Sunday 05 January 2003

Dishappointing Dishmatique

Google search: dishmatique

According to Google, fellow-Australian Allan Moult and I remain the world’s leading authorities on the Dishmatique. Since Allan was the first Sudsy Stud to discover the Dishmatique Flex, I called him yesterday morning to ask how he was finding the “improved” Dishmatique after three months of use.

Dishmatique non-scratch PowerPad and handle (top)“I’m having a few problems with it,” he told me, a hint of disappointment evident in his voice—even all the way from Tasmania.

“Mine leaks detergent,” I confessed.

“From both ends!” he added vehemently.

A wave of relief washed over me. At least I wasn’t the only one having problems with the new model. We discussed the Flex’s shortcomings for ten minutes or so, agreeing that Hyphen Design may have been too clever by half in totally revamping the Dishmatique’s detergent delivery mechanism. Instead of a simple hole in the head of the classic—where the sponge/scourer attaches snugly—the Flex model has a complicated sprung-loaded sponge/scourer and a rubber washer in the head. When the Flex is stored head down, detergent leaks out. (Allan told me that he’d even tried reversing the washer, to no avail.)

Dishmatique handle (bottom)Storing the Flex with its head up proves to be no more satisfactory since a stretch rubber end-cap has replaced the tight screw cap of the older model. I admit my initial review of the Dishmatique Flex was overly enthusiastic, given I’d only had it (and the Brush model) for a few days. But at least I foresaw potential problems with the end cap:

My only quibble is that the screw cap at the end of the handle has been replaced by a flexible rubber cap which forms part of the rubberized handgrip. While there is no longer any risk of losing the screw cap, I am concerned that the rubber may not stand up to years of heavy use.

I’ve retired my Dishmatique Flex and have gone back to using my classic Dishmatiques (one fitted with the heavy-duty green sponge-scourer, the other with the non-scratch white attachment). I still use the Flex brush for cleaning my juice extractor.

Allan and I also chatted about our long run at the top of the Google search results for “dishmatique”:

  • my weblog occupies #1, #2, #7, and #8 spots;
  • Allan has #3 and #4;
  • Easy-Do (the manufacturer of the Dishmatique) is #5 and #6;
  • DMPB (a direct mailer for Easy-Do) has #9; and
  • Burningbird comes in at #10.

Easy-Do have significantly improved their ranking over the past year—when I started writing about the Dishmatique they barely made it into the top thirty. But a couple of small changes to their site design catapulted them into the top ten. And the fact that they’ve taken out a Google sponsored-link indicates their seriousness about playing the game. Even so, Easy-Do’s Dishmatique and Dishmatique Flex pages still illustrate perfectly how not to design with high search engine rankings in mind.

For the valuable consideration of a gross of classic Dishmatiques plus a gross each of heavy-duty and non-scratch replacement sponge-scourers (the three-packs, not the two-packs) I’m willing to consult with Easy-Do on how to get their site to the #1 spot on Google. If they come to the party on this, anyone who’s ever expressed interest in the Dishmatique or its imitators—either by posting on their own weblog or by leaving a comment in mine—can look forward to receiving a complete Dishmatique system in the mail.

Gemco Li’l Scrubber update

Turning to other dishwashing news, I received an email and an attached photograph from Norm Jenson (he’s happy for me to publish both):

Norm Jenson's Li'l Scrubber knockoffDoes this qualify as a dishmatique type device. Is it something new or perhaps there has already been a picture of this on your site. It would be easy to miss. I tried google but there are hundred’s of pages of posts by some Delacour Dude about this subject. I looked but didn’t find this exact model, though it certainly may have been there. I found it on my sink, I don’t know where it came from, but I suspect my wife. I tried it out and I like it.

I thought it looked like a cross between a Dishmatique and Eric Grevstad’s Gemco Li’l Scrubber, the one piece of dishwashing apparatus I still lust after (the Gemco has nylon bristles instead of a sponge-scourer).

And, as if cued by Norm’s message, Saundra Doty left the following comment:

Just got a Christmas present from my ex-husband’s present wife. It is the Li’l Scrubber by Gemco.

She presented it to all of us gathered at their home in Clermont, FL for our traditional feast and gift-giving Christmas celebration. She said it was so great that she wanted to share with all of us. She’s a gem and so is the Li’l Scrubber.

But….where do I get it. I live in little ole town of Brooksville, FL..some hour or so away from everywhere. Please help me…I’m in love with the Li’l Scrubber! I am wanting to share this will bugger with all my friends. any suggestions as to the closest place or if I could mail order? Thanks and Happy Holidays to the Sudsmen, whoever they are and if they are the inventors of Li’l Scrubber..God bless them and my hands bless them.

Eric’s no longer blogging, but perhaps someone else can advise Saundra (and me) as to where we can pick up a Li’l Scrubber.

And what a relief to find a female dishwashing enthusiast! When I read the opening paragraph of Tom Jaine’s Guardian review of Escoffier: The King of Chefs, it immediately occurred to me that men approach dishwashing in the same manner:

A wise old cook, veteran of work ruined by guttering fires and smoking chimneys, observed the essential difference between males and females in the kitchen. Men treat a meal as a problem to be solved; women as a series of things to be cooked. Men are preoccupied with tools, performance and manual dexterity. Women just press on. It’s the old antagonism of means and ends.

Happily, Saundra’s comment proves the existence of Sudsy Dames.

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Monday 06 January 2003

Tracking all the lies

I think I might be getting the hang of TrackBack. A couple of pointers, offered in response to my request for a succinct explanation of how TrackBack works, got me started.

Firstly, I realized that I should have sent a TrackBack ping from my previous post to Allan Moult’s New Dishmatique Sighted post. Done.

Then I read and was inspired by Burningbird’s TrackBack-related posts, The Year of Linking Dangerously:

Once your tool supports Trackback, use it. It’s there to allow people to visibly show their connection to your writing. It lets your readers know that others have something to say about your post, good or bad. It continues the conversation. It breaks the hell out of this idea that weblogs are just some form of electronic journal, written in isolation that just happens to be published for posterity’s sake.

More than that, though, Trackbacks provide deliberation and some intelligence with the link. Not a whole lot other than the words of the associated post, but it’s a start. There’s a tiny bit of RDF/XML associated with the Trackback link — a placeholder for future information, future bits of knowledge. A base on which to build.

and Adding TrackBack Entries to Individual Archive Pages:

To implement trackback within the archive page following my prefered approach, I did need to make a minor modification to one of the Movable Type’s Perl modules, Trackback.pm. It’s a minor change: it forces a re-build of the archive page when a trackback occurs so that the new trackback entry displays in a manner similar to how new comments are added, automatically, to the page. You can download the modified file here and replace the in your MT directory (put it into /lib/MT/App/). However, you do so at your own risk.

Yikes! I’ve just started playing with plugins. Am I now on the brink of modifying Movable Type’s Perl modules? Evidently so. I like the picture Burningbird paints of breaking free of the tyranny of links, burning down “the house that Google built before we become as dependent on Google as we almost became on Microsoft Windows.” (Ironic, I know, given my previous post, but are we not all capable of redemption?)

And I read, at Burningbird’s suggestion, Joshua Allen’s Renmin Voice. The intricacies of RDF and XML pass straight over my head, though that doesn’t trouble me at all. I’m only really interested in two things: content (telling stories) and community (amplifying other people’s stories). So three sentences—more particularly, five words—in Joshua Allen’s post grabbed me by the throat:

The key point here is that the web, and especially the semantic web is about capturing and communicating human knowledge. For people who have trouble understanding that “knowledge” is a truth-neutral word, it is fine to say that the semantic web is about capturing and communicating human voices.

The web from the very beginning was a digital library of human knowledge (or lies, it doesn’t matter), and all sorts of useful new applications have evolved as people continue to innovate new techniques for representing and mining that knowledge.

(or lies, it doesn’t matter)

Is it because we swim in an ocean of lies that we make such a fetish of discovering and bearing witness to the truth?

I like very much Joshua Allen’s refusal to distinguish between knowledge (truth) and lies since that refusal acknowledges (in a formal or technical context) the way in which, in our everyday lives, we hide the truth so artfully from ourselves and from others, as one of my favorite poems, by the tenth century Japanese writer, Ki no Tsurayuki, suggests:

To the distant observer
They are chatting of the blossoms
Yet in spite of appearances
Deep in their hearts
They are thinking very different thoughts.

I have no idea—to be honest, I don’t really care—whether TrackBack will enable us to establish a more “truthful” web but it does seem to hold out the promise of allowing us to create more nuanced and inclusive relationships than a web based on links and PageRanks. Who knows? It might even reveal more of the very different thoughts that lie hidden, deep in our hearts.

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Tuesday 07 January 2003

Quality vs Popularity

Commenting on my previous post, Burningbird wrote:

My only hope is to allow voices to be heard other than those at the top of the charts. We say ‘Wow, weblogs allow everyone to have their say!” and then we all read the same list of 100 people. Or only the few on our blogrolls.

Mark Pilgrim replied:

I think that any community, left to its own devices, naturally creates celebrities, because people want celebrities. Given unlimited choices, many people apparently just want to do what everyone else is doing, read who everyone else is reading. Why not let them do it?

…Yeah, I read all the people on my blogroll, every day. I subscribe to all of their sites. It’s a small group, and I know all of them at *least* through repeated email, and several in person. One I’ve known for 10 years. I’m an introvert; I *like* small intimate groups, and I dislike crowds. So I section off a small part of the vast virtual world and say “this part is mine, these people are the ones I’m comfortable with, and the rest not so much”.

[Aside: it is so cool to be able to link to individual comments—as in http://weblog.delacour.net/archives/000804.html#comment1826—thanks to Burningbird’s “recent comments” code.]

Interesting that Mark and Burningbird appear to be on opposite sides of the fence on this, when all I can see is a shared commitment to tracking, collating, and publicizing the inter-relationships between weblog entries. Mark does it through (amongst other methods) his use of the cite tag (allowing him to list posts by citation) and his “further reading” script that “auto-generates quotes from referring pages.” Burningbird uses TrackBack and her promised replacement of her blogroll with a favorite posts feature.

When Mark writes, “I’m an introvert; I *like* small intimate groups, and I dislike crowds,” he also describing me. Exactly.

And when he points out that, even offered unlimited choices, “many people apparently just want to do what everyone else is doing, read who everyone else is reading,” I’m hard pressed to disagree.

Well, not exactly. I watch on average an hour of TV a day. In any given week, now that Survivor is finished, I’ll catch the English Premier League Highlights, The Sopranos, perhaps NYPD Blue. The rest of time I’ll watch movies I’ve taped on SBS or rented. My backlog includes Shopgirls 2 (Italy), The Legends of Rita (Germany), Not One Less (China), The Last Dance (Japan), Girl’s Night Out (South Korea).

But, despite my eclectic tastes in books, movies, music, and television programs , like everyone else, there are limits on my time and attention. So, actually, I do agree with Mark. I will watch pretty much any Chinese, Japanese, or Korean movie. Yet American movies hardly interest me, and I’m more likely to be struck by lightning than to watch a movie from India, Poland, Iran, Senegal, or Mongolia.

In other words, I’ve sectioned off a small part of the vast cinematic world and said “this part is mine, these movies are the ones I’m comfortable with, and the rest not so much.”

Burningbird, on the other hand, argues that this is regrettable. And she’s right. My life may have taken an entirely different (more rewarding and productive) direction had I seen that Iranian or Mongolian movie, which spoke so directly to my deepest concerns and interests. I didn’t. I’m the loser, because I restricted my viewing to films from the few countries on my “movieroll” (much as I restrict my weblog reading to “the same list of 100 people. Or only the few on my blogroll”).

I don’t know what the answer is. Well, that’s not true. I do know what the answer is. It’s to be more open, it’s to leave room for the unfamiliar, to make time for experiences other than those I’m comfortable with. How do I find out about these potential rewarding encounters? By paying attention.

In terms of weblogs, it means checking my referers regularly (it’s not just those who agree with me who link to me), following unfamiliar links from familiar sites, chasing up trackbacks, and even (gasp!) perusing blo.gs, Technorati, and blogging ecosystem. Therein lies a conundrum: are the weblogs on the top 10/20/100 lists popular because they’re worth reading or popular because they’re popular?

This is what I suspect Burningbird is getting at, that popularity only occasionally correlates with quality. She’s passionate about auto-discovering new, unheard voices. But then so is Mark Pilgrim. And although I could be completely mistaken, it seems to me that they’re employing different technical strategies to achieve a similar outcome: by analyzing inbound links and/or trackbacks, find other weblogs that represent a shared interest in the topic(s) under discussion. Kind of like establishing new friendships, or matchmaking, where the objective is to find someone who’s both comfortably familiar and intoxicatingly different. Except that you get to fish in a deeper pool.

I am curious about one thing, though. Since the entries on Mark Pilgrim’s further reading list don’t just come from the weblogs on his blogroll, I’m curious about how widely he casts his net. Oh, silly me. He’s following referrers then analyzing each referring post. For a moment there I imagined his ability to produce million dollar markup had enabled him to become a one-man Google.

As for me, I don’t have any programming smarts so TrackBack will do me fine, as long as I have Burningbird’s example to follow. Either way, it’s exhilarating to be building a web with sticky strands.

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Wednesday 08 January 2003

Beckett Bonanza

How magical is this?

Waiting for Godot
Director: Michael Lindsay-Hogg
Cast: Barry McGovern, Johnny Murphy, Stephen Brennan, Alan Stafford

Endgame
Director: Conor McPherson
Cast: Michael Gambon, David Thewlis, Charles Simon, Jean Anderson

Not I
Director: Neil Jordan
Cast: Julianne Moore

Krapp’s Last Tape
Director: Atom Egoyan
Cast: John Hurt

Play
Director: Anthony Minghella
Cast: Alan Rickman, Kristen Scott Thomas, Juliet Stevenson

Catastrophe
Director: David Mamet
Cast: John Gielgud, Harold Pinter, Rebecca Pidgeon

Ohio Impromptu
Director: Charles Sturridge
Cast: Jeremy Irons

Rockaby
Director: Richard Eyre
Cast: Penelope Wilton

And that’s less than half. From the 19th of January to the 8th of February SBS will be screening filmed versions of all 19 of Samuel Beckett’s plays: “19 texts, 19 directors, 10 hours, 23 minutes and seven seconds of film.” The project—conceived by Michael Colgan, Artistic Director of the Gate Theatre in Dublin—took over a year to photograph.

Each of the 19 films’ directors chose the play they wished to direct, and hand selected the cast they wished to work with. They were not allowed to change any of the text and they had to adhere to Beckett’s specific directions for each work.

Is it OK to love Beckett but hate going to the theater? Though Waiting for Godot and Endgame are currently playing here as part of the Sydney Festival, I wouldn’t dream of going. Two things irritate me about live theatrical performances:

  • the actors try too hard (“Look at me! Aren’t I clever? I’m acting!”)
  • the audience is so unpleasantly self-congratulatory (“Look at us! Aren’t we sensitive? We’re at the theater!)

For a misanthrope such as myself, Beckett On Film is perfect. Great actors—forced to tone down their performances for the camera—and an audience of one.

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Thursday 09 January 2003

Tansu

Ayako had no sympathy for the disabled.

This morning, when I read in an email from UsableNet that the European Union has designated 2003 as the “Year of the People with Disabilities,” I recalled a conversation we had one evening over dinner. There’d been a story in the Herald about a group of disabled Japanese who were here on a fact-finding tour, with a photograph of a young paraplegic man being carried down the stairs from a Qantas aircraft to a wheelchair on the tarmac.

“Naze kita no kashira. Ano hito.” Ayako asked. I wonder why they came. Those people.

“To check out how we help people with disabilities in Australia,” I replied.

“They shouldn’t be here.” She struggled to suppress her irritation.

“Why not? They just want to see how we do things here. Maybe they’ll get some good ideas to take back to Japan.”

“They’re an embarassment,” she told me. “The government shouldn’t have allowed them to leave Japan.”

I was stunned. I’d spent much of my childhood with an intellectually-handicapped girl named Jennifer who was a year or so older than me. Jennifer had no hair so she always wore a wig or a woolen beanie, she had steel braces on her legs, and her speech was severely limited. Almost every day a dozen or so kids would play in the street and in each other’s yards for hours at a time—running, chasing, hide-and-seek, roller-skating, riding our bikes and billy-carts—and for an hour or so Jennifer’s parents would allow her to join us. Whenever she did, we switched to gentler games so that she could join in. Occasionally a new family would move into our street and the routine was always the same. One of the new arrivals would poke fun at Jennifer and would be very quickly put straight: “She’s just like you and I,” someone would tell them, “only different. When she comes out to play it’s our job to look after her.”

“How would you like to be in a wheelchair?” I asked Ayako.

“I wouldn’t mind,” she replied. “How could I be upset if I’d never known anything different?”

“What about if you’d had an accident? You’d always been able to walk and now you couldn’t. Or if you’d been born crippled, how would it feel to see everyone around you walking and running?”

“You don’t understand!” she said passionately. “People have accidents or they’re born like that because they did something terrible in a past life. They have to spend this life atoning for their sin.”

I knew Ayako saw the world differently—from the start I’d been attracted by her ability to surprise me. And I knew better than to persist.

“Let’s do the dishes,” I suggested, “then we’ll drive down to Bondi and buy an ice-cream.” She loved lemon gelato.

Stuck behind a bus on Bondi Road, Ayako sitting quietly at my side, I remembered Kevin, another handicapped figure from my boyhood. When I was in senior high school, Kevin—who had Downs Syndrome—must have been about twenty. He lived with his mother. His father, who’d been a bus driver, had died suddenly when Kevin was young and, once he was no longer attending his special school—there were no jobs for the handicapped in those days—the guys at the bus depot, his dad’s workmates, did this marvellous thing. Realizing his mum needed a break now and again, they got Kevin a bus conductor’s uniform, with a leather satchel, a ticket holder, and a whistle.

Conductors were only assigned to buses during peak hours or on busy routes; the rest of the time the driver collected the fares. So, a couple of mornings a week, a neighbor would drop Kevin off at the depot after the morning rush. He would board a driver-only bus and spend the day riding back-and-forth, handing out tickets and putting the coins he received into his satchel. At the end of the day, one of the drivers would drop him off at home and he’d proudly show his mother the money he’d earned.

It could never happen now. Everyone would have a nervous breakdown about workers compensation and public-liability insurance, do-gooders would complain that Kevin was being exploited, and the Transport Union would argue that he was doing a conductor out of a job. But back then, we all thought it was marvellous to get on the bus and find Kevin walking up and down the aisle, blowing his whistle when all the passengers had alighted, calling out: “Fares please!” and “Move right down the back of the bus.”

Ayako ate her lemon gelato at the water’s edge, salty foam lapping at her toes. We drove home and went to bed. The first night she came to sleep at my place, many months before, she’d brought a nightlight. “I don’t like to sleep in the dark,” she explained. I didn’t mind. We spent hours making love in its soft glow.

“When I was little,” she said as she lay with her head on my shoulder, “around four or five years old, if I was naughty my mother would lock me in the tansu for an hour.” A tansu is a Japanese chest of drawers or a cabinet with deep drawers at the bottom.

“That’s unbelievable,” I said. “You must have been terrified.”

“It wasn’t so bad,” she replied. “I was lucky in a way. If my older brother was naughty, she would tie him to a maple tree for an hour, even in the middle of winter when the garden was covered in snow.”

I held her tight, speechless once again.

“When I grew older and became too big for the tansu,” Ayako added, “my mother told me that if I was naughty I would come back in my next life as a cripple.”

Tansu

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Sunday 12 January 2003

The “idealization of historical ignorance”

From Normative Shift by Coral Bell (The National Interest No. 70)

Whether 300 or 1,300 years in incubation, the conflict between the West and Islam has changed dramatically in the past thirty or forty years. For most of its history, this conflict was about power, land, and religion thought of as a creed armed rather than as a basic moral. Muslims and Christians alike had no argument with the bedrock code of the Hebrew Bible when it came to family, sexual and other fundamental moral obligations and assumptions. But in the last three or four decades, it is the West that moved rapidly away from these fundaments. Having so moved, the West then turned around and, mostly by media and commercial-borne inadvertence, begun exporting these new norms to the world of Islam—where they have caused no little trouble and resentment. The critical normative gap between us and them has widened because we widened it. And yet this obvious fact is hardly ever noted in the West.

From Fixed Opinions, or The Hinge of History by Joan Didion (The New York Review of Books, Volume L, Number 1):

There was much about this return to New York that I had not expected. I had expected to find the annihilating economy of the event—the way in which it had concentrated the complicated arrangements and misarrangements of the last century into a single irreducible image—being explored, made legible. On the contrary, I found that what had happened was being processed, obscured, systematically leached of history and so of meaning, finally rendered less readable than it had seemed on the morning it happened. As if overnight, the irreconcilable event had been made manageable, reduced to the sentimental, to protective talismans, totems, garlands of garlic, repeated pieties that would come to seem in some ways as destructive as the event itself. We now had “the loved ones,” we had “the families,” we had “the heroes.”

In fact it was in the reflexive repetition of the word “hero” that we began to hear what would become in the year that followed an entrenched preference for ignoring the meaning of the event in favor of an impenetrably flattening celebration of its victims, and a troublingly belligerent idealization of historical ignorance. “Taste” and “sensitivity,” it was repeatedly suggested, demanded that we not examine what happened.

From The Burden by Michael Ignatieff (The New York Times Magazine, 5 January 2003)

Until Sept. 11, successive United States administrations treated their Middle Eastern clients like gas stations. This was part of a larger pattern. After 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet empire, American presidents thought they could have imperial domination on the cheap, ruling the world without putting in place any new imperial architecture — new military alliances, new legal institutions, new international development organisms — for a postcolonial, post-Soviet world.

The Greeks taught the Romans to call this failure hubris. It was also, in the 1990’s, a general failure of the historical imagination, an inability of the post-cold-war West to grasp that the emerging crisis of state order in so many overlapping zones of the world — from Egypt to Afghanistan — would eventually become a security threat at home. Radical Islam would never have succeeded in winning adherents if the Muslim countries that won independence from the European empires had been able to convert dreams of self-determination into the reality of competent, rule-abiding states. America has inherited this crisis of self-determination from the empires of the past. Its solution — to create democracy in Iraq, then hopefully roll out the same happy experiment throughout the Middle East — is both noble and dangerous: noble because, if successful, it will finally give these peoples the self-determination they vainly fought for against the empires of the past; dangerous because, if it fails, there will be nobody left to blame but the Americans.

(Links via Arts & Letters Daily)

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Monday 13 January 2003

The pleasures of the past

AKMA picked up on my entry The “idealization of historical ignorance”, mentioning it in the context of Tom Matrullo’s post, the blogging subject:

The press can take any amount of media criticism; what it cannot bear is being ignored, even as it practices a most potent, directed form of ignorance in weaving its tales.

In retrospect, I realize I assembled that entry—three long quotations from essays cited in Arts & Letters Daily in the past week—not just because I admired the quality of the thought and the writing (Joan Didion remains one of my favorite writers) but also because historical ignorance has been much on my mind. A couple of weeks ago I watched a documentary about Mark Rothko, in which the critic Brian O’Doherty said:

He was a unique person, who made a unique art and who suffered for it in many ways. I fear it was a very painful business for him. What was particularly painful to him was the insensitivity, ignorance, stupidity, and superficiality of the world at large. And there is no shortage of that, as we know.

A few days later, reading W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz, I came upon the following passage:

When I came back from France I bought this house for what today is the positively ridiculous sum of nine hundred and fifty pounds, and then I taught for almost thirty years until I took early retirement in 1991, partly, said Austerlitz, because of the inexorable spread of ignorance even to the universities, and partly because I hoped to set out on paper my investigations into the history of architecture and civilization, as had long been my intention.

Onko-chishin, visit the past to know the newOn the weekend, looking for a text with which I could test some newly-arrived Japanese TrueType fonts, I consulted a dictionary of Japanese idioms. Amongst examples such as “If a dog walks around enough, it is likely to get hit with a stick” and “a bee sting on a crying face” I found onko-chishin, “visit the past to know the new”. The example sentence read:

It is precisely because we find ourselves living in an age deluged with information that we must not forget the importance of a thorough grounding in the classics.

The “troublingly belligerent idealization of historical ignorance” of which Joan Didion writes has a multiplicity of causes. Some spring immediately to mind:

  • a naive trust in what Tom Matrullo calls the “motivated simplification” of the media-constructed narrative;
  • a confusion of the difference in worth between knowledge and information;
  • an inflated sense of self (based upon an inability to recognize one’s own incompetence); and
  • an overweening belief in the inexorable march of progress.

Tom Matrullo writes:

Blogs at best bear fewer traces of media ignorance and more marks of the mind offering uncommon attention to the world we imagine we share.

True, but is it not also possible that we are writing ourselves into an existence of which only we are aware? That the “inexorable spread of ignorance” continues unabated while we entertain each other within Blogaria’s borders.

What to do? In immersing oneself in the past do you not run the risk of disengaging from the present? What happens when the old turns out to be infinitely more fascinating than the new?

In Antonioni’s Blow Up, Verushka tells the photographer she won’t be available for a shoot because she’s going to Paris. She runs into him at a party later and he says, “You’re supposed to be in Paris.”

“I am in Paris,” she replies. I know just how she felt.

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Tuesday 14 January 2003

Mark Pilgrim s**** the d****

I’m probably more entitled to be disillusioned at Mark Pilgrim’s rejection of Web standards than almost anyone. Mark offered me the first taste of CSS Koolaid on 12 February last year, a month after I’d started blogging, and before it became truly fashionable in Blogaria. Admittedly, I spat instead of swallowing, but a day or so later—with Mark’s advice and assistance—I’d swallowed, switching to a pure CSS layout. Next stop (on 29 April) was XHTML (1.0 Transitional). And I never looked back. Although I’ve been involved in Web development since 1994, I learned more in the past year than in the previous seven. And I’m hardly alone in having learned much of it from Mark.

So if ever a weblog post was destined to reach the #1 spot on Daypop and still be climbing it was Mark’s Semantic obsolescence.

Mark Pilgrim's Semantic Obsolescence post at the top of Daypop

One of the most passionate advocates of Web standards decides that he’s mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore:

I bought into every argument the W3C made that keeping up with their standards, validating with their tools, and using their semantic markup would somehow “future-proof” my site and provide some mystical “forward compatibility”. How about some fucking payoff now? How about some fucking compatibility?

Standards are bullshit. XHTML is a crock. The W3C is irrelevant.

I’m migrating I’ve migrated to HTML 4.

In Australia, we call this “spitting the dummy.”

As in:“Crikey, Mark Pilgrim really spat the dummy over the W3C’s XHTML 2.0 working drafts of 5 August 2002 and 11 December 2002.”

Dummy (pacifier)The Australian National Dictionary Centre’s list of Australian words defines spit the dummy as:

To indulge in a sudden display of anger or frustration; to lose one’s temper. The phrase is usually used of an adult, and the implication is that the outburst is childish, like a baby spitting out its dummy in a tantrum and refusing to be pacified.

(You’ve probably guessed by now that what Americans call a “pacifier,” Australians call a “dummy.”)

Although I’d hardly characterize it as childish—I suspect that, in Mark’s situation, I’d feel just as angry and frustrated—his abandoning bleeding edge XHTML 1.1 for the sleepy backwater of HTML 4.01 Strict does have many of the hallmarks of a classic dummy spit:

  • although it seemed to come out of the blue, there have been signs of the pressure building over the past few months;
  • a swear word index in excess of 1% in a technology-related post (one bullshit and four fuckings in 459 words);
  • a threat to take drastic action (subsequently acted upon) regardless of whether or not the cause of the complaint is addressed or the drastic action is truly in the dummy-spitter’s best interests.

I guess that’s what surprised me. Going back to XHTML 1.0 Strict (or even Transitional) I can understand. But all the way back to HTML 4.01?

Disillusioned? Not in the slightest. I’ve had a ball. Will I switch back to HTML 4? I doubt it, though I’ll keep a weather eye on Mark’s experiences with it. I’ll be interested to learn about the payoff.

I perused the Further Reading on Mark’s post—there were so many posts that reading even a small fraction was impossible. But one stood out, defrang.com:

Mark got really upset about the W3C and he’s right. For fuck’s sake, W3C folks please listen to the developers who have to implement and deal with your recommandations. I remember being at a W3C conference in Brussels recently and It’s obvious that all those guys never had to make a real-life website. Authoring web pages, is different than the usual Amaya-generated personnal homepage hosted on the w3.org server, they should know that…

I laughed when I read the word “Brussels,” with its rich connotations of petty-minded European Union bureaucrats determining “the ‘expected and required’ ingredients of a sausage or the allowable degree of curvature in a cucumber.” You know that they’ve never actually made a sausage or grown a cucumber, just as the W3C folks have “never had to make a real-life website.”

And the previous week Xavier Defrang wrote:

Here we go for the first round of Safari bugs… Web developers will “thank” Apple for relying on yet another HTML rendering engine instead of betting on Gecko…

weblog.delacour.net links DIV  in Safari browserThat caught my eye because I’d just received feedback from AKMA on how my site fared in Safari:

A quick message to say that Safari renders your left-hand column such that the section headings overlap with the first subject under the heading.

That’s got me really pissed off. Not the fact that Safari screws with my CSS, that’s the nature of web development. Rather that—just at the point where the Gecko-based browsers are starting to give Internet Explorer some real competition—Apple goes with another rendering engine. How stupid is that? Could someone explain the Byzantine politics that went into the decision? Do you really find it inexplicable that I can’t quite bring myself to buy a Macintosh? Despite all the effort that’s gone into establishing a realistic alternative browser, Apple goes off on yet another ego trip. As someone I know would say:

How about some fucking payoff now? How about some fucking compatibility?

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Wednesday 15 January 2003

Minky socks it to the Dishmatique

If anyone qualifies as the Sudsy Dame par excellence it must be Kevin Laurence’s wife: she discovered the Bathmatique (from EasyDo, manufacturers of the Dishmatique) and now she’s unearthed an even more revolutionary dishwashing product, the Minky Dishjet Powerpad!

Though I don’t want to steal Kevin’s thunder, I can reveal that the Powerpad does qualify as a true dishmatique-style product since it has a handle that one fills with liquid detergent plus replaceable sponge/scourer heads. So, why is it revolutionary? Because the Minky Dishjet Powerpad also has:

“an on/off switch built-in to the handle so that although it ‘Dispenses Liquid As It Cleans’, it also ‘Saves Washing Up Liquid.’”

No doubt Allan Moult will share my enthusiasm since both of us were shattered by the Dishmatique Flex leaking detergent problem.

Kevin has lots to say about the Minky Dishjet Powerpad including details of the Minky company’s secret weapon in the war of the dishwashing implements.

I’ve emailed Minky, asking whether they have an Australian distributor. Ain’t competition grand? (And to think I was upset with Apple for going with the KHTML rendering engine!)

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Friday 17 January 2003

The accidental socialist

Aaron’s Tips for Book Authors:

#5 Once you’ve recouped the cost of creating the book (and potentially the cost of writing your next one) please donate it to the public domain (i.e. give up your copyright). The copyright system was created only to increase the size of the public domain; please don’t cheat the public by taking more of it than you need.

It’s fascinating to observe in Rogers Cadenhead’s comments the nonchalance with which those who have never had a book published would abrogate the rights of those who have.

I can’t fathom this. People who would be outraged if employers suggested basing salaries on the cost of rent, food, clothing, and utilities, plus a small entertainment allowance, blithely demand that authors work for cost.

Is it the regular paycheck (or parental allowance) that engenders this attitude? Is it youthful idealism? Shaw was probably correct in suggesting that “if you’re not a socialist at 20, you have no heart.” But his aphorism concludes: “if you’re still a socialist at 40, you have no head.” In any case, I look forward to hearing Aaron’s views on copyright when he turns 40, or when he’s published a book or three.

This utopian idea that authors should write for love, not money, probably reflects the majority belief that writing a book is no more difficult than baking a cake. Yet I’m reminded of a New Yorker cartoon showing two people at a cocktail party. One says, “I’m writing a novel.” The other replies, “Neither am I.”

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Saturday 18 January 2003

72ppi or 96ppi—am I missing something?

Since a number of visitors to my site have complained that the Georgia font is difficult to read at small sizes on the Macintosh, I’m redesigning my stylesheets along the lines that Zeldman suggests (except that my default will be resizable Georgia and the alternate will be fixed Verdana).

Zeldman’s explanation of why he’s switched back to pixels is instructive (and I’ll quote it when I announce the font changes). But something he wrote about the recently released Safari browser caught my eye:

Matt Haughey notes that Safari defaults to the old Mac 72 ppi display instead of the 96 ppi standard used by most other modern browsers regardless of platform. This means that text set with relative sizes, as the W3C and accessibility experts recommend, may be too small in Safari. (Zeldman.com and Happy Cog use relative sizes.)

This switch back to 72 ppi is particularly puzzling since, in OS X, Apple has abandoned the pixel as a unit of measurement. When you set type preferences in OS X, you’re asked to do so in terms of point sizes—even though points are a unit of print, not screen, measurement.

I’ve been building websites long enough to know the difference between the Macintosh display resolution of 72ppi and the Windows display resolution of 96ppi. But I was unaware that there had been an agreement amongst browser vendors to standardize on 96ppi.

If that’s the case, I wondered to myself, why are we all still making GIFs and JPEGs at 72ppi? So I did a quick experiment, making JPEGs of the same image at both 72ppi and 96ppi.

Araki book on chair, 72 pixels per inchAraki book on chair, 96 pixels per inch

Needless to say, they look identical since both images have the same dimensions (240 x 180 pixels). The file sizes are the same too, since file size—at the same JPEG compression settings—is largely a function of the number of pixels in the image. And, apart from the gamma difference, they’re the same size on both my (1024 x 768) Macintosh and Windows monitors—as you’d expect, given that a pixel is a pixel.

So, what am I missing here? Is the 72ppi/96ppi issue only relevant for text specified in relative sizes? And inconsequential for images? (My test images print identically too.) Am I missing something here?

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Tuesday 21 January 2003

To s**t or not to s**t

Weary of my pussyfooting around over whether to buy a Macintosh or not, Burningbird finally snapped:

Okay, enough is enough. Jonathon Delacour has been flirting with the idea of getting a Mac, teasing us, coyly, with this will he or won’t he like a 16 year old on a hot date.

Time for this man to buy a Mac.

As I lay here on my bed, lightweight PowerBook on my lap, I decided to start a list of reasons why Jonathon should either s**t or get off the pot and buy that PBook.

Shit or get off the pot. I haven’t heard that expression since I lived with a psychotherapist, J, many years ago. In Australia the corresponding expression is “put up or shut up.” I’m sure she picked up its more graphic equivalent from reading Gestalt Therapy Verbatim, transcripts of three workshop/demonstrations that Fritz Perls gave at the Esalen Institute in 1968. Perls would say this to clients who, once in the hot seat, were reluctant to dive into the malestrom maelstrom of their neurosis. I don’t recall J telling me to “shit or get off the pot”—like Perls, she reserved that expression for recalcitrant clients—but she did encourage me to tell lies. “Stop being so rigid,” she’d tell me. “The truth is malleable. You could be a really accomplished liar if you put your mind to it.” I wonder if that’s not why, many years after we’d separated, I abandoned the “literal truth” of photography in order to chase a dream of telling stories.

Anyway, enough reminiscing. I admit that I’ve been prevaricating over the PowerBook, possibly even more than “a 16 year old on a hot date.” And Burningbird offers a variety of reasons for buying a Macintosh—some compelling, others less so. Let’s run through them quickly:

  • Weight. I don’t need to be sold on weight. For nearly four years I’ve had an IBM ThinkPad 600E, which is the best piece of computer hardware I’ve ever owned: light, rugged, and reliable. But the 12-inch PowerBook is even lighter and Apple’s hardware is usually pretty good. Score 1 point to the PowerBook.
  • Ease of use. Though Burningbird likes her TiBook’s keyboard and touchpad, the ThinkPad’s keyboard is excellent and I hate touchpads with a passion. Score 1 point to the ThinkPad.
  • Monitor. The ThinkPad is also great for “watching DVD movies in bed.” Call it a draw.
  • Neat Apple stuff. “There isn’t fun stuff for Windows.” Maybe not, but there’s a ton of functional stuff. More about that later. The [Macintosh] software actually installs without tweaking. Amazing.” Amazing indeed. But another draw.
  • OS Support. Burningbird runs three operating systems simultaneously: Mac OS 10.2, BSD Unix, and Win2K (under virtual PC). Plus X Windows on top of the Aqua Interface. I’m currently running Win2K and Red Hat Linux on my ThinkPad. Score 1 point to the PowerBook.
  • Portability. With a wireless router and WiFi, Burningbird can carry her Macintosh everywhere. I’ve run an Ethernet cable from my router to an old Toshiba laptop in the living room so I can check email, if necessary. Burningbird also paints a picture of me in the kitchen, plying the Dishmatique while the Mac plays music, a movie, or soccer clips. A compelling vision, no doubt, but there’s a clear line of sight from my kitchen to the living room, where the TV and stereo are. A draw.
  • Cats. According to Burningbird, “cats prefer PowerBooks 2 to 1 over comparable PC-based laptops. No, really.” Hmm. I checked this out with Reimi-chan.
    “Aunt Shelley says that cats prefer PowerBooks 2 to 1 over comparable PC-based laptops,” I told her.
    “Not cats who belong to photographers,” she replied. “Rob Galbraith’s tests show that the PC is about twice as fast as a comparable Macintosh for a range of digital photography tasks.”
    Score 1 point for the ThinkPad. (I may no longer be “a photographer” but I do have a couple of digital cameras.)
  • Compatibility: Burningbird notes that I’m unable to test my website design against the OS and machines that many of my readers use. Point taken. Although I still own an ancient PowerPC 8100 (running System 8.6), I don’t have a clue what my site looks like on a modern Macintosh. Score 1 point to the PowerBook.
  • Coolness. PowerBooks are cooler than PC laptops. Agreed. But I prefer to think that I’m the kind of guy who is innately cool, rather than one who relies on external possessions to telegraph his coolness. But there’s a strong chance I may be deluding myself, so let’s give that 1 point to the PowerBook.
  • Sex. TiBooks are sexy, PC laptops aren’t. Well, I have to disagree. ThinkPads are made of titanium too. It’s just that IBM paints them black. So that other people won’t think ThinkPad owners are wankers. “Tell me, which would you rather be? Sexy? Or functional?” asks Burningbird. Where I come from, functional is sexy, if you’re functioning properly. Score another draw.

Burningbird offers as “the final and best reason of all — PowerBooks are the official laptop of Alpha Males.” I’m actually well-versed in Alpha Male Theory and this sounds suspiciously like the cat statistic, which Reimi shot down in flames. I’ll let it pass. For now.

So, how’s the scoreboard? PowerBook 4, ThinkPad 2. Admittedly, I’m due for another notebook computer, which is why—despite my loyalty to the ThinkPad series—I’ve been nurturing my Macintosh fantasy, first an iBook, now the tiny PowerBook.

My main problem is this: I don’t really need another computer. In fact, I was thinking to myself that I can probably eke another year’s use out of my current ThinkPad, when I followed up a ping from gord at poeticgeek who’s been lusting after an Apple notebook too:

I will definitely have to look a little more seriously into getting one. I really have wanted one for ages now. Then again, money is a bit tight. But, you really can never treat yourself enough. I’ll consider it a productivity enhancer; even though it will more likely be a productivity detractor.

He’s voicing my own thoughts, exactly. Money is a bit tight. But it’s nice to treat oneself occasionally. Then he articulates my greatest fear: another operating system will just be a productivity detractor. I was a Macintosh user from 1985 to 1996. It was a real wrench to pull myself away to the PC, which had a bunch of software I wanted to use that was unavailable on the Mac. So I have a huge investment in PC software. I know what it takes to become truly proficient with an OS. And I’m already a Grand Master at Using Computers To Avoid Doing Any Real Work.

There is, however, one compelling reason that Burningbird failed to mention: Apple’s first-rate Japanese language support. That warrants serious consideration, which can wait for another day.

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Wednesday 22 January 2003

Fontopia

By an odd coincidence, on the same day that the new 12-inch and 17-inch PowerBook models were announced I received from the Dynalab Type Museum, a CD-ROM containing 100 Japanese TrueType fonts for Windows, fonts that I’d assumed would be the final nail in the coffin of my waning—though perhaps soon to be resurrected—Macintosh career.

I’ve held on to my old PowerPC 8500 in order to use a brush-style Japanese font that I found on a Macintosh WordPerfect installation CD. Windows 2000 only ships with full and half-width versions of the two Japanese fonts shown in the following illustration: MS Mincho (upper) and MS Gothic (lower). As you can see, they’re roughly equivalent to Times New Roman and Arial—and equally uninspiring.

Windows 2000 Japanese fonts, Mincho and Gothic

Which is not to say that Japanese language support under Windows 2000 isn’t adequate. It’s actually fine, roughly equivalent to the Macintosh Japanese Language Kit that I was using in 1992.

But it seemed crazy to keep a whole computer just to use a nice Japanese font once in a while. My friend Gerrit Fokkema has an 8500 he’s about to donate to a local school and it would be nice to give them two instead of one. So I ordered the font CD and, when I checked later, I realized that the UPS truck had pulled up at precisely the time that Steve Jobs was introducing the new PowerBooks.

The Windows fonts turned out to be pretty good, as this small sample may suggest:

Japanese fonts, Dynalab selection

I can’t write about fonts with any authority—Dean Allen is in charge of that department. (Dean’s Twenty Faces is a fascinating introduction to the joys of type.) And, just like those used in English or any other language, Japanese fonts can be incredibly expressive too. I’m looking forward to having fun with Japanese type on my PC (though I understand that Mac OS X ships with some cool Japanese typefaces).

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Thursday 23 January 2003

I couldn’t believe how easy it was

Took the scenic route on the way home from the pool this afternoon to drop by the nearest Apple store. At first the saleswoman told me I couldn’t try out the Japanese language support in OS X because it would mean reinstalling the operating system. I’d anticipated this response but I gently persisted and, within a matter of minutes, we’d checked Japanese in the International control panel (are they still called control panels?), logged out and logged back in, figured out how to switch on the Input Method, and I was typing Japanese in Microsoft Word. By then she was so enthusiastic that I only had to say “Unicode Character Palette” and she’d found it in a trice.

Smart, curious people are a pleasure to be with, aren’t they? Her initial reluctance didn’t trouble me at all, since it was so obviously based on a perceptive and accurate intuition that I was just another tire kicker with no real intention of buying a Macintosh. What had a greater impact was the ease with which her resistance gave way to a strong desire to find the answer to my question. Although I didn’t mention this to her, I had already decided that, in the unlikely event I do buy a 12-inch PowerBook, I would buy it from the first salesperson who took the trouble to show me how to activate Japanese language support in OS X. So at least that’s one less decision I have to make.

<update>Kevin Marks graciously offered to make screenshots of the OS X Japanese fonts. So I fired up my Japanese email client, Becky, and sent him my test Kanji string (the Macintosh mail application is fully multilingual). Included with OS X are four Japanese fonts: Hiragino Kaku Gothic Pro, Hiragino Kaku Gothic Std, Hiragino Maru Gothic Pro, and Hiragino Mincho Pro, plus Osaka (the Japanese system font used for menus and dialog boxes). In addition to identifying each font, the complete screenshot shows Apple’s secret weapon in the font wars.

Macintosh TrueType Japanese fonts

I didn’t mention how gorgeous Japanese text looks on the Macintosh, compared with Windows. Kevin alluded to that when he wrote in his email:

By the way, I turned off the LCD-specific anti-aliasing for that screenshot- it actually looks better than that on my iBook because of the extra res it gets from the LCD sub-pixels.

Although the WinXP display is almost certainly superior to what I get with Win2K, compared to their Macintosh equivalents the actual Windows Japanese fonts are mediocre—or, to put it a different way, adequate but hardly inspiring (like much of what comes from Microsoft).</update>

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Friday 24 January 2003

Little support for war on Iraq as troops depart

Although, according to the latest opinion polls, only 6% of Australians support sending troops to join an invasion of Iraq without United Nations approval, yesterday families and friends farewelled 350 members of the Australian Defence Force who have been ordered to join US and British forces outside Iraq. Many more are scheduled to follow.

An A.C. Nielsen poll commissioned for the publishers of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers and a Newspoll conducted for SBS World News yielded similar results: around 60% support Australian involvement as part of a UN approved force while 30% are opposed to war with Iraq with or without UN sanction. Interestingly an Ipsos-Reid poll for The Globe and Mail indicated that a similar proportion of Canadians (64%) “believe Canada should provide military assistance for any military action against Iraq only if the United Nations—and not just the U.S.—decides it is necessary.”

Although I don’t believe in poll-driven government, I hate the fact that our armed forces are being committed to a cause for which there is so little support. It’s gratifying that so many Australians see through the Bush administration’s empty rhetoric about the dangers posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, with 42% seeing North Korea as a greater threat to world peace (compared to 46% for Iraq). One wonders how Australians might have answered the poll question to which 36% of Canadians replied that they “regarded the Bush Administration as the greatest single threat to world peace, ahead of Iraq, North Korea or the al-Qaeda terrorist network.” Must one be blind or merely dull-witted not to see the differing US attitudes to Iraq and North Korea in terms of the presence or lack of oil?

Prime Minister John Howard’s promise that there “would be no commitment to war before parliament resumed” on February 4 must be weighed against the minisule chance of the troops being recalled now that they have been committed, given the Bush administration’s clear determination to attack Iraq regardless of any decisions made by the UN.

Opposition Leader Simon Crean—whom I’ve always regarded as a colorless Labor party apparatchik whose only skill lies in being all things to all voters—miraculously discovered some political courage and made an apparently well-received speech to the departing personnel in which he criticized the military commitment:

“I don’t support the deployment of our troops in these circumstances. I do support our troops and always will, and that distinction is fundamentally important,” Mr Crean told the troops on the HMAS Kanimbla.

“The men and women of our fighting forces in a democracy are expected unquestionably to follow the orders of the government of the day.

“You don’t have a choice and my argument is with the Government, not you.”

It came as a relief that Mr Crean implicitly mapped out the boundaries under which anti-war protests should be conducted. Writing in the Your Say section of the Sydney Morning Herald, Jason Briggs was more direct:

Whatever the course of public opinion takes, on the issue of ADF personnel being deployed to Iraq, or Australian involvement in a military action against Iraq. One thing needs to be kept in mind at all times and this certainly applies to the growing number, of anti war protestors. DO NOT SPIT ON, THROW PAINT AT, VERBALLY ABUSE, ASSAULT OR CONDUCT ANY ACTIVITY THAT HUMILATES, INTIMIDATES OR PERSECUTES RETURNED SERVICE MEN [and] WOMEN. Just as Anti-war protestors did during the Vietnam conflict.

I’ve already written about my ambivalence towards our involvement in the Vietnam war:

Out of curiosity I went to an anti-war rally but the protestors were contemptible compared to my comrades in the regiment and the professional soldiers who’d trained us. Despite my belief that the war was unjust and futile, I found it impossible to discard the loyalty I felt towards the Australians fighting against the North Vietnamese Army and the Vietcong, with whom I now also identified.

I hope as the anti-war protests build, that those opposed to the war realize—as those who protested against the Vietnam war did not—that in a democracy the armed forces are under civilian control and are obliged to follow the orders of the legally elected government. Many protestors would also do well to remember that this is the same ADF—with the same traditions and military doctrine—upon whom they bestowed a rapturous welcome upon the return of the troops from assisting in the liberation of East Timor and its move towards independence, a commitment that happened to meet with their approval.

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Monday 27 January 2003

Too many babies?

I couldn’t help but think of Dorothea (“Oh, for Mung’s sake, there’s a <censored> baby in my office”) Salo when I called Ayame, one of Natsuko’s nieces, in Japan yesterday morning. No sooner had I offered my congratulations on the arrival of her new baby girl than Ayame informed me that her younger sister’s baby had been born the night before. That’s two new babies in just over a fortnight! Perhaps I should explain…

Natsuko’s sister, Emiko, has three daughters. The eldest, Nami, has a five year old boy and a four year old girl. The middle daughter, Ayame, has a boy (eighteen months) and a new baby girl, born a couple of weeks ago. Her younger sister, Mika, has a girl (also eighteen months) and now a boy, born on Saturday night.

If that’s not enough to send Dorothea into a tailspin, Nami and Ayame and their four children, plus Mika’s little girl are all staying at their mother’s house—Mika and the new baby boy are expected there as soon as she leaves the maternity ward. It’s not uncommon for Japanese women to go back to their mother’s house for a couple of weeks after their baby is born. And, since Nami is very fond of her younger sisters, she’s come along to make up the numbers, so to speak. If I had a copy of Visio, I could lay it all out in an org chart.

Where are all the husbands? With the exception of Emiko’s husband, who works a couple of hours away in Tokyo and lives there during the week, they’re all at their respective houses enjoying a moment’s peace, I imagine. How big is Emiko’s house? Not big at all. It’s a typical Japanese house with the living room, kitchen, and bathroom downstairs and three smallish bedrooms upstairs. Where will they all sleep? At a guess, Emiko will probably sleep in the smallest bedroom, Nami with her two children in another bedroom, and Ayame and Mika and their four in the largest bedroom.

Or they might all pile in together. Whenever I’ve been away with them—to a hot spring inn, for example—we’ve always shared one large room, with fourteen or fifteen futons spread out over the floor. This communal sleeping experience came as something of a shock to someone who likes his privacy but I rapidly became accustomed to it. It’s actually very pleasant to go for a bath and come back to find the evening meal laid out on low tables then to head off for a walk after dinner and return to find the futons laid neatly out in rows.

So it’s not the sleeping arrangements that pose any difficulty. The really pressing question is: How will the washing machine hold up under the strain?

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Thursday 30 January 2003

Archive organization re-viewed

Dorothea Salo takes Mark Pilgrim to task over what she regards as his blog’s unnecessarily complex archive structure:

Maybe it’s that I read too damn fast, but individual-post archives never fail to annoy me. When I’m trying to catch up on a blog, as for example after my trip to Indiana a while back, I hate having to click on individual post links. Hate it hate it hate it. Larger date-based chunks, please.

Am I all alone here, or does this irk anyone else?

Actually, you’re not alone here, and it does irk someone else. Me. Though perhaps not in the way you anticipated.

Firstly, let’s file Dorothea’s complaint under Pot Calls Kettle Black or, alternatively, Glass House Dweller Throws Stones, given that she lavishes praise on her own archiving method, which happens to be the worst of all possible choices: the execrable weekly archive. To paraphrase: “When I’m trying to find a particular post in a blog, I hate having to click on weekly archive links. Loathe it, detest it, abhor it, despise it, feel revulsion towards it, am repelled by it, cannot stomach it, find it intolerable, hate its guts.”

Larger date-based chunks, please? Certainly. How about a delicious, nutritious, more substantial serving of monthly archive? With side orders of individual archive and category-based archive? In other words, something for every taste. Unless you like the taste of vomit… in which case, since I don’t offer weekly archives, I can’t help you.

Gee, Jonathon, I get the feeling you don’t care for weekly weblog archives. Why is that?

Because the purpose of an archive is (or should be) to provide easy access to past weblog entries. And weekly archives make it far more difficult than it needs to be.

Dorothea uses the example of wanting to catch up on a weblog after being out of town for a few days, noting that with many Blogspot blogs she can only do that by “hitting the archives.” I admit that weekly archives meet that need perfectly: click on the most recent weekly archive link to read the latest posts. But doesn’t that suggest that weekly archives are useful only for a negative reason? Because they allow you to route around problems caused by a third-rate blogging tool and/or hosting service?

A far more common use of a weblog archive is to find a post that’s fallen off the main index page. If you’re lucky, the weblog offers a searchable archive (Movable Type does this particularly well) and, as long as you can recall a keyword or two, you should have no trouble finding the post you want.

But let’s imagine you’re in the unhappy situation of looking for an entry in a weblog that offers no proper search facility and nothing but weeky archives. (You could, of course, do a Google search on “keyword site:blogname.blogspot.com” but since Dorothea has framed her argument in user interface terms—by comparing mouse clicks—let’s deal with it accordingly.)

The item was posted a month or two ago, in November or December last year. So you click on the link for 12/01/02 - 12/07/02 (another source of irritation, which I’ll get to later) and either scroll through the entries or do a browser Find on a keyword. Nothing. Now you have the choice of trying either 12/08/02 - 12/14/02 or 11/24/02 - 11/30/02. You try them both. Still nothing. And so it goes until you finally locate the entry you were after.

If the weblog had instead offered monthly archives, you could have found the post in a fraction of the time. And you wouldn’t have had to deal with the wretchedly unintuitive—to those of us who are not American—MM/DD/YY date format. When I see 12/01/02, I automatically think January.

To her credit, Dorothea displays her weekly archives in a DD MMM YY format that’s easy to understand (allowing for the mild confusion of some Latin abbreviations). And by making her weblog searchable and also providing category-based archives, she makes up for the deficiencies of her weekly archives.

I guess it comes back to what you regard as the natural unit of blogging discourse. I see it as the individual post, which is why I base my permalinks on individual entries. Since I allow comments, this enables me to combine post and associated comments on a single archive page. And I provide a proper search plus monthly and category archives. But not weekly archives. Never.

Because… weekly archives stink.

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The sanctity of (American) life

Yesterday in Melbourne I was working in a building with high-tech pretensions: the Internet connection was down but George W. Bush’s State of the Union address was screening live on TV monitors in the lobby and elevators. On my way down to the coffee shop in mid-afternoon, watching this “well-meaning but ignorant, untravelled man with grandiose goals” on the tiny screen, I couldn’t help but wonder by what strange alchemy someone so unexceptional had become leader of the greatest military and industrial power in history. When we reached the ground floor, a young man muttered at me as he strode out of the elevator: “He better not bloody try it without UN approval.” An empty jibe, to be sure, since we both knew that UN approval is the least of the Bush cabal’s concerns.

Today, back in Sydney, I went first to the pool then to the movies in an effort to escape the 39°C (102°F) heat (my house isn’t air-conditioned). As the final credits began to roll at the end of The Quiet American, the woman sitting next to me turned and said: “This film should be compulsory viewing for everyone in the country, particularly that person in Canberra.” Had I seen her in the lobby of the multiplex before the movie, I would have assumed from her clothing, her hairstyle, and her demeanor that she had voted for “that person in Canberra” (Prime Minister John Howard) in the last three elections and for his party throughout her entire life. Yet though she may have been a wealthy, elderly, conservative woman she saw as clearly as any starry-eyed young radical the parallels between Grahame Greene’s tale of the beginnings of US involvement in Vietnam fifty years ago and the events about to unfold in Iraq—American arrogance and hubris being a constant in post-WWII history.

So this is what it’s come to: strangers in lifts and movie theaters express to me uninvited their disapproval of the coming war with Iraq. Not out of some bitter or envious anti-Americanism, as the defenders of American imperialism like to suggest, but because—like most Australians—these strangers disapprove of the new world order Geoff Kitney describes, “in which America chooses which regimes stay and which should go.”

“What an outrage,” I said to my friend P the other day, “that Howard can turn us into America’s lapdog once again, when only six percent of Australians approve of attacking Iraq without UN approval.”

“We’d be lucky to know even six percent of what’s really going on,” he replied.

Therein lies a difficulty: formulating a position with hardly any real information. Then what’s the alternative? To acquiesce? I have no interest in supporting or defending Saddam Hussein. He’s clearly a threat and we’d be well rid of him. Let’s do it, with UN approval. But at what cost without? A few months ago I quoted Robert Manne:

At the centre of [Bush’s pre-emptive strike] doctrine, a huge conceptual hole appears. Does the US, as the world hegemon, alone possess the sovereign right to act unilaterally against a supposed threat to its security by prosecuting a preventive war, or does an identical right exist for other states?

If the right does not exist for others, the Bush doctrine amounts to an almost formal claim to US world hegemony. If, on the other hand, all states possess the same right, the Bush doctrine opens the way to the return of the jungle, where the powerful have the capacity to impose their will.

What’s good enough for America will turn out to be good enough for China, India, Pakistan, Israel, Japan (when China poses a threat), Russia (as soon as it stabilizes its economy), the European Union (once it rearms).

Don’t tell me that the US will use its overwhelming power for the common good. The US has always acted to further its own interests, as powerful states invariably do. And as much as John Howard might imagine he’s guaranteeing our safety by signing us up (unwillingly) for America’s Iraq adventure, the Americans will sell us down the river for two pins if their national interest demands it.

So what’s to be done? Nothing. I’m not even sure that a campaign of massive civil disobedience would be enough to bring our soldiers home. But bad things will come of this and we’d be better off allowing the Americans to secure their oil without our assistance.

It would be marginally less unpalatable if America’s ruthless pursuit of its own economic interests wasn’t wrapped in a saccharine coating of moralistic cant:

America is a strong Nation, and honorable in the use of our strength. We exercise power without conquest, and sacrifice for the liberty of strangers.

Americans are a free people, who know that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation. The liberty we prize is not America s gift to the world, it is God s gift to humanity.

We Americans have faith in ourselves but not in ourselves alone. We do not claim to know all the ways of Providence, yet we can trust in them, placing our confidence in the loving God behind all of life, and all of history.

May He guide us now, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.

God give me fucking strength. “Placing our confidence in the loving God behind all of life, and all of history” as Bush prepares “to shatter Iraq ‘physically, emotionally and psychologically’ by raining down on its people as many as 800 cruise missiles in two days.” Wasn’t irony supposed to have died on September 11?

And this a week after he declared January 20 to be National Sanctity of Human Life Day, which I imagined was some bizarre joke when I read the derisive references to it in Get Your War On:

“‘National Sanctity of Life Day?’ Does that have something to do with sanctions?”

“Don’t be sanctimonious! It applies to innocent fetuses in the sanctum sanctorum, not dirty, miserable children who already exist in this world of sin.”

“Maybe if Iraqi mothers fuckin’ stuffed their children back into their wombs we’d go a little easier on them.”

But it’s not a joke. It’s real, in a breathtakingly offensive way:

This Nation was founded upon the belief that every human being is endowed by our Creator with certain “unalienable rights.” Chief among them is the right to life itself. The Signers of the Declaration of Independence pledged their own lives, fortunes, and honor to guarantee inalienable rights for all of the new country’s citizens. These visionaries recognized that an essential human dignity attached to all persons by virtue of their very existence and not just to the strong, the independent, or the healthy. That value should apply to every American, including the elderly and the unprotected, the weak and the infirm, and even to the unwanted.

Every American, note. The rest of us can burn in hell.

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© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour