Ask Zompist: Blogs vs. non-blogs

The days of creating personal Web sites with static HTML are over. Instead, people blog. As the creator of, 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 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.


Grice comics

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:

Breakout, breakout! Headcrabs!

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.

Back to a normal world

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.

The Machine starts and stops

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”.

Lowering McCain

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.

Tasty orange box

I finally picked up the Orange Box, and man, that’s good gamin’. 

Portal is a blast.  It’s a lesson in where to apply effort: in essence it’s a simple puzzle game— I think the kids call them platformers— which keeps gameplay elements at their simplest, and lavishes resources on environment.  The lush 3-D rendering, the huge impressive spaces, the dark humor of the AI gone bad, and the little hidden spaces (the cake is a lie!) all add to the intensity and immersion.  At the same time the mechanics are simple, focussing your attention on the wonderful toy, the portal gun.

You can have your plush companion cubes… I want my own turret.

I just finished Half-Life 2, and I’m even more impressed by Valve.  I’m not generally a FPS guy, so I didn’t expect it to be my thing, but I enjoyed it a lot— I want to play it again now that I know what I’m doing.  Though “enjoyed” is a strange term for an experience which included a whole lot of cursing and hitting F9. 

I admire the smoothness of HL2’s storytelling.  For instance, there’s a moment where some crows fly up in front of you— right into the mouth of a barnacle.  That alerts you very nicely to this new kind of monster.  Similarly, you get in-game tutorials for new weapons as you get them. 

The gravity gun is another great idea.  Of course, several times I wished I had a portal gun.  Freeman may be able to save the world from extraterrestrial scum, but he’s completely defeated by any step more than than two feet high. 

You can tell a game is immersive if you actually move around in your chair as you try to make precise jumps or swerves…

Naturally, I took the occasion to re-read my friend Chris’s HL2 comic, Concerned, now that I can get all the jokes.  Chief new reaction: Chris has insane patience.  Just finding the locations in the maps, some of which are huge, must have been a job.

Next up: episodes 1 and 2.  And Team Fortress 2 if I can figure out what servers tolerate utter noobs.  I’m surprised there’s not a single-player learning mode.

Ask Zompist: Improved Garfields

Bob, what’s your take on Garfield minus Garfield ( )?

I mean, it’s the only webcomic in my feed reader (well, okay, xkcd I can’t avoid, and there’s ELER, which is moribund).

—John Cowan



It’s cool, but I prefer the original bit of messing with Garfield: erasing all of Garfield’s text but leaving him in the picture.  I can’t improve on Neil Gaiman’s description: ” a perfectly paced, rather sad strip about a man whose life is wasted and a cat who says nothing”.  It doesn’t always work (mostly because of the annoying facial expressions), but it’s a brilliant idea. 

By the way, for those who don’t check any more, I’ve got two new comics reviews up today.

Monster Mash-up

Lore seems set to make a series of Monster Manual comics:

In most pop culture that comes in series and remakes, the rule seems to be that whatever its inherent quality, we best love the version we first encountered.  (Yes, I know, there’s Battlestar Galactica, but that’s about it.  Besides, I never saw the original, so the rule holds for me.)  D&D monsters are, for me, the ones in the 1978 Monster Manual.

I don’t think any campaigns I’ve run or been in unearthed (or unfilthed) an actual rot grub, possibly because the DMs had taste.  They fall in the category of “monsters for when the DM just wants to fuck with the party”, along with rust monsters, mimics, trappers, and ear seekers.  How did an entire ecosystem develop around dungeon exploration? 

Gelatinous cubes, however, are awesome.