Author: Richard Carroll

Online Masks and Faces

Wearing your mask right now?

For a class I recently read the short story “The Moon Moth,” by Jack Vance. Part of the premise of the story is that everyone on the planet the story takes place on wears a mask at all times. The masks serve to inform others of one’s social status, as well as one’s personality and current mood. So, a renowned craftsman would wear a different mask than a young craftsman, and both wear different masks than a slave or prince. These masks are tremendously important in this world, and are the primary means of determining how to address someone.

This sounds outlandish, and though my professor drew an analogy to the type of car one chooses to drive, there’s really no parallel in the real world. However, the concept reminded me of the avatars used on online forums.

As in “The Moon Moth,” a person has total control over his appearance in an online environment (or at least in the types of environments considered here). I’ve discussed the significance of one’s screen name before, but the avatar is just as important. After one has been visiting a forum for a while, it’s common to identify others by their avatar more than by their name, not unlike in the real world, where one first recognizes others by their face. Except, unlike one’s bare face (barring, say, battle-scars) one can use an avatar as self-expression.

Probably the most common form of self-expression via avatars is an indication of one’s interests. If I were to use the above image as an avatar, I’d clue in others that I’m at least interested in comics and animation in general, those who recognize Rei (the female character) could also assume I specifically like Neon Genesis Evangelion, and those who are really nerdy (yeah, like me…) and recognized this specific image could also infer that I’m a fan of Kiyohiko Azuma. Of course, the text in the image can also say something about me, though usually an avatar is a little more subtle than that.

For example, I change my avatar on forums I frequent depending on what topics I’m involved with at the moment (I post infrequently enough, though, that I’m often only involved with a few threads at a time). When posting a musical parody (note: this links to a Megatokyo fanwork), for instance, I generally use this image of John Lennon’s ear:

Alternatively, on other forums, such as Civfanatics, where I’m more laid back, I’ll use an appropriate image (this particular avi is taken from the webcomic Attack of the Amazing Flying Spud):

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Posting on a Blog

Not a whole lot to add today – just a couple brief items of interest.

First, for those who applaud Senator Obama’s recent speech on race that’s gotten so much attention and praise, you may be interested in this alternate take, courtesy of “Men Like Trees, Walking.”

Second, on a lighter note and for the writers out there, the Gender Guesser. Give it a piece of prose writing, and it will estimate whether you’re a man or woman based on the words you use. I fed it my “Somewhat True Story,” as well as a few other pieces, and I was consistently guessed as a man. No surprise, but it denies me the “you write like a girl” jokes.  Do read the explanation of the Gender Guesser, though, since it’s both interesting on its own but also explains how they came up with their algorithm.

That’s all for now, folks.

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Anon and Internet Activism

Yesterday’s massive, worldwide Scientology protests appear to have been mostly successful. By some estimates, several hundred people turned out, and even Newsweek has run an article on the whole endeavor. More info can be found on this forum. Personally, I’d be interested to know just how many of yesterday’s protesters were really from Anonymous – this project has spread so far around the internet, that many are aware of it, and even people who’ve never been to a *chan may have been involved.

I’m also still waiting to see if this leads to wider, more significant internet-based activism. So far, such activity has been limited to individual websites and blogs. However, between Chanology and Ron Paul’s massive online support, the scale of activism is quickly broadening. Paul’s online base appears to have failed to get him the Republican nomination, and Chanology’s effect has yet to be seen outside the *chans themselves. If the movement is perceived to be effective, we can expect more such projects on other topics.

That said, just how successful can Chanology be? How does Anon know if Scientology has lost? Scientology itself isn’t going anywhere, all that’s likely happen to the CoS if Anon plays this well is losing its tax-exempt status and perhaps diminish in number. That would be a victory for Anonymous, but it’s nothing dramatic and while Anon has showed a lot more stamina so far than many expected, simple human nature means that they have to get tired eventually.

Oh, such drama!…

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Anon vs. Scientology

I saw this story a few days ago, but since it’s still going I figured it would be worth posting about. Anonymous doing something almost noble like declaring war on Scientology is quite the story.

First of all, as Wise Beard Man says, not even Anon can destroy Scientology, and that shouldn’t be the goal. Even within the *chans, opinion
varies from enthusiastic to, well, cynical. (Both images stolened from iichan). However, thanks to Anon’s size and resources, they can raise awareness of Scientology’s abuses – they’ve already got Wired‘s attention, and even FoxNews has a story on it – and at least make the Church’s life more difficult. See, for instance, this raid in Orlando.

Another aspect of this is how the anti-Scientology campaign will affect Anonymous. Anon has always been the internet’s embodiment of hedonism, and their previous raids for righteous causes have been short-term. So, if Anon is able to manage a long-term campaign, are they still anon? Will they eventually launch similar campaigns against someone else? Oh, such suspense!

I don’t know, but in any case I’m getting plenty of lulz from the sidelines, and wish them the best of luck in the War.…

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A Somewhat True Story

Today, something a little different…

~~~~~~

A couple days ago, in the evening, I got into a little accident driving home. Nothing much, just a little tap on the bumper when the girl in front of me started braking right after I merged behind her into her lane. I blame the wet roads and heavy traffic.

After pulling over to the shoulder, we both got out and, after glancing at our vehicles I said, “Oh, this doesn’t look too bad. Just a little scuff mark.” I looked over to the girl I’d run into, a few inches shorter than I and probably my own age. She was studying me very intently.
“You don’t look too bad,” she said, as though this were just the natural sort of thing to say in this situation.
Always quick on my feet mentally, I said, “Uh, what?”
She then looked past me into my car. “Is that your little sister in the passenger seat?”
I looked back and confirmed that the person in the passenger seat was, in fact, my sister.
“I see.” She looked into my eyes. “I went to see a fortune teller today.”
“Oh, really?” I was starting to feel a bit uncomfortable, and my voice shook just a touch.
“Yes. She said I would meet my future husband today. That he’d be with his younger sister, and would run into me with his car.”
There was silence, except for the light rain and a passing car.
“Well,” I began, “uh, you’re looking pretty nice yourself, then.” I really had no clue how to handle this situation, so I figured I’d just run with it for a while.
“Thank you, but…” she trailed off, and her eyes wandered to her left.
“Yes?”
“She said that he would hit me, not my car.”
“Most people, when they’re hit, though, just say ‘He hit me,’ not ‘He hit my car.’ She could still be right.” Defending the fortune teller’s prediction may seem like a strange thing to do, but this girl was really cute.
“Yes, that’s true.” She paused a moment, made eye contact again, then continued. “So, now what do we do?” Apparently she was as new to all this as I was.
“First, let me get an umbrella. It’s starting to rain a bit.” It was drizzling rain, but mostly I wanted to buy some time to consider my next course of action.

As I walked away, though, my Intended got hit by a young man driving another car with his sister. Last I heard, they’re going to have the ceremony as soon as she recovers from her broken leg.…

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Bloggin’ for What?

One of WordPress’s niftier features is the “Blog Stats” page, which lets a blog’s owner know how many views he’s getting, and where they’re coming from. I bring this up because it appears that my top referrer for today is Summize’s page for Sweeney Todd, which I reviewed here, and their summary of me is what I like to call “mildly amusing.”

First of all, they got my name and my blog’s name wrong. They give the old name of this blog, “Oll Korrect for Class,” instead of the current name. Also, contrary to their summary, my posts are signed “_Ocelot,” not “ollkorrect.” I’m guessing that whoever put me up there just went by the URL. The lack of a picture of my blog also makes me look kinda, y’know, bush league. Like I don’t have the budget for a flashy setup.

I don’t have the budget for a flashy setup, but still…

What amused me the most, though, is the suggestion that this was a paid review. I’d be very interested to see what the stats are for individual reviews, but I don’t see a way to do that right now (I haven’t searched through the site real thoroughly yet, though). It looks like reviews just go up and down as people click whether or not a review was helpful, spam, or a paid review.

If anybody doubts it, no, I’ve never been paid for anything I’ve ever written, much less a little analysis of Sweeney Todd’s ending posted on “O.K.!” I don’t have the readership for that, unfortunately.

No, the reason I have this blog is the same reason I do everything. It amuses me slightly to have a blog, so I have a blog. If someone else is amused or enlightened by what I do here, great. If not, oh well. I don’t write this stuff for money, though.

Of course, if anyone out there has some spare change…

UPDATE: It looks like some of the oddities in Summize I address here have been revised. I’m both glad and mildly disappointed. With the changes, Summize got a little better, which is good because I actually like the site’s concept. On the other hand, the wrong name and not quite clearly worded “Paid Review?” tag had, in my opinion, more room for me to make jokes out of. Overall, the new setup is probably for the better, though. ^_^…

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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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