2 and bloggers:
It’s tough being a famous weblogger. Every time something happens, you feel obliged to post an entry. In fact, people expect it. At first it’s exciting, but it soon becomes overwhelming (and you’re not even getting paid for it). The next thing you know, you’re not performing at work, going out on dates, or getting on with your life. And to your surprise, you’ve become a target of criticism. All you’ve ever done is try to use your weblogging abilities to help humankind from the forces of corporate, political, and aesthetic evil. And what does humankind do? They turn on you. They take you for granted. They spam your commenting system.

... Eventually you realize that you have a choice to make. Either continue the demanding life of a weblogger or call it quits. You conclude, “I want a life of my own. I’m weblogging no more.”
A short and interesting read, and it actually does make a little sense. A blogger always wants to be read, but how many people really want a huge readership? Personally, I would like more traffic, but not to the point where I get hundreds of comments per entry. At that point I'd probably stop allowing comments, and if you look around at some of the most popular blogs, you'll notice they don't have comments or trackbacks enabled and sometimes even emailing them can be a challenge. There is a good reason popular bloggers like Glenn Reynolds don't have these things enabled - as the Commisar puts it, "Too much bardak."

The Commisar also seems to have a good handle on how build traffic for your blog. His basic theory is that if you're running a small to medium blog, you should focus on getting attention from similar blogs. You don't need to send links out to big bloggers hoping they'll link you, because even if they do, you get a giant spike of visits, and then things return right back to normal. However, if you build up a friendship with lots of other smaller blogs, you'll get more consistent traffic. You do this sort of thing by making thoughtful comments on their blogs, or linking to them, or maybe exchanging some emails. Personally, I always have a hard time doing that because I'm lazy and don't want to read a lot of other blogs and spend time posting insightful comments. I have a hard enough time keeping up with my own blog, and yet to a great extent, the "comrades" I have developed in the blogosphere have come, to a great extent, from that very source. But I digress.

In the end, while I could stand a little more traffic, I'm just happy when an entry gets a modest amount of comments or a link from some other blog. I don't think I'll be getting famous any time soon, but still, too much traffic would seem a burden. The important thing is that I like what I'm doing here, and I do. And I'm certainly thankful for those who do take the time to read and comment here, because I don't know that I would continue without them. It is a matter of balance, I guess...
Posted by Mark on August 22, 2004 at 03:50 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Four Years of Kaedrin Blog
You read that right, it's been a little over four years since I started this blog. Of course, it was a lot different back then (no, no, you don't need to go back and check. I know the links are right there, but you really don't need to look at what this blog was like back then. Trust me.) and I went through various periods of inactivity. The blog in it's current form pretty much started a little over a year ago, when I resolved to post at least once a week, a schedule I've held to pretty well. I've also begun to do a little more in the way of original writing. I'm still very dependant on pull quotes, but I like to think I've made some progress.

One thing that has become apparent over the past year is that there appear to be a handful of themes that keep coming up (even excluding the "I like movies" theme). Unfortunately, now that I'm thinking about it, it is difficult to actually give a succinct name for these themes, though some specific posts seem to do a good job summarizing these things which interest me. This post on Error, Calibration, and Defiant Posturing encapsulates one of the themes of the blog. This post about tradeoffs has figured into a great number of posts over the past year. And so on.

Overall, it's been a good four years, but there is always room for improvement. For various reasons, things have been slow around here lately. Hopefully it'll be picking up a little in the near future. As always, comments, suggestions, breathless praise, bitter criticism and the like are welcome...
Posted by Mark on July 25, 2004 at 09:38 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, April 11, 2004

The Way of the Blog
One of the most frustrating things about blogging is that even when you're really happy with what you've written, it eventually gets pushed off the main page to languish in the obscurity of the archives. Since I have certain recurring interests, I do occasionally link back to them myself, but I doubt people go perusing the archives and one can hardly blame them. This is the way of the blog; your best work gets buried in the archives.

Some bloggers have attempted to combat that by publishing lists of their best entries, so taking my cue from them, here is a list of my best entries (it's also in the navigation to the right). I'm not done with it yet, but it's a good start. Unfortunately, I doubt taking this step would really show tangible results. It is, after all, just another link in the navigation.

A while ago, I checked Jonathon Delacour's blog and a picture at the top of his left-navigation caught my eye. It links back to one of his older posts (which I assume he likes or is otherwise proud of). In true internet fashion, I'd like to steal that idea and implement something like that here. You can see a preliminary version of this on my archive page (at the top of the right-navigation). Some entries are difficult to come up with images for, so it might be a while before this feature really gets going. Given the eye-catching nature of this feature though, I think it would be a lot more effective than just a list.

This is a work in progress, so expect some changes. If you have any favorite entries, feel free to post a comment or drop me an email and let me know (and thanks to those who've already chimed in!)
Posted by Mark on April 11, 2004 at 11:59 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

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 :.

End of This Day's Posts

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 :.

End of This Day's Posts

Monday, July 14, 2003

Three Years of Blogging
Its hard to believe, but today marks the third anniversary of this here blog. In taking a look over the past year, it seems to be... well... lame. Not in the sense that what I was posting was crap, but, rather, that I wasn't posting much. There was a brief resurgence of posting in July of last year, when I first switched to Movable Type, but that only lasted a few months (and there wasn't much there anyway). I stumbled through the winter months, mostly posting at a rate of about once a month. Things sped up around March and April, as I became more comfortable posting about politics and, in particular, the military and the intelligence community. Thanks to an indirect but swift kick to the butt from Steven Den Beste, I came to the conclusion that my totally irregular posting schedule was a really bad thing. I started slow, resolving to post every Sunday, in the hopes that such a loose schedule would help me stick to it. So far it has, and its actually caused me to increase my posting in general. The last few months have been really good, IMHBCO.

Anyway, here are some of my favorite posts from the last year: There are others, but I always have difficulty compiling these sort of lists... If you have any favorites of your own, feel free to post them in the comments below (along with any other bitter criticism, astute observations, or death threats...)
Posted by Mark on July 14, 2003 at 08:49 AM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, May 04, 2003

State of the Blog
Recently, Steven den Beste updated his blogroll, then commented on the negative economy of scale and inverse network effect that allows his blogroll to be very valuable to those who are included. Naturally, given the value of those links, he gets a lot of mail from people asking to be put on the list. The reason he doesn't do so is that the list would get very long and unwieldy (and thus the value of said link would go down), and also because "Sturgeon's Law is in full force in the blogosphere: 90% of blogs are crap, if not an even higher proportion than that. (Not yours, of course.)"

I thought about that for a moment, and I realized that my blog is crap, part of that 90%. Not (I hope) because the content is low quality, but because it is so infrequently and inconsistently updated. At which point, I began examining what I'm doing here, why I'm doing it, and how I should proceed. I have not been very productive over the last year. There are many reasons for this, most of which contribute to my lack of motivation to produce more posts. One major factor in my lack of motivation is the fact that only a handful of people (if that) will ever actually see them, thus making the decision to blow off the blog that much easier.

I've been doing this for close to 3 years, and it has never really caught on. For a long time, I posted nearly every day. I didn't worry about my lack of readership because I enjoyed what I was doing. And whatever feedback I did get was gratifying. Then things began to slow down, and now I'm stuck in a negative feedback loop where I don't even want to be linked anymore because I don't create enough high-quality content. But I don't create enough high-quality content because I don't have enough people visiting!

It's more complicated than that, of course, but that is the general idea. I still enjoy doing the weblog, I just don't do it enough. Even when I do, I'm terribly inconsistent. However, I think this is something I can correct. What I'm going to try to do is post at least once a week, on Sundays (anything beyond that is just gravy). Hopefully, being on a regular schedule will force me to consistently churn out worthwhile material. I also need to start creating more original high-quality content, as opposed to just linking to it (as I mostly do now). This will probably be a gradual thing, as I begin to comment more on what I link to. And thus I hope to bootstrap myself into superstardom. Or maybe just a few additional readers.
Posted by Mark on May 04, 2003 at 12:02 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, July 14, 2002

Two Years of Kaedrin
Today marks the two year anniversary of the Kaedrin Weblog. Its damn hard to believe it has been this long. In porting this thing over to Movable Type, I had the opportunity to read through almost every post I ever made. Some of the first are almost embarrassing. I started slow, mostly as a consequence of my host banning FTP, thus not allowing me to use Blogger (and I had only just discovered it!). Eventually, I figured out a manually intensive workaround, and got to posting full force. I think October of 2000 is really when the blog really began to resemble what it does today. By February 2001, I had purposely stopped linking to all the regular sources, and started searching, in earnest, for things a bit off the beaten path. I really kicked it into high gear in May and somehow kept it up until July. These were the months where I really came into my own, and they are the ones I am most proud of... I found original sources, played reporter for a few topics, linked to independant type stuff, and overall the quality was very high during those three months. One interesting aspect of them, I think, is their timeless quality. They're just as relevant today as they ever were, though maybe I'm just being overly sentimental. You decide...

After that things petered out for a bit. All those entertaining links were difficult to come by, after all, and I began to slow down a bit. August wasn't a bad month, but it wasn't at the same level as the preceding months... Then came September 11... and things dropped off almost entirely, as I discussed below. I might add that at no point did the blog really find an audience beyone my loyal Kaedrin minions, and that might have played a part in my floundering. By the way, this doesn't mean I don't appreciate my loyal Kaedrin visitors, most of whom have been here since the beginning, when Kaedrin was little more than a place where I collected quotes and sound clips... They are what kept Kaedrin going all this time, and I truly, genuinely, appreciate their kindness and support. And so here we are, after two years, and a lot of links. Its been interesting. Heres to another two!

So, anyone have any favourite entries? Venerable praise, bitter criticism, adroit observations, astute suggestions, death threats? Lets give this new commenting system a workout, why don't we?
Posted by Mark on July 14, 2002 at 09:10 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, July 10, 2002

Movable Type
I've finally made the switch. I'm now using Movable Type to update the weblog. Multitudes of advantages over Blogger, but my favourite is that MT is running on my webserver, so when Blogger goes down, I can still post. I had toyed with the notion of creating my own blogging system, based on the XSLT solution I use for the rest of the site, but MT is suprisingly powerful and is much better-suited for blogging than Blogger or anything I could dream up... I actually imported all of my previous entries into MT (all 235 posts!); it was suprisingly easy, though there were a few catches (all fixed). I installed MT about a month ago, and I'm only now making it public, mainly because if I wait until I've got all the templates ironed out and am content with the design, I'll probably never finish it, and I am aching to get back to posting. So expect to see a lot of template changes, especially on archive type pages. In the mean time, I hope to write a few posts that you could enjoy, despite my templating woes...
Posted by Mark on July 10, 2002 at 10:00 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Thursday, April 25, 2002

den Worste?
Steven Den Beste made some rather inflammatory remarks the other day about Hockey, to which he's received a tremendous amount of flak.
And I'm even sorrier that some Americans decided to moon Canada at a hockey game. All I can say is that in the spectrum of fans of various sports, hockey fans rank down about one step above pro wrestling. There are probably thoughtful, educated hockey fans, but there aren't damned many.
It turns out that the incident he was referring to occurred during a Pistons and Knicks basketball game, not hockey. Steven then goes on to criticize the sport a bit, more specifically the fighting that goes on. As a hockey fan who read this, I was slightly irked, but I recognized it as the comments of someone who simply wasn't a fan of the sport. Normally, I would think that most people would have a similar reaction. So why all the hate mail? I don't think it has anything to do with hockey fans being "the worst we have to offer" - I would wager a guess that a good number of complaints he has received have come from intelligent, thoughtful hockey fans (as the above links show).

No, what is at work here is some people's inferiority complex. Steven Den Beste is a know-it-all, and not in a derogatory sense. He is very intelligent, and usually, when he comments on something, he is quite compelling, if not correct. So when he finally made a mistake, everyone seized the opportunity to prove him wrong. Take this as a compliment captain; you wouldn't be receiving this much criticism about your hockey comments if you weren't so right about everything else. Oh, and next time, you might not want to comfort a country by insulting its most beloved sport (sorry, I couldn't resist; it seems that I have an inferiority complex as well).

update 2:10 p.m. - Good Grief? Just to clarify a bit. Steven did make disparaging remarks about a group of people, and, naturally, that group of people feels slighted. The angle I was going for, though, was that some of these people saw this as a chink in the armor and capitalized on it ("I've finally discovered a topic that he is completely wrong in his opinion and apparently knows near to nothing about"). I actually thought this angle was funny, so I made this post.

update 10:30 p.m. - I've been Den Bested!

Speaking of hockey, my Flyers aren't doing so well. They've been shut out for three straight games and they haven't scored in regulation for even longer. They looked like they were playing pretty good last night until they self-destructed in the second period with bad penalties and some defensive breakdowns. The Flyers arr 0-11 when they fall behind three games to one. Things are not looking good...
Posted by Mark on April 25, 2002 at 09:00 AM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Thursday, March 28, 2002

Bleat 101 for newbies
James Lileks is an interesting fellow and, if nothing else, an excellent writer. If you're one of those net-savvy people who are constantly crawling the web looking for something fun or interesting to read, chances are you've seen something from his site. In case you're not too familiar with him, he recently wrote a piece on his regularly updated pseudo-journal, The Bleat, in which he gives a good overview of his site and what he likes to write about. One of the regular features of his site is called a Screed, which is where he'll take an article he disagrees with and systematically tears it to shreds. For example, his most recent Screed takes on an article written by Nick Kristof of the Times. Kristof is of the opinion that instead of invading Iraq, the US should sue Saddam. This sequence nearly made me pee myself (italics are from the times article, followed by Lileks' comments):
It also turns out that a British organization, Indict, is already pursuing an indictment against Saddam for war crimes.

And the Belgian organization Frown is already drafting plans to mount an international campaign of scowling, which will force his regime to divert precious resources to rubber chickens, joy-buzzers and Singing Telegram Gorillas to improve their standing abroad. Meanwhile, the French organization Surrender is drafting plans to cede Marseilles to whomever wants it, just in case.

Need I mention the plans of an American organization, Depose? They�re known informally as the Armed Services.
Funny schtuff. Also funny is Notes from the Olive Garden, in which he rips into a Guadian article. Its priceless. I would like to think that even people who don't agree with his political views would find his work entertaining, as he really is quite talented. Read him.
Posted by Mark on March 28, 2002 at 02:51 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Tuesday, March 12, 2002

My Shifting Paradigm
Well, I've done it again. Not two weeks ago I apologized for not updating frequently enough and promised to keep on top of it. Of course, here I am again, apologizing for a lack of posting. My recent lack of progress has prompted me to take a look at what I'm doing here, why I'm doing it, and how I'm going to continue (or if I should continue). With this weblog, I've mostly concerned myself with things like film, literature, and technology. It might be time for a change. I had a good time finding and posting things I thought were under-represented in the mainstream (as well as commenting on the things in the mainstream), but I find that my interests have shifted a bit lately. This is not to say that I no longer enjoy those things which have previously occupied this space, just that there might be some new areas of interest popping up, namely, politics. In case you didn't notice, there was a distinct drop off in the quantity of posts after the 9/11 attacks, and this is mostly due to the fact that I now find myself spending hours reading up on things like Israel and Iraq and military history. In any event, those things didn't really fit into the scope of this weblog, so the posting here went down. Of course, there are other reasons, too (*caugh, caugh* Everything2).

So far I've tried to keep my weblog "timeless", so to speak; rarely did I comment on "timely" news, and when I did, it was usually accompanied by what I thought was its relation to the bigger picture. So I don't indend on becoming another warblog; there are plenty of those already. I don't want to focus on the latest bullet being thrown at terrorists, and if I do, it will probably be used as a segue for something more general or, rather, more relevant (ie, focusing on the bigger picture). I argue about timely events on the message boards at 4degreez; I don't intend to do the same thing here. Time will tell if this will be a worthwhile addition to the weblog, and I certainly don't intend to neglect my film/literature/technology interests in the mean time. Good day, and hopefully you'll be reading something relevant here tomorrow.
Posted by Mark on March 12, 2002 at 04:07 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, May 23, 2001

Disturbing Search Requests
Going through my referrer logs the other day, I came across a few oddities. Apparently someone was "desperate to urinate" and they thought google could help out. The freaky thing is that the end of the referral string had "start=70", which, in Googlespeak, means the link to kaedrin was on the 8th page of results! The page found by this desperate fellow was none other than The Rebel Fire Alarms (kaedrin's very first Tandem Story) and there is indeed a scene in which a character is desperate to urinate. But wait! There's more to this insanity. It seems that The Rebel Fire Alarms has the ability to attract other wierdos searching for things like: "alcohol effects on the human body," "forced licking images" and, my personal favourite, "harem sex slave images" (apparently kaedrin is in the top ten for that search). More Disturbing Search Requests.
Posted by Mark on May 23, 2001 at 12:37 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Monday, May 21, 2001

Requiem for a Blog
The first blog I ever stumbled upon was dack.com, "the 2� of Dack Ragus, a guy living in Minneapolis, MN (USA) who likes to golf, cocktail, and watch movies ... in that order." I truly enjoyed reading Dack's pragmatic, cynical posts on any of his varied topics, even if I happened to disagree with his sometimes severe opinions. His Flash is Evil article and people's reactions to it are priceless. His movie reviews are sarcastic and biting, and it works. It was through Dack that I cought on to the whole weblog culture, and for that, I owe him a lot of thanks. Sadly, Dack has decided to move on:
"...what I really want to do is make computers, and specifically the Web, a much smaller part of my life.

"Sure, a new article or web movie might be added every once in a great while, but the weblog � that 315 pixel-wide space with the too-small type � is off the air."
And that's the way it is. You will be missed Dack.
Posted by Mark on May 21, 2001 at 12:12 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Thursday, April 26, 2001

Disjointed, Freakish Reflections™ on the Dark Side of Blogging
DyRE's Guide to Minimising Exposure to Intellectually Deficient and/or Damaging Acts of Blog is quite the handy (and humerously verbose) guide to avoiding those certain blogs that tend to drain your brainpower. While this is an excellent primer for what to avoid in the dangerous wasteland of bad blogs, there are some things I'd like to add. They aren't as foolproof as DyRE's rules, but I think they are important to note. First is the "lack of emphasis" type of blog; a page with no links, no bold text, no italic text, and very few line breaks - just solid text. Of course, there are a few exceptions to this one, probably a lot, but its something that irks me. If you are familiar with the regular A-list blogs, you'll note that there are many impish imitators who will do nothing but post links lifted off of MetaFilter, kottke, megnut, etc... I don't know how these people expect to gain legions of loyal visitors when all they do is recycle links everyone has already seen!

Ok, enough complaining about bad weblogs. Its easy to complain without providing a possible solution. So how does one actually go about creating a smart, compelling, readable blog? Here are Ten Tips for Building a Bionic Weblog. Its probably the best advice anyone starting a weblog could read and I wish more blogs would contain the sort of qualities that article speaks of. If you were to read my archives, I think you could possibly pinpoint the first day in which I read that article (well, maybe not, I did have some relapses, but I think I'm doing ok - aren't I?)
Posted by Mark on April 26, 2001 at 09:17 AM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Monday, March 05, 2001

Disjointed, Freakish Reflections™ on Webloggers
James, before I even got used to him, seems to have grown weary of the "weblog" form. Thankfully, he still sends out emails with the same concise, intelligent and witty commentary. Though I never really cared much for megnut, she feels she just doesn't have anything good to say anymore (so she's not saying anything at all). But Neal is back. And its also fun to look at really old blog entries from popular sites like kottke, camworld, metascene, evhead, dack, metafilter, wisdom, the list marches on... (Note how often some people used to update, and how often they currently update. Funny.)
Posted by Mark on March 05, 2001 at 08:45 AM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, February 07, 2001

The art of being boring
Stories, whether they are fiction or non-fiction, need some structure to them. Relating this to weblogs (and its illegitimate sibling, personal journals and diaries), I wonder what kind of structure is needed? My life is boring enough, I don't need to hear about your boring day too. What is needed is a narrative flare; something that gives your daily events a fictional edge. Most weblogs I see are so disjointed and detached that I simply can't stand it. Even if nothing fascinating happens, it shouldn't matter. A good writer will shape seemingly separate and mundane events into a riveting narrative. I am not a good writer, so I end up pulling quotes like this:
"Writing that is �ordinary� must be more than a mirror; it must also be a pool, deep beneath its shimmering surface. Seeming simplicity is an exacting art..."
There are some people who have the talent to make the boring events of daily life interesting, and I envy those people. Of course, it doesn't hurt to have a unique perspective either. Torrez provides both a novel approach to life and that ability to make everyday events exciting. I've recently discovered some other sites that are so well written that its almost discouraging. So for now, I'm going to just keep doing what I'm doing and hope I can connect. Maybe I'll even shape this monster into a narrative...
Posted by Mark on February 07, 2001 at 11:32 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Monday, February 05, 2001

Death of a Community
I can't help but think of the ramifications of the Pyra beakup. Most of the Pyra crew have written about their experiences, and it makes for interesting reading: Matt wrote an article in VH1 Behind the Music mode; Jack Saturn and Meg Hourihan had more heartfelt sentiments. Jack had some interesting things to say; he likened the experience to being in a band that broke up. I agree;Blogger will never be the same. I'm sure Ev will be able to keep things afloat, and maybe even turn a profit once he starts charging for his hard work(Blogger Pro?). Blogger is a great product, and its a terrible shame to have lost such a great team.

On a lighter note, the first issue of Weblog Clinic has been released and I must say that I found it interesting, despite the fact that they had very little advice on weblogging.

Are Users Stupid? Maybe. Does it really matter? If you are selling something, stupid people should be your target audience, since only stupid people buy half the shit thats being sold these days. Personally, I rarely stick around a site long enough to learn the subtleties of its idiosyncratic design, especially if I'm trying to buy something. Jacob's law still holds true "Users spend most of their time on other sites."
Posted by Mark on February 05, 2001 at 01:15 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Thursday, February 01, 2001

There Can Be Only One
Well, shit. According to this article on evhead Blogger no longer has much support from, well, anybody but Ev. Everyone at Pyra was actually laid off back in December but stayed on out of hope and faith. Apparently things have fallen through and since people have to eat, they've finally parted ways. I guess I'll just have to investigate Greymatter and hope Blogger will last for a little bit longer. I think its a shame, but it really doesn't come as much of a suprise. You really can't have 80,000 users of your software, charge nothing, and expect to make money. Hopefully Ev can get his act together and, as he cryptically mentioned at the end of his article, take it to the next level (making it...profound?).
Posted by Mark on February 01, 2001 at 08:53 AM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, January 31, 2001

The Laboratorium
This morning I discovered an uncommonly brilliant website called The Laboratorium. I suppose you could call it a "weblog", but a cursory glance at its contents reveals a depth and breadth that most weblogs (including this one) severely lack (not to mention some excellent non-weblog content). The author, one James Grimmelmann, tackles current and relevant issues, but from a distinctive angle giving a truly unique perspective. Do yourself a favour and go through his archives so you can really appreciate his work. [found at Monstro]
Posted by Mark on January 31, 2001 at 09:36 AM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Thursday, November 30, 2000

My Fake Webcam
Thats right, I'm jumping on another bandwagon. Check out my all new and boring Fake Webcam. It will get more interesting as time goes on. I promise.
Posted by Mark on November 30, 2000 at 10:46 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

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