A lazy Reykjavik


Tue, 25 Feb 2003

Death of the Blogger.

Dorothea and Liz have made a couple of posts on the pros and cons of the academic system. Both are, for the most part, right.

But they don’t spot what I consider to be one of the biggest problems with academia and the academic culture, and which happens to be one of the biggest problems with weblogs as well.

The curse of the meme.

We know now that a text is not a line of words releasing a single ‘theological’ meaning (the ‘message’ of the Author-God) but a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash. The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture.
Roland Barthes“The Death of the Author.”

Thought-viruses infect your mind, spawn their clones and infect their garbage into the writing of otherwise clever people. The virus’ shallow, self-referential and simplistic concepts riddles otherwise sensible stuctures with faddish holes, repetitive statements and blatantly false and unsubstantiated truisms.

Academia is prime, un-vaccinated territory for garbage thought-viruses such as the relativistic mumbo-jumbo of Stanley Fish, Propp’s narrow and simplistic theories later popularised by Joseph Campbell, hypertext theory spew which blatantly and categorically claim that “this is the way the human mind works” without a single solitary reference to psychology, psychiatry or medical papers to back up that obnoxious and almost mythological statement. At least Vannevar Bush had the decency to include “may” in the title of his essay “As We May Think.”

These ideas, the thought-viruses of current theory praxis, are self-propogating memes.

Thought-viruses, which have undermined the craft of academia (referencing, research, analysis and debate) and doomed most of academic practice into irrelevance.

Memes are bad things (to put it bluntly). They propogate truisms, undermining the practice of referencing, research and proper attribution. They homogenise the discussion as everybody’s talking about the same thing. They provide no scope for analysis as the meme itself usually consists of a set of very simple concepts.

Memes are persistent as well, witness the longevity of Joseph Campbell’s garbage. “The Hero With a Thousand Faces”, a fiction claiming to authoritively describe the narrative structure of all of mankind’s myths, based on Vladimir Aioakovlevich Propp’s narrow research on a small subset of Russian folk-tales and then generalised into insane statments.

The fact that the only stories which fit Campbell’s structure are those written afterwards with his book as a guideline does not stop people from mindlessly propogating his ideas.

The Viral Genre.

Weblogs are prime territory for this kind of simplistic mental ooze. Memes—thought infections—which crawl, burrow, drill and scratch their way from weblog to weblog, the prime infection vectors being the so-called “A-list” webloggers.

Topics are covered and then dismissed with a short paragraph and a link.

Debate consists of short volleys of 80 word meme brain-boils where the thought-virus biomass simmers under the thin skin of comments and trackbacks. Everything can be categorised.

The meme-plague is the only thing which can destroy the weblogging revolution, murder it in its tracks.

Everybody speaks the same, in the same way, about the same thing, with little to no variation. We could easily turn into the lightspeed version of the same unsubstantiated bullshit of postmodern academia, shedding even the pretense of giving ideas space and scope for discussion.

What killed the author and poisoned academia is trying to return through the violated corpses of a horde of ’blogger-zombies spouting inane commentary on the links of the day.

We aren’t there yet. There is still a critical mass of well-structured debate and good writing within the “blogosphere”.

But as the popularity of weblogging increases, the number of meme-victims will rise and the blogdex top fifty will not only describe the fifty most popular subjects amongst webloggers…

It will describe the only subjects.

Concentrated Viral Refuse.

And the weblogging meme will eat its own.

Baldur Bjarnason.
Clifton, Bristol.

Fri, 21 Feb 2003


Am I the only one perplexed by the emphasis both sides of the war debate are putting on UN resolutions? Given the fact that everybody involved, the US, UK and Iraq, all have a long tradition of thoroughly ignoring UN resolutions, I mean. Are people being hypocritical, machiavellian, ignorant or all three?

Or is this some sort of running joke I’ve been missing, a pissing contest where ignored resolutions are worn like stripes of honour? Nato, the US, Israel and Iraq have together rendered the concept of UN resolutions meaningless, and did so years ago.

Those who are against the war unless the UN forms a second resolution and those who are undecided, waiting for that same magical resolution:

Pick a side. Those resolutions are nothing but political horse-trading and have been consistently ignored by both major and minor powers for years now.

They are not indicatve of anything that has any actual bearing on the situation. Do your research. Weigh the facts. Make up your mind. If you are indecisive, say so, don’t rely on the UN to provide you with anything substantial. The Security Council betrayed your trust years ago.

Free Software User Interfaces.

A couple of interesting user-interface articles have appeared on the net. One argues for sane defaults and simplicity while the other argues for user-configurability and massive user control. I won’t argue for one side over the other. Just ask yourself, what was the easiest and least painful Operating System user-interface you tried?

And how configurable was that?

These articles are interesting for other reasons as well. Havoc used to be the chair of the board on the Gnome Foundation and is still considered to be a bit of an authority in the project. Mosfet used to be heavily involved in KDE development but after numerous disagreements he decided to pull out of KDE development and focus on his own apps (most of which happen to be KDE based). Both are good programmers.

Neither position is new in the Free Software User Interface debate. Emacs is still the supreme king of configurability while the GNUstep project used to have a vehement anti-theme stance. Rightfully so, IMO, themes mean that the User Interface designer is trying to shoot at a constantly moving target, turns the concept of consistency into a joke.

Baldur Bjarnason.
Clifton, Bristol.

Thu, 20 Feb 2003

Those Darned Pesky Comments.

It’s next to impossible to have a structured debate in a comments section. At least for me, as I tend to make a fool of myself. Comments tend to be short, which makes it all too easy to make unreasoned, misleading and confrontational statements.

Debate between weblogs isn’t that much better on the average, but at least you have the ability to present your thoughts, critiques and ideas in context which might make them sound a bit more reasonable.

Wed, 19 Feb 2003

The Making of a Fool.

Shelley has made it easy for me to make a fool of myself. Or, rather, she’s made it easy for other people to find my foolish comments on her weblog. Unlike some other people I’ve got no problem with having my idiocy preserved and made accessible. We wouldn’t want anybody to think I’m smart, would we?


Peter muses on literary genres and there relationship with authorship and software. The image of genres and genre-traditions as constraints has always perplexed me. For the most part a genre is simply a very well documented and accepted way of increasing your literary focus and defining the scope, and context of your narrative play. Which is useful, if you’re into that.

Oh, the Pain…

Life should hopefully be back to normal now. Possibly the most painful transfer of a website between hosts I’ve experienced. Read reprints of the original Howard the Duck run. Soothed the pain but revived the older horror of a certain ghastly, ghastly movie. Howard the Duck by Steve Gerber, though, is too funny, too observant, too good to be permanently knocked down by the putrid crimes of George Lucas.

Fri, 14 Feb 2003

Do Not Readjust Your Set.

Service should be spottier than usual over the next few days (might even be nonexistent over a period) due to hosting matters. Will, hopefully be sorted soon.

Tue, 11 Feb 2003

Bath Pub Crawl.

Don’t know if anybody out there’s interested. But I’ll be in Bath tonight (Wednesday the 12th of Feb.) out for a few pints of bitter with a couple of friends of mine.

Anybody who is interested in joining us should feel to do so. Just drop me a note via e-mail (see the bottom of this page) to let me know.

Let’s see if anybody of the four or so people reading this resides in Bath.

Whisper, and Walk With Care.

Been quiet for the last few days. The reason being that my computer was out of action. Nothing hardware-related, simply a case of me running too much alpha and beta grade opensource software and running out of luck.

Didn’t lose too much work, most of it is backed up onto cd-rom or ftp-ed onto a remote server.

Hard work to rebuild the system, though.

Everything seems a bit more responsive on the new install, Galeon/Mozilla both improved considerably.

Might be because I went from the 2.95 series of GCC to GCC version 3.2.1 which apparently incorporates both improvements for C++ applications as well as improvements for PPC cpus.

So the irony is that my previous rant on KDE might be proven wrong, the KDE system might gain a significant performance boost from the new compiler making it usable for the first time on this machine.

But I simply can’t be arsed to install it. At least not for a while yet.

Gnome 2.2 looks promising but, again, I’ve given up on it after only a couple of days. WindowMaker was more responsive with GCC compiling Gnome 2.2 in the background than Gnome 2.2 was on its own (slight exaggeration, but it is noticably slower).

I can’t fathom why the hell Gnome 2.2 applications are faster and more responsive under WindowMaker than in their native setup.

Also been carrying on with the current, still ongoing redesign of Gimlé. Haven’t tested it anyware, nor really asked anybody for feedback. Any notes or critiques would be appreciated.

Been busy reading over the last few days. Left the computer compiling/installing Gentoo while I took turns either reading Heinlein’s “The Number of the Beast” or flipping through Lev Manovich’s “The Language of New Media”.

My only comment is that while Heinlein can throw out a good yarn with entertaining ideas, his characters feel about as real as the three-headed bat-winged goat my uncle sees whenever he drinks paint. Heinlein’s characters aren’t human and don’t engage with each other like human beings do.

And most of them are superhuman or borderline-superhuman.

All his ideas on human society and human interaction lose their value as a result.

Thank god, I’d hate to see the sort of elitist society that would result from the worldview—or ideology, rather—presented in his books.

The world is built upon the efforts of daft buggers doing what the enjoyed as well as they could, when they could. Their accomplishments accrue over time until the self-styled genius comes along to the right place at the right time, accidentally, spots the cherry on top and then claims credit for a job or idea that has been a long, generational process.

Pretty much everybody is stupid compared to Heinlein’s smartypants characters (as well as several, self-styled smartypants scattered all over the web).

We might not be superhuman geniuses.

But we get things done.

Clifton Bristol.

Thu, 06 Feb 2003

Linkmopping and Thoughts.

A few interesting links:

A short article on the usability of webpages that scroll vs. webpages that are broken up into small pages. Unsurprisingly the scrolling pages are read faster, look just as good and annoy the users less than the broken up ones.

A designer describes the horrifying effect Flash has on otherwise sensible designers. (Both via Holovaty.com)

Regarding my thoughts on representing names and their translations in markup: The initial instance of the name should probably be in a DFN tag as I mused the other day, but it might be an idea to mark up the subsequent instances in the same document with the CITE tag, as references to the preceding DFN definition. Talking semantics, indeed.

Most of the course’s MA students did alright. It’ll be an interesting lot, judging by their essays. Apparently I’m supposed to be teaching the occasional afternoon at that course with the help of another Interactive Media Phd student called Tom Abba.

The discussion on copyright issues continues. There are a few points and ideas I’d like to write about regarding this subject. When I have time.

Got myself Lev Manovich’s book The Language of New Media, some good stuff there. Some annoying stuff as well, like his misuse (IMO) of terms such as databases. Need to read it more thoroughly but on the face of it qualities such as automation and modularity were a revolutionary part of the printing press, not something unique to New Media. He’s so hung up on databases that he sounds like a Computer Science student in love with SQL.

I’ll probably change my mind on the book on further reading since I’ve only had a cursory glance through it.

That Desktop Thing.

I just unmerged KDE, the Gentoo GNU/Linux equivalent of uninstalling the whole thing.

For those who don’t know, KDE stands for the K Desktop Environment and it is, as advertised, a desktop environment.

A desktop environment, on the otherwise graphically barren free unices, involves creating some sort of easy to use graphical user interface for the computer system that enables the user to manage the system, launch applications and manage his or her tasks.

Basic things that we take for granted on all the other operating systems.

The reason why I uninstalled KDE, and this is why I intentionally stated the obvious above regarding the purpose of a DE, is that it did too much, and it did it slowly.

And the interface was and is a clone of the Windows interface (itself a flawed clone of the mildly flawed Macintosh System 6-7).

Free Software tends to be flexible, so the interface isn’t much of a problem. It even offers you the ability to run KDE applications with a macintosh-like external menubar. Although does miss the point of the mac interface entirely by omitting an Apple-menu clone in one corner and an Applications menu in the other.

But all of that has nothing to do with the reason why I uninstalled it.

It’s not as if I’m not used to it. I always try it on every new release (this time starting with the sixth release candidate of version 3.1) and I always give up on it after about six weeks, give or take.

It does too much. It tries to be a whole system, not just a desktop environment. It has countless utilities and applications to do pretty much anything from configuring your basic settings to word-processing to walking your dog and kicking the cat.

And a truckload of stupid little productivity wasters masquerading as games.

I shouldn’t have to think about the desktop environment. It should just give me an interface for me to manage my files and applications.

I don’t have the option of merely installing the libraries and the basic desktop environment without installing the media framework, the so-bad-it’s-almost-unusable-on-ppc arts sound server, printing framework and all the related dependancies (can be quite substantial).

I’m sure that this is merely a matter of testing and packaging, and not really a problem with KDE itself.

Most of these problems will be solved, for sure. The development speed of KDE is so fast it’s almost alarming.

But there is another problem.The dealbreaker.

Speed and memory use. Using KDE instead of a simple window manager (like OpenBox or WindowMaker) is like being able to halve your CPU speed and pull out one of your computers’ RAM chips using software only. All while doubling the power-drain and halving the battery-life.

This isn’t exactly a problem with KDE but a general problem that involves the memory use of C++ programs on the Free Software OSes on one hand and some fundamental speed problems with Xfree86 (the graphical windowing system).

That’s the official excuse at least.

But it can’t quite be true since OpenBox, the window manager I’m currently using, is much faster, results in a much more responsive system, and happens to be written in C++, running on Xfree86 with nice features such as font antialiasing.

Gnome, the other Desktop Environment for Xfree86, felt a little bit more responsive the last time I tried it (version 2.0) but didn’t feel quite as mature as KDE.

I’ll emerge version 2.2 tomorrow.

I’d do a thorough review of KDE but until I replace my main machine with some sort of speed monster, any such review would be clouded by frustration, annoyance and anger.

Although those happen to be the very emotions that accompany any full-time use of KDE on this machine.

Baldur Bjarnason.
Clifton, Bristol.

Wed, 05 Feb 2003

More HTML Thoughts.

Indicates emphasis.
Indicates stronger emphasis.
Contains a citation or a reference to other sources.
Indicates that this is the defining instance of the enclosed term.
Designates a fragment of computer code.
Designates sample output from programs, scripts, etc.
Indicates text to be entered by the user.
Indicates an instance of a variable or program argument.
Indicates an abbreviated form (e.g., WWW, HTTP, URI, Mass., etc.).
Indicates an acronym (e.g., WAC, radar, etc.).
World Wide Web ConsortiumHTML 4.0.1 Specification

Reading through the HTML 4.0.1 specification is enlightening.

First of all, SPAN is not really the tag I should have used with with the lang attribute on my Gylfaginning page.

Neither is CITE.

DFN sounds perfect.

Food for thought.


What is Blogaria?

“Blogaria”, a horrid word for sure, seems to be used to describe the web of webloggers, as if that web were something separate from our old world wide web.

I am one of only two people in the whole of Blogaria who accept that writers might wish to exert a degree of control over how their work is used and who also feel no obligation to donate their work to the public domain.

The words are Jonathon Delacour’s, he’s engaging in a cross-weblog discussion on copyright issues.

It begs the question of what is and isn’t a part of Blogaria proper.

Isn’t Mark Evanier? a weblogger?

His website is updated frequently. He calls it a weblog. And he’s very pro-copyright. With well thought out reasons behind his view.

It’s a weblog, but not a part of the “Blogaria” proper. Obviously. ’bloggers don’t read him.

It’s not a matter of popularity. Evanier is the writer of the Groo comic book (amongst others), several animation series, tv series, and columns on showbiz trivia.

He’s read by a lot of people.

I’d like to posit a theory.

“Blogaria” is a function of the weblogging queen bee mentality. What belongs and doesn’t belong to it is defined exclusively by the online reading list of the weblogging “celebrities” (I won’t name names, you know who they are).

So, ’blogging is not a technology or a way to communicate but a societal game—ritual—created by the few, for the few.

I’m playing the game, so that probably makes this a weblog but not necessarily a part of “Blogaria”.

But to pretend that I’m not submitting to the rules of the very same class of people that annoyed me in school, as a teenager, is a piece of blatant self-deception.

Here, as in journalism and media, the game is theirs.

Baldur Bjarnason.
Clifton, Bristol.

Party at Her Place.

Cool! Dorothea got in.

Tue, 04 Feb 2003

On Names.

Dorothea Salon responded to my cry for help regarding the issue of translating names. She neatly summarises the possibilities, what approaches are generally available.

And as I was thinking about this I ran across a post in Jonathon Delacour’s weblog.

The post discusses the “lang” HTML attribute, the CSS2 attribute selector and how, when coupled with the “title” HTML attribute you can provide the original language word, the English language translation and semantically correct language information all in one go, along with popups of the translation in the browsers that support it.

So I slapped together a page collecting what little I’ve translated so far of Gylfaginning, using the lang attribute along with the title attribute wherever I felt like it.

For the most part, I think it works. The only thing I’m still thinking about is what it should look like.

But anyway, head off over to the new Gylfaginning webpage and have a gander.

And here’s an short example:

Then Astall says: “Earlier, Niflheimur was made. Many ages before the creation of earth, and there in its middle lies a well named Hvergelmir. From there rivers flow so named: Svöl, Gunnþrá, Fjörm, Fimbulþul, Slíður og Hríð, Sylgur og Ylgur, Víð, Leiftur. Gjöll is the one closest to the gates of Hel.”

Chapter five is proving a tad more difficult, which of course means that the entertainment value of translating it goes up exponentially.

It’ll be up eventually.

Baldur Bjarnason.
Clifton, Bristol.

Earth Died Screaming.

You know when a single tune sticks in your brain?

How, over a few minutes, hours or days even, the same song keeps echoing through your mind.

Have you ever thought how, maybe, just maybe, the span of days during which the tune intrudes, encrouches, crawls all over your brain is really an illusion?

That the five minute duration of the song is reality, and the tune’s whispers in your mind is reality trying to regain control, wrest you from the intricate fantasy world your diseased mind has created and is playing out in hyperspeed, frantically trying to outrun the hard grey mundane.

Like that moment, just after you jump, when you think that you might, you just might, be able to fly.

But ground hits you, and you fall back into life.

With the tune still there, whispering sad things into your minds’ ear.

Those days were real after all.

I’ve had Tom Waits rattling in my brain for three days.

Three days I sometimes wish were only a fantasy played before my minds’ eye.

And the earth died screaming
While I dreaming
Well, the earth died screaming
While I dreaming
Dreaming of you.

There was thunder
there was lightning
And the stars went out

Earth Died ScreamingTom Waits

Mon, 03 Feb 2003

New Design.

Haven’t really tested it yet.

Been busy reading, working, and doing this quick redesign.

Saddened to hear about the Columbia accident.

Knowing other people is intelligence,
knowing yourself is wisdom.
Overcoming others takes strength,
overcoming yourself takes greatness.
Contentment is wealth.

Boldly pushing forward takes resolution.
Staying put keeps you in position.

To live till you die
is to live long enough.
Lao TzuA Book about the Way and the Power of the Way

More later.

Sleep first.