. . . Cholly on Software

. . .

Cholly on Software:

"We are a million-year-old beast," he said. "Interfaces will have to mimic how the real world works." One of the ways to do that is to use objects that represent real-world things, like radio dials and on-screen controls for a software application, he said.
Radio dials are a million years older than computers? That way lies the QuickTime 4 Player....

. . .

In production from MSNBC and Disney: Turner in the Rye, or Gone with the Windows. Reporting for duty are Martin Mull as Ted, Ernest Borgnine as Rupert, and lovable "Jane-Bo" courtesy of Pixar Animation Studios.

. . .

Last Saturday, a friend told me about Microsoft interviewing techniques. Least annoying sample question: "If you're using base negative two, how do you distinguish between odd and even integers?" Well, there's nothing like an arrogant geek for making really user-hostile interfaces, which explains the state of most Microsoft products. But now we have a different mystery: Why is that all Microsoft products are not equally crummy? (IE5, for example, is the best Web browser since Mosaic.)

The answer is temps. It seems that Microsoft doesn't subject temps to such "high hiring standards," thus opening a slim possibility for the accomplishment of useful work. To avoid rocking the arrogant geek boat, these temps are not judged by their performance ("We've set a hard rule: 364 days and these people are out. I don't care if they are rebuilding Windows 2000 by themselves, they are not going to work in this company."), and so Microsoft can be assured that they won't drain much needed funds away from, say, three of the world's five richest people.

+ + +

For a different sort of geek, let's check in with The Finicky Browser:

. . .

Headlines for a New Society: Hackers due to release new computer bug to allow takeover of Microsoft computers

Sounds like the Microsoft press releases are getting more straightforward....

+ + +

If You're Going to San Francisco, Be Sure to Spear Foam Rubber in Your Ear: What matinee to see on a holiday weekend in this summer of inadequate sequels? I opted for IMAX, presenting Everest in a very tiny theater on a very large screen (though if it's really "eight stories tall," they must have mighty short stories in Japan).

I knew we were going to a commercial "documentary," and I'd braced myself for terrible music and terrible scripting. What was most interesting about the experience was the thorough inadequacy of my braces. The IMAX screen really is big. The IMAX projection really is detailed. The IMAX viewing experience really has that scary "I'm right there!" feeling. Which just means that the really really terrible music and scripting are impossible to ignore. It's like having a guy with a boombox and a cell phone sticking right beside you while you hike through Yellowstone.

Having paid for technology that reaches a new limit of realism, how dumb do you have to be to ignore the appeal of realistic treatment? How dumb do you have to be to treat your projects as if they were a Discovery Channel special on a airplane's video screen? How dumb do you have to be to ignore experienced cinéma verité directors (or Michael Snow, for that matter) who'd probably be willing to work for almost nothing just to get their hands on the equipment? Dumb enough to leave showtimes off your ten-minute-long phone message and hide them behind a graphics-only Web page.

. . .

After a week of gout, Cholly's in the worst of moods -- which makes it the best of times for punditry.

. . .

How Programmers Stole the Web: Tog's favorite example of Web-programmer parochialism is JavaScript -- which has its share of problems, but which is, after all, for programming. My favorite example is the use of six-digit base-sixteen numbers to specify color. Have you ever tried to explain this to visual designers? (I have, god help me.) For that matter, have you ever seen a programmer's idea of visual design? (We all have, god help us.) Didn't any Netscape employee ever even use a graphics application, where 0-255 and 0-100% are the standard color-value scales?

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To Err Is Human; To Give Up, Divine: Good riddance. I was a lot sorrier to see the Mosaic name go.

Ah, memories, in the coroner of my mind.... Throwing Internet development into the Dark Ages by deciding to dictate new "standards" by whim was antisocial enough. But then came the Doughboy's astonishing claim that his (or NCSA's, who's counting?) browser was going to become an honest-to-gosh operating system and wipe Microsoft out. Oh right, I spouted off at the time, a cross-platform operating system that's going to fit without any problems in application space on top of another operating system (which in turn was on top of a third operating system, in the case of MS Windows).... It's exactly the kind of plan you'd expect from an arrogant college goop dropped straight from campus to boardroom.

And it worked exactly as well as you'd expect, too. As a business move, it brought Microsoft down hard on the browser market. As an engineering move, it turned the Netscape application into a breakdown-prone resource-tapeworm. And as for Andreessen's grander ambitions -- surprise! -- Microsoft's engineers had an easier time integrating with an existing operating system than Netscape's engineers had creating and layering a new one.

It did, however, shift enormous piles of money to those responsible for the debacle, thus helping to reorient software engineers' definition of "success" to match their CEOs': the timely manipulation of market gullibility.

Too bad Gates & Co. decided to keep IE5 single-platform; thank goodness they were dumb enough to get into legal trouble by using high-pressure monopolistic tactics to push an application which would be quite capable of walking on its own. And my very best wishes go to Opera and iCab.

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If you can't take the seltzer, get out of the ring: If I was a better researcher, I'd figure out how many Web pundits who have protested the shutdown of The Dysfunctional Family Circus have also protested the notion of Third Voice users exchanging comments over the pundits' websites. (Personally, I think the idea of magically lifted-off graffiti is pretty neat.)

And I'd also look into whether the parody-as-fair-use legal argument is at all muddied by the captions that refer to the strip's drug-addled child-raping no-talent-bum dad as "Bil Keane."

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Recently received via anonymous donation: A free-in-every-box informational pamphlet headlined "How to use 100% certified organically grown cotton digital tampons".

I remember back when it was a big deal just to be stereophonic....

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The Information Supergayway

Start to Shine for Thirty-Nine!
Browse the home stages! Visit the virtual communities! Surf the globe!
  • Headless girl!
  • Large horse!
  • Octopus wrestler!
  • Life-like painting of a beautiful woman!
  • Snake!
  • Naked ladies in cowboy boots!
  • Midget Village!
  • Live babies in incubators!
  • Television City, "The City of Tomorrow"!
  • Greenwich Village!
  • The Holy Land!
  • Estonia!
  • Scotland!
  • Panama, home of dancing girls!
Leave a message on the Voice Recording Machines!
Jack Glicken, Chief Of Police for Midget Village...
... who bears a striking resemblance to a later resident of the Gayway, Jack Spicer.

. . .

The first generation of Web designers came either from the print world or from the software design world. The nice thing is that the two worlds tend to make different mistakes which can be played off against each other. The nasty thing is that they agree on the importance of the Big Dumb Intro Page (or BDIP): a graphically intense page whose only useful element is a "Click Here!" button or a timer script that eventually takes the user where they wanted to go in the first place.

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If You Eat Hamburgers You Don't Deserve to Buy My Vegetables

From the Tech Law Journal (via

The Librarian of Congress, James Billington, stated that the Library will not digitize books. "So far, the Internet seems to be largely amplifying the worst features of television's preoccupation with sex and violence, semi-literate chatter, shortened attention spans, and near-total subservience to commercial marketing," said Billington.

"You don't want to be one of those mindless futurists," said Billington, "who sit in front of a lonely screen."

"It is isolating. It is a lonely thing." In contrast, "libraries are places, a community thing."

I could be missing some important bureaucratic thingy that prevented Billington from saying "We're funded for books and we don't have the money to do anything but books," but to take him at face value: Doesn't refusing to digitize otherwise unavailable books contribute to making the Internet more commercial and television-like rather than protesting those trends? And, as much as libraries have meant to me, I wouldn't describe them (and the Library of Congress in particular) as more sociable than a networked computer.

Rest assured or uneasy that we here at the Hotsy Totsy Club will continue to point to digitized books and, when Ray buys a scanner and loses his job, may even be digitizing some of our own....

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1995 flashback:
Dave Gobel, the company's president and CEO, envisions the Web changing into a social environment. "Today, the Web is a lonely place," he said....
I just don't get why all these old rich guys are so worried about me being lonely. Are they, like, coming on to me or something?

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Even aside from the New York Times reporter's hopeless muddle over the word "virus," I have mixed feelings about this story. On the one hand, The Sims is proving to big business monkeys that the CD-plus-downloadable-behavior-changes software model I've been pushing (with no luck) for six years actually does work. On the other hand, I'm not programming The Sims.

"Like almost everything in the game, the guinea pig's function as a disease vector was carefully simulated, Mr. Wright said. For example, the guinea pig only spreads the disease if a Sims player neglects to clean its cage, and only if a player reaches into the cage to pet the software animal and is bitten will he get sick. Someone who has gotten sick sneezes and coughs and will infect other human characters in the game who come within several 'tiles' distance."

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"Encapsulation, Inheritance and the Platypus effect" is a not-bad little keep-it-honest rant for programmers, but the author mistakingly blames object-oriented languages for some foundational trip-me-ups of software engineering. He almost says it himself: Object-oriented techniques aren't so much useful because they map the real world, as because they map how software engineers think. I've always done my top-level design in what was later called a "object-oriented" way. Using an object-oriented language just shortens the trip from design to implementation. The better the language, the shorter the trip, which is why I still miss ScriptX.

Having said that, it's always good to be reminded of our besetting sins as software engineers and humans. Premature overgeneralization, for example, which is just Our Gang's variation of humanity-at-large's besetting sin, rushing into categorization. We receive so many internal and external rewards for generalizing and categorizing that we tend to anticipate categories long before we've had enough experience to justify them, and then feel forced to defend our itty-bitty-witties against all enemies (i.e., facts). Thus, our anticipations lead us to ignore the evidence of the real world (and, admittedly, reap the often sizable rewards of ignorance) rather than preparing us for it.

Less philosophically and more engineeringly, the advice to "trust no one" is well-founded. I mean, don't waste time trusting no one, but try not to tie your fate too closely to code you can't examine. On the grossest scale, all inter-group (much less inter-company; viz. ScriptX) projects are doomed; on a smaller one, I'd refuse to use any framework I couldn't modify, particularly after my Microsoft AFC nightmare.

(Removing and adding display elements wasn't thread-safe. OK, that's the horrible unworkable one. But the so-horrible-it-was-funny one was when I did a performance analysis and found a bottleneck at the Microsoft-supplied sorting routine. How hard is it to do a sort in an object-oriented language? There's gotta be pointers, right? I guess it depends on which sub-sub of a sub-sub gets the job, but Microsoft handed it to someone who must not've heard of pointers, and Microsoft never had the code reviewed. Christ. One routine rewritten; three-hundred-to-one speed-up.

Not nearly so bad is the temporary-object-and-synch-locking overhead of Sun's StringTokenizer. But BAD ENOUGH!)

Man. And Christ. Sometimes that English-Philosophy double major looks good.

Until I see what English and Philosophy professors are doing.

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Gosh Darn the Pusher

One of the few things I don't like about MP3-mania is the way that the big software concerns have positioned it as a way to pirate CDs. I mean, what I love about MP3 is that it's a convenient cheap durable way to preserve and play audio that's otherwise available only on inconvenient or not-so-durable media: cassette-only recordings, old 45s and 78s, very out-of-print LPs.... But Real and Microsoft and concentrate solely on making it easy for moving CD tracks to the computer, and since CDs are already pretty convenient and durable and are less likely to be out of print, it's hard not to see that as encitement to piracy.

In fact, one of the first free pieces of software that did convert non-CD-audio to MP3 files, BladeEnc, was hassled right out of binary distribution by big business monkeys. Conspiracy theory, anyone?

For alternatives, go to The Sonic Spot and Transferring LPs to CDR. My current toolkit: Wave Repair for recording and LAME for compressing.

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on Software   Cholly on Software
On Managing Software

Goddamned kindergarten world
My geekiest college friends lived together one year off-campus, in a condo-like complex rented out both to students and to real people with families and jobs. Which could be rough on the real people, families, and jobs. Once when my geeky friends were coming home, probably while working out all possible variants of a Monty Python sketch, they met one of their neighbors leaving for work; as respective doors closed, they heard him mutter "Goddamned kindergarten world."

I used to think that I'd wind up as one of those sweaty guys you see pushing their way around the city muttering nonsensical obscenities nonstop under and occasionally way over their breath. But now I'm starting to think maybe I'll wind up just muttering "Goddamned kindergarten world" nonstop instead.

Or, what do you think, maybe I could do both? Like, one mutter for interiors and the other for commuting?

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The Mirror Tableau
All which our ordinary Students, right well perceiving in the Universities how unprofitable these Poetical, Mathematical, and Philosophical Studies are, how little respected, how few Patrons, apply themselves in all haste to those three commodious Professions of Law, Physick, and Computer Science, sharing themselves between them, rejecting these Arts in the mean time, History, Philosophy, Philology, or lightly passing them over, as pleasant toys fitting only table talk, and to furnish them with discourse. They are not so behoveful: he that can tell his money hath Arithmetick enough : he is a true Geometrician, can measure out a good fortune to himself; a perfect Astrologer, that can cast the rise and fall of others, and mark their errant motions to his own use. The best Opticks are to reflect the beams of some great man's favour and grace to shine upon him. He is a good Engineer that alone can make an instrument to get preferment.
-- The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton

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 Cholly on Software pointless software management

Eminem on Software  

Teambuilding with IRC.

You may not not think that macho locker room posturing is all that attractive, but it sure beats computer geeks pretending that they're posturing in a locker room. Not to mention computer geeks pretending that they're Amos and Andy posturing in a locker room.

Watching skinny baldhead rich white kids cavort like so many demisemipint versions of Tarantino and Eminem makes one reflect on the plight of Special Ed teachers when Jerry Lewis was at his peak.

. . .

David Auerbach economically adds to our belly-down crawl around the thundering canon:

Can I make a simplifying statement that the missing element may be some sense of equanimity?

And speaking of which, please give Mr. Lethem a medal for his Salon Premium plug of today. He made better of a thankless task than I'd thought possible. His bait-and-switch of "It's not just that, but it's nothing more!" is some sort of inspiration.

Last, all I need from a novel is here.

For myself, it's wonderful to discover that, thanks to Salon Premium, I am now refusing to support Camille Paglia! (Admittedly, this is one of those "speaking prose all my life" thrills, but a thrill's a thrill.) On top of which, I can also actively not shore up the tottering incomes of Salon's CEO, editors, movie reviewers, and so on. Talk about win-win!

My attitude towards subscription might be a little old-fashioned, though, since I don't subscribe to newspapers but I was glad to throw some money toward the NosePilot kid and I'd be glad to pay Lynda Barry directly for her watercolors. What galls are the extravagently wasteful layers of plastic and cardboard pimping that wrap the product. The web doesn't need prejudging editors so much as postfacto pointers, and the web doesn't need high-salaried executives or designers at all. What the web (still) needs is a reliable way to handle genuinely micro micropayments and a reliable way to protect creators from being bankrupted by unexpectedly popular creations.

More than anything else, the Web means low-cost publishing with fast wide distribution. It's therefore not surprising that the Web is dominated by the sorts of publications that have traditionally only been held in check by cost or distribution worries:
  • Academic research
  • Fanzines and other publications created "for the love of it," including reprints of rare, low-interest material
  • Ego-driven essays, diaries, and artwork
  • Small press fiction and poetry
  • Non-marketing-driven comics
  • Publicity and advertising
  • Retail catalogs
  • Community resource guides
  • Public services, such as transportation reports and weather forecasts
  • Industry-specific magazines that are usually distributed for free
Since the Web is in essence low-cost, it's very hard for any given publisher to fight against that essence by seeking extra payment from its audience. Gross costs can be reduced by moving to the Web, but gross income is unlikely to appear. Thus, subscription services have only succeeded when they maintain fairly tight control over a much-desired service that could not be gotten elsewhere as easily: the fetishes of stock-market players and pornography addicts have proven particularly ripe for exploitation. On the other hand, a standard newspaper, magazine, or TV-style sitcom won't have much of a shot at bargain-hunting Web surfers' cash.

-- from Web Design Resources Directory, 1997, thus partly excusing the use of "surfers"

The dreadful commingling of the overpriced software industry and overpriced entertainment industry loaded huge amounts of unnecessary cost onto a model kept afloat till now mostly by inflated valuation and partly by advertising. Advertising alone can't come close to maintaining it. Good riddance in the long run, but in the short run, the tumbling mountains of garbage are, as is their wont, sweeping lots of great stuff away.

Services I would gladly pay to keep alive simply vanish without being given a chance, their wanna-be-like-the-big-guy owners using the same reasoning by which corporations are supressing the history of cinema: the copyright holders, not caring about what they hold copyright on, consider the cost-to-benefit ratio of giving permission too high to deal with. (You have to hire someone to give permission; you don't need to hire anyone at all to ignore requests. Suing for infringement, of course, is always worth the money.)

Instead of archiving and cataloging their own work, writers depend on crash-by-night magazines to collect and maintain material, when the realities of both print and online publication is that magazines work, at best, as initial publicity. Comics artists waste time on brain-dead Flash loops when they could be making full-color serials. Newspapers, rather than storing their articles as highly compressible dirt-simple text and collecting the small fees that would be otherwise fed to library photocopying machines, are closing access, increasing "reprint" costs to unrealistic levels, and publishing more material on expensive paper than on cheap diskspace.

After its jerrybuilt business district finishes collapsing, the web may find itself only set back five years or so. But even in the midst of the swirling dust, there are encouraging signs. Weblogging seems to have already spread to zine scene levels, without paper zines' constraints on further growth. And there are finally signs that some academics are ready to push against the utterly unnecessary waste of traditional journal publication....

. . .

Dan's Data:

... plenty of times, when I've been discussing some goofy, badly flawed Web site business model with its merry exponents (at various different dot-coms, not just News), they've said to me 'So what do you want us to do? Just give up?!'

Well, yeah.

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On May 16, 2001, Ruthie's Double pointed out that online serial publishing is subject to the same sort of fallacious interpretation as online advertising. Rather than deal with the shock of the uniquely accurate evidence of viewer engagement that web monitoring allows, advertisers and blockbustin' authors prefer to retreat to their established fantasy worlds -- after all, they couldn't be so rich if they weren't so right....
It's conceivable that way less than 75% of the people who read his traditional print books actually pay for the experience. They borrow the book from friends, check it out from public libraries, etc....

There's no statistics as to how many people purchase, but stop reading Stephen King's books after the first chapter (I know I probably would). Perhaps the people who paid for the first chapter had stopped feeling like it was worthwhile to pay until the story got better....

It's as if the first Nielsen ratings resulted in all the television networks shutting down in a fit of pique.

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Department of Homeland Security

Near the end of the workday, network performance seemed to stall. Moving through the active processes, I brought my FTP window to the front and saw it emit the message "Connection privacy lost" just as there was a burst of modem activity. Holy shit, I didn't even know it was possible to break into an open FTP session, much less for the FTP client to recognize the intrusion! It's amazing what computers can do nowadays.

In a fatigued flurry I stopped the process, rebooted the modem, ran virus checkers, inspected my system files, got my backups together, and fruitlessly searched the web for more information about losing FTP connection privacy...

... and after about fifteen minutes I remembered that I was working on a website for a privacy advocate and that its FTP bookmark was named "privacy."

. . .

Aline's People "I think it’s guaranteed that for the rest of my life that she’ll never ask me about myself or my work."
An Experiment in Error

When prying at the purported origins of art in neurosis, it's good to remember that we've implicitly defined this here "art" of ours more by its publication than by its mere production. Setting dynastic brats aside (hopefully to be crushed by speeding trucks or eaten by bears), perhaps one reason so many twentieth century artists come from unsupportive families is that they're less worried about familial reactions to their art, either because their family is uninterested in anything they do or because their family is unlikely to venture near its published context or because who cares what those losers think? (And similar for low-to-no-status day jobs with uninterested employers.)

We can easily test this hypothesis. A pink portrait of bestiality is safe from Ma & Pa Philistine on the local café's walls; a "My Sister Was Raped & All I Got Was This Crummy Poem" can be comfortably tucked into a little-teensy magazine, or a hilariously flip sexual boast into a fanzine interview -- but as soon as your boss or cousin grows unaccountably tired of watching the Game Show Channel and decides to try your name in a search engine, the jig is jug-jugged tereu.

Thus, assuming that the web stays the course, we might predict:

  1. Even more extreme levels of dysfunctionality among those who dare to publish under their own names, unless those names are index-swampers like "Jack Smith"
  2. Much second-thought yanking of web-relocated material (I myself have been asked to remove a hiliariously flip sexual boast or two)
  3. As in past centuries of self-publishing, greater reliance on anonymity or pseudonymity
All of which is fine. I just hope to Jesus H. Fish on a Bicycle that our world-wide wash won't continue to be polluted by identity thieves like "Charles Dodgson" (proprieter of the unfortunately worthwhile Through the Looking Glass) or, more unforgivable because harder to disenGoogle, "Robert Musil" (of another weblog). Didn't their mamas teach those boys that it's polite to append a ", Jr." to such tributes?

Obviously not, so jot a winner beside predicted result no. 1!

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Eclogues spends a lot of time being right. As for example the April 9th, 2002, entry which firmly and properly positions anti-Oprah-Book-Club tightlipped sniffery into a long tradition of attacks on "women's books," to which I can only add a) in English, the tradition actually extends at least to the late 1600s, when women first became professional writers, and b) well, I actually don't have anything else to add, 'cause when I tried I realized that Eclogues had already said it.

Being at present irritably unemployed with an Internet connection, I also followed Eclogues' rustyc pypes [February 22nd, 2002 entry] to an irritating Internet time-waster that purports to disclose conflicts in one's philosophical assumptions, and which, true to my smug preconception, made a fool of itself by telling me that there was a conflict between my passing of moral judgment and my admission that morality is culturally (as well as, to a lesser extent and although they didn't mention it, individually) relative. They might as well find a contradiction between "All men are mortal" and "Some guy will outlive me." Of course I pass moral judgments; I, as an individual, am part of a culture (or two or three), and that's one of the things that us individuals in cultures do to pass our irritable time. That doesn't mean I'm blind to the existence of differing views. It just means I want mine to win.

Even more irritating, given the popup ads on every page, was the Ethical Philosophy Selector which after a tedious questionnaire selected "Sartre" as my ideal thinker. Which is merely to say that the questionnaire showed me to be no philosopher. It's like testing my singing voice and then telling me that my favorite musician must be Mark E. Smith. Philosophy isn't a genre of belief, but of discussion.

That's what's always been wrong with all this automated matching crap, and why search engines, library browsing, and meeting folks at parties still rule supreme:

What's required in a friend isn't resemblance but recognition.

What's desired isn't identity and simultaneity but knowledge and occasional amazement and dependable support.

And as Blake and Newton agreed (hands across the damnation!), there's no support without resistance.

. . .


"again pondering time and date stamping. It seems such triviality but has a strong presence in the weblog." - nqpaofu
Speaking of ponderous, during an anti-PDF frenzy the other day, I gained some insight into the appeal of the permalink after my hapless audience pointed out that print-mimicry at least makes it easier to write proper academic citations....

It's understood well enough nowadays that web-browser-targeted writing and reading tends to steer us in a different direction than book-targeted, pulp-magazine-targeted, or glossy-journalism-targeted writing and reading. But the legacy voculabulary used to jerryrig this jalopy tends to veer us into the ditch.

If a website is a book, then a page would be... a page? Thus early punditry decreed a web page should be at most "one screen" long. As we also understand well enough these days, this was awful advice. The paper page and the HTML page only coincide for the publisher of short poems.

Weblogging fulfilled the promise of web self-publishing because it was the first form whose conventions directly supported the natural tendencies of web-browser-targeted writing and reading. Here, the web page is more of a "chapter" or a "topical discussion" than anything a prose writer might call a printed page.

Which makes the web page unsatisfactory both as bog paper and as a way to point to a more-or-less arbitrary manageably constrained span of source material in its original context.

Permalinks were accordingly welcomed as a natural replacement for the convention of page numbers. And I can't deny that we publish serially, or that references to serial publications generally include the date, or that a single-author serial publication generally won't release an unwieldy span of source material on a single day.

But, as Jouke indicates, there's something creepy about it. Dates carry connotations outside the realm of publishing, whereas I'm unlikely to feel a pang of remorse or nostalgia when someone mentions page 1062.

. . .

The Flying Programmer

From "The Flying Tailor"
by James Hogg

Oft have I striven by meditative power,
And reason working ’mid the various forms
Of various occupations and professions,
To explain the cause of one phenomenon,
That, since the birth of science, hath remain’d
A bare enunciation, unexplain’d
By any theory, or mental light
Stream’d on it by the imaginative will,
Or spirit musing in the cloudy shrine,
The Penetralia of the immortal soul.
I now allude to that most curious fact,
That ’mid a given number, say threescore,
Of tailors, more men of agility
Will issue out, than from an equal show
From any other occupation say
Smiths, barbers, bakers, butchers, or the like.
Let me not seem presumptuous, if I strive
This subject to illustrate; nor, while I give
My meditations to the world, will I
Conceal from it, that much I have to say
I learnt from one who knows the subject well
In theory and practice need I name him?
The light-heel’d author of the Isle of Palms,
Illustrious more for leaping than for song.
First, then, I would lay down this principle,
That all excessive action by the law
Of nature tends unto repose. This granted,
All action not excessive must partake
The nature of excessive action so
That in all human beings who keep moving,
Unconscious cultivation of repose
Is going on in silence. Be it so.
Apply to men of sedentary lives
This leading principle, and we behold
That, active in their inactivity,
And unreposing in their long repose,
They are, in fact, the sole depositaries
Of all the energies by others wasted,
And come at last to teem with impulses
Of muscular motion, not to be withstood,
And either giving vent unto themselves
In numerous feats of wild agility,
Or terminating in despair and death.

Now, of all sedentary lives, none seems
So much so as the tailor’s....

. . .

Working in a fishbowl makes less difference than you might think. Fish are too boring to attract much attention.


I suppose that would bother the fish more if they possessed long-term memories.

. . .

Cholly on Software : The Signifying Code Monkey

There are benefits non-financial, obviously to working for an institution of higher education. But in a 27-year career I remember only four people with whom I couldn't establish some sort of working relationship, and I met three of them after leaving what's oddly called "private industry." Similarly, two of the three pieces I've regretted publishing were written within the context of a (mostly) academic website. Maybe it's true that there's something peculiarly toxic about this environment? Or maybe this particular pachyderm happens to find my own blend of tones and pheromones peculiarly noxious? For whatever reason, I've spent a painful number of turns playing the wrong side of Whac-a-Mole.


Josh Lukin suggests another hypothesis:

The experiences you had in a milieu different from "private industry" occurred, as you note with your "after", at a time (in your life and that of our society) different from the era when you worked in that industry. That's not an insignificant parameter.

It occurred to me that I might have gotten crankier with age. But given the crankiness of my youth, that's hard to credit. What with one damned thing after another, though, you're right that I might be a bit clingier these days, a bit less likely to exit-stage-left at the earliest possible cue, and therefore a bit more handy for thumping.

Josh follows up:

Note the "that of our society": I wasn't so much focusing on (or at least, I wasn't only addressing) the "crankier with age" possibility. Maybe people are meaner. I just read a blog comment from a guy who left the U.S. in 1998 and says that every time he comes back to visit, he sees more anger. Scheler said ressentiment is greatest in societies that make false promises of equality (he was arguing in favor of feudal attitudes, I think, but still . . . )

Mr. Waggish kindly writes:

I think you said it yourself already. Academia tolerates and even fosters antisocial behavior in various forms, while the private sector is much more strict in its codes of behavior hewing to some practical norm. Coders who work in academic nonprofits tend to be those who were "too weird" for industry, by their own account. Much of this may have to do with the ultimate bottom line of the holy dollar asserting itself far more incessantly in the private sector. (The exceptions like Bell Labs, which also attracted the types of people you simply could not deal with, have gone under precisely because they would rather spend their time perfecting an IETF RFC than writing server monitoring scripts in Python or (god forbid) Perl. So given an insufferable, ambitious, and/or dogmatic person, that person will either have the good fortune to rise to a management position in the private sector that he (occasionally she, mostly he) will then use to attempt to realize his treasured, pure vision of paradise, and fail repeatedly; OR, that person will be thrown aside by the capitalist machinery and will seek refuge in locations where the almighty dollar holds less immediate sway. See Albert O. Hirschmann's "The Passions and the Interests" for what I genuinely believe is the dynamic at work.

And adds:

I see what you were talking about as an extension of this Delany letter you quoted long ago.

Hmm. Now that, I don't see. Maybe it's because all four of my impossible-relationships were with men, and fairly stereotypical men at that?

. . .

"What's a MOOC?"

As a life-long autodidact with no knack for lecture-hall learning, I of course continue to welcome any aid offered my more-or-less beleaguered people. But I can't help but think of the many more, and possibly more-more-and-less-less beleaguered, allodidacts I've known, and can't help but reflect that the attention being poured into MOOCdom might be more effectively and sustainably directed towards expansion of public libraries and the public domain.

"More effectively" by number of autodidacts aided, that is; perhaps not so effective at funneling public funds into private corporations and academic funds into software development.


the libraries are where they install the computers for logging on to the moocs
Peli writes:
Ned Hall makes a similar case.


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