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Sunday 27 March 2005

Panera Block List Still Silly

The last time I wrote about Panera Bread’s counterproductive filtering of web content on their ‘free’ wireless network, I assembled a list of URLs and wrote some software to test those lists against Panera’s filter.

I was at Panera again recently, and I ran the test again. Some of the sites that were blocked when I did my original test in January are now unblocked.

Specifically, Daily Pundit, formerly blocked for ‘weapons’, is now accessible, as are Forvideo and Kalyr.com. Gut Rumbles and Jane’s Net Sex Guide are also, inexplicably, both now okay.

However, some new sites have been added in the last couple of months. I used the same list both in January and this weekend, so these are websites that were positively not blocked then, but are now:

  • http://imao.us/
  • Anti-idiotarian rantblog, ranked 37th in the Blogosphere Ecosystem.
  • http://www.abionline.org/
  • The American Beverage Institute. This is a website that advocates abstention from drinking and driving. BANNED! by Panera. The WCTU website is also streng verboten at Panera: a theme is developing.
  • http://www.catotheyoungest.com/
  • At the moment it’s just showing an Ensim login page (and has been since at least Friday morning, according to the Google cache). Forbidden nevertheless. You can see here the Blogspot incarnation of this warblog.
  • http://www.chriscmooney.com/
  • Chris C. Mooney is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. (his bio page says), and a senior correspondent for the American Prospect magazine. There doesn’t appear to be anything objectionable about his website.
  • http://www.coolpick.com/
  • A cool-site-of-the-day kind of thing. The only justification for blocking this would be that it’s a tired concept.
  • http://www.retrospice.com/
  • Another site experiencing technical difficulties. Right now from home, I see a bare directory index showing no content The Google cache indicates that it was this way at least as early as 9:00 a.m. yesterday, though, so it’s blocked even though there’s no there there. When there was a there, there were ‘hot babes of yesteryear’ there, so maybe blocking it at least makes a little bit of sense — but remember, it wasn’t blocked in January.
  • http://www2.thelinuxshow.com/
  • I’m not sure how this ‘www2’ address got into the list; there’s nothing here but an Apache test page. Nevertheless, it was available to Panera customers in January but isn’t today. At http://www.thelinuxshow.com/ we can see that this is the home of the ‘oldest, longest running and without question most listened to webcast focused on Open Technology in the known universe’.

    Unfortunately, I did not record why these sites were blocked. To be honest, I forgot the test script was running, and I didn’t check the results before I left. I will be modifying the tests to automatically record this in the future.

    Posted by tino at 20:46 27.03.05
    Friday 25 March 2005

    Safari Drives Me Nuts

    You probably won’t understand, much less care about this if you’re not a Mac user, and one who uses Apple’s Safari web browser, at that. I use Safari not because I think it’s so great — it’s not, in a lot of important ways — but because all the other web browsers for the Mac are lacking some important UI element that I can’t do without. In particular, Firefox doesn’t respect the standard Macintosh convention of pretzel-uparrow going to the top of a page. I use that all the time, and after about the tenth time it doesn’t work in five minutes in Firefox, I quit the thing and decide to put up with Safari again.

    Anyway, here’s another extremely annoying thing Safari does:

    Safari has a Downloads window, which shows you everything that’s currently downloading to disk, or that has been downloaded since you cleared the list. So if you explicitly tell the browser to download a file:


    or if you follow a link to a file that is something that’s not displayed in the web browser (e.g. zip files, tar files, etc., etc.), it shows up in the list in the Downloads window:


    Now, there’s a lot that’s wrong with the Downloads window. The little icons should, by long Macintosh tradition, stand as proxies for the files themselves: that is, the Downloads window should essentially behave like a Finder window that shows only documents in a certain directory that have been downloaded through Safari since the list was cleared.

    They don’t, though. You can’t delete files from here — you can delete them from the list, but not from the disk — and you can’t rename them, and you can’t do anything else except remove them from the list, show them in the Finder, copy to the clipboard the URL from which they were downloaded, and open them.

    All of that is inconvenient, but none of it is really a big problem. The big problem is that, of the four things you can do from the window, one of them rarely works right. If you click on that magnifying glass, Safari will tell the Finder to open a window on the Downloads directory and select the file in question.

    This it does. But if the resulting window has a horizontal scroll bar (these are pretty common in Finder windows, at least if you use the three-column view, which you do unless you are a Philistine because it is the One True Filebrowser View), the Finder doesn’t take the height of the scroll bar into account when it scrolls the file into view. In other words, it does this:


    That little bit of blue at the bottom of the list (not to be confused with the blue horizontal scroll bar) is the policies.htm file we asked the Finder to show us.

    This is the result of bugs in both the Finder and Safari; the Finder should figure out there’s a scroll bar there and take this into account when it’s deciding what is and isn’t visible, and, given that the Finder doesn’t do this, Safari should tell the Finder to scroll the list to the next file down, and then select our target file, which will be the last one visible.

    NetNewsWire 2.0, the world’s greatest RSS reader, does this properly and it’s produced by a two-person company. Why can’t the 301st largest company in the world — at least from last year’s Fortune 500 — do at least as well?

    Perhaps they will deign to sell us this a fix for this bug for $129 next month.

    Posted by tino at 20:22 25.03.05
    Thursday 24 March 2005

    Yet More Rebate Fraud

    I never buy products because there’s a rebate offered on them, but a rebate will occasionally sway my opinion in a situation where the product with the rebate sells for the same as or less than comparable no-rebate products.

    That was the case this week, when I bought a Western Digital external hard drive for $220. There’s a $80 rebate offered on the thing, and the other disk I was considering purchasing costs $250 to begin with, and there’s no rebate: a clear advantage for Western Digital.

    But I’m considering specifically excluding products with rebates from future consideration — no matter whether they’re cheaper or not — and here’s why.

    Here are the terms of the Western Digital rebate:

    How To Submit

    Here are two views of the box the product came in, shrinkwrap and all:

    Wd Box 1 Wd Box 2
    (Click on the pictures to pop up bigger versions)

    Notice what’s missing? There’s no UPC barcode anywhere on this box. There’s a barcode on a sticker inside the shrinkwrap, but that’s for the disk’s serial number — which is not a UPC code.

    It is, in short, impossible to comply with the terms of this rebate offer. Fortunately, the rebate form gives a number to call with questions:

    Mail This Form

    This was, of course, no help. The person on the other end frankly didn’t believe me that there was no UPC on the box. Her recommendation was to return the disk and get another one that did have a UPC barcode.

    So not only do I have to buy things wondering whether or not they’ll work, and not only do I have to screw around with mailing things in to get rebates, but I also have to be part of Western Digital’s packaging quality control staff. Fuck ‘em.

    Particularly interesting is that just a couple weeks after CompUSA settled with the federal government over their past practice (CompUSA’s, that is) of screwing people out of rebates (though that was a somewhat different situation).

    Posted by tino at 15:20 24.03.05
    Wednesday 23 March 2005

    Superstardom And Business

    This article is from earlier in the month, but it has recently come back to my attention, and this time I paid attention. It’s about the unfinished Guns N’ Roses album that’s been in production for the last eleven years. Axl Rose, whatever musical talents he might have or have once had, is for all appearances a lunatic.

    In any other field, someone who behaved like him would have been shown the door a long time ago. It’s very difficult for a CEO of a large American company to screw up so badly that he’s drummed out of the CEOing business; the strange logic that applies at that level causes the CEO to get credit (read: $$$$) for everything that goes right, but little or none of the blame when the company goes bankrupt. In those cases, ‘market conditions’ conspired against the CEO, or ‘unforeseen circumstances’ did in the company.

    The CEO then leaves ‘amicably’ to ‘pursue other interests’, and he’s handed a giant sack with a dollar sign on the side of it on his way out the door. He then spends a few months sailing his yacht around, after which he accepts a lucrative CEO position at a company in a totally unrelated field, the press releases talking about his ‘vision’ and ‘leadership’. Just you wait: even Carly Fiorina will find another job where she’s put in charge of things.

    But that’s nothing compared to what appears to go on in Hollywood — by which I mean the movie, TV, and record business — and especially the record business. Once talent has attained a certain level in the record business, people in the industry will be willing to take them seriously forever after, logic be damned.

    The Times article puts its finger (do articles have fingers? I’ve never seen ‘em fing) on the problem:

    As the production has dragged on, it has revealed one of the music industry’s basic weaknesses: the more record companies rely on proven stars like Mr. Rose, the less it can control them.

    The record industry — and, I suppose, to a lesser extent the whole of the copyright industry — seem to have managed to combine big business and art and get the worst of both.

    Big business is famously risk-averse and slow to act without incontrovertible proof of what the future will bring: hence the industry’s reliance on superstars. No matter how bad it is, an Axl Rose album will almost certainly sell more copies than a Tino album, if for no other reason than that people have heard of Axl Rose.

    But the world of art is quite different from the world of business, and not just in the sense that, these days, almost anything will be taken seriously as ‘art’ if only it’s subversive enough. (There’s more to life, and art, than subversion, but that’s another topic.)

    Art is nearly impossible to quantify, and great art can stand on its own, independent of its creator: this is why society is relatively tolerant of ‘eccentricity’ on the part of artists. A CEO who talks about himself in the third person and who is, to all appearances, a lunatic is not likely to be a very effective leader. An artist who wears bedroom slippers in the street and who carries on shouted conversations with ‘voices’ can still create great art. So the painter’s a nut? Who cares.

    A disproportionate number of artists widely considered to be great have been, to one degree or another, off their rockers, so some people have come to see certain eccentricities as markers for creativity. From the Times:

    [Mr. Rose] accompanied Buckethead

    First, I have to stop here to point this out: this guy calls himself Buckethead. He wears a face mask and a fried-chicken bucket on his head when he performs.

     Shared Media News Images G Guns N Roses Sq-Buckethead-Mid-Shot-Tacoma-Mtv

    Further, he only talks through a hand puppet. It appears he was paid about $11,000 a month before he decided that Axl Rose was too crazy to deal with. But I digress.

    [Mr. Rose] accompanied Buckethead on a jaunt to Disneyland when the guitarist was drifting toward quitting, several people involved recalled; then Buckethead announced he would be more comfortable working inside a chicken coop, so one was built for him in the studio, from wood planks and chicken wire.

    The guy’s a lunatic. Supposedly he’s a hell of a guitarist, but you can’t tell me that you can’t find a lot of guitarists in Los Angeles who are willing to work for $11,000 a month and who don’t need chicken coops built for them.

    Here is where you’d expect the Big Business to kick in, but it doesn’t. Wearing a KFC bucket for a hat and talking through a hand puppet is not the strangest thing anyone’s ever done. But one of the reasons that artists are often so eccentric is that they don’t have jobs as we ordinarily understand them. They make money here and there, and occasionally they might sell some artwork, but they are not, by and large, paid $132,000 a year up front by large companies.

    And this is the problem. Normally, excessive drinking, bucket-heading, hotel-room-trashing, drug-taking, and all the other things we think of as emblematic of rock stars at their worst are self-limiting. If you’re a rock star, though, at no point does anyone tell you to take the damned bucket off your head and put down the crack pipe. And independent artist would either produce something that people wanted — bucket on head or no — or starve to death. ‘Artists’ on the corporate teat can behave like spoiled children and claim that this is what’s necessary to create ‘great art’.

    Posted by tino at 11:07 23.03.05
    Sunday 20 March 2005

    Stuffed Animal Bums At Wal-Mart

    Pretty much self-explanatory. They’re $9.88 each.


    Posted by tino at 22:51 20.03.05
    Saturday 19 March 2005

    Why I Do Not Buy Much Online

    I am a proper man of the early 21st century, and one who is, financially speaking, more than fairly fortunate. I sit in front of a computer nearly all of the time I’m at home and conscious, and I have a number of gadgets that allow me to sit effectively sit in front of a computer with an Internet connection when I’m anywhere else.

    Further, I live not in the middle of nowhere, exactly, but on the edge of nowhere, or at least somewhere along the Nowhere Pike. There’s an excellent old-fashioned hardware store near here, meaning that I’m in an excellent position when I need random nuts and bolts, or plumbing fittings, or welding supplies, or other things that are hard or annoying to buy at Home Depot etc. Less-utilitarian things, though — or things that are utilitarian in a different way, like a new disk for my computer — are not available nearby.

    All of this places me squarely in the demographic of People Who Tend To Buy Things Online.

    And yet nearly everyone I know seems to buy far more online than I do. Why is this?

    There are a number of reasons, but as I just stumbled on a perfect example of one of them, I’m going to talk about that, namely: It’s Still Amateur Hour online.

    I want to buy a pen. Specifically, I want to buy a Waterman Carène fountain pen.

    I’m a fan of fountain pens in general; at the moment, my regular pen is a left-handed Pelikano P450 that I bought at a German post office some time ago. The Pelikano is a pen targeted at the German elementary-school set when they’re learning to write. There are special grippy things near the nib that help the tykes learn how to hold the pen: I use the left-handed version even though I’m not left-handed because this results in the nib being turned in a different direction which I think helps make my handwriting more interesting, if not more legible.

    My hands are considerably larger than a German schoolchild’s, though, and this pen isn’t very fancy, either. If there were a larger, swanker version of the Pelikano, I’d be all over it.

    Unfortunately, the adult-fountain-pen market seems to involve only two types of pens: pens meant to impress others (i.e. big and flashy), and pens meant to convey how hyper-rational you are (i.e. hexagonal and bare metal). Neither of these appeal to me. The Carène, though — most models, anyway; you can buy the thing encrusted with diamonds if that’s your thing — strikes me as being nicely-balanced between the two. It’s neither too fancy nor too plain. So I set out to buy one.

    And here I get to the point. One of the first pages I came across in my search was this one. It’s a Carène in blue, which is an nice and unusual color: I generally don’t like gold on pens. It looks like there’s something different going on with the finish there, too, so I click on the ‘Click to enlarge’ link under the product image.

    And I get a pop-up window with the same picture in it. On close inspection, it’s not precisely the same image; the image on the main page is 300 x 365 pixels; the ‘enlarged’ view is 320 x 389: over 13% bigger! Of course, since the pen only occupies a small portion of the frame, that’s an even smaller increase than it sounds like.

    This is really one of those situations where a picture is worth a thousand words. Here’s a little Flash movie showing the small and ‘large’ versions:

    It looks interestingly like something out of an SCTV 3-D movie, but it’s not really helpful to a prospective purchaser.

    Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Shopping On The Internets! Convenience! Selection! You can buy a perfectly good pen for $1.50; this one costs a hundred times as much, largely for aesthetic reasons. It’s being sold by a merchant that specializes in ‘luxury’ goods, i.e. things that are distinguished from functionally identical other things primarily by subtle aesthetic improvements. But you can’t get much of a look at it, because they can’t be arsed to put a giant picture on there. There’s a separate link! People buying $150 pens are not, by and large, going to be connecting over dialup connections (and, if they are, they’re likely to understand that they click on the ‘larger image’ link at their peril)! Give us a damned big image!

    But no. (Very slightly larger images, both of ‘em, are available through this link direct to the Ashford site rather than through Shop.com pressents Ashford.com, Powered By Altura.com. Altura.com innediately redirects to http://admin-amos.catalogcity.com/amos/cc/main/altura_home/ccsyn/251 — which inspires so much confidence anyway.)

    It’s a small thing, and I’m sure that there are larger pictures of the pen available online, and in any case when buying a product online that’s so much an artifact (as opposed to a device), one should ideally have had some real-world exposure to the thing.

    And I am well aware that the end result of this is that my purchase of a $150 pen is made a tiny bit less convenient than it otherwise might be. The world’s tiniest violin is playing: click here for a 13% less-tiny violin.

    But, regardless of the triviality of this particular case, why on earth should this experience be so lousy? Why should it be so hard to buy something? If you go to buy this thing in person, the pen store has special lighting black velvet to make the thing look its very best, and to allow you to see it as well as your eyes will allow. The online pen store, on the other hand, works against you from the very start because they haven’t given much thought to what it is they’re doing.

    Posted by tino at 22:16 19.03.05
    Thursday 17 March 2005

    Argument and Media

    It’s interesting that thirteen-year-old girls have not hit on the rhetorical tactic of claiming that someone they’re arguing with is being ‘defensive’. Or maybe they have; my contact with thirteen-year-old girls these days is mercifully nonexistent. Thirteen-year-old girls, you see, are horrible creatures. Most of them have been told, recently, that they are ‘maturing’, and that girls ‘mature’ earlier than boys.

    This is true, of course, but most of these girls tend to confuse puberty with intellectual maturity, and they take to haughtily complaining that anyone or anything that annoys them is ‘so immature’. ‘You’re so immature, Kevin.’ Whereupon they retreat with their friends to giggle and trade stickers. Or whatever it is kids do these days: exchange heroin needles or swap morning-after-pill stories, no doubt.

    But anyway, I was talking about ‘defensiveness’. It’s really a remarkable approach, but unlikely to produce any great wisdom. An argument where it’s used goes something like this:

    A: Assertion!

    B: Counter-assertion, or refinement of assertion for the purposes of greater accuracy in my opinion!

    A: You’re just being defensive!

    B: No I’m not!

    A: See?

    Accusations that someone is contradictory can be used in much the same way (‘You’re just being contradictory!’ — there’s no real response to this when you’re arguing with an idiot, except to walk away), but as there are more syllables there it it outside the scope of this particular discussion.

    Anyway, I bring this up because someone has linked to my complaint about Anne Taintor’s strange art, and said:

    why are us wasps so damn defensive? make fun of me; i know i haven’t solved all of my prejudices when i can’t respond.

    Which is nice, because I’d been looking for an excuse to mention some things that the discussion that followed my initial post. To begin with, though, I’d like to point out that I am neither particularly Anglo-Saxon nor Protestant. And it distresses me to think that my ability to respond to people ‘making fun’ of ‘me’ might be seen as an indication that I have ‘solved’ all of my prejudices. I’m now in my third decade, and I have, over time and at great personal cost, built up my ability to form prejudicial opinions based on generalizations and incomplete information. Sometimes those prejudicial opinions, like any other, might be incorrect; but none of us have the time or energy to spare to form perfectly-reasoned opinions about everything we’re confronted with every day. To suggest that one has ‘solved’ (i.e. eliminated) one’s prejudices is to suggest that one approaches every situation like a newborn. ‘Prejudice’ is parhaps an over-broad term. If you regularly make decisions about people’s nature based mainly on the
    color of their skin or on their sex, you’re almost certainly making a lot of bad decisions; but to suggest that this is the whole of ‘prejudice’ is silly. In any case that’s not what I want to talk about today.

    One of the interesting things about discussions carried out in installments on websites is that they seem to focus the participants’ opinions in strange ways. I was offended by the Anne Taintor images in the same way that I was offended by Janet Jackson’s Superbowl performance. That is, these things were and are offensive because they are
    in bad taste. A lot of people seem to have a hard time understanding that, which I suppose is telling. Shortly after the Janet Jackson debacle, complaining about her antics would cause a lot of people to call you a Puritan. I’m nothing of the sort; I like boobies as much as the next man (though maybe not, judging certain kinds of magazines’ seeming obsession with them), but I can still be offended when someone who’s allegedly an entertainer of the public does something so appallingly self-indulgent and unentertaining.

    And similarly I can be offended by lowbrow claptrap like some of Ms. Taintor’s art. For the record, I also find Hooters offensive. I probably wouldn’t if I found the Hooters girls particularly attractive, but there you are. To each his own: I think Hooters is offensively lowbrow, but I cannot help but notice that there are enough people who apparently disagree with me to make the place profitable. Jeff Foxworthy also makes money with his ‘comedy’, but in a world of Tinos he would have to find other work.

    Anyway, that was my point: the ‘and then I ripped his lungs out’ products are offensively lowbrow. That they are stocked at Barnes & Noble — the place with the giant faux-engravings of people like Willa Cather on the walls — indicates that there’s something about the culture that I don’t really understand. That’s it, my entire point: beyond that, I don’t think that this is particularly important.

    Before long, though, the conversation gets drawn out in ways that distort the message: there are over three thousand words on
    that page now. While I believe every word I wrote there, the level of detail suggests a depth of feeling and of thought on the subject that isn’t really there. (And yes, I fully realize that by writing this I am just making things worse.)

    This is particularly interesting — and destined to become more important, I think — as the ‘blogosphere’ grows. (People like to behave as if there’s something special about ‘blogs’ but the reality is that they just represent the first approach to website management that works for a lot of non-technical people: hence the scare quotes. It’s really just about the availability of very-low-cost mass publishing to nearly everyone. Eventually, the newspaper will stop printing the increasingly vituperative letters to the editor about the wrong-headedness of last week’s column and of half of the preceding letters to the editor about it. Generally, no such thing happens on low-rent websites like this one, and so fertile enough arguments on the web will tend to eventually come to the Truth, namely that it’s all the doing of the RAND Corporation in conjunction with the saucer people, under the supervision of the reverse vampires.)

    Most newspaper columnists write about three 750-word articles a week. Even mildly-prolific weblogs have quite a bit more content than that. I certainly don’t often write anything three times a week, but the things I
    do write tend to be quite a bit longer than the average newspaper column (this is the 1,067th word in this particular post). With so much output from people who essentially have nothing to say, you’re inevitably going to get things like discussions of the proper response to satirical postcards, and whether the sale of same at Barnes & Noble should be taken as a sign of the impending collapse of society.

    Marshall McLuhan is, to put it mildly,
    overrated. However, he did popularize the idea that the medium in which a message is conveyed affects the message itself (i.e. ‘The medium is the message’, though I think this is overstating it). McLuhan further talked about ‘hot’ and ‘cool’ media: the difference being that information conveyed through a ‘hot’ medium was more or less passively absorbed, while information over a ‘cool’ medium required more interpretation on the part of the recipient.

    He then went on to classify various media as ‘hot’ or ‘cool’ in
    ways that I’ve never really understood; many of his classifications seem diametrically wrong to me. In particular, he and a lot of other TV philosophers of the 1960s made a lot of hay out of the fact that the picture on a TV screen is never actually complete. While a projected film relies on the persistence of vision to fake the appearance of motion from complete but still images, the picture on a TV screen is actually constantly being redrawn.

    They were taking a lot of drugs in the 1960s, so this seemed profound (or at least not meaningless) at the time. The reality is that communications media are only important inasmuch as they’re perceived by humans, and as far as human sight is concerned, the TV image is like a movie image: a succession of still frames that the eye and the brain interpret as motion. (And, as it happens, new LCD and plasma-screen TVs actually
    do show a succession of still images just as at the movies. Does this mean that TV is a fundamentally different medium from TV in the days of CRTs? No, Q.E.D.)

    I think I’ve probably said this before somewhere here, but a quick Google search suggests that I haven’t. So I’ll say it now: in the mid-1990s, there were people (many of them writing for
    Wired magazine back when it was just bad instead of incredibly bad, who compared the invention of the Internet to that of movable type. At the time I thought that they were showing a bit too much enthusiasm, but over the past ten years my opinion has shifted to the point where I think that those people were too conservative: the Internet — which is to say, the ability to cheaply and nearly instantly move all kinds of information around the world — is a much bigger deal than movable type. A thousand years in the future, I fully expect kids in history class to be taught about Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn and Len Kleinrock and all the others, just as they learn about Gutenberg now.

    Just as movable type in Europe revolutionized an existing medium — information on paper — a different thing entirely by reducing its cost, cheap packet-switched networks have changed and will change
    all existing communications media by making the cost of moving information around cheap as free, and, perhaps more importantly, by largely eliminating the distinction between disseminators and consumers of information.

    We have yet to see most of these changes. Right now, there’s an intellectual battle going on over whether and how Hollywood movies should or can be transmitted over the Internet. This is a question worth answering, but ultimately it’s a stupid debate because the
    real question is: how much longer can Hollywood continue to make money with its business model? The copyright industry has long existed only due to the fact that the mass-production and -distribution of information has been a fairly capital-intensive process.


    Today, not only do you not need those giant (and expensive) green machines to duplicate music, but you can buy what amounts to an entire recording studio down at the Apple Store or CompUSA for a few thousand dollars. You don’t need a printing press, or a movie studio, either. It’s a kind of Marxist dream, really: the Means of Production are well within the reach of nearly anyone living in a developed country. (Not that the Marxists necessarily like this, of course: Marxism has been struggling for adoption for so long now that it’s become incapable of anything
    but struggle. But that’s another story.)

    There’s still a matter of ability and talent, of course. Without ability, all you can hope to produce are disjointed, 1,840-word (at this point, anyway) rants about lowbrow art, Gutenberg, and the Internet. But
    public-access TV produced some real gems along with a whole lot of crap, and that under conditions that made production a real pain.

    Which brings me nicely back around to my point (back?! to the point, you say). Even public-access TV — which by definition was about letting anyone and anything on — there were significant barriers. Not only was even consumer video equipment a lot more expensive back in the 1980s, but
    editing video required quite expensive and cumbersome equipment, and took quite a bit of time. To even produce a bad public-access TV show actually required quite a commitment. Today, you can do the whole thing on a computer that you can buy for a few hundred dollars, and with better results than in the old days. The commitment required has dropped significantly, but the image of obsession remains.

    A lot of people — people who work for traditional, big communications-media operations, mainly — complain that there’s no
    responsibility on the Internet; and they are right. I don’t think that this is a problem in the way they seem to think it is. I am not responsible to anyone else for the stuff that appears on Tinotopia. Not to advertisers, not to a boss, not to a board of directors, not to an editor, and not even really to you, the reader. If you’re interested, you’ll read it. If you’re not, you won’t. If I consciously tried to write things that would attract readers, I’d probably wind up actually repelling people.

    But this lack of responsibility to anyone — and the lack of a necessarily significant commitment to the act of publishing — affects the message profoundly.

    Someone has gone to the trouble to disseminate this information, potentially to everyone in the world! They must think this information is terribly important!

    Well, no. If you spend a lot of time online, you probably know that. But if you try to explain
    All Your Base Are Belong To Us to someone whose understanding of mass communications is based around traditional, centralized, profit-making media, they’re going to think you’re nuts. To people who are thinking in terms of traditional media, much of the online world looks like alt.nerd.obsessive. It’s perfectly ‘normal’ to spend large amounts of money, read magazines, go on trips, and discuss wine; in fact, to a lot of people, knowing a lot of obscure trivia about fermented fruit juice is considered a mark of refinement and culture. But put up a Potsie Fan Page and you’re a weirdo.

    The lives of (most) wine people (as opposed to the lives of
    winos) don’t revolve entirely around drinking wine, though, and the lives of Potsie fans are not mainly about Potsie. In traditional media, doing almost anything means a serious investment of time, money, and effort. On the Internet, this isn’t necessarily the case. With cheaper and easier communications, communication about Potsie is possible: this doesn’t mean that Potsie is particularly important to anyone but Anson Williams (who played Potsie on TV).

    I have seldom seen this acknowledged, though. People who are familiar with the online world know it through osmosis, and ‘outsiders’ just dismiss the Potsie fans (etc.) as people with ‘too much time on their hands’. We’ve all got time on our hands, and we’ve all got interests that are some people might consider strange. The cheap communications and broad net means that you can aggregate enough interest in just about
    any subject — not just Potsie — to make it worth talking about. Writing about open-source software development, Eric S. Raymond said that, given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow. Similarly, given cheap enough communications and a broad enough audience, all subjects are interesting: just because they’re not interesting to you isn’t important.

    Posted by tino at 12:42 17.03.05
    Wednesday 02 March 2005

    Pain Was Too Good For Him?

    Last night, I was killing some time in Barnes & Noble; specifically, I was browsing through the ever-growing section of the store dedicated to things that are not really what I would call books.

    Barnes & Noble now has a substantial section of their floor given over to desk accessories, greeting cards, fancy paper clips, and all kinds of other stuff that’s really better purchased from Levenger. The nucleus of this — and the connection to books in the first place — is the amazing selection of blank books, address books, diary books, and notepads, each of them with very little or no ‘content’ and most of them with ISBNs.

    Anyway, among the things that caught my eye were a number of notepads, address books, etc. that are part of the ‘They Hated To Spread Gossip’ line, illustrated with collages by Anne Taintor. I took some pictures there with my cameraphone, but cameraphones being what they are, I looked for, and found, better images of a couple of the collages on the Anne Taintor website. Clicking on these images will pop up bigger versions:


    ‘Pain was too good for him’ (detail via phonecam)


    ‘And then I ripped his lungs out’


    ‘It would, of course, have to look like an accident’: the general theme of women vs. men suggests what she’s thinking of.


    ‘At last they had found the perfect hiding place’: also potentially innocent unless you look at it in the context of the less-ambiguous messages it was bound with.

    Imagine, just for a moment, that the same art was produced, but with the genders reversed: a group of men standing around smiling, with the caption indicating that one of the people in the picture was saying ‘and then I ripped her lungs out’. It would be denounced not just as being in bad taste, but of being grossly offensive, of being a hate crime even.

    There are some vaguely similar things, to be sure, with women as the butt of the joke. At the moment, Google lists 5,720 results if you search for reasons why a beer is better than a woman (‘A beer doesn’t get jealous when you grab another beer’ huh-huh-huh-huh-huh). I am sure that, in many truck stops across this land, you can buy ‘clever’ caps with wisdom about the nature of women printed on the front in puffy letters. And Ms. Taintor’s own work also includes a lot of things that reflect badly on women, playing on their alleged sensitivities about their age and on their stereotypical propensity for shopping.

    However, I can’t remember the last time I saw something in a middle-class, suburban, cultural-mainstream environment — like Barnes & Noble or the shopping mall — that actually advocated or in any case drew mirth from the idea of violence against women. (See also this.)

    But these images are themselves a kind of violence against women. Not only couldn’t you sell ‘smack my bitch up’ postcards at Barnes & Noble, you couldn’t sell a whole class of similar products featuring other Victim Groups instead of women.

    ‘And then I ripped honkey’s lungs out’, with a picture of smiling black people: you’d have the NAACP on your ass in about five minutes.

    ‘Pain was too good for the gringo’, with a picture of a smiling Mexican: the National Council of La Raza would organize a boycott.

    If you published an image of a Jew with text indicating that he’d like to do some violence to Nazis, the B’nai Brith would make noise about how awful you were.

    But ordinary women ripping out lungs, making things look like ‘accidents’, etc.: ha ha ha ha ha. How droll. Presumably Ms. Taintor thinks she’s subverting the image of middle-class femininity, but she’s really just perpetuating the stereotype of woman as vindictive hussy (when she’s not perpetuating the stereotype of woman as shallow consumer or bitter hag).

    Posted by tino at 14:14 2.03.05