July 2008

The days of creating personal Web sites with static HTML are over. Instead, people blog. As the creator of zompist.com, what do you think of this change?

[To consider: ease of use for creators and readers, juxtapose each’s methods for organizing content, does old blog content get “lost” in deep time, blog interlinking creates a “vast but shallow” present, how does each technology facilitate stumbling upon the unexpected]

Mark Irons

Blogs are a neat example of the power of an incremental improvement in UI.  I used to write my rants pages in raw HTML— not a huge task, but coupled with having to update the change page and RSS feed and upload the files, and being limited to one computer, it was just enough of a hassle that I’d normally skip it.  WordPress makes it just easy enough.  (Except when it messes up paragraphs.  I hate that.)

Similarly, though I have my doubts about Wikipedia, I love MediaWiki.  It makes it much much easier to provide a lot of background information on Almea.

But there’s plenty of things on zompist.com that don’t fit into either format: the culture tests, the LCK, the comics and stories, references like the numbers list, the longer articles and editorials. 

As for the content considerations you mention, I think blogs work best for short thoughts and reactions that don’t build on each other (except in a narrative way).  It’s a little too early to play curmudgeon and complain that the kids today don’t have the patience to read long web pages.  Longer articles are still better for treating a subject in more depth, and for that matter there are still uses for dead trees.

Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics must be reading some linguistics.  He recently had a comic on the Great Vowel Shift, and now he has a two-comic series on Paul Grice’s conversational maxims:


Prove me wrong if you can: I’d venture to say that these are the only comics to date to focus on Grice’s conversational maxims.  (I think Stan Lee was planning a 4-issue Power Man miniseries covering Grice as well as speech acts, but John Romita couldn’t figure out how to draw a kick-ass presupposition.)

Here’s an explanation in case T-Rex’s isn’t clear enough:


Worth it for the classification of heavy metal types alone.


Another site: https://vimeo.com/823060

So, I just played Half-Life 2 again.  In some ways this is the sweet spot of the game: I understand it now, I know all the weapons (though I only figured out secondary fire rather late), I can even keep a squad alive for some time, mostly by telling the stupid wankers to stay out of the way.  (“Dude, don’t stand in front of the strider firing at it with that popgun.  Stop blocking the stairwell.  Fuck it, just stand in that closet.”)  I could notice more environmental things, like G-Man appearances.  I even enjoyed the buggy this time (first time through, it was maddeningly jumpy).  And this time I used all of Father Grigori’s traps.

Though I kind of miss the cluelessness of a first play-through: not knowing what’s next, having to figure out the puzzles.

It tickles me for some reason when enemies turn on each other.  The Combine don’t seem to get along with anyone… it must be kind of frustrating to work for the alien overlords and still get attacked by zombies and antlions.  And once a headcrab jumped right into a barnacle tongue, which was awesome.

William F. Buckley described conservatives as riding atop history calling “Stop!”  Today’s conservatives are more likely to be saying “This isn’t happening.  This isn’t happening.  This isn’t happening…”

They’re in denial about a lot of things— global warming, oil dependence, evolution, the destructiveness of plutocracy— but the most tragicomic of these is the newly multipolar world.  I’ve written about this before, and Fareed Zakaria has a new book on it:



As Zakaria puts it, it’s not that America is declining, but that the rest of the world is rising.  Americans got used to the world of the 1950s, when the US dominated the world not only by its own size and power, but because everyone else was broken.  We’re heading back to a more normal world, where we’re only one of a number of Great Powers.

Britain went through this process half a century ago, losing its empire and suffering through an extended depression.  Its own conservatives by no means accepted their new status; they railed against Labour and implied that they would have done nothing of the sort— though when they were actually in power they accomplished nothing more than bungling the Suez crisis and keeping hold of Africa for a few more years.  To actually retain the empire would have required fighting a dozen Vietnams around the world, something postwar Britain was incapable of.

US conservatives began the 2000s crowing about the American Empire, eager to project our might at anyone who opposed or even annoyed us.  There’s no sign that McCain has learned anything; he’s still talking about victory and permanent occupation in Iraq and ramping up in Afghanistan, all while lowering taxes and balancing the budget.  Before the Iraq war this merely seemed unlikely; now it’s complete fantasy.  The US can’t reverse the multipolar world, but it sure can cause a lot of trouble along the way.

If only the fantasy could be kept in books and movies— as British conservativism expressed its revanchist dreams through James Bond.  Though even that doesn’t seem as harmless as it used to, now that it turns out that the Bush administration’s embrace of torture and shredding of Constitutional liberties is based on imitating Jack Bauer.

Wall-E is, as you’ve undoubtedly heard, charming… Pixar has the most enviable winning streak of any movie studio… yet another group that should have been entrusted to do Star Wars prequel.  It’s also a wicked satire of American life (a lot harder-edged and wittier than, say, the recent New Yorker cover on the politics of fear).

What’s curious is that this is at least the third appearance of this particular satirical trope: people becoming the fat, spoiled slaves of their machines.  Apparently this is what our civilization worries that it looks like or might become.  Before this was “Blobs!” in the very first issue of Mad (1952); and that in turn was based on “The Machine Stops” by E.M. Forster (1928), whose first paragraph describes the protagonist as “a swaddled lump of flesh”.

While I’m here, Frank Rich has a nice article pointing out the trouble with McCain’s economic ignorance:


Similarly good are these Paul Krugman posts on right-wing denial– if something doesn’t fit in with their market worship, they just cannot accept it.  We need to get these overgrown toddlers out of power.



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