log   (1999/10/15 to 1999/10/21)

older log
newer log


site news

Thursday, October 21, 1999

3am: I have no clue why I'm awake. Or rather, I know exactly why I'm awake, but I have no clue why my brain is spinning around and around like a round spinny thing with a broken governor.

Is there enough caffeine in a bowl of Ben & Jerry's Phish Food ice cream to do this? I have a pretty low tolerance for caffeine. Usually the only things that can do this to me are caffeine and some urgent cuspy idea that really wants to get out and implemented, or at least written down. And I don't notice any of those at the moment, but maybe I'm just spinning too fast...

Eventually I fall asleep.


There are lots of people out there, as it turns out, doing the same sort of thing that I'm looking vaguely for on Theogeny, even though I didn't/don't know what it is. Even if you don't know what you're looking for, you can find dozens of people doing it on the Web; this can be disheartening, eh?

See for instance this, and for that matter this bending of the medium on epinions.com (cited on PeterMe).

There's a continuum having to do with whether or not you make eye-contact with the reader; whether or not the artist is visible there inside the work.

Most Web pages are near the end of the spectrum where the artist / author / creator is right there looking back at you, saying "Hi and Welcome to my Site!"; that's the place that I intend to have davidchess.com. It's also the place where all the boring "Hi and buy our products!" sites live.

At the other end of the spectrum are postmodern art sites. The author is pretty much in hiding on Theogeny, except perhaps on the "infrastructure" page, and the top page of the "Diety" area. The author is nowhere to be seen in the "Derrida" drawings cited above, and he's pretty hard to find on much of the trouserarousal site we mentioned yesterday.

What sorts of things can we say about these sites? I don't know if "postmodern" is really the right word.

A Website should not Mean, but Be
The Thing in Itself
Just Art

Certainly vanishing into the work, becoming invisible to the audience, presenting something opaque without explanation (a toilet on a pedestal, random paint-squirts on a canvas, a pile of nails in a shoebox) is an easy way to get a veneer of art, of meaning (or of being too clever to bother with meaning). On the other hand, it's hardly an original idea anymore. But perhaps it's a legitimate genre?

Here I mention Ronald Barthes again. When I finish the book, I promise to write more about it. It's relevant.

Today I resolve to Web less during business hours, and spend more time actually doing obviously-useful work. It'd be all too easy to spend every waking hour just Keeping Up...

Wednesday, October 20, 1999

They're supposed to be giving free Flu shots here at work today, but the people with the needles are late, so everyone's just standing around filling out the consent forms and deciding whether to wait for the needlers to show up, or go away and try again later. I went away, and I'll try again later.

Reading O'Reilly's HTML: The Definitive Guide, looking for interesting stuff that I haven't learned hit-or-miss over the years. Wild! How could I have gone all this time without knowing the "big" tag? Or the "small" tag? Maybe I've just switched universes again.

The O'Reilly book has a pointer to stars.com, which seems to be really wdvl.com, the "Web Developers Virtual Library". Lots of potentially-interesting stuff there, although I haven't looked at it enough to know if there's any depth below the impressive breadth. There was one article about typography which, while rather elementary, did reassure me in passing that the Garamond I intend these pages to be in is probably widespread enough that most people with fontable browsers are probably actually seeing this in Garamond.

Do you like Garamond? Is the black text enough of a contrast with the light-grey background to be readable? Pure black-on-white is sometimes too much contrast for my eyes, so I thought I'd tone it down a little.

The needlers showed up, and (after waiting in the line for awhile reading about HTML) I got needled. So now I Can't Get Sick Any More. Isn't technology wonderful?

Incredibly silly, but wonderful, hack of the day: Doom as a tool for system administration.

Random link of the day: random site on the Open Pages diary webring. Lots of broken links and dead sites, of course, but now and then the voice of a real person, talking about whatever they feel like. Kinda fun, really.

One random diarist that I kind of like, even if (because?) she uses a Very Silly horizontal-rule image: here.

Today's Cute Domain Name: foad.org. Most of the site seems rather dusty, but look at ANDREW's pages; some nice hackerish design in there, and (surprise!) an active log.

Cited on geegaw: an odd place, trouserarousal.net. Very high-concept; is it art, or just skillful cuteness?

Tuesday, October 19, 1999

Anyone who likes my WebLibs toy might be interested in the Webcomics Madlibs page. The source isn't there, so you can't use it to create your own similar page, but you can create your own Libs directly on Webcomics, and you can play with the ones that other people have created (don't expect amazing quality, though).

One thing that I've looked for but never found on the Web is a page that I'd like to leave my browser on whenever it's not doing someting else. At the moment I use a little local file of often-visited links for that, but those might as well just be top-level bookmarks. All sorts of cheesy and/or boring and/or ad-filled "portal" sites urge me to Make Us Your Homepage!, but none of them have even slightly tempted me.

What would the ideal leave-the-browser-sitting-at page have on it? Some combination of very frequent (interesting!) updates, very useful links, very helpful tools, very interesting articles. And unfortunately I'm not all that interested in sports, or World and National News, or stock prices. Maybe a feed from some set of interesting newsgroups? Appropriately filtered? Is that something I could write myself; a little 'bot that sits around on the laptop or the server, listening to various streams and constantly updating my Interesting Page when stuff appears?

Does this already exist on the Web, somewhere I could pay for even? Probably only for people who are interested in the same sorts of things that lots and lots and lots and lots of other people are. Am I too nichy? Or have I just not figured out which mass audience I belong to yet?

Web-journals link of the day: Tracing: I like it when you do that does exactly right all the stuff that I like about the essays that I ranted about the other day, and avoids doing the things that annoyed me about them. In particular, Tracing's protagonist has a lovely, consistent, friendly attitude toward the Web, and the people on it, and that's definite Goodness. Advice and opinions delivered from that standpoint and in that tone are I think much more likely to do net good than accusations of suckiness.

Visually-cool but slow-loading site of the day: the Secret World of Symon Jerycho.

Remind me sometime to talk about fonts; fonts are a problem.

Monday, October 18, 1999

So how much should a log have for the average day? So why do so many of my sentences start with "so"?

Random sightings: the MoonMilk Random Portrait Gallery seems like a really good idea at first glance: anyone in the world can submit their portrait, and then anyone can look at a random Set of Web Faces. Serious aging problems, though. Personal/clique sites with cute names, for your eavesdropping pleasure: ambiguous.org, twogoons.com (who says the Web's all commercial these days?).

Silly URL of the day: http://stop.at/nothing/. Too bad the content is so boring; they just want to sell you something.

Articulate site of the day: inu.org.

Jane's Intelligence Review posted a draft of an article on "Cyberterrorism" for the nerds on SlashDot to comment on. They thought it was lame, and so Jane's cancelled the article, and plan to replace it with a better one instead. Sounds like a Good Thing to me, and apparently to everyone else but Robert X. Cringley, who I suspect is just making trouble so people will notice him (again). See story on the free! site. Anyone agree with Cringley that it's cheating to do what Jane's did? And who's this Jane person, anyway?

On the commercial side: Saw the Jennifer Lopez "If you had my love" video on the screens at the Health Club; it's all about Jennifer Lopez doing a video online, and a bunch of mesmerized fans watching her display her attractive secondary sexual characteristics via their Web browsers. OK, I figure, I'll bite; and sure enough jenniferlopez.com attempts to present roughly the same experience as the video (the computers in the video are twenty minutes into the future of course, and work better than real computers). Very nice secondary sexual characteristics, Ms. Lopez.

Saw an ad in Spin magazine (I don't normally read Spin magazine, but it's fun to pick up once in awhile and try to figure out what's going on) that showed just this scantily-clad lady (with, again, attractive secondary sexual characteristics) smiling at the camera, and the glyphs www.toohot.com. I bit once again, and found that that site is (surprise!) an ad. A big flashy multi-media ad. I'll bet lots of people like me looked at it, since it was somewhat novel and all. Reader poll: how long until this sort of thing isn't novel anymore, and no one bites anymore? Traditional advertising can get in your face because it's Right There; but how long will advertising that you have to intentionally click on or type in continue to work?

WordURL's cool available URL of the day: no one's taken "ProfoundWeb.com" yet! If you hurry, you might make it...

Sunday, October 17, 1999

Why Essays with Titles like "Why X Sucks" Suck

I promised (threatened?) the other day to rant about why I'm annoyed by the essays Why the web sucks, II and why web journals suck; so here I am to counter-rant a bit. Note that "Why the web sucks" includes a list of counteressays at the end; I haven't read them yet.

I'm not annoyed by things that I simply disagree with, in general. And I'm not usually (too) annoyed by less-than-ept expressions of things that I do agree with. The trouble with these two essays is that they're maddeningly inconsistent. The authors are obviously bright people, and about half the time they're expressing opinions that seem to me Right on, that are both correct and important. But the other half of the time they're saying things that seem in direct contradiction to the Right On things, and (worst of all) they don't seem to notice there's any contradiction.

Both rants are about what's wrong, from the author's point of view, with a valuable common resource (the Web in general, and Web journals in particular). Both authors are Right On about what a great thing the resource is, how it empowers people to write and read about each other, and so on. Both of them point out that everyone is different, and has something different to contribute to the Global Conversation ("You know something that nobody else knows," for instance, "I care about human beings. I want to hear what they have to say", and "You can do anything you like... One of the beautiful things about the Web is that you can do exactly what you want").

They both give some guidelines about how creators can make pages that they (the rant authors) are more likely to like, which is goodness. They give what is mostly excellent advice about how to make successful Web pages and Web journals (for certain values of "successful"). But both of them spend lots of their time saying that most of the things that people actually do are Bad, telling people that they must not under any circumstances do certain things, calling any work that does do those things nasty names, and implying strongly that the creators of such works shouldn't have bothered.

There is a pretty clear and obvious line between "here's what you should do if you want your creations to fit my aesthetic standards", and "if you don't do this, your work sucks". Unfortunately both of these ranters seem not to have noticed that line. Or rather, they've noticed it in some places, but seem to have forgotten it in others.

Quotes out of context: The author of "Why the web sucks" thinks that most Web pages are "glorified multi-media dot-finger file[s]", and that "[m]ost people aren't very good at designing & producing documents". She hates certain page backgrounds, she complains that most people don't revise and rewrite enough to produce "quality", she doesn't like "blink" tags or big graphics, or pages that don't change. I share some of those tastes, but I would never say that people who have other tastes, or who don't consider me part of their Target Audience, or who don't have the time or desire to learn good information design, are "squandering their opportunity to communicate", or worse that "[y]ou, like everyone else, have nothing to say." This seems the height of arrogance. Not saying the things that she's interested in reading, or not saying them using the format she likes people to use, or the format she thinks is easiest to read, is hardly the same as having nothing to say.

There are lots of people in the world for whom a few shreds of biographical information, on top of a background of huge blue-and-orange flowers, is a valid and accurate expression of their personality, at least as they choose to reveal it this week. Denying that, or putting it down to "poor information design", is, it seems to me, just a disguised way of saying that you wish these people had different personalities. But in fact you pretty much have to take people as they come; you don't get to choose what they're like. So if you say "I want to hear what human beings have to say," you've got to be prepared to accept it even when what they have to say, or the way they feel like saying it (because you can't separate content from presentation), strikes you as garish or unreadable.

The author of "Why Web Journals Suck" mentions that she drew inspiration for her rant from "Why the web sucks", and it certainly shows. Although she claims near the end that she doesn't want to discourage anyone from putting up anything they want, she says in the body of the essay that most journals are not "deserving of being read", that anyone who has not thought about why they're doing it beforehand shouldn't do it at all: "I really wish more people would ask this before they start. The answer to this question might stop more of these journals before they start." The implication, clearly, being that it would be good to stop them. Because they don't meet the ranter's standards. For some (many? most?) journals, the right thing to do would be to "keep the journals off the airwaves." "Most" Web journals, she says "are irredeemable wastes of electrons and disk space."

Whoa! This is the same person who says, in the same essay, "you can do exactly what you want. I can't stop you. I'm not even trying to stop you." If calling an activity an "irredeemable waste" isn't trying to stop that activity, I'm not sure what is, eh?

So that's why I'm annoyed. I think it's great that bright people appreciate the amazing freedom to create and distribute personal Stuff that the Web offers. I think it's marvelous that people exchange reviews and feedback, tell people what their tastes are, put together "Web pages that I like tend to be..." essays. But I think it really sucks when bright people, sometimes those very same bright people, get all nasty, and say that any page that isn't designed with their personal taste in mind "sucks" or is "disgusting", "revolting", or "hideous", or "an irredeemable waste of electrons".

So write this down: it's great when anyone posts anything on the Web (with a possible exception for things that are directly designed to hurt, or are in the wrong newsgroup, or whatever). Even if it's just their birthdate, even if it has "blink" tags, even if it's just a list of all five-letter words starting with "r". Even if it's not interesting to me ("Business? Mankind was my business!"), and even if it could have been layed out better, or is hard to read in my browser, or has (gasp!) misspelled words. I'm perfectly within my rights to say "you know, if you had done this instead, I would have gotten more out of your stuff". But if I say "your page sucks because it's just a glorified dot-finger file, and a waste of disk space", I'm acting poorly. OK? So I'll try my best not to do that. And so should you.


Saturday, October 16, 1999

Houseguests this weekend. Which means both more and less leisure time! The house is fuller of kids than usual, but often they sort of cancel out.

So raise your hand if you have a computer. (Wow, pretty much everybody, eh?) Now put your hand down if you already have some of Humongous Entertainment's computer games. OK, all of you with your hands still up should immediately surf over there and buy something. I recommend the brand-new "Spy Fox 2: Some Assembly Required". Yeah, even if you don't have kids ages 5-10; tell the cashier it's for your niece or something.

Most software is utter dreck, and software for kids is no exception. The typical kid's game that we get has a lousy interface, just barely functions, requires a version of DirectX that barely fits on the machine, causes at least two other things to break, requires at least 20 Meg on the hard drive, and/or isn't all that much fun once you get it working (some "Amazon Trails" thing, and everything we've ever tried from Lego Media spring immediately to mind; also we just installed a Carmen San Diego, and it required us to set the monitor to a smaller number of colors, it crashed hard in the middle our first game, and the readme tells us that it won't work with an older or newer version of QuickTime; how nice!). But the stuff from Humongous is eerily different.

Humongous programs (we have all the Junior Adventures, most of the Junior Arcades, the Blue's Clues series, one of the Big Thinkers, the Classics Collection, and I'm sure some other stuff) are uninformly reliable, trivial to install (mostly they just run directly on inserting the CD; the Blue's Clues ones are a little more demanding), fast, lovely-looking while at the same time not bogging down on a year-old computer, great fun to play (and play again), in exquisite taste, fun and funny even for the grown-up watching or helping (or playing), and generally praiseworthy.

The Junior Adventures in particular have the little extra features and knobs and Eastereggs that are the mark of a creative team that really loves the work; click on that barrel in the background, and a team of ants will come out and do a conga line. Click on the topiary bushes, and get a three-minute screamingly-funny song-and-dance. If you're a grown-up, laugh your arse off at the various pop-culture references peppered all through the games. The game-play itself is clever, fun, basically non-violent, and somehow just the right degree of challenge for whoever's playing. And in most of them, there's a game-within-a-game that's worth the price all by itself: from the "Bearstorming" game in the ancient "Putt-Putt Goes to the Moon" (an old 320x200 thing that's part of the Classics Collection), to the amazing Asteroids SpaceInvaders style "Things from Space" in Spy Fox 2 that the kids just brought home yesterday.

OK, I could obviously rave all day on the subject. You can all go now (hope your arms aren't too tired; sorry about that!) and buy some for yourself. I'm off to battle Napoleon LeRoach and his giant evil Dogbot. Cowabunga!

Later: we went out to the Mall (the vast local outlet of Panem Et Circanem) and of course there were many of Them there, and I found myself composing a story about them. While it was still rattling around mostly inchoate in my head, I suddenly realized what it was about. Which made it somewhat easier to write the story, but I somehow suspect it might have been a better story if I'd spent longer in the dark. In any case, here it is: They.

Remind me to write about Roland Barthes's "Empire of Signs" sometime.

Friday, October 15, 1999

So back on September 17th, I wrote on the news page:

I think everyone in the world should be forced to write a paragraph a day of thoughts, events, rants, or whatever, and to put it up on the Web for everyone to read. Of course that would imply universal literacy and computer access, but that's OK! Anyone who refused to post their daily paragraph could like have their livers eaten by eagles or something.
This was before I followed the referer logs of one of my toys to Justin Fletcher's diary, and later on to geegaw.com (two wildly different Web-journals, both of which are worth a look), and way before I stumbled upon the amazing number of Web journals and diaries and things that are out there.

diarist.net lists almost two-freaking-thousand places where people pour their lives out onto the Web daily or weekly or hourly or whatever. There's a whole subculture, including numerous Webrings, "burbs" (which are lists of Web-diaries organized by region or age or obsession or body-part or eye color), rants about how to do it right, how to do it wrong, and so on and so on.

I'm not sure that I want to dive right into that community and that phenomenon! On the other hand, I do like to hear my own voice, and I'm always immensely pleased when anyone else shows signs of reacting to something I've said (well, not always, and not always immensely). And the format and font of the news page, not to mention its proper role, don't really lend themselves to the sort of unchained logorrhea that I'd like to practice here.

So, at least for awhile, this log. Or journal, or diary, or whatever. I like "log", with its pun to "logos", the images both of dry and unread computer logs and of ancient well-worn logs in the cabins of captains.

My current vague plan is to write something virtually every day (so as to avoid having my liver eaten by eagles), and to move stuff more than a week old to the archives, blocked a week per page. Plausible?

Feedback is welcome, solicited, eagerly sought. If I say anything worth responding to, or if you know a way to make all this work (even?) better, let me know! Mail to, say, log@davidchess.com. That'll work.

Tomorrow or next week, remind me to rant about why these essays (Why the web sucks, II and why web journals suck) are annoying, and how they Could Have Been Done Better®. Spies, by the way, is a Cool Thing, in some inchoate sense.


For thoughts and news and stuff from even earlier than this, see the older parts of the news page.