Saturday, August 04, 2007

Yet another blog-reading refactoring

I started RSS-reading with Bloglines and, though it still has some features I like, I moved to Google Reader last year and have been pretty satisfied with it.

What's been harder has been managing my blog diet, the number of feeds I read, and the general problems of absorbing so much ephemera. Blog reading takes up an inordinate amount of my time, it seems, even just to glance through the list of postings. I put off writing, practicing, reading books, etc., so I can process a bottomless inbox of blog postings.

I've just gone through another fit of downsizing. I have about 50 blogs in Google Reader BUT many of these blogs don't post daily; some are Ask Metafilter keyword feeds that only appear when a new post appears and others are weekly (like PostSecret) or occasional (and Catarina is on a well-deserved hiatus from the PC).

The two blogs that really distracted me were Marginal Revolution and Lifehacker, so I've taken them off the Reader list and will just visit them and browse when I want to. One of the Lifehacker editors mentioned some years back that this was his strategy: no RSS reader, visit bookmarked blogs occasionally or regularly, and he stayed in control of the process.

And for the record, how I process these beasties is like this (borrowed, I think, from Mike Shea, cited in one of the links above):

  1. In Reader, set Start page preferences for "All items."
  2. Star the items I want to return to later, then select "Mark all as read."
  3. Display all the starred items.
  4. Use the shortcut keys to move through them quickly, unstar them, Share them (I have my Tumblr log display the shared items), or, if the post is long and I don't have time to read, email it to my Gmail account.

At the end, there should be no unread items and all posts should be processed, either read or emailed for later reading.

Processing these posts in my Gmail inbox is a different kettle of meat. I have labels set up for each day of the week, and send these new postings to tomorrow's label. The next day's job is to process these (read, or set a bookmark, or make a new project, or archive them for reference, or something).

But this week, I've been moving unread items from day to day, until now there's about 55 blog posts that I somehow decided last week I'd have time to process this weekend. And no, I won't have time to read them all carefully, or even scan them all.

So I'll set a timer for 30 minutes or so, blow through as many as I can, and then with a heavy heart delete the rest. I have a bad case of "just-in-case" syndrome and, by and large, I never need many of the blog posts I read and rarely do I refer to them when I decide to archive them in Gmail. I've decided I want to start the week with a clean slate and not carry over a blog-reading debt from week to week.




Monday, June 11, 2007

"Callous Complacence"

Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time newsletter reproduced this fascinating document from WWI war hero and poet Siegfried Sassoon, denouncing the conduct of the war at great personal risk. It was originally printed in The Times in 1917.
I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority, because I believe that the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it. I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe that this war, upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation, has now become a war of aggression and conquest. I believe that the purposes for which I and my fellow-soldiers entered upon this war should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them, and that, had this been done, the objects which actuated us would now be attainable by negotiation. I have seen and endured the sufferings of the troops, and I can no longer be a party to prolong these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust. I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed. On behalf of those who are suffering now I make this protest against the deception which is being practiced on them; also I believe that I may help to destroy the callous complacence with which the majority of those at home regard the continuance of agonies which they do not share, and which they have not sufficient imagination to realize.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Web Hosting Research

For a variety of reasons, I've decided it's time to find a web host and create my own site. I've been bookmarking pages on web hosting providers for a few years and decided it was time go forward.

So, if anyone else is interested, here are some annotated links.

Invoke the Lazy Web

Absolutely nothing wrong with asking the hive mind first. The following links from LifeHacker and Ask Metafilter contain plenty of links, advice, and pointers to plenty of sites you can investigate.

Good webhost? | Ask MetaFilter

Ask Lifehacker Readers: Web hosting provider?

For & Against

A piece of advice I picked up from one site was to Google a hosting provider using the phrase "[provider] sucks" and see what you get back. Using this phrase, DreamHost returns a ton of results, as does GoDaddy, but maybe because they have tons of users? You decide. DreamHost also has its partisans and other review sites.

My del.icio.us links include a few other praises and pans. You can go to review sites, but I found them of little value.

What I Did

I collected up a bunch of names, set the kitchen timer for 1 hour, and surfed around really quick, just trying to catch the vibe of these places. My feeling is that web hosting is now a pretty commodity service, and until you've actually gone through the process, you won't know how the support or uptime actually is. It's also pretty clear that the provider holds all the cards--they can cancel your service at any time, they tend to be unresponsive when it's their mistake, and the customer is usually left to clean up the mess. So, go in with your eyes open.

I want to use a WordPress blog, which seems to be included in a script package called Fantastico, so that knocked out a few local contenders.

I looked for a while at DreamHost, since it was recommended to me by a classmate. But I was uneasy with reports of downtime, so rejected them. They certainly offer an attractive package, though.

I narrowed it to three: AN Hosting, A2 Hosting, and InMotion Hosting. These names popped up because I noticed that some of the sites I admire and visit frequently trumpet their wares.

When it came down to making the final decision, they were all pretty similar in their deals and prices. So I basically made a contrarian decision and went with the one that didn't start with "A." A silly decision-making heuristic, but there you go. I opted for a year's contract, so that I can switch to another provider next year if I don't like their service.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Muleteer, Occultist, Whitesmith

For a recent paper, I researched the Bureau of Labor's Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system. The government uses the codes to ensure consistent statistical and information gathering.

As part of my research, I looked up the SOC's tortured history, starting from 1940 till the Office of Management and Budget mandated in 2000 that all governmental departments standardize on it.

At the back of a rather dry 1999 document on the code's revision (PDF) I found a simply wonderful two-page list of all occupations listed in the 1850 Census.

The three trades in this post's title come from there, as do these charmers:
  • Philosophical instrument maker
  • Salaeratus maker
  • Shoe-peg makers
  • Chandlers
  • Sawyers
  • Morocco dressers
  • Daguerreotypists
Salaeratus maker? It's explained in a 1999 Voice of America broadcast on the above document. (I only found this VOA page because I searched on "Salaeratus," which had even Google and Wikipedia stumped.) (And now this lowly post will perhaps join it.)

It's a remarkable picture of a vanished land and time, when life was local, rural, and everything of any value had to be made by someone, not imported from offshore. Notice how many occupations end with "makers" and "manufacturers." Notice how few of those jobs make their way to the current SOC headings. We've gained, certainly--less tedious, back-breaking work for a majority, more prosperity--but I can't help feeling something's been lost, too.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The ducking stool game

An online game that accompanies a tutorial on Palaeography. Rather a gruesome situation, but the bubbles are a nice touch.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Google Reader

Mike Shea praises Google Reader and then realizes that maybe absorbing so much ephemera of the moment may not be a good thing.

I've long used Merlin Mann's "Probations folder" idea for news feeds, as I find I also like to scarf up new feeds like candy as I surf, only to have a bellyache later in the week when I see 157 new items lying in wait. As a result, I keep my active daily feeds down to an arbitrary number, between 25 and 30. Some of them, like LifeHacker and Marginal Revolution, can drown me in posts in a single day. Others, like PostSecret, only post once a week, so I don't consider them active. I like to keep the number of inputs to a controllable number; it's rather like keeping only as many books as you can stuff into a bookcase. To make room for new books, I either toss out old ones or consider whether this new one is really worth keeping.

Like Mike, I also enjoy Google Reader's "Share" feature, as a quick and dirty way for me to go back to things I want to remember. (Bloglines had the same feature, but it must have been well hidden, as few people used it or referred to it.)

And on a related note: I've often thought that, when I become the benevolent dictator of the world, I would remove time limits on news broadcasts. They would last as long as they need to last, be it 10 minutes or 4 hours, depending on how news-busy the day was. Likewise, newspapers would have a weekend edition and maybe 2 or 3 editions during the week, if there was enough news of worth to warrant it. I think the pressure of a daily product that MUST BE PRODUCED leads to poor news judgments being made on the part of editors and publishers and broadcasters. And it leads to the problem Mike Shea touches on: maybe there's too much news to absorb? How can our 10,000-year-old brains and emotional systems process and cope with all the ideas and feelings this morass of news induces?

I think having a few days off from the news (a news fast, as some call it, or even a Google Reader fast) gives our brains time to sort and judge and evaluate. Otherwise, we're stunned into a submissive state that only wants more more more input to keep our neural networks tingling and excited, when perhaps we need more more more time to mull, consider, and ponder.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Sociology of Suicide Notes

From the newsletter that accompanies BBC4 Radio's Thinking Allowed program, hosted by the ebullient Laurie Taylor:

Whenever the subject of suicide or attempted suicide comes up in conversation I can be relied upon to describe a piece of research on suicide notes that was published some years ago (even though I’ve tried, I can’t find the exact reference any more).

What the researcher had done was collect a large selection of suicide notes written by two classes of people: those who had successfully ended their own life and those who had failed for one reason or another to kill themselves (attempted suicides).

He then submitted these two sets of notes to a computer analysis in the hope that this might throw up some interesting differences in style or subject matter.

As I remember he found clear evidence that the notes written by the ‘attempted suicides’, by people who had not taken quite enough pills, or not sealed the door sufficiently well to prevent noxious gases or fumes escaping, were heavily philosophical in tone. The writers spoke at length of life no longer being worth living, of the meaningless of existence, of the impossibility of optimism.

These were in stark contrast to the suicide notes written by those who had succeeded in killing themselves. These notes tended to be much shorter and much more practical than those provided by attempted suicides. One for example simply said “You’ll find the car keys on top of the sideboard and the will in the top desk drawer.”

There are thousands of other research papers on the subject of suicide. Indeed, it could be argued that sociology first asserted itself as a distinctive subject back in 1897 when Emile Durkheim first tried to formulate a structural and cultural account of its incidence which did not rely upon any psychological understanding of individual desires and motives.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Hands of an Artist

The Illustration Art blog has two wonderful posts on the great Mort Drucker. This one focuses on how Drucker drew hands, and this one focuses on how he drew and differentiated hair. Tiny tiny things that you don't notice very much as a casual reader of Mad parodies, but take them away, and the experience lessens.

The perfect way to parallel park

"This is how I learned to park a Volvo station wagon into a slot 1” longer than a Volvo station wagon, and my mad parallel parking skillz still impress all my friends and neighbors."

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Artists in Love

David Apatoff has a lovely, heartbreaking post on his Illustration Art blog about a Polish student imprisoned by the Nazis in Auschwitz, how he fell in love with a fellow prisoner, and what became of them. I don't know where he got the story, but thank the gods that the story still exists.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

"My Documents" set as read-only???

I hope I've just solved a nasty nasty problem that had me furious at my computer, myself, my life, and my prospects.

I'm working on a new hard drive with a fresh install of Windows XP and have been slowly rebuilding my apps and directories since January.

Recently, while working on a critical document for class, and after several hours of labor, Word absolutely refused to save the file to my hard drive. Had I been thinking, I might have tried saving the file to my second drive or my external drive. But you know how it is. Late at night, tired, and panic tends to cut out my higher self-management skills. It seemed as if the hard drive had suddenly become read-only but that was impossible. It seemed to be working fine otherwise. And it only seemed to happen after I'd been working on a document for about 20 minutes or so. Word otherwise behaved typically (I always avoid the use of the word "normal" with Word.)

Afterward, I ran the XP disk doctor and defrag, and even reinstalled Office 2000. I noticed that Word acted snappier than before. Surely, Shirley, my problems were o'er.

But just a few minutes ago, this infuriating behavior happened again. I printed out the document this time, so I could at least rebuild the document later. And then, because Google is your friend, I searched on "microsoft word not saving my documents!".

Scanning the results led me to this IBM page from 2004 where we discover that
In Windows XP, Microsoft sets the My Documents folder as read-only...Windows XP no longer cares about the "read" state of directories, only of files. As far as the XP operating system is concerned, security permissions replaced the "read-only" folder attribute.
WTF?? I checked the properties for My Documents, and sure enough, its read-only attribute was set. I turned it off for My Documents and its subdirectories. So I'm now hoping against hope that I've seen the last of this problem.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Godamighty, but can Winterson write!

The British novelist Jeanette Winterson has maintained a web presence for many years. (She even went to court to protect other writers' privileges when some wanker registered jeanettewinterson.com and refused to release it to her. She won her suit and, of course, no one thanked her for her efforts.)

Every month, she posts her latest journalism to the site, a general update column, and a poem she's read that demands to be shared.

She's one of Britain's great culture warriors and, my god, does her passion for art and culture and her disappointment and hatred of the politicians and vulgarians (on both sides of the pond) come through clearly in this month's selection of writings.

Jeanette Winterson - Journalism - The Times : Books - The Fight For Culture
"It is important to say this, because we are often fed the line that poetry and story-telling are contrived or artificial, and certainly that they are entertainment or luxury goods – in any case, stuff we don’t need. We need playstations and ready-meals of course, and cheap flights to places we don’t want to go, and two cars per family, but art? Now that’s really self-indulgent."

Jeanette Winterson - Journalism - The Times : Books - The British Library
"I can (just) hear the arguments that not everyone wants opera or experimental theatre, (myself, I do not want war, but I still have to pay for it), but I cannot accept any arguments that jeopardise a prime cultural resource that is in trust for the nation and must be passed on to future generations."

Jeanette Winterson - Column - March
"What any creative person needs – all they need – is not praise or blame, but an active and grown-up engagement with the process of making things. That process is necessarily experimental, either in part or in the whole, and sometimes things work well, and sometimes less well. Sometimes things work for a big audience, sometimes only for a few. That’s how it is, and I wish, really wish, that we had a mature culture, interested in creativity, that could understand that. "

Don't Fear The Creeper

Datajunkie runs a great series of scans on Steve Ditko's "Beware the Creeper!" series that he created for DC. I actually remember having the first issue but never knew others followed.

What I like about this post is the casual examination of Ditko's storytelling style over the series and how it changed when he returned to the character years later. Also, that it's liberally illustrated with scans from the issues themselves.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

I Can See Clearly Now...Except When I Can't

Quixotic is a blog journal I stumbled across recently and it's morbidly fascinating (and by "morbid," I mean fascinated by disease. From what I gather in my skim-reads, the blogger is a woman suffering from cancer for many years, who has relocated to Mexico to undergo more aggressive (and what would be non-legal in the US) treatments.

Her post on a tumor that is causing periods of blindness shows, I think, what I find wonderful about her blog: a sense of humor that comes through in her honest voice, pragmatism, and, on her good days, philosophy. I hope she keeps writing about it through it all.

Ruddock House Mottos in ZhurnalWiki

And the winner with the fewest nays is...

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Organizing my books

We're studying classification in my Organization of Information class. One of my classmates shared a link to a posting about arranging and classifying your personal library by the color of the book's spine. The link was from the Design Observer blog (though the site has been unavailable to me recently). This spurred a lot of discussion on the mail list about our own personal methods for arranging our book collections at home. Here's my typical over-the-top response.




I remember reading a designo tract years ago suggesting you group your books by color, by size, or by the publisher's insignia, the latter of which I found most intriguing for some reason. Imagine all the O'Reilly and Penguins and Modern Library books clumped together.

Another way to arrange your personal set of books would be by autobiographical timeline--when did you acquire them? What associations and nostalgia would they bubble up in you? (I think I got that idea from "High Fidelity.")

I have 3 vertical bookshelves in my home office, 2 out in the room, 1 in a closet with the record collection. After a lifetime of grouping books by author or genre, I went a few years ago with a totally randomized approach. I just threw them on the shelves in no order, two-deep. Periodically, when I got too familiar with what was on the top 2 shelves, I'd switch them out with books from the lower shelves. I think I did this because I enjoyed being surprised by finding a book I'd forgotten or enjoying the juxtaposition of 19th-century diarists shelved next to "The Mole People." It broke down the categories in my own head so that I had to keep seeing the books anew.

But it did become too much work to find the book I was looking for and I often found myself tearing the shelves apart when hunting for a specific title. I loved browsing my shelves but hated trying to find something on them.

Inspired by Marc Brodsky, I'm purging my books so that I can only keep what I have shelf space for. (Marc purged his entire collection down to what would fit on a 2-foot shelf, but I'm not that strong.) It's an arbitrary limit, but aren't they all? It's a practical limit anyway.

Lord Peter Wimsey says in one of his stories that one's library is like a carapace, a shell we carry with us that reveals signs of our travels, interests, and philosophies over the years. I'm finding lots of categories of books that I don't need or have time for or have lost interest in, which seems kind of a shame, in a way. As a result, most of my collection is sitting in piles on the floor of my office.

As I re-shelve, the closet bookcase becomes the main Holder of The Books. I'm putting them back in rough genre/subject matter/author clumps: journals/diaries/letters, reference, essays, computer, etc. Art books tend to go on the bottom shelf, which has the most headroom, though all my Delacroix books (his journal and letters and various monographs) sit together in one place, as Hinar described. (Reminds me of how The Book Shop on Franklin Street does it; all of the biographical or other material on a writer is shelved with that writer's novels and stories, so you don't have to go all over the store to find the books dealing with an author.)

One bookshelf is devoted totally to my graphic novel collection, which are arranged by creator (all the Alan Moore stuff in one place, all the R. Crumb in one place). Anthologies are all grouped together. And then within those clumps, pretty much random. I'm not big on alphabetizing by author/title/date/etc. I know geographically about where a book should be, and if it's in that region, I'm happy. The remaining onesie-twosie books are non-clumpable, and therefore randomized. The top two shelves hold unread or unprocessed books/comics/magazines.

The 3rd bookshelf has a shelf dedicated to current schoolwork/papers/registration junk, with other shelves holding most of the fiction and poetry. I tend to group authors together, but not alphabetically. For poetry, I tend to group them on a timeline from ancient sources (Greek translations, through to India, China, Japan) to modern (Wright, Rexroth, Sexton). I never noticed that till I wrote that sentence and I have no idea why I do it.

The top shelf holds the books I'm currently reading (or was reading before school threw itself bodily into my path). When I put a book I'm reading back on the shelf, I place it on the far left. Books I've not read recently migrate to the right, over time. So when I have time to read something, I'll reach for the leftmost book first; I don't have to stop and wonder where that book I was just reading went to. (When I stop reading a book, I either stop at the end of a chapter or stop so that I start reading again on the first full paragraph of the left page.)

It would be a good idea to leave about 10-20% room on a shelf for more books, but that ain't gonna happen.

Aside: My personal book purge makes me wonder -- wouldn't it be interesting to junk a public library's classification system every 75 years or so, and start over again with a new system based on the learnings and experience gained from using the old system(s)?

Other links of interest:

Good Questions: How To Arrange My Bookshelves?
http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/ny/good-questions/good-questions-how-to-arrange-my-bookshelves-012749

bookshelf on Flickr - Photo Sharing!
http://www.flickr.com/photos/santos/27538777/

Superpatron - Friends of the Library, for the net: Books arranged by colour
http://vielmetti.typepad.com/superpatron/2006/07/books_arranged_.html

Books arranged by colour on Flickr - Photo Sharing!
http://www.flickr.com/photos/popsie/156057963/

Huddersfield Public Library Reading Area on Flickr - Photo Sharing!
http://www.flickr.com/photos/organised/98972109/

Huddersfield Colour Coded on Flickr - Photo Sharing!
http://www.flickr.com/photos/organised/98972115/in/photostream/

The library labeled their color-shelved books as the serendipity shelves.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Evaluating Virtual Machines for Personal Use | Altiris Juice

I've been thinking for awhile about installing a virtual machine product. I want to read this article from the Altiris site to see what they say about the different products.

Based on my reading, Msft's Virtual PC is the easiest to set up on a Windows machine, esp if I'll be installing Windows XP. VMWare is the most capable, but the most complicated. Altiris' own software virtualization product works amazingly well for virtualizing individual application installs, but I think it's more for developers who can handle the abstractions than Joe Computeruser. (My comments about Altiris' SVS program are on this thread at Donationcoders.com.)

Friday, February 23, 2007

Magic with a Glass Topped Table

This Google video shows some amazing illusions worked with a glass-topped coffee table. It reminds me of Slydini's famous trick of snapping a coin through a table. But like the best tricks, it takes something familiar -- a penetration illusion -- and makes you see it fresh.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Jeanette Winterson - We Need Poetry

From one of Jeanette Winterson's latest columns, this one on why we need poetry:

And in the way of things, the memory gets used to being fed something more useful than crossword puzzles, and will deliver you the lines you need, when you need them. Poetry, because it has rhythm and because it is made out of breath, is easy to remember. It fits under the tongue like a slowly dissolving pill, but there are no side-effects – well maybe there is one; the next time you open your mouth to speak, something of the poem stays with you, and laces your response. In that way, poetry makes poets out of all of us, enlivening our personal capacity to speak with feeling and with an honesty that comes of being able to find the right words.