Editorial & Opinion

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War – What Is It Good For?

[ Comments Off ]Posted on March 29, 2011 by admin in Editorial & Opinion

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Absolutely nothin’. Say it again.

The other day I was pondering the events of September 11, 2001, and wondered what America would be doing to celebrate the tenth anniversary of those events later this year. I hope what ever we do shows a little more strength and dignity than what we did shortly after the atrocities perpetrated that day. I’ve always been of the opinion that the fellows charged with responding to those events were rather pleased that they had occurred, because it allowed them to pursue their previously stated desire of “Creating Tomorrow’s Dominant Force”,  as they so charmingly put it. I won’t belabor the absurdity of initiating two armed conflicts abroad, killing more than a million people total, including at least 6,000 American deaths in addition to the 2,996 resulting from the original attacks as a response to those attacks. Anyone who can silence the partisan gibberish in their head for a moment can look at the numbers and the results, i.e., the fact that there’s still a Taliban, still an al-Quaeda, and that Osama bin Laden is probably enjoying his falconing hobby in relative comfort in Iran – and realize that someone was fibbing somewhere, and had another agenda. Or perhaps the famous Donald Rumsfeld poem (also below) just reflected that there are a lot more things “we don’t know we don’t know” than he knew. And even if there were truth to the notion that somehow tracking down bin Laden was the real aim, that strategy embodies the same absurdity as the Italo Calvino story Conscience . If you’re not familiar with the story, I won’t spoil it. It’s only a page and a half long, so I’ve embedded it below. So I could go on for days, citing numbers,  pointing fingers, and trying to show off what I think I know about the causes of war, but I have this seemingly irrational hope that in spite of thousands of years of history that contraindicates the possibility, that perhaps within my lifetime, humans will actually abandon war as an approach to resolving conflict. The tragically high suicide rate of returning American soldiers  seems to me a sad reflection of a heightened awareness of the sickness of the human psyche that makes war palatable to the entitled few, who then send the less-entitled and more honorable to execute their sociopathic, murderous plans. It’s unfortunate that there has to be an oppressed people for truly inspired, spiritually driven leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. or Gandhi to rise to prominence, but every time a person like this lives a life and leaves their mark, it gives someone in the present some tools to keep building a better future. And I don’t think I’m being dramatic when I suggest that an incredible number of people, from a vast variety of nations and cultures, are oppressed right now. And that a remarkably small number of people are benefiting from this oppression, and helping perpetuate it. Maybe the next inspired leader who battles racism and hatred with love will be fighting for the human race. Some quotes and the story “Conscience” below….

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E-Mail vs. Email – The 2011 Dissociated Press Stylebook

[ Comments Off ]Posted on March 20, 2011 by admin in Editorial & Opinion

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

As a Grammarchist, I think it’s time we try the world’s Grammar Nazis for their crimes.

Please do not confuse the parody image
above with the actual Associated Press
Stylebook iPhone app
. Or is that “i-Phone”?

A year ago, I sent The Associated Press an e-mail via their web site. Aside from the fact that the preceding statement is untrue, can you tell me what is wrong with that last sentence? Well, if you had read it a year ago, nothing. But last year – as you may know – the AP stylebook people decided that “web site” should be “website”, and just the other day, they decided “e-mail” will now be “email”. But does it really matter what the AP says these days, if in fact it ever did? I have an ancient copy (1992) of The Associated Press Stylebook (that’s a link to the upcoming edition), which mostly resides on my bookshelf to mislead visitors into believing that I’m moderately literate. I certainly don’t apply its rules to this site, for several reasons. Amongst those reasons are the fact that I never studied journalism or writing, and the fact that this site is not a news source, it’s just a thing I do to amuse myself while forcing myself to write a couple hundred words daily. The fact that a fair percentage of those who visit the site confuse it with something credible is hardly my problem. But even if I did consider myself a journalist, and even if I did consider this site a serious channel for “news”, I don’t know how faithfully I would adhere to any of the more respected style guides anyway, including the AP’s. By the way, do you like the way I ended that last sentence? I do. That’s because – in spite of minding my use of “to”, “two”, and “too”, or “lay” and “lie”, and the fact that me and Suzy never go to the store, and in spite of doing my best to spell things correctly and other basics of decent grammar – I’ve come to consider myself something of a Grammarchist, as opposed to a Grammar Nazi. Which is why I just had a blast with a really run-on sentence. For the record, I’m well aware that much of the writing on this site is an orgy of errors and a never-ending sentence clause catastrophe; I intentionally write in the voice with which I speak. But I’m breaking one of my only rules here, which is writing self-referential content. So back to the point. The AP guide in particular amuses me; as David Schwartz, an instructor at the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication points out in this piece, the guide has a few problems. He hits on a few of the ones that I’ve always found tedious or absurd, like state abbreviations (Calif. instead of CA, etc.) and the rules for presenting numeric information as words vs. numerals. The latter in particular has always bugged me. There’s (that’s an intentional contraction!) plenty of sense in using numerals for quantities like “millions” and “billions”, since most people would never in 1,000,000,000,000,000 years realize that the number just presented was 1 quadrillion (or a thousand trillion, or a million billion, as a Brit might say). But otherwise, why use words for figures up to ten (or 10) and then suddenly switch to numerals? I personally will continue to trust my judgment on the ability of the reader to grasp the figures being presented. As I’ve pointed out before, it’s difficult for most people to conceptualize large numbers in a useful way in the first place. And words like “e-mail”? Until the AP style guide decides to apply the same rule to “e-commerce” and “e-book”, I’m keeping the hyphen. And if they later decide that other e-words should lose the hyphens? I think I’ll keep them anyway. I’m convinced that the AP is just doing piecemeal releases to sell more print copies, much like software giants  Microsoft and Adobe ruin perfectly functional software with pointless and costly upgrades. And why buy a copy of the AP stylebook when Reuters serves one up for free?

I’d Gladly Walk Your Dogma But I’d Have To Park My Karma

[ Comments Off ]Posted on March 3, 2011 by admin in Editorial & Opinion

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

A special thanks to Charlie Sheen, Craig Ferguson, and the Milky Way.

If I adhered to established but unspoken Internet Dogma (let’s call it “Blogma”), I should be assembling some kind of witty piece comparing Charlie Sheen’s recent rants with those of Muammar Gaddafi, like this Guardian Whose Line Is It? quiz. But the fact is, I’m failing to find much humor in an insane dictator who dresses like Little Richard and kills his own citizens with hired guns from nearby devastated African countries. I also have a little trouble seeing any real humor in a deranged, egotistical, embattled drug addict embarrassing himself in the media. Regarding the first issue, I’ve always believed that killing is a really, really horrible thing. I’ve only actually watched two people die in person, but I can’t imagine why someone would cause that to happen to someone else on purpose. And regarding the second issue? As fun as drugs can be, they don’t really do anything positive that can’t be accomplished without them. I speak with a little experience in that area too; although I finally knocked it off a few years ago, I managed to consume pretty much every drug available to man, and in excess for many years. At the height of that silliness, I was “banging three gram rocks”, not seven grams like Charlie. But that’s “war story” stuff, and as any veteran of either real war or a personal war on one’s own addictions knows, war stories are stupid. They try to glorify something that fundamentally sucks. So lately, as I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by the human dramas and catastrophes around the world – from the Middle East to the Midwest to down under, I realized I needed to re-center. To put things in perspective, and focus on sensible things. And watching Charlie Sheen’s rants actually helped, because he reminded me of the self-deluded person I was not too long ago. But what probably helped more was the clip below from Craig Ferguson’s TV show in which he compares making fun of Sheen to making fun of lunatics in Bedlam in the 17th century. I’ve never watched Ferguson’s show, but it was heartening to see a pop media figure showing a little humanity without coming across as preachy. And what probably has given me even more perspective over the last couple of days is the video below that one, which is simply a time-lapse clip of the Milky Way and a night of stars moving across the sky over Lake Tahoe. As I grasp for brief moments what it is that I’m seeing seeing, as our planet spins in one direction against a background of stars in the shape of a huge spiral moving another direction, with space debris occasionally streaking across the sky as it burns up in our atmosphere, for those brief moments I get a little perspective on how grand and magical the universe really is, and how maybe I need to just focus on my little corner for a bit. Thanks Charlie. Thanks Craig. Thanks Milky Way.

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Google Cleans Up Content Farm Search Result Spam – Finally

[ 1 Comment ]Posted on February 26, 2011 by admin in Editorial & Opinion

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

After some high-profile tech industry grumbling, Google has finally tackled the problem of content farms like Demand Media. Now if they would just remove Huffington Post from their index, we’d be all set.

I would have been even MORE pleased if the top
result for “content farm” were now “Demand Media”.

Let’s all take our hats off to Google for a moment for finally tackling the problem of their own crappy search results. If you have to do a lot of web research, you’ve probably noticed over the past few years that Google’s search results were getting spammier and spammier, thanks mostly to content farms like Demand Media, something we already belly-ached about a while back. Okay, now lets put our hats back on. Why did it take them so long to fix this? This was definitely a problem as long ago as 2006. It’s inconceivable that the Search Quality Team at Google hadn’t noticed it, and their recent fix seemed to come hot on the tails of the article by Michael Arrington on high-profile tech blog TechCrunch called Search Still Sucks , in which he said the thing many of us have thought for quite some time. So why did it take so long? The reasonable inference is that since Google’s largest revenue stream is ads, and content farms generated millions of page views with Google ad content, it would be a bit awkward to proactively blacklist them all. But that’s what Google has finally done; if you review lists like the ones at Search Engine Land and SYSTRIX, it’s immediately evident that the big losers in Google’s fix are mostly “Demand Media” sites. Which I find vaguely gratifying. If you’re not familiar with Demand Media, check out the PBS MediaShift series about companies like theirs. One of the most telling things about Demand Media is simply who the CEO is. While one has to acknowledge the drive and accomplishments of Richard Rosenblatt, about the only positive thing I can say about a guy who developed a company like MySpace is that he then managed to screw Rupert Murdoch by selling it to him for over half a billion dollars. In creating Demand Media, he’s shown that while he has incredibly savvy, drive, and management skills, he’s either entirely driven by the bottom line at the expense of any benefit to the human race, or utterly delusional. In this Business Insider piece about how Google’s algorithm change “hasn’t hurt their business at all” his EVP of Media and Ops says “We have built our business by focusing on creating the useful and original content that meets the specific needs of today’s consumer“. Yes Demand Media. I’m sure today’s consumer has been clamoring for more crap content to dig through to find any actual useful information. And while my greatest complaint about Google remains more about what I’d call their “imperial overreach” – in that their near-total domination as a portal to the web is the worst thing that’s happened to search in its relatively short history – we still have to give them an incredible amount of respect. The fact that you can dip into a global library of information and extract relevant information in seconds with relative ease borders on mystical. The unfortunate thing is that if we’re using a library as the analogy here, I think we now have the problem that everyone in the world is going to try to shove their book onto the shelves, and there are no librarians on duty, just an algorithm and an advertising department. A friend asked me the other day what I thought the solution to Google’s search problem was, and I said something I’ve said for several years when answering the question: “human edited content“. While the Open Directory Project (which was based on this concept) bit the dust ages ago from internal “link whoring” corruption, it doesn’t mean that the idea won’t work. Wikipedia is a great example of fairly reliable human-edited content. Why couldn’t this work with search? In any case, although I’m suspicious – as others are – of the continued presence of crap eHow.com content in results, I’m already relieved to see fewer “HubPages.com” and “Examiner” results. I just wonder if they’re going to fix that “bookmark site that links to a blog post that links to an article on HuffPo that steals an article wholesale from another site” problem.

Hmmmm. Upgrades.

[ Comments Off ]Posted on February 13, 2011 by admin in Editorial & Opinion

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

We’re performing some long-overdue software updates today, so if the site is down, you’ll know why. Oh. Wait. If the site is down, you aren’t reading this, are you.

I haven’t had the greatest luck with computers recently. I spent the day after Christmas last year re-installing Windows XP with a thumb drive after a major data loss thanks to a dead hard drive. And last week, our hosting company had a pretty catastrophic upgrade problem that made for some misery all around. To their credit, they managed to remain courteous and communicative through the whole process, and things are mostly back to normal. Which is something I can’t say for many other companies I’ve worked with, so I still highly recommend them. To anyone who has to go through an ordeal like this, I’d like to share something insightful a fellow customer said on one of the support threads, which was: “By the way, encouraging people to bitch on Twitter so they can jump the support line is a really, really bad idea“. Now there’s some common sense advice. In any case, we’re doing some upgrades today, so if the site is down, that’s why. Oh. Wait. If the site is down, you won’t be reading this. Oh well, we’re hoping it goes smoothly, and if it doesn’t, we saw The Matrix Reloaded, so we know ways to deal with problematic upgrades. You just beat the crap out of them in bullet time.
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