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The internet has changed and left me here

Sep. 30th, 2009 | 08:18 pm
: contemplative

If the user population of sites such as LJ and Blogger is going to shrink and possibly disappear as a consequence of mass migration to Twitter, Facebook et al., what is there to do about it?

When LJ was popular I used to pick up new friends frequently, and I'd post often, and new communities would spring up fairly often which I would join. Traffic is a long way down lately and it's evident that many of the accounts on my f-list are more or less inactive, especially, as it happens, those that belong to friends who never really blogged but just used blogs as a way to track their real life acquaintances. Niche sites like Dreamwidth don't appeal as new residences, and although I enjoy Twitter and Facebook neither really provides any sort of journal outlet.

More disturbingly, I think LJ is nearly defunct. One of my entries was edited outside my control as the result of an exploit the other day, Six Apart has changed hands multiple times, the original smart people have left, and the new owners don't seem to have any interest in innovation.

(My favourite blog aggregator, Bloglines, seems to be similarly afflicted. No business model there to support finishing off and maintaining the promising v2 beta interface of two or three years ago.)

I'm planning on migrating everything out of here and onto a personal blog at some point. Trouble is, I've formed lots of connections on this site that I'd like to maintain in some form as time continues to pass, and I'm not sure how I can happily migrate those. I'd like to just pick up my audience and drop it elsewhere, because the sad fact is that lots of it probably wouldn't bother to come if it had to lift a finger. It's fair enough to say that my journal isn't good enough, or focused enough to attract an audience of ten actual readers if it existed in the wild. Should this bother me? Is it worth caring?

I know I can syndicate content from my new location back to this location and things like that, I'm just not sure if that's the way to go.

What's the future of social networking going to be anyway? Surely there's a more fluid, less centralised, less constrained version of feed aggregation and friends-list management waiting in the wings, where a third party doesn't get to decide what your entries have to look like?

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The Polanski "quandary"

Sep. 30th, 2009 | 07:34 pm

FRIAR BARNARDINE. Thou hast committed--
BARABAS. Fornication: but that was in another country;
And besides, the wench is dead.

Marlowe, The Jew of Malta

I don't see it as my task or as my right to dispense moral instruction, but this Polanski business is like the Pole Star of moral navigation. You don't even need a compass. Here's a brief list of things that explains what I'm talking about:

A List of Things That Do Not Excuse Raping a Minor
  1. You drug the child first
  2. You're a famous film director
  3. Your wife was murdered by the Manson Family
  4. You plead guilty to a lesser charge
  5. You flee the country
  6. It all happened thirty years ago
  7. Lots of famous people including many other film directors say it's ok
  8. A Frenchman named Mitterrand says "scary America ... has shown its face"
  9. A tendentious link is drawn between your arrest and the general principle of allowing artistic freedom at film festivals
  10. Whoopi Goldberg says she's sure it wasn't, you know, "rape rape"
  11. The victim doesn't want your crimes revisited

I've known about Polanski's offences for years and years - I remember first reading about them in an article about Nastassja Kinski in about 1993 or so - and although I'm not entirely clear why he's being arrested now, I can't see why anything should exonerate him, much less a massed choir of film people demanding exceptional treatment because he's a genius and muddying the waters with claims about artistic freedom. Seventy-six isn't too old to answer for what you've done wrong, and although the US justice system carries no particular authority compared to any other in my opinion, it's fair enough for its agents to perform their duties as might be expected.

There's no need to imagine that anyone who thinks it's not ok to force non-consensual sex acts on a thirteen year old girl with the aid of Quaaludes is some kind of wowser who just doesn't understand genius. The best case scenario concerning Polanski's crime in 1977 - which presupposes that his victim's straightforward claims are in many cases false and admits only that to which Polanski himself has confessed - is still a really horrible one.

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The (condensed) nature of art

Sep. 20th, 2009 | 01:38 am

  1. Art requires people.

  2. Art is things that are understood to be Art.

  3. Art is a conscious or unconscious assignment of value.

  4. Art is situated and is dependent upon creator and consumer.

  5. Art is momentary, because situations and people are transient.

  6. Art is typically expected to have various qualities, but its status as Art doesn't depend on it having them.

  7. Whatever Art is, it can only be defined with reference to itself.


Casual inquiry throws up the "Open Concept Argument", discussed in this paper. In the case of Art, roughly Weitz' contention that because individuals can choose to assign the value of Art to anything as part of a ruse, game or intellectual argument, Art can never have a fixed definition. Which resembles my whole "Art is what is labelled 'Art'" idea I suppose. And the proposition "Art can only be defined with reference to itself" does relate to the family resemblance method for judging an instance's adherence to a concept.

The line of thought goes back, apparently, to Wittgenstein, whose Philosophical Investigations I was thoroughly confused by a long while ago. There's an anecdote about Wittgenstein that goes something like this: supposedly at a park Wittgenstein witnessed a photographer organising a group shot, who said "Stand there! No, there! Roughly there!" - and supposedly Wittgenstein became very excited by the phrase "roughly there" roughly because it was an example of the idea - Wittgenstein's idea, perhaps - that language can be very effective without any sort of precision in what is meant.

I also found a review of The Nature of Art: An Anthology, a teaching reader comprised of twenty-eight essays roughly on what 'art' means by, you know, every thinker ever. Might be a good read some time.

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The nature of art

Sep. 18th, 2009 | 07:07 pm

It having been a little while since my last entry on this journal, I thought I'd present for criticism some brief, untheoretical, basic musings on the topic of art. This should be amusing for any of you who've actually formally studied art theory (which I have not, in any way). In writing this entry I've literally just unfolded the mess inside my head - the head of a software engineer - for half an hour, so don't expect much.

Please forgive my jejune maunderingsCollapse )

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Three true things

Aug. 21st, 2009 | 08:05 am

Mike at Nannygoat Hill tagged me for this meme: three true things you’ve read recently, from fiction.

I've been quite horrendously busy recently, but I have managed to read a book here and there. According to my little list the last three things I actually finished were The Brooklyn Follies, Perfume, and The Worm Ourobouros.

What good is knowledge if you don't use it to stop your friends from being destroyed?

The Brooklyn Follies, Paul Auster


Everywhere, in every direction, humanity lay equally remote from him, and a step in any direction would have meant closer proximity to human beings. The compass spun about. It no longer provided orientation. Grenouille was at his goal. And at the same time he was taken captive.

Perfume, Patrick Suskind


Do not defile mine ears with their excuses. They have shamefully abused us; and the guilt of their black deed planteth them day by day more firmlier in my deeper-settled hate ...

Wait a second. I don't think there's anything true in The Worm Ourobouros. Fortunately, I've also been reading a collection of essays by Martin Heidegger:
The relation to the world that pervades all the sciences as such lets them -- each according to its particular content and mode of being -- seek beings themselves in order to make them objects of investigation and to determine their grounds. According to the idea behind them, in the sciences we approach what is essential in all things. This distinctive relation to the world in which we turn toward beings themselves is supported and guided by a freely chosen attitude of human existence. To be sure, man's prescientific and extrascientific activities also are related to beings. But science is exceptional in that, in a way peculiar to it, it gives the matter itself explicitly and solely the first and last word. In such impartiality of inquiring, determining, and grounding, a peculiarly delineated submission to beings themselves obtains, in order that they may reveal themselves. This position of service in research and theory evolves in such a way as to become the ground of the possibility of a proper though limited leadership in the whole of human existence.

"What is Metaphysics?", Martin Heidegger

It might not be fiction, and Heidegger would deny it was even metaphysics, but there it is.

Tagging exp_err, capnoblivious, and jack_ryder.

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Revelation Film Festival - personal roundup

Jul. 14th, 2009 | 10:44 pm

I didn't have the time or impetus to really devote myself to this ten day event, but I did see four good quality films. Quick thoughts follow.

short non-spoilery reviews of four filmsCollapse )

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Stern Hu

Jul. 13th, 2009 | 08:28 pm

some venting on the subject of Stern HuCollapse )

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Fafblog on Iraq's "one million surplus human beings"

Jul. 2nd, 2009 | 09:15 am

A blog populated by three imaginary characters embodying three different modes of humour, Fafblog, has finally resumed some sort of activity after a long hiatus.
Were lives lost? Of course. Were cities razed, flesh burned with poison gas, families slaughtered and children raped? Naturally. But one can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, burning the crockery, setting the kitchen on fire, firebombing the restaurant and summarily executing the survivors. And lest we forget, the cause for which America launched this war was a good and noble one. For although the war neither made America safe nor Iraq free, it did address one critical problem: the apparent existence of some one million surplus human beings living in that nation ...

Also and in other news, from the Visual Studio Team System Glossary under 'F':
framework n. A set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality.
Ah, so that's why they call it the .NET Framework.

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Mexican standoff? Treason?

Jun. 22nd, 2009 | 01:11 pm

So, which is worse?
  1. Sending an email to facilitate a friend / business associate / political back-scratcher's obtainment of government support, otherwise via the usual channels, and receiving support from said friend / associate to the tune of (a) a borrowed ute and (b) < $1000 worth of fundraiser tickets.
  2. Faking an email with the intent of escalating the apparent nature of (1) to a level that might cause heads to roll at the top level of government.
Far be it from me to slavishly defend the integrity of any political figure - I'm sure they've all got skeletons in their closets - but whilst it might be very appropriate for Rudd and Swan to receive censure for their dodgy OzCar related activity at the electoral level, isn't it the case that whoever is behind this fake email might as well be committing treason? Whoever it is has forged a document with the clear hope of forcing the resignation of one or more of the two or three most senior politicians in the country.

Aside from anything else, pursuing this kind of cloak and dagger rubbish over such relatively minor infractions seems to display contempt for the real tasks of governance and policy-making. Is this sort of digression symptomatic of the inability of the Opposition to gain ground on the government on policy? Are they so obsessed with the statistical improbability of making Rudd a "oncer" that they'd do this themselves, or is this the act of some crank unrelated to the Liberal Party?

There's a wonderfully scandalous element to it all anyway. What a whiff! The involvement of someone with the Dickensian appellation of Godwin Grech has probably played no small part in the way the story has inflated.

The best conspiracy theory I've heard so far is that the whole thing is a Machiavellian trap laid for Turnbull by Costello, as he departs.

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Moorcock on steampunk

Jun. 19th, 2009 | 10:26 am

This Q and A from a boingboing readership interview with Michael Moorcock is apposite to a discussion strangedave prompted the other day:
"One of my personal Moorcockian favorites is Warlord of the Air and the sequels. It always seemed to me to be a pre-cursor to the current "steampunk" movement. I'm curious as to what you would have to say regarding this series and the concept of 'steampunk' in general.

I wrote those books for very specific reasons. The first, for instance, wanted to take the kind of idea a Fabian might write around 1910 and then 'intervene' in it -- i.e. take the imperial ideas of Wells, Conrad and others who were of a liberal disposition but still believed in 'Empire' and show what those ideas were built on (other peoples' blood, sweat and tears'). That's what I'm getting at when I say 'pre-genre'. Such interventions have, if you like, a political or at least intellectual intention. I wanted to show that E. Nesbit (Fabian, friend of Wells, writer of the books which influenced C.S.Lewis's Narnia books, creator of Oswald Bastable) was, however much I loved her work, sentimentalising the idea of the British Empire and the notion of lesser breeds without the law. Each of those books dealt with sentimental aspects of empire, race and revolution. I also wanted to show how bad things still might have been if, for instance, WW2 hadn't happened. I was horrified to see those few books turn into a sub-genre all their own. It's as if you design tools intended to fix or at least examine a specific neurological condition, then someone comes along and starts to use them to try to fix, I don't know, a blocked toilet. As if someone has said 'Wow! Cool! Airships in the 1970s. Why don't we have them fighting dragons ?' Something completely banal. And then you see the stores flooded with this trivial junk! You can't help feeling miserable, especially when your own books aren't in print and the junk (or anyway the escapist fluff) is making a fortune. I tell myself this is unrealistic but sometimes it's a bit hard to take, even though I'd be ashamed, or deeply bored by the notion, of having written the escapist book. That said, there has been some excellent 'steampunk' fiction written (The Difference Engine amongst them) and I have to say I have a soft spot for the best of it. But, as I said in a recent review, the existence of an airship on the cover of a book tends to advertise 'steampunk' instantly and I tend to steer clear."
I particularly like the bolded comment: it neatly summarises the problems with steampunk and with a lot of other genre fiction: it's all about fixing blocked toilets.

Oddly enough, I think in latter times I'm more of a fan of Moorcock's criticism, and his approach to other writers, than I am of his actual work. Nothing he's written has really excited me in ages, but I do enjoy his avuncular contempt for the mass-selling "descendants" of Tolkien's "deplorable cultus".

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