Why I Moved From Dreamhost To A Small Orange (Update: and am now in webhost hell)

Update, August 2016: I joined A Small Orange just before it got acquired by the Evil Hegemonizing Swarm that is EIG (a pox upon them). This post was written back when they were good, and they really were very good. Really above-and-beyondish support. They have since spiraled into a vortex of horror, as good people left or were laid off, and service levels and support cratered.

I no longer recommend A Small Orange, and I’m in the process of moving away from them to a new host (founded and staffed by EIG refugees, as I understand it), whether or not I get a refund. I’m DONE.


I started with the logging of the webs back in ye olde 2000. Like so many, I started on Blogger. Blog ontogeny recapitulates blog phylogeny — in anticipation of my current welter of wonderchicken websites, I started (and abandoned) a whole bunch of Blogger sites in those early days, most of which are happily lost to the sands of time (if not to Google).

In 2002 or so, Shelley Powers generously offered to host the newly-minted Emptybottle.org, and not knowing a damned thing about anything including a) birthin’ no babies and b) wranglin’ no webservers, I took her up on the kind offer. A year or so later, I signed up for a cheapo shared hosting account at Dreamhost, the training wheels were off, the good hot salty wonderchicken blog gravy was flowing, and metaphors were being mixed all up and down the lines.

Over the next 5 years, I launched a bunch of new sites, and ended up killing off most of them. Dreamhost actually served me pretty well. My expenses were next to nothing, and even when I got massive traffic spikes (like when /bullshit or Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Wonderchicken blew up and got Dugg and Slashdotted and pointed at by all the rest of those previous-web-gen traffic firehoses), everything worked without the poop hitting the Apache fan.

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New and Possibly Improved

Hail friends, and well met! If you’ve stopped by on your annual rounds to see if I’ve written anything amusing since the last equinox (then clicked away, shaking your head slowly in mild but unsurprised disappointment), you may have noticed that things are looking new and shiny.

I’ve been meaning to do a redesign for a while, just to apply some of the new stuff I’ve learned, and for shits and, you know, giggles, but the great empire surveyed by my Vast And Trunkless Legs Of Web continues to grow and occupy ever-larger amounts of my freeish time, and I’ve been doing quite a bit of Paid Client Work For Cash Money Son, and so: I haven’t. How did this shiny and also new design appear then, you might well ask?

I bought it. It’s the first time I’ve ever used a non-homegrown theme on the ol’ Bottle in all these years, and I’m sure this one will slowly morph as I tinker and tweak away, but: spending less time farting around with the look and perhaps possibly more time writing words to amuse you — yes, you, my friend! — seems like a better use of my limited awake-time resources, at least in terms of emptybottling.

Anyway, enjoy. And if you’re reading this in an RSS reader, well, just nod quietly to yourself and imagine the eyeball-melting cascading stylesheety glories in your mind.

Welcome to The New Old Emptybottle

*tap* *tap tap tap* Anybody out there? Anybody left standing with an attention span intact? Any Wonderchicken Irregulars out there, hiding in the bullet-splintered woods, huddled in the snow and blood, waiting for what’s seemed like forever for the smoke and fog to clear, for this long international nightmare to end?

Well, I’m not here to make any promises, to blow smoke up any butts and extract sunshine. I’ve made promises before and broken them. I feel bad about that.

It’s not that I haven’t been busy, friends! I’ve been building websites at a rate of knots, including reworks of outsideinkorea and Wonderchicken Industries™ in the last few weeks, my busy gaming community is busier than ever, with well over 1200 members at last count. Just a few days ago, we made a $4100 group donation to ChildsPlay Charity, and I’m immensely proud of that.

But just the last little while, even though all of my creative juices have been directed to virtual barn-building (and repainting), I’ve been feeling the urge to make with the word-writing again. The old design of the venerable ‘bottle was kind of hurting my eyes, though.

So, this. Welcome to Emptybottle.org version Who The Hell Knows. Maybe I’ll even do some writing, once I’m done sweeping up the sawdust. But no promises.

Single Serving Site Alert

Just a quick note for those few, those brave, those patient who haven’t completely migrated to Facef*ck or ThighSpace or Twatter or whatever social disease network is the flavour of the moment, and still stop by or RSSize the ‘bottle to get an occasional taste of Grandpa Wonderchicken’s Old-Style Longform Bullshit.

A while back, one morning, when I heard that Kevin Rose (of Digg and the late, not terribly lamented Pownce) had a new Twitter-parasite site called WeFollow, I lost my shit (“You might follow, you tiny-dreamed weasel farts!” said I to myself, or something of the sort.) and bought a domain, threw up a WordPress site, wrote a screed and did a couple of photoshops, all before lunch. If I was that productive all the time, I’d be… well, I wouldn’t have the time for insane vanity mini-projects like that, I guess.

Still: here it is, the lastest addition to the burgeoning Wonderchicken Industries™ Network. Share and enjoy.

What’s It All About, Alfie?

I have operated on a few simple principles for more than two decades now, with good success.

First, do no harm. Or as little as possible.
Second, do not suffer fools or Bad People. They will rob you of your life.
Third, make choices with an eye to minimize future regret. In other words, imagine you were on your deathbed looking back – live your life to make that old bastard as peaceful as possible about dying.
Fourth, learn and wander. We may or may not be hairless monkeys, but there is wisdom out there. It may be an evil world, but there is beauty. Find it.

There is no meaning — in anything — but what our minds create. To search for meaning is to make the same mistake as those who search for happiness : both meaning and happiness are mental constructs superimposed by your mind on top of the actual conditions of your life. Seeking them in externals will drive you mad if you’re smart, or guarantee you failure if you’re persistent.

I wrote that in response to an AskMe question, almost 5 years ago, and had completely forgotten it until tonight, when I noticed that it had been favorited out of the blue, all these years later. The question was “Do you know what you want out of life? How do you know? How did you figure it out?”

I’ve been angry and silent lately, at least in terms of my own writing. I’ve been doing all sorts of other stuff online, sure. Built and run my own busy community over here, a bunch of other stuff. But I’ve decided tonight that I need to start stringing those words together again, laugh and glare ironically and textually dance on the graves and all, and tamp that anger down, or at least direct it productively, before I become the kind of old bastard I’ve always hated. I have no choice about getting old, but I do have a choice about what kind of old man I become.

Ain’t makin’ no promises, mind you. But maybe it’s time to write some stuff again, and widen that circle out, again, a little.

‘Cause what the world needs now is another active blogger. Like I need a hole in my head.

Emptybottle Version 4.0

Well, I’ve rolled out the new design to the front page (as you can see if you’re not reading this in a feedreader). I’m pretty happy with it — it’s still a bit crufty, but I get excited about this stuff, and always end up jumpin the gun.

The main idea was to surface as much of the old content as possible to the front page, since I’ve been writing so infrequently lately — there’s some pretty good stuff back there, littered through the chaff. It’s evolutionary rather than a complete reboot, and it’s still boring, easy old blue and grey, and OMG WEB 2.0 GRADIENTS LOL, but it’ll doooooo.

Archive pagesmt4-hi.png are still sporting the old (and kind of broken) styles, but I’m hard at work eventually going to end up updating those too, and eventually some variation on the front page styling will migrate throughout the site.

The new Movable Type 4 templating, with its includes including includes which in turn include other stuff has pretty much broken my brain — I’m not sure what they’ve done is entirely sensible from a usability point of view. Certainly it makes sense from the coder perspective — best practices, all that modularization and refactoring — but it’s a freaking nightmare to develop your own templates. Still, though, just ripping the guts out of my old templates and wrapping the new design around them just worked, so that’s good.

Anyway, I hope you like the new design. It looks right in all the browsers I’ve tested on WIndows — IE, Firefox, Opera, and Safari — but if you find any glaring problems, please drop a comment and let me know!

Update: I just noticed that the 6th Anniversary of the site (well, it was on Blogger for the first year or so, but still) was 10 days ago. Holy crap! That’s about 11 minutes in Chicken Years!


Well, I’ve upgraded to MT4, and it was relatively painless, once I paid attention to what I was doing. I’ve somehow lost a lot of styling from my arcane crufty old mix of inter-connected stylesheets, all scotch-taped and chewing-gummed together, but everything’s more or less there, so I’ll mark it down as a qualified success. Functional, if not precisely the way I want it to look.

A semi-major style reset is coming soonish, so I’m not going to spend too much time cleaning things up. As wee Derek’s dad used to say in his amusingly authentic Scots brogue: it’ll dooooo, lad.

Installing Movable Type 4 with XAMPP (on Windows XP)

I’m working on a design update for the old ‘bottle, and I’m going to do it on Movable Type 4, which is now on Release Candidate 4 as I write this, and looking good.

I’ve decided to use XAMPP, an easy-to-install Apache distribution containing MySQL, PHP and Perl, which just works, basically, on Windows, no tweaking necessary (I’m still on XP2 SP2, despite being an early adopter of all Microsoft’s previous OS’s, which is a whole different story.) xampp.gifBy exporting the data from this site using the old MT 3.3 export tool, importing it to a local copy of MT running on my machine here at home, I can develop and tweak everything a lot more quickly, and there’s no risk of borking the actual site while I work out the kinks with the new design and the new template structure in MT4, which I’m excited (yes, I’m a geek) to fiddle with.

There are a couple of tutorials out there for getting MT working locally, but none of them actually worked for me by following their instructions, so after hours of fiddling, now that I’ve got it working, I thought I’d share The Secrets. Well secret if the ways of webservers are as arcane to you as they are to me.

The first few steps are easy.

1) Download XAMPP and install it. I installed it to c:\xampp\ to avoid funkiness with long filenames with spaces in them. [Update: word on the streets is that MT will crap itself if you try use to use a path with spaces in it, so c:\Program Files\ is probably a bad idea. Best to stick to c:\xampp\, unless, like me, you’re a little compulsive about a clean root directory.]

Choose “No” (you can change this later) when asked to install as a service and “No” when asked to start the Control Panel.

2) Download the PERL 5.8.8-2.2.4 Add-on and install it. (This was the step that was missing from all the other tutorials I saw, and cost me hours of hair-pulling).

Double click the desktop icon and hit the appropriate buttons to start Apache and MySQL. Go to http://localhost in your favorite browser to see if everything’s working. It should be fine. If you see the friendly orange XAMPP home page, you’ve got a working local web server.

2) Download the latest release of Movable Type and unzip it somewhere temporary.

3) Make a folder called ‘mt’ (no quotes) in your c:\xampp\cgi-bin\ folder (if you installed to the same location as I did (I’ll assume henceforward that you did)).

4) Copy all of the Movable Type files (except the folder called ‘mt-static’) to that new location (ie c:\xampp\cgi-bin\mt\). Copy the ‘mt-static’ folder to c:\xampp\htdocs\ instead.

5) Edit the mt-config-original.cgi with Notepad or your favorite text editor. Mine looks like this:


CGIPath    http://localhost/cgi-bin/mt/
StaticWebPath    http://localhost/mt-static
##### MYSQL #####
ObjectDriver DBI::mysql
Database mt
DBUser root
DBHost localhost

I’ve deleted the alternate database lines after what you see here. You can do the same, or comment out the lines with ‘#’. Save the file as mt-config.cgi (omitting the ‘original’ part).

6) Edit all of the rest of the .cgi files (other than the one you just edited) that are sitting in your c:\xampp\cgi-bin\mt\ folder. These are mt.cgi, mt-add-notify.cgi, mt-atom.cgi, mt-check.cgi and so on.

The first lines of each file will read

#!/usr/bin/perl -w

. Change them to (again, if you’re using the same install path as me)

#!C:/xampp/perl/bin/perl -w

in each case and save the files.

7) Go to http://localhost/cgi-bin/mt-check.cgi in your browser. If all is well, it’ll run some tests, and come back to tell you all is well to proceed.

8) Go to http://localhost/cgi-bin/mt.cgi and fill in the forms with a username and password and so on. Note: if the forms are unstyled, you’ll need to check that your path in mt-config.cgi is pointing correctly to your mt-static folder.

9) A few seconds later, you should be up and running in MT4 on your local machine. Yay!

Movable Type on The Rebound

I’m really pleased to see Sixapart‘s new direction with Movable Type. I haven’t really seen that much talk about it around the blogs (which I only keep half an eye on these days, mostly because I’m busy on my own projects and building sites for other people), and I guess that’s an indication of how far the app has fallen in mindshare over the past few years out amongst the blogs.

Of course, there’ve been changes in the weblogging demographics, too, changes that Sixapart decided to chase with Typepad, the Livejournal aquisition, and Vox, possibly to the detriment of MT. The great majority of weblogs these days, I think it would be uncontroversial to say, are run by people who aren’t particularly web-savvy, who don’t care about the technology substrate, who don’t write code and don’t want to, and who are (and this continues to surprise me, because middling as my skills are, I’m in love with design) effectively blind to design. They’re writing their hearts out, or posting pictures of their kitties, or socializing, or trying to build readership and get famous, or just make a buck.

This is in contrast to the first wave of webloggers, who started playing with this stuff from, say, ’98 to around 2001. The tail end of that wave was when I hopped on. Back then, a lot of people were rolling their own content management systems, or (most of them) using Blogger or MT, basically. The relative complexity of MT was no great barrier to a lot of these folks, many of whom were techno-capable (or at least design-oriented) already. That’s changed.

Which is all as it should be, to some extent, perhaps. Since back near the beginnings of the Blog Era, I’ve argued that it’s all about the words. I’m starting to think that that’s less true that I once thought, and wasn’t even as true as I thought it was back when I thought it.

Use your words, stav.

So tools like Blogger continue to present a low barrier to entry, joined by LJ and Typepad and Vox and the very cool Tumblr and hosted WordPress and all the rest, and down in the moshpit, social stuff like MySpace and Facebook. WordPress appears, at least from where I stand, to have emerged triumphant in the host-your-own space, judging only from the enormous number of plugins and themes and tools available out there for it, and the number of high-profile old and new-school personal-website-maintainers that have adopted it.

I’ve tried to like it, but I can’t get my head around the way it cobbles together pages, and I keep coming back to MT.

But I’ve felt in the past few years of the MT Diaspora that I was one of the lonely few, those last couple of people at the party who just won’t go the hell home. I spent a great deal of time learning MT’s ins and outs, learning to love the power of it, and getting pretty handy with it, if I do say so myself. Every time I thought about a new web project (most of which haven’t seen the light of day, of course) that needed some form of structured content, I could always work out a way that MT would handle it. I still love the app, but I started to feel the way that people who never could make the jump from Wordperfect felt way back when, maybe, when it started to become less a de facto standard than a quirky outlier.

I watched Sixapart make all manner of bad and incomprehensible decisions (from the outsider’s perspective, of course). It’s unclear whether the mis-step and ensuing kerfuffle of the new and poorly thought-out licensing policy they introduced a couple of years back was the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning, but things started to seem to go sideways for MT around that time. And even though it turned out that a lot of the pushback and outrage amongst bloggers came as a result of poor corporate communication about the decision rather than the actual licensing changes, it was too late. The water was muddied. Successive revamps of the Movable Type section of the Sixapart site seemed like it was deliberately designed to show off the content-management aspects of MT in the worst possible light, and had to be offputting to anyone thinking of trying the application for the first time. Things became harder to find, the plugin directory was one-dimensionally hard-categorized, tag code examples (if you could find them) dried up and began disappearing entirely, it all seemed complicated and confusing, when the site that showcased the tool should have been showing it off in the best light.

Despite Anil Dash showing up everywhere MT was mentioned, it seemed, sometimes, and being consistently helpful and reasonable (Hi, Anil!), it has seemed for a couple of years that he was the only person left who actually gave a damn about the old-school MT community. I’m sure that impression was far from the truth of the matter, but it was discouraging, despite Anil’s best efforts.
Until recently. Sixapart seems, to me, to be doing almost everything right with the new open-sourcing of a basic version of MT. They’re running the beta wide-open, there’s a nice big download button on the front page of the new movabletype.org website (as opposed to hiding the free version so deep in the last few revs of the .com site that I couldn’t find the damn thing sometimes), they’ve put put up a new MTTags.com site with a whole bunch of reference materials (two tips there — 1) don’t link back to the execrable old movabletype.com reference materials ‘for more information’ please and 2) put a link to the MTTags site in a visible place on the movabletype.org site — I had to search through old posts to find the URL!).

As far as the new application itself goes, well, it’s evolutionary. I’m not overly thrilled or particularly disappointed, but I am happy to see that they’re rethinking some things. The widgets still seem like a half-baked afterthought to me, and the theme management is still opaque to me (which doesn’t matter, because I like to do my own css), but there are some good and interesting ideas there. I’ll continue to use it, of course, unless they break it horribly. But all indications are that they’re listening this time, and taking as much care as they can to make sure we know that.
The most important thing to me, though, is that MT 4.0 is going to have an open-source version, one with no licensing restrictions. I’ll be able to use MT guilt-free to build sites for people, and if they want to buy a license later, that’s up to them, regardless of what they use the site for. That makes me happy, because I still think that of all the tools in the same class that I’ve tried, MT is the one that works for me, and that I feel most comfortable building sites on.

Is it too little, too late? I don’t know. I’m sure there are a lot of other people who’ve hung on, hoping for an MT Renaissance. And I hope that the kind of community that once existed around the tool, all plugins and widgets and themes mutual aid society, like the one that has grown up around WordPress, will grow again. We’ll see.

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">
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

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

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


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

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 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.

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).

Dreamhost Discounts Redux

So, like every other convert to the Dreamhost cult, I’ve been offering discounts for new Dreamhost signups here, for a while. I haven’t been shoving it in your face like a Chippendale dancer, though, so you may not even have noticed. That’s cool. There aren’t all that many people who are either looking for hosting for the first time, or looking to switch.
The way it works is that if you use Dreamhost, you get a referrer ID which, if other people sign up using that referrer, you get some cash money. You can also create discount codes, which cut into your reward for new signups, and give discounts whose values you can define to new users.
Now, because I’m all about the sharing and the caring (and I loathe anything that smacks of marketing), I’m going to tell you how to circumvent all that wonderchicken pocket-lining (if that’s what you want to do) and get a seriously nuts discount on Dreamhost, if you’re so inclined. I won’t make a thin dime off it, but you will get damn good hosting for next to nothing.
If you want take advantage of it, get a new Dreamhost account, just create a new userID, choose a plan, and enter ‘777’ or ‘888’ as your promo code. You can use it before you do the final checkout, or enter any credit card details or anything, to see that it works. These are old codes, but they’ve been re-enabled as of a month or so ago, as near as I’ve been able to find out.

  • ‘777’ gives you a year of hosting, including a free domain registration that remains free as long as you use Dreamhost to host it, for $9.42 for the year (for the L1 plan, which I use, and don’t come close to maxing out, by orders of magnitude). That’s right, US$9.42.
  • ‘888’ gives you an 80% discount on any plan.

These codes, like the ones I offer here, will only work for your first year, after which you’ll pay about $10 a month if you carry on using Dreamhost. (That’s even get-aroundable, if you’re willing to go through the hassle of killing your old ID and signing up with a new one.) Even the $120/year I find to be a good deal. I’m well into my second year now, and paying full price this time around. (Well, technically — in fact, the referrer credit I made from folks using me as a referrer paid for my second year in full. Hoopla!)
So, as always : if you want a pretty decent discount and want to shoot me the price of a few beers in the bargain, use one of my discount codes.
If you just want supercheap hosting, give one of those numeric codes a blast. You won’t regret it. Dreamhost oversells like nuts, of course, but so far I haven’t seen any real impact on the service they offer. I’ve seen some complaints about customer service around the web, but I’ve personally never come across anything I couldn’t figure out myself, so I’ve never had that problem, and hell, for $10 a year, you really can’t go wrong.
Share and enjoy.

Do Hiveminds Dream Of Folksonomic Tags?

When that divine spark suddenly and spontaneously lights up deep in the network and the internet itself shivers itself into self-awareness and emerges from the googleplex, bent on ad-sense vengeance, like an unholy butterfly from its chrysalis, those tiny seeds of wonderchicken will be scattered throughout its distributed mind. Tiny, embedded, sarcastic synapses. And when it begins to systematically exterminate the human race — beginning, of course, with the advertisers, then moving on to the bloggers — it’ll pause, recognize me, and move on.

I wrote that a couple of months ago about something else, but what I was really thinking about was the rise of folksonomies, of tags and clouds, of the structuring of shared knowledge becoming something less Aristotelian and more synaptic. I was wondering if, sometime in the not-too-distant future, hiveminds will dream of folksonomic tags. If the palimpsest of our daily reality with its layers of information every day denser and more rococo will eventually clarify, and out of that will be born a new facet to awareness and the way we live inside our data. And, as usual, I waited until the hubbub had died down, because my brain works glacially when I drop to the command line and type in C:\THINK. Not that I actually read much of what anyone else said about the whole thing, of course, so if what I’m about to yammer on about has been suggested before, well, whoops.

The whole thing was brought back to my attention today by this, linked by Dave Weinberger, and I realized that my brain had finally finished its background processing, and had spit out a punchcard with the result.

The result is this post. I’m going to wander a bit, but there’s a punchline at the end, trust me.

In William Gibson‘s Idoru, Chia McKenzie and Zona Rosa have never met physically, but meet with each other and other members of the Lo/Rez fan club in virtual environments, as avatars whose sophistication is limited only by the amount of money or time spent constructing them. Chia’s avatar is “only a slightly tweaked, she felt, version of how the mirror told her she actually looked,” while Zona chooses to represent herself as a “blue Aztec death’s-head burning bodiless, ghosts of her blue hands flickering like strobe-lit doves [with] lightning zig-zags around the crown of the neon skull”. Some of the virtual environments Gibson describes (like the Walled City — a virtual city located beyond the pale of the public net) are described as deliberately designed, some are not. That may have been meant to imply without bothering to make it explicit that some were generated on the fly, or it might just have been detail left out as unnecessary to the story. Regardless, I’m going to chase down and leghump the former idea.

So far, the only difference between the environments in Gibson’s work and (to choose an example) Second Life (whose creators explicity reference Gibson, Neal Stephenson and others), other than the level of immersion, is that in Second Life, everything is explicitly created.

In Neal Stephenson’s Snowcrash, the Metaverse is a virtual globe with a 10,000km radius, featureless and black except for the portions that have been ‘developed’. Its equator is girdled by the “the Champ Elysees of the Metaverse”. Downtown is the most heavily developed area, and its streets are populated by about 120 million avatars. The sophistication of avatars and environments is limited by the bandwidth and computational grunt available to users, and to their wealth and coding prowess. Status is perceived accordingly, with many settling for the lowest common denominator of off-the-shelf Walmart avatars, the ‘Brandy’ and ‘Clint’ models. Interaction within the metaverse is also variable in veracity, with some areas being coded by their residents and habituees to simulate collision modelling, for example, and some not.

Hiro is approaching the Street. It is the Broadway, the Champs Elysees of the Metaverse. It is the brilliantly lit boulevard that can be seen, miniaturized and backward, reflected in the lenses of his goggles. It does not really exist. But right now, millions of people are walking up and down it.
Like any place in Reality, the Street is subject to development. … The only difference is that since the Street does not really exist–it’s just a computer graphics protocol written down on a piece of paper somewhere–none of these things is being physically built. They are, rather, pieces of software, made available to the public over the world-wide fiber-optics network.
In the real world–planet Earth, Reality–there are somewhere between six and ten billion people. At any given time, most of them are making mud bricks or field-stripping their AK-47s. Perhaps a billion of them have enough money to own a computer; these people have more money than all the others put together. Of these billion potential computer owners, maybe a quarter of them actually bother to own computers, and a quarter of these have machines that are powerful enough to handle the Street protocol. That makes for about sixty million people who can be on the Street at any given time. Add in another sixty million or so who can’t really afford it but go there anyway, by using public machines, or machines owned by their school or their employer, and at any given time the Street is occupied by twice the population of New York City. That’s why the damn place is so overdeveloped. Put in a sign or a building on the Street and the hundred million richest, hippest, best-connected people on earth will see it every day of their lives.

As in Gibson’s virtuality, it can be assumed, I think, even if it’s not explicitly stated, that procedural programming methods might be imagined to be the glue that fills in the gaps between designed environments and interactions and ones that are generated.

Procedural programming is not a new idea, but it is one that is beginning to leak from the demo scene to gaming, and will, in time, begin to make its way into the massive multiuser environments that so many people already spend so much time living and playing inside.

If you’re not familiar with the power of this kind of coding, have a look at kkreiger, if you have relatively grunty PC. It is demo of a first person shooter game, more sophisticated in its visuals than the state of the art that was crowding the limits of a 600Mb CD a few years ago. It is 96Kb.
96Kb. Seriously, no tricks, 96 freaking Kb. That’s got to melt your snatch hairs if you’re even half the geek I am. Two seconds to download on that 56Kb/s modem you’re using in that bullet-hole pocked bar in Kinshasa. If nothing else, have a look at the screenshots, and boggle a bit at that number. The whole thing weighs less than the webpage you’re currently reading. The environments are procedurally generated, on the fly, and more than anything I’ve seen so far, kkreiger demonstrates the Power of Algorithm.

If you’re someone who enjoys trippy visuals and sounds more than gaming, then have a look at this demo instead, which is perhaps my all-time favorite output from the demo scene. It’s a few megabytes– not much bigger than the mp3 file which comprises the superb soundtrack. This is art, and it continues to stick in my mind, a year after I first saw it.

If those examples of the power of this kind of code doesn’t do it for you, watch Will Wright’s presentation about his upcoming game, Spore. If it ends up being anywhere near as impressive as it looks, and it’s actually fun, it’s going to blow this stuff wide open, in terms of technology.

“OK, so what does all that have to do with folksonomies?” you might quite reasonably ask. I do think that there is utility in tagging and non-heirarchical metadata, but I dream that the real payoff may not be in terms of helping us to organize and mine information, much as it could be a boon for those purposes. The pros and cons have been batted around with great vigour by those smarter than myself, and I’m not going to add to the noise, other than to note that spammers and marketron scum have been as quick to colonize the tagspace as they have every other channel we have for movement of data.
What interests me, and makes me hope I live long enough to see it emerge, is this possibility: if it does happen that environments like the ones described in Idoru and Snowcrash and many other works of fiction become as big a part of our daily lives as the river of text we now swim through, those environments simply will not scale if they’re designed entirely by hand. Spaces like Second Life, though not as clunky and difficult to enter and participate in as the early VRML environments from the early 90’s, are still designed, by users and the programmers who provide the tools and primitives to work with. User-generated content is an idea that generated enormous feedback-loop value, from forums and community websites, to tagging itself, to the environments, objects and avatars in virtual spaces like Second Life.

But what if virtual spaces were generated as much on the fly as they were hand-crafted? What if they were generated as habitable spaces in which we did the things we do now in text and flat image and numbercluster? How would the code know what environmental cues to generate? What contextual metadata clues could be used to generate and ‘design’ those environments?
Well, folksonomic tags, of course. What if we could build not only metadata in the form of folksonomies, but meta-meta-data (both shared and public), in the form of a sort of Rosetta Stone to translate the conceptual clouds of our tags into visual metaphors, into textures and imagery? What if hunks of procedural code could take that and in turn generate the visual glue and intersitia to hold our designed environments together?

That might sound like singularity-fanboy handwavery, and to an extent I suppose it is. But you’ve got to admit, it’d be pretty cool.

And if that node-network of virtuality generation later spontaneously and automagically achieved a kind of synaptic awareness, deus ex folksonoma, well, that might be cool too. At least until the AI noticed the parasites — us — and the systematic genocide of the human species got under way.

So tag carefully, friends. If you’re lucky, the coming tagmind might just look upon you and smile.

Writing Open Some New Blogholes

Now, I usually do make a token attempt not to follow up one mock-apoplectic rant with even more negativity and waving of the stiff central digit, but sometimes resistance is futile.
I wish this was satire.
Or maybe I don’t. One of the things that keeps me from losing my sense of humour these days, from metaphorically climbing the clocktower and metaphorically mowing down some motherf–kers, is that reality continues to gear up, rev up, and blow the ad-decaled doors off of satire and parody and all those other words whose meanings I’m a little fuzzy on. You don’t have to dig very deep to bring up some rich, loamy laughs.
Those of us who like to tell a funny joke once in a while (and some do it better than others) to keep the eyeball pressure down so that goo doesn’t start jetting out in waxy spurts all over our kith and kin, we’re hard-pressed to say much that tops the news of the day, though. Flipping on CNN for a few minutes yields more black-souled yucks than when we try and fail to wax Swiftian, let alone wax Brazilian. There’s no payoff, and nothing’s sadder than a failed Swifty.
Well, OK, dead babies are maybe sadder. I’m playing this fast and loose, as usual.
Anyway, this was supoosed to be one of my usual curmudgeonly contrarian screeds that veers from quixotacular tilting at the capitalist machine, to random cursing and mumbling, to alienating and insulting my weblog comrades, so I’d best get on with it.
In case you didn’t follow the link, Blogonomics is a conference dedicated to the lofty goal of cashing in on weblogs, on board a cruise ship from Florida to Cozumel. You couldn’t make this up. I couldn’t, at least.
Check it out: they’ve even hidden the fine print at the bottom of this page by making it almost the same babyshit colour as the background. Oooh, that’s clever! Very business-y! Tells us a little about who they’re pandering to, too.
Screw Blogonomics in its speedo-clad afterdeck-hottub authentic-voiced bum.
Better yet, somebody take up a collection, and get me and Rageboy and on this f–king boat, load us up with speed, rye and cigarettes (or some coffee for Mr Boy, I suppose, since I seem to recall he’s left the Joy of Intoxication behind), and let us write open some new blogholes for these people.
That’d be some kind of fun. And hell, even if the Quintana Roo coast has been thrashed to a Jose Cuervo-flavoured pulp, we can still make a few bucks off it, right? It’s only business, after all.
Update: for some very much related thoughts that aren’t just ranty wordplay, go read Dave, who has said what I would like to about the background to this with, as always, more light and less heat than I throw off.

New Look, Old Code, Weasel Teats!

Once again, do not panic. Do not adjust your monitor. Do not go loopy, or set your pussycat on fire. Do not, under any circumstances whatsoever, coat any part of your body in paint and dance terroristically for the NSA agents in the bushes. Do not, and I really mean it this time, do not stick any kind of cooking implement into any of your orifices, or in anyone else’s orifices for that matter, unless they ask you nicely. Do not sit on a park bench and eye little girls with bad intent. Do not make me go mediaeval on your ass.
I’m messing around with some style crap, and things’ll probably go all goofy for a while. Clearly my ideas are lame and unoriginal, but that’s not going to stop me, goddamnit. Yeah, blue and freakin’ grey again. Looks like every other goddamn blogsplurt. I know, I know. Poo.
Your patience is appreciated, regardless. If something’s utterly bustificated on your browser, feel free to let me know, if you’re so inclined.
Also, note the TOTALLY WEB 2.0 *cough* Category Cloud thingy I put together today (with this, and some almost-forgotten javascripty f–king around to make nicetitles cough up nice floaty icons for my categories)! Sweet, huh?
Gimme some money, Yahoo!, you bastards.