Author: Richard Carroll

A Blogger You Can’t Refuse, Part II

I’ve finally gotten around to making use of WordPress’s “Blogroll” feature. You can find the links (all four of them) to the right.

While looking at some of the blogs I read, I started thinking about what makes an effective blog. “Effective,” of course, is relative to what a blogger wants to achieve, so one can only speak in generalities. One cannot fairly compare a serious political blog that has hopes of informing the voting public on critical issues, and presumably wants to reach as large an audience as possible, to a blog started with the purpose of sharing cute pictures of the writer’s Shih Tzu, Mr. Fluffles, and only cares about reaching out to other people who also like to look at cute things.

With that in mind, I must limit myself to discussing what makes a blog worth reading on the most general level. The first criteria that I use is the regularity of updates. There are a handful of blogs I know of that are or were interesting, but just don’t seem to update very often. Lainspotting is a prime example here. In fact, a regular stream of updates is arguably the most important aspect of a successful blog. The schedule doesn’t have to be strict, and the author doesn’t need to be prolific, but there ought to be some consistency. Otherwise, what one has is not a blog so much as a collection of articles, and articles are better compiled in other formats, since blogs are geared towards what is relevant now, not toward archiving a person’s writing.

I also favor those that might be called “public interest” blogs. In other words, blogs that are applicable to a broad group of people, rather than just the blogger’s friends. Blogs about technology, gaming, news, and so on are thus favored over online diaries. This isn’t to say that one’s personal life can’t be interesting, even to strangers, it’s just that such personal blogs usually aren’t. As with other types of writing, a reader is most apt to read something he can, in some way, connect with. Whether this is a political issue that affects him directly, or an account of some jerkface professor similar to someone he knows, doesn’t really matter.

Before I close this post, a few words on the four links I chose to start out my blogroll:

The first is racketboy, which focuses on retro gaming – loosely defined here as video games on any console from the Sega Dreamcast and earlier. Most of the articles are written by racketboy, though there are a few other contributors as well. Most importantly, they’re all able to write, and write objectively on several topics, ranging from beginner’s guides to various consoles to lists of hidden gems.

Next up is Rough Type, by Nicholas Carr, probably the best-known blog I link here, and definitely the only published author among them. I’m not sure of a word to describe the focus of the blog, but recent topics have included Facebook, DRM schemes, and enterprise software.

Now a couple smaller, personal blogs. The last arial, whose updates have recently become unfortunately sporadic, covers anime and music. The author, Gareth, also works as assisstant editor of Rail Express, for you train fans out there.

Finally, the one I’ve been reading longest, VerseLogic, by codepoetica (real name: Alan J. Castonguay), which is also the most eclectic of these blogs. For more on this one, I direct you to this old post.…

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Yes, Another Blogger Writes About Ron Paul

Tim Reilly, in the preface to his Beatles biography Tell Me Why, states that there are so many books about the Beatles that another one requires justification. The same could be said of American presidential candidate Ron Paul – there are so many videos, forum posts, and blog posts about him that another one seems unnecessary. However, there are a handful of issues about him that I haven’t seen addressed very often in the jungle of online material, so I’ll just make a few points here.

First, to all those YouTube users out there, stop adding cheesy rock soundtracks to Ron Paul videos. This one, for example. Ron Paul’s tallest hurdle is showing skeptic that he is a legitimate candidate, and several members of his fanbase are hurting him. I find it more difficult to take seriously a video with Aerosmith playing in the background, even – or especially – when the video’s topic is a serious one. Unfortunately, some of his supporters even fall into the category of Fandumb.

Secondly, I’d like to address a common criticism of him. There are several articles and forum or blog posts I could choose from, but I’ll use this entry from Second Page Media as my example. The author, Jad, does make a few valid points, along with several that I’d disagree with, but for now just take a look at this quote:

¬†Ron Paul is against a woman’s right to choose. He is pro-overturning Roe v. Wade under the guise of letting individual states take up the matter. Government telling people how to use their bodies: doesn’t exactly smack of Libertarianism. Lines up directly with the conservatives, though.

As far as I know, Ron Paul does have pro-life leanings, but that’s irrelevant to Roe. The issue is whether the federal government, particularly the Supreme Court, has the right to regulate this and similar topics, or whether it is the province of the individual states (to be fair, in this case Jad does acknowledge this somewhat).

Ultimately, the discussion here is how broad the role of government should be. According to Ron Paul and his supporters, the only powers the government should have are the right to do things its people cannot do themselves – provide for national defense, for instance. Everything else should be handled at the most local level possible, a hierarcy of sorts. Does any level of government have the right to regulate personal issues? Those who support public healthcare, welfare, business regulation, and other issues would not be out of luck under a Ron Paul administration; these would just have to be handled by the individual states, as per the Constitution.…

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Sweeney Todd

Warning: This review contains spoilers, so don’t read it if you haven’t seen Sweeney Todd and don’t want to know major plot points in advance.

I went to see Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, director Tim Burton‘s new film, Saturday morning. It was definitely the first horror musical I’ve ever seen, and unfortunately one of the few musicals of any sort made since 1960 or so. (Note, though, that I have not seen the original stage musical the film is based on, so I can’t comment on it).

Pretty much all musicals are stylish – that’s what makes them so great – and Sweeney was no exception. The settings, songs, costumes, and performances all contributed to the film’s dark atmosphere. The only exception was the subplot with Antony and Joanna.

Now, Joanna’s story does a lot to characterize Judge Turpin as the film’s villain, though Antony is the only major character who might be considered a hero. However, Joanna’s subplot with Antony also supplies the only part of the film that could leave the viewer with a feeling of satisfaction.

I say “could” because the outcome of the rest of the story is basically “everyone dies, the kid’s an orphan again, life sucks.” Joanna and Antony are still alive, though, and would seeem to have a decent chance for a happier ending, but Burton doesn’t show us what happens to them. Instead, the film ends with Toby killing Sweeney. Cutting from there to Antony taking his love interest in his arms and running away to a (possibly) happier life would have given the film a much more uplifting feeling at the end, and I’m guessing that’s why Burton left it out.

Whether this is the best ending is up for debate. Some people I’ve talked to about the film would have preferred more of a conclusion for Antony and Joanna. It certainly would have given the audience a greater sense of satisfaction, especially since the film does give a little hope for a happy ending for the main characters – not much, but a little. Such an ending, however, would have clashed with the atmosphere of the rest of the film. Antony’s sole purpose, I believe, is as a plot device. He’s the one who inadvertently chases Turpin out of Sweeney’s barber shop, allowing Sweeney to provide the meat for Mrs. Lovett’s delicious meat-pies from his other customers. His youthful optimism also provides a foil for Sweeney, and heightens the tragedy of the film’s main characters.

Showing Antony and Joanna rolling away to live happily ever after would have both to focus on an ultimately irrelevant sub-plot, and to demolish the film’s atmosphere just when it was at its strongest.

On a side note, one more thing the film made me realize is that I’ve never had a meat-pie. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a meat-pie. More of an English thing, I guess.…

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The Naming of Cats (or Tags)

If you have any sort of online tag – email address, forum or gameworld tag, whatever – that uses all or part of your real name, I’m laughing at you right now.

Let me put that statement into context. Confucius, when asked what he would do if he were appointed governor of a state, would respond that one of his first actions would be to “rectify the names.” Unsurprisingly, the common response to this answer was often along the lines of “Is that a joke?” Confucius’s idea, though, is that a name is not just a collection of sounds we use to indicate something, but that a name refers to what a thing really is.

Consider, when asked for my name, I don’t just say “My name’s Richard,” but “I’m Richard.” “Richard,” I am saying, is not just a convenient tag, “Richard” is what I am. “I am Richard.” In my particular case, the collection of sounds “r-ih-ch-ar-d” does not really have any meaning apart from me. “R-ih-ch-a-r-d” indicates no idea or object other than me. Other names, of course, have multiple meanings, usually fairly obvious. “Faith” not only indicates the girl, called “Faith,” but also an attribute her parents presumably hoped she would have.

On a broader scale, and likely what Confucius had in mind, is the name as propaganda. What we call a thing can affect what it is, or at least how we perceive it. The United States is often referred to as a democracy, so many believe that the US is a democracy (it isn’t and never was, but that’s a whole other blog post). One can look to George Orwell for extreme examples of this concept – 1984‘s Ministry of Love and Ministry of Truth, for instance. Alternatively, A.A. Milne explained the topic near the beginning of Winnie-the-Pooh: “Well, when Edward Bear said that he would like an exciting name all to himself, Christopher Robin said at once, without stopping to think, that he was Winnie-the-Pooh. And he was.” (emphasis mine).

Moving back to a personal level, we generally aren’t able to choose our own names. Furthermore, we are named as soon as we are born, so our names aren’t necessarily accurate, though we may grown into them, so to speak. One neat thing about online environments is that we are able to name ourselves.

We designate who we are.

What an amazing opportunity! The ability to tell a group of people how we think of ourselves. Surely, this is a task to be undertaken with much consideration. After all, if a name determines who we are, then we ought to consider this task very carefully. For this blog, I chose the tag “Oll Korrect” because, first, it resembles the “given name – family name” setup I am used to, so it indicates the value I place on tradition. Furthermore, it is one explanation I have seen for the origin of the abbreviation “OK,” the joke being that neither character is correct. The fact that I created the blog for a class makes the joke all the funnier, so one can see I appreciate humor as well.

Now, some people are attached to their names, so I can see why they may want to maintain that indicator online. However, it also appears to waste a valuable opportunity to define oneself. As Edward Bear became Winnie-the-Pooh, so I, at least online, become Oll Korrect. A new identity for a new environment, almost as though I were to change my name and move accross the globe, except I can maintain both my online and offline identities.

If this sounds techno-utopian, do consider that I’m aware that the internet is not necessarily any prettier than the “real-world,” and in fact can be just as ugly. Also, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that one’s online identity is completely dissociated with its real-world counterpart. Rather, an avatar is a reflection of its creator, or perhaps a role, like a voluntary schizophrenia.…

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No Girls Allowed!

At first glance, it would seem reasonable that, because internet users are anonymous (or at least as anonymous as they choose to be), racism and sexism would be practically nonexistant on the internet. In fact, I’ve heard several people refer to online environments such as message boards, chatrooms, and computer games as near-perfect meritocracies.

In reality, this is not the case. First, racism and sexism are not unknown on the internet. The KKK can set up a website just as easily as anyone else, and racist or sexist attitudes may simply be less visible on message boards because users are not aware of other users’ race or gender. For a mildly amusing account of the “Boys Only” attitude of many gamers, see this article by Whitney Butts.

Even without the old standby segregators like race and gender, there’s no reason to assume that other factors won’t simply take their place. Almost any community of decent size will have smaller cliques of people who can be more or less hostile to other cliques. In a basic form, one can be judged online based on username, avatar image, signature, spelling and grammar, and, of course, the ever-popular religious or political views. If you’re ever bored, go to a discussion board with a definite political bias (say, the neoconservative Free Republic), and post something diametrical to the majority opinion to see how long it takes to get banned. For an amusing discussion of Free Republic’s forum, see this board at ALIPAC’s (anti-illegal immigration group) forum.…

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Comcast vs. BitTorrent

According to the Associated Press, Comcast inteferes with users uploading online content via BitTorrent and similar applications, allegedly to save bandwidth for its other customers, though some suspect the move is related to the piracy such applications are often used for.

Now, I have no problem with taking action against piracy or conserving bandwidth, but Comcast’s move also affects people who use BitTorrent for legitimate purposes. It is plainly unfair to punish the innocent along with the guilty, and defeats the purpose of law to violate one person’s rights to punish the guilty. Remember, the guilty party is a criminal for violating someone else’s rights, and the purpose of law is to preserve rights for everyone (of course, Comcast should leave law enforcement to the justice system, assuming their motivation here is anti-piracy).

As a parting thought on this topic, no lesser man than Abraham once wrestled with the justice of harming the innocent along with the guilty:

“What if there are at least ten [innocent men in Sodom]?”

“For the sake of those ten,” [the Lord] replied, “I will not destroy it.”

(Gen. 19:32b)…

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Authors and Writers

What’s an author? Someone who writes a book, right?

Well, according to Michel Foucault, it’s not quite that simple. While one could define an author as “someone who writes,” as I understand Foucault’s argument an author is also a person created, in a sense, by his work rather than the other way around. “Shakespeare,” for example, is both a proper name indicating a specific person, but also has a meaning intimately connected with his work. The meaning of “Shakespeare” would change significantly for society if, say, we learned that it was actually Bacon who wrote the plays traditionally attributed to the Bard.

The argument is interesting, but unfortunately I can’t really speak of it except in general terms.…

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Yesterday Never Knew

I present to you, my reader (yes, I’m pretty sure it’s “reader,” singular), the modern system of economics, as proposed by those in favor of music piracy:

1: Artist produces something

2: Artist gives said something away for free

3: ????

4: PROFIT!

Actually, this system has been thought through more than that chart. According to this article from the Illinois Business Law Journal, this story from the New York Times, and a number of other places, step three is “Artist gives concerts and sells merchandise.” At first, I thought this sounded fair enough, but then I realized that step three is a non sequiter. It isn’t related to the original product.

Admitedly, this system of “make a record, give it away, make money some other way” works for most bands, but not all. When a musician sets out to make a record, he is apt to do his best work if he can focus purely on that. I submit as evidence to that effect The Beatles, who wrote and recorded what I personally consider their best work after giving up touring altogether. Without having to worry about performing live, they were free to do whatever the heck they wanted in the studio, with results like Revolver and Sgt. Pepper. Songs like “A Day in the Life,” “Tomorrow Never Knows,” and the White Album’s perennial fan-unfavorite “Revolution 9” are all impossible to perform live, but that’s okay because the band was able to just sell the recording of the songs and still make money.

Ultimately, this model makes about as much sense¬† as asking the artist to give free concerts and then make money on recordings. Yes, it can work for most bands, but not all, and really, why not just pay someone for the work they do? Someone makes a record, customer pays for the record. Someone gives a concert, customer pays for the concert. Fair compensation for services rendered… how novel.…

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