Conditional Adsense — In Which I Hop On The Bandwagon

I’ve spent a lot of words over the years railing against the infiltration of advertising into our weblog world, and enjoyed that righteous glow that comes from standing up for a principle, regardless of how well- (or poorly-) founded the thinking on that principle be.

Here comes the ‘but’.

But I’ve rethought things a bit, in no small part after reading the essay Matt Haughey wrote here.

Imagine that — ads that actually make a page more valuable to readers, not just the site owners. Random people searching for information are much more likely to click on those related text ads if the ads help them find what they are looking for. Compare that to a regular visitor that comes to your site dozens of times a week: How often are they going to click on any ads? How quickly will they learn to visually filter out the ads entirely from the experience? Superfans develop banner blindness extremely quickly.

What I realized when I looked at my Google Analytics reports was that the majority of ad clicks are coming from these one-time visitors looking for information. I do it myself when searching, especially if it’s for a product of some type. I’ll search, dive into the results, and if the top 5 don’t have what I’m looking for, I’m very likely to click on related ads to see if that’s what I’m looking for. New visitors to a site love to click on anything that brings them closer to their goal, and often times that’s an ad. This, in essence, is the entire business model of per-click advertising.

I’ve always been annoyed by advertising in general, on the web or anywhere else. A lot of my ire in recent years has been directed at Adsense, and that has been mostly because of its ubiquity, I suppose. I’ve always been unshakeable in my conviction that advertising is about the enrichment of the marketing company and the manufacturer of the product or provider of the service being advertised, and about the deliberate manipulation of the people being advertised to, typically to their detriment. Defenders of the Ad often suggest that we, the Consumers, wouldn’t be able to find out about all these products and services created and sold to improve out lives. Well, I suppose there were times when I discovered something I simply couldn’t live without through advertising, but I can’t remember it ever happening. Documentaries like the excellent four part ‘Century of the Self’ did nothing to dissuade me from this, and hammered home for me the ways in which I thought that advertising had interpenetrated and cheapened our modern cultures.

I still think that I’m right about all that.

But Matt triggered some new thinking for me, new thinking that I suppose I’d been tenderized for by building one of my other sites and putting Adsense on it out the gate — the rarely-updated OutsideinKorea. From the get-go, I assumed that it would be a site that people would mostly arrive at from search engines, and not be a regularly-updated, regularly-visited-by-readers webloggy kind of project. And so I put up the ads (for which I’ve still not made enough to get a single check, more than a year later, but I’ve really let it languish, so the fault is nobody’s but my own, from a revenue point of view).

But I hadn’t really followed that thinking through, and what Matt had to say helped me do that.

Two ideas here: that when we’re talking about weblogs and advertising, that an awful lot of people who land on the site (by far the largest ongoing slice of visitors — bar the Digging and Slashdotting et al last year, which was a transient traffic rogue wave) come from search engines. From Google itself, mostly. These people are looking for something, something they’re hoping they might find here. Probably not a product. More likely some piece of information.

It’s possible, I hope, that they find it on the individual archive page they land on here at the ‘bottle, but they might not. If not, then they’ll go on to find it elsewhere, and it’s entirely possible that they might find it following a contextual ad from Adsense.

The ads might actually help them, as well as me, if they click on them. They might actually serve some useful purpose to both parties involved, something I’d never really been able to get behind as a justification for advertisements for the latest variation of Coca Cola, or the newest erectile-dysfunction chemical.

But I didn’t want ads plastered all over the place creating visual clutter for people who actually do regularly visit, who arrive from other weblogs or comments I make elsewhere, or from RSS feedreaders when I make an update. People who are here for the wonderchickeny goodness, not the sifting-through-sum-total-of-human-information.

The solution, of course, as Matt suggested, was to display ads only if people come from one of the traffic firehoses (Digg and Slashdot and Wikipedia and Stumbleupon and the search engines), and not display them if people come from their bookmarks or another weblog or pretty much anywhere else.

I don’t know why I never thought of it before.

So here’s what I’ve done to display ads to visitors conditionally, based on the referrer, using Movable Type. Feel free to borrow and use this yourself — it’s not complicated, and all the reading I’ve done has indicated that it does not in any way violate the Adsense terms of service. There may, of course, be better ways to do it. My coding skills are, to put it kindly, somewhat haphazard.

1) I created a couple of modules in Movable Type, one for each Adsense format I wanted to display. At the moment, I have two modules named module-banner and module-leaderboard Each holds the appropriate Adsense-generated code for that style of ad block, wrapped in a div and a bit of php code to check where the visitor has come from.

The modules look like this. I wrap the whole thing in a div so I can style it, if I want. (You could, of course, customize the referrer list anyway you liked.)

<div class="topbanner">
<?php
if (isset($_SERVER['HTTP_REFERER']) && preg_match("/^https?:\/\/[0-9a-z]*\.?(google|yahoo| stumbleupon|digg| wikipedia|slashdot|lycos|altavista)\..+\/.*$/i", $_SERVER['HTTP_REFERER']))  {
echo <<<END
ADSENSE CODE GOES IN HERE
END;
}
?>
</div>

2) I include the modules in any index template I wish to conditionally display Adsense ads like so:

<$MTInclude module="module-banner"$>

or

<$MTInclude module="module-leaderboard"$>

depending on which of the two ad styles I want to include.

I may make other module variations in future, of course. At the moment, I’m only displaying ads in Individual Archive Templates.

3) I long ago switched all of my extensions over to .php to use some other php inclusions, so that just worked for me. You may need to do make a filetype change (it’s in the settings area in Movable Type) (and possible .htaccess edit — I fly this stuff by the seat of my pants!) .

And that’s it. Now searchers/visitors from the sites I nominate get ads that may help them find what they’re looking for, if it isn’t here, and regular blog visitors who come from pretty much anywhere else don’t. You can test this out by hitting this Google search, then following the first hit back to here. You’ll see ads. Paste the URL directly in to the address bar (for example) and you won’t. Magic!

I probably won’t make much money from this, either. But given the 10,000+ visits that make up an average month at the bottle, more than half of which arrive from search engines, perhaps I’ll make enough for a beer or two each month, and do it without (I hope) annoying any of my loyal readers who’ve stuck with me for all these years.

Share and enjoy.

[Update: Thanks to the most excellent skills of my friends and neighbours, I've made a few changes to smarten up the referrer checking code. Major thanks to Ed Eliot, who was kind enough to whip up something better and explain what the Evil Regex was doing. I've updated the code for the MT modules above accordingly -- my implementation is very slightly different from his, which ought to work anywhere PHP is spoken, of course.]

Badges (Steenking Badges)

So, yeah, the colossally stupid Kathy Sierra Pantyshopped Trollgate shitstorm is subsiding, and in the wake of the sturm und drang and handwringing, folks are taking up the pitchforks and the duct tape and proposing all sorts of protect-the-fatherHomeland ideas for stringing up anybody who doesn’t toe the civility line. Or at least pronouncing them anathema.

Not that the 98% of people out there in the long tail give a good goddamn if they’re excommunicated from A-Listory by the Usual Suspects.

Now, look, I’m all about civility and politeness and tea and crumpets. I’m the very model of a modern wonderchicken, and my reputed diet of whiskey, raw meat and bloody forehead sweat is purely apocryphal. I’ve reformed my ways, and I almost never tell somebody to f–k off unless they really, really need it. I am sweetness and light, snips and snails and expensive cologne.

But I see via Shelley that some Conference Organizers and Luminaries of The Holy Order of Self-Appointed Custodians of The Weblog Word and Sacred Sepulchre of Permalinks (Reformed) bcclogo.gif are suggesting (like so many years ago, when it was just rebecca blood doing the suggesting) a Blogger Code of Conduct. A lovely little badge has even been made for our use, to show what good blogistani citizens we are.

To which I fell compelled to say, in the nicest possible way, mark me, without trying to be mean, or scare anyone, or utter anything that could be construed as death threats: why don’t you take a flying f–k at a rolling doughnut? Why don’t you take a flying f–k at the mooooooooooooon?

Now I realize there are Big Important Issues of anonymity and free speech and sexism and the ethical bankruptcy of our culture at play here, but I’m just going to let my important internet opinions on those simmer until another day, I think.

Instead, here are some alternative badges I’ve made up, which express a little better, perhaps, my feelings on the matter. They’re roughish, but feel free to download and use any of them, if you like, or make your own, here.

Share, enjoy, and don’t forget to talk nice, or your ad revenues will decline, and nobody wants that, now, do they?

[Update: I cleaned up the backgrounds a bit.]

[Another update: I can't believe the day after I randomly used a Kurt Vonnegut quote to make a funny, the old bastard up and dies. No disrespect to the man is intended -- he was one of my favorite human beings, and he taught me (amongst other things) how to be angry without hate. 'bye, Kurt.]

[Yet another update: Ooh, see, this is what I missed about the erudite, reasoned and civil to-and-fro of weblogging. It seems I am one of Them (judging by the title of the post, 'them'='bigots'). I have made 'knee-jerk Hitler associations', embarassingly ignorant and unimaginative ones. I haven't read my history, and my natural response to being 'lectured' by my betters (like f--k) is to go Godwin. After seven years of this weblogging thing, that's the first time I've been accused of that, so hooray for something, I guess. Don't I realize that this is just a 'civilized' version of Cultural Revolution self-criticism, and totally OK? Do I need to explain the irony here, when I am caught up in a wide-cast net as one of 'Them'? Well, no, it's just possible that I don't.

And you know, I shouldn't have to say it, but this post was about having a laugh as much as anything else. Stop poking fun and laughing at yourself and those who would tell you how to think, and you really do end up kneeling in the town square confessing imaginary sins to a circle of teenage zealots. You know, metaphorically speaking.]

Not A Howl, A Twitter

[Some of this seemed to crystallize for me after listening to Bruce Sterling's excellent talk at SXSW 2007. So thanks to him, and you know, grain of salt.]

We grew up watching. If you’re 50 or 40 or 30 or younger, you’ve spent thousands of hours watching. You still watch — you watch on YouTube, or you watch your DVDs, or you watch the TV. Maybe you use a PVR to timeshift yourself so that you can watch on your own schedule, congratulate yourself on cheating the advertisers, denying them the eyeballs they crave. Maybe, like me, you fire up bittorrent on boot, and swarmload all your video automagically from the RSS feeds of illicit darknet bulletin boards.

Howl Twitter (with abject apologies to Allen Ginsberg)

I saw the best posters of my generation destroyed by blogging, commenting hysterical naked,

scrolling themselves through the n-word threads at dawn looking for a snarky fix,

trucker-hatted hipsters burning for the cheapest DSL connection to the bitwise dynamo in the datastream of night,

who pizza and tater-tots and poopsocking and high sat up typing in the supernatural whiteness of rented condos surfing across the tubes of internets

contemplating porn,

who bared their breasts on MySpace under fake names and saw Mohammedan bombers threatening in video streams illuminated,

who played through universities with radiant eyes hallucinating Second Life and Warcraft tragedy among the scholars of war,

who were banned from the websites for crazy & posting batshitinsane on the Windows™ of Mr Bill,

who farted in unshaven rooms in underwear, tossing their tissues in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror on CNN…

Watching and being watched has started to feel like the default human state in these mediated days. You know how characters in video games will go into their idle animation if you wait too long to interact with them? Yeah, like that. Unwatched, they nonetheless go through the motions as if they were.

The last half a century or more is remembered, at least by me, as a succession of moving images — lumpy raspberry red Kennedy brains sprayed out across the trunk of the convertible, phallic twin towers collapsing like nationscale erectile dysfunction. Watching makes manifest our reality, makes more real our memory. Two or three generations now, we’ve been immersed eyedeep in it. Hawkeye Pierce and Fonzie, they’re signifiers of my childhood as evocative to me as cold lake water and the northern lights. If you spend as much time on the internet as I do, if you’re one of the geek-approved flavour of obsessive-compulsives we call ‘early adopters’, if you’ve bought a big flat panel TV or covet HD video, if your appetite for bandwidth is insatiable, if you feel compelled to buy ever more complex mobile phones, you’re probably in the same boat as me. You swim in the same advertising cesspool in which our media meals float — eyeballs watch, watching is intentional, intention means awareness, awareness is all when someone wants something from you or when you want something from them. Tree falls in the forest, but it doesn’t matter shit unless somebody’s watching. We’re Schrödinger and his cat, both at the same time.

If you live in London, your picture is taken 300 times a day, but not because someone want to sell you something.

You’re being watched, and you’re meant to feel safe.

We’ve had another lesson drummed in to us, too, it seems; one that cuts in the other direction. It’s a weak inverse solipsist lesson we felt in our bones from the time we were toddlers, of course: you’ve seen it on America’s Funniest Home Videos, maybe. The child falls, howls while the parents with the camera are looking at him and pointing the camera. They move off, out of sight — the observing eye umbrated — and the child quiets, sniffs, draws shuddery breath, and follows. As soon as he knows he is once more in the range of the observer’s gaze, he busts out into full wails again.

Here: It’s easier for you to watch the video than for me to explain it. Watch.

Our thoughts, our feelings, our selves are never as real as when someone else is observing them.

So we used to make home movies, we took Polaroids, we sent cards to distant relatives at Christmas so we’d be alive in their minds. It’s a natural and a human impulse. Hell, we painted on the walls of Lascaux. With the technology at hand, we were only able to do it occasionally. We laughed at the Japanese tourists back in the 1970′s who lugged cameras around and photographed everything. Remember those jokes? Me, I’m in some Japanese family’s album somewhere because they asked me in pantomime to pose with them, back in 1976 in Banff, presumably because I was wearing a sweatshirt with a big red maple leaf and Olympics logo.

We’re rubberneckers slowing down to peer at the wreckage flung from the dizzying welter of ‘reality TV’ programs, where it is purported that we are watching ordinary people raised up or struck down by our collective whim or their own strengths and failings, willing participants watchers and watched alike, sanctified and made flesh by the power of our collective gaze. American Idols are made of people! Barechested rednecks are hilarious and a little sad, reminding us of what me might have been, at least on Cops. Oh, man, that’s clever: those fat bastards on the Biggest Loser aren’t really losers at all, are they? It goes on and on.

[ripper] I told u I was hardcore

Larger than life as we bask in the collective gaze starts to feel like a necessary platform of life services to achieve Normal, to stand out from the undifferentiated herd in the way that we’ve been told we should by companies who want us to buy their products. But buying those jeans whose commercials identically mass-marketed the promise of individualist flair to everybody just doesn’t carry the same cachet any more for us media-steeped folks. We’ve gotten too smart and self-aware for that, some of us.

Bud: Look at ‘em, ordinary f–king people, I hate ‘em.

And so online journals like this very one you’re reading right now, and the canonical cheese sandwich post. So weblogs, where what we’ve seen is posted, so that others can see it, and then go and see the thing seen. So audioscrobbling. So Second Life. So YouTube. So MySpace. So Flickr, where we can upload cellphone pics minute-by-minute, if we want. So Odeo and Twitter. So new, so immediate: so we spread the minutiae of our minute-to-minute existence out over the wires, so that others — someone — will notice and pay attention. We are alive to reality when we watch, we feel more real when we are paid in the attention-currency of attentive eyes.

I’m thinking it’s a new pornography of the self. We willingly prostitute our privacy, and we accept payment in the form of attention. We always have, of course. But the slickly sexy 2.0 toolset we have makes it so effortless, and the reward such a crackpipe hit of Warholian fame, that it’s hard to know when to stop. We become gleeful self-pornographers.

The word originally signified any work of art or literature depicting the life of prostitutes. Though pornography is clearly ancient in origin, its early history is obscure because it was customarily not thought worthy of transmission or preservation. Nevertheless, in the artwork of many historic societies, including ancient India, ancient Greece, and Rome, erotic imagery was commonplace and often appeared in religious contexts. The Art of Love, by Ovid, is a treatise on seduction and sensual arousal. The invention of printing led to the production of ambitious works of pornographic writing intended to entertain as well as to arouse. In 18th-century Europe, pornography became a vehicle for social and political protest through its depiction of the misdeeds of royalty and other aristocrats, as well as those of clerics, a traditional target. The development of photography and motion pictures in the 19th and 20th centuries contributed greatly to the proliferation of pornography, as did the advent of the Internet in the late 20th century.

And as we do so, we live less in the actual moment, perhaps, less with the actual people around us. We don’t need to seek out people to be with us here, to be our audiences: if we post, they will come, or at least their eyes will, we hope. Do we lose more than we gain? I don’t know the answer to that.

Maybe I’m just an old curmudgeon. I don’t use instant messaging and other ‘presence apps’, I don’t carry a cell phone. I have no desire for people to know what I’m doing and when, and I don’t care to be at anyone’s beck and call when I am enjoying being alone. Or any other time, for that matter.

I certainly don’t think that it’s all bad, all this Twittering and Flickring, all this eyeball mongering. I have nothing against prostitution, in principle. But we may underestimate what it’s done to us, and what it’s doing. And I wonder what it will mean for people who have never known anything different.

[Update: Hey, Bruce liked my Ginsberg repurposing! And so the circle is complete.]

Lomans not shamans

You know what? I’m a little weary of hearing about your conferences, your camps, your cozy cash-on-the-barrelhead confabs. I don’t want to know what web-shaking new thoughts percolated through the sponsored-by-Starbuck’s IRC backchannel while some Internet Smellovision™ rep droned and powerpointed onstage. I don’t really need to see more Flickr pictures of grinning gaggles of bloggers glistening with teraflopsweat, a little too eager to prove that they socialize in other venues besides World of Warcraft.

Don’t try and tell me that ‘business weblogs’ or ‘the business of weblogs’ are anything but business. Go ahead and do your business. Make your money: we’ve all got to. Convene with your peers and drive your value propositions down the ROI highway. It’s all good. We’re lucky if we can make a living doing something we love. But if what you do and what you say in this shared textual space of ours is about selling something, then it’s about selling something. Don’t bullshit us. Lines blur; everything gets a price tag slapped on it.

I’m not looking at your ads, and there’s no way I’m clicking them, unless I’m right-clicking on them to add them to my Adblock list, and I’m cursing you for making me go through that small tribulation.

Then my nose opens up and the fingers begin to flex when I read again how you were talking to that netfamous guy about this other well-known weblog guy, because that’s what famous internet guys do — they network. They do it publicly, and dignify it by calling it ‘conversation’. Networking obviates the need for latex gloves while giving a socialmedia reacharound.

Conversation as intercourse. Intercourse as commerce. You know somebody’s getting f–ked. I think it might be us. Ad copy tattoed on our lover’s forehead, and we’re so inured to it that we don’t even notice anymore. We’re trying to make love in the middle of the marketplace, but we’re just getting screwed.

Conferences are where salesmen go. Because that’s what salesmen do — they network. They sell. They place ads where we’ll see them, so they can sell us something. Salespeople. Salespersons, I guess. Salors and salestresses. They sell. Lomans, not shamans.

We’ve got the salesman archetype etched into the cultural DNA by now — we see cheap suit a little sad, a little desperate, the armpit-stained Flying Dutchman of the strip malls. We hear faux-friendly NLP-creepy patter, we cringe, even if we’re not sure why. Salesman selling something at us makes our sphincters tighten in a pre-fight-or-flight reflex. Does mine, anyway. fullofstars.jpg And thanks at least in part to the blithely worshipful way that your average blogjockey has of beating the bones together at the foot of the Google Monolith, Adsense has infiltrated our online culture, has made slightly sad dry-haired Holiday Inn revenants of all of us, trapped in a coach seat next to some guy trying to sell us some shit we don’t need, waiting to get a word in edgewise so we can sell him some shit he doesn’t want.

My god, it’s full of ads! Ads by Goooooooooogle. There’s something hidden in that inviting string of ‘ooooooooooo’s waiting to be teased out by a modern day steganographic Nostradamus. While making his ‘o’ face.

(Yeah, I flog Dreamhost here, and I run Adsense on one of my other sites. I’ve become as guilty of this sort of whoring as the next poor rube. I’m squatting as deep in the shit as you are, pants around my ankles, ‘raising the level of discourse’.)

But look: all of the conference references, all the logrolling backscratching insular techmeme circlejerk, all of the third-column index page stacks packed with the javascripty fruit of the Adsensorium, the 120-pixel hello-surfer come-ons… well, it’s enough already.

‘But wonderchicken, my cranky friend,’ you may well object. ‘If you don’t like it, just stop reading it! Nobody’s holding your feet to the fire here. Let those who can and want to spend their time and money sitting in threadworn conference centres with others of their adoptive sept and clan do so, and do not begrudge them their participation in the Monetary Blogdustrial Complex. It is an Engine of The New Economy! It is a bitwork bulwark against the Old Media Hegemony, from which we can together launch our Social Media Enfilade! A rising tide of advertising and self-promotion lifts all boats! We need the evangelists and the shills to Get The Word Out! The Long Tail will always be there wagging the Big Dogs, rich strata of abandoned and automated weblogs, linkfarms and pr0n, and lonely people bellowing out across the virtual rooftops to their audiences of search bots, googlenauts and bemused relatives. The human experience, made hyperlinked. Google will index it all, and get rich on the carrion-clicks that it sells to the office cubicle fools who Aren’t Us! It’s a Brand® New Day!’

Yeah, I know. But I felt like I needed to launch a barbaric yawp into the aether, because I miss it sometimes. And these things can be bad for you if you just let them build up inside. Hi Dave!

I think of Dean Moriarty

…so in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars’ll be out, and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all the rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty, I think of Dean Moriarty.

A Poetry Break brought to you by the fine people in the AudioVisual Division of Wonderchicken Industries

Coke, Pepsi, Anal, Fork, Spoon, Saddam

Google, despite the fact that they are clearly the evolutionary precursor of the Borg or Skynet or the Matrix or whatever Evil Tech Hive Mind your dystopian leanings favour, can be instructive and educational as well as entertaining and terrifying.

From the inquiry into the global zeitgeist below

Google%20Trends%20coke%2C%20pepsi%2C%20anal.png

we learn, for example, that

  • Bermuda goes positively apeshit over Coke, but has no interest in Pepsi
  • New Zealand is also a Coke Nation, but hasn’t yet completed the Pepsi drinker genocide
  • Canadians don’t care much about the minute differences between sugar water brands, but are fond of bum
  • …but not nearly as fond of it as the Kiwis
  • Suprisingly, perhaps, Commonwealth nations are keener on the buttsecks than Americans

In today’s globalized economy, borders become transparent to markets, and death is once again a spectator sport, with images shot ’round the globe in realtime to Feed The Need™. Civilization is sooo cool, man! It’s mashup time, and you get to choose whether you want to eat that mash with fork or spoon, because the Customer Is Always Right.

Google%20Trends%20fork%2C%20spoon%2C%20saddam.png

Of course, it is entirely possible that there is no Spoon, and we’re all Forked.

Share and enjoy.

Disclosure

I have not received a laptop from Microsoft. I have not received an iPod from Apple, or any of the vastly-superior mp3 players from iriver. I have not received books from Amazon. I have not received a camera from Canon. I have not received consumer crap of any kind. I have not received any cheese from Wisconsin, any lumber from British Columbia, any snow from the eskimos, or any coals from Newcastle. I have not received a massage from the Swedish Prime Minister, nor have I received a blowjob from Monica Lewinsky, Monica Seles, Monty Hall, or Ronald MacDonald. I have not received detached wisdom from the Buddha, tough love from the baby Jesus, or a kick in the stones from Allah. I have not received the proceeds of crime, I have not received the wages of sin. I have not received censure from the Senate or congratulations from Congress. I have not received any medals, any commendations, or any blog-battlefield commissions. I have not received any allurements or enticements, gifts or gratuities, inducements, buyoffs, compensations, kickbacks, sops or sweeteners. I have not been lashed to the mast to resist the sweet siren songs of the blogwhoring enablers.

But every man has his price. And every woman hers. So talk to me, shills. I got influence like a goat’s got balls — hairy, heavy, and permeating a surprisingly large area with an indescribable funk.

Five Things I Don't Know About Myself

I agree that Dave’s “What are five things I don’t know about myself” is more interesting than “Five things you don’t know about me”. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Hell, any meme in a storm, in these root-withering Latter Days of Blog.

So here:

  1. I don’t know if my growing suspicion that reproducing is in some important senses what we are for, and my feeling that my reluctance to do so has been to say ‘no’ to life (something I swore decades ago I would never do) are enough to overcome my bowel-loosening terror (and unusually for me, I do not exaggerate for effect, here) at the very idea of having children. Or if they should.
  2. I don’t know if the childhood demons I thought I’d exorcised long ago have been defeated as completely as I had hoped.
  3. I don’t know if I’m a good man, or just a (garden variety enlightened) selfish one with people skills. I’m not sure what it means to be a good man, anymore.
  4. I don’t know if I’ll ever write the things I’ve always wanted to.
  5. I am 41 years old, and I don’t know what I want to do with the rest of my life.

Freedom In Peril (and pass the ammo)

OK, it’s Christmas, and although we are taught that at Christmas our thoughts should turn to peace, love and brotherhood among men (and presumably sisterhood among women, and siblinghood amongst those of differing genders), mine tend to turn pretty quickly from all that lovely and uplifting feel-good window-dressing to righteous anger, antagonism towards hypocrisy, and a big boat of greasy schadenfreude gravy.

Traditionally, it has always been America that has given me the greatest educational opportunities to compare and contrast, seasonal or otherwise. These days Korea can be nearly as amusing, but it’s still the good ol’ US of A that always comes through; it never disappoints in the mindboggling bullshit department.

So in that spirit of angry Xmas wonderchickens past, present and future, I offer you this uplifting publication (pdf, 4Mb) from The National Rifle Association, which I just found today courtesy of a Site That Cannot Be Named. Freedom, they say, is in Peril.

I agree, if not for the reasons these people suggest.

NRA1.jpg

Peace, friends. Sleep well.

Update: This is all over the place today, which is yesterday my time, or something like that. That’s what I get for trying to be timely. Also, one year ago on Metafilter.

Rumours of My Demise

Rumours of my demise have been much exaggerated. I haven’t been eaten by the hogs, I haven’t sold out to the Man. I haven’t quaffed the hemlock, I haven’t screwed the pooch, I haven’t jumped the shark. OK, maybe those last two, but that’s it, officer.

What has happened, apparently, is that I’ve been killed, cooked, and incorporated into a delicious sandwich.

Kids, let this be a lesson. Live right, or it could happen to you too. [via]

Update: Apparently the marketing team that made the ad had never heard of my nom de blog, but thought it was pretty funny once they had. Cool.

Wonderchicken Index

My two-week visit to back to Canada, by the numbers.

  • years since previous visit: 4
  • kilometres driven: 3270
  • members of personal pantheon of heroes (of 5 surviving) drunk with: 4
  • percentage doing better than last time I saw them: 100%
  • percentage of them who believe they are dying: 25%
  • percentage of them with whom manly tears were shed about one thing or another: 75%
  • ways in which I might well have died while rolling ATV into icy bog: 4
  • number of beers consumed before said accident: 4
  • number of hours before getting some dry clothes on: 3
  • number of beers subsequently retrieved from mud under chest-deep icewater: 18
  • cameras ruined: 1
  • fresh moose carcasses manhandled: 2
  • teeth chipped on shot embedded in Canada goose breast: 1
  • average price of Canadian cigarettes:$9.50
  • approximate price ratio, Canadian/Korean smokes: 4:1
  • packs of duty-free Korean cigarettes given away, despite people claiming they didn’t like them: 8
  • teeny bottles of maple syrup brought back for coworkers: 11
  • number of new cocktails discovered with unrestrained glee: 1
  • number of new cocktails discovered whose ingredients cannot be bought in Korea: 1
  • car-battery-sized blocks of cheese consumed: 1
  • hamburgers eaten: 18
  • number of days free of alcohol consumption: 0
  • kilograms of weight gain: 3
  • unexpected pleasure at returning to Korea, which now feels like home: unlimited

Car Battery

Everybody(1) probably remembers the episode of Seinfeld in which George Costanza, newly-single thanks to the timely expiration of his fiancee, celebrates his rebachelorization by lounging sybaritically, half-naked, in front of his TV, with a block of cheese, the symbol of manly freedom.

Jerry: (stares into coffee cup and looks back at George) Problem?

George: The Rosses have started up a foundation, Jerry, and I have to sit on the board of directors.

Jerry: Hey, board of directors. Look at you!

George: Yeah! Look at me! I was free and clear! I was living the dream! I was stripped to the waist, eating a block of cheese the size of a car battery!

Jerry: Before we go any further, I’d just like to point out how disturbing it is that you equate eating a block of cheese with some sort of bachelor paradise.

George: Don’t you see? I’m back in.

Jerry: All because of Wrath of Khan?

George: Yes!

Jerry: Well, it was the best of those movies.

[The camera is over George's head and spins around repeatedly as George screams.]

Now, the furthest thing from my mind is any desire for the demise of She Who Must Be Obeyed. I love her dearly, at least when she’s not premenstrual.

But I’m going to Canada this week, for the first time in four years, for a two-week visit. And the wife, she decided that she wasn’t really up for it this time, and quite happily gave me her blessings to do it alone. We are very rarely apart, and never for more than a couple of days at a time, and though I will miss her, this trip, [this is good]. A fella (particularly one with a past as spotted and a present as buttoned-down as me) needs some time to go stupid sometimes, or at least stupider than usual.

The thoughts of many men — and almost all Korean men, if the nudgey-winky questions of my students and male colleagues are any guide — might turn to matters illicit and concupiscent, perhaps, in such a situation. Not me. I am and always have been a one-woman man, in large part because I simply don’t have the energy that the alternative would require.

Me, though? My first thought (after, of course, sugarplum-fairy dancing spectral images of the dog-choking quantities of quality booze that I’ll be able to drink and fine tobacco I’ll be able to smoke, without the mild concomitant guilt brought on by the presence of a well-meaning but disapproving spouse)?

I pictured myself shirtless, driving a rental car that glorious roadtrippy thousand kilometres between Vancouver and my home town, with Mötörhead cranked up, gnawing on a block of cheese the size of a car battery.

Oh, yes. Oh my.

I may write some updates from the road, if I have the time. On the other hand, I just might have a myocardial infarction. But it’s going to be fun.

1 And I mean that literally, of course.

[Update:] I’m baa-aack. Proof of a time well-had:

cheeseblock.jpg

Bullshit, Dugg

Well, it only took 7 months, but my Web 2.0 Bullshit Generator™ toy from January got dugg (3300 times or so), and seemed to inspire much jocularity.

It’s been interesting, because the page has been one of the most-linked bits of the site for the last 6 months, almost exclusively amongst weblogs in Europe and Asia, for some reason. Then, a few days ago, (near as I can trace it), after I dropped it into a comments thread at Metafilter, it was picked up by milov.nl, then automatically showed up on Hot Links, then Daring Fireball (kablooie went the visits), then Reddit and Digg almost simultaneously.

Happily, the server shows absolutely no signs of melting down (er, so far). Like I said recently, Dreamhost has treated me well.

Share and enjoy.

Update: Whoops, now Techcrunch and de.licio.us and Blue’s News and Dvorak and O’Reilly Radar, too. Memetastic! Now it just needs posting on the front page of Metafilter, and the circle of life will be complete.

[Note: should not be posted to the front page of Metafilter]

Wonderchicken Industries Presents

OK, it took about a month longer than I thought it would, what with my back going kablooie and the summer doldrums setting in and me just generally not working all that hard on it, but OutsideInKorea is finally open for business.

The dust is still settling, and I’ve dropped my tools and cracked a beer to celebrate, but most of the stuff I wanted to do is in place. There are lots of features and content yet to come, but I think it’s ready to pull back the curtain and hope that people like what I’ve done. Some things are probably broken, or look weird, but I’ve tested in Firefox and IE and Opera on Windows, and it looks pretty good to me. If you have problems, it’ll help me if you drop a comment here or there and tell me what’s busted.

The only content other than the welcome message is repurposed essays about Korea from this very site, but I promise that I will be writing regularly and frequently. I’ve done a lot of work on the design (and I’m no designer, and it probably shows), and now it’s time to start filling the bucket with words, Roxanne, words. If you’re interested in Korea, I hope you’ll bookmark the site, and pass the URL on to friends and neighbours, ex-lovers and therapists, your mom and the guy who sells you your drugs.

I’ve decided to put ads on the site — though there will never be ads here on the ‘bottle — and in my Welcome! post over there, I talk about why. It may seem hypocritical of me given my stance about advertising in the past, and I’m willing to accept that criticism. If I can make some money from the site, though, I’ll be well-pleased. It’s not my only reason for building it, but it’ll certainly help me to keep up my enthusiasm, if it happens.

So. Go, and I hope you like. Help me out, my scattered blog tribe, and spread the word.

This site won’t die, I promise, but I’ll be writing about Korea over there from now on.

On Dreamhost's Recent Problems

I still use and recommend Dreamhost, despite the problems they’ve been having recently. To be honest, despite all the handwringing about it around the net, I haven’t noticed any downtime at all thus far for my sites. Maybe it’s the timezone difference. *shrug* Anyway, take my recommendation for what it’s worth — I have made some money for referring people, but nothing like what Mike Davidson’s made (I wish). In the last post I made about this, I provided some discount codes that would get you deals, and give me no referrer money whatsoever. Some or all of those may still be active.

But, in the interest of helping my kind, intelligent and ferociously sexy readers make informed decisions if they’re looking for hosting, here are a few links discussing Dreamhost:

As always, using me as a referrer (more info) if you sign up will help me out with my own hosting costs, and buy me a few beers too (although I haven’t gone for the one-time only referrer bonus, opting for recurring payments each year people stay with DH, assuming and hoping that people will stay with the service, as I have. If they don’t, I don’t get the couple of bucks a year, which seems fair).

The Price Of Oil, Redux

I remember when the shit was clearly going to impact directly on the fan, at least to anyone with a couple of f–king braincells to rub together, as the last particles of dust from the World Trade Centre settled onto the homeless folks and the masters of the universe there in New York.

I remember that. And I remember how I thought ‘Oh, that Billy Bragg, much as I’ve loved him and his ethical stances and musico-politicking all these years, he’s gonna bounce off the marshmallow mindset with this’ when he released his song “The Price of Oil“.

It came up on my random-ass playlist tonight, and I misted up as I sang along. Remembering the fury I felt as the news outlets told us idiot fables about ‘shock and awe’, and realizing how I’ve tamped down my outrage into a little impotent packet of irony these days. I thought about the past couple of years, and all the people whose people died.

Here, you: download it. Or just listen right here.

Voices on the radio

tell us that we’re going to war

those brave men and women in uniform

they want to know what they’re fighting for.

The generals want to hear the end game

the allies won’t approve the plan

but the oil men in the white house

they just don’t give a damn.

‘Cause it’s all about the price of oil

it’s all about the price of oil

don’t give me no shit

about blood, sweat, tears and toil

it’s all about the price of oil.

Now I ain’t no fan of Saddam Hussein

oh, please don’t get me wrong

if it’s freeing the Iraqi people you’re after

then why have we waited so long.

Why didn’t we sort this out last time

was he less evil than he is now

the stock market holds the answer

to why him, why here, why now.

‘Cause it’s all about the price of oil

it’s all about the price of oil

don’t give me no shit

about blood, sweat, tears and toil

it’s all about the price of oil.

Saddam killed his own people

just like general Pinochet

and once upon a time both these evil men

were supported by the U.S.A.

And whisper it, even Bin Laden

once drank from America’s cup

just like that election down in Florida

this shit doesn’t all add up.

‘Cause it’s all about the price of oil

it’s all about the price of oil

don’t give me no shit

about blood, sweat, tears and toil

it’s all about the price of oil.

Download it, if you haven’t before.

I am no better than them because there are people I would be happier to see dead. There is no honor in this.

I Got Your Cheese Sandwich Right Here

Item the first: I ripped the living shit out of my back at the gym almost two weeks back, and finally knuckled in to Medical (whoop) Technology (whoop) and had an MRI today. Three disks are pooching out a bit, sad to say, one of them, the worst, ‘moderately’. Thus, the sciatic nerve pain literally in my ass. Good news is that my employer — KoreaHyperMegacorp® — has its own health centre (on our own reclaimed-land island) where I can get several hours a day of physiotherapy, and I’m starting with a personal trainer tomorrow to teach me how to exercise that spinal toothpaste right back into its hidey-hole, all gratis. So that’s OK, I guess.

Item the second: my friend-I’ve-never met, Adam Greenfield, is here in Korea and giving a talk based on his book Everyware at the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in Daejeon on Friday. Because I’m both in-bloody-capacitated, and in the middle of one of the busiest times of the year, I’m not gonna make it, nor it seems will I be able to sit down and consume alcoholic beverages and talk a few metric tons of shit with him, something that, if I’m to be honest, I was looking forward to even more. Ah crap, as my grandpappy used to say. Show up in my stead if you’re here in Korea; tell him the wonderchicken sent you.

Item the last: It’s my 41st freakin’ birthday tomorrow. Forty-two ‘Korean age’. The whole live-fast-die-young thing, I’m going to have to admit, has been a miserable failure.

Well, my testicles have stopped aching. And at least I’m not a dog in outer space.

Regret

I was somewhere between point A and point B, as I had been for most of the decade in question. For most of my life, when it came to it. Wait, that’s not the way to start it. Let me try again.

I’ve never been as fascinated by sex as most people seem to be, but there was a lost few days that I remember….

No, that’s not how I want to tell this story either.

One more time.

There was this girl in high school. She was attractive, splendidly put together, but clumsy somehow. Unpopular, invisible. And smart. Too smart, and too interested in making sure that people knew it. Me, I was smart too, but I spent as much time as possible trying to rebrand it, at least to those elements of the cabal that didn’t appreciate that kind of thing. I was as kind to her as I was to most people, because I was a nice guy, especially when I was sober, even as I was limping unsuccessfully after other, unobtainable young women, stealth erection tucked down my leg.

Most of a decade after high school, I had decanted myself back into the Old Home Town after a time drinking and sailing in Mexico, skinny tan squinty pickled and worldy-arrogant, and we met again, and drank together, and she was magnificent. Gorgeous, and grace had replaced teen clumsiness. Apparently, she’d been in teenage love with me. Oh.

We screwed like minks on the floor at the foot of her parents’ bed after the bar closed. Her parents were in a nearby town dealing with the aftermath of her grandmother’s death, which was why she was also back in town. It was one of those things that happen, and it was nice, and fleeting. And hotter than hell, I tell you now.

Months later, and I was making my way back down to the big city. I’d saved a couple of thousand dollars working mill and was ready to buy a ticket out again, to wherever. Wherever had treated me pretty damn well before. She’d left an open invite to come and stay with her, anytime, and I decided to take her up on it.

That’s where the whole ‘I’ve never been dick-led’ thing that I mentioned comes in. I didn’t love her, sex was a thing that I liked but didn’t crave: I didn’t know what the f–k, but I was 20-something, and I wanted to walk through whatever doors opened up in front of me, on principle if nothing else. And that illicit carpet sex had been… good.

So I rolled into her town on the Greyhound, called her, and she picked me up, and we went to the liquor store, and she bought half a dozen bottles of liquor, and we went to her house, and we f–ked a lot.

We drank — or, mostly, I drank, at the arborite-and-aluminum table in the kitchen of her small, neat apartment — and then we f–ked. Mornings, she went to work, and I stayed, and wrote, and smoked, and waited until the afternoon to drink again. I don’t remember eating during those 4 or 5 days but I suppose we must have.

It wasn’t love driving the lust, which was a new thing, at least for me. It was an echo of love for her, maybe, a salute to an unrequited one a decade old. It was good for both of us, I supposed and I liked to think, in completely different ways.

The night before I left — and this was the memory that started me telling this story, this story I couldn’t figure out how to start, and now, having started, have reservations about telling its denouement — it was Saturday night and Canada-cold, we were drunk as lords, and I was going down on her, and her muscles were a-twitch and her transported. I was proud as hell that I was making her come. I’d never known a women before who had her own apartment and all.

As the orgasm rolled over her, she let a massive fart out on my chin. It was a ripper. I took it with aplomb — I had at least a bottle of scotch in me — and looked up after it had finished, over the smooth terrain of her belly. Staring at the ceiling, as the muscles on the insides of her thighs quivered and quieted against my ears, she said “I didn’t get to see my grandma before she died.”

We drank some more that night after we got dressed. I left the next day, and we parted friends.

I don’t know what this story means, but the memory came to me tonight as I drank my beer, and I thought I’d tell it, because I miss writing shit down sometimes.

Coming Soon

I’ve been working on a new project, which will hopefully be ready for a triumphant launch within the next week or two, if I don’t get distracted by any shiny objects.

Keep on eye on this URL, and if there’s anything you’d like to see in a slightly-toned-down but still wonderchicken-y site dedicated to information and commentary on Korea, the expat experience, and all things peninsular, please drop a comment in the usual place.

Huzzah!

Sometimes I Make Myself Laugh

For some reason, this post from a few years back — Uncle f–ka Exegesis — has been getting hits like a proper weblog motherf–ker lately. Not as much as the weirdly-popular-in-Europe Web 2.0 Bullshit Generator, but pretty damn close.

I re-read the exegesis for the first time in a long time just now, and I’m kind of thinking it’s the best damn thing I’ve ever written. Then again, I am drinking beer because tomorrow’s Buddha’s Birthday — that bastard — and I’ll admit that the juice might possibly have coloured my perception and delaminated my judgement.

I’m still on the road, though, and I’m still gunning for the Buddha (that bastard). That’s got to count for something.

Anyway, sometimes I make myself laugh. Your mileage may vary, as they say in the halls of power, those petrol weasels, them.