A lazy Reykjavik
dog.

Gimlé

Sat, 30 Nov 2002

Girlism Linkhoovering.

Mike Golby responds to recent installments in the “Girlism” debate (which includes my lengthy, verbose and rambling post).

Shelley Powers answers by saying that “Equality, fairness, won’t be given – they have to be taken.” This isn’t as violent as it sounds. It’s a matter of whose terms you live your life.

Cyberkat points out that respect is what matters.

And Jeff Ward follows up on the feminist theory angle

You don’t get debates and writing of this quality in mainstream media, these days.

Baldur.

Wed, 27 Nov 2002

The Pen in Our Hands.

Here perhaps one may amplify to make a crude but servicable distintion between the ‘essentialists’ and the ‘relativists’.

The essentialist position holds the view that there is a fundamental distinction (based not on biological determinism so much as on social and economic factors and their psychological consequences) between the way women and men think and write—to such a degree that there is such a thing as écriture féminine: that is, a way that women have of expressing themselves totally opposed to the representative aspects of male language and discourse. This position is associate with French feminists.

The relativist position—broadly associated with Anglo-American critics—is that the analysis of the representation of men and women by male and female authors is important. No fundamental difference separates men’s and women’s writing except the way male critics and authors have undervalued the latter.

An excerpt from “The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory (Fourth Edition)” entry on feminist criticism

The preceding quotation explains at least partially why I have, at times, called myself a feminist when it comes to discussions of gender issues.

My personal position coincides roughly with the essentialist position within feminist critique (which is alive and well, thank you very much, the field has simply run out of glory-hounds and attention-seekers).

Which is basically that, for whatever reason, there are fundamental differences between the various genders and those differences should be studied and acknowledged.

But…

Those same differences should not be seen as weaknesses or justifications for unfair and unequal treatment.

Gays should be allowed to serve in the army. As should women. Nobody should be called ‘the weaker sex’. Both sexes should take equal part in the parenting process (people seem to frequently ignore that there exists such a thing as the ‘fathering instinct’). So on and so forth.

The reason why I’m making this clear is so that people can be aware of what is my basic perspective on this issue at the start, and assess my comments in the discussion with that in mind. I also apologise beforehand for any omissions or misrepresentations that might creep into my comments.

The current iteration of this eternal debate seems to have been triggered by a post by Halley Suitt on her weblog on the subject of feminism (or the feminism’s fate, to be more specific).

‘There is no more feminism’, I explain. Game Over.
Halley Suitt“Whatever Happened to Feminism?”

Which is absolutely correct when it comes to feminism as a political movement but is absolutely incorrect when it comes to feminism as a analytical perspective and theoretical tool.

This highlights the fact that, even though they wouldn’t label themselves in that way, Halley’s post as well as Shelley’s and Dorothea’s responses are essentially feministic observations and critiques of the current gender representations and behaviours in online and offline media.

As is mine.

So the feminist perspective is still alive, even though the corresponding political movement is not. Steve’s observations over at One Pot Meal serve to emphasize this as he describes how his students would denounce the “angry feminists” but then go on to use decidedly feministic arguments in their essays.

Halley’s basic observation seems to be that women in general have given up on feminism and any attempt at asserting a different sort of representation of femininity. That they have taken to pandering to the “weak, sexy female” image in order to use the common male’s view of women to get what they want.

Moreover, according to the post, it seems that this tactic is working, demonstrating just how thoroughly feminism has failed in changing the popular image of women and femininity.

I can’t say if she’s right to portray this as a growing trend (which would be very worrying if that is the case) but there are a couple of points in her post I disagree with (implying, rightly, that I generally agree with her other points).

First of all, I think that giving this trend a name—a label—is a dangerous thing. It gives the impression that this approach is justified (something that Halley has otherwise taken great care not to imply, Her “We learned how to stop playing fair” comment is as Dorothea says ‘not exactly a ringing endorsement’).

The second point is the idea that this power—“girl power”— belongs to the “girlists” themselves.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The power they wield, endorse, strengthen, emphasize and advocate, when they use these tactics is that of institutional indoctrination, the idea that the female is a weak sex object.

It is a self-destructive way of living your life—pandering to society and media as your ideological lord and master.

I am, in essence, repeating the points Shelley (whom we can thank for starting and then restarting this discussion) made in her initial reply to Halley, although she explains more clearly just how counter-productive and self-destructive the concept of “Girlism” is.

Girlism. A label to discount women’s human experience and expression.
Shelley Powers“Girlism?”

“Girlism” expects and furthers the status quo. It gives out the message that not only is change unnecessary but that it is undesirable as well. The “girly” tactics would not work if not for the prevailing attitudes regarding sex and sex appeal.

See, gentlemen, the way to fix the problem—I rather imagine you consider the manipulative aspects of girlism a problem, yes?—is to do what I’ve been screaming at you to do all along: de-sexualize the public space. Quit falling for this sloppy, age-old trick. Just stop rewarding it. Find other things about women to reward. You know they’re there. If you don’t, it’s well past time to learn.
Dorothea Salo“Caveat Lector”

The problem that Dorothea is describing is not the sexualization of the public space, per se, but how that sexualization permeats people’s value judgements and decisions. It would not be a problem if it didn’t affect people’s professional and intellectual processes and conclusions.

That’s the hard part. For example, I’d say call any woman a lier, gay or blind who claims that they wouldn’t be distracted by the sight of Jude Law in a speedo, climbing, dripping wet out of a swimming pool…

…Erm…

Yes…

What I mean to say. and Dorothea has written about this before, is that we are all sexual beings. It is not sex or sexual attraction that complicates the issue. It’s the indoctrination of unrealistic sex object stereotypes and the abuse (by both sexes) of those stereotypes.

Jen at “Nonsense Verse” points out another issue: How a masculine lesbian—butch—threatens the male worldview.

This actually has only a temporary effect. In the long run, the gay stereotypes of the butch lesbian and the effeminate homosexual only support the prevailing worldview. The status quo needs to be able to say that you have to be masculine to be attracted to women and that you have to be feminine to be attracted to men.

What is lethal to the status quo, the current centre of sexual indoctrination, are ‘normal’ ‘run-of-the-mill’ people who are gay.

Stereotypes and pandering to them, no matter how rebellious they may look, only serve the social status quo in the long run.

‘Yes, yes, if you please, no reference to examples in books. Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove any thing.’

‘But how shall we prove any thing?’

‘We never shall. We never can expect to prove anything upon such a point. It is a difference of opinion which does not admit of proof. ’
Jane Austen“Persuasion”

I have twice in my life broken down in tears at a workplace. Both happened before I turned twenty (got my first job when I was thirteen).

What I did learn was that people resort very quickly to stereotypes to cope with events in their lives and to cope with the actions of others. They’ll categorize you at the drop of a hat.

What is worse is that they will then stick to that categorization, everything you do is then understood in the context of being “a wuss” or “a poofter” preventing you from ever in their eyes being just you.

People like to define you in narrow terms and consequently tend to refuse to see anything that doesn’t fit that narrow view.

It isn’t stubborness or an intentional attempt to change you. As far as they are concerned, their view of you is what you really are.

Which, if you care what other people think, sucks big time.

Baldur Bjarnason.
Clifton, Bristol.

Dramatis Personae:

Mon, 25 Nov 2002

Things.

Life is a bit busy these days. My Dad and his wife are visiting Bristol to be here as I do the Masters graduation thingy tomorrow.

They arrived here OK yesterday, despite being delayed by approximately four hours after the couch they were on was in a car accident.

Typical.

Dorothea Salo rails against kids in this post. She’s not railing against the concept of children or being a “nasty child-hater” in any way. She’s protesting the fact that almost every single parent on the family seems to think that their child has a god-given right to annoy, pester, and generally intrude upon other people’s life in either a direct or indirect manner.

Trust me, it doesn’t have that right.

Besides, most children I have had the misfortune to encounter are brats (with notable exceptions).

For the most part I don’t want to see or hear your child until it can have an intelligent conversation.

Unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on my mood—that generally rules out a large proportion of children and adults on the planet.

Everybody thinks that a drunk who shouts and annoys everybody in a restaurant is a pest and should be thrown out.

And generally he is thrown out.

Don’t expect people to tolerate your child when it does the same.

Baldur.
Clifton, Bristol.

EUCD

The EUROPEAN COPYRIGHT DIRECTIVE, aka the evil EuroDMCA, has been postponed. Thanks to your three hundred or so comments on the UK Patent Office’s consultation document, the government has admitted that it’ll have to go back to the drawing board. They’ve postponed the law until March 2003 instead of the 2002 Christmas pressie we were all expecting.
“Need To Know”—2002-11-2 (via “As Days Pass By”)

I promise that this will be the last political post in a while but this is unequivocally good news. This means that I won’t automatically turn into a criminal for what I do as a part of my teaching until next March.

Unless we can prevent it.

Read up on the law. Talk about it to your friends. Send your e-mails and letters.

Fancy changing the world?

This is your chance.

Baldur.
Clifton, Bristol.

Fri, 22 Nov 2002

Spot On.

Another example is reporting on the EU itself. In the USA, and to some extent in England (but less so in Scotland and Northern Ireland), the EU has a reputation for being a huge, bloated bureaucratic nightmare of misrule.

Stories of strange EU regulations are lovingly repeated; the committee to standardize the radius of curvature of the banana, or the perfidious attempt to destroy the Scottish fishing fleet by banning them from catching anything.

But step outside the charmed circle of anti-EU reporting and some uncomfortable facts become clear. The EU employs fewer bureaucrats than the British government assigns to the Scottish Office in London. The banana committee is a myth.

And the stories about the Scottish trawler fleet quota are entirely true but ommit the key detail that last year’s total North Sea catch was down to 37,000 tons, from a peak of 250,000 tons in 1977 – the ban on fishing is a desperate last-ditch attempt to save the North Sea from following the Grand Banks off Newfoundland into sterile extinction.
Dewayne Mikkelson

Absolutely right on the money.

Dewayne Mikkelson notes how it seems that the schism between the US and Europe is an artificial one, created by the media and other notable parties.

It’s simply an observation, not an explanation of anything, but knowing what the problem is goes a long way towards figuring out how it came to be.

It does highlight the possibilities when it comes to the power of media manipulation.

The triple vaccine scare here in the UK comes to mind. What happened there was that the media took a very limited report and hyped it up into such a scare that drove down immunisation to almost criminal levels (kids still get killed these days by the diseases vaccinated). The report was written by a doctor who refused to publish or open up his research details or allow other people to use his samples to corroborate his report.

That was a clear case of media scaremongering endangering a whole generation of infants.

So the UK media, at least, finds it acceptable to boost viewer-ratings by risking lives.

Which could go a long way towards explaining their and their US counterparts’ behaviour.

This also highlights the fact that on the whole, you can find far better writing as well as far better news analysis in weblogs than in mainstream media (which includes the online news media).

I don’t think that ‘blogs can compete when it comes to actual reporting but even the most partial ‘blogs reveal the media news analysts to be the biased hacks that they are.

Baldur.

Thu, 21 Nov 2002

Notes.

Two things are catching my attention before I head off to the lecture (me and Judith are supposed to talk about interactive fiction this evening).

Storyspace hypertexts and Tinderbox ‘blogs, two tools created by Eastgate Systems.

First of all I’d like to point out the contrast between Storyspace-based hypertexts such as “Twilight: A Symphony” and “Afternoon” on one hand and Tinderbox-based ‘blogs on the other.

The Storyspace hypertexts are confusing, utterly nonlinear and hard to read. There is no ending (the concept goes counter to the idea of a true hypertext) or if there is most people quit reading before they find it.

In the close to three years that I’ve been studying hypertexts and digital media, I haven’t seen a single MA student last longer than an hour reading those things before he or she quits in utter boredom.

These are MA students, they are used to reading difficult and boring texts.

These hypertexts are too difficult and boring even for them.

One has to wonder what the point of those things is. And I’m the kind of guy who finds Pynchon’s “The Crying of Lot 49” to be an absolute blast to read, know my Derrida, and think that David Lynch’s movies are brilliant pieces of cinema. So I shouldn’t be the kind of person who finds the reading of these hypertexts to be an intensely boring and negative experience. I like a bit of postmodernism in my entertainment, occasionally.

But these texts are painful, and not in the nice way either.

Tinderbox ‘blogs as a contrast have a clear linear structure (they are updated regularly, giving their structure a temporal basis) with hypertext as a supplementary structure for cross-referencing purposes.

They can be accessible and engaging.

You know what your options are as soon as you see the front page (if the site is properly designed).

They are evolutionary, rather than revolutionary.

You can judge for yourself which sort of structure you find more engaging, accessible, entertaining, thought-provoking, and readable.

I’m on the Tinderbox side myself.

Baldur,
Clifton, Bristol

Wed, 20 Nov 2002

Design Issues.

A few design changes.

The “Gimlé” title at the top of the page now links to the front page.

Each post’s header now links to that entry’s permanent link. And I’ve added a trackback link thingy at the bottom of every entry.

I’m not sure whether I can send Trackback pings (due to limitations in blosxom) but hopefully that’ll get sorted soon.

Tue, 19 Nov 2002

Hear This.

This is a bit of a political awareness post, so if you’re not in the mood for that sort of stuff (I know I wasn’t, yesterday), feel free to disregard.

It seems that I’m not the only one writing about inane copyright laws these days because Adam C. Engst talks about the effect the DMCA might have on the Apple Mac platform (found via Boing Boing.

Tom Coates is also writing about “Apple and the Pirate Everyman” which states that “copyrighted material and intellectual property are endangered and cornered beasts”. He claims this despite the fact that the film/DVD industry has never done better, CD sales have only dropped around ten per cent despite a global economic downturn and hideous mismanagement and Microsoft and others continue to earn truckloads of money through software and OS sales.

That’s not even counting the ridiculous patent bonanza which seems to see “innovations” left, right and center.

Nothing so far has convinced me that software and content copyright infringement is having anything but a negligable effect on the financial viability of the content and copyright markets.

And that is despite the fact that most of these industries churn out little other than vile rubbish.

Any drop in sales at this point has to be blamed on a slowdown in consumer spending in general, not on armies of evil pirates out to rape and pillage the poor impoverished executives in Hollywood, zit-faced teenagers armed to the teeth, out to loot the defenseless homes of helpless content providers.

The moneymakers in the States simply want somebody to blame so that they won’t have to face the consequences of their own mismanagement.

Copyright infringement is an unequivocal wrong, for sure, but copyright is in no danger. It’s grip on society is, from a legal perspective, stronger than ever before in history.

The second issue on the agenda is Link and Think. They say it best on their website:

Each December 1, World AIDS Day, the creative community observes A Day With(out) Art, in memory of all those the AIDS pandemic has taken from us, and in recognition of the many artists, actors, writers, dancers and others who continue to create and live with HIV and AIDS.

I’ll be posting a short, personal note here on the subject on December 1 and it might not be a bad idea for you to do the same on your site, weblog or favourite message board.

Anyway, I’m knackered. Been a busy two days.

Baldur,
Clifton, Bristol.

Sat, 16 Nov 2002

Chatters.

They chattered and squabbled like monkeys, tearing things from one another; and one of them kindled a fire in the corner by the cliff, the flame burning strong and fierce in spite of the mizzling rain. The spoils of the sea were dragged up the beach and heaped beside it. The fire cast a ghastly light upon the beach, throwing a yellow brightness that had been black before, and casting long shadows down the beach where the men ran backwards and forwards, industrious and horrible.

When the first body was washed ashore, mercifully spent and gone, they clustered around it, diving amongst the remains with questing, groping hands, picking it clean as a bone; and, when they had stripped it bare, tearing even at the smashed fingers in search of rings, they abandoned it again, leaving it to loll upon its back in the scum where the tide had been.
“Jamaica Inn”Daphne du Maurier

The currently fashionable subject of copyright and “intellectual property” has been a bit of a personal issue for me for a few years.

Reading through the Berkely Intellectual Property Weblog (found via Scot Hacker’s weblog) brought home something that has been annoying me for a few years now.

I am one of the multitude of people who have a halfway-decent, “widely published in his time”, writer for a great-grandfather. And as anybody who has such a forefather knows, society’s cultural memory is fleeting and ephemeral. History only remembers the top-ten. The remaining cultural figures—however worthy—are lost in the mists of time.

Nevertheless, even though my great-grandfather didn’t win a Nobel-prize like his once roommate Halldór Kiljan Laxnes, I would have liked to make his work available to the public. Maybe work on a translation of one of his plays in my spare time. Definitely release some of those texts to Project Gutenberg.

But, it seems that, despite the fact that my great-grandfather was already dead at the time of my birth, most of his work is still in copyright.

This is despite the fact that nobody in the family has any documentation as to who owns the publishing rights (somebody does, they were purchased a few decades ago).

This is despite the fact that the books have been out of print for more than two decades.

This is despite the fact that, like most writer’s children, his descendants have no interest in earning a living off our great-grandfather’s cerebral corpse, his body of work which—as with most of his contemporary writers—is out-of-print.

His work will come into the public domain sometime around the year 2020 at the earliest.

When I’m 43.

That’s at the earliest.

That is not the only way the current copyright trends affect my life. If I’d want to refer to a two minute scene from “The Third Man” in an essay of mine, I would not be able to include a single frame capture from the DVD in my essay to give the reference some necessary context.

Because the UK is about to pass the local equivalent of the DMCA.

Because that law would make it illegal to break the joke that is CSS encryption, unless the Secretary of State, personally, gives me permission. And if I tell my students how to do it (we’re academia, we need to reference these things) I’d risk going to jail, with or without Secretary of State permission.

God forbid that I do the logical thing and use modern technology to put the short one minute clips I refer to on a cd-rom to accompany the essay, so that the readers of the essay can view the exact scenes in question.

I am in favour of copyright in itself as well as the copyright holder’s right to control distribution of their works.

It is not copyright, the copyright-holder’s privilege or so-called “Digital Rights Management” that is the problem. Sure, DRM is short-sighted and insulting to the user, but it is well within the holder’s right to do so. Just like somebody can piss on a canvas, call it art and sell. He’ll even be able to easily find buyers for that sort of art. As will the recording labels. It’s their call. They can sell anything they want. Whether it is encrypted Westlife or shit on a sofa makes no difference.

Personally, I think that “piracy’s” not the problem either. “Piracy” is arguably at its peak today, no matter whether it is taking place via the “sneakernet” or via file-sharing.

Despite this blatant disregard of the copyright-holder’s wishes, the movie industry is churning in record profits—no matter what paranoid movie producers claim—and the music industry is only posting a 9 per cent drop in sales. Which is a miracle considering that we are in the middle of a harsh economic downturn, potential war against Iraq and a “war” against terrorism.

The RIAA talks as if they are the only ones suffering today in the consumer marketplace.

The most pirated movie in the last few months was “Spider-Man”. Almost everybody I know saw it, during the weeks preceding its screening here in the UK, either after downloading it from the net or by getting their hands on a copy via the “sneakernet” on divx;) cds.

Guess what movie is this year’s blockbuster? They all went to see it in the end.

DRM is not a problem. Piracy’s not a problem. Both exist and will run amok in our society over the next few years, but neither of them are problems. Both are, though, very good efforts at destroying the commercial viability of music and video (DRM being as much of a culprit here as filesharing).

But they won’t be that much of a problem. The entertainment industries will recover and adapt. As will the hardcore copyright infringers.

It is the legislation that is a problem. Perpetual copyright extensions and totalitarian copyright laws are the problem.

The fact that, in a few months, I will have to ask the Secretary of State explicitly for permission if I want to talk about and refer to various pieces of media, is the problem.

The ideal of quotations, something you see a lot of on this website, is now portrayed as wrong. It has been criminalized in spirit, if not in actual fact. Unsound, subversive and callous, the practice of creating and preserving cultural interconnections via references has been exiled from the domain of what is considered proper, prim, polite and right. If the ruling body had any respect for this practice, they wouldn’t have made certain instances of it illegal.

And I’ll be middle-aged when the law will finally allow me show you my great-grandfather’s Poetry and Plays.

They’re good as well. I’m proud of them.

Baldur.

Whatever had been the practice hitherto, there was no method in their work tonight. They robbed haphazard, each man for himself; crazy they were and drunk, mazed with this success they had not planned—dogs snapping at the heel of their master whose venture had proved a triumph, whose power this was, whose glory.
“Jamaica Inn”Daphne du Maurier

Old news.

But movies that actually feel like two-hour-plus marketing campaigns are a relatively new phenomenon.
Salon.comStephanie Zacharek

She obviously did not see “Jurassic Park” when it came out, then. Or the “Batman” movies.

Or most of the movies that have come out of Hollywood for the last fifteen years for that matter.

It never ceases to puzzle me. Why do otherwise sensible people continue to pay for the privilege of watching a two hour long advertisment?

Baldur.

Fri, 15 Nov 2002

Aargh!!!!

Here sighs and cries and shrieks of lamentation
echoed throughout the starless air of Hell;
at first these sounds resounding made me weep:

tongues confused, a language strained in anguish
with cadences of anger, shrill outcries
and raucous groans that joined with sounds of hands,

raising a whirling storm that turns itself
forever through that air of endless black,
like grains of sand swirling when a whirlwind blows.
The Divine Comedy Volume I: InfernoDante

I’ve been referral log spammed, which is a growing concern for webloggers. I got into the habit of following raw referral logs about a year ago when I was responsible for a boating/multimedia website for a while (don’t ask) but today is the first time I’ve seen blatant spam in my referral logs.

It’s junk mail, which we all know how to deal with, but it’s junk mail that pollutes your data. They’ve been relatively easy to spot so far. Either they have blatant swear words in the url somewhere, or the site in question seems to have linked to you from three to four different pages at the same time with nothing in common.

And that one person, with one IP address, clicked on all four links to your site (remember, this is supposed to be from four different pages) within the space of three seconds.

This might not be caught in a log analyser but becomes blatantly obvious if you’re monitoring your log via a “tail -f” in a terminal window.

And it looks like they’re harvesting weblogs.com or some other service that harvests weblogs.com for weblog urls. It’s definitely not from the search engines.

Hopefully they’ll realise eventually that this kind of spamming is even less effective than the e-mail kind.

Not that he’ll be able to do it again on this server. Daft bastard used the same IP address for all of the spams.

Thu, 14 Nov 2002

Design Issues.

The front page finally, after a couple of tweaks, validates as xhtml strict. Unfortunately some of the older posts have a couple of bloopers which prevents some of the archive pages from validating.

I’d really like to see a lean Free Software xml/xhtml browser with complete css 2 support. No error checking. No “tag soup” mode. Just a browser which, when asked to load a page, will only render it if it is proper and validates, and tells you what’s wrong if the pages’ xml doesn’t validate. Combine that with kickass css 2 support and font rendering, as well as good integration with a variety of text-editors and you’ll have the web-designer’s dream.

And it would have to support the various World Wide Web Consortium DOMs.

This sort of project has to be much easier than writing a “tag soup” capable browser with error handling.

Placing your work in context.

“Is he a smart detective?”

“Yeah, he's smart. But he talks too much.”

“You'd like more action?”

“I guess so.”

“If you don’t like it, why do you go on reading?”

“I don’t know.” The girl shrugged once again. “It passes the time, I guess. Anyway, it’s no big deal. It’s just a book.”

He was about to tell her who he was, but then he realized that it made no difference.
City of GlassPaul Auster

Something that I read recently made me think about context and expectations in relation to people's works. The 'blog, “Where Worlds Collide” (which I found, incidentally through my referrer logs) made a short comment on what sort of 'blog Gimlé was.

“A tech-blog with some SF thrown in for good measure”

Now I have no problem with that (as I will happily ignore any sort of attempt to categorize me :-), but as I considered the implications of the categorization I was reminded of a phrase that is repeated and hammered into the minds of art, design and media students here at UWE:

“As you create your work you should always keep your audience in mind.”

I have even caught myself saying this to the M.A. students as I do my Teaching Assistant thing.

Now I have two problems with this:

Firstly, I have never, ever followed this advice myself. I’m the sort of personality type that, quite unintentionally, will ruin dinner parties by blurting out all too honest comments and always, absent-mindedly, mention exactly “the thing nobody's supposed to mention”.

And that tendency continues in my work.

Not that anything I do shocks people, I'm not a shocking character. I tend to simply have an utter disregard of what my potential audience is. I might do a work based on a homosexual love story, forgetting that the supposed audience for that particular project are a bunch of English “I can’t believe they're about to let unmarried couples adopt” old-style Conservatives.

So I’d find it a bit weird to give people advice that I have an almost pathological inability to follow.

The second objection has more to do with the nature of the works that come out of this way of thinking.

An artist who considers his audience and knows that most art is seen only by art critics and academics, will create postmodern bullshit.

And the students are in a similar situation. The external examiners and most of those responsible for the marking tend to revel in postmodernism. (To the academics I say: Theory is a tool, not a bloody lifestyle. Blindly adhering to a small subset of relativism is counter-productive to any sort of creaticity.)

By the end of their course, the students will have completely lost the ability to express anything personal in either their works or their essays.

This sort of art is obviously a problem to anybody with a shred of aesthetic sense. Oddly enough, that doesn’t seem to include most academic luminaries.

I’d argue that giving the audience any sort of concern beyond that of the most basic sort is counterproductive in the long run. And with basic I mean making sure that the audience can actually see your work.

Give proper directions so that they can find the gallery. Light the place properly. And if you are making something intended for online delivery, make sure that people aren’t prevented from seeing your work because of computer platform and browser issues.

Basic things like that.

What is more important is to always be aware of what you want to say and try and present it in a manner that best supports your intent.

This differs from the “keep your audience in mind…” quotation because it presumes that you have something to say and shifts the emphasis to the work itself. That is an essential change in focus.

It also serves the basic function of making you more aware of what you are trying to say and of how you present your work, which is what I think teachers are generally trying to do when they use the tired “audience” phrase.

All of this has, of course, nothing to do with the “Where Worlds Collide” 'blog whatsoever.

But Tim (the writer behind “Where Worlds Collide”) did lead me to The Gline which is a 'blog full of thoughtful writing by a musician.

Stuff that makes you think, is always good.

Baldur,
Clifton, Bristol

Spilling.

Uncomprehendingly Ryan stares at the message.
What has gone wrong?
He has carried out his duties impeccably.
His days have been dedicated to order, the routine of the ship.
What has he done wrong?
Or—worse—what mistake can be occurring inside the computer?
He rips off the printout and reads it, seeking a clue. It has all the fluency and random lack of sense of a message from a ouija board.
And as he reads the computer spills out more.
“The Black Corridor”Michael Moorcock

I’ve just returned from a discussion session with the M.A. students in Communications Media (Interactive Media). Judith Aston, the course leader gave us a quick overview of the history of documentary and archive cd-roms. Archive being a misnomer because these things will be eventually unplayable on new computers. That’s presuming we will always have computers around in some capacity.

What struck me was how bad these things were. The best of the breed, a good example according to Judith, was the cd-rom “Critical Mass”, published by Corbis.

The interface was cluttered, a mess of a montage that looked awful on the monitor. The navigation was a discouraging scatter of rollovers that you had to scrub before the details were grudgingly revealed.

I have no tolerance for play in an interface, not even in an entertainment piece. Imagine having to spend even only one minute scrubbing the interface of a computer game before it lets you play tetris.

And those “seedy-roms” were complicated as well, with multiple routes to access the fun stuff.

Simplify. Simplify. Simplify.

When you have a medium as fluid and flexible as interactive media every interface variable increases the complexity exponentially.

We can condense that down to one of those nice truisms:

The architectural complexity of interactive media grows exponentially with every added interface element.

A book with a contents page doesn’t get any more complicated with the addition of an index.

A website, on the other hand, with a simple tree structure and linear navigation method (“next page… previous page”) gets more complex when you add cross-page hyperlinks, even more complex when you enable navigation by subject, and then even more complicated when you add a weird overview page with dozens of uncaptioned thumbnails that link to individual entries and in some alternate universe might have some narrative connection with the post in question.

The reason is that each added interface doesn’t replace the other ones, it adds to and interacts with the other interfaces since they are all covering the same content. It starts to get really easy for the user to get lost.

Unless, of course, you really do want the user to get lost.

The problem here is not the added interfaces per se but the fact that it is just too easy to make interactive, hypertext projects complicated and inaccessible. Take almost every single storyspace hypertexts out there, for example.

Free for alls get boring after a short while and that’s the last thing I want from my entertainment.

Baldur,
Clifton, Bristol.

Wed, 13 Nov 2002

Now I’ll have to See it.

Don’t know if anybody out there cares but Bowling for Columbine just got slammed pretty thoroughly yesterday on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row.

Called “anti-american propaganda posing as satire”.

And both of the reviewers were thoroughly in favour of gun-control.

The review is unfortunately available only in the vile, horrible and proprietry RealAudio format.

Hopefully, this won’t be the case for BBC programming in the near future since the legal issues regarding the ogg format have been sorted.

So soon we’ll have a public service broadcaster broadcast in a public, open format.

Mon, 11 Nov 2002

You know.

If there was only one online comics strip that you were allowed to read on a regular basis, which one would it be?

Something funny?

Something simple?

Something smart?

Something profound?

In my case it would be Ozy and Millie, of course!

Fun.

Felt a bit jealous when I read about Mac OS X users getting a new update so I’m just letting Gentoo GNU/Linux do an overnight “emerge –update world” on my ibook.

Although I do get enough 10.2 joy up at Uni on the Communications Media Lab machines.

The frightening thing is that I’m more and more starting to prefer GNU/Linux to Mac OS X.

And I’m an old Mac-fanatic whose first computer was a Macintosh Plus.

Baldur.

Mopping up.

You guys aren’t tough enough to be prison bitches! You’re not even the pussies that prison bitches beat up and rape! You phlegmbags are the sissies who get reamed by the prison bitches! You are bitches thrice removed! Fuckos!
“Barry Ween Boy Genius Book 4: Gorilla Warfare”—By Judd Winick

Spent the day sorting miscellaneous finance stuff out. Does give you the feeling that the economy is doing its best to make life difficult for postgraduate and doctorate students.

Of course, the above Barry Ween quotation applies only to nasty faceless economic entities that conspire against me and not any of the nice people mentioned in the remainder of this post.

Sometimes I despair and wonder what to do about Universities that are organized as if they are nothing but qualification factories for the job market.

But I’ll have to apologise to Mark Pascal anyway for preemptively stealing his design :-)

He also touches upon my and Dorothea Salo’s posts on the word blog, mainly my dislike, which he shares to a lesser degree.

My personal conclusion is to emphasise the fact that the word is an abbreviation of the relatively neutral word “weblog”. Namely to call the phenomenon 'blogs.

The difference is small enough for most people not to notice, but that’s alright. It’s the thought that counts.

A small linguistic insurrection on my part.

Sun, 10 Nov 2002

Calling Home

Real Power
What’s perfectly whole seems flawed,
but you can use it forever.
What’s perfectly full seems empty,
but you can’t use it up.

True straightness looks crooked.
Great skill looks clumsy.
Real eloquence seems to stammer.

To be comfortable in the cold, keep moving;
to be comfortable in the heat, hold still;
to be comfortable in the world, stay calm and clear.
“Tao Te Ching”Lao Tzu

I’ve been munching on some Icelandic foodstuffs I got from buyicelandic.com the other day.

This led me to think about how—since most people associate certain foods and drinks with their home country— they cope when they are abroad.

Modern travel has made the world a small place but some things remain strictly local for a variety of reasons.

English beer doesn’t travel well and requires a certain degree of skill on the publican’s part.

Cold Icelandic haddock “fresh of the dock” is always over a day old when it reaches the UK, usually almost three days old. That’s something that definitely affects the taste.

I’d imagine that the same thing applies to most national foodstuffs out there.

It makes you think about the nature of one’s national identity.

Am I Icelandic because of the food that I ate and the language that I spoke while growing up?

Is it the pride I have in the accomplishments of my fellow countrymen, the fact that we were writing novels when the rest of Europe wallowed in their dirt in the Middle Ages, and the fact that we survived Earth’s largest historic lava flow in 1783?

Is it the Icelandic weather which evokes a strong sense of humility in the face of nature’s worst?

Is it Iceland’s culture of intense ambition?

If it is all these things, and others, and similiar things define other people’s cultural identities, then why does some people’s raging national pride scare me?

Do they need to assert their own nation’s superiority by dismissing other culture’s wholesale?

How can they concieve a whole cultural, national and religious gestalt as an entity worthy of destruction?

Do they dismiss the component parts as easily as the whole?

When a Columbian writes a masterpiece can the Spanish take pride in it as a Spanish-language work?

And if they do, have the Columbians a due cause for offense?

Should an Englishman feel horrified when an American dismisses Europe in the English language?

Or should he feel insulted because the American has just lumped the UK in with France and Germany as if they all behaved, plotted and thought of themselves as a unified whole—an “Axis of Europe”?

Awareness of other nations is certainly a prerequisite for national pride. But does respect for those same nations diminish your own?

And why does everybody think that I’m talking about them?

Me, I just like munching on dried catfish and going out to the pub for some proper English bitter.

If I take pride in what you have done will you return the favour?

Baldur,
Clifton, Bristol.

Sat, 09 Nov 2002

31 out of a hundred.

“Stagg did not stop but raced past them. ‘I may seem to be alone!’ he cried at them. ‘But I am not! Earth comes along with me, your Mother and mine! She is my Bride and goes with me wherever I go. I cannot get away from Her. Even when I traveled through space to places so distant it takes light-years to get there, She was with me. And the proof is that I am back to get there, She was with me. And the proof is that I am back and now have carried out my eight-hundred-years-old promis to marry Her!’”
“Flesh” — Philip José Farmer

Phobosweb.com has assembled a “100 best sci-fi books” list (found via Masc Pascal’s markpasc.blog).

I like the list. It provides a good overview of the genre and gives you quite a few good pointers as to where to find more. Simply writing down all of the names you haven’t heard and taking that list to your local used book store will give you a host of books which, while not necessarily on the list, will be “damn good reads”.

There is only one book which I think has to be on the list for historical reasons and isn’t. That is Yevgeny Zamyatin’s “We”.

It precedes “1984” and Brave New World in its discussion of a dystopic future in a thoroughly industrialized society where people only have identity numbers and not names.

Freedom vs. Happiness, contentment, privacy, civil rights, social efficiency, the disaster that takes place when science takes precedence of the human element, this novel covers all the big issues and does it in excellent prose.

And it’s written in the early Soviet Union which highlights the enormous act of bravery the book was on Zamyatin’s part.

And in ten years time we will see whether Michael Marshal Smith’s “Only Forward” stands the test of time well enough to be placed on a future version of this sort of list. I’m confident that it will.

In fact, just thinking about it makes me want to read it again.

But my mission for the next few days will be to see if I can push up the number of books on that list that I have read from 31 to something like 34-35. I already have a copy of Clockwork Orange that I’ve been meaning to read and a number of books on the list are in the public domain and thus available online.

I’ve compiled a list of the ones that are available for download. Have a look through it. Just don’t come back with silly comments like “You must be stupid to expect us to read off the screen”

If you read even half as many websites as I do you’ll find that you are already reading what is close to a short novel a week.

Try this:
Start by downloading H.G. Wells “The Time Machine” at work (or some other book if you’ve already read it).

Then whenever over the next few weeks you feel the urge to take a five minute coffee break to read some blogs, read a short passage from “The Time Machine” instead.

I’ll bet that you will have finished the book in a couple of weeks.

I read “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” this way.

Most books found via the Internet Public Library:

Wells, H. G.
http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/WelWorl.html
The War of the Worlds

Burroughs, Edgar Rice
http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/BurPrin.html
A Princess of Mars

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft
http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/SheFran.html
Frankenstein

Jules Verne
http://JV.Gilead.org.il/vt/c_earth/
A Journey to the Center of the Earth

Jules Verne
http://www.litrix.com/twenty/twent001.htm
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea

H. G. Wells
http://www.litrix.com/timemach/timem001.htm
The Time Machine

Robert Louis Stevenson
http://digital.library.upenn.edu/webbin/gutbook/lookup?num=43
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Edwin A. Abbott
http://digital.library.upenn.edu/webbin/gutbook/lookup?num=97
Flatland

translated by Swami Paramananda
http://digital.library.upenn.edu/webbin/gutbook/lookup?num=3283
The Upanishads

Lewis Carroll
http://digital.library.upenn.edu/webbin/gutbook/lookup?num=928
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Fri, 08 Nov 2002

Coffee.

Trying my best to cut down on my coffee drinking.

Failing miserably.

Baldur.

Wed, 06 Nov 2002

Back From the Pub.

One thing that’s really nice is to come back from the pub and find that somebody has said something nice about you.

Especially if you like the writing of the person involved. Go and have a read through Dorothea Salo’s site. It is a personal site, mind you, so it’s not supposed to be an authoritative reference on the subjects she writes about.

But she delivers her views with character and personality, which makes it that much more effective than boring, unadorned information.

Sometimes I do wish that I could blog (there’s that word again) from the pub because there is nothing that goes down better with a pint of bitter (or real ale, when you are so inclined) than a good debate.

Not that I went without, mind you, had a good discussion on the relevance of the House of Lords in light of yesterday’s passing of new adoption laws.

And the fact that it was an act of monumental stupidity on Ian Duncan Smith’s half to expect Michael Portillo to vote against the right of gay and straight unmarried couples to adopt.

Two things. First of all. Dorothea Salo mentions my dislike of the word blog, citing the fact that most of the English language is ugly to begin with.

Well, it doesn’t have to be ugly, although it seems very conducive to ugly miscarried neologisms.

I guess I simply regret the fact that whenever innovators get a chance to add to the language they jump at the opportunity to create an awful inbred bastard of a slogan that has no style, elegance or sense of history.

This, I think, is more of a cultural difference than anything else. Where I come from everybody is raised with the idea that your language should be nurted and guarded. That it can be, by concentrated effort, crafted into something beautiful.

I do like the English language. I didn’t have to, as it isn’t my first language.

But better writers than me have shown that it can be beautiful.

I do acknowledge that the word “blog” is the de facto standard (anything else sounds way too posh for my taste). So I guess that I’ll end up using that.

But I’m sure that if we keep on reminding people that “blog” is a bloody daft word then they’ll come up with something better for the next new thing.

If they don’t then I’ll plonk them on the head with a newspaper.

Dorothea’s posts on the issues regarding archival formats vs user formats ties conveniently in with some of the problems I’m having at University regarding the MA course I’m working on.

I’ve been meaning to write about that… and I will… eventually. Probably tomorrow.

But now I’m going to settle down and sober up while listening to The World Tonight and later Today in Parliament, both on BBC Radio 4.

The UK parliament especially, is better than any soap you can find.

Baldur,
Writing through the haze of three pints of bitter in Clifton, Bristol.

From the Lunatic Fringe.

As a rule, every group or community has its lunatic fringe.

These are the zealots so deranged, so out of touch with the “real world” that, while not necessarily shizophrenic gibbering madmen, certainly sound that way to anybody not a part of that community.

Often this lunatic fringe is an important part of the community’s history and foundation.

The comics business is full of these people. Grant Morrison and Rob Liefeld are good examples of people who, irrespective of their talents (or lack of talent in Rob’s case), are less connected with reality than bungee-jumping siamese-twin chinchilla’s on acid.

Those who have heard Morrison’s “Alien’s from another dimension visited me while I was on an acid trip in Mexico” story know what I mean.

Although Grant’s not as insane as Liefield.

Rob Liefeld actually thinks he can draw.

What prompted me to start thinking about this was the way the Opensource/Free Software community responds usually to Richard M. Stallman’s anticts.

Clearly, quite a few GNU/Linux and BSD fans out there view RMS as a bloody lunatic who shouldn’t be allowed to talk to strangers.

What they don’t realise is that Stallman has come full circle. He started out by inventing the concept of Free Software in the first place and building the foundation for the current community. Then as the community grows and mellows out he starts to look more and more extreme to the movement he started, especially in comparison with the much more easygoing Opensource movement founded by Bruce Perens and Eric S. Raymond.

This is understandable. To a lot of Free Software programmers the requirements of the General Public License look a lot less useful and practical than those of the non-copylefted BSD or X11 licenses.

And to a programmer who straddles between the Free Software world and the Commercial Software world the GPL simply marks a program as “something I can’t take to work”.

Which doesn’t make the GPL a bad thing, it simply places that piece of code in the same category that commercial code resides in: software with a price

That shows GPLed software, viewed from a practical perspective, to be no different from the software they write for a living.

And it also shows that the resentment some of them have towards the GPL is immature and greedy. Just like the screaming child in the supermarket.

Stallman himself finds that his old fight for digital freedom is more and more becoming a mainstream concern in western society showing us that his “extremism”, the line he drew in the sand years ago, was absolutely spot on. That line being something that governments and corporations shoudn’t be allowed to cross.

Eric S. Raymond on the other hand finds himself now in support of religious genocide and backs the actions of a government who, with their Patriot Act, have not only declared war against a vague enemy called terrorism but also declared war against the personal privacy and civil rights of its citizens.

He has lost his once quite respectable skill at writing the English Language as well; the neologisms in his “Anti-Idiotarian Manifesto” are painful enough to qualify as heinous crimes against humanity.

(That villainous pillaging of the English language has already inspired one decent rebuttal, although any document that pretends to put the “words” idiotarian and islamofascist to serious use deserves about as much attention as an essay scrawled in crayon. If you write in english and want to be taken seriously then please write in English.)

It’s pretty clear that the location of the Free Software/Opensource community’s lunatic fringe has changed quite a bit over the last couple of years.

Stallman continues to be a magnet for debate and resentment.

But it is Eric S. Raymond, a once sensible writer, who is Absolutely Barking Mad.

Armed and Dangerous indeed.

Baldur,
Clifton, Bristol.

I’m slow.

I’ve been finding myself too busy to update in the last few days.

Nothing strange about that, really, been preparing for a presentation and tutorial on my Phd plan and proposal.

What I realised today was that I should have at least taken five minutes off on a regular basis and write up a post of what it is that I’m busy doing.

Something I do is bound to be interesting to somebody out there, eventually.

What I did today (as well as work on thoughts and ideas regarding next Thursday’s session with the MA students) was to install and set up Straw, an RSS news aggregator.

Two observations:

1. I read a lot off the web.
2. Most of the interesting reading materials on the web happen to be on personal websites (so-called blogs, I hate that awful word, it’s ugly).

After having wallowed in working on commercial websites and in commercial media I must say that I find the personal and conversational nature of today’s web very encouraging and uplifting.

You can still rely on BBC’s Radio 4 though, if you need to come back to solid programming.

Speaking of which, I’m going to concentrate on “Today in Parliament”, now.

Baldur.
Clifton, Bristol.