Making friends on IRC

I’m finding myself getting a bit paranoid on IRC. Every time someone private messages me, or persistently questions me about why I keep logging off and logging back on, I find myself metaphorically looking at them through narrowed eyes.

I don’t like being private messaged by someone I don’t know very well for the same reason I don’t like getting into long email discussions with someone I don’t know very well — I’m forced into either an ongoing dialogue, or extreme impoliteness. As part of a public discussion in person, on a mailing list, or on IRC, I can slip away, cease to follow the discussion or let others pick up the slack if I want.

In a private discussion I’m called upon to invest extra energy that I may not want to expend. Insisting on extended private message with someone you don’t know well is a good way to make yourself look high maintainence before you look worthy of it.

Why blogs suck

I hate to step on people’s definitional toes, but if I’m going to talk about why [we]blogs sucks, I need to define them.

A blog is an evolving website, with distinct "entries". These entires are long or short, titled or not, and almost always have some kind of distinct URL so that you can link to them directly. Blogs often link to one another, but that doesn’t matter for my purposes.

The key feature of blogs that sucks is the way the entries are ordered: chronologically.

Chronological ordering makes sense in certain genres. It makes sense when writing a piece of history: the text is linked together by certain events. It makes sense when writing a diary: the overall patterns and relationships are not perceivable to the diarist, but they are what makes diaries interesting. It makes sense when writing a narrative.

It doesn’t make sense when writing essays. There might be a certain amount to be gained by discovering how a particular author’s opinions have changed over time. When a blog is a quasi-journal, a chronological ordering makes sense.

But many blogs are ordered by time by default, and for many of them a chronological ordering doesn’t make sense. If I read a good essay about environmental concerns, I am more likely to want to read further essays on environmental concerns than I am to want to read the same author talking about their sexuality, even if the two were written on the same day.

Of course, if the quality of this author’s writing is good, then I am at least somewhat likely to be interested in their writing in general, so the ability to find posts by the same author would also be valuable.

A blog is good at letting me find entries by the same author (spectacularly so – most blogs have only one), and entries in the same time period, but terrible at letting me find related essays, unless they are specifically linked to.

Compare forums. Forum-type webpages (also known as webboards) are good at letting me read entries by many authors. But since they are discussion oriented, they contain few extended self-contained pieces. The quality of writing on webboards is also much more variable – a blog will tend to be either good or bad, not mostly bad with a few gems, like a forum.

The type of content I like most is extended, self-contained pieces. I would like to be able to find many extended, self-contained pieces on similar topics. What is the solution?

Blogs as they currently stand are only a partial solution. If I find a well-written entry in a blog, it is at least possible that the majority of entries will be well-written. Blog entries tend to be self-contained, and are sometimes extended. Some blogs allow authors to categorise and sub-categorise content, so that I can easily read many related pieces by the same author, provided they’ve chosen to use this feature. Many don’t categorise entries – entries are ordered only chronologically, which is much worse.

Forums are only a partial solution. They tend to group entries by category, but the quality is wildly variable and there are few extended pieces.

Search engines as they stand are only a partial solution. They are good at finding pages that concern a particular topic, increasingly good at qualitative judgements, or at least at producing some kind of measure of the judgements made by others, but poor at judging qualities like "self-contained" and "extended".

But essentially what I want is a growth in user-generated content, linked by topic and quality controlled. At this point, hyperlinking is the best solution to this problem, but a more formal method of aggregating suitable content would be a better solution.

I want to be able to access a wealth of similar quality themed content from a single site.

Since web content can be dynamically generated, the ordering and selection of that content should be able to be user-defined, not centrally defined. If I want chronological ordering, I should be able to have it. If I want content by a particular author, I should be able to find it.

My proposal differs from current blogging practice in two ways: I want entries aggregated on central sites. The central sites could aggregate different kinds of content: posts by particular authors, posts on particular topics, posts in particular time frames. The same content is aggregated by <em >multiple sites</em> – a post on dead women might be aggregated on a site about death and one about women.

The central sites should exercise editorial control of some kind, and allows user-defined sub-categorisation of content.

The beauty of this proposal is that the sites don’t need to be created all at once. I could decide to create a site aggregating content about Linux, and soliciting people to allow me to collect their content. As I run the site, I can make editorial decisions. Someone else could do so for women, for death and for the colour purple. The result would be a wealth of excellent topical user-generated content, something that is currently widely distributed, and hence difficult to find.

Thursday 2 January 2003

…. finished undergrad

but about to go back to university for honours. And I dreamt about failing first year history last night, and having to take a maths course over the summer to make up the credit.

… writing a HOWTO

on paying for your Free Software (I’m equating contributing with paying). It’s not even properly proof read yet, let alone finished, or licenced…

… still around LinuxChix

although it mostly sails along. jennv has even been able to take a writing holiday.

… still around SLUG

my contributions of the past year were starting a Python Interest Group, and our hugely exciting (*excited*) new constitution, which was dragged into something like current practice. It’s nearly as exciting as the insurance.

scripting

It’s all webby bloggy stuff, but isn’t everyone doing webby bloggy stuff these days?

The more people code webby stuff, the more their private code library seems to approach middleware. But I’m reliably informed that existing middleware sucks. At least, once you’ve polled three random web developers, the union of the sets of sucking middleware encompasses all middleware, all software calling itself middleware, most databases, several scripting languages, object orientation in general, and probably a few endangered species.

At the moment, the favoured way to develop good middleware seems to be doing it all by yourself.

Spokeslips

Rolling Stone magazine informs me that marketers of a brand of lipstick has appointed celebrity spokeswomen.

I am, quite frankly, mystified. Lipstick isn’t for talking in, it’s for pouting in. Talking is the the death of a really good lipline. Taking a sip of water at a press conference is the nail in the coffin.

The canvas for a good lipstick doesn’t move. You don’t do anything with lipstick. You either have a $60 kiss-me pout, or you don’t. And you don’t want to talk about your perfect pout under lights for an hour, because your pout will diffuse slowly across your face.

Actually, you don’t want to kiss with a perfect kiss-me pout either. Noone can appreciate your steady hand and even application when you’re smearing lipstick unevenly over someone else’s face.

You don’t touch, you don’t listen, you don’t converse. You are seen.

And besides, what is there to say about lipstick?

Relativity

There’s an old question: "if you knew what was Right, would it be Right to force other people to do what was Right?"

The most obvious fudge is to say that part of knowing what was Right would be knowing the answer to that question. There are also several attacks on the premises, the most obvious of which is that "nothing is Right", at least in the sense that the question assumes. Perhaps what is Right for you is Wrong for others, or perhaps it doesn’t make sense to talk of Right and Good.

I tend to question ideals of tolerance, in which everyone has their own moral system, which is as equally and validly right for them as anyone else’s moral system. If nothing else, a good fraction of those moral systems are actually fairly intolerant. Is it possible to be tolerant, open, and accepting, of closed and intolerant ideas? Is it possible to be tolerant of someone else’s abhorrence for tolerance? Is it possible to tolerate people trampling on the tolerance of others?

I feel that in the act of exercising tolerance in these situations is often akin to asserting the superiority of tolerance, which leaves tolerant ethics in a bind in which they accept nothing quite so much as acceptance.

That said, the moral sky has not fallen in now that we are prepared to live with people who have different gods from us, or no god at all, or every god under the sun. The extent to which you can adhere to an absolute ethical system when surrounded by happy, content and ethical enough people who seem to hold fundamentally incompatible belief systems from each other is limited.

Even a humble absolutist who does not believe that they have a good personal connection to the ultimate truth at least asserts one truth: that there is an absolute morality out there somewhere. Relativists are doubly bound, as they must assert that everything is relative, except relativity, because it is absolutely true that there are no absolutes.

The natural answer in a pluralist society seems to be to not know. To be uncertain of whether or not there is absolute morality. The question then is how to be an idealist.

How can a person who has not decided whether being a better person is absolutely defined or purely subjective try to be a better person or to better anything? From where do ideals arise?

I have some faith in the interpersonal context. The question of things being better, or being a better person in a solipsist universe is meaningless. Hence ideals are not found by retreating into some system, either resolutely absolute, or completely relativist, that exists independently of interpersonal context. The only possible meaning that acts can have is with reference to something external. Reality kicks back, and the feeling of such kicking gives us better grounds for action than any internal decisions about morality.

Linux Workshop; Party

Linux Workshop

SLUG figured that because installs are so easy these days, we should offer more, and had a fest with installs and talks on random Free Software things. All the same, we still struggled with people with dodgy hardware, old laptops, and Debian unstable CDs on which the base system was broken.

There are 150 more Linux users in Sydney tonight…

The next one is scheduled to be bigger and brighter. Codefest on the horizon too. Perhaps all the glsnake-ers will actually assemble in a single room at this time…

Party

There’s a geek party in the longueroom which I’m sneaking away from for a bit. spiv, jdub, XFire, k and Liedra are assembled, among others. Whenever I organise a party, it seems to be rather random. The oddest set of people decide to come.

A room of one’s own

Not a room to write in. I’d prefer to write on the grass, in the sun. With a big warm space to pace around in.

But…

A room to dance in. Because I like to pretend that I dance well, and that everyone is watching. But I don’t want anyone to see.

A room to cry in. Because I don’t want to explain to anyone. Because I want to listen to the same bad, angry music that made me happy when I was fifteen.

A room to read in. Because I shut everyone out when I read.

A room to sing in. Because I’m a terrible singer.

A room to talk to myself in. Because that’s how I make sense of the world.

The phoenix of the digital age.

I have the seeds of a historian within me. Thus far, they are contained within the mind of someone who would prefer that another person trawled through years of old newspaper ads to find out the cost of hats in 1972. One day, though, I’m sure a fully formed historian will wake in my body and I’ll spend the rest of my life surrounded by decaying newspapers.

I will possibly contribute the long account of my daily life I keep in my diary to posterity, or at least to posterity in the form of blinking historians, or at least an older version of myself. It’s something I’ve been conscious of ever since I began it. I like records. I like the idea of reality fading into dried ink as it whizzes by.

There is dismay at the increasingly hard to access media on which we dry our ink. What will be the Rosetta Stone that teaches our descendents to read data in Microsoft Word format off a CD-ROM? How we will unearth the early digital pictures of a young photographer from a dusty flash card in an attic in a century’s time?

On the other hand, I’m a little obsessed with preservation. I want to print my diary to paper. I want to send my sisters copies of theirs. I want to scan every photo I take – even the ones of nameless people at parties that didn’t have the floods of light that my poor cheap camera prefers.

I hoard my mail. If anyone is interested in seeing what mail I received in one hundred and fifty years time, mailing list mail will outnumber my personal mail by about fifty times. For each insight into the life of a young stay-at-home twenty-something, they will uncover the inner workings of about fifteen different technical and other groups. They might also assume I read it all.

Sometimes I think creativity is helped more by destruction. The Brontes left an immense amount of juvenilia, but there are those who argue that their obsessive writing tied them to a child’s imaginary world, and a child’s writing, that they broke away from much too late. Would it have been better to throw it all in the fire, go on a long holiday, and start again on a cleaner page?

Should I be obsessed with keeping everything I write, every picture I take, and with archiving the mundane, or with reworking it, purging it, burning it, and creating from the ashes?

Does history want our lives or our greatest works?

Community; Advertising; Coding

Community

At the moment I’ve heavily involved in three user groups meeting monthly, Sydney LinuxChix, SLUG and the SLUG Python Interest Group. I’m doing a fair bit of LinuxChix stuff too: maintaining a few webpages, running a few mailing lists, running a C course. I’ve honestly started to feel a bit burned out being solely responsible for two of those user groups.

Advertising

At OLS, apparently the people at the LinuxChix BOF were surprised that LinuxChix had been publicised so little. Sometimes we worry about it being publicised too much, but:

*drumroll*

LinuxChix, a community aimed at women Linux users. See our technical, political and social mailing lists. Friendly men are welcome. If you know a woman Linux user who would like to be part of a women’s Linux community, please point her at LinuxChix.

Coding

I joined the Mailman developers list because I was rather enthused by their TODO list. Shame so much cool stuff is already in 2.1beta, really 🙂

Next stop is ‘cvs co’ I guess.

I’m much more enthused about coding now that I’m six months out of a comp sci degree.

I think all criminals ought to be shot

Every so often I’ve heard people say that convicting you of a crime should allow the state to do whatever it wants with you. I’ve heard suggestion of experimentation, and that criminals should lose all liberal democratic rights (freedom of speech for example).

Now here’s a thought: immorality and illegality are not the same thing. There are things that are illegal that are not immoral, and things that are immoral that are not illegal. I don’t claim to have insight into the divine writ of morality, but I can’t see any good arguments that claim that driving at 200km/hr is necessarily immoral. There are all kinds of conditions that might make it so – driving at 200km/hr through a children’s playground whilst wearing a blindfold might be a good one. Even driving at 200km/hr when road conditions are poor or you aren’t a good driver seems relatively immoral. It might, on the other hand, be a moral act if you were an excellent driver attempting to deliver someone to hospital, or completely amoral if you were driving across an endless deserted plain. But it’s almost always illegal.

As the holder of a NSW driver’s licence with good eyesight, no physical impairments, I can drive a car down the Pacific Highway at 70km/hr in peak hour if I want to. But it might not be moral to do so, if for example, I was extremely angry or upset, or otherwise not terrible reactive and alert (leave out drunkenness, as that would make it illegal).

The point of a good legal system is meant to be that the illegal is generally immoral. If there is a law against something that isn’t fairly obviously immoral, then it should be carefully considered. Perhaps, for example, you might justify such a law by saying that, although any individual doing the act in question might not be acting immorally, a crowd or society of individuals all doing that act might harm many people, and the state has a moral responsibility to innocent bystanders, and even the participants, to protect them from the consequences of such an event occurring.

The philosophies justifying law are a bit of a patchwork. A belief that wrong-doers deserve to be punished is a large part of it. In a society of moral agents all possessing a working and appropriately just yet cruel conscience, perhaps law would be a non-issue. But people seem to want the law to deliver from the outside what the conscience fails to deliver from the inside.

And so we have law, and all too often people conflate it with morality, whether that be assuming that all criminals are pathologically immoral, or that any legal action is morally sound. And in so doing they feel that a badge reading "criminal" means "not human".

But people need to be more suspicious of trusting the state with their moral decisions. Perhaps today we can look at our laws and say "well, they clearly only outlaw acts that are completely inhuman, and therefore we should strip convicted criminals of their freedom of speech." And then tomorrow, our paternal state, whom we trust like children with our moral instruction, defines "saying bad things about the state" as being illegal. And so then people who say bad things about the state have no more freedom of speech. And everyone else sleeps safer at night knowing that the state can be completely entrusted with their moral decisions.

Why do we insist on treating criminals in a humane fashion? Why do many people insist that the current humane fashion is inhumane? Because, one day, if our consciences compel us to break the law, then, even those of us who agree with the need for a legal system and the need for criminals of conscience to be punished with other criminals, that we would not lose our humanity in our moral fervour.

Or perhaps we dread the fallibility of the legal system, and fear stripping an innocent person of their humanity. Or perhaps we believe that even nasty nasty people with no conscience don’t automatically deserve endless pain. Perhaps we distrust the state, and want to allow finer grained moral decisions that aren’t always the whims of law. Perhaps we believe that it is better to treat others not as they would treat us, but as it is right to treat them.